Viktor Nikiforov is standing outside of a Circle K in Detroit with a cup of shitty coffee in one hand and a bagged donut in the other when he makes what may be the worst decision of his 26 years of life. He’s staying here, at least for the time being. Two competitions, a month and a half apart in the same area of the United States, led to him renting an apartment close to the rink in Detroit for convenience. Not expecting to stay long, he’d brought few things from home. Trinkets, mostly. Some books. His great-grandparents’ kiddush cup that for some reason his mothers had given him rather than keeping for themselves. Makkachin, of course, is here, and adjusting fantastically. Detroit isn’t what Viktor’s used to, but it’s a welcomed change.
It’s not necessarily better than St. Petersburg, per se, but it’s different. Less stifling. The rink is nice, and Celestino has no issue with Viktor using his rink time to practice, so long as he helps some of the younger skaters when he’s able. He’s still getting used to the constant ebb and flow of English around him, but years of practice and international competitions have proven their worth. He eats as he walks to the rink, crisp spring air biting at his cheeks and the tips of his ears. As he walks up the steps to the ice rink ten minutes late, he finishes his donut, tossing the bag and a good two-thirds of his coffee in the trash his way through the doors.
He’s just finished warming up when he sees Celestino wave him over. Skating to the edge of the rink, he leans against the boards as the coach finishes pulling his hair back. “Viktor, congratulations on taking gold! It’s been good working with you,” Celestino starts, before Viktor puts a finger up.
“About that,” he says, “I’m staying in Detroit! I wanted to ask if we could keep this arrangement going indefinitely.”
Looking Viktor up and down, Celestino raises an eyebrow. “Does Coach Feltsman know?”
“Not yet!” Viktor says brightly. “I’ll call him after making arrangements with my landlord.”
Celestino looks concerned. “You’re sure about this, no?” Viktor nods.
“I’ve thought about it, if that’s what you’re asking!” He smiles reassuringly, waving his hand.
Celestino nods, “I’m going to have to talk to the owner, but I don’t see why it would be a problem to have the one and only Viktor Nikiforov training here.” He laughs, and the pit of loneliness deep inside Viktor grows just a little. He hadn’t anticipated anyone having an issue with him staying, because who wouldn’t want to lay claim to Russia’s Living Legend, but it somehow feels worse to have that line of reasoning confirmed.
At least Makkachin doesn’t care about his gold medals.
Remembering that his only real friend is a dog doesn’t help anything, as dear as Makkachin is.
Viktor throws all of his frustration into practicing. He does another short series of warm-ups, and moves into running through his free skate. He lands his first jump badly, but moves smoothly through the choreography that follows. When he barely lands the second, he skids to a stop. Skating a lap around the rink, he shakes out his arms and rolls his shoulders, breathing deeply. Celestino is standing near the center of the rink, eyes following Viktor’s movements carefully.
His second run-through is worse. He touches down after the first jump, and robotically runs through the step sequence, only to pop the next. He runs his hands through his hair, taking deep breaths as he skates to the edge of the rink, stopping just short of the boards. As he drinks water, he notices the younger skaters starting to whisper amongst themselves. Celestino glances back at him repeatedly. He shakes his head and moves again into his starting position.
Viktor’s chest burns, a lump forming in the back of his throat, but after a few deep breaths he feels calm enough to try again, and he takes off for the third time. When he barely manages to stay on his feet after his first jump, he skates quickly around the edge of the rink, gracefully (narrowly) avoiding a collision with a group of younger skaters, and throws himself in to practicing only his jumps. At first he does ok, but as quads turn into triples and triples into doubles, he gets more frustrated. His landings get progressively worse, resulting in an abundance of near-falls and he’s halfway through his signature quad flip when he realizes everything is going wrong.
He ends up sprawled out on the ice, face against its cool surface. He rolls onto his back and lets his arms fall to his sides. Heat crawls up his face and a cold, burning pit of disappointment forms in his stomach. He’s never had this much trouble landing jumps. It’s not that the jumps are his only skill, his spins and choreography have garnered their fair share of attention as well. The fact of the matter is, however, that he’s been known for his jumps for over a decade, constantly pushing himself to increase his technical skills until they took him to the top of the podium and kept him there.
