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They always found each other, in the end.

Yuuri wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse, their inevitable reunions after death, a new life coursing through their veins, new memories, new quirks in personality to learn and adjust to over and over again - for the most part, at least.

For Yuuri, at least, because Yuuri was the only one who remembered - and of course it'd be him; of course it'd be him to remember each life he lived in stark clarity - re live it, sometimes, when times weren't what they used to be, when they weren't who they used to be, and the past always, always seemed fonder, brighter, with their shared affection. Of course it was only Yuuri who clung so tightly to the past, desperate to keep what they had close to his heart.

(He should have let go, should have forgotten, but losing Victor and the sparkle of his blue eyes and his heart-shaped smile for even a second was too much, had already been too much the first time around when Victor had gone before him. The memories were his only solace, his anchor. Without them, he would drift, he would forget, he wouldn't love.

There was never a moment where Yuuri would choose to not love Victor, not if he could help it.)

It made each time they found each other that much more bittersweet, though, because Yuuri was looking at a Victor who didn't know him. It was a Victor who offered him faux smiles, polite nothings, but Yuuri grit his teeth through it each time he took that one step forward, because minor complications with his heart was better than walking away from Victor. Acquaintances, friends, someone to call when the night was lonely - anything was better than being a stranger to the man he loved for so long.

It was why, when Katsuki Yuuri, one of the top men's ice skaters at twenty-three, met Victor Nikiforov for the hundredth time at a banquet after dominating the Grand Prix Final, he didn't hesitate.

 


 

Victor Nikiforov started skating the moment he could walk. Introduced to the sport by his grandparents, who both competed in ice dancing, shuffling in between them as they trekked around the rink hand in hand, Victor fell - sometimes literally - for the ice.

As he started training and practicing under his grandparents' watchful gazes, it seemed like the ice adored Victor as well. After the first handful of skating sessions, it was apparent that Victor had an affinity for the ice. It was in his glide, the way he could twist and turn without a care, the way the cool air caressed his cheeks as he skated, murmuring welcome back welcome back in time with the hiss of his skates.

"Beautiful, Vitenka," his grandmother had praised. "You'll be one of the best when you grow older."

Because his grandmother only ever spoke the truth, harsh and blunt or gentle and genuine it may be, Victor believed her and set his eyes to competing one day. Every spare hour was dedicated to skating, to familiarizing himself with the ice who supported him like an old friend, and it wasn't long before Victor found himself at his first minor competition with his first gold medal.

"Congratulations," his grandfather had laughed, overjoyed, when Victor hurried off the ice to show him. It was an exhilarating feeling, winning. Victor couldn't wait until the next competition.

After that, it was competition after competition, medal after medal, victory after victory. Victor flew through the rankings, both in Junior competitions and later Senior competitions, until he became the undisputable king at only twenty-two after three straight years of coming out on top in every competition he participated in. Winning and winning and winning with no sign of ever stopping, a legend in the making.

Until he fell.

(And Victor - he spent so long soaring through the skies that he hadn't even realized he was crashing until he felt the ice slam against his palms and seep into his skin, frigid and indifferent to the pain in his leg.

He wondered why he ever thought of the ice as his friend when it was so cold.)

His life, already a blur after nothing but the glint of gold medals and the flash of a camera, became stagnant. Christophe Giacometti, one of his sponsors from an international modeling agency, was quick to recruit him after the announcement of his retirement from figure skating. Instead of the familiar sound of ice under his skates, the sound of cameramen and women became the new white noise of his life, and clothes his new focal point.

It wasn't all that different, in the end: Victor tried on new clothes instead of new costumes, posed how he was instructed instead of following practiced step-sequences, and he still smiled when a camera focused on him, still felt cold even under the too-bright lights of the set.

Years after leaving the ice, he wondered if this was all there was for him, this perpetual ennui - up until Chris called him out for their daily outings.

"I want you to come with me to the next banquet," Chris told him during their shared lunch break. Chris made it a point to get Victor out of his apartment or the workplace at least once a day, and more often than not it was through badgering him out for a meal. Chris glanced at him, and already Victor saw that he wouldn't take no for an answer. "We want to extend our sponsorship to another skater."

Victor frowned. "You don't need me to do that." Chris was more than competent enough to get a sponsorship sealed; he'd done it with Victor when he was still skating, and he'd done it at least a thousand times over ever since.

"No, we don't, but..." Chris shrugged, his lips quirking into something sly. "I think you'd be... interested in this one. He's a bit of a fan of yours."

That was no surprise. Victor was a legend, the tragic hero who'd been yanked away from the ice far too soon, and most skaters knew and looked up to him because of his record-shattering accomplishments. "A fan?" Victor said anyway, forcing a slight chuckle. "Wow."

"Right?" Chris said. The beginnings of a smirk were crossing his lips as he leaned back in his seat, eyeing Victor as if waiting for a reaction. "I say fan, but he's a very accomplished skater himself. If memory serves me correctly, he already broke your free skate record - last year, I think? - and rumor has it that he's aiming to take your short program record, too."

Victor... He didn't know what to say to that. After his fall, he disconnected with skating altogether and left it in the past. Checking whether or not his records still held strong or who became the next top-scoring skater never crossed his mind - in fact, Victor could confidently say that he'd forgotten about those minor details after he accepted Chris' job offer for his company - but to hear it out in the open like this, without any sort of preparation, well.

He pulled his lips into something slighter than a smile. "Wow," he said again, because what was he supposed to say to that? He shifted and wondered, briefly, how Chris thought he would react. "He's good, then. Why are you suddenly interested in giving him a sponsorship now if he was already doing well before?"

Chris smiled wider. "I actually already offered a sponsorship to him last year when he beat your free skate. When I did, though, he refused and told me to ask again this year - under two conditions, actually." He leaned a cheek against his palm, looked at Victor with eyes that could already see his interest, and asked, "Do you want to know what they were?"

"What?" Victor asked, because there was no point in playing coy with Chris and delaying the inevitable. Victor wanted to know. "What were they?"

Chris held up one finger. "First was his fifth consecutive gold medal from the Grand Prix Final," he said, and Victor had barely any time to think about that, the fifth consecutive gold medal , before Chris went on, holding up a second finger. "The second was that he wanted to meet you."

Victor blinked. "Me?"

"Yes, you." Chris shrugged his shoulders at Victor's furrowed brows and slight frown. "I told you he was a fan. He didn't really say why he wanted to talk to you, but I figured it was because you were a legend yourself, back in the day."

"It was only a few years ago," Victor said, running a hand through his hair as he blew out a sigh. He wasn't keen on going back to the figure skating scene - when he left, he'd left for good - but this was a request from Chris, and Victor knew he couldn't refuse, not when Chris had done so much for him already. Talking to the new figure skating champion didn't seem too terrible of an idea. Victor could pull himself through it. "So? When's the banquet?"

Chris smiled, pleased. "Don't look so miserable, Victor. I said he'd be interesting, didn't I?" When Victor did nothing but level him with a bland stare, Chris laughed and replied, "It's in a few days, so we'll be booking a trip over to Tokyo just in time to watch the free skate. His skating is something else, and I think you'll like it."

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Victor asked. He crossed his arms and frowned when Chris shook his head. "I don't skate anymore."

"It's because you don't skate that it matters so much," Chris told him, and his heart twisted as Chris continued: "I know you miss it, Victor. Sometimes, I do too."

Chris used to skate when he was younger. He had stopped a few years into it while he was still competing in the Junior division for reasons unexplained, but he'd been quick to start his own company afterwards and stayed connected to figure skating in his own way: through sponsorships.

Victor averted his gaze, couldn't find it in himself to will a smile to his lips because Victor couldn't deny it even if he wanted to. For years, skating was his life, and he'd given it up prematurely after his injury. It was a lie to say that Victor never wanted to glide across the ice again, but it also wasn't a lie to say that he hadn't had any fond memories of skating in a long, long time. Despite how he longed to skate sometimes, Victor didn't want to step back into his past and feel just as lifeless as he did before. It was terrifying, how something he thought to be his life could leave him feeling empty.

It was better, Victor thought, to stay away from it. Less of a chance for him to be hurt, in the end.

He didn't deign Chris' insight with a reply. Instead, he asked, "Who's the skater, anyway?"

Chris grinned. "Katsuki Yuuri."

 


 

Yuuri showed up to the banquet a few minutes early in hopes of familiarizing himself with the hall before everyone else started filing in. Lingering euphoria buzzed underneath his skin from the evening before, the glint of his fifth gold medal and whispers of five-time gold medalist flashing through his thoughts, Yuuri was understandably humming with nervous energy.

No matter how many times, Yuuri never got used to it, the persistent cameras and insistent reporters. He wondered, briefly, how Victor could have ever thrived under this harrowing attention too close to suffocating to ever be something to smile about. But like Victor had done in the past, Yuuri pasted a (weaker, more awkward) smile on his lips and stammered his way through exclamations and questions alike.

Yuuri would be doing it for longer, though - had done it for far, far longer than anyone would think - and he wondered when smiling like this wouldn't be natural anymore, if they'd ever become truly false, inside and out. He wondered if he'd even notice.

"That isn't a face for someone newly titled Five-time GPF Gold Medalist ."

Yuuri started, realizing that someone was standing before him, two glasses of champagne in hand, and that that person was none other than Victor Nikiforov. He felt something warm settle in his gut, because Victor looked the same as ever, though a bit taller than Yuuri remembered. Yuuri, lovesick and pining for the same man for lifetimes, wanted so much it hurt to breathe.

It didn't help that Victor was eyeing him up and down, a glimmer in his eyes that spoke of interest. Yuuri forced himself to breathe, latched onto desperation and confidence with both hands.

"Is that for me?" Yuuri asked instead of addressing the earlier comment, nodding at the extra glass Victor was carrying. When Victor offered it, eyes smoldering, Yuuri met his gaze with a smile. "Thank you."

"Congratulations," Victor murmured, clinking his glass against Yuuri's. "You skated wonderfully today. I couldn't look away."

"You watched?" Yuuri couldn't help but ask, heart in his throat. If anyone could decipher the meaning under his programs, it would be Victor, and the thought sent a wave of nervousness down his spine.

"Just your free skate from start to finish," Victor confirmed, smiling around his glass as he took a sip. "It... reminded me how much I missed skating. I would have loved to compete against you, but as it is now - Chris said that you wanted to meet me?"

Yuuri blinked, then stuttered out, "O-Oh! Yes, I asked Chris to bring you this year. I - I've always wanted to meet you, and I hoped that you would, well. I hoped you would come, today, in exchange for me accepting the sponsorship from CG ."

"Well," Victor said, stepping closer, close enough that Yuuri could feel the heat of his gaze as he looked at him. "I'm here, and I'm all yours for the evening."

Yuuri's throat went dry, but something firey and alive sparked in his chest. He downed his glass and licked his lips, watched as Victor's pupils ate away at the blue of irises. "Would you like to dance, then?"

Victor smiled. "Lead the way."

 


 

They danced for nearly the entire night, breaking away from the crowd at times to have a drink and talk for shorter and shorter periods, conversation turning sparse as their dances grew longer, blending from one to the next. Yuuri loved it, having Victor so close again, having him look at Yuuri like he was the only thing that mattered tonight.

It was why, when Victor leaned close and pressed his lips to his ear, murmuring praise that fed his starving heart, Yuuri wrapped his arms around Victor's neck and whispered, "I don't want you to go."

Victor stayed silent for a moment, rocking back and forth as Yuuri held on even tighter. "I'm not going anywhere," he promised, low and quiet, just for Yuuri. A promise he'd already heard a million times over. He pulled away and took Yuuri's hands into his, and as he looked at him, there was something softer about his eyes. Kinder. "You look like you're about to cry, Yuuri. What's wrong?"

Yuuri shook his head, because heartache was something inevitable for him, and no matter how many times it happened, Yuuri would always go back to Victor. He looked up at glittering blue eyes, saw the inevitable leering back at him, and asked: "Take me to your room?"

Victor paused again, thumbs caressing the back of Yuuri's hands as he looked at him, and breathed out a quiet, "Okay."

 


 

 

It was a blur, after that. Yuuri remembered nothing but the pleasant closeness of having Victor beside him, murmuring to him, wrapping him into his arms and falling asleep cocooned in his warmth.

Yuuri dreamt of sunlight and the cascade of silver hair, a heart-shaped smile and his name falling from the lips of a Victor long gone.

 


 

Yuuri woke to fingers brushing through his hair and the gentle rise and fall of Victor's chest beneath his hand.

"Are you awake?" Victor asked, too loud and too bright for the already unbearable morning. Groggily, Yuuri buried his face into the crook of Victor's neck, hiding - preferably for the rest of the day - in his solid warmth.

"No," Yuuri said, and when he heard Victor's huff of laughter brush past his ear and the way he shifted, about to pull him upright, Yuuri wrapped his arm around his torso and mumbled, "A few more minutes, Vitya."

