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moments from his grasp

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Yuuri's dreams end under the faint trickle of light through water, while darkness closes in around him. He is drowning, he thinks, but the cold digs into his skin, snaring his last thoughts and dragging them away.

He was walking, wasn't he? Running with Makkachin to meet Viktor and Yurio. The road was icy, wasn't it -- St. Petersburg seems like it's under a permanent layer of ice and snow, in January. Yuuri was on the sidewalk, but then there was a car...

The Neva is even colder than St. Petersburg.

He has one final thought, and it is this: I hope Viktor didn't see.

~*~

Yuuri wakes up choking, under the sensation of falling. He throws off his blankets and scrambles out of bed before the world can right itself, and he ends up by the closet, knocking over a laundry hamper and hitting his head on the wall. The pain sends him reeling, but it also snaps him back from the cold, stopping his blind panic in its tracks. For a moment, all Yuuri can hear is his own frenzied panting.

There is no water in his throat. It's not cold, either -- he must have had a nightmare. Thankfully he hasn't woken Viktor, though Yuuri is slightly surprised that his fiancé isn't already reaching for him, making worried noises about Yuuri's bad dream. For a few minutes, Yuuri simply breathes, holding each breath for five seconds until his heart rate has slowed, then slowly stands up in the dark room, fumbling blindly for the bed.

"Viktor," Yuuri whispers, not wanting to wake his fiancé, but not wanting to be alone right now, either. He knows his limits. Viktor doesn't answer, so Yuuri reaches across the bed -- and his hand only meets emptiness.

Slowly, Yuuri draws his hand back. The bed is smaller than he remembers. The room is different, too. Yuuri realizes that there is light coming from the window, city light, but that the windows aren't the right size, and the light isn't the right color. He doesn't recognize the cityscape -- it isn't a part of St. Petersburg he has seen before.

I don't know where I am, Yuuri thinks, panicking. He sees a phone on the table beside the bed and grabs it, relieved to see that it is his phone, Vicchan in the background. He opens it hurriedly and goes to Viktor's number, the first one on his speed dial, then stops short when he doesn't see it there, nor in the contacts.

Did someone go into my phone?

Yuuri shakes his head, terrified by what this means. He doesn't recognize where he is, and he doesn't remember anything from last night. He had been dreaming of running through St. Petersburg -- or was that the last thing he did? Yuuri doesn't know. He doesn't understand what is happening.

He knows Viktor's number by heart, though. Quickly he taps in the number and presses call, putting it to his ear, his heart racing.

"Алло?" answers Viktor after two rings, and Yuuri falls to his knees, tears prickling his eyes in relief.

"Viktor," he whispers, trusting that Viktor will be able to help him. "I don't know where I am. Where are you? Can you come get me?"

There is a pause over the line, before Viktor answers. His voice sounds a little odd. "I'm sorry, but I think you have the wrong number. Who is this?"

Yuuri's heart leaps into his throat. He blinks and pulls the phone away, staring at the number on the screen, then puts it to his ear again. "This is... Viktor, right?"

"Yes. Who is this? How did you get this number, anyway?" Viktor sounds impatient now. He still has that odd edge to his voice -- maybe a little more polite than normal?

Yuuri reels a little. Viktor doesn't recognize his voice -- what happened? "I... it's me, Viktor."

"I'm sorry," Viktor says after a moment, and he does sound a little sorry -- but mostly he sounds like he wants to end the conversation. "You must have the wrong Viktor. Or if this is some kind of joke, it's a very poor one. I must go. Good luck, whoever you are."

Then he hangs up, and Yuuri is left sitting in a dark, unknown room, alone, with no idea where he is or what to do. His fiancé just hung up on him, and Yuuri is afraid.

Slowly he stands, grabbing onto the bed for support. He notices the shape of a lamp in the dim light. With a shaking hand, Yuuri reaches for the lamp and turns it on. When light floods the room, the hair stands up on the back of his neck. He isn't standing in his and Viktor's bedroom, nor any room in St. Petersburg.

He is standing in his bedroom in Detroit.

For a moment, Yuuri doesn't breathe as his world spins around him. He had been so sure that he was in St. Petersburg, asleep in his and Viktor's bed. But that's not right, either. Yuuri hadn't been in bed -- he had been on the way to meet Viktor and Yurio.

Who the hell is Yurio?

He knows who Yurio is. Yuri Plisetsky, his friend and rival, sixteen years old and full of teenage rage. He gave me katsudon pirozhki for my birthday.

Viktor doesn't recognize him. The calendar on his wall says that it is October 2014.

Yet Yuuri has never been more certain of the fact that it had been January 18, 2017 this morning. He had woken up when Viktor had left the apartment to fetch Yurio from Lilia's place. He had kissed Yuuri goodbye slowly, teasingly calling him his 'sleeping beauty,' before making Yuuri promise to get up soon and meet him at the bus stop.

Yet somehow, Yuuri is now in a place shaped out of a dream. He fumbles for his phone, pulling up his calendar. The date is listed as October 24, 2014, just the same as the paper one on the wall, and he has none of the events he remembers listed anywhere in future months.

Knowledge struggles to make sense in his head. Part of him understands that he had gone to sleep after the last of his midterms on Friday, but the other half of him has memories of waking up in St. Petersburg in Detroit. Yuuri is not sure which is true -- because he remembers both. His head hurts sharply from the effort to make sense of the memories. It's almost like his brain is being rewritten, and his sense of now is completely off-kilter.

Yuuri clearly remembers falling into the Neva. Had he somehow come back in time? Or was this the afterlife? Maybe this is his life flashing before his eyes, and in a few moments, he will die.

He closes his eyes, terrified. He can still hear the rush of water in his ears, but he isn't sure whether it is in his mind, or whether it is real. What should he do?

A soft knock at his door distracts him, and Yuuri flinches, not knowing what to expect. "Yuuri?" says Phichit from the other side, sounding tired. Knowledge comes to Yuuri slowly, as if dragged through mud. He remembers that midterms have just ended, and Phichit pulled more than one all-nighter to study for it. "I heard a noise, are you alright?"

It's October now.

It was January an hour ago.

Viktor doesn't recognize me.

"I'm okay," Yuuri says automatically. He is struggling to make sense of his memories, of the warring knowledge settling with itself in his head.

Phichit opens the door, rubbing his eyes. He blinks at the sight of Yuuri standing by his bed, staring at the sheets with a blank expression, and crosses the room to touch his shoulder. Yuuri must look sick, and he feels it, too. "Yuuri, you don't look okay. Do you want some tea? We still have a couple bags of your green tea left. We'll have to go to the Asian grocery store..."

"They'll be out," Yuuri says blankly, then covers his mouth. How does he know that? He feels dizzy. He remembers, though, going to the Asian grocery in a post-midterm haze and being dismayed to realize that the store was out of Japanese tea.

Phichit draws back and stares at him, then frowns. "Tea, definitely."

Yuuri doesn't protest. While Phichit pokes the water kettle into productivity, Yuuri sits in the wobbly kitchen chair and stares down at his hands, where a gold ring used to sit -- but no, he has never worn a ring, and who would he want to marry, anyway?

Viktor. He proposed to Viktor, under the guise of something else entirely. But Viktor doesn't...

His head is hurting. Was it all a dream? Or did it actually happen, and this is the dream? Yuuri pinches himself when Phichit's back is turned. Ow, his mind supplies, and Yuuri has to bite down on his lip, his eyes growing hot. If this is real, and it wasn't a dream... then what is happening?

"Here you go," Phichit says, setting down a chipped blue cup covered in poodles. Yuuri's favorite cup, which will break in the middle of finals week next semester, stressing him enough to fail one of his classes. He has had it since he was a teenager.

Yuuri doesn't touch it. "Phichit... does the name Yuri Plisetsky mean anything to you?"

Phichit leans back in his chair, studying Yuuri for a long moment. His typical smile is gone, a comfort Yuuri could have used, and he must see how panicked Yuuri is. Despite the odd question, he humors Yuuri and gives him a straight answer. "He's that Russian juniors skater, isn't he? I didn't think you paid attention to the juniors league anymore."

"I don't," Yuuri says softly. So Yuri Plisetsky is real. He knows he has never heard of the name before today, and he knows that in a year, Yuri Plisetsky will win a gold medal for Russia in the juniors men's section of the GPF -- where Yuuri will compete against Viktor for the first time. (And lose miserably.)

Phichit is waiting patiently. Yuuri thinks of all the things he could say -- I traveled back in time, I'm not your Yuuri, I dreamed about the future, I've lost my damn mind -- and he knows that he can trust Phichit. Despite that reassurance, Yuuri can't imagine telling anyone what is going on in his head. He doesn't know what happened, and he can't imagine even saying it, because of how insane it will sound.

Time traveling. Isn't it the same plot as his movie?

Phichit has made him watch The King and the Skater at least sixty-five times. Yuuri started keeping count when they watched it seven times in a row once when they got snowed in and couldn't go to the rink.

Yuuri takes a deep breath. "I don't think I'm supposed to be here," he says slowly. He doesn't look away from his tea, which is steaming gently as the sencha steeps. "Last night, I went to sleep in St. Petersburg with Viktor. Today I was supposed to meet him and Yurio -- um, Yuri Plisetsky -- for training. It's January 18, 2017..."

"That's two years from now," Phichit says slowly. "Yuuri... did you have an Arthur dream? I have those a lot, you know."

Yuuri bites his bottom lip. Arthur is the protagonist of Phichit's favorite movie, and ironically, also a time traveler. Even just thinking about the idea that he traveled back in time sounds insane, and Phichit is giving him a weird look. "Um, yeah, a dream. It was like, I was really in St. Petersburg, and I'd been with Viktor for a year. He was my coach," he adds in a small voice, knowing full well that Phichit has already heard of that secret wish. How many times has he drunkenly confessed his feelings about Viktor to his best friend?

He realizes his hands are shaking and clasps them together tightly. "I was running on a bridge. A car hit some ice and it spun out of control... I think it hit me." He digs his thumbnail into his wrist, remembering cold water and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that he had been drowning not long ago. Or two years from now. "I fell in the river. And... then I woke up here. Now." His voice is high and reedy now, his anxiety stretched thin between his disbelief and his fear.

Either it didn't happen, or it did, and I came back in time. And Viktor doesn't recognize me.

Phichit is staring at him. "That... doesn't sound like a dream, Yuuri."

Yuuri can't help but laugh. It sounds a little hysterical. "Yeah, it doesn't. It wasn't. Which is crazy, right? I'm sitting here in Detroit talking to you now, but last night, I definitely fell asleep watching Amélie with Viktor. But that sounds crazy... it must have been a dream. Or maybe this is a dream."

He bows over his hands, the crushing weight of his new reality sending his anxiety spiraling. Phichit must think him insane. Yuuri feels like he is going insane. Maybe this is a nightmare, and he will wake up to Viktor kissing him good morning.

"I want to wake up," he whispers. Viktor, please.

A warm hand reaches into his vision and wraps around his hands, gently prying his fingers off his wrist. Yuuri stares down at the indention his thumbnail left, then looks up at Phichit, who is leaning forward over the table, worriedly watching Yuuri.

"It's okay, Yuuri. Take a deep breath."

Yuuri obeys, and the action loosens his shoulders a little. He unclenches his jaw and realizes how tense he is, then takes another breath, until the oncoming edge of panic has calmed a little. Belatedly, Yuuri realizes that his eyes are wet, and he reaches up to wipe at them with his arm. "Sorry," he whispers.

Phichit shakes his head. "Don't be. Tell me more about it, if it's not going to upset you more."

Yuuri hesitantly looks up. "You believe me?" Some part of him relaxes a little when Phichit smiles, squeezing his hand.

"If it was just a dream, it sounds awful. But if it's really the future, then we should try to figure out why you came back. I doubt it was to introduce a popular trading card game to save the Thai Kingdom," Phichit jokes, and Yuuri cracks a tiny smile.

"Okay."

He tells Phichit almost everything. About going to the Grand Prix and losing both his pride and his inhibition, thus dancing his way into Viktor's arms. Phichit believes that part readily, because he has witnessed Yuuri's absolute failure at being a normal human being when he is drunk, as well as Yuuri's marked increase of intensity about Viktor. (Yuuri once made a drunk powerpoint. It had 184 slides about Viktor. Half of them were about his hair alone.)

"So you humped him in the middle of the banquet and begged him to be your coach. And you did a pole dance for him?" Phichit is laughing at his pain, and Yuuri sighs deeply, hating his life. "That's filthy, Yuuri! Shame!"

"Shut up," Yuuri grumbles. "I was drunk and in Viktor's proximity. It's a miracle I didn't try to kiss him. I didn't even remember it afterwards, either," he groans. That sets Phichit off again, peeling laughter echoing across the kitchen, and Yuuri waits him out patiently. When Phichit is calm again, only a small smirk lingering, Yuuri continues.

He tells Phichit about that long summer of training, of growing closer to Viktor, of becoming someone who could look Viktor in the eyes without flailing. He tells Phichit about Beijing and Moscow and Barcelona, though he doesn't mention who the other finalists are, especially not that Phichit himself was in the Grand Prix Final. He tells Phichit about the engagement rings, and Viktor's challenge, and the decision to move to St. Petersburg to train with Viktor.

He doesn't tell Phichit that they were together. Phichit figures that out himself, his eyes going wide with surprise halfway through Yuuri's story. He has tears in his eyes by the time Yuuri finishes speaking, just as overwhelmed by emotion as Yuuri is.

Yuuri and Viktor. Two people who couldn't be more unlike each other, yet Viktor had fit into his life perfectly, and Yuuri hadn't even made the space for him. Not even years of following Viktor religiously though social media and magazines had prepared Yuuri for a life with Viktor Nikiforov, yet it had been all too easy, to accept Viktor as his coach, and then as more.

Viktor swept into his life and overwhelmed him immediately. The first few months were full of anxious fear that he was dragging Viktor down from the podium he had stood on all his life, but as Yuuri grew closer to him and came to know Viktor the person, versus Viktor the famous skater, he fell in love all over again. No longer was Viktor just his idol, but also his partner, his friend, and his lover.

His everything. And now Viktor is gone -- because none of that has happened, and Viktor doesn't recognize him, doesn't know him anymore.

Yuuri realizes that Phichit has come around the table to touch his shoulder when he feels tears hit his hands. He lets out a keening noise and covers his face, grief welling up in his throat. Sitting here in his kitchen with Phichit feels just as real as the past two years have felt, and somehow, Yuuri doesn't think he will ever get back to his own time -- to his Viktor.

Yuuri must have died. That is how he came back. "I can't go back to him," he whispers, choked, and Phichit wraps his arms around Yuuri, hugging him tightly. Yuuri barely feels it, barely notices anything beyond his own horror.

If he died, then that means there is no way for Yuuri to return. The thought comes back to him that this moment, right now, is the life flashing before his eyes before everything will fade away.

Yuuri pinches his wrist again. The pain feels real, and he isn't cold anymore. He shivers anyway, hearing the echo of water rushing past his ears.

He can't go home. The Viktor who just this morning had kissed him before leaving the apartment is gone. Dream or not, he only exists in Yuuri's head now, and Yuuri will never have that same connection with the Viktor who would eventually become him. Yuuri has already changed. Their relationship will never be the same, because Yuuri already knows Viktor intimately, and Viktor doesn't know him at all.

If this is permanent -- if Yuuri is meant to stay here -- then the past two years of his life are only memories. If he is to live his life normally as if that future never happened, then how can Yuuri go through with it again? Even if he were to do everything again exactly the same, there is no telling that events would fall out the same way. Yuuri can't arrange his life to such exact detail. He is a different person than he was two years ago, even a year ago. All because of Viktor...

Viktor, who does not know him any longer. Viktor, who does not have the same memories Yuuri does, and Yuuri has no way to recreate those memories for Viktor, to transform him into Yuuri's Viktor, except to live it again.

The sum of a person doesn't change just because the components do. Viktor is the same person, thrilling and whiny and petty and sweet, but Yuuri only got to know that side of Viktor because Viktor opened up to him. Not even all of Viktor's friends know those parts of Viktor, because he hides everything behind a smile. Yuuri doesn't even know all of him -- but that year of Viktor...

It had been perfect. Loving Viktor, knowing Viktor, every moment had been perfect. Yuuri wouldn't trade the world for it, but he had lost it anyway.

Viktor doesn't even know he exists, now.

There is a small cracking noise, but Phichit doesn't seem to notice it, and Yuuri realizes dimly that it must be his heart. Viktor will never know him, will never remember the months of training, of laughter and flirting and smiles and tears. He will never gasp in surprise at seeing Yuuri do a quad flip, nor will he ever blush when Yuuri slides a ring onto his finger.

Yuuri cannot bear a world without Viktor -- his Viktor, the Viktor who gave up everything to lift Yuuri up to his level. The Viktor who got to spend a year with Makkachin while romping around in Yuuri's hometown and pushing him, inspiring him, until Yuuri broke Viktor's own record.

They were going to get married. He was going to train with Viktor. He was going to compete against Viktor -- and it's all gone. Everything is gone. And Viktor doesn't know him, will never know him...

Yuuri closes his eyes to the world and mourns.

~*~

A long time later, Yuuri finds himself on the couch, a fluffy blue blanket tucked around his shoulders while Phichit texts furiously on his phone.

"There," Phichit says, sitting down on the couch and picking up the remote. "Emails sent to Celestino and all our professors."

Yuuri blinks slowly at him. "Our?"

Phichit flashes him a smile. "I'm staying home with you so that we can figure this out! Our official story is a cold. Don't you worry, Yuuri. We'll get everything sorted before Monday."

Yuuri says nothing, watching as Phichit navigates through the Playstation menu. He groans when he sees the title of the movie Phichit pulls up. "No, Phichit --"

"But this is exactly the situation that we need to review!" Phichit says. "Arthur went back in time so that he could save the King's life. Has anything bad happened in the next two years that we should know? Do you think you came back to save someone?"

Yuuri sighs, resigned to the inevitable music that begins to play from the TV. "I doubt it. No one in my family died or anything..."

He trails off. That's not really true. Phichit picks up on his silence and looks over at him, waiting, and Yuuri swallows slowly.

"Vicchan died," Yuuri whispers, and Phichit gasps, pausing the movie.

"No! Not your poodle! What happened? I mean, what will happen?"

Yuuri pulls out his phone, which shows a picture of Vicchan on the lock screen. Vicchan had died of natural causes, being almost twelve years old, though Yuuri had always thought he was a little too young when he passed away. He had hoped that Vicchan would still be there when Yuuri went home, but...

"It was a bladder infection. It made him lose too much weight too quickly, and he developed complications and passed away... will pass away next year. Around this time. It'll make me fail my exams and the Grand Prix," Yuuri says quietly.

Phichit makes horrified noises and has to go get his hamsters. Yuuri lets Phichit deposit two of them in his lap, gently petting the small creatures. He never went home in the five years he lived in Detroit, not even when he returned to Japan for competitions, though Minako-sensei always came to support him.

He could go home. He could see Vicchan and his family. If Yuuri is correct...

He pulls up the JSF website and checks the calendar. He already went home for the Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu Championship, where he placed first. Yuuri had won gold in Nationals in the other future, and at Worlds in March, he had beaten both of the other Japanese competitors and placed high enough to be seeded for the next Grand Prix Final. (He hadn't met Viktor, at that Worlds, since they had skated in different groups. But he had worked hard, so that he could be seeded for the GPF.)

Yuuri barely remembers what his current programs are like. He only remembers failing for most of them.

After a few minutes of watching Arthur skate around morosely and flip through his cards, Yuuri pulls up his messaging program.

To: Katsuki Hiroko
Hi mom, I will be in Tokyo for the Nationals competition in December. Can I come home and visit at that time? Yuuri

It is the middle of the afternoon in Japan, but his mother answers within a few minutes.

From: Katsuki Hiroko
Of course, Yuuri! I'll clean your room for you (o^▽^o) Let me know what dates you will be here! Vicchan will be so happy to see you!

Yuuri's eyes tear up a little, but he closes the app with a smile, looking back at the screen. Arthur is walking home after a frustrating day at the rink; Yuuri understands that feeling all too well, though Arthur has already retired in the movie.

Viktor won't let me retire until I win five gold medals.

Yuuri absently moves the hamsters to his shoulders. One of them crawls up and along the back of the couch to Phichit, while the other nibbles on his hair. Yuuri won't win any gold medals now. Well, he could -- but it would be empty of the promise of marrying Viktor when all is said and done.

His Viktor is gone, after all. The promise means nothing now.

He and Phichit remain silent as Arthur is whisked away in his sleep to the ancient Thai Kingdom. The movie used special effects for the time travel, and seeing Arthur flailing as he sits up on the ground reminds Yuuri uncomfortably of the sensation of sinking through water. He closes his eyes with a flinch, and Phichit looks over worriedly.

"Yuuri, is this too much? I thought maybe it would have a clue, you know..."

Yuuri doesn't have the heart to tell him that it's just a movie, not based on anything real, and all the effects are fake. Phichit knows this, but he also wants to help, which Yuuri appreciates. "It's okay, we can keep watching."

He spends the movie thinking, not really paying attention to either the plot -- he knows it by heart, now -- or the homoromantic tension between Arthur and the King, which both he and Phichit have discussed at length on multiple occasions. (Phichit wrote fanfiction, too. Yuuri stuck with powerpoints.)

Yuuri came back two years into the past. His year with Viktor is gone, as is his stressful year leading up to the GPF in Sochi. He had been a wreck the entire time, worrying about whether his program would impress Viktor, what it would be like to skate against him, and so on -- and so Yuuri hadn't enjoyed the season at all. That had been part of the reason he had been considering retirement.

If he skates well enough at Nationals and Worlds, then he could go to the GPF next year and compete against Viktor. Then would come the banquet, and...

Yuuri closes his eyes, pulling his blanket tighter around him. He cannot imagine going into that banquet room and seducing Viktor with a carefree night of dancing again. He wouldn't be Yuuri's Viktor -- and it wouldn't be fair for Yuuri to take him from ice skating a second time.

His heart aches at the thought, but in the same moment, the tension drains out of him. The past year of his life has been full of regret over taking Viktor away from ice skating. Yuuri has always believed that making Viktor be his coach was slowly killing him as a competitive skater, no matter how amazing Viktor's return to the ice would be. Knowing how much Viktor had stressed over his return to the ice, how his relationships with his own coach and fellow skaters had fallen apart, how the entire world had gossiped and pointed fingers uncaringly -- how can Yuuri put Viktor through that again?

He had a lifetime with Viktor, the best time of his life, however short it was. Yuuri isn't selfish enough to demand a second life with Viktor. The thing that makes Viktor happiest is skating, not Yuuri.

He opens his eyes to watch Arthur invite the King onto the ice. The image reminds him a little of his pose to Viktor at the end of Yuuri On Ice, and Yuuri smiles a little, his heart aching.

The decision settles into his bones. Yuuri will not ask Viktor to be his coach, this time.

By the time the Thai Kingdom is saved, the King and Arthur smiling tearfully at each other, Yuuri's stomach is growling, and Phichit is sharing the characters' tears. Yuuri helps him fetch the hamsters from under cushions and blankets, gently dropping them into their cage and following Phichit into the kitchen.

"I suppose there's no telling what might have sent you back," Phichit ponders, rinsing out Yuuri's empty cup. Yuuri shrugs a little, crossing his arms more tightly over his middle. "You're here now, though. And you're still Yuuri, of course. It's not like you became somebody else."

"It doesn't bother you? There's no reason this isn't all in my head," Yuuri says quietly, but Phichit shakes his head.

"You know Yuri Plisetsky's name, and everything sounds far too details to be a dream. Dreams don't make sense when you talk about them afterwards, usually, but yours sounds perfectly normal. Other than Viktor Nikiforov standing naked in your parents' inn," Phichit adds cheekily, and Yuuri blushes. "Though his Instagram is full of pretty wild pictures..."

"Tell me about it." Viktor's Instagram is a source of great happiness and frustration to Yuuri. Over the years, Yuuri has had to watch Viktor take photos with beautiful people and burn with jealousy that he is not in them -- but he also gets to see lots of pictures of Makkachin and Viktor doing fun, interesting things. Viktor has always been extravagant, even before he walked into Yuuri's life naked.

"I guess what we should be figuring out now, is what you're going to do," Phichit says thoughtfully.

Yuuri thinks about it. He has made one decision already, but he is still in the prime of his figure skating career. He doesn't want to quit either, because he still loves figure skating, despite not believing he is good enough for it.

Stop that. I broke Viktor's own record -- I know I'm a good skater.

"I guess I'll just keep going," Yuuri says slowly. "I can't go back... I don't think so, anyway. Not if I ended up drowning." Phichit doesn't say anything to that, and Yuuri winces slightly at the horror on his face. "Sorry. Oh, I can land the quad salchow in competition now. Maybe I should put that into my free program..."

Phichit's eyes widen dramatically. "In competition?!"

Yuuri nods absently, his mind already back to Viktor. At one point, Viktor had confessed to him that he had been unhappy with his career, that he had been unable to surprise people any longer and that he felt like he was getting too old for figure skating. Then when Yuuri and Yurio had swept in and taken both of his records, Viktor had felt the fire of competition again, renewing his love of skating. If Yuuri doesn't become his pupil, then Viktor will never feel that way...

...unless Yuuri gives him real competition, but earlier. Now, if he can.

Yuuri has the skills for it, at least in knowledge. He needs to practice his quads, but he is reasonably confident that he can pull them off, especially with a body that is two years younger. If he figures out his programs and tinkers with them, changes the composition around, his short program and free skate would be good enough to get him on the podium.

Maybe even good enough to be a challenge for Viktor. And wouldn't that give Viktor something to think about? A random challenger from Japan, someone who could give Viktor a run for his money...

Yuuri can't take Viktor from ice skating, not again, but he can give Viktor a reason to stay.

The decision cements itself in his mind. He looks over at Phichit, determined. "Phichit, can you pull up the training videos of my programs for this year? I need to change them. I can't go back, not to my own time -- but I can move forward."

Phichit stares at him a long moment, then smiles widely. "Sure can, Yuuri! Leave it to me!"

~*~

Celestino is pleasantly surprised when Yuuri shows him the proposed changes, though skeptical. Yuuri waits with his hands clenched at his sides as Celestino reviews the paper, wondering if he is being too ambitious, if he can even pull this off. He nearly reaches out to take it back; what if Celestino doesn't approve? Yuuri shouldn't be doing this after all.

Celestino ignores his nerves with an ease born of familiarity. "I hadn't thought of adding a quad salchow to your free skate. Do you think you can do it?" Celestino asks thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. Yuuri is aware of Phichit staring at them with wide eyes. He is even more excited about this than Yuuri is.

He swallows. "I can." The quad salchow is something he can definitely do, though whether or not he can pull it off in his program is unknown. He hasn't dared to tell Phichit about his quad flip. Now, the only two quads that he cannot do are the quad lutz and the quad loop. (Yuuri briefly wonders what it would be like to be able to land those jumps. Viktor can land all of them.)

Celestino nods. He has always wanted Yuuri to open up and be more confident in his skating. Yuuri is kind of surprised that Celestino is willing to let him change around the components; usually Celestino is a lot more strict about that, especially with Yuuri. Still, Yuuri wants to make him proud; he has always regretted not letting Celestino push him harder. "Let's see it, then."

Phichit gives him a thumbs up from the CD player, and the other skaters step off the ice, giving Yuuri curious looks as they pass him. Yuuri takes a deep breath, then skates out to the center of the rink, waiting for the opening notes to Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, B. 178. A fairly straightforward ensemble, and hadn't Phichit laughed at him when Celestino had chosen it for Yuuri, because it sounded like that famous shark movie? Even though he hadn't fought hard enough back then, now Yuuri thinks he can use the dramatic music for his own goals.

To be good enough to challenge Viktor.

When the music starts, Yuuri begins to skate, thinking of the power behind the song and how he wants to use it to impress Viktor. He needs to win Nationals with this program. If he doesn't fall apart, he could even place at Worlds with this. He has the skills, which Celestino, Minako-sensei, and Viktor have all hammered into his head.

As he skates, his old routine comes back to him in pieces. He skated this two years ago in his own timeline, and he had fallen too many times -- but the elegance and grace of his skating had gained him enough points to get a gold medal at Nationals. He has been comfortably at the top of the skating world in Japan for a year now, Japan's so-called ace, though Yuuri never saw it that way until Viktor showed him the light.

Yuuri doesn't know if he can get gold again, but he has to medal in order to get invited to Worlds. Once at Worlds, he has to get a high enough score to get seeded for the GPF. In his past, he had done all this despite his mental weakness. Yuuri knows he has the ability, and that in a way, he has always had the ability -- but he doesn't know if he can do it. Not again.

He has to try.

He and Phichit spent the entire weekend combing over videos of his routines, and Yuuri had rearranged the jumps to his own satisfaction. They even booked time at the rink on Sunday so that Yuuri could practice in secret. He has added the quad salchow to both of his programs, replacing the extra toe loops in hopes for more points.

It's not as intensive as his Yuuri On Ice program, or even Eros, but it does make use of his stamina, saving one of his quad toe loops for the end of the program. It's daring, just like his future free skate was -- most skaters would never put a quad at the end of the program, and both Phichit and Celestino must think him insane for daring to try.

Yuuri must show them he can do this.

The first part of the song is fast jumps and expressive dances, his renewed determination, and Yuuri throws in a little of his Eros flair, more than he knows he had when he first skated this program. The components are more difficult than how Celestino had arranged it, but he skated it well enough in practice in front of Phichit. After his quad salchow, Yuuri starts his step sequence, flipping around and showing off quick precision -- and here he skates more easily, thinking of the dance lessons with Minako-sensei years ago.

Then the song slows, and Yuuri's grace returns, bringing to mind his memories of Viktor, filled with light and love. The song builds, and Yuuri goes back to his jumps, more powerful than before. He lands all of his triples. Beautiful, Viktor says in his head, and with that warmth tucked away in his chest, Yuuri throws himself into his final quad, a toe loop.

It'd be good as a flip, too. Maybe another time.

He lands it, but barely. The song comes to an end, and Yuuri slows, lifting his arms up and thinking, Viktor. One way or another, I'll make you happy.

The song isn't a particularly emotional one, but Yuuri feels tears in his eyes all the same. Everything he does is for Viktor -- even the Viktor who doesn't know him, who will never know him. His entire skating career has been built from the ground up so that he could reach Viktor someday, and not even in his last life, in the two years Yuuri has yet to live, did he get to skate against Viktor properly. At Sochi, he had fallen apart mentally because of Vicchan's death, and then Viktor had taken a year off -- and finally, when they were working side-by-side for Worlds, Four Continents, and Europeans...

Yuuri had died. He had left Viktor alone, unable to complete their future together, unable to savor the thrill of skating against each other properly.

The least he could do, for both himself and Viktor, is to give him a challenge to relish. No matter what the world thinks of him, Yuuri wants to give that to Viktor, even if he has only two years to do it. He doesn't know what will happen -- Yuuri might die in two years no matter what he does.

Viktor, though... Viktor has a future, and Yuuri wants to see him happy. For the Viktor who fell in love with him and supported him for a year, who is two years away from him, whom he can no longer reach out and touch. For the Viktor who doesn't know him, who has never met him and will know a different Yuuri, a Yuuri who loves him more than anything.

Yet Yuuri cannot reach out to Viktor now. The Viktor he spoke to on the phone isn't and will never be his Viktor. To try and be with him would betray his feelings for his Viktor.

Even if Yuuri wants nothing more than to fall into Viktor's arms again, he can't, not ever again -- but he can give Viktor something else. A rival, someone who can put the spark back in his life, because Yuuri is the only person in the world who knows Viktor's secret doubts. He understands what Viktor needs -- a challenge.

Yuuri and Yurio were the only people to give Viktor a real challenge on the ice.

And maybe it's a little selfish of Yuuri, too -- because what else can he do, but keep skating? He wants to skate against Viktor. That has always been his life's goal. He wants to stand beside him on the podium. He wants the thrill of beating Viktor's long-held records, and he wants to inspire Viktor to try to beat him, too.

But he can't ever ask Viktor to love him again. To know that he will never fall asleep to Viktor's smile, that he cannot reach out and hold Viktor, breaks his heart. Two years of his life, gone. A year with Viktor, gone. The only person he has ever wanted to hold onto... gone, and Yuuri will never, ever see him again.

For all intents and purposes, his Viktor is dead, lost in a future that Yuuri will never be able to reach.

Yuuri closes his eyes, hearing applause from the other club skaters, alongside glee in Phichit's and Celestino's chatter. When he can open them without tears clouding his vision, he makes his way back to the wall, accepting his glasses from Phichit and looking hopefully at Celestino.

"I love it," Celestino beams, pounding Yuuri on the shoulder and making him wince. "Looks like your cold did you some good after all! Hopefully it worked wonders on Phichit, too," he adds, giving Phichit a doubtful look. Phichit grins sheepishly, his phone already in hand -- one of Celestino's everlasting headaches.

Yuuri merely smiles, his heart strangely light in his chest. He has made his decisions. This is what he can do.

~*~

Two weeks fly by. Yuuri somehow manages to deal with both his classes and his training without falling flat on his face. The déjà vu of going to his classes and repeating lectures, seminars, and homework is jarring, but after a while the discomfort fades to the background, strange but no longer upsetting. Phichit is a godsend, supporting Yuuri without once complaining, and even though Yuuri sometimes makes jokes that Phichit doesn't understand, or mentions memes that haven't even blessed the pages of the internet yet, Phichit is quick to roll with it.

Dealing with classes is interesting. Yuuri remembers the material, which means he does a little better on exams. His Russian classes are much easier than he expected, considering how much of the language he used regularly in St. Petersburg. Yuuri is so overwhelmed by his training and his growing mental problems that he needs all the help that he can get. He never had a problem with school, except that he always spent more time skating than studying.

Yuuri does make a point to talk to his family often. He thinks they might be a little weirded out by the change, considering he has barely spoken to them for four years now, but they all seem to appreciate it, even Mari, who was a little cold to him for a while. Soon, though, she's happily texting him pictures of Vicchan, who is beautiful and sweet in every single photo. Yuuri saves every one of them, not wanting to miss out on Vicchan's life any more than he already did.

Two weeks after Yuuri returns from the future, his new skate is put to the test at the NHK Trophy, to which Yuuri was invited by Japan. This year, the NHK Trophy is Yuuri's only qualifying event for the GPF, taking place in the middle of November, too soon for Yuuri to strengthen his program enough to place highly.

Minako-sensei and, surprisingly, Mari come to the NHK Trophy to cheer for him. Having that support goes a long way to soothe Yuuri's nerves before he skates. He only messes up two jumps during his short program, and his free skate is good enough to win him bronze at the end of the competition.

Unsurprisingly, Yuuri does not qualify for the finale, but the single medal fuels his determination. He needs to reach Viktor again.

Minako-sensei corners Yuuri after the free skate to find out his schedule for Nationals. She promises to meet him the day before the competition starts to take him and Celestino out for dinner, and Yuuri readily agrees, glad for the support. He had taken his loved ones for granted for so long, unable to accept their support for him because he was too focused inward (and on Viktor) -- but if this is a second chance, then Yuuri wants to give it his all.

He owes it to them.

He doesn't try calling Viktor again. He makes sure to delete the record of the call off his phone, to keep the temptation of contacting him as miniscule as possible. He might have the number memorized, but it helps that he doesn't make a contact entry for Viktor. Out of sight, out of mind. As much as he can, anyway.

Viktor is constantly on his mind, as is St. Petersburg. Both of them, plus the months he spent at Viktor's side, feature heavily in his dreams. The Neva also appears, as a deep, cold oblivion that wakes Yuuri to wide-eyed terror every time the nightmare surfaces.

Yuuri takes to avoiding the waterfront, which is unfortunate, because he and Phichit used to go walking by the lake when they didn't have anything better to do. Yuuri can't look at the Detroit River or even Lake Erie anymore without going into full-blown shivers. It doesn't help when the waterways start to ice over, either; it just reminds him more of the Neva, of the death that sent him back in time.

At one point, he tries writing down the dreams, because not long after he came to America, Yuuri looked up ways to cope with his mental weakness -- anxiety and depression, as the school counselor told him. That helps a little, so Yuuri writes down other memories that haunt him -- the shape of Viktor's smile, his favorite types of alcohol, the types of treats Makkachin prefers. He writes more about that summer in Hasetsu than anything else, even the kiss in Beijing, and the kisses that followed it, because that summer shaped the relationship between him and Viktor more than anything else in their lives.

The memories hurt a little less. Yuuri hides the journal under his bed and takes to pulling it out when he feels lonely, stroking his fingers over the ink spelling out Viktor's name. He adds little details that come to him in the darkness, things he said to Viktor that meant the world to both of them. The way Viktor looked at him. The way Viktor kissed him.

He misses him so much. Makkachin, too -- and how many nightmares has he had about Makkachin falling into the Neva with him? Sometimes it's Vicchan, and once it was Viktor -- and Yuuri hadn't slept for almost two days after that one, until Phichit had bullied him into taking a day off.

He knows he is depressed, but all he can do is continue to push forward, training harder every day and trying to deal with it as best as he can on his own. He should probably see a therapist about his problems. The list of resources on the school counselor's website doesn't cover I traveled back in time and lost my one true love.

Yuuri almost doesn't watch this year's Grand Prix Final. Other than the NHK Trophy, he has been ignoring the qualifiers ever since he came back, to give himself some space, but the whole skating club sets up a viewing party after practice one day since Celestino accompanied two skaters to it this year. In the end, Yuuri lets Phichit drag him to Andy Simpson's apartment.

Viktor is beautiful on Andy's widescreen television. Seeing him again gives Yuuri a small shock; he thought he would be used to it, since Viktor's posters are still all over his room, but seeing Viktor stepping onto the ice reminds Yuuri that he once spoke to this Viktor -- and that this Viktor is not his Viktor. The feeling makes him a little sick, anxiety twisting his stomach.

He wants to get up and run away. Instead, he sits and watches, his knees pulled close to his chest.

Yuuri hears several sighs around him and has to agree; the sleek, sexy ensemble for this year's short program rather suits Viktor. The costume is fit to his body and hugs every contour, and Viktor's hair is swept back messily, like he just had sex. Viktor has dressed himself like he is going clubbing, skating to Adam Lambert's Pop That Lock in a fit of pique that Yuuri hadn't understood two years ago.

He understands a little more, now.

He's rebelling. Everyone sees him as something to covet, and the media wants to write him into a neat little box, but Viktor hates being told what to do. He's doing this for his own fun, and he wants everyone to know it.

Yuuri shifts a little uncomfortably. Two years ago, this particular short program had become fuel for his sexual fantasies for months afterwards, and Viktor is no less alluring to an older Yuuri, who actually knows what it's like to have sex with him.

At that thought, Yuuri sits up a little with shock. Shit, I'm a virgin again. Is that even possible? Physically, maybe -- but not mentally, not in experience. He lost that not long after Beijing. Viktor had been rather thorough, too, teaching Yuuri through lips and hands what porn and fantasy had been unable to give him. Skating to Eros had been nothing compared to sex with Viktor, and Yuuri realizes he misses it.

He misses the intimacy more than anything. Viktor had been his partner, his companion, and they had lived together for months, settling into each other's habits without a backwards glance. Yuuri still finds himself reaching for a hand that isn't there; he still turns onto his side in bed, hoping for Viktor to wrap his arm around him to ward off the cold.

He shakes his head and keeps watching, ignoring his own discomfort. Viktor moves beautifully to the music, swaying his hips with the heavy beat and giving the audience dark, heated stares. He knows he is attractive and that every single person's attention is on him, and every movement is meant to entice.

Viktor had been just as erotic during sex, especially so to Yuuri who had very little experience compared to him. Dancing with a pole and drunken sloppy makeouts had not made him an expert at sex before he met Viktor, and truly, they had only been together a few times before Yuuri had died.

The thought sobers him a little. Yuuri will never know that intimacy again. He can't imagine being with anybody else but Viktor; to be with anybody else, even just for sex, would betray Viktor's memory.

When Viktor finally finishes, winking at the camera and sending a painful jolt through Yuuri's heart, he sighs a little with longing. It hurts more to see him than Yuuri had imagined, and that more than anything cements Yuuri's decisions.

He doesn't pay much attention to the other skaters; he rarely does, when Viktor is present. He does watch when Chris' turn arrives, eyeing his quads with a critical eye. Christophe Giacometti has always been a major contender for the podium, and Yuuri will have to keep an eye out for him. Jean-Jacques Leroy, too, and if he isn't mistaken, Otabek Altin will make the podium at Worlds next year.

"Chris is sexy, isn't he?" Phichit whispers to him, giggling, and Yuuri rolls his eyes and pushes him away.

He is supposed to say, "Not as sexy as Viktor." He doesn't.

"He has a boyfriend," Yuuri mumbles instead. "Masumi... whatever his last name is. That half-Japanese man who did ice dancing for Switzerland a couple years ago."

"Wow," Phichit says, his eyes widening a little. "They're together?"

"Mm. Masumi's his choreographer, too. I think they've been together for two years now." He picks up his phone and sends off a text to Christophe, with Phichit leaning over his shoulder.

To: Christophe Giacometti
Watching GPF. Nice routine this year. Tell Masumi I say hi

"You were rivals with him in juniors, right?" Phichit asks, as Chris finishes his program and waves at the camera, his green eyes twinkling with contentment.

Yuuri considers it. "Sort of. I never beat him, if that's what you're asking, but we got along well enough. He's the one who talked me into joining that pole dancing class."

"Ooh, scandalous. I'd love to meet him. I bet he's a riot at parties," Phichit says with a laugh. Yuuri resolutely refuses to comment on that; he still doesn't know exactly what happened at the Sochi banquet, and he is glad for it.

"He'll be strong at Worlds," Yuuri considers, then reluctantly adds, "Viktor, too."

"I can beat both of them," JJ boasts from the couch, and Yuuri hides a groan. For the past two months, he has done his best to ignore Jean-Jacques Leroy, who is as arrogant as he will be in two years. Yuuri will be glad when he goes back to Canada after this year so that he can start college.

"Keep dreaming, Leroy," somebody snarks back, and Phichit and Yuuri descend into giggles with the rest of the room.

Viktor, of course, gets first place after the short programs end, but Chris is close behind him. Yuuri savors the repeated clip from Viktor's short program, guiltily thinking that he will have to find it online later. While Phichit grabs their coats, Yuuri pulls out his phone and finds a message from Chris.

From: Christophe Giacometti
Thanks love ♡ Masumi says hi. Did my program make you feel good? ;)

"Shameless flirt," Yuuri mutters, a small smile touching his lips. He's glad that Chris never changes.

To: Christophe Giacometti
Sure, keep thinking that

From: Christophe Giacometti
I bet not as good as Viktor's did though ;)

To: Christophe Giacometti
Shut up!

Yuuri puts the phone away, his face turning red. He will always be affected by Viktor, it seems, and Chris had figured out his worship of Viktor years ago. It's not like Yuuri really did anything to hide it, but Chris had honed in on that particular part of him like a moth to the light. The fact that Chris tends to send him some of the selfies he takes with Viktor, the ones that never see Instagram, is part of the reason Yuuri lets him get away with the teasing.

Something cold touches the back of his mind. Yuuri shouldn't be saving pictures or videos of Viktor anymore. He's not his Viktor.

"Alright?" Phichit asks, holding out Yuuri's coat. Yuuri nods and pulls it on, determined not to think about Viktor any longer.

When Chris texts him a picture of Viktor at a bar, laughing as he tips his head back, Yuuri can't stop himself from saving it.

~*~

For the entire flight to Japan, Yuuri struggles not to work himself into a panic, his headphones firmly in his ears while Celestino snores in the seat next to him. Not even his most soothing playlist can take the edge off his anxiety. Sleeping is useless as well, because every time Yuuri closes his eyes, he finds himself thinking of all the ways he could destroy his programs.

All he can think about is failing and missing his opportunity to get into Worlds and the GPF. He has to reach that goal, or else everything he has been working toward will be meaningless.

Japan's Nationals competition always takes place in Tokyo. When Yuuri was in juniors, Minako-sensei escorted him as his official coach, and she still takes the time to come cheer him on at every local competition, plus the majority of the international ones, too. Yuuri unfreezes his face a little when he sees Minako-sensei waiting at the baggage claim, smiling widely.

"Yuuri," Minako-sensei croons, taking his hand and spinning him around. "Look at you! Hiroko-chan is so happy you're coming home to visit!" She gives him a piercing look, as if trying to see his intentions, and Yuuri shifts uncomfortably. Of all the people who know him, Minako-sensei is the most likely to sense the change in him. He stares back at her until Celestino distracts them both.

"Ms. Okugawa! It's nice to see you," Celestino booms, and Yuuri dutifully follows them to gather his bags, sighing a little as Celestino distracts Minako-sensei from her interest in him.

He feels her attention throughout the day, though. Maybe his mother has gushed a little too much about his messages recently, or maybe she knows him too well. He wonders what he could possibly tell her. Minako-sensei is well traveled, but she isn't nearly as fascinated by the supernatural as Phichit is, nor is she particularly religious, so would she even believe him? She might try to make him attend therapy, or she might tell Celestino.

Yuuri broods. Then he realizes that he doesn't need to worry too much about it; he is still the same person as when he left Japan four years ago. Viktor had changed him for the better, made him happier, but Yuuri is still as much an anxious wreck as he was before. He doesn't behave too differently, even though everything inside him has changed. As for his family, he can say truthfully that he had a wake-up call about his behavior. Minako-sensei will believe him.

She does, though she waits until Celestino is well into his cups before pouncing on him. "Something's different about you, Yuuri," Minako-sensei says, tapping a long nail against her cocktail glass. Yuuri meets her gaze briefly, then looks past her to the mural on the wall behind their table for a distraction. His calm expression belies the roiling nausea in his gut. "You haven't visited your family in four years. You've barely spoken to them outside of birthdays and New Years. What's changed?"

Yuuri traces the edge of the mural with his eyes, considering. "I had a dream that Vicchan died," he says quietly, and Minako-sensei sits up in surprise.

"Died? He's fine, though," she assures him, and Yuuri nods, his shoulders sinking slightly.

He won't be in less than a year, and I can't take him back to Detroit, Yuuri doesn't say.

Instead he shrugs. "It made me think about my family. I realize I've behaved badly, and... I want to make it up to them. I miss them."

Minako-sensei's expression softens, and she gives him a small smile, reaching over to wrap her arm around his neck. "You're a good boy, Yuuri. They're proud of you, you know."

Yuuri's eyes sting a little, but he manages a smile. "I know. Thank you, Minako-sensei."

Walking into a building full of Japanese skaters, several of whom have competed against him and won, is more than a little terrifying, but Yuuri manages to keep a placid expression as he follows Celestino to the sign-in table. If Yuuri has his way, he will beat all of them today. He has to, so that he can go to Worlds and the GPF.

Yuuri spots Minami Kenjirou, though he is still in juniors, and his enthralled stare is hot on Yuuri's back as he walks through the stadium. Yuuri unbends from his tension enough to give Minami a small smile, which makes the boy's face light up with delight.

Yuuri still doesn't believe he has fans, sometimes.

Despite every intention otherwise, Yuuri still draws first. He thinks he might be cursed.

Warm-up is miserable. Yuuri can't stop worrying, and the one time he tries a jump, he completely fails it. He can feel Celestino watching him worriedly. Yuuri is sure that both he and Minako-sensei have been waiting for Yuuri to fall apart mentally. Two years ago, he definitely would have, but the last thing Yuuri needs is to have a mental breakdown in the middle of an important competition, not when so much rides on his determination. Yuuri can fall apart later, when he is alone in his hotel room.

Steel slides into his heart. If Yuuri does not do well, then he will never skate against Viktor. That, he simply cannot accept. With great effort, enough that it strains him, Yuuri locks away his worries, instead picturing Viktor's face when Yuuri started crying in the parking garage at Beijing. If Viktor were here, he would be trying to calm Yuuri down, and Yuuri wants to be calm enough that he wouldn't need Viktor right now -- because he doesn't have him anymore.

When at last Yuuri takes his place on the ice, his eyes closed with his head and arms tucked close to his body, he thinks of his death. Dragged into the past with no idea how it happened, nor any way to return to the life he left behind -- a cursed existence.

His anxiety will always stay with him, an unfortunate life partner that Yuuri will never be able to leave behind. Once, Viktor had been able to deal with it, having refused to see for months that Yuuri was a wreck. Yuuri's lips twitch slightly, his mien softening, and some of the pain inside him seeps away.

You don't have to say anything. Just stay by my side and believe in me.

Viktor isn't here to believe in him anymore. Yuuri has to believe in himself without Viktor's support.

The music for his short program begins, a rendition of Swan Lake Op. 20, Act II: 12, and Yuuri starts to skate. No longer is the story about Odette and her curse, but about Yuuri and his curse, of being dragged back in time to a world that is cold and empty to him, devoid of understanding or acceptance. His friends, his family, his fellow skaters -- none of them will ever be able to understand what Yuuri has lost. Phichit is the only person who comes close, but Yuuri has still kept so much from him, unable to open his heart and let in anything other than sharp, miserable pain.

He wants to be free of it. He wants to go home to Viktor. He wants to live again, but he is trapped in this time, with no way forward except to live differently, which means he will never have the same future.

By the time Yuuri looks up, drawing himself out of his misery, he is reaching out for a familiar hand -- but Viktor is not there, and Yuuri will never reach him.

His short program grants him a new personal best and sets him near the top of the competition. As he listens to Celestino's feedback, Yuuri realizes that he barely missed any jumps, which is a relief. Celestino is pleasantly surprised, and Minako-sensei is ecstatic when she reaches them afterward. Yuuri just pastes on a smile, numb after his performance.

He swears he will not cry in public again.

Somehow, Yuuri manages to hold himself together through the rest of the day after his short program, but he has a minor breakdown when he gets back to the hotel. Celestino sees his face crumple and pats his shoulder consolingly, then distracts Minako-sensei with an invitation to drinks, giving Yuuri some space to be alone with his thoughts.

Skating reminds him so much of Viktor. Even here in his homeland, Yuuri cannot escape him; and he just knows that when he goes home, he will take one look at the old banquet room where Viktor slept and start crying. Hasetsu is filled with memories of Viktor, of an eternal summer of bliss and new beginnings, and Yuuri is sure he will see Viktor wherever he looks.

The bittersweet feeling that wells up in his throat makes him ache. He needs to let go of this -- but Yuuri knows in his heart that he can never let go of Viktor. They had been together for a year, and Yuuri has looked up to him since he was a child. Viktor has shaped nearly every part of his life by now.

He goes to bed with a heavy heart, dreaming of reaching out for a hand that disappears beyond the water's surface. He wakes up with damp eyes, and as he rubs the tear stains off his cheeks, Yuuri gives in and opens his folder of Viktor pictures.

