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Once and Future Kings

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Late March, Detroit

*Long, slender fingers ghost down his side as Yuuri throws his head back with a gasp. A piercing blue eye sparkles up from between his thighs as a warm tongue coils around him. A brief glance of perfect, heart shaped lips smirking up at him, then Yuuri’s back arches as he is fully taken in one hot, wet motion. His hands tangle in silken, silver blond hair as he shatters into his finish. ‘Vic…Victor!’ he gasps…*

Yuuri bolted upright struggling for breath, still shaking with the phantom orgasm. He threw off the covers and walked unsteadily to the bathroom, frantically turning the shower on cold at full blast. He stepped into the streaming water and waited, head down, for the shaking to subside. Finally stepping out of the shower, he placed his hands on the counter and slowly brought his gaze to the mirror, gazing impassively at his reflection. Fresh off competition season, he was toned - waist trim, cheekbones and jawline slightly sharper than they had been when he was younger. Damp black hair hung just past his collar, lips pressed thin with frustration, brown eyes dull and tired. As he watched, his eyes began to water with tears and his hands rose to wipe them clear.

“Damn it,” he cursed, “28 years old and having a wet dream like a teenager. Pathetic. As usual. Get it together Katsuki!” He grabbed a towel and roughly dried his hair before reaching for his robe and glasses. Passing back into his darkened bedroom, he spared a glance at the dimly glowing clock on his nightstand. 4:45. Lovely. Yuuri briefly debated the merits of crawling back into bed to attempt another hour of sleep before his regular morning run, but dismissed the thought as a waste of effort. Quietly opening his bedroom door, he made his way into the small kitchenette and flipped on the electric kettle. As he prepped his mug of tea, he glanced into the sparsely decorated living space, smiling slightly at the sight of boxes crowding near the entrance. A creak from the direction of the second bedroom drew his attention and he raised an eyebrow as his new roommate stumbled through the door.

“Yuuri? Wha… WHY are you up?” Phichit mumbled through his yawn. Yuuri snagged a second mug from the shelf as he turned back to the counter to prep hot tea for himself and his best friend. Turning back to Phichit, he shrugged as he waited for the tea to steep.

“Sorry, Phi… still, uh, jetlagged after World’s I guess. Did I wake you?” Yuuri trailed off, hoping desperately that he hadn’t made any awkward noises mid-dream. Phichit wandered further into the room, making grabby hands towards the tea cups. Yuuri huffed a laugh and poured a mug for the sleepy man. Phichit sighed in content before aiming a skeptical eye at the taller Japanese man.

“Yuuri… Montreal is in the same timezone as Detroit. Even YOU can’t possibly be jetlagged… what’s wrong?” Phichit pressed, looking anxiously at his friend. Yuuri shrugged, turning to walk towards the living area. The other man followed, automatically joining Yuuri on the couch since it was the only seating available. He paused, glancing around the room. “You know, Yuuri, I know I only moved in a few weeks ago and with competition prep I didn’t really get a chance to unpack but… you’ve been here nearly a year and this place is… empty. There’s nothing on the walls, barely any furniture. You’re the top ranked men’s skater in the world. You have a gazillion sponsors. An Olympic gold! Where are your awards? Photos? Souvenirs? Where’s ANYTHING?” Phichit pressed.

Yuuri determinedly glared out the large window overlooking the street. “Between grad school, skating and those gazillion sponsors, I’ve been a little too busy to decorate, Peach. Feel free to do what you want.” Phichit sighed as he watched his friend close himself off. Choosing not to press the issue, he sipped carefully at his cooling tea. Deciding to change the topic, he starts again.

“It’s so surreal to be roommates again! Back at the old skate club, back at Wayne State… it’s the ‘Peaches and KatsuDamn Show’ all over again! A five-year reunion tour de force! Can Detroit handle us?” Yuuri flashes a half-hearted grin his way before slumping into the cushions. “Yuuri, best friend, skate-demon, most Eros of Katsudons… please tell me what’s wrong?” Phichit begs. Yuuri winces at the final nickname, then glances at the calendar hanging on the nearby wall.
“A five-year reunion…” he whispers, “Five years ago I went back to Hasetsu. And then…” Phichit stills, cursing at his accidental reminder. Of course, this would boil down to Victor. It always did.

Early April, St. Petersburg

With a groan, a lean, silver blond figure smacked his phone, struggling to turn off the blaring alarm. Succeeding, he slumped back onto the pillows, rubbing his hands over his eyes in an attempt to hasten consciousness. Out of deeply ingrained habit, he turned towards the other side of the bed, hand automatically reaching for a body that hadn’t been there in over a year. His lips tightened as he, once again, mentally reprimanded himself for that lingering reflex. He forced himself to roll the other way and sit up, finally glancing at his phone. His lock screen was crowded with message indications, social media tags and the reminder memo – ‘Meeting with Yakov, 7:30.’ He cursed and rose, knowing he’d barely make the appointment. He must have hit the snooze button in his sleep several times… but then, he hadn’t slept well that night. Didn’t sleep well most nights. How could he, when a pair of enormous brown eyes kept interrupting his sleep, haunting his dreams?

A quick comb through his hair, a vastly reduced skin care routine and a brisk brush of his teeth was all he had time for before he snagged jeans and a striped red Henley from his closet. A few minutes later and he was out the condo door, keys in hand. Thankfully, the roads were clear this time of morning and he pulled into the lot at the rink with a few minutes to spare. Slinging his jacket over his shoulder, he strode towards the double doors, pausing as he noticed the sleek black car parked near the entrance. The expensive vehicle definitely didn’t belong to one of the other coaches or any of the Club’s skaters. He paused and narrowed his eyes in speculation. FFKK. Damnit, Yakov had roped him into a meeting with Russia’s All Seeing Skating Overlords. He cursed, knowing he’d have to go inside. He could see several skaters loitering in the lobby and knew they’d tell Yakov if he suddenly turned heel and retreated. Bracing himself, he pasted on the charming but fake smile he had so carefully cultivated during his competitive years and strode confidently through the doors.

“Oi, old man! Yakov’s looking for you!” Victor pursed his lips at the grating shout. “Ahhhh, Yurio, your dulcet tones are as graceful as your jumps.” “Whatever,” grated the tall, slim younger man. “Get your ass in there before Yakov loses the rest of his hair!” The silver haired Russian rolled his eyes and sauntered toward the offices near the back of the rink. Resting his elbow on the door frame, he leaned into the office, somewhat pleased to note that his instinct in the parking lot had been completely correct. Definitely FFKK officials.

“Victor! Come in,” Yakov grated. “Are you familiar with Council Members Mishin and Rubina?” Victor strode forward, hand extended in a graceful greeting.
“Of course! The Coaches’ Council is legendary among coaches and skaters alike!” The stiff looking older man and woman rose as he approached and accepted his hand.

“Mr. Nikiforov,” began the woman, “Your entry into the world of coaching was somewhat… unusual.” Victor stilled as she paused delicately. “However, your success in your limited Seniors coaching experience was quite impressive. Multiple international gold medals, including an Olympic gold prior to returning to his previous coach, isn’t that correct?” she continued. The male figure cleared his throat and glanced significantly at his partner.

“A shame those golds were earned for Japan and not by a Russian skater, but an impressive resume nonetheless.”

Victor’s voice was stuck in his throat, he could feel Yakov eyeing him with barely concealed apology. “I… I… I’m sorry, I’m not sure why we are discussing Yu… Skater Katsuki,” he stuttered. The woman gave him a sardonic glance.

“We are discussing your coaching resume Mr. Nikiforov. Since your retirement and … Skater Katsuki’s departure from St. Petersburg, you have been acting as an assistant coach and choreographer under Coach Feltsman, correct?”

“Yes,” Victor replied cautiously, unsure where her line of conversation was heading.

“Vitya,” Yakov interrupted, “I’m planning to retire. I’ve suggested you as my replacement for Head Coach of the St. Petersburg Club.” Victor’s eyes widened, his throat suddenly dry. “You have the best reputation, both as a retired champion and a successful coach,” Yakov continued, “You’ve been working well with the novices since you retired, plus you choreographed both Babicheva and Plisetky’s programs last year. It’s no small thing to choreograph and assist with TWO reigning Grand Prix Final gold medalists.” Victor tried to calm the rising panic, knowing he wouldn’t be able to leap away from the rapidly approaching train heading his way.

“Yes,” mused Councilwoman Rubina, “If you can duplicate your success with Skater Katsuki, there is no reason Russia cannot sweep gold at the Beijing Olympics.”

“Congratulations Coach Nikiforov, I am certain you will continue to make your country proud,” Councilman Mishin finished sentencing Victor to his doom.

As the council members swept out of the small office, Victor stood frozen. His lungs screamed for air he couldn’t seem to draw through his constricted throat. Hands shaking, he heard the door close, sounding impossibly loud in the small space. He jumped at the sound of a throat clearing behind him, turning to see his mentor eyeing him with understanding. “Vitya,” he started, voice softer than the shaking silver legend could recall hearing in a very long time. “Victor, you were the best, the ONLY choice that the Coaches Council could agree on to take over this Club. We have a reputation to maintain and you are the only one with a track record that could possibly be acceptable to the FFKK.”

“So, Russia’s Legend still hasn’t given enough to his country?” Victor grated through his teeth. “Dammit Yakov. Head Coach? That means… Seniors. Mila, Yuri, Alexei’s debut… that means traveling to competitions again. You KNOW I’m not… I don’t…” Victor stopped, his voice strained. Yakov’s eyes softened.

“Yes, Victor. It will mean international competitions. The Grand Prix, European’s… World’s. It will mean the Olympics most likely.” The aging man pretended not to see the glisten in Victor’s eyes. “And yes, Victor. It will mean seeing...” Victor jerked convulsively, reaching out a hand to stop the name before it could fall from Yakov’s lips. The legendary coach paused, knowing he had pushed his student to the edge. “Come. I will make the announcement to the Club and then you may take a few hours to calm yourself.” Standing, he strode out of the office, leaving his distressed protegee to trail in his wake, stunned.

Outside, the chilly spring morning had turned impossibly sunny. Victor paused at the sight, numb. Five years ago, it had been snowing. In Hasetsu.

Chapter Text

Early April, Four Years Ago, St. Petersburg

“Mr. Nikiforov, this is your first silver at World’s since you began your gold streak. Why do you think you failed?”

“Mr. Nikiforov! Do you blame your time off for your second-place finish at World’s? Will you be skating in the Grand Prix series this year?”

“Victor! How has your focus on Skater Katsuki affected your dedication to winning gold for Russia? Did you allow your… student… to win to boost his reputation?”

At this last question, Victor’s lips thinned as he continued to shield Yuuri behind himself. A cold wash of fury flooded him as he turned towards the impertinent reporter. “Katsuki Yuuri took the gold at World’s due to his incredible talent, work ethic and stamina. I scored the highest freeskate score of my entire career and Yuuri beat it to take the World Record for a SECOND time this season.” Behind him, he felt Yuuri’s grip tighten on his hand. He gently tugged on the shorter man and pulled him into his side. “It is the greatest compliment as a coach and choreographer for my student to surpass my scores. And it is the greatest challenge for me as a competitor. I look forward to facing Yuuri during the Grand Prix Series this fall!” He felt Yuuri squeeze his hand and glanced at his partner, taking in his challenging smirk.

“Victor will always be the literal gold standard for the current crop of men’s figure skaters as well as for the generations to come. His achievements are unprecedented in our sport. I’m honored that he feels me to be a worthy competitor and student, and I am completely humbled and awed that I was able to defeat him at this year’s World Championship. I look forward to continuing to challenge him next season!” Yuuri’s eyes sparkled as he spoke in carefully crafted Russian. The press seemed surprised at the Japanese skater’s comprehension of their questions. Yuuri merely continued to offer a slightly nervous smirk as the reporters pondered their next move.

God, he loved this man. Victor tugged at Yuuri’s hand as he began to brush past the news crews. “Sorry, we really must be heading out. Boston to St. Petersburg is a bit of a hike and we’re both exhausted! I’m sure you understand!” Victor offered an outrageous wink as he began to weave his way through the crowd, gently pulling his student… his fiancé behind him. The crowd parted as the silver Russian and the handsome Japanese skater began to stride purposefully towards the airport exit, their suitcases dragging behind them.

“Skater Katsuki!” a reporter shouted towards their retreating backs, “How are you feeling about your move to St. Petersburg?” Yuuri paused, smiling shyly at his lovely fiancé before turning back towards the Russian reporter.

“If I can find half the success that Victor has found at the St. Petersburg Skate Club, I will consider myself an incredibly lucky skater.” Yuuri paused, flashing a determined grin at the eager Russian press. “I’ll fight Victor for every medal, but never forget that HE is going to be the one to beat, every moment until he retires. And even then… Victor Nikiforov will be always be a beautiful legend.” His brown eyes blazed at the stunning blue staring down at him.

“Yuuri…” the silver beauty crooned, as the brunette stared steadily at him. “Let’s… Yuuri… let’s go home?” Victor gazed with sudden trepidation at the shorter man, nervous now that the end of their journey was so near.

“Home…” Yuuri breathed. “Yes. Vitya, yes. Let’s go home.”

Early April, The Present, Detroit

Yuuri and Phichit collapsed on the couch in their shared home, exhausted. “Peeeeeach. This is supposed to be the off season! How is rearranging the apartment with you somehow worse than prepping for competition??” Yuuri whined while Phichit rolled his eyes.

“Ohmygod Katsuki, the déjà vu is LEGIT. You sound exactly like you did the first time I moved in! Just because you can’t set up an apartment without the supervision of someone with superior tastes…”

“SUPERIOR TASTES? Phichit, there is a HAMSTER TREE in my living room. How is that even a thing???”

“Dammit Yuuri, your tv was sitting on a MILK CRATE! You have a contract with ARMANI! MILK CRATE! Can you even adult???”

The two slender men glared at each other for a moment before collapsing in helpless giggles, reminded of countless similar battles from their college years. “God Phichit, seriously, did you have to hang ALL the medals?” Yuuri sighed, the symbols of his successes… and failures… in plain sight for the first time in over a year. Phichit looked at him quizzically.

“Yuuri, I wanted to hang MY medals and we’re roommates. It wouldn’t make sense to hang just mine when you’re sitting on a far shinier collection.” The older man sighed, drawing his knees to his chin.

“They don’t make me a better skater than you, Phichit,” he said softly. “I’ve just been lucky is all.” Phichit glared at his best and most exasperating friend before shaking his head.

“Oh Yuuri, you never do see yourself very clearly do you?” he asked with a ghost of a smile. Yuuri opened his mouth to speak, but paused as his phone vibrated. Snagging it off the new, and rather stylish, coffee table, he glanced at the contact info on the screen. His eyes widened.

“Shit, Phichit, I should take this,” he muttered as he thumbed the ‘accept’ button.

“Katsudon?” a familiar voice barked.

“Hai, Yurio. How are you?” A long, drawn out sigh was his only response. “Yurio? What’s wrong? It’s late in Detroit, so it’s early for you… I just saw you at World’s last weekend… are you ok? Is… Vi… is everyone ok?” Yuuri stammered worriedly. Silence. Then…

“Dammit. Look, I’m sorry Yuuri. I… I thought you should know. Yakov is retiring.” Yuuri’s eyes narrowed, pondering the ramifications.

“Well, I suppose it had to happen eventually. Did you want me to put in a word with another coach? I know Celestino has his hands full, but I heard that…”

“Ugh, stop Katsudon. I have a coach. That’s why I called.” Yuuri’s stomach tightened, though his mind hadn’t quite grasped what the younger Russian was trying to tell him. “I wanted you to know before it hit the news. Your hus… Vic… your ex-coach is taking over at the Club. He’ll be with me and Mila at the Grand Prix series and at World’s next year. I didn’t want you to find out from a reporter or something…” Yuuri’s heart began to race, though he tried to keep his voice steady.

“Oh. I… Thank you for the head’s up Yuri. I appreciate the gesture.” The harsh voiced man on the other end of the line sighed, knowing Yuuri had shut him out for now.

“Ugh. Dammit Katsuki. Keep your head in the game. I plan on taking the Finals AND World’s next year, y’know!”

“Mmmm, sure. Thanks again. Tell Mila hello for me. And… and everyone. Sayonara.”

Same Day, St. Petersburg

Snarling, Russia’s Tomcat shoved his phone angrily into his pocket, glaring at the redheaded woman leaning on the opposite wall. “Well?” Mila prompted, looking concerned. Yuri merely rolled his eyes.

“I swear, those two jackasses are the most stubborn idiots I’ve ever met. If they don’t sort their shit out, I’ll…” Mila stepped quickly across the hall, slapping her hand over her rinkmate’s mouth.

“Shhh! They’re jackasses, but they’re fully grown jackasses. And ONE of those jackasses is our new Coach. There’s not a whole lot we can do about them right now. C’mon. I need coffee.” The strangely strong woman grabbed Yuri by the arm and dragged the taller figure behind her as they headed towards the rink’s cafeteria.

“Y’know,” Mila mused as she added far too many artificial sweetener packets to her coffee. “I never really did understand why they split up. It’s like one day everything was shiny, gold medal paradise and the next… BOOM!”

Yuri snorted. “You weren’t with them as much at competitions. When Victor came back to the ice, Katsudon was thrilled. That first year, they chased each other for medals and records. It was gross, the way they flirted on and off the ice. Yuuri moved to St. Petersburg and won World’s, then Victor came out a few months later and took the top podium at the GPF. Of course, I was dealing with my fucking growth spurt or I’d have beaten both those idiots but…” Mila smirked at the blonde’s defensiveness. “Giacometti took a break after failing to make the podium again at the GPF, then just never came back to the ice. Victor took it pretty hard. He’d just made his big come back and now his friend, his younger friend, was stepping away. I think he started to question his decision. But Yuuri wanted him to keep skating… so he did. And after Yuuri won his second gold at World’s… they got married.”

“They were happy,” Mila said softly. “I know they were…”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “Ugh, god Baba, yes, they were stupid happy. Over the fucking moon. But Chris was still retired and Yuuri kept getting better and I think… Victor suddenly realized he was never going to be able to get on top of the podium again if he had to skate against his husband. I don’t think he really minded, he always believed our piggy was the better skater, but then…”

“The Olympics,” Mila whispered.

“The Olympics,” Yuri agreed. “Victor fell. Yuuri took home the gold. They both dropped out of World’s that year and then Victor was retired. It all started then. Something happened… something broke. They just kept it quiet until...”

“Until a year later, right before World’s, and then Yuuri was gone,” Mila said sadly, a glint of tears in her eyes. The entire St. Petersburg skate crew had adored and envied the silver legend and his beautiful, brilliant husband. The club had fractured around the split. Georgi and Victor had gotten into a screaming match in the coach’s lounge that had eventually culminated in the two retired skaters drowning their sorrows in vodka and missing two days of training sessions with their students. Strangely enough, they’d grown closer in the aftermath. Mila had refused to take sides, insisting on staying friends with both men, and Yuri… well, Mila still didn’t know exactly what had passed between the two slender Russian men, but they hadn’t spoken beyond terse training and choreography sessions since the day the Japanese skater had fled St. Petersburg taking everything he owned. Or, almost everything. Rumors spread that he’d left a silver medal, the one from Barcelona, in the center of their bed.

Mid April, St. Petersburg

“Plisetsky! Let’s go! I want to see a marked run though of your short program and then a full run through of your jump progressions! NOW!”

The slender, blonde skater rolled his eyes as he removed his skate guards, shoving them into Mila’s outstretched hands. As he took the ice, he tried to avoid the eyes of his silver haired coach, “Hurry it up Plisetsky, full choreography with marked jumps!” Yuri glared as he took his position in the center of the ice, facing Victor… no. His coach. Closing his eyes, he mentally counted before beginning the newly learned choreography.

At the side of the rink, Mila narrowed her eyes as she glanced between the swirling blond figure on the ice and the freshly minted head coach. In the weeks since Victor’s new position had been announced, the relationship between the two men had somehow gotten even more tense. Yakov had slowly begun to step back, allowing his protegee to take up the reins. The announcement of the changing of the guard had caused a flurry of media activity, with old press conferences and interviews once again making the rounds on both television and the internet. Many of the old interviews being trotted out had involved Yuuri Katsuki – as Victor’s first skating student, there was a great deal of speculation involving whether Victor could repeat his success with the Russian skaters. Unfortunately, many of the new interviews were also focusing on the Japanese Ace… and Victor was not taking the renewed interest with good grace. Mila grimaced, remembering the media gauntlet they had faced while leaving the rink the previous night.

“Coach Nikiforov, do you feel that you’re experienced enough to continue the success that Russia has enjoyed under Coach Feltsman’s leadership?”

“Mr. Nikiforov, can you give us an idea of your coaching strategy? Do you intend to focus on Skaters Plisetsky and Babicheva? How will this change in coaching affect Skater Ivanov’s Senior debut?”

“Coach Nikiforov, Japan’s Yuuri Katsuki trained at the St. Petersburg Skate Club prior to his Gold Medal at PyeongChang. Do you feel that Gold is in reach for the Club at Beijing?”

“Can you comment on why Skater Katsuki left St. Petersburg? Do you feel he performs as well under Coach Cialdini?”

“Victor! Your success with Yuuri Katsuki relied on a somewhat… personal touch. Will you be able to effectively coach without a… deeper connection?”

Victor, who had been steadfastly ignoring the shouted questions, whirled at the insinuating tone of the female reporter. His eyes were blazing and Mila and Yuri both automatically reached out to grab his shoulders before he could get in the reporter’s face. They could feel his chest heaving before he shrugged out of their hands and continued to his car. Yuri turned to glare at the crowd of cameras and microphones before barking “Oi! If you want an interview, SCHEDULE one. And I’d SUGGEST not mentioning the name Katsuki. Idiots!”

Mila shook her head to clear the memory, focusing instead on the two men. A clip of Yuri’s confrontation with the press had already hit the airwaves and from Victor’s harshly barked orders today, she had a feeling he had also seen the video. He had a tendency to lash out at anyone who even suggested that he was affected by his past. She huffed out a breath, frustrated. As if the sound reminded him of her presence, Victor turned to her and pointed towards the ice, where Yuri was finishing his jump progressions. “On the ice Babicheva, choreography then progressions,” he snapped. Mila made her way towards the opening in the rink wall, pursing her lips as she removed her skate guards.

“I have a name, Victor. You used to know it,” she muttered as she stepped onto the ice.

“And I have a job and a title, I’d suggest you learn it. Now, choreography. Let’s go!”

“Yessir. Coach.”

 

The same day, Detroit

Halfway across the world, a dark haired young man sat in bed, skimming his social media in a bout of late night insomnia. A pair of hamsters wiggled in his lap as he clicked on a link. Familiar faces and voices filled his ears as he watched the viral video. His eyes widened, and he clicked the phone off, scooping his furry friends up as he strode into the living room where he knew his roommate was indulging in a similar late-night session. “Yuuri?” he called as he took in the still figure curled up on the couch.

“Mmmm. Finally saw that clip?” Yuuri queried in the darkness. “It’s fine Phichit, I figured it was only a matter of time before someone dragged my name into it. My PR team is already drafting statements.” Phichit waited, knowing he’d have to be patient to get Yuuri to say what he was really thinking. The Japanese man finally sighed and patted the other side of the couch. Phichit joined him, depositing a hamster on his friend’s lap as he settled on the couch.

“I just thought, after a full year, maybe they’d stop pushing. I just want to be left alone and now the press is going to be hounding me again. I just won the World Championship. Again. What else can I do to show them that I am more than ‘Victor Nikiforov’s former student’, ‘Victor Nikiforov’s protegee’, ‘Victor Nikiforov’s ex-husband’ Dammit!” At the last phrase, his voice had twisted, tears suddenly blinding him. “He didn’t even have the decency to warn me himself, Phichit. He’s going to be at competitions again, where I’ll have to see him and as far as he knows, I found out from the press release, just like everybody else. Because that’s all I am to him now, just another skater, just another competitor to mow down in pursuit of his legacy!”

“You know you don’t actually believe that Yuuri. You saw that video, he looked like hell when they started bringing up your name. You could never be just another skater to him.” The slender figure reached out a hand to touch Yuuri’s shoulder. “Whatever happened between you two, he hasn’t stopped caring. And I know you haven’t either. Maybe he’s afraid to reach out… I mean, you pretty much banned him from contacting you after the last time you tried to talk…”

Yuuri barked a harsh laugh. “Ha! The one fucking time he listens to me.” Phichit flinched, the rarely used expletive revealing exactly how stressed his friend was over the situation. “How did everything get so messed up again? I was doing fine. I AM doing fine. I’ve won two World Championships since the day I walked out. Victor FUCKING Nikiforov didn’t even TOUCH my programs this past season, that was all me and Celestino. I’m a year away from my master’s degree so I can actually DO something when I retire if I don’t want to coach… I am FINE without him. I’m fine. I’m fine…” His voice had edged toward hysteria as his words tumbled out and Phichit knew the other man was on the verge of breaking down.

“Oh, Yuuri, please, I know. I know you’re fine. You’re amazing. You’re SO amazing and strong. It’s okay. You’ll be okay, you can get through this… mmmph!” His words cut off in muffled surprise as Yuuri grabbed him in a desperate hug, sobs shaking the older man’s shoulders. “Ohhhh, Yuuri. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I know it hurts. I’m here when you’re ready to talk. You can’t keep holding it all in… please let me in? Let your family in. Let someone in! We worry about you… Please? Talk to me?”

Yuuri pulled away, dashing a hand across his face to clear some of the tears. “I will Peach. I’m sorry I’ve shut everyone out, I just… thought I could do this on my own. I felt like I had to prove to everyone that I could survive without him, that I could stand on my own. But it’s like… I’m just treading water. All I do is skate and study and sleep. That’s not living. It’s barely surviving.” He shook his head, feeling like he was finally waking up a bit from the numbness he’d let fill him for over a year. “I can’t promise it will be now, or that it will be all at once even, but… I will talk with you.”

“And with… Victor?” Phichit prompted tentatively.

“No. Not yet. I’m… not ready.”

“It’s okay Yuuri, in your own time.”

Chapter Text

Early May, St. Petersburg

Glancing around the spartan but expensively decorated apartment, Victor sighed and dragged himself off the couch. His eyes felt dry from the hours of skate videos he had been analyzing, his fingers stained with ink from the notes he’d been taking. He hadn’t wanted to be head coach, but damned if he’d let anyone accuse him of not taking it seriously. They’d accused him of not taking things seriously the last time… He gritted his teeth and ruthlessly cut off that line of thought. He would NOT think of his last attempt at coaching. Would not think of cherry blossoms, or ninja houses, or hushed words spoken in a crowded old ice rink, golden-brown eyes sparkling up at him… “FUCK!” he swore harshly, the sound echoing in the empty space. He strode to the freezer, dragging out the bottle of vodka and pouring himself a rather large portion.

