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Until We Meet Again

Chapter Text

“I got the snacks.”

Yuuri didn’t look up from the article he was reading as Phichit closed the dorm room door behind himself. “Snacks? Phichit, we just ate dinner.”

“But this is going to take all night,” said Phichit. 

A heavy bag landed on Yuuri’s desk with a thud. He yelped as his phone slipped from his hands. 

“Wait, what are we doing?” Yuuri pushed his glasses up on his nose and retrieved his phone. “Why do we need snacks?” 

“I’m shocked and disappointed that you would even ask that question. We always need snacks.” Phichit began unloading the bag, lining up chips, candy, and soft drinks on Yuuri’s desk. “And second, tonight we are getting to the bottom of Viktor Nikiforov’s disappearance.”

“W-we are?” Yuuri locked his phone and hid it in his lap.

Phichit smiled. “Don’t pretend like you weren’t reading articles about his latest digital whereabouts.”

Caught. But Phichit didn’t judge. “You don’t have to do this,” said Yuuri. 

“And you didn’t have to help me study all night for my Calculus test last week, but you did. That’s what friends do, Yuuri.” 

Friends. It felt good to hear. Yuuri caved and grabbed the licorice. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

“Hell yeah!” Phichit cracked open an energy drink. “So, apparently Viktor is taking a break and Yuri—that’s the small, angry Yuri—”

“You can call him Yurio.” When Phichit looked confused, Yuuri went on. “He’s pretty popular in Japan these days. It was getting confusing so my sister started calling him Yurio because he looks like her favorite idol. It's not important. It's not like we talk about this stuff a lot or anything." Yuuri needed to learn when to stop talking.

“Brilliant!” Phichit laughed, then cleared his throat. “Apparently, Yurio is mad at Viktor and they couldn’t stand each other on set.”

“I don’t think there’s much truth to those rumors,” said Yuuri, shaking his head. “They went everywhere together in Detroit and on the press tour. It was all over Instagram.”

“Yeah, but that’s Instagram. People can make it look like anything is happening on Instagram.” Phichit got a mischievous glint in his eyes, and he waggled his eyebrows. 

“Please don’t get any ideas,” said Yuuri, hiding his face behind the licorice bag. 

“You’re no fun. With those thighs, you could be rich and famous.” 

Yuuri narrowed his eyes. “Put my thighs online and I will use all the profits to get my own place.”

“Fine, fine,” Phichit pouted, but dropped it. “All I’m saying is there might be a reason why Viktor and Yurio played feuding brothers so well.”

“Because they’re both good actors?” Yuuri suggested. 

“Well, that too.” Phichit started in on a bag of chips. “Anyway, what have you found?”

Yuuri flipped open his laptop. Viktor smiled up at him from his desktop background like he always did, Makkachin at his side.

It was the same smile Yuuri fell in love with as a preteen, the same smile Viktor gave at every interview. Yuuri hasn’t realized just how much he had counted on that smile until it was gone. Was any of it real?

Of course not, Yuuri thought. He acts for a living, and even if it was real, you don’t really know him.

That didn’t make Yuuri feel any better. He looked at Makkachin in the photo. Her tongue hung to one side in a goofy puppy grin. Are you all right? Yuuri wondered. Both of you? Makkachin was getting old. Yuuri couldn’t imagine many things that would break Viktor, but losing his best friend was one of them. It hurt too much to think about. 

Yuuri opened the web browser and sighed. “I hate looking at gossip articles, especially about Viktor,” he said. “It feels like such a violation.” 

Despite his qualms, he began to type and a long list of his previous searches popped up. Phichit’s eyes burned into his back, but he didn’t call Yuuri out. Just because Yuuri hated reading the articles didn’t mean he was able fight the compulsion.

Yuuri’s first roommate had found his idolization of Viktor creepy, but Phichit was an enabler. Yuuri still remembered the six page paper on Viktor’s career that Phichit wrote for his freshman composition class (even if Phichit had only chosen that topic because he happened to live with the foremost editor of the Viktor Nikiforov Wikipedia page). 

Matt had never even heard of Viktor. Then again, when Yuuri had roomed with Matt, Viktor was just “the guy from that one show” if anyone recognized him at all. He had always been a star to Yuuri.

Phichit might not have shared Yuuri’s devotion to Viktor, but he did share Yuuri’s history as a former figure skater. As if that wasn’t enough, Phichit had known Viktor’s name before Agape. Phichit was a bit younger, but he often expressed fond memories of downloading torrents of On Thin Ice back in Thailand.