He taps on the most recent gift from Christophe -- a picture of Viktor leaning against a balcony looking over Paris, a small smile on his handsome face. Yuuri strokes one finger down the edge of Viktor's cheek on the screen, wishing he had something from the future other than his memories. He wants the picture of Viktor at the beach in Hasetsu, lifting Makkachin up as she wags and sprays water all over him. That picture is his favorite in the world, because of the bright happiness in Viktor's smile.

Yuuri smiles a little and closes the picture app, then forces himself out of bed. He can't sit here wallowing in memories. He has a competition to win.

And somehow, miraculously, amazingly -- Yuuri wins. The gold medal sits on Yuuri's chest hours later, and Celestino and Minako-sensei keep taking pictures and excitedly talking about Yuuri's free skate. Yuuri has already sent a selfie to Phichit as well as posted it on Instagram, his one concession for not bringing Phichit with him.

It has a hundred likes by the time Yuuri leaves the arena. When he gets to Hasetsu, it will have thousands.

"I'm so proud of you," Minako-sensei cries to him, after they accompany Celestino to the airport and see him off. Yuuri is still a little proud of himself, too; he had hoped, but he hadn't actually expected to win gold.

He still isn't sure how he did it. Somehow, Yuuri has turned his anxiety into a weapon, using it to push himself ever harder. It doesn't work as a shield, not against his own misery, but it fuels him just the same, propelling him forward into a future unknown.

He is now the top skater in Japan, and it's more than a little daunting.

~*~

When Yuuri calls out tadaima, his mother nearly trips in her haste to reach him, beaming smile on her face. Yuuri can't help but smile at the sight of her, setting down his bags and toeing off his shoes before climbing up to give her a hug.

"Oh," Hiroko says, before hugging him back tightly. "Welcome home, Yuuri!"

Yuuri lets go of his mother and opens his mouth to reply, when he hears the sound of skittering nails from down the hall, followed by high pitched yipping. He gasps and turns to see Vicchan flying down the hall, barking excitedly and running straight to Yuuri.

"Vicchan," Yuuri sobs, reaching out to catch Vicchan as he leaps up, accepting the puppy kisses with a wet laugh. Vicchan squirms to get as close to him as possible, whining and barking and licking until Yuuri just hugs him tightly, overwhelmed. He hasn't seen Vicchan in so long, and the guilt wells up, threatening to choke him. How could he leave Vicchan alone for so long? It had always been Yuuri's greatest regret, not going home to see Vicchan before he died, and now to hold him, to see him alive...

"I love you so much," Yuuri whispers into Vicchan's curls, laughing when Vicchan starts licking away his tears. "I'd take you back to Detroit with me if I could. You're such a good puppy, such a good Vicchan." I'm so sorry, he can't say, because the words stick to his throat, hot and heavy and miserable. I'm sorry I left you here. I'm sorry I didn't come back sooner.

He notices that his mother and Minako-sensei have retreated to the dining room, and Yuuri stands up to follow, wiping his face and shifting Vicchan in his arms.

"Let's go say hi to everyone," he tells Vicchan, who barks happily and licks at his chin.

A party awaits him. Mari grins at him and ruffles his hair, telling him she knew he could do it. The locals all welcome him with a toast, and Minako-sensei gets roaring drunk, shouting to everyone who will listen that her Yuuri won a gold medal. Yuuko and Nishigori show up with the triplets for a little while, and isn't that a shock, seeing the girls so small? They are already his fans, though, and they demand to take pictures with him, marveling over the gold medal that still hangs around Yuuri's neck.

All the while Vicchan never leaves him, taking up residence in Yuuri's lap and basking in his company. Yuuri can't stop petting him, taking bits of fish and meat from the table and feeding them to Vicchan, patting his plump belly with a smile.

He's so happy to be home. Dying and losing Viktor nearly destroyed him, and Yuuri is still having nightmares about his own death, about the life he will not live. It has taken him months to process what happened, and Yuuri still isn't over it. He doesn't think he will ever heal from what happened.

Seeing Vicchan again, though, holding him and cuddling him... this is one thing that makes his ordeal a little easier to handle. This is one silver lining out of everything else that happened to him.

When the party has wound down and most everyone has left or gone to bed, Yuuri is still sitting in the same spot, absently scratching Vicchan's ears while he snoozes, snuggled against Yuuri's belly. His father has retired upstairs, but his mother comes over to sit beside him with a sigh, reaching up to untie her apron and looking over at him with a warm smile.

"That was a good party," Hiroko says, and Yuuri nods, his eyes on Vicchan. He is thinking of Vicchan's death in less than a year, and he cannot bear the thought of it again, when Vicchan is alive and resting against him.

"Mom... Vicchan is doing okay, right? He's still eating well and everything?"

Hiroko blinks a few times, tilting her head. "Of course. Why, does he seem different?"

Yuuri wets his lips a little. Twisting the truth like this never felt worse, but he is determined. "I didn't tell you before, but... I had a dream about Vicchan dying, and it really upset me. Since he's getting older, I wonder... maybe the vet should do some blood work more often? Just to check for anything. His checkups are regular, right?"

Hiroko considers this for a moment. "We could do that. He's due for his shots soon, anyway. I'll have a talk with the vet."

Yuuri nods, accepting the promise. He doesn't know if they can catch the infection early, but he wants to believe that they can save Vicchan. "Thanks."

"I'm glad you came home, Yuuri," Hiroko tells him quietly. She glances at his medal, and her smile widens with pride. Yuuri puts his guilt aside for a little while and returns the smile, then gently takes the medal off and holds it out to her.

"It's taken me four years, but I finally brought you a gold medal. The next one will be for Japan," Yuuri promises, and Hiroko takes the medal to admire it for a few minutes.

She sets it down on the table gently, her gaze returning to his face, and Yuuri belatedly realizes that Minako-sensei isn't the only person who knows him too well.

"Something happened, didn't it?" his mother asks quietly, and Yuuri's face crumples a little. Lying to Minako-sensei is one thing, but Yuuri can't lie to his mother. Not about this. He can't tell her the truth, either... not the whole truth, anyway.

"I fell in love with someone. He made me happy," Yuuri finally whispers after the silence goes on a little too long, swallowing against the knot in his throat. He liked to sit in this spot and help you fold towels. You adored him. "I can't be with him anymore, though. Losing him... it made me think about all of the people in my life I've taken for granted. You and dad and Mari. Minako-sensei. Yuu-chan and Nishigori. Vicchan, too." He rubs his fingers behind Vicchan's ear, smiling sadly when Vicchan snuffles into his shirt.

"Oh, Yuuri," Hiroko whispers, drawing him close for a hug. Yuuri hides his face in her shoulder, soaking in her love and hating himself for being such a bad son before. He will do better this time.

Hiroko sends him off to bed with a gentle nudge, and Yuuri climbs the stairs slowly, Vicchan following at his heels. He pauses at the end of the hallway, his gaze going to the closed banquet room doors, where Viktor had slept for months. He knows it will be full of junk, boxes of old pottery sets and cleaning supplies, and not Viktor's bed or his pictures or his couch.

They had moved everything to St. Petersburg, anyway.

Just as he expected, tears begin to trickle down his cheeks, but Yuuri doesn't bother wiping them away. He wants to hold onto this feeling for a little while, love swelling in his chest, echoed by desolation.

Yuuri cannot resist trailing his fingers along the edge of the door, imagining opening it and seeing Viktor in bed, reading with Makkachin. He imagines sitting down beside him and putting Vicchan on top of Viktor's book. Viktor would react with delight and cuddle Vicchan immediately. He would have loved Vicchan.

Vicchan butts his head against Yuuri's leg, and Yuuri gives in and scoops him up, cuddling him close. "He's gone, Vicchan," he whispers, and the melancholy ache stays with him through his dreams.

~*~

Seeing Vicchan and his family heals some of the raw pain that Yuuri has carried for months. He goes back to Detroit with a lighter heart, taking packages of sweets and food to introduce to Phichit, as well as promises from his mother that she will keep an eye on Vicchan for any sign of illness.

Life goes on. Yuuri trains for hours, refining his programs and thinking about the future. If he gets seeded for the GPF again like he intends, he will need a better program than what he performed in his other future. He considers his quads; JJ can do the lutz, and both Seung-gil Lee and Emil Nikola will do the loop one day in the future. He thinks about the mythical quad axel, then shakes all the quads from his mind. Something to worry about for next season.

Yuuri goes to Four Continents, but he doesn't place. Instead, he loses silver to JJ's more difficult program, while a skater from China takes gold. Yuuri ekes out a spot just under the bronze winner, after flubbing two of his jumps in his free skate, which makes him work twice as hard when he gets home.

Finally, Worlds approaches. This year it is in Boston, which is a ten hour drive from Detroit -- or a two hour flight, which Celestino eventually chooses. Phichit is attending Worlds, which is a relief to Yuuri -- he doesn't think he could handle traveling with only Celestino and JJ. The Canadian skater has been irritating him lately, keeping a close eye on him during practice and taunting him at times when Celestino is out of earshot. Yuuri has seen JJ act like this before, but at Yurio, and he wonders if JJ sees him as a rival.

He had better. It's not going to be JJ on the podium with Viktor, after all.

The night before they travel to Boston, Yuuri has a long dream, and it stays on his mind throughout the entire competition.

~*~

Yuuri opens his eyes to find himself in a large room filled with rows and rows of pews, all facing a small empty altar. His clothes are wet and cold, and the edges of the room are dark, the light breaking through the air oddly, as if shining through water.

The room is empty of people, but there lingers a heavy scent of flowers, lilies and hydrangeas. It reminds him a little of a church, the kind he would like to get married in, though the pews are decorated with black shawls. Yuuri looks around but sees nothing, no one that can tell him where he is -- but then his eyes catch on a figure sitting at the front of the room.

The silver hair is a shock to his system. Viktor is dressed in all black, and he has his head bowed, his lips pressed tightly to his hands. When Yuuri walks down the aisle, he realizes that Viktor is crying, harder tears than the ones Yuuri caught with his fingers in Barcelona.

"Viktor," Yuuri whispers. Viktor doesn't look up.

"I can't do this without you, Yuuri," Viktor says, the words muffled by his hands. Another shock runs through Yuuri. He steps closer and tries to peer into Viktor's face, but Viktor has his eyes closed, and he doesn't seem to sense Yuuri at all.

"I'm trying. I really am. It's so hard, though. It was never supposed to be like this," Viktor whispers, a sob catching in his throat. "We were supposed to live together forever. You weren't supposed to leave me."

Yuuri's heart clenches. This is his Viktor -- he is certain of it. Slowly, he kneels down before Viktor, wanting to reach out and hold him, but something tells him that Viktor would not be able to feel him.

Viktor breathes in deeply. "But I'll keep trying," he says softly, opening his eyes slightly. The tears have filled his vision, and Yuuri can't resist reaching up to brush his cold fingers over the redness under Viktor's eyes. Warm tears spill over his fingertips, and Yuuri gently wipes them away, though Viktor doesn't seem to feel his touch for a moment. Then he closes his eyes and leans against Yuuri's hands, making him hold his breath.

"I'll look after Yurio and Makkachin. I'll keep going. I'll win gold for you, and then... and then I'll retire and try to live in a world without you. I don't know if I can... but I'll try."

Viktor opens his eyes, and a smile touches his lips. "I love you so much, Yuuri."

"I love you too, Viktor," Yuuri says quietly. He is crying, too, and he wants badly to take Viktor into his arms, to soothe his pain. "I'm so sorry I left you. I'm sorry! I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, too." He inhales tightly, bowing his head to rest on Viktor's knee, a tiny bit of Viktor's warmth seeping through the black slacks. "I miss you so much. I want to come home."

"Yuuri," Viktor whispers, and Yuuri lifts his head to find Viktor staring at him, eyes wide. Viktor lifts a shaking hand, and Yuuri feels his touch on his cheek, seconds before Viktor falls off the chair and throws his arms around him, sobbing.

"It's you, it's really you," Viktor says, over and over, and Yuuri buries his face in Viktor's shoulder. They sit like that for a long time, just holding onto each other, and somehow, Yuuri knows it cannot last. This room is a liminal space where they can meet each other, but only for a little while.

He tightens his arms around Viktor, not wanting to let go.

"You're dead," Viktor whispers into his hair. "I know this isn't real. They pulled your body out of the Neva."

"Not really," Yuuri whispers back, before he can stop himself. Viktor lurches back and grabs his shoulders, staring into his face with a manic energy that makes Yuuri flinch.

"You're alive? You're okay? Where are you, Yuuri? I'll find you, I'll do whatever it takes, I'll bring you home even if I have to make a deal with the devil --"

Yuuri gently reaches up to take Viktor's hands, shaking his head slowly. "You can't find me, Viktor. It's not a place -- it's a time. I... I went back. To the past, to a past where we didn't know each other." His eyes well over with tears again. "I woke up in Detroit, and I tried calling you. You didn't know me. You... the Viktor here, he's not you. I can't come home to you, I don't know how to travel through time." He smiles tremulously, reaching up to stroke Viktor's limp hair away from his face. "I'm so sorry. I don't think I can come back. Not... not if I'm dead."

"Time travel," Viktor repeats blankly. Then he seizes Yuuri's hands again, kissing his fingers, then leaning over to kiss him. "Then you'll come back to me eventually. The future will happen again. I'll keep you safe, I won't let you die like you did."

Yuuri shakes his head, clutching Viktor's hands tightly. "No, Viktor, I can't. How can I? I've already changed the past. I've done things that never happened for me before. It won't happen the same way, meeting you, loving you --"

"I don't care," Viktor says fiercely. "I'll love you no matter what happens. Find me, Yuuri. Tell me everything --"

"But it's not you!" Yuuri cries, and that shuts Viktor up. "He's not you. He doesn't know me, he doesn't remember me. What should I do, dance with him at the banquet again? Take him to Hasetsu and try to recreate our life together? I can't do that, Viktor. I can't pretend with him, I can't pretend that he's you. He's not! He'll never be you!"

For a long moment, Viktor is silent, before he gently brings Yuuri's hand up and kisses his ring. "But he is me, Yuuri. Another me, maybe, but it's still me, and you're still you. We're meant for each other."

Yuuri's breath catches on a sob, and he wraps his arms around Viktor tightly. He thinks of staying here forever, lingering in Viktor's life as a ghost, but he knows he cannot. He can feel it, now; the cold of the Neva, clinging to him, threatening to drag him back into darkness if he stays here. He doesn't want to go back to that past that is empty of Viktor, but he cannot stay in a place where he is dead, either.

"How can I fall in love with someone who doesn't remember what we have? He's not my coach. He didn't kiss me at Beijing. He didn't sit with me at the beach and tell me I'm not weak. He's not..."

Viktor gently pushes Yuuri back and takes his face in his hands, looking into his eyes. The tears are gone, replaced by familiar determination, and the fierce blue of his eyes takes over Yuuri's vision, silencing him. "Then you can make different memories. I will still love you, Yuuri. A thousand lifetimes, a thousand repeats, and I will fall in love with you every time." He finally smiles, and it looks sharp, brittle with the edge of grief. "Trust me."

Yuuri doesn't know if he can. "What if... what if he doesn't become you? What if you're still alone here?" A separate future, one he can't ever reach -- he can't bear leaving Viktor alone.

Viktor shakes his head, then leans up to press a soft kiss to Yuuri's forehead. "But you'll be alive, and you'll be with me. If I know that, then I'll be okay. Even if I can't meet you again, at least another me will. And you'll be safe. You'll be alive. That's more important than anything else, Yuuri."

Yuuri closes his eyes against the tears. "I miss you. It hurts so much, Viktor, I keep having dreams about drowning --" His voice breaks. He is trembling hard, now, the cold overbearing, and he can hear the water rushing in his ears.

"Oh, Yuuri." Viktor wraps him up in his arms again, and now Yuuri can feel his warmth, easing away the cold that is gripping his entire being. He closes his eyes and relaxes into Viktor's arms, until the last of the shivers fade away. The Neva is far away, now. Viktor will be far away, too -- and that hurts worse than his death.

All too soon, he feels a strange pull, and he burrows tighter into Viktor's arms. "No, I don't want to leave," he begs, not knowing who or what might be listening, but the sensation tugs harder.

He is going back.

"I guess you can't stay here forever," Viktor says softly, and the sadness in his voice is a physical weight against Yuuri's heart, dragging him down into desolation. "It'll be okay, Yuuri. I'll find you again, and I'll protect you. Trust in me."

"Viktor," Yuuri says helplessly, and he leans up to give Viktor one last kiss. One last promise. Viktor kisses him back desperately, and though they cling to each other, Yuuri knows he has to leave.

"I love you," he says, before everything fades away to white.

~*~

The dream stays with him all through the flight to Boston. They go to the airport at the crack of dawn, and Yuuri retreats into himself, to hide the bags under his eyes and the ache in his heart.

No one really questions his quiet mood; Yuuri is usually like this before competitions, though typically wrought with panic and anxiety, which is still true, and he uses that assumption as a shield. JJ spends most of the trip talking to Shasta Nguyen and Amelia Hart, and Phichit reads a book on his phone. Yuuri slouches in his seat and stares out the plane window with his headphones in, listening to Adam Lambert and Darren Hayes and Mumford & Sons until the only feeling inside him is halcyon and soft.

He left Viktor alone. He knows without a doubt that the dream was real, just as he knows that his memories are real. Somewhere in the future, Viktor is crying, but when Yuuri had left him, there had been peace in Viktor's mien, acceptance that Yuuri doesn't think he would have reached on his own.

At least he gave Viktor that. Otherwise, Yuuri wouldn't be able to live with himself.

By the time they reach Boston, Yuuri has come to peace with the dream. He doesn't know if he can do as Viktor asks. He still cannot imagine being with Viktor as he is now, a Viktor who never shared Hasetsu and the GPF with him. His decisions come back to him; he will do his best to make Viktor happy, no matter what happens between them. Even if Viktor never falls in love with him again, Yuuri will be whatever Viktor wants him to be, so long as he never has to see Viktor cry again.

After a while, JJ starts wearing on his nerves. He is either excitedly talking about his choice for college in Toronto, prattling about his parents choosing to coach him for next season (while ignoring Celestino's quiet huffs about that) or boasting about the gold medal he wants to take home from Worlds. Yuuri does his best to drown him out with his music. Two hours later, Yuuri tucks his headphones away and stumbles off the plane, following the rest of his rinkmates to baggage claim with a heavy sigh.

He just wants to go to the hotel and sleep. He's also starving, which is never good, because it makes Yuuri irritable.

Checking in and getting badges takes a little longer than normal, because there is a complication with Phichit's badge. Celestino leaves Yuuri and the others sitting in the lobby, and for a while, there is silence between them. Amelia and Shasta have their heads bowed over a video, and JJ is watching the skaters arriving, likely scoping out the competition. Yuuri sits curled up in a chair, flipping through his Instagram.

Viktor has posted a picture of the Boston cityscape from his hotel room.

v-nikiforov: Ready to meet me, Boston? #worldscompetition #figureskating #hereiam!

Yuuri lingers on his name, then scrolls past it. Phichit and JJ have already updated their Instagrams, and Yuuri probably should, too; maybe when he doesn't feel like a hobgoblin. With a sigh, he sits up and rubs the back of his neck, looking past JJ to see if Celestino and Phichit are back yet.

"Alas, they're not done yet," JJ says with an elaborate sigh. "Pity, isn't it? It's nice to see everyone arriving, though."

Yuuri debates not answering. JJ will probably try to be annoying if he doesn't. "It's always like this the first day," he finally says. Small talk, boring enough that JJ will hopefully stop bothering him.

JJ laughs. "And it will only get busier! Look at all of them, Yuuri. Waiting for their new king, no doubt."

Oh, no, here he goes again. JJ has been going on for a while about how the ice skating world needs a new king, as if Viktor Nikiforov could ever be dethroned. Yuuri knows Viktor's future, and it does not involve losing to JJ, of all people.

He has noticed that JJ has a habit of talking down to people, not unlike his future self. His insults are usually disguised as compliments, but Yuuri perfected the art of lying to one's face years ago, and he knows how to spot a nasty comment. JJ usually limits his smiling disparagement for Yuuri and his rinkmates, but when he starts on Viktor...

"Can you just stop for one minute?" Yuuri says without thinking, and after a long moment, JJ turns to stare at him, his smile gone. Amelia and Shasta look up at them, blinking in surprise.

"Run that by me again?" JJ asks, his voice as pleasant as can be. Yuuri looks up and glares back, his temper stretched thin by his exhausting night and the early flight. He has no patience for JJ's arrogance. Slowly he stands, stretching his back with a faint crack, and turns to face JJ.

"Stop it. For one whole minute, JJ. You've been harping about Viktor for hours, and I'm sick of it."

JJ scoffs. "Oh, right, you're his fan. He's never going to look at you, you know."

Yuuri lets the insult slide off him. Yurio has told him far worse. "First of all, there is no way that you will beat Viktor Nikiforov. That is a fact. He's the best in the entire skating world. Second of all, before you worry about beating Viktor, you should worry about me." He narrows his eyes, his competitive spirit rising up. He usually doesn't get involved with tiffs like this -- but he is irate, and JJ is being annoying.

JJ steps back, surprised by Yuuri's fervor, then laughs loudly and mockingly. "You? Why should I worry about someone like you? Twenty-two and you've never even medaled internationally. Someone like you could never hope to reach the podium."

In two years, JJ will not be this rude. He will be charming and abrasive, but he won't tell skaters to their faces that they will fail. Yuuri snorts, unimpressed by JJ's view of him, though it stings a little. He gives JJ a flat look. "Then why have you been watching my practices so closely, hm? Worried?"

JJ has nothing to say to that. Yuuri holds his stare, then turns around to see if Phichit or Celestino have returned, thinking that if they haven't, he can try to find a vending machine or something to escape JJ's attention.

He stops short, though, when his eyes meet blue. His heart drops to his stomach.

Viktor Nikiforov is staring at him from a few feet away. He is standing with the rest of the Russian contingent, though only Viktor is focused on him. JJ makes a noise behind him, and Yuuri wildly wonders if Viktor overheard the argument. Quickly he averts his gaze, his heart beating fast.

Seeing Viktor hurts. He looks younger than the Viktor in his memories, and seeing him so soon after his dream last night rips open the raw wound that Yuuri nursed for the whole trip. He is achingly beautiful, his hair cut a little shorter than his normal style, and Yuuri wants more than anything to run into his arms, forget about his dream, and just let Viktor's warmth soothe away his pain.

He can't, though, because Viktor doesn't know him.

Viktor says nothing, still watching Yuuri curiously. After a moment, he glances beyond him, and a second later Yuuri feels a heavy arm land on his shoulders. "Viktor Nikiforov!" JJ says loudly, drawing attention from around the room. "We were just talking about you --"

Oh, no. He is not doing this. "Stop," Yuuri says, before he slips out from under JJ's arm and steps away from him, fixing him with a glare. "I'm going to find Celestino." He walks away without waiting for a reply, using his speed to cross the room in moments. He spots Phichit coming toward him and nearly melts in relief, going to meet his friend. He doesn't care what JJ does or says to Viktor, and Viktor will probably ignore him, anyway.

At least, Yuuri hopes so.

To his relief, JJ shows up with the girls a moment later, eyeing Yuuri with something like irritation. Yuuri ignores him and takes his badge from Celestino, then leans over Phichit's shoulder to look at the schedule.

The ISU always sets up two days of practice before the actual competition begins on Wednesday. The men's short programs are taking place on Wednesday. Then Thursday will be another practice day, with Friday the main event for the men's finalists. Sunday will be the exhibition skate and the banquet.

Yuuri will cram in as much practice as he can, just as Phichit will. They also have meetings and interviews, and Yuuri doesn't look forward to those. His popularity in Japan has risen exponentially after winning at Nationals, and he expects Morooka Hisashi to hunt him down and grill him within an inch of his life about his sudden increase in ability.

He sighs heavily, then straightens with determination. He didn't come all this way to fall apart now.

"Why is JJ staring at you like you murdered his skates?" Phichit whispers to him, peeking over his shoulder.

"I'll tell you later," Yuuri whispers back, knowing that JJ is staring at the back of his head. He isn't sure what he has done this time to get JJ's attention so quickly; in the other future, JJ usually ignored him whenever they saw each other, both during their training in Detroit and after.

As Yuuri follows the rest of his team out of the room, he feels eyes on the back of his head and hesitates by the door, turning slightly to see who might be watching him.

Viktor is staring at him again. Yuuri meets his gaze briefly, then disappears out the door.

~*~

"I can't believe he said that to you," fumes Phichit the next day, frowning at JJ from across the ice. The three of them are at practice, and luckily enough (for unluckily for Yuuri, who is still stuck with JJ) they were put in the first group together. Yuuri shrugs, turning backwards on his heel and wondering if he could get away with a quad while Celestino isn't looking. He was warned off them for today, which irritates him.

"JJ is a brat, you know this," Yuuri says with a sigh. On the other side of the rink, JJ raises his head as if sensing that he is the topic of their conversation. Thankfully, JJ hadn't said another word to him for all of yesterday.

"It's not right, though!"

Yuuri doesn't bother telling him that it doesn't matter. JJ will do whatever JJ wants to do, and there is little Yuuri can say to convince him otherwise. The insults mean nothing to him; Yurio once called him twelve variants of 'fatso' without taking a breath, each worse than the last. Yuuri is no stranger to the types of comments one gets on the internet, either.

For a moment he considers Yurio and his insults, which never once managed to get under Yuuri's skin. He once walked around a museum with Yurio, and every moment was filled with insults, disparagement, and diatribes about how Yurio was better than him and that he would wipe both Viktor and Yuuri off the the map of the skating world.

Yuuri's lips twitch slightly. Yurio's insults never bothered him, not even when the younger boy would start in on Viktor and call him rude names. Most of the time, he would insult Viktor's age, his hair, his forgetfulness -- he called Viktor an idiot all the time. Yet none of it had bothered Yuuri, because he had seen through Yurio's bravado with ease.

He misses Yurio. He wonders how he is doing in Russia.

When JJ insults him, though, Yuuri can't help but be irritated. Therein lies the difference -- JJ is not Yurio, nor is he Yuuri's friend. He doesn't have any respect for Yuuri, and he truly thinks himself better than everyone around him. Yurio might have put on a strong mask, but he was doubtful of himself, and he never stopped admiring Viktor or Yuuri despite his intention to beat both their records.

It infuriates Yuuri when JJ starts mocking Viktor. Nothing has ever made him angry faster.

It's his own fault for losing his temper at JJ. He's a little better today, but that ugly feeling is simmering under his ribs, ready to lash out if JJ so much as says Viktor's name. He has to hold onto his patience, lest he actually lose his temper and cause a scene much larger than yesterday's little argument.

In front of Viktor, no less.

Viktor. Yuuri still can't believe that Viktor had been standing there. Listening, likely overhearing that Yuuri is his fan, hearing Yuuri defend him to a younger skater. Just the memory of him brings his humiliation back to the forefront of his mind, and Yuuri sighs heavily. He wants to crawl in a hole and forget that any of this ever happened.

He wonders what time Viktor is practicing. He is determined not to see him for the rest of the competition, any more than he can help.

"Uh oh, Ciao Ciao wants to talk to me," Phichit says in trepidation, and Yuuri smiles a little, watching him skate over to their coach. He focuses on his practice, moving through the second part of his short program. It uses his grace and step sequences to entice the audience, and Yuuri has to admit he once found it a little conventional. Now he throws himself into the art of it, thinking of Viktor telling him, "Skate like you are the most beautiful person on the ice."

He wishes Viktor would look at him like that again.

He needs to stop thinking about Viktor -- yet all Yuuri can think about is the way Viktor watched him yesterday. After his glimpse into his original future, the thought of Viktor paying extra attention to him sends shivers down his spine, a chill reminiscent of the Neva. He wonders, a little hysterically, if Viktor had a similar dream -- if Yuuri's Viktor reached out to him, to guide him to Yuuri.

Absolutely not, Viktor!

It's impossible, anyway.

"Too bad Celestino won't let you do quads today," sings JJ as he passes Yuuri, and Yuuri drags himself out of his thoughts to give him a blank stare.

"You're not allowed to do them, either," Yuuri returns evenly, then turns his back on JJ and focuses on his program. A quad toe loop coming up, which means Yuuri has to make it a triple today.

"I could do them if I wanted. He only keeps you from doing them because you'll mess them up," JJ says with an uncaring shrug, and the words grate on Yuuri's nerves. He can ignore JJ, and the Canadian man will eventually go away, and Yuuri will be able to escape practice with only a small headache, instead of the migraine that is threatening to bloom behind his temple.

He doesn't bother replying. This seems to displease JJ, who switches to a different track. "I think it's amazing that you can even do the salchow now, you know," JJ says, a little louder than he should, twisting to skate beside Yuuri.

Yuuri throws a desperate look over at Celestino, but his back is turned as he talks to Phichit, who hasn't noticed his dilemma either. "Can we just practice?" he asks pointedly, and JJ laughs, with that same mocking edge from yesterday.

He really pissed JJ off. Yuuri is kind of amazed at himself for managing it -- JJ usually brushes off criticism, maintaining a constant belief that he can do no wrong, and he rarely acts spitefully to the other skaters despite his arrogance. Yuuri sighs again. "Look, JJ --"

"You know, it's too easy to learn these quads," JJ boasts. "I've already got the lutz down, and next is the flip. What about you? Oh, that's right. Just the salchow and the toe loop." He clicks his tongue, and Yuuri narrows his eyes, wondering where JJ is even going with this. "Only the best can make it to the top, Yuuri, and the best always know more than two quads."

Ah. That is probably JJ's goal, to tempt him into doing a quad and getting in trouble with Celestino. To Yuuri's dismay, it's close to working; he really wants JJ to shut up. "That's ridiculous. Most skaters can only do two quads, anyway."

"Mm, and none of them are guaranteed winners," JJ returns, meeting Yuuri's eyes. "You can try all you like on this week, but you only know two quads. It won't be enough for the judges." JJ sighs dramatically, and that's when Yuuri's temper snaps.

"I know three quads, thanks," Yuuri says before he can stop himself. Then he claps a hand over his mouth, shocked that he gave in to JJ's taunts, and glares at JJ before skating off to the other side of the rink.

Shit. He doesn't want anyone to know he can do the quad flip. He hasn't even shown Phichit, because as understanding as Phichit is, he will push Yuuri to announce it to the world. Yuuri wants to hold that ace up his sleeve for as long as possible. It was an amazing feeling, using that to surprise Viktor, and a small part of him wants to save it, in case events do fall together in the same way as his first future.

The quad flip had earned him his first kiss from Viktor. It's special to him in a way no other jump is.

His outburst seems to shut JJ up for a little while, because Yuuri finally gets to focus on practice; however, he's too agitated to do as well as he wants. By the time practice draws to close, Yuuri is wound more tightly than a spring, and all he wants to do is run away again.

Once again, JJ refuses to let him back out.

"Yuuri," JJ calls from across the ice. Yuuri squares his shoulders and turns to face JJ, who comes to a stop in front of him with a smooth glide. His smile is in place, but something is glittering in his eyes, a challenge. Yuuri takes a deep breath and waits, and JJ's smile widens. "Show me the third quad you can do. Or are you a liar?"

Yuuri bristles. "I'm not a liar. You know we're not supposed to do quads today. Are you trying to get me in trouble?"

"Who, me?" JJ raises his hands, adopting an innocent expression. "You could just tell me what it is."

Absolutely not. "No," Yuuri bites out, turning away. He hasn't done the quad since he came back in time. A moment of doubt strikes him; what if he cannot do it anymore? It's been months since he last made the jump, and that was in another life, when Yuuri was glowing under Viktor's guidance.

What if he can't do it?

JJ's next words set his teeth on edge. "Then I'll tell everyone you're a liar. Trying to put yourself at my level? You just don't have the skill."

His frayed temper snaps again, and Yuuri glares over his shoulder. "You want my third quad? Fine. But I'm throwing you under the bus if Celestino sees." He skates away to the emptiest part of the rink before he can see JJ's satisfied expression, thinking of the very end of Yuuri On Ice and pulling that feeling into his heart, a temporary salve against the rage and anxiety burning in his chest.

He has to do this. He has to know if he can still land the quad flip.

He forces himself to slow down before he hurts himself, sliding into the final steps of his future free skate with ease. He meets JJ's eyes across the ice, and then he turns.

He lands the quad flip perfectly. The final spins are beautiful and familiar to his body, like sliding on a favorite sweater, and Yuuri gathers that feeling close around him, relishing in the warmth it evokes. This was his and Viktor's song -- and that flip is Yuuri's now, given to him by Viktor. He comes to a stop and lifts his hands, then points at JJ and glares.

"Gonna call me a liar now?" Yuuri calls out, his voice ringing across the ice, and that's when he realizes that the entire rink is staring at him.

Oh, shit.

Yuuri freezes in place, the attention shocking him. JJ is staring at him open-mouthed, stunned by his action, and everyone else is wide-eyed with amazement. Nobody else in the skating world can do a quad flip at this point except Viktor, and Yuuri winces, closing his eyes for a moment.

Damn his temper. He had not wanted his quad flip to be revealed like this.

"Yuuri Katsuki," Celestino booms, and Yuuri flinches again at the realization that he was caught. "Jean-Jacques. Both of you, to me."

Yuuri skates over to him silently, not looking at JJ again. Phichit is staring at him with wide eyes, and only Celestino's thunderous expression keeps him from asking every question on his mind. Yuuri accepts the skate guards silently and follows Celestino off the ice, hearing whispering from the other skaters and coaches.

"We're going to have a thorough talk about what I just witnessed," Celestino is saying, but when Yuuri looks up from his feet, Celestino's voice fades away, as does all other sound.

Viktor is standing in front of him again -- and now his eyes are wide with shock as he stares at Yuuri. Yakov and the other Russians are similarly speechless, and Yuuri's stomach drops to the floor, horrified that Viktor is even here.

He saw my quad flip. I can't surprise him anymore.

Abruptly, tears well up in his eyes, but Yuuri looks away before Viktor can see them. He hurriedly wills the tears away and somehow manages not to cry in front of Viktor and the rest of their peers. After a brief moment, he looks back at Viktor and nods a little, then steps around him to follow Celestino.

"Wait," Viktor says behind him, but Yuuri is already leaving the rink. He doesn't think he wants to hear what Viktor has to say anyway.

Celestino pries the entire situation out of Yuuri and JJ. Yuuri admits to his own behavior with reluctance, and just like he promised, he wastes no time in throwing JJ to Celestino's displeasure. JJ doesn't bother lying, saying that he wanted to see if Yuuri could actually do it, but Celestino glowers at all three of them, even Phichit who had nothing to do with the situation.

JJ is restricted to the hotel for the rest of the day. Phichit escapes punishment by virtue of being innocent in all this, but Yuuri gets a long lecture on the importance of telling one's coach when one is practicing dangerous jumps alone. At the end of it, Celestino takes one look at Yuuri's miserable face and lets the three of them go shower and change, deciding only to give Yuuri a curfew.

Yuuri accepts it without complaint. He deserves it for letting JJ get under his skin and breaking Celestino's trust.

Phichit tries to convince him to go walking, but Yuuri takes one look at the light glinting off the Charles River, running beside the TD Garden where the competition is being held, and heads back to the hotel alone. He retreats to his and Phichit's hotel room and closes the curtains, turns off the lights, and burrows himself into his bed.

Then he falls apart.

It isn't fair. Yuuri is supposed to be strong enough to handle this, but with Viktor here, all of his plans and decisions are turning to dust before his eyes. Yuuri couldn't even hold onto the one piece of proof that Viktor had coached him for a year -- the quad flip, the most important jump of his life. His anxiety and temper had ripped it out of his hands as if it meant nothing.

Viktor saw it. Yuuri cannot surprise him anymore.

A sob catches in his throat, and Yuuri swallows convulsively against the hot knot of anger and humiliation. How could he ever hope to reach Viktor's level the way he is? He hasn't changed at all. He is still the same anxious wreck of a person as he was before Viktor danced his way into Yuuri's life, taking him by the hand and showing him light and warmth that Yuuri will never, ever feel again.

He wants to go home. He wants to go to Viktor. He wants to go back to that room where Viktor was crying and stay there at his side; he can take being a ghost, so long as he can be close to his Viktor.

After a long while, Yuuri struggles to stop his tears. He can't cry like this; he has to be strong, has to keep going, otherwise he will never get seeded for the GPF. Yuuri's tears fall harder at the thought.

It isn't fair. Why can't Yuuri be stronger than this?

He stays in bed for hours, until the sky outside is beginning to darken. Phichit returns to the room then and gently pries Yuuri out of bed, silently handing him a towel and picking out some jeans and one of Yuuri's favorite hoodies while Yuuri washes his face, pressing the cold towel to the reddened skin under his eyes.

"Carbohydrates and seafood?" Phichit offers, and Yuuri nods.

"Definitely."

Yuuri stays quiet beside Phichit as they walk away from the hotel. The sky is cloudy with a threat of rain, which matches Yuuri's mood perfectly. While they wait for the light to change, Yuuri stares down at his feet, thinking darkly of all the things he could have said to JJ but didn't. He knows JJ is just testing him, sizing him up as a competitor, but it bothers Yuuri that he let himself be riled up so easily.

He knows that it is partly because of the dream he had of Viktor, and because of meeting Viktor himself. Everything has been ruined now, though; if everybody knows about his quad flip, then Yuuri cannot use it to surprise Viktor in the future. There is no way to get back the future that he has lost. All because Yuuri couldn't control himself.

Phichit leans into his side. "Purple elephants on a bus," he says quickly, and Yuuri is so flummoxed by it that he turns to stare at Phichit -- only to get caught and pulled into a selfie.

"Ha!" Phichit says, quickly uploading the picture to Instagram. "I got you good!"

Yuuri stares at him another moment, then finally smiles. Phichit grins and tugs him across the street, waving his phone a little. "You're all over the internet, you know."

Yuuri groans, his laughter fading. "Don't tell me that. I don't even want to know what they're saying."

"Oh, just something about you being the next Viktor Nikiforov..."

"What?!" He covers his face for a moment, debating going back to the hotel room to hide, but Phichit sees right through him and hooks his arm through Yuuri's to keep him from escaping. Yuuri leans into him with a sigh, tilting his head back to look up at the sky. "I can't believe he saw it. I can't believe he was there..."

"Talk about the worst timing," Phichit agrees. After a moment, he nudges Yuuri's side. "What was it like, seeing him?"

Yuuri doesn't answer for a moment, his eyes tracing the line of the tallest building above them, before he lowers his gaze to the ground. "Terrifying. I keep thinking that it's him... but it's not him. It's confusing. I'm afraid that if he starts talking to me, I'll say something horribly wrong, and he'll never look at me again. But I'm also afraid of him even looking at me."

Phichit squeezes his arm reassuringly. "He's nice to everybody, though. I don't think he would ever treat you like that. Especially not from how you've talked about him, you know... in the future," he whispers, glancing around them.

Yuuri smiles without humor. "Maybe. I don't know how I'll handle it. I guess that's something to worry about later." After a moment, he decides to pull out his phone, absently turning it off airplane mode.

Yuuri had turned off his phone while he was hiding in the hotel room. He stops short when he sees several messages on his phone. Half of them are from Minako-sensei, which makes Yuuri wonder how widespread her information network is, and the others from his rinkmates back in Detroit.

The last message is from Chris.

From: Christophe Giacometti
Heard about what happened. Are you alright?

"Chris is texting me," Yuuri mutters, and Phichit obligingly pauses to lean against a storefront nearby.

To: Christophe Giacometti
I don't want to talk about it.

From: Christophe Giacometti
That's fine. Want to go eat with us? You can bring your friend :)

Yuuri glances up at Phichit. "Chris is inviting us to dinner. He must have brought Masumi with him. Want to meet them?"

Phichit lights up. Chris is one of the skaters he looks up; Viktor is another. "I'd love to! Where do they want to meet?"

To: Christophe Giacometti
Ok. Can we get seafood?

From: Christophe Giacometti
Sounds great. Meet us in front of Atlantic Fish Co in twenty :)

"A restaurant called the Atlantic Fish Company," Yuuri says dutifully, and he and Phichit spend the next few minutes pulling up maps and menus. The restaurant is thankfully within walking distance, so he and Phichit set off together. Yuuri listens with a small smile as Phichit talks excitedly about getting to meet Chris. He's more interested in the menu, truthfully -- all the seafood Yuuri could ever want.

The afternoon is dipping toward evening, and beyond the clouds, Yuuri can see hints of pink and orange. Yuuri lets the chatter of Phichit and the crowd around them soothe away some of his misery, looking forward to talking with Chris and Masumi. Ahead on the street, he notices Chris standing in front of the restaurant, wearing casual jeans and talking to --

Yuuri pales. That's not Masumi.

He grabs Phichit and drags him into the doorway to Starbucks, out of sight of Chris and his companion. His life is falling apart in front of his eyes, and Yuuri can't do anything about it. "Chris brought Viktor here," he hisses to Phichit, hysteria building up in his throat. Phichit's eyes go round, and he starts to lean out of the door so he can look, but Yuuri pulls him back before he can get them noticed.

He whips out his phone.

To: Christophe Giacometti
YOU BROUGHT VIKTOR?

From: Christophe Giacometti
I'm sorry! Masumi had to go to a meeting, and Viktor was already with me. Please come?

To: Christophe Giacometti
How could you do this to me???

From: Christophe Giacometti
It's okay, he's not mad, just come eat with us? Please? It'll be fine

"Nooooo," Yuuri whimpers, covering his face. "Viktor is going to eat with us." He slumps against the glass face-first, defeated, his phone hanging limply in his hand.

Phichit is beside himself. "Oh my god, we're going to eat with Viktor Nikiforov?"

"Yeah." A beat passes. Yuuri wonders if it's too late to run away. "I give up, Phichit. I'm going to end it all."

Phichit fixes him with a startled look. "Yuuri --"

Yuuri doesn't look up from the ground. "I'm going to pack everything up and move to Wisconsin and become a potato farmer. Potatoes are important, right? More important than my dismal skating career and every crap decision I've made in the past five months. You can make a lot of things with potatoes, you know. Fries. Croquettes. Curry."

"Vodka," Viktor adds helpfully.

Yuuri nods against the glass. "Right, vodka, that one's pretty important. See? Potato farmer it is."

Yuuri's brain catches up to what he just heard, and he whirls around to see Viktor watching him with a little grin, Chris standing behind him looking like he wants to laugh at Yuuri's misery. Phichit has his hands over his mouth, and for a moment everybody just stares at each other.

Then Phichit clears his throat. "Isn't Wisconsin next to Canada? You'd still be neighbors with JJ."

Yuuri blanches. Chris and Viktor crack up, and after a moment, Phichit joins in. Yuuri manages a weak laugh, too, his mind whirling. The door to Starbucks opens, and Yuuri reluctantly shuffles out of the way, joining Viktor and Chris on the sidewalk.

Chris grins at him, wrapping an arm around Yuuri's waist and sliding his hand down. Yuuri yelps and gives him a dirty look, and Chris winks, gently leading Yuuri away. "Let's get some food. I'm famished, aren't you?"

"Yuuri, did Chris just touch your butt?" Phichit whispers, and Yuuri sighs heavily.

"It's like saying hello for him," Yuuri says flatly, and Chris just laughs, while Viktor watches them curiously, his gaze lingering on Yuuri.

Yuuri tries not to look at him too much. The only contact he has had with this Viktor is that phone call the night he arrived back in the past, and he has no idea if Viktor will recognize his voice. So far, Viktor doesn't seem to think badly of him, only showing curiosity and polite interest.

He has no idea what Viktor must think of him, after seeing that quad flip.

Once in the restaurant, Chris expertly maneuvers them into a booth so that Yuuri is sitting across from Viktor and next to Phichit. Yuuri is pondering exactly how to murder Chris without getting caught when their server arrives, and since Yuuri is at his wit's end, he orders a beer.

"Sam Adams draft, please," he requests, pulling out his ID. He watches from under his eyelashes as Viktor orders an Amstel Light, and Chris takes advantage of the cocktail menu. Phichit is left with water, which makes him sulk, and Yuuri finally manages a smile.

"It's not fair," Phichit whines. "American laws are so strict."

"You can't drink in Thailand, either," Yuuri reminds him, grinning a little when Phichit pouts at him. He will have to make it up to Phichit later; right now, he needs something to take the edge off this disaster of an evening.

When he looks at their table companions, Yuuri finds Viktor watching him again, and he can't help but flush under his attention. Viktor's smile widens a little.

"You're different than what I expected," Viktor tells him, and this pulls Yuuri up short, making him blink at Viktor. He hadn't even thought Viktor knew who he was, let alone what he was like.

"Um, okay," Yuuri mumbles, glancing at Chris, but Phichit has already drawn him into conversation. Traitors, he thinks mutinously.

This is the first time he and Viktor are talking face to face in this timeline. It's almost a year earlier than Yuuri originally expected, and meeting Viktor like this would have been hell on Yuuri's younger self. It's still hell on Yuuri's nerves, but for entirely different reasons.

He has never experienced this before. This encounter between them is entirely new.

You can make different memories.

Yuuri closes his eyes briefly, thinking of his Viktor. Then he meets Viktor's gaze evenly, deciding that since he cannot escape this situation, he might as well let it happen. "I didn't think you'd have an opinion of me. We've never met before."

Viktor's smile widens a little. "I've heard about you, though. You nearly got bronze at Four Continents, didn't you? Then you won your Nationals back in December."

Yuuri stares at him. How does Viktor even know that? "I suppose," Yuuri admits. "I just didn't think you'd look me up." Four Continents had been a disaster, but it had only fueled his resolve to work harder.

Viktor shrugs a little. "My rinkmate, Yuri Plisetsky, started watching your programs after someone linked him because you two share a name. You caught my attention." He smiles again, the expression a little sharp, and a lot cooler than any smile Yuuri remembers from his Viktor. The realization chills him a little. This isn't his Viktor; he needs to keep that in mind.

Then he catches Viktor's meaning. He wonders how Yurio is doing, and why he is watching videos of Yuuri. The thought warms him. "Yuri Plisetsky," Yuuri says carefully. "He's in juniors, right?"

"Mm," Viktor agrees. "I'm sure you'll meet him sometime. I'll have to thank him for bringing you to my attention, because it's definitely proven worthwhile." He flashes his teeth, and Yuuri has the sudden epiphany that Viktor is sizing him up as a competitor.

He can do Viktor's quad flip. He is somebody who could be a challenge to Viktor, and Viktor already senses that, even this early. It sends a little thrill through Yuuri, and he can't help but smile, quietly pleased that Viktor is paying so much attention to him.

Their server brings them their drinks, and Yuuri takes a drink of his beer with a relieved sigh. He hears Chris ordering some appetizers, but his attention remains mostly on Viktor, who is tasting his bottle of beer, licking his lips afterwards. Yuuri has to avert his gaze after that.

"You can do the quad flip now," Viktor says, catching Yuuri's attention again.

He sighs. There is no escaping this, now. "Yes. I haven't performed it in competition, though."

"Why not?" Chris asks, and Yuuri realizes that he and Phichit are paying attention to their conversation now. "From what I heard, you landed it perfectly at practice today."

Yuuri shrugs a little. "I haven't been sure about the landing," he mumbles, then moves on quickly past the lie. "My coach didn't know I had it down. I kind of hid it from him." The admission makes Viktor's eyes widen a little, and Chris raises his eyebrows.

"You kept a secret like that from your coach?"

"He didn't tell anybody," pipes in Phichit. "We're all in the same skating club, and none of us knew that Yuuri had a third quad." He gives Yuuri a pout. "Not even me, your roommate! How could you keep this from me, Yuuri?"

With so much attention on him, Yuuri feels his nerves bubbling over, and he looks over at the wall, choosing to focus on the art. "I'm sorry. I wanted it to be a surprise," he finally says, and Phichit knocks their shoulders together. Forgiven is his silent message. (Yuuri expects a thorough questioning later, though.)

"Do you think you'll add it to one of your programs? Your free skate, perhaps?" Chris wonders, and Yuuri shrugs, wiping his finger down the side of his glass.

"I haven't thought about it. I'm in trouble with my coach right now, so..."

"Mm, that's disappointing. He should be praising you for landing it," Viktor says, which makes Yuuri startle and fix him with a disbelieving stare. How many times had Viktor lambasted him for learning the quad salchow in secret from Yurio? Yuuri's ears are still a little blistered from the lecture that Viktor gave him right after he had first performed Eros.

"Well, that's up to him," Yuuri replies, shrugging again. He can't control what Celestino accepts, though it is ultimately up to Yuuri to decide how he performs. He is unsure of actually performing the quad flip in his program this time, since he had been thinking of saving it for the future, for Viktor...

What if Viktor expects him to use it now?

Viktor hums in consideration, then takes another drink of beer, saving Yuuri from more conversation. He focuses on his beer, relieved for the moment of quiet, though soon his gaze returns to Viktor, still a little overwhelmed to see him in person.

He's beautiful.

He really is. Yuuri could look at him all evening and be perfectly content -- and he is really going to get Chris back for putting him across from Viktor. Chris gives him a knowing little smirk and engages Phichit in another conversation, likely about their pets, if Phichit's quick draw of his phone is any indication.

"How long have you been practicing the flip?" Viktor asks him after a moment, making Yuuri wonder how to answer. That is tied into his future, where Viktor had started teaching him the jump in June, five months before the Cup of China. It's been almost a year since Yuuri first learned it, in his own time, but...

He might as well just start counting from October, when he came back in time. "Five months," Yuuri finally says, watching Viktor's gaze sharpen with interest.

"That's very impressive, Yuuri," Viktor says, his smile widening, and the sound of his name on Viktor's lips sends a jolt through Yuuri. He closes his eyes briefly, unable to stop himself from savoring the sound. Viktor has always had a way of saying his name that makes him melt a little every time he hears it.

Even in this new encounter with Viktor, that hasn't changed. The thought hurts Yuuri a little.

"That means a lot coming from you, Viktor," Yuuri says quietly, opening his eyes to look at Viktor again. Viktor will take the meaning as it appears, that Yuuri is his fan and looks up to him, but Yuuri means so much more than that -- and Viktor will never know. Yuuri cannot tell him the depth of his feeling, but he is grateful that he can express at least this much.

Viktor stares at him for a moment, before his eyes warm with pleasure. "I'm glad."

Thankfully, food arrives a few minutes later, saving Yuuri from having to continue the conversation, and then they have to give their orders. Yuuri orders the salmon salad, mindful of Celestino's dietary requirements, but intent on getting his seafood. He needs the calories, too, because he intends to go all out, no matter what JJ might have to say about it.

Thinking about JJ sours his mood a little, and he distracts himself with rings of calamari, steamed mussels, and crab cakes. Phichit has to take pictures of the food, and Yuuri dutifully pulls out his phone as well, because the calamari is very pretty.

He notices that Viktor orders a salad, too, which is a little surprising. Viktor would always order new and interesting entrees whenever they went out to eat, though he would often restrict Yuuri's diet to salads and lean meats. He insisted on Yuuri maintaining his strict standards for nutrition levels, but never forced himself into the same restrictions.

Oh. Viktor wasn't competing when he was with Yuuri, so the diet wouldn't have been necessary.