The press conference that morning had been brutal. His jaw hurt from gritting his teeth during question after probing question, all of them seeking to find out if he was good enough, if he was tough enough… and far too many touching on his weakest spot. ‘The Japanese Skater’, ‘Skater Katsuki’, ‘the current World Champion’. Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri. He slugged back the vodka, reaching for the bottle a second time. Yuuri... He closed his eyes, remembering…

“Please, Victor! Can it not be about you for ONE day? I’m sorry I pushed you to keep skating, you’re right, I shouldn’t have pressured you to compete in the Olympics. I was selfish and I’m SORRY. But it’s been a year and I have World’s in a month! I need you to be my coach, not stare at the ice and mope! Not storm off in a pout because you fall on a jump you aren’t even supposed to be doing anymore! Not retreat to the condo and drink yourself unconscious while I’m still at practice!”

“Oh, so I’m worthless as a skater AND a coach AND a husband? That must be quite a blow to your little Victor Nikiforov hero worship! Living FUCKING legend! Not as perfect as you thought, neh Yuuri?”

“Victor. You know I don’t think of you that way. I haven’t since the day I fell in love with you.” Yuuri’s voice was softer, pleading now. “You’re Victor. My Victor. My lovely Vitya. Not some image in a magazine.” Victor felt himself begin to relax as Yuuri continued. “You’re my charming, beautiful, frustrating husband. But I need you to be my talented, challenging, analytical coach too. I owe you three more world titles - I promised you five, remember?” Victor rolled his eyes, lips twitching as he fought the urge to laugh. Yuuri grinned up at his tall, slender spouse, then continued. “Although… I still think maybe an Olympic Gold Medal should count. I mean, that’s even better than World’s, right?” Victor tensed, lips thin and Yuuri stepped back, surprised to see Victor’s gaze darken again.

“You’re so damned proud of that ONE medal Yuuri. Katsuki Yuuri, Olympic Gold Medalist. Hero of Japan. It’s all you OR the media care about. You’ve forgotten that you would never have won ANY gold medals if I hadn’t stepped in to coach you. You sure as HELL wouldn’t have an Olympic Gold if I hadn’t blown out my knee and practically handed you the podium!” Victor’s voice had softened to a poisonous hiss as he stalked towards his husband. Yuuri backed up, eyes wide with hurt and a touch of fear. It was the fear that snapped Victor out of his rage. “Yuuri, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”

“No, Victor. I think you did. At least you’re finally being honest about how you feel.” Yuuri’s voice was low, shaking. Victor shook his head, reaching desperately for his husband’s hand but the smaller man backed away from him, turning to pull his keys from the end table. “I’m going back to the rink to practice. I have a title to reclaim, with or without your help. Don’t wait up. I’ll be home late.” Yuuri slammed the door behind him, his footsteps pounding loudly as he raced down the steps. Victor slid down the wall, tears forming as he bitterly repented his words.

There was a pounding sound filling the apartment as he broke from his reverie, and for one moment he thought it was the memory of Yuuri racing away from him. Then the pounding echoed again, and he moved swiftly to open the door. A flash of blond and red hair filled his vision as two bodies shoved past him and dragged him back towards the kitchen, a slim hand snatching the glass of vodka from his grasp. Victor half registered Georgi closing the door before joining the rest in the kitchen. Glaring, Victor leaned against the refrigerator and crossed his arms. “Why, exactly, are you all in my condo at this time of night? For that matter, why are you at my condo at all?”

Yuri sneered and slugged back the vodka, holding out the empty glass. “Don’t hold out old man, dig the bottle out and share.” Victor glared at him before rolling his eyes and pulling out the vodka. Mila crossed to the cabinet and pulled down glasses as they moved to settle at the table. Victor poured, and the four Russians threw back a shot before Victor refilled the glasses.

“So… at some point… is somebody going to explain WHY you are all in my kitchen this late at night?”

“This… is an intervention,” Georgi proclaimed in serious tones. Mila and Yuri both rolled their eyes at the dramatic older man.

“An intervention. With… vodka,” Victor deadpanned. Mila giggled, then reached her hand out and placed it on Victor’s shoulder.

“Victor, we’re worried about you.”

“Oi, speak for yourself Baba. I’m only here because Georgi promised there’d be vodka!”

Georgi and I are worried about you,” Mila amended. “This past year has been… rough, I know, but the last month...” She shook her head. “I get it. You’re the head coach now, and that’s a ton of pressure! But… Victor, we’re your friends, not just your students or underlings. You’re shutting everyone out. Again. It’s not healthy.”

“You aren’t communicating with the coaching staff, either,” Georgi chimed in. “We’re there to support your training programs, but we can’t do that if you don’t tell us what your training program IS. We all have a stake in the success of this Club. You don’t have to do this on your own.”

Victor grimaced, his grip tightening around the glass. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just… a lot. I worry that nobody will take me seriously. The press is vicious… I can’t let the Club fall apart on my watch. If Russia fails to medal at competitions, I’m the one that will take the blame.”

“Bullshit,” Yuri proclaimed flatly. “Mila’s the top rated female single’s skater. I’m number two in the men’s field. We’re not exactly novices. Russia will get her gold. Everyone in this room knows that’s not the real issue. So, do YOU want to talk about it, or should I start talking FOR you?” Victor paled, knowing where Yuri was attempting to steer the conversation. Yuri plowed on, ignoring Victor’s panicked expression. “Let’s start with the reason why I’m ranked second, SHALL WE?”

Victor shoved back from the table, frantic to get away from the glaring green eyes. “Yuri, I’m not, I don’t…”

“NOPE. You don’t get to fucking hide from this anymore Victor. Katsudon walked out on you and you’ve been a fucking disaster ever since. Jesus, Victor, you spent a year torturing him for doing the very thing you fucking wanted him to do. He thought you blamed him for your injury in PyeongChang. Do you know how many times I saw him cry over that? How much he hated that medal in the end? You told everyone else who would listen how proud you were of his Olympic gold… Did you ever bother to tell him? The ONE person he wanted to make proud, did he ever know that you were? I don’t know what caused him to finally snap, but I know that you fucking well deserved it. And hell, now you can’t even handle his NAME at a press conference. And you won’t DO anything about it. You didn’t try to stop him, you didn’t go after him, you just sit here and MOPE while he turns around and manages to get his life at least somewhat together. WITHOUT YOU. He’s winning. WITHOUT YOU. And it’s tearing you apart, so you’re trying to tear everyone else down with you. Well FUCK YOU and your self-pity.”

“Maaaybe we shouldn’t have brought Yuri,” Mila whispered in an aside to Georgi as the young blond skater threw back his drink. All three pairs of eyes locked on the silver haired coach as his chest heaved, waiting for his response. With a strangled moan Victor slid to the floor, sobbing.

“Ah, shit,” Yuri muttered, moving towards the man and nudging him with a freshly refilled glass. “Drink.” A shaking hand reached for the glass and Victor tossed back the alcohol before holding the glass back up for a refill. Yuri grimaced but complied. “I’m not going to apologize,” he grunted, “because somebody needed to say it. You drove him away and then you spent a year hiding from the results. He spent the year proving that he could win on his own terms. Heh. Turns out the Piggy Prince has a spine after all.”

“I know. He doesn’t need me. He’s fine without me.”

“Dammit, that’s not what I said. But Victor, you spent years convincing him he could stand on his own blades, making him realize that he was good enough to WIN, then turned around and made him feel like shit when he actually did it. Even Katsudon has limits.” Victor shuddered, but raised his head.

“I was so angry about being forced to retire due to injury instead of by my own choice. I’d wanted to step away before the Olympics, but Yuuri was so excited to compete with me on that stage… I let him talk me into it. I already had two Olympic golds, I didn’t need another medal, but I couldn’t disappoint him. I couldn’t let him down. And then I blew out my knee and I... I took it out on him. Kept throwing it in his face, telling him I basically handed him his gold. I was supposed to be his husband, his coach… his number one supporter…and I wouldn’t even let him enjoy his victory. His freeskate was perfect, his combined score had already broken the World Record before I took the ice… He would have won anyways, but when I fell, I stole every bit of pride he should have had and turned it into guilt. If you knew the things I said those last few weeks… the things I said after he ran back to Japan… he hates me. God, he hates me.”

Georgi sighed sorrowfully, moving past Yuri to join Victor on the floor. “Victor, old friend, I know you still love him. Why are you not reaching out and begging his forgiveness? I may not know him as well as the rest of you, but he never struck me as someone to hold a grudge. And he loved you, deeply. I could see that, plain as day. His programs last season spoke of sorrow and pain… he is hurting too. His heart has broken. I can see it in his steps. He doesn’t hate you. He is mourning you. Grieving for you. Talk to him.”

“God, of course you think love will win Georgi. But I can’t. The last time we spoke, we screamed at each other. Screamed. Angry, hateful words, Georgi. He told me never to contact him again. Blocked my number. And you’re wrong. He may have written those programs in pain, but I know he’s past it. He’s moved on…” Victor trailed off, his voice faint and filled with sorrow. Yuri snorted, plopping down next to Mila.

“Pfft. Moved on. Shows what you know. God, Victor, you really are an oblivious ass.” Victor raised his eyes to the pair still sitting at the table. Mila smiled gently at the older figure, placing a small but firm hand on Yuri’s shoulder to still his next words.

“Victor, he hasn’t moved on. Think about it. You two were such flirts on the ice… always sending messages through your dancing. His repertoire is so strong these days that almost nobody has noticed, but those of us who know him… who know you… Vitya, he changed his jump composition at last year’s World’s, after he left you… left St. Petersburg... You can’t tell me that wasn’t significant!” Victor stared at her, obviously not understanding.

Yuri huffed out a sigh and spoke in an almost gentle tone. “Victor. Last year’s World’s was still your choreography and… he pulled the quad flip. And he hasn’t performed it since. Not once. Not since the day he left you.”

March, One Year Ago, Japan

A slim, ageless woman stood near the international arrivals exit, eyes anxiously roaming, seeking the young man who had called her in an anguished panic a few days ago. Finally spying the slumped form of her favorite student, she moaned softly into a clenched fist. “Ohhhh, Yuuri,” she breathed, striding forward to meet the diminished figure. Yuuri paused as they stood face to face, not quite meeting Minako’s eyes as she placed her hands on his shoulders.

“Minako-sensei. Thank you for agreeing to help me on such short notice. I… I didn’t know who else to turn to,” Yuuri spoke in monotone, his flat words reflecting the tightly suppressed emotion hiding behind his eyes. “You’ve filled in as my coach at Nationals a few times and, I just… I need someone to watch my practices and fill in for the formalities. I… don’t think I can deal with the press alone. Has… has anything made the news yet? I’ve been avoiding the media since… since before I left.” His lips pressed into a thin line as he struggled to hide his pain. Minako’s heart ached for the delicate raven-haired man. He had gone through so much struggle and she had truly believed he had found joy at last. Whatever had happened between him and Victor, she prayed it would not break her young friend. He had so much grace and talent hidden in his slim-shouldered form, it wouldn’t be fair for him to fall now that he had achieved so much!

“C’mon Yuuri. I know you’re exhausted, let’s get you to the hotel. Your sister is there, she didn’t want to overwhelm you after your flight, but if you’re feeling up to it, perhaps dinner?” Minako trailed off, realizing that Yuuri had tears silently trailing down his face. “Oh, sweetheart. It’s okay. Let’s just get your bags and head back. You can rest as long as you need. We’re here when you’re ready for us.”

The ride to the hotel was silent, Yuuri gazing with unseeing eyes out of his window. Minako and Mari had been thrilled when they had discovered that World’s was being held in their home country this year. They tried to make as many of Yuuri’s competitions as they could, but it was always easier when the events were closer to home. Now, Minako was simply glad that the proximity allowed both herself and Mari to be with Yuuri. Yuuri, who had spoken in broken tones on the phone, uttering the unthinkable. He couldn't take it anymore, he was coming home. He was leaving Victor. He needed a stand-in coach. Could she please help? Minako shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. He hadn’t told her his story, but she would be there for him, no matter what.

Yuuri finally stirred, his eyes holding slightly more focus as he glanced towards the delicate woman next to him. “You didn’t answer, earlier. About the press?” Minako paused, her lips pressed thinly together. “So yes. Something leaked. Tell me.” His words were firm, but his eyes were terrified as they stared across the cab.

Minako finally sighed and reached for Yuuri’s hand. “One of the sports networks found out that Victor was still in Russia, even though you had been seen boarding the plane for Japan. They got ahold of the latest ISU coaching list and figured out that he wasn’t listed as your coach for World’s. Nobody’s sure what it means, but the press has been camped outside of your condo trying to get a statement since you left.”

Yuuri leaned his head against the back of the seat, closing his eyes briefly. “I’m surprised they weren’t lying in wait for me at the airport. It’s probably too much to hope that they won’t be at the hotel…” He began rummaging in his carry-on bag, retrieving a pack of face wipes and a comb. Minako watched, surprised, as he completed a hasty repair of hair and face, wiping away the traces of tears and travel. His shoulders rolled back, and he sat straighter, a vacant but pleasant look settling on his face. Minako shuddered. Of all the tricks to learn from Victor… Yuuri hated his husband’s ‘press face’. Why borrow it now? Yuuri glanced at his right hand, staring at the glint of gold there. Minako felt her stomach sink as he pulled the simple band from his finger. “I’ll win this without Victor Nikiforov,” he said softly. Pulling out his wallet, he tucked the ring into the zippered coin compartment. “I don’t need his coaching. And I don’t need his ring. I will prove that I am enough. I will be enough.” The cab pulled to a stop within sight of a ring of press cameras and reporters. Yuuri steeled himself and stepped out. Alone.

Early May, St. Petersburg

“Alright Mila, let’s take a look at the step sequence for your freeskate. I think we can squeeze a few more points out of it.” Mila made her way onto the ice, pausing to smirk lightly at the sunglasses blocking her coach’s eyes.

“So, they have names again?” Georgi’s deep voice echoed in Victor’s skull as he turned to face the dark-haired coach. “Rough night?” he murmured quietly, quirking an eyebrow at Victor’s unusually disheveled appearance. Victor rolled his eyes before realizing the gesture was futile while wearing the dark shades.

“A bunch of jackasses broke into my apartment last night and drank all of my vodka,” whined the very hungover legend. “But I guess I’m glad they did.” Victor paused, “I’ve been an idiot. For a very long time. And, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fix everything, Georgi, but maybe it’s time to start trying. I got so wrapped up in everything that was going wrong last year that I forgot to focus on everything that was going right in my life.” His attention briefly focused on the redhead dancing her way across the ice. “I don’t know if I can ever make up for the things I’ve said and done to… to everyone. I don’t know if I can salvage everything, but I can start here. Start by being the coach… the friend they deserve. That you deserve.”

Georgi smiled sadly at his oldest friend. “I think, Victor, that there are other people that you should reach out to. Start by repairing the smaller breaks if you wish, but… please, don’t throw away the chance at happiness because of pride or fear. Talk to him. Before it really is too late.” Georgi pretended not to notice the tears slipping past Victor’s sunglasses.

“I messed up. I messed up so badly. I don’t even know where to begin. What if… what if I waited too long? I wasted so much time feeling sorry for myself. God, I’m an idiot.” Victor swore, then recalled himself and gestured for Mila to begin her sequence over.

“You won’t know if you don’t try. All I know is that if you don’t reach out, at some point it will be too late, and you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering ‘what if?’ Trust me, I’m something of an expert on ‘what ifs’” Georgi said with a small, self-deprecating smile.

Victor swallowed, his throat moving convulsively as he fought the urge to sob. Georgi was right. He was running out of time. Whatever happened, he couldn’t let Yuuri become a ‘what if’. Fixing that bridge would take work. It would be hard, perhaps the hardest thing he’d ever done, but then… he’d always reveled in challenge. What was it Georgi had said? Start by repairing the smaller breaks? His eyes narrowed as he steeled himself. Pulling up the contacts in his phone, he began a text to a long unused number.

Chapter Text

Late May, St. Petersburg

“Hello, gorgeous, buy you a drink?” drawled a deep, sultry voice in Victor’s ear. He felt a body settle into the bar stool next to him as a hand stroked down his back. Victor suppressed a shiver as he turned in his seat to gaze at the tall, stunning blond beside him.

“What’s a good-looking guy like you doing in a joint like this?” Victor responded flirtatiously, trailing his hand lightly over the other man’s thigh. The tall blond leaned closer, his breath ghosting over Victor’s face. Victor held his breath, mesmerized by the gorgeous green eyes holding his own.

“You, Victor Nikiforov, are a grade A jerk. But I have missed you,” the stunning man whispered, finally pulling the silver haired Russian into a tight hug. Victor clutched the tall figure to him, tears rising to his eyes. Pulling back, he rested their foreheads together, hands still loosely clasped.

“Jesus, Chris. I honestly wasn’t sure if you’d show after how we left things after you retired… thank you,” he choked out, holding his best friend closer. The two men pulled apart as the bartender approached, trying to stifle their emotions long enough to place drink orders. Comfortable silence held between them as they waited for their drinks, toasting each other before Victor continued. “I am so, incredibly sorry Chris. Retiring was your choice, I never should have called you a quitter. It was selfish. I wanted you to stay on the ice since I was still competing. You were younger than me, I couldn’t understand your decision. I’ve regretted the things I said a thousand times since then. I… the last couple of years… they were terrible. But they were so much worse because I lost the right to talk to my best friend. I’m so glad you accepted my invitation.” Victor was babbling in his rush of joy at their reunion.

“Me? Turn down a free vacation courtesy of the Head Coach of the St. Petersburg Skate Club??” Chris winked outrageously, then softened. “Victor, cher, it has been forgiven for ages now. I’ve only been waiting for you to reach out. I… I wanted to call after… after Yuuri. But, I wasn’t sure I’d be welcomed. I would have been there, if you had ever asked.” Chris looked genuinely sorrowful as he placed his hand on the other’s shoulder. Victor grimaced, shaking his head.

“I was stubborn. There were so many times I almost called but, I felt like I didn’t deserve comfort after everything I’d said and done. I fucked up. God Chris, I fucked up so badly. With you. With him.” Victor’s voice choked off and he glanced away, sipping at his drink to give himself a chance to collect his emotions.

“You still love him, then?” Chris said, an odd light in his eyes. “I thought as much. Your reactions to the media questions are rather telling.” He paused, contemplating the forlorn man in front of him. He seemed to come to some sort of decision. “Victor, have you seen his performances since he left? Have you watched them?” Victor gulped and shook his head. Beyond keeping an eye on competition placements and international rankings, he’d avoided watching senior level competitions lately.

Chris smiled softly. “Perhaps you should. They are… beautiful. And desperately painful. They break hearts and records… but he doesn’t skate just for the audience. Every performance is for you. Still. Even if he doesn't realize it... he's still calling out to you.” Victor looked up sharply, holding Chris’ eyes in a fierce gaze.

“He’s always been a stunning skater, he’s just matured, his choreography has improved…”

“Oh Victor, anyone watching can tell it’s more than mere artistry, more than just choreography. For once, perhaps I know more than you. Honestly, just because you shut me out of your life, doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my old connections and friends.” He stared knowingly at his old friend and rival, lips quirking into a teasing grin. Victor gulped.

“Y-you still talk to Yuuri?” He stammered.

“Among others, yes. Phichit Chulanont, for example, is just full of fascinating information,” he smirked. Chris pulls out his phone, fiddling with the screen for a few seconds. “You know, Phichit Chulanont, best friend and roommate to one Yuuri Katsuki. Charming man, you really should be following his Instagram…” He extends his phone to Victor, the app already open to an image of the stunning dark-haired man who haunted Victor’s dreams.

In the picture, Yuuri’s cheeks are flushed, eyes half closed, long lashes casting lovely shadows. His lips twist in a knowing smirk, hands on the back of his head, arms lightly flexed. A gold medal hangs around his neck, resting on his bare chest. Perfect, defined abs leading down to that subtle ‘v’ shape just at his hip bones…

Jesus.”

Late May, Detroit

“PHICHIT-KUN!”

The small Thai man paused, mentally running through a checklist of recent dire infractions that could have caused his roommate to shout his name in that particular voice. Unfortunately, the list was rather long, and Phichit finally shrugged, deciding to wait until Yuuri identified his latest crime.

“HOW could you post that picture??” Yuuri unhelpfully screeched. Phichit posted a lot of pictures. He waited patiently, certain the rant would soon clarify matters. Sure enough, Yuuri continued. “How much did I have to drink?? I don’t even remember taking off my shirt. Why am I wearing a medal?? Who let me take my medals off the wall?? Oh my god Phichit, you are the worst friend in the entire history of friends. I am dead. Actually dead.” Yuuri demonstrated his current state of deadness by collapsing on the couch, face buried in his hands. Phichit, less sympathetic than Yuuri preferred, merely deposited a hamster on Yuuri’s face. “OHMYGODPHICHIT!” Yuuri wailed, his rage somewhat undercut by instinctive hamster cuddling.

“Yuuri, c’mon. How was I supposed to ignore the return of ‘KatsuDAMN!’ Have you looked at that picture? The ice, it has melted. The world needed to see the glory that is Yuuri Katsuki, King of Eros, reigning World Champion, Sex Personif-mmmmph!!!” Phichit’s eyes sparkled as his mouth was covered by his fuming roommate.

“WHY??? WHY did I let an Instagram addict be my roommate again???´ Yuuri wailed, clutching at a throw pillow. Phichit laughed, knowing his friend would only put up a token protest. If he’d been truly angry, he’d be quiet and a bit on the scary side. He shuddered, remembering a few college era Yuuri threats. Nope. He did NOT want to get on Yuuri’s bad side. He quickly scrolled through his camera roll, quietly deleting a few of the more compromising photos before they could be discovered.

“Awww, c’mon Yuuri. Figure Skating Monthly retweeted that photo! Your fans were thirsty, I merely provided a glass of cool water! You never post anything!” Yuuri groaned and pulled the pillow over his face, squirming. Phichit laughed and glanced back at his phone. A notification caught his eye and he nearly fell off the couch.

‘v-nikiforov has followed you’ Shit. SHIT SHIT SHIT. He could NOT let Yuuri find out, but his mind raced as he pondered the ramifications. Why, after nearly a year, had Victor reactivated his Instagram account? Glancing back at Yuuri to make sure he wasn’t paying attention, Phichit clicked on the account name. No new posts, the last images dating back to the previous spring. He thought carefully for another moment, then pulled up the dm screen. Narrowing his eyes, he sent a message.

phichit+chu: Explain.

He left Yuuri flailing on the couch and wandered into the kitchen, eyes on his screen as a message came through.

v-nikiforov: Not sure what you mean.
phichit+chu: Bullshit Nikiforov. You’ve been off Instagram for ages and you just happen to re-follow me the morning after I post a picture of your ex?
v-nikiforov: … It was quite the picture. Congratulations
phichit+chu: Wait. What? OH!!!! 
phichit+chu: OHMYGOD. I am not banging your husband.
v-nikiforov: …ex-husband
phichit+chu: Oh, right, because of the divorce. Oh. Wait. Hmmmmm…
phichit+chu: I happen to know for a fact that neither of you has bothered to file the paperwork.
phichit+chu: Gee. Wonder why... >:)
v-nikiforov: Fine, my… estranged husband? Can we NOT debate relationship definitions?
v-nikiforov: Or ‘lack of relationship’ definitions, I guess.
v-nikiforov: Look. I’m just reconnecting with the skating world. I figured I should start paying more attention now that I’ll be coaching at the senior level competitions.
phichit+chu: Right.
phichit+chu: So, I guess you probably don’t want to see the rest of the pics I took. Ho hum, guess I’ll just delete them.

Phichit waited for Victor’s response. “Here, fishy fishy fishy,” he crooned, a plan already blossoming in his head. Yuuri was miserable and Phichit knew why. It seemed that Victor was in a similar state. The two heartbroken idiots would never make a move on their own, so it fell to their friends to step in and pave the way. And Phichit was nothing if not a very good friend. Flipping through Instagram while he waited, he paused at an image posted on Christophe’s page. He and Victor beamed up from the screen in a goofy selfie, drinks in hand. So. That friendship was on the mend. He smiled as the plan began to fall into place. A new message popped up.

v-nikiforov: Fine.
v-nikiforov: You win. Share? Please?

Phichit grinned as he began uploading the images to the chat log. Yes. He was definitely a very good friend.

Chapter Text

Early June, Detroit

Yuuri leaned against the rink wall, marking adjustments in the notebook he used to choreograph his routines. He mentally added the base points before nodding in satisfaction. His technical scores should be solid, even if they weren’t the highest on the ice. He’d always preferred to focus on the performance aspects in his programs and there was no sense in changing that, even if it was getting close to an Olympic qualifying year. He stretched carefully, grimacing as he felt a slight twinge in his left ankle. He’d be 30 by the time the Beijing Olympics rolled around, easily the oldest in the competitive field. Of course, that was if he made it through the next couple of seasons. He was lucky he still hadn’t had any major injuries during his career, but he had to admit that his time on the ice was likely drawing to a close. And when he could no longer skate… what then? His phone vibrated, drawing the skater out of his reverie.

Unlocking the screen, he was surprised by the number of notifications he’d received from his social media apps. Probably Phichit posting another surprise photo, he pondered, more amused than irritated. He began to replace the phone, when a text popped up.

Peach: Stay off of Instagram.
Peach: And Twitter.
Peach: Also the entire internet.

 

Yuuri felt a familiar ball of anxiety settle into his stomach. Phichit constantly berated him for how little he checked his pages. The last time Phichit had tried to ban him from the internet had been after World’s last year, when he had appeared without…

Oh. Oh no. It was something to do with Victor. He hesitated, torn between wanting to turn away and continue practicing and needing to know what had his best friend in a panic. Knowing he’d likely regret the decision, he pulled up the list of notifications from Instagram. He’d been tagged in hundreds of posts, many of which held the same link. Yuuri set the phone down and snagged his blade guards, putting them on with shaking hands. Stepping off the ice, he settled onto a nearby bench before hesitantly clicking the link, which led him to an article on a particularly gossipy sports blog. A large, slightly blurry photo showed his one-time coach in a close embrace, forehead to forehead with a recognizable mop of curly, blond hair. Something ugly began to blossom in his gut.

