“I’m not,” Yuuri fumbles the rink key free from his pocket, drops it on the floor and misses the keyhole twice before successfully unlocking the door.
“Yurik,” Viktor reaches for Yuuri’s hand as they stride through the lobby but pulls back before he reaches it, balling his fingers into his palm. “Let’s stretch before going on the ice.”
Yuuri wrestles out of his backpack straps, oblivious to Viktor’s internal struggle. “We warmed up at the house.” His words are clipped, wobbling dangerously at the back of his throat.
“But it’s cold out,” Viktor rationalizes. It’s a stupid argument because they’re standing in a room with an ice floor, and Viktor can tell from the tension around Yuuri’s eyes and the clenched set of his jaw that he thinks so, too.
Yuuri toes off his shoes without untying them because his hands are shaking too much for fine motor control. He sits heavily on a bleacher, bends to pull on his skates, and Viktor watches the crown of his head—the same skein of hair he had stared at in bed this morning, had pressed affectionate, coaxing kisses to.
“I don’t want you on the ice like this,” Viktor switches tactics, adopts his coach voice—influences of Yakov and game show judges weighing down his normally lilting inflection and leaving no room for argument. “We…you need to relax.”
Yuuri jerks his head up at Viktor, pulls his laces into a tight knot. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t really have to. Yuuri isn’t normally one to swear—barring the times he’s tripped over Makkachin or been forced to traverse a busy Russian street without a crosswalk—but the ‘fuck you’ is there in the sharp bob of his Adam’s apple, the tight line of his mouth.
He stands and Viktor steps back, lets Yuuri by, apologies and explanations tangling on his tongue. Viktor has spent a lifetime dedicating routines to memory: quad flips and practiced smiles, hair flips and manicured fingers poised around another gold medal, yet somehow he can’t nail down the part that matters most.
“No jumps today!” Viktor calls after him, sighs when Yuuri ignores him—tumbles to the ground with a sharp slap and the wringing of lungs.
Yuuri isn’t predictable. It’s part of the reason Viktor loves him—finds him so compelling—but it’s frustrating because Yuuri’s needs are always changing depending on the time, the trigger, their surroundings, and some days Viktor feels he might as well be having a fist fight with the fog for all the good he does.
Viktor knows he can play the part correctly, he just needs to be trusted with the script.
“What’s wrong with Katsudon?” Yurio asks over lunch. Yuuri is sitting with his fork slumped in his slack grip—staring into the distance—two tables over and a million miles away.
Viktor huffs, scratches at his hairline. The atmosphere between them is charged—quiet but tense—like the slow descent of a water droplet rolling from the lip of a tap. “I’m not allowed to talk to him.”
Yurio looks to Yuuri—currently bouncing his heel so vigorously it rattles the chair legs—then back at Viktor, eyes narrowed. “What did you do.”
It’s not a question and Viktor bristles at the implication.
“Nothing,” Yuuri’s voice crackles between them, wispy and hollow. He clears his throat and tries again, “he didn’t do anything. Sorry, I’m…it’s fine.”
The ride back home is silent which doesn’t do a lot to backup Yuuri’s claim. Viktor’s nerves are wire tight and he’s leaning on the wrong side of irritated, exhausted from endlessly sifting the sands of his memory for what he did, what he should’ve done—lying in weight of the inevitable fallout. He’s already played out four separate potential arguments in his head by the time they make it back to their flat, but even then Yuuri clamps down, refuses Viktor entry. He smiles half-heartedly at Makkachin, pats her head, plods into the bedroom to change.
Viktor decides to let him go. Sometimes that’s all Yuuri needs: some quiet time alone to sort out whatever’s bogging down his brain, rattling his veins with excess adrenaline.
Viktor starts dinner and Yuuri doesn’t reappear for another five, fifteen, twenty minutes. Viktor chops carrots for a stew, tries to feed his trepidation and concern-born stress into the broth. His thoughts are fizzing out at the borders and his eyes linger a little too long at the middle distance while he tries to remember whether or not he already added pepper.
He knows what these signs mean but he refuses to allow it entry. Viktor has to try to keep his head above water because he and Yuuri will drown if they both succumb to the dark tides of their minds.