The food is pretty good. It soothes both his stomach and his nerves, and his beer quickly disappears. He briefly debates another glass, before switching to water -- he doesn't want to lose control on alcohol, especially not with Viktor in the vicinity. Who knows what he might say without any inhibition?

For the rest of dinner, Viktor mostly leads the conversation with Chris, and Phichit is all too happy to chat with his two idols. Yuuri is a little more circumspect, still smarting over his mistake earlier and his fight with JJ, but Viktor manages to draw him out of his shell somewhat, with questions about Yuuri's life in America and, perhaps not surprisingly, Vicchan.

Viktor spots the picture of Vicchan the next time Yuuri pulls out his phone, and he happily engages Yuuri in a conversation about poodles. Talking about Vicchan is easy, once Yuuri gets over the embarrassment of telling Viktor his dog's name. Plus, Viktor shows him pictures of Makkachin.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Viktor croons, while Yuuri swipes through Viktor's Makkachin gallery, his heart aching to see his dear canine friend looking so happy and content. He misses her very much, and it's a balm to his grief to see Makkachin again, if only in pictures. "She's such a sweetheart. I miss her already." Yuuri nods in commiseration, touching his own screen where Vicchan's photo rests.

"It's hard to leave them behind. I hadn't seen Vicchan for four years, before I went home for Nationals a few months ago," Yuuri says with a sigh. "I'm glad she's doing well." Then he rethinks his phrasing, but it's too late, and thankfully Viktor doesn't seem to find it strange.

"Four years? Wow! I don't think I could stand to be apart from Makkachin for that long," Viktor says, taking back his phone.

Yuuri picks up his fork and pokes it through his salad, his shoulders sinking a little with old guilt. "I lived in a dorm for my first two years in Detroit, and they didn't allow pets. When I moved in with Phichit, I could have had him sent over because our apartment allows pets, but I didn't want to stress him out with a trip like that."

"That makes sense," Viktor agrees. "If I could, I'd bring Makkachin with me wherever I go. She's a little too old for travel now, though."

"Dog people," Chris interjects with a laugh, and Phichit grins in delight. Yuuri frowns at both of them, huffing.

"Cat people," he retorts, knowing full well that Chris' phone background is his cat. Viktor starts laughing, and Chris only smiles, winking at Yuuri before he goes back to eating.

At the end of the night, Yuuri is glad that he didn't run screaming into the heart of Boston to escape dinner with Viktor and Chris. Viktor was every bit as charming as Yuuri has ever known him, though the emotional distance between them still hurt. It was... nice, though.

With true regret, he and Phichit make their excuses, since Yuuri still has his curfew, though he doesn't tell Viktor and Chris about that. When they step outside, Viktor crooks a finger at Yuuri, and like a moth to flame, he can't help but go to him.

"Come here," Viktor cajoles. Viktor moves closer, into his personal space, and before Yuuri can protest, Viktor has brought up his phone to take a picture, putting an arm around Yuuri's shoulders.

His hand is a hot brand on Yuuri's skin, even through his clothes. When Viktor lets him go, a pleased hum escaping him, Yuuri stumbles a little, shaken.

"Perfect," Viktor says, tapping at his phone, and Yuuri's pocket buzzes with an alert. He opens his lock screen shakily, seeing that it is for a new photo from Viktor's Instagram.

Viktor posted the picture of the two of them together. Yuuri doesn't look half bad, for once, but he isn't smiling and he looks surprised, while Viktor is flashing a grin.

v-nikiforov: A lovely night with a new friend! #WorldsCompetition #figureskating

"Viktor, you have three hundred thousand followers," Yuuri says blankly, watching the likes count rack up -- alongside comments, mostly ranging along the lines of "Is that Yuuri Katsuki???"

Then he flushes. Viktor called him his friend. They aren't even supposed to know each other yet, and Viktor is calling him his friend.

"Oh, you have Instagram, Yuuri?" Viktor asks curiously, then smiles brightly. "What's your handle?"

"Um," Yuuri says, unsure what this even means. Is Viktor going to follow him? He stares at Viktor closely for a moment, trying to see past his charming smile, but Viktor's motives remain frustratingly obscure. Finally he spells it out for Viktor, waiting for the notification on his phone for "v-nikiforov is now following you!"

The whole moment is surreal. Yuuri feels like he is in an alternate reality. In a way, he kind of is, and Yuuri looks down at his feet. "I guess this is really happening," Yuuri mutters to himself.

"It isn't that bad, is it?" Viktor asks wryly. Yuuri gives him a startled look, wondering where that comment came from. Viktor notices his expression and chuckles. "You ran away as soon as you saw me earlier. In fact, you've been running away from me all week, and it's only Tuesday."

Yuuri flushes and looks away, pulling his coat a little closer around him. "Can you blame me? Every time we meet, you witness something embarrassing happening to me."

Viktor watches him, and something in his blue gaze makes Yuuri want to drop everything and melt into his arms -- but this isn't his Viktor, and that is the tenth time tonight that Yuuri has had to remind himself not to think of this Viktor as his. "I didn't think any of it was embarrassing. That Canadian skater... he was rather rude, wasn't he?"

Yuuri grimaces. Inside, his heart is hammering a little harder. "I don't know why he has it out for me. We're in the same skating club, but..."

"Sounds like he's jealous to me," Viktor says thoughtfully, making Yuuri stare at him. "You've improved so much in such a short time. He gets to see that firsthand, since he skates in the same rink as you, and it's making him very worried. Still, he doesn't need to be so rude about it."

It means a lot to Yuuri to hear that from Viktor. He still isn't sure exactly what he did to paint himself as a target for JJ, but Viktor's reasoning makes sense, and it soothes his lingering irritation a little. JJ doesn't deserve his attention like this -- he should focus completely on Viktor.

"Thank you," Yuuri says quietly. "I'll have to try to ignore him for now. I've got to focus on the competition."

"Good idea," Viktor says with a small smile. "I look forward to your short program tomorrow."

Yuuri meets his eyes. It's not Eros, and it's not anything Yuuri has really designed for himself, other than rearranging the jumps -- but he looks forward to showing off his skills for Viktor, anyway. He wets his lips, and to his shock, Viktor's eyes follow the movement of his tongue, before he seems to catch himself and looks up politely.

"If you can... I'd love for you to watch me perform," Yuuri says softly. Watch me, and only me.

In another life, another future, Viktor wouldn't be able to take his eyes off Yuuri. It might be selfish of him, but he wants it to happen again. He wants Viktor to look at him, and only him -- if just for a little while.

After a moment, Viktor smiles, and it is a slow, dark thing, with a little bit of challenge, and more than a little flirtation. "Okay," Viktor says, sending a hot shiver straight through Yuuri. "If you promise me you'll do the same. Watch my short program."

Oh. Viktor will be performing Pop That Lock, which is still Yuuri's guilty pleasure and half of his fantasy material. Yuuri feels himself blush to the tips of his ears and has to look away, knowing that his reaction is obvious, and not daring to say anything in reply.

Viktor seems pleased by his reaction, chuckling but not bothering him again. Yuuri wonders what the future will bring, if Viktor is paying this much attention to him this early.

He fears, for a little while, that he has done something irreversible, that by pushing himself this hard and improving so fast, that he is changing something momentous -- but that had been his intention in the first place, hadn't it? He wants to be a challenge for Viktor. He wants to give Viktor his love for skating back. If Viktor is this interested in him already, then Yuuri should use it to his advantage.

First, though, he has to make the podium. For that, he has to beat JJ and twenty-eight other skaters.

And that includes Viktor.

~*~

JJ doesn't speak to him the next morning, which is a great relief to Yuuri. He puts in his hours at the practice rink and thinks about adding the quad flip to his free skate. When he brings this up to Celestino, his coach tells him he will think about it, since right now he wants Yuuri to focus on his short program.

So Yuuri does, and later that afternoon when the men's short programs are set to start, he goes into the rink with a racing heart. His nerves are different than usual, not due to the fear of performing and messing up. Instead, he feels excited.

By sheer luck (and Yuuri spends quite a few minutes cursing his luck when he finds out), Yuuri gets placed into the same group as Viktor and JJ. His rinkmate only gives him a look, and Celestino takes care to keep them apart, knowing that tension is still simmering.

When JJ starts on Viktor, though, Yuuri can't help but tense up. Celestino is out of earshot, again, talking quietly with Yakov Feltsman about something. Yuuri shoots JJ a glare, but it doesn't deter him.

"It must be pretty disappointing, knowing you're not the only person who can do a quad flip anymore," JJ comments, when the section before them has already gone. Yuuri is set to go next, and JJ will follow him, with Viktor last. Viktor lifts his head from where he is doing stretches, raising a thin eyebrow at JJ. His pleasant expression never changes.

"I think it's something to be celebrated, actually. Shouldn't we all support each other as skaters?" Viktor says with a smile, and Yuuri is startled to realize how sharp that smile is, promising destruction to whoever crosses it. He has seen that smile before, and he knows full well how dangerous it is.

"Yes, yes, of course," JJ is quick to agree, glancing at Yuuri and grinning at him. "Still, it's a shame when some of us just don't compare to the rest."

"Hm? I can't imagine there's anybody like that." Viktor's smile is all teeth.

JJ laughs. Yuuri heaves a sigh and stands up from his bench, twisting to meet JJ's gaze with a flat stare. He says nothing, letting his silence speak for him, and JJ's smile fades a little, until finally he looks away.

"Yuuri, it's time," Celestino calls, and Yuuri dutifully unzips his jacket. His skating outfit is beautiful in ombre white, blue, and violet, with little pieces of fabric on his arms and back that produce an effect not unlike feathers. Perfect for Swan Lake. The five of them walk out to the rink, and Yuuri slides off his skate guards and hands them to Celestino.

"You can do this, Yuuri," Celestino tells him with a smile.

"I'll be sure to cheer you on, Yuuri," JJ says from behind his coach. Yuuri doesn't bother replying, and as he turns, his eyes catch on Viktor, who is watching him.

Viktor smiles and touches a finger to his lips. Yuuri holds his stare for a moment, then kicks off and makes his way to the center of the rink, holding his arm up in a wave when the audience cheers for him.

He can do this. He will prove himself to Viktor, and to the world. To give Viktor someone to strive against.

Swan Lake begins to play. He doesn't think of his goals, for once, nor of JJ's antagonism. Instead he thinks of his dream of Viktor, and of Odette's strange curse. In a way Yuuri has been cursed as well, stolen from his time and forced into a world that is changing too rapidly for him to make sense of it, and Yuuri uses that emotion to carry out Odette's story.

It's his story, after all. His and Viktor's, though Viktor will never know it.

When the song comes to an end, Yuuri has tears in his eyes. In the older versions of the story, Odette's curse lingered and kept her captive, and Yuuri knows in his heart that his own curse will be the same. He will never go home, he will never see his Viktor again, and all he has now is the broken relationships with his family and friends and an uncertain future. He has Viktor's attention, but it will never be what Yuuri truly wants, and he has no idea what the future holds.

All he can do is keep moving forward. He has to keep grasping for that distant future, even if he can never reach it.

The audience is giving him a standing ovation. Yuuri bows, to cover his emotional exhaustion, making a couple of laps around the rink and collecting a bouquet and a small shrimp plushie. When Yuuri leaves the rink, his eyes catch on Viktor, and what he sees shocks him.

Viktor is crying. When Viktor notices his attention, he smiles and wipes his eyes, then waves, and Yuuri flushes and looks away, horrified that he brought Viktor to tears. He never wanted to hurt Viktor.

Maybe he had put a little too much emotion into his skating.

When Yuuri's score comes out, he is doubly shocked.

"Amazing! Katsuki has shot up to second place! There are still five competitors who have yet to perform, and I think everybody is looking forward to Viktor Nikiforov's upcoming short program. It looks like even Viktor was moved by that performance! That is a new personal best for Katsuki!"

"Wow," Yuuri whispers, and Celestino laughs and pounds his shoulder, sending him stumbling.

"Great job, Yuuri! I knew you had it in you! Now, you have an interview when you exit the rink. I'm going to send JJ off, and then I'll see you afterward, okay?"

Yuuri nods, rising to his feet with a stumble and making his way to the edge of the rink in a daze. The interviewer asks him lots of questions, and Yuuri somehow answers, though he has no idea what he says. He's too busy thinking about the tears in Viktor's eyes, and the emotions he evoked during his short program.

I have to do better. I have to make the podium. There's one person ahead of me, and Viktor will definitely place above me. JJ might, but he'd have to work really hard to catch up. Chris, too.

After he escapes the reporters, Yuuri makes his way up to the stands where the skaters can sit, sinking into an empty chair beside Phichit. He arrives just in time, too; Viktor is doing a welcome lap around the ice, waving at his adoring audience. Absently, Yuuri wonders what JJ's score was, but soon stops worrying about that, because Viktor has lifted his head and is searching the stands for something.

He seems to find it when his gaze lands on Yuuri. He smiles slowly, and Yuuri feels a hot shiver run through him.

He's challenging me.

Pop That Lock starts to play, and Viktor kicks into his quick step skate, and if possible, this is even more overwhelming than when Yuuri saw it on TV for the GPF. Yuuri sits frozen as Viktor skates with abandon, every movement full of sensuality and beauty, and to Yuuri's horror, heat sweeps through him every time Viktor so much as glances his way.

Yuuri can't look away. His entire body is stiff with the heat curling through Viktor's gaze, his hands clenched over his knees. He has always been attracted to Viktor, ever since he was a teenager, but now it feels completely different, since he knows what it feels to lose himself to pleasure in Viktor's arms.

He aches for that feeling again.

When the last notes fade out, Viktor stands from his position with a flourish, bowing to the audience which has erupted with applause. Yuuri sits in silence, hunching down in his seat, knowing without looking that he has a hard-on, and hoping desperately that his jacket and the shadows hide it. He closes his eyes as the next skater steps onto the ice, focusing on his breathing, until his body is no longer raging with want.

A few moments later, JJ drops into the chair on his other side, throwing an arm over the back of Yuuri's seat. "Those reporters are vultures," he sighs, and Yuuri shoots him an incredulous look. JJ catches it and grins, winking and nodding up to the score boards, where Viktor's score has just appeared.

Viktor is first. Naturally -- and Yuuri is now fourth, because JJ has taken over third, since his program is technically more difficult. Yuuri narrows his eyes slowly, irritated by the sight of JJ's smug smile, and sets himself to ignoring JJ for the rest of the short programs. The heated thoughts from Viktor's short program are gone; now all Yuuri can think about is skating to the podium and wiping that smug smirk right off JJ's face.

I'll do it. I'll beat him, and he can go back to Canada with his tail between his legs.

At one point Viktor comes upstairs, pushing his hair back with a contented smile. Yuuri eyes him surreptitiously, absently thinking back to the first time he competed here with Viktor. He hadn't come upstairs to the stands the last time, definitely -- instead he had found an empty bathroom somewhere downstairs and cried his eyes out over his anxiety. Viktor hadn't even looked at him.

Now Viktor can't stop looking at him, because he knows Yuuri can do a quad flip... and apparently because Yurio, of all people, has taken an interest in him. Yuuri wonders if he should be worried about that.

Something to stress over later. When he gets home, Yuuri is going to write down everything that happened this week and go over it with a fine-toothed comb. It will probably drive him a little insane, but Yuuri needs to understand what has changed.

"Sorry you didn't make it to the top three," JJ taunts him, and Yuuri grits his teeth but says nothing in reply. A moment later, a warm arm slides over his shoulder, blocking JJ from his sight. Soft hair brushes his cheek, which makes Yuuri start in surprise. A phone with a gleaming black and gold case appears in front of his face, and Yuuri blinks to recognize Makkachin in its background image before she disappears beneath the Instagram app.

"Smile, Yuuri," Viktor whispers into his ear, and Yuuri just knows that his ears have turned red. He can't help the smile that appears on his lips, a little giddy at having Viktor so close, and on the phone screen, Viktor returns the smile, looking satisfied.

"The short program was a success, wouldn't you say?" Viktor says airily, before letting go of Yuuri and leaning back to catch whatever Chris says behind him. Yuuri doesn't know whether Viktor means his own, or Yuuri's -- but the words still send a shiver through him.

He briefly meets JJ's gaze, then looks forward to watch the rest of the skaters. I'll win. I'll show everyone what I can do. I have to.

~*~

On Thursday, Yuuri manages to avoid Viktor almost completely. He spots him at practice, leaving as Yuuri is arriving, and then manages to escape dinner with him and Chris again by promising to meet Minako-sensei, who has flown from Japan to watch the competition. Minako-sensei accompanies Yuuri and the rest of Celestino's team to dinner, spending most of the meal chatting with Celestino, but frequently turning to Yuuri and congratulating him for his placement.

At one point, JJ tries to point out that Yuuri still fourth, not even in the top three, but Minako-sensei is quick to shut him up with, "there's still the free skate, boy." Yuuri buys her dessert just for that comment alone.

Celestino finally makes a decision about Yuuri's quad flip. Yuuri isn't sure how to feel about it, and he only manages to sleep because Phichit gives him some over-the-counter pills.

Then Friday comes, and with it, the free skate for men. Out of the thirty contestants that year, twenty of them reach the final stage, and they are separated into groups of four.

To Yuuri's dismay, that means he will be skating in the last group, with Viktor and JJ again. He groans a little at the realization, not looking forward to the awkward tension between the three of them. He really, really hopes that JJ does not pick a fight -- but it seems JJ cannot resist poking at Yuuri's temper.

"So, are you going to use it?" JJ asks him, not long before the four of them will be called out. Yuuri reaches up to rub his forehead, sensing an oncoming headache.

"What are you talking about?" he asks JJ tiredly.

"Your quad flip, of course." JJ's gaze sneaks across the room to Viktor, who is watching them with a raised eyebrow. Cao Bin is completely ignoring them, headphones in his ears. "Since you stole it from the current reigning champion."

Yuuri's jaw clenches briefly. Celestino turns away from his conversation with Josef Karpisek and fixes JJ with a warning look, and JJ thankfully subsides. Yuuri stands and walks to the hallway where the air is less oppressive with tension, taking a deep breath and pushing against the wall to stretch again.

"Jealous, like I said," Viktor says quietly, settling against the wall beside him. Yuuri blinks and stands up straight, feeling Viktor's warmth brush his shoulder. It's a little disconcerting to see Viktor clad not in his favored suit, but instead in all black, in a beautiful costume that already has over a million posters printed, reminiscent of a military uniform with accents in silver. Yuuri's own red and purple costume, glittery and dazzling, seems rather soft in comparison.

He considers Viktor's words for a moment. "It's probably because I landed it before he did. He has the lutz, but he hasn't done the flip, yet."

"Like I said," Viktor repeats, a faint smirk curling at his lips. "Whether or not you use it in your skate, you shouldn't let him stress you out. You should skate the way you want to skate, not because anybody else demands it of you."

Yuuri makes a soft noise. "He doesn't bother me. But thank you, anyway." He hesitates, watching Viktor's face for a moment, before finally letting himself say what is roiling through his mind. "Good luck on your free skate, Viktor."

Viktor holds his gaze for a long moment. At the end of the hallway, one of the staff signals the time, and Viktor's lips curl slightly. "To you as well, Yuuri."

Yuuri skates first. He pours his determination into the program, his desperation to create a future for Viktor that will make him happy, to become a better skater, one that will challenge Viktor and pull him out of the funk that is already threatening to overwhelm him and draw him away from skating. He has met this Viktor, now, and despite his own Viktor's wishes, he does not think he has a future together with this Viktor.

Yuuri can fall in love with him, surely -- and he knows he already has, in a way. Just as his Viktor said, this is Viktor, a version of Viktor that Yuuri never got to know, and one that he can love just as easily. Yet this Viktor is not his Viktor, and Yuuri holds onto his resolution more firmly, now: he will not pursue a relationship with this Viktor. He had Viktor once, and to have him again would be far too selfish. Viktor doesn't deserve to have his fate twisted and shaped by Yuuri's hands any more than he can help.

Better to love Viktor and let him go. Yuuri will give Viktor what he always wanted -- a true rival, so that Viktor can retire from ice skating with a peaceful heart.

Then Yuuri will quietly retire as well. Maybe even as soon as next year. He isn't certain that he will be mentally healthy enough to skate the year he would have been with Viktor in his original future. He will not have Eros, nor Yuuri on Ice, and Viktor will be far away from him, too far for Yuuri to reach.

He can give Viktor this time, though. Enough time to make him happy, before Yuuri lets go.

As the end of the song approaches, Yuuri turns his foot inward and kicks off. The quad flip is just as perfect as the one he landed in front of Viktor that day in practice, but in his mind, Yuuri is thinking of that day in Barcelona, where he skated Yuuri on Ice and won silver. He is thinking of the dream he shared with his Viktor, of Viktor's promise to find him again.

The song comes to an end, and Yuuri slows, lifting his arms up and thinking, Viktor. I'll never stop reaching for you.

He closes his eyes, and a moment later, he hears the applause. He can't bring himself to smile, but he gives a low bow to the judges, then to the audience, before collecting a bouquet of roses and going to greet Celestino at the Kiss and Cry.

He doesn't dare look Viktor's way.

The scores come out. Yuuri has a new personal best -- and he is first, now.

Celestino leaves him to go send JJ off, and Yuuri retreats to the hallway for the media to pounce on him. As he expected, Morooka is there to interview him, firing off question after question about the quadruple flip, Yuuri's intentions for training next year, and whether he feels his goals for this year were met.

"I don't know if I did what I set out to do this year. I won't know until we get the next score," Yuuri admits, rubbing the back of his head.

Morooka opens his mouth, then pauses as the announcer comes over the intercom.

"Jean-Jacques Leroy's scores are in. He has finished at... 302.16, below Yuuri Katsuki at 307.01! This means that Katsuki is still in first place and has secured a spot on the podium! Yuuri Katsuki is definitely the dark horse of this year's competition!"

Yuuri stares at the TV screen on the other side of the room, where JJ is waving at the crowds. A slow smile spreads across his lips, and he turns to face Morooka.

"Let me change my answer, please. Yes, I have done what I set out to do." Morooka is delighted by his confident answer, once more complimenting Yuuri and thanking him for competing for Japan. Yuuri makes his way to the stands, already knowing in his heart how Worlds will go. Viktor will get gold, and Yuuri will manage bronze.

Except in the end, Yuuri is wrong.

Instead of bronze, he wins silver. Christophe, who won silver last time, gets bronze with a final score of 305.80. Viktor wins gold with 317.94.

I won silver, Yuuri thinks blankly, staring up at the results. Phichit is shouting in his ear, and at his other side, JJ is silent with shock. He thinks he can hear Minako-sensei screaming with pride in the crowd.

Across the ice, Viktor meets his gaze, something fierce burning behind his blue eyes, striking through Yuuri like a punch. After a long moment, Yuuri gives him a small nod, the only thing he can do.

Viktor, are you watching me, wherever you are? I did it.

Chapter Text

On a windy day in October, Viktor gets a strange call.

His phone rings in the middle of training, and Viktor is tempted not to answer because it is probably Yakov. With a small sigh, he sits up on his stretch mat and picks up the phone, then blinks at the sight of an American number.

A modeling agency, maybe?

"Allo?" Viktor answers, and instead of the professional tone he expects, his caller speaks in an entirely different manner.

"Viktor," someone whispers in English with an accent he cannot place, high with tension. "I don't know where I am. Where are you? Can you come get me?"

The sound of the stranger's fear sends a shiver through him, and Viktor sits up straight, alarmed. He doesn't recognize the voice or the number. It must be a stranger... so why do they know Viktor's name?

"I'm sorry, but I think you have the wrong number. Who is this?" Viktor asks, frowning.

There is a long pause. "This is... Viktor, right?" the stranger asks, disbelief coloring their voice. A prank call? Yet the stranger's emotions reverberates through him, unsettling him. Who is this person? Viktor thinks they might be a man, but he cannot think of who they might be.

"Yes. Who is this? How did you get this number, anyway?" Viktor asks impatiently. If he can help this person, he needs to know who they are. Perhaps they are one of his old lovers, using an alternate number? He blocks everybody he doesn't date anymore.

Another pause. The stranger's breathing trembles, as if the air has been knocked out of them. Shock. Horror. "I... it's me, Viktor."

Viktor closes his eyes briefly. He cannot, for the life of him, place the voice -- and while his memory isn't the greatest, he would be able to recognize someone he knew. He grimaces slightly.

"I'm sorry," Viktor says after a moment, a little apologetic. Whoever this person is, Viktor will not be able to help them. Viktor is in Russia, after all, and this stranger is somewhere in America. "You must have the wrong Viktor. Or if this is some kind of joke, it's a very poor one. I must go. Good luck, whoever you are."

With a small sigh, Viktor hangs up. He debates whether or not he should block the number, then decides not to yet. If they really are in trouble, then he can afford to be available, at least.

Except the person never calls back -- and soon, Viktor forgets about the call entirely.

~*~

Viktor becomes aware of the phenomenon of Yuuri one day in January, when he walks into the rink and finds half the team crowded around Mila and her phone. On the other side of the rink, Yuri Plisetsky is stewing with a scowl on his face, to which Viktor pays no mind; Yuri is young and unfortunately angry about almost everything. Instead he walks over to the small crowd, smiling in greeting when Georgi and Anya look up at the same time.

"What is everyone so interested in?" Viktor asks curiously, hanging his coat over the barrier. Mila brightens and waves her phone.

"We're watching the short programs from Four Continents. Yuri threw a fit over one of the senior skaters," she adds slyly, glancing over at Yuri, who scowls and turns away.

Yuri throws fits over lots of things. Viktor never bothers to keep up with his irrational moods. "What upset him?"

Mila turns her phone around, revealing a dark-haired Asian skater in a fluttering blue and white outfit. "This is Yuuri Katsuki from Japan. Yurochka's mad because they share a name," she giggles, and Viktor raises his eyebrows, watching the video for a moment.

He's graceful. Viktor has only vaguely heard of Katsuki Yuuri before, in the same way that most figure skaters know about each other, though he has never competed against him directly. He knows that Yuuri has been in the Grand Prix series a couple of times but that he has never made it past preliminaries, and since Viktor doesn't skate at Four Continents, he wouldn't have competed against him there, either.

"Well, he surely knew that he's not the only Yuri in the world," Viktor quips, tugging off his skate guards and stepping onto the ice. Yakov will wrangle Yuri and the younger skaters soon enough; Viktor needs to practice. He wants to try something new in his short program, a sexy dance move that he saw online last week, and he doesn't have time to waste on foreign skaters.

In the coming weeks, though, Viktor starts hearing about Katsuki Yuuri everywhere. Mostly from Yuri and Mila, but sometimes Yuuri's name pops up in his feed, enough that Viktor starts paying attention.

"He was so close!" Yuri shouts one day after Four Continents, Mila hanging over his shoulder. "Just one more point, and he would have had bronze!"

"Are you still hung up on that?" Mila asks, amazed, as Viktor draws near. "You don't even know Japanese Yuri."

Yuri waves a hand, flicking through his phone. "He has my name, so he should do well. It's an insult otherwise."

"I sincerely doubt he even knows you exist, Yuri," Mila says, her smile slowly widening. She is completely gleeful over the fact that Yuri, resident Angry Teen, apparently has a crush.

"That's not the point!"

The next week, Yuri tries to land a quad salchow and nearly sprains his ankle. Viktor watches with interest as he sips water, a little relieved that Yakov is shouting at someone else for once. He doesn't interact with Yuri much, since the boy is still in juniors, but he has kept an eye on his skill. Yakov has already boasted about how Yuri could reach Viktor's standards in a few years, and right now, the boy is only fourteen.

Viktor isn't worried. Still, he doesn't let Yuri slip off his radar.

"You could have seriously injured yourself!" Yakov shouts, his eye ticking.

Yuri, in his infinite measure of teenage flippancy, shrugs. "That other Yuri can do it. Why can't I? I'm going to be in seniors soon anyway."

"Not for another year! And that Yuri is old enough to handle himself! You're off jumps for the rest of the week," Yakov orders, and unsurprisingly, Yuri throws a fit about that.

Viktor doesn't know what he expected, acting that way. Seeing Yuri moan and complain about Yakov's strict standards reminds Viktor of when he was in juniors, making him nostalgic. He floats through the rest of practice, turning over Yuri's sudden determination with some thought. It seems that there is more to Katsuki Yuuri than just his name, for Yuri to fixate on him so thoroughly. Viktor thinks it's cute that Yuri has a new idol, and perhaps just a little miffed that it is not him.

When he gets home that night, Viktor opens his laptop and types in katsuki yuuri. He finds many videos quickly through YouTube results, idly thinking that the man is certainly striking, with his sharp eyes and dark hair.

He starts with Yuuri's most recent short program, which uses a composition from Swan Lake. The video isn't good quality, clearly shot from a cell phone, and it takes place at one of the local Japanese competitions back in September. Viktor watches the video in silent contemplation, then once more.

Again, he thinks, He is graceful. His step sequences are good and his choreography is lovely. He keeps missing his jumps, though. The story Yuuri tells with his body is interesting enough, the story of the cursed Odette, a rarity for a male figure skater. Still, there moments in his choreography that seem a little stale, jarring in that they only serve to bring attention to Yuuri's flaws, more than his strengths.

Something about his skating is familiar, and on the third replay, Viktor realizes what it is. Yuuri skates like him. A lot of his elements mirror Viktor's past programs, which means Yuuri must be a fan of his. Viktor smiles a little at the thought, wondering what Yuri Plisetsky would think of that. It might be a little petty of him to feel smug about Yuri's idol being his fan, but then, Viktor has never claimed to be pure of heart.

The most recent comments catch his attention.

yuurifan4eva: this one isn't as good as nationals. still so pretty!!

yuudan99: 勇利 頑張!! 落ち続けていた...

l8tersk8ter: This version doesn't have the quad salchow. Yuuri must have added it when he went back to Detroit. It's like he completely redid his program for Nationals.

Viktor raises an eyebrow, then searches for the Japan Nationals skate. When he watches it, he realizes what has the commenters in a tizzy.

Yuuri's program is completely different. The small jarring moments from before are fixed with a few rearrangements of his technical components, and unlike in the small town competition, Yuuri consistently lands his jumps, only missing a landing once. His skating carries a certain fire to it now, a determination that wasn't there back in September. Three months of intensive training, and this is the difference.

Viktor finds himself entranced. There is beauty in Katsuki Yuuri's body, in the way he dances for the audience and brings the story of his music to life with only a few movements. The curse feels very real, now; Yuuri is trapped in a world that he does not understand, that he cannot navigate without a light, which he cannot see, and his last pose is reaching for someone who isn't there.

Beautiful.

Absently licking his lips, Viktor switches to the prefectural video for Yuuri's free skate. A stark figure in red and violet, Yuuri skates to Dvorak, another classical composition that makes use of his grace and choreography. Just like with his short program, this skate is full of technical errors, little problems that pile on top of each other and leave his final score much less impressive than it could be.

The Nationals free skate is wholly different. Once again, the technical compositions have shifted to a stronger array of jumps and elements, and now Yuuri has added a quad salchow to the middle of his composition, just before his step sequence. The landing is clean, too, the sharp blade of his skate cutting into the ice with a heavy crack that echoes with the music. The step sequence is quick and energetic, and Viktor finds himself rewinding multiple times so that he can watch the beginning of it, the way Yuuri's hips twist as he skates.

The story is just as engaging as Yuuri's short program. Yuuri is still cursed, but he has decided to fight for what he believes in, transforming the pain of the curse into power that he can use to keep going. Believe in me, Yuuri's body seems to say, reaching up to the heavens in a final pose that brings hope to mind, instead of tragedy.

Leagues different than September. What changed in three months, that brought such confidence and allure to Katsuki Yuuri's skating? The emotions in his skating ring true, speaking of a change in experience. Did Yuuri fall in love? What had changed to give him a new outlook on life?

Viktor is endlessly curious about him. He saves the videos to a private playlist, then goes searching for older programs, ones that are similar to the prefecture performance in mistakes, but still utterly enchanting, with the way Yuuri creates music with his body.

He also watches the infamous Four Continents programs, which are just as beautiful as Japan Nationals. Then Viktor lucks out: to his surprise, he also finds a video of Yuuri at the NHK Trophy from this season. He hadn't even remembered that Yuuri had taken part in the Grand Prix, though he clearly hadn't placed high enough to end up in the finale.

Viktor watches the NHK Trophy in curiosity, noticing immediately that Yuuri has already made the changes to his programs, but that his jumps are not consistent. In the moments before Yuuri's skates, he seems very nervous, which likely detracts from his technical points. Still, Yuuri's bronze win is well-deserved; his skating is beautiful.

On a whim, Viktor goes to the ISU website to check the entries for Worlds. The first name for Japan is Katsuki Yuuri.

"I'll suppose I'll see you then," Viktor says to himself with a small smile. He looks forward to Worlds now.

Then, on the night before Viktor travels to Boston, Massachusetts, he has a vivid dream that he cannot explain when he wakes.

~*~

He is standing on the bridge over the Neva, talking with someone. The air is cool and crisp, typical for January, and Viktor hears a familiar bark. He turns with a smile, seeing Makkachin bounding down the sidewalk. He catches her with a happy laugh, but his eyes are soon drawn to a familiar, beloved figure.

Katsuki Yuuri, running toward him, a smile appearing on his face. Viktor raises his arm to wave, joy bringing a smile unbidden to his lips. He just saw Yuuri a few hours ago, sleepy and determined to cling to his blankets, but in the daylight of Russia, Yuuri is just as beautiful.

"Yuuri!" he calls, and in the next moment, time slows.

A car comes across the bridge too fast. There is a spot of ice on the road; the sunlight glints off it, momentarily blinding Viktor, and as he rubs his eyes, he hears tires screeching. Then he hears a scream, and it echoes across the frozen landscape, all other sounds fading away, followed by a harrowing crack and a splash.

Viktor realizes someone is screaming. He stands in the same place, but he sees himself running to the broken barrier, held back from jumping in after the victim by desperate hands. He sees ambulances, police, emergency crew. After too long a time, someone dives into the water, and they pull out the unmoving body, and all the while, Viktor hears screaming.

The other Viktor is screaming.

Time returns to normal, and the screaming fades away, replaced by silence. The morning light and the other Viktor are gone, and Viktor stands at the edge of the ice, staring at the body of a person he has never met, yet he feels the devastation of Katsuki Yuuri's death as strongly and clearly as he would Makkachin or his own parents.

He walks closer to the body, staring blankly down at Yuuri's serene expression. His lips are blue -- lips that Viktor somehow knows are softer than silk -- and his eyes are closed in peace, his hair and skin wet from the icy water.

Viktor realizes he is crying. "How could this happen?" he whispers, kneeling beside Yuuri and gently taking his hands. There is a gold ring on Yuuri's finger, and somehow, Viktor knows that there is half a snowflake inscribed on the inside. He lifts Yuuri's cold hand and kisses the ring, bowing his head in grief.

"Viktor," he hears, in a strangely familiar voice, and when Viktor looks around, he is alone.

~*~

Viktor wakes with tears on his cheeks and sits up with a gasp. Makkachin lifts her head, blinking sleepily at him, but Viktor finds himself close to hyperventilating, horrified by the nightmare. He had dreamed of Katsuki Yuuri dying in a terrible accident over the Neva. Viktor has never even met Yuuri, and as far as he knows, Yuuri lives in Detroit, in the United States.

Viktor has never been above superstition. He grabs his phone and checks the news frantically for any sign of Yuuri's name, but all he finds are news articles about Yuuri taking part in Worlds. Nothing about any injury or his death, which soothes Viktor only a little. He even goes so far as to hunt through the news channels for Detroit, but none of them mention Yuuri, nor any accidents associated with a river.

Desperate for something to reassure him that Yuuri is alive, Viktor sends a message to Chris, who knows just about everybody in the ice skating world.

To: Chris :)
Chris, do you know anything about Katsuki Yuuri?

Chris is two hours behind him, and it is the middle of the night. Despite this, Chris is quick to reply, which is a relief to Viktor.

From: Chris :)
Yes, I do. Viktor, you realize that it is almost one in the morning for me. We both have flights to catch

To: Chris :)
I'm sorry but I need to know. Is he okay? Can you contact him?

From: Chris :)
I have his number... what is this about? Did something happen?

Viktor stands and makes his way to the kitchen, rubbing his arms. He is overreacting, he knows. Chris will understand though, if Viktor explains it right. He takes a deep breath to center himself, then turns on his coffee maker, switching it over to hot water so that he can make a cup of tea. While it heats up, he types out his response, his thoughts barely coherent.

To: Chris :)
You're going to think this sounds crazy but I had a dream about him. In my dream he died. I couldn't do anything to stop it. I don't even know him and I dreamed he died
It upset me a lot and I just want to know if he's alright, I couldn't find anything in the news, so can you please find out?

From: Chris :)
I sent him a message. He's in America so he should be awake right now
I didn't know you knew who he was

To: Chris :)
My rinkmate is a big fan and I looked him up
I don't understand why I dreamed about him. I've never even met him. In the dream he was someone special to me. Like a lover or a friend. And he died right in front of my eyes
I couldn't save him

From: Chris :)
Hey it's okay. It was just a dream, it wasn't real

To: Chris :)
It felt real!

From: Chris :)
It's okay. I'm sure he's fine
Yuuri texted me back. He's watching a movie with his roommate. I made him send an awkward selfie, so you can see for yourself

The picture that loads sends Viktor sinking to the floor, his legs folding close to his chest. Katsuki Yuuri wears glasses, and his messy hair hangs over his eyes, and his shirt is rumpled. Most importantly, he looks alive. Whole, and utterly beautiful. His eyes are dark, sparkling with humor, and his lips are flushed and pursed with a little grin. A hand, likely belonging to his roommate, is pushing a large handful of popcorn into his face, and it looks like Yuuri is about to start laughing.

Viktor spends a long time staring at that picture, burning it into his memory to erase the haunting image of Yuuri's face, still in death. Yuuri is alive and safe in Detroit, and Viktor has photographic evidence that his dream was just a nightmare. Viktor realizes that he is crying and quickly wipes away the tears, exhaling shakily.

From: Chris :)
You okay love?

To: Chris :)
Yes. I'm okay now. Thanks for contacting him for me

From: Chris :)
No problem ♡ let me know when you arrive in Boston. We should have dinner

To: Chris :)
Okay. Good night Chris ♡

Viktor lowers his phone and sighs, looking up at his ceiling. He wants to understand why he dreamt of Katsuki Yuuri in such a tragic way. Somehow, he doubts he will be able to go back to sleep for some time, so Viktor drags himself up and makes his cup of tea, before retiring to the couch and spending the next three hours watching videos of Yuuri's interviews.

~*~

Viktor arrives in Boston at two in the morning, local time. He is exhausted and all but trudges into his hotel room, which he thankfully does not have to share this year. He sleeps deeply without dreaming, and when he wakes hours later, he feels refreshed enough to handle a shower and coffee.

The morning light is sparkling on the buildings across the river, so Viktor snaps a picture and uploads it. He feels energized in a strange way, and some part of him is aware of the reason: he might meet Katsuki Yuuri today.

He still doesn't know why he dreamed about Yuuri. The dream left a visceral effect on him, to the point that Viktor has taken to opening the picture that Chris sent him whenever he starts thinking too much about it. He wonders what kind of person Yuuri is; his interviews show someone who is shy and uncomfortable with attention, but the photo shows someone who knows how to laugh.

A part of him definitely finds Yuuri attractive. The feeling of closeness and familiarity from his dream might be affecting his thoughts, but Viktor doesn't let himself think too deeply about it. Viktor can admit, at least, that Yuuri has caught his attention, and he looks forward to skating against him.

The TD Garden is a large, shining building with lots of shops dedicated to sports and bars nearby. American basketball is huge here, and the arena is multi-purpose, able to be converted into a skating rink for the Worlds competition, and popularly used as a concert hall for music artists. Viktor browses a list of nearby restaurants curiously on the ride over from the hotel, debating which one Chris will drag him to; nearly all of them are sports bars, but some look interesting. There are restaurants around the hotel, too, so any of them seem like a good choice.

He follows Yakov into the hall, settling into a charming smile when someone notices him and waves. The room is reasonably crowded, ISU staff and skaters milling around, looking over schedules and discussing upcoming events. Viktor breathes in a little of the familiar atmosphere, his smile widening.

He is home, here.

An annoyingly loud person is talking nearby, and Viktor hears his name a moment later in response. He turns his head, raising an eyebrow. The voice is melodic and vaguely familiar, though Viktor can't remember where he has heard it before.

"... been harping about Viktor for hours, and I'm sick of it."

The source of the annoying voice, a young skater with a Canadian jacket, scoffs. "Oh, right, you're his fan. He's never going to look at you, you know."

Wow, what an asshole, Viktor thinks, his lips twitching downward. Viktor has always treated his fans with the utmost respect, making time to meet with them and responding to as many messages and letters that he can.

A figure stands up beside the Canadian skater, and Viktor starts a little in surprise. The source of the kind voice is Katsuki Yuuri, of all people, and he is glaring up at the Canadian skater with an expression that makes Viktor's breath catch in his throat.

"First of all, there is no way that you will beat Viktor Nikiforov. That is a fact. He's the best in the entire skating world." Yuuri tilts his head to the side, his eyes narrowing slightly behind his glasses. The expression on his face is challenging, daring. "Second of all, before you worry about beating Viktor, you should worry about me."

A thrill runs through Viktor. Yuuri's words are rather flattering to his ego, and Viktor inches a little closer, stepping around someone and ending up behind Yuuri, which is a shame because he wants to look at Yuuri's face again. He finds himself cheering for Yuuri, amused that the seemingly diminutive Japanese skater is staring down a taller, more imposing man without batting an eyelash.

The Canadian skater laughs mockingly. "You? Why should I worry about someone like you? Twenty-two and you've never even medaled internationally. Someone like you could never hope to reach the podium."

Viktor's smile disappears. He hates people like this man, who talk down to others with arrogance. In front of him, Yuuri snorts as if the Canadian skater's words mean nothing to him. "Then why have you been watching my practices so closely, hm? Worried?"

Ooh, nice, Viktor thinks, watching the Canadian skater's mouth snap shut. Yuuri turns around after a moment, and Viktor feels another thrill when their eyes meet for the first time. Yuuri stares blankly at him for a moment before embarrassment takes over, his face flushing brilliantly to the tips of his ears, and the weight of his horror at finding Viktor there is palpable.

Viktor has to keep himself from smiling. Cute.

He wonders what he should say. Hi, I'm Viktor Nikiforov. I heard that you're my fan.

Hi, I'm Viktor. I've been wanting to meet you for a while now.

Hi, I had a dream that you died, and I'm so happy to see that you're alive, and by the way, you're the most beautiful person I've ever met in my life.

"Viktor Nikiforov!" the Canadian skater says loudly when he notices him, drawing attention from around the room. He throws an arm around Yuuri, and the minute flinch of Yuuri's shoulders does not escape Viktor's notice. "We were just talking about you!"

Steel returns to Yuuri's expression, and Viktor can see the exact moment that Yuuri decides he is not going to deal with this any longer. "Stop," Yuuri orders, before he slips out from under the man's arm and steps away from him, fixing him with a glare. "I'm going to find Celestino." He turns and leaves without another word, perhaps a little rudely, but after the way his friend behaved (and Viktor is rather hesitant to call them "friends"), Viktor finds he doesn't blame him.

The Canadian is left standing alone, bewildered. Viktor raises a cold eyebrow, summoning his best smile that screams Living Legend of Russia, and the Canadian man blinks several times.

"Well," the man huffs, giving Viktor a narrow-eyed stare before walking after Yuuri. Viktor watches them across the room, his gaze following Yuuri as he joins up with Celestino Cialdini and several other skaters. They follow the tall Italian man out of the hall, and just before Yuuri steps outside, he glances over his shoulder.

He meets Viktor's eyes, sending another thrill through him. Then he walks away, and Viktor is left wondering what Katsuki Yuuri thinks of him, to defend him so passionately against a detractor while running away from Viktor as soon as he sees him.

He smiles slowly. Seems like a challenge, this Yuuri.

That is the thought that carries Viktor into Tuesday. He does his rounds with his fans, signing autographs and having lunch with one of his sponsors, before he heads to the rink for practice. As he trails Yakov and Georgi into the practice rink, Viktor's focus is on his short program and how the audience will react to the additional moves he has added.

"Ah! The fires of rivalry have been fanned," Georgi gasps when they near the ice. Viktor rolls his eyes upward, then looks toward the practice rink, wondering which skaters have gotten into an argument this time.

To his surprise, he sees Katsuki Yuuri and Jean-Jacques Leroy, the Canadian skater from yesterday, standing close while exchanging heated words. Most of the rink has cottoned onto the fact that the two are arguing, and Viktor narrows his eyes, wondering if Leroy is still baiting Yuuri. Suddenly, Yuuri brings his hand up and points a finger at Leroy's chest, snapping something at him before skating to the other side of the rink.

Viktor watches, nonplussed. He has no idea what Leroy said to set Yuuri off, and he wonders what Yuuri is up to. It becomes extremely clear in only a few moments, when Yuuri begins skating part of a routine -- but not any routine that Viktor has seen in his videos.

Seconds later, Yuuri throws a challenging glare across the room and propels himself off the ice into a quadruple jump. Not just any jump, either -- the quadruple flip, Viktor's own signature jump.

Viktor counts the rotations as if in slow motion. Yuuri makes every one of them and lands cleanly, turning into a spin and raising his hand over his head in poignant grace. As he slows to a stop, he lifts his hand as if to reach out, but at the last second, his hand turns over and he points at Leroy, glaring.

"Gonna call me a liar now?" Yuuri says, his voice echoing across the ice. Viktor blinks once, realizing that the entire room has stopped to stare, just as shocked as he is.

Katsuki Yuuri just landed his jump. To prove Leroy wrong, apparently, and Viktor distantly wonders what Leroy must have said to push Yuuri into performing the jump.

He is aware of people noticing him and whispering. Viktor says nothing when Yakov turns to look at him with wide eyes, wondering what his own reaction to this event is. His mind is completely blank. All he can think about is the way Yuuri looked when he landed the jump -- as if lost in a beautiful memory.

"Yuuri Katsuki!" Celestino thunders, and Yuuri flinches, his expression crumpling. Viktor watches as Celestino gathers his three skaters to him and drags them off the ice, wondering if Yuuri was prohibited from jumps today. Yakov does that to him sometimes, when Viktor is a little too impatient.

Yuuri steps off the ice, just a few feet away from Viktor, and when he looks up, that same look of horror from yesterday takes over his expression when his eyes land on Viktor.

The dull rush of emptiness in Viktor's head suddenly comes to a stop when he sees tears appear in Yuuri's eyes. Yuuri looks away, visibly struggling to reign in his emotions, before he nods to Viktor and passes him, the line of his shoulders slumped with defeat.

Viktor turns halfway. He needs to talk to Yuuri, to find out what he was thinking when he made that jump. "Wait," he calls, but Yuuri has already left by the time he says the word.

"Who is that boy?" Yakov demands, and Viktor rocks back on his heels.

"That's Yuuri," he hears himself replying. "Katsuki Yuuri, from Japan." The man from his dream, who has more emotion inside him than Viktor has ever seen in a person before -- and he desperately wants to find out what else Yuuri feels.

~*~

"He did what," Chris says later in the lobby of the hotel, after Viktor escapes Yakov's attention and has changed into casual clothes. The flabbergasted expression on his face doesn't suit him, but Viktor understands it all too well. After a moment Chris pulls out his phone, sending off a quick text.

"He landed a quad flip in practice. Perfectly, might I add." Viktor makes a noise of frustration. "Apparently that Canadian skater accused him of lying about being able to do a third quad. Yuuri wasn't supposed to do quads during practice, so he got in trouble with his coach because that man baited him into showing off. I'm mad, because I don't want to thank that annoying skater. If he hadn't tricked Yuuri into doing the jump, I wouldn't have found out he could do a quad flip, but I don't like that he upset Yuuri enough to get him in trouble. What was his name, Jimmy Jack?"

"Jean-Jacques," Chris reminds him, his shock fading a little. "Is that dislike I hear? From the famous nice guy of the skating world?"

"Nice," Viktor scoffs, pulling on his sunglasses as they step outside. He switches to French and lowers his voice, not wanting to be overheard. "Nice does not encompass the ire I feel toward that stain on sportsmanship."

"He's not that bad... hmm." Chris eyes him for a long moment, pausing in his typing, and Viktor sighs, giving him a look over his sunglasses.

"What?"

"Nothing," Chris replies, a little too quickly. "Shall we go eat? I'll be happy to listen to you rant about JJ Leroy for a couple of hours. It would bring me great amusement."

"Sure," Viktor sighs, glancing up at the cloudy sky. "Where are we going?"

"A restaurant nearby. I picked it out earlier," Chris says, smiling. Viktor stays quiet, brooding over what happened earlier. As they turn onto the street where the restaurant is, Chris gets a text message from someone. "Ah, good. Viktor, would you mind if a friend or two joined us?" His tone is far too casual for Viktor's taste.

He narrows his eyes a little. He sees right through Chris' innocent smile. "You're going to invite Katsuki Yuuri, aren't you."

Chris laughs and lifts his phone, showing his messages with Yuuri. Viktor can't help but steal a glance at the conversation. "Already done, my friend. He and Phichit Chulanont are making their way here right now. You wanted to talk to him anyway, didn't you?"

Viktor wonders whether he should be annoyed or impressed. "You're maneuvering me," he tells Chris, whose smile widens with amusement.

"I'm giving you a helping hand. Don't whine so much, mon cher. You'll like him."

That's what I'm afraid of, Viktor doesn't say. The invitation has already been sent, and Viktor isn't the type of person to run away from his problems. He might gracefully sidestep them on occasion, but this is one situation that he should face head-on.

Chris puts his phone away after a while, and the silence between them stays a little tense. Chris doesn't appear too bothered by it, leaving Viktor to his thoughts about having a meal with the elusive Katsuki Yuuri. For the first time in many years, a tendril of nervousness creeps into him.

Yuuri is clearly a fan of his. His skating contains more elements and imitations from Viktor's style than Viktor has ever seen in a skater at his level. The fact that he overheard Yuuri arguing against someone in Viktor's favor is a positive point as well. While Viktor couldn't care less what Leroy thinks of him, he almost wishes he had overheard the entire conversation. He wants to know more of Yuuri's opinion of him.

Has he ever been this interested in what a fan thinks of him? Another skater?

I hope he doesn't run away again.

As they wait outside the Atlantic Fish Company, Viktor tapping his foot impatiently, he notices a flash of dark hair out of the corner of his eye. He looks over in time to see Yuuri ducking out of sight, dragging his rinkmate with him. A moment later, Chris gets a text message, which makes him raise his eyebrows.

"Oh dear," Chris says as he reads it, smiling wryly. Viktor doesn't have to think too hard on what happened.

"This is why you don't maneuver people, Chris," he sighs, before heading in the direction that his elusive target escaped. Chris lifts his eyes upwards but doesn't protest, following after Viktor as he taps away at his phone.

