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An Introspection of Life and Love

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There are times when you just want to stop. There are times when you just want to give everything up and let everything go, when you feel like you can't keep going on and the world just seemed to be pulling you down into a perpetual chasm, and you just fall and fall and fall into a never ending emptiness. When the weight of the world is now a burden and you just think that you can't do this anymore.

'Maybe' She thought as she let out a deep breath of  conclusion, lips chapped. She has to stop chewing her lips. She notes, pacing some more. Maybe this was what she needed after all, what they needed. With one decisive sigh, she pressed enter.

One ring.

Two rings.

Three rings.

"Hello Alice?"

"H-hey Fumi. Is that offer about Japan still open?"

 


 

Alice really didn't expect to ride a bullet train to some sea side village when she accepted her editor's advice. But she needed space. She needed a place to think. And maybe Hasetsu was just the right place.

Someone was waiting for her by the train station. Fumi called her to pick up Alice. Which was great somehow because the jet lag was getting to her. Her flight was terrible and her back hurt. The food they served were tasteless and she hardly slept because of all the little children crying and throwing an occasional tantrum. Honestly it was tiring. It's been awhile since she actually traveled.

They rode to wherever they needed to go in silence. Wherever it was. And if Alice was to think back to this moment, she really should've asked where they were headed to. If ever she thought back to this moment, she really could've been in trouble. Well she was jet lagged, and she felt like shit. Her body felt so sore and she could fall asleep in the car without qualms. The man could've robbed her and murdered her somewhere anytime and she wouldn't even notice.

Instead, they stopped in front of what looked like an inn.

It was old and cozy, and maybe just a little run down. It matches well with the rest of the town. But Alice could hear music and laughter and maybe just a bit of singing. The place was bursting with life inside that it made the place inviting.

The driver dropped off her luggage before giving a polite bow before finally driving away.

Alice entered the inn, her luggage in tow. Opening the sliding door, she was greeted by a burst of warmth and lights. But what caught her attention wasn't the lights or the loud sound of laughter.

Instead, it was a man with grey hair.

He stood out like a sore thumb among the crowd, with his foreign face and blue eyes and yet it seemed like he fits in perfectly all the same, like he's always sat there by the bar, serving tea to guests. As if he's always worn that red and blue robes all his life. Like he belongs here among the hustle and bustle of the inn, chatting with the regulars and laughing along with them.

"Welcome!"

He greeted, gracing Alice with a wrinkled smile that, if Alice was being honest, was quite charming. The man was probably in his early to mid fifties. But he looks attractive despite the age.

His eyes were a captivating shade of blue that seemed to make her unable to look away. There was something in it that she couldn't place. And it draws you to it till it's all you could see. These were the type of eyes she writes in her novels, the eyes that she waxes poetic about. But no words seemed to do them any justice. Nothing could ever truly describe them.

Alice was so distracted that she didn't hear the little pitter patter of feet that came running towards her or the frantic warning the man sputtered out. The next thing she knew, she was lying on the floor with a big ball of white fur panting on her chest.

The man barked out something in Polish? German? Her sleep deprived mind cannot for the life of her distinguish it. Whatever the language was as he scrambled to take off the white ball of fluff that turned out to be a...poodle?

"I'm so sorry about our dog. She just loves meeting new people." The man said sheepishly while patting the poodle fondly.

"It's alright." Alice wheezed out, getting up from the floor. "I have a cat back in America. She's not as clingy but I miss having a pet all the same." She chuckled.

"Ah you must be Alice!" His face broke out into a heart shaped grin that should've been absurd but he carried it charmingly. "Fumi told us all about you! She said you're staying for a month!"

He also spoke in fluent English. Alice noted. That was a relief, because she really didn't want to spend her entire time here trying to communicate in messed up sign language and botched Japanese.

He took her luggage and grasped her hand.

"Let me take you to your room!"

Alice followed the man awkwardly as he babbled about almost anything. She really tried to process whatever he was saying, but it in the end the words slipped from her grasp as she went on a daze, herself.

"Oh I'm being rude!" He stopped in the middle of his ramblings, which also broke Alice's daze.

"I'm Victor by the way!" He only seemed to remember to introduce himself. "Ah I'm sorry. I tend to be forgetful. Yura kept calling me on it." He chuckled softly, eyes reminiscent and somewhat far away as if he's remembered something else. As if he exists in another place.

Alice didn't ask who this 'Yura' was. But there was something with this man. Something intriguing.

"I'm sorry the whole inn is in a mess by the way. We're kind of renovating and cleaning."

Alice simply nodded  noncommittally. She was too jet lagged to give a proper response.

They arrived Alice's room. It was a traditional room, with all the sliding door and the futon. It looked exactly like the ones you see in the movies.

She didn't dwell much on it though. She was too lethargic for this. Too tired, to actually think of anything right now. So she was immediately thankful for the place to rest.

"Tell us if you need anything alright?" The man--Victor said before leaving. Alice grunted before taking off her glasses and sank into the futon, immediately falling asleep.

 


 

When Alice woke up, it was already morning. The grey lights of dawn flitted through the window, but the chill of last night still breezed through. It was too early for anyone else to be awake; however, the sudden change in time zones was messing with Alice's sleep schedule.

She tossed and turned in the sheets in futile attempt to go back to slumber, but sleep decided to elude her.

In the end, she decided to go down to find herself breakfast.

The hallways were quiet, the only sounds were the creaking of the old floorboards. It would make sense why they were renovating. The doors were made of paper, and the paint was fading. But the place felt traditional and homey. It was a good change of pace from the concrete jungle she was used to.

After few minutes of exploring, she found the main dining area. There weren't people around yet, except an old woman wiping the tables gingerly. She had her hair in a pony tail, the tips seemed to have been dyed some time ago. Her strange array of ear piercings glimmered under the rising sun, yet she wore the same old red and blue robes Victor wore yesterday.

It might have looked peculiar as well as it was a bit funny to find an aged lady with such delinquent taste in fashion.

"Mhm...Is there something I can help you with?" Her words were curt, said in accented English, yet it didn't lack any warmth behind them.

"Ahh...yes. Can I somehow get breakfast?" The woman nodded and gestured for Alice to take a seat before finally going to the kitchen. She came back promptly to give her tea before disappearing again to cook.

Now that Alice was a bit awake, she could take in the surroundings better. The place felt traditional, and yet it also seemed to have blended well with modern architecture. There were mats on the floor, made to make lying on the floor comfortable, The furniture looked very Japanese too. It was relaxing somehow. The new environment was slowly growing in on her.

The sliding door from the main entrance opened and the sounds of barking filled in the room, accompanied by someone shushing them fondly and talking to them in what Alice can finally determine as Russian.

"Oh! You're awake!"

Victor came in the room, snow still sticking in his hair and jacket. His grin seemed brighter than it was last night and Alice wondered if there ever was a time the man wasn't beaming.

"Do you mind if I sit across you?" He asked, his face was flushed from the cold and maybe just a bit breathless.

"Sure." She said softly, not wanting to break the peacefulness of the day.

He sat down with practiced ease. His movements all seemed graceful and fluid for an old man. The poodle draped itself on Victor's lap, which he happily scratched his ears.

"It's a bit early to be awake though." He said offhandedly.

"I guess I could say the same to you." She replied. Victor laughed quietly, his blue eyes twinkling with mirth.

"I've been waking up this early ever since I was seven. It's a hard habit to break." And he looked distant once more. Perhaps being old does that to you. "But I suppose it's the jet lag that does it for you. I can't say I'm the same since I traveled a lot when I was younger."

"You did?"

"Mhm! Russia, France, America. You name it. It was fun when you're younger but it gets tiring now that I'm old." He chuckled. "Ah! But my Yuuri is still able to do it though. After all, Yuuri's younger than me." This time he looked a bit sad, his fingers fiddling with the golden ring on his right hand absentmindedly. Almost as if it was done in pure habit.

Once again, she didn't know who this "Yuuri" was nor did she ask. But the person must mean so much to Victor. He whispered the name fondly, like a secret kept between two lovers.

"And you? Where are you from?"

"I'm from New York. I used to live in London when I was ten, but my father had to move to the States for his job." Alice said with practiced ease, exactly the way when people commented on her strange accent. A mix of British and American influence--and gosh were the first years in the States jagging. The grammar and pronunciation were atrocious. They were butchering a perfectly fine language.

But somehow, she got used to it. Hence, the strange accent.

Victor looked entranced though, his fingers tapped his lips in contemplation. "It must be hard moving across the world, and you were so young too!"

Funny how he said that when he's the one so clearly out of place.

"Oh, it was....hard at first but I've met people who made it easier." Yes, she had different friends. New York was a melting pot of cultures. There were a lot of different nationalities there, she just couldn't get influenced by one country.

"I've lived in Saint Petersburg since I was young. I've never thought I'd leave that place." He said wistfully. "Ah, yes but here I am now! Miles away from my country."

"Why though?"

"I...I guess you could say that I was an absolute fool for love." He beamed proudly. "People often tell me that I'm very extra!" Alice womdered how one could possibly say that with pride. It was a mystery.

