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Once and Future Kings

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Early March, the previous year, St. Petersburg

The exhausted Japanese skater winced as the door squeaked too loudly on its hinges. It was late and the last thing he wanted to do was wake his irritable husband. The door closed with a gentle click and Yuuri leaned against it while silently pulling off his trainers and settling his athletic bag on the table. He padded his way towards the bathroom, intending to rinse the sweat from his body before sneaking into bed. Passing the bedroom door, he hesitated at the sight of light spilling through the cracks. Bracing himself, he quietly turned the handle.

Victor sat in bed, arms around his knees as he stared broodingly out the window. Moonlight streamed into the room, bathing his disheveled silver hair in an unearthly radiance. Yuuri’s heart skipped a beat. Even now, even after months of fighting, the older man took his breath away.

“How long were you gone?” The low voice broke Yuuri’s reverie.

“A few hours. I couldn’t sleep. I figured I might as well practice.”

“Alone.”

“I… yes. I just needed to think.”

Victor finally turned his icy blue gaze towards the younger man. “Why are you doing this?”

Yuuri was taken aback. “World’s is a week away. I skipped it last year to prep for PyeongChang, I can’t afford to lose this year.”

“All you do is skate. You’re never home. When I do see you, it’s at the rink… it’s all business. When did you become so medal hungry Yuuri? Is gold the only thing that matters to you now?” The words were quiet but biting. Yuuri blanched.

“What is that supposed to mean? Victor, you’re the one who challenged me to start winning! ‘Five World Championships?’ Remember?”

The Russian man groans, hands tangling in his hair. “Jesus Yuuri, I wasn’t serious! I was fucking flirting with you! I didn’t expect you to try and actually do it!”

Across the room, Yuuri feels frozen at the words. “You didn’t actually think I could do it,” he half-whispers, voice caught in his throat.

“I wouldn’t expect anyone to win 5 World Championships, Yuuri.”

You did.

Victor huffs a quiet, bitter laugh. “You aren’t me, Yuuri.”

Time seemed to stop. There had been bigger fights. There had been shouting matches and tense silences and harsh words. All of it leading to this moment, to these quiet, carelessly hurtful words spoken in the pre-dawn chill. Victor’s support had been everything. He had struggled to be worthy of Victor, worthy of his notice, worthy of being his competitor, his student… worthy of his love. He had struggled to believe in himself, to believe in his abilities because Victor believed in him.

Except, he didn’t. Not really. He never had.

Yuuri’s heart shatters.

“I… I need a shower. Go back to sleep,” the broken Japanese man mumbles, refusing to let the other man see him crumble. He hears muttering in Russian as he closes the door and stumbles to the bathroom. Safe in its confines, he crumples to the floor, quiet sobs racking his chest. He can’t do this anymore. If Victor doesn’t believe in him, what is the point in staying? Hands shaking, he pulled out his phone and dialed the familiar number.

“Yuuu-ri!”

“Minako-sensei, I… I need a favor. I… you’re planning to be at World’s next week… right?”

November 4th, Mid-Morning, Kyoto

The elevator doors slid to a close and the sole occupant slumped against the wall with a sudden, confusingly combined sense of loss and elation. His mind had short circuited the moment Yuuri – rumpled, jet-lagged, impossibly beautiful Yuuri – had stepped through the entrance. Pictures and video could never do justice to the slender, dark-haired man’s presence, and Victor had been drawn unconsciously forward into the other man’s space when Yuuri had begun to walk away. Somehow, his incoherent mumbling had actually amused the younger man. That was fine. Victor could handle being ridiculous, if it brought that gorgeous laugh back into his world. And dinner. Yuuri had asked him to dinner. It was more, far more, than he had dared to actually hope.

As he finally arrived at his floor, Victor began a mental checklist for the evening. Would it be too much to wear a tie? Should he go out for flowers? It had to be perfect. Yuuri was giving him a bigger chance than he probably deserved, and he was going to make sure absolutely nothing could go wrong tonight.