As he nears the storefront where Yuuri is hiding, Viktor hears Yuuri's melodic voice, deadened with dread.

"...pack everything up and move to Wisconsin and become a potato farmer," Yuuri is saying, his voice somewhat muffled by the glass window he is using to hide his face. "Potatoes are important, right? More important than my dismal skating career and every crap decision I've made in the past five months. You can make a lot of things with potatoes, you know. Fries. Croquettes. Curry."

The other skater, Phichit, notices him and Chris immediately and claps his hands over his mouth, his eyes going wide. Yuuri doesn't notice as his monologue continues, and Viktor can't help but pity him.

"Vodka," he offers for Yuuri's proposed future, his lips twitching upwards into a grin. Yuuri is just too cute. He entertains a brief thought of Yuuri flailing and running in the other direction, but Yuuri only nods in agreement.

"Right, vodka, that one's pretty important. See? Potato farmer it is."

A second later, Yuuri jumps three feet in the air and whirls around, his eyes widening with comical shock at seeing Viktor standing there. Viktor has to bite back a wide smile; somehow, every single expression or movement from Yuuri has him completely charmed. They stare at each other for a long moment, and Viktor unconsciously holds his breath, wondering if perhaps this time, he will get to talk to Yuuri before he runs away again.

After a moment, just long enough for a blush to start taking over Yuuri's cheeks, Phichit clears his throat. "Isn't Wisconsin next to Canada? You'd still be neighbors with JJ."

Yuuri's face quickly turns to horror, and Viktor bursts out laughing, the last of his irritation fading away. Delighted, he watches Chris cajole Yuuri into joining them, his gaze briefly dropping to the hand that slides down Yuuri's hip for a quick, welcoming squeeze. If Viktor didn't know the entirety of the saga of Chris and Masumi, he would be more jealous than just a quick glance could stir, but Chris has been in a monogamous relationship for years and uses flirting like other people use manners.

Yuuri's squawk of indignation makes Viktor smile again. He watches him for a long moment, then looks over at Phichit. "Shall we, then?" Viktor offers, which makes Phichit's eyes widen with excitement.

"Hi," Phichit blurts out, beaming. "I'm Phichit Chulanont! I'm such a big fan, Viktor! May I take a selfie with you?"

"Sure!" Phichit takes the picture and posts it with an ease born of a love for social media, which Viktor can respect. He exchanges some small talk with Phichit as they enter the restaurant, finding that the Thai skater is bubbly and effusive while not being overbearing. Phichit is an interesting counterpoint to Yuuri, who is currently trying to evade Chris' sneaking hands with a small frown on his lips.

Lips that are flushed with life, soft, inviting. Viktor briefly sees them as pale and cold, touched with ice, and has to shake his head a little hard to chase the image away.

Katsuki Yuuri is alive, and it was only a dream.

Chris 'maneuvers' Viktor into sitting across from Yuuri, which grants him the opportunity to look at Yuuri all he wants without it seeming odd. One must look at their tablemate to be polite, right? Viktor settles into staring, paying close attention to the way Yuuri's hair falls over his eyes, and the way he skirts away from ever maintaining eye contact.

Yet despite his apparent shyness at actually meeting Viktor, Yuuri is not intimidated by other social exchanges, joking with Phichit and Chris with a small smile that grabs Viktor's attention and does not let go for the rest of the night.

The moment that Yuuri finally meets his eyes sends a shiver straight through Viktor. How can someone's eyes be so expressive? They all but sparkle, and despite the trepidation that overshadows Yuuri's mien, Viktor can't help but soften.

"You're different than what I expected," he says quietly. Yuuri is surprising him at every turn, and Viktor finds it a little enthralling. Watching him in interviews on the internet (and seeing him in his dreams) paints only a small part of the picture that makes up Katsuki Yuuri.

"Um, okay," Yuuri says, thrown. He seems to struggle with himself for a moment, some battle inside his mind that Viktor cannot hear, before his eyes clear of their indecision and he squares his shoulders. "I didn't think you'd have an opinion of me. We've never met before."

Much to my dismay. Chris, I'm buying you that bottle of Clive Christian if this works.

"I've heard about you, though. You nearly got bronze at Four Continents, didn't you? Then you won your Nationals back in December." Viktor has seen the video of Yuuri's reaction at the Kiss and Cry. That soft, dazed look on his face at hearing the announcement that he had won gold stayed with Viktor for weeks afterwards.

Yuuri seems to turn a little pink. His eyes have not left Viktor's face. "I suppose. I just didn't think you'd look me up," he all but mumbles. Viktor is briefly reminded of Leroy, taunting Yuuri about not getting to meet Viktor, and he has to hide a scowl.

Of course he would want to meet Yuuri. Not just as a fan, but also as a fellow skater -- especially since Yuuri can land the quad flip, too.

Besides, it seems like Viktor is becoming Yuuri's fan, as well, if the number of videos in his "Yuuri" playlist on YouTube is any indication. Viktor shrugs a little, casual. "My rinkmate, Yuri Plisetsky, started watching your programs after someone linked him because you two share a name. You caught my attention." And I'm not even lying.

"Yuri Plisetsky," Yuuri repeats a little blankly. "He's in juniors, right?" Viktor raises his eyebrows, bemused that Yuuri even knows who Yuri is. That would send the short teenager straight up the wall.

"Mm," Viktor agrees. "I'm sure you meet him sometime. I'll have to thank him for bringing you to my attention, because it's definitely proven worthwhile." He smiles, thinking of how mad Yuri would be to know that Viktor is here chatting up his idol while Yuri is stuck in St. Petersburg.

Viktor is not above being petty.

The server brings them their drinks, and Viktor settles into his Amstel Light with a small sigh. He would love to have something harder, but Yakov would actually murder him if Viktor dared drink during a competition. Yuuri seems to be under the same guidelines, because he only orders a draft beer. (Chris has no such compunction. Damn him.)

Viktor is so caught up in his thoughts that he almost doesn't notice it. When he sets down his beer, licking his lips of the sharp taste, he sees Yuuri's gaze drop to his mouth, then look away quickly as the tips of his ears redden. The vision shocks Viktor, enough that he ends up staring openly.

Katsuki Yuuri is attracted to him.

Many of his fans are. Viktor is no stranger to the public's love for him. He has starred in commercials, posed for fashion shoots, given countless interviews, and received admiring messages from fans all over the world. Viktor knows full well how popular he is. If he wants a date, sometimes all he has to do is flash a smile, and he has suitors falling over each other to take that elusive spot in his bed.

Yet none of it compares, somehow, to the fact that Katsuki Yuuri, the most beautiful man Viktor has ever seen and the source of his quickly growing obsession, is attracted to him. No wonder Yuuri has taken to running away every time he meets Viktor.

Viktor usually ignores his fans' more blatant interest in his body, while respecting their desire to be close to him. It's becoming apparent, though, that Yuuri is more than simply a fan.

The real question is... what is Viktor going to do about it?

Quickly, Viktor searches for something to say, to distract himself from entertaining that thought any further. His mind catches on what happened earlier that afternoon, and his interest sharpens. "You can do the quad flip now."

Yuuri looks rather defeated when Viktor brings it up. Likely, he wished to avoid all mentions of the infamous jump. "Yes. I haven't performed it in competition, though."

"Why not? From what I heard, you landed it perfectly at practice today," Chris interjects. Viktor has to wonder what Chris thinks about Yuuri landing a third quad, when Chris has only managed two in competition. Viktor is of the opinion that the number of quads one has under their belt does not make one a better or worse competitor, though he knows many of his fellow skaters (and rivals, which Chris definitely is) have looked at him jealousy for years for being able to perform the more difficult jumps.

Yuuri shrugs a little. "I haven't been sure about the landing," he mumbles, briefly glancing away. "My coach didn't know I had it down. I kind of hid it from him."

Chris is surprised, as is Viktor. "You kept a secret like that from your coach?"

"He didn't tell anybody," pipes in Phichit. "We're all in the same skating club, and none of us knew that Yuuri had a third quad." He gives Yuuri a pout. "Not even me, your roommate! How could you keep this from me, Yuuri?"

Yuuri looks away, his shoulders tensing from all the attention. Viktor almost wants to reach across the table and draw his fingers along Yuuri's arm to relax him. The thought surprises him, because he is rarely this concerned for a fellow skater's welfare. "I'm sorry. I wanted it to be a surprise," Yuuri admits.

"Do you think you'll add it to one of your programs? Your free skate, perhaps?" Chris asks, strangely intent on the answer.

Yuuri drags his gaze away from the decorations on the wall, his gaze skirting Viktor's face briefly. "I haven't thought about it. I'm in trouble with my coach right now, so..."

Ah, that sounds familiar. How many times have I made Yakov mad, now? "Mm, that's disappointing. He should be praising you for landing it," Viktor says. He would want someone to support him if he was having a fight with Yakov over something like his jumps.

Yuuri gives him a wide-eyed look, apparently surprised by Viktor's comment. "Well, that's up to him," he says after a moment, still eyeing Viktor cautiously. He doesn't quite understand why Yuuri is looking at him in such a way, so Viktor gives a smile, somewhat confused.

"Hmm..." Viktor takes a drink of his beer, thinking. He knows that half the skating world has heard the rumor of what happened at the men's practice, but since no one took a video and it was only a practice, many people do not believe the rumors. If Yuuri landed the quad flip in competition...

Viktor can just imagine the furor such an act would create. He almost looks forward to it. For so many years, Viktor has been at the top of the figure skating world. His wins are guaranteed. He has won the GPF for four years in a row, and his fans have come to expect the gold medals that hang on his chest for a few hours before he quietly packs them away. He knows he is getting older, that skaters like Yuuri and Leroy and Phichit are the future, but still he cannot let himself retire.

Yet if he cannot surprise his audience, then Viktor does not know how he can go on, either. Figure skating has been his life for so long that Viktor has no idea what else he would do. Watching Yuuri roll out surprise after surprise, from his Nationals win to the possibility of using a quad flip in his program, is interesting -- even though Viktor feels it bittersweet at the same time. Yuuri is in the same position Viktor was once in, now.

He wonders what else Yuuri can do. He wonders if Yuuri could get up to his level -- and then, what Viktor could do to rise above him again. He lets himself imagine the constant challenge, and for a moment, he wants.

When a lull in the conversation draws Viktor back to the table, he notices Yuuri staring at him, his dark eyes almost sparkling beneath the lamplight. Viktor wonders briefly what Yuuri is thinking, to look at him in such away.

"How long have you been practicing the flip?" Viktor asks, before Yuuri can get embarrassed and look away again.

"Five months," Yuuri says after a moment, shyly meeting Viktor's gaze. Viktor blinks in surprise, then smiles.

"That's very impressive, Yuuri," Viktor says, leaning his chin on his hand. It is, too -- it took Viktor seven months to land the flip consistently, and at least a year to be confident to use it in competition. He marvels at Yuuri's work ethic to practice the flip so much while training for Nationals, Four Continents, and Worlds at the same time.

"That means a lot coming from you, Viktor," Yuuri says quietly, opening his eyes to look at Viktor again. His eyes are glittering again, warm and bright with unnamed emotion, and Viktor swallows against the sudden dryness in his throat. The realization is sudden, sweeping through and rewriting everything he knows about Katsuki Yuuri.

Yuuri isn't just his fan; he looks up to Viktor. Perhaps as an idol, but the emotion in his eyes and words speaks of something deeper, something Viktor can only hope to touch upon, because somehow he knows that Yuuri will never say the words.

He blinks a few times, touched, and infinitely happy that he has met this person. "I'm glad," he says quietly, watching Yuuri's cheeks flush delicately.

Perhaps sensing that Viktor is just a little distracted, Chris leads the conversation for the rest of the night, steering it away from the upcoming competition and asking Phichit and Yuuri about their time training in America. Phichit is quick to ask Viktor and Chris all sorts of questions about their training, their home countries, and their personal lives, which gives Viktor ample opportunity to talk about Makkachin, his favorite topic.

To his delight and surprise, he finds out that Yuuri also has a dog -- a poodle, no less. Yuuri's phone background is of a darling little chocolate poodle, and Viktor immediately falls in love.

"Is that a poodle puppy?" he asks, fingers twitching toward Yuuri's phone.

Yuuri freezes, looking down at his phone, then up at Viktor. His face floods red again. "He's not a puppy, he's a toy poodle. But... um, yes, that's my dog." He must see the hope in Viktor's expression, because he gives a heavy sigh and opens his phone, pulling up a picture gallery before holding out the phone. Viktor beams and scrolls through the pictures, nearly cooing at how cute the poodle is.

"He's adorable," Viktor croons. "What's his name? How old is he?"

If possible, Yuuri turns even redder. "He's... twelve years old." He closes his eyes briefly. "His name is Vicchan."

Viktor blinks, looking up from the phone. "Vicchan?"

"Short for Viktor-chan," Yuuri mumbles, before taking a very long drink of beer. Viktor stares for a long moment, his face slowly heating up. If he hadn't been certain of Yuuri being his fan already, then he would be now.

He named his dog after me.

"That's adorable," Viktor says, his smile brightening as he wills away his blush. "He's so beautiful. I love him already. I bet he and Makkachin would love each other," he sighs, pulling out his phone and opening it to his Makkachin folder. He taps on a picture on each phone and admires the two dogs side by side, before turning them around to show Yuuri. "It's like they're siblings! They'd be best friends!"

Something in Yuuri's face trembles a little, and for a moment he looks sad, his eyes wide and vulnerable. "I bet they would," Yuuri murmurs, his eyes going a bit misty. "May I look at your pictures of Makkachin?"

"Of course!"

He loves that Yuuri is also a dog person. He is rather touched that Yuuri apparently got Vicchan because Viktor had Makkachin, and that he even named his poodle after Viktor himself -- which speaks of how long Yuuri has looked up to him.

Viktor wishes he had known of Yuuri earlier. He wonders if he can find Yuuri's old juniors videos. Chris competed against him once upon a time, hadn't he?

After dinner, the four decide to walk back to the hotel together, and Viktor finds himself watching Yuuri once again. He isn't sure his attention ever left Yuuri once during the entire dinner, to be honest. Seeing Yuuri and talking to him has gone a long way to reassure Viktor after his haunting dream.

He is hit with a sudden idea, and Viktor grins, crooking a finger at Yuuri to beckon him to his side. "Come here," he calls. Yuuri gives him one of those adorable wide-eyed looks but obeys, and when he is close enough, Viktor wraps his arm around Yuuri's shoulder. Beneath his touch, Yuuri feels warm, alive. Before Yuuri can protest, Viktor takes a selfie of the two of them, inwardly sighing at how gorgeous Yuuri looks.

"Perfect," Viktor says, adding tags and posting it after he lets Yuuri go.

v-nikiforov: A lovely night with a new friend! #WorldsCompetition #figureskating

He notices Yuuri's phone buzzing and watches him open it to Instagram. Yuuri stares blankly at his phone. "Viktor, you have three hundred thousand followers," Yuuri says in disbelief, before he turns pink.

Viktor wastes no time. If Yuuri has Instagram, then Viktor can follow him. "Oh, you have Instagram, Yuuri? What's your username?" he asks casually, and after a long moment, Yuuri gives in and spells it out for him. Soon Viktor has access to katsudon-y's feed, which he will definitely review thoroughly later.

"I guess this is really happening," Yuuri mutters to himself, which Viktor overhears. Ahead of them, Chris and Phichit are chatting with friendly smiles, which amuses Viktor. He is glad that Chris seems to have gained a new friend from tonight.

Just like Viktor, hopefully.

"It isn't that bad, is it?" Viktor asks wryly. Yuuri gives him a startled look, which makes him chuckle. "You ran away as soon as you saw me earlier. In fact, you've been running away from me all week, and it's only Tuesday."

Yuuri's blush seems to reach up to his hair. Viktor is almost tempted to run his finger along the edge of Yuuri's pink ear, just to see if it feels as warm as it looks. "Can you blame me? Every time we meet, you witness something embarrassing happening to me."

Viktor almost can't believe what is happening to him. This beautiful, shy, adorable skater likes him and admires him so thoroughly that he would name his own dog after Viktor. Despite what some people might think, Viktor has never turned away a fan, and he would never, ever think badly of Yuuri for his admiration. Despite his clear apprehension, Yuuri still managed to share a meal and hold a normal conversation with Viktor, and Viktor thinks him brave for it.

He suspects he knows who put such doubt into Yuuri's mind. "I didn't think any of it was embarrassing. That Canadian skater... he was rather rude, wasn't he?" Viktor really does not like Jean-Jacques Leroy. One can be confident in their own skills without putting down others -- Viktor manages it just fine. If Leroy aspires to topple Viktor from his rightfully-earned place at the top of the skating world, he should at least be as courteous to his fellow skaters as Viktor is.

Yuuri grimaces, sliding his hands into his hoodie pockets. The hoodie is dark blue with a Wayne State emblem, clearly well-loved, and it dwarfs Yuuri a little. "I don't know why he has it out for me. We're in the same skating club, but..."

"Sounds like he's jealous to me," Viktor says thoughtfully. He can't say he knows the full story, but it seems likely enough -- though Leroy certainly has no business being nasty about it. "You've improved so much in such a short time. He gets to see that firsthand, since he skates in the same rink as you, and it's making him very worried. Still, he shouldn't be so rude."

Yuuri looks up at him for a long moment, his dark eyes deep with unspoken hope that Viktor wants to gather and hold in his hands, to protect it from ever faltering. "Thank you," Yuuri says quietly. "I'll have to try to ignore him for now. I've got to focus on the competition."

"Good idea," Viktor says with a small smile. "I look forward to your short program tomorrow."

The expression that takes over Yuuri's face is one that Viktor cannot read. After a moment, Yuuri's cheeks turn a little more pink, but at the same time, his eyes darken, something otherworldly flaring. Yuuri licks his lips as he considers what to say, and Viktor cannot help but glance at that mouth, reminded of his dream's knowledge that they are soft as silk.

He wonders.

"If you can... I'd love for you to watch me perform," Yuuri says softly. Watch me, and only me, his eyes say, and Viktor swallows, reminded of his unfortunate attraction to this beautiful man.

After a moment, Viktor smiles, and it is a slow, dark thing, with a little bit of challenge, and more than a little flirtation. "Okay. If you promise me you'll do the same. Watch my short program."

The sight of Yuuri's blush is gratifying beyond measure.

All of the skaters for Worlds are staying at the Marriot Copley Hotel, so the four walk back together. Viktor allows a lull in conversation to fall between him and Yuuri, glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. Yuuri catches his eye a few times and, once, manages a small smile, and to Viktor's surprise, the silence is never uncomfortable.

It isn't just his imagination. There is something wonderfully familiar about Katsuki Yuuri, as if they have been friends for years. He sees a kindred soul in Yuuri, and that comfort from a stranger calls to him.

It's like Yuuri already knows him.

He realizes he does not wish to let go of Yuuri. He wants to believe they could be friends. Viktor has so few real friends -- Christophe, certainly, and his rinkmates. His small collection of contacts in St. Petersburg, though he hardly ever sees them. Stephane, though Viktor rarely speaks to him anymore. He could use another friend.

Yuuri and Phichit are staying on the seventh floor, while Viktor's room is on the tenth. They share the elevator for the ride up, and Viktor draws himself from his thoughts when Yuuri follows his rinkmate off the elevator. Phichit waves excitedly, and Yuuri looks back with a tiny smile.

"Good night," Yuuri says, his eyes staying on Viktor for longer than is strictly necessary. Viktor holds his gaze until the door closes.

He sighs, pushing his hair back out of his face and tilting his head back, marveling over their exchange over the course of the night.

Chris laughs softly beside him. "Aren't you glad I introduced you?"

"You could say that," Viktor says quietly, lost in thought.

Despite staying on a floor above Viktor, Chris follows him off the elevator and to his room, which Viktor doesn't mind. He lets Chris in, tossing the key card and his sunglasses on the bed. Chris sits down, reclining back with a flirtatious grin, and Viktor considers him for a moment.

"How long have you known him?"

"Eight years, give or take. We were rivals back in juniors, and he gave me some fierce competition. He was such a cute little thing," Chris sighs. "Sweet and nervous. Adorable. He's grown up well, I'd say."

Viktor rolls his eyes, sliding off his coat and hanging it up in his closet. "Were you ever together?"

Chris eyes him for a long moment for the question, but Viktor avoids his gaze and walks over to the window, gazing at the city lights. Finally Chris answers, "No, he's had someone else in his heart, for the entire time I've known him."

Viktor doesn't let himself think too hard on that. "I wish I knew why I dreamed about him."

"That is curious. You really hadn't met him before?" Chris asks, pulling out his phone and looking at the screen.

Viktor shakes his head. "Never. I'm sure I've read about him before in articles about Four Continents, that way you hear about everybody in figure skating. But I never interacted with him before this competition. Yuri, my rinkmate, started following him a few months ago, and it caught my attention. So I looked him up... and then I had that dream." He sighs, sinking into the chair by the window, his thoughts returning to the dream.

"Do you think it's something like destiny?" Chris asks after a moment, making Viktor blink and sit up.

"Destiny?"

"Dreaming about him, then meeting him. He looks up to you, you know," Chris offers casually. Viktor gives him a look; as if it isn't obvious.

"I don't know about destiny, but... something about him just feels right," Viktor says slowly. "Like he could be someone important to me. I'd like to know him better."

Chris says nothing to that, his eyes staying on his phone. Viktor doesn't worry about Chris' reticence too much; Chris rarely speaks his own thoughts, choosing instead to dance around others with a charming smile. If Chris had a problem with Viktor knowing Yuuri, he wouldn't have introduced them in the first place.

Viktor does not know what Yuuri will become to him. A friend, a rival, a lover -- the future is beautifully uncertain, and Viktor finds himself looking forward to finding out.

~*~

When he makes it to the stadium on Wednesday, Viktor realizes with delight that he will be skating at the same time as Yuuri, then grimaces with dismay when he notices that Leroy is in the same group. He glances between Yuuri and Leroy, sensing the simmering tension, but their coach is keeping a close enough eye on them that Leroy hasn't started bothering Yuuri.

He seems to have no compunction about taunting Viktor, though, right in the middle of Viktor's stretches. The group before them has already gone, and it will be Yuuri's turn next. Viktor looks forward to seeing his short program in person.

"It must be pretty disappointing, knowing you're not the only person who can do a quad flip anymore," Leroy says to Viktor, his voice pleasant, but Viktor sees through him easily. He puts on his best smile, sharp and dangerous, daring Leroy to go any further.

"I think it's something to be celebrated, actually. Shouldn't we all support each other as skaters?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Leroy agrees, a little too quickly. Then he makes the mistake of looking at Yuuri. "Still, it's a shame when some of us just don't compare to the rest."

Viktor struggles not to seethe. His normally slow temper seems rather short, for once. He feels intensely protective of Yuuri, for some reason. "Hm? I can't imagine there's anybody like that." Viktor's smile is all teeth.

Leroy laughs, but the offending noise is cut off when Yuuri stands and turns to stare up at him flatly. Whatever Leroy sees in his expression makes him look away, while Viktor stares, his heart skipping a beat.

"Yuuri, it's time," Celestino calls. Yuuri unzips his jacket, revealing a gorgeous, form-fitting costume of white, blue, and violet, perfect with his dark hair. Viktor drags his gaze down a bit, then takes a deep breath and follows Yakov to the arena, his heart beating a bit faster.

He is going to perform.

Yuuri is listening to his coach give him encouragement, nodding slightly, his expression staying mute with concentration. Before he skates away, he glances back and meets Viktor's eyes, and Viktor remembers Yuuri's wish from yesterday.

I'll watch you, Viktor promises silently, touching his finger to his lips. He exhales softly as Yuuri holds his gaze, dark eyes glittering, before he turns and makes his way to the center of the rink.

When the music from Swan Lake begins to play and Yuuri slides forward with a raw, open expression, a creature cursed in a terrifying world, Viktor stops breathing.

Beautiful.

Odette's pain from her curse is all too real, brought to life by Yuuri's sleek and concise choreography. His jumps are nearly perfect, and though there are small errors in his technical points, Yuuri carries the emotion of his story too well for the problems to truly detract from his skate, unlike programs in years past. Viktor wonders where Yuuri got the inspiration for the story; most would have woven it into something lighter, something less tragic, but Yuuri has turned the story into something truly amazing.

He doesn't think he breathes again until the last notes fade and Yuuri reaches out into the darkness once more, and all he can think is, That is so much better than Nationals. Viktor starts slightly to realize he is crying, when he sees Yuuri glance at him on his way to the Kiss and Cry.

Yuuri's eyes widen slightly, looking briefly horrified, and Viktor wipes his eyes and gives him a smile, lifting his hand in a wave. He ignores the look Yakov gives him and closes his eyes as Leroy steps onto the ice, listening for Yuuri's score.

His smile widens when he hears what it is. Good, Yuuri.

He doesn't bother watching Leroy, instead focusing on his upcoming program. Viktor's short program is part of his larger theme of Rebellion. Two years ago, Viktor had begun a one-man war against the the ISU, and to a lesser extent, the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, with a fierce campaign to allow same-sex couples in pair skating. Viktor had spread the campaign through his fans, his sponsors, and all of his social media accounts, and the revolution had quickly gained traction amongst skating fans -- until the ISU had come back and issued a punishment against him, including a threat to strip him of his certification if he did not stop involving the public. Yakov had all but dragged him kicking and screaming back to St. Petersburg after a vicious meeting with ISU officials.

He had not lost, though. The ISU had, rather reluctantly, promised to review the arguments Viktor had levied against them, though he hasn't heard a word from them since. This year's theme is a strongly coded condemnation of the ISU's continued silence. That the Russian counterpart had done little to assist Viktor in his quest infuriated him. Hence, "Rebellion," using songs from LGBTQ artists to make his point.

The ISU and Russia want Viktor to bow to their whims and follow at their heels like a good little poster boy, and Viktor will not have it. He knows the power of his face and ability; he is a celebrity, a so-called "living legend" of figure skating, and he will not be silenced.

For his short program, Pop That Lock by Adam Lambert does well to tell every official, who threatened to cut off his sponsors and take him away from figure skating, "fuck you." They cannot silence him, nor his sexuality, nor his beliefs, and Viktor knows full well that his dances will sell faster than any tripe that the ISU tries to sell.

He is not their toy. He does what he wants, and they cannot stop him.

Yakov is talking to him, lecturing him on all the technical points he must ace to get gold. Viktor lets him drone on, instead thinking of the beautiful program he saw from Yuuri, and wondering what Yuuri thinks of his short program. Most of the skaters are familiar with each other's programs by this point. Viktor performed Pop That Lock at the GPF and European Championships after all. Yuuri must have seen it already.

Still, Viktor wants to leave a lasting impression on him, just as Yuuri did for him. Yuuri, the ISU, the world -- Viktor wants every one of them to watch him, and to know his truth.

He gives Yakov a confident smile and steps onto the ice, skating around the rink to tumultuous cheers. He glances across the crowd until he finds the competitor section of the audience, and his eyes land on Yuuri, already returned from his post-program interviews. Across ice and darkness and light, Viktor meets Yuuri's gaze, and he smiles slowly.

He does not know what Yuuri will come to mean to him. He has noticed Yuuri's attraction, and Viktor would be lying if he said he hadn't noticed how beautiful Yuuri is. He isn't certain whether he wants to bed Yuuri, or simply wants to know him, but no matter what he thinks of Yuuri, the terrifying images from his dream keep coming back to him.

Does he want Yuuri as a lover? As a friend? As a rival? What sort of relationship would suit the two of them best? Idol and fan define Viktor and Yuuri in one way, but that doesn't begin to explain Viktor's dream, nor the draw he feels toward Yuuri, a stranger until this week. He does not know if he has ever been this enthralled by someone before.

Yuuri has been a continual surprise since Viktor met him. He hopes Yuuri enjoys the program.

The heavy beat starts building, and when Adam Lambert begins to sing, Viktor kicks off the ice and starts a fast-paced step skate backwards, before twisting and heading across the ice, spreading his arms to invite the audience to clap. His first quad is a lutz, and from there on, Viktor never slows. While designing the choreography, Viktor was tempted to use all of his jumps, but ultimately Yakov talked him out of it, insisting that he focus on other components.

So Viktor added hydroblading and a cantilever instead. The look on Yakov's face when Viktor first pulled the moves off had been amazing. Every movement is designed to heighten his sexuality, to dare any who watch him to deny that he is top of the figure skating world. Usually Christophe has the most erotic programs, but Viktor believes that his SP is quite a strong challenger.

His last jump is the triple axel, and Viktor drops down into his cantilever, his fingers dragging along the ice behind him as he comes to a stop with the echo of the last note. He is breathing fast, oddly exhilarated, moreso than past performances. A second later, the audience erupts into screaming, and Viktor unfolds himself from his pose with a smirk, holding up a hand to accept their accolades.

At the Kiss and Cry, Yakov vaults into lecturing him immediately, complaining that his quad-double combination was too risky and that Viktor should have known better to go into it so quickly. Viktor tunes him out, his gaze drawn to the scoreboard at the end of the arena. Yuuri is in third place, and Leroy has bumped up to second, which makes Viktor narrow his eyes slightly.

Viktor's score catapults him into first place, but Leroy and the second place skater, Cao Bin, are close behind him. Yuuri trails Leroy by four points.

Viktor goes through his post-program interviews with an easy smile. He talks about his theme of rebellion without mentioning his war against the ISU, since that was part of the agreement he was forced to sign. The press is already aware of it, to some extent, but Viktor has never confirmed nor denied anything about the ISU's sanctions. He knows that the fans would revolt if he did.

"Viktor, what are your thoughts on the rumors that Yuuri Katsuki can perform your signature quad flip? Do you think he might use it in his free skate tomorrow?" one reporter asks him, and the others seem to hold their breath.

Viktor smiles. "I witnessed him land it in practice myself, and I'm amazed that he can do it. I believe skaters should continue to challenge themselves and set new standards for the next generation, and if Yuuri chooses to use it on Friday, then I will be the first person to cheer for him."

He keeps that smile through the rest of the questions, knowing that his answer will cause a large amount of commentary, perhaps even focus the attention even more on Yuuri. Despite that possibility, Viktor wants to be as supportive as possible.

When he reaches the stands, though, Viktor's smile nearly disappears. Down in the front row, Yuuri is hunched down in his seat, while Leroy leans against him, undoubtedly bothering him. One of the remaining seats is behind Yuuri. Viktor does not hesitate to take it, accepting congratulations from the other skaters with a charming smile.

Leroy glances at him briefly, then leans over to Yuuri. "Sorry you didn't make it to the top three," he says, and Viktor's smile widens slightly, sharp and fierce.

Everybody in the skating world is talking about Yuuri and his quad flip. Viktor has already noticed that many of them are doubtful and antagonistic toward Yuuri, particularly his own fans, and Viktor absolutely does not want that.

Viktor shines his smile at Leroy before leaning forward over the back of Yuuri's seat and pressing his cheek to Yuuri's, holding his phone up to take a selfie. "Smile, Yuuri," he murmurs, his breath washing over Yuuri's pink-tipped ear. On the screen, Yuuri's face flushes beautifully, but a second later his lips twitch into a small smile, his eyes sparkling, and Viktor returns that smile, satisfied.

He wants the entire world to know that Viktor Nikiforov, living legend and the first person to land the quadruple flip in competition, gives Yuuri his complete approval for learning the same move. He doesn't want Leroy or any other naysayers to think anything less.

And if he gets to keep a picture of the most beautiful man in the world -- well, Viktor has never pretended to be completely selfless.

v-nikiforov: We popped that lock on Worlds! #WorldsCompetition #figureskating

Yuuri is warm beneath his arm, and Viktor savors the contact. "The short program was a success, wouldn't you say?" he says, his lips brushing Yuuri's ear.

"Quite so, Viktor," comments up Chris from behind him. "You were rather sexy on the ice today. Almost as good as me."

"Why, thank you, Chris," Viktor replies with a smile, leaning back and enjoying the banter, utterly pleased with himself.

~*~

Despite Viktor's best efforts, Yuuri eludes him for the entirety of Thursday. Instead, the day is full of interviews, meetings with sponsors, and practice. Viktor finally escapes for dinner by begging Chris to take him out before he gets pulled into a "team dinner" with Yakov, Georgi, and Anya. Chris invites Yuuri to join them again, but unlike before, Yuuri bows out of the meal, citing a family friend arriving for the competition. Viktor broods throughout the cocktail he orders, until Chris tells him in no uncertain terms to relax.

"You're going to skate against him tomorrow, darling," Chris sighs, pulling the straw out of Viktor's mouth and shaking his head. "Quit pouting. You're acting like a teenager with a crush."

Viktor laughs, his heart skipping a beat. "What a thing to say!"

Masumi joins them for dinner, which means Chris is sufficiently distracted enough to stop teasing Viktor about his interest in Yuuri. Viktor watches them sit together with a small smile, amused at how exasperated Masumi acts toward Chris, who never once stops flirting with him. Christophe may flirt with anything that breathes, but Masumi will always hold his complete attention when he is in the vicinity.

He is amazed that Masumi never gets jealous whenever Chris openly admires other men. The two have been dating for two years, and not once have they ever fought about Chris flirting with everyone around him. Masumi merely nods along, basking in the knowledge that Chris will always remain his.

Viktor wonders what it would be like, to have such faith in his partner. Another thought for another day.

When they reach the hotel, Viktor is gifted with the sight of Yuuri standing on the other side of the lobby, speaking with an older Japanese woman and his coach. Viktor lingers for a moment, but Yuuri doesn't notice him, so he retreats upstairs with Chris to find his swimming trunks, appeased by the brief glimpse.

Chris gives him a knowing look, and Viktor ignores him, grateful when Masumi joins them at the pool and becomes the immediate target of Chris' flirtations. While he relaxes in the whirlpool, Viktor watches silently as Chris crowds Masumi against the side of the pool and teases him, unheeding of other patrons who give them second glances. He looks away with Masumi unbends enough to give Chris a kiss.

He has no one like that. Viktor has had his share of lovers, and none have stayed long enough to make a real difference in his life. After a while he simply gave up on finding someone like that, too focused on his training and work. He never needed anyone to complete him.

The dream comes to mind again. He had been so certain in his dream that Yuuri had been dear to him, perhaps enough for Viktor to put that ring on his finger. Viktor has barely even thought of marriage; he is already married to the ice.

How strange, Viktor thinks, drawing his fingers back through his hair and tilting his head back to gaze out the windows. At any other competition, Viktor would be thinking solely about his upcoming programs, yet here he is ruminating over a stranger.

When Viktor gets back to his room, he checks Instagram and finds a new post from Yuuri. The picture is of a decadent cake, drizzled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream, with two forks resting on the plate. Some of the comments point it out as a slice of Boston cream pie.

katsudon-y: 先生と一緒にデザート~

Viktor doesn't hesitate to pull up a Japanese dictionary website. After a few minutes of sleuthing, he deduces that Yuuri said, "Dessert together with teacher," which makes him wonder about the Japanese woman he had seen with Yuuri. A previous coach, perhaps?

He wonders if Yuuri is already back in his room.

Constantly, without fail, his thoughts circle back to Katsuki Yuuri. Viktor takes a deep breath, then likes the picture and closes out the app, determined not to look at it for the rest of the night.

He utterly fails and ends up going through all of Yuuri's Instagram posts into the early morning, liking every single one of them, then going back and unliking them before Yuuri can notice his attention. His late night means that he wakes up just as late, which means he misses morning practice. Yakov yells at him for it, which isn't unusual, so Viktor merely lounges in his room until he needs to change into his costume, refreshing his timeline constantly.

Yakov glares at him for his apparent laziness when he finally strolls downstairs, but Viktor doesn't bother explaining himself. Dressed and prepared, his hair carefully combed back, and with the suitcase for his skates rolling behind him, Viktor makes his way to the bus that will take all of the competitors over to the rink.

He notices Yuuri board the bus at the same time and brightens, lifting a hand in a wave. Yuuri spots him almost immediately and turns a little pink, waving shyly before he sits down with his coach and rinkmates. Viktor smiles, feeling better about his late night, absently watching the back of Yuuri's head through the bus ride, while Yakov mutters beside him.

"I'll be fantastic today, you know that," Viktor says to Yakov's exasperated sigh, when he dismisses yet another piece of advice.

"I'm just saying, Vitya --"

And so on. Yakov loves to lecture him, and Viktor loves to ignore him. They have a healthy relationship where Yakov gets to yell as much as he wants, and Viktor does spectacularly well anyway, despite all the nitpicking and constant haranguing from his coach. Viktor truly wouldn't have it any other way.

Viktor spends his time before his free skate stretching and meditating. He exchanges a few challenging smiles with Chris, before turning his focus inward. Group by group, the number of skaters in the waiting area slowly decreases, until at last, the only ones remaining are him, Yuuri, Leroy, and Cao Bin.

Yuuri has his headphones in, white buds that are likely playing his free skate music. Viktor follows the line of his body with his eyes as Yuuri stretches on the floor, then looks away. He had read somewhere that Yuuri tends to get nervous before competitions, and he can see hints of those nerves in the blank expression Yuuri wears. Yakov shoots him a look for his distraction, but Viktor ignores it.

"So, are you going to use it?" Leroy asks Yuuri, which catches Viktor's attention immediately.

Yuuri gives him a flat stare. "What are you talking about?"

"Your quad flip, of course." Leroy briefly meets Viktor's gaze, a small smirk on his face. "Since you stole it from the current reigning champion."

Fortunately, before Viktor can react, Celestino breaks away from Yakov to give Leroy a warning look, making him subside. Clearly fed up, Yuuri stands and leaves the room, going out to the hallway to continue his stretches, and after a moment, Viktor follows.

He leans back against the wall where Yuuri is stretching, crossing his arms and keeping an eye on the entrance to the room. "Jealous, like I said," Viktor tells Yuuri, keeping his voice down. The cameramen are still inside the waiting room, which is a relief; Viktor does not want anyone listening in on his and Yuuri's conversation.

"It's probably because I landed it before he did," Yuuri replies after a moment, sighing. "He has the lutz, but he hasn't done the flip, yet."

"Like I said," Viktor repeats, a faint smirk curling at his lips. "Whether or not you use it in your skate, you shouldn't let him stress you out. You should skate the way you want to skate, not because anybody else demands it of you."

Yuuri makes a soft noise. "He doesn't bother me. But thank you, anyway." He hesitates, watching Viktor's face for a moment, and Viktor holds his gaze, seeing that familiar sparkle that continues to thrall him. "Good luck on your free skate, Viktor."

Something soft and warm tugs at Viktor's heart. At the end of the hallway, one of the staff signals the time, and Viktor's lips curl slightly. "To you as well, Yuuri."

At the rink, Yuuri takes off his jacket and hands it to Celestino. His costume is skin tight with sleek black pants and a red and violet shirt, sparkling and form-fitting, the red trailing down the pants in glittering designs. The dark colors only add to his beauty, and Viktor sighs a little, admiring him.

"Vitya, stop staring," Yakov mutters under his breath in Russian. Viktor smiles without looking back at him.

"In this, I cannot do as you ask, Yakov," Viktor replies in his mother tongue. He couldn't look away from Yuuri if he tried.

Yuuri's free skate is gorgeous. He begins from that same position that his short program ended in, his hand reaching out to someone unknown. Then he looks up, as if noticing that his scenery has changed, and skates forward, his movements much more pronounced than the graceful sadness of his short program. The curse on him remains, but now he must find a way out of the darkness and fight for a better future.

His step sequence is quick and precise, and when the music shifts to something slower and more hopeful, Yuuri settles into his natural grace with arching, sweeping movements. He has made peace with his curse, and now he will move forward, seeking light where he can find it.

Viktor waits in silence. Every time Yuuri takes off for a quad, Viktor holds his breath, waiting to see if it will be his quadruple flip. It never is, and as the end of the song approaches, Viktor feels oddly disappointed. He had wanted to see Yuuri perform it...

Then Yuuri does, on the last jump of his free skate. Not even Viktor could hope to land a difficult quad like that at the end of his skate, and it says amazing things about Yuuri's stamina that he pulls it off.

Viktor stares, forgetting where he is. Over the intercom, he can hear the announcers clamoring with excitement, but he hardly pays attention to them. Instead his gaze is fastened to the look on Yuuri's face, of poignant sadness, even though his body language is full of hope.

"And Yuuri Katsuki has landed his rumored quadruple flip! I see no errors in his landing, and there appear to be enough rotations! Until today, the only competitor in men's figure skating to land this jump has been Viktor Nikiforov! Putting this jump at the end of his program is very daring, too! I think we are all excited to see what this talented skater will do in the future!"

"I can't believe that boy did it," Yakov says quietly. He sounds shocked, and Viktor feels the same surprise echoing through him.

"It was beautiful," Viktor hears himself saying, and he touches his gloved hand to his chest, wondering why it feels so full. He is... proud. Proud and excited and happy, because Yuuri landed his jump, and it was amazing.

Leroy goes next, and Viktor watches him with a placid expression. Leroy is a strong skater, to be sure, and he could definitely take Viktor's place sometime in the future. He occasionally stumbles over his jumps, and once or twice he seems to lose his bravado, but he has enough technical components to overcome the deficiencies. The crowd seems to love him, too; likely because he has a large fanbase in nearby Canada.

He doesn't compare to Yuuri, though, and when Leroy's final score is announced, almost five points below Yuuri and three points below Chris, Viktor almost shouts in celebration. He holds himself back only because he has an image to maintain, but he still grins, beyond enthralled.

Yuuri made the podium. Now all Viktor has to do is go out and join him.

~*~

That night, Viktor barely sleeps. After tossing and turning for over an hour, Viktor sits up with a grumble. The competition is over, he has won his gold medal, and yet he cannot rest, his mind racing with thoughts too vague and quick for him to pin down. Sleep is far beyond his grasp.

His phone has a couple dozen messages of congratulations, but Viktor pays them no mind. He pokes around the mini bar inside the fridge for a while, then sighs again and decides to head down to the restaurant, which should be open late. He takes a few minutes to dress, nicely enough to look fine in a photograph if he gets caught, but without too much effort; he is too tired for it.

No reporters greet him, which is a relief; Viktor does not want to deal with them right now. They like to camp around his hotel during competitions, but whatever he said during his interviews earlier must have dissuaded them from bothering him tonight. In fact, not many other skaters are out of their rooms this late, even for a Saturday. Other than the hum of TV noise and voices from the bar, the hotel is mostly silent. The quiet is inviting, and Viktor is almost tempted to go for a walk. He knows better, though.

The kitchen is about to close, but the staff are more than happy to offer Viktor coffee or dessert. After a few moments of thought, Viktor orders a slice of the Boston cream pie, thinking of the photo Yuuri posted a couple days ago. He did win gold, after all, so he might as well spoil himself. Viktor makes sure to leave a large tip, knowing that the staff are likely ready to go home, before he collects his dessert and starts to make his way back to his room.

He likes this hotel. The lobby contains a beautiful crystal chandelier hanging in the center of the open space. Bag of dessert in hand, Viktor pauses by the railing, looking up at the crystalline structure. It reminds him of a cascade of ice, and for a moment, Viktor entertains the thought of a costume that mirrors the effect, crystals trailing down the side of the bodice. He wore something like that in juniors, but in black, didn't he?

He is about to turn away when his eyes catch on the lounge nearby. A familiar figure is curled up on one of the sofas, wrapped in a faded blue hoodie and sweatpants.

Viktor's heart skips a beat. Yuuri.

He doesn't exactly run as he crosses the floor, but Viktor is grateful that nobody is around to see his pace, either. Yuuri is slumped sideways on the sofa, his phone held out in front of his face as he scrolls through what is probably his social media. A nearly empty cup sits on the table in front of him, the straw slightly chewed. He looks lost and tired, and Viktor feels an answering ache inside him.

Guess I'm not the only person with insomnia tonight.

"Hello, Yuuri," Viktor says quietly, pausing beside the round table. Yuuri's eyes flick up to him and widen, but he otherwise doesn't startle. Viktor gives him a smile. "May I join you?"

Yuuri nods, then slowly sits up, setting his phone beside his cup. Viktor sets his box down and sits down beside Yuuri, taking in the dark circles under his eyes and the way he shifts, as if nervous, his fingers pinching the cuffs of his hoodie. After a moment, Yuuri speaks up, his voice a little gravelly. "Why are you awake?"

"Restless energy, I suppose," Viktor replies after a moment. If he looks closely, he can see that Yuuri's eyes are a little puffy, the skin reddened. Has he been crying? Viktor doesn't ask, though; he doubts Yuuri would appreciate the intrusion. "Is it the same for you?"

Yuuri makes a low noise, giving up on worrying at his sleeves and pushing his hands into his hoodie pocket. He looks soft as he sits there, oddly vulnerable. "I couldn't sleep. I guess I was too shocked..."

Viktor blinks. "By your silver?"

Yuuri lowers his gaze. "Yeah."

Viktor wonders what he should say. He wonders if Yuuri had hoped to win gold, or if there are other underlying reasons for his distress. He does not know Yuuri well enough to ask, but he also cannot leave Yuuri to his misery. While Yuuri is not crying, he seems sad enough for it to mean the same, and Viktor has never been good with tears.

Then Viktor has an idea. "Wait here," he tells Yuuri, standing up and hurrying back to the restaurant. The bartender gives him a second fork, and Viktor makes his way back up to the lounge, relieved to see Yuuri still on the sofa, blinking at him in confusion. Viktor smiles as he retakes his seat and opens the takeaway box, revealing the decadent slice of Boston cream pie. Yuuri's gaze drops to the dessert, then back up to Viktor, flummoxed.

"Share with me?" Viktor offers, holding out the second fork. A moment passes, and Viktor can actually see the desire to run away warring within Yuuri, before he gives a tiny sigh and reaches out to take it, his fingers brushing Viktor's palm.

"Okay," Yuuri says quietly. "I've had it before. It's pretty good."

"I saw your picture," Viktor replies, pleased. He cuts the soft cake with his fork, taking a bite and relishing the sweet flavor. He doesn't often treat himself to interesting foods outside of his diet, let alone sweets, but the season is officially over now. Viktor can afford the calories.

"Oh," Yuuri says, turning pink. Viktor pauses with his fork brushing the whipped cream, gazing at Yuuri for a long moment, before he pulls out his phone decisively. For a few minutes, Yuuri takes small bites of the creamy dessert, while Viktor systematically goes through every single photo Yuuri has ever posted, just like he did before. This time, each photo gets a heart and a comment, and Viktor doesn't hold back -- until Yuuri notices his phone screen.

"Is that my Instagram?" Yuuri asks warily.

"Perhaps," Viktor says with a little grin. "You post lots of pictures of tasty-looking food. Вкусно!"

"What? Get out of there!" Yuuri yelps, grabbing for the phone, and Viktor swiftly holds it out of reach.

"I'm just giving them some love, Yuuri!" He laughs when Yuuri reaches for the phone again, catching him by the waist to hold him back, and Yuuri strains against him for a moment, before letting out a low whine and slumping against Viktor's side. For a glorious moment, Yuuri stays pressed against him, his warmth seeping through Viktor's clothes, before he pulls away. Viktor reluctantly lets him go.

"I can't believe you sometimes," Yuuri sighs, stabbing at the cake, then giving Viktor a look. "Aren't you going to eat this? You bought it after all."

"As soon as I finish leaving comments on all your posts," Viktor replies teasingly, just to see the way Yuuri's eyes narrow warningly. He laughs again, utterly charmed, and obligingly sets down his phone. He eats his dessert for a few minutes, enjoying the way Yuuri's eyes flutter sometimes when he takes a bite heavy with chocolate. He could watch Yuuri all night and be perfectly content.

He might spend more time watching Yuuri than actually eating. Viktor doesn't mind; he finds it just as enjoyable to watch Yuuri enjoy the cake as eating it himself.

At last their forks scrape the bottom of the box, and Yuuri leans back with a deep sigh, patting his stomach. Viktor absently gathers their trash into his empty bag, then leans back beside Yuuri, resting his arm across the top of the sofa behind Yuuri's head.

"Thank you for sharing, Viktor," Yuuri says quietly, peering up at him, and Viktor smiles brightly back. The misery has faded from Yuuri's eyes, which is the best Viktor could have hoped for.

"It was my pleasure, Yuuri." He glances at his phone, sighing at the time. "I suppose we should try to sleep now. We had a rather long day today, didn't we?"

"Too long," Yuuri replies, yawning. His eyelids keep falling a little, and Viktor smiles slowly, hoping that Yuuri is able to sleep well when he goes back to his room. "Are you going to watch the pair dancing tomorrow?" he asks Viktor curiously.

"Yes, I am," Viktor replies, though he will feel bitter about it. He wonders if they will ever allow same-sex dancing.

"I am, too." Yuuri follows Viktor to throw away their trash, covering another yawn as they make their way over to the elevators. His hand drops to his side and brushes Viktor's arm, and for a moment, Viktor is almost certain that Yuuri wants to take his hand. He does not.

The silence between them is companionable, familiar. Viktor glances over at Yuuri, who seems lost in thought. The elevator opens, and together they step inside.

When they are finally alone, with no one to spy on their conversation, Viktor says quietly, "Your programs were beautiful, Yuuri. I think everybody was amazed this week."

Yuuri glances up at him. His expression is unreadable, for once. "It still feels like a dream," Yuuri says softly after a moment, drawing Viktor's thoughts back to the dream he had a week ago. "I never expected to get this far. And I think I have you to thank for that."

Viktor blinks, surprised, and Yuuri finally smiles a little, something in his gaze softening. "You believed in me," Yuuri says quietly. "You chose to watch me and support me, and that made me work harder than I thought I could. Thank you." He bows in the Japanese custom, and Viktor watches him for a long moment, not saying anything until they reach Yuuri's floor and the doors open.

As Yuuri steps out of the elevator, Viktor catches the doors with his hand, stopping them from closing. Yuuri looks back at him in askance, and Viktor meets his gaze. "If you push yourself even harder next year, do you think you could win gold?"

Yuuri's eyes widen with shock. He gapes at Viktor for a moment, then starts to stutter over a reply, and Viktor lets him fumble for words for a brief moment. The elevator starts to beep, and Viktor hesitates.

"Show me next season what you can do. Prove to me that you can win gold." Then he lets go of the doors, but Yuuri reaches out to interrupt them this time, leaning forward, his eyes glittering brightly.

"I'll work hard next season. I'll beat you," Yuuri tells him earnestly, before he turns red and steps back. "Ah, sorry!"

Viktor smiles slowly as the doors begin to close, his gaze never leaving Yuuri's face. "I look forward to it."

~*~

The exhibition gala is a success, though Viktor wishes again that he could have been paired with another man for the pair dancing portion. How lovely would it be if he and Yuuri skated together? Or if the gold and silver medalists from the women's division could skate together? Viktor is reasonably certain that Sara Crispino and Shasta Nguyen flirted through half of the pair dancing yesterday, without Michele Crispino ever noticing.