"I've lived in America for sometime too! Though that was in California. But New York was interesting too. Interesting people too!" He continued.

"You probably won't find it as interesting when you've lived there for more than half your life." Alice chuckled. Victor reminded her of a young puppy.

"Mhmm...but! America holds a special place for me." A pause. His smile was tender. What a cryptic statement. Alice didn't know what to make of it.

"Well, time to get a move on! These chores won't do them by themselves you know?"  Victor eventually said. "Ah, the joys of being old."

He stood up and left the room, but not before giving Alice another of his soft smiles.

Alice didn't know what to make of the whirlwind of a person, Victor was.

 


 

Hasetsu was a quaint little town. It was hushed yet not in a deafening way. There were few people, although it wasn't a ghost town either. It was calming, serene. But there was a tinge of loneliness in the place. She really couldn't explain it, there was something ethereal in the quaint coastal town, something intangible, something too big for Alice to know.

After breakfast, she decided to look around town. It was a small town. Still, she yearned the change of pace. Nobody will bother her here.

The rolling of the waves was refreshing and everything seemed quiet. It was really peaceful. Just what Alice needed.

The people were friendly too. They often greeted her when she walked along the streets. It was a good place to write, to find inspiration. Hasetsu was a good place to think, like a sanctuary from all the world's problems, it seemed too good to be true. The perfect place to escape. It was great that her editor suggested a vacation here. The plane ticket was already paid for too. All accommodations and travel details provided.

Ah, yeah I was supposed to go to vacation this week. I've already booked a flight but I had to do some extra work before I can leave. It'll be a waste to just cancel it so? Are you interested?

Was what she said. At first Alice was reluctant. But with the recent events, she decided this was for the best. For her. For him. For all of them.

Alice gave out a shaky breath, inhaling the rush of the salty sea. She found solace in wandering around. Walking calms her down. Being all alone with time to sort out her thoughts, can be great, but sometimes it can also be suffocating. The darkness in her mind can swallow her whole, lurking in the corners of her mind, waiting for the right moment to strike.

She tried to shrug the thoughts off, she was here to unwind, to relax, to forget the problems around her. She stopped on her tracks, blinking away the moisture in her eyes. Alice looked around her surroundings. Her wanderings brought her to a bridge, up ahead is a Japanese castle up on a hill.

That's when something came across her mind and she realized something quite important.

She was utterly lost.

Not figuratively.

Like, literally lost. In a she doesn't know where she is, kind of lost.

Panic clawed its way all over his lungs, choking her relentlessly as she tried to breathe. She didn't speak a word of Japanese and she was lost in the middle of nowhere. With barely enough money on her.

Breathe.

In.

Out.

"Hey. Are you okay? Are you lost?"

A soft voice took her out of her panic. It took her awhile to realize that it was female and in English. She turned around to see an old woman with a gentle smile on her face, a pair of rosy eyes stared back at her green eyes.

"Ah-yes! I need to get to Yu-topia Akatsuki? It's an inn?" She wasn't exactly sure if the old lady knew where the inn was, but this was such a small town so it must be impossible to not know right?

"Oh! I was headed there dear. Would you like to walk with me?" She gave her another gentle smile. Alice concluded that everyone here somehow had the sweetest smiles.

She gave a visible sigh of relief before nodding and getting in step with the woman.

"I'm Yuuko Nishigori by the way." She held out her hand, giving a firm shake. She was wearing a pale blue kimono with a red belt tied firmly around her slim waist. Her graying hair was tied into a neat bun with a red ribbon. She had wrinkles in her face, but she looked so sweet and delicate.

"Alice Jones." Giving a firm shake herself. "I can't help but ask, but how are people here so good in speaking English?" Because it was quite ridiculous that almost everybody here knew how to speak English, not that she was complaining. But she expected to struggle in communication. The ride from Tokyo to Kyushu was difficult because of the language barrier, but somehow almost everyone here knew. In a way, it was amazing.

Yuuko laughed. "I'm sure by now you've met Victor?" She said fondly. Did she mean Victor from the inn?

"He's not hard to spot you know. Silver hair? Blue eyes?"

Alice nodded. That was definitely Victor back at the inn.

"Well, it's a really long story. But long story short, he crashed here some time long ago. He greeted everybody along the way even if he didn't understand a word they were saying." Her eyes were reminiscent. "Naturally, people would wonder what a handsome foreigner is doing here out of all places. Soon enough, people started to converse with him. Going as far as learning English for him, and Victor learned Japanese in turn. Now he's fluent in Japanese too!"

The path was getting more familiar, they were approaching the inn.

"Why did Victor come here? I-I mean, he doesn't look Japanese at all but he seemed to have blended in perfectly."

"You're right. Victor is Russian." She chuckled lightly. "As for why he came here..." She trailed away, pressing a hand on her cheek. "I think it's better if you ask him! He loves telling anyone about it when he has the time! Believe me he wouldn't shut up about it in the first years he was in Hasetsu. Oh! We're here!"

True to her words, they were facing the doors of Yu-topia Akatsuki. She opened the sliding doors and a gust of warmth enveloped them. Yuuko entered the inn, she was greeted by a lot of guests. She must frequent here.

"Yu-chan! The usual?" The lady with piercings greeted her with cheer, though somehow still maintaining a cool demeanor.

"Mari-ne! How's Lutz doing? Not causing you trouble I hope?" Yuuko sat by one of the tables. A girl in early twenties walked out of the kitchen, hodling a tray with a cup of what looks like green tea.

"Mama! Of course I'm helping out! Believe in your daughter a bit will you?" She was wearing plain red robes, her hair tied in a ponytail. She pouted before setting the green tea on the table.

"She's doing fine, even better than a certain Russian I happen to know's first try." Mari grinned wickedly and Yuuko giggked loudly, enough to get an undignified 'hey!' from the kitchen. Mari cackled before leaving to the kitchen.

"Oh! Alice, come sit with me!" She waved at her. Alice snapped out of her daze and awkwardly shuffled to the table, sitting across her. "Lutz, will you be kind to get miss Alice something to drink? Do you like tea?" She turned to her in question.

"Ah yes, earl grey if you have it."

"Alright, coming right up." She disappeared into the kitchen once more.

"Lutz is a strange name to call your daughter." Alice commented. Yuuko lit up at the topic of her child, it's strange how parents seem to do that. It often left Alice wondering.

"It's actually from a skating move. Lutz, Loop, and Axel." Yuuko took a sip from her tea. "I have triplets, and my husband and I were skating enthusiast....well I'm a skating enthusiast and my husband's family owned a rink so..." She said affectionately. "One would think it was me who named them that way but surprisingly it was my husband!"

Lutz arrived and set Alice's earl grey on the table before heading out to do the other chores.

"So...where are the other two?"

"Axel is at the rink with his father while Loop is teaching ballet at our family friend's studio. Lutz decided to work here in the inn, we're good friends with Victor after all and he needs more help in the inn since it's not yet the off season."

Alice sipped her tea, contemplating if she should ask more questions. "Is it....difficult to be a parent?"

Yuuko set down her cup, eyes reverent with thought. "Well.."  She begun. "I can say it for anyone else, but I'll tell you it really really is."

Alice furrowed her brows.

"It's not easy. Financially, and everything in between. You loose time for yourself and you often--if not always--have to be mature. You need to remember that you're still bringing the lives of your shoulder, that their dependent on you. You need to remember that you can't give up for the sake of your children."

She paused, brows furrowed and lips pressed tightly together. "It's not easy....but not impossible either. And you know? Seeing them now. It makes me burst with pride and somehow, it made me think everything I did from then was worth it." She smiled at her, her eyes seemed to contain a level of understanding Alice felt she'll never reach. "I don't think you'll understand now, but I think someday you will."

And somehow, Alice did hope she will.

 


 

Alice decided that the hot springs here in the inn had hidden magical properties because she felt instantly relaxed as she sank into the waters, her tense muscles loosened and she felt almost boneless.

She just disliked sharing a bath with strangers. So Alice often bathe at night when there are less people.

Somehow, there are even less people than usual that time. The privacy was appreciated, even if the suddenness was strange.

She really didn't want to leave, but her body was already too hot and it was getting late in the evening so regretfully she had to go. She changed into robes and wiped her glasses, the steam made it foggy.

Alice made her way to the dining room. It was almost supper anyway.

Victor was there, watching the television intently. A couple of people were gathered there too, eyes focused on the screen. It was a peculiar sight to see an entire inn so consumed on whatever was being played on tv.

Victor spotted Alice and waved at her to sit with him. Alice followed and plopped beside him.

"You're just in time! Come watch with us." He exclaimed enthusiastically, like an excitable kid on Christmas. It was adorable. Their poodle was draped all over his lap, staring lazily at the screen

The television showed an ice skating competition. Alice wasn't exactly fond of sports, her husband back in America was though. But he really wasn't into winter sports. That was his stepbrother's thing. He often joked that it was because he lived in Canada most of his life.