Opening his door, he stopped short at the sight of dark hair and lanky limbs sprawled bonelessly across one of the double beds. Shit. Right. He was in charge of an actual teenager. One he had promised to not leave alone on their first night in a new country. The silver haired man moaned into his hands. Shit. Everything was going to go wrong tonight…

A few hours later

The shadows in the room had begun to stretch into early evening by the time Yuuri pulled himself away from a blissfully dreamless nap. As he sorted through the fogginess lingering in his mind, the memories of this morning’s awkward elevator encounter came back full blast. He had dreaded seeing Victor, still not entirely certain that the other man still cared enough, still wanted enough to start the terrifyingly daunting task of rebuilding the trust that had so spectacularly shattered between them. That dread had given way in a single, breathless moment, when Victor had closed the distance between them. The old, familiar heat had sparked, stealing his breath until…

Yuuri smiled. The moment had turned wonderfully ridiculous in an instant and it had been exactly what he had needed. The suddenly vulnerable look in the taller man’s eyes, the warmth he had seen lurking in those icy blue depths… he had missed that warmth. He had been missing it for years really. A sudden rush of emotion had led to his impulsive offer of dinner.

Dinner… crap. A thread of worry began to insinuate itself into his mind. If things went poorly, if Victor wasn’t as eager to mend things… if he messed up his performance because his emotions overwhelmed him… Yuuri finally bolted upright, snatching his phone off of the nightstand. Maybe he should just cancel and follow his original plan for coffee the morning after the short program?

As he pulled up the screen, half intending to text Victor with an excuse, he noticed the notifications informing him of several missed messages.

Vitya: It was really good to see you!
Vitya: But I maybe got too excited and sort of forgot something!
Vitya: Well, someone!
Vitya: Um, you may have heard of my skater Alexei? He was Junior World Champion last year!?
Vitya: I told him I’d take him to dinner tonight.
Vitya: I’m so sorry! I got flustered in the elevator? You might have noticed!
Vitya: But we could all go? To dinner? If you want?
Vitya: Oh Yuuri! I’m so sorry. You’re probably trying to sleep! I’ll talk to you soon!

Yuuri rolled his eyes. The Russian man was legendary for his absent-mindedness. Of course he would manage to forget dinner plans with his teenaged student. Narrowing his eyes, the Japanese skater pulled up a new message screen. Perhaps he could work this situation to his advantage…

November 4th, 8:00 p.m. Kyoto

“And be on your best behavior Alyosha, I’ve known Yuuri for a long time.”

The dark-haired teen rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I kinda know coach. I’ll be fine.”

Victor side-eyed his student. The boy had been spending entirely too much time with Mila and Yura. Sighing, he stepped out of the elevator, scanning the lobby for the familiar tousled black hair. Catching sight of the man near the doors, his heart seemed to skip a beat. Yuuri had been disheveled, but still lovely in the elevator this morning. Now… clad in dark denim and a deep burgundy turtleneck, the Japanese man was radiant. Placing his hand on Alexei’s shoulder, he began to guide them towards the lobby entrance.

Yuuri’s eyes locked onto the pair as they traversed the lobby, brown eyes shimmering with an indecipherable emotion. As Victor and Alexei drew even with the raven-haired man, the Russian coach felt a rush of nerves. He nudged his young student forward, telling himself he was definitely not hiding behind the boy. “Yuuri, I’d like to introduce Alexei Ivanov. This is his first year in the Senior division.” The Japanese skater and the Russian boy both gave the taller man a strange look. Victor was surprised when Yuuri gave Alexei a one-armed hug.

“Your free skate at Junior Worlds was impressive. Nice work on the entry into your triple toe loop, you’ve definitely perfected it in the last couple years!” The boy practically glowed at the praise. Victor watched with some surprise. Was the boy secretly a Yuuri Katsuki fan?

“Yuuu-uuuri! Hi!”

Victor froze as the familiar voice chimed out behind him. Turning, he blanched impossibly paler as he watched Minako and Mari approach. A gentle cough caught his attention and he half-turned to see Yuuri eyeing him with mild concern. “Since Alexei was tagging along, I figured it would be ok if Minako-sensei and Mari-nee-chan joined us as well.”

The taller Russian tried to force his brain back into working condition. “O-Of course! Minako! M-Mari! It’s been too long!” His voice sounded artificial, too cheery even in his own mind. The pair of terrifyingly intimidating women stared at him, unimpressed.

“Victor Nikiforov. I hear you’re a head coach now.” The slender, seemingly immortal ballet instructor nodded curtly.

“Oh. Um, yes. Alexei here is one of my Senior level skaters.” The Japanese woman nodded politely at the boy before returning her cool gaze to his coach. In his periphery, Victor could see Yuuri huddled in an intense whispered conversation with his sister. The silver-blond man felt incredibly out of place, but knew he needed to persevere through the evening. Strapping on his overly cheerful “coach” voice, he ventured to suggest that the group head out.