He dresses slowly for the banquet, entertaining thoughts of following Katsuki Yuuri around the ice, weaving a romantic story for the enraptured audience. When he realizes that he has been dazing out for ten minutes with a goofy smile, Viktor shakes himself and finishes buttoning his jacket, then reaches for a blue silk handkerchief to fold and tuck into his pocket.

They would be a rather striking couple, he has to admit. Perhaps he should start another campaign...

Humming under his breath, Viktor heads downstairs to meet Yakov and the rest of his team. The banquet takes place in a wide, open ballroom, beautifully decorated with roses and crystalline arrangements.

After speeches from the ISU representatives and congratulations, Viktor is left to mingle. At first he spends most of his time charming sponsors into supporting him for another year, never once allowing them to consider the idea of retirement. (He is beginning to hate that question. So what if he is twenty-six years old? He still wins gold.)

Then comes the customary dance with Chris, then Masumi because Chris asks for it. He gets pulled into dance after dance as the night wears on. Viktor doesn't mind; it's all part of his reputation as the Living Legend of the skating world. Men, women, anybody who wishes it -- Viktor dances with them all.

Except one, who lingers at in the background, rarely venturing into Viktor's view. Viktor keeps an eye out for the elusive Yuuri, too, but every time he spots him, Yuuri is either speaking with sponsors, politely dancing with giggling younger skaters, or huddling by the buffet tables. Viktor can't ever seem to catch him, either, because whenever Viktor manages to make it across the hall to Yuuri's location, the other man has disappeared.

If Viktor didn't know any better, he would say Yuuri is avoiding him.

"He's definitely avoiding you," teases Chris, while Masumi gets them both drinks. "You've scared him away for good. The great and terrifying Viktor Nikiforov, traumatizing Japanese skaters everywhere."

"Says the man who made Michele Crispino scream higher than my babushka's cat," replies Viktor lazily. He smiles at Masumi when he returns, taking the glass of champagne and sipping it slowly.

"How could I resist that finely sculpted backside? Besides, his sister dared me," confides Chris with a small grin. Masumi only rolls his eyes.

"If you're that excited, I should just take you upstairs," Masumi mutters, which makes Chris perk up with delight.

"My dear, if you want me to ravish you, you only need to ask. It seems the party is winding down anyway." Chris sighs as he drapes himself against Masumi's side, looking somewhat despondent. "Once again, they wouldn't let me bring in a stripper pole."

Masumi's lips twitch, and Viktor laughs. "What on earth would you need a stripper pole for? You're the only person here who could use it."

Chris' smirk turns sly. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," he replies, and he refuses to say another word on the subject no matter how much Viktor needles him.

"Good night then," laughs Viktor, waving Chris and Masumi off a few minutes later. He glances around the room, noticing that Yakov has already retired, and decides that he might as well leave himself. He doesn't see Yuuri's messy dark hair anywhere, and he has an early flight in the morning.

When Viktor starts toward the doors to the ballroom, though, he notices a lone figure standing in the corner. Viktor doesn't hesitate to change his course, stepping past a large floral display to the somewhat private space, smiling a little to see Yuuri standing there with his eyes closed, swaying slightly to the music.

"Wall flowers shouldn't hide themselves away from the light," Viktor says quietly, and Yuuri starts and opens his eyes, staring up at him in surprise.

"Viktor?" Yuuri blinks a few times, before a pleasant blush covers his face. He is wearing his glasses and a dark blue suit, along with a truly horrendous tie, though Viktor cannot fault him for it. He looks amazing anyway. "Wait... wall flower? I'm not..."

The music shifts to something softer, a song that Viktor has heard on the radio before, but which he cannot name. He holds out his hand to Yuuri, tilting his head invitingly. "Why not join me on the dance floor? For one last dance before the night ends."

Yuuri glances down at his hand, an unnamed emotion passing too quickly over his face. The look he gives Viktor is raw and open, disbelief threatening to overwhelm the naked vulnerability. Me? he seems to ask with those beautiful dark eyes, and Viktor nods slightly, his mien softening as he waits.

Then Yuuri reaches out to take his hand, and Viktor draws him closer, sliding an arm around Yuuri's back. Mindful of Yuuri's choice to hide away, Viktor doesn't take him over to the dance floor; instead, he stays in their private little corner, the music from the speakers drifting over slow and sweet.

Yuuri's grip tightens on his hand, before he steps closer to Viktor, enveloping him in the faintest scent of his cologne, something clean and warm. Viktor breathes in, taking the lead for the moment and turning them slowly, silently grateful for how real Yuuri feels in his arms.

It was just a dream. He's real, he's alive, he's okay.

"I should have known you'd catch me," Yuuri says quietly. His voice sends a shiver through Viktor with its intimacy. "I didn't want to be a bother..."

"You're never a bother," Viktor replies, glancing past Yuuri at the crowd of dancers on the other side of the room. No one is paying any attention to them. Pleased, he can't help but tease Yuuri a little. "Even if you like to run away whenever I approach."

Yuuri huffs, lifting his head to look at Viktor. "Yet you manage to find me every time."

Viktor smiles at that. "Must you keep running, then? I admit, the chase is intriguing..." He enjoys the resulting blush on Yuuri's cheeks, letting go of Yuuri briefly to spin him around. Yuuri follows the motion with elegant grace, which gratifies Viktor; clearly, Yuuri has had professional training in dancing. Most skaters have, but Yuuri has an innate grace that speaks of intense private lessons.

A moment later, Viktor is surprised when Yuuri shifts their hands and takes the lead, stepping Viktor backwards and turning them so that Viktor's back is to the rest of the room. "Every step I take away from you, you take two steps to catch up to me," Yuuri murmurs, more to himself, and Viktor stares down at him, bemused. Then Yuuri meets his gaze again. "You keep surprising me."

Viktor feels a faint blush touch his cheeks. He can carry a charming smile to anyone in the world without faltering, yet one look from Yuuri leaves him flustered and senseless. "Says you," Viktor murmurs. "Who was it that jumped a quad flip for me and won silver? Mr. Dark Horse."

Yuuri groans softly, his fingers resting lightly on Viktor's back. He leads with infinite grace; Viktor can follow him easily. "I can't believe they're calling me that."

"I like it. The unexpected medalist," Viktor says thoughtfully, and then Yuuri surprises him yet again by dipping him. Viktor stares up at him for a few seconds, breathless, and Yuuri's gaze softens slightly, warming, before he pulls Viktor up and steps away from him, their hands the only connection between them. Viktor mirrors him thoughtlessly, never looking away.

Something is burning in Yuuri's eyes, a message that Viktor cannot read, cannot hear; the only sound that reaches him in this moment is the music flowing around them. 'My only dream is about you and I.' The thought that the person filling Yuuri's heart could be Viktor captivates him, but he says nothing to Yuuri, letting the music speak for both of them.

They dance, and whoever is leading doesn't seem to matter, because Viktor must be floating on air, the way he and Yuuri move with each other. Has anyone ever read him so well before? Yuuri seems to anticipate Viktor's every move, yet when Viktor tries to surprise him, Yuuri meets him halfway every time.

At last, Viktor gives in and pulls Yuuri closer again, taking the lead once more and turning them around with a little flare. Yuuri reaches up to rest his hand on Viktor's arm, and Viktor closes his eyes for a long moment, something bright and wonderful touching his heart.

This man is amazing.

He doesn't want the song to end. He wants to dance with Yuuri forever like this, hidden away from the world and its obsessions and distractions. Soon, though, the song fades into nothing, and Viktor reluctantly steps back, his fingers gripping Yuuri's hand briefly before he lets go.

He is shocked when he sees tears in Yuuri's eyes. Viktor panics -- he has never been good with tears, and he doesn't know what he could have done to upset Yuuri. After a moment of floundering, Viktor draws Yuuri back to the wall and pulls out the silk handkerchief from his jacket pocket. Yuuri inhales softly over a hiccup, looking away in shame, but then he takes the handkerchief and blots it beneath his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Yuuri whispers. Viktor waits, unsure what else to do. He hates the sight of tears in Yuuri's beautiful, dark eyes. Finally Yuuri seems to bring himself back under control, gripping the handkerchief tightly, before he looks up at Viktor and smiles. "Thank you for everything, Viktor. It's been an honor to meet you. I should... oh, your handkerchief..."

"Keep it," Viktor says without thinking, panicking again. That sounds too much like a good-bye. Like they will never see each other again -- and Viktor does not want that. "You're going back to Detroit tomorrow, aren't you? So we should, um..."

Yuuri smiles slightly, though it doesn't reach his eyes. "I should go to my room. Thank you for the dance, Viktor."

"Wait," Viktor nearly begs, desperate. "Do you have your phone with you?"

Yuuri blinks a few times. "What? Um, no, my coach made me leave it upstairs..."

Viktor glances around quickly, trying to find something to keep Yuuri here, for just a few minutes longer -- and then he sees a book on a table nearby, a piece of memorabilia that all of the skaters signed. He grabs one of the sharpies and a napkin left on the table, writing down his number, then pushing it at Yuuri.

"I have international service. You can contact me anytime. Just to chat, or... or talk about training, or ask for advice. I don't mind at all. Will you call me?" Viktor asks, intent on Yuuri's answer. Yuuri stares at him with wide eyes, automatically reaching up to touch Viktor's hand, though he doesn't take the number.

"I... I couldn't --"

"Please," Viktor says, pushing it into Yuuri's hand. "I'd like to stay in touch with you. You can facetime me. I want you to," he adds, when Yuuri looks close to running away. Slowly Yuuri's face transforms, that vulnerable softness that makes Viktor's heart tremble taking over his features. Viktor doesn't know what he has done to put that look of cautious wonder on Yuuri's face, but he would do anything to bring his smile back.

After an achingly long moment, Yuuri touches his fingers to Viktor's, taking the napkin from his grasp and smoothing it carefully. For a moment, it looks like he will cry again, but finally he looks up at Viktor and smiles, and this time, the warmth reaches his eyes.

"Okay," Yuuri says softly. "I'll send you a message when I get back to my room. If... if that's okay?"

"That's more than okay," Viktor breathes, elated. He glances back at the crowd, but there is no one he needs to say good night to; he has already taken care of his duties. "May I walk you back to your room?"

Somehow, that is what makes Yuuri blush again. "I really will send you the message! You don't need to..."

Viktor laughs, and finally he waves his arm to the door with a flourish. "After you, Yuuri."

Yuuri covers his face for a moment, so Viktor touches his back to guide him along, beaming when Yuuri follows him without complaint. "I can't believe you," Yuuri says to his hands, muffled, and Viktor laughs again.

"I told you I'd keep chasing you," he teases. Yuuri shakes his head, not looking up at him, but Viktor can see a smile playing at the corner of his lips.

Together they make their way to the elevators. Unlike the last elevator ride they shared, now they stand together in silence, while Viktor floats on the feeling of a job well done. He can keep in touch with Yuuri, can continue talk to him, and then...

Then what?

Viktor blinks, stunned. Then what? What does he want from Yuuri?

Viktor thinks about it as they wait for the elevator. Katsuki Yuuri... Viktor just wants to know him. To learn more of his emotions, to see more of his smiles... to have him in his life. He doesn't know why. He doesn't know how to define the changing relationship between them, but he isn't too worried about it, either. So long as he can hold onto Yuuri.

Shaking his head, Viktor keeps his promise and walks Yuuri to his door, smiling softly as Yuuri fumbles for his room key. Yuuri glances up at him briefly. "Wait here," he says softly, disappearing inside, but he leaves the bolt out so that the door does not shut all the way. Viktor leans against the wall and waits patiently, listening to the faint rustling of a bag inside, before Yuuri steps out into the hallway with his phone, his tie and shoes now missing.

Viktor watches, utterly pleased, as Yuuri holds up the napkin with one hand and types it into his phone with the other. When he pulls out his phone, Viktor finds a message from an unknown number.

From: +1 313-957-****
This is Katsuki Yuuri.

"Just so you don't chase me down in the morning," Yuuri mutters. Viktor grins smugly.

"Thank you, Yuuri." He winks at Yuuri and enjoys the exasperated look Yuuri gives him, before bowing extravagantly. "Have a safe trip tomorrow. I expect updates every minute!"

Yuuri sighs heavily, but he is smiling. "You too, Viktor."

Viktor gazes at him for a long moment, noticing how Yuuri's collar sits open, revealing the long line of his neck. He looks tired, yet the quiet misery that has clung to him for days is all but gone, barring the faint puffiness of his eyes. Quick as lightning, he brings up his phone to take a picture of Yuuri, beaming when Yuuri gapes at him.

"Now me," Viktor says, batting his eyelashes and posing.

Yuuri groans. "You're going to wake my roommate, and then he's going to post it all online, and then I'll never get any peace again," he mutters, before he lifts his phone and takes a picture of Viktor. His cheeks are pink again. "Go away now. I want to sleep."

"As you wish!" At last Viktor leaves Yuuri to return to his room, floating away with a dreamy smile. When he reaches the elevator, Viktor pulls up his phone and quickly adds a new contact, before sending off a message.

To: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Sweet dreams, sleeping beauty ♡

It takes a long time for Viktor to get a reply. He has already changed, showered, and brushed his teeth by the time his phone lights up again.

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Good night, Viktor.

Viktor falls asleep with a smile, satisfied.

~*~

"Vitya, put away your phone," grumbles Yakov. Viktor ignores him, letting Yakov focus on listening for their boarding call. The airport din hardly registers, as Viktor engages with Yuuri via text message.

To: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
About to board my flight!
You're lucky, you only have to fly two hours. Mine is over fourteen!
I must say good-bye to you soon. Whatever will you do without my important messages?

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Get some sleep

To: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Didn't you sleep enough last night?

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
There's never enough sleep...

To: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Wow! You're amazing, Yuuri~

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Have a safe flight, Viktor

Viktor smiles happily at his phone, before turning it to airplane mode and following Yakov over to boarding. He ends up rereading his messages from Yuuri several times throughout the flight, as well as looking at the pictures he saved from Yuuri's Instagram. Yakov eyes him a few times but never brings it up, not that Viktor is really worried about what he thinks.

In St. Petersburg, Yakov gives Viktor two weeks vacation from the rink, telling him to stay the hell away or else Yakov will personally tie Viktor to his bed for forced rest. Viktor responds to this by asking if Yakov is into rope play, which earns him a scathing lecture for half the taxi ride home.

"Irritating boy," Yakov mutters, glowering as Viktor steps out of the cab. "Two weeks, Vitya! There will be hell if I see your face anywhere near the rink!"

"Of course, Yakov," Viktor laughs, blowing a kiss and escaping before Yakov has a stroke, or worse, finally tries to murder him. After he deposits his luggage in his apartment, Viktor rides down to the garage to get his Cadillac.

Then he goes to get Makkachin from the pet hotel. The story of their reunion is heartfelt and beautiful, worthy of a Hollywood movie.

"Makkachin," Viktor sobs, hugging Makkachin close as she happily licks his cheeks. "You're so beautiful! I'm so sorry I left you all alone for so long! Never again, my darling Makka!"

"I have your bill ready, Mr. Nikiforov," chirps Sofiya, who has been boarding Makkachin for Viktor for six years now and is happy to retrieve Makkachin for him no matter the time of day. "Congratulations on your gold medal!"

Viktor manages to tear himself away from Makkachin, but only just. He really missed his poodle. He doesn't like leaving her for so long these days; Makkachin is getting older, approaching fourteen, and between training, his modeling and commercial contracts, and travel, Viktor doesn't get to see her nearly as much as he wants.

"Thank you," he smiles, paying the bill with his card and looking back at Makkachin, who stares up at him lovingly. Viktor returns the goofy smile and happily escorts Makkachin to the car when he is done, telling her all about Worlds and his trip.

"And then I met this guy," Viktor sighs, weaving through Russian traffic with an ease born of many years of reckless driving. "Makkachin, you would love him, he's so beautiful and he's sweet and charming and I just want to wrap him up in a blanket and protect him for the rest of his life. Is that weird? Am I weird, Makkachin?"

Makkachin barks happily from her spot beside him. Viktor nods. "You're exactly right. I'm not weird at all! I'm just a guy who likes a guy," he sings, stopping at a red light. Someone honks at him, which Viktor ignores. "Oh, and he has a poodle! A cute little toy poodle named Vicchan! You could be his big sister, Makka, he's so cute and tiny and Yuuri named him after me! Me, of all people!

"We had dinner, and then we had dessert one night, just the two of us, and then we danced at the banquet, and his programs were amazing, Makkachin. If only he didn't live so far away," Viktor sighs. "I'd love to bring him here... you'd like to meet him, wouldn't you, Makkachin? Yuuri and Vicchan!"

Makkachin barks again, and Viktor beams at her, pulling into his building's garage and parking the car. Makkachin sticks close to him all the way upstairs, and Viktor is happy to let her, pausing every so often to rub her soft cheeks.

Once in the apartment, he spends an inordinate amount of time cuddling and playing with Makkachin on the floor. Sometimes, it feels like Makkachin is his only true friend in the world, the only one who accepts him unconditionally. Everyone else has expectations of him, or they want him to fill a certain role, or they desire him too selfishly to care about what Viktor wants.

Makkachin simply loves him, and Viktor loves her back.

After their long and happy reunion, Viktor lies on his back on the floor and reaches into his pocket for his phone. He turned it on earlier but didn't pay attention to it until now, given the early hour in St. Petersburg. With Makkachin under his arm, Viktor opens his gallery and pulls up the latest picture of Yuuri in his suit with his hair askew and his tie missing, a soft smile on his face. He shows the screen to Makkachin, who is leaning heavily against his side.

"This is Yuuri, Makkachin. Isn't he beautiful? I could stare at him all day," Viktor sighs. "We watched his free skate together before, didn't we? I'll show you his short program, too." A second later, the screen lights up.

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Did you get home okay?

Viktor's eyes widen slightly at the notification. "Makkachin, he sent me a message!" he whispers excitedly. Makkachin rests her head on his arm, whuffing into his face, and Viktor laughs.

To: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Just got home with Makkachin! She says hi!

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Tell her I say hi
Isn't it very early there?

To: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Isn't it very late there? ;)

From: Yuuri ♡ ♡ ♡
Benefits of being a night owl...

Viktor hits FaceTime before he can think about it. After two rings, the call picks up, and Yuuri's face fills the screen, a faintly wary expression on his face. Viktor smiles slowly, enjoying the sight of him. Half a day of travel was well worth it, if this is his reward.

"Hi," Viktor says quietly.

"Hello," Yuuri greets, just as quiet. The room is somewhat dark behind him, and the screen lights up all of the best features of his face, his glasses missing. "How are you, Viktor?"

Yuuri always seems to worry about Viktor. Viktor has no idea how to tell him that Yuuri's health and safety are infinitely more important, considering his dream. He doesn't dare tell Yuuri about it, though, afraid that speaking about it aloud to him will make it come true. Viktor is still afraid that the dream is a premonition, though he cannot say how. It doesn't make any sense to him.

"Tired," Viktor admits. "I slept on the plane, but it wasn't very restful. How are you?"

Yuuri's lips twitch slightly. "Tired. I had to go to class today even though I just got back. I have an early class tomorrow, too." Despite saying so, he doesn't look like he wants to hang up. He shifts, the camera momentarily pointing away from him, before he resettles. Viktor realizes that Yuuri is now lying in bed, his cheek pressed to his pillow.

If Viktor looks closely, he can see a poster on the opposite wall. The figure has familiar platinum hair. His lips twitch. "Sounds like sleeping beauty needs his beauty sleep."

He doesn't miss the minute flinch Yuuri makes, something sad passing over his face. Yuuri seems to hunch into himself, his shirt bunching against his shoulder. "Why do you call me that?" Yuuri asks quietly, oddly intense.

Viktor debates on what to say for a moment. "Do you not want me to call you that?"

If possible, Yuuri seems to grow sadder. "No, it's not that, it's just... it's odd, is all."

"I can stop, if you want."

Yuuri is quick to shake his head. "It's okay, I was just curious." The vulnerable look on his face makes it obvious to Viktor that the last thing he wants is for Viktor to stop using the nickname.

He offers Yuuri a small smile. "It just suits you for some reason. You could be sleeping peacefully, yet here you are, talking to me."

Impossibly, Yuuri softens at that, enough for his smile to return, a faint echo of the smile he gave Viktor after the short program. "You called me. I had to answer."

"You didn't," Viktor tells him gently. "But I'm glad you did."

Makkachin barks then, and Yuuri starts slightly at the unexpected noise. Viktor brightens. "Ooh, want to meet Makkachin?" He turns the phone around to face Makkachin, beaming when Makkachin sits up and tilts her head at the screen. "Makka, this is Yuuri!"

Makkachin barks at the screen, her happy greeting, and wiggles her bum as if she wants to run to Yuuri and leap onto him. Viktor laughs, delighted that Makkachin likes Yuuri so quickly, just like him.

"Hi, Makkachin," Yuuri says, though Viktor cannot see his face. His voice softens considerably while talking to the happy poodle. "You're very pretty. It's so nice to meet you." Viktor hears a quiet hitch of breath when Makkachin barks and leans forward to nose against the phone, and after a moment he turns the phone back around.

Yuuri quickly lowers his hand from his face. Viktor's eyes widen. "Yuuri, did I make you cry? I'm so sorry!"

"No, it's okay," Yuuri whispers, and his smile is honest and bright. "I'm just really happy to see her. Um, you know... because she looks like Vicchan," he adds feebly, and Viktor accepts the excuse, though he worries. He hates how close Yuuri seems to tears all the time. Isn't there something Viktor can do to make him feel better?

As if reading his mind, Yuuri laughs a little self-deprecatingly. "I keep crying whenever I talk to you. I'm sorry..."

Viktor shakes his head, sitting up and scratching behind Makkachin's ear when he jostles her. "You don't have to apologize, Yuuri. I seem to have befriended you at a rather stressful time in your life... but I don't mind."

Yuuri is silent for a long moment, drawing his hand up to scratch his cheek. His gaze flicks up to the camera, meeting Viktor's eyes. "Do you really mean that?"

"Hm?"

"That we're friends," Yuuri says softly.

Viktor's lips twitch, and he slides his hand back through his bangs, dragging them away from his face. He feels a little vulnerable for being so honest with somebody that he just met, when Viktor is rarely upfront with anybody, even people in his life that he has known for years. Something about Yuuri calls to him, reminds him of home. Viktor doesn't think he could resist him if he tried.

"I do. I'd like it very much if you felt the same," Viktor answers, hesitant but truthful, and slowly, Yuuri's lips curl upwards, a faint blush touching his cheeks.

"Friends, then."

He lets Yuuri go a few minutes later, after securing a promise that Yuuri will try his best to sleep, and he lets Makkachin say good-bye to Yuuri as well before he ends the call. With a long sigh, Viktor slumps against the side of his couch, staring out the large windows at the slowly brightening sky. Just like this spring morning, where St. Petersburg wakes up to soft sunlight and new life, Viktor believes that this is a new beginning as well.

A new beginning with someone amazing.

~*~

Two weeks is a long time for Viktor to avoid the rink. He is tempted a few times to go visit, ideas swimming around in his head for his next season, but he resists. He rarely gets time to be with Makkachin, after all, so instead he focuses on spoiling her within an inch of her life, buying her toys and taking her out to explore their hometown.

They go to the beach and walk alongside the waves. They go to the park and play with sticks until both Viktor and Makkachin are panting with exhaustion. One day, Viktor brings home a bunch of face masks and skin treatments for his own personal spa day, and he treats Makkachin to a bubble bath and has fun shaping her curls into goofy arrangements.

Viktor takes lots of pictures for his Instagram, and he sends many of the more private ones to Yuuri. Unlike Viktor, Yuuri isn't nearly as prolific with his pictures unless Viktor starts pestering him, but slowly, Yuuri unbends enough to send a few selfies.

Yuuri doesn't always reply to his texts immediately, despite Viktor's eagerness, partly due to the time difference, and partly because of his insecurity. He still seems shy to be speaking to Viktor as a friend, but Viktor never pressures him into going over his limits, content to have whatever Yuuri will give him. Viktor will readily admit that he is a selfish person, but it is somehow easier to meet Yuuri at his boundaries, instead of reaching past them and making him uncomfortable.

Still, it is lovely to talk with him so much. Viktor finds out many details that are absent from his interviews and Instagram. Yuuri loves eating, and he gains weight easily, so he has to stay on a strict diet when he is training. He is majoring in Slavic Studies and into his third year of Russian, which is a delight to Viktor, who takes to texting him in Russian every so often to see how much Yuuri understands.

Those texts are much slower than the ones in English, but Viktor perseveres, because he loves it when Yuuri talks to him in Russian.

He learns that Yuuri sometimes goes to football games when the weather is nice, because his father is a fan of a Japanese team, and he sometimes misses the sport. They call it 'soccer' in America, and it's not as big as it is in Japan or Europe, but Yuuri likes it anyway. He also learns that Yuuri fits dance classes into his class schedule as part of his minor concentration, and that he has been taking ballet since he was four.

Best of all, whenever Viktor catches him on video chat, Yuuri becomes more and more comfortable with him, accepting Viktor's teasing with rolled eyes or sarcasm, as well as warm smiles. He still seems sad, moods occasionally overtaking him if Viktor says the wrong thing, but he never blames Viktor for it.

Viktor might be falling in love.

His vacation is lovely and far too short. Viktor is almost tempted to spend another week away, but at the same time, he is ready to get back on the ice and start planning his programs. When he walks into the rink, Yakov gives him a look but doesn't call him over yet, busy with Mila on the other side of the rink.

Eventually Viktor will have a long meeting with Yakov about what kind of programs he has in mind and what Yakov thinks should be done to make those programs perfect. It's a ritual by now that Viktor enjoys; Yakov lets him deal with the musical and presentation side of the choreography while Yakov himself focuses on the technical aspects and all of the possibilities within. They often butt heads over Viktor's opinions about the technical components, but in the end, the programs are always flawless.

He couldn't ask for a better coach.

As Viktor is tying on his skates, he hears furious stomping coming towards him, and looks up with a smile to see Yuri Plisetsky bearing down on him.

"There you are, old man," Yuri says, narrowing his eyes and stopping in front of Viktor. "Now that you're finally decided to show your ugly face, you can explain this horseshit." He thrusts his phone in Viktor's face, and Viktor blinks a few times before he focuses on the screen.

"Someone so short shouldn't use such foul language," Viktor comments absently. The picture on the screen is of him and Yuuri with their faces pressed together after the short program at Worlds. He smiles softly to see Yuuri's blush in the photo.

"Excuse me?" Yuri snarls. "Explain this! What are you doing with Japanese Yuri?"

"Yuuri," Viktor corrects, brushing the phone away and leaning down to finish tying up. Then he stands and sets his phone on the stand where Yakov keeps his CD player, flashing a smirk down at Yuri. "I befriended him at Worlds."

Yuri stare at him open-mouthed. Seeing no response forthcoming, Viktor walks over to the ice and slips off his skate guards, skating around the barrier to set them beside his phone. Yuri suddenly jerks forward to the barrier, grabbing at Viktor's sleeve.

"What's he like?"

Viktor pauses, his gaze cooling a bit as he looks down at Yuri. That's right, he thinks, debating what to say. He likes Yuuri.

He thinks of all the wonderful things Yuuri has told him over the past two weeks. He doesn't particularly want to share those intimate details with the younger skater.

"He's kind," Viktor eventually says. "Very talented, and a joy to speak to. We've had several conversations." He stresses the last words, if only to watch Yuri's mouth drop open with jealousy.

He really should not be picking on a boy twelve years younger than him.

"You'd like him," Viktor adds, just to be spiteful, before he skates away.

He has a program in mind, and if he can begin to shape it into something new and surprising, then he can begin his training properly. No need to stress over the anxieties of a teenager.

~*~

Spring warms into summer, and Viktor practices. He begins to notice that Makkachin moves more slowly than she used to, and he ends up taking her to the vet in frantic worry, only to be told that as she ages, she will lose bone mass and could develop arthritis. He spends a lot of money on vitamins and changes her food to an enriched diet, not caring about the money, because he wants Makkachin to be as comfortable and happy as possible. He wishes that he could spend more time with her.

His various composers send him demos year-round, to which Viktor listens in his spare time for designing programs, but none of them stand out this year except a scant few. Viktor thinks of what might surprise people this year, and the first thing that comes to mind is romance.

He doesn't skate to love songs, usually. Sexy songs, yes. Viktor prefers to challenge stereotypes with his programs, to continue to surprise the audience and surpass their wildest dreams. Romantic songs have never been his first choice for programs, unless he has other intentions for the music. He simply doesn't skate to them.

Then it will be surprising when I do.

Viktor is determined to surprise his audience. Doubt builds in the back of his mind, edged with frustration, because even Yakov and his rink mates are no longer awed by his abilities. They admire him and look up to him, but he fears that his excellence is now expected, and the stories he tells with his skating generic.

He pushes himself harder every day, determined to reach new heights with his skating. Sometimes he thinks of Yuuri, who worked so hard last year to reach him, coming within ten points of Viktor's score. Even Christophe has trouble getting that close when they compete, yet Yuuri managed it after coming from relative obscurity.

Viktor needs to push himself further. If Yuuri can do it, so can he.

His short program is an edited version of Lara Fabian's Immortelle, and Viktor spends many hours thinking about the story he wishes to convey. A lover devoted, protective and consuming, chasing after someone who has been taken away from her. She follows her lover to the ends of the earth, moving heaven and earth to keep him safe.

Viktor doesn't choose his free skate music until May, when he receives two versions of the same song, a beautiful aria titled Stammi vicino, non te ne andare. The first version has a male soloist singing, and the second version has the same lyrics, but in a duet with a soprano. Viktor loves them both, but ultimately he chooses the solo version. The sadness in the lyrics reminds him of the soft, vulnerable expression he catches on Yuuri's face from time to time.

Heartache turned melancholy and bitter. The man has reunited with his lover, but he has turned cold in his loneliness and seeks to run away from it all. Together, the two lovers flee, but it is a bittersweet ending.

Viktor thinks the programs will be beautiful.

He wonders what Yuuri will think of them.

Yuuri surfaces in his thoughts often, and they speak almost daily. Viktor ends up video calling Yuuri in the early mornings when he does not have practice, at the same time that Yuuri is about to fall asleep. Viktor tried a few times to call Yuuri when he would be awake in the morning, but the one time Yuuri actually answered, he managed to speak only three distinct words, and one of them was Japanese.

Viktor thinks it's utterly charming that Yuuri is not a morning person. Viktor himself has always risen with the sun and likes to get his day started as early as possible. Yuuri is the exact opposite, in that he stays up too late, pushes his classes and training to later in the morning rather than earlier, and often misses his alarms.

Yuuri's bedhead is adorable, though. Viktor wishes he could get a picture of it.

Yuuri has slowly opened up to Viktor, and in return, Viktor has begun to relax his own defenses. It helps that he is weak to Yuuri's expression when he is about to fall asleep, phone tilting dangerously. When Yuuri is most relaxed, Viktor finds he can talk about himself openly, the secrets he rarely tells anybody else.

Somehow, Viktor knows he can trust Yuuri. He ends up telling Yuuri about his estranged family, rich parents who support him, but who never understood his need to express himself through artistry. He tells Yuuri about his aging babushka who was a prima ballerina in her day, and who introduced Viktor to Lilia Baranovskaya and, by extension, Yakov Feltsman. He even tells Yuuri about his worries for Makkachin, how she is slowly getting older and he fears the day she will be too old to go on walks with him or play with him. He doesn't think about the future beyond that, but he sees sympathy in Yuuri's eyes.

In return, Yuuri tells him about Vicchan, and how he had a dream once that Vicchan died, and it made him realize that he hadn't been paying enough attention to his dog and family. Then Yuuri tells him about Japan and his little seaside hometown, where his family runs a hot springs resort. In Hasetsu, there is only one skating rink that almost went out of business, until Yuuri's win at Nationals brought renewed tourism and interest to the area.

Best of all, Yuuri tells Viktor about himself, with his small smiles and his complaints about his classes and his accented Russian. Those are the most precious of their conversations, and Viktor holds tightly onto each memory of Yuuri murmuring, "Доброй ночи, Виктор."

Yuuri has not told him about his programs for the next season. He tells Viktor he wants it to be a surprise, so Viktor promises to keep his own programs secret as well. While Yuuri refuses to reveal the music he has chosen, he does end up asking Viktor for advice on some of his components, and Viktor is all too happy to critique the training videos that Yuuri sends him.

That Yuuri never once complains about Viktor's criticisms is amazing. Everybody else, even Yuri Plisetsky who constantly seeks Viktor's advice, says that Viktor is too harsh with his critiques. Yuuri only nods, writes down everything Viktor tells him, and thanks him for the help. Viktor isn't completely certain that Yuuri actually uses his advice, but he never tries to make Viktor feel bad for offering it in the first place.

It's almost like coaching, in a way. Viktor and Yakov have similar conversations about Viktor's training, and Viktor hopes to impart that same wisdom to Yuuri. He even finds himself giving advice for other parts of Yuuri's life, going so far as to gather modeling contacts for Yuuri to do some part-time work. The resulting magazine spreads are gorgeous, and Viktor saves every copy he gets his hands on.

It's utterly satisfying to have such an impact on Yuuri's life -- especially since Yuuri seems to be having trouble with his coach.

Viktor finds that out one day in June, when Yuuri finally calls him after two days of ignoring Viktor's messages and calls. As soon as Viktor sees the name on the phone screen, he nearly topples off his sofa to answer the call, while Makkachin wags her tail from the other side of the sofa.

"Алло, Yuuri," Viktor says with a smile. "I was afraid I would have to fly out to Detroit and chase you down, had you continued to ignore me."

"Ha," mutters Yuuri, and Viktor can't help a little sigh at hearing his voice. "You're not allowed to come to America just because I don't text you back, Viktor."

"Well, there go my plans for the weekend," Viktor quips, grinning at the window. "How may I help you on this fine summer day? You usually wait till the evening to call me."

Yuuri is silent for a few moments, and in the background, Viktor can hear the hum of a restaurant, glasses clinking and voices murmuring. "I had a bad day at practice. If you're busy..."

"No, I'm not busy," Viktor says, closing his book. "I'm just reading. Would you like to talk about it? I'm happy to listen."

Yuuri sighs softly. Viktor imagines him tucked away in an armchair in a busy café, stirring a straw through the foam in his coffee. Yuuri has admitted to an unhealthy love of Starbucks lattes, despite Viktor's strongly worded hints that so much sugar will be bad for him during practice.

"I had an argument with Celestino," Yuuri says quietly. "He won't let me go forward with my music choice for my free skate. It's really frustrating, and I don't know what to do about it."

"Didn't you choose your songs last year?" Viktor asks, moving his leg so that Makkachin can crawl onto his stomach. After a moment, he switches to speakerphone so that Makkachin can listen to Yuuri's voice, which makes her tail wag.

"No," Yuuri admits, sighing again. "Celestino has this policy about music. If he doesn't approve of the music you suggest, then he'll pick something from his own music. He has a lot of songs that anyone can use, but... I wanted to do something special this year. He doesn't like it, but I asked him to consider it before he says no. So I hope that he lets me use it."

Viktor's lips twitch downwards. Yakov hasn't restricted his music since Viktor was in juniors, after Viktor made it clear that he was going to skate to his own choices whether Yakov liked it or not. They had settled on an equilibrium where Yakov focused on the technical side while Viktor dealt with the music compositions, and it worked rather well.

"Why is he so strict about music?"

Yuuri makes a noise as if he is sipping a hot drink, then clears his throat. "Mm, well, he coaches a lot of skaters, mostly teenagers and college students. Three years ago, he had a season where everyone went wild with their music choices, including songs with profanity, and that got him in trouble with the ISU. So he doesn't allow pop music or anything like that now. But mine isn't like that, it's..." Yuuri exhales in frustration. "It's just different. And I want him to accept it and support me using it, but he doesn't like it. It's the first program that I've really made on my own, and I really want him to let me use it. It's already June, and I really need to work on my free skate."

Yuuri stops speaking for a moment, but Viktor senses he still has more on his mind. Then, Yuuri says, "I guess he just doesn't have as much time to work with everyone individually. Practices are kind of scattered... everyone meets with him once a week to update him on our progress, and of course he tells us what we're doing wrong when we're skating, but... I don't know. I never had a problem with him before this season."

"I'm sorry that you have to go through that, Yuuri." Viktor has never heard anything bad about Celestino as a coach, except that he tends to be strict on occasion. He remembers well when Celestino took Yuuri and Leroy off the ice when Yuuri was caught doing the quad flip. "Yakov is strict as well, but he always lets me control the artistic side of my programs. Surely Celestino wants you to skate the way that makes you happiest."

Yuuri huffs a small laugh. "I don't know about that... I have a habit of mental weakness when it comes to competitions, and I think he thinks he needs to protect me from that, so he tends to be pretty strict with me. He's not a bad coach, don't get me wrong, but I feel like I'm finally coming into my own as a skater, and... it'd be nice if I had some more support from him."

Viktor wishes he could see Yuuri's face. He wonders what kind of coach would best suit Yuuri; each coach has their own way of teaching and training their students. Viktor has always been with Yakov, though he has also trained under Lilia Baranovskaya in his younger days. While both of them have been incredibly strict for his training, they still allowed him to blossom as a skater. He wonders if Yakov's style of coaching would suit Yuuri more.

Briefly, Viktor entertains the thought of coaching Yuuri himself, if he ever chose to retire. He could do it, if it was Yuuri. Belatedly he realizes that his thoughts have gotten away from him, and he refocuses on the conversation. "He should support you more, yes. Hopefully he will let you use the music you have chosen."

"I hope so." Yuuri sips more of his drink, and Viktor can hear him slurping the foam, which makes him smile. Makkachin perks up a little at the odd noise. "Thanks for listening to me, Viktor... I'm sorry to talk about such heavy topics."

"I'm happy to listen, Yuuri. I happen to like listening to you," he teases, and Yuuri laughs softly.

"So you've said." In the background, Viktor hears someone calling Yuuri's name -- it sounds like Phichit. "Oh, my roommate's here. Um... are you going to call me tonight? Tomorrow morning for you, I mean?"

"I'd be happy to," Viktor replies with a soft smile. "Enjoy your overpriced sugary coffee, Yuuri."

"How did you -- no, never mind. Bye, Viktor," Yuuri says, a smile in his voice, before he ends the call. Viktor sighs after the phone screen goes dark, tilting his head back to stare up at the ceiling.

"I have it really bad, don't I, Makkachin?" he asks his poodle, and she wiggles up to lick his face in commiseration.

~*~

On the first Saturday of August, Viktor walks into the Detroit Skating Club with sunglasses on his face and a jaunty smile for the attendant at the counter. "I'm just visiting a friend," he tells her, then breezes past her down the stairs to the rink entrance, humming under his breath.

The rink is decently sized with many skaters making loops around the ice. Celestino Cialdini is sitting on one of the benches speaking to Satsuki Muramoto. Viktor can see at least four groups of skaters, ranging from young children surrounding two young coaches to the college-age skaters clustered at one end of the rink, giggling over someone's phone.

In the middle of the rink is Yuuri, skating in all black, gloves on his hands. Viktor pauses at the barrier and gazes at him for a long moment, sighing to see his familiar grace. Nobody notices him at first, so Viktor leans back against the wall and watches.

Yuuri doesn't seem to be following any particular music on the speakers, but Viktor recognizes a song in his movements anyway, of aching sadness and lost love. Yuuri touches one hand to his chest, bowing his head as he skates backwards. A moment later, Yuuri pushes himself off the ice in a quadruple toe loop double loop combo.

Viktor beams at the clean landing. "Marvelous, Yuuri!" he can't help but call out, and Yuuri whips his head around, his eyes widening dramatically before he trips and goes down.

The crack on the ice draws everybody's attention. Viktor winces, but Yuuri scrambles up without seeming hurt and races over to the barrier to meet him, waving his hands in a sweetly awkward flail. He catches himself on the barrier in front of Viktor and leans forward, blinking at him as if not believing his eyes.

"V-V-Viktor?!"

"Hi," Viktor says, lifting his hand in a wave. He might have a goofy smile on his face, and Yuuri is gaping at him. "Surprise! I came for a visit!"

"Oh my god, it's Viktor Nikiforov," somebody says, and then half of the rink is skating closer to marvel at Viktor's very presence. Viktor smiles at them all, then leans over to Yuuri with a wink.

"May I steal you? If your coach doesn't mind," he asks quietly, glancing over at Celestino, who is watching them with a raised eyebrow.

"N-no, um, I'm nearly done for the day... Why are you here?" Yuuri asks, his face flushing.

Viktor grins again, delighted by the surprise on Yuuri's face, just as he had pictured it. "Why don't you go finish up, and I'll tell you when you're done?" he offers, making little shooing motions. Yuuri gives him a brief narrow-eyed look, then slowly skates away, utterly bewildered. Viktor notices Phichit grab onto Yuuri's arm, before several skaters crowd around him and begin to talk excitedly.

Viktor signs a few autographs and chats for a while, though soon the skaters are replaced by Phichit Chulanont, who shoos the others back to their coaches with a laugh.

"It's nice to see you, Viktor!" Phichit tells him, leaning against the barrier. "Yuuri had no idea you were coming. He would have cleaned the apartment!"

"I kept it a secret from him," Viktor admits, smiling a little at the smallest skaters on the other side of the rink. "I have a hotel room booked, so you don't need to worry about where I'll stay tonight. I had the opportunity to visit him, so I took advantage of it."

"He's very happy that you're here," Phichit confides, a smile on his lips. "I knew you two were calling each other, but..."

"We text a lot, too."

"Mm... that's really good, though. Yuuri doesn't talk with a lot of people that much. I admit, it was a surprise when he said you two were talking." Phichit glances at Viktor, then away to the ice, watching a few teenagers skate by. "Yuuri is... kind of particular about things like that. He's not good with people."

"Mm." Viktor wonders what point Phichit is trying to approach, when it dawns on him that Phichit might be worried about Viktor's intentions for the visit. Living legend Viktor Nikiforov, visiting shy Yuuri after only a few months of talking online? Viktor would be suspicious, too. "Yuuri is someone very dear to me."

Phichit glances at him again. "That's good. He needs more friends." After a moment, Phichit lowers his voice, his eyes scanning the rink. "There's no good way to say this, and Yuuri wouldn't want me to talk about it, but I want to tell you to be careful with him. He's been hurt before, and because he looks up to you... well..."

Viktor stays silent, Phichit's words dragging his thoughts back to when he first looked at videos of Yuuri and compared his performances at Nationals to his prefectural skating. He had thought, then, that Yuuri must have gone through something momentous, to be able to put such confidence and emotion into his skating. Yet at Worlds, Yuuri had been sad most of the time, near tears often enough that Viktor had worried for him. Sometimes Yuuri still shows that sadness, but as the summer has passed, he has smiled more, laughed more, while talking to Viktor.

Before, though... Yuuri was miserable.

Something occurs to Viktor then, and he wonders how he didn't see it before.

Someone broke Yuuri's heart.

Viktor stares at the ice for a long time, thinking. Phichit doesn't say anything else, a knowing expression touching his face when he looks at Viktor, which makes his stomach sink with the knowledge that he is right. Yuuri must have fallen in love, giving him new meaning to his life, but sometime before Worlds... Yuuri's lover must have left him.

It seems so obvious now. Somebody hurt Yuuri deeply, and he still carries that pain in his heart. No wonder he cried so much at Worlds.

The knowledge doesn't completely change Viktor's understanding of Yuuri, but it leaves him shaken. Viktor thinks of how insensitive he has been of Yuuri's feelings, flirting with him shamelessly for months, and despite the pain in his heart, Yuuri has still allowed Viktor into his life.

He cannot imagine hurting Yuuri. Not like that other person, that unknowingly cruel person who took Yuuri's heart and shattered it.

I would never let something so precious be harmed.

"I will take care of him. Thank you, Phichit," Viktor finally says, giving Phichit a smile before turning away and heading to the lobby to wait for Yuuri. He is glad that Yuuri has someone like Phichit to look out for him.

Twenty minutes later, Viktor lifts his head when Yuuri steps out of a hallway from one side of the counter, wearing a blue jacket made of light material and a backpack on his shoulders, his hair freshly washed. Yuuri's eyes widen a little when he notices Viktor, as if he had thought that seeing him earlier had been a hallucination.

Viktor stands to greet him, smiling at the cautious look that takes over Yuuri's expression. "Surprised?"

"Just a little," Yuuri says, rubbing the red mark that his faceplant on the ice gave him. Viktor makes a small noise of regret and reaches forward to push up Yuuri's bangs to look at the little mark. Yuuri goes still at the touch, staring at him with wide eyes.

"I didn't mean for you to get injured! Does your head hurt?" Viktor asks, rubbing his thumb against the mark with a small frown. He lets go a moment later but doesn't step away, enjoying the opportunity to be close to Yuuri.

"It's fine," Yuuri breathes, then shakes himself and grips the straps of his backpack. "Um... what are you doing here? I didn't realize you were in the country."

Viktor smiles, helplessly drawn to Yuuri's messy hair, a sign that he didn't bother to brush it properly when he finished his shower. "I had a photo shoot in New York for a magazine this week. They finished early, and since Yakov doesn't expect me back until Tuesday, I thought I'd come down for a visit. I'm so happy to see you, Yuuri."

"I'm happy to see you too," Yuuri replies, blinking several times, before he flushes again. "Sorry, I'm just really shocked, I didn't think... um, well, it's really good to see you. You're here," he says, a little dazedly. Viktor softens a little, relieved that Yuuri isn't mad about Viktor hiding the trip from him.

"I'm here," Viktor agrees. Yuuri is utterly beautiful, and Viktor is so, so glad that he chose to come down here. "Do you live nearby?"

"Sort of... our apartment complex is just down I-75. Phichit and I ride together, though, and he's got the car keys. I think he's going out tonight so I was going to take the bus back."

"That is fine, I rented a car," Viktor explains, his smile widening. "I'm here until Monday, so you have me all weekend. Anything is fine!" He beams, holding his arms out, then has to put them down before he is tempted to hug Yuuri.

"Oh," says Yuuri, tightening his grip on his backpack. "I, um... okay. I can direct you. I need to take my skates home, so we can go to my apartment first."

"Okay!"

Viktor drives with a modicum of caution, distrusting that American roadways are as controlled in their chaos as Russian traffic. He does slow down when he notices Yuuri's white-knuckled grip on the door, taking care to follow his directions without getting lost.

Yuuri still seems to be in shock, so Viktor fills the silence with chatter about his photo shoot. "I've worked with the magazine before for some lovely spreads, and they're always so nice, giving me samples of the cologne and everything. It's not my favorite scent but it makes for easy gifts for acquaintances!" he laughs, and Yuuri snorts.

"What if they don't like the cologne either?"

"Then a pair of socks," Viktor says, grinning as Yuuri relaxes enough to snicker. "Though for my friends and family, I like to buy them many presents for birthdays. They deserve it, since I have the means to take care of them."

"So that's why," Yuuri murmurs, then shakes his head when Viktor makes a questioning sound. "I meant, that makes sense. My family and I send each other presents for birthdays, but with the cost of shipping, sometimes I think it'd be easier just to get them a gift card online. Oh, the exit is coming up, the one after this one."

"That's no good, Yuuri! Presents should be chosen with care and love," Viktor admonishes, shifting over to the next lane. "You should take into account all of the person's likes and dislikes. They deserve the best!"

"I can't always afford the best," Yuuri sighs. "If it wasn't for sponsors, I wouldn't be able to study here and train at the same time... I would have run out of money next year and would have had to let go of Celestino, if I hadn't won at Worlds. The modeling you talked me into helps at least."

"If you win gold this year, then you'll be able to afford it," Viktor says slyly, earning a sharp look. He takes the exit Yuuri indicates, and the next few minutes are quiet as he focuses on driving while Yuuri directs him. Soon they draw up to the tall apartment complex, not far from the highway.

"We're up on the eighth floor," Yuuri explains, leading Viktor into the lobby. He pauses by a long row of mailboxes and unlocks one, pulling out a small stack of ads and letters, then walks over to the elevator to summon it.

Viktor follows happily. He steals a glance at Yuuri's mail, unable to help his nosiness, and Yuuri catches his attention and holds up one of the ads.

"When Phichit moved in with me, we went shopping since it was the first time either of us had lived outside of home or a dorm. We signed up for all these mailing lists, and they constantly send us coupons and ads. It's kind of ridiculous," Yuuri sighs. Viktor likes watching him in this sort of setting; Yuuri seems much more at ease with himself here, compared to the less comfortable setting of the hotel and competition.

At last they stand in front of Yuuri's door, numbered 813. Yuuri glances at him nervously as he unlocks it. "Well... this is home," he says, before opening the door and welcoming Viktor in. Viktor steps inside, his heart beating a little fast in his excitement.

The apartment is tidy, surprising for two young men living together, with a decently sized TV sitting in front of the couch, a game system attached, and a couple of paintings as decoration for the large white space. The kitchen is livelier with a basket of vegetables on the counter and brightly-colored plates stacked in the glass-covered cupboards. The refrigerator has a list of groceries written on it. Viktor sees some mess, but nothing horrible.

Yuuri directs him where to hang his coat and leave his shoes, and as Viktor hangs up his peacoat, he notices a small hallway leads away from the open living area. Viktor starts to peek down it, noticing an open door before Yuuri flails and steers him over to the couch.

"No fair, Yuuri," Viktor pouts as he sits down. "I want to see your room!"

"Absolutely not," Yuuri vows, dropping his backpack on the floor and falling down next to him. "You're not allowed in there."

"Why not?" Viktor asks curiously, widening his eyes guilelessly. "If this is about the fourteen posters you have of me on your walls, then you don't have to be ashamed."

"What?!" Yuuri yelps, twisting to stare at him with wide eyes. "How did you know? Wait, you counted them?!"

Viktor just laughs, while Yuuri slumps and covers his face, now bright red. "You weren't supposed to see those," Yuuri moans, sliding down further on the couch, and Viktor smiles softly, resting his arm across the back of the couch. If he lowers his fingers a few inches, he could touch Yuuri's hair, but he doesn't.

"I don't mind, Yuuri. I have posters of you on my wall now, too," Viktor admits, his smile brightening. The gobsmacked expression Yuuri gives him makes Viktor blush just a little. "I especially like the ones from Japan. So enchanting," he sighs.

"Stop it, that's embarrassing," Yuuri begs, and Viktor laughs again. "Please tell me you're lying."

"I would never," Viktor replies, putting a hand to his chest. "Would you like to see my receipts? I have many!" He starts to pull out his phone, and Yuuri gasps and grabs his hand, pushing the phone back down.

"On second thought, never mind," Yuuri says quickly, while Viktor relishes the feeling of their hands touching. He really has it bad, if simple touches are making his heart beat this fast. To his disappointment, Yuuri lets go a moment later, though he doesn't move away from Viktor.

Somehow, Yuuri settles into Viktor's space easily, not minding his closeness except through his little blushes, and Viktor wonders at how they can be so comfortable with each other despite knowing each other for less than a few months. He observed Yuuri quite a lot at Worlds, and other than Phichit, Yuuri rarely allows people into his personal space, and he touches people even less.