-Russia’s Ice Legend in Steamy Romance with Former Rival

Russian Coach Victor Nikiforov was spotted having a rather intimate conversation with Swiss Commentator/Retired Skater Christophe Giacometti. As seen in the above image, the two were spotted offering each other a variety of affectionate gestures. Suspicions were first raised when friendly ‘selfies’ of the pair hit Giacometti’s Instagram a week ago, but witnesses claim that the pair were a lot steamier off camera! Says a source: “I wouldn’t say they were exactly making out, but they were definitely together. Whispering in each other’s ears, hugging, touching each other’s thighs…”-

Yuuri clicked off the phone, his vision starting to swirl. He breathed deeply, trying to push down the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. Victor wasn’t his anymore. He didn’t have the right to feel jealous, he’d chosen to walk away, chosen to let him go. Just because they hadn’t dealt with the paperwork didn’t mean Victor wasn’t free to do as he pleased. His hand clenched around the phone. They hadn’t even talked in nearly a year. They were basically strangers, right? But Chris… he’d thought they were friends. They’d just talked a few weeks ago and he'd mentioned nothing. If you were friends, you didn’t go after the other’s exes, that was the rule, right? Angry tears filled his eyes. Screw them. Screw both of them. They deserved each other.

His phone vibrated in his hand and he glanced at the screen. Phichit. He clicked ‘ignore’. Chest still heaving, he began to yank off his skates with frantic, jerky movements.

“Yuuri?” came a concerned voice. Shit. Celestino had noticed. He’d been off the ice too long, practice was supposed to last another hour and he was half out of his skates.

“S-sorry Coach,” he stammered. “I h-have to go. Something came up. I’ll make up the time tomorrow, I promise.”

“Don’t worry about it, your programs are coming along nicely. An hour won’t undo the work you’ve already put in. We have months to practice before the Grand Prix Series kicks off!”
Celestino took a harder look at his prize student. “Yuuri… are you alright? I… I saw that article. If you need to take a few days…”

“It’s fine Celestino, just… I’ll see you tomorrow, ok?” Yuuri needed to get away from his coach’s knowing gaze. Too knowing. Shit, had everybody known? How long had they known? His head spun with the questions. They’d probably been expecting it all along. After all, Chris was tall and attractive and confident… he had everything that Yuuri lacked. They looked good together, the match made sense. Victor was probably relieved that Yuuri had taken himself out of the picture, had probably just been waiting for the media furor to die down before making a move.

Yuuri blinked. Somehow, he had managed to make it outside to his car, his hands shaking as he pulled his keys out of his pocket. A hand touched his shoulder and he jumped, dropping the keys.

“Shit, Yuuri, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!” Phichit blurted. “When you didn’t answer my texts, I drove over. I told you to stay off the internet… you read that awful article, didn’t you?”

Yuuri swiped his keys off the ground, leveling a glare at his roommate. “Did you know?” Phichit backed up at the venom in his voice. “Did everyone know?” Phichit shook his head frantically.

“Whoa, whoa Yuuri. It’s a shitty gossip site. They make up trashy articles about athletes all the time!”

“A picture’s worth a thousand words Phichit. I don’t think they made that up!” Yuuri held his phone screen towards the Thai skater, the damning image drew a grimace from the smaller man. “And I don’t care if they date. I’ve got no claim on Victor, he’s a free man. I’ve moved on, I’m fine.”

“Yuuri, I love you dearly, but… that is such a load of shit!”

“Phichit…”

“No. I will not let you do this to yourself. You are going to listen to me. Victor and Chris aren’t dating. And you sure as hell are not ‘fine’ if Victor dates Chris, or anyone else for that matter!” Phichit placed his hands on the Japanese skater’s shoulders, trying to force him to listen.

“I. AM. FINE.” Yuuri spat. For a moment he held Phichit’s eyes and then…

“Shit! Yuuri!” Phichit gasped as Yuuri collapsed on the pavement, breath heaving and sobbing in a familiar pattern. “Okay Yuuri, you’re okay. Breathe with me, please? Nice and slow. H̄āycı! Yuuri! H̄āycı!” Phichit forced himself to breathe in long slow breaths, encouraging Yuuri to follow suit. After what felt like an eternity, the older man’s shoulders began to move in less frantic patterns and Phichit heaved a sigh of relief. “You’re okay Yuuri. Just keep breathing, alright? I’ve got you.”

Watery, brown eyes peered up through bedraggled raven hair. “I… I’m so sorry Phichit. I haven’t… like that… not in a while…” he stuttered. The exhausted man clutched his younger friend. “Thank you, god, I’m sorry I’m such a disaster, Peach!”

“Oh Yuuri, you know I love you, no matter what! But please, don’t buy into trashy internet gossip? I promise you, I know for a fact that it’s not true, okay?”

At this, Yuuri squinted suspiciously. “Do I want to know WHY you know it’s not true Peach? Who, exactly, have you been talking to? Behind my back, I might add!”

Phichit coughed nervously, surreptitiously locking his phone. “Ummmm, well, have you talked to Chris lately?” He steeled himself. “Maybe… maybe you should talk to Chris. Or Yurio… or maybe you should talk to…”

Yuuri cut him off with a vicious shake of his head. “Don’t try to play matchmaker Chulanont. I know you too well.”

Phichit shook his head sadly. “Yuuri, if it makes me a bad friend to want to see you happy, then… I’ll be a bad friend. You deserve happiness and you deserve love and dammit Yuuri you deserve success and friendship and all the wonderful things in the world. How do I convince you of that? Hmmm?”

The older man shook his head slowly. “Love, friendship, success, happiness… I don’t think I get to keep all of them at once. I think I’m pretty lucky to have success, and for some reason you refuse to let me get out of friendship, so… two out of four isn’t bad?” He gave a half-hearted grin towards his roommate.

The Thai skater peered intently at the shaky figure in front of him. “Yuuri. Answer me one question and I will drop this for now. I mean, honestly answer me one question.” At his unexpectedly solemn words, Yuuri nodded tentatively. “Are you still in love with Victor Nikiforov?” A gulp. A pause. Then, quietly…

“Yes.”

 

Early June, St. Petersburg

Yuri pinched the bridge of his nose, glaring balefully at the message indicator on his phone. He did not have time to deal with annoying people and yet they kept forcing themselves on him. Rolling his eyes, he finally opened the message.

phichit+chu: Hiiiii! I need help! :D
phichit+chu: Well, I mean, I need help helping someone else!
phichit+chu: Someone we both want to help!!!
phichit+chu: Uh, someones plural! That we both want to help!

Yuri sighed. Yep. It was definitely too goddamned early for annoyingly chipper Thai skaters. He closed the messages, vowing to drink a very large amount of coffee before attempting to wade through whatever scheme the man wanted to drag him into. His phone vibrated in his hand and Yuri rolled his eyes before glancing down at the screen.

otabek-altin: Have you talked to Chulanont lately?

Yuri groaned. Perfect. If that hamster loving nutjob had somehow talked Beka into whatever he was scheming, he was doomed.

Chapter Text

June 17th, St. Petersburg

Clumsy fingers grasped at buttons and cuff links as two bodies collided against the edge of the bed. With a delighted laugh, the smaller, dark haired man gently shoved until Victor collapsed against the mattress, arms full of his shining, golden, perfect, brilliant husband. His husband. HIS. Lips collided, formal wear falling to the floor as they continued their frantic dance. Warm hands trailed down his sides, dipping teasingly past the waist of his trousers before deftly sliding off the belt and flipping open the top button. Pulling back, Yuuri gazed down at him, bare chest glistening, brown eyes sparkling with joy and love. “I finally have you exactly where I want you Nikiforov,” he grinned, fingers inching lower. Victor arched into the touch as Yuuri whispered into his ear. “You’re mine. Forever.”

Bright blue eyes opened with a snap, the words from the dream lingering in Victor’s mind. Forever. His eyes closed again, tears swimming to the surface, chest tight. He tried to pull back into the memory, tried to lose himself once more in the look that had been in Yuuri’s eyes, but the dream slipped out of his grasp. Love and joy were replaced by the pain and hurt and anger he had last seen in those shimmering brown depths. A groan ripped itself from somewhere deep in Victor’s soul as he forced himself into a sitting position, burying his head against his hands.

Finally rolling off the bed, he padded his way to a long untouched drawer and hesitated before opening it. His long fingers brushed gently against a worn dog collar, then drifted to a small, velvet jewelry box. His hand closed on the box, lifting it almost reverently onto the top of the dresser. Setting it down, he paused before removing the upside-down frame that had rested beneath the box. Victor swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing in a convulsive gulp as he steeled himself to look at the framed image.

Beaming up at him were familiar faces, caught in a moment of shining happiness. His eyes roved, drinking in each smile. Chris. Yurio. Phichit. Mila. Takeshi. Yuuko, glowingly pregnant. Minako. The Katsukis. And there, in the center, brilliant in their matching tuxes and so in love… he brushed shaking fingers over the joyful faces looking up at him from the past. His choked whisper sounded too loud in the quiet room as he clutched the frame to his chest.

“Happy Anniversary Yuuri.”

June 17th, One Year Ago, Hasetsu

The early morning sunlight filtered into the rink as Yuuri slowly worked through the old figures. As obsolete as they were, the almost ritualistic moves were a soothing influence on the heartbroken man’s soul. He jumped suddenly, as the sound of his phone broke the silence of his morning ritual. Pulse pounding, he moved towards the edge of the rink and glanced at his lock screen. Heart in his throat, he answered.

“Victor?”

“Huh. Didn’t think you’d actually answer.”

“Victor, it’s after two in the morning for you… why are you calling me now? Are you… are you drunk?”

“And a happy anniversary to you too, dear husband.”

The chill in Victor’s voice sent a frisson of fear down Yuuri’s spine. “Vitya, I…”

“NO.” Came a harsh voice. “You don’t get to use that name anymore. You left. You ran. You didn’t give me a chance to fix things. So, you don’t get to call me that anymore!”

Yuuri’s breath hitched. “Victor, can we not do this now?”

“When EXACTLY would you like to do this Yuuri? You walked away. You didn’t even warn me it was coming!”

“Victor, please, don’t play dumb. I know you aren’t. You have to have seen there were problems…”

“I wish I had. I should have remembered. When things get rough, you just run away, run away home. Because you run from your failures, run from any hint of a challenge, neh Yuuri?”

“Victor, is this really the time…”

“Did you ever actually love me Yuuri? Or was this all some elaborate attempt at shoring up your own mediocre abilities? Use the famous champion to bolster your own failing reputation? Hmmm? Did you get what you needed out of me? Is that why you left? Because you finally got everything you wanted from me? You’re the champion now, what use could you possibly have for me?”

Yuuri gasped, the shock and pain of the words hitting him like a physical blow. “Victor! Stop! How can you… do you really think so little of me? Is this really how you feel? Today? Of all days?”

“What better confidence boost than marrying your childhood hero Yuuri? But I suppose it was too much to ask for you to stick around when things got tough.”

“Why are you saying this? HOW are you saying this? Do you really think we meant NOTHING?”

Silence filled the line.

“You know Yuuri, I really don’t know anymore.”

Yuuri stilled at the cold words, clutching at the rink wall. He gulped, trying to hold back the sobs that filled his throat. “Fine,” he spat, “If that’s how you feel, then stay away from me Victor. You aren’t my coach, you aren’t my friend. You aren’t my husband. You’re nothing to me.”

Victor’s breath hitched through the line. “Yuuri, wait… I…”

“NO. You stay the hell away from me!” Yuuri’s words had crescendoed into a furious scream. “Don’t you dare call, or message or talk to me again! I’m not some weak protegee bowing at your altar and I will prove it to you and the rest of the world. I will win, without you. So, stay away from me Victor Nikiforov.”

“YUURI!”

“NO! You don’t get to ‘Yuuri’ me anymore! Stay away! I don’t need you anymore!”

Yuuri flung his blue poodle imprinted phone case as hard as he could against the rink wall. The shattered plastic glared at him accusingly. Shattered, just like every hope and dream he’d had. Fine. Yuuri would build his own path. Without Victor Nikiforov.

June 17th, Present Day, Detroit

Yuuri gazed distractedly into the corner of the living room, serious brown eyes lost in the past. Clutched loosely in his fist was a plain golden band, half a snowflake etched into its interior. He felt torn, caught on the cusp of a precipice, not sure which way he would fall. Was he happy right now? He had success, he had friends, he had a family that loved him. Could he really complain about his life? It would be so easy to just stay on the path he’d spent the last year forging for himself. Phichit kept pushing him to reach back out to Victor but… what had love actually brought him in the end? Did he really want to confront that pain again?

His hand clutched convulsively at the ring. His mind shot down a different path, remembering breathless nights and heart shaped smiles and arms holding him close as he wept. He remembered stolen kisses on the rink and nights spent hand-in-hand, wandering dozens of glittering cities. Tears slipped down his cheeks and he clutched the ring to his heart.

A knock startled him from his reverie and he hastily wiped the traces of his weeping from his face before hastily tucking the ring in his pocket and answering.

“Delivery for a Yuuri Katsuki?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Sign here please.” Yuuri complied, taking the package from the delivery man and closing the door. He made his way to the kitchen table and pondered the non-descript white cardboard box before shrugging and opening the tabs on the top. His heart stopped. Shaking hands reached into the box, carefully pulling out the slim crystal vase and the brilliant bouquet.

Blue roses.

Only one person would send him blue roses on this day.

He reached for the card tucked amongst the brilliantly dyed petals. His eyes widened as he read the inscription.

‘Love always, V’

He swallowed and felt himself begin to tilt off the edge of the precipice.

June 18th, St. Petersburg

Yuri leaned on the rink wall with one leg pulled up into an impossibly high stretch and watched his coach and younger rink mate skate side by side, polishing a step sequence. He studied the young man on the ice. Alexei Ivanov would be making his senior debut this year and had earned a place at the Grand Prix series thanks to his finish at Junior World’s in the spring. Narrowing his eyes, the tall blond nodded to himself. Alexei wouldn’t be a threat this year, but if his edgework improved…
His phone jolted on the top of the wall and Yuri snatched it before it could fall onto the ice. Clicking the notification, he rolled his eyes. Chulanont.

phichit+chu: make sure V checks Instagram today
phichit+chu: it’s important for the plan
yuri-plisetsky: I hate you and also your plan.
yuri-plisetsky: You realize that I’m only going along with this because those idiots are more annoying apart than together?
phichit+chu: Yes yes. You’re very tough and macho and definitely not a secret soft kitten. :D
phichit+chu: Just make sure he checks Instagram ;)

“Hey Victor, make sure you check Instagram, which you haven’t actually updated in literally a year!” Yuri muttered sarcastically to himself. “Yeah, that won’t be hella suspicious…” He sighed and started scrolling through his updates, trying to figure out why it was so damned important for Victor to check the app.

“Hmmmm, do I have to ban your phone like I do the Junior skaters, Yura?” Yuri nearly jumped as he glanced up from the device. Shit. He hadn’t even noticed Victor approaching him. He casually clicked off the phone. “What’s so fascinating today, Yurio?”

“I’ve told you not to call me that, old man. I’m just checking my social media. You know, Instagram? Not that you actually use it… probably too senile to remember how to upload pictures!” He tossed his phone onto a nearby bench and bent to remove his blade guards. “If you’re done babysitting Alexei, I want to work on my spins.” Victor waved a hand, indicating that Yuri was free to take the ice. As he sped off, he glanced over his shoulder to see the silver haired coach had already pulled out his own phone. Yuri flashed a wolfish grin. Easy. Victor was way too predictable.

Chapter Text

June 18th, St. Petersburg

The tall, silver-haired coach watched in annoyance as his most exasperating student skated away. He wasn’t old! Of course he knew how to use Instagram! He just… didn’t post anymore. He’d reactivated the app after Chris had shared the picture of Yuuri with him a few weeks ago, and he’d followed most of the current figure skating community. If he mainly scanned one particular Thai skater’s account in hopes of photos of his elusive roommate, well, that was the beauty of anonymous browsing. He huffed out a breath in frustration. Fine. He’d post something. He had all those photos of training sessions; he could just share a few of those, add some appropriately coach-ish hashtags… he could definitely do this!

Opening the app, he began clearing his notifications, eyes scanning for any new posts from Phichit. Thumb hovering over the screen, he suddenly jerked back in shock.

‘katsuki-y posted a photo’

His heart stuttered into a faster rhythm. He double checked the screen.

‘katsuki-y posted a photo’

Yuuri had unblocked him. Yuuri had unblocked him.

“Georgi! Can you keep an eye on Yura’s spin practice? I, um, I need a minute.” The dark-haired assistant coach gave him a strange look but moved to rinkside and nodded. Victor gave him a grateful smile, then headed towards the exit, trying not to look too frantic as he pulled off his skates and swapped them for slip on loafers. Stepping out of the rink, he was greeted by the June sun and took a moment to indulge in the warmth seeping into his skin, dispelling the chill of the ice. He made his way to the side of the building before stopping and leaning against the brick wall. Hands shaking, he once again pulled out his phone.

What did it mean, that Yuuri would unblock him after all this time? Was it an accident? A message? He bit his lip, hesitating, his finger hovering over the notification. “Oh man up, Nikiforov!” He snorted to himself and clicked to open the image. Yuuri’s page loaded, a small profile picture in the top left corner drawing his eye. It was a different image than he remembered, the smiling selfie now replaced with what looked like an official JSF profile image. The face was just a touch leaner, the hair longer, the eyes a bit more serious than he remembered but… it was Yuuri. His heart clenched as he moved to study the uploaded image dominating the screen.

The caption simply read “A beautiful day in Detroit.” The image showed an open window, with a concrete skyline visible through the sheer curtains and a small table to the right of the window, topped with…

Topped with a vase full of blue roses.

Tears pricked Victor’s eyes as he pressed the phone to his lips. For the first time in a year, he allowed himself to feel the faint blush of hope again.

A few hours later, Geneva

*bzZzzBzzzbzzZ*

Stretching languidly, the tall blond reached for his phone, careful not to displace the dozing cat nestled in his lap. Quirking his lips in a grin, he read the message from Victor.

SilverBae: OHMYGOD CHRIS. I need you to call me AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

The retired Swiss skater rolled his eyes. Dearest gods, the man hadn’t changed a bit in three years. Who actually wrote those words out? Ridiculous. Chuckling under his breath, he pressed the ‘call’ icon.

“HE UNBLOCKED ME.”

“And hello to you too, Victor darling.”

“Hi Chris. HE UNBLOCKED ME.”

Chris sighed, wincing slightly at the shrillness of Victor’s voice in his ear. “Mmmmm. I would ask who ‘he’ is, but we both know there’s only one man on this planet that could possibly reduce the legendary Victor Nikiforov to this level of incoherency. Take a deep breath and start at the beginning. Using big boy words, please cher.” He gently moved his slumbering cat and rose from the couch, meandering his way towards the kitchen and pouring himself a glass of wine. This conversation would most definitely require a nice glass of Cabernet Franc. And patience. So, so much patience.

“Yuuri. He unblocked me. On Instagram. It means something Chris.” The blond put the phone on speaker and pulled up the Instagram app, quickly scrolling through to Yuuri’s page and carefully inspecting the most recent post.

“What, exactly, do you think that means Victor?”

A deep breath filled the line. “I… I don’t know Chris, but it wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t!” Chris murmured a slightly skeptical affirmative. “I sent him roses for our wedding anniversary Chris. The blue ones we had at the ceremony…” Victor’s voice trailed off, clearly waiting for Chris to confirm his hopes.

The tall Swiss immediately saw what the Russian man was attempting to point out. The blue flowers on the edge of the image were clearly visible and, really, the entire photo stood out on the Japanese skater’s page… so different from the typical professional skating related subjects he occasionally posted. “Hmmmm. So, you reached out and Yuuri seems to be reaching back… Yes, I believe you may be right Vitya.”

The voice on the other end of the line sighed in clear relief. The silver legend’s voice came softly. “There’s a chance… we could, I could fix this… right?”

Chris humphed in mild annoyance. “Love, I can’t truly be objective here. I wasn’t exactly around for the break-up. You… sort of broke up with me first.” He winced at the remaining harshness in his tone at the remembered hurt.

“I’m sorry Chris. You know I am so…so sorry…” Victor stammered.

“Hush darling. I know. But… what I don’t know is what, exactly, went wrong with you and Yuuri.”

“Gods Chris, I don’t even know where to start. I… I think it was mostly my fault. I get that now. I pushed him so hard after PyeongChang… but… he… he left. He promised to never walk away, and he did. How was I supposed to fix anything when he just ran away?”

“Victor, Yuuri’s scared bunny impersonation aside, why were you pushing him after the Olympics? The man’s performance was astonishing, how could you have been anything other than proud as a coach and a spouse? Please, please tell me you weren’t jealous?”

“NO! I have two Olympic golds, I wanted him to win!”

“Then…?”

“I fell Chris, I blew out my knee,” the Russian man whined. “I wanted to retire and focus on the Olympics as a coach and not a competitor, but Yuuri just looked at me with those ridiculous eyes of his and told me he’d always dreamed of competing against me at the Olympics. How could I say no?”

“You wanted to walk away on your own terms, before you were forced out. Focus on other parts of your life?”

“Exactly!”

“Victor, you lovely but oblivious ass. Please tell me you didn’t blame Yuuri for your fall? Tell me you didn’t resent him for wanting to skate with you? For doing to you the exact thing you tried to do to me?” His tone was dry, but the edge that crept in was clearly evident.

The line was silent for a long moment.

“Shit.”

End of June, Japan

The former ballerina moved gracefully through the crowd at Fukuoka airport, craning her neck in an attempt to find the young man she had last seen nearly a year prior. Spotting a small crowd clustered near the arrivals exit, phones and cameras flashing, she grimaced. Yuuri was always a little uncomfortable around fans, she’d have to move quickly to rescue him. As she neared the cluster of mostly teenaged girls, however, she was pleasantly surprised at the sight that greeted her.

The current figure skating World Champion was leaning into a selfie, his arm around a young woman’s shoulders, flashing a cheesy thumbs-up and wide, media friendly grin. He signed a few autographs as Minako watched, then finally spotted her through the crowd. He bowed politely and gestured toward his former instructor, making his apologies as he broke away from the group. Making his way towards the ageless woman, he offered a tired but genuine smile as she embraced him.

“Who are you and what have you done with Katsuki Yuuri?” she deadpanned as he laughed.

“Hi Minako-sensei, it’s good to see you too! Thanks for the ride, you don’t know how ready I am for a couple weeks back home before this season kicks off.”

“Seriously Yuuri, I’ve never seen you so friendly with your fans!” Minako pressed.

“Oh,” the travel-weary skater started. “I, I guess I just got used to handling them on my own over the last year.” He mused, before quirking his lips and sighing a bit.

“Honestly, I kept thinking about what you pointed out all those years ago.” Minako raised an eyebrow as Yuuri continued. “Victor Nikiforov is always polite to his fans!”

She laughed as the younger man imitated her scolding voice. “I guess, after everything that happened, I wanted to prove that I was just as good as Victor. That meant I had to get better at dealing with fans.” He shrugged half-heartedly, knowing his former mentor would read deeper meaning into the explanation.

“So… after everything that happened… you’re still chasing after his legacy?”

“I was angry at him, but… that doesn’t mean he stopped being the legend I’ve always aspired to equal.” As he spoke, Minako watched him out of the side of her eye. They had reached her car and conversation ceased as they loaded Yuuri’s luggage. The slim shouldered man stretched as he resigned himself to being confined in the small space for the long drive back to Hasetsu. God, the onsen was going to feel so good after nearly a full day of travel.

They’d been on the road for nearly 15 minutes before Minako finally broke the comfortable silence. “You said ‘was’.” The statement was offered almost gently and Yuuri, who had been half asleep in the passenger seat, almost pretended not to hear her.

Finally, feeling her eyes on him instead of the road, he turned his head. “What?”

“You said ‘I was angry at him.’”

“Oh.”

“As in… past tense.” She couldn’t help but push.

“Mmmmm,” he hummed. “I’m… still angry Minako. I’m just… less angry? I don’t know. I haven’t really sorted it out in my own head yet.”

“What changed?”

The slim, raven haired man offered her a weak smile and, leaning his head back against the seat, his voice barely more than a soft whisper: “He sent me roses…”

The dance instructor chuckled under her breath, realizing her prayer from the previous year’s painful World Championship had been granted. Yes, Yuuri had been hurt and the pain had changed him but… he hadn’t broken. She patted his knee and smiled to herself. He would heal, and he would reclaim his joy. She knew it in her heart.

Chapter Text

Early July, Three Years Ago, Somewhere between Russia and Japan

“Yuuuuuuri.”

“No.”

“I love you.”

“Shut up. I love you too. I’m still mad.”

“Whyyyyy?”

The handsome Japanese skater huffed a sigh of frustration as he turned in his seat. “Do you really want to have this conversation a mile in the air Victor?” The silver haired beauty in the chair beside him widened his eyes in an unfairly lovely pout. “No. No puppy eyes. I am not being swayed by puppy eyes this time Vitya.”

“I don’t understand why you’re so upset dorogoy! Don’t you want to see our friends?” Victor was genuinely perplexed at his new husband’s anger.

“Augh. Victor. We’re supposed to be partners, correct?”

“Hai!” Victor chirped, earning an eyeroll from his lover.

“So… when booking plane tickets from Russia to Japan with NO NOTICE, don’t you think that maybe you should have talked to me FIRST?” Yuuri fixed his adorable yet infuriating spouse with a thin-lipped glare.

“Yuuko asked us to be godfathers! We have to see our new godson Yuuri!” Victor was frantic in his attempt to wipe the disapproval from Yuuri’s face.

The raven-haired man closed his eyes, asking whatever deity was listening for patience. “Vitya, I love you. I do. More than anything. But your lack of self-control can be… frustrating. We just took time off for the wedding. Yuuko didn’t expect us to drop everything to visit this soon! She understands that we have practice, that this is an important year for us. The Grand Prix is only a few months away, the Olympics are only a few months after that! We can’t just drop everything and go globe-trotting!” The slender Russian recoiled, chastised. Blue eyes were downcast as he absorbed Yuuri’s words.

“I’m sorry. I… I’ve never had anyone want me to be a godfather. I… I just got excited when Takeshi messaged that the baby had arrived. I should have talked to you instead of booking a trip back to Hasetsu with no warning.”

The younger man closed his eyes, feeling a twinge of guilt wash over him at the bewildered pain in his beloved’s voice. “Let’s just get some sleep, okay Victor? You sprung for these ridiculous first-class seats, we might as well try to get some rest.” The Russian man hummed a tentative agreement, tentatively reaching out a hand to rest against his husband’s waist, sighing in relief when Yuuri didn't shrug him off. Unhappy but connected, they drifted into slumber.

Stepping off the plane a few hours later, Yuuri raised his arms in an exaggerated stretch. When he felt slightly more human, he absent-mindedly reached for his partner’s hand. Feeling a convulsive squeeze, he glanced inquisitively at the rumpled but stunning man by his side. “Vitya?”

