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Once and Future Kings

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February 2018, PyeongChang

“Next to take the ice, in first place after the short program, representing the Olympic Athletes of Russia… Viiiictoooor Nikiforooov!”

Yuuri grinned as his husband was announced. All the years of hero worship could never compare to the reality. Could never compare to being here, watching the man take the ice, knowing that every stroke of his blades was an ecstatic response to the love letter Yuuri had just skated. As Russia’s Legend took his opening pose, he pressed a tender kiss to the golden ring shimmering on his right hand. The music started, Victor flowing into his first sequence, leading to a breathtakingly flawless quadruple flip. No, the man was not going to go easy on him. Yuuri smirked. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Silver hair blurred on the ice, each jump flawless, step sequences breathtaking. A difficult spiral entry into a triple axel was planned for his final jump, showing off the still amazing flexibility of the 30-year-old athlete. Victor shifted out of the spiral onto his left outside edge, flowing through the air.

He knew before Victor landed. How many times had he watched his husband jump? That slight tilt in the air… Yuuri’s hand was out, trying in vain to stop what he knew was coming. The Russian landed heavily, leaning too far over his right knee, spinning down to the ice. Heart in his throat, Yuuri saw the wince cross the handsome face as Victor forced himself back up. The skater limped through his final sequence, finishing with a slow spin that tore at the Japanese man’s heart.

Victor struck his final pose, breathing heavily, pain written in every feature as he collapsed. A panicked cry ripped itself from Yuuri’s throat and Yakov’s restraining hand was the only thing that kept him from vaulting back onto the ice alongside the medics. He was there as Victor limped through the gate, a determined glare forcing one of the medics to allow him to take their place at the Russian’s side, supporting him as he struggled to the bench in the Kiss and Cry. Gently, the Japanese man helped his spouse replace his skate guards, Yakov and the medics hovering.

“The scores for Victor Nikiforov…”

Neither man paid any attention, the scores mattering nothing in that moment. “Vitya, sweetheart, the medics need to look you over…”

“No.” The older man’s breathing was strained. “I want to watch the ceremony.”

“Victor…”

“My husband just won a gold medal at the Olympics. I’m watching the fucking ceremony. An hour won’t matter.” Stubborn ass.

“Fine. But you’re icing it while you sit and we’re going with the medics the minute it’s over.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s my knee, I heard it pop. Now or in an hour, I don’t think I’m coming back from this.” He flashed a strained smile down at the smaller man, sweat casting a thin sheen over his face. “It’s fine Yuuri. Just go get your medal.” His smile took on a slightly bitter edge. “It’s what you came here for, right?”

Late Evening, December 1st, Detroit

“Yuuri? Yuuuri!? Snap out of it! It’s late, time to stop staring at the computer!”

With a start, the Japanese skater shook out of the unsettling memories. “God, sorry Peach. Between finals for school and prepping for Chicago I’m completely out of it.”

“Suuuure. Seeing a certain Russian this past weekend has nothing to with your space-cadet impression?”

“God, shut up. Why are you like this?”

“You love me.”

“I really do.”

Phichit dropped a hamster on the other man’s head and sauntered away, pleased at finally distracting his roommate. Yuuri laughed before turning back to his laptop and the paper he was supposed to be editing. Thankfully the Finals were just a short hop over to Chicago this year, he should have plenty of time to regain his focus in the nearly two-week break. He snapped the computer shut. Enough.

Rescuing the scrabbling pet from its precarious perch in his hair, he pulled out his phone. It wasn’t shocking that he was lost in memories of the past. This past weekend had been… almost too good to be true. A soft smile crossed his face. Really, wasn’t the fact that Victor surprised him the least surprising thing the man could do? Laughing at his whimsy, he flipped through his notifications.

Angry Kitten Have you been to Chicago?
Angry Kitten THERE ARE GIANT LION STATUES.
Angry Kitten You’re taking me there on our free day.

Yuuri grinned as he responded. Yurio might be older now, but he was still an excitable kid at heart.

Katsudon Sure. We can go to the museum too since we’ll already be there.

*BzzBzZzbzZZ*

Rolling his eyes, he glanced at the time before he clicked to answer.

“It’s 8 in the morning for you, Yuri. Shouldn’t you be at the rink by now?”

“Tcha. I’m supposed to be jogging. Georgi’s running practice this morning, he’ll never know. And I don’t want to go to a stupid museum, I just want to see the statues.”

“The Art Institute is pretty cool, you might actually enjoy getting some culture y’know.”

“Ugh. Culture. I skate and take ballet lessons. I’m already fucking cultured. Fine. We can go to the museum, but Beka and Mila are coming too. And Victor. But only if you two aren’t disgusting the whole time.”

Yuuri chuckled. “Speaking of Victor, why is Georgi running practice today?”

“Eh. Victor’s at that therapy shit you said he needed to take.”