"Does this....regularly happen?" Alice wondered because she could see almost everyone in the room thruming with anticipation, the air was a mix of excitement, nerves, and pent up energy.

"I think there's nobody here in Hasetsu who isn't a skating fan, or forcibly turned into a fan." Mari grinned next to Victor. "Not especially with how much Victor is gushing about it."

Victor pouted, but before he could reply Mari beat him to it. "The six minute warm up is over. Misha's going last after the short program right?"  She looked really serious whilst staring at the screen.

"Mhmm...he's leading JJ's new prodigy by ten points. It should be fine. Besides he's planned to add another jump in his program." Lutz answered. "Axel told me she saw them practicing it."

"But Hinata-kun's also starting to learn the quad flip, or so I heard. Minami-kun posted it in instagram." Another one that looked a lot like Lutz replied. Loop? she pressumed. The only difference was the style of their hair.

"Shh! It's starting." Lutz exclaimed.

Alice had no idea what they were saying or whatever was going on. A man with brown hair skated to the center of the rink, he had slicked back hair and a slight stubble, it may not be clear from the distance, but he seemed to have hazel eyes.

"Stephane really looks like Chris at some point...well with brown hair though." Victor muttered softly, a finger pressed on his lips in contemplation.

The man on the screen took his position, a cheerful voice started to commentate in the background. It was a very bubbly voice.

"Well of course they'll get Phichit to commentate Worlds." Loop giggled.

The door opened and a frantic looking Axel? Alice supposed, came rushing inside. "I'm not too late am I?!"  She flopped ungracefully in between Loop and Lutz, which they shoved playfully off of them.

"No, Stephane just started." Lutz explained, Axel visibly relaxed. Moments later, Yuuko and another man entered the room.

"Sorry we're late. Takeshi took the time in closing the rink." Yuuko chuckled and sat comfortably on the tatami mat. Alice supposed it was her husband that sat beside her.

Skaters came and go, some fell from their jumps, others wobbled on their landings, and while Alice had no idea what the others were saying--either because they were exclaimed in Japanese or in some sort of secret skating language--she was enamored with their graceful movements. It was entertaining to hear the guests murmur their personal comments about the sport, as if this was a regular thing. Perhaps it really was. It was great to see a lot of people so invested in one common interest.

Everybody was loud and playful on the other skater's routines, until there was only one left.

The room was filled with silence as the camera panned to a black haired man by the barrier, bowed down that his face was hidden from view. He was talking with his coach, a man with pretty blond hair tied up into a ponytail and another man with similar black hair, smiling proudly. He took off his jacket and handed it to his coach to reveal a sparkly blue waist coat, adorned with swirls of silver and gold.

Alice could hear Victor suck in a breath, before whispering a soft exclamation under his breath. "Beautiful." His hand petting the poodle trembled.

The man trembled as he reached for a hug to the black haired coach. They seemed to be crying. The blond man tried to look annoyed, but in the end he was pulled into a hug by the two.

Alice heard Victor huff out a quiet laugh.

He must be the town favorite.

"On the ice, representing Japan is Mikhail Katsuki-Nikiforov, skating to 'Yuuri on ice' as a farewell to his coach Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov, who just announced that this was going to be his last season coaching, before finally retiring to join his husband in his hometown." The bubbly speaker said once, the skater went around the rink for a quick warm up.

"I wonder if his father is watching right now." Another voice replied to the commentator, this time it was deep and serious.

"Well, knowing him he would watch his son skate even if it meant staying up late and forgoing his beauty regimen." The voice cackled, so did everyone in the room. As if agreement. Do they know them in a personal level?

"Yuri Plisetsky is going to take over Katsuki's place as head coach, although their only skater has only been Mikhail ever since. I wonder if they're open to coaching other skaters after Katsuki's retirement."

"Plisetsky seemed very affronted at first at Katsuki's announcement of retiring once more. But soon calmed down about it later."

"True. We can dwell into that later, but for now, here's Mikahil Katsuki-Nikiforov, taking position on the ice."

The man skidded to a halt in the middle of the ice. He bowed down. A pause. Everyone was silent and Alice realized she was holding her own breath too. Alice noticed Victor twisting his ring in a nervous habit, bringing it up to press it against his lips.

The soft melody of a piano echoed, it was melancholy, but hopeful. The skater started to move, bringing his hands up to his chest and extending it toward the crowd. As if offering himself to the world.

A jump.

Quadruple toe loop. Double toe loop

He looked reverent, solemn.

Another jump.

Quadruple salchow.

Triple flip.

Alice couldn't see the difference between the jumps, but it was eliciting gasps and intakes of breathes from her.

The song faded and became softer, it sounded sad and lonely and so many things at once. The skater extended his arms like a bird, before covering his face. Another jump. Alice cannot look away.

Quad Loop.

And there were more jumps.

The music reached to its climax, he threw himself into spins, his feet so dizzily fast it almost seemed unreal. He was beautiful.

He readied for a jump. He lifted off the air.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

And a half.

"That was-..." Victor gasped from the side.

"A quad axel! The signature move of Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov! Amazing!"

The commentator rattled on, the audience went wild. The people in the inn were wild. But Alice didn't register it, she didn't really understand, but she felt like something important was going on. The skater finished with a spin. He struck his final pose.

The camera panned to a crying Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov, holding out his hands for a a hug. The skater ran to the barrier. Plisetsky looked like he wanted to cry too. He was beaming with pride.

They waited for the scores. Both coaches were beside the sweaty, nervous skater.

The crowd went wild once again.

He broke the long time world record set by none other than his very own coach, Yuri Plisetsky.

Alice didn't know exactly what to feel, but she can't help but feel pride for the skater. She turned to look at Victor. He was crying softly with joy, a hand pressed on his mouth, his eyes reflected nothing but pride.

It was strange. Alice decided everything there was strange. She felt like she was intruding a private moment. But she also felt honored to see something so intimate. Like a father proud of his own son.

Alice gazed once more to the smiling man on the screen and wondered if this was what being proud parent felt like.

 


 

It's been roughly a week and a half since Alice arrived at Hasetsu. It had been relaxing, and somehow she was able to write something in her novel that she didn't want to immediately burn. That should count as progress right? All she really needed was a laptop and Wifi. Work will go on. So far her editor's feedback was great. She blames it to the change of scenery.

There hasn't really been changes since she joined everyone in the inn with their public viewing except perhaps she could hear Victor humming cheerfully. He did everything with extra vigor--well somehow more bubbly than he already was.

The people often laughed at him and indulged him when he asked them--more often than not--to dance with him, chuckling fondly like this was a common occurrence at this time of the year.

She asked Yuuko about it when she was around the inn. Because she swore that was a bowl of steaming hot soup spilled accidentally at him and somehow, his spirit was left unfazed. He was still singing the same Italian aria whilst taking care of his burnt hand. Yuuko laughed before whisked into an impromptu ballroom dance by Victor after he treated his burn.

"You have to understand him. He misses his husband and son very very much." Yuuko caught her breath, watching the dancing silverette with amusement.

"Oh...he has...a husband?" That was surprise. Alice never had a thought of Victor being gay. "But...the wedding ring is on the wrong hand?" He wore his wedding ring on the right hand. It made it look like a fashion statement rather than a wedding band.

"Russians wear their rings on the right hand. I don't really get it, but yes, he's married and he loves his husband and son very very much." Yuuko muttered. "They're coming home soon. So of course he's very excited." She beamed. "I can't even imagine being so far apart from Takeshi for that long. And we aren't as clingy as Victor. He didn't exactly handle the first few times of separation, you know. Actually, both of them are hopeless. He was crying the whole time, the inn looked so glum you'd think someone died."

That would explain why Victor was so ecstatic. Somehow, he was already infecting everybody in the inn.

"I don't know. I'm married but...let's just say we aren't exactly on good terms right now." Alice couldn't really relate. Sure she's in love--or she thought she was in love once. But now, she's starting to doubt all of it. All they ever do now is fight, and argue, and soon it became too much for her to handle, she had to run away. He called her a coward. That it was all she ever knew. She didn't deny it. It was true but they both need to clear their heads. So she left. Packed her bags and here she was.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Was Yuuko's answer.

"Don't be." Because she couldn't bear the idea of other people feeling sorry for her.

Her gaze wandered back to the beaming Russian and wondered what kind of a husband does he have to be this happy with the thought of him arriving?

 


 

 

In the two weeks she's stayed in Hasetsu, she was able to form a routine.

She would wake up before the guests, though not as early as before Victor goes on a run with their poodle. It's always only ever when he gets back, or he's in the middle if the run. He's also discovered that somehow the fifty something man was toned with muscles yet still slender, when he came back from a run with a sweaty shirt that clung on his body nicely. While most of the time was spent gawking at his muscles, Alice can't help but feel in awe as to how the man, even in his age, was still able to stay fit.

He laughed it off saying it's really hard to break a routine you've been following since seven years of age. Also that he was blessed with really fast metabolism, much to his husband's jealousy.

Sometimes, she would chat with Mari a bit. She's fun to talk to at times. The inn was filled with old people, but despite Mari being the oldest among them, she was really into things teens are into today.

