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...

Cup of China, August

 

There are two sides of Victor the media likes to sell. The first is all knife-sharp charm and piercing eyes in a tight bespoke suit. The one that haunts the clubs and bars till late, and only leaves with something pretty on his arm. Tabloid shots are not meant to look nice, they dig deep and ruthless, turning even the brightest stars into earth and dirt. But Victor appears in every one of his like he is on the runway, like he knows they're watching, like he wants to give them something to look at.

 

They eat it up, naturally. It's so rare for the tabloids to have a willing model. Or an unsuspecting one, some might call it. But Victor is anything but unsuspecting. His feelings about the whole affair run closer towards amusement.

 

Yuuri learns this slowly, uncomprehending in the face of Victor's uncaring attitude. He himself had spent so many years dodging the press, both the respectable ones and not, that he practically has an in-built alarm system. They made quite a pair, that one time that a reporter tried to sneak in a shot from behind a parked vehicle. Yuuri peeled away from Victor's side and leaped sideways into an alleyway before the inevitable flash. Victor merely shifted so it would catch his best side.

 

He is a ridiculous man, Yuuri decides. But only he knows that, and that's fine.

 

In China, Victor had returned to their hotel room with four magazines under his arm, each cover with his face splashed across the front. Each one more scandalous than the last.

 

"You can't even understand it," Yuuri says a little dourly, staring at one of the covers. The shot is surprisingly high resolution for a sneak shot. Photo Victor's back is to the camera, but he'd turned his head for it to capture his shark-like smirk. His arm is twined tightly around another man's waist, who's leaning heavily against him. They are both posed in front of some hotel.

 

Yuuri frowns some more.

 

"It's actually from last year," Victor explains, tapping the cover. "They're trying to pretend they caught it this week." Yuuri feels, rather than sees the blue-eyed stare that locks onto him next, weighty with something he doesn't want to name. "But we all know who I really was with, don't we?"


Yuuri chucks a pillow at his face. He continues staring at the picture, wondering how best to snip the page so he can add it to his collection.

 

"Yuuri, you're so cruel," Victor moans from beneath the pillow. "Are you mad about the photo? It's not what it looks like."

 

"I know." And he does. He himself has had his own tabloid run-ins, even if they are not as many as Victor's. He knows how well the press can tell its lies, how well they hide the truth.

 

"That man had a girlfriend," Victor says. "He called me out that night to cry about the fight they were having, and got so drunk I had to drag him back. They're engaged now, last I checked."

 

Yuuri hums. It's a nice story. Victor begins to gather the magazines, which he dumps right into the bin.

 

"What did you even buy those for?" Yuuri asks, a little stunned.

 

"For a laugh," Victor says. Then he comes back to Yuuri's side and sinks onto the floor beside the bed. He lays his head over Yuuri's hand, where its curled over the edge. "But perhaps I should cut the habit. You don't look like you're laughing."

 

"Only you would find them funny, Victor."

 

"I threw them away for you," Victor insists.

 

"You should have at least brought them to the recycling bin."

 

Victor huffs, hot breath across Yuuri's hand, giving him goosebumps. "I was only being a gentleman. You looked jealous."

 

Yuuri shrugs. He wasn't, honestly. Not fully, anyway.

 

"I'm a gentleman, right Yuuri?" Victor presses again, rubbing his cheek against Yuuri's skin. Yuuri looks down at him and back to the bin, where dashing playboy Victor now resides. He wonders who was the first to decide that was a thing.

 

When he doesn't answer, Victor presses a kiss to his skin. The next time he looks, the playfulness, the ridiculousness is gone. There's a steadiness there in his eyes that Yuuri has never quite seen in a magazine. His heart skips a beat.

 

Gentleman indeed.

 

...

Rostelecom Cup, September

 

That is the second Victor the media likes. This Victor doesn't belong in the tabloids though. He makes a home in reputable skating magazines, Vogue Russia and all of Yuuri's posters. If the first one was sexy and a little dirty, this one is still sexy, but completely clean. A Victor that is all suave smiles and untouchable skating legend. But not so untouchable that he is above commemorative photos, autographs, and that one time he crossed a street just to shake the hand of a wheelchair-bound fan.

 

It's his persona, publicists would call it. A gentleman's persona. Highly sellable. Yuuri just calls it that thing he does when he's not being that other thing, the other Victor.

 

Yuuri of course, is not blind to this side of Victor, nor ignorant of its truthfulness. Victor Nikiforov is a gentleman through and through. He first learns this as a teen, trawling through endless online articles and skating forums that fans had written about their own close encounters. Yuuko had called him a prince, Yuuri privately agreed.

 

He learns it firsthand when Victor arrives in Hasetsu. The way he automatically moves to open doors and assist with the heavy things as Yuuri's family bustles around the inn. It's in the way they sometimes take forever to go anywhere because Victor is busy chauffeuring old people from one side of the street to the other, despite the fact that traffic in Hasetsu is selfless at best and sleepy at its worst.