“I… I thought you’d still be mad,” the Russian man admitted. Japan’s Ace quirked a smile.

“Oh. Well, I mean, I am. But Victor, I still love you.” The taller man’s shoulders seemed to suddenly collapse as he sighed in relief.

“I was scared you would block me out. That you’d leave me.”

Yuuri stopped and stared in surprise at the man he loved. “Victor. Why… why would you think that? I’m mad at you, but I would never shut you out! We’ll work through this and we’ll be stronger for it! That’s how this works, ok?” He shook his head, still amazed after all this time that someone so outwardly strong could have such crippling doubts when it came to letting himself be loved.

The taller man pulled his dark-haired lover closer, resting their foreheads together. “I’m sorry, I’m just… I’m still not used to having someone love me even when I’m not perfect. I know I made a mistake, but, please Yuuri, don’t leave me?” His voice cracked at the last phrase, evidence of deep seated pain.

Brown eyes blew wide with shock. “Vitya! Look at me! I am mad at you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. You are my husband. Thick and thin, right? That makes us family. Family doesn’t walk away. We might fight, we might struggle, but… Family. Doesn’t. Walk. Away. I promise you. No matter the struggle. No matter how rough things get. You are mine and I am yours. We will get through it. Ok?”

Sea-blue eyes shone fiercely, the fervent words salving a deep ache within his soul. “Ok.” He squared his shoulders and began moving forward. “Let’s go see our godson Yuuri.”

Yuuri nodded in agreement. “A new member of our family!” Beside him, Victor glowed at this confirmation of his place in Yuuri’s world. He raised their joined hands to his lips in a kiss, before groaning.

“Yuuuu-uuri. What on earth possessed them to name the poor boy Flip???”

Early July, Present Day, Ice Castle Hasetsu

“UNCLE YUURI!!” chorused a trio of identical pre-teen girls. He braced himself as the sisters slammed into him in a whirlwind of enthusiastic affection. Grinning, he winked over their heads at their laughing mother.

“It’s good to see you all! Where’s the man of the hour?”

“Yuuri, he’s not a man!” Chirped Lutz.

“Yeah, he’s still a baby!” Loop agreed.

Axel merely contented herself with angling her phone for a selfie of the group hug, humming happily as she added hashtags and a fancy border to her post.

“Yuuri!” Boomed a cheerful voice behind him. “It’s so good of you to make it out for the party! We weren't sure if you'd be able to take time off before your season started!”

Yuuri turned to greet the burly man and was taken by surprise when a sturdy, solemn eyed toddler was deposited into his arms. He propped the boy on his hip and smiled down at his godson. “Happy birthday Flip,” he crooned gently. The child placed a small hand in his mouth, wriggling shyly as he peeked up at the unfamiliar man holding him. A spark of recognition suddenly seemed to fill his eyes and he offered a small smile and a tentative “Unca Yuuri”.

The skater raised an eyebrow at Takeshi, knowing that it was unlikely for the boy to recall his face from his last stay in Hasetsu more than a year ago. The larger man laughed. “The girls show him your pictures and videos all the time. He knows his ‘Uncle Yuuri’!” The younger man blushed and buried his face happily in the boy’s sweet-smelling hair. Unfortunately, his cuddling had repercussions, as he had placed his tempting blue frames within reach of the toddler’s clever hands.

“Whoops!” Came a familiar voice, and boy and glasses alike were plucked from Yuuri’s grasp. “Sorry Yuuri,” Yuuko giggled, “Flip is in a grabby phase!” She offered his slightly smudged lenses back to him with a cheerful smile.

“You all look wonderful Yuuko-chan!” He leaned in the press a tentative kiss to his oldest friend’s cheek. “I can’t believe he’s three already!” Yuuko grinned up into his brown eyes, then sobered.

“Yuuri-chan, how are you? I worry, you know?” She gazed at him searchingly, careful not to voice her true questions.

“I’m fine Yuuko. I promise. Please, don’t worry about me. It’s Flip’s birthday, we should be opening presents and eating sweets that I will absolutely lie to Celestino about consuming!” He winked broadly at the still-youthful mother before turning towards the groaning refreshments table. She held her son close and stared pensively at her childhood chum. That flirty wink… He had picked up more of Victor’s habits than he realized. She shook her head, forcing herself into the present.

“Alright little man, time for gifts!” She crooned, smiling broadly at little Flip’s excited warble. “Everybody gather ‘round!” The crowd of family and close friends cheered and gathered close to the rinkside bench covered in a mound of brightly colored gifts. Her tiny boy wriggled in her grasp, reaching excited hands towards the beguiling ribbons. With a chuckle, her husband retrieved the toddler, allowing her to take charge of pulling cards off the gifts before the child eagerly shredded the shiny wrappings.

Flip burbled excitedly with each new gift, posing eagerly for his sisters as they brandished their phones towards him. Yuuko smiled happily at one card, before handing the soft package to the little boy. “This gift is from Flip’s godfather, Katsuki Yuuri,” she called off, before watching her son shred the wrapping. A blue and black packet of cloth fell to the floor and Yuuko clapped her hands to her face, eyes sparkling with tears as she recognized a tiny replica of the official JSF team jacket.

"Ohhhh, Yuuri! It’s adorable!” The famously shy Japanese Ace ducked his head, blushing, as Takeshi helped the little boy pull on the windbreaker.

“I just… I talked to one of my sponsors at Mizuno and they helped me with the request… I just… I thought he’d like it,” Yuuri stammered, desperate to get the eyes of the party guests back onto the guest of honor. Yuuko chuckled, familiar with her friend’s nervousness. She turned her eyes back to the dwindling stack of gifts, selecting a rectangular box. No card was attached, so she handed the gift to Flip, hoping that whoever had provided the present would identify themselves, so she could properly thank them. A flurry of golden wrapping paper filled the air and a lidded box was revealed. Takeshi helped his small son pry the top off and the guests cooed at the revelation of tiny ice skates, a perfect follow up to the previous gift.

Yuuko raised inquisitive eyes towards Yuuri, assuming the skates must be a second gift from the famous athlete. She was surprised to see him staring intently at the blades, brow furrowed in thought. He knelt carefully at his godson’s side, carefully pulling one of the tiny boots from its protective wrapping. His shadowed gaze briefly met Yuuko’s before he removed the guard from the shining blade. The shining golden blade. She raised a hand to cover her mouth, feeling as stunned as Yuuri looked. It seemed Flip’s other godfather had also sent a gift today.

***

Late that evening, Yuuri snuck down to the onsen, reveling in the late-night solitude and steaming, hot water. He allowed his mind to wander over not only the events of the day, but of the previous few years. Today’s party had farther solidified the path his thoughts had been traveling in the last few weeks. The flowers on their anniversary had made it clear that Victor hadn’t given up on him… and somewhere along the way he had decided not to give up on Victor either. Yuuri pulled himself out of the water, reaching for a towel and yukata before heading back to the small room that had once held so many images of his idol turned lover. He knew there was a lot of work ahead of him, ahead of them both, but then… broken relationships didn’t heal themselves. He and Victor were worth repairing, he knew that in his heart. They were each taking slow steps back into each other’s lives… perhaps it was time for him to take the next.

The solemn eyed man pulled out his phone, scrolling through the images the triplets had taken after commandeering it during the party. He pursed his lips, struggling to compose the text he wanted to send. Sighing, he deleted yet another attempt and once again contemplated the images. Finally, nodding to himself, he selected a different photo and attached it to the draft message. Mentally checking the time difference, he realized Victor was likely just finishing at the rink. He was torn, not sure if he hoped for or dreaded the possibility of an immediate response. Biting his lip, he pressed send and leaned back against the pillow, determined to ignore the phone. After a few minutes, his anxiety got the better of him and he snatched the device from his nightstand. Cinnamon colored eyes widened as the dancing dots appeared, indicating a message being composed on the other end. Huffing out a nervous breath, he waited.

The other end of the line, St. Petersburg

The tall, silver blond man groaned in pleasure as the hot water hit his aching muscles. Today’s practice sessions had been particularly brutal, with all three of his senior level competitors in top form. Young Alexei had finally landed his quad toe loop, Plisetsky had insisted on running his step sequences half a dozen times, and Mila had managed three absolutely perfect triple axels, all but guaranteeing her place in this year’s Grand Prix Final.

Shutting off the pounding water, he reached for a large towel, pausing when he heard his phone buzz from the bedroom. Ignoring it for a moment, he rubbed the rough material through his hair, then made his way towards the bed, tossing the towel to the side as he negligently flopped his bare, leanly muscular body onto the bed. Reaching for his phone, he quickly thumbed through his notifications, stilling when the latest text registered. An image. From Yuuri. Instagram wasn’t a fluke, apparently. He closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively. It was one thing for his long-absent husband to unblock him from a social media app. For him to reach out so directly…

Blinking tears from his eyes, he clicked into the text, gasping a choked breath when the image loaded. Yuuri, eyes sparkling, looking happier than he had seen him in years, carefully holding the tiny hands of a boy wearing a JSF jacket and golden blades as they both stood on the rink at Ice Castle Hasetsu. Victor pulled his fist to his mouth, the emotion surging through his soul too much to take. Yuuri had recognized his gift. More than recognized it… had acknowledged it. The Russian man hesitated before clicking to respond. Heart racing, he began to type.

Vitya: He’s gotten so big!

Victor held his breath, unsure if Yuuri’s communicativeness would extend to an actual conversation.

LifeandLove: He really has. He loved your gift.

The tall Russian felt tears prick his eyes and he suppressed the urge to jump wildly. Yuuri was talking to him! ‘Okay. Play it cool Nikiforov,’ he murmured as he typed.

Vitya: I’m so glad! You look good.

Victor groaned. Smooth.

Vitya: I mean, you look like you had fun!
LifeandLove: Thanks. It was good to visit.
LifeandLove: I’m sure Flip would have loved to see you in person.
LifeandLove: … We would all have loved seeing you in person.

Silver hair flew as Victor’s head snapped back in a moment of shocked joy. Was Yuuri saying what he thought he was saying?

Vitya: I wish I could have been there.
Vitya: But the Grand Prix series is soon…

Anxious sea-blue eyes watched the jumping dots, waiting. And waiting. Finally…

LifeandLove: I’ll see you there.

Chapter Text

Early August, St. Petersburg Skate Club

“Alright, alright, settle down!” The head coach of the Club fixed his piercing blue eyes on a particularly rowdy pair of Junior ice dancers before continuing. “Now that assignments for the Grand Prix Series are out, we’ll be booking travel arrangements. If you were seeded into the Junior or Senior series this year, please see me after practice today so that we can go over any paperwork that needs finished! Now get your blades onto the ice, I want to see medal worthy practices today!” He clapped his hands, wincing at his overly boisterous voice. Did he sound as cheesy as he thought? Ugh, probably.

A dark figure settled against the wall beside him and he turned tiredly to his longtime friend. “Georgi? What’s up?”

“Travel arrangements for the coaching staff. Have you decided which events you’ll attend?”

“Ah. Yes, I think I should stay with Alexei for both of his events since it’s his debut year, and then I thought… Rostelecom? Mother Russia will probably expect to see her new head coach in a home event.” He grinned sardonically. Georgi knew exactly how Victor felt about the so-called duty he owed his country.

“So: America, NHK and Rostelecom. Okay. Katya and I can handle coaching duties at the other three events. You’ll handle the Final?” Victor nodded his affirmative. Georgi paused, scanning over the clipboard in his hands. “Victor… NHK and Rostelecom… you do realize that, Yuu… um, the Japanese Champion will be at those events?”

Cool blue eyes blinked calmly at his assistant coach. “Yuuri. Yuuri will be at NHK and Rostelecom. I know.” The tall Russian legend nodded before walking back towards the rink. Georgi stared after him in surprise. So, the name was no longer off limits. Interesting. He hesitated for a moment before pulling out his phone.

g-popovich: I have that information you needed.
g-popovich: America, NHK, Rostelecom.
g-popovich: Never let it be said that I stood in the way of true love.

Late September, Detroit

“Yuuri! Phichit! Ciao Ciao!”

The two dark haired men grinned at each other. Their coach never failed to live up to the nickname they had graced him with nearly a decade earlier. Skating to the side of the rink, they leaned on the boards as Celestino handed over their water bottles and blade guards.

“What’s up Coach? It’s early to be stopping…” Yuuri anxiously queried.

“Nothing to worry about! It’s just paperwork!”

Both younger men groaned as Celestino handed over manila folders and pens.

“Ahhh! But your sponsors need to know your travel preferences and any updated sizes for gear. And, ah, Yuuri, a moment per favore?” Curious, the raven-haired skater stepped off the rink, following his coach a few feet away. The normally exuberant Italian seemed hesitant as he jutted his prominent chin towards the paperwork that Yuuri had left back on the rink wall. “You mentioned last year that some of your… personal… details might change before this season, but you hadn’t submitted anything. I’ll need to let the ISU and your sponsors know about changes immediately if there’s anything…?” He trailed off delicately.

Yuuri flushed, suddenly understanding. “Oh. No. Um. I, uh, haven’t made any changes,” he stammered, desperately wanting the conversation to end. Celestino gazed searchingly at him, then nodded briskly before clapping Yuuri on the shoulder and stomping off.

Flustered, the Japanese skater returned to the boards and grabbed his folder. Phichit’s ears suddenly blazed red as Yuuri flipped through the documents, double checking the various pages of sizing, medical and travel information. Same old, same old. With a sigh, he scrawled his signature before shoving the papers back into the folder. It was suddenly snatched from his hand and his friend brandished both stacks of paper cheerfully. “I’ll just take these back to Ciao-Ciao! See you in a minute!!” The Thai skater scampered off towards the office, skate guards thudding dully. Yuuri shook his head, used to Phichit’s quirks after all these years. Pulling off his guards, he headed back onto the ice.

October 19th, Sheremetyevo Airport

“I’m bored as shit. I’m going to go get a coffee or something.”

Victor rolled his eyes at the moody blond. “Fine but take Alexei.” The dark-haired boy perked up at his name, eager to wander around. The older man couldn’t blame them for being bored. Their flight had been delayed twice now. Why did the FFKK continue to insist on Aeroflot???

“Ugh, you’re not the boss of me old man.” Victor merely glared pointedly. “Fine. I mean, I guess you’re kind of the boss of me. Whatever. Let’s go kid.” The young skaters meandered off, leaving their silver-blond coach to watch the luggage in relative peace. He turned back to his phone, pleased when a text popped up.

LifeandLove: Good luck to you and your skaters at Skate America.

He tapped his finger thoughtfully against his lip, debating his reply. The lines of communication had slowly reopened since July, but they’d mostly been limited to polite exchanges about skating and the occasional picture of Flip or a particularly cute dog. Victor was being cautious, not wanting to push too hard and risk losing the little he had regained. Perhaps a tiny push at the boundaries would be okay?

Vitya: Thank you. I wish you were going to be there…
LifeandLove: You know they don’t place the previous year’s medalists at the same competition.
LifeandLove: Sorry.
LifeandLove: But I’ll see you in two weeks.
Vitya: Right.
Vitya: Maybe we could get coffee. Or something.

Victor winced. “Maybe we could get coffee… I sound like a teenager.”

LifeandLove: Yeah. Maybe.
LifeandLove: gtg. Class. Have a good flight.

Maybe. Maybe was good, maybe was fantastic. Maybe might be the most beautiful word he had ever read. He could live with maybe.

October 24th, Skate America, Seattle

Russia’s Very Tired Legend ruffled his hands through his hair. After the conclusion of the Men’s Free Skate and the medal ceremony, he wanted nothing more than to collapse on his bed and sleep until the exhibition the following day. Russia had done well in Seattle. Yuri had, unsurprisingly, taken gold and young Alexei had managed a fourth-place finish at his Senior debut. Victor deserved a nap. The whole event had been exhausting, especially with Yuuri’s Thai roommate seemingly lurking in his vision the entire time. The man had taken silver, and Victor was half-tempted to strike up a conversation at the Banquet tomorrow to congratulate him. Yes, definitely just to congratulate him and not to sneak questions about his achingly lovely roommate…

Grimacing, he reluctantly swapped his dressier ‘coach’ outfit for dark jeans and a simple white button down. He’d promised Christophe they’d meet for drinks once the Swiss commentator finished his on-camera duties. With one last glance in the mirror, he headed for the door, checking his back pocket automatically for wallet, room key and phone.

Alone in the hall, he meandered his way towards the elevator. Turning the corner, Victor was surprised to see two tall blond figures making their way towards him. Before he could voice a greeting, the two men had swung him around and grabbed him by either elbow. “Chris! Yuri? What on earth?” Victor choked out as they began frog marching him past his room towards the end of the hall.

“Shut up. You’ll figure it out soon enough,” snapped the younger of the pair. Chris merely raised an eyebrow and quirked his mouth into a fiercely mischievous smile.

“Yuri, I swear, if this is another of your damned interventions…”

The trio paused at a door and Chris flashed a keycard before turning the handle. As they entered the dimly lit room, a silhouette seated near the window caught his eye. Sharp teeth flashed in a feral grin and Victor realized suddenly that Phichit Chulanont might be the scariest man he had ever seen.

The Thai man gazed impassively at the far taller Russian, then indicated the bed with a nod. Chris and Yuri marched him over and plopped him down rather forcibly. Victor felt irritation give way to frank anger. “Can somebody explain to me what in the hell is going on right now? Last time I checked, kidnapping is still a crime.” He glared at the younger man sitting nonchalantly across the room. Phichit merely sat quietly, staring back, amusement and something darker rising in his steely eyes. He tapped his phone against his knee, silently studying the indignant man before him. Finally, he spoke, softly accented English curling dangerously through the quiet room.

“Do you love him?”

“Wha… Yuuri? Yes. More than anything. Wait. Is… is this a shovel talk? Because you gave that to me years ago Phichit…”

“Oh yes, and you listened so GODDAMNED well!” Phichit’s voice crackled with a rage Victor had never heard from the usually cheerful younger man.

“I fucked up Phichit. I know that. I’d do anything to fix it, I’m trying…”

The normally cheerful man across from him merely cut him off with a jerk of his head. “You’re going to sit, and you are going to be silent while you listen. I am going to give you a gift that I’m not entirely convinced you deserve.” He pensively eyed the captive man for a moment longer before pressing a button on his screen. A dial tone filled the room as he switched the phone into speaker mode, steel grey eyes never leaving the icy blue ones.

“Phichit-Kun! Congratulations!!” Victor stiffened as the familiar voice spilled from the small device. Chris quickly clamped a hand over his mouth, muffling his involuntary exclamation. Phichit glared a warning before cheerfully responding, his happy cadence a far cry from his previous tone.

“Yuuri! Did you see me land that quad loop? I told you I finally had it!”

“Amazing! You’re definitely going to make it into the Final again! You were flawless!”

“Yeah, well, I still only took silver.” Phichit sighed a little and Victor saw Yuri grin smugly out of the corner of his eye.

“Mmmm, there’s no shame in losing to Yurio. He’s so incredible, I’m still not convinced he’s human!” Yuri’s smug grin twitched into a more genuinely happy expression at the praise.

“Ha! Too true!” Phichit dared to stick a tongue out at the younger Russian man. “But, enough about our young Ice Tiger. His coach was rather popular with the crowd… you gonna be okay seeing him in a couple weeks?”

“Rumors to the contrary, Peach, I am not actually made of glass. It’s fine. I want to see him.” Phichit hummed a skeptical response. “I’m serious Phichit!”

“You want to see him? Tell me you’re not just going to let everything go. Victor Fucking Nikiforov doesn’t get a free pass. After the shit he pulled? The number of times I’ve watched you cry over him? No way Yuuri…” The silver blond slumped in his friends’ hands, the words hitting him harshly.

“No Phichit.” Yuuri’s voice was filled with a steely assurance as he continued. “No free passes. There’s so much conversation that’s going to have to happen before anything can really be fixed. But…” The voice over the speaker suddenly softened. “I love him. You know I do. Hell, you’re the one who made me finally admit it.”

Victor’s head snapped up at the words, sea blue eyes suddenly glistening with emotion.

“Soooo… you’re planning to talk to him about this? Because I know you Katsuki. You and communication are shit friends.”

“Yes, you ass. I’ll talk to him.”

“And what exactly is it going to take for the Russian Legend to worm his way back into your incredibly fine pants?”

“God Phichit, why are you like this?” Yuuri groaned theatrically.

“You love me.”

“I do, I really do.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“You don’t even know that he wants in my pants. He’s probably just been trying to smooth everything over since we’ll both be in the public eye this season. You know, keep things media friendly.” Four pairs of eyes rolled in unison.

“Oh, right, I forgot about how custom dyed roses sent on wedding anniversaries were a sign of… wait. You know what? Nope. I’m not even going to snark with you on this. You and I both know that that unfairly pretty Russian jackass is trying to get you back.”

A forceful sigh echoed through the speaker. “Fine. It'll take apologies. Lots of heartfelt freaking apologies. Conversation. Not just between the two of us. I… I think maybe he needs to talk to someone about his anger issues. I won’t go back if he’s just going to take out his frustrations on me every time he’s stressed.” There was a long pause before Yuuri continued. “I… I think maybe we’d both need to talk to someone. I was thinking of suggesting couples’ counseling before I snapped and ran… I should have suggested it. Maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.”

Phichit hummed thoughtfully. “Couples’ counseling is probably a good idea, but don’t blame yourself for getting out of a rough situation, Yuuri.”

“Yeah. I know. I just… I miss him Peach. I miss how we were before everything got so screwed up. So yeah, if there’s a chance to get that back…”

“Mmmm, so groveling and therapy are the keys to Yuuri Katsuki’s heart? You don’t ask for much.”

“Ha. Groveling. So much groveling. And more flowers. I want candles and moonlit walks on the beach too Phichit. I want my marriage back.”

“Katsuki Yuuri, you big ol’ romantic! I bet you wouldn’t mind getting some wild make-up sex either.” Phichit’s voice was sly as he raised his eyebrow in Victor’s direction. The Russian ears were burning, and he struggled in vain to free his hands so that he could bury his face.

“My entirely hypothetical future sex life is none of your business Phichit Chulanont,” Yuuri retorted primly. “It’s getting late here, I have to go or Ciao Ciao will kill me in the morning.”

“Awwww, alright Yuuri. See you soon!”

“Mmmm! Congratulations again, see you soon!”

Silence settled over the room as Yuri and Chris finally released Victor’s arms. He immediately pulled his knees up, hugging them tightly as he struggled to process the emotions of the last half hour. “Why? What was the goal of this? To point out what an ass I’ve been? I know. I am very well aware.” He buried his face in his knees, chest heaving as his voice cracked.

The dark-haired man finally stood and walked closer to the bed, looking down at the diminished Russian legend. “He’s my best friend in the world Nikiforov. What happened between the two of you… it left a huge Victor-shaped hole in his heart and you are the only person who can fix that. I want him to smile like he used to. I want him to be happy. He deserves to be happy again. So, you’re welcome. I just handed you the goddamn map to his heart. I’d suggest you start following it.”

Victor swallowed, stunned, as Phichit strode towards the door. The Thai skater paused near the door, turning back and casting one last, long, pensive look towards the silver haired figure still huddled on the bed. “This never happened, ok?” Victor nodded vigorously. “You fix this Nikiforov. I won’t help you a second time.”

“I will. I swear.” Victor waited until the younger man had left the room before raising pleading eyes to his captors. “Please, can we get that drink now?”

Chapter Text

October 27th, Detroit

One week. He has just over ONE week to figure out what the actual hell he’s going to do when he sees his husband again. Pale fingers tangle in raven hair as he groaned into his pillow. “Think Katsuki. You’re a 28-year-old adult. You can handle ONE weekend around the man. One weekend at a time. Breathe.” Forcing himself to sit up, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, squinting at the sunlight streaming through the window. Padding his way into the kitchen, he started the electric kettle before idly scrolling through the notifications on his phone, trying not to feel disappointed at the lack of any new texts from Victor.

Biting his lip, he thought for a few minutes while his tea steeped. Strolling to the couch with his steaming cup, he came to a decision and began tapping at his screen.

LifeandLove: Is that offer for coffee next weekend still on the table?

Oh god. Oh god. Was that flirting? He was flirting. Did he even know HOW to flirt? Oh god. He was definitely bad at flirting.

Vitya: Yes! Absolutely! When?

Okay. Apparently, he wasn’t that terrible at flirting.

LifeandLove: After the short program?
Vitya: You want caffeine that late?
Vitya: Oh! Not that I am complaining! We can do whatever you want!!!

Yuuri smirked. The man was clearly still ridiculous.

LifeandLove: … It doesn’t have to be coffee y’know.

His face flushed. Holy shit, what was he doing?

Vitya: Could it be dinner?
Vitya: Because I would very much like it to be dinner.

Yuuri nearly spilled his tea. Dinner. Victor wanted dinner. Coffee was for talking. Dinner… dinner was almost like a date. Right?

LifeandLove: How about coffee the morning after the short program.
LifeandLove: If you play your cards right, maybe I’ll let you buy me dinner after the free skate.

Oh god. Where even was his filter?

Vitya: That sounds wonderful.
Vitya: And I promise I can be good. Please let me buy you dinner Yuuri?

The Japanese man tilted his head back against the couch cushion, trying to sort through his racing emotions. Did he want dinner with Victor? Was he ready for dinner with Victor? He took a long, deliberate sip of his tea, trying to settle his nerves before pulling up his messages again.

LifeandLove: Maybe ;)

October 27th, St. Petersburg

A soft heart-shaped smile hovered on the lips of a silver-blond man as he leaned over his phone in the quiet of the rink. Most of the skaters had headed home already, but he’d been distracted by the messages he’d been exchanging with a certain Japanese skater.

“Congratulations Victor. I believe your first competition as Head Coach can officially be counted a success! Hopefully Mila and I can do just as well this weekend in Canada!”

Victor smiled thinly at Georgi’s words. “Thank you. I’m sure you and Mila will do the Club proud! Hey, listen… I’m glad you’re still here. Can I ask you about something personal?”'

“We’re friends Victor, you know I’m here if you need to talk.”

“I… that’s the thing. I do need to talk. I was wondering… do you still keep in contact with that therapist that helped you after your breakdown over Anya?” He winced at the bluntness of his question. “God, sorry Georgi, I’m an ass.”

The dark-haired coach raised an eyebrow before nodding. “You’re seeking help. There’s no need to be sorry.” He pulled out his phone and tapped away for a few moments. Victor felt his own phone vibrate a second later and glanced at the new message. “Dr. Petrova specializes in relationship counseling. She does one-on-one sessions as well as couples… if that were ever something you needed.” He hesitated for a moment before placing a gentle hand on Victor’s shoulder. “I’m glad to see you taking this step. Call her Victor.”