After breakfast, she usually walks aimlessly around town. The familiar scent of the ocean calms her down, and Alice finds herself often by the beach. The cry of the seagulls are part of her day now too. She finds herself often staring off to space, thinking about everything and nothing at all.

Lunch usually brings her to strange restaurants all over Hasetsu, she would try every strange cuisine presented to her. It was enjoyable.

The afternoon was usually spent writing alone in her room. Sometimes, she would stay by the inn's dining room, just to feel in the life and chatter around her.

Evenings were spent by the hot springs, relaxing every tense muscles in her body before finally going to bed to sleep.

Rinse and repeat.

Until she woke up without any sign of Victor. The poodle was sitting by the table, looking at her expectantly.

"Umm...where's Victor?"

"He went off to get my brother and their kid from the airport." Mari came and set her usual breakfast down.

"Your brother?" She started to eat her breakfast. Egg, bacon and toast.

"His husband."

"Oh."

Silence. The only sound between them was the panting of their poodle.

"What's he like? You know...his husband?" Alice decided.

Mari furrowed her brows in concentration. She sat across her in contempt. She stayed that way for a bit while, searching for something to describe his brother.

"Stubborn." She finally decided. "But also very very determined." She added, a smile on her lips as she recalled what was probably worth a lifetime of memories. "He hates to lose, but he also used to be so scared all the time. And now, they have their own children. He's married to the man he loves, and he's been happy ever since, stronger than I've ever seen him before."

Silence.

"Do you...have any children?" Alice asked further, wanting to know. Mari furrowed her brows, her face seemed far more wrinkled than it already was.

"No."

"Why?"

Mari looked contemplative. She seemed to ponder at the reason. She calculates her thoughts calmly, searching for the proper answer before speaking.

"It never came to me I suppose. I don't think it fits me." She replied. "I guess I'm already contented with this current family. I've been supporting my brother since he was young. I've been helping my parents since before so that my brother can pursue his dreams. Seeing his achievements, I'm as proud as any parent can be. So I suppose, I don't really need a family of my own." She sighed.

"But it does sound nice sometimes." She added. "Thinking about it. You know?"

Alice nodded because she does.

"Somehow, I do wonder about. What my life would've been if I had kids?"

"....yeah, I wonder."

Mari smiled and stood up. Probably to continue her chores. But before that, she looked back and said.

"Rest now when you can. It's going to be a long day." With that she left Alice to her own devices. That didn't really make any sense though. It's like she knew something she didn't, judging by the mischievous glint in her eyes.

Of course. Hours later, she was proven right.

 


 

 

Nothing could ever prepare Alice for the commotion that was Victor's husband's arrival would bring.

Or rather the commotion of Victor being all extra over his husband's arrival.

There were a few things Alice learned that day.

One, they had a skating rink in Hasetsu.

Two, Victor's husband's homecoming is like some sort of a village festival or something.

And three, Victor is fucking extra.

"Oh you know, he does this all the time." Yuuko replied, whilst holding up a basket full of blue roses all things, some of the petals were scattered all over the place. It was almost painful thinking about all the effort used in dyeing all of them.

"Ever since he retired for the third time, he's been surprising my brother every time he gets home. Every time, it's always different." Mari snickers as she held up some fairy lights all over the barriers. "It's a wonder how Victor manages to surprise him all the time."

Alice thought of how dedicated Victor is with his husband. It must be nice. Also she was bothered by the idea of him retiring for the third time, but she'll dwell on that later.

"A lot of pinterest bookmarks. Trust me." Takeshi snorted as he did the decorations by the ceiling. "It's kind of a routine really, once Victor managed to get all the people of Hasetsu to take part in his surprises.Yuuri just indulges him and let him be."

"Not all the time though." Yuuko said. "Remember the time with the stripper pole?" She giggled at the thought. "He was so pissed."

"What?!" Alice spluttered, blushing furiously. Did she actually hear that right?!

Yuuko giggled some more, Mari grinned deviously, and Takeshi just sighed.

"Victor once thought he made the most 'brilliant' plan on how to welcome his husband. It involved with him, on a stripper pole, wearing nothing but lingerie on." Takeshi supplied. Alice felt all his blood drain and rush to his face at the same time. The mental image was weird. It was too late, she can't unsee it now.

"He flew all the way to Switzerland to learn it." Yuuko added.

"Why Switzerland?"

"Because that's where his friend who pole danced was staying." The scandalized face of Alice was a sight to look at.

"Yuuri was quite anxious because Victor didn't pick him up from the airport for the first time ever." Mari quipped back. "He thought he was sick, or injured. Or something bad happened. Worse was that he thought Victor already left him." Mari sighed. "The kid really, he assumes the worst all the time."

"So when he arrived, seeing his husband clad in skin tight clothing, latched unto a pole, combined with his earlier stress and fatigue from his flight...Well, he fainted on the spot." Takeshi cackled.

"Victor's face was priceless. It was a good thing, Minako-san's studio had a cctv camera in it!" Yuuko giggled. That would have been a video to see. "I swear Victor pouted the whole time."

"He was able to have a private show later though, and maybe more than that afterwards because I tell you that these people are so loud next to my room." Mari deadpanned, a serious look shone in her eyes.

Everybody in the room laughed. Even Alice gave a soft chuckle. Soon, the last batch of fairy lights were hanged, the rose petals scattered perfectly, there were even lanterns all around for more ambience. Alice figured it was romantic, a little extra and cheesy, but romantic all the same.

They turned on the lanterns and fairy lights, switched off the whole rink and--

It was breathtaking.

Like little fireflies all around the rink. Like millions of stars shining bright, and her heart fluttered at the sight. It made her chest warm and clench. She was feeling emotional over fairy lights that looked like bright stars and her chest felt like it was filled with a burning heart.

"Alright, great job guys! And we've got three hours to spare!" Yuuko clapped her hands together. "Time to clean up!"

Alice snapped out of her reverie, deciding to help in keeping the excess decorations and trash. It was a long and tedious work, but she found surprisingly that she didn't mind.

They were putting away the boxes already when she saw it. There was a cabinet at the corner by the counter. For some reason, it piqued her interest.

"Alice? Let's go?" Yuuko called.

"R-right."

Alice gave the cabinet one last look, before following the group out of the doors.

 


 

 

Alice was surprised to see the man next to Victor.

He was the man from the public viewing. The man on the skating competition, the black haired man. The coach, of the last skater, the one who was supposed to retire.

Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov.

"Oh? Didn't we tell you?" Yuuko laughed when Alice voiced it out. "Victor's surname is Nikiforov--well was. He insists to be called Katsuki-Nikiforov."

Right.

Well, now everything made sense. Like why they had to decorate a skating rink of all things. And why there was a public viewing on every skating competition.

A blond man around fourties and another younger man around twenties was standing right behind them. She knew them too.

Yuri Plisetsky and Mikhail Katsuki-Nikiforov.

"Mikhail is Victor's and Yuuri's son. Yurio is a family friend...well more like he's family already."  Yuuko supplied.

"Yurio?"

"Well, two Yuri's are going to confuse us, so Mari decided to call Yuri Plisetsky, Yurio."

Alice thought it was absurd. She stared at the foursome, standing out of the crowd like a sore thumb. But it also look so natural, like they're always meant to be here. Like they've belong here.

Alice also thought that it was odd to see Victor like this. He looked...different. Like seeing him in a new perspective, like it was meeting him all over again.

His smile was brighter, his laugh felt free. Even his eyes sparkled brighter, making his blue eyes even more captivating.

Alice didn't know what to make of it, but the man looked genuinely happier with his husband.

They were eating dinner.

Victor was staring at Yuuri with such adoration. His head rested on Yuuri's shoulder, his arms wrapped around the Japanese's waist. Yuuri's back, in turn was pressed against Victor's chest, smiling contently as they conversed in a smatter of Russian and Japanese. Yuuri would constantly feed Victor with his own chopsticks, pressing small pieces of pork and rice on Victor's lips. Victor would happily take the piece of pork, chewing slowly. He would press a kiss on Yuuri's cheek and Yuuri would smile at the gesture.

Alice would usually the amount of PDA is....disturbing. She remembered when her own husband tried to initiate physical contact before they became lovers, she immediately blanched. But the love between them seemed so real, so tangible, almost like she could reach it.

"They're very gross aren't they?"

A new voice joined her on her table.

It was Yuri Plisetsky. He had a scowl on his face, his blond hair tied into a bun. But his eyes said a different story, his green eyes were fond.

"Are they always like that?" Alice asked against the better of her.

Yuri scoffed. He rolled his eyes. "No. They used to be so much worse." He took a sip of his sake, eyes never leaving the two. His English was near flawless. You'd expect a stereotypical Russian accent, but somehow, all of them were near perfect in their English. It baffles her and amazes her at the same time. 

"If you've lived with them for years, you think you'll get used to it, but no! You'll never get used to them!" He turned to look at Alice this time. "You cannot count the number of times I walked in on them. It was traumatizing."