 

It's in the way that one time at Ice Castle, during a late evening practice when Victor's face edged too close to his, gaze landing on his mouth. That wasn't anything new - Victor had been pushing himself into Yuuri's personal bubble since day one. But that night Yuuri could see the intent written in every line of his body, and he flinched.

 

"Ah," Victor had said. He pulled away swiftly, leaving a respectable gap between them.

 

Then he apologised.

 

Yuuri could only gape, because Victor was the most unapologetic person he has ever met. Unapologetic of his actions, his words, of his very person. The kind of person who would board an overnight flight to Japan, and not apologise for leaving the world behind.

 

His gentlemanliness was selective, it seemed. But with Yuuri, it was a sure thing.

 

Like now, the way Victor insisted on carrying all the bags from the hotel to the rink. He's got Yuuri's costume and makeup in one giant bag that is only as big as it is because Victor packed it with all the beauty styling tools and products that Yuuri has never needed. On the other arm he's got a duffel of towels, bottles, and probably a full first-aid kit. Then there's the cooler bag, carrying a specially ordered lunch set that Victor had probably calorie-counted with the precision of a dietician.

 

He refuses to hand any of it over to Yuuri, not even when he barely has enough hands to open his wallet or grab his phone. But in typical Victor-fashion, he doesn't look a shade flustered by all the baggage weighing his person down.

 

The one bag he doesn't carry is the one holding his skating gear, which Yuuri pulls around in a wheelie case. Victor would have taken it if Yuuri asked. But Yuuri's skate bag is his lifeline today, and he has a steel grip around the handle. He would bite anyone who touches it.

 

It’s Rostelcom and all eyes are on them. Victor is clueless, or perhaps indifferent as they walk into the stadium. His eyes are on Yuuri.

 

By the time they reach the green room, nearly everyone in the building has seen Victor and Yuuri. Has seen Victor walking a step behind him, dressed sharply in a coat instead of his warmup jacket, carrying all of Yuuri’s things. The whispering begins and Yuuri imagines all the things they are saying like he’s been imagining for months. He ducks his chin into his collar to take a steadying breath.

 

“Victor.” He says simply. Victor considers the silence that follows, the lack of words or instruction. Then he moves to peel Yuuri’s team Japan jacket off of him. He folds it neatly over his arm while Yuuri takes off his shoes before retrieving those as well to keep them in a shoe bag. They move in tandem like that for the next few minutes, not unlike a planet orbiting around a single star.

 

Yuri Plisetsky arrives at some point, and spares a second to make retching noises in their general direction before Yakov ushers him away. Victor doesn’t look at them. He checks the laces on Yuuri’s skates before patting his knee.

 

"Good to go," He says, absently running a finger over the boot, where his ankle is. Yuuri cannot feel it, but he imagines he can. He braces a hand on Victor's shoulder and stands.

 

The march to the rink takes longer than either of them would have liked. By now most of the onlookers had overcome the initial astonishment, and are making their way up to them. To Victor.

 

Victor excuses himself from the first few to approach with polite yet pointed Russian. He keeps pace with Yuuri, not allowing himself to become distracted for long. If anything, this emboldens people further - their fingers brush Victor's arms, shoulders - their voices thicken with urgency around his name. They follow them to the rink as if helpless against Victor's magnetic pull. Yuuri hardly blames them. But the practice session is only growing shorter and he needs his coach.

 

A deliberate press of his fingers on the inside of Victor's elbow calls the man back to him, where he has been exchanging pleasantries with some Russian ladies skaters. Victor's attention swivels like a beacon to focus on him, and Yuuri wants to bask in it. He tilts a shoulder pointedly.

 

Victor automatically holds up the warmup jacket he had been holding, and Yuuri slides his arms in. He waits as Victor zips it up to his chin, where his fingers travel upwards to trail over his lips and feel for dryness.

 

"Don't lick, don't bite." Victor tells him as soon as he has judged Yuuri's lips to be reasonably smooth. He almost wishes they weren't if only so Victor would smear balm over them with his own fingers. Instead he nods, and presses his skate guards into his coach's waiting hands.

 

The whispers erupt all around him again as he steps onto the ice. But this time Yuuri holds his head high.

 

"I'm going to beat you both down," Yuri Plisetsky snarls as soon as he is within range. Yuuri beams at him.

 

"I look forward to it."

 

...

St. Petersburg, date unknown

 

The press has had plenty to say about Victor throughout his career. What they won't tell you however, what they’ve overlooked all this time, is that Victor Nikiforov is a selfish, attention-seeking, wilful little -

 

"Oh don't look like that. You'll make me feel bad."

 

Yuuri scoffs and it is a satisfying, gloriously contemptuous sound. He would feel a little bad, except Victor merely returns it with a beatific smile while wiggling his socked toes pointedly. The hovering shop assistant looks charmed.