The fingers brushing through his hair paused. "All right," Victor murmured, and there was something about his voice that made Yuuri think it was shaking, but before he could question it, Victor's fingers swept through his hair and danced down his spine. Yuuri sighed, burrowing closer as he let Victor coax him back to sleep as he murmured softly, "Just a few more minutes."

 


 

It was well into the afternoon when Yuuri woke up again, groggy and more than confused, but pleasantly comfortable where he was wrapped up in strong arms and face pressed close to -

Victor. Because Yuuri had had enough of Victor looking at him like he wanted to eat him alive, and Yuuri couldn't stand it, knowing that he was wanted by the man he loved but unable to touch him like how he used to. It wasn't like this would be the first time they've done this - far from it - but it never failed to break him a little on the inside, because for all that they were similar, love and lust weren't and never would be the same thing in the long run.

What Yuuri wanted - what he craved - was only ever love, but Victor never really loved him after their first life, and Yuuri was left clinging onto the pieces of him that he allowed himself to hold onto. Just because Yuuri remembered, time and time again, it didn't mean that he would chain Victor to him for a past he'd long forgotten. It'd be cruel, and all Yuuri wanted for Victor was for him to be happy. If it was with other people, in places far out of Yuuri's reach, then Yuuri would make do with whatever Victor gave him, whatever Victor chose for them to be.

Being wanted for his body was better than not being wanted at all, and Yuuri didn't know if he could stand it, a life without even a glimpse of Victor's shadow in it.

"Are you awake now?" Victor's asked, his lips pressed to his hair. Yuuri shivered, pressed closer to Victor's bare chest, but Victor drew away and smiled when he saw Yuuri looking back at him. "We slept half the day away. I didn't think you meant four more hours when you asked me for a few more minutes."

That's why you always pulled me out of bed no matter how much I complained , Yuuri couldn't help but think, wistful with Victor's familiar blue eyes so close to his own, staring into his soul and at a past he couldn't understand. He ducked his head, tearing himself away from the gaze that never failed to undo him, and blurted out, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Victor assured him, and when Yuuri chanced a glance up at him, he was still smiling. "That was probably the best rest I've gotten this month, if I'm honest." He glanced over at the bedside table, then back at Yuuri, asking, "Are you hungry?"

Yuuri started, an instinctive no already on his lips, but his stomach decided to answer for him. He flushed hot as Victor chuckled.

Slipping out from under the covers, Yuuri couldn't help but stare as Victor nodded over to the bathroom. "I'll order something, and you can wash up, if you want... Is there something wrong?"

Yes, because Victor - and Yuuri himself, too, now that he was actively thinking about it - was still in his underwear. "We didn't - We didn't do anything? Last night, I mean?"

Victor's smile faded at the edges. "Of course not. You drank a bit last night, and I wasn't- did you think I'd...?"

There was an implication in the air, one born of Yuuri's past experiences and the rumors that surrounded Victor as the drop-dead gorgeous model from CG, and Yuuri understood, belatedly, as Victor stared at him with a shadow lurking in his eyes, that he hurted Victor in assuming.

"No!" Yuuri hurried to say. How to explain, he thought, that after lifetimes of being put through this same situation, that he automatically assumed the worst to save himself the inevitable heartache? "It's just- not the first time- "

Yuuri understood that this, too, was a mistake when Victor's eyes grow dark with something fierce. "Not the first time," he repeated, flat. "You're saying that this- that people have done that to you before?"

Only one person , Yuuri wanted to correct, but even then it would be misleading, because Victor was assuming that everything was without Yuuri's whole-hearted consent. "No, no, no," Yuuri said frantically, waving his hands. "You're misunderstanding. I didn't mean it like that - it's just a lot of one-night stands, or me being too hopeful, and it's... not like that." When Victor didn't say anything, Yuuri fumbled for someway to explain, but when he came up short,  he blurted out the first thing that came to mind to change the subject: "Breakfast!" He could hear the tremble in his voice as his eyes darted everywhere but at Victor, willed it still with all of his might. "Is there- is there something light to eat? I'll make sure to pay you back later."

Victor stared at him for a moment longer, and Yuuri thought, helplessly, that he wouldn't let the subject drop, but to his relief Victor glanced at the menu lying on the bedside table and replied, "There is... I'll order it for you, but Yuuri - " Yuuri couldn't deny that his heart stumbled over a beat, hearing his name from those lips once again " - Yuuri, I won't bother you about it after this, but I have to ask: Are you all right?"

Yuuri managed a small smile despite the way Victor looked at him like he was fragile, knew he was revealing too much and nothing at all when he said, "I'll be all right", because he couldn't bear to voice to part of him crying out, no no no .

 


 

"Here's my number," Victor said after they finished breakfast, making small talk in between bites. He scribbled something on the notepad he found in the bedside table's drawer and tore it off to hand to Yuuri. Penned digits stared back at him. Yuuri looked up to see Victor gazing back with something fierce in his gaze. "Call me whenever you need to, Yuuri. I'll try my best to answer."

"You don't need to do this," Yuuri heard himself say.

Victor shook his head and smiled. "I want to." Yuuri couldn't find it in himself to argue.

After that, they parted ways - Yuuri back to Detroit to train for the rest of the season, and Victor to New York where he'd go back to the busy cycle of his life once more and, Yuuri thought privately, forget about the skater who shared his bed for a night.

Victor didn't forget, though. For the first time in a long, long time, Victor held onto him, and Yuuri couldn't help the bud of hope that sprouted in his heart.

(That's dangerous , Yuuri reminded himself. Dangerous and stupid and what's the point in going through all of that again?

But it was weak, and he saved Victor's number under Vitya and sent him a short text that comprised of a simple, This is Yuuri .

Doubts were beaten back when Victor replied not even a minute after, Hi, Yuuri!

He clutched his phone and hoped the scarf wound around this neck would be enough to hide his smile.)

 


 

"How was your night with the five-time GPF gold medalist?" Chris asked once they were seated on the plane back to New York. He sent Victor a suggestive smirk. "I said that you'd be interested - I'd be after seeing him dance like that all night. He has amazing stamina, that's for sure."

Victor pressed his lips together. "We didn't- we just slept together, Chris - not like that," he added when Chris' smirk grew into something salacious. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, pushing away the curtain of bangs only for them to fall into his eyes once more. "I wasn't going to do anything after we both drank, and he passed out the moment we got under the covers anyway. Honestly, at that point, I wasn't even thinking about sex."

Something like interest gleamed in Chris' eyes, and he whistled, looking impressed. "Victor Nikiforov, not interested in getting into a man's pants - especially one with a body like that? Have you seen his ass?"

"To die for," Victor said, remembering the injustice Yuuri's suit had done his body after stripping him to his underwear. It was maybe for the better that Victor got to feel the strength of his body pressed against his, hips close and legs brushing. When his thoughts strayed for too long, going back to Yuuri and his delectable body, his sleep-soft face and the slurred Vitya that he'd mumbled into his chest, he snapped himself out of his daze only to find Chris smiling at him with something undefinable curving his lips. He levelled him with a skeptical stare. "What is it?"

Chris blinked innocently. "Oh, nothing. I was just thinking that you look a bit different."

Victor frowned. "Really?" He went through his regular nine-step skin care morning regime, much to Yuuri's apparent amusement as he watched him pull out bottle after bottle of moisturizer and the like, and his hair was combed and styled like he usually had it. "How?"

Chris only hummed though, infuriatingly nonchalant as he shrugged and said, "I don't know."

Victor looked at him, but Chris seemed adamant on keeping his lips sealed so Victor leaned back into his seat with the decision to let it go. Chris would tell him when he thought he should tell him, and if he was just teasing, then Victor would suffer through it like the good friend he was. It wouldn't be the first time, at any rate. Chris was just devious sometimes.

As they've been doing ever since he left the hotel, his thoughts turned back to Yuuri. I'll be all right , he said, and Victor couldn't help but think that he was brave for thinking so. Victor couldn't understand it, not when Yuuri told him so blatantly that he was misunderstanding something but not explaining what , but he understood that the heat that sparked and coiled in his chest was not all just aimless anger for people who may have touched Yuuri with the intention to take and hurt, it was something more rounded but just as fierce. Protective.

Whatever had happened, Victor already decided that he wasn't going to let it happen again.

After seeing Yuuri's free skate, Victor had wanted to get to know him, had wanted to know why someone who could move so beautifully expressed such longing as he skated. Dancing with Yuuri at the banquet was intoxicating, he was drunk on Yuuri's every step, every expression that flickered across his face, the way they moved so seamlessly together, like two souls reunited once again. It made him want to cling to that energy, to the life Yuuri had sparked in his chest after years of going through the motions. He hadn't wanted to let go of Yuuri, had agreed with only the briefest hesitation when he asked to be taken to Victor's room.

Having Yuuri in the circle of his arms that night, murmuring intelligible things to Victor's chest, blanketed his world in a peace he hadn't felt in so long, and he'd been lulled into dreamless slumber. Waking up to pre-dawn light and Yuuri mumbling Vitya like it was familiar and well-worn - that had been the tipping point. It made him ache for things he hadn't ever thought of, made him ache for concepts he couldn't even understand.

He touched his fingertips to the screen of his phone, consoled the ache with the knowledge that Yuuri was only a text or a call away, that distance wouldn't be a factor if Victor could help it. He remembered how Yuuri had said that he'd hoped Victor would come to the banquet, how he held on to Victor just as tight as Victor held onto him, and he consoled himself with these memories, too, because it meant that Yuuri was interested - that Yuuri wanted him.

His phone lit up. A text from Yuuri.

Will I see you again? it read, and Victor already knew the answer before he was even halfway through with it.

Of course , Victor replied, and breathed out something like anticipation. He had no idea when or how or where he was going to see Yuuri again, but he was going to. He had to.

From beside him, Chris closed his eyes and smiled.

 


 

"Lean a bit to the left - right. Perfect." Cameras clicked and shuttered as Victor stared at nothing in particular, his expression sculpted into something serene, a small smile on his lips. Georgi Popovich, one of Victor's good friends and the lead photographer for most of his shoots, checked through the photographs with a small frown. "All right. Let's take a break and bring out the props. We'll be starting back up in fifteen. Victor?"

Victor blinked back into awareness, and he sent Georgi a questioning glance. "Yes?"

"I want to talk to you," he said as he carefully placed his camera away into its protective case. He stood, and as he turned to go Victor followed him.

"What is it? Do you have different poses in mind?" Victor put a finger to his lips, looked up in thought. "I thought they were a bit tame for Chris' tastes, anyway, but when I asked him about it he just smiled and didn't tell me anything. Oh! Is it about Anya? How are things going with her, anyway?"

Georgi clutched his heart, his expressing morphing into one of extreme heartbreak so fast that Victor had to double-take. "She left me," Georgi said, grief-stricken, "for a hockey player ."

Victor blinked, parted his lips to say something but came up short. After a short pause, where it was clear that Georgi was waiting for him to say something, he slowly said, inflecting as much horror as he could amidst his confusion, "Not a hockey player."

"But she did ," Georgi moaned. "Oh, Anya! I swear that I'll make you see the error of your ways. There's nothing in the world that I wouldn't do for- "

"What did you want to talk to me about?" Victor cut in before Georgi could ramble on for too long. After two years of happily dating Anya, Victor forgot about Georgi's infamous track record of broken relationships, and how bad his subsequent spirals into heartache was. Or at least how unnerving they were.

Georgi seemed to remember himself, clearing his throat and schooling his expression into something more professional. "Right," he said, patting down his wrinkled shirt, dusting his clothes of nonexistent dust. When he was finished, he looked considerably calmer, though a few side-glances told Victor that there were unshed tears welled up in his eyes. "Of course. Where are my manners."

Victor almost asked if he wanted to have this talk another time, seeing that his eyes were red-rimmed and the tears were more than likely stinging them, but before he could Georgi was already talking.

"You look different," Georgi said, and when Victor shot him a confused look, because Chris had said the same thing just a few days before, he hurried to explain. "There's a light in your eyes, Victor. Haven't you noticed?"

Victor quirked a smile, not sure what to say. "I always have lights in my eyes," he said, referring to the heavy lights hanging and standing around the set, all trained on him.

Georgi smiled something that made him look beyond his years, weathered by time and glimmering with profound knowledge. "I'm glad that you've finally found someone," Georgi told him, and much to Victor's confusion he sounded proud . "Take care of them, whoever that are. Someone who can finally make you look like that is someone worth keeping."

Victor blinked, taken aback. "What?"

"Did you think I wouldn't notice?" Georgi chuckled. He said something under his breath, wiping at his eyes, and Victor was surprised to find that Georgi was tearing up all over again for no apparent reason at all. He was saved from saying anything when Georgi glanced back into the workroom and checked his watch for the time. "It's time to go back. That's all I wanted to tell you, Victor. Let's get to work. Chris said he wanted this shoot done before noon."

"Ah- right," Victor said, snapping himself out of his confusion. He followed after Georgi and moved as instructed, automatic, his mind a thousand miles away from where he was on the set as he pondered Georgi's words.