Alice blushed at the statement. She averted her eyes and took a long gulp of her tea. Yes she definitely will be missing authentic Japanese green tea when she leaves.

"Who the hell are you anyway?" Yuri asked, not so friendly, bit not exactly rude as he poured himself another drink. Alice was slightly taken a back at the sudden question thrown at her.

"I'm Alice Jones."

She managed to answer whilst staring at the deep greens of his eyes. Their eyes were about the same color, only hers were a lighter shade, while his had a darker, more intense color. His hair was paler than Alice's though. And she wore glasses with silver wire frames. But other than that, they look almost alike, perhaps he would pass better as a woman.

"What do you think of them then?" She felt brave enough to ask. Yuri scowled and put down his glass.

"I think they're very fucking gross and stupid." He said tersely, a faint blush dusted his cheeks. Probably from the alcohol.

"So why still stay with them?"

Yuri looked affronted, his green eyes narrowed into slits, brows furrowed together.

"Because, I'd be a fucking piece of shit if I leave them." He growled over his bottle of sake, looking Alice dead in the eye. Alice swallowed hard, it would be horrible if she found a fight with him. Although, she couldn't figure out why he was pissed.

"The Old Man and Katsudon had been my family ever since."  Old Man? Katsudon?

He took a shot of sake. "I never met my father. My mother abandoned me when I was five. I lived with my grandpa ever since. He was my only family back then."

Yuri's eyes were moist but Alice didn't comment on it.

"It felt so fucking lonely you know? To have to grow older, be more mature faster than the other kids. To have to learn how to pay the bills all by yourself?" He spat out with mellow resentment, it looked painful for him to discuss, but Alice supposed the alcohol was loosening his tongue, and his words came in like waves upon waves. "It wasn't easy, but I barely managed. And figure skating is such an expensive sport. I transferred to Saint Petersburg to be better than best. I had to leave my grandpa alone in Moscow. But it was fine so long as I was going to be the best."

"I missed my grandpa. All the time. I had a coach and his ex-wife that was a close second, but it wasn't enough." He stared at his empty cup. But he continued. "Then I met him. The Old Man." He spat out with spite, bit underneath that was a hint of fondness.

Old Man seemed to be Victor. He sounded like Victor.

"He was annoying. Always bickering shit. Taunting me, criticizing me, telling me off. He was driving me nuts! And he always always forget promises!!!" Yuri swore under his breath. Alice chuckled at the fuming face of the man. It was precious.

"Sounds like a dad to me."

Yuri's glare soften. A resigned look crossed his face before mumbling just loud enough for Alice to hear.

"...he was."

Alice paused. Yuri looked so vulnerable, though he was older than him, he was like a younger brother you want to protect.

"He was...like a dad. It irritated me because I never knew how it felt like to have one." He sighed. Reaching for the bottle of sake only to find out it was already empty. He rubbed his temples instead.

Alice thought back to her dad who often scolded her, nitpicked her like a mother. She grew up without one. She met her mother once. It had been a nasty affair.

She realized the things her father done because he cared for her. She felt immediately guilty.

"And then he met Katsudon. He left me just like that for him.  It hurt. It felt like I was abandoned again. He promised to choreograph my senior debut. But he forgot all about it because some fucking Japanese skater posted a video of him skating the Old Man's routine, beckoning him to get laid!" Alice was confused, but she listened anyway.

"I had to bring him back to Russia. So I flew all the way to Japan to put some sense in him." A new bottle was served, he took another shot.

"I met Katsudon. I saw his home, his friends, his family." Ah Katsudon must be Yuuri. "They all loved him so much, I immediately felt jealous. What else could he possibly want?! Why does he still need the Old Man? He has everything he ever needs. Family. Friends. Love. Support." Yuri clenched his fists, his grip on the cup tightened, Alice was worried he would break it.

"I thought he was selfish. To need more when he has everything I've ever wanted. That he takes the Old Man's attention for himself when he has all the attention he needed. I thought that he was weak." Yuri paused. A contemplative look hung on his face.

"But I was wrong." He said in a whisper. "Katsudon is the strongest man I've ever known. He carries the demons in his mind everyday, even as they tear him apart. He still skates with grace. And even through that, he still cares about me. Even if I was an asshole to him before. He still worries about me, no matter what I do, no matter how bad I could get. And I question myself how a person could love another selflessly? How can they love another without question? How can they love someone who repeatedly hurt them and still love them all the same?" Yuri was shaking now, and Alice was too.

"I never had someone who loved me like that. Yet Kataudon was to me. To me Katsudon is..."

"...a mother." Alice finished.

Neither moved nor said anything, letting everything sink in the atmosphere.

"Uncle Yurio, papochka and otou-san wanted to talk to you?" The dark haired man tapped Yuri on the shoulder, breaking the peace between them. He looked apologetic, but he was smiling still.

He was handsome in a way. He had blue eyes, unlike Victor's but it had it's own charm. He had dark hair, like Yuuri, but it was curly and immaculately styled, unlike  his father's who has an ever perpetual bed hair. It was a combination of his parents, but at the same time he doesn't resemble them at all. It was a series of contradictions that always seem to surprise people.

"Alright, I'm coming." Yuri nodded and stood up to follow Mikhail. And really, it left Alice to imagine, to think of how an unusual family they had. It was a hodgepodge of nationalities and personalities. It simply was a unique family.

Alice was left to wonder, if she'll ever make a family of her own just like this.

 


 

 

"I'm really sorry you had to go out your way to help us."

Yuuko said as they walked into the rink.

"Don't be. I needed a break from work anyway." And it was true. She couldn't stand to look at the screen of her laptop anymore. The blinking cursor was mocking her of her zero progress. It was frustrating.

"Well, if you're sure. I was going to ask Victor, but that seemed unfair since surely he'd want to spend time with Yuuri, and Mikhail and Yurio just arrived. Plus they'd probably be helping the inn."

She showed Alice all of the things she needed to know. They went to the counter at last, and Yuuko explained all the skates and it's different sizes. "Don't worry, it's a weekday. Most people are either at work or at school so there's only few people who's going to be around. Axel will be here later, you only have to stay here for three hours tops.I'm really really sorry. But Loop isn't feeling well so Takeshi and I have to go to Tokyo. Lutz is covering her ballet class, so...."

"Really, it's fine. Go." Alice huffed with fondness. It was endearing how a mother seemed to be worried of her child. And really, that only made her feel more queasy inside. It was frightening, it was often the reason why she can't sleep at night, the fears in the back of her head, the demons gnawing in her mind atop her other demons.

"Alright. Bye! And-and if something happens, just call the numbers beside the counter. The first one should connect to Yu-Topia Akatsuki, just tell Victor you need help, the second one should answer to the ballet studio. Also-"

"Go!" Alice laughed. Yuuko snapped out of it and remembered she needed to leave. It was cute.

"Okay okay bye!"

With that, she left.

Alice stared at her retreating figure. A car stopped in front of the building, she hopped into the passenger seat and they dashed off. Well, this was going to be an interesting day.

True to Yuuko's words, there were only a few people skating about in the rink. However, Axel didn't arrive just yet.

She was slightly bored now. Alice brought a notebook and pen to write, hoping that it would help her with the slump she's feeling.

After an hour of writing and rewriting and scratching out words, building and rebuilding conversations that may never actually happen, she gave up trying to write. It was irksome. Everything she tried either felt too forced or fake. Other times there were ugly gaps in between transitions. Sometimes, she just ends up staring blankly on the equally blank page.

She sighed, looking up ahead, blinking away the dryness in her eyes when something caught her attention.

It was the same cabinet from before.

Curious, she decided to look closer.

It was filled with medals of different colors from top to bottom, but gold was a common thing. It was a wonder how Alice wasn't able to notice it when she entered. It was a vast and impressive collection.

There were four cabinets all in all. They were owned by different skaters apparently. Their pictures were framed right on the top most shelf, with their respective flags.

First was a picture of a blond young man, with a prideful grin, he looked arrogant, but not in a condescending way. His hair was tied into a ponytail, green eyes blazing with fiery passion. He looked about twenty something in the picture. A Russian flag pinned on the back. A name written on a metal plate, in Japanese, Cyrillic, and English.

Yuri Plisetsky.

He looked different in the picture, younger, brasher. But his eyes had the same passion, the same spitfire.

The cabinet was filled with gold, some silvers, and a few bronze. However, it was the top most shelf that caught her attention, it was lined with velvet and had three gold medals of different design. It seemed to be the most prized of them all.

On the next cabinet was a picture of a raven-haired man with blue framed glasses and a timid smile. He looked soft and gentle, smiling shyly at the camera. A Japanese flag was pinned at the back. The metal plate read:

Yuuri Katsuki.

His own cabinet was filled with golds, maybe more silvers and bronze than Plisetsky's. There were three medals together on the top most shelf, all three were still golds. The one on the side looked fancier than the rest of the other medals. It deserves to be in the center, instead the one in the center was a plain old gold medal. It still looked grand, but it didn't seem to fit its placement. There must be some meaning behind these specific three medals.