And now the great Viktor Nikiforov is on his back in the middle of an ice rink in Detroit, after a solid hour of practicing jumps without one successful attempt. He barely keeps himself from kicking the ice after he stands up, instead skating briskly towards the exit, determinedly avoiding making eye contact with any of the other skaters. His career depends on his impressive jump repertoire.
You’re nothing without your jumps.
He angrily puts on his skate guards and makes his way to the locker room.
Halfway through untying his skates, he hears a chipper voice making its way down the hall. A second later, he hears his name.
“Phichit,” he says, turning around.
“Bad day?” Phichit sits on the bench opposite Viktor. He yanks off his tennis shoes and ankle socks, moving to put on his skates.
Viktor sighs as he wipes down his blades. “I’m not allowed to have a bad day,” he says defensively. The instant the words leave his lips he regrets them.
Phichit raises his hands in surrender. “Everyone has bad days.” He smiles, “I won’t tell if you don’t, though!” Despite the early hour, Phichit is as chipper as ever. Viktor is proud to call himself a morning person most of the time, but even he has his limits. Phichit tugs on his skate laces to make sure they’re tied properly, before he stands. “Maybe you should take the rest of the day off? Grab some coffee or something. Not convenience store crap, like real coffee.”
Viktor raises an eyebrow. He hadn’t realized Phichit was so familiar with his morning coffee routine.
“I know a place nearby. They’re really good, and their pastries come from a bakery down the street. You can’t go wrong, really. The chairs are comfortable, too. Take a book, take some time for yourself.” He pulls out a note pad, writing a vague address and haphazard series of directions. A small map is drawn at the bottom, a cheerful hamster holding a steaming mug denoting Viktor’s destination.
Taking the paper, Viktor nods gratefully. He finishes putting his skates away, and moves to leave. Before he lets the door close behind him, he looks back at Phichit, “Thank you,” he says quietly. Phichit nods in return, offering a thumbs-up before he heads out to practice.
He calls his landlord and Yakov while he walks. Staying in his apartment won’t be an issue, the landlord happy to keep the apartment occupied indefinitely. Yakov, though, is less than impressed with Viktor’s “rash decision making” and has plenty of choice words about his career (and the apparently imminent destruction thereof). Viktor cheerfully brushes off his concerns, promising an eventual email about setting up a training regimen before ending the call abruptly.
He walks into the coffee shop Phichit recommended with a plastic smile on his lips and a deceptive skip in his step. While he waits in line, he busies himself reading the beautifully-written chalkboard menu behind the counter. His coffee selections at the convenience store had been abysmal, though they functioned as intended, and Phichit’s reassuring “You can’t go wrong,” had given him high hopes. He’s engrossed in the descriptions of the house blends when he hears a soft, melodic voice trying to get his attention.
“Sir?” Viktor looks at the source of the voice, and meets the deep brown eyes of the young man leaning slightly over the counter. “Hi,” the man continues shyly, “Welcome to The Daily Grind, what can I get started for you today?” His smile reaches his eyes, framed by chunky blue glasses. The top of his dark hair is pulled back, held in place by gel and a few bobby pins here and there, while the back and sides are cut fairly close to his head. “Sir?” he says again, and Viktor nearly jumps.
“Can I get a Raf?”
Viktor quickly remembers he’s not in Russia anymore, and corrects himself. “Black. A black coffee. Please. Dark roast.” The man smiles and leans back. The sun glints off the silver nametag on his burgundy apron.
“I’ll have that right up!” Viktor can’t help but stare as the barista turns around and reaches for a cup. His black button-up pulls where it’s tucked into the equally-black work pants he’s wearing. Rather well, if Viktor has anything to say about how the material hugs incredible thighs and accentuates an incredibly toned backside. Viktor follows the line of clothing up the barista’s body, ending at the rolled-up cuff of his shirt. His eyes trace the man’s lean forearm, coming to rest briefly on a small oddly-shaped group of scars near his wrist, finally landing on the elegant, manicured hand holding a burgundy paper cup. All too soon, Viktor’s staring at the same cup in front of him, now with a lid and cardboard sleeve. “That’ll be $2.75.”