Take care of them , he'd said, but Victor didn't even know who he was talking about. Admittedly, Victor didn't have that many people in his life: a handful of friends, Yakov, maybe even little Yuri if he wanted to push it. It wasn't like knowing any of them was a secret, though, and Georgi himself knew everyone Victor considered himself close to. He couldn't understand why he'd go as far as to refer to them as though he didn't know them on a personal level, but maybe that was it. Whoever Georgi was talking about, it was someone he didn't know. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone of much significance that Victor knew and Georgi didn't. No one except-

His heart beat, and the smirk on his face gentled into something softer. Kinder.

Will I see you again?

Yuuri.

Victor already had a plan in mind to see him again. He'd spent roughly an hour thinking about whether or not he should visit Yuuri's home rink in Detroit before he decided against it; Yuuri would be busy training for his next competition, and Victor still had to model for Chris' Spring line of clothes since winter was coming to a quick close, not to mention the other small projects Chris had him lined up for between now and then. In light of that, Victor had concluded that he wouldn't be able to meet up with Yuuri until well into Spring and would therefore be limited to text message and, if they both had time, video calling. It'd been disheartening, realizing that he wouldn't see Yuuri for a while, but he'd consoled himself with the fact that meeting him later was better than not meeting him at all.

That is, until Chris had called him and said that he'd give him a week off if he was willing to work for it, a gleam in his eyes that told Victor he was planning something. Heedless of it, Victor had agreed, and now Victor was essentially working all day every day for most of the week in order to get a week off - one that, Victor realized after checking Yuuri's schedule, coincided with Japanese Nationals.

As thanks, Victor had sent a basket of goodies for Chris and his fiance. By the short voicemail Chris had left when he called Victor at three in the morning, Victor figured they were putting it to good use.

"Victor!"

Victor blinked, straightening to see that Georgi had come onto the set and was standing in front of him, looking at him with something like an exasperated smile. The other photographers were watching them with something like concern, murmuring too low for Victor to make out from here. "Sorry," Victor said, running a hand through his styled hair with a practiced smile. Had he lost himself in his thoughts? Victor was usually better than that - or, at least, better at hiding it. "I got distracted. What was it?"

Georgi huffed out a breath, but he didn't look too upset. "I said to get changed in the next set of clothes while we switch the props." He smiled at Victor, knowing. "Do you have someone on your mind? You usually don't space out like that. You were smiling, and some of the photographers were..."

"Concerned?" Victor finished, moving to stand up. Georgi stepped back to give him space, his lips twisted in thought.

"No," he said, shaking his head. He huffed out a breath. "Awed, I think. I haven't seen you smile like that in a long time. I took some photos, if you're interested."

Victor hummed. "Send them to me."

"Should I send them to Chris, too?" Georgi asked with a smile. "I think he'll be excited to learn about this."

"He'll just tease me - like you are," Victor said, turning away to Georgi's chuckles. "I'll be ready in fifteen."

He ducked into the changing room before Georgi could say anything else, but thoughts of Yuuri stubbornly stayed in his mind, and he fought the urge to get lost in them while he was changing. He came out ten minutes late to Georgi shooting him a knowing look, and Victor could feel heat rising up the back of his neck, ready to retort any tease Georgi came up with, but all he did was wave him onto the set with a fond sort of smile.

Victor, despite how much he tried not to (which, really, was not at all), found himself daydreaming of Yuuri.

 


 

Yuuri scrolled through his messages with Victor and wondered when this would end, when Victor would eventually tire of him like he always did.

"Yuuri, come on," Phichit called, poking his head back into Yuuri's room. Phichit was someone who Yuuri found himself friends with, bright-eyed and ever-optimistic even in the face of Yuuri's anxiety. It had reminded Yuuri, somewhat, of Victor when they first met, and it had made it easier for him to open up to Phichit in a way he hadn't in so long. He was thankful for Phichit's nigh-indestructible charisma, and his penchant for including Yuuri in anything and everything he did. Spending time with Phichit kept the harsher thoughts at bay, and it was a relief, being able to smile and laugh with someone after keeping to himself for most of his lifetimes.

Yuuri stuffed his phone into his pocket, grabbing his bag as he hurried to stand. "Sorry! I got distracted."

Phichit bounced on the balls of his feet as Yuuri shoved on his shoes and ran beside him as they jogged to the rink. It was cold out, as it was wont to be in Detroit, so they were both bundled in beanies and coats and scarves. Phichit shivered, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jacket as he quickened his pace; Yuuri huffed out a breathy chuckle as he matched Phichit's pace.

"I don't think I'll ever get used to the cold," Phichit exclaimed, punctuating his words with a full-body shiver, but he was grinning under the cover of his scarf. When Phichit first came to the university, his immediate question - after asking for Yuuri's name and social media, only to be appalled by Yuuri's lack of presence on every social media platform - was how the weather was in Detroit. He'd looked horrified when Yuuri admitted that yes, winters were freezing, and that no, just because he was an ice skater, didn't mean he was resistant to it. "Thailand's so much warmer even when its winter."

"Hasetsu, too, even though it snows sometimes," Yuuri said into his scarf. At the mention of his home, he remembered the promise Hiroko had managed to wrangle out of him with a sweet smile and an innocent question on one of their Skype calls.

You'll visit, right? After the season is over?

Yuuri, upon seeing the hopeful light in his mother's eyes, couldn't bring himself to say no. He was thankful for the time she gave him, though, to collect and remind himself that he hadn't visited in nearly five years. It wasn't that he was actively avoiding going home - it just wasn't on his mind despite the scheduled video calls and occasional text from Mari every so often. Thinking about it now, though, he felt a spark of something warm and bright light up in his chest. He couldn't wait to go home, couldn't wait to tell them about his competitions, couldn't wait to tell Minako about all he'd learned over the years, couldn't wait to tell Yuuko that he'd met Victor Nikiforov in the flesh.

Victor, who was so kind in this life that Yuuri couldn't help but hope with each text he received from him. It made Yuuri's chest ache with how readily he was to let this hope expand into something he couldn't control, growing and growing until he couldn't breathe. Sometimes, he caught himself thinking Maybe , and it was dangerous, thinking that way, lethal for his glass heart. Yuuri could handle heart ache so long as he prepared himself for it - he had before, and Yuuri was certain that this wouldn't be the last - and even though the maybe s and what-if s were outspoken, he forced himself to think It'd be easier if he weren't so kind .

Easier to let go when Victor decided he didn't want him anymore.

( Would it? some part of his mind would counter, and every time Yuuri would find himself at a loss, because it wasn't. It was never easy letting Victor go, but he hoped that someday it would be.)

"Yuuri!" Phichit called, and Yuuri jerked out of his thoughts, seeing Phichit bouncing on the balls of his feet a little ways away from him, clearly cold. "Come on! We're going to freeze to death!"

"It's not even that cold!" Yuuri protested, even though it was. Yuuri was used to warm springs and summers, mild autumns, and cool winters. Jumping feet-first into Detroit when the fall semester started had already had him shivering even under the covers with the heater on, and the brutal winters forced his hand and made him buy more appropriate clothes like coats and sweaters rather than layers of jackets and long-sleeved shirts, though he still wore multiple layers when the cold became too much - like now, for instance.

"You're a liar, Katsuki Yuuri!" Phichit said. "I can see you shivering more than I am!"

"You can't see anything with your eyes like that," Yuuri retorted once he came closer, the beginnings of a laugh trailing at the edges of his words.

Phichit shoved his shoulder against his in retaliation, narrowing his already-squinted eyes up at him. Yuuri could see the way his cheeks pulled up in a grin. "Are you stereotyping me, Yuuri? How could you? I thought we were friends!"

Yuuri pushed his shoulder back against Phichit's, smiling so wide his cheeks hurt from both his smile and the cold. "I don't know what you mean."

Phichit exclaimed something after that, indignant, but Yuuri was too busy laughing to really pay it much attention. They hurried through the rest of the way to the rink like that, shoulders pressed together, huddled for warmth, laughter echoing around them.

(In the back of his mind, underneath the mirth and the contagious joy, Yuuri thought, quiet and small, I'm going to miss you. )

 


 

How do you feel about surprises? Victor texted him one day. It was during his break, and Yuuri was in the middle of stretches when his phone vibrated. He looked at it for a long moment, something like tentative anticipation rising in his chest.

It depends , Yuuri found himself texting back, because despite the uneasiness bubbling in his gut, curiosity for what Victor had planned won out. Is it a good surprise?

Only the best for you , Victor reassured him almost immediately, and Yuuri couldn't help the heat creeping into his cheeks. It's a gift.

Yuuri paused. For what?

It's a surprise!

And - Yuuri couldn't help the small smile that pulled at his lips, couldn't fight against it for all he wanted to - needed to - because Victor never failed to make him feel a little lighter, brighter, no matter who he was or what lifetime he was in. Even when they weren't close, Victor never failed to treat him with care, and maybe that was why it hurt so much having him turn away in every life Yuuri found him in.

He touched the gold ring hanging from his neck - a reminder of their first life, a reminder that Yuuri had promised Victor forever and that he intended to uphold that promise.

I can't wait to see what it is, then, Yuuri told him, honest, and when Victor replied with obvious excitement and relief, Yuuri pressed his smile against his palm as if that'd be enough to hide it.

 


 

Standing back in his home country, only an hour away from his hometown where his family and friends lived, Yuuri felt something cool and jarring seep into his skin. It made him acutely conscious of everything around him, the noise in the airport, familiar smells that made him vaguely homesick even though he was home, the heavy weight of Celestino's hand on his shoulder as he spoke about what were probably stories of his younger days as a skater, given that he was gesturing dramatically with his free arm. It was a familiar distraction, Celestino's booming voice, and on good days it gave him something to focus on.

Now. though, Yuuri sucked in a breath and tried to calm his nerves. No matter how many times he competed, no matter where or who was watching, Yuuri found himself an easy victim for his pre-competition anxiety, and though he had somewhat of a handle on it because he had to reign it in somehow, it never failed weigh heavily on his shoulders. Even when all he felt he could do was fret over the little details of his programs and wonder if they were as good as Celestino thought they were, Yuuri shoved the worries to the back of his mind the moment his name was announced. It was how he coped, and Celestino, after coaching him through some of his successful seasons, understood that and left him to his own devices once he realized that what Yuuri needed the most wasn't words of encouragement or jokes to kill the tension.

When they made it to their hotel, both of them having checked into separate rooms, Celestino, with a kind smile and an order to relax for today, left him after making sure Yuuri wouldn't work himself into a frenzy of worry.

On his own now, Yuuri made his way up to his room, suitcase in hand. He wondered if he should call his family and tell them that he finally touched down, but he decided on texting Mari later in the afternoon. No matter how much it could calm him, he wasn't sure if he could handle his family's cheer right now -- speaking of, it wouldn't surprise him if Minako showed up; she made it a point to come to the competitions he had when he was in Japan and even some of his major competitions, too. The only reason she hadn't come to the Grand Prix Final a few weeks ago was because she'd gone down with a terrible cold.

Once he settled into his room, Yuuri pulled out his phone and turned off airplane mode so that he could text Mari. The moment he did, though, a slew of messages appeared on his screen, his phone pinging several times as the messages came through. There were some from Mari asking if he landed yet, and another two from Yuuko asking the same, but surprisingly, most of them were from Victor.

Yuuri started. He didn't know what to think of that. In the time between Victor's message about getting him a gift and now, he'd been awfully silent and sparse with his messages, only replying when Yuuri dared to text him about his day or how he was doing. More often than not, their conversations ended at that, and Yuuri, against his better judgement, had thought that Victor was getting tired of him. It had been a trying time, what with him being overcome with the thought of Victor being no longer interested in him, and so quickly, after Yuuri had thought that they'd have at least a few months before their eventual parting.

As Yuuri scrolled through the messages, though, it seemed he'd worked himself into a worry for nothing.

Have a safe trip!

Your gift is waiting in Osaka. I hope you like it

How long is your flight?

Oh, nevermind. I found it online.

Wait I don't know which plane you're on

Yuuri!!!

Text me when you land

Warmth bloomed in his chest, comforting and bright, and after so many days on edge, so many days weighed down by a steady recollection of his past lives, of just how many times Victor slipped out of his grasp and of the times Yuuri willingly let him go, Yuuri felt far lighter than he ever had since the Grand Prix Final.

With a smile he couldn't fight back, he texted Victor a simple, I made it safely, before opening up his texts with Mari and telling her the same thing.

Minako and I are here , Mari texted back almost immediately. Minako caught something again, so we might leave early. When do you want to meet up?

Yuuri frowned. Minako was sick again? Yuuri can hardly imagine it. As he was growing up under Minako's watchful eye, she was nothing but an unending fountain of energy, managing to keep up with even Yuuri's stamina when they practiced together. Yuuri can only recall a handful of times when Minako felt under the weather, but even then it was something she was able to manage and bounce back from with some rest.