Two pairs of blue eyes met in a moment of understanding before Victor nodded his thanks. As he walked away he pulled up the contact information and, with only a slight hesitation, dialed. One week. He had one week to start putting his life back together.

February 2018, PyeongChang

“With only one skater left to take the ice, the entire arena is on their feet as we await the scores for Japan’s Yuuri Katsuki, who has just become the first skater to successfully land five quads in a single competition performance!”

“Chris, he definitely looked a little overwhelmed as he came off the ice. As a personal friend, can you give us an idea of what might be going through his mind at this unprecedented moment?”

“Well Morooka, Yuuri has always been one to underestimate his own abilities, but after such a flawless performance, I can’t imagine he’ll be able to ignore his talents for much longer! Ah! And we have the scores! As anticipated, a new world record in both the Free Skate and combined score for Yuuri Katsuki! With numbers like that, it’s going to be nearly impossible to overtake him for the gold!”

“That may very well have been the most astonishing performance the competitive skating world has ever seen. History is being made right here in PyeongChang! Of course, the only skater left to compete is Katsuki-san’s coach and husband, Russia’s Legend, Victor Nikiforov. If anyone is capable of an impossible feat, it is Nikiforov!”

*****

“Yuuri! Amazing! I knew you could do it!”

“330.43. Shimatta! That’s too high. There’s no way that’s real.” Yuuri’s eyes were blown wide in shock, his breathing rapid and shallow as he squinted at the screen displaying his combined score.

“Breathe Yuuri, just breathe. How many times have I told you that you’re amazing? The entire world knows it now!” The slender Russian leaned down a few inches to rest their foreheads together. “Olympic Gold is going to look good around your gorgeous neck,” he murmured softly enough that the surrounding cameras couldn’t pick up the sound.

The flustered Japanese skater huffed a quiet laugh. “Don’t you dare go easy on me Nikiforov! I want to earn that gold!” Molten brown eyes locked onto his husband’s face, challenge and promise shimmering in their depths.

“Go easy on you? Never.” He pressed a swift, sweet kiss to his husband’s lips before pulling away. “Don’t take your eyes off me, Yuuri. I love you.”

“Always.”

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

November 4th, Mid-Morning, Kyoto

Yuuri awoke to Celestino gently shaking his shoulder. He blinked blearily, adjusting his facemask as he tried to shake the last vestiges of his dream. Those moments before Victor had taken the ice in PyeongChang had been the last few minutes Yuuri could claim to have been perfectly happy. The last minutes before things started going so terribly wrong. Now, only two short days from seeing Victor again, memories and dreams were flooding his mind. Groaning a bit, he stretched as the plane finally rolled to a halt.

The familiar monotony of customs, baggage claim and a long taxi ride passed in a blur. Tired brown eyes scanned his phone, half-registering the other skaters posting check-ins at the event hotel. A text from Mari briefly caught Yuuri’s attention, and he quickly tapped out a confirmation of his safe arrival in Kyoto. God, he was exhausted. Hotel. Sleep, practice, more sleep. Practice, short program, sleep. Coffee. Coffee with Victor. The litany of his next couple of days blurred in his mind.

“Yuuri! We’re here!” Ugh, Celestino was entirely too cheerful after nearly a full day of travel. Yuuri followed the man automatically, vaguely paying attention as they approached the check-in desk. “Here we go Yuuri, you’re on the 19th floor. I imagine you want to crash for the rest of the day, so I will see you at breakfast tomorrow!” The boisterous coach handed over a key card and packet of information.

“Huh? Aren’t you coming with me?” The Japanese man focused enough to realize that Celestino wasn’t planning on going to the room with him.

“Ahhh, Yuuri! Don’t you remember? You requested a single room this season!” Huh. No. Yuuri did not remember asking for a solo room. He typically roomed with his coach in order to save money for his sponsors. He winced a bit. Shit, he must have checked the wrong box on his paperwork and now his sponsors would think he was getting greedy…

Dragging his suitcase towards the elevator he managed to find just enough energy to press the call button. Miraculously, one of the doors opened almost immediately and he shuffled inside, blearily pushing the floor number and slumping against the nearest corner. A muffled yelp drew his attention and he belatedly glanced around the enclosed space, only now realizing he wasn’t alone. Weary eyes traveled up from the floor, taking in long legs and a loosely clasped hotel robe revealing a sliver of impossibly pale, damp skin. With a gulp, he willed his eyes to finish the journey, taking in the flushed cheeks, wet, tousled silver hair and shocked blue eyes of the still unfairly beautiful man standing, mouth agape, in the opposite corner.

Why? What even was his life right now? With a resigned sigh, he tugged down his facemask before forcing himself to nonchalantly look away. “Basement level pool?”

“Hot tub,” Victor whispered hoarsely.

“Ah, I’ll, um, have to check it out later.”

Awkward silence descended in the lift.

Dammit. He had a plan. Relax today. Skate a clean program tomorrow. Get a full night’s sleep. Meet up for coffee looking cool and collected and at the very least wearing clean clothes. Instead, he was exhausted and travel stained, while his semi-erstwhile husband stood there looking like he’d just stepped out of a photo shoot for yet another poster and god the elevator was taking forever and please just get him to the floor before he had a panic attack and made this whole situation worse…

*ding*

Finally. The rumpled raven-haired man gave his best attempt at a casual nod and stepped forward, eager to flee the situation.

“Yuuri. Wait. Please.” The pleading voice, coupled with the sudden pressure of a hand on his shoulder, drew him to a halt halfway through the automatic doors.

Swallowing convulsively, he turned and found the tall, pale beauty standing inches away, eyes blazing with an emotion Yuuri was too nervous to identify. It was too warm; the air was too thin, and Victor was, for some reason, staring intently at his mouth. He felt frozen, not sure what he wanted in that moment, but unable to move from where Victor’s gaze locked him in place.

“Yuuri… I… You…” Victor moved closer and Yuuri felt a frisson of anticipation slide from where the delicate hand gripped his shoulder all the way down his spine.

Your lips are chapped.” Victor’s hoarse voice was barely above a whisper.

The moment broke as the Russian pulled his hand from Yuuri’s shoulder and slapped it over his face, cheeks and ears suddenly blazing with a brilliant flush of pink. The younger man stayed frozen for a moment, then burst forth in a hysterical giggle. Victor’s other hand came up to cover his face completely, the blush spreading furiously down the exposed section of his chest as Yuuri continued to laugh in genuine delight.

“Oh… oh my god… my lips are chapped?” He was gasping for breath at this point, nearly doubled over in his amusement. “I used to think you were so smooth Nikiforov.” Behind his hands, the taller man let out an anguished groan of embarrassment. Yuuri smirked as he leaned against the edge of the still open elevator doors, eyes dancing and feeling suddenly far more awake.

“I am an idiot,” Victor moaned. “Gods, I’m so sorry Yuuri. That was not the first impression I wanted to make. Please let me make it up to you.” The Japanese skater giggled one last time, the ridiculousness of the moment somehow soothing a deep ache in his soul.

Yuuri finally straightened, looking teasingly at his discomfited spouse. A combination of exhaustion and mirth moved him to an uncharacteristic burst of confidence. “It’s good to see you Victor. I need a nap but…” He paused, raising an eyebrow. “It’s early. How about moving that dinner up a bit? 8:00 tonight? Meet you in the lobby?” Victor finally lowered his hands from his face, eyes shining.

“I’ll see you at 8:00, Yuuri.” His heart-shaped smile burst forth, brighter than the sun.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

November 8th, early evening

Ignoring his damp hair, Yuuri flopped onto the bed, still clad in the hotel’s fluffy robe. Turning his head, he glared at his suit hanging in the corner. God, he hated banquets. Sighing, he rolled over on his stomach, reaching onto the night stand for the silk ribbon of his medal. Propped on his elbows, he let the golden disk spin slowly, his eyes unfocused. The weekend had passed in a blur of emotions and coffee and performances and… and Michele Crispino had come far closer to his score than Yuuri liked. Dropping the medal to the bed, he slouched his head into his hands, lost in thought.

That first night, Victor had poured his regrets and apologies into the quiet darkness. He was sorry for blaming Yuuri for his injury, sorry for the drinking, the fights, for accusing Yuuri of using him for his skills and reputation. He knew he had been in the wrong, knew that he had hurt Yuuri with his words. He was talking to a therapist now, someone Georgi had recommended, and was trying to reconnect with the people he had driven away. He had begged for Yuuri’s forgiveness with tears in his eyes, looking relieved but sorrowful when the Japanese man had quietly accepted the apologies but had admitted that forgiveness might take some time.

Sincerity had breathed through every word the silver legend spoke, and Yuuri had warmed to hear the sentiments but… Victor hadn’t mentioned trying to restart their relationship. No declarations of undying love and passion had been forthcoming, no professions of eternal faithfulness and longing. Yuuri could understand it if Victor simply wanted to make amends and move forward in their separate lives. It had been a year and a half, perhaps those emotions were simply… gone. Maybe they were moving towards something more platonic, maybe they could never again be more than friendly acquaintances. And yet, there had been that moment of heat in the elevator, that moment when Yuuri had wanted. A moment he had been sure the Russian man had felt, too.

Tangling his fingers in his messy raven hair, Yuuri laughed at himself. God, he was maudlin. He wasn’t ready to forgive, not really. He wasn’t ready to go back to St. Petersburg, back to the memories, back to Victor’s arms. Right? So why was he so frustrated that Victor wasn’t chasing after him like a lovesick puppy? Idiot. He and Victor had met up for a perfectly amicable, though rather quiet breakfast the morning after the short program and had joined Christophe and a few of the other skaters for a spirited dinner following Yuuri’s win after the free skate. They had chatted tentatively about the competition, about the previous season, about Yuuri’s graduate program and Victor’s experience with coaching. It was more than Yuuri had anticipated out of the weekend, he supposed he would have to count it as a win.

Turning to glance at the clock, he was startled to realize he was running late. Rising to grab his suit, he was startled when a soft knock echoed through the door. Crap. Surely he wasn’t late enough for Celestino to come looking for him? The Banquet had just started! He tightened the belt of his robe and strode to the door, quickly pulling it half open to greet his visitor.

Leaning against the opposite wall, Victor looked up from under silver bangs as the door opened. His sea blue eyes darkened as he gazed at Yuuri, and the Japanese man flushed with the realization that he was standing there in a bathrobe while the taller man was immaculately clad in a fitted charcoal suit. The Russian chuckled. “The tables have turned, eh?”

Yuuri laughed at the reminder of their elevator encounter. “Hmmm, for that to be true, you’d have to be jetlagged and exhausted from a day of travel.” Victor dipped his head, acknowledging the younger man’s point. “Victor… what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be downstairs at the banquet with Alexei?”

Unexpectedly, a pink flush spread across pale cheekbones. “Oh, I… I sent him ahead with Christophe.” Victor coughed lightly, bringing his left hand up to rustle nervously through his silver strands. “I thought that maybe… we could go down together?” There was a hopeful lilt in his tentative question and his right hand produced a small bouquet of white and blue flowers from behind his back. Hesitantly, he held them towards Yuuri, who was still half-hiding behind the door.

Brown eyes rose to hold the blue, searching for something in Victor’s face. Tentatively, he opened the door farther and stood to one side, offering entry to the room. “I need to finish getting ready, but… you can wait for me if you’d like?” A small smile crossed Victor’s lips as he nodded, stepping forward to pass Yuuri. Once inside, he paused, once again offering the bouquet. His smile grew as the raven-haired man accepted them, burying his nose in the sweetly scented petals. “These are lovely. Thank you.”

***

Victor settled gingerly on the overstuffed hotel armchair once Yuuri disappeared with his garment bag into the bathroom. Hearing rustling on the other side of the door, he was deeply aware of the low thrum of desire that had settled into his body the moment he laid eyes on the Japanese man. The Russian coach had bought the flowers on a whim, somewhat guiltily remembering the conversation Phichit had forced him to hear. He had hoped to catch Yuuri on his way out the door, instead, he had been greeted by a beautifully underdressed vision. The robe had allowed just a hint of lightly tanned chest, those lean, muscular legs were bare from the knee down, dark hair deliciously unkempt, all of it reminding Victor of hundreds of mornings spent waking up to a similarly lovely sight.

And now, now he was sitting a few feet away from the bed with its mussed sheets and, god, it had been entirely too long. Victor wanted. He wanted, but he knew it wasn’t the right time, that he hadn’t earned that reward yet. With a quiet click, the door to the bathroom finally opened, dragging his attention from the bed. Unfortunately, the vision which greeted him did little to quell the warmth in his gut. His throat felt too dry as he took in Yuuri’s beautifully tailored slim cut black suit and dove grey shirt. The slender Japanese skater still held a darker grey silk tie in his hands, fingers twisting it in an unconscious display of nerves.

Victor hadn’t intended to approach, but somehow, he found himself plucking the tie from Yuuri’s grasp. “Allow me, dorogoy,” he rasped, voice low and hoarse. He looped the strip of silk around the slender neck, hands brushing the firm chest as he adjusted the knot. “Armani suits you, Yuuri,” he added in an attempt at nonchalance. Yuuri’s throat bobbed in a convulsive swallow, his hands drifting up to lightly rest on the taller man’s hips.

“Seemed a waste not to take advantage of the contract,” the dark-haired man responded, his pupils blown wide as his eyes drifted towards Victor’s mouth, thumbs making nervous circles on Victor’s sides. All it would take was a slight tilt of his head… Yuuri's breath already ghosting over his lips, warm, inviting... The older man determinedly finished adjusting the shirt collar, unable to resist a last lingering brush of Yuuri’s chest before stepping shakily away.

“We should go before Celestino comes to drag me down,” Yuuri offered softly, breaking the tension. His cheeks were flushed and Victor could almost swear the younger man looked almost disappointed.

“Perish the thought,” Victor responded dryly, eliciting a small chuckle from the younger man. Shoulders brushing, hands determinedly in pockets, they finally headed out the door. They were quiet as they made their way towards the banquet hall, lost in separate thoughts. Yuuri looked up as he heard the cacophony of voices from the ballroom doors.

“Think they’ll notice us slipping in together?”

“Do you care if someone does?”

Yuuri shrugged. “I’ll need to find Celestino and I’m sure Alexei is looking for you. Let’s just go in.” Victor pulled open the door, bowing the younger man inside in an extravagant show of gallantry. Yuuri merely rolled his eyes and chuckled, slipping his ISU credentials out to flash at the attendant on the other side.

Blue eyes scanned the crowded space, narrowing when he spotted a gangly boy making a beeline for the entrance. “Incoming teenager,” he murmured, drawing Yuuri’s attention before Alexei crashed directly into the Japanese skater for an awkward hug.

“Whoa, hey kiddo!”

“Yuuri! Did you see me? Bronze! Can you believe it?”

“Fantastic! Don’t tell him I said so, but Yuri Plisetsky’s going to have to work hard to stay Russia’s top skater next season!” The boy flushed with happiness at the older skater’s words.

“I’ll make it to the Final next year! Just watch me!” With one last hug, he aimed a friendly nod towards his coach and dashed back to the cluster of teenaged skaters he had been with before the elder pair’s entrance.

Victor watched him run off, a slightly stunned expression crossing his handsome face. “I think he likes you more than me.”

Yuuri smiled fondly. “Mmmm, well, he was one of my favorite students. It’s good to see him thriving.”

The tall Russian turned to stare incredulously. “Students? When did you ever take students?”

Yuuri looked uncomfortable suddenly. “Ah, well… when you were in the hospital and dealing with your PT after… um…”

“After the Olympics.” The words hung heavily between them.

“Ah, yes. Someone needed to take over your novice and Juniors classes. Since Yakov was coaching me in your place I figured… I could try coaching the kids in your place.”

“Yuuri, you didn’t have to do that, you had your own training to focus on, not to mention all the time you spent with me at the hospital… you shouldn’t have had to coach on top of that!”

“You coached me while you were in training. We were partners. I thought… we were supposed to share the load, y'know? I know I’m not you. But… I wanted to help. I wanted to try.” Yuuri suddenly looked miserable.

“Oh Yuuri,” Victor breathed. “Why on earth would you want to be me?” The Japanese skater shot the taller man a confused look, eyes searching the pale face questioningly.

“Yuuri!” A cheerful voice boomed, startling both men. The burly Italian coach slung his arm around the younger man, flashing a look of warning at the Russian coach.

“C-Celestino!”

“Come now! Some of your sponsors are looking for you, and there were a couple JSF officials asking me whether you were planning to stay through Beijing…” As the boisterous coach led his skater into the crowd, Yuuri cast one last searching gaze at Victor over his shoulder, a small smile gracing his lips.

November 21st, Detroit

“Moshi moshi.”

“Katsudon! Did you see me waste that jackass JJ?”

“Oh, Yuri. Yeah, Phichit and I watched your free skate at the rink! Congratulations on winning Tropheѐ de France! Hopefully we’ll see you at the Final!”

“Pfft. You’ll see me in Moscow next weekend.”

“Oh? Victor’s letting you take the weekend off from practice?”

“Ugh. No. He got me rink time in Moscow. But half the Club is coming to see Mila compete. She’s the favorite to win this year, apparently. I guess some of them want to see you, too. Alexei practically begged.”

Yuuri smiled, knowing the younger man would never admit to being part of that “some”. “Mmm. It’ll be good to see everyone.”

“Yeah, whatever. We’ll do the dinner thing or something.” Yuuri hummed in agreement. “Oi, Katsudon. I know it’s your first time back to Russia since… well. Since. If you need me to keep the asshole out of your hair…”

“Ah, thanks Yuri. I appreciate it but… I can handle this.” The young Russian made a skeptical sound on the line. “Really! I’m fine! We talked through a lot of things in Japan.” The line was silent for a long moment.

“Katsudon.” A deep sigh. “Yuuri. You’re a colossal jerk and all but, I don’t want to have to help you pack your bags again. That shit sucked. So, be careful and, y’know, make sure you’ve both figured your shit out, okay?”

Yuuri smiled, touched. “Thanks Yuri. I’ll be careful. And… thank you. For what you did in St. Petersburg. I was a mess and you really came through.”

“Tcha. Whatever. I’ll see you next weekend, idiot.”

November 24th, Detroit Metropolitan Airport

“I can’t believe you upgraded us to first class!”

“Happy early birthday Yuuri! And, um, also Christmas, because… first class?” Phichit smiled at the other man, looking up from where he was frantically checking his phone before takeoff.

Yuuri laughed as he hugged his best friend. “Seriously Peach, this is great! I don’t mind economy but it’s nice to stretch out.”

Phichit laughed as the Japanese man proceeded to stretch luxuriously, somehow managing to overlap into the Thai skater’s section of the private seating pod.

“Honestly Yuuri, I’m surprised you haven’t talked one of your sponsor’s into upgrading your travel anyways. You’ve been ranked #1 for the last few years, you deserve it!”

Yuuri flushed. “Ah, you know I hate to impose! They already do so much for me. I’m embarrassed enough that I accidentally asked for a single room this season!”

Phichit doubled over in an unexpected coughing fit, causing the other man to hand him a water bottle in concern. As he leaned over the small wall separating their spaces, his eyes caught on the Thai skater’s phone as it lit up. “Phi? Why on earth is Georgi Popovich messaging you?”

Chapter Text

November 24th, St. Petersburg

“Those of you traveling with the Club to Moscow for the Rostelecom Cup are to be at the Junior dormitory lobby promptly at 7:00 tomorrow morning. If you will be joining us separately, a reminder that hotel check-in begins at 1:00 p.m. Coach Georgi will be in the lobby to assist from 1:00 until 2:30. If you arrive outside of that time, you are at the mercy of your rink mates for room access.” The tall, slender head coach raised an eyebrow as a handful of his skaters break into giggles. “Those of you not attending the Rostelecom Cup, I expect you to treat Coach Katya with far more respect than you treat your poor head coach.” He feigned a pout, eliciting more giggling, especially from the female skaters. “Alright. Dismissed!”

The chattering crowd of teens and twenty-somethings began to filter out of the meeting room, leaving Victor alone with his coaching staff. Smiling, Katya waved on her way out the door, ready to corral the underage skaters back to their dormitory for the evening. As he gathered his notes and paperwork, the silver-blond was unsurprised to feel a body settle against the table. “You’re in quite the chipper mood this evening, Victor.”

He flashed a genuine smile at the dark-haired assistant coach. “I am Georgi. I’m feeling… hopeful. I owe you for that information.” After the progress at NHK and a few more sessions with Dr. Petrova, he truly felt that he was on the right path. The path that led back to Yuuri. Georgi sighed softly, flashing a small smile.
“Ah, Victor. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to hear this. If I can be of some service in the name of true love, I should count myself lucky.”

Valiantly suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Victor continued. “There is… one question I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do… do you remember Yuuri taking over my classes while I was recovering from my, um, from my knee injury?”

“Ahhhh, yes. The students adored him. Yakov was tempted to ask him to stay on as an assistant, but he insisted that coaching was your territory, I believe.”

Victor winced at that but pressed on. “He never told me about it. Neither did Yakov. I didn’t know until he mentioned coaching Alexei while we were in Kyoto.”

The other man eyes him contemplatively. “Victor, be honest. Did you ever ask him what he did at the rink while you were out of commission?”

Victor’s silence is answer enough.

November 25th, Early Evening, Moscow

The alarm cut through the quiet of the dim hotel room and a slender arm reached out from the cocoon of blankets to silence the noise. Muttering in Japanese, Yuuri groggily sat up. It had been late morning when their flight had finally landed at Sheremetyevo Airport, 14 hours after departing Detroit. Thankfully the first-class seats had allowed him to lie flat and gain a few hours of desperately needed sleep, but he was still wiped out. He’d promised himself a nap once he made it to the hotel, but he really should get up and move around if he didn’t want to completely wreck his sleep cycle for the weekend.

Still half-nestled into the warmth of the covers, his mind drifted pensively to Phichit’s odd behavior on the plane. The Thai man had been flushed when Yuuri noticed the Instagram alert from Georgi, but that may have been from his odd choking fit. He’d chattered inanely, some nonsense about connecting with all his current and former competitors, fostering a sense of international community and a hamster themed ice show in Bangkok? Strange enough. Stranger still, the younger man had worn his headphones for most of the trip, intently watching a series of terrible foreign language films instead of gossiping with Yuuri like he normally did.
With a groan at the unsolved mystery, he finally switched his screen on, checking for messages. He couldn’t help a small grin when he scrolled through his notifications.

Vitya: Not sure if you’ll be awake in time, but…
Vitya: Was hoping to steal you for dinner?
Vitya: Or maybe a drink (if it won’t mess up your skating of course!)
Vitya: Let me know when you wake up!

***

The silver haired Russian leaned against the cool stone of the wall just outside the hotel entrance, trying to look inconspicuous, trying not to look nervous. He had been thrilled when Yuuri had responded with an affirmative to his dinner invitation, overjoyed that the progress they had made in Japan apparently hadn’t suffered any setbacks. His sessions with Dr. Petrova had been going well and he planned to spend this weekend figuring out exactly what Yuuri wanted from him. He was willing to give Yuuri anything…

“Hey.” The soft, heartachingly familiar voice was music to his ears. Victor turned and smiled warmly at the raven-haired vision before him with slicked back hair, glasses on, snugly bundled into a warm pea coat.

“Yuuri. It’s good to see you! I found a place a few blocks away… would you prefer to walk or take a cab?”

“Hmmm. Let’s walk. It’s colder than this in Detroit right now and I’ve been cooped up inside all day.”

Victor nodded in agreement, gesturing to indicate the direction. The pair walked side by side in companionable silence, the lights of Moscow twinkling around them. The Russian was almost startled when Yuuri broke the silence.

“Victor… I’ve… I suppose I’ve been wondering. The flowers, therapy, my… um, my tie…” he hesitated, cheeks flushing. “What… what do you want? From me, I mean. From, um, this?”

The taller man started to laugh, but caught the serious, almost nervous expression on the younger man’s face. “My god, Yuuri. You’re serious.” He caught the Japanese man’s shoulder, pulling them to a gentle halt. The smaller man turned away, shoulders hunching. “Look at me, dorogoy, please?” Cinnamon brown eyes turned to gaze at him.

“I want you, Yuuri. Always you. I know I don’t deserve a second chance. The way I acted after the Olympics, the things I said to you on the phone that day… I’m sorry, Yuuri. I will never stop being sorry. I will spend my whole life making it up to you if you’ll let me.” His eyes were suddenly burning, his voice cracking with emotion.

“I couldn’t understand why you ran instead of talking to me. I spent so long just being angry, at you, at myself, hell, at poor Yura. I was wrong. I hurt you, I kept hurting you, over and over, and all I can do is hope that one day you will forgive me, because I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself.” He knew there were tears streaming down his face, knew he probably looked terrible, but he didn’t care, because all that mattered was making Yuuri hear him.

“Please, Yuuri. I know I don’t deserve you, but I miss you. Every second I miss you. I just… please, is there a chance? For us?”

The younger man looked away, eyes hidden behind glass. Victor reached for him, desperate in his attempt to somehow break through the wall that had been between them for so long. His long pale hand cupped Yuuri’s cheek, thumb stroking gently at the suspicious hint of moisture glinting there. The younger man turned his face into Victor’s palm, eyes clenched shut, throat bobbing convulsively. He looked wrecked and sorrowful and so, so beautiful and then, with a strangled groan he was in Victor’s arms, clutching desperately, shoulders shaking as he sobbed into the taller man’s chest.

They stood together for a long time, Victor’s lips pressed into the raven hair. Finally, with a shaky breath, Yuuri pulled away, eyes gleaming as he looked up at the taller man, a small smile shining fiercely in his tearstained face. “Yeah. I mean, yes. Yes, Victor. There’s a chance.”

***

Dinner went late, the two men lingering over their meal, spending more time staring at each other than eating. Drinks at the hotel bar went later, conversation flowing at the quiet corner table as they began the slow process of hashing through everything that had gone so wrong between them. Finally, when Yuuri began to droop, Victor reluctantly put an end to their evening.

“It’s after midnight. You’ll need a full night’s sleep to get through practice and the short program. We should head back up.” Yuuri hummed in tired agreement.
Victor’s heart beat a joyful tune when Yuuri leaned sleepily against him on the elevator ride and continued to lean into his side as he walked the younger man to his room. As they arrived at the door, Victor could see the conflict in Yuuri’s eyes as he hesitated outside the room. Victor smiled but knew joining the younger man would be pushing things too quickly. He pressed his forehead against the other man’s for a lingering moment, reveling in the ability to once again just touch. He had missed that almost more than anything. Pulling back, he pressed a kiss against the crown of Yuuri’s head, thumb gently brushing the other’s lips.