Viktor feels very, very fortunate that Yuuri allows him close like this. Especially knowing what Phichit told him earlier.

"So can I see your room, Yuuri?" Viktor asks after a moment of comfortable quiet. Yuuri's response is to hit him with a pillow.

Yuuri's room sits at the end of the hall, and though Viktor has glimpsed it several times through his video chats with Yuuri, he still marvels at the space. The walls are covered in posters of Viktor, while the bed is neatly made with a blue bedspread, and a laptop sits on a desk against one wall. Like the living area, the room is mostly tidy, and Viktor spins around to admire.

"Now you've seen it," Yuuri says flatly from the doorway, earning Viktor's grin.

"Yuuri! Does this mean you're going to silence me now?" Viktor asks, batting his eyelashes. "So I can never tell another living soul?" He floats over to the closet and peeks in, seeing a few jackets and the simple suit that Yuuri wore to the banquet, as well as a few skating costumes near the back.

Yuuri scoffs and goes to sit on the bed, watching Viktor explore. "I'd be in more trouble if you disappeared than if people found out I have posters of you on all of my walls," he muses, making Viktor chuckle. "Your fans are terrifying."

"Doesn't that mean you're terrifying, too?" Viktor teases, returning to Yuuri and sitting down beside him. Yuuri raises an eyebrow at him, pretending to be stoic for a moment, and Viktor returns the expression with a happy smile. Finally Yuuri's exasperation cracks, and a reluctant smile touches his lips.

"I can't believe you're here." Yuuri lifts a hand, then sets it down again, swallowing briefly. "In my room. In my town."

"For a little while, at least," Viktor replies, his gaze softening. "My flight is Monday morning."

Yuuri tilts his head a little, frowning. "Where is your hotel? Is it near the airport?"

"I picked the one with the nicest reviews. The Townsend? I can look up the directions later."

"Do you want to go out to eat?" Yuuri asks after a moment, and Viktor shrugs. He hasn't even considered what he will do for food, so long as he gets to spend time with Yuuri, who accepts his reply with a thoughtful look.

"I could make something here, or we could go out to a restaurant," Yuuri offers, shifting on the bed. He looks nervous, and Viktor wants to reassure him of whatever worries are plaguing him.

Viktor's eyes widen. He has been to enough restaurants in his lifetime, but the chance to have Katsuki Yuuri's home cooking?

"I'd love it if you cooked," Viktor blurts out. He nearly covers his mouth, but the response seems to be the right one, because Yuuri's eyes light up, almost shy in his pleasure. Viktor beams, pleased.

Yuuri makes a soft noise of acknowledgement, and Viktor enjoys the resulting comfortable silence, as well as Yuuri's warmth beside him. Yuuri is watching him with a quiet sort of disbelief, a small smile on his face.

Viktor says nothing, merely watching him with an answering smile. He isn't certain of Yuuri's feelings for him, but he could easily imagine this trip becoming very romantic very quickly -- and yet...

Viktor is happy just to visit Yuuri. He doesn't expect anything out of this trip except Yuuri's lovely company. If something happens, then that will make him happy; but if nothing happens, then he will still be happy. He isn't certain of Yuuri's feelings for him, but the knowledge that Yuuri has been hurt before tells Viktor that he shouldn't push him too hard. Something in Yuuri still seems fragile, and Viktor wants to make sure to take care of him, instead of causing him any undue stress.

Viktor stands up and goes to inspect the books on the shelf above Yuuri's desk. "How is your training going?" he asks Yuuri, looking over his shoulder. "Your jump earlier was beautiful. Was that part of your free skate?"

"Were you spying?" Yuuri accuses, making Viktor beam. "You have to wait until the preliminaries just like everyone else. I'm not telling you anything, Viktor."

"Oh, that reminds me!" Viktor pulls out his phone and turns to face Yuuri, pulling up the link Chris sent him earlier. "They posted the assignments for the Grand Prix Final this afternoon. Shall we look at them together?"

"Oh... was that today?" Yuuri wonders, then stands and walks over to his side, peering down at Viktor's screen. Viktor scrolls down the page slowly, and suddenly Yuuri reaches up touch his hand. "Wait, let me see that."

Viktor notices immediately what has his attention. "Oh! We'll be skating so close to each other!"

"That's not supposed to happen this way," Yuuri mutters. Viktor blinks, confused by the statement.

"What?"

Yuuri glances up at him quickly, going a little pink before looking back at the screen. "I mean, um, I thought they'd put me in NHK and Skate America, not Skate Canada. You're going to be in Skate America, though, right?"

"You could come watch me," Viktor replies, beaming. "That's wonderful! Though I won't get to see your skate in person until the final."

"Mm..." Yuuri stares at the screen, his fingers brushing against Viktor's as he continues to scroll down. Like Yuuri predicted, his other assignment is at the NHK Trophy, while Viktor's second assignment is in the Cup of China. Christophe is in Rostelcom and Trophée de France. "There's no guarantee that I'll even make it to Sochi, you know," Yuuri says quietly a moment later.

Viktor lowers the phone, setting it on the desk before gently tilting Yuuri's head up to meet his gaze with a finger. "You promised me you would beat me, didn't you? Before that, we each have two chances to win and show the world our strength. Two chances for gold... which one of us will win, I wonder?"

Yuuri swallows but doesn't look away from him, his wide gaze tracking between Viktor's eyes and his mouth. Viktor can't help the brief glance at Yuuri's lips, soft and inviting, but he resists that urge. He smiles slowly, letting go of Yuuri a moment later and putting his finger to his lips, in the same pose as one of the larger posters on the wall.

"I'll do it," Yuuri breathes, his hands clenching at his sides. "I'll win gold, Viktor. Then I'll beat you at Sochi."

Viktor's smile widens. "That's what I want to hear."

Chapter Text

Cicadas call out to Yuuri as he jogs past the trees, the sun bearing down on his back with relentless heat. His shirt absorbs some of the perspiration that trickles down his back, and Yuuri keeps running, thinking only of the bottle of Pocari Sweat that awaits him when he reaches Ice Castle.

That, and the sweet air conditioning that keeps the entire rink at a beautifully cold temperature. Yuuri really, really looks forward to that.

I can do it, I can do it, he chants in his mind, until finally he flies up the stairs and lands, gasping, against the glass doors.

"I did it," Yuuri rasps, pushing the door open with a sigh and stumbling inside. "Hey, Yuu-chan, listen to this! I reached my weight goal!"

Nishigori Yuuko looks up from the counter and brightens at the sight of him. "Yuuri-kun! Good job! I bet you're thirsty, huh?" She grins and pulls out his prize, a gleaming bottle with its crisp blue wrapping.

Yuuri groans and collapses against the counter, twisting the plastic cap with weak fingers. "You're amazing, Yuu-chan," he moans before drinking deeply. An arm lands around his shoulders a moment later, and Nishigori Takeshi leans into his view, leering.

"Had fun out there in the blazing heat?" Nishigori teases, and Yuuri ignores him in favor of replenishing his electrolytes.

"Takeshi-kun, leave him alone," sighs Yuuko with a smile.

"You should join me next time," Yuuri suggests, a grin quirking at the corner of his mouth. "It's a great way to lose -- ack!" He doesn't get to finish his quip as Nishigori begins ruffling his hair, laughing.

Yuuri's semester ended with decent grades, and his summer began with a trip to Japan. He is still living off the money he won at Nationals, and he booked the flight not long after he got home from Tokyo back in December. Two weeks in his hometown with his family and childhood friends, and Yuuri has enjoyed every day so far.

Hasetsu in May is humid and very excited to see him. Locals notice him immediately and come out to greet him, shaking his hand or getting autographs. Yuuri finds out quickly that Ice Castle has classes for the summer, which Yuuko explained is completely due to Yuuri's influence. Apparently many locals renewed their interest in ice skating, and a lot of youths from neighboring towns have come to skate at the same rink that Yuuri trained in for most of his life. Even Minako-sensei has more customers, from people hearing about her coaching and teaching Yuuri for years.

None of this had happened in Yuuri's other timeline. Then again, he hadn't won silver at Worlds after his gold at Nationals.

"Oh, Yuuri-kun?" Yuuri manages to separate himself from Nishigori and looks over, blinking, at the innocent smile on Yuuko's face. "You're staying through the twentieth, right?"

"Yes," Yuuri answers, wondering what she's getting at.

"Great! Then that means you can come teach at Ice Castle for a few days this week, right?"

Yuuri's eyes widen. "Wait, what?"

"It's just a couple of classes," Yuuko says quickly, glancing at Nishigori. "Little kids, some middle school students. One of the coaches is going out of town to visit family, and the other one is busy for a couple of days. Please?" She clasps her hands together and widens her eyes, looking rather sad. "It wouldn't take long! I'll let you come in after hours to make up for any training you want to do!"

"I'm not supposed to be training right now," Yuuri says blankly, his eyes widening. Teach a class?! He doesn't know the first thing about teaching.

"Great!" Yuuko brightens and pulls out her phone, sending off texts rapidly. "I'll let them all know the classes are still on!"

Yuuri might be panicking. "Wait, but I don't know if I --"

"Thanks, Yuuri-kun! I'll text you the details later! We'll pay you, too!" She waves excitedly at him and quickly disappears behind the counter before Yuuri can argue with her, and Yuuri is left staring blankly at the empty space. Nishigori pats his shoulder consolingly.

"Tough luck, that," Nishigori says, and Yuuri groans and covers his face. What the hell is he going to do?

~*~

"Teach?" Viktor says over the phone that night. "That'd be amazing, Yuuri! I'm sure you'll do great!"

"You're not helpful," Yuuri says to his desk. He's debating running away. Something tells him Yuuko would hunt him down pretty quickly. Or send Nishigori after him, which would end in disaster.

"Now, Yuuri," Viktor says, taking on a familiar lecturing tone, and Yuuri's lips twitch at the familiarity. Knowing Viktor a year earlier than in his old timeline is both frustrating and so very rewarding, because he already recognizes many facets of Viktor's personality that most people would never catch. He knows what to expect of him, and yet Viktor keeps surprising him. He knows Viktor like he knows his own heart.

Vaguely, Yuuri wonders if that should be foreboding. He forgets about it a moment later when Viktor continues speaking.

"This is a great opportunity for you as a skater. Think of the possible sponsors who will hear about you teaching classes at your rink! Not to mention, having that bit of experience will help you later in life, if you ever decide to become a coach or work with future skaters," Viktor tells him, then pauses. "Yuuri... do you have any modeling contracts?"

Yuuri blinks and lifts his head. "What? No. I mean, I've been in magazines before, but they were mostly for skating... interviews and pictures."

"That's something you should consider taking up," Viktor says thoughtfully. "Skating isn't very lucrative by itself. I know your family owns a business, but..."

"Mm, I don't ask them to support me like that," Yuuri replies, a little quietly. "I have sponsors and a scholarship and my winnings."

"Well, that's just not enough," Viktor says, blunt as ever. Yuuri can't help but smile. "If you want, I have a few American contacts that would love to help. They would need a portfolio, of course, but that wouldn't take much to put together, and they wouldn't be very intrusive, no personal details or anything, just a few pictures for their spreads. What do you think?"

Yuuri thinks about it for a little while. The money from Nationals and Worlds has been very nice, especially for a poor college student living mostly on rice and salads, but Yuuri knows that eventually he will have some trouble with money. When his contract with Celestino had ended in his old timeline, Yuuri simply hadn't had enough money to sign on for another year, even with his winnings from the preliminary GPF competitions. Yuuri had won bronze and gold at Skate America and NHK respectively, and much of that had been sent back to his family.

"I could take a look at them," Yuuri offers slowly.

"Great! I'll set everything up, you won't have to worry about a thing," Viktor assures him, and Yuuri can tell by his elation that Viktor is smiling that beautiful grin that always melts Yuuri's heart. Yuuri listens to Viktor babble for several minutes, content to hear his voice.

He never, ever thought Viktor would call him like this, before they had become coach and student, then more. Yet Viktor had begged for his number at the end of Worlds, and Yuuri had been unable to resist giving it to him, not with those pleading eyes focused on him.

Now Viktor texts him nearly every day, or ends up calling him late at night when Yuuri is about to fall asleep, or video calls him in the middle of the day to complain about his rink mates or tell him about Makkachin or any number of inane excuses that all amount to the same thing: Viktor likes to talk to him.

Yuuri still can't believe it. Yet without fail, he ends up responding to Viktor's messages, all the while wondering how things could have changed. What did he do that caught Viktor's attention so thoroughly?

Had Viktor been this focused on Yuuri in their last lifetime together? So quickly?

Yuuri doesn't understand it... but it makes him happy, regardless.

Even if it hurts at the same time. Every time they talk, Yuuri hears his Viktor, yet he knows that Viktor doesn't remember a single thing about their year together in the alternate future. Surely Viktor would have confronted him long ago if he had known that they would be together one day; yet he has not, so Yuuri must believe that he does not know anything at all.

He had wondered if Viktor had come back, too. He had hoped, even, and yet the idea had broken his heart at the same time, that Viktor might have died as well. Part of him is intensely relieved that Viktor does not remember him. If Viktor remembered him, then it would mean that Viktor had traveled back in time as well... and considering that Yuuri traveled in time only because of his death, he cannot bear the thought of the same thing happening to Viktor.

Sometimes it gives Yuuri a headache, worrying about all this. He vows to write in his journal later, to get his worries off his chest.

"Isn't it almost bedtime for you, sleeping beauty?" Viktor teases, and the nickname sends a familiar pang through Yuuri's heart. He still does not understand the nickname. Viktor had given it to him last time, too.

He loves it too much to ask Viktor to stop calling him 'sleeping beauty.'

"It's my vacation," Yuuri grumbles, setting the phone down and switching it to speaker phone. Viktor has a point; it is late enough for him to slink into bed. "Shouldn't you be practicing?"

"I'm already finished for the day," Viktor replies, a smile in his voice. "Right now I'm grooming Makkachin. Makka, say hi to Yuuri!"

Yuuri pauses in pulling out his bedclothes when Makkachin barks, his heart melting a bit. "Hi, Makkachin," he replies, unable to help a smile. Hearing and seeing Makkachin, even if just through the phone, soothes his old wounds just as much as Vicchan.

"Ooh, my darling girl, you can't just grab the phone like that," laughs Viktor, as the line rustles. Yuuri listens to him chide Makkachin for a few minutes while he changes, finally crawling into bed and lying heavily on his side, the phone sitting by his ear.

A moment later, his door opens, and Vicchan squeezes in, hopping up on the bed and nosing at Yuuri's face, before licking him.

"Stop that, Vicchan," Yuuri laughs, catching Vicchan and scooping him into his arms. "That tickles!"

Vicchan barks, and the noise on the line suddenly stops. Then Makkachin barks, and Vicchan twists his head around to search for the other dog, while Yuuri unconsciously holds his breath. Vicchan and Makkachin have never met before.

Vicchan squirms out of Yuuri's arms with whine and scoots closer to the phone, nosing at it curiously, and on the speaker, Makkachin barks again, sounding excited. Vicchan finally barks back, and for a few minutes, the call is filled with barking. Yuuri just stares, shocked by Vicchan's happy wiggling.

After a while, Yuuri can hear Viktor laughing as he tries to calm Makkachin down.

"Makka, Makkachin, calm down! It's okay! It's just Vicchan!" Viktor soothes Makkachin until she stops barking, and Yuuri catches Vicchan again, shushing him with an amazed smile. "Wow," says Viktor, after a moment of quiet, "I've never seen her act like that."

"I wonder if they talked about us," Yuuri says quietly, smiling. Viktor laughs.

"Perhaps so. I imagine Makkachin has many questions about you, and Vicchan would want to know about me," Viktor says, but Yuuri replies before he can control his mouth.

"He already knows everything about you." A second later, Yuuri turns bright red as he realizes what he just said, and he rolls onto his stomach to hide his face in his pillow, mortified.

"Yuuri," Viktor says after a long moment of silence. "Do you --"

"Don't say it," Yuuri says to his pillow, desperately.

Viktor barely misses a beat, his voice turning firmer, amused now. "Do you tell Vicchan about --"

"No! Stop saying it!" Yuuri wails, lifting his head. "Viktor, stop, please!"

Viktor is laughing again. "Do you tell Vicchan about me? I'm honored, Yuuri!"

Yuuri slumps against his pillow again, giving in. "Maybe a little," he mumbles, unwilling to say anything more. Viktor doesn't need to know about all the posters, figurines, DVDs, CDs and other Viktor Nikiforov paraphernalia that Yuuri has stashed in his room, both here and in America.

Viktor chuckles softly. The sound sends a pang through Yuuri; that is the laugh he used to hear whenever Viktor was about to kiss him. Yuuri closes his eyes, unable to stop himself from imagining the sweet smile that would accompany the noise, alongside the motion of Viktor leaning in, and his breath hitches a little.

He wishes Viktor was here.

"Tired already?" Viktor teases, and Yuuri huffs, turning onto his back and setting Vicchan on his chest, absently scratching behind his fluffy ears.

"Not really," Yuuri replies, then surprises himself with a yawn. "Well... maybe a little tired. I ran a lot today, and being with my family, it's... well. I always worry when I'm with them."

Viktor is quiet for a moment. "Do they have health problems?" he asks, and Yuuri realizes he was being too vague.

"Oh, no, it's just... it's like I'm constantly worrying about how they'll see me. I spent a long time away from them, and I didn't really call or anything, and I... I realized what I was doing was hurting them. I was too selfish to see it before. Now I'm trying to be better, and I want to be a good son, but I never seem to know what the right thing to do is."

He isn't sure how else to explain it to Viktor. His Viktor had understood the problem implicitly. Yuuri had taken his family and loved ones for granted for years, until Viktor had taught him to look beyond himself and see the love that infused his relationships. He wants so badly to repay his family for supporting him for so long, that maybe he tries too hard, or ends up not trying at all, because he puts too much pressure on himself.

He has done it before.

He tries to call them once a week, at least. Sometimes it feels more like a chore than an honest wish to talk to them, and Yuuri hates himself for it. It's hard to get out of old habits.

"Do they seem unhappy with you?" Viktor asks quietly, and Yuuri exhales.

"No. That's the thing... they never get mad at me. They never say I did anything wrong. But I feel like it, anyway."

Viktor hums in consideration. "It sounds to me like you simply need to keep trying, but not so much that it upsets you. Your relationship with your family shouldn't be stressful. Simply do what you think is best, and don't worry about the rest."

When Viktor puts it like that, Yuuri can see how foolish he has been acting. Viktor has always been able to reframe Yuuri's worries to something more palatable, and he aches for a moment, wishing he could express his gratitude properly.

"Okay," Yuuri whispers, sighing. "Thank you, Viktor."

"You're welcome, Yuuri." Viktor goes quiet for a few moments, and Yuuri listens to his soft breathing. A tension lays coiled in his chest, slowly growing stronger with the words he wants to say to Viktor -- his gratitude, his apologies, his misery, his love -- but Yuuri bottles it all down, refusing to burden Viktor with his problems. Especially not this Viktor, who barely knows him and hasn't given himself the responsibility of taking care of Yuuri's mental health, as his Viktor did for so long.

Finally, Viktor exhales deeply. "Yuuri, may I see you?"

Yuuri starts slightly. "What? Oh, um, yeah."

A second later, the phone makes a noise for the video call feature, and Yuuri hastily connects, his heart beating a bit faster when Viktor's face appears on the screen, his living room in the background. Viktor smiles upon seeing him, then brightens when he notices Vicchan on Yuuri's chest.

"Ooh, is this Vicchan? He's so cute!" Viktor croons, and Yuuri relaxes a little, holding the phone back so that Viktor can see Vicchan better. Vicchan perks up at the sound of his name and looks at the phone, tilting his head curiously. Yuuri can only watch with a small smile as Viktor spends quite some time cooing at Vicchan and talking to him in a particular voice, the one Yuuri has heard him use only for Makkachin before.

"Toy poodles are too cute. I want him to meet Makkachin so much," Viktor sighs, and Yuuri wonders how it would even be possible. He would love for them to meet, too, but Viktor would have to come to Japan again... and Yuuri does not plan on letting that happen. It's a nice thought, but one that will never happen in reality.

He manages to keep his thoughts out of his expression and voice. "I think they'd like each other," Yuuri says instead, his gaze softening a little.

Viktor meets his eyes and smiles, and the familiar expression sends a shiver through Yuuri, leaving an ache from the force of his yearning. He hides his face in Vicchan's fur, and he hears Viktor chuckle.

"You look like it's your bedtime, sleeping beauty," Viktor says quietly. Even though it's been two months since Viktor began calling him that, it still makes Yuuri's face heat up with happy embarrassment.

"It's always my bedtime," Yuuri mumbles, and the reply might be a little silly, but Viktor makes him say and think things that Yuuri would never normally express. He peeks over Vicchan's fur, meeting Viktor's gaze for a long moment, that urge to spill his secrets building up again, until he locks it away.

"お休み、ヴィクトル," Yuuri says softly, and the Japanese makes Viktor light up, his cheeks turning pink as the Kyushu accent rolls easily off Yuuri's tongue.

"Доброй ночи, Юрий," Viktor replies, his vivid gaze glittering. Yuuri doesn't want to be the first person to hang up, and he hesitates with his thumb over the 'end call' button, his gaze roaming over Viktor's face, and then he realizes that Viktor is doing the same.

Yuuri promptly flushes red, which makes Viktor's eyes widen a little, another little blush stealing across his cheeks.

"Night," Yuuri mumbles, and Viktor echoes the sentiment softly, before Yuuri forces himself to push the button. The screen goes dark, and Yuuri stares at it for a long time, wondering at this new feeling building inside him.

In his dream, Viktor had told him to admit everything, about Yuuri traveling back in time and their shared history together. Yuuri cannot do that; but something still calls to him to tell Viktor his secrets, the truths that he hides from everyone else. The need to come clean, to be able to trust Viktor to listen to him, is threatening to burn him up from the inside.

He can't, though. Not now... maybe not ever. Not even when Viktor himself told Yuuri to do so.

He never, ever wants to see that sad expression on Viktor's face again.

~*~

Two weeks in Hasetsu fly by, and before Yuuri knows it, he is back in Detroit in a meeting with Celestino, planning out his training schedule for the summer.

"You still have those dance classes at school, don't you?" Celestino asks while peering at his laptop with a frown. Yuuri knows he prefers the leather book sitting beside it, but he always prints out the schedules for his skaters.

"Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30," Yuuri affirms. Two hours of ballet each day, with alternative dance on Thursday if he joins the night class. His knee is jittery, probably from the extra shot he had in his latte this morning. Viktor and Phichit both think that Yuuri drinks too much coffee, but sometimes tea just isn't enough in the mornings.

"Right, then we'll do Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from nine to one," Celestino says, typing. "Workouts in the afternoons, and Sunday will be a rest day. Are you picking up any shifts at that game store you worked at last summer?"

Yuuri frowns as he remembers his old summer job. "No, I won't. I'm starting that modeling thing, remember?" Classes were hard enough, even taking the minimum every semester; he would rather focus completely on training.

"Right, right. Well, let me know whenever you have to travel for that." After a few more minutes of typing, Celestino prints out two copies of the new schedule and hands one to Yuuri.

"I think that takes care of everything except the programs." Celestino observes him for a moment, and abruptly, Yuuri realizes he has no idea what he should do for his programs this season. He could do his old routines from the last time, but...

He does remember his old programs from his other timeline, but the strain of losing at the Grand Prix Final and Nationals, which left him unable to compete at Four Continents, still lingers in his memories. His humiliation haunts him to this day. He had failed at the most important competition of his life, at that point in his career, and he can't help but wonder if those programs were cursed.

Celestino still looks thoughtful. "You know, the arrangement you did on your programs last year worked pretty well. Do you want to try that again?"

Yuuri is startled out of his thoughts. "What?"

"You did a good job. We can refine it together, but you could try another choreography again. Do you have any idea what music you want?" Celestino asks, gesturing to the wall of CDs that he has available for skaters to use.

"I..." Yuuri is used to Celestino choosing his music for him. He had once tried to get music arranged for him, this same time in his past life, but it hadn't worked out. He should try contacting Ketty again and see if she can put something together. He wonders if she will come up with his Yuuri On Ice program again.

"I'd like to try," Yuuri says, surprising himself. "May I think about it and get back to you?"

"Of course, Yuuri," Celestino replies, opening his ancient leather notebook. "I'll give you two weeks to submit your music choices. In the meantime, we'll work on your jumps and flexibility. Okay?"

"Okay," Yuuri agrees, his mind whirling. What should he do?

When he gets back to the apartment, Yuuri throws himself into Spotify lists and YouTube and iTunes until he is drowning in music. Nothing seems right, though. He asks Ketty again for an ensemble about his career, but somehow it sounds the same as last time, too dull, not good enough. For days, Yuuri stresses over music and possible component combinations until he starts to lose sleep. He even stops talking to Viktor, because Viktor has already chosen his programs and Yuuri feels embarrassed that he has not done the same.

Then he finds the perfect songs, within an hour of listening to each of them.

The first is a classical piece from an anime show he and Phichit watched together. Usually Yuuri avoids more modern music, but the song had spoken to him with beautiful emotion, to the point that Yuuri found himself humming it in his downtime. Watashi no Uso expresses the melancholy that has made its home in Yuuri's chest, the pain of a lifetime with the love of his life, lost forever.

He cannot express his hurt in words, so Yuuri decides he can skate it instead.

He has almost always skated to classical compositions since he moved to America, partly because of his background with Minako-sensei, and partly because Celestino has a ban on pop and rock music unless it is considered easy listening. Yuuri prefers harder sounds for his own music, but for skating, he loves classical music. Mostly because of Viktor, whose most beautiful skates have always been to classical music.

Yuuri had forgotten about the song, until it starts to play on his shuffled playlist the night before his music choices are due. Yuuri had put his entire library on shuffle and buried his head in his arms, exhausted. Then the song begins to play, and...

Yuuri thinks it is perfect. What other story but his own could Yuuri skate? No one would truly understand, but... maybe Yuuri could find some peace, if he skates it for the world. For Viktor.

The second song, which he chooses for his free skate, is also chosen for Viktor, but for an entirely different reason.

By chance, not long after Yuuri chooses Watashi no Uso, Phichit links him to a Spotify list with the note that "THIS IS AMAZING." Yuuri listens with growing wonder, just as amazed.

Lindsey Stirling's Ascendance enthralls him upon the first listen, and even more so on every listen after. Yuuri is still shocked he found it. The story he can tell with it...

It's Viktor's story. His rise to brilliance, his battles with other skaters and the ISU, his desire to surprise and impress, his loneliness... The violin sings a beautiful song that carries Viktor's soul in its notes, and Yuuri starts crying when he first hears it. It's perfect.

The only problem is that Celestino doesn't like it.

"The short program is fine, but the other one, no," Celestino says, handing the two CDs Yuuri burned back to him. "You know my policy on that pop music."

Yuuri doesn't grit his teeth. His voice may show a bit of his tension, though. "It's not pop, Coach Celestino. It's violin with an electronic beat. It doesn't even have lyrics."

Celestino looks doubtful. "Electronic, pop, it's all the same."

It's really not. Damnit. "Coach Celestino, please, listen to it again. I really want to use this music." He bows low and holds out the CD labeled Katsuki Free Skate.

After a long moment, where Yuuri debates between apologizing profusely and yelling, Celestino sighs and takes the CD.

"Alright, Yuuri, if you're serious. I'll let you know on Monday."

"Thank you," Yuuri mumbles, bowing again before scuttling away with his approved short program. His heart is beating fast in his chest. He has never stood up to Celestino like that before – and he is furious that he had to. Celestino should trust him by now. He isn't like the teenagers that come in with profanity-laden trash. When has Yuuri ever picked a bad song? Even during the musicapolypse, as veterans of that year call it, Yuuri had picked perfectly normal music.

By the time Yuuri makes it to his favorite coffee shop, he is shaking with nerves. Phichit hasn't gotten out of class yet, so Yuuri stands in line alone, chewing the inside of his cheek. He grips his phone while he waits for his caramel frappuccino, which is definitely not part of his diet, turning the device over with his thumb not quite hovering over Viktor's name on his speed dial.

As soon as he wraps his hand around his drink, he hits 'Call.'

"Allo, Yuuri," Viktor answers almost immediately, sounding slightly winded. Yuuri can hear a smile, though, as flirtatious as Viktor ever is. "I was afraid I would have to fly out to Detroit and chase you down, had you continued to ignore me."

"Ha," Yuuri mutters, shame welling up. He should have responded to Viktor sooner, or at least explained why he was being quiet. "You're not allowed to come to America just because I don't text you back, Viktor." He makes his way through the coffee shop to the small nook where there are armchairs and a fireplace, though it isn't lit right now. He prefers the armchairs over a table.

Yuuri can hear the smile in Viktor's voice. "Well, there go my plans for the weekend," Viktor replies, hopefully joking. Yuuri wouldn't put it past Viktor to appear in the middle of Detroit with no warning. Yuuri has experience with Viktor's whims.

"How may I help you on this fine summer day?" Viktor asks. "You usually wait until the evening to call me."

Oh, right. It's evening for Viktor, and Yuuri thinks immediately that he must be intruding. Then again, Viktor wouldn't have answered if he hadn't wanted to; he rarely bothers with such niceties if he is truly busy.

"I had a bad day at practice," Yuuri finally admits. It's hard to tell Viktor that Yuuri needs him, that he wants to hear Viktor's voice to make himself feel better. "If you're busy..."

Viktor's response is immediate, and it warms Yuuri. "No, I'm not busy. I'm just reading." Yuuri can hear rustling, the soft noise of a hardback book closing. Viktor prefers books over reading on his tablet when he is at home. It seems that no matter what, Viktor is always concerned for Yuuri and wants to help him in any way possible. "Would you like to talk about it? I'm happen to listen."

The soft worry in his voice makes Yuuri sigh. He misses that worry, misses being able to talk to Viktor properly about his problems. Maybe they can never have what Yuuri had with his Viktor, but he knows he can trust this Viktor, no matter what.

"I had an argument with Celestino," Yuuri admits quietly, then sighs deeply. Voicing his frustrations leaves him slumped against the side of the armchair, the tension draining out of him. "He won't let me go forward with my music choice for my free skate. It's really frustrating, and I don't know what to do about it."

He can hear the confusion in Viktor's voice. "Didn't you choose your songs last year?"

"No." He doubts Viktor would know about Celestino's issues with music. "Celestino has this policy about music. If he doesn't approve of the music you suggest, then he'll pick something from his own music. He has a lot of songs that anyone can use, but... I wanted to do something special this year. He doesn't like it, but I asked him to consider it before he said no. So I hope that he lets me use it."

"Why is he so strict about music?" Viktor asks after a moment. Yuuri bites down a sigh; it's easy for Viktor to ask, as if it's never been an issue, when Viktor has been ordering music ensembles for his programs for years. Yuuri doesn't have the same freedom as Viktor does.

For a moment, he sips at his drink, absently licking away the foam that coats his lip. "Mm, well, he coaches a lot of skaters, mostly teenagers and college students. Three years ago, he had a season where everyone went wild with their music choices, including songs with profanity, and that got him in trouble with some sponsors. So he doesn't allow pop music or anything like that now. But mine isn't like that, it's..."

Yuuri exhales in frustration, all too aware that the song he has chosen is for the man he is speaking to, wishing he could just tell Viktor. He keeps his silence, though. "It's just different. And I want him to accept it and support me using it, but he doesn't like it. It's the first program that I've really made on my own, and I really want him to let me use it. It's already June, and I really need to work on my free skate."

For a moment, Yuuri twists the straw around in his drink, mixing the whipped cream and the caramel swirl, debating on what else to tell Viktor. He doesn't want Viktor to think that Celestino is a bad coach, because he isn't. He has supported Yuuri for years, and he doesn't want to sound ungrateful, but it still bothers him.

Finally he sighs. "I guess he just doesn't have as much time to work with everyone individually. Practices are kind of scattered... everyone meets with him once a week to update him on our progress, and of course he tells us what we're doing wrong when we're skating, but... I don't know. I never had a problem with him before this season."

"I'm sorry that you have to go through that, Yuuri," Viktor says, and he does sound sorry. Viktor, who would be Yuuri's best and worst coach in another future, had always given Yuuri the time and attention he needed and, in many ways, craved. "Yakov is strict as well, but he always lets me control the artistic side of my programs. Surely Celestino wants you to skate the way that makes you happiest."

You'd think so, but not everybody is you, Viktor. Yuuri doesn't let that thought escape, softening enough to laugh. Nobody had given him as much artistic freedom as Viktor had. "I don't know about that... I have a habit of mental weakness when it comes to competitions, and I think he thinks he needs to protect me from that, so he tends to be pretty strict with me. He's not a bad coach, don't get me wrong, but I feel like I'm finally coming into my own as a skater, and... it'd be nice if I had some more support from him."

Such as the kind of support Yuuri had once received from Viktor, in his other life. Though he had been strict with Yuuri's diet and training and clumsy with his anxiety, Viktor had always been there for Yuuri. Even though Viktor has placed himself at Yuuri's beck and call, it's just not the same, now. Yuuri has no one he can truly rely on when he falls apart.

The thought sends a sharp pang through Yuuri's heart, and he has to distract himself with his drink, for a moment.

"He should support you more, yes," Viktor replies, sounding thoughtful. Yuuri has never been this honest with him; it has always been hard for him to talk about his feelings and innermost thoughts, but Viktor draws them out of Yuuri's heart with gentle ease. He wishes he could show Viktor how grateful he is. "Hopefully he will let you use the music you have chosen."

"I hope so." Yuuri sips more of his drink, enjoying the foam and thinking guiltily that Viktor would not approve of it. "Thanks for listening to me, Viktor... I'm sorry to talk about such heavy topics."

"I'm happy to listen, Yuuri. I happen to like listening to you," Viktor says, that flirtatious note back in his voice, and Yuuri can't help but laugh, love swelling in his heart. He misses Viktor so much; if only he could see him...

"So you've said," Yuuri replies, unable to stop himself from smiling. Talking to Viktor really does make him feel better.

"Yuuri!" he hears, and Yuuri turns his head to see Phichit waving from the door.

"Oh, my roommate's here," Yuuri tells Viktor, hesitating as he waves at Phichit. "Um... are you going to call me tonight? Tomorrow morning for you, I mean?" He can feel his face heat up as he asks, knowing that Phichit will see him blushing, but Yuuri has come to enjoy Viktor calling him most nights. It's nice to fall asleep listening to his voice, even if Yuuri feels guilty for it at the same time.

"I'd be happy to," Viktor says, chuckling. "Enjoy your overpriced sugary coffee, Yuuri."

That pulls Yuuri up short, and he blinks down at his coffee. "How did you," he starts to ask, then shakes his head. Viktor never ceases to amaze him. "No, never mind. Bye, Viktor," Yuuri says, smiling, before he ends the call and gathers his bag. The phone goes into his pocket as Yuuri makes his way to Phichit.

"Who was that?" Phichit asks, following Yuuri out of the building to the car.

Yuuri's blush hasn't really abated. "Viktor."

Phichit's eyes light up, before a frown touches his expression, tinged with worry. Yuuri has told him that Viktor has been talking to him lately, though he doubts Phichit knows the full extent of their contact. "Yuuri... is that wise? Since he's..."

Shrugging a little, Yuuri throws his bag into the backseat and settles into the driver's seat, waiting for Phichit to join him. He doesn't say anything as they pull out of the parking lot and turn onto the road that will take them home, wondering what he could say to defend himself.

Nothing. Yuuri has no defense for his actions, and Phichit seems to sense this. Phichit remains the only person to know about Yuuri's other future, and he has given Yuuri as much support as Yuuri has been able to accept. Still, Phichit will never be able to understand Yuuri's need to be with Viktor, nor the relationship he lost.

Yuuri wishes in some ways that he could give Viktor up, but he refuses to hurt Viktor, and if Viktor wants to talk to him... then Yuuri will let it happen, even if it hurts him every time he hears Viktor's voice and remembers a time when Viktor loved him.

After a while, Phichit distracts them both with a conversation about the new toys he bought for his hamsters, and Yuuri listens, all the while thinking of the phone in his pocket and how it may already have a message from Viktor.

He doesn't let himself pull it out and look until he gets home.

~*~

To his relief, Celestino finally approves of the free skate choice, and Yuuri sets himself to routine. So starts his summer of training, accompanied by monthly potlucks with the skating club, infrequent trips to the pool, and a constant barrage of messages from Viktor. It isn't just a few texts anymore, but nightly calls when Yuuri's defenses are low enough to allow it, video calls after he gets home from practice, and a stream of conversation via text message. Yuuri has never been more grateful for his international data plan, because otherwise Viktor would drive up his monthly charges to unbearable heights.

Summertime used to be a hodgepodge of trips to the lake and training, but Yuuri doesn't go near the waterfront any longer. The pool is okay; Yuuri tends to avoid the deep end enough that he gets questions about it, but Phichit always manages to steer those conversations away from Yuuri's failures. He ends up taking late nights at the rink to practice, worrying over whether he will be able to pull off these new programs that he has choreographed alone.

He ends up asking Viktor for advice, constantly. He should be going to Celestino, but already Yuuri's mind is wired to entrust his skating questions to Viktor, who nearly glows whenever Yuuri asks him to look at a particular sequence. Viktor's technical knowledge and artistic ability are second to none, and Yuuri takes full advantage, trusting that Viktor will help him.

Not all of the advice ends up being useful, but Yuuri can see the beginnings of Viktor's interest in coaching, just from guiding Yuuri through difficult component combinations. Viktor might not have been the best coach, but Yuuri has long known that Viktor likes to help other people. He believes that with enough time and experience, Viktor would become a fantastic coach, and Yuuri is forever honored that Viktor chose him as his first student.

Talking to Viktor every day, though... it wears on Yuuri. He can't truly be himself with Viktor. He ends up holding in a lot, stopping himself from mentioning anything from their other future. Viktor will ask questions about Yuuri, constantly seeking more information about him and his past, and it hurts because Yuuri has already told him everything, though this Viktor doesn't remember.

Yet Yuuri tells him again anyway, because the last thing he wants to do is push Viktor away. Viktor's wonder and admiration are just as beautiful and enthralling to Yuuri as they were in the other lifetime, and Yuuri can't stop reaching out to him, seeking that familiarity.

Viktor never stops giving it to him. Sometimes it feels like Yuuri never lost him, but then Viktor says something that reminds Yuuri of his death, of the dream he had of Viktor crying after his funeral, of the two years separating them -- and it hurts. All the while, Yuuri keeps telling himself not to fall in love with Viktor again.

An impossibility. He only hopes that Viktor only sees him as a friend. Yuuri can't handle having him and losing him a second time.

He realizes he is getting depressed again, and just like after he lost at Sochi and Nationals in his other future, Yuuri gets bored of it. He forces himself to go out more, to go skating for fun, to watch movies with Phichit and try cooking new things. He throws himself into practicing his routines, tweaking them until Celestino tells him excitedly that he is going to amaze the audience.

He hates feeling depressed, but at least he can pretend he isn't. Ignoring the waterfront is easy enough. Thoughts about his other future go into his journal. The nightmares are the worst part of it, but Yuuri soldiers through them, even if sometimes they morph into things other than the Neva. Dreaming of Hasetsu in the summer with Viktor and of the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona are no less uncomfortable than dreaming of dying, though -- because when Yuuri wakes up, he still remembers that those memories can never become real.

Viktor notices, of course, but Yuuri does his best to pretend that everything is fine. If he can just get through the summer, then school will start back up, and Yuuri will be able to distract himself with class and practice.

His training is going well, at least. The first time Yuuri finishes his free skate, he calls Viktor, too jubilant to stop himself.

As the phone rings, Yuuri realizes that he must have missed Viktor's now nightly call, though he hadn't noticed a notification. He has been skating late at the club to practice, building his programs with critical attention. He already had his short program planned and roughly completed, but his free skate was taking longer due to the attention he was paying to the story he wanted to tell.

He finished it, though, and in his excitement, he called Viktor immediately.

"Allo?" Viktor answers after a moment, sounding a little sleep muzzled, and Yuuri flushes a little at the gravelly sound of his voice.

"Hi, Viktor," Yuuri says, breathless from the skate he just finished. "Oh, did I wake you?"

"Seems so," Viktor mumbles, a yawn catching his voice. "It's fine though. I should have gotten up an hour ago, but Georgi wanted to go out for drinks last night because Anya is giving him the cold shoulder, and I drank too much. Is everything okay?"

"Oh! Yes! I just, I wanted," Yuuri fumbles, before blurting out, "I finished my free skate! It's really good!"

"Oh?" Viktor says slowly, and Yuuri can hear his smile. "Think it's gold worthy?"

And now Viktor has to tease him about the gold medal Yuuri promised him at Worlds. Yuuri rolls his eyes, unable to help a smile, but it dims a little when he thinks of the five gold medals he promised his Viktor.

"Definitely," he tells Viktor firmly. "I'm going to beat you."

"I hope you do," Viktor teases. "Now, you should tell me what your program is."

Yuuri laughs in surprise. Viktor can't seriously be asking him that. "What? No, Viktor, I'm not going to tell you what the song is."

"Yuuri," Viktor sighs, and Yuuri can see his face now, the pout that is undoubtedly resting on Viktor's lips. "You woke me up so early, after I had such a terrible night! What if I ask very, very nicely?"

As he covers his face, Yuuri feels a smile spreading across his lips. His beautiful, petty, whiny Viktor -- Yuuri has missed this side of him. "Then I'll tell you very, very nicely, no."

"Yuuuuri!"

Yuuri does not give in. Programs in hand, Yuuri trains, until he and Celestino are satisfied with his program components. He decides not to tell anyone about his program choices. Not even Viktor, who takes this news in a rather predictable way: by whining and begging for Yuuri incessantly.

"You have to," Viktor insists. It is near the end of June now, and Viktor has not given up. He has been wheedling for Yuuri to cave for almost an hour now on Skype, ranging from downright begging to careful bargaining. Most of his promises are things he would give Yuuri anyway: an hour long call with Makkachin, or an exclusive photo that no one else has seen. Yuuri almost gave in when he was offered a signed first edition Viktor Nikiforov poster from Viktor's junior days, but he has held strong. "I'll tell you mine!"

The shock of that statement takes Yuuri by surprise. Viktor has never revealed his programs to anyone prior to the competitions before. Yuuri already knows what they will be, but the fact that Viktor would offer baffles him. Does Viktor really trust him that much?

"I couldn't ask you to do that!" Yuuri sputters. "What if your fans find out? Then it wouldn't be a surprise!"

"I trust you," Viktor tells him, certain of Yuuri's integrity, and Yuuri wonders wildly how Viktor can believe in him so easily, so thoroughly.

"Viktor," he tries, then sighs deeply. "I'm not telling you." He looks away from Viktor's pout and continues paging through the top Viktor Nikiforov forum in Japan. He has moderated it since he was fourteen, though once he entered college, he turned most of the duties over to Yuuko. She does a good job keeping up with all the rumors and press releases.

The irony of perusing a news website dedicated to his once-fiancé while speaking to the man himself is not lost on Yuuri -- but he bravely pretends it is perfectly normal.

"Yuuuuuuri," Viktor whines from the corner of the screen, where the video window sits. Yuuri ignores him and clicks on a link for a recent ISU release.

Before he starts reading, Yuuri looks up at the camera, his cheeks warming a little. "Maybe I want to surprise you," he says quietly, and Viktor breathes in softly, his pout fading as wonder fills his eyes.

"Yuuri... okay. Fine, then surprise me. But make it a good one," Viktor orders, his eyes glittering. Yuuri can only hold his gaze for another moment, distracting himself with the article. He swears his ears are turning red, but he nods, determined to make his programs perfect.

"I will," Yuuri promises quietly.

Viktor smiles, pleased with his victory, and for a little while they are quiet together while Yuuri reads and Viktor watches him, content.

"How is the modeling going?" Viktor asks after a moment. His eyes are twinkling, and Yuuri knows for a fact that Viktor already has copies of the magazines Yuuri has appeared in. At one point, Viktor posted pictures of them on Instagram, which nearly doubled the sales, and earned Yuuri two more modeling contracts.

"It's going well, thanks to you," Yuuri replies, giving Viktor a small smile. "It helps that they have a studio in Detroit, though most of the time I drive to Chicago."

He never imagined that he would model, of all things. Yuuri is no stranger to appearing in magazines, from the many skating specials that Japan likes to publish to the official ISU releases. Modeling is very different than sitting down for an interview and a few photos. Yuuri has to sit through makeup sessions and change into beautiful clothing, none of which he would ever dream of owning. Most of the shoots are for clothing, though he has also done a few cologne spreads.

The people are nice to work with, at least. The modeling pays decently well, enough that Yuuri doesn't have to take up a summer job. He is putting the majority of it into savings, though he still sends money back to his parents when he can. He needs to buy new skates soon, though, and pick out his outfits for his programs this year.

"Good. Though, you know that modeling isn't all that we could be doing, right?" Viktor looks far too pleased with himself, and Yuuri resists rolling his eyes.

"I don't want to shoot commercials, Viktor. That would be ridiculous."

"No! Not commercials," Viktor insists. "Ice shows. I do ice shows every so often. Sometimes for charity, sometimes for my rinkmates when they need some extra income. You don't do any?"

Yuuri knows about the ice shows; he has them recorded somewhere on his computer. "I sometimes help out at the rink, when they put on a performance and need some adult skaters, but that money goes to the rink. I don't do any solo shows. I did do a charity show with JJ once..."

"Hmm... well, you could do some anyway. Would Celestino let you use your rink?" Viktor asks, wrinkling his nose briefly at the mention of JJ.

"I doubt it... the rink is pretty booked for the next few months," Yuuri muses. In his other future, he had done Onsen On Ice, but that was Viktor's idea in the first place. "My club is having a competition in July, but that's still for the rink."

"I have the suspicion that you do more ice shows than you're telling me," Viktor says, and Yuuri blinks at him in confusion. "Given the number of results I get on YouTube when I search for 'Katsuki Yuuri ice show.' Now I'm going to have to watch all of these."

"What -- Viktor! Stay out of my videos," Yuuri protests. "I wouldn't know the first thing about setting up an ice show. My modeling makes me enough money anyway."

Viktor's pout is admittedly cute, but Yuuri doesn't dare say so. "Hmph. Fine."

After a moment, Viktor begins humming Stammi Vicino, and it takes all of Yuuri's willpower not to react. He knows that is Viktor's free skate, and Viktor thinks he doesn't know, thus Viktor believes he is teasing Yuuri, perhaps in the hope that Yuuri will ask about the song. Then Viktor will taunt him and say he can't tell Yuuri about it, because they promised that their programs would be a surprise.

Viktor's idea of revenge is petty and juvenile, and Yuuri loves him for it. Unfortunately for Viktor, Yuuri can be just as savage in his pettiness, so he refuses to acknowledge the humming.

Instead, Yuuri reads, and soon he forgets about Viktor's humming, because the article is about Viktor getting disciplined by the ISU.

Yuuri doesn't remember this at all. He checks the dates on the article and realizes that while the article was released this month, the 'incident' had been two years ago, when Viktor had spent several weeks building up public interest in same-sex ice dancing, which has been banned by the ISU for years despite the growing support for it. Yuuri had followed the news about it up to the point that Viktor had suddenly stopped talking about the issue at all, and the movement had fizzled and faded. There had been some talk that the ISU and the RSF had gotten involved, alongside a few quiet articles about Viktor meeting with ISU officials, but nothing had ever come of it.

Or so Yuuri had thought. He glances up at Viktor's face, then back at the article. Viktor had been disciplined for promoting an act that was against ISU regulations. They had forced him to stop his campaign and had placed his membership on probation for a year under Rule 125 of the ISU constitution.

Yuuri has to pause and look up the exact regulation. Viktor had been disciplined for "improper public comments" when he had disparaged the ISU for not allowing same-sex partners, as well as for not obeying the ISU rules and code of ethics by stating that he believed the rule prohibiting same-sex partners was unfair.

Then they had sealed the records for two years and had forced Viktor keep silent on the matter.

Suddenly, the article gives new meaning to Viktor's theme of rebellion last year.

Yuuri finds himself simmering with angry tension. He wants to go straight to the ISU and make a complaint about how they handled the situation, though he knows he shouldn't, lest they discipline him, too. Viktor is the darling of the skating world, and no doubt the rest of their peers will be just as furious.

"Why the scowl, Yuuri?" Viktor asks, breaking through Yuuri's anger.

Yuuri licks his lips, realizing how dry they are, and debates how to answer. "The ISU statement," he finally says, glancing up at the camera window. "They made a release about you."

Viktor stares blankly at him, then his gaze drops to his screen, and Yuuri watches as he types quickly for a moment. The smile on Viktor's face fades, and he is quiet for a long time. Yuuri does nothing to push him, reading the faint hints of tension, anger, and resignation that no one else in the world would be able to see.

"So they finally published it," Viktor says without any inflection. "It took them long enough. I was under the impression they would never release the records... I suppose that means I will be getting interview requests soon."

"How could they do that to you?" Yuuri breathes. He had never heard about this, not even in his old past. Had the ISU suppressed it that much? Had something changed behind the scenes, for the ISU to come forward now?

Viktor smiles without mirth. "Because my words were too powerful and they knew it. So they silenced me. It's alright, Yuuri."

"It isn't," Yuuri says forcefully, sitting up straight. "You were standing up for what's right. It's not fair that we can't skate with same-sex partners. If, if I ever did ice dancing, I'd want to skate with a man, not a woman, and it'd be just as beautiful and well-coordinated as a straight couple! And it's not fair that they disciplined you like that! I just, I want to say something to them –"

"Don't," Viktor interrupts, a serious expression on his face. "They will sanction you, too. Don't even think about it, Yuuri."

Yuuri shuts his mouth, his face heating up as he realizes that his emotions got away from him. "Sorry, it's just... I never knew you were fighting them like this. Alone. If, if I could have helped..."

"No, Yuuri," Viktor says, this time more gently. "Then you would have been in the same position, or even worse. They only stopped themselves from banning me because I'm their 'living legend.' I don't want to think about what they would have done to a skater without as much political clout as I have."

"I suppose," Yuuri admits, knowing that he would be unable to handle a disciplinary meeting. The JSF would ban him for daring to get in trouble in the first place. "I just... I wish I could help."

Viktor finally smiles, and the soft expression reaches into his eyes and brings out that familiar gleam that tells Yuuri that he is surprised and pleased. "You don't need to worry about it. With that press release, I am now free to talk about it in public, and I imagine that Yakov is already fielding questions. My attorney notified me that it would be released, though I hadn't realized it would be today. I'll handle it. The right way, this time."

Yuuri is quiet for a long moment, one finger tapping the space above his arrow keys. Viktor is an expert at his own press; Yuuri shouldn't worry about him, but he does, anyway. Yuuri wishes he had the confidence and popularity to make a stand with Viktor; however, if Yuuri joined the protest, the JSF would probably be unhappy with him.