Anywhere is fine , Yuuri sent back. Tell Minako to get some sleep.

She's too excited to see you again. Says she can't when you haven't been back in over five years.

Yuuri winced but knew that Mari hadn't meant it like that. She would send him texts, sometimes, of everything and nothing: pictures of Hasetsu, their parents, Vicchan, or even updates on how they all were doing.

Sometimes, she'd send him: They miss you .

Every time, Yuuri would reply, I know . Every time, he'd find some way out of going back - not because he didn't love them, or appreciate them, but because he'd trained himself not to get too attached to anybody in any of his lives. Pining after Victor was difficult, having him slip out of his reach even harder, and Yuuri, scared as he was, didn't want to learn how painful it'd be if he lost more than one person when the cycle began anew.

Sometimes, Yuuri wondered what he did to deserve this, wondered if he should just let go and forget it all. It'd be easy, painless, and one day Yuuri will be born again as a fresh slate, not a man too old for his skin, broken apart too many times to be anything but chipped and imperfect.

But he wouldn't remember Victor, and that made all the difference.

I'm sorry.

Don't be. Let's get lunch together before you have to practice. I'm sure you missed the food here, at least.

Katsudon especially.

Katsudon it is. We'll see you in the lobby around 10

Firing off an affirmative, Yuuri set his phone aside and fell back against the bed, heaving a sigh. The nerves hadn't quite settled yet, buzzing and rolling anxiously just under his skin, but it was better. Manageable. Yuuri, the exhaustion from the flight finally catching up to him, closed his eyes and drifted off.

 


 

"Russians aren't supposed to get colds," Victor said, running a hand through his hair and grimacing at the feel of it as he paced back and forth in his hotel room at Osaka. On the screen, Chris quirked an amused smile. " I'm not supposed to get colds, Chris!"

"I guess you aren't as Russian as you thought, given that you get sick almost yearly," Chris said, wholly unconcerned. Under the sound of Victor's worried exclamations, one could hear the faint scratch of nails being filed by one Christophe Giacometti, who has, to date, listened to this conversation at least a hundred times in the span of thirty-six hours from the day before Victor left to Japan until now. "Being a little sick won't hurt anyone, cheri . Relax."

"It's hurting me ," Victor retorted, but he settled down onto the hotel bed with a sigh. On the far wall, sitting beside the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city, was a large stuffed poodle about half of Makkachin's size. Victor had gotten it made after Chris allowed him the week off, calling in between the hours at work to have it made before Nationals came along, and though he had wanted it at least Makkachin's size, it had turned out startlingly well. Soft to the touch and plush, Victor would have been tempted to keep it for himself had he not already planned to give it to Yuuri as a congratulatory gift once he won.

"Just smile that winning smile of yours, give him the gift, and ask him out to dinner," Chris said, sounding half-amused. "Maybe sweep him off his feet while your at it. He certainly did the same to you. I don't think I've ever heard you ask for a day off in all the years we've been working together, Victor, and now you asked for a week just to woo him with your charms."

"I can't help it, Chris," Victor said. He looked at the plush, then down at his free hand, remembered the solid heat of Yuuri's body under his palm and wrapped around him like a lover, leading him through dance after dance until Victor could hardly breathe with helpless mirth spilling from his lips. "He's just..."

"Stunning? The best thing since sliced bread?" Chris chuckled, and Victor couldn't help but join in.

"Even better."

"If that's the case, you better not waste the week I gave you." Under his voice, Victor could hear Chris rustling about and the low murmur of voices of other people. "Yuuri is... much more than you think, Victor. If you're going to go after him, you'll have to commit yourself to it."

Victor blinked, and his brows furrowed slightly as he asked, "Did you know him before?"

Chris hummed, noncommittal. "Something like that." Before Victor could ask anything else, Chris said, "I've got a meeting to get to, Victor. Some of us still have work to do."

Victor smiled. "All right. Bye, Chris."

With a parting farewell and a promise to call later on in the day, Chris ended the call with a twiddle of his fingers. Almost immediately afterwards, Victor's phone pinged with a new message - one from Yuuri saying that he'd finally landed.

Victor brightened considerably, the heavy sickness bearing down on his shoulders practically nonexistent.

How was your flight?

Are you tired? Should I let you rest?

I'm fine, the flight was fine. We can talk a bit if you want?

Victor blinked, surprised. Well, if Yuuri wanted to, Victor wouldn't complain.

He pulled up Yuuri's contact and called him, waiting not even half a second before it was picked up.

"Victor?" Yuuri said, and the surprise in his voice was telling enough.

"Was I- ah - Did you not mean talking to each other?" Victor asked in reply. He chuckled a bit sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I can hang up, if you want- "

"No, no, no! It's fine! I just... wasn't expecting it." There was a pause, one Victor decided to let Yuuri break, to see if he was truly all right with this. "... We haven't called each other before."

Victor would call every day if he could, would do everything he could just to stay in closer contact with Yuuri than what texting allowed, but they hadn't really discussed it, and Victor, even though he was blunt and rash at times, hadn't wanted to push boundaries too much so early on.

"Maybe we should start," Victor said, hope seeping into his suggestion.

There was another pause where Victor clutched the phone tight and willed his heart to slow down from its hopeful beat in his chest, but Victor broke out into a smile when Yuuri hesitantly replied, "I'd like that."

"Then let's call more often," Victor said.  He fell back onto the bed, beaming at the ceiling as he put a hand over his chest. "How do you feel about the competition? Nervous?"

Yuuri breathed out a faint laugh. "Definitely nervous. I'm afraid I might fall, but everyone is." He laughed again, and Victor heard some shuffling on the other end. He wondered what Yuuri was doing. "My sister will be in the stands. My ballet teacher, too. It isn't the first time, but..."

"You can't help but feel nervous anyway?" Victor finished, his smile shifting into something softer. Nostalgic. "It was the same for me, when I first started skating. I'd cause trouble to get my mind off of it, and Yakov talked my ear off every time. It wasn't until I made it to Seniors that I got a handle on it. I'm sure Yakov probably thanked every god he knew for it."

"Really?" Yuuri breathed, a bit wondrous, and it was funny, how hearing his voice so close made Victor want to have him here beside him. He shifted onto his side and tried to make himself more comfortable, but it only served to awaken the beginnings of an ache at the back of his head. He ignored it in favor of focusing on Yuuri's voice. "I didn't think you ever got nervous. You were always so confident in your skating that I thought, well, that you never felt nervous about it at all." Yuuri laughed a bit and sounded a bit embarrassed when he said, "I guess that was naive of me, thinking about it now."

Victor hummed, closing his eyes. "Maybe," he said, quiet. "But I thought the same after watching you skate at the Grand Prix Final. You skated so beautifully that I couldn't look away, Yuuri, and afterwards, when we danced together, you were amazing. Someone like that, I thought, knew what they were doing to everyone else - to me."

It was terribly honest, more open than Victor was ever used to being so quickly, but he wanted this. He wanted Yuuri and everything that entailed, and he didn't want to beat around the bush for it.

When Yuuri paused on the other end, the breath rushing out of him in a sigh that Victor relished in, he couldn't help but feel pleased when Yuuri murmured a soft, "Flatterer."

"Only for five-time figure skating world champions who deserve it," Victor said, the beginnings of a grin twitching at the corners of his lips.

"I'm only a four-time champion," Yuuri pointed out.

"Did I say five-time champions?" Victor asked, feigning genuine confusion. "I meant beautiful figure skaters named Katsuki Yuuri."

Yuuri laughed. "And what did Katsuki Yuuri do to deserve to be flattered by CG 's top model Victor Nikiforov?"

"Dip me while dancing," Victor replied, and Yuuri's laugh became brighter.

Victor kind of really wanted to listen to it for forever, twenty-four-seven, in his dreams and every waking moment.

Closing his eyes, basking in the overwhelming warmth in his chest, Victor listened as his world became nothing but Yuuri Yuuri Yuuri .

 


 

Victor dreamt of a Yuuri who offered him smiles without reservation and called him Vitya , all comfort and warmth, and Victor woke to a fierce want in his heart to have that in his life someday.

Throughout the rest of the day, he murmured Yura under his breath, murmured, zolotse , lyubov moya , solnyshko, and wondered how they came so easily, these endearments, and why they felt so natural rolling off his tongue.

 


 

Yuuri's win was undisputed, unquestioned, a beautiful culmination of all he put into his skating career. Victor wasn't able to meet him once he stepped off the ice, but later in the evening, when the press was less frenzied and Yuuri was calmer though still under the elation of a competition well won, Victor met with him and presented the poodle plush he had specially made for this moment.

"Victor," Yuuri said in obvious surprise, then stopped, looking conflicted, like he didn't know what to do or say.

"Congratulations," Victor said, and offered the poodle once more. Yuuri, after a moment, took it into his arms, looking taken with how soft it was. "Do you like it? I wanted to get something for you, and I remembered your fans tossing poodle plushies and... sushi, I think, after your win at the GPF, so I had one made."

"Made?" Yuuri repeated, faint. He glanced up from where he was staring at the poodle to send Victor an unreadable look.

"Yes, made," Victor repeated, and before Yuuri could say something, like That's too much or You shouldn't have , Victor said, "As a bribe."

Yuuri visibly started, taken aback, and maybe Victor should have worded that better, even if it was what he intended the poodle to be in the first place. "What?"

"To take you out to dinner," Victor clarified, heart twisting in his chest at Yuuri's baffled stare. "I thought we could celebrate your win... and get to know each other more."

"Oh," Yuuri said, and there was that conflicted expression again, but it was wiped away the next moment at Yuuri's hesitant smile. "I need to change, but if you want to, I'd like to have dinner with you too."

Unable to help his responding smile, feeling light with Yuuri's agreeance, Victor asked, "Really?"

"Really. I... I want to get to know you, too, Victor."

Victor willed his heart to stay in his chest at the sight of Yuuri's full smile, his cheeks colored a light pink. When they parted, both of them returning to their rooms to get ready, Victor, for the first time in a long time, felt something like happiness take hold.

 


 

"Chris," Victor said, low and hurried, the words tumbling from his lips in a rush. "Chris, he's amazing. We had dinner just now, and when I was walking him back to his room, he asked if we could meet again. Can I use all of my off-days for the next month? What about the ones I haven't used since I started working? Do they count, too? I was thinking about visiting his rink next time, and- Chris?"

Silence. Chris had hung up.

 


 

"Katsuki Yuuri," Phichit said when he walked into their shared dorm  and caught him staring at the poodle plush for the hundredth time this week, "I need answers - and tips for my quad toe - but mostly answers."

Yuuri jerked his gaze away and snatched up a random book to hide from Phichit's insistent stare. "You need to get more momentum for your quad. You under-rotate it a lot when you don't land it," he said to the book, eyes focused on the singular word confrontation . He was tempted to check the title - it wasn't one of his books since his collection consisted mostly of both rented and bought textbooks and the occasional gift bestowed upon him by Phichit that usually ranged from philosophical writings to ridiculous nonsense... Maybe it was his book. Yuuri didn't spend much of his free time reading, and the books Phichit gave him were usually stowed away for a day when he couldn't concentrate on skating or school, and it wouldn't be surprising to find that this was one of them.

He would check the title if it didn't mean being under Phichit's scrutiny without anything to hide behind.

Unbidden, his eyes drifted back to the poodle sitting at the corner of his bed, propped up against the wall, and Yuuri couldn't contain the elation that overtook him. A gift from Victor. It's not like the Victor in his past lives hadn't given him things before - far from it - but Yuuri couldn't help the hope that had overwhelmed him in that moment, couldn't help it even now, a few weeks after Nationals, while it lingered in his chest like butterflies.

They had stayed in touch after Nationals, texts interspersed with the occasional call when both of their schedules were free. In late January, Yuuri had apologized several times over when Victor asked if he could call, stating that most of his time would be dedicated to practicing for Four Continents, but Victor hadn't minded and cheered Yuuri on everytime. It was heart-warming, Victor's understanding, and Yuuri made sure to call him whenever he could because of it.

Hearing his voice, though, low and gentle or high with excitement, was a bonus. There would never be a life, Yuuri thought, where he wouldn't want to listen to Victor's voice.

Now, with a Four Continents gold under his belt, Yuuri was left with a month of less taxing but still as diligent practice until Worlds rolled around. Victor had video-called him once, after saying that both of his hands were busy and asking if Yuuri would be all right with it. It had been a shock to see Victor's beaming smile again, so much like how it was in their first life together when Victor was healthier, that Yuuri hadn't realized he was staring until Victor pointed it out with a small tease and a laugh.

It made Yuuri's chest ache, the similarities between the Victor he knew now and the one in the past, the smiles and the kindness and the warmth of his eyes.

It made it easier, too, to fall for him no matter how many times Yuuri reprimanded himself. Yuuri's falling was part of the cycle, something inevitable because Yuuri would never not love Victor, just like how their partings always left Yuuri feeling a little more broken and helpless.