Viktor fumbles slightly with his wallet, pulling out a couple of bills and counting out the change into his hand. He gives the money to the barista, and his fingers feel hot where they brush skin. He takes his coffee and moves away from the counter. As he’s dumping in sugar and copious amounts of cream, he catches the barista staring at him with one eyebrow raised and a sly smile on his lips. The tips of Viktor’s ears grow warm and he busies himself with putting the lid back on his drink.
Viktor looks at his coffee, tossing a wink at the newly-dubbed Cute Barista on his way out the door, and he just knows that even if the coffee is terrible, he’ll be back.
The coffee is anything but terrible, and he’s back the next morning, and the one after that. Every day he’s greeted by the same smiling face, and every day he leaves feeling a little lighter.
It’s three weeks before he decides to try something different.
It’s a month before he finally (finally!) has a conversation with The Cute Barista.
It starts when he mentions the unfortunate habit pet hair has of getting into even the weirdest places. The Cute Barista’s eyes widen, shining. “What kind of pet do you have?”
“A poodle! His name is Makkachin. He’s ten years old and he has the softest fur imaginable!”
“I love dogs!”
Viktor immediately pulls out his phone. He has over a thousand pictures of his dog and he’s not about to waste the opportunity to show them off. He’s interrupted by a small group of people walking through the door, and The Cute Barista gestures for him to take a seat at the bar.
Ten minutes and three re-made drinks later, Viktor can swear The Cute Barista is scowling at the backs of the departing customers through the most blatantly plastic customer service face Viktor has seen in his life. Once the door closes behind the offending group, however, a genuine smile returns. He glances at Viktor tentatively, and Viktor holds up his phone with his latest picture of Makkachin. The barista’s eyes light up, shining more with each consecutive photo. When Viktor shows him one of Makka covered in packing peanuts, he looks like his day has absolutely been made. Viktor scrolls through his gallery until his phone goes off.
“15 Minutes Until: Be at the rink for practice” flashes on the screen in Russian, and Viktor barely keeps from letting out a groan.
“Gotta go?” The Cute Barista asks softly. When Viktor nods, he smiles. “One for the road?” he raises his eyebrows, holding up a cup.
“Please. Two extra shots, if you don’t mind.” The Cute Barista raises one eyebrow, but starts pulling shots of espresso.
“Long day ahead of you?” He asks as he finishes steaming milk.
Viktor sighs. “Yeah. I’m already looking forward to going home.”
The Cute Barista laughs. “I know that feeling,” he says. “I had to open today. I’m two hours into my shift and I just want to go to my place and boot up my Playstation.” He puts a lid on the burgundy cup in front of him, taking the cash Viktor slides across the counter. As he hands back Viktor’s change, he smiles. “I hope your day goes well.”
Viktor can’t help but smile in return. “I’m sure it will.”
Late one afternoon, Viktor is walking Makkachin when he hears a sudden gasp.
“Is this your dog?!” He turns to see a young man in glasses and a blue pea coat over a loose grey t-shirt pointing excitedly at Makka.
Viktor nods mutely.
“Can I pet him?”
Viktor smiles and motions for the man to go ahead. Makkachin’s always brought attention when he’s out and about. It’s hard for people to resist his fluffy hair and cute face, especially when his tongue is hanging out the side of his mouth as it is right now. The stranger kneels down, cuffed jeans hiking further up his legs. He leans forward, offering his hand, and laughs when Makka jumps on him, knocking him to the ground. The man’s messy black hair falls into his eyes, obscuring his glasses, while his manicured hands run through Makkachin’s hair, scratching behind his ears and under his chin until Makka is panting happily.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Viktor says, as he moves to pull Makkachin off of the man.