The other one had a man with silver hair that flowed down to his back gracefully and blue eyes staring brightly at the camera. He was handsome and he looked a bit familiar. A Russian flag pinned at the back, Alice glanced at the metal plate for a clue.

Victor Nikiforov.

Oh.

"Ah, we really should update these. I wanted to make it Victor Katsuki-Nikiforov, but Yuuri wouldn't let me."

Alice jumped in surprise from the voice behind her. She turned to see a smiling Victor staring at his own collection of medals, eyes lingering on his photo.

"Victor? What are you doing here?! I thought Yuuko said you were going to spend time with your husband?" Alice asked. Victor in turn smiled at her.

"Yuuri is still jet lagged." Victor breathed out fondly. His eyes were conveying something, something unfathomable. Something she couldn't seem to understand. "He still hasn't gotten used to it-- the traveling."

"I-I didn't know you competed before." Victor laughed, it was a bubbly thing, unlike Yuuko's silly giggles. It was pleasant to listen to.

"How else do you think I was able to meet my Yuuri?" He glanced at Alice. His eyes sparkled with much youthful mirth, it was like a different man from the previous conversations they had.

"I used to think you were some crazed ice skating fanboy, who somehow met their idol and got lucky and married him." Alice joked despite herself. Victor grinned at her, his smile could probably light cities with its brightness.

"Ah, no that would be Yuuri." The shock in Alice's face was enough to earn her another laugh. "You're not exactly wrong, especially about the part where I got lucky."

"Were you any good then? With skating?" But of course he was. Her gaze lingered over the collection of medals lined up. There were significantly more gold here than ever. The others may seem to catch up, but still unable to.

What was surprising was the fact that the most valued medals on the top were--in fact--not all gold but a bronze, a gold and a silver in the middle. The bronze had an identical fancy design like the gold on Yuuri's side. She can't help but wonder why, among all the golds, why these?

"Oh, but I was. I'm the most decorated skater. They call me a living legend. I used to be so cool you know!" He huffed out a pout but his tone was still teasing, he looked absolutely ridiculous. Alice thought back to the man crying because his dog looked too cute sleeping, or the time when he danced with the entire inn because his husband and son is coming home. Victor, who often waxed poetic about how great his husband and son is. The man who once included an entire village--it still bewilders her how they all just rolled with it-- to his bizarre plan just to welcome his beloved because he's just that extra. Alice had a hard time imagining him to be the most decorated skater ever.

She looked at the picture of a barely twenty Victor, looking young and unstoppable. And somehow maybe she could see it. A determined young man, eyes set on the prize. An insatiable hunger burning within his gaze as he step unto the ice, ready to take on the world.

"Used to. What happened?" She meant to say as a tease.

Victor didn't quip back though. Instead he smiled all too seriously. In the silence, his answer reverberated all over the empty room.

"I fell in love."

Oh.

It really shouldn't be surprising.

Victor looked reminiscent. He breathed out a sigh, looking suddenly so old. "These medals, are the only ones that really mattered..." He said in barely a whisper. "Once I was at the top, no one stood a chance before me." He gestured at the medals on the top shelf.

"I've neglected life and love when I competed. Everyday, all I did was train, sleep, eat, train some more. I didn't have time for anything else. I told myself it would be worth it once I win gold."

His brows furrowed together in contemplation. "I did win gold, I climbed to the top, snagging every gold there is to take. I skated and skated and skated till my feet bled and my heart ached. And soon enough, I was the best." He stared into Alice's green eyes, and she couldn't look away. It was like the first she saw them, uncanny, cryptic, unsolvable. They were so wide and she was near enough that she could see the flecks of green dotted among his blue eyes--an enigma.

"I was on top. But it's like climbing a mountain. You climb higher, you struggle and you fight, and the pressure gets higher, the risks greater. The danger only worse as you go up, the more painful it would feel when you fall. The air chokes you up, until you reach it at last." Victor paused. "But you know, being on top feels so alone. And you realize you cannot go down anymore. That was me, I've been on top so long that I cannot get down. I've sacrificed my love and my life for the ice. But soon enough you know it had to end, and now you don't know how to end it. You don't know who you are without the medals, the routines, and the ice. And then you ask yourself if it had all been worth it."

He looked so sad, so broken when he said that--so so lost. Alice wanted to cry for him, it evoked strong emotions inside her--It was odd. "It's so lonely on the top. I was so lonely. And soon enough, I've entered a major slump in my skating. I was loosing my love for the ice." She could relate to that. She's also at loss as of what to do now--hence why she had to get away. Alice looked at Victor, at loss for what to say.

"But that was before Yuuri." Victor continued, this time, with a smile on his face. "Oh, and Yuuri was so beautiful. When he skated, music seemed to play from his body. And he was so scared, and precious, and fragile. The world was heavy on his shoulders and yet he skated on like it was nothing."

He seemed brighter, like he'd rather talk about his husband than the piles of golds he has acquire. A king Midas and his golden touch, surrounded by riches--surrounded by loneliness.

"And Yuuri cannot be defined in one way. He's been surprise after surprise. He's more than just his skating. More than his anxieties, and self doubt. It took him so long to realize that." His eyes glimmered with what Alice thought was affection. "He saved me from my loneliness. He gave me a family, a reason to live. He gave me a purpose--words cannot describe how much I love him."

Victor pleaded her to understand--and somehow, maybe his blue eyes aren't that uncanny at all. Maybe it isn't as unsolvable as she thought it was. Perhaps in truth, his eyes reflected only his love for his darling. Their love that goes beyond anything else.

A family.

A reason to live.

A purpose.

Is that what it felt to have a family? To have children to raise as their own? Is that how it is? Is that why this man was ready to give away all the gold in a heartbeat? That he sees all his achievements and it means absolutely nothing to him? That he let go of his past life and achievements for this? Victor seemed so content in his little village, with his ordinary life. He seemed happy walking his dog everyday and pouring tea for guests, taking dips on the hot springs and chatting up with the villagers. Talking about his husband and his son with a sigh of adoration in every word.

In reality she still doesn't really understand, still couldn't comprehend why he seemed satisfied in living such a life. It's still such a wonder what gratification, what reward he's ever going to get in such a life. But looking at this man before her, she wants--yearns--to understand, to know.

And maybe--someday--she would.

 


 