He finally sighs. "Okay... but please keep me updated. I support you completely." Yuuri glances down at the screen, then up at Viktor again. "I've always wanted same-sex ice dancing, too. If that had been an option when I was a teen..."

"Oh," Viktor breathes, his smile widening. "It's never too late, you know. Though... I would prefer to keep you as a rival, rather than let the ice dancing world have you."

Yuuri can't help a pleased noise, and he has to look down before Viktor can see his smile. He has thought about it – performing ice dancing instead of competitive singles, though he hasn't practiced doing major lifts enough to be good at it. When he and Viktor had skated together for the GPF exhibition, Viktor had done most of the lifts, though by no means had he performed all of the traditionally masculine roles in the program. They had switched easily, and Yuuri had loved it, sharing the lead, just as they did in their relationship.

He would love to do ice dancing with Viktor, just as much as he loves to skate against him.

"I suppose you do need a proper rival," Yuuri says instead of sharing his thoughts, glancing up through his bangs. Viktor grins at him, and Yuuri can't help but smile back.

A message buzzes on his phone then, and Yuuri glances at it with a small frown.

From: Christophe Giacometti
I've got quite the programs planned for this year. How are yours going?

"It's from Chris," Yuuri murmurs, confused. Christophe doesn't talk to him often outside of competitions. "He's asking me about my programs." He texts a reply, Going well, before setting the phone down and looking at the image of Viktor again.

"Oh?" says Viktor, as casual as can be, which makes Yuuri raise an eyebrow. "Must be sounding out the competition."

"Competition?" Yuuri repeats, frowning at his phone. "But I haven't..."

Yuuri trails off, hesitating. He had beaten Chris for silver at Worlds. In his other lifetime, Chris had won silver, but Yuuri had edged out over him with a scant few points. Chris had always been Viktor's main rival, as well as Yuuri's, and yet Yuuri had barely acknowledged the win, only looking at the point gap between him and Viktor with consideration.

He knows the exact program composition of Immortelle and Stammi Vicino. If Yuuri is successful, then Watashi no Uso and Ascendance will be even stronger.

Chris, though... Yuuri knows Chris' programs as well, though not by heart like Viktor's. Chris never does as well during the GPF as during Europeans or Worlds, by his own admission: he starts out slowly then gains power as he gets deeper into the season. Yuuri knows well that Chris' attention has always been fixed on Viktor; he would have to be blind not to notice that Chris considers himself to be Viktor's number one rival.

Yuuri wonders if Chris feels threatened by him. He hopes that Chris doesn't hold it against him.

"First JJ, now this," Yuuri sighs, setting the phone aside and going to the art gallery on the Viktor fansite. He knows Viktor is staring at him, touching his lip in curiosity with one finger, but he doesn't ask what Viktor is thinking.

He's pretty sure he knows.

"Is he still bothering you?" Viktor asks after a moment, and Yuuri shakes his head.

"No, he went back to Canada when the season ended. I'm pretty sure he's going to train under his parents from now on." The Leroys are an infamous power couple of ice skating, and their notoriety in Canada will be good for JJ's training and connections, as far as Yuuri knows. He still won't lose to JJ, though.

"Good," Viktor says decisively, and Yuuri does glance up now, seeing a small smirk on Viktor's lips. It disappears quickly, but it makes Yuuri raise an eyebrow. Does Viktor really dislike JJ that much? He remembers Viktor being somewhat cold to JJ during Worlds, but not enough to hate him...

Viktor beams when he has Yuuri's attention. "By the way, Yuuri, I will be going on a business trip next weekend. Texting will be fine, but I won't be in a good location for video calls for a while."

"Oh," Yuuri says, briefly disappointed. He likes being able to see Viktor's face every day. "Well, I'll just be practicing all weekend, but I'll keep my phone on me. Where are you going?"

"A magazine shoot in New York," Viktor says, waving a hand. "I've worked with them before, so it should be a short trip." Then he adopts a flirtatious smile, and Yuuri groans, already anticipating his next words. "So, are you going to tell me your program choices now?"

"No," Yuuri tells him flatly. No matter how cute it is, Viktor's pout does not move him.

~*~

Slowly, Yuuri peers up from his cutting board of green onion and mushrooms. To his dismay, Viktor Nikiforov is still sitting in his apartment, sharing the island bar that separates the living room from the kitchenette with Phichit, while Yuuri busies himself with food preparation. Ostensibly, Yuuri is cooking dinner for himself and Viktor; in reality, he is having a nervous breakdown.

He did not expect Viktor to appear in Detroit, despite multiple jokes about this exact scenario. He should have suspected it, at the very least, when Viktor mentioned his magazine shoot in New York of all places. He should have known that Viktor wouldn't be able to resist the opportunity to surprise Yuuri with his presence.

It's really nice to see him. Viktor is just as beautiful in person as he is in their video chats and pictures, and it seems unreal for him to be sitting in Yuuri's apartment. With a small sigh, Yuuri refocuses his attention on his hands and vegetables.

Phichit is leaving in twenty minutes; he has a group date planned for eight, though he had offered to stay and help Yuuri cope with being in Viktor's company. Yuuri had refused, believing that he can handle Viktor. At least Viktor isn't staying the night; then, Yuuri might have a problem.

With another sigh, Yuuri starts the rice. He might as well busy himself with cooking.

"I guess I should be going," Phichit sighs, tucking his phone away and beaming at Viktor. "It's nice to see you, Viktor! Unexpected, but I'm glad you're here to keep Yuuri company! Otherwise I'd drag him out with me!"

"Hm? Yuuri, did I interrupt plans for tonight?" Viktor asks Yuuri, who shrugs.

"Not particularly. I don't like to go out to these things, because," he starts, then hesitates, glancing between Viktor and his hands. "People usually try to set me up with dates. It's not my thing."

"I see," Viktor says slowly, his smile fixing on his face. Yuuri hides a wince, while Phichit's smile widens.

"That's right! Our Yuuri's so popular with the ladies," Phichit nearly sings, winking at Yuuri. "Not to mention the guys, too. I think Andy was going to try asking you out tonight."

Yuuri groans. He really does not want to talk about his unfortunate ability to attract a high number of people with crushes on him. He has been dealing with weird crushes since middle school, and it has always confused him. Viktor remains silent, and Yuuri doesn't dare look up. "I'm not interested in Andy," Yuuri mumbles, then goes to hide his nerves in the fridge.

Viktor finally speaks, and his voice is far too even. Yuuri recognizes it as a warning of danger, but Phichit seems oblivious, even though he very likely knows fully well what he is doing. "Unfortunately for both him and your friends, I plan to be selfish tonight concerning Yuuri."

Yuuri cannot help his blush. He tries to cool it down in the freezer.

"Too bad, I bet it would have been interesting," Phichit comments with a smile, then stands. "Well, I'm off! You two have fun tonight!"

Yuuri halfheartedly waves goodbye as he returns to the stove, and the sound of the door closing seals Yuuri alone with Viktor. Yuuri stubbornly stays silent, staring down at his simmering pot. He waits only a moment before Viktor turns to look at him, an easy smile on his face.

"I like your roommate," Viktor says. "He was at Worlds, wasn't he?"

"Yes, and at Four Continents," Yuuri affirms, relaxing a little. He hopes Viktor will forget the comment about Andy. Yuuri hadn't even been aware that Andy liked him, and he isn't interested, either. He has always had eyes for only one person.

Viktor hums thoughtfully, content to watch Yuuri as he cooks. Yuuri doesn't really know why, either. Viktor was usually the one who cooked when Yuuri moved in with him, in the other future, and Yuuri isn't the best cook on the planet. Viktor always said that Yuuri looked great in an apron, though.

He really should have gone with Phichit. A group setting would make it much easier to handle his feelings for Viktor through determined ignorance. Even if it meant he would have had to deal with rink mates with unfortunate crushes.

"Are you sure you don't want to go out with your friends? I can drive you there," Viktor offers, and Yuuri finally looks up, unable to stop himself.

"I'm really not interested in anybody else," Yuuri says quietly. For some reason he dares not evaluate too closely, he needs Viktor to know that. "Not Andy, not anybody from the skating club. All they want to do is drink and dance. I'd rather be here with you."

Viktor's smile is a slow, beautiful thing, and Yuuri's heart aches to see it. Viktor prefers quiet nights with his books and his dog, just as Yuuri does, though he loves to go out to eat. On the car ride home, Yuuri had planned to take Viktor to one of the more interesting restaurants around Detroit, up until the moment that Viktor's eyes lit up in excitement at the opportunity to taste Yuuri's cooking.

He couldn't deny Viktor after that.

The rice cooker clicks, and Yuuri turns off the stove to begin plating. He sets the bowls of rice and tofu vegetable stir-fry on the counter in front of Viktor, joining him on the other side with glasses of water. This deep into the season, Yuuri is careful what he puts into his body, to avoid messing up his training. The food is simple and healthy enough, but Viktor lights up when he takes a bite.

"Amazing!" Viktor cries, taking several more bites. "What sauce is this? It's delicious!"

"It's just soy sauce, honey, and ginger," Yuuri admits, smiling down at his bowl. "It's easy to make. I'm glad you like it."

"Yuuri made it for me, so I love it," Viktor tells him, beaming, and Yuuri hides his smile in his dinner.

His forehead still smarts from when he had fallen flat on his face at seeing Viktor standing in the Detroit Skating Rink. Yuuri isn't entirely sure that this isn't a fantasy dreamed up by his overworked brain; he has not been sleeping well these past few nights, ever since Viktor left on his trip. Having Viktor say goodnight to him every night over video chat has become an addiction, but also one that has helped Yuuri: he sleeps better when he gets to see Viktor before he falls asleep.

"Do you want to do anything in particular in Detroit?" Yuuri asks after a few moments of quiet. "There are some museums, and I think there's a music festival this weekend."

"Hm... I've never been here before. Are there any nice places to walk around?" Viktor asks, and Yuuri hesitates for a long moment, almost too long.

"There's the lakefront," Yuuri says slowly, staring down at his half-empty bowl. The food tastes cold. Like ice. "The Detroit River and Lake Erie are the major bodies of water. It's pretty this time of year."

Viktor stays quiet, and Yuuri forces himself to look up, to see what Viktor is thinking. Viktor is watching him, concern on his face, and Yuuri is abruptly reminded of how keenly Viktor can sense his moods. He shouldn't be surprised that Viktor can tell when Yuuri is upset about something, but he is. They hardly know each other, after all.

But that isn't true now, is it? We've been talking nonstop for four months. It took Viktor two months in person, last time.

"You don't want to go there," Viktor says finally, and Yuuri averts his gaze to his meal, his pulse speeding up. His palms feel damp. How could he possibly explain himself to Viktor?

I died in a river, and it's haunted me ever since. Almost a year has passed, and I still have nightmares about it.

"Not really," Yuuri mutters, picking up a piece of tofu and eating it. The temperature of the food is perfectly fine; it's all in his head. It still tastes like ice. "I..."

I had an accident. The words die on his lips. In this, he cannot lie to Viktor. Anything else, and Yuuri is able to twist his words enough that he can hide his knowledge of the future, but in this, he cannot tell Viktor anything but the truth, and he will never speak the truth. His chopsticks rattle against the side of the bowl, and Yuuri abruptly sets them down, clenching his shaking hands.

A moment later, Viktor's fingers touch his back, pressing a soothing circle into his spine. "It's alright, Yuuri, you don't have to explain," Viktor says softly. The sweetness in his voice lodges a knot into Yuuri's throat, and he swallows against the sudden heat in his eyes, before looking over at Viktor again. Viktor is smiling at him, reassuring and kind, and Yuuri slowly relaxes, realizing that Viktor will never push him.

"We can do something else, then," Viktor says decisively, and then he begins to pester Yuuri about his school and his favorite restaurants. The change in subject is a relief.

For the rest of the meal, Viktor never takes his hand off Yuuri's back, offering him that gentle reassurance. As they talk, the taste of ice fades away, and Yuuri can enjoy his meal again, even leaning back into Viktor's hand.

They end up on the couch together, arguing over Yuuri's Netflix. Viktor spots Amélie and immediately votes for it, but the last time Yuuri watched that was in his other future, and he resists. It's one of Viktor's favorite movies though, and despite the memories it carries, Yuuri agrees to watch it, settling in at Viktor's side after making popcorn.

Before they start the movie, Viktor takes a picture of their socked feet resting on the coffee table with the popcorn bowl between them. Yuuri groans when his phone screen brightens with notifications a moment later, flicking open Instagram to see the damage.

v-nikiforov: Hanging out with #1 in Japan before the season starts! #amélie #movienight

"Your fans are going to kill me one of these days," Yuuri sighs, slumping down a little. He can already see a large number of #netflixandchill comments, which makes his face heat up horribly. That had definitely happened in his other future, though Yuuri refuses to think about it now. Instead, he hits 'start' on the movie.

Viktor just laughs. "They would never! They're your fans, too," Viktor insists, which is a bald-faced lie, but Yuuri lets him get away with it.

Yuuri barely remembers the movie, and though much of it is upbeat and interesting, Yuuri is left with an odd melancholy, the same ache that has plagued him since he woke up in the past. It's Viktor's movie, not Yuuri's, but he pays attention because Viktor expects it, as Amélie makes her way through a world that doesn't quite understand her, but that she's happy to enjoy regardless.

Sitting beside Viktor, who laughs at some of the French jokes that fly over Yuuri's head, relaxes him. By the time Amélie has begun her extravagant game of hide-and-seek with Nino, Yuuri is dozing off, his head listing sideways every so often.

After a little while, Yuuri feels a warmth bump into his cheek. The strength and firmness is familiar, and he sighs, leaning into Viktor's side and breathing in his long-missed scent. The French washes over him in a lyrical hum of noise, nonsensical and soft, and Yuuri drifts into a comfortable doze.

It's almost like the past ten months never happened...

Yuuri wakes a long time later, when the screen is dark and the apartment is quiet. His world has skewed sideways, warmth beneath his cheek still, and Yuuri blinks a few times. Long fingers are stroking through his hair, gently petting him, and his glasses are gone. He vaguely remembers lying down, but surely he hadn't slept through the whole movie?

Carefully, Yuuri turns his head, and the sight of Viktor sitting so close fills him with a quiet sense of peace. His head rests in Viktor's lap, and Viktor looks content with the position, his gaze soft as he watches Yuuri. When their eyes meet, Viktor blinks a few times, a faint blush touching his cheeks, and Yuuri's heart melts a little.

He has missed this side of Viktor, the one nobody else gets to see.

He wonders how he can accept Viktor so easily, when he is used to pushing people away. When Yuuri had come back in time, he had decided to keep a barrier between him and Viktor, because he didn't believe he deserved to be selfish a second time. He should be pushing Viktor away, keeping things polite and platonic, but Yuuri cannot help his feelings.

Viktor gave him so much during their year together in the other future that it feels natural to let him this close, even though Yuuri hates being touched by nearly everyone else, including his family. The few hugs he gives his family, the skinship with Phichit and Nishigori... Until Viktor, that had been the extent of physical contact Yuuri had with other people.

The year with Viktor never happened. Instead, he and Viktor have been talking for months, and yet it feels natural to let Viktor this close, to accept him as part of his life. Maybe they will never have what Yuuri and Viktor had in their other future, and Yuuri is still determined not to take Viktor from skating again, but...

He thinks he could accept this, but only because it is Viktor.

"Viktor," Yuuri whispers, and Viktor's smile widens.

"You fell asleep," Viktor explains quietly, gently brushing Yuuri's bangs from his eyes. "You missed the most romantic part of the movie."

"Oh?" Yuuri tries to remember what was truly romantic about that movie, and all he can remember is the reunion scene between Amélie and Nino. Instead of saying anything, Viktor's hand slides down a little and touches the corner of Yuuri's mouth, the same spot where Amélie first kissed Nino.

Yuuri goes still, staring at him with wide eyes.

Viktor's lips twitch. His fingers trace a path to the skin below Yuuri's ear, tracing a kiss there. The last touch is on the soft skin under his eyebrow, and Yuuri closes his eyes, swallowing against the sudden heat in his face.

"Sometimes the best kisses aren't on the lips," Viktor says finally, and Yuuri exhales sharply, turning his face away from Viktor's touch. His cheeks are on fire. He doesn't know what Viktor meant by that -- is he trying to be romantic? Is he coming on to Yuuri? If it were his Viktor, Yuuri would have laughed and leaned in for a real kiss, but Yuuri is trying so very hard to keep things platonic between them.

Viktor is making that very difficult.

"I'll have to show it to you properly next time," Viktor says a moment later, and Yuuri breathes out carefully. The movie. He means the movie, surely.

"Sorry for falling asleep," Yuuri apologizes, sitting up and looking around for his glasses. They are sitting beside the empty popcorn bowl, and Yuuri slides them on, hesitantly looking at Viktor, who shakes his head.

"I don't mind, Yuuri," Viktor says, resting his arm on the back of the couch, behind Yuuri's shoulders. "Have you not been sleeping well?"

The dark circles under Yuuri's eyes must speak volumes to Viktor, but Yuuri doesn't mention them. He shrugs and picks up their empty dishes, carrying them to the kitchen to set them in the sink. "Weird dreams, I guess. I'm fine."

"Alright," Viktor says after a moment. "I don't mind listening if you need to talk, though."

How could Yuuri ever tell him? I dream of dying every night. Viktor would tell him to see a therapist. Yuuri can't burden Viktor with his pain and nightmares; Viktor doesn't deserve that. Yet the depression has been destroying Yuuri from the inside, stretching him thin between stress and anxiety, and it would be so nice to talk to someone about it, to unload his burden...

Tears prickle at his eyes. "You don't have to," Yuuri tries to say, but he chokes on the words and ends up coughing. A moment later, Viktor's hand lands on his back, patting him until Yuuri can get himself under control. He glances up at Viktor through blurry vision, seeing the patience, worry, and acceptance in his face, and something in his heart trembles.

He finally unbends, a little.

"I've been having nightmares," Yuuri admits into the quiet, in the shared warmth that separates him and Viktor. He can't meet his eyes now. "I have them a lot. It's not something I can really stop or anything, but they've been bad these past few nights... I'm tired of them. I tried meditation techniques and writing them in a journal and all sorts of things, and they won't go away." He closes his eyes, a frustrated noise escaping him. "I'm sorry. That was..."

"Shh," Viktor murmurs, and the next thing Yuuri knows, Viktor has wrapped him up in his arms, gently guiding Yuuri's head to rest on his shoulder. "It's alright. I'm sorry I didn't know before."

"I didn't want to worry you," Yuuri says feebly, into the soft cloth of Viktor's t-shirt. He doesn't dare let himself hug Viktor back, but he cannot help leaning into his familiar warmth. He hasn't been this close to Viktor since they danced together at the banquet.

"You can tell me anything," Viktor says, holding Yuuri for another long moment before letting go and taking his shoulders in hand, meeting his eyes with a serious expression. "Anything at all, Yuuri. I will listen."

Yuuri can only nod, barely meeting his eyes. His heart is raw with emotion; seeing Viktor is a constant reminder of what he lost, but every moment with Viktor is precious to him. He hates that he has brought his worries to Viktor like this.

Viktor's mien softens a little, and he lets go of Yuuri, giving him some much needed air. "Would you like me to stay the night? I could..."

Yuuri is horrified by the very thought. All he has is a lumpy couch; Viktor shouldn't have to sleep on that, just to make Yuuri feel better. "No, no! It's fine!" At Viktor's stern look, Yuuri wilts a little, then looks away. "Could you... maybe... video call me later? After you check in at your hotel?"

There is a knowing look in Viktor's eyes, and Yuuri is afraid of that knowledge, of what Viktor has figured out just by watching him. Viktor has always been able to read him far too well. "Of course I will, Yuuri."

Yuuri manages a small smile. He can only hope he has no nightmares tonight, if Viktor is the last thing he sees before he falls asleep. "Okay."

Not long after that, Yuuri escorts Viktor downstairs to his car, leaning against the apartment complex doors as he watches Viktor drive away. For the next hour, Yuuri sorts through his notifications, shaking his head at the ridiculous reactions of their fans at Viktor and Yuuri spending time together, and straightens up the apartment, always hovering near his phone.

He has just changed into his sleep shorts and a t-shirt when Viktor calls him. Yuuri answers quickly, the tension in his chest draining away when he sees Viktor's smile.

"You called," Yuuri says quietly, sitting down on his bed, and Viktor's smile widens. He looks tired, and he is wearing a robe from the hotel, a towel hanging around his neck while his hair hangs damp in his eyes. He looks so much like Yuuri's memory of Viktor in Barcelona that it leaves him breathless, remembering their argument.

Yuuri forces himself not to think about that. This is a different Viktor.

"I couldn't leave my sleeping beauty alone, could I?" Viktor teases, and Yuuri huffs a laugh, shifting to lie against his pillow.

"How is your hotel?"

"Lovely and luxurious, just how I like it," Viktor says with a wink. Yuuri can't help a smile, reminded of how spoiled Viktor is. Then again, Viktor makes enough money to spoil himself as much as he pleases. "Although I had forgotten that I'd booked one of their specials that comes with breakfast for two. Would you like to join me tomorrow morning?"

Yuuri blinks a few times. Breakfast for two at a luxury hotel? He flushes a little, reminded of Viktor's urges to spoil him as well. "Well... I suppose so. Do you want to go anywhere tomorrow? I think there's a lot of shopping in that area, and a park nearby, and..."

Rather predictably, Viktor's eyes light up at the mention of shopping. "Whatever you want to do, Yuuri! I wouldn't mind some window shopping after breakfast, though. And I'd love to go skating with you."

Yuuri blinks at him, confused. "But your skates are in St. Petersburg."

"I can rent, I don't mind. I just want to skate with you," Viktor replies, and the innocence of that statement makes Yuuri roll over and hide his face in his pillow.

"Yuuuuuuuri," Viktor calls, a hint of a whine to his voice, and Yuuri manages to look over at his phone, knowing his face is flushed.

"Your fans will really kill me if we skate together," Yuuri tries, but he knows he has lost when Viktor beams. Then Yuuri narrows his eyes. "You aren't going to use this as a chance to spy on my programs, are you?"

Viktor just laughs. Yuuri watches him for a long moment, the happiness on Viktor's face a balm to the pain in his heart. He would do anything for this man.

When he finally falls asleep, his thumb on the 'end call' button, Yuuri doesn't dream at all.

~*~

In the morning, Viktor comes to pick Yuuri up and takes him back to his hotel. They eat breakfast together on the veranda connected to Viktor's room, which faces the park across the street. The food is a pretty display, and Yuuri can't help but take pictures for his Instagram, his one social media weakness.

Viktor is resplendent in a dark blue button-up shirt that brings out his eyes. Even after years of being his fan and a year of living with him, not to mention sharing a bath with him every night, Viktor's beauty still takes Yuuri's breath away. He remains distracted through breakfast, which is just as cozy and romantic as the Townsend website advertised, bemused that he is on a date-like meal with Viktor of all people.

Viktor only sees it as friendly, though. Conversation flows from the weather to a serious discussion of this year's GPF contenders, and Yuuri is still arguing with him two hours later, when they're knee-deep in expensive boutiques that make Viktor light up with glee.

"I'm telling you, Michele Crispino is going to place. He got bronze in the European Championships, didn't he?" Yuuri is holding most of Viktor's bags. He doesn't even want to think about how much money Viktor has spent.

"He will have to beat Christophe first, not to mention you at Skate Canada," Viktor replies, flippant as he looks through a rack of shirts. "In any case, I'm tired of talking about this. Yuuri, what size shirt do you wear?"

Yuuri is not ready to give this up, even if it is annoying Viktor. "But Viktor -- wait, what?" Yuuri stares at him, then at the rack of shirts, which are priced very high and are nothing like what he usually wears. Oh, no. "Th-that's none of your business."

"Oh? How about we make it my business?" Viktor turns with a wide smile, and all Yuuri can see is Viktor's annoyance and petty need for revenge. How on earth did Viktor figure out that Yuuri hates shopping -- and even more so, spending money on himself?

"Viktor, I don't need a new shirt," Yuuri says slowly. He might run, if Viktor makes a grab for him.

"Your shoulders aren't as wide as mine, but your neck is pretty and lithe, and we're close enough in height... medium, then. Oh, if only I could get you to a Parisian tailor," Viktor sighs, picking out a grey shirt and holding it up against Yuuri's shoulders. "That suit you wore for the banquet was terrible, Yuuri. How about a new tie?"

Yuuri groans. Viktor and his undying hatred of Yuuri's ties. "I said no once, and I'm saying no again. Leave my ties alone, Viktor. And don't steal them out of my closet, either!"

Viktor's grip on the shirt loosens a bit, and the ire hiding behind his smile fades as he blinks at Yuuri. "When would I be able to take them from your closet? Ooh, does that mean I can come over for dinner again tonight?" He beams, excited by this prospect, but a chill runs down Yuuri's spine.

This isn't his Viktor.

This Viktor never raided Yuuri's closet in a fit of pique before the Grand Prix Final, stole all his ties, and replaced them with much nicer ones. He never bought Yuuri a new suit in Barcelona, just because he could. He has never bought anything for Yuuri before.

"I, um, sure," Yuuri stutters, looking away. His heart is beating fast. He needs to control himself better; he had blurted out such a thing without thinking. At least Viktor didn't pay too much attention to his slip. "B-by the way, the rink should be opening soon, if you still want to go."

"Oh! Then we should head back to my hotel," Viktor says, and to Yuuri's relief, he puts the shirt back and begins gathering the merchandise he has already picked out. "I need to change if we're going to the rink."

Yuuri sighs and follows him. Skating he can handle.

The rink is mostly empty when they arrive. The crowds aren't due until after lunchtime, and not even Yuuri's rink mates are in today, since it's supposed to be an off-day for everybody. Yuuri sits on the bench and laces up his skates carefully, stealing glances at Viktor as he adjusts his rented skates. Since the few people on the rink seem to be amateurs, there is a low chance that Viktor will be recognized.

Viktor does make Yuuri stretch, though. "Practice or not, we should always keep up good habits!" Viktor tells him with a lecturing finger held up, and Yuuri turns away so that he can roll his eyes without Viktor catching him. He is strongly reminded of Coach Viktor.

Viktor stands up, and the sight of him wearing rented skates makes Yuuri twitch a little. Those should be gold blades, not dulled steel. Yuuri sighs and stands as well, stowing his and Viktor's belongings in his locker before heading out to the ice.

"Remember, this isn't practice," Yuuri reminds Viktor, who winks at him mischievously as he sets his skate guards on the railing before stepping onto the ice. Even with rented skates, which are usually in bad condition compared to what Viktor and Yuuri usually wear, he is graceful on the ice. "I mean it. No short programs or free skates!"

Viktor pouts as they skate closer to the center of the rink, away from the small groups of people that are hugging the wall. "You're no fair, Yuuri. If no programs... then how about a dance?"

As if on cue, the radio that is playing over the intercom switches to Walk the Moon's Shut Up and Dance, and Viktor's eyes light up at the perfect timing. He stretches his fingers out to Yuuri, wiggling his eyebrows, and Yuuri has to cover his face.

"You have got to be kidding me," Yuuri says to his hands. Viktor laughs and takes his hand, skating backwards onto the ice.

"Never, with you," Viktor says, oddly fierce, and Yuuri can't help looking at him. Viktor looks happy and excited, and who is Yuuri to deny him?

"Okay," Yuuri whispers, then laughs, as Viktor takes both his hands and draws him to the middle of the rink, where they begin to spin around each other.

After a moment, Yuuri turns his back to Viktor, and Viktor grins, skating them both backwards, before he spins Yuuri around and lets go. The challenging glint in his eyes enthralls Yuuri, and when Viktor lifts his arms and dances across the ice, Yuuri copies him perfectly.

They might become a spectacle. Yuuri is having too much fun to care. Dancing with Viktor like this reminds him of Barcelona, of long days in Ice Castle in November, when Yuuri and Viktor practiced relentlessly for their duet exhibition skate. There had been laughter and tears, frustration and awe, in how they had come together on the ice, reading each other's bodies in a beautiful song that only they could hear.

Ice dancing with Viktor. Yuuri never would have imagined something like this, had he stayed the same, boring Yuuri he was before. Viktor has given him so much already.

"Yuuri," Viktor says in Yuuri's ear, and Yuuri turns a little to find Viktor behind him again, his eyes alight with excitement. "Want to try a lift?"

"But we just started," Yuuri says, as Viktor's hands come to rest on his waist. The position is familiar, comforting, and Yuuri finds himself relaxing. "Okay. I'm not good at it, though."

Before Viktor, Yuuri had tried doing lifts with Phichit on occasion, along with some of the female skaters in their club, but Viktor had been the first to lift him. He bites his bottom lip, his chest tightening with excitement. His first lift with this Viktor.

"That's okay, I have you," Viktor says, and in the next moment, his hands have slid up Yuuri's side to hook underneath his arms, lifting him off the ice. Yuuri breathes in as he holds himself still, the world spinning above him as the song reaches its peak in the background, and when his feet find the ice again, he spins out of Viktor's hands, laughing in exhilaration.

"We did it!" Yuuri turns to catch Viktor's hands again. He wonders if they could do some of the more difficult lifts. Viktor had been against pushing Yuuri into anything too strenuous, given some of the positions the 'lifted' partner could settle into for official lifts. Yuuri thinks that if he practiced enough, he could do some of them, if Viktor was the one lifting him.

"That was amazing, Yuuri!" Viktor proclaims, catching his hands and spinning him around. "Let's try it again!"

"Eh?"

They end up skating for almost two hours, and at least half of that time is spent trying out ice dancing moves. Yuuri finds himself spurred by the ISU article and his memories of performing Stammi Vicino with Viktor, and he lets himself enjoy fooling around on the ice. Neither of them ever stop smiling, and though Viktor keeps up his public persona, Yuuri finds a deep sparkle in Viktor's eyes whenever he looks at him. Viktor is having as much fun as he is.

Viktor's stamina can't hold up to Yuuri's, though, and Yuuri ends the session with odd reluctance. As he and Viktor change into their shoes and begin their cool-down exercises, Yuuri realizes he wants to keep skating with Viktor.

"I haven't had fun like that in a long time," Yuuri says slowly, staring blankly down at his shoes. Viktor glances over at him, making a questioning sound. "It's usually just practice. It feels... like it's been too long since I enjoyed skating like that."

Yuuri stopped enjoying skating for a long time, in his determination to reach the top so that he could skate against Viktor. It was only when Viktor began coaching him that Yuuri could enjoy skating again. Even in the past year since he came back in time, Yuuri hasn't really enjoyed skating, so much as he has been working hard to be a good rival for Viktor.

Viktor is quiet for a long moment, his jacket rustling as he stands. "Then we'll have to do it again sometime," he says finally, and Yuuri blinks up at him, finding Viktor holding out his hand with a smile. "Shall we, Yuuri?"

Yuuri watches him for a long moment, then reaches up to take his hand. "Okay, Viktor."

Viktor is thoughtful during the ride back to his hotel, where he showers and changes, while Yuuri pokes around his phone. Yuuri gives him his space, filling the silence with chatter about classes starting up soon. Only when they are driving back to his apartment does Viktor speak up again, giving voice to his contemplation.

"How would you like to do an ice show with me?"

Yuuri blinks at the window, then turns to look at Viktor. They are currently stopped at a red light, just a few streets from his apartment. Viktor glances at him out of the corner of his eye, an oddly nervous air to him. "An ice show? Like..." Like Onsen On Ice, he doesn't say.

"Like you and me, maybe one or two other people, do some ice dancing for an audience. We could perform one of our exhibition skates, and... perhaps, if you would agree, you and I could do an ice dance. Like we did today."

Yuuri blinks rapidly, utterly confused. Viktor had brought up the topic of ice shows back in June, but he hadn't mentioned it since then except in passing, and Yuuri hadn't thought anything more of it. "Well... classes begin on the 31st, I think, so it'd have to be before that."

Wait. What is he saying? He can't do an ice show with Viktor! Panicking, Yuuri opens his mouth to put a stop to this nonsense, but Viktor speaks before he can say anything.

"So we could have it the weekend before that. Saturday the 27th would be a good day... that gives us three weeks," Viktor says, tapping his fingers against the wheel. The light turns green, and he presses on the gas, while Yuuri tries not to fall apart. "That gives me a week to set things up, and then two weeks for practice. If I send you a video, will you be able to work from that?"

"Viktor, wait, I couldn't possibly do an ice show! That's for..." For skaters like you.

Viktor glances at him again, raising an eyebrow. "We can split the proceeds. I'll have my attorney write up a contract."

"That's not the issue!"

Viktor says nothing to that, driving in silence for a few minutes until he pulls into the visitor's parking lot for the apartment complex. He leaves the car on after parking, turning to look fully at Yuuri, who is still staring at him. "Then what is it? Are you afraid that you won't be popular? I can assure you, Yuuri, you will draw a large number of fans to this, if we advertise it right. Of course, your biggest following is in Japan, but I'm sure some of them will come to the program anyway... Why are you looking at me like that?"

"You've really thought about this," Yuuri says blankly. "Doing an ice show with me. Me, of all people."

Viktor meets his gaze, that strength that Yuuri has come to rely on so much blazing in his eyes. "Who else would I want to skate with? We have real chemistry on the ice. We did a lift without any practice beforehand. I want to skate with you, Yuuri. It's just that simple."

"It's that simple..." Yuuri falls quiet, some of his panic fading as he absorbs Viktor's words. The idea of doing an ice show is daunting, but Viktor is more than capable of handling all of the logistics of it. Venue, time and dates, contracts, ticketing, the program... Yuuri wonders how long Viktor has been planning this. He licks his lips, uncertain.

If he agrees to do this, it might be seen as taking a stance on same-sex ice dancing. Doing the show right after Viktor's ISU statement came out, and then dancing with him in front of a live audience...

Yuuri wants to. Oh, how he wants to.

"All you have to do is say yes," Viktor says quietly, smiling slightly. "I'll take care of everything else. I can even get you a costume if you don't want to use one of the outfits in your closet."

Yuuri narrows his eyes a little. When had Viktor taken the time to look through his closet? He sighs and shakes off that thought, thinking about the costumes he has. None of them would really suit an exhibition skate.

"I might need a costume," Yuuri finally says, giving in. "Fine. I'll do an ice show with you. But nothing wild, okay? We both have to train."

Viktor's smile is beautiful. Yuuri holds his gaze for a moment, before he has to look away, his cheeks heating up. "How about we invite Phichit and Christophe, too? An even split for the four of us. Four exhibition programs and a dance for the two of us, plus the intro and finale. There's a venue in New York we can use. It will be easy."

Yuuri gapes at him. "New York? That's a ten hour drive!"

Viktor waves a hand, smiling. "I'll get the plane tickets. After all, I'm inviting you."

"I probably need to ask Celestino," Yuuri says, a little dazed. "And Phichit, too... oh, and a costume..."

"Well, let's get started!"

To Yuuri's endless shock, Celestino and Phichit both approve enthusiastically. Chris agrees as well, and the four of them end up in a group chat that night, crowded around Yuuri's laptop while he calls Chris over Skype. They spend almost an hour going over possible skates they can do, deciding on a theme based around dancing.

Chris, unsurprisingly, wants to do one of his infamous Lady Gaga skates, while Phichit picks a Cobra Starship song that has been on the radio for years. Viktor decides, also unsurprisingly, on his short program from last season. Everyone knows well of Viktor's love for Adam Lambert.

Yuuri doesn't need to look hard at his playlist for his choice. Whenever Yuuri is skating alone or wants to have fun on the ice, he plays Cascada's Evacuate the Dance Floor. The alternative would be Cruel Angel Thesis, but an American audience probably wouldn't enjoy it as much as Japan would.

Viktor doesn't know either song, so after their call with Chris, Yuuri and Phichit show him several music videos. Seeing Viktor watching the screen in amazement reminds Yuuri that Viktor rarely lets himself explore the internet and popular media, outside of music.

He vows to change that, if he can. Viktor should be able to enjoy things outside of skating, just as Yuuri does.

"This one would be good, too, though it's not a dance," Viktor says, after they rewatch one video for the third time. He wipes away a tear, overwhelmed for a moment. Yuuri silently offers him a tissue. Phichit has already retired to his room, and Yuuri is alone with Viktor now, counting down the minutes to when Viktor has to leave.

Viktor will go back to Russia in the morning. Yuuri doesn't want him to go.

"This is my favorite exhibition skate. I came up with the program last year, but Celestino wouldn't let me use it for my free skate," Yuuri explains, then falls quiet. They are sitting together on the couch, shoulders lightly pressed together. Viktor glances at his watch, and Yuuri takes that as his cue to shut his laptop and set it on the coffee table, then nervously twists his hands in his lap.

"Do you think we can pull this off?" Yuuri asks, breaking open the comfortable silence. He has his doubts. Just thinking of performing an ice show makes him nervous, but it isn't a competition like Onsen On Ice. It's just like the ice shows he participates in for the Detroit Skating Club. So why does he feel so nervous?

"I think it will be amazing," Viktor says quietly. His arm brushes the back of Yuuri's neck. "I promise I will take care of everything."

Yuuri watches his face a moment longer, then nods. "Okay... please take care of it, Viktor."

Viktor chuckles softly, and the sound is so familiar that Yuuri's heart skips a beat. For a moment, he is sure that Viktor will lean in and kiss him, but then the moment passes, and Viktor is letting go of him and standing with a stretch.

"Walk me down to the car?" Viktor requests, looking back at Yuuri, and Yuuri can only agree wordlessly. He grabs his keys and his shoes and follows Viktor downstairs, the elevator ride silent. Viktor will go back to Russia tomorrow, but before then...

"You're really planning on coming back here? A week before the ice show?" Yuuri asks as he opens the lobby door for Viktor.

"I am, yes. We can practice together then. Celestino doesn't mind as long as we don't interrupt the rest of your schedule and you get plenty of rest." They walk deeper into the darkened parking lot, and Yuuri hesitates by Viktor's rented car, watching him as he unlocks it. Before Viktor opens the door, though, he turns to look at Yuuri, smiling softly at him.

"You don't have to worry, Yuuri. I'll stay at a hotel again."

"You could stay with us," Yuuri blurts out, then turns pink. "I mean... you could take my bed, and I'll take the couch or bunk with Phichit. It'd be expensive to stay in a hotel for a week..."

He knows Viktor can afford it. Instead Yuuri is thinking of waking up to Viktor for a week, cooking for him, being close to him again. He should be pushing Viktor away, and yet every time they talk, they become a bit closer to each other. Hesitantly Yuuri meets Viktor's eyes, to find that Viktor is gazing at him in quiet wonder.

"I'll think about it and let you know," Viktor finally says, then opens his arms. After a short moment, Yuuri steps into the warmth of his body, letting Viktor hug him, and he briefly reaches up to touch Viktor's sides, the closest to a hug that he can return.

"Good night, Viktor," Yuuri whispers, before he lets go.

"Good night, sleeping beauty," Viktor murmurs into his hair, drawing away and smiling that sweet, charming smile that Yuuri loves. "Off to bed with you, now."

"Like that will happen," Yuuri mutters, shaking his head and stepping away from the car. He lifts a hand in a half-hearted wave as Viktor starts the car and drives away, his heart beating strangely fast in his chest.

I know I'm in love with you. But why are you acting this way toward me?

Yuuri doesn't fall asleep for a long time that night, but at least his dreams are free of the cold.

~*~

"Yuuri! You have to see this! Why didn't you tell me?"

Yuuri wakes up exactly a week later to Phichit waving his phone in his face. Blinking a few times, Yuuri wonders what has Phichit so excited this year, when his gaze focuses on the phone.

On the screen of Phichit's phone is an image of Yuuri skating with Viktor a week ago. The title of the video is "Romantic tryst between Viktor Nikiforov and Katsuki Yuuri?!" The video is several minutes long, and to Yuuri's horror, it has half a million views.

Yuuri blanches and grabs the phone, flicking through the information on the video. A fan had seen them that day and had recorded it. Phichit crowds at his side, and Yuuri silently plays the video, swallowing to see that it covers the dance he and Viktor shared.

"You didn't know about this, did you?" Phichit whispers, and Yuuri shakes his head.

"I didn't think anyone had recognized us. I definitely didn't see anyone recording us... but I was distracted," Yuuri admits. Once again, one of his most private moments was leaked to the internet via video, though it's different than his friends' kids posting the video of his private skate. This was a special moment for him and Viktor, and now it is all over the internet, racking up inappropriate comments about his and Viktor's relationship.

Then again, how many times had his videos and pictures been leaked during his summer with Viktor in the other future? For months, Yuuri's social media accounts had been plagued with fans questioning his relationship with Viktor. 'Are you lovers? Are you dating? Are you fucking?'

It hadn't helped that Viktor's Instagram had been full of cute, romantic photos all summer. Some people had even stalked them around Hasetsu, trying to find evidence of Yuuri and Viktor's secret relationship. Never mind that Viktor had blown the rumors out of the water when he had kissed Yuuri on live television in Beijing. Yuuri had avoided social media for almost a month after that.

This video is still shocking, though. He and Viktor really do look like a couple... but they aren't, now.

Yuuri passes the phone back to Phichit and covers his face.

Phichit rubs his back reassuringly. "Hey, it's okay, Yuuri. I can find out who put the video up. We can probably get it taken down."

"I doubt it," Yuuri sighs, reaching for his phone and glasses, absently flicking on his lamp. He grimaces when he sees all the alerts on his phone, sliding it open and glancing at his texts.

Somehow Viktor has sent the most recent messages, though Minako-sensei and Yuuko are close in volume of texts. Yuuri chooses to look at Viktor's messages first.

From: Viktor
Yuuri, someone leaked a video of us dancing together last week
https://youtu.be/6JCLY0Rlx6Q
I had no idea anyone had a camera on us. I had no idea until it went viral
Are you okay?
Please talk to me
Are you mad because of the comments?
Just ignore the comments. They don't understand us and they don't have any input on our friendship.
Do you want me to have the video taken down? Surely a message from me would convince them to delete it.
It's a very nice video. But I can get it deleted if you want me to.
Please call me when you can. I'll wait.

Yuuri can't help a small chuckle, hitting Viktor's name for the video chat. Two rings later, Viktor answers, looking panicked and harried, his hair in disarray. Yuuri's heart aches at the sight of him. "Hi, Viktor... I just got your messages."

"Yuuri," Viktor breathes, then sighs deeply in relief. "I was afraid you were mad at me."

Yuuri shakes his head. Behind him, Phichit is sneaking out of the room, and he gives Yuuri a thumbs up as he leaves. "You didn't have anything to do with this. It's an invasion of privacy, but... I should have considered it. People take my picture all the time when I'm back in Japan, and I bet you get it even worse in Russia."

"I do, but it's still no excuse," Viktor says, pushing his hair out of his eyes. Yuuri can see that Viktor is in his apartment. It's Sunday, which is a rest day for both of them. "You haven't read the comments, have you?"

"No, but I imagine it's the same thing that was on your Instagram when you posted a picture of our feet for our movie night," Yuuri says, dryly enough that Viktor flushes. "I don't mind, Viktor. It's none of their business anyway. And... we shouldn't have to define it just because your fans are nosy."

For a moment, Viktor just blinks at him, and finally the anxious light leaves his eyes. "Do you want me to get them to delete it?" Viktor asks after a moment, and Yuuri shakes his head, his shoulders slumping.

"It's probably on a hundred mirror sites by now, so there'd be no point. We were just skating. And... it is a nice video," Yuuri adds quietly, rubbing his cheek. He catches himself a yawn and sighs, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "Sorry, I just woke up."

Viktor glances up at his messy hair, a smile twitching on his lips. "Sleeping beauty has awoken, has he?"

"Lay off," Yuuri groans, falling back against his pillow. "I wanted to sleep in today, but Phichit woke me up with the video."

"I'm sorry," Viktor says quietly, and Yuuri shakes his head.

"Don't be," he yawns. "I'm not mad at you, Viktor. I'm not really mad at all. Just tired of people thinking that my personal life is their business."

"I know how that is," Viktor says with a small, bitter laugh, one that Yuuri doesn't think he meant to express. Both of them have been public figures for some time now, but Viktor more than anyone has never had a private moment in his life. Yuuri should know; he has been following Viktor since he was a boy. "What do you want to do about it? Ignore it? I imagine we'll get lots of questions."

"I'm going to ignore it. It's none of their business," Yuuri says stubbornly. He refuses to cater to public opinion. He hadn't listened to the world back when he did have Viktor, so why would he listen to them now when he doesn't? His and Viktor's relationship will never be any of their business.

At least in this, Yuuri is selfish enough to keep Viktor to himself, lovers or not.

"Alright," Viktor says quietly, then sighs deeply. Yuuri watches him curiously, as Viktor leaves his living room and enters his kitchen. Yuuri can hear quiet clinks, the sound of a tea tin opening. Viktor sets the phone on the counter to run some water, and Yuuri watches Viktor's ceiling for a moment, smiling a little.

"You know," Yuuri says, meeting Viktor's eyes when he picks up the phone again, "this could be considered good advertising for the ice show we're doing."

"Huh," Viktor remarks, blinking at him. Then he walks back into his living room and goes to the desk in the corner, opening his laptop. Viktor sets the phone in a charging station, which holds it upright so that Yuuri can watch him. After a moment of clicking around on the computer, Viktor grins victoriously.

"You're right, Yuuri. The show is sold out now. Last night only half of the tickets were sold."

Yuuri blinks a few times, surprised. "Wow... really? How many people will that be?"

"About sixteen thousand, I think."

Yuuri blinks a few times. Viktor is still typing on his computer, though now he glances at Yuuri, as if realizing how odd his statement was. Surely there won't be that many people at the ice show. "Um... what?"

"We'll be skating at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. It's still New York, really! And just think of the proceeds!" Viktor might be babbling, but Yuuri no longer hears him. That's the size of a normal audience for the Grand Prix Final. For Worlds, even, if not bigger. And their little ice show is sold out?

"Sixteen thousand," Yuuri repeats, utterly blank. He might be feeling a little faint. With a groan, Yuuri sets his phone down and covers his eyes with one hand. He isn't surprised that Viktor has a contract at one of the largest stadiums in the tri-state area of New York City. He isn't even surprised that so many people would want to see Viktor Nikiforov in an exclusive ice show.

He is surprised that eight thousand tickets sold in one day, because of one video of Yuuri dancing with Viktor on the ice.

"Yuuri?" Viktor's voice is small. He must be worried about Yuuri's reaction.

"I hope you have our dance arranged," Yuuri says weakly. "We're going to need to practice a lot if we want to pull this off."

He isn't look at the screen, but he can hear Viktor's relieved laughter, and it makes his lips twitch into a smile.

~*~

Yuuri practices relentlessly. In consideration for the ice show, Celestino lessens their training to three hours per day, giving Yuuri time to practice his Evacuate the Dance Floor program. Phichit joins him for these extra hours, working on his own exhibition skate, then helps Yuuri in the evenings when he returns to the club to practice his dance with Viktor. He will do another dance in addition to his exhibition skate: a dance with Viktor that will become the finale as Chris and Phichit join in.

The finale is Shut Up and Dance, which Viktor decides on after seeing how popular their skating video is. Yuuri had to turn off his Instagram notifications after the first day the video was posted, because of the volume of comments and follows. Yuuri and Viktor will pair up for the dance, while Phichit will pair up with Chris, and the four will culminate in a grand finale.

Yuuri has to admit that he is excited about it. Viktor sent him a video of what he wants for the dances, and Yuuri has been practicing relentlessly, imagining Viktor beside him.

A week later, Viktor arrives in Detroit, and Chris follows two days later. Despite Yuuri's offer, both Viktor and Chris stay in a hotel close to the skating club, and the four meet up every day to practice.

Yuuri and Phichit both still have their training with Celestino. During these hours, Viktor and Chris join them on the rink and practice their own programs. Yuuri does his best to focus on his own training, ignoring the familiar movements of Stammi Vicino not far from him, and Viktor gives him the same privacy, since they promised not to reveal their skates to each other. He wonders if Viktor recognizes the elements that Yuuri asked him for advice on, but Viktor never says anything about it.

Because of the video debacle, and because of Viktor's popularity, Celestino and the other coaches issue a rule that prohibits phones and cameras in the rink. When one girl gets caught trying to record Yuuri and Viktor talking together, she gets banned from the rink for the rest of the day. After a couple days, though, the amazement over Viktor's presence dulls to something more bearable, and Yuuri is able to practice in peace. Chris' arrival reanimates the fans to fervent heights, and even a few reporters stop by, interested in finding out more about the ice show.

"Viktor! Is it true that the four of you are practicing together for your show, Viktor and Friends? Can you tell us more about the upcoming show?"

"We are practicing, yes. As for the show, you'll just have to wait and see," Viktor tells the reporter with one finger resting on his smile. Chris is leaning against his shoulder and smiling flirtatiously at the camera, while Phichit is peeking around them with a grin. Yuuri is doing his best to blend into the background. He twitches at the reporter's next question.

"Will you and Yuuri Katsuki be dancing together, like the rumors suggest?"

"That's part of the surprise, isn't it?" Viktor replies, his smile widening. "You'll see on Saturday!"

In the evenings, they practice their finale, and by Thursday, Viktor looks very pleased. "This will be wonderful!" he tells them, clapping his hands together as they stand in the middle of the ice. The rink is otherwise empty, and Shut Up and Dance has finished playing over the intercom.

"I think it will," Chris agrees, smiling and wiping his forehead. "Shall we celebrate? I could use a glass of wine." His gaze cuts to Yuuri, who has pulled out his phone and is frowning distractedly at it.

"Yes! Let's go get dinner," Phichit exclaims, spinning around on the ice, and the four make their way back to the stands. Yuuri follows half-heartedly, and Viktor drops back to skate beside him.

"What time is our flight tomorrow, Viktor?" Yuuri asks, looking up from his phone.

"Eight forty in the morning," Viktor replies, his smile softening a bit as he looks at Yuuri. "So you should go to bed early tonight. Christophe and I will pick you up early."

Yuuri sighs deeply. He hates getting up early for flights, but having Viktor there makes it a little easier. "Fine, but I want Starbucks when we get to the airport."

"Now, Yuuri, those drinks have far too much sugar..."

Yuuri tunes out Viktor's lecture, a familiar one. He has a small smile on his face as he takes off his skates, listening to Chris and Phichit's conversation, with Viktor chiming in every so often. Even if Yuuri and Viktor aren't together anymore, he feels... happy, for the first time in a long time. This future might not be one that he ever expected, but it still makes Yuuri happy. Viktor makes Yuuri happy.

Later that night, Chris manages to corner Yuuri after dinner. Somehow, Yuuri has avoided being alone with him, but Viktor is getting the car and Phichit is in the restroom. He isn't sure what to say to Chris, since their relationship seems to have changed a little, and other than the usual flirtatious smiles and thoughtful glances, Chris doesn't seem upset with him. He has been paying more attention to Yuuri than usual, but Yuuri hasn't paid it much mind.

"You've changed a little," Chris tells him quietly, his arm gently bumping Yuuri's shoulder.