“I don’t mind, I love dogs,” the stranger says. “I had one, when I was younger. Toy poodle. He looked a lot like Makkachin, here.” Viktor’s brows knit together. He doesn’t recall mentioning Makkachin’s name, but then, the man’s face is six inches from Makka’s tags. He smiles. The man takes a deep breath before continuing. “I’d have gotten a dog when I moved to Detroit, but my apartment won’t allow large pets. My roommate is also worried about the continued existence of his hamsters in the presence of such a,” he raises his hands and does finger quotes, “ferocious beast.” He frowns. It’s adorable. Viktor’s heart does summersaults.
When Makkachin gets distracted by a particularly interesting patch of grass, Viktor offers his hand. The young man takes it, smiling. He jumps lightly to his feet, brushing grass off his knees and (admittedly shapely) rear. “Thanks for that.” He says to Viktor, smiling brightly. “So do you live near here?”
Viktor’s slightly taken aback by the man’s forwardness. “Yes, I do,” he says cautiously.
The man smiles. “Me, too. I’m down that way a few blocks,” he says, gesturing vaguely. “Over near the university.” In the interest of politeness, Viktor asks how he likes it. “It’s not bad,” he responds. “We moved here from Alpena while ago. It’s definitely not what I was used to. Alpena’s a small town, so Detroit is…different. Much bigger.”
The man promptly hold his right hand out flat, fingers together and palm up, using his left to point at the middle knuckle on his index finger. “Right there.” He then moves his finger down to point at the base of his thumb. “Detroit is here. Alpena’s about a four-hour drive north, on the coast of Lake Huron.” Viktor belatedly realizes he’s using his hand as a rough representation of Michigan. This explains the oven mitts with maps on them that permeate souvenir shops throughout the state. “What about you?” He asks.
Viktor clears his throat. He’s not looking to get into the details of why he suddenly uprooted his life, but he doesn’t get the impression he’ll be asked. “I actually moved here from St. Petersburg.”
“I’m assuming you’re not talking about Florida.”
Viktor laughs gently. “No, you’re right. I’m Russian. I needed a change of scenery.”
The young man nods, “I can understand that.” He looks at his watch. “I’ve gotta get going, but I’ll see you on Monday, right?” he says as he tilts his head slightly. Viktor squints, puzzled. The man runs his fingers through his hair, small scars on his forearm coming into stark relief in the morning light. Realization hits Viktor like a train.
It’s The Cute Barista.
“Baruch Hashem,” he says under his breath. Thank God. Makkachin loves him, too, which adds points in Viktor’s book. He smiles. “You know, in all this time I don’t think I’ve ever gotten your name,” he says smoothly.
“Yuuri,” the man says, holding out his hand. “My name is Yuuri Katsuki.”
He shakes it. “Viktor Nikiforov,” he replies, and if Yuuri recognizes the name he doesn’t show it.
Moving to Detroit was the best decision Viktor has made in a long, long while.
It’s early on Monday when Viktor enters The Daily Grind, finding it mostly empty. Yuuri is behind the counter, wiping down his work space, and his face brightens when he sees Viktor. Dropping his cloth in a basin behind him, he holds up one finger and gets started on Viktor’s coffee. Viktor approaches the register, watching red bloom on Yuuri’s cheeks. He jumps when a burgundy cup is almost slammed onto the counter in front of him.
“It’s on the house!” Yuuri blurts out, blush spreading across the tip of his nose.
Raising one eyebrow, Viktor lifts the cup to his mouth. The taste is familiar, and Viktor’s three sips in before it clicks. “You made me a Raf?”
Yuuri nods, the tips of his ears getting pinker. “Y-you mentioned you were from Russia, and I remembered you asking for…something your first time here? So I googled stuff about Russian coffee and wow, I didn’t realize you guys used samovars so often, but uh, I found a description online and….I thought I’d try to make you one.”
“I missed these,” Viktor says fondly.
Yuuri nods, a shadow of longing flashing across his face. “It’s always nice to have a taste of home when you’ve been away for a while.”
“It is,” Viktor agrees with a nod. He takes another sip of the sweet, frothy drink. “This is really good! Tastes just like the ones I used to get in St. Petersburg.”