Missed call
1:46 am
Missed call
1:47 am
Missed call
1:49 am
Missed call
1:52 am
Missed call
2:25 am
Missed call
3:03 am
Message from Alfred
Al please pick up
Lets talk
I cnt stnd ths anmore
Please

~~~

Alice couldn't sleep. Almost a month has passed since she's arrived at Hasetsu, she knew her time was almost up. Somehow she felt calmer here, she felt a sense of peace. But it hadn't help her with her problems at all. If anything, she's dreading the day she had to go back.

She tossed and turned in her bed, but sleep eluded her. It reminded her of the time she was still jet lagged. Now though, she knew for a fact that jet lag was not causing this.

The gray rays of dawn flitted into her window. She gave up on trying to sleep. Maybe she could get breakfast. Mari would be up by now. But the idea of breakfast didn't appeal her. So instead, she took her jacket and walked by the beach.

The sound of the waves crashing to the shore was placid to Alice's ear. The early dawn light was a sight on the sea. What a tranquil place.

She breathed in the salty air. Very much like the first time. Walking on the beach was her favorite past time since she got here. It was soothing in some way. She followed a path religiously on her walks, and never once strayed from it. The walks have always been uneventful.

Until now.

"Gaaaahhh!!!" She fell on the sand with an ooff. A familiar bark greeted her followed by a wet lick all over her face. Alice gazed up to see a blur of a cheerful dog looking absolutely thrilled. A running man yelling from the distance appeared nearer to where Alice was currently lying on the sand.

"Oh my gosh! Down boy! Oh no no no no!!" A barrage of apologies were sent her way, most of them were in Japanese, that was--until he realized she didn't understand a word he was saying. She felt a sense of deja vu, although this time, the words were more frantic and panicked.

"I am so so sorry! He's usually more behaved than this!" The man finally said in clear English. He helped Alice get up from the sand. The man was nothing but a blur to Alice.

"Hey...umm glasses? Do you see my glasses?" She tried gesturing to her eyes. The man yelped and immediately handed her a pair of glasses, but not before cleaning them with his shirt--or at least the blur seemed to do so.

She wore her glasses. The world looked clearer at least. And standing before her was none other than Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov, blushing to the tips of his ears, looking like he still want to apologize--he probably still does.

"I'm really sorry....for...you know, knocking you over with a standard sized poodle without any warning..." He looked away. Embarrassed.

"No. Don't be. The same thing happened when I first arrived in your inn." Alice waved it off.

"O-oh? He seemed to really like you then." Yuuri smiled shyly. It was cute. "So...uhh you stayed in the onsen?"

"Yes. Victor seemed to make the place very lively." Alice chuckled. Yuuri breathed out a chuckle of his own too--in pure understanding.

"Were you going for a walk? I hope we didn't disturb you." Yuuri commented.

"No you didn't at all. I don't suppose you can join me? The company should be lovely." Yuuri beamed at her, it was such a gentle smile.

They walked together in silence, only the sound of the waves and seagulls crying was heard. She found that she really didn't mind. Alice took it as an opportunity to observe the man before him.

He seemed...ordinary.

Compared to that of Victor's brilliant blues, his eyes are a plain shade of brown. His movements were withdrawn, timid. He seemed to be on his late forties--or early fifties--like Victor. His black hair is starting to gray, and his body is slightly softer than the pictures she saw from Ice Castle. He was chubby, but she could see an athlete's build underneath them. Strong and solid.

She didn't mean to sound arrogant, but she did wonder how Victor ended up married to him. Sure he had medals to brag about, more medals than she could ever hope to have. And maybe he was such a kind person--one feat that Victor often sing praises about. But it was rather bizarre, how a man like Victor ended up praising this very man down to every fiber. How, a man like Victor Nikiforov ended up head over heels in love with a Yuuri Katsuki.

What is in Yuuri Katsuki that a man, a living legend, is willing to give up his glories for him? He could ask for the moon and Victor would be glad to do it for him. He could declare war on nations and he'd still stay with him through it all.

What is the merit of loving someone so unconditionally?

"You seemed troubled."

Alice snapped back from her train of thoughts, grounded by a gentle voice and a smile gracing his lips. Alice stopped walking. Yuuri too, the poodle ran to the shore, not bothered by the sudden halt in their walk.

"I-" She wanted to say no, to say that she was fine. That nothing was troubling her. Yet, faced with two warm eyes, laced with nothing but genuine concern, she found that the lie was stuck on the tip of her tongue.

"Yes....I guess you can say that." She finally decided with a sigh.

"Do you maybe want to talk about it?" He said, whilst gesturing at the sand to sit down and talk. It was peculiar how this man evoked strong feelings from her. How easy it is to just tell him everything. He seemed to have a certain effect on people.

"....yes...I would like that." He smiled, eyes crinkling. Alice sat on the beach, hugging her knees and resting her chin atop them. Yuuri sat beside her with ease. There was silence between them again. Alice figured he could tell this man her troubles, but one doesn't simply pour out their heart to a stranger.

"You know Victor does this for me too."

Yuuri said, whilst staring at the poodle chasing seagulls on the beach with absolute fondness. "He opens up and meet me where I am. Especially when I don't know how to go on." He said softly, almost like a whisper. "Sometimes we don't really talk. Sometimes we just sit here while I sort through my feelings. It's pretty quiet then, but the company is comforting." His eyes were downcast, but his smile was tender. "I'm so lucky to have him."

Yuuri may not be as vocal with his affection for Victor, but his actions and words bled nothing but love for the other man. It still confused her how two people could love each other so much.

"When....when you married Victor, was there ever a time you regretted doing so?" She said hurriedly, her words muffled but Yuuri seemed to have heard her just fine.

He fell silent. Not really sure what to say. His brown eyes sparkled under the early rays of dawn a he searched for an answer.

"No." He said with finality in his voice.

"Nothing I've ever done with Victor did I regret. Not once." So he couldn't help her at all. But apparently, he wasn't done yet.

"Victor...Victor has been in my life since I was twleve." He began. "He's my inspiration, the reason why I skated....He was my idol. Yuuri blushed, a soft smile on his lips, eyes far away in another time. "I used to watch him compete on tv, followed his routines the best way I can." He gave a breathy chuckle. "I even collected posters of him. He found out one day, it was embarrassing."

This very man married his idol--was once a die hard fanboy. It didn't seem to fit him. She couldn't imagine. Victor may have mentioned it, but it was really hard to come into terms with.

"I wanted to skate like him. He was beautiful on the ice. I wanted him to aknowledge me." He said them with much care, every word off his mouth seemed to be more precious than anything the world could offer. "So I left home. I trained in Detroit for five years, hoping to get better, better than better. I wanted to skate on the same ice as him "

He turned to look at Alice, his smile was different, it was sad. Alice didn't like this smile. "But on the day I was finally able to compete against him, my dog died."

Yuuri still looked like he was grieving, but the pain was dulled, buried deep down over years. "I wish....I could have seen him one last time before he died." He said with much melancholy and regret. "I bombed my skate that day. It was terrible and I couldn't look at my idol in the eye." He frowned.

"But then he showed up in the onsen one day, with all his stuff mailed from Russia to Japan, declaring he was going to be my coach, buck naked. All of this without warning." Yuuri laughed. Alice was slack jawed in surprise. Though it really shouldn't be a surprise, given that Victor was really really extra. He supposed what Yuri said a few days ago finally made sense.

"So..what did you do?!" Alice finally choked out. Yuuri laughed airily. His eyes crinkled one more.

"I screeched at him and ran away. That itself was a feat, I almost fainted. You should have seen the look on Victor's face, it was hilarious."

Yuuri's laugh was contagious, Alice was soon howling with laughter with the Japanese man. Their sides hurting, their cheeks flushed red. Once they calmed down, Yuuri continued.

"Our first meetings were always unconventional, but it worked out in the end." Yuuri finally breathed. A feeling of contentment washed his features, much like that of Victor's.
"His name is Alfred." Alice began. Yuuri turned to look at her, all ears and interested. "We...we met in a bar. He was cute and lively and everything I could ask for." She trailed away, not really sure how to continue. "From then on we just clicked." She laughed bitterly, a venomous bite behind it. "We got married a year later. Everything was perfect, until it wasn't."

Yuuri squeezed her hand a bit hesitantly, Alice took that as a cue to continue.

"It started when he said he wanted to have kids." Her green eyes were downcast, she looked crestfallen. "I said I wasn't ready. We fought, we shouted at each other, we said stupid things we cannot take back." Alice bit her lip, she let out a shaky breath before she continued.

"We made up. But it wasn't the same after that. He comes home late, we hardly talk. We don't even eat dinner together anymore, or sleep beside each other. When we're together, it's like he isn't there at all." She furrowed deeper into her knees, not wanting to see Yuuri's expression.

"It's like we've fallen out of love and....I don't know anymore." Her voice muffled.

They didn't say anything. The rolling of the ocean was calming as Yuuri contemplated what to reply.

"We used to fight before too you know...Victor and I." He finally decided. Alice jerked upright, she was surprised at that because they looked like a good couple. They blend in together, they complement each other. The idea seemed too extraoridary, too outlandish, unfamiliar.

"B-but you seem.." Alice didn't know how to describe it. She waved her hand frantically, in search for a perfect description. "I don't know? Perfect??"

Yuuri laughed at that, like it's the most absurd thing he's ever heard. Alice didn't know what to do. "Perfect? No. It took us a couple--well more than a couple of bumps along the road." Yuuri laughed again.

"Really?" Because how could such a lovely, domestic couple such as Victor and Yuuri be in a fight? Victor seemed to adore--no worship his husband. And Yuuri looked the same. So how?

"Once." Yuuri said wistfully, his gaze once again far away, in a different time and place. "I had a panic attack. Victor was my coach then." He smiled at her, warm and caring. "I'm a very anxious person. I was afraid that if I messed up my skate that day, it would affect Victor's reputation too. Victor was the darling of Russia back before he coached me. He was reigning World champion for five years straight."
Ah yes, Victor did mention it. All those medals in the cabinet back at Ice Castle proved otherwise.

"So I panicked. It was too much to bear. Their expectations were heavy on my shoulders. It was fine when I was nothing but a dime-a-dozen skater, but with Victor's reputation on the line..." He shuddered. "And Victor....Victor had no idea what to do." He continued, a smile on his face as he gazed down on his hands clasped together. "He told me if I messed up my free skate, he was going to resign as my coach."

Alice's jaw dropped. That was one of the most terrible things to say when someone was having a panic attack.

"You should've seen Victor's face when I started to cry. It was priceless."

"B-but Victor seemed to know what to say to you every time!"