Viktor has just turned the heat on the stove to low when he feels arms wrap around his waist, hands clutch into the front of his shirt, a face pressed into his back. He starts a little, and it’s a testament to the roaring static choking out all of his senses that Viktor—normally so in tune to Yuuri’s every movement—didn’t hear his trek from the bedroom to the kitchen.
“Sorry,” Yuuri exhales, voice muffled in the fabric of Viktor’s shirt.
The words melt down Viktor’s spine, thawing out the creeping winter in his chest and flushing out his system with feelings of warm affection. He means to return the sentiment—he’d been chewing on an apology all day, for what, he isn’t quite sure—but the taste of it is suddenly stale on his tongue.
“Are you still mad at me?” He asks finally, bravely, breaking the silence.
Viktor can’t see Yuuri, but he can feel him shake his head, pressing his forehead against Viktor’s back as if to bury himself in the shrine of his ribcage. “I wasn’t really—” he begins—muffled—before pulling away, exhaling so heavily Viktor can see his chest deflate beneath his sweatshirt when he turns around to face him. “I’m just…”
“You’re allowed to be mad at me—” Viktor’s heartbeat jumps to his throat, thrumming against his tonsils—“just say you’re mad.”
“It’s a bad day.”
“Yeah,” Yuuri echoes, looks somewhere between Viktor’s chin and sternum. “And I guess I’m…I don’t want you to think I’m weak.”
“I don’t think that.”
Yuuri inhales sharply, nods. “I know. I know that—” he closes his mouth, his jaw visibly working around his thoughts—“but sometimes the way you treat me. When I’m—” Yuuri hesitates—“when it’s a bad day…it can feel a little. Um, demeaning, I guess?”
Viktor’s eyebrows knit together and he opens his mouth to speak, but Yuuri cuts him off. “And I know you don’t mean that. So…” Yuuri shrugs.
Viktor knows it’s his turn to speak, but he’s having trouble translating the relief, the gratitude, the concern whirling through his head into something coherent, so he envelops Yuuri in a hug, instead.
“Are you mad?” Yuuri asks.
Viktor isn’t. Frustrated maybe—with himself, with Yuuri—but this feels like the first rung of a ladder to understanding each other, the ugly parts, the parts they don’t want anyone to see, and it’s not easy to confront but Viktor’s grateful to be granted access.
They have things to work on, sure, but they knew that going in. And they won’t know where to start unless they can open up, accept their weaknesses—that they can’t change solely by will, no matter their stubborness—and learn to meet each other halfway.
“Anxiety?” Viktor asks a few months later when Yuuri struggles to pull on his skate boot and gives up midway, running a trembling hand through his hair.
Yuuri doesn’t flinch at the previously forbidden word—a testament to his therapy, couple’s and otherwise. He curls his fingers into his thighs, hunches his shoulder over his knees and nods once. Viktor stays back and observes, waits for Yuuri to freeze him out, prepares himself to not take it personally…or at least to try not to.
To his surprise, Yuuri unfurls his fists and looks to the ceiling, then Viktor—the rink lights glinting off his glasses. “Can we go for a walk?” He asks carefully, tremulously, hesitation shimmering across his features in the bags under his eyes, the crease between his eyebrows.
“Of course,” Viktor takes his hand before he can change his mind.
They don’t make it back to the rink till after lunch. Viktor walks next to Yuuri, silently at first, a careful breath of distance between them, then Yuuri makes a comment about the clouds—thick and cotton and piled high like a field of snowmen—and Viktor reminisces about a time when he was five and utterly convinced that cotton candy was plucked from the sky—a sample of the pink sunsets he watched wash over the horizon every evening.
“Skating was my backup plan,” he tells Yuuri with a laugh, their knuckles grazing. “What I really wanted to be was a cloud harvester.”
Yuuri smiles—crooked and small but there—and weaves his fingers into Viktor’s. “I’m glad you managed to stay grounded,” he says, then looks to the sky again—stretching out in front of them like a road.
Viktor tightens his grip, matches his pace with Yuuri.