Yuuri beams. “There were differing opinions on what was the iconic ‘Russian coffee’ but with how much sugar and cream you’d dumped in, I figured this was my best bet. Were you going to order a pastry as well?”
Heart full to bursting, Viktor examines the pastry display. He finally settles on a fruit danish with an obscene amount of icing, diet be damned. Yuuri drops it in a bag, and sets it in front of Viktor, waving him away as he pulls out his wallet. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Yuuri, you already gave me the coffee for free, won’t your bosses…” he trails off as a sly smile spreads across Yuuri’s face.
Yuuri leans forward, across the counter. Viktor’s heart leaps into his throat as his gaze moves across Yuuri’s face, down from his slicked-back hair, to the blue frames of his glasses before it’s pulled into deep brown eyes. The apron he’s wearing enhances the flecks of burgundy around his pupils, and as the sun glints off of Yuuri’s silver name badge, Viktor suddenly finds it very, very hard to breathe. “The coffee was on the house. The pastry’s on me.”
Time seems to stand still. The world around Viktor keeps moving but he’s thoroughly entranced by the man in front of him. Yuuri winks, straightening up as the bell over the door rings. As he moves to take the order of the person who just walked in, Viktor grabs the pastry in front of him and takes a seat at the counter. He eats while he watches Yuuri, a flush spreading across his face as his hands fly over the machinery, elegant fingers pulling together a macchiato with precision. When the customer leaves, Viktor smiles. "I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on." Yuuri's face turns scarlet as he sputters.
Viktor blushes as he realizes what he just said. "Your regular clothes!" He clarifies. "You were in jeans and a t-shirt, I'm used to the black clothes and the apron. I didn't realize it was you until you mentioned seeing me today. You look very different with your hair pulled back." Viktor silently thanks years of dealing with the press for his ability to keep his cool.
Yuuri’s laugh rings clearly through the shop. He smiles and starts cleaning steamed milk out of the frothing pitcher. “I’m sorry,” he says, “the glasses usually give me away. If I’d realized you hadn’t recognized me I’d have told you.” He looks up suddenly, mouth open and unfairly beautiful eyes sparkling. “Makkachin’s fur really is incredibly soft, though!”
Viktor launches into a detailed explanation of his care regimen for Makkachin, which quickly devolves into him showing Yuuri pictures on his phone. He’s just passing pictures of Makka sitting guiltily next to a plate of what had been last Passover’s brisket when Yuuri tugs his sleeve. He looks up to see Yuuri pointing at the clock on the wall. “When do you have to be wherever you usually go?”
Viktor swears quickly in Russian when he sees the time. “In fifteen minutes,” he says, shoulders drooping. He holds up his almost-finished coffee. “Can I get a cappuccino to go?”
Yuuri nods and starts pulling espresso shots. It takes longer than normal for him to hand Viktor’s coffee over the bar, but when he does his eyes are sparkling. “I forgot to sweeten it. So you might, um, want to do that.” Confusion creeps through Viktor’s head as he makes his way to the condiments, but it’s quickly replaced by an almost giddy joy when he opens the cup. Floating on top of the foam is a latte-art rendition of Makkachin, complete with his little tongue sticking out of the front of his mouth. Viktor looks excitedly back at Yuuri, who’s blushing furiously. He meets Viktor’s eyes, and seeing the excited gestures made in the direction of the cup, a small smile creeps over his face. He makes a pointed gesture at the cup he’s holding, mimes writing something, and then points at the one in Viktor’s hand, before hurriedly waving and helping the customer at the counter.
Viktor takes several pictures of the latte-art Makkachin (he dubs it the “Makkaccino” with a small chuckle to himself), posting his favorite on Instagram as he walks to practice, tagging the café in the description. Reaching the rink, he’s about to throw the cup away when he remembers Yuuri’s frantic gestures. Twisting the paper sleeve off, he immediately sees a phone number followed by a looping signature. Excited, he pulls out a phone and makes a new contact.
To: Yuuri ^_^
>>> [photo attached] Makkaccino!!