 

But not Yuuri. He doesn't make that mistake as much these days. Especially, certainly not today when it's this late and he is tired, hungry and completely shopped out -

 

"I apologize for the wait, Mr Nikiforov," Their shop assistant returns finally, with what Yuuri hopes is the correct size. Victor accepts the shoes with a pleased grin as if he hadn't sent the poor woman on a wild goose chase for his size in nearly every shoe. Judging by the dazed smile she wears, she doesn't mind. Victor Nikiforov seems to have that effect on all manner of retail service staff, as Yuuri has come to learn today. All he has to do is bat his eyelashes and smile through whatever unreasonable request he is making and everyone folds like a card for him.

 

The Italian shoes are a lovely, deep red. Oxford leather. Stacked heel. Whatever those mean. Victor nods along as the shop assistant recites these star points while he ties the laces with fluid fingers. Once they are secured to his feet he stands and does a twirl in front of the mirror. He catches Yuuri's eye in the glass. "What do you think?"

 

Yuuri thinks that he hates those shoes because they are the reason they've been here for over an hour. But Victor looks undeniably sharp and lovely in them, and he cannot bring himself to voice a disapproval. He settles for a neutral sounding, "Looks good."

 

"They do, don't they?" Victor says, completely indifferent to his lack of enthusiasm. "They pinch a little though. I hoped they wouldn't after switching sizes..."

 

That is the curse of figure-skating. Their feet have faced years of brutal battering in the quest for on-ice perfection that they are hardly regularly shaped anymore. It's hard to find anything but skates comfortable sometimes. This is one of the reasons they've spent a near two hours cycling through a mountainous pile of different shoes.

Victor squeezes onto the plush leather couch that Yuuri has been installed in during this whole endeavor. He has to squeeze because half the couch is taken up by bags upon bags of the day's purchases. Yuuri is very ready to go home. Victor regards their twin reflections as he says, "Do you want to try them? I might go for the oxfords instead. But it's such a shame not to get these at all..."

 

Yuuri snorts at that. Victor Nikiforov doesn't need to wear these shoes vicariously through him. That's ridiculous. He tells him as much. Victor merely tilts his head as if to study him, "I think you've reached your limit."

 

"You think?" He means to snap but it comes out almost whiny and pathetic. Instead of hurrying the hell up like Yuuri thought he might, Victor simply smiles and turns to the shop assistant to ask about silk socks. Yuuri wants to scream.

 

By the time they leave it is completely dark out. Victor, distracted by the payment process while he debated the shop's taxation policies, had left Yuuri behind to gather their things. They emerge from the shop with Yuuri carrying all the bags, and Victor sans any, except the shoes he just bought and the one from Gucci. He hooks them carefully over his shoulder and takes his time to review the receipts while Yuuri stares at him. He's beginning to think Victor is doing this on purpose.

 

"Oh, you got the bags. I nearly forgot them," Victor says finally once he's pocketed his wallet and looks up. "Let’s go.” Then he flounces off towards the station without a second glance back at Yuuri.

 

Victor Nikiforov is selfish, attention-seeking and wilful. Yuuri wonders how he could have spent so many years thinking any different. He rolls his eyes and tucks the bags closer to his body. When he catches up with Victor he takes the newly-acquired shoes from his hands and slips that over his shoulder too.

 

Victor makes a pleased sound. “You’re so good to me.”

 

He refuses to hand over the Gucci bag though. It has two similar sweaters, one in burgundy for him, and an indigo one for Yuuri. It's his happiest purchase today so he wants to carry it, is what he tells Yuuri. Yuuri doesn't understand him.

 

But he really, really doesn’t mind.

 

Later, back in the apartment, Victor takes the bags from him with gentle fingers and sets them on the floor. He peels Yuuri’s scarf and coat off him and hangs them carefully by the door. Then he leans in, slowly, slowly, until the spaces between them disappear. They are two figures in the doorway, melding into one. Yuuri isn’t sure where he begins and where Victor ends anymore.

 

“I used to think you were impossible.” Yuuri says softly into the air.

 

Victor presses a “Why?” into his shoulder.

 

Yuuri shrugs. “The media did its job well. And they had so much to say about you, about everything you seemed. Everyone thought they knew you.”

 

They do. Sort of. But not quite. He curls further around and into Victor, like it’s all he knows now. They are right when they say he is charming, glitzy, a gentleman, a legend.

 

He is all those things, and yet -

 

“And so?” Victor mouths against his collar. “So?”

 

Yuuri blinks, and they’re so close his eyelashes brush the silvery strands of Victor’s hair. It’s like blinking into stars and moonlight.

 

“And so nothing. They can have that but...but-“

 

This one’s mine.

 

The words are fierce in his heart, and though he doesn’t say them aloud, he can almost hear them. Maybe Victor hears them as well.

 

When Victor kisses his hand, Yuuri thinks he hears him too.

 

Yes, yes. Yes.