Softly, he bid his farewell in the quiet hallway. “Sleep well, lyubov moya.”

Softer still, came the reply. “And you… Vitya.”

November 26th, Late Afternoon

“Ciao, ciao! Yuuri! Phichit!” Celestino waved to his skater’s as they finally left the locker room after a long morning and afternoon. Public practice, a late breakfast, the short program and a grueling session with the press had left both young men exhausted. Their boisterous coach, however, was indefatigable.

“Come! We’ll have a late lunch to celebrate! My skaters are at the top of the standings! For this, we can have a drink, yes?”

Rolling their eyes, the two dark haired skaters laughingly declined, more eager for a shower and a nap than alcohol or food at the moment. Promising to share a celebratory toast later, they loaded onto the shuttle and made their tired way back to the hotel. While they wanted nothing more than to collapse in their rooms, fate had a different idea.

“Yuuri!!! Over here! Yuuri!”

Phichit chuckled at the cheerful voice. “Alexei Ivanov appears to be a fan!” Yuuri simply ran his hand through his hair, feeling the carefully gelled pieces starting to fall loose around his neck. Sure enough, the Russian teen was racing across the lobby, barely checking his speed before barreling into the older man.

“Yuuri! You were amazing! Your quad loop was just so… whoosh!” He twirled in imitation before pulling on Yuuri’s hand, dragging the man over to the group he had been standing with before the two men had arrived. Yuuri waved a half-hearted hand at Phichit as the Thai skater laughingly continued towards the elevators. “Look! The whole Club came out to see you skate! Welcome back to Russia!!”

“Ahem. The Club came to see Yuuri?”

“Ah! Mila! We came to see you too! Of course we did!” The teen frantically backpedaled as the delicate but fierce red-head glared. She smirked as the boy slouched off to hide behind Georgi and Yuri.

Turning to the Japanese man, she grinned. “He’s pretty hopeless this season. He’s got that picture of you and he on the podium at NHK taped up in his locker. Bad case of hero worship I think.”

The rest of the St. Petersburg crew surrounded him, eager to catch up with their former rink mate. Although he had seen many of them at competitions the past season, this was the first time he’d seen them all on their home turf in more than eighteen months. Unexpectedly, he felt a wave of homesickness as their pleasant chatter washed over him. Exhausted, he felt the room begin to blur. As he slouched, a warm hand clasped his shoulder, squeezing reassuringly.

“Alright, let’s give Yuuri some space. I’m sure he’s tired right now.” Yuuri looked gratefully up at the Club’s Head Coach as the group began to disperse.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. They’re a bit much all at once. I should know, I have to deal with them every day.” Victor flashed an exaggerated grimace, swapping it for a genuine grin when Yuuri laughed.

“Tcha.”

Yuuri turned to see Yuri glaring at the pair.

“You still coming to dinner with us, Katsudon?” Yuuri nodded. Green eyes bored into the Japanese skater’s face, seeming to search for an answer. They narrowed as the younger Russian seemingly found whatever he was looking for. He swapped his gaze to Victor’s face, lip slightly curling.

“Don’t fuck this up old man,” he spat before stalking away.

Oh yeah. Dinner with the Russian team was going to be fun.

November 29th, Early Evening

The weekend, like so many competition weekends, passed in a blur.

After a mostly enjoyable dinner with the Russian skate crew, he had slept like the dead through half of his free day, then gone to watch the Ladies’ Short Program. Yurio had joined him in the skater’s box, watching Mila’s program with an attentiveness that the Japanese skater found very intriguing. He knew Yuri too well to tease but thought that perhaps Mila had finally joined Otabek’s ranks as a true friend to the young Russian.

That night, he’d indulged in dinner with Victor, a quiet restaurant with linen cloths and softly burning candles. Their fingers had tangled over the table and had stayed entwined during the walk back to the hotel, parting reluctantly when they reached Yuuri’s room. The warmth from that evening had lasted through the following day’s free skate, resulting in a resounding victory and a spot in the Final. He’d been overjoyed when Phichit took second, joining him with a grin on the podium.

The Exhibition Gala this afternoon had been uneventful and now the only thing left to do was get cleaned up before the Banquet. For the first time in well over a year, he was actually looking forward to the typically dull event.

***

This time, the knock on the door didn’t surprise him. Checking his suit one last time in the mirror, he pulled open the door, smiling a soft greeting at the tall beauty on the other side. Sea blue eyes sparkled down at him as Victor grinned appreciatively at Yuuri’s tie.

“Pity. I was rather hoping to help you with that again,” he purred before producing the bottle of champagne and pair of glasses that had been held out of sight until that moment. “Happy Birthday, Yuuri. Help me make the Banquet more bearable?”

***

Yuuri was pleasantly buzzed when he and Victor parted ways at the Banquet. True to form, Celestino had swooped in the moment they’d entered the hall, dragging him off to join a chattering cluster of sponsors. As the night dragged on, so did the Champagne high, and the Japanese skater found himself seeking the tables holding refreshments. Hors d’oeuvres in one hand and a flute in the other, he began scanning the crowd, hoping to find Phichit or Victor. Maybe Mila would want to catch up?

“Yuuuu-ri! Hi!” The cheerfully accented voice brought a smile to his face and he hastily finished the snack before catching Sara in a small hug. Mila grinned from behind the other woman’s shoulder.

“Sara! Mila! Congratulations on advancing to the Final!”

“You too Yuuri! Not that there was any doubt!” Sara bounced forward for another hug, her bubbly enthusiasm bringing a grin to his face. Of course, where Sara Crispino was…

“Hey. Pervert!”

Michele was sure to follow. Sara flashed him an apologetic smile as she allowed Mila to drag her away. It was ridiculous. Mickey spent so much time keeping the men away from his sister he’d never managed to see the truth that had been under his nose for years. Yuuri had a feeling Sara preferred it that way. With a sigh, he turned to the irate Italian man.

“Mickey. Always a pleasure.” Yuuri plastered a serene smile on his face, determined not let the other man rattle him.

“I see you sniffing after my Sara. I won’t let you corrupt her Katsuki.”

He couldn’t help rolling his eyes. “Still gay, Mickey.”

“Yeah, well you aren’t with that overblown Russian has-been anymore, I don’t know what you might be into.”

His mood snapped. “I don’t know where you get your information from Michele Crispino, but you will mind your tongue when talking about my husband.” The younger Italian man pulled back at the cold fury in Yuuri’s voice. His violet eyes suddenly widened at something behind Yuuri’s shoulder, and he hastily sped off in the direction his twin had headed.

Turning, Yuuri was unsurprised to find Victor close by, staring at him with serious blue eyes. Feigning nonchalance, he tilted the flute in the other man’s direction before swallowing the remaining wine. Victor jutted his chin towards the exit, a question in his eyes. The raven-haired man handed the glass to a passing waiter and following the taller man out of the hall.

Victor seemed to have a destination in mind and led them through several turns to a quiet service hallway.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Quite the smackdown back there.”

“Michele is an ass. Sometimes I think he’s worse than JJ.”

“Who?”

“Nevermind.”

They were facing each other in the quiet hall and Yuuri’s hands drifted, lightly clutching the taller man’s open jacket. Victor bit his lip as he stepped closer, laying his hand gently along Yuuri’s cheek.

“Husband?” He whispered hoarsely. Yuuri flushed.

“We aren’t… perfect. And… there’s so, so much that we have to work through but… he doesn’t have the right to talk about you like that. Nobody does. You’re mine.”

He wasn’t sure who moved first. He wasn’t sure it mattered.

It wasn’t a kiss. It was a crashing together of two broken souls. It felt like fury and forgiveness, pain and hope, lingering sorrow and a dawning joy. In every raging second, it was a declaration of a love that had endured despite every reason to fade.

It felt like coming home.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

December 3rd, Detroit

Yuuri woke slowly, his head seemingly filled with cotton. His skin felt uncomfortable… too tight, too itchy, too much. With a groan, he forced himself to sit up.

Yesterday had been a rest day and he was slightly ashamed to realize he had spent the entirety of it hiding in his room, half in teary depression, half in angrily ranting at himself. He dimly recalled Phichit knocking on his door several times, only to retreat in tears when Yuuri snapped at him. No wonder he felt so exhausted and drained. He flopped onto his back, mentally running through the spiral of events that had triggered his unstable emotional state.

The phone call with Yurio leading to the crushing realization that his improved relationship with Victor was somehow due to Phichit’s machinations. Which… he still didn’t know what exactly Phichit had done, only that it somehow involved Yuri, Georgi and… Chris? He tried to sort through the blurry memories of Phichit’s rambling excuses. Shit. He’d have to actually sit down and talk to his roommate at some point, figure out how deep this rabbit hole went. Not now though. Right now, he needed to skate.

Forgoing a shower, he dressed in old workout gear and made his way to the kitchen. His favorite mug sat ready, tea already measured into the metal infuser, electric kettle filled and hot. Phichit. Yuuri tried in vain to suppress a twinge of guilt. With a sigh, he poured the water over the leaves, grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter, and scrolled through his phone. After spending part of the previous day angrily blocking what felt like half the contacts in his phone, there wasn’t much on Instagram to occupy him. He toyed with the thought of undoing the blocks but decided that they needed to stay in place until he figured out what, exactly, had been happening behind his back. This morning may have brought a modicum of calming perspective, but it hadn’t yet dimmed the dull throb of anger that was burning deep in his gut.

Practice. Practice would settle this churning feeling. He needed the ice.

***

Celestino was eyeing him suspiciously when he arrived at the Club. Catching a glimpse of Phichit, red eyed and slowly skating basic figures, Yuuri flushed, knowing that his coach would wonder what had happened to put both of his Finalists into such a state so close to the competition. No matter. He needed to be on the ice. Nodding at Celestino, he pulled on his skates and stepped into the rink, making slow circles to warm up. No sense in hurting himself before a competition, even if what he really wanted was to skate hard and fast, burning the lingering anger out of his system.

His blades scratched at the ice as he began moving in broad circles, slowly warming himself up before moving onto step sequences and jumps. As practice ground on that day, he finally heard skates trailing behind him and sighed, knowing Phichit was shadowing him. Memories rolled through him as he continued to ignore his roommate, speeding up slightly to clear space for a jump.

“You know you don’t actually believe that Yuuri. You saw that video, he looked like hell when they started bringing up your name. You could never be just another skater to him.” The slender figure reached out a hand to touch Yuuri’s shoulder. “Whatever happened between you two, he hasn’t stopped caring. And I know you haven’t either. Maybe he’s afraid to reach out… I mean, you pretty much banned him from contacting you after the last time you tried to talk…”

“Yuuri, if it makes me a bad friend to want to see you happy, then… I’ll be a bad friend. You deserve happiness and you deserve love and dammit Yuuri you deserve success and friendship and all the wonderful things in the world. How do I convince you of that? Hmmm?”

 

Ah, hell. As his blade came down in the satisfying snap of a solid landing, he caught Phichit’s eye and slid to a stop, allowing the younger man to catch up.

“Lunch,” Yuuri called to his roommate, thrusting his chin towards the rink exit. “You’re buying.” The smaller Thai man visibly brightened at the words and nodded enthusiastically.

***

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t even know what you’re sorry for Phichit. That’s why I’m so upset. You took my decisions, my relationship into your own hands, without asking.”

“I was trying to help.”

Yuuri forced himself to take a deep breath. “I… figured that part out. I know you had good intentions. I know you care. I do. I just… what did you do?”

Haltingly, Phichit spilled out the story of a well-intentioned conspiracy of skaters past and present, built around the hope of reuniting a pair of figure skating legends. Yuuri blushed at the description, but let it slide, knowing that the record he had somehow managed to build was far more impressive than his younger self could have dreamed. There was one point he needed to clarify, however.

“And Victor? Did he come to you or did you drag him into this?” Yuuri looked away, not sure which answer he was hoping to hear.

“It’s… complicated,” the younger man delicately responded, earning a glare from the Japanese skater. Huffing a sigh, the smaller man continued. “He started following me on Instagram after I posted that photo of you with, um… when you were wearing the medal?” Yuuri winced, face flushing with embarassment. “So, um… I sort of, started reaching out. To him, to Chris, to the St. Petersburg crew. That’s when it started. But… he wasn’t really involved. We sort of… kidnapped him? In Seattle. We forced him to listen when I called you. We had you on speakerphone.” Phichit had the good grace to at least look slightly ashamed at this admission.

Yuuri’s blood began to boil again and it took a few deep breaths to settle his roiling thoughts. “Phichit, I would never have said those things if I’d known someone else, if I’d known Victor was listening! I admitted that stuff because you’re my best friend, because I trusted you!” Tears were in both men’s eyes at this point. “And, wait, you kidnapped him? What the actual hell Phichit? Do you honestly think I want him forced into a relationship with me?”

“It’s not like that Yuuri! Georgi and Chris said he was miserable, that he was heartbroken but thought you didn’t want him to reach out after your fight last June! He didn’t know you still loved him!”

Yuuri buried his head in his hands, mind swirling. “No more Phichit. This ends. No conspiracies, no going behind my back, no helping.”

“I’m so sorry Yuu. I wanted to help. You deserve happiness and I know you love him…” He raised miserable grey eyes to stare hopelessly at his roommate. “I’ll stay out of everything from now on, just… please? Did I ruin everything? I’m sorry Yuuri…”

The older man swallowed, fighting his own emotions. “I don’t know Peach. Just, promise me, no more helping?”

“I promise!”

***

December 4th, Detroit

Tired blue eyes scanned the passing view as the taxi slogged through the busy afternoon traffic. American cities somehow always looked the same to him, all concrete and hustle, nothing like the cities of Europe and Asia. Still, Detroit felt special. Detroit had Yuuri and therefore it was somehow lovely in his eyes.

Victor had given the driver the address of the Detroit Skate Club, earning him an odd glance towards the luggage at his feet. He’d merely shrugged. The hotel could wait. The rink was the only place he knew he could be sure to find Yuuri and he needed to get there before normal practice time ended. Once the cab came to a stop and he found himself peering up at the Club, however, he suddenly found himself second guessing his plan.

The silver-blond knew he could be impulsive. It’s what had led him to chase after Yuuri all those years ago after all. Now though… he was disheveled, and his clothes were crumpled from the long international flight, his eyes were probably blood shot. Maybe he should have gone to the hotel and freshened up…

Ma che diavolo!?

The tall Russian turned at the heated curse. “Ah. Coach Cialdini. Um…” He nervously ruffled his silver fringe.

“Victor Nikiforov.” The older man stood near the entrance to the Club, arms crossed, glare firmly fixed on the younger coach. “What, exactly, are you doing at my Club? Haven’t you done enough damage to my skater?”

Victor swallowed, then straightened his shoulders. “I have, Celestino. I have done far too much damage to Yuuri. I’m here to make that right, if I can.”

The burly Italian narrowed his eyes. “Does this sudden visit have anything to do with both of my Finalists showing up looking like shit yesterday?” He nodded grimly at the younger man’s guilty wince.

“Please Celestino, I need to see Yuuri. He’s still my husband… I need to make things right.” The other man still didn’t budge, his light green eyes boring into Victor. After a few moments of tense silence, he seemed to finally cave.

“If he tells you to leave, you leave. Understood?”

Thank you.

Celestino nodded curtly before moving out of the way. As Victor made his way into the lobby, the other man called after him.

“If you brought your skates, I’d suggest lacing them up. I doubt you’ll be able to get him off the ice in this mood.”

The Russian smiled his thanks. No, if Yuuri was in the temper Victor suspected, nobody would be able to get him off the ice until he was ready. Stubborn, lovely Yuuri. It was better this way, truly. They’d always spoken more honestly on the ice than off.

Setting his luggage against a bench, he shuffled through the bags, pulling out the case containing his blades. As he laced the golden bladed boots and peeled out of his outerwear, he scanned the rink, spotting Yuuri and Phichit working on spins on the far side. There were only a handful of skaters on the ice, most likely just the members of the Club that would be attending the Final in Chicago. With a deep breath, he stepped close to the gap in the boards and pulled the guards from his blades. A couple of the skaters had frozen to watch as he made his way onto the ice… even two years into retirement he was still far too recognizable in the figure skating world. Of course, given the slightly hostile tinge to several of the stares, he might be recognizable for another reason at this particular rink.

Victor shook off the tingle of nerves and began slowly gliding in a broad arc, stretching out his tired legs as he approached the far end, eyes on the pair of Asian skaters still working their way through rapid spin sequences. Phichit spotted him first, stuttering to a stop mid twirl, eyes widening in shock. The young Thai man took a few gliding steps towards his roommate, stopping a few feet away and speaking urgently in a low voice that Victor couldn’t quite make out. Yuuri finished the spin he had been practicing without a hitch, coolly coming to a stop facing the tall Russian before turning to Phichit and murmuring something in his ear.

A moment later, the younger skater silently slid past where Victor had stopped a few feet away, a cautious warning in his steel grey eyes as he exited the rink. The silver blond turned to watch him pass, then returned his gaze to the man he’d come to see, hoping to see a glimmer of the warmth the cinnamon brown eyes had shone with in Moscow. Yuuri stared back with an inscrutable expression before finally cocking one eyebrow in Victor’s direction.

With a questioning glance, the Japanese skate pushed off, skating backwards for a few gliding steps before turning. Victor couldn’t help but to follow, caught up in the gravity of the younger man. They moved side by side for a few minutes, Yuuri absently falling into an old step sequence, Victor mirroring him a few feet away. After a few more turns, the Russian coach realized that the raven-haired skater had paused and was watching him move on the ice. He finished the sequence and skated back, only then realizing that they were alone. Those wide brown eyes were glinting with conflicting emotions- sorrow, pain, longing, and something soft and wistful seemed to blend in their depths.

“Why are you here, Victor?” The question came floating gently in the quiet of the rink.

All the practiced words and smooth phrasing he practiced on the flight abandoned him. “I hurt you. Again. I was trying to fix things and I screwed up. Again.”

Yuuri nodded thoughtfully. “Phichit told me. About what happened in Seattle.” He paused. “When Yuri let it slip that… that you were in therapy because it’s what I wanted… I panicked. I was angry, I…” A helpless shrug, and he turned, eyes brimming with what looked suspiciously like tears. “I wanted it to be real. Kyoto. Moscow. I thought, I thought that maybe it was real.”

“Yuuri! Please, love. It was real. It IS real. And I should have been honest with you, no matter what Phichit made me promise. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. Not… not because I think you want me to be sorry. Because I hurt you and I kept hurting you. I should… I should have come after you when you left. I broke my own heart by not coming after you and begging for your forgiveness. I couldn’t make the same mistake again, Yuuri.”

“Why…” Yuuri paused, licking his lips hesitantly. “Why didn’t you? When I left? If you still wanted me… why didn’t you try to stop me?”

Victor hesitated, swallowing. Honesty. Right. He had to be honest to fix things. His face twisted. “Because I was angry,” he whispered. Yuuri stilled, waiting. “I was angry because… because you said we were family. And… and that family didn’t walk away.”

The words hung heavily in the space between them. Yuuri looked stricken.

“V-Victor… I didn’t… that didn’t mean…”

“I know! I know. I… took advantage of your good nature. I… I took advantage of the fact that you loved me. I didn’t… I didn’t think you would leave. I never thought you’d just… leave. I was upset because of my injury and I took it out on you. I didn’t want to compete, but I still wanted to skate and I couldn’t and I just… god, I was so angry and I just…”

“It was my fault. If I hadn’t pushed you to compete in PyeongChang…”

“No." Victor shook his head. "I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, Yuuri. I could have said no. You would never have forced me. All you did was ask. I could have said no. I had no right to take it out on you. All you did was try to help me afterward. You were there every second after I fell and I still took it out on you.” Victor’s voice was a choked whisper by now. “I’m so sorry Yuuri. I’m a terrible husband. I don’t deserve you, but you said we had a chance. Please. Please let there still be a chance.”

The Japanese skater hid his face in his hands, shoulders shaking. Victor twitched with the need to go to him, to hold him while his emotions raged.

“I think, I think I made mistakes too.” Yuuri finally looked up through his fingers, hair mussed, jaw clenched. “I could have said something. I could have suggested therapy then for you, for us.” He skated forward, coming to a stop within inches of the tall Russian.

Peering up through his raven fringe, cinnamon eyes met blue. “The roses, on our wedding anniversary. That was just you?” Victor nodded, throat working convulsively.

“Da.”

Yuuri dropped his head, bridging the gap as he leaned into the taller man. Victor’s hands drifted up to the slender waist.

The younger man’s voice came softly. “Skate with me? I’ve missed it.”

“Always.”

Chapter Text

Evening, December 4th, Detroit

The sun slanted through the rink windows as the evening wore on, the sound of blades gliding across the ice filling the air. The silver and raven pair spun around each other, occasionally passing close enough to exchange light touches of hands, gentle strokes of faces. In an unspoken accord, they came to a final spinning stop in the center of the rink. Feeling suddenly shy, Yuuri twined hands with the other man, leaning his head against the broad chest. Victor pressed a kiss into the disheveled raven locks, one hand coming up to tangle in the sweaty hair at the nape of the younger man’s neck.

“I like your hair like this, solnyshko. It’s gotten so long,” he murmured, Yuuri humming a gentle acknowledgement. “C’mon now love. I’m exhausted and I know you were out here for hours before I showed up.”

Yuuri smirked up at him. “What, no innuendos about my stamina?” The Russian laughed and rolled his eyes, tugging at the younger man’s hands and pulling him towards the gap in the boards. They skated to the exit, snagging their guards as they stepped off the ice. Yuuri leaned on the taller man’s shoulder as he pulled on the guards in easy familiarity, causing Victor’s heart to skip a beat.

They settled on a bench to pull off their skates, Yuuri wincing slightly as blood rushed to his feet. Victor groaned in sympathy, remembering the pain of long hours on the ice. He barely registered the quiet chuckle that echoed through the quiet of the empty Club. Glancing inquiringly at his husband, he saw the cinnamon brown eyes sparkling with the warmth he’d been craving. He quirked a silver eyebrow questioningly and Yuuri gestured towards the pile of luggage.

“You didn’t even bother checking into your hotel?”

“Hmmm, seeing you was more important.”

Yuuri surged forward, hand softly cupping Victor’s cheek as he caught his mouth in a gentle kiss. “I’m glad you came Vitya.” His face flushed, and he quickly bent over to pull on his trainers. Peeking up through his shaggy bangs, he glanced searchingly up at the sea blue eyes. “You… you must be hungry. I have a car… we could get dinner?”

The silver blond stole another quick kiss. “I’d like that, but I should probably get checked into the hotel, maybe get a quick shower?”

Yuuri bit his lip, looking torn. He spoke haltingly. “I… Phichit and I… we have a fold out couch. And a shower. Um… we could get carry out, talk for a while?” Victor’s eyes blew wide at the offer and Yuuri quickly stammered out a qualifier. “I… I mean, I understand if you don’t… I mean, the hotel would probably be more comfortable and… and... mmmph!” The Russian silenced him with a firmer kiss, hands pressing warmly into the smaller man’s back. With their foreheads pressed together, the heart shaped smile flashed down on the younger man.

“The couch sounds lovely Yuuri. Thank you.”

***

Phichit winced as the apartment door creaked in the quiet of the late evening. It was later than he’d intended, and he didn’t want to wake Yuuri, especially without knowing how Victor’s surprise visit had turned out. If it had gone badly well… his roommate would definitely need sleep to deal with the fallout. He quietly latched the door and turned to pull off his shoes, only then noticing the flicker and low murmur of the television. The Japanese man must have fallen asleep on the couch, a sure sign that he was either exhausted or upset. Phichit chewed his lip, a lingering sense of guilt sitting heavy on his chest. Would it have been better to have kept out of the whole messy situation? Too late now. He crept towards the couch, intending to turn off the television and prod Yuuri awake so he could sleep in his bed. Startled, he pulled back at the sight that greeted him.

Victor’s silver-blond hair was mussed in sleep, his head propped on the arm of the couch. His long arms were wrapped tightly around the slumbering raven-haired form nestled snugly on his chest. Phichit took in the scattered take-out boxes on the coffee table and smiled softly at the sleeping pair. He valiantly resisted the urge to document the scene. Instagram would be a very bad idea, he told himself firmly. Pressing the remote to silence the television, he gently draped a throw blanket over their shoulders before retreating to his room. He closed the door then slumped against it, head hitting the wood with a gentle thud as happy tears filled his eyes.

Thank god. Things were finally going right for his talented friend.

Phichit grinned. Of course, he’d probably have to start hunting for a new roommate now.

Morning, December 5th, St. Petersburg

“Again! That landing was sloppy Yura, watch your free leg!”

Yuri scowled as he sped up to try the jump again. Sloppy. He’d been entirely too sloppy the last couple of practices, his focus not as tight as it should be, his thoughts too preoccupied with a pair of exasperating men in far-off Detroit. He snarled as he launched himself through the air again, elation flooding him as he felt the *snnnck* of a solid landing.

“Better!” Georgi called. “Take a water break, then we’ll work on the connecting elements!”

Ugh. Why did he bother with friendship? It had surely been better back when he had been 100% focused on the ice. At least then, he hadn’t dealt with worry or hurt feelings or emotions. Stupid Yuuri. Stupid Victor. Hell, stupid Otabek and Mila too, while he was at it. He almost ran into the boards, snagging his water bottle and cell phone. Skimming through Instagram, he nearly missed the significance of the notification.

katsuki-y posted a photo

He nearly spat out his water, earning a concerned glance from Mila as she stretched nearby. Curious, she moved to lean on the other side of the boards and he grudgingly tilted the phone so she could see the screen.

“He unblocked you?” Mila mused. “That has to be a good sign.” She tapped the notification, ignoring Yuri’s snarled complaint. The image loaded, causing green and blue eyes alike to widen in surprise. Two pairs of tangled, denim clad legs occupied the screen, propped up on a sleek grey couch arm. The caption was cryptic, but v-nikiforov was tagged at the end.

“’Some things are worth more than gold’,” Mila read wonderingly, eyes sparkling. “Awwww!”

“Fucking gross. Idiots.” Mila smirked at the lack of bite in Yuri’s words as he hastily dropped the phone and skated back towards the center of the ice. She and Georgi noticed the marked improvement in Yuri’s practices the next couple of days. Wisely, both refrained from mentioning it.

Mid-afternoon, December 8th, Somewhere between Detroit and Chicago

Celestino was watching him again. Glancing up from the back-row bench seat, Victor could see the light green eyes studying him in the rear-view mirror. He held the older man’s gaze, left hand idly carding through Yuuri’s thick hair as the younger man dozed against his shoulder. After a moment, Celestino looked away, returning his eyes to the highway in front of them. The young Russian coach couldn’t really blame him for his suspicion, but that didn’t make the scrutiny any more comfortable.