From: Yuuri ^_^
<<< (⁄ ⁄>⁄ w ⁄<⁄ ⁄) you finally found my number
To: Yuuri ^_^
>>> What do you mean, ‘finally’, I had to finish my drink first.
From: Yuuri ^_^
<<< (•_•) that was the third time i put it on one of your cups
To: Yuuri ^_^
>>> Well I have it now! :)))
From: Yuuri ^_^
<<< (・ω・) obviously. did you enjoy your makkaccino?
To: Yuuri ^_^
>>> It was almost too cute to drink :( but your coffee is too delicious for me not to! (and I needed the caffeine ^_^;)
From: Yuuri ^_^
<<< (>////<) i don’t really do anything special, i just follow the recipes.
To: Yuuri ^_^
>>> It’s still some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.
From: Yuuri ^_^
The man uses too many emojis for Viktor’s heart to take.
To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠) ＿
>>> Look at my Instagram.
From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)＿
<<< Oh, my.
<<< Who is he? He must be *someone* amazing if you’re making first contact.
To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)＿
>>> Barista at a coffee shop near the rink.
>>> Chris you have no idea how beautifully adorable this man is.
>>> He loves dogs.
>>> He uses emojis shamelessly, Chris.
>>> He makes perfect cappuccinos.
>>> He made me a Raf!
From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠)＿
<<< And when did you meet him?
To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)＿
>>> A month ago.
>>> The same day I decided to stay here.
From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠)＿
<<< It must be fate.
To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠)＿
>>> Must be.
The unusually cold spring wind whistles through Viktor’s hair as he makes his way to The Daily Grind, hands buried in his pockets to keep warm. Feeling a warm hand on his shoulder, he turns around and ends up looking directly at a smiling Yuuri, lopsided beanie on his head and a grin to match.
“Are you heading to the café?” he asks, brown scarf fluttering to the side. The other end of the scarf is still tucked into the dark blue jacket Yuuri’s wearing over his work clothes. Viktor nods, looking him up and down.
“You’re not wearing anything warmer? I thought Americans always bundle up.”
Yuuri’s laugh rings through the quiet street. “I grew up in Michigan. You either learn to laugh in the face of the cold, or you move to California,” he deadpans. “I visited Los Angeles once, and they were complaining when it was 50 degrees. Parkas, scarves, those Ugg boots everyone likes for some reason…I was wearing a hoodie and tennis shoes.” Seeing Viktor’s confusion, he clarifies, “Fifty Fahrenheit is like, somewhere around ten degrees Celsius?” Eyes widen in understanding as Viktor lets out a short laugh. Yuuri nods and chuckles again.
They make their way towards the shop. When they’re about half a mile from their destination, Yuuri speaks tentatively. “Viktor?”
“Hm?” Viktor looks over.
“I’m not offended, or anything, but um, I wear a name tag at work? How did it take you almost a month to ask for my name? Or was it because I finally pet your dog?” Yuuri asks, smiling jovially.
Brown eyes are twinkling behind blue frames, and Viktor feels his cheeks getting warm. He runs many responses through his mind, ranging from lighthearted to flirty to sarcastic, his mouth opens before he registers what he’s about to say and-
“I was too busy staring at your face,” Among other things, he practically blurts. He’s rewarded with a small squeak as Yuuri pulls his scarf over burning red cheeks. Somehow his own composure is still intact, and he flashes a smirk and a wink in Yuuri’s direction. “But Makka’s seal of approval was the final deciding factor.”
“Good to know,” Yuuri replies, soft smile almost radiant. Viktor sighs happily.
When they arrive at the café, Yuuri vanishes behind the counter, reappearing a few minutes later with his apron hanging loosely around his neck. He pins on his name tag, looking pointedly at Viktor with a grin, before tying his apron with practiced hands and logging into the register.
Viktor gets his coffee and waits a few minutes to chat, but the line only grows as Yuuri rushes around behind the counter. He catches Yuuri’s eyes, waving his phone in the air as he waves goodbye. Yuuri smiles, briefly raising his hand and nodding in response, and Viktor heads off to the rink for what is a surprisingly productive day.