"Yuuri," Phichit said, too close for comfort and sounding a bit put out. Yuuri jerked out of his thoughts, whipping around to meet Phichit's deadpan stare. "Just who gave that poodle to you, anyway? You're always staring and smiling at it, like it's..." Phichit's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped slightly as understanding shone in his eyes.

Yuuri shook his head, frantic. "No, no, no! Phichit, no, it's not- "

"Like it's from someone you like ," Phichit exclaimed. A sly grin pulled the corners of his lips high, and Yuuri, well-acquainted with that look after living with Phichit for years, knew that there was no hope left in detracting his attention. "Yuuri! You could have told me! I didn't even know you liked someone other than Victor!" Upon seeing his blush, Phichit paused, scrutinizing his expression as he squirmed, shying away from Phichit as much as he could. "Yuuri," Phichit said, and when Yuuri chanced a glance at him, he saw that he was staring at the poodle with a faintly shell-shocked expression, "tell me that you didn’t get that plush from Victor ."

"I didn't get the plush from Victor," Yuuri tried.

"Liar." Phichit immediately retorted. He snapped his gaze back to Yuuri and clamped both hands down onto his shoulders. "You, Yuuri, are going to tell me everything ."

Because Yuuri couldn't deny Phichit this - or anything at all, really - he told him everything, starting from last year's meeting with Chris, to his and Victor's meeting at the GPF banquet, to what happened at Nationals.

"He came to visit and brought you out to dinner?" Phichit exclaimed when Yuuri reached that point. Somewhat embarrassed by his own overjoyed countenance, Yuuri nodded. "Yuuri, he's totally into you!"

If Yuuri hadn't experienced Victor's crushing rejection a hundred times over, he maybe would have believed Phichit. As it was, he forced a chuckle and said, "Don't get my hopes up, Phichit." I'm already getting ahead of myself. "He's just... Being nice. We're friends, that's all."

"Friends with retired figure skater Victor Nikiforov," Phichit corrected, fixing him with a stern expression. "The one hanging on your wall right there, the one that you said inspired you to figure skate, the reason why you collect CG 's fashion magazines even though you could care less about fashion!"

"I- " Yuuri blinked, taken aback. "I'm fashionable."

Phichit shook his head, sounding apologetic as he replied, "Yuuri, you're my best friend in the whole world, but I hate to tell you that sometimes I wonder if all you have in your closet are black and blue shirts and sweats and jeans."

"I like blue," Yuuri defended. "And I don't need much else, anyway. Besides, I have a suit in there, too."

"One you probably wore to your high school graduation," Phichit said. He set a hand on Yuuri's shoulder. "Don't worry, Yuuri. That's why I'm here."

"To judge what I wear?"

"No, to make sure you don't go out in public looking like your closet threw up on you." At Yuuri's defeated sigh, Phichit smiled. "So? Are you going to meet up with Victor anytime soon? Ciao Ciao might be more lenient now because Worlds is still pretty far away, and isn't Victor into the whole surprise thing? A surprise visit!"

Yuuri would be lying if he said that he hadn't thought about it. It was just that getting closer to Victor was a step he both wanted and feared, afraid for what may come afterwards, when they wouldn't be as close anymore. The first few lives where Yuuri had tried to get closer, craving what they had before, he'd only been left disappointed and heart-achingly lonely. It was better to keep his distance, in the end... but Yuuri had promised himself to make the most of whatever time he had with Victor this time around, after lifetimes of holding him at arm's length to avoid getting hurt and others of carelessly handing his heart over without thinking about the possibility that Victor hadn't - didn't - want it in the first place.

Yuuri just wanted to be close, close enough that he could be there when Victor needed it, close enough to appease the throb of pain in his heart.

"I thought about it," Yuuri admitted, much to Phichit's glee, "but I don't want to interrupt his work or take up his time, and... I'm not even sure if he'd like me there."

Phichit clicked his tongue disapprovingly, wagging a finger. "Our life isn't long enough for doubts," he said, and when Yuuri moved to say something, Phichit added, "Besides, if his completely unnecessary surprise visit to Nationals, and the romantic dinner he reserved for you two- "

"It wasn't romantic ," Yuuri protested. "It wasn't even reserved! We just went- "

"- if that was anything to go by," Phichit continued, completely disregarding Yuuri's interjection for the sake of dramatics, "then it has to mean he's a little interested. Compared to what he did, I'm sure a surprise visit to his house is nothing to worry about. It's not like his address isn't on the internet, anyway."

"Phichit!"

"What? It's true. Just search up Victor Nikiforov, and you'll find his wiki page- "

"I don't want to intrude!"

"As if you could ever intrude on anything, Yuuri," Phichit said. Seeing as Yuuri seemed to need much more reassurance than that, he added, "Seeing you at his door would probably be like a gift from heaven to him, anyway."

Yuuri buried his face into his hands, but going by Phichit's cackle, it didn't do much to hide his flustered blush.

 


 

Yuuri spent the following days with his mind half-occupied over what to do.

"Are you all right?" Celestino had asked once, his lips pulled into a pronounced frown. "You seem distracted."

Yuuri had smiled and reassured him with a half-baked lie about thinking over the jumps in his short program, and Celestino's concern had disappeared altogether as he launched into a discussion about how he was thinking that Yuuri could add more quads into both of his programs, if he was up for the challenge. Yuuri had willingly went along with the conversation, glad to be focusing on something other than Victor and his worries about possibly visiting him, and by the end of the day, he and Celestino had added a quad into his short program and another into his free skate.

High on a program well executed, Yuuri had asked, after finishing off his free skate, "What about another - at the end?"

Celestino had adopted a pensive expression, and Yuuri had been afraid that he might shoot the suggestion down, but he had only said, "If you can show me you can do it, I don't see why not."

Grateful for something to focus his nervous energy to, Yuuri came to practice earlier, stayed later, sometimes going through his free skate time and time again to see if he could manage the quad at the end, while other times, when most of the skaters left, he'd stay on the ice and do figure eights like he used to back in Hasetsu, wondering if Phichit's insistent reassurances over his plan to surprise Victor were misplaced.

In the end, a call from Chris ended his struggles.

"You want me to do some shots for your Spring collection?" Yuuri repeated, baffled.

"Well, yes, a sponsorship goes both ways, cheri . If I had to be honest, though, I’d much prefer you in my Summer collection," Chris said, sounding amused on the other end. "I'll take care of transportation and where you'll be staying for the few days you'll be here, so you don't have to worry about that." He paused for a moment, but before Yuuri could bring himself to say something, stunned by his stroke of luck, Chris added, "Besides, between the both of us, you're doing me the bigger favor."

"Huh?" Yuuri said, painstakingly eloquent.

"Victor's been insufferable after his little visit to you during Nationals," Chris revealed with a short sigh. "He's been trying to get me to give him the next year off so that he could do something like sweep you off your feet and ask your hand in marriage." Yuuri's heart shot to his throat, his mind short-circuiting at the thought of Victor wanting to marry him. Unperturbed by Yuuri's silence, Chris continued, "Anyway, having you here will keep Victor... relatively calm, I suppose, so don't worry about a thing, Yuuri, I've got everything covered."

Yuuri snapped himself out of his shock and managed a slightly choked, "O-Oh, um, all right."

"All right indeed," Chris said, and it sounded like he was grinning that way Phichit did whenever a plan was going smoothly, all cheshire-cat-like and sly. Yuuri shivered. "Don't think too hard, Yuuri. I'll see you soon."

"Y-yeah," Yuuri stuttered, still off-balanced by Chris' blunt reveal. "I'll... I'll see you later, Chris."

He sat there, staring at nothing for a long, long time, unable - perhaps unwilling - to comprehend Chris' words. Victor wanted- Victor wanted to woo him? Unbelievable. Victor wanted to go as far as marry him? Maybe in Yuuri's dreams. Everything Chris had said seemed straight out of a dream, anyway. The offer, how Victor was doing - all of it. But Yuuri was awake, was conscious and coherent, and even if he was a master at painting things in a darker light than they really were, he couldn't do it with this, not when that bud of hope persisting in his chest bloomed into something too much for him to handle.

He buried his smile into his hands, disbelief tingling pleasantly down his spine. Victor wanted him - liked him, even - and he was trying to build something more between him, something that Yuuri, after the first handful of cycles, refused to even think about anymore. A laugh escaped his lips, bright and beautiful and so filled with hope. Too much of it. Something like happiness warmed his body from head to toe, made him feel the lightest he ever had in lifetimes.

He sat there, basking in his overwhelming joy, thought of all the of the futures they never had with each other, let himself think, for the first time in a long time, I want this .

By the time he managed to shake himself out of his stupor, Phichit was standing at the doorway, panting.

In his hands was a magazine. On it, emblazoned stamped in bold white print, was: CG'S TOP MODEL VICTOR NIKIFOROV SPOTTED AT DINNER WITH UNKNOWN WOMAN!

 


 

Stupid, stupid, stupid--

 


 

"Hey," Phichit ventured as he watched Yuuri get ready to leave. Phichit had offered to help, but Yuuri had said he didn't need it. "Are you going to be all right?"

Yuuri smiled at him. "I promise I'll be all right, Phichit."

Phichit frowned. "But the article- "

"I know what the article said," Yuuri said, sighing. Admittedly, there wasn't much to it. Some fans caught Victor out on what looked like a date with another beautiful woman. They apparently were having a good time, but there wasn't a photo to go with the claims besides the one they slapped beside the text. One could make out Victor easily, given his hair, but the woman beside him was partially obscured by a passing waiter. Yuuri would be lying if he said that his heart hadn't dropped upon seeing it, but he beat back his anxious mindset enough to think without the insistent voice in his head chanting idiot, idiot, why did you even hope-- He slipped his backpack on, taking a hold of his suitcase, and looked at Phichit with what he hoped was a reassuring gaze. "But I also know what Chris told me, too."

Between the two, he concluded then, he'd put his faith in Chris, but...

"I... I also want to hold onto him for as long as I can," Yuuri said. It was too late now to back away from Victor, not after he let himself believe in the possibility that this growing thing between them could become something more, and if Yuuri ended up heartbroken again, then, well, that was something for Yuuri to think about later. He promised Victor forever, no holds barred, and Yuuri distancing himself to linger just on the edge of Victor's world.... He realized now, that that wasn't the forever he had promised.

I'll stay by your side , he had told Victor then, tremulous but determined. You'll never have to say goodbye.

At Phichit's worried frown, Yuuri added, "I promise to be careful if it'll make you feel better."

"You better," Phichit said, crossing his arms. "I don't know what I'll do if you come back crying your eyes out, but I'll do something! Victor won't be able to hide from me no matter what."

All at once, Yuuri felt a pang of sadness hit his heart. He would miss Phichit, after this life, but this was no time to think about that, not when Phichit was still alive and well before him. He squared his shoulders and managed a grateful smile. "Thanks, Phichit. You're the best."

"Don't you know it," Phichit replied. He returned his grin and waved him off. "Go and have fun. See if you can get Chris to give you something from his collection while you're there, too!"

 


 

Chris met him at the airport, sporting an outfit Yuuri knew was from his company because he remembered Victor wearing that same coat.

"Yuuri," Chris greeted, meeting him halfway. He looked haggard, tired around the edges, and Yuuri wondered if it was from the stress of managing a company or Victor's supposedly relentless badgering. "I'm glad you could make it."

Chris smiled at him, genial with the slightest curve of gratitude tipping one corner of his lips. Yuuri had been surprised upon seeing him in this life, once again at Victor's side. He'd been a mutual friend of theirs the last time Yuuri met him, teasing and blunt but easy to get along with even when Yuuri had tried to keep to himself when it came to getting close to others. He'd been relieved to see that Chris hadn't changed despite the new life, being the owner of his own fashion line now where he'd been studying in the health sciences before, and Yuuri, unable to help it, reforged that old bond when they met again.

"Thank you for having me," Yuuri said in reply, pulling along his suitcase as they passed through the airport. "I don't actually know what I'm supposed to do for photoshoots like these. I usually just do commercials and say the lines they give me."

Chris shrugged and offered him a reassuring smile. "It's exactly the same but without the lines." They passed through the exit and stepped into the late winter air, Chris briskly striding over to a car parked just outside. "Come inside," he said, "Al will take care of your suitcase."

"Ah, all right."

Once Al started the car, they rode in silence for a few minutes, and Yuuri took the chance to take in the cloudy sky and the skyscrapers in the distance, the cars making dangerous - if not illegal - maneuvers on the road and, once they got into the heart of the city, the people on the sidewalks. Just another city in Yuuri's eyes after years of traveling to big-name places across the world, but it was the one Victor lived in, and maybe that was why despite the clouded skies, everything appeared bright, alive.

Chris cleared his throat. "Well, then, I might as well get this out sooner rather than later." Chris sighed, and almost immediately Yuuri went on edge, uncertain. Chris glanced at him, offering an apologetic half-smile. "The room I intended to pay for you was unfortunately taken, as were all the other rooms in that hotel and the others close to the company. They were all booked because a popular band - Future Makers? History something? - is coming to play here in two days." Chris, upon seeing Yuuri's stricken expression, chuckled a bit. "Don't worry, cheri , I found a place where you can stay. It just won't be in a hotel."