Mari glared at him, lips thin. “Are we really doing this, little brother?” Her voice was flat, heavily accented English making it clear she was making a point to ensure Victor could understand her. The Russian looked down, an uncomfortable blush coloring his neck. The sudden touch of a hand on his back startled him.

“Let’s go. I found a good ramen spot in walking distance.” Yuuri’s voice was close to his ear, warmth sliding comfortingly down his spine, a gentle pressure guiding him towards the door before pulling away. Victor mourned the loss of Yuuri’s touch, but willingly followed the younger man as they strolled out onto the street.

The silver-blond was a bit surprised when Alexei hurried to fall into step at the other skater’s side, leaving Victor to walk uncomfortably between the two Japanese women. He kept his gaze forward, too nervous to look at Mari or Minako. After a few minutes of watching Alexei chat animatedly with the older skater, he heard Mari clear her throat. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing Nikiforov? Messing him around again? I thought I made myself very clear before you married him.”

“Mari, don’t.” Minako’s voice was quiet but firm. Mari answered her in terse Japanese, too rapid for Victor’s rusty memory to follow. He kept walking as they argued, their voices slowly rising.

“Yamete!” Yuuri’s voice was stern as he stopped at a doorway, glaring back at the two women. “We’re here, let’s just get dinner.” He waited while Mari and Minako entered the restaurant, eyes lingering on his sister as an unspoken message passed between the two. Turning back to Victor, he offered a small smile. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. Besides, I think I should be the one offering apologies.” Victor held the younger man’s gaze and Yuuri nodded, eyes thoughtful.

“Dinner first. We can talk about apologies later.” He gestured towards the table which the rest of the group had claimed. The meal passed in an awkward flow of conversation. Alexei and Yuuri were frequently deep in conversation, continuing to surprise Victor with their apparent friendliness. Victor stayed mostly silent, nervously picking at his meal while stealing glances at the animated face he had missed for so long. From his other side, Minako finally unbent enough to speak.

“I think Yuuri’s missed his rinkmates from Russia.”

Victor groaned quietly. No wonder they had looked at him so strangely. “Oh! I completely forgot that Lyosha was there before…” He trailed off, nervously glancing at the older woman.

“Mmmm. Before.” She pursed her lips, glaring sternly. “You know Victor, I was the first person to see him after you chased him out of Russia…”

“Enough Minako-sensei. Let me handle this my own way please.” A stern command suddenly crackled in Yuuri’s voice. “Why don’t you and Mari take Alexei back to the hotel? We’ll settle up the bill.” Both women protested, clearly unwilling to leave the two men alone. The raven-haired skater ignored them, leaning over to offer Alexei a quick hug and a few quiet words. The boy glanced nervously at his coach before nodding and standing to go. Reluctantly, the women stood to accompany him. Mari cast one last contemptuous look at Victor as she passed him, a lingering threat clear in her eyes.

Yuuri watched the trio exit, an unreadable expression on his face. After a moment, he turned his eyes back towards the older man and Victor thought he could almost read a question in their whiskey brown depths. An expectant silence settled over the pair as the server approached with a slim black folder. Barely taking his pensive gaze from Victor’s face to check the total, Yuuri produced a handful of bills and offered a polite bow of thanks as the employee accepted the payment. Once they were alone, the Japanese man ran a hand through his hair, focus turned suddenly inward. Nodding once to himself, he seemed to come to some sort of a conclusion.

“It’s still fairly early and it’s not that cold out tonight. Walk with me for a bit?”

Victor nodded a nervous agreement, hurrying to rise and don his light trench coat. Exiting the restaurant, the men fell into step, shoulders nearly brushing as they walked in silence. The silver-haired man smiled at the familiarity, at the easy way they matched paces. The strolled, each lost in their own thoughts, for a few minutes, neither really paying attention to their surroundings. Finally, Victor stopped near a pair of benches. The younger man turned, eyes questioning as they searched the taller man’s face.

“I… I thought we could sit for a bit,” Victor started hesitantly, “It’s… it’s been a long time since we sat and talked. There’s a lot that I need to say, if you’d be willing to listen.”

Yuuri nodded slowly, then settled onto the bench. Victor gulped, fighting down his nerves as he joined the other man. Hesitantly, softly, he began to spill his apologies into the darkness.

Yuuri listened. As the words filled the air, he felt a piece of his shattered heart begin to slip back into place. Not whole. Not yet. But mending.