Yuuri only got a housing stipend if he lived on campus, but living with Phichit more than made up for being one of the oldest students on campus. He just wished they had become friends sooner. Maybe they’d both still be skating. But Yuuri didn’t want to dwell on that.

“Start at the beginning,” said Phichit. “We must have missed something.”

Yuuri frowned. “We don’t actually know him, so we missed a lot.”

“You know what I meant. And besides, you’ve been following his career since the beginning.” Phichit licked some chip dust from his fingers. “That has to count for something.”

Phichit was definitely an enabler. “Well,” Yuuri began, “after On Thin Ice ended, he worked pretty consistently. He did lots of TV appearances and a few indie movies. He had some credibility, but no one would take a chance on him until Baranovskaya.”

“Are you sure you didn’t write these articles?” Phichit asked. Yuuri shook his head and clicked a link to an article posted two years ago.

Lilia Baranovskaya Casts Leads in Latest Project

Not much is known about the latest Baranovskaya film, Cloak and Dagger (probably a working title), but based on casting information, it probably centers on the Russian mob. Star of last year’s Sleeping Beauty Anya Garina (23), former television actor Viktor Nikiforov (25), and newcomer Yuri Plisetsky (14) have been cast in lead roles. Supporting roles are in final negotiations (details to follow). Casting calls for “performers of all races and ethnicities to be featured in key scenes as gangsters, police officers, socialites, and high school students” are still open. Click here for more information.

“You should have tried out,” Phichit said. “You could have been an extra!”

Yuuri shook his head. “There’s no way I could be on camera.” Not anymore, he added mentally.

“But you were so great in my project last year! I got an A, remember?” Phichit was kind enough not to mention Yuuri’s attempts at televised skating. 

“That was different.” Appearing in a student film as a favor to a friend was completely different from being an extra in a major motion picture. He couldn’t even handle minor competitions that no one watched. 

Yuuri cringed at the memory of just how badly he had choked at his senior figure skating debut. He had toughed it out for another season, but once Vicchan passed away, skating and performing went from embarrassing to painful. He hadn’t even gotten the chance to say goodbye. 

“If only I had been your roommate back then,” Phichit mused, shaking him from his thoughts. “You and Viktor would be married by now.”

“Phichit, I’m still in school,” Yuuri pointed out.

“You wouldn’t have to go to school. Viktor would take care of you.” Phichit grinned at Yuuri but the scenario was too ridiculous to even consider. Phichit sighed. “I still can’t believe you didn’t even try to meet him. Viktor broadcasts his location wherever he goes.”

“Which brings us back to our mission,” Yuuri said, clicking on a link from last summer. “Look at this one.”

Agape is the Surprise Hit of the Summer

Lilia Baranovskaya’s mob thriller Agape took in an unexpected $46 million in an otherwise lackluster box office weekend. Not bad considering it reportedly cost under $10 million to make! Underground buzz and a grassroots promotional tour propelled the movie, which stars a cast of relative unknowns, to number one. Leads Anya Garina, Viktor Nikiforov, and Yuri Plisetsky engaged with fans through social media and pop-up events in the run up to the release, making the movie feel personal for young moviegoers. All three actors deliver compelling, nuanced performances, despite only one (Garina) having major motion picture experience. 

“Didn’t the do a screening in Detroit? You should have gone,” Phichit said.

“I had class,” Yuuri replied. It wasn’t a lie, but he had cut class to see Viktor’s last movie at the art theater in Ann Arbor. He pointed at a different passage. “I wonder if Viktor liked being a relative unknown…” 

“You think? I always thought he loved the limelight.” Phichit took the licorice from Yuuri. “He did all the talking on every talk show, and people say he never turns anyone down an autograph or selfie.”

Yuuri didn’t like hearing about Viktor in the past tense, as if he was gone for good. Unless he’s happy out there, he added mentally. He pulled up another article, one of those stupid lists that he could never resist clicking.

“You sure you didn’t write this?” asked Phichit. This one was posted a month after the last article.

36 Things You Didn’t Know About Viktor Nikiforov

Welcome to the Viktor Nikiforov fanclub! You’re late, but we won’t hold it against you. Here’s a crash course in all things Viktor to catch you up on everything you’ve missed over the past 10 years. 