The Detroit based coach had barely agreed to allow Victor to ride in the Club’s van today, only agreeing once the silver-blond offered to cover lunch for the skaters and coaches. After his initial arrival, Coach Cialdini had point blank refused to allow Victor to attend any of the official practice sessions held at the Club. Which was fair, really. His own student was Yuuri and Phichit’s biggest competition at the Final this weekend; allowing the Russian coach to watch their final practices could be seen as an unfair advantage for Yuri. He didn’t mind, truly, he’d had time to spend with Yuuri in the evenings and yesterday had been a rest day.

Their evenings had been somewhat tempered by Phichit’s presence, but they’d managed to sneak in a few intense conversations and equally intense embraces, stopping just shy of crossing any lines. Victor had made sure that his spouse had made it into an actual bed after the first night… and had determinedly forced himself to stay out of said bed. He’d wait until Yuuri explicitly invited him back into that space. For now, he was content. More than content… overjoyed.

A jolt stirred him out of his reverie and he glanced out the window to see that Celestino had pulled into a truck stop. He gently shook his sleepy husband, reveling in the privilege of watching the younger man awaken. Phichit and Yuuri climbed out of the van and followed the cheerful red-headed assistant coach and the young pair skate team into the building. Victor climbed out more slowly, taking a moment to stretch his knee before leaning against the vehicle, absently watching Celestino swipe a card to start the pump. The Italian man settled next to the slender Russian with a grunt.

“I could have rented a car. Or flown. I didn’t mean to impose,” Victor offered.

Celestino sighed. “Yuuri wanted you to come with us. I didn’t want to put any more stress on him.”

“Any more stress than what I’ve already put on him, you mean.”

A shrug. “I’m literally paid to worry about him.” Silence stretched between them for a moment before Celestino continued. “Look Nikiforov. You love him. He loves you. I get that. You want to work on your relationship, that’s fair. That’s… magnificent really. But what happens now?”
Victor turned to look at the burly coach. “What do you mean?”

Light green eyes held the icy blue ones for a moment. “Do you mean to coach him again?”

“I…”

“He’s got another year or two in him if he chooses to keep competing, but he can’t keep hopping from country to country. Next season is the lead up to Beijing. Are you ready to help him prepare for another Olympic season?”

The younger man paused before responding. “If… if that’s what he wants, then yes. I’ll do whatever Yuuri needs.”

“And if what Yuuri needs stands in the way of what your Club… your country needs from you? Will the FFKK allow you to coach Japan’s Ace?”

“They did before…”

“You weren’t the Head Coach for the country’s top Club, Victor.”

The silver-blond gulped then began again, determination edging into his voice. “I… I honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead. But Celestino, he’s my husband. I’ve made too many mistakes with him, I won’t do anything to risk his happiness or his success. Not again. He comes first.”

The older man nodded slowly. “Try to remember that, Coach Nikiforov.” He laid a heavy hand on the slender shoulder before going inside. Victor tilted his head against the van, losing himself in thought until the group was ready to get back on the road.

A few hours later, Chicago

Yuuri groaned as the van finally pulled into circular drive of the hotel. The telltale flash of cameras and news crews were visible through the tinted windows, and the Detroit Skate Club logo on the side of the van was a dead giveaway, quickly drawing a healthy dose of attention. Beside him, he felt Victor tense.

Blyad. I didn’t think about the media.”

On his other side, Phichit’s fingers were flying on his phone. “Ummm, looks like the St. Petersburg crew arrived a couple hours ago and Victor’s absence was definitely noticed. Somebody dug up a fan blog that claimed to see Victor at Detroit Metropolitan a few days ago, and now they’re laying odds that Victor’s with us.”

In the middle seat, the teenaged pair skaters were watching the circus with wide eyes, still new to this level of media frenzy. Celestino eyed the young athletes thoughtfully before turning to his assistant coach.

“Natalie, I want you to take Phichit, Tim, and Kaylee in first. They should leave you mostly alone, just head straight in, no comments, no photo ops. Get someone out here with a luggage cart, please.” The redhead nodded cheerfully and beckoned to her assigned trio. The roar of the photographers and reporters filled the van as the doors opened, and the remaining men leaned out of sight until the doors closed again.

“Yuuri? How do you want to handle this?” Celestino turned to address his top skater.

“I can stay in the van with the valet, sneak in through the back entrance later,” Victor volunteered. Yuuri shook his head vehemently.

“No. We haven’t done anything wrong, I don’t want anyone hiding. I’m not scared of the media. If they ask personal questions, we’ll just ignore them.”

Celestino sighed in resignation, having expected the response from his stubborn student. “We’ll walk on either side of you then. I don’t want you getting jostled in this crowd and spraining an ankle.” Yuuri nodded in grim determination.

The older coach stepped out of the van, moving to the side door. Yuuri slid the panel open, stepping into the buzzing cluster of cameras and microphones. The clamor only increased when the Russian man stepped out beside him, the two coaches bracketing the younger skater. Celestino placed a guiding hand on Yuuri’s back, and the trio began to move through the crowd. Shouted questions filled the air, melding into a meaningless hum of chatter. Shoulder to shoulder, they strode towards the doors.

With Celestino to one side and Victor to the other, Yuuri felt as if his past and present had collided. He reached for his husband’s hand, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Past. Present.

He squeezed Victor’s hand, smiling up at the taller man.

Future.

The Grand Prix Final was about to begin.

Chapter Text

Early Afternoon, December 9th, Chicago

“It’s… a giant bean.”

“It’s not a bean Yuri, it’s… um, a cloud gate?”

“What the hell is a cloud gate Katsudon? It’s a fucking giant silver bean.”

Phichit and Yuuri exchanged a glance. After living in Detroit for so many years, Chicago’s landmarks were familiar to them. Introducing them to a crew of curious Russian and Khazak skaters however…

“It reflects the sky. Bridges the gap between the ground and the heavens. Cloud gate.” The entire group turned in surprise at the calm voice. Otabek shrugged at the scrutiny. “Makes sense.”

“Wow! We should take pictures!” The silver blond coach brimmed with enthusiasm. Phichit grinned as he pulled out his selfie stick.

“Say ‘Grand Prix!’”

The group smiled up at the screen, the city skyline reflecting in the shimmering surface behind them. Mila and Phichit crowded around the phone, deciding exactly which hashtags to use before posting the image. Victor hovered over their shoulders, chiming in with suggestions.

The dull thud against his back was half-hearted compared to 5 years ago, but Yuuri grinned when he felt the kick. In a way, Yuri Plisetsky being an impatient shit was a return to normalcy.

“C’moooon Katsudon. Giant. Lion. Statues. No more weird ass vegetable art.”

“Legume.” Yuri directed his glare toward the Khazak skater. Otabek shrugged. “You said vegetable. Beans are technically a legume.”

The raven-haired man laughed and rolled his eyes, waving the younger pair to follow him as he led the brief way up Michigan Avenue to the Art Institute and its stone guardians. After a few steps, he felt a gloved hand slide between his fingers.

“Leaving me behind? So cruel Yuuri!” The heart shape smile smirked down at him, a teasing light in the bright blue eyes.

The Japanese man laughed. “Phichit knows where we’re going Vitya.”

“I don’t want to walk with Phichit,” Victor whined. An excited cry from ahead of them indicated Yuri’s arrival at their destination. As the older pair drew closer to the statue flanked museum entrance, they became aware of a handful of cameras aimed towards the blond athlete currently attempting to scramble up the base of the stone lion. The tall coach sighed and ruffled his silver fringe. Sometimes it was abundantly clear exactly why Yakov Feltsman had gone bald.

“Yuri Plisetsky! Get down before I have to explain to the FFKK why you got arrested the day before the Grand Prix Final! Or worse! Injured!

***

The group had to split up that evening for the public practices, Mila joining Sara Crispino to watch the men from the stands after the women’s group finished. Yuuri found his eyes frequently straying towards where Victor stood with Georgi, calling instructions to his skater. If the blue eyes also wandered a little too often towards Japan’s Ace, well, nobody was going to call them on it. Probably.

“Ciao, ciao! Yuuri! Phichit! That’s enough for tonight, I want you both to get a good night’s rest!” Yuuri finished the sequence he’d been practicing and heading towards the boards, accepting the towel and water bottle that Natalie passed him. Across the rink, he heard Georgi calling for Yuri to finish his own practice. He searched for Victor while snapping his rubber guards onto his blades, finally spotting him a few feet away from Georgi, phone pressed to his ear. The Russian coach looked worried, his broad brow furrowed as he spoke into the device.

“Yuuri!” The raven-haired skater snapped his attention back to his coach. “You and Phichit are expected in the press room in a bit. Keep it brief, give ‘em a nice sound bite, then I want you back at the hotel. Stick to room service or the hotel restaurant tonight, no alcohol, and sleep!” The tall Italian eyed Yuuri with suspicion, as if he anticipated an argument.

“Hai, Coach!” Yuuri chirped, amused at Celestino’s protective streak. Phichit nodded beside him, already slipping back into his official Team Thailand warm up jacket. The dark-haired pair began making their way towards the press lounge, Celestino a few paces behind, where they spotted Leo de la Iglesia and Guang Hong Ji finishing up their own rounds of interviews. The younger skaters waved briefly before making their escape, gladly relinquishing the cameras and microphones to Yuuri and Phichit.

“Skater Katsuki! How are you feeling about your chances at this year’s Final?”

”Phichit! You debuted a quad Loop at Skate America! Anything new in store for us in Chicago?”

”Katsuki-san! Do you think you can shake your GPF Silver streak this year?”

”Yuuri! You’ve been spotted with your former coach and ex-husband recently. Will you be returning to his tutelage after the Final?”

”Mr. Chulanont! Can you give us your thoughts on Thailand sending a second Men’s competitor to World’s this year?”

”Yuuri! Will the quad Flip return to your repertoire now that you’ve reconciled with Victor Nikiforov?”

Damn. Why did he expect the press to magically be easier to deal with just because he was happier now? He strapped on his best media-friendly grin.
“I look forward to this year’s competition. I hope to show the world my best performance and will do my utmost to make Japan proud. Thank you.”
Would a cheesy wink be too much? Screw it. The click of cameras filled the room before he snagged Phichit’s hand, dragging him towards the exit. Celestino followed, waving off the last questions with cheerful nonchalance. Natalie should be out front with the van by now, ready to shuttle them back to the hotel. He half turned as he heard the press explode in a new round of questions. A flash of silver hair caught his eye as Yuri and Otabek filed into the room, the last of the men’s skaters to exit the ice. Then his coach’s hand was on his back, gently nudging his students out of the crowded space and towards the waiting vehicle.

Morning, December 10th, Chicago

Tired blue eyes stared down into a lukewarm mug of hotel coffee. It had been a long night. Hell, it had been a long year. He felt a kiss being pressed into the whorl of his silver hair and smiled as Yuuri dropped into the chair beside him. It had been a long year but… things were definitely looking up.

“Good morning zolotse! You look well rested this morning!”

The Japanese man smiled before narrowing his eyes in thought.

“Hmmmm, yes, I went to bed early last night. You, however, look like you haven’t even slept.” Yuuri stroked his fingers through Victor’s hair as he spoke. The Russian coach hummed in appreciation at the pleasant sensation and leaned into the touch.

“I was on the phone late. And… Georgi snores.” He pouted, eliciting a giggle from the younger man.

“You’re sharing a room with Georgi?” Yuuri asked incredulously. “Since when do you share a hotel room?”

“With anyone but you, you mean?” Victor asked archly. Yuuri flushed a soft red before nudging the taller man’s shoulder for an answer. Victor raised an eyebrow, then gave in. “I usually don’t, but I asked Georgi to come with Mila and Yura last minute since I was, hmm… out of the country. The best the hotel could do was to give me a double room instead of the single I’d reserved.”

Cinnamon brown eyes widened in understanding and Yuuri raised a nervous hand to rub absently at his neck. “Ah. Is that going to cause trouble for you? Er, leaving the country so suddenly?”

Conversation paused as the server approached the table, refilling Victor’s cup and taking Yuuri’s order for tea and a light breakfast. Once she walked away, the wide brown eyes fixed themselves on the Russian’s pale face, silently requesting a response. Victor sighed.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I suppose it depends on how Mila and Yuri perform this weekend.” The broad shoulders lifted in a shrug and Victor reached over to clasp Yuuri’s hand. “Don’t worry about it Yuuri. I made a choice, if there are consequences, they are mine to handle.” The Japanese man narrowed his eyes at that, seemingly ready to argue the point.

“Vitya…”

“Besides, they aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize Team Russia’s chances at the Final. So don’t let it affect Team Japan’s either, eh?”

Yuuri sighed but nodded, finally reaching for his breakfast. He’d let it go. For now.

Early Evening, The Same Day, Chicago

”This has been an exciting first day at the 2020 Grand Prix Final! The Singles Short Programs have concluded and it’s looking to be a tight race for both the Men’s and Ladies’ groups.”

”Indeed Christophe! As expected, Mila Babicheva of Russia and Sara Crispino of Italy lead the Ladies’ race, with Irina Parks of The United States in a distant third after the Short Program. Despite her home advantage, she’ll have to work hard to overcome Babicheva and Crispino’s triple axels!”

”Hmmm, yes. Still, a strong GPF debut for Parks. The Mens’ field is significantly tighter, with barely half a point separating Katsuki Yuuri of Japan and Yuri Plisetsky of Russia. Phichit Chulanont of Thailand and Otabek Altin of Kazakhstan are hot on their heels, each sitting just short of 100 points. The Free Program will truly be the deciding factor this year!”

”Join us tomorrow for the Pairs and Ice Dance Short Programs. Until then, this has been Morooka Hisashi and Christophe Giacometti for NBC Sports! Good night!

Yuuri pressed the remote to silence the television, then reached for his shoes. Phichit groaned from where he was sprawled across the coach in the corner of the Japanese skater’s room.

“I don’t wanna move,” the younger man whined.

“You’re the one who invited everyone out tonight,” Yuuri responded, rolling his eyes.

“Nooooooo…”

“Put your shoes on Phichit.”

“Yuuri! You’re so mean!”

“Yep. Meanest friend ever. Put your shoes on.”

The Thai skater continued pouting as they made their way down to the lobby, only to bounce happily ahead when he spotted the cluster of skaters hovering near the entrance.

“Leo!!! Ji! OMG JI! You can drink in Chicago now!” Phichit hit the pair of younger skaters in a whirlwind of hugs. Yuri, standing to one side with Otabek, rolled his eyes.

“Awwww, angry Russian kitty, it’s okay! You’ll be old enough by World’s!” Russia’s Tomcat fastens his glare on Yuuri, indicating quite clearly that he holds the Japanese skater to blame for Phichit’s antics. Thankfully, a warm pair of arms around his middle rescued him from the emerald gaze.

“Ready to dance, my love?”

***

Yuuri wasn’t entirely certain how Phichit managed to reserve several tables at the famed Green Mill, or how he had managed to get Yuri Plisetsky past the front door, but the mellow rhythm of the jazz band currently on stage had him aching to dance.

“Your drink, mon cher,” a voice purred in his ear. The raven-haired skater turned to cast a skeptical eye at the drink the Swiss commentator handed him. “Soda with a twist of lime. No alcohol. I wouldn’t sabotage you, darling.”

“Arigato, Chris.” Yuuri toasted his old friend before his eyes caught the trim silver-haired figure standing on the edge of the dance floor, chatting amiably with Mila and Sara. Victor looked stunning in the dimly lit bar, shirt sleeves rolled loosely, vest accentuating his narrow waist. Chris followed the direction of his gaze.

“He missed you a great deal, you know.”

Yuuri sighed. “I know.” Then, softly – “I missed him too.”

“Yuuri, I would never presume to tell you how to handle your love life…”

The Japanese skater snorted.

“…But if you think there’s even a possibility of happiness in his arms, don’t let that chance get away from you.”

Blue eyes gleamed in the lights as Victor turned towards where Yuuri and Chris stood, cocking a pale eyebrow in obvious invitation. Yuuri swallowed, then snatched Chris’ glass, draining the whiskey in a long gulp.

“Yuuri, what…?” The tall Swiss, blinked in surprise.

The Japanese skater turned over his shoulder as he made his way towards the dance floor.

“Taking that chance.”

Smiling in apology at the girls, he took Victor’s slim fingers in his own, pulling the taller man into the rhythm of the jazzy tune. Chris smiled and saluted with Yuuri’s abandoned soda.

Morning, December 11th, Chicago

A loud knock dragged Yuuri out of comfortable sleep and into a mild headache. Groaning, he curled into the firm chest his head was pillowed on, reveling in the lovely warmth. The body behind him snuggled closer and the tired Japanese man started to drift back to sleep.

Wait.

The body behind him?

Brown eyes snapped open as a second knock reverberated through the room. Lifting his head, he realized with some shock that he’d been drooling on Phichit’s dress shirt. The Thai man slumbered on, oblivious. Nervously, Yuuri turned and, with confusion, spotted Yuri Plisetsky’s tangled blond hair on the pillow behind him. All three of them were still wearing their clothes from the previous night, looking gloriously rumpled. As the insistent knocking sounded again, he carefully out from between the younger skaters, spying Leo and Ji curled together, also still fully dressed, on the couch as he reached the door.

How much had they had to drink last night?? He hadn't even meant to drink last night!

Running his hand through his disheveled hair in an attempt to look more presentable, he pulled the door open. Looking unfairly well rested and completely put together, Victor leaned his elbow against the door frame and peered down at his husband with amusement. Over his shoulder, Otabek glanced with polite interest at the scene in the crowded hotel room.

“Good morning, Yuuuri. We brought breakfast!” The tall Russian held up a cardboard tray loaded with coffee cups and various containers as the two men entered the darkened room. The other skaters began to stir at the commotion, grumbling in various languages as they took in their unexpected surroundings. Yuri made a beeline towards the tray Otabek was carrying, quickly snagging a cup of coffee and glaring haughtily at his friend as if daring him to comment.

The very confused Japanese man gratefully accepted the cup that Victor handed him, sighing happily when he realized it was green tea. Phichit brushed past him, making grabby hands at the tray, much to the amusement of the caffeine bearing Russian.

“Sooo… you look well rested,” Yuuri commented, attempting nonchalance. The bright blue eyes sparkled in mirth.

“Thanks to you, dorogoy!”

“Ah… really?”

Victor beamed. “Yes! You declared that you were going to rescue me from Georgi’s snoring by inviting everyone to have a sleepover! You were very persuasive!”

Yuuri slapped a hand over his beet red face and groaned. Drunk Yuuri was not allowed to talk. Drunk Yuuri had terrible ideas. Why had drunk Yuuri invited everybody BUT Victor back to his room?

“Wait, Georgi isn’t even here. How did you end up having a good night’s sleep with his snoring?”

“I slept in Yurio’s room! As his coach, I have the spare key!”

“Ugh, gross old man. The hotel better have my room cleaned before I go back!” Yuri snarled from where he was perched on the end of the bed.

Nearby, Otabek was eyeing his competitors contemplatively. “Oi, what the hell are you looking at Beka? Feeling left out of Katsudon’s little party?”

Otabek raised an eyebrow at the slender blond. “Right now, I’m just glad the free skate isn’t until tomorrow. I don’t think I’d have much competition if it was today.”

As if his words broke the strange spell holding the skaters in place, they began to shuffle sheepishly out of the room, coffee cups and muffins in tow.

“See you all at practice!” Victor cheerfully called out. Yuri snarled at him on his way out the door, shadowed by an ever stoic Otabek. Finally, Yuuri was left alone with his husband.

“Ummm…” He ruffled a self-conscious hand over the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I’m not really sure what I was thinking last night. I really didn’t mean to drink…”

The silver-blond stepped closer and ran a warm thumb over his lower lip. “It was good to see you have so much fun, love. Dancing with you was...”

Victor paused, a little shudder passing through his body as he leaned closer. “It was everything, Yuuri.” He pressed a warm kiss to the waiting lips, slowly deepening it with the promise of more. Pulling away, he brushed a gentle hand down a sharp cheekbone, then turned to exit.

“I’m looking forward to your free skate tomorrow,” he murmured as he reached the door. His bright blue eyes darkened slightly as his voice dropped.

“And I’m very much looking forward to dancing with you again.”

Chapter Text

Morning, December 12th, Chicago

Phichit leaned sleepily against Yuuri’s shoulder, his breakfast ignored for the sake of a few more minutes of rest. The Japanese skater grinned as he nudged the younger man awake.

“If you don’t eat, you’ll be hungry by the time you need to skate.”

“Nooooo… wanna sleeeeep!”

“Feh, let him skip breakfast. Maybe he’ll be too weak to land that quad loop of his.”

The Thai skater sat up to glare at the young Russian who had just dropped unceremoniously into the chair across the table.

“You’re just scared because I’m less than 10 points behind you, Plisetsky.”

“Pffft. You’ve never beaten me, Chulanont. I’m not too worried.”

“You should be, this is my year! I’m feeling pumped, confident! Ready to knock down both of the podium kings themselves!”

Yuuri grinned as the younger men launched into a debate on their respective free skate base scores. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of silver-blond hair. He turned to see Victor entering the restaurant, accompanied by an older woman. He started to wave the handsome coach over to their table but was startled when Yuri grabbed his half-raised arm. He glanced in surprise at the blond, taking in the narrowed emerald eyes aimed at the woman accompanying Victor.

“Yuri? What’s wrong? Who is that woman?”

“Rubina. Crap. If she’s breathing down his neck, that explains why Victor wasn’t sleeping for shit.”

Phichit craned his neck to peer at the woman now sitting across from Victor at a small table across the restaurant, then turned to raise a dark eyebrow in question.

“And Rubina is…?”

Yuri reached over to snag the Thai skater’s abandoned latte, draining the lukewarm coffee with a grimace.

“She was just named Chairwoman of the Coach’s Council.”

Yuuri’s brow furrowed in recognition.

“FFKK. Is… is Victor in trouble? Because of me?”

“Oi. Don’t start that shit Katsudon. Victor’s a big boy, he can make his own decisions.”

The raven-haired man stared in surprise at Yuri’s defensive tone.

“Fixing shit with you was more important than being Russia’s perfect legend. To Victor and to half the fucking skating world. Hell, this jackass practically committed an act of international kidnapping to try and fix your fucking marriage!”

Phichit cringed apologetically when Yuri jabbed a thumb in his direction.

“So, don’t go getting all guilt ridden over a choice Victor would never take back. You have enough shit to work through without wrapping yourself up in crap that isn’t even your fucking problem! So, get your fucking head in the fucking game, Katsudon, because it’s no fun to beat your ass when you aren’t on your A game! And finish fixing shit with the old man, because I don’t want to deal with his mopey ass anymore! Got it? GOD! Idiots! All of you!”

Yuri’s voice had steadily risen during his diatribe, causing Yuuri and Phichit to lean away, eyes wide in shock. The restaurant had grown quiet as the angry, young Russian skater ranted, drawing Victor and Chairwoman Rubina’s eyes towards their table at Yuri’s final shout. The blond stormed off, still growling under his breath. Phichit turned to Yuuri in amazement.

“Holy shit. I… I think the small kitten cares.”

Early Afternoon, December 12th, Chicago

“And that concludes the Ladies’ Free Skate here in Chicago! What an exciting day of skating it has already been!”

“Indeed, Chris. Irina Parks of The United States held onto the bronze by a hair’s breadth, barely edging out Spain’s Cristina Santiago. Sara Crispino of Italy pulled off a season’s best but took the silver behind Mila Babicheva of Russia, whose flawless triple axel and stunning step sequences propelled her into a new World Record for the Ladies’ Free Skate.”

“We’ll be taking a short break before the Men’s Free Skate, where excitement is running high. Japan’s Katsuki Yuuri currently leads after the short program with 109.36 points, but Russia’s Yuri Plisetsky, the two-time reigning GPF gold medalist, is hot his heels at 108.82. Phichit Chulanont of Thailand and Otabek Altin of Kazakhstan are duking it out for the third-place slot, at 99.87 and 99.16 points respectively. As always with the Free Skate, placements could change at the drop of a hat… or the brush of a hand on the ice!”

“Absolutely! You have to wonder how Skater Katsuki is feeling right now as the 5-time silver medalist. Despite his wins at every other major competition, he’s never quite pulled it off here at the Grand Prix Final! With a last place finish in 2014, two silvers behind his former coach in 2016 and 2017, as well as second place finishes to Plisetsky in 2015, 2018 and 2019… he has to be feeling the pressure right now!”

“We’ll have to see how he responds to that pressure soon, Morooka. Stay tuned to NBC sports as we continue our coverage of the 2020 Grand Prix Finals, here in Chicago, Illinois!”

Rubina was hovering again. Victor could see her out of the corner of his eye, arms crossed as she watched Mila come off the ice after the awards ceremony, gold medal proudly displayed.

“Not bad, eh Coach?” The slender redhead grinned up at him cheekily.

“I knew you had it in you Mila, I’m so proud of how hard you’ve worked! But… I expect another gold at Europeans, you know. Can’t have you slacking off after one GPF gold!”

“Ha. Not if I have anything to say about it! I won’t go easy on you bella!” Sara Crispino stepped off the ice, silver medal hanging around her neck. She linked her arm with Mila, flashing a teasing smirk. “I believe we’re due in the press room, Coach Victor. I’ll just have to steal your lovely champion.” She winked up at the silver blond and Victor couldn’t help but smile at the pair as they walked away, blade guards thudding.

A harshly cleared throat drew his attention from the lady skaters, and he turned to raise a challenging eyebrow in the direction of the steely, grey haired woman standing behind him. She crossed her arms and mimicked the expression.

“Babicheva did well. It’s clear you worked hard with her on the triple axle. It’s easily the cleanest I’ve seen a female skater land.”

Victor nodded his head in acknowledgment of the compliment.

“However, Plisetsky hasn’t added anything new to his repertoire this season. We anticipated that you’d have taught him the quad loop or flip by now.”

“He’s one of only five active skaters with three types of quads.”

One of those active skaters has all five currently ratified quads under his belt. As you should know since you taught him most of them. Why have you not seen fit to do the same with Plisetsky?”

The tall, slender coach suppressed a grimace of frustration. “I’ve been working on the flip with Yuri,” he said, lightly stressing the younger man’s name. “And Yuuri Katsuki hasn’t used the flip the last two seasons.” His voice grew a little wistful at this observation and he nervously hoped Rubina hadn’t caught the tonal shift.

Chairwoman Rubina gazed at him for a long moment, her steely grey eyes boring through him searchingly.