Yuuri schooled his expression into something less anxious, though he could feel the concern bleeding through. "Oh," he said, rubbing his hands together. He glanced up at Chris and saw a familiar glint in his eyes - one Yuuri often found in Phichit's gaze. "Where would that be?"

Chris smiled fully. "With Victor, of course. He was quick to offer his apartment when he heard about my little problem, and you two are friends." Crossing his legs, Chris looked absolutely devious as he continued in a carefully nonchalant tone. "I have to admit that Victor's place is nice, though a bit on the empty side. He has a guest room on the other side of the apartment you can use, complete with a bathroom and a closet and everything else you can or can't think of, and I thought you'd like it."

Like what? Yuuri wanted to ask. He had resolved to hold onto Victor for as long as he could, but he hadn't expected this kind of situation when he was thinking about what to do or say to Victor once he saw him. "O-Oh," Yuuri managed to choke out. He swallowed and reached up to fiddle with the ring hanging from his neck, a nervous gesture, and Chris' eyes zeroed in on it. "If he offered, then I guess it's fine."

"More than offered," Chris replied, humming. He didn't elaborate though, and maybe it was for the best. Yuuri's nerves were already wrecked without knowing what Victor did or said to get  Chris to agree to let him stay there.

It wasn’t long before the car pulled up in front of an apartment complex with sleek walls and glimmering, wide windows. Yuuri couldn’t make out much through the tinted windows of the front double doors, but what he could had his lips pulling into a hesitant half-smile, vaguely uncomfortable with the grandeur of the place. He hesitated for a moment, half-thinking that he could somehow persuade Chris that he could find another place to stay, but then he caught a flash of silver heading towards them, and his half-formed plans fell to waste.

“Yuuri!” Victor exclaimed once Chris opened his door. He poked his head inside, shooting Yuuri a wide, blinding grin. Yuuri was struck by how familiar it was, the way it shaped into a heart that was utterly endearing even with a full lifetime of memories of it saved within the safe of his heart.

“Victor,” Yuuri breathed, caught off guard. Despite how fondly Yuuri remembered Victor’s exuberant smiles, this was the first time in a long time that Yuuri’s ever saw it directed at him. He faltered. “...Thank you, um, for all of this. You didn’t have to.”

“I wanted to,” Victor assured him. He opened his mouth to say more, but Chris set a hand on his shoulder and held him back.

“As much as I enjoy being in the middle of everything,” Chris said with an amused quirk of his lips, and Yuuri winced, “I’d rather get Yuuri settled down first before you two start flirting.”

Yuuri’s cheeks flushed and, flustered, he stammered a vague agreement before all but throwing himself out of the car to collect his bags, which he had insisted on taking himself. Victor, though, had managed to swindle a duffel bag before Yuuri could even think about getting to it and cheerily led the way up to his apartment despite Yuuri’s weak protests.

Once they arrived, Yuuri couldn’t help the way his eyes widened at how spacious it was, how sleek and modern it looked, despite the fact that he’d already had an inkling of how it’d look given the entire complex’s interior. Light spilled in from the tall windows, gentle but warm, the golden rays a sharp contrast to the blues and greys of the apartment. It looked beautiful, nothing out of place, and Yuuri knew that he’d enjoy being here even if it seemed a bit cold.

“So?” Victor asked as he set the duffle down by the couch. He glanced over at Yuuri, something shining in his eyes.

“It’s nice,” Yuuri said. When Victor pouted at his lackluster response, he hastily amended it: “It’s great- amazing, actually! Wow!”

Victor chuckled, and from behind him, Chris let out something that sounded like a snort. Yuuri averted his gaze and rubbed at his cheeks, feeling how warm they were.

“I’m glad you like it,” Victor said. He paused, putting a finger to his lips as he looked to the side. “I cleaned up the guest room for you. It’s right through that door. Do you want help settling in?”

“Or,” Chris added with a smirk Yuuri didn’t need to even see to know that it was pulling at Chris’ lips, “you can go on and settle yourself in Victor’s room instead. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

Victor let out a laugh, unbothered by Chris’ teasing, but Yuuri, blushing, furiously shook his head. With a quick, murmur of, “I’ll be right back,” Yuuri grabbed his bags and excused himself to the guest room as Chris and Victor started light conversation.

The moment he was out of view, Yuuri breathed out, letting the anticipation coiled tight in his stomach to finally relax slightly. He’d managed to keep it under wraps for the most part, put Yuuri’s skin was tingling with just the thought of being in Victor’s home, being the closest he’s ever been to Victor in months, lifetimes , even. Memories were prodding at him, and aimless wonderings were crossing his mind as he studied Victor’s home.

Did he still like tea? He used to, all those years ago, warm and sweetened with honey. Yuuri also spotted a small potted plant as he walked in, green and healthy. It seemed Victor had gotten better in that department; he used to be dismal at gardening and the like no matter how enthusiastic his drive to grow even the easiest of plants.

A wan smile crossed Yuuri’s lips at the thoughts. He glanced around the minimalistic guest room, then down to the bags by his feet, and felt something hesitant and cautious stir in his gut. A warning.

Just because he made it this far didn’t mean anything. Yuuri was just a friend Victor lent a hand to. Just because he made Yuuri feel like everything would be all right didn’t mean it would be; Victor always made him feel that way, whether or not things really did turn out fine in the end, and Yuuri had long since realized that he was powerless to stop what Victor wanted or chose - especially when what Victor wanted wasn’t him.

Yuuri closed his eyes, breathed in deep. Just for as long as he wants , Yuuri reminded himself. No more, no less.

Despite the similarities, despite how Yuuri’s heart ached something fierce, the Victor he knew now wasn’t the Victor he knew then. It’d be cruel if Yuuri held Victor to a past he didn’t even know existed, and Yuuri had no intention of doing so. Victor was free to do what he wanted, be with who he wanted, without Yuuri cutting in a telling him - begging him - to stay with him, a practical stranger.

He breathed out, opened his eyes. Sunlight shone bright through the single window in the room.

It’ll be fine, he decided.

He’ll be fine.

 


 

Living with Victor was overwhelming.

Victor was bright and bubbly in the ungodly hours of the morning, while Yuuri, used to waking up before noon but not this early, could only manage faint mumbles of, “Good morning,” and vague grunts of agreement or disagreement whenever Victor asked him something. Yuuri would care more about the image he was presenting to Victor if he were more awake - and he would, later on in the day, mortified by how coldly he’d treat Victor with sleepy silence and brusque replies - but Victor only ever seemed to be amused by his morning persona, if not a bit endeared.

(“It’s fine,” Victor would reassure him, smile light and heart-warming. “You’re so adorable in the morning, Yuuri.”

And Yuuri would flush and fluster every time, and Victor would laugh, and everything would seem right .)

After Chris had left the day Yuuri settled in, he’d sent him a schedule that left Yuuri feeling exhausted just looking at it, booked back to back for the better half of the week. When Yuuri had asked Victor about his schedule, Victor had smiled at him, innocent as could be.

“We’re working together,” he said. “Didn’t Chris tell you?”

No, Chris had not told him. Now, day in and day out, Yuuri was surrounded by Victor. Victor in the morning with his clothes rumpled from sleep sitting across from him at the dinner table, foot brushing against his. Victor on the way to work, eyes bright and full of energy Yuuri could only hope to have every morning. Victor in the workplace, decked out in clothes from Chris’ collection, standing right beside him - along with, sometimes, the model from the article, Mila Babicheva, who in actuality was just Victor’s friend and very much taken by a sweet woman named Sara - the heavy lights overhead dim in comparison to Victor’s brilliance.

Victor in the evenings, who seemed to make it his life’s mission to send Yuuri to an early grave with small touches and warm smiles.

“Would you like to go out tonight?” Victor would ask as they made their way back to Victor’s apartment. It wasn’t that far of a walk, and Yuuri enjoyed these moments where he could stand beside Victor and bask in his presence.

Yuuri would look over at him and feel his heart twist at the glimmer of hope in Victor’s eyes. He’d snap his gaze away, say, with a reassuring smile to lessen the rejection, “I’m a bit tired. Maybe another day?”

And Victor, despite the way his eyes would dim around the edges, would accept his lousy excuse every time. It made Yuuri’s heart tremble dangerously in his chest, but he quelled it and reminded himself that it’d be even harder to let Victor go if he got any closer. Sharing the same space with him was more than enough. Any more, and Yuuri feared that he’d never be able to walk away from Victor again.

They’d arrive back to Victor’s apartment, maybe share a dinner if Yuuri could steel himself to. Dinners were always harder, for some reason, a tension strung taut in every fibre of Yuuri’s being unlike at breakfast when Yuuri was sleep-hazed and too tired to think too much about anything - but Victor was charming, and kind, and it’d always been easy for him to open Yuuri up more than he ever planned to. Those nights, when Yuuri laughed along with Victor, socked feet brushing, the lights overhead shining in their eyes - those were the nights Yuuri cherished.

Today, though, was different.

“It looks like I’m the one not feeling too well today,” Victor chuckled as he pressed a hand to his eyes. Yuuri just finished his last shoot a few minutes before. Victor, having been pulled aside by Chris after one too many failed shots and told to sit this set out, had decided to wait for Yuuri before heading home, despite the meaningful looks Chris sent his way.

Beside him, Yuuri worriedly watched as Victor heaved a sigh, shoulders slumping. “Should we get a ride back?” Yuuri asked. He wanted to reach out but couldn’t bring himself to.

Victor shook his head. “I’m fine.” He pulled his lips into a bright smile. “Let’s go.”

The walk back was straining, Yuuri caught between rushing back and keeping a slow, steady pace for Victor, but in the end they made it back with Victor relatively fine. Yuuri set about the kitchen, already filling a glass of water and pressing it into Victor’s warm hands with a gentle order to go change and rest. Victor shot him a grateful look before he left, and it startled Yuuri for a moment.

(In their first life, Victor had given him that same look, too, before he passed.)

Yuuri shook his head and set out in search of the medicine cabinet. By the time he found it (in the low cabinet beside the fridge, worryingly sparse), Victor had already drifted off into a doze. Tucked beneath the covers as he was, looking exhausted even in his sleep, Yuuri was reluctant to shake him awake.

“Victor,” he said as Victor’s eyes blinked open. Other than the exhaustion and the abnormal heat of his skin, Victor seemed to be fine. “I brought you some medicine. Do you want to eat something first?”

Victor shook his head. “No,” he said. When he didn’t take the offered tablet, instead searching Yuuri’s expression with weary blue eyes, Yuuri felt worry bubble up anew, though before he could say anything, Victor pulled himself up and asked, “Why do you look so sad around me?”

Yuuri started. “What?”

“You look like I broke your heart, sometimes,” Victor said. Yuuri couldn’t look away. “I don’t know why.”

“Victor,” Yuuri said, stomach dropping. “No, that’s not- “

“I just want to make you happy,” Victor said. He looked at Yuuri as if pleading him to believe it. “I just want to be with you, Yuuri.” Yuuri’s heart stumbled, and he sucked in a breath. Victor shook his head and looked down at his lap. “I understand if you weren’t - if you don’t want to. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions without- “

"I want- I want this. I want to try, being with you and- and making you happy, too," Yuuri said, stumbling over the words as they rushed out of him. Victor stared, heart in his throat, as Yuuri continued, eyes looking everywhere but at Victor, his hands fidgeting nervously at the hem of his shirt. “It’s all I ever wanted. I don’t- You’re the only one I want, Victor.”

Reaching out, the gentle touch to Yuuri's cheek startling him into silence, Victor offered a wavering smile. "I love you."

Yuuri's eyes widened, his breath visibly hitching in his throat. He didn't look like he was breathing, shocked to the core with Victor's soft declaration. Smiling wider, Victor continued, "I love you, and I'm sure I fell for you the moment you danced with me back at the GPF banquet, because you were so bright and so warm and everything I've lost in my life until I was in your arms, and you in mine, and I thought..." Victor paused, looked at him with such obvious adoration in his eyes that Yuuri shivered. "I thought, I never want to let this man go ."

"Victor," Yuuri started, but didn't know where to go from there.

"Yuuri," Victor said and, taking both Yuuri's hands into his, looked like everything he wanted in the world was right there, in Yuuri. "You've already made me the happiest person in the world, saying that you want this."

"I- You did - do , too," Yuuri struggled to say. "Just- just you talking to me makes me happy, so much, I- I don't know what to do, sometimes, because it's just. Too much."

"I'm glad," Victor murmured, his smile turning soft and private. It was a beautiful thing, and Yuuri found himself enraptured by it, at the fact that it was meant for him. Then, all at once, with a wide, heart-shaped smile, Victor yanked on their joined hands, pulling Yuuri onto the bed too. "Think of all the things we can do together! We'll have to start now so that we can get as much as possible done before you have to leave."