36. He loves dogs. Okay, you probably knew that, but did you know his beloved poodle Makkachin turns 11 this year? She’s been with Viktor since the beginning, and speaking of the beginning…

35. Viktor got his start as Dimitri Vashchenko on a little show called On Thin Ice. If Viktor’s long(!) hair isn’t enough of a draw, On Thin Ice was praised for its diverse cast and dynamic portrayals of LGBT+ characters.

34. Viktor did most of his own skating for On Thin Ice. Body doubles were used for the trickier stuff, but Viktor was cast because of how comfortable he was on the ice. He worked with a coach throughout filming and by the time the series wrapped, he could do double jumps. Talk about multi-talented! 

“I still can’t believe how good he was,” said Phichit. “Could you imagine training him? Practicing with him? Competing against him?” It was a conversation he and Yuuri had had many times. Yuuri flushed and turned back to his computer.

33. Wondering where Viktor gets his grace and charm? Look no further than his mother, rhythmic gymnast Svetlana Nikiforova (née Valentinova). She won a gold medal for Romania (her late mother’s home country) at the 1984 Olympics and coached in Europe from the time Viktor was 9 until he was about 15.

32. With his international background, it’s no wonder Viktor specializes in languages and accents. He speaks Russian, English, French, Italian, and Spanish, and he says he’s “working on” Japanese and German. On the international press tour for Agape, he made a point of greeting fans in their own language! 

31. When he was 15, he and his mother moved to LA so he could pursue acting. He was accepted into Yakov Feltsman’s renowned acting workshop and the rest is history!

“You get the idea,” said Yuuri, cheeks growing hot. “And no, I didn’t write this.”

Phichit nudged him in the ribs. “Yuuri, you never told me he was learning Japanese!”

“It didn’t seem important.” Yuuri’s ears were burning now. Viktor just loved to challenge himself. “I just wanted you to see that he moved around a lot growing up.”

“Oh, right. Didn’t he move to New York City right after Agape came out?”

Yuuri nodded. Had Phichit read that himself or had Yuuri told him? Either way, he didn’t deserve a friend like Phichit. “Maybe he was feeling restless?” Yuuri offered. 

Phichit shrugged. “I guess it’s possible. Or maybe he’s researching a role?”

“If he is, it’s a huge secret because he hasn’t accepted any roles since Agape,” said Yuuri. He found an article from September and clicked it. 

The Cast of Agape is Having the Best Week Ever

Agape slayed at the box office this summer, and just when we thought its three stars couldn’t rise any higher, we caught Viktor, Anya, and Yuri crushing the runway at New York Fashion Week. 

Designer Georgi Popovich was so inspired by the costumes and cast of Agape that he invited the world’s most fashionable mobsters to join his show. 

[still image of Anya modeling]

It’s good to be the Queen, and Anya Garina isn’t just making a splash on the runway. Expect to see the stunning starlet in a MAJOR fragrance campaign this winter. In the meantime, Anya looked cool and confident in Popovich’s designs (and cozy in his arms after the show).

[image of Yuri with collage of fans wearing the same hairstyle]

Yuri Plisetsky is the rookie of the three, but you’d never know it. The Russian Punk turned into a Graceful Prince for Fashion Week, and his ethereal braided hairstyle spread like Instagram wildfire. But Yuri won’t be quitting acting to become an influencer any time soon. He carved out a few hours to work the runway between the two projects he’s currently filming, both anticipated next year. 

[gif of Viktor walking the runway]

But once again, the biggest surprise came in the delicious form of Viktor Nikiforov. Viktor stole the runway like he stole our hearts in Agape and we are still shook. Sidebar: suits are done. Viktor Nikiforov owns them now and no one else can wear them. Sorry. We don’t make the rules.

[three images of Viktor in different suits]

And that’s not all the King of Surprises has in store. A rep from Yakov's Legend Management says that Viktor’s received so many scripts that they’ve had to expand their staff just to handle the influx. 

Given all the Twitter proposals he got this summer, Viktor might want to consider hiring an assistant himself. He’s been linked to multiple actors and models, but according to the man himself, he’s “waiting for the right project, and the right person.” Challenge accepted!

“I hate articles like these,” Yuuri grumbled. It wasn’t just the try-hard writing, but the speculation and the spinning that bothered him (even if the rumors about Anya and that Russian designer had turned out to be true). 

“Well, ignoring the obvious problems, it sounds like he’s overwhelmed,” said Phichit, chewing thoughtfully. “If that’s an actual quote, I doubt it’s as positive as they’ve made it out to be.”