“We expect a strong showing from Plisetsky. You’re a good coach when you choose to be, don’t let sentimentality stand in the way of Russia’s success. The FFKK pays you to coach our skaters. OUR Olympic hopefuls. Katsuki is not your responsibility, I would highly suggest you remember that.”

Victor’s jaw clenched as he bit back a retort. He was still struggling for a response when he saw Rubina’s eyes widen. Turning to glance over his shoulder, he was somehow unsurprised to spy the cluster of skaters standing within earshot. Phichit and Otabek looked uncomfortable while Yura, and Yuuri, looked furious.

“I’ll leave you gentlemen to your warm up,” Rubina said, with one final glance in Victor’s direction. The men all followed her with their eyes as she made a hasty retreat. A chattering clatter heralded the arrival of Leo de la Iglesia and Guang Hong Ji. The young pair stared wide eyed between the Russian coach and their fellow skaters until Phichit grabbed them both by the elbows.

“Welp, looks like it’s time for us to get ready, they’re just about done refinishing the ice!”

Otabek slowly followed in their wake, pausing to cast an inscrutable look in Yuri’s direction. The young blond jutted his chin in the direction of the rink and the Kazakh skater nodded stoically as he continued onto the ice. Once Yuuri and Victor were the only other men remaining, Yuri whirled on his silver-blond coach, snarling furiously.

“Did that bitch just threaten you?”

“Yuri!” Victor hissed. “I’m not fond of her either but watch it. The St. Petersburg Club is subsidized by the FFKK and both of our ISU certifications are dependent on their approval. It’s just politics. Don’t let it get to you.”

“Bullshit. I don’t skate for them. I skate for me. Besides, do you really think they’d actually risk losing their precious “Olympic Hopeful”? Pathetic jackasses, throwing their weight around…”

“Yuri.” The soft but firm voice startled the young Russian out of his ranting. He and Victor both turned to see Yuuri standing with his shoulders back, eyes blazing with a curious light.

“We should get on the ice. Don’t let this shake your performance, it’s not worth it.”

Yuri grimaced but nodded reluctantly.

“Alright Katsudon, but don’t let her get to you either. I want to beat you, but it’s no fun if you’re a bundle of nerves out there, okay?”

“Of course. See you on the ice, Yuri.”

The blond skater bumped fists with the Japanese man as he passed, moving towards the opening in the rink wall. Cinnamon brown eyes turned to look coolly into vivid blue.

“Yuuri,” Victor started, his voice low, soothing. “It’s nothing to worry about, I swear. Please don’t stress out because of…”

“You chose to come to Detroit, knowing they might retaliate. You chose to put me, to put us over your country.” Yuuri’s voice was still softly intense as he stepped closer to the tall beauty.

Victor reached out to gently cup his husband’s cheek, damn whoever might be watching. “I did. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Yuuri grabbed the lapels of the silver-blond’s trench coat, his rubber guarded skates giving him the height needed to press their foreheads together without stretching. For a moment, they just stood there, feeling the breath pass warmly between their lips. Finally, the raven-haired man tilted his head, leaning in for a brief press against Victor’s mouth before pulling away. A determined smile lit his face as he began to move towards the ice.

“Vitya,” he called softly as he backed away. “Keep your eyes on me. This won’t be the first time I’ve had to show my love to all of Russia.”

The Russian coach reached to touch his forehead, feeling flushed from the contact. Damn. He almost felt sorry for Councilwoman Rubina. She had no clue who she was up against.

 

***

“The combined score for Yuri Plisetsky is… 320.38. He is currently in first place.”

The roar of the crowd was a dull buzz in Yuuri’s ears as he struggled to focus on what Celestino was telling him. Stay focused. Watch your spins. Yes, yes. He knew, he’d heard the words so many times. His eyes couldn’t help straying towards the two Russians currently sitting in the nearby Kiss and Cry. Yuri had topped Phichit by nearly 20 points, but the score was still more than 10 points shy of his own World Record. Right. He could do this. He could win.

“Last to take the ice, representing Japan – Yuuuuri Katsuuukiiiii!”

The buzz of the crowd picked up an electric pitch, propelling the raven-haired skater as he made his way around the ice, waving to acknowledge the crowd, dipping into a dancer’s bow as he faced the judges. With one last swivel to loosen his hips, he settled into his opening position, searching the edge of the rink until he caught the flash of silver that proved Victor was watching. Giving in to an old impulse, he tilted his head to press his lips against the empty spot on his right hand where gold had once glimmered. He smiled softly when he realized Victor had mirrored the move. The lilting piano filled the now hushed arena and his arms unfolded as he stepped into his first sequence.

The theme for his season, announced so many months ago, was Determination. At the time, it was meant to represent his desire to win gold- to finally win the Grand Prix, win his fifth gold at World’s… Now, though…

The sequence was choreographed in a straighter line than he typically danced, meant to cut strongly, boldly across the ice. He added a gently flowing curving motion now, keeping his edges sharp, but smoothing the moves into something more romantic and delicate, more yearning and wistful. He sped into his first jump, one arm raised gracefully, the triple axel landing sharp and clean before transitioning into his first spin.

He was still determined to win. He still wanted the top of the podium.

Searing blue eyes flashed in his mind as he set up for his first combination. Yes, he wanted gold but… he had another goal in mind tonight.

Quad toe loop, triple salchow. Clean landing, the sound of the crowd a low roar in the back of his head now. Spiral entry into his quad salchow and he was on to the tempo increase that signaled the start of the second half. His feet moved blindingly fast as he wove his way across the ice, dancing through his second step sequence.

What was it Phichit had said? Love, friendship, success, happiness- no, he still didn’t think he deserved all those things. Maybe nobody did. But he had always known that success took work, it was something he could earn. It had taken him a long time, but he knew now that they all took work. Even when freely given; friendship, happiness and, most importantly, love took work. He fully intended to earn them all.

Lost in thought, he had somehow made it nearly to the end of his skate, the quad toe loop at the end of his step sequence landed as cleanly as the rest of his jumps. The only elements left after this last spiral sequence were his final quad leading to his dizzying combination spin. He toyed with the idea of swapping in the flip he hadn’t performed publicly for so long, then promptly dismissed the thought. The FFKK were worried about him because of the jumps that Victor had taught him, the flip would certainly reinforce that fear. A small, fierce grin flashed across his face as he launched into his quad lutz, both arms raised.

They should fear him. Not just because he was Victor Nikiforov’s first student. Because he was Katsuki Yuuri, and that was enough.
Maybe that had always been enough.

Early evening, December 13th, Chicago

The Japanese skater grinned when the knock came. Shirt unbuttoned at the collar, tie hanging negligently from one finger, he opened the door. Bright blue eyes flashed appreciatively at the loosened buttons as Victor leaned down to press a warm kiss into his already upturned lips. Yuuri smiled up at the tall beauty.

“I was hoping to celebrate with the gold medalist. It won’t be as good as your mother’s but…” the Russian purred, a pair of Japanese beers and a paper carryout bag held out casually in one hand. A tantalizing smell drifted in the air and Yuuri moaned happily, tie completely forgotten.

“Where…”

“Amazing place Chicago, you can find pretty much any type of food you want!”

Victor laughed as Yuuri practically tackled him to reach the bag.

The banquet could wait, katsudon took precedence.

 

***

 

Icy blue eyes scrutinized the crowd over the rim of a half-empty champagne flute.

“If you’re looking for the gold-medalist, he’s being monopolized over at the JSF table.” Victor turned at Chris’ voice.

“Ah, well, it’s the first time Japan’s had a Men’s GPF gold medalist in over a decade, I’m sure they want to set up interviews and photo shoots.”
“Mmmm. From what Morooka said, I think they want to talk to him about Beijing.”

The silver-blond coach turned to stare at the former skater turned commentator.

“Beijing? That’s more than a year away.”

“It’s barely a year away, mon cher. You and I both know that’s nothing in terms of Olympic planning. Japan’s number 2 skater doesn’t have any major podium finishes under his belt. Yuuri’s their best bet.”

“Minami’s a talented kid, he’s easily got top 10 potential.”

“Hmmm. Perhaps. Still, I’m sure they’re very interested in Yuuri’s future right now.” Chris eyed his friend to see if the comment provoked a reaction. Victor merely shrugged an elegant shoulder and finished his champagne. The Swiss pouted slightly but continued coaxingly. “I’m sure a lot of people are wondering if Japan’s Ace is heading back to Russia next season…

“That’s up to Yuuri.”

“So, it’s at least on the table? Does this mean…?”

“It means that we’re working on things. I’m not making any assumptions, but…”

But…?”

Victor blushed. “But I’m happy Chris. Happier than I’ve been in a long time.”

Chris grinned at the sight of a slender figure approaching over his friend’s shoulder. “I’m glad to hear that my dear and I wish you both the best of luck, but I’m afraid I really must be off.” He winked broadly and sauntered off as Yuuri slipped an arm around Victor’s waist.

“Where’s Chris off to in such a hurry?” He wondered out loud, causing the Russian coach to chuckle affectionately.

“I do believe that was his subtle attempt at giving us privacy.”

The newly minted GPF gold medalist eyed the retreating back skeptically. “Chris really isn’t good at subtle.”

“I suppose he isn’t. But if you’re finished with official business, would you care to dance?”

Yuuri trained his skeptical gaze on his husband. “You’re not exactly subtle either, you know.”

The silver-blond flashed a heart shaped grin. “No, I guess I’m not. Dance with me Yuuuri!”

 

***

 

One dance turned into many, and the night had grown late when the DJ finally announced his last song. Yuuri looked up, slightly dazed, from where he had rested his head against Victor’s shoulder.

“We should go, we’re practically the last people here.”

The older man glanced around, clearly coming out of the same spell.

“I didn’t realize it had gotten so late. C’mon, I’ll walk you back to your room.”

They left the banquet hall hand in hand, walking the empty halls in a companionable silence. When they arrived at Yuuri’s door, Victor bent down for a lingering kiss. As they broke apart, the younger man flashed his key card and gently pushed the door open before turning back for another embrace.

The Russian finally pulled back to rest his forehead against the other man’s, gently brushing back a lock of hair that had come un-gelled over the course of the evening.

“Goodnight, my Yuuri,” he murmured, finally attempting to pull away.

Attempting.

Victor glanced down at the slim fingers tangled in his own.

“Yuuri…”

Cinnamon brown eyes sparkled up at him in the dimly lit corridor as Yuuri looked up at him, Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed nervously.

The shorter man backed up a step into the darkened room, a gentle tug silently asking Victor to follow.

“Stay with me?”

“Always.”

Chapter Text

Morning, December 14th, Chicago

In his dreams, warm fingers carded lovingly through his hair and slender, but muscular, legs tangled with his own. Victor felt the morning sun threatening to drag him from sleep and fought consciousness, desperately clinging to the soothing sensation of love and safety. The soft hand traveled down his cheek, gently gripping his chin. The soft kiss was enough to startle him into full awareness, and he was greeted by warm brown eyes peering into his own.

“You’re real.”

Yuuri’s brow wrinkled in mild confusion as he smiled softly before leaning down for another gentle kiss.

“Hey, yeah, I’m real,” the Japanese man said soothingly. “Good morning, Vitya.”

The silver-blond surged forward into the embrace, deepening the kiss as he pulled the younger man closer, reveling in the feeling of skin against skin. Yuuri sighed against his lips, hands sliding against Victor’s body as they eagerly picked up where they had left off the night before. Neither felt the need for anything particularly acrobatic this morning, satisfying themselves with long languid thrusts of hips and gently stroking fingers.
Several rather enjoyable minutes later, they lay tangled on the bed, foreheads pressed together, chests heaving. The younger man swept Victor’s sweaty bangs out of his eyes and gazed adoringly down at his lover.

“We should get up.”

“Nooooo…”

“You have a flight to catch, Victor.”

“I’ll reschedule.”

Yuuri huffed a short laugh. “If you’re not downstairs in time, I’m fairly certain Yuri will break down the door to drag you back to Russia.”

The silver-blond chuckled softly, but the laughter didn’t quite reach his sea-blue eyes. He turned in his husband’s arms and nuzzled into the firm chest.

“Hey, what’s wrong? Victor?”

The Russian sighed but looked up at the younger man. “It’s just… once I get on that plane, I don’t know when I’ll see you again. Nationals are in two weeks, then we’ve got Europeans, you’ve got Four Continents…”

“Worlds?” Yuuri offered tentatively.

Victor tightened his arms around the slender waist. “I’ll see you at Worlds. In March. We’ve barely started to figure things out again and now it’ll be three months before…”

The Japanese skater cut off the tumble of words with a soft kiss.

“Vitya. Hey. We’ll figure it out. We both want this, we’ll make it work. It’s just…”

“It’s just that we both have commitments we can’t walk away from. I know.”

“We can use the next few months to talk things through- to make plans. We’ll stay in touch.”

Yuuri pressed his lips against the other man’s broad forehead before pushing off the bed to begin sorting through his suitcase. Victor frowned, loathe to leave the warmth of the rumpled blankets. Finally, he swung his legs off the edge of the mattress and leaned down to snatch his abandoned suit, now hopelessly wrinkled. He grinned wryly as he pulled on his briefs and slacks. Did it count as a walk of shame if you were sneaking out of your own husband’s room? The Russian looked up, mouth opening to share the thought, and paused at the sight of a muscular back. He swallowed as the younger man pulled a worn t-shirt over his head, hiding the glorious view.

Yuuri turned, a thin sweater in his hands, and caught the look on his husband’s face. He raised a dark eyebrow in question and Victor shook his head, snapping out of his daze.

“Enjoying the view?”

Victor swallowed and nodded fervently. Yuuri’s face flushed and he quickly pulled on the navy sweater. The slender coach rushed to finish replacing his own clothing while the raven-haired skater stepped into the bathroom. A few minutes later they stood near the door, both reluctant to leave the peaceful haven of the room.

“I should meet up with Ciao Ciao and the rest of the Club soon. We’re driving back after check-out. What time do you need to leave?”

Victor turned to glance at the glowing clock near the bed, startled at the time.

“Blyad. In an hour. How did it get so late?” Yuuri grinned cheekily up at him and the taller man laughed sheepishly before leaning down to kiss the smirk off the handsome face. The younger man melted into the embrace for a moment before pulling back to push playfully at Victor’s shoulders. The Russian took the opportunity to snatch one of the slender hands, twining their fingers.

“Yuri will kill you with his skates if you’re late. Or me for making you late. Do you want Yuri to kill me with his knife boots?” Victor rolled his eyes at the shorter man, but reluctantly turned to pull open the door.

“I’ll come down to see you off. I’m just going to finish packing,” Yuuri gestured back towards his luggage as he half followed the silver-blond into the hall, hands still clasped together. Victor looked down at the delicate fingers, absently rubbing his thumb over the empty ring finger.

“Come back to St. Petersburg with me. Come home, Yuuri.” The words slipped out of their own accord and Victor slapped his hand over his traitorous mouth.

Yuuri froze.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t have said that. I… I know we have to take it slow, I know you can’t come back right now and you don’t have to come back, we can figure something else out if you want and…”

Yuuri stifled the panicked babbling with a slender finger against the heart shaped lips.

“Hey. Shhh. It’s fine Vitya. I’m sorry too. I’m sorry that I can’t come back to St. Petersburg right now. I’m sorry that I need so much time and patience, but, please, just… I don’t want to rush this. I need to finish the season, finish my degree and then, I promise, we will figure this out together, okay? I love you, Victor. Just… wait for me a little longer, please?”

Victor pulled Yuuri into his arms desperately, a deep ache in his soul soothed at the sound of the words he hadn’t heard his husband speak in so long.

“I love you too, my Yuuri. I’ll be here, whenever, wherever you need me.”

Evening, December 21st, Detroit

A sheaf of papers dropped into Yuuri’s lap, blocking his laptop screen, where he had been neurotically checking and rechecking his flight status for the following morning.

“Peach, what the heck?”

“That, dear roommate, would be our lease agreement.”

The Japanese athlete scanned the top page of the document before raising confused eyes to the younger man. “And why is the lease agreement suddenly in my lap?”

Phichit plopped down on the couch, nibbling his lower lip in an unusual display of nerves. After a few minutes, he waved a faux nonchalant hand towards the stack of papers.

“The lease is up at the end of April.”

“Phi, it’s December.”

“It’s the end of December. We have to give two months’ notice if we’re not renewing.”

Yuuri furrowed his brow as he flipped through the contract. “Oh.”

The Thai skater sighed. “Look, Yuu. Your thesis defense is in early April. Is anything else really tying you to Detroit right now?”

“Phichit, we had this conversation. You promised not to meddle.”

The younger man flinched. “I’m not. I swear. I just… if you’re moving out I need to know so I can start looking for a smaller place. And… Yuuri…” he said softly. “Is it so wrong to want my best friend to be happy?”

Early evening, December 24th, Russian Nationals, St. Petersburg

“Coach Nikiforov!”

Victor winced at Rubina’s voice. God, the woman was stalking him.

“Chairwoman Rubina! A pleasure, as always!” He flashed his patented ‘Victor Nikiforov’ smile and wink at the middle-aged woman.

“Hmmm. Yes. Well. We’re all looking forward to Plisetsky’s and Ivanov’s performances this weekend. They seemed in top form at tonight’s practice.”

“There are other skate clubs in Russia, Chairwoman. Surely the FFKK is equally invested in their skaters. Should you really be showing such favoritism for the St. Petersburg Club?”

Rubina leveled him with a stern glare.

“Coach Nikiforov. Your flippant attitude may charm the media, but you were given this position because we trust you to get results.”

“My skaters have all performed well this season.”

“Hmph. Ivanov only podiumed once during his debut Grand Prix series and Plisetsky lost his Grand Prix title. Meanwhile, you cavorted in Detroit for a week, then spent the GPF banquet ignoring sponsors to dance with a foreign skater who beat your own student.”

The young coach’s eyes turned icy.

“I spent time with my husband. I danced with my husband. He’s not just some ‘foreign skater’.”

“We had been given the impression that your… personal entanglement with the Japanese Ace had come to an end. Clearly, we were incorrect. If you intend to remain Head Coach to Russia’s top prospects, you need to ensure that your private life doesn’t interfere with your professional one. Coach Feltsman understood the need to prioritize. You should know, you benefited from his dedication after all.”

Victor grimaced. Yakov’s dedication to the FFKK was legendary… and had cost him his marriage. If Chairwoman Rubina was looking for a way to motivate him, she’d chosen the wrong example.

Mid-Afternoon, December 25th, Japanese Nationals, Tokyo

“Katsuki-san, how are you feeling after your win at the Grand Prix?”

“Mr. Katsuki, the JSF has intimated their intentions for you to compete in Beijing, how do you feel about being the oldest competitor on the upcoming Olympic stage?”

“Katsuki-san, you’re in first after today’s free program, do you anticipate another gold here at Nationals?”

“Skater Katsuki, can you address the rumors that you’re returning to Coach Nikiforov after this season?”

“Yuuri! Have you renewed your personal relationship with Victor Nikiforov?”

“No more questions at this time please, my skater needs to rest before tomorrow’s free skate.”

Yuuri felt he had never been more grateful for Celestino’s booming enthusiasm. He flashed a bashful smile at the cameras and followed his coach out of the boisterous crowd of reporters.

“Mari and Minako are waiting for you back at the hotel. I thought you might need an excuse to escape the media crews.”

“Thanks, Celestino.”

“Ah, yes, no worries. It’s my job to look after you. At least for now, eh?”

Yuuri eyed his coach.

“Ah…? I’m… I haven’t really decided to leave Detroit. You’ve done an amazing job as my coach. You know that, right?”

The burly Italian threw his arm around Yuuri’s slender shoulders.

“Yuuu-uuri! Let’s not worry about that now! It’s time to focus on winning your Nationals! Then we finish this season yes? And then, we worry about what is best for your future.”

“Mmmm, right. Thank you Ciao-Ciao.”

***

Once back in the hotel, Yuuri indulged in a long, hot shower before flopping on the bed to check his phone. He idly agreed to meet Mari for dinner, then settled in to relax for a couple of hours. Mentally calculating the time difference, he tapped out a quick message.

To-Vitya: Good morning! Happy Birthday! Good luck to everyone at Nationals this weekend!

From-Vitya: Yuuri! Thank you! I just watched the video from your short program!

From-Vitya: So beautiful! Ganbatte on your Free Skate! I know you’ll do great!

To-Vitya: Call me after the short programs finish? I should still be up.

From-Vitya: I will! As long as I can get away from the media in time :-/

***

“Ohayo, Yuuri.”

“Ohayo, Mari-neechan.”

The stoic Japanese woman pulled back from the short embrace she’d accepted from her younger brother, peering intently at the tired, but cheerful, face. Whatever she saw in his eyes, she seemed satisfied.

“Mari?”

“Eh. You look better little brother.”

Yuuri raised a quizzical eyebrow, but his sister merely waved her hand. They fell into step as they turned to exit the hotel, a lifetime of habit leading to a comfortable silence as they walked. Surprisingly, it was Mari who broke the quiet first.

“We heard about Victor’s little stunt before the Final. Mom wants to know when he’s coming back to Hasetsu.”

“Ahhhh, Mari, we haven’t really made any plans. I’ve still got the rest of the season, then my thesis defense…”

“Mmmm. But you’re back together now?”

“Yes? I mean, mostly? I think so?”

“Tch. You think? You don’t know if you’re in a relationship or not?” Mari deadpanned.

Yuuri felt his face flushing. “Nee-chan, it’s complicated. Besides, I thought you all hated him.”

She huffed out a breath, reaching out a slim hand to grip the younger man’s elbow as she pulled them both to a halt.

“Listen, Yuuri. I don’t hate him. He hurt you, he took you for granted and he’s sometimes an oblivious, arrogant shithead. Hell, I’m scared he’s going to do something stupid and my kid brother’ll end up hurt again. But I don’t hate him. Mom and Dad don’t hate him.”

The raven-haired athlete stared, shocked at his sister’s uncharacteristic outburst. She blushed at the scrutiny, running a frustrated hair through her bleached hair.

“Augh. He’s an annoying shit, but he loves you. Everyone knows he loves you. It’s like some kind of universal truth. The sun will rise. Grass is green. Victor Nikiforov loves Katsuki Yuuri.”

“Mari…”

“Yuuri…” she imitated his whine. “You can be so oblivious too sometimes, little brother. That man has literally chased you around the globe. Twice. Nobody’s ever even chased me across Hasetsu. You have a chance to work things out with the love of your fucking life Yuuri. What the hell are you waiting for?”

The Japanese skater buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking as he fought tears. Mari pulled him into her arms, resting her head protectively atop his jet-black locks.

“I sort of feel sorry for him, y’know? He’s this man of grand, emotional gestures- good or bad. But, neh little brother? When’s the last time someone made a grand gesture for him?”

Late Afternoon, December 31st, St. Petersburg

“Oi! Are you going to daydream on the ice all day?”

Victor blinked at the harsh voice. Glancing up, he finally realized the rink was practically deserted. Yuri, Georgi and Mila were the only ones in sight as he skated over to the opening in the rink wall.

“Ah. Yura. Sorry, I was working on choreography for next season. I guess I got lost in thought.”

“Tcha. Whatever. Everyone else has already left- Mila and I are heading out now. You going to Katya’s party later?”

“Mmmm. No, just going to head home in a bit, after I work out this step sequence. You two have fun, be safe.”

Mila and Yuri exchanged a quick glance before Georgi nudged them towards the door.

“Happy New Year, Victor!” Mila called over her shoulder as Yuri dragged her outside.

The silver-haired coach waved at their disappearing backs before bending down to brush the ice shavings from his blades. Standing up, he glanced inquisitively in Georgi’s direction.

“You aren’t going to Katya’s shindig?”

The dark-haired Russian pursed his lips. “Ahhh, no. I think I’ll stay in tonight as well.” He shrugged, indicating his reluctance to pursue the topic. “Are you planning on calling Yuuri at midnight?”

“Mmmm. Probably, although the time difference between here and Detroit means it won’t be the New Year for him until basically when I wake up tomorrow. So…” Victor shrugged.

He didn’t really want to talk about his husband right now. Something had been off since they’d spoken after the Russian men’s short program on his birthday. Ever since his win at Japanese Nationals, Yuuri had seemed distracted… distant. The slender coach ruffled his hand through his hair uncomfortably, hoping Georgi hadn’t noticed his mood.

Thankfully, the other man seemed lost in his own thoughts. “Ah. Yes, well, distance can be a challenge.” Georgi mused. “How long until you finish? Perhaps a drink in a bit? An early toast to the New Year?”

Victor grinned his acceptance. “Sure. Give me an hour to finish this piece?”

***

Late evening had emptied the darkened streets of St. Petersburg by the time Victor finally arrived at his condo. He was long accustomed to missing the scant daylight hours during winter practices, but somehow the lack of sunshine during his day seemed even more oppressive tonight.

He had invited Georgi over out of a sense of obligation to his assistant coach but was quietly relieved when the other man had declined. He fully intended to drain a few glasses of wine and crash early enough to sleep through the fireworks that only brought strained memories of happier New Year’s celebrations. He’d call Yuuri in the morning, when midnight struck in his missing love’s time zone.

Lost in thought, Victor didn’t notice the light spilling from the kitchen until he’d already closed the door behind him. The sound of footsteps drew his attention, and he had the door half opened to escape when his intruder rounded the corner.

“Vitya.”

Victor dropped his bag, eyes barely blinking back the tears that threatened to spill. Stumbling forward, he fell into Yuuri’s embrace.

“What… how?”

“Ummm… you never changed the locks,” the younger man murmured into the silver hair. Victor huffed a laugh into the warm chest before pulling back to gaze incredulously at the miraculous vision.

“How could I? All I ever wanted was for you to come home.”

“Tadaima,” the raven-haired beauty whispered tentatively.

“God. Yuuri, what are you doing here? I… you… you’re supposed to be back in Detroit!” Victor finally drew back, taking in his husband’s exhausted visage.

“It’s New Year’s. I… it took a push, but I realized… I needed spend it here. With you.” The Japanese skater ran a tentative hand down the taller man’s arm, tangling their fingers. He gazed hopefully up into the sea blue eyes. Swallowing convulsively, Yuuri pulled on the hand he was holding, guiding them both towards the window overlooking the St. Petersburg skyline.

“Victor… in Japan, the New Year is a clean slate. A fresh start.” He hesitated, glancing shyly up at the taller man. “And here…”

“How you ring in the New Year, is how you will spend it,” the silver-blond whispered, pulling Yuuri closer. Glancing down, he finally caught the glitter of gold on the hand clutching his own so tightly.

“Yuuuri…” he crooned, crashing their lips together.

After a long moment, they parted, cinnamon brown eyes shining up into the blue.

“A clean slate. Together,” Yuuri murmured. “Happy New Year, Vitya.”