Yuuri sputtered. trying not to think too hard about the firm plane of Victor's chest, the toned muscles of his abdomen. "What?"

"Holding hands, going out on dates, cuddling on the couch - those kinds of things," Victor said, then his jubilant expression faltered. "Did you think- I wasn't insinuating that we should- "

"No, I know," Yuuri hurried to reassure, face up in flames. "It was just sudden. I wasn't prepared?" He finished, voice lilting like he was unsure of his explanation.

"Oh," Victor said, and Yuuri could feel him relaxing beneath him, a small wonder in Yuuri's world. One of his hands slipped from Yuuri's to settle into his hair, running through soft black strands. "Will you tell me about it someday? What you were talking about after the banquet?"

Ah. That.

"I will," Yuuri said, because it would be unfair to Victor if he didn't, and Yuuri wanted him to know, even if he wouldn't believe it, of their past lives together. He leaned more comfortably against Victor, relished in his warmth, and sighed. "I promise."

Victor didn't say anything for a long, long moment, and Yuuri thought he might have drifted back to sleep, but when Yuuri glanced up, it was to see Victor with tears gathering in his eyes. Yuuri sat up, alarmed.

"Victor?" Yuuri asked, beginning to fret. "What's wrong? Are you upset? Are you hurting somewhere? Did I- ?"

Victor was quick to cut in. "No, no, it's not you, solnyshko -well, I think it is, but not- not in the way you think. I'm not entirely sure what came over me myself." He didn't seem to notice the way Yuuri froze upon hearing solnyshko , was busy wiping at his eyes with apparent surprise. "I just thought, Finally , when you were lying against me, and I didn't even notice I was crying until just now."

Solnyshko , Victor had said. Finally , he had thought. Yuuri pressed his lips together to keep them from trembling and, without thinking, wrapped his arms around Victor's shoulders and held on tight.

"I love you," Yuuri said. and he tried, desperately, to keep from tearing up. I've loved you for so long, he would tell Victor later, but not today. Today he had Victor in his arms, crying because maybe, somewhere, there was a piece of the Victor he'd first grown to adore within him. "So, so much."

Victor held onto him just as tight, and for the first time in a long time, Yuuri promised to do whatever he could to stay here in the circle of Victor's arms.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 



"Excuse me."

Yuuri glanced up, eyes widening when he saw a familiar pair of blue eyes smiling at him. Pink dusted pale cheeks. It- it couldn't be. It was.

"Uh," Yuuri said, unable to believe it - unable to believe that he was really here, standing before him, alive and well. He swallowed the nerves, the words shoving their way insistently up his throat, and said, small but hopeful. "Hello."

Despite Yuuri's promise, Victor was the one to find him first.

"My name's Victor," Victor said, making himself comfortable in the seat beside him. He shot Yuuri a beautiful heart-shaped smile, and it sent a pang of nostalgia through his chest at the sight of it. "What's your name?"

Yuuri stared for a moment, not comprehending, and when he realized that though it was Victor sitting beside him, smiling at him, he didn't remember anything of their past life. It... hurt. Still, Yuuri managed to smile, said, "I'm Yuuri.  Nice to meet you," and when they shook hands, Yuuri hoped that he'd never have to let him go.

That life, after years of friendship, Victor pulled away from him, put on a mask of friendliness whenever Yuuri tried to confront him, and avoided every worried question, every concerned glance Yuuri shot him, until they went their separate ways no matter how hard Yuuri tried to stay connected to him, and Yuuri never saw Victor again.

(He didn't know, not then when he was overcome with the grief of Victor no longer wanting him - that just because they shared one life together, it didn't mean Victor would only want him - that Victor was sick. That he passed thinking of Yuuri, and that he wished he could have held onto him for just a little longer.)

 

 


 

It wasn't long before Yuuri had to go, Worlds creeping closer by the day. Victor had hugged him every chance he got, stating something ridiculous and embarrassingly sappy: "I need to stock up on you, Yuuri! I'm going to miss you when you go."

"I'll call every chance I get," Yuuri promised when Victor pulled him into another hug, tight with words unsaid, feelings Yuuri wasn't sure if he could handle quite yet. "And I'll... I'll try to visit when the season's over."

Victor shook his head, though. "Don't worry about it, Yuuri, you still need to focus on Worlds," Victor said into his ear. He leaned his head against Yuuri's, and Yuuri could hear the smile in his voice as he added, "My boyfriend's going to be a five-time World Champion."

Heat flooded Yuuri's face. "I- " Words failed him, fixated on boyfriend like it was a novel idea, and he stuttered through half-formed sentences as Victor chuckled and pulled him even closer. "Worlds hasn't even started yet!"

"You already won in my heart."

" Victor ," Yuuri groaned, but he was happy, the happiest he’d ever been in so long.

"I can't wait to kiss your medal," Victor sighed. He leaned back to shoot Yuuri the full force of his warm smile. "I'll be rooting for you."

Emboldened by reasons he couldn't place, Yuuri leaned up and pressed his lips to Victor's, smiling all the while. When he settled back on his feet, it was to see Victor staring at him with wide eyes, his lips parted. Yuuri wanted to kiss him again, and the idea was only more enticing at the fact that he finally could .

The choice was taken out of his hands, though, when Victor snapped out of his daze. "God, I'm going to miss you," Victor half-whispered, before tugging Yuuri back in to kiss him for far, far longer.

When Worlds finally came around, Yuuri's win was unquestioned, lauded as the greatest skate of the season. The gold medal rested proudly around his neck, gleaming bright as cameras flashed and the crowd cheered, and Yuuri wanted, desperately and suddenly, for Victor to be here.

"Smile," said Otabek Altin, this year's bronze medalist, and Yuuri jerked out of his thoughts. However, when Yuuri glanced over at him - because while they've skated against each other a handful of times, they never actually exchanged words - he saw that it was directed to Yuri Plisetsky, the scowling silver medalist.

"I saw someone I could have lived the rest of my life without," Yuri growled. Still, he wiped the scowl off his face and schooled his expression into something lighter, though not quite the smile that was asked of him. "Besides, he needs to smile too." He jerked his chin over at Yuuri, who started when Yuri's sharp eyes bore into his. "You look like you're about to cry, and not in the happy way, either. What? A gold medal not enough for you anymore?"

"Yuri," Otabek sighed, a reprimand without sounding like one.

Yuri huffed and rolled his eyes, holding his medal higher. "Next year, I'm taking gold," he said, and Yuuri looked over at him out of the corner of his eyes. For better or for worse, Yuuri had never talked to Yuri Plisetsky, the up-and-coming star skater from Russia who was predicted to be just as good as - if not better than - Victor, their last legend. His talent was undisputable, his drive apparent, and Yuuri saw, just for a moment, how amazing Yuri could be.

He smiled. It came easier now. "I can't wait until then," he said, and when Yuri clicked his tongue and Otabek's shoulders relaxed from their severe line, Yuuri felt, for a split-second, anticipation for the next season overtake the longing for Victor.

"Yuuri!"

His smile faltered, and his head snapped towards the voice - Victor's voice - and saw Victor standing by the entrance, waving his arms and smiling so wide it made Yuuri's cheeks hurt just looking at him. His heart thumped furiously in his chest, lips parting in a soft, Oh , that was swallowed up by the audience before Yuuri pressed his lips together into a shaky smile because Victor was there. Distantly, underneath his heartbeat and Victor's voice still calling out to him, Yuuri heard Yuri mutter, "What is he doing?"

When Victor noticed that he had Yuuri's attention, he held his arm out wide, heart-shaped smile brimming with clear joy.

And Yuuri - Yuuri was pulled to him, to his overwhelming affection and blinding presence, could never deny Victor's open arms when they were meant for him. He crossed the ice between them in no time at all, a joy he so rarely let himself feel tugging the corners of his lips into a bright smile. He had only half a moment to think I love you so, so much before he launched himself at Victor, heedless of the crowd, of the people watching, and pressed their lips together.

With the cheering crowd loud in his ears beside his pounding pulse, Yuuri thought it was beautiful, how surprise looked shining in Victor's wide blue eyes, before they fell to the ground.

(He kind of wanted to do it again, surprising Victor - he would do it again, and every time, he'd fall a little more in love with Victor.)

(Every time, Victor would fall a little more in love with him, too.)

 


 

Victor had his hands on the waist of the most gorgeous dancer he's ever laid his eyes on, bright and beautiful and the warmest thing Victor's ever held with his two hands. They were close, hips and chests pressed together as Victor tipped his head back, letting out a harsh breath as the dancer - Yuuri, he’d said - rolled his hips against his.

"I want you," Yuuri murmured as he pressed closer, and Victor wanted him to stay there, . "So, so much. I- "

"I do, too," Victor gasped. He fumbled, pushed Yuuri away a fraction to say, breathless, "Can we- to my room?"

Yuuri looked at him, breathing hard, and Victor startled at the lost expression that'd taken over at his suggestion. He was about to take it back until Yuuri's eyes shuttered off, and he said, quiet, "Please."

So Victor did, pressing butterfly kisses to every inch of Yuuri's skin, loving the way Yuuri touched him with reverence in his gaze.

(When he woke up the next day, it was to Yuuri gone and a small note on the other pillow with a phone number scrawled onto it. Oh, Victor thought, this is what he wants.

So he called, and Yuuri always came, something dark and inexplicably sad in his eyes no matter how much he tried to hide it, and Victor thought, I'm hurting him.

One night, tears slipped from Yuuri's eyes, and Victor- Victor didn't call him again after that. Couldn't.)

 

 


 

It was a year later when they were inside Victor's apartment, Victor in Yuuri's arms as they both laid on the couch, that Yuuri leaned down and pressed his lips to Victor's  supposed bald spot, closing his eyes.

Victor twitched. "Yuuri?" he mumbled, and Yuuri couldn't stop it, the words he'd always ached to tell Victor.

Voice quiet and with Victor secured in his arms, Yuuri told him everything.

Afterwards, Victor took him into his room, laid beside him on the bed and tucked Yuuri's head under his chin. "Thank you for telling me," he said, acceptance easy, voice breaking quietly at the end. He curled closer around Yuuri, as if to protect him, and Yuuri couldn't stop the way his lower lip trembled. "Thank you for always finding me, and for loving me after all this time."

"I don't think I could love anyone else," Yuuri murmured, an admittance, a not-secret he hadn't told anyone else. He soaked in Victor's warmth and managed to smile. "Thank you, Victor."

"For what?"

"For giving me the chance to love you properly, and... and for loving me, too."

Victor shut his eyes, whispered, "You don't need to thank me for that."

 

 


 

"I really like him, Chris," Victor said, smiling as he watched Yuuri nod off. It was a rest well earned, considering that they were up for the last eleven hours doing nothing but trying to get their new project off the ground.

Chris glanced up from where he had his head pillowed in his arms, an eyebrow raised. "Why don't you just ask him out for dinner? It's worth the chance, and besides, I don't think he'll say no."

But Victor saw the chains of Yuuri's necklace peeking out from his skewed collar, knew that a golden, treasured ring was attached to it, one that belonged to someone that Yuuri cherished with his whole heart, and knew that he couldn't compete with that kind of love. He shook his head, his lips pulling up into a slight smile. "He already has someone else he cares about. I don't want to ruin it. I want Yuuri to be happy, after all, and if it's with someone else, then..."

"You'll pine for the rest of your life, then," Chris finished, blowing out a sigh. He looked over at Yuuri, who was oblivious to the world and Victor's less than subtle feelings.

"I hope not," Victor said, chuckling a bit, "but maybe things will work out for us in the next life."

"You think you'll still love him then?"

Victor looked at Yuuri, saw lifetimes of possibilities to fall over and over again, chances to shower him with unadulterated adoration, and smiled something more genuine. "I know I will."

 


 

Yuuri touched the ring around his neck, curled his fingers around it until it bit into his palm. Carefully, he reached back and undid the clasp, pulling the ring from the chain to hold up to the light.

A ring. A promise. A connection.

Yuuri wanted Victor to have it.

(This was a ring he carried with him throughout his lives, one he'd been waiting to give to Victor ever since their first life together. Victor had been sickly, and Yuuri had been too late then, and he'd vowed not to let the chance pass him by again. It was... It was an assurance as much as it was a promise, that if Victor accepted it, it'd mean he loved Yuuri like Yuuri loved him.

It seemed almost silly now. Yuuri knew, without a doubt, that Victor loved him with his whole heart.)

"What are you waiting for? Phichit said, and Yuuri jerked back into awareness, red creeping into his cheeks as he snapped his gaze back to his laptop's screen. Phichit raised an eyebrow at him, looking faintly amused. "Just give him the ring already, Yuuri! You've been planning to for months!"

"It's just- I don't know - I'm not sure if he'd like it?" Yuuri replied, his voice lilting at the end like a question. He glanced down at the ring and fiddled with it. It didn't fit well on any of his fingers, not really, since Yuuri had bought it with Victor in mind. "It's just a gold band, Phichit. Victor... he deserves more, doesn't he?"