The raven-haired man blinked. Huh?

“Yuri… I never told Victor he needed to go to therapy…”

“Shi… uh. My mistake. Must have been thinking of something else. Listen, gotta go. See you in Chicago!”

“Yuri, wait!”

Silence greeted him. The younger man had already ended the call. Strange. Why… why did Yuri think he’d told Victor to get counseling? At NHK, Victor had told him he’d been seeing a therapist for a little over a week, someone Georgi had seen in the past. They hadn’t really started talking until after the debacle with Minako and Mari, surely Yuri knew that. So why…

A little over a week. He’d started seeing the therapist shortly after Skate America. The only person Yuuri had talked to about Victor needing counseling had been Phichit.

Phichit, who had been in Seattle with Victor. Surely Phichit wouldn’t…

His thoughts spiraled. What else had he told his best friend? Oh god. Flowers. Before the banquet in Japan… Champagne and candles in Moscow.

Phichit had told Victor.

It was all a lie.

He couldn’t breathe.

It was all fake. An act. He knew it’d been too good to be true.

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t…

“Yuuri! Yuuri! Hey, it’s okay. Breathe for me. You’re squishing Arthur, I know you don’t want to do that!”

The Japanese man focused enough to loosen his grip on the wriggling hamster. He’d forgotten it was there in his panic, thank goodness he hadn’t hurt the creature, Phichit would never forgi…

Phichit.

“What did you do,” he rasped in a strangled whisper.

“Yuuri?”

“What did you do Phichit?” His voice was shrill, edging towards hysteria. “The weird questions while you were in Seattle. Suddenly getting all chummy with Georgi… What. Did. You. DO?”

“Yuuri, I didn’t… I… it wasn’t anything bad, I swear! I just… I wanted to help, and I thought… a little nudge? And I just, I needed a little help, just… I needed to get Victor to listen so… Yuri and, and Chris at Skate America, and Georgi kept me updated on some things, and I swapped your paperwork, but…” The Thai man was stammering incoherently, tears filling his eyes. Any other time Yuuri would have tried to comfort his roommate, would have tried to make sense of his rambling. Not tonight. It was enough to know that Phichit had gone behind his back. Enough to know that everything with Victor was a lie.

“Get out of my room.”

“Yuuri, please, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“Get. Out.”

Late Morning, December 3rd, St. Petersburg

The tall, silver-blond coach frowned down at his phone and its distinct lack of message notifications. Yuuri hadn’t responded to his texts in well over a day. He tapped an anxious finger against his lips. His husband had mentioned final exams, he was probably just too busy to respond. It was odd that his calls hadn’t gone through either, usually they’d go to voicemail if Yuuri didn’t answer. A shame, he had been enjoying the renewed conversations, the feeling like they were finally getting back on track after so long.

A flash of bright blond hair in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Yuri had been strangely quiet the last couple of days, huddled in whispered conversations with Mila or urgently tapping at his phone any time he wasn’t on the ice. He needed to focus if he wanted to make the podium at the Final, the competition this year was going to be fierce.

“Yuri, I’m not sure what has you so distracted, but you need to figure it out, fast. It’s starting to show in your skating.”

“Katsudon won’t talk to me.”

“Oh, Yura. He’s just busy. I haven’t spoken to him in a couple days either.”

Yuri’s face twisted. He looked… guilty? Scared? Either emotion was rare for the young man.

“Yuri?”

“I… I think I fucked up.” He ran a slim hand through his long golden hair, biting his lip. Victor waited, a pit of nerves unexpectedly twisting in his gut. “I didn’t… I didn’t mean to. But, it sort of slipped out. And now he won’t talk to me and Chulanont won’t respond either, so I can’t fix it.”

“Yuri? You aren’t making sense. What did you do?” The older man tried to stay calm, focusing on the breathing techniques he’d been practicing with Dr. Petrova the other morning. Whatever had happened, it couldn’t be that bad, surely he could fix it…

“I told him you were at therapy the other morning. And, I said it was because he told you to go… but…”

“But I only knew he thought I should go to therapy because of Phichit’s little stunt at Skate America.”

Yuri nodded mutely. “Victor, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fuck things up,” he whispered.

This was bad. Victor knew Yuuri well enough to know the conclusions he would have drawn. He quickly pulled up Instagram, searching for Yuuri’s username and not finding it. No wonder his calls weren’t going through. He’d been blocked. Again. After everything, one careless word from a fucking kid and…

No. This was how this whole mess started. Blaming others, lashing out… It wasn’t Yuri’s fault. He should have been honest with his husband, no matter what Phichit had said. After all this time, he was still making mistakes. He took a few deep breaths, trying to settle his rising panic. When he thought he had himself under control, he looked back up at the wide green eyes.

“It’s not your fault Yuri. Phichit and I should never have put you in a position to keep secrets.”