Yuuri squeezed her hand once more, a reassuring gesture. She could get used to those. "He wasn't like that once. He was the most blunt and frank person I've ever met. He often didn't know what to do when I'm having a panic attack. My anxiety often cause us to disagree. Once I assumed he wanted to go back to competing. I told him I wanted to end our relationship, that he should stop being my coach. I was ready to let him go. It was sure to hurt, but if that was what was going to make him happy, then I'm willing."

"He cried. He said he was angry. That he wanted to be with me. That I gave him a reason to live on, someone to love." Yuuri muttered softly. "I didn't understand him then. I don't suppose I ever will fully understand the enigma that is Victor Nikiforov. There are always things I'll never know. Like how long we're going to be together. Or if this is ever going to last. I hardly get panic attacks, and Victor rarely feels lonely nowadays. I still wonder if Victor regrets being with me. I know he doesn't. But sometimes...sometimes my brain whispers poison in my ear amd I spiral out of control."

"My point is, loving someone isn't sweet like those in the movies. It isn't a ride off the sunset with the girl in your arms. it probably isn't even happily ever after. No, loving...loving hurts. It's a painful experience that you have to go through everyday. It's the sleepless nights where you worry your wits out whether your partner still reciprocates your feelings, or would leave you, or find someone better, or you'll never be good enough, or he, or  both of you would stop loving each other. And I swear, it'll never end. Somehow there's always that one thing to worry about before you go to sleep, when you wake up, when you're in the middle of your day." Yuuri breathed.

"But I tell you, loving also means that despite the pain, the worries, the anxieties, the flaws, you realize that what you have is more. Is worth so much more. That you are willing to go through all that just to be with your significant other. That you care for the other too much, that you can't live without the other, that you'd rather go through that pain because being separated from each other hurts more. That is what loving someone mean. Because sometimes, some things are just worth the risk." Alice gazed into Yuuri's eyes. How much wisdom were behind those eyes? His brown eyes with gilden flecks around them glittered. It was morning now. The sun has risen high up in the sky. "Love is a learning experience. It's like learning a skating routine. You never get it right the first time, you'll fall in some of your jumps. But you care about it enough that you still want to go on."

The poodle was running by the shore, playing with the waves.

"Just one more question." Alice began. "Was it hard? When you decided to have kids, was it hard?"

Yuuri knit his brows together.

"It wasn't easy." He said. "I was...scared. Really really scared." He sighed. "I had so many fears. What if I wasn't going to be a good father? What if I mess up? What if they won't like me? It was horrible." He said sadly.

"But I love Victor." He continued. "And I do anything for him." He glanced at Alice.

"You ever feel like you know you're never doing a certain thing by yourself, but when your friend asks you to do it with them, you feel like nothing could go wrong? Like you can do anything just because you know you aren't alone?" Alice nodded slowly, remembering the times when her friends would bring her to parties even when she doesn't want to. She often wondered why they always talk her into doing ridiculous things, but maybe it was because she knew she wasn't alone.

"Well, that's how it feels like. You feel braver with them, you feel like you can take on whatever the world may throw at you." He sounded proud, and strong, and confident. It was stunning to look at. "Victor made me braver, stronger. He made me a better man. From the first moment I saw him skating in the tv screen. When I'm with him, I can do anything."

Alice breathed. For the first time, she felt like someone finally understood her. To know how it felt. It felt like something heavy was dislodged from her chest, something massive in the air that she still had no idea.

"Love is a choice, my dear friend. If you give things another chance, if you choose not to give up on what you have, then maybe...maybe it will work out."

In the comfort of the beach, her wavering heart seemed to settle as she sat beside this man. Perhaps there really isn't anything unimaginable after all. Perhaps, there really isn't anything strange. Only that a simple man loves his husband dearly, and his husband love him too in return.

They fell into silence once more. It was comfortable. Alice never felt more comfortable in her life.

 


 

"Wait...you're also Victor and Yuuri's daughter?!" Alice spluttered incredulously. The woman looked sheepish enough, though also terribly confused.

"I see you've met my dads and yes. My name is Fumi Victorovich Katsuki-Nikiforova. It's a mouthful and you never really asked for my whole name so I guess you never knew. Plus you send your draft via E-mail versus meeting up personally so.." She scratched the back of her neck, looking a bit guilty. "I mean, why else was I going to book a flight to Hasetsu? I was going home to my family!"

"You don't skate though?"

"Nah, I do. No child of Katsuki-Nikiforv doesn't know how to skate. I just didn't want to go pro. I loved books more than skating. I was very lucky I have very understanding parents. Despite them being...you know basically legends. Ah you have no idea how scared I was when I told them too." Fumi laughed. "Uncle Yurio was furious at first though. He would've wanted to coach me too. He said I was less of an idiot than my big brother."

Alice had no idea what to react. She knew the daughter of two skating legends, and the sister of current World and Olympic champion all this time. It was too much to take in.

"Oh please, it's really no big deal. Stop looking so surprised! It's not like you aren't New York Times bestselling author!" She huffed before bursting into giggles.

You have no idea how surprised Alice was to see her editor walk in the inn she was staying like she owned the place...well she did in a way. But that wasn't the point.

"When did you arrive??" Alice muttered over a bowl of Katsudon, which she had also learned to like after weeks of residence in Yu-topia Akatsuki.

"Just now actually. Oh, uncle Yurio must be the one cooking. Papochka never gets it right. He used to be so hopeless in the kitchen! Otou-san's is a close second, but uncle Yurio's the best one. Well it's almost like Oba-san's Katsudon, but ah- I guess it's almost impossible to replicate her Katudon." Fumi chattered away.

Like her brother, she looked nothing like her parents. But she can see the resemblance of her actions from her dads. She can see the enthusiasm of Victor and the warmth of Yuuri's eyes. But she seemed to resemble Victor more--if the heart shaped smile was to begin with--whilst Mikhail resembled Yuuri, timid and shy. How the kid ended up a figure skater and not this confident woman was beyond her.

"Otou-san and Papochka must be skating. Come on!" Fumi dragged Alice to the rink just after she put down her cutlery. "You've never seen them skate have you? Come on!" She half screeched.

It seemed like watching her parents skate was Fumi's favorite thing to do. She greeted Axel from the counter hastily. The girl just laughed before waving them off.

"Shhhh!!" Fumi said. "I think they're skating Stammi Vicino. They do this all the time, it's so romantic!" She whispered while they stood by the boards. The two men haven't seem to notice them. Yuuri was skating on the center all by himself, totaly immersed in what he's doing. Victor was watching him intently, eyes never leaving him. Facinated despite the fact that they've been doing this all the time.

Yuuri readied for a jump, he landed it flawlessly. It didn't have that dizzyingly fast spin like Mikhail did on tv. It didn't have a lot of rotations too. It only had one . But she could feel all the emotions poured out on the ice for everyone to see.

There was no music in the rink, but every movement sounded like a symphony, an invisible orchestra playing in the distance. He was making music with his body.

Victor joined him then. His touch was gentle, and Yuuri carressed his cheek in turn. Victor melted into the touch. They spun around, and though Victor's knees were already weak, he still lifted Yuuri like when he was younger. It didn't matter if he was twenty seven or fifty two. He will always look at Yuuri with love filled in his eyes. It didn't matter whether they were in Japan, or Russia, or America. They would still dance this dance, they would still hold hands like this, and they would still kiss like it was the first time--minus the fact that their first kiss was done in live interntional tv.

They danced together, blending in together in perfect harmony. Like how their love for each other was. But she had to remember that it wasn't immediately perfect after the first try. There were probably mistakes along the way. They must've practiced long and hard enough to reach that level of perfection. And even still, you may never know when you'd mess up. But the idea was that you should know how to pick yourself up after the fall. If you give up easily, then it doesn't really mean much to you.

Maybe, she needs to fight for her love. If she immediately gives up on every problem, then they'll never amount to anything. She's not sure if they would still work out. Or if Alfred still loves her. She's not sure if she herself still loves him. But she must still, if she's bothered like this. If she didn't, she wouldn't care about it at all. Would she?

But she knows nothing is certain. Nothing will ever happen if she doesn't try, and maybe, some things are worth fighting for, some things are worth the risk.

She looked back to the couple on the ice. They were laughing together, their love so obvious, almost tangible. Maybe she doesn't truly need to understand their love. Maybe she doesn't really need to know what love really is. Some love cannot be described, cannot be put into words. There are differnent kinds of loves in the world, all intertwined with each other's life.

And in introspection, the answer was all so simple after all.

 


 

 

One ring.

Two rings.

Three rings.

"Hello?"

"H-hey Alfred...it's me."

"Al...you know it's like three in the morning here right?" Came in the sleepy sound of her husband. A yawn.

"Yeah....I just..." Alice didn't know, but oh God does he miss his voice, the raspy sound of him when he just woke up. "I want to talk."

The other line fell silent. Alice almost felt her stomach drop before she heard a huff and a chuckle. "I was hoping you would say that."

A breath.

"I want to fix this you know. Fix us."

"Me too." He said. And he sounded so sincere. Gosh, Alice wanted to cry.

"I miss you." She whispered through the phone.

"I love you."

Tears streamed down her face, for the first time in a long time, her heart clenched because of this man, her chest felt tight, over flowing with emotions she cannot contain any longer. Because she realized she still loves this man with all her heart, and she would gladly do anything for him. And Alfred still love her too. That was enough. That was more than enough. It's all she needed to know.

"I love you too."

~~~

There are times when you just want to stop. There are times when you just want to give everything up and let everything go, when you feel like you can't keep going on and the world just seemed to be pulling you down into a perpetual chasm, and you just fall and fall and fall into a never ending emptiness. When the weight of the world is now a burden and you just think that you can't do this anymore.

But when you truly love someone, you realize that no matter what happens in the world, you'll never stop, and you'll never give up. You'll fight till the end together, so long as you have each other. You may fall in a void, but they'll always be there to pull you up when you fall. They may not always catch you, but they'll be there to mend you back again. The world may be a burden, but you'll be there to carry it together.

Love isn't a clear cut thing. There isn't any black or white when it comes to love. It's not a fairy tale. There isn't a happy ending, but that's only because true love never ends.

Love is a struggle, love is a choice.

It's only ever your choice if you wish to fight for it.

And some love are worth it.