"It's just a gold band," Phichit told him. He crossed his arms and levelled Yuuri with a stern look. " Just . What he wants is you , Yuuri, gold band or not."

Yuuri pressed his lips together. Phichit had a point, but Yuuri couldn't help but worry anyway.

Seeing his troubled expression, Phichit sighed. "You're going out on a date next week, right? Give it to him then. I'm sure however or wherever you give it to him, he'll be happy."

The ring was warm in his hand. "I guess so.”

"Good luck," Phichit said, grinning. "And relax, Yuuri! Tell me all about it after, okay?"

Yuuri smiled. "All right. See you later, Phichit."

 

 


 

Yuuri toyed with the ring he'd bought at the nearby market. Sunlight glinted off its surface, gold flashing white as Yuuri turned it around in his fingers, and felt the strangest nostalgia eat away at him.

(He didn’t know why; he and Victor had never shared rings before, their lives busy and Victor's failing health a wedge between the both of them and perpetual happiness, but Yuuri would be lying if he said he hadn't dreamt of it then. Maybe that was why Yuuri had scrambled to buy it, this simple ring, even though it wasn't even a proper wedding band. It was just a cheap, gold ring meant for children with dreams.)

The ring flashed, bright. Yuuri hadn't even found Victor yet in this life, didn't know the first place to look or start, but he stared at the ring and murmured, "I'll find you... and maybe one day I'll be able to be by your side again."

 

 


 

Victor took them out to dinner at a place Yuuri hadn't even known existed even though he had lived with Victor well over two years now, and Victor's habit of spoiling him - spoiling us both; I love watching you eat , Victor had corrected much to Yuuri's embarrassment - meant that they'd already visited most of the  high-end restaurants within a twenty-mile radius. They sat at a table that gave them a view of the city, and a waiter came by to take their orders before leaving with a promise of a quick return. Yuuri looked out the windows, and this high up Yuuri couldn't help but think it was beautiful, the twinkling city lights below and the full moon hanging high in the sky.

It was quiet here, not oppressive or stifling, but peaceful. Yuuri turned to smile at Victor only to see that Victor was gazing at him with fondness written in his eyes and adoration in the curve of his smile. Yuuri's heart stumbled over a beat, because no matter how many times Yuuri had seen it before, he didn't think he'd ever get used to this, to Victor's blatant affection. He shifted and felt the ring press into his thigh, a warm, solid weight.

"Do you like it?" Victor asked, eyes still soft. "I wanted to take you out to somewhere nice, and Chris recommended this place. The view is to die for, and the food is apparently great." Victor smiled wider. His words turned teasing. "He wasn't wrong about the view, at least. Absolutely gorgeous."

The burning heat creeping up into his cheeks made Victor chuckle, and even though Yuuri was aiming for stern when he said, " Victor, " it came out softer than intended, the name curling around his smiling lips. "This place is beautiful, but what's the occasion?"

Victor's mirth cut short, looking a bit flustered. Yuuri, all at once, felt a terrible dread rise from his gut. "It's our anniversary," Victor said, and Yuuri blinked back at him, expression shuttering off. He ran the dates through his head. Their second anniversary of living together was back in August. It was only December, a handful of months after it. Unless Victor meant anniversary as in when they started dating, then that would be in February - closer, but not enough to warrant a date a full two months before when both he and Victor could find time to celebrate then.

Yuuri swallowed. Victor had surprised him before with other anniversaries, like when he moved in with him - June - or the first time they kissed - March, at Worlds, internationally; Yuuri would never forget that one - or the first time Yuuri got sick after moving in with Victor - September, an entire three days Victor spent frantically Googling How to cure the flu, or How to make soup, or Help my boyfriend is sick and idk what to do.

"Our... anniversary?" Yuuri repeated, wracking his head for something to fit the bill. They'd never celebrated anything in December other than Victor's birthday. "I'm not- sure what it's for, Victor. I'm sorry."

God, Yuuri was terrible. He couldn't even remember one anniversary, nevermind the other fifty-two Victor kept track of without even using a calendar. He dropped his gaze, the ring that'd felt warm moments earlier turning blistering hot with shame. He couldn't believe he'd thought-

"It's- It's not your fault!" Victor blurted out, and when Yuuri risked a glance up at him, he looked sincere, if a bit pink in the cheeks. "I never- well, we never really celebrated it before, and I know I'm forgetful but I never really forgot this one, and I just... wanted to celebrate it. Today."

Emphasis on this . A special occasion - one that Yuuri didn't remember at all.

Victor pressed his lips together, eyes boring into Yuuri's, clear and bright and beautiful, and he said: "This is the anniversary of when we met. At the banquet."

Realization dawned on Yuuri. "Oh," he breathed, overwhelming warmth battling back the shame from earlier. His lips curled into a small smile at the corners, and Victor responded with a wider, sheepish one. "I guess we never did celebrate this one." He paused, still smiling. "Why now?"

"Do I need a reason to celebrate the day you came into my life?" Victor asked. "If so, I have five notebook's worth of reasons I've collected these past few years, and I wouldn't mind sharing them- "

"No, nevermind," Yuuri laughed, just in time for their food to arrive. They dug in, exchanging teases and laughter and food, and Yuuri soon lost himself in their conversation.

 


 

Yuuri slumbered peacefully beside him, expression sleep-soft and beautiful. Victor wanted to wake up to this forever - maybe longer, if they could manage it - but he knew that it wouldn't be possible. It was coincidence that Yuuri was still here at all, given that he usually left right after.

Yuuri wasn't interested, anyway, not in Victor.

He ran his fingers through Yuuri's hair, felt his entire being warm at the little sigh of content he gave, and ran them down his cheek, his neck, until they trailed down the necklace Yuuri always wore and pressed against the golden ring on it.

Victor remembered asking what it was, already knowing it was important to Yuuri, and he'd hoped, desperately, childishly, selfishly, that it wasn't what he'd thought it was. Going by Yuuri's softening eyes, and the way his lips turned up at the corners without him even realizing it, Victor knew it was.

It's... something I'd like to give to someone important to me when I get the chance.

A ring. A proposal. A promise.

For someone that wasn't Victor.

He ran his thumb across the ring, warmed where it rested against Yuuri's heart, and wondered what it would be like to be someone special to Yuuri.

 


 

They were walking around the city, bundled in their coats and scarves and gloves, because an event Victor planned for them to attend was cancelled last-minute.

"I'm sorry, Yuuri," Victor apologized again, sighing. He looked up at the night sky and breathed out another sigh. "We should head back home before one of us catches a cold."

Victor looked sullen, though, disheartened for reasons Yuuri didn't know, and Yuuri wasn't sure if he wanted Victor to go home thinking this entire date was a disaster because of one cancellation -- scratch that: He didn't want to go home until Victor was smiling again.

And Yuuri... He could think of one thing in particular that could, maybe, make Victor smile. At least, he hoped it would

Without thinking any more of it, he grabbed Victor's hand and pulled him back the way they came. "Come on," he called back, smiling, giddy on nerves and anticipation. Victor stared back at him, looking dazed. "I have something I want to show you."

It wasn't too far back - Yuuri remembered them passing it as they were walking around - and while it wasn't the most quietest place Yuuri could think of, it was perfect for, well...

He clutched even tighter to Victor's hand, grinning when he held on just as tight, and it wasn't long before they stood amongst decorated trees and under the glimmering lights hanging above them. Glancing back at Victor, who was looking at the landscape with an expression Yuuri couldn't read, he asked, nerves catching up to him, "Do you... Do you want to walk through it with me?"

Victor looked back at him, lights dancing in his eyes. "Of course, solnyshko ."

They walked side by side, hand in hand, enjoying nothing but each other's company and the beautiful displays set up. Yuuri, despite what he was about to do, felt himself relaxing as they made their way through the faux winter wonderland.

"Thank you for this," Victor said, breaking the silence. He was smiling something soft now, and Yuuri felt something coiled within him loosen. His smile faltered a bit when he continued with, "I'm sorry, too, for being a terrible date."

"You weren't," Yuuri reassured him, tangling their fingers together. "I don't think you ever could be."

Victor tugged him closer. "I'm sorry for putting you through a terrible date, then. If I'd known they'd cancel on us, I never would have thought of it."

"That wasn't your fault, and I... I liked having you to myself for today, Victor." Yuuri smiled up at him. "Besides, the date isn't even over yet."

Raising a brow, Victor said, "It isn't?"

Yuuri hoped his face wasn't as red as he thought it was. "There's just one more thing - over there."

 

 


 

"I can't give you forever, Yuuri," Victor said, taking Yuuri's hand into his. He was warm despite how pale he'd gotten these past few days. "I can't promise you that, I'm sorry, but I promise to give you every today I have left."

"Victor," Yuuri started, but Victor shook his head.

"I want to be with you, Yuuri, for as long as I can, and for as long as you'll have me. I want to be happy with you, and I want to love and be loved by you, I want all of that..." Victor paused, eyes bright as he looked at Yuuri. His lips pulled into a half-smile. "I just don't want to say goodbye."

Yuuri felt his throat tighten. "You won't have to. I'll- " He tightened his hold on Victor's hands, searched for words that always eluded him. "I'll find you. Again. In- In the next life, and the one after that. Always. I promise. I'll find you, and I'll love you, and you'll never have to say goodbye."

Victor laughed, something heart-stopping in its impossible warmth. He tugged Yuuri close, wrapped his arms tight around Yuuri's waist, and buried his face into his shoulder. Hope shone bright over the shadow of something inexplicably fragile in his voice when he murmured, quiet, "Sounds like a dream come true."

 


 

The largest tree stood tall and proud as Yuuri and Victor strode up to it, its leaves pure white and the ornaments upon it a dazzling gold. It glew ethereal amongst the multicolored trees surrounding it, and, thankfully, there weren't too many people around. Swallowing down the nerves crawling up his throat, Yuuri shoved his hands into his pockets and snuck a glance at Victor.

"Beautiful," he said, but he was gazing at Yuuri. Yuuri flushed, buried his lips into his scarf. "You're too good to me, Yuuri."

"I want to make you happy," Yuuri told him honestly.

Tugging his hand away from Yuuri's, Victor wrapped his arms around Yuuri's shoulders and sighed. "You always do, being here with me. I couldn't ask for more."

"I... I could."

Victor pulled away, eyes wide. Yuuri hunched his shoulders, face burning as he ducked his head. "Yuuri?" Victor asked, confusion clear.

"I!" Yuuri blurted out, too loud and too sudden. Both of them flinched back, but Yuuri gripped Victor's arm to keep him from fully stepping away, sliding his fingers down until he was holding Victor's hand again. He looked up at Victor through his lashes, looked back down at their hands."I have something to give to you and... something to say."

Victor didn't say anything. Yuuri, mind running haywire and just barely aware of what he was doing - peeling off Victor's glove - said, "I- I've wanted to give this to you for a while now, it's... it's a promise, from me to you." He risked another glance at Victor. He was staring, open-mouthed, at Yuuri. Yuuri averted his eyes, stuffed Victor's glove into one pocket and reached into the other for the ring. It bit into his fingers, but it was warm, comforting. "I love you, Victor. I always will," he said, watching as the golden band slid into place onto Victor's ring finger. He held Victor's hand, every glint of the ring setting off a spark in his heart. I love you, I love you, I love you so, so much . "I want to be with you for as long as you'll have me."

When Victor let out a choked huff of laughter, Yuuri looked up to see him pressing his free hand to his eyes, his lips pulled wide even as stray tears fell.

"You beat me to it," Victor said, and Yuuri started.

"What?"

Without even wiping his eyes, Victor reached into his coat and pulled out a small box - one for a ring. He squeezed Yuuri's hand and pulled free, opening the box with both hands to reveal a gold band similar to the one he wore now.

Oh , Yuuri thought distantly, watching as Victor plucked the ring from its case and tucked the box away. His eyes were bright.

"I can't promise forever," Victor said, low and quiet, achingly gentle as he took Yuuri's hand in his and slipped on the ring. His eyes glittered as he stared down at it, and Yuuri feared that if Victor started crying again, he would too. "I can't promise you forever, Yuuri, but I can promise you now, for this life, whatever it's worth, that I'll love you no matter what."

Yuuri stared at the ring, speechless, and he swallowed around his heart in his throat and looked up at Victor. "...Victor."

But Victor shook his head and offered a wobbly smile. "I'm the luckiest man in the world to have someone like you to love me. You're wonderful, Yuuri. Amazing. Breathtaking." Yuuri, unable to help it, flushed even deeper when Victor added: "You surprised me on the day of my own proposal, and I love you for it. There'll never be a day in my life where I love you any less - that much I can promise." He ran a thumb over the ring, turned his heart-stopping gaze to Yuuri. "I want to be with you for as long as I can."

Yuuri flung his arms around Victor, laughing as he wrapped his arms around him and pressed a smile to his temple.

"I love you," Yuuri said, because he knew now that Victor would always, always answer with:

"I love you, too."