“He’s pulling away again. If I’d kept my mouth shut…”

“Stop. This isn’t doing anyone any good. I need you to talk to Mila and Georgi, get them to meet me in my office in a hour. Ask Katya to take over with Alexei.” Yuri nodded curtly and dashed off, beelining towards the splash of red hair across the rink.

Rubbing a frustrated hand through his silver hair, he gave in to a brief moment of anguished fear. If he couldn’t fix this… No. Focus. Yuuri meant too much to him to give up now. Taking a deep breath, he pulled up the browser on his phone and rapidly began to enter a search.

Early March, 2019, St. Petersburg

Victor checked the time and swore. He’d stayed at the rink after his last students had left, stubbornly trying to coax his still flaky knee to hold up to something more challenging than a double. The doctors had said six to nine months of therapy to regain full mobility… it had been nearly a year. He shook his head. It didn’t matter. Yuuri would be upset that he was late and explaining that he’d been trying jumps unmonitored would only aggravate his husband further. Better to tell him he’d gone out with Georgi for a few drinks. It was a believable enough lie.

Turning the key, he quietly entered the apartment before stopping short. Yuuri stood a few feet away, face serious, eyes red, jacket on.

“Are you going somewhere? I’m sorry I’m late…”

Yuuri closed his eyes and took a breath. “I can’t do this anymore Victor. The fighting, the bitterness, the pressure… it’s too much.”

“Yuuri, what are you saying?”

“I just need… I have to go.” The smaller man hesitates before starting again in a firmer voice. “I’m leaving. And… Victor. I don’t want you coming with me to World’s.”

Silver strands fly as his head snaps up in shock. “I’m your coach.”

“Maybe I wanted you to try being my husband!” Yuuri snapped. “When was the last time, other than at the rink, that we spent any time together that didn’t turn into a shouting match?”

“I… Yuuri, I’m sorry. I don’t understand where this is coming from! You’re the one who’s been focusing on winning competitions, I’m just trying to get you ready!”

“I was focusing on winning because it’s the only way I could keep your eye on me! And even that was never enough, because you were just humoring me to begin with!”

“Yuuri, what the hell are you even talking about? This is ridiculous!”

They stood, inches apart, chests heaving. Yuuri broke first, slumping in defeat, closing the distance between them. He pressed a soft, desperate kiss to Victor’s lips before pulling away.

“Goodbye Victor,” he whispered. “Don’t follow me.”

***

He slept on the couch that night, unable to bring himself to crawl into their bed. The sight of the silver medal from Barcelona lying on the duvet had filled him with dread. No matter. It was just another panic attack, just Yuuri feeling the pressure of the competition. He’d probably run back to the rink, better to just let him skate off whatever weird mood had him banning Victor from his competition.

When he woke, Yuuri still hadn’t come home. The sense of dread grew. He rushed to get ready, he’d see Yuuri at practice. They left for World’s tomorrow, surely Yuuri would let him help with his final prep…

Except Yuuri wasn’t at the rink. When Victor’s phone chimed with notifications from Aeroflot and the ISU, he felt like he’d been blindsided. His ticket to Japan had been cancelled, his coaching pass rescinded for the coming competition. Yakov pulled him aside, ordering him to go home and rest for a few days. Victor begged his coach to tell him where Yuuri was hiding, but the older man simply shook his head, repeating his orders.

He went home. He still couldn’t bring himself to touch the medal, to sleep in the bed. The couch and several bottles of vodka made for poor company over the weekend, but the media he’d seen camped outside left him in no mood to seek any alternative.

When Yuuri didn’t come home after World’s, Victor finally sobered enough to notice the empty drawers and missing pictures. The couch continued to make poor company for a very long couple of months. When the announcement hit that Japan’s Ace was returning to Detroit to train under Cialdini, he finally flung the medal into a corner and reclaimed his cold bed.

Early Afternoon, December 3rd, St. Petersburg

Mila was starting to get nervous. Victor had been staring out the window ever since they had arrived in his office. Yuri was uncharacteristically quiet at her side, seemingly not wanting to break the coach’s reverie. Hesitantly, she cleared her throat.

“Victor? You wanted to see us?”

He turned, and she was surprised to see a serene expression in his sea blue eyes.

“Mila, I’m sorry, my mind is four thousand miles away. Thank you all for coming. I’m assuming Yuri’s filled you in?” Mila and Georgi nodded mutely, still confused.

“Good. Georgi, I’d like you to focus on Yuri and Mila’s programs for the next week. Your flights to Chicago are scheduled for the 8th, so use the time to polish choreography and jumps.”

The trio murmured their agreement. Yuri’s eyes lit up and he flashed a fierce grin.

Mila was still confused. “If Georgi’s training us, what are you going to be doing?”

Blue eyes shimmered with emotion.

“What I should have done last March. Going after Yuuri and begging for his forgiveness.”