Yuuri's heart skips a beat. He glances up at Chris, wondering what the Swiss skater has observed, but he is afraid to ask. "Changed?" Yuuri echoes aloud, and Chris smiles a little.

"You seem more comfortable with yourself. Before this year, I never would have thought you'd be able to stand talking to Viktor, let alone setting this up with him."

Yuuri averts his gaze. There is no way to explain his sudden comfort with talking to Viktor Nikiforov, his longtime crush and idol. It had taken Yuuri almost a year, in his alternate future, to become comfortable enough with Viktor to address him so familiarly. Yuuri could have acted that way again, pretended to be terrified of speaking to Viktor, but... he doesn't see the point in it. Being close to Viktor feels natural to him. In some ways, it feels like his death was just a dream, that the other future was simply a product of his mind.

Still, Yuuri is grateful for the memories. He knows Viktor well enough that they can be friends easily. He doesn't have to wait another two years to have Viktor's regard.

"I guess I got to know myself," Yuuri says finally. "I've looked up to him for so long, yet when we met, it seemed... right. Like I've always known him." It felt that way last time, too... but I was too nervous to understand it then.

Chris is quiet for a moment. Phichit surfaces from the restroom and starts toward them. Chris notices him and slings an arm around Yuuri's shoulders, leaning in closer, a small smile on his lips. "Should I warn you two off each other? Anybody can see the chemistry between you two."

Yuuri flushes a little and shakes his head. "We're just friends... I don't know if I can go further than that," he admits quietly. Yuuri knows he is very selfish, and he would love nothing more than to hoard Viktor and hide him away from the world, but he knows better.

"Ready to go?" asks Viktor from behind them, and Yuuri starts and turns to face him. Viktor's expression is unreadable, and Yuuri wonders how much he heard. Viktor meets his eyes, and the softness there relaxes Yuuri enough that he can escape from under Chris' arm.

"We're ready."

~*~

"I'm not ready for this," Yuuri says on Saturday, twenty minutes before the ice show is due to start. He is standing in the shadow of the hallway that protects them from the stares of sixteen thousand people, gripping the wall tightly as he struggles with his anxiety. The stadium is massive, seats reaching up all the way up to the ceiling, and every one of them completely filled. Even a curtain hiding him from the crowd, Yuuri can feel the eyes of thousands of fans on him, all ready to judge him for dancing with Viktor.

He hadn't even been this nervous when he and Viktor had performed his Stammi Vicino exhibition skate. Not even the Cup of China could compare to the size of this stadium. Logically, Yuuri knows that he has skated for thousands of people in comparable stadiums, not to mention being broadcast live to millions of people around the world, but it seems a little different in a stadium of this capacity.

"Yuuri," calls Viktor from behind him, moments before Yuuri feels a warmth brush his back. Viktor catches him around the waist, pressing reassurance into his side, and Yuuri takes a deep breath. "The venue that Worlds was in last season was even bigger than this. This is nothing. Come now, take a deep breath."

Yuuri obeys, and the cool air does wonders to his lungs, so he takes another breath. He focuses on the warmth of Viktor's hand through the silk of his shirt, realizing that Chris and Phichit are watching them, as well as the staff waiting to start everything.

All four of them are dressed in variants of the same outfit, simple black pants and a long-sleeved white shirt, with variants of formalwear. Yuuri's vest is a deep blue with a loose blue tie, and Phichit has on a gold bowtie and a gold sash around his waist. Chris has unbuttoned most of his shirt with only an open red tie, along with a red flower in his pocket. Viktor is wearing a vest like Yuuri is, but his outfit is toned in a softer, lighter blue, matching his eyes, a blue flower in his pocket.

Admittedly, Yuuri thinks they all look very good. Viktor has done an amazing job with arranging the entire event. He has staff that will take care of the lights and music, and somehow he had found these outfits. Apparently Yakov (who, according to Viktor, is not very pleased that this event is even happening) has several skating costumes in storage, and Viktor was able to wheedle them out of his coach.

Dress rehearsal went very well. Phichit will open with his favorite song by Cobra Starship featuring Sabi, You Make me Feel. Chris will follow with Just Dance by Lady Gaga, one of his more exhilarating exhibition skates, and Yuuri will go third with Evacuate the Dance Floor.

Viktor will follow Yuuri with Pop That Lock, and after the lights go dim at the end of his show, Yuuri will skate out to join him for their duet. They will kick off Shut Up and Dance, and then Chris and Phichit will join them on the ice for the last song, one final hurrah before the four of them bow to the audience.

"I'm sorry," Yuuri whispers to Viktor, who squeezes his side, then turns them around and pushes Yuuri back toward the waiting area, where Phichit and Chris are standing. Yuuri gives them a sheepish little smile, and Phichit beams at him, while Chris returns the smile with an easy one of his own.

"You can do this," Viktor whispers to him, before going to speak with one of the staff.

"I can do this," Yuuri repeats to himself, taking a deep breath. This is just like the ice shows he performed with the Detroit Skating Club. He can do this without a problem. There are no judges, even though the audience is comparable to the Grand Prix Final, and Yuuri doesn't have to stress himself out with difficult jumps or program components. He only needs to worry about the story he wants to tell with his body.

Viktor walks back to him, stopping beside Yuuri and glancing down at him. Yuuri peeks up and starts slightly, realizing that when they are both wearing their skates like this, Viktor is taller than him. He is used to looking Viktor in the eye when they are at the rink, since the skates add several inches to his own height, and Viktor often stays on the sidelines when Yuuri is skating.

"Good luck," Yuuri whispers, briefly battling his nerves before reaching up to take Viktor's hand, squeezing it. Viktor's fingers twitch in his grip before Viktor grips him back, with one last reassuring squeeze before he lets go.

"I'll meet you on the ice," Viktor tells him, winking, before moving out into the stadium to welcome the audience to the show. Music builds up to his appearance, and as soon as the spotlight lands on Viktor standing alone on the ice, the crowd begins screaming.

"Hello, everyone!" Viktor announces, spreading his arms wide and basking in the glow of people shouting his name. Then he puts a finger to his lips, and the room goes quiet, making the hair on the back of Yuuri's neck stand up. Viktor truly is the king of the skating world, to demand such power.

"Welcome! Are you excited? Is your heart pounding in anticipation? Are you looking forward to the show?" The crowd screams in response, and Viktor smiles widely. "Then please sit back and enjoy our show, Viktor and Friends: On Ice!"

As the crowd applauds, Viktor vanishes into the darkness and skates back to the side of the rink, taking his skate guards from a staff member and sliding them on. Phichit is waiting to take his place, nearly vibrating with excitement, and Yuuri spares a smile for Phichit when he looks back, giving a quick thumbs up. Phichit grins at him, then steps onto the ice, a spotlight landing on him as he greets the audience.

Viktor steps back behind the curtain and smiles at Yuuri, his eyes fever bright. "Well?"

"That was perfect," Yuuri tells him, as You Make Me Feel starts to play. Most of his attention remains on Phichit, but he gives Viktor a small smile. Viktor leans toward him, and Yuuri unconsciously lifts his head, expecting a kiss.

Then Chris calls Viktor's name, and Viktor pulls away, flashing a smile at Yuuri before crossing the floor to Chris. Yuuri stares at the empty space where Viktor stood, his face flooding with heat at the realization that he meant to kiss Viktor.

It had been second nature. How many kisses had he exchanged with his Viktor at competitions, after he had stepped off the ice? Kisses for good luck, for congratulations, as a surprise, out of love.

Yuuri hasn't kissed Viktor in ten months, and he misses it.

In order to distract himself, Yuuri focuses on Phichit, absently comparing this program to the one Phichit will refine and show off in a year. The technical components aren't as difficult, with much more pizzazz to his step sequences. Phichit is having fun, and it shows, too; the audience is clapping along, energized by his smile and performance.

Yuuri cannot help a smile, too. Phichit loves vibrant songs with lots of energy, and he has a talent for delivering amazing performances. Yuuri had just barely convinced him not to use a song from The King and the Skater, knowing that someday Phichit will perform it in competition. Phichit has wanted to perform his favorite movie's songs practically ever since he began skating. With his ban on pop music, Celestino hasn't allowed Phichit to use any music from the movie, or even most of Phichit's preferred songs on his playlists. Absently, Yuuri wonders what will make Celestino change his mind next year.

He is proud of Phichit for his passion, and he looks forward to Phichit's triumph next year. After the song ends, Phichit gets wild applause, and he beams up at the audience, bowing low before waving his hands happily.

After Phichit leaves the rink, four young skaters from one of the local clubs circle the ice, picking up the bouquets and gifts that the fans throw down, as they will do after every song. After the young teens leave, Yuuri hears a voice behind him.

"Looks like it's my turn," Chris says, and Yuuri turns to find Chris standing beside him, one hip cocked. "You'll watch me, won't you, Yuuri?"

Yuuri stares up at Chris for a long moment, a little taken aback by the request. It reminds him too much of his demands to Viktor during Eros, once upon a time. "Good luck, Chris," Yuuri finally says with a smile, which Chris returns before he walks out to the ice.

"What did you think, Yuuri?" Phichit exclaims when he reaches the hallway, wiping sweat from his face with a towel.

Yuuri grins. "You were awesome!" He lets Phichit pull him into a selfie, holding up his fingers in an awkward V sign, before letting him go get some water, looking back at the ice.

Chris has taken up his position on the ice, and Just Dance begins to play. Sultry and beckoning, Chris' skating enthralls the audience, earning cheers every time he pulls off a complicated or particularly sexy move. Yuuri watches, his expressions minute, wondering what Chris wants him to see.

"You have a serious look on your face," Viktor murmurs in Yuuri's ear, and he jumps, a flush traveling down his neck.

"I'm concentrating," Yuuri returns. His gaze flicks back to Viktor, admiring the stylized fall of his hair. Just as with competitions, Viktor has used product to sweep his hair back from his eyes, outlined with just the tiniest hint of make-up.

Viktor smiles down at him. "On Christophe? Should I be jealous?"

Yuuri looks back at the show, watching Chris drop down into a cantilever, his hips moving with the heavy beat of the song. He isn't sure what to think of that question, until he figures out that Viktor means Chris as competition. "You don't have to worry about that," Yuuri finally says, his voice soft. Not even Chris, his longtime rival and friend, can compare to his desire to skate against Viktor.

Viktor hums softly, his only response, and they watch in silence as Chris' song comes to an end, Chris taking a rather risqué pose that has Yuuri covering his face briefly. Even with Eros, he never managed to out-sexy Chris on the ice.

Viktor's fingers touch his back. "Show them your love, Yuuri," Viktor whispers, then pushes him forward, and Yuuri is so stunned that he lets it happen, throwing a startled look over his shoulder. That sounded too much like his Viktor, and he stares at Viktor for a wild moment, trying to find something that does not exist.

No, it can't be.

"Good luck, Yuuri," Chris whispers to him as Yuuri passes him, and Yuuri spares him a smile, taking a deep breath. When he skates onto the ice, the spotlight surrounds him in soft blues, pinks, and purples, reminding Yuuri of his faraway dance with Viktor, in another lifetime.

Then Evacuate the Dance Floor begins to play, and Yuuri begins to skate.

The song has a heavy club beat, and Yuuri uses that to his advantage, shimmying along with the music. Even before Viktor taught him how to be confident on the ice with Eros, Yuuri has known how to dance in an evocative manner. Admittedly, Yuuri's 'evocative' dancing was mostly innocent compared to skaters like Chris, but he can hold his own on the ice.

Especially after Eros and Viktor.

Yuuri drops down low to the ice, rocking his body upwards, and then rises into a spin, skating backwards with his arms held out. He grins, exchanging a come hither look with the audience, listening to the resulting screams with amusement.

His jumps aren't as difficult, but Yuuri adds a quad flip to invigorate the audience, knowing that his fans will be excited for it after last season. The audience might not realize it, but Yuuri means it as a subtle call out for Viktor, to meet Yuuri's standards for his dance.

His Viktor would have risen to the challenge, if only to be petty. Yuuri hopes this Viktor feels the same, that Yuuri can invigorate him just as much.

His step work makes up a large majority of his dance, and here Yuuri lets himself be free with his movements, his hips doing much of the work as he skates. As the song nears its end, Yuuri lands a quadruple toe loop, and soon after, he falls into a Biellmann spin, arching back as he grasps his skate. The last note approaches quickly, and Yuuri drops out of his spin fast, turning sharply and coming to his final pose, arched back with his arms up.

A beat of silence, and the audience erupts into screaming applause, which makes Yuuri flush as he straightens, beaming up at the spotlight. He can hear people chanting his name, and it feels good, to get that kind of response outside of a competition. Yuuri bows low, then picks up a single red rose that someone has thrown onto the ice, kissing it to renewed cheers.

If he somehow, miraculously, got to perform Eros again... well, no one would say that Yuuri's Eros would be completely unprecedented.

Viktor is waiting at the edge of the ice, and he holds out Yuuri's skate guards, his gaze bright in the shadows of the stadium. Yuuri swallows at the heated look in his eyes as he takes the guards, hesitating an instant before offering Viktor the rose he caught.

Viktor inhales softly, taking the rose and pressing it to his lips, before he leans in close. "Amazing, Yuuri. See you soon," is all he whispers, before he takes Yuuri's place on the ice. Yuuri breathes out as the stadium erupts into even louder cheering, stepping back toward the curtain. Phichit appears with his water bottle, beaming.

"That was amazing, Yuuri!" Phichit bubbles, as Yuuri drains his water. His gaze hasn't left the ice, where Viktor is still skating laps around the rink, waving to his ecstatic fans.

"Thanks," Yuuri says breathlessly, swallowing. He glances over long enough to catch Phichit's knowing look and flushes, quickly drinking more water.

"Excited about your romantic duet?"

"Quit calling it that. It'll be a group dance anyway," Yuuri mutters, wiping his mouth and putting the water bottle aside. Viktor skates backward to the center of the ice and stops. Phichit grins and reaches an arm around Yuuri, quickly taking another selfie with him, and Yuuri can barely manage a smile, his attention already back to Viktor.

After that, Phichit leaves him alone, knowing how touchy Yuuri can be whenever he watches Viktor performing. Yuuri flashes him a brief smile, then lets himself focus as Pop That Lock begins to play.

Like Yuuri's ensemble, Viktor's skate epitomizes his grace and choreography, the difficulty dialed back to give Viktor more maneuverability. More than anything, though, the song emphasizes Viktor's sexuality, the beauty in his body, and just like every other time he has witnessed this program, Yuuri cannot look away. As Viktor spins on the ice and holds his hand out to his invisible lover, Yuuri feels himself growing tense. He has daydreamed to this song more times than he can count, of being with Viktor, of making love with him.

The idea of running away with Viktor appeals to him, but... Yuuri can't take him from the ice again. The world loves Viktor, and Viktor loves pleasing the world, giving back to the fans that have supported him for so long. Yuuri stole him once before, but to do so again...

He can't, no matter how much he wants it.

That bittersweet feeling still holds Yuuri in its grasp when Viktor's dance ends and he bows, to endless cheering. Yuuri waits until the cheering has slowed, then skates out to join him.

They have a dance to perform.

~*~

When Yuuri enters the pool, it is nearly empty. An older couple is lounging in the hot tub, but Yuuri pays them no mind, leaving his shirt and sandals by a chair and stepping into the pool. The cool water sends a shiver through him, though he grows used to the temperature quickly. The pool isn't very large, but he still manages some laps, and when he surfaces, the couple is gone.

It is late, after all. Yuuri is somewhat surprised that not many people would use the pool, but then again, this isn't a skating competition, where skaters love to take advantage of the hot tub if the hosting hotel has one. Besides, unlike Yuuri, most other people are reasonably responsible and have probably gone to bed already. They also don't have insomnia like he does.

Or so Yuuri thinks, until Viktor walks into the room.

Viktor doesn't notice him at first, frowning at his phone, but when he looks up, he zeroes in on Yuuri at the other end of the pool and stops, staring. He is only wearing his swim shorts and sandals, and Yuuri is briefly surprised that he manages the shoes. Viktor hates wearing shoes when his feet are wet.

Yuuri can't help but look a little, his gaze dropping to admire. Then he has to look away, turning abruptly to face the pool wall, his face heating up uncomfortably. He has no right to look.

Viktor says nothing, and Yuuri listens to him walk around the room to one of the tables, setting down his phone with a towel. Yuuri busies himself with ducking under the water, swimming across the pool to the shallow end. He's tempted to get into the hot tub to soothe his sore feet.

When Yuuri surfaces, though, Viktor is standing in front of him, hands on his hips with a small smile.

"Viktor," Yuuri says blankly, and Viktor's smile widens.

"Is there room in there for two?" Viktor asks, one hand on his hip. Yuuri can't find his tongue for a moment. He has seen Viktor's bare chest countless times, not to mention the rest of him, and yet somehow he can't stop looking. He closes his eyes briefly and nods.

"Sure," Yuuri says quietly, much more steadily than he feels.

Viktor steps in and sighs as the cool water hits his skin. "Nothing like a nice swim," he groans, and Yuuri abruptly decides to wait on the hot tub, swimming backwards as he watches Viktor.

He wonders what might be bothering Viktor, for him to seek out a distraction at this time of night. "It's late for you."

Viktor shrugs, pushing himself through the water to move closer to Yuuri. "I was replying to emails. Our show got lots of attention, and we have requests to perform again. I had to tell them that we would not have another show during the rest of the skating season... but perhaps we could do this again, once the off-season starts."

"Oh... really? Well, if it's during off-season, we could do it," Yuuri muses, watching Viktor as he draws closer. "Maybe with more people, too. My rink mates would love to join."

"Mine too," Viktor says, his gaze meeting Yuuri's for a moment. "My youngest teammate would likely try to take over the whole show, though."

Yuuri very carefully does not react. Yurio would definitely try to take over the show, if he could get rid of Viktor and turn it into something with loud music and punk themes. After a moment, Yuuri's lips twitch traitorously, and an answering smile blooms on Viktor's face.

"I think we could handle him if we worked together," Yuuri says, and Viktor laughs.

"I think you and I could do anything together if we tried," Viktor replies, winking, before he ducks underwater and swims past Yuuri. The faint brush of his arm against Yuuri's leg makes him shiver, and Yuuri propels himself away before he can do something dangerous, like follow Viktor.

Yuuri turns in time to see Viktor surfacing, water running down his face and through his hair, and he watches in blank silence as Viktor slicks his hair back out of his eyes. Damn him for being so attractive, and damn himself for wanting Viktor so badly.

This isn't his Viktor, though. Yuuri has no right to even look at him, let alone lust after him. With a shake of his head, Yuuri swims over to the ladder and climbs out of the pool, walking across the tiles to the hot tub. The hot tub shares a curved wall with the side of the pool, allowing Yuuri to run his fingers through the cold water if he wishes.

He bites back a groan as he sinks into the hot water, exhaling, before moving to sit next to the poolside wall. A moment later, Yuuri realizes his mistake when Viktor surfaces from underwater right beside him and splashes cool water on his shoulder. "No fun, Yuuri, you moved to the hot water," Viktor says with a pout, which makes Yuuri roll his eyes.

"My feet hurt and I wanted to sit down. Don't whine at me," Yuuri tells him. Viktor laughs and crosses his arms on the wall which is at the same level as the water, putting him uncomfortably close. Yuuri makes himself look away before he can admire again, but soon his gaze steals back to Viktor, who is watching him with a smile.

"Did you have fun today?" Viktor asks, his voice a little softer.

Yuuri relaxes a little, trying to push his inappropriate thoughts out of his mind. "I did. It was nice not to worry about competition requirements."

"I'd say so," Viktor says, reaching across and testing out the water of the hot tub. The closeness of his arm makes Yuuri feel a little caged in, but he doesn't say anything to make Viktor stop. "I think you do phenomenally better with exhibitions than competitive performances. Without the pressure of judging and program components, the music that you create with your body shines brilliantly. It was wonderful to watch." Viktor sighs deeply, looking a little dreamy, yet Yuuri has gone still, staring at him with wide eyes.

The music that you create with your body. His Viktor had said those same words to him. Not at the same time, nor in the same place, but his Viktor had spoken about the music that Yuuri conveyed with his skating, and that had been half the reason Viktor had flown halfway across the world to coach Yuuri. His Viktor had believed so strongly in Yuuri's artistic ability and choreography, and somehow, this Viktor felt the same... yet Yuuri never skated Stammi Vicino for him.

A traitorous voice whispers, Are they really so different?

"I'd love to arrange a program for you," Viktor muses, and Yuuri nearly jumps up and runs away. "I could maximize the music you create with a high-difficulty program... Would you let me, Yuuri?" He opens his eyes to look at Yuuri, and Yuuri freezes, caught by the emotion glittering there, the brilliant blue that shines brighter than any other color Yuuri has ever seen. He has always been weak to Viktor's eyes.

"O-okay," Yuuri whispers, unable to deny Viktor, watching as Viktor lights up in surprised pleasure. "But not till after this season."

"Okay!" Viktor replies, and by the glint in his eyes, Yuuri suspects he is already thinking of music and component arrangements. Viktor begins to hum under his breath, and Yuuri sighs a little, watching him, no longer feeling overwhelmed by Viktor's closeness.

If Viktor creates Eros again, Yuuri would skate it. Even Yuuri on Ice had been Viktor's arrangement, and Yuuri had skated them both proudly, determined to show off Viktor's coaching with his body.

Except... Viktor will not be his coach again. Yuuri refuses to take him away from skating again, so those programs will never exist for him. If Yuuri cannot skate those programs, then what will he skate next year?

Yuuri realizes abruptly that he does not want to skate next year, his year with Viktor, if he does not have Viktor as his coach, if he cannot skate the programs that gave him such joy and changed his life for the better. Yet Yuuri refuses to ask Viktor to be his coach again, not if it means taking Viktor away from skating, the one thing that makes him happy. With a heavy heart, Yuuri closes his eyes.

He will have to retire after this year. What other choice does he have?

Yuuri isn't truly surprised by the decision. For months Yuuri had intended to retire after his year with Viktor in the other future, after all, based on the belief that Viktor was meant to continue skating. He and Viktor had fought about it, too. Though they had resolved it when Viktor had agreed to come back to skating if Yuuri also kept skating, the argument still leaves a bitter feeling in his heart. They had not spoken about it again; there was so much they had not discussed properly, before Yuuri had died.

He wishes he could talk to his Viktor again and ask him if this is the right thing to do. He could, feasibly, skate Eros and Yuuri on Ice again, since he knows them by heart; however, they were Viktor's creations, not his. Stealing them would never feel right.

Viktor will never arrange them, either. Yuuri On Ice had been created over their summer together, and Eros had been created after the infamous banquet in Sochi, where Yuuri had lost to alcohol and had humiliated himself -- while sweeping Viktor off his feet. Yuuri cannot do that again, either.

He may never have Viktor again, the way he wants. He hasn't held Viktor's hand in almost a year. He hasn't woken to Viktor's messy hair and complaints about coffee not being ready. He hasn't listened to Viktor humming while he grooms himself in the morning in so long; it was nice, waking up to that soft voice on lazy mornings, to be woken fully by a kiss.

Deep in his contemplation, Yuuri reaches out without thinking to rest his hand on Viktor's head, halting the soft humming. He can’t resist brushing a few locks away from Viktor’s eyes, lost in memories of gazing up at Viktor’s picture and deciding that blue was his favorite color. How many years has he looked up to Viktor? How many years has he been in love?

Yuuri never dated anyone before Viktor. He had a few crushes, but he never shared his life with someone like he did with Viktor. His situation is already incomparable to any other, but Yuuri wonders if this is what it feels like after a breakup, to miss someone so wholly and completely that even seeing their face makes everything a little better.

Yuuri realizes he is close to crying. What a dilemma to have in the middle of the hot tub, while Viktor is inches away. He takes a deep breath and sinks beneath the water's surface, letting the heat envelope him for a few long moments, before standing up in the center of the hot tub. The desolate feeling in his heart ebbs away a little as water trickles off his body, and Yuuri pushes his hair out of his face, opening his eyes to see Viktor staring at him, his mouth fallen open.

Viktor meets his eyes, and to Yuuri's astonishment, a blush spreads across his cheeks. Yuuri stares back, forgetting himself, because Viktor is attracted to him.

Yuuri doesn't understand how. He hasn't danced with Viktor at Sochi. He hasn't performed Eros over and over. He hasn't done anything other than be himself, nothing to sweep Viktor off his feet like last time, and yet... somehow, Viktor both likes him and is physically attracted to him.

If it was anybody else, Yuuri would remain oblivious, but he has been watching Viktor for years, and he already knows the signs of Viktor's attraction by heart.

A blush even more vivid than Viktor's sweeps across Yuuri's cheeks, and he sinks into the water again, averting his gaze. Viktor being attracted to him... Somehow, Yuuri never even imagined it. He believed he would have to go through the same experiences as in his other future, for Viktor to feel this way about him again.

Could he be with Viktor again? Viktor had filled his world up with joy... but could Yuuri do that again for him? He could never be honest with Viktor about the other future, and it would be stressful for Yuuri, to hide that part of his life from his partner.

Yet... Yuuri wants, so badly. Except... this is not his Viktor. This is not the Viktor he fell in love with, who fell in love with him... and Yuuri does not know if he can bear betraying his Viktor. Even if his Viktor told him to be with this other self...

How could he? Yuuri just doesn't know what to do.

With a heavy sigh, Yuuri closes his eyes to Viktor's attention, misery wrapping around his thoughts. After a few moments of quiet, he hears Viktor moving through the water, splashes following him as he swims away from the hot tub wall. Yuuri's heart sinks a little, wishing Viktor would have stayed, yet relieved that he doesn't have to worsen Viktor's night with his depression.

Then he hears another splash right next to him, and Yuuri starts a little, looking up to see Viktor stepping into the hot tub. Viktor meets his eyes and smiles, a soft and intimate expression, and Yuuri relaxes a little.

"This is the life," Viktor sighs, settling across the hot tub from Yuuri. "I could spend every night in something like this."

You could, if I wasn't so selfish. "My family's onsen is better."

Viktor tilts his head curiously. "Onsen? The Japanese baths?"

"Hot springs," Yuuri explains. "Most of them are natural. My town used to be known for them, but tourism has died down a lot lately."

Viktor's eyes are wide and impressed, and Yuuri is reminded of when his Viktor was in Hasetsu. His heart aches a little. "Wow... so you grew up with hot springs in your backyard? How nice! I'm jealous, Yuuri."

Yuuri smiles a little. "I helped out a lot around the inn when I was growing up, though... it wasn't all fun and games."

"Still, sounds nice," Viktor sighs, his eyes falling closed. Yuuri cannot help but admire him for a moment, remembering countless evenings where he and Viktor would sit in the onsen and talk about everything under the sun. At first, mostly just his programs, but as time went on, they spoke of other things, too. Viktor's family, Yuuri's pathetic lack of experience, Vicchan. He had told his Viktor everything about himself, and in turn, Viktor had opened up to him, showing him the Viktor that the media with all their cameras and interviews never glimpsed.

A Viktor just for Yuuri.

So much he has not told this Viktor. Yuuri has opened his heart a little, letting Viktor into his everyday life, but... how can he give himself wholly again? This Viktor isn't his, and Yuuri has no right to push his feelings onto him.

Yet... it seems that the draw between them, the attraction that swept Viktor from Russia to Japan, is resurfacing again, pulling them together once more. Yuuri doesn't know how to feel about that.

With a small sigh, Yuuri mirrors Viktor and closes his eyes. For a few long moments, quiet surrounds them, uneasy to Yuuri. He has no idea what Viktor is thinking. He doesn't think he could handle asking.

He hears a splash and opens his eyes to see Viktor getting up and leaving the hot tub, going to the wall where a button sits. When Viktor pushes the button, the hot tub bubbles come to life, and Yuuri jumps a little, surprised.

"Bet your onsen doesn't have this, does it?" Viktor teases as he sits back down again, this time beside Yuuri, his arms resting across the tiles. If he moved sideways, he could press his shoulder to Viktor's side.

Yuuri chuckles weakly. "Not so much." His heart is beating erratically, He closes his eyes and leans his head back, only for the back of his head to meet Viktor's arm. Yuuri forces himself not to react, somewhat bemused at himself for being so jumpy around Viktor. Viktor, to whom his sister affectionately referred as an octopus, for how often he clung to Yuuri. There is no one else in the world Yuuri is more comfortable with.

Except his Viktor.

Yuuri's heart hurts, as does his head. He doesn't want to stress about this any longer. He just wants to relax and enjoy a little time with Viktor, before he goes back to Detroit and training and classes. With a heavy sigh, Yuuri closes his eyes again and lets himself use Viktor's arm as a pillow, not seeing the need to pull away when he has already allowed Viktor into his personal space.

The melancholy in his heart is the only reason that Yuuri lets himself do what he does next. Everything that follows happens because he is too weak to say no to his own heart.

Without opening his eyes, Yuuri reaches behind his head to where Viktor's hand is resting on the tiles, gently entwining their fingers. He hears Viktor inhale softly beside him, but after a moment of Yuuri's heart beating fast in his chest, Viktor squeezes his fingers.

"Your flight is early, isn't it?" Yuuri asks after a moment of peaceful quiet. His heart isn't beating as loudly anymore, but he still wonders if Viktor could hear it, if he listened closely enough.

"Yes," Viktor replies, just as quiet. "I have to fly a long way, after all. You'll be alright waiting in the airport for a few extra hours?"

Yuuri nods a little. "I don't mind. Phichit will be there. Chris is leaving at the same time as you, isn't he?"

"Mm, a little after I do. Then we will return to training. I expect daily updates from you, of course."

"Of course," Yuuri echoes, smiling a little. "I'm not telling you what my program is, Viktor. You can find out in October."

"Yuuuuuri," Viktor whines. "You're so cruel to me! I've assisted you so much! You might as well call me your assistant coach!"

Yuuri's heart skips a beat, and he turns his head to look up at Viktor, stunned. Has Viktor been thinking about becoming his coach? Already? A rush of panic fills him. Viktor can't, he can't be Yuuri's coach again, Yuuri can't take him away from skating again. No matter how much Yuuri wants it, Viktor shouldn't have to give up his own dreams just for Yuuri.

"I -- I can't ask you to fill that role!" Yuuri exclaims, stuttering as he tries to reign in his panic before Viktor notices it. Too late, he thinks, when Viktor's eyes narrow slightly. "You've already helped me so much, and, and you're also training, it must be too much for you..."

Viktor's hand closes around Yuuri's fingers, before he turns to face Yuuri. "Helping you is never too much, Yuuri. I enjoy it. I enjoy it a lot more than I realized," Viktor says with a soft laugh. He turns his gaze away, looking across the pool at the darkened windows with the cityscape beyond, and for a moment, he is far from Yuuri, lost in his own mind. "Retire or continue. Every year they ask me, and every year I say continue, because what else would I do? My body still skates the way I want it. I still enjoy the sport. Skating is my entire life."

Then Viktor looks back at Yuuri, his vivid gaze pinning Yuuri in place. "Then I met you, and I began to wonder if there was more that I could do. Coaching, ice dancing, even simply sponsoring other skaters. Someday I will have to leave the ice, and... now I have a better idea of what I could do with my life in the future."

Yuuri doesn't look away from Viktor. He can't; how could he, when Viktor is speaking thoughts that his Viktor kept from Yuuri for months? For the longest time, Yuuri hadn't understood why Viktor had chosen to coach him, and even with the truth of the Sochi banquet revealed, Yuuri hadn't truly comprehended his Viktor's indecision. His Viktor had kept it all hidden away, not wanting to burden Yuuri with his own problems.

Yet this Viktor is speaking them plainly, without any prompting. Hearing about the pressure Viktor must face as a competitor, as someone who is much older than other skaters yet stands at the top of his career...

It makes Yuuri wonder how much of that factored into his Viktor's decision to coach Yuuri.

All Yuuri wants is for Viktor to keep skating, yet that might not be all that Viktor wants. The realization stuns Yuuri silent.

"You don't need to look so panicked, Yuuri. I'm not going to retire immediately," Viktor says, misreading Yuuri's shock. "When I do, though, I think that I will have more options than I have considered before. You gave me those options. So... thank you." Viktor smiles, a faintly nervous lilt to his voice, and Yuuri breathes out, a tiny noise escaping him.

Yuuri lets go of Viktor's hand and turns toward him, lowering his gaze. "I admit, I don't want you to retire," Yuuri says to the water, watching the bubbles flowing against Viktor's bare chest. Yuuri realizes what he is staring at and looks away, his cheeks flushing. "I want to keep challenging you. It's... it's always been my dream, to skate on the same ice as you. But I know it can't last forever."

"Nothing does," Viktor murmurs, and long fingers catch Yuuri's chin and turn his head back. Yuuri freezes, caught in that blue gaze he has always loved. "Not the exhilaration, nor the joy, nor the pain. Yet we don't want to let go of them, either."

Yuuri can't breathe. Viktor is far too close, too close for Yuuri's comfort, yet he cannot pull himself away. Viktor's gaze is impossibly soft, filled with wonder, and Yuuri's heart seizes in his throat, wanting to build up that wonder into jubilation. "Viktor..."

Viktor's smile is gentle, gentler than any Yuuri has ever seen from him. "I loved skating with you today. You were amazing, Yuuri. Would that we could have skated like that forever..."

Yuuri is sure that his face is on fire. "Viktor, please..."

"Please, what?" Viktor asks, and Yuuri realizes how close he is when his warm breath washes over Yuuri's damp lips, leaving them tingling. "Anything you ask for, I will give it to you."

Oh, Viktor. For a moment that stretches into forever, Yuuri wants, knowing that if he leans just the smallest bit forward, their lips will meet. Viktor's lips, soft and wet and so familiar, and... Yuuri can't. "You can't say that to me," Yuuri whispers, his heart breaking. "I'd ask too much. I can't."

For a long beat, Viktor does nothing, the warmth of his lips close enough for a kiss, before finally he lets go of Yuuri and leans back, giving him much-needed room for air. Yuuri can't look at him, his shoulders hunching as the silence builds between them, guilt wrecking through the rest of his emotions.

Viktor is clearly attracted to him, and Yuuri rejected him. He must have hurt Viktor. He's ruined everything between them --

A finger touches Yuuri's face, poking him in the forehead, and Yuuri startles back, flailing a little as he catches himself. Viktor smiles at him, though his eyes are clouded with something like pain. "It's okay, Yuuri. Relax. I pushed too hard, I'm sorry."

Yuuri can only watch as Viktor backs away from him and starts up the stairs into the hot tub, as if to leave. Without thinking he reaches out to grab Viktor's hand, standing, and Viktor pauses, turning to look at him.

"Please don't let this come between us," Yuuri begs, desperate. He can't lose Viktor over this. "I... I can't, I'm sorry. I do feel attraction to you, but.... I'm not ready for a relationship right now. Please don't let anything change between us. You're important to me." It hurts, admitting that, but the wonder that blossoms in Viktor's eyes clears away the guilt.

Slowly, Viktor twists his hand around to take Yuuri's, squeezing gently. "You're important to me, too. I want to stay close to you... if you'll let me?"

"Please," Yuuri whispers. "I can't be more than this, but... I hope you'll accept me, anyway."

"Always, Yuuri." Viktor is quiet for a moment. "Would you like me to stay?"

Yuuri nods, some of his misery fading away as Viktor lowers himself back into the water, facing Yuuri. After a moment, Yuuri cannot resist reaching up and hugging Viktor tightly, closing his eyes as he presses himself close to Viktor. He will do anything, so that Viktor doesn't get hurt. Viktor only takes a moment to embrace him in return, his warm hands resting easily on Yuuri's back. For a little while, they stand together, until Yuuri hitches a shaky sigh and lets go. Then he sits down, and Viktor follows, his gaze never leaving Yuuri, even though Yuuri can barely stand to look up.

Yuuri sighs deeply, leaning back against the wall of the hot tub, drained from the force of his emotions. The quiet between them is less oppressive now, easier to handle, and slowly, the heat relaxes Yuuri enough that he can look at Viktor again, watching his pale hair fall into his closed eyes. Viktor's lips twitch, a sure sign that he knows Yuuri is watching him, but he doesn't open his eyes.

Instead, Viktor begins to hum Stammi Vicino, and Yuuri's heart threatens to break again. He just barely holds himself back from singing the lyrics, because he shouldn't know them, and he can only sit in silence as Viktor hums their song, the music that brought them together in another lifetime.

Finally, Yuuri gives in. "What are you humming?" he asks quietly, and Viktor's lips turn up into a smile.

"You'll find out in two months. Unless you want to tell me your secrets, too...?"

Yuuri can't help a laugh, relieved that they are back to their old banter. "I'm not telling you my programs, Viktor. Stop asking! Was that one of your skates?"

Viktor opens one eye and puts a finger to his lips. "It's a secret, Yuuri."

Yuuri groans, but the familiar teasing fills the space between them with warmth, and somehow he knows that they will be okay. He hasn't ruined their friendship after all.

~*~

Yuuri goes back to Detroit in a daze. As classes start up and Yuuri's days refill with déjà vu and lectures, he ends up spending most of his free time at the rink, skating out his troubled thoughts.

Viktor almost kissed him. Why, why did Yuuri stop him? Why did Yuuri let him get so close?

He still talks to Viktor, mostly via text. By not calling him as much, Viktor is giving him space, and Yuuri appreciates it. The time alone with his thoughts allows Yuuri to focus on training, though always at the end of the day, his mind returns to his dilemma: retire or continue?

Be with Viktor, or don't?

Yuuri still has no idea what to decide. He takes to rereading his worn journal full of his Viktor and his other future, seeking answers in memories that no one else carries. His dreams are quiet for once, neither his Viktor nor the Neva surfacing to haunt him, yet his sleep is troubled, anyway.

Still, he manages. Classes are familiar and, while not easy, a good distraction. His training progresses rapidly, and for the first time in a long time, Yuuri feels ready for his competitions.

After a couple of weeks, Yuuri's interactions with Viktor return to something like normal. They text, they call, they send each other pictures and videos, and they ease back into that comfortable friendship of before. Yet Yuuri looks at each exchange with new knowledge, seeking the signs of attraction, of the love he recognizes from his own Viktor. He finds little sign of it, which means Viktor has backed off and given Yuuri his space.

The hollow disappointment at that realization should fade with time.

Since Yuuri is the number one skater in his country, he doesn't need to participate in prefecturals, but he does need to go back home to announce his theme for the year, just before the Japan Open. He won't participate in the Open since that is reserved for the silver medalist from Nationals, but Yuuri intends to show his support.

First, though, a visit to his family.

"Hi, Vicchan," Yuuri exclaims happily, sweeping his dog into his arms and cuddling him close. His mother watches him with a smile, a hand to her cheek.

"It's too bad you're not staying longer. Vicchan is so happy to see you!"

Vicchan accompanies this announcement with a flurry of puppy kisses, and Yuuri laughs, standing up with Vicchan in his arms. "I wish I could stay," he says ruefully. Vicchan yips at him, and Yuuri's heart sinks, the haunting memory of Vicchan's death coming back to him. He told his mother to have the vet keep an eye on Vicchan's blood tests, but... if Yuuri doesn't do something to stop it, Vicchan will die sometime within the next month.

"Um, have you been taking Vicchan to the vet recently?"

"Every three months or so," his mother answers, blinking. "Why? Is something the matter, Yuuri?"

"I don't know," Yuuri says quietly. "He just seems a little different." Now that he is holding Vicchan, he notices it; Vicchan is lighter. He has calmed now, and he feels warmer than Yuuri is used to. He must be losing weight, which means that he might already have an infection. Yuuri's heart seizes with fear. "Has he been eating okay?"

"Well, now that you mention it, he didn't seem too interested in breakfast this morning," his mother says, frowning. "Mari fed him last night, so I'm not sure about that." She watches Yuuri for a long moment, then reaches out for Vicchan. Yuuri hands Vicchan to her, and Hiroko turns Vicchan onto his back, scratching his belly and peering down at him.

"We could take him to the vet. It's a quiet night, so would you like me to go with you?" Hiroko offers, and Yuuri nearly collapses with relief. They still have a chance.

Three days later, Yuuri is in Tokyo, his heart light with joy. As he sits down on stage, holding his theme card for the year, Yuuri's mind is not on what he will say, but on home and Vicchan. The vet caught the infection and prescribed antibiotics, and Vicchan is already responding well to them. His dog is going to be okay. Vicchan will live, and Yuuri has the memories of another life to thank for saving him. If he hadn't known to watch for the signs...

Morooka Hisashi calls Yuuri's name, smiling encouragingly at him as Yuuri walks up to the microphone. After a beat, Yuuri sets his theme card on the podium for the cameras to see, taking the microphone.

"My theme this year is gratitude," Yuuri says quietly, gazing out at the field of reporters. "Many people have supported me over the years. My family, my friends, my coaches, and my fans. For a long time, I couldn't see past my own limitations, but someone special gave me the courage to be myself. Now I can accept the support and love that my important people have given me, and this year I would like to dedicate my skating to them, and to you. Thank you for supporting me all these years." He lowers the microphone and bows, hearing the flashing of cameras, then straightens and hands the microphone back to Morooka, who is smiling brightly at him.

The last time Yuuri was on this stage, he professed his love for Viktor in front of Japan. This year, Yuuri doesn't need to go that far to prove himself, but he will never forget what his Viktor has done for him. Yuuri does mean what he said; he is grateful to everyone who has supported him.

In many ways, though, Yuuri's skates are also in remembrance, of his Viktor, who is forever lost to him, and the future he still holds dear. His old pain over Vicchan, his trauma from his death, his grief for losing Viktor... His two skates will tell the story Yuuri will never be able to say aloud. With that story, Yuuri hopes to gain the strength to do what he could never do before: to let his Viktor go.

He is ready for this season.

~*~

Yuuri is in St. Petersburg on the Tuchkov Bridge. His clothes are chilled, heavy with ice and snow, but Yuuri has been cold for a year now and doesn't let it stop his contemplation of the Neva. The people who walk by are oblivious to his presence, and Yuuri finds comfort in the solitude. He doesn't belong here; he is a ghost to all he passes. He left this world long ago. This he knows in his heart, and he is at peace with that knowledge.

Soon he looks away from the icy water, staring at the wall where he fell into the river's dark depths. The night is still, the stars shrouded with clouds that threaten snow. The railing has been repaired, and Yuuri can see that the steel walls have been reinforced. He relaxes a bit, gladdened that no one else will fall like he did.

"Yuuri," he hears, and Yuuri turns to see Viktor standing beside him, staring at him with wide eyes. Viktor is dressed in all black, a rarity; even his scarf is a dark grey, as if all the color has been muted out of him. Only his eyes hold any semblance of color, and even the vivid blue Yuuri remembers is dulled, lackluster.

"Viktor," Yuuri whispers, turning to him. "You can... see me?"

"Of course I can see you. How, I don't know, but..." Viktor reaches out to take Yuuri's hands, his gloves warm amidst the chilly air of Russia, and seconds later, Viktor yanks him forward into a tight hug, his entire body shaking with the need to hold him. "Yuuri, I miss you so much!"

"I miss you too," Yuuri says quietly, wrapping his arms around Viktor and closing his eyes against St. Petersburg, against the cold that never seems to leave his body. "I'm so sorry... I left you alone here."

Viktor just holds him tighter. Though the bridge is open to travelers, no one passes them, and Yuuri can melt a little into this world of just the two of them, where Viktor is here with him.

Soon Viktor draws away, pulling off his gloves and reaching up to cup Yuuri's face, tilting his head up. His gaze is warm, loving, and so very sad, but his smile is real. Yuuri can feel the metal of his gold ring against his cheek, and he leans into the touch, tears stinging his eyes. He would stay here forever if he could.

"Don't you worry, Yuuri," Viktor whispers. "I am well. Now... tell me about the past. Have you told me the truth yet?"

Yuuri shakes his head, guilt welling up, but Viktor only smiles at him, forgiving in an instant. "No... I can't. But you... he's still... there. I spend a lot of time talking to him. We even skated together."

"Good," whispers Viktor. He looks beyond Yuuri for a moment, his gaze darkening with a flicker of emotion, then focuses on Yuuri again, gently smiling. "Tell me about it."

So Yuuri tells him everything, the words spilling out at Viktor's bidding. He tells Viktor about the season he skated and how he got silver under the other Viktor's gold. He tells Viktor about a summer of texting and calls and flirting, and how much it hurts to talk to the other Viktor. He tells Viktor how happy it makes him, to see the other Viktor smiling and acting like Viktor as Yuuri knows him. He tells Viktor about Vicchan surviving, about the ice show he performed with Viktor and their friends, and about the heated moments between him and the other Viktor.

"I wish he was you," Yuuri whispers, staring down at the ring on Viktor's hand, his cold fingers tracing the warm metal. His own ring is cold on his finger. They are sitting together on the ground, and Yuuri thinks Viktor must be cold, but Viktor is smiling, soft wonder in his eyes. "I want him to be you so badly. I can't decide... I can't figure out if I should be with him, or if I should keep skating, or if I should give up and go home and take care of Vicchan. I don't know what to do with my life now."

"Yuuri," Viktor says softly, drawing Yuuri's attention back to his face. "How many times must I say it? I am him. I am him then, and he is me now. These new memories you have created are special to me, even if they belong to a different time. Please... do what you must to be happy. With me and with skating. Even if you change the past, it won't change how I feel about you, nor how you feel about me."

Yuuri is quiet for a long moment. He no longer feels the cold, only the warmth of Viktor's arms around him. "Sometimes... he says things that sound like you. Like moments you and I had together. It's unnerving, because it sounds like..."

"Like he's me?" Viktor finishes with a wry little smile. "That's because he is, Yuuri."

"Like he's lived your life, too," Yuuri corrects him quietly. Viktor's gaze softens a little, and he lifts Yuuri's hand up to kiss the cold ring on his finger.

"He is still me, Yuuri. Remember that. And... trust that in no matter what life we are together, I will take care of you."

Yuuri closes his eyes, his heart aching with longing. He leans into Viktor's warmth, a few tears trickling out of his eyes. The night will be over soon, and Yuuri will have to go back to a past empty of his Viktor. Even if Viktor says it is him... that Viktor doesn't know him as Viktor does. "I want to come home, Viktor," Yuuri whispers, tears trickling down his cheeks, over his lips. It hurts so much, being far away from Viktor, knowing that Viktor is alone without him. "Can't we just stay like this forever?"

"Oh, Yuuri..." Viktor wraps his arms tightly around Yuuri again, gathering him close. "If only I could join you --"

Yuuri jolts back, his eyes going wide. "No!" The noise echoes through the air like a gunshot, and Yuuri grabs Viktor's arms, shaking him. "No, you can't follow me! If, if you died, I couldn't, I could never --"

"Shh," Viktor soothes, taking Yuuri's hands in his own and drawing him close again, kissing his damp cheeks. "Shh, no, I promise I will not die." He kisses away Yuuri's tears until Yuuri is calm again, then cups his face in his hand, the blue of his eyes more vivid than before. Yuuri stares up at him, mute with sadness, but for the first time since Yuuri appeared in this world of cold and darkness, Viktor looks happy.

"Do what will make you happiest, my love," Viktor whispers, before leaning in to kiss Yuuri's lips, the touch slow and loving and so very precious. "I am at peace, knowing that you are safe with me in the past. As long as you are happy."

Yuuri lowers his gaze, thinking on Viktor's words for a few moments, and Viktor waits patiently. "Even... if I choose him?" Yuuri finally asks, his heart aching at the very idea. How could he betray Viktor like that?

"Especially if you choose him. Because he is me," Viktor promises, kissing Yuuri again, and this time Yuuri kisses back, wondering if he can accept the other Viktor into his heart. His Viktor. Could they be the same?

He can hear the rush of water in his ears, the cold seeping into his limbs, and he deepens the kiss, wanting to hold onto that sweet touch for as long as he can. Viktor mouths something against his lips, forming words that Yuuri cannot hear, and then everything fades away.

~*~

Yuuri wakes suddenly, blinking against wetness as he stares up at his dark ceiling, the windows just beginning to show pre-dawn light through the curtains. He sits up slowly, his body feeling heavy and sluggish, finally managing to turn on the bedside lamp. His room looks perfectly normal, the waters of the Neva gone, and Yuuri shivers, pulling his blankets tighter around him.

He had dreamed of Viktor... hadn't he? Yuuri remembers now. His Viktor, the man he fell in love with. The man he left alone in another time. Yuuri gasps a little, a sob escaping his throat, and he grips his blankets tightly as he struggles not to scream. He had been there with Viktor -- he could have stayed...

With shaking fingers, Yuuri picks up his phone. On his screen is a picture of Vicchan with an empty bottle of antibiotics, happy and alive. A message from Viktor waits for him.

From: Viktor Nikiforov
Sleep well ♡

The date is October 24, a full year after Yuuri came back to the past. Yuuri sighs, slumping back into his pillows. Usually his dreams center around the Neva or his memories of Viktor, but just like the dream he had before the GPF, this dream was... different. He had spoken to Viktor, laid down his troubles, and Viktor had been amazing, reassuring him and giving him the love Yuuri remembers.

Yuuri forces back another sob, realizing that he left Viktor again, that instead of comforting Viktor who has been alone in the future without him, Yuuri fell apart in such a selfish manner. How could he? He closes his eyes tightly and tries to reach for that sinking sensation again, the feeling of the Neva, but no matter how hard he focuses, his world does not change.

He cannot reach Viktor, now.

"Viktor," Yuuri moans pitifully, hiding his face in his pillow as his shoulders shake with sobs. He cries until his phone lights up in his hand, and Yuuri has to blink away his tears, his heart skipping a beat when he sees a new message from Viktor.

From: Viktor Nikiforov
My free skate is tonight. Will you watch me today, too?

Yuuri wipes at his eyes, his gaze softening a little. His Viktor is far away from him, and Yuuri will always hate himself for leaving him alone... but this Viktor is here, now, and if they truly are the same person...

To: Viktor Nikiforov
Yes, I will.

Seconds later, he gets another text, and the sight of it makes Yuuri laugh, hard enough that a few more tears slip out.

From: Viktor Nikiforov
Why are you awake?! Go to sleep, Yuuri!

To: Viktor Nikiforov
Why are YOU awake? It's even earlier there! You're an hour behind me.

From: Viktor Nikiforov
You avoided answering my question. Should I call you and sing you a lullaby? I will, Yuuri.

Yuuri chuckles. His heart is too weak right now to handle seeing Viktor, but he appreciates the kindness. He starts to type a response, and the phone screen switches to an incoming video call, which makes Yuuri startle. He tries to hang up, but the call connects instead, and Yuuri flushes when Viktor's face appears on the screen, surrounded by the background of his hotel room.

Viktor's eyes widen a little at seeing Yuuri's damp face, and Yuuri hastily wipes his cheeks, hating that Viktor has caught him in such a vulnerable moment. "Yuuri, are you crying? Are you okay?"

Some of the cold that has lingered in Yuuri's heart melts away at the sound of Viktor's voice, the exact same voice he heard in his dream, and Yuuri cannot help a smile, tremulous and fragile, but honest.

"Yes. I'm okay now, Viktor."