Yuuri sighed. “Yeah, that’s the feeling I got, too. Yurio’s filmed a couple movies, and Anya’s got a Netflix show and those perfume ads.”

And Viktor had gone virtually silent. It went without saying. 

“There’s the one from today,” Phichit said, clicking the link himself. 

Where in the World is Viktor Nikiforov?

It’s been two months since anyone’s seen Viktor Nikiforov on- or offline, leaving many wondering if he’s checked into rehab. Insiders vehemently deny rumors of substance abuse, insisting Viktor simply needed a break from the spotlight after jumping from the D-list to the A-list. 

Those closest to Viktor aren’t saying much. Mentor and manager Yakov Feltsman said Viktor was “taking some time off,” but he didn’t look happy about it. An unnamed source says Viktor’s disappearance has turned Yakov’s Legend Management company upside down. 

At a charity event last weekend, longtime pal Christophe Giacometti said that fans “haven’t seen the last of Viktor” but called on them to respect his privacy. Agape costar Yuri Plisetsky offered no comment at the same event, but if his scowl was any indication, there may be some truth to the rumors of animosity between the two actors.

Viktor has been hovering in the margins of Hollywood since his television debut as Dimitri in On Thin Ice. The dramedy, which turns 12(!) this year, focused on teenagers balancing the demands of high school and competitive figure skating. 

While waiting for Viktor news, why not binge all 4 seasons of On Thin Ice? Be sure to watch for Chris as Michael, Dimitri’s hunky boyfriend, in seasons 2 and 3.

“I was wrong,” Yuuri muttered. “These are the worst kind of articles.”

“I mean, D-list is a little harsh, but they’re not wrong about Chris,” said Phichit. But they were dancing around the real issue. “Do you think Viktor’s in rehab?”

Yuuri swallowed. Speculating about it was starting to sour his stomach. “If he is, then good for him for getting help—not that it’s our business.” 

Phichit nodded. “Of course you’re right,” he said. “And you never really know what someone’s going through, you know? He just always smiled like nothing was wrong.”

Yuuri knew that better than anyone. Yuuri hung his heart on Viktor’s smile, especially when he couldn’t summon a smile of his own. How had he been so naive? Viktor had problems, just like everyone else. 

“We should stop.” Yuuri shut his laptop. The guilt was too much. Viktor was just a person (albeit a gorgeous and talented one), and if he wanted privacy, he deserved it. Yuuri could understand needing a break, and he wasn’t even famous. 

“Whatever you want to do,” said Phichit. Yuuri felt guilty about changing plans on Phichit, too. Phichit had gone out of his way for Yuuri, but they had barely made a dent in the gossip blogs (or in the snacks).

Yuuri grabbed a can of chips. “Let’s play a game instead.” Phichit would probably have more fun with that, anyway. 

“You’re on,” said Phichit. They set up shop at their own laptops, Yuuri with the chips and Phichit with the cheese puffs. “I miss skating,” Phichit announced after a couple rounds of battle, “but I miss it a lot less when I’m eating junk food.”

Yuuri laughed. “Me too.” He missed skating, he missed Vicchan, and he missed Viktor (even though he wasn’t Yuuri’s to miss), but he was always grateful for Phichit. “Thanks,” he added.

Phichit grinned. “Any time.”

Chapter Text

Despite his misgivings, Yuuri didn’t disable his Viktor news alerts. 

His summer co-op kept him busy, and Phichit staying on campus for the summer helped, too, even if neither of them were around the dormitories much.

Still, every time a Viktor update popped up, his chest filled with anticipation, dread, and a bit of pity. Viktor couldn’t even like a video without making headlines. No wonder he never posted anymore. 

Of course, Yuuri was part of the problem, but he clicked anyway.

Viktor Nikiforov Likes Viral Video of Dancing Dog and the Internet Breathes a Collective Sigh of Relief

Instagram pooch @thatcorgigomez has thousands of fans, and the elusive Viktor Nikiforov is among them. After months of social media silence, Viktor reassured his own adoring fans by liking a video of Gomez dancing to “Conga” by Gloria Estefan. You can check out the video that brought our fave dog-lover out of hiding here. Viktor, wherever you are, know that we wish you (and Makkachin!!!) the best. 

Similar stories came through every couple weeks, each one as meaningless as the last. Yuuri tried not to think too hard about it but any breath of activity meant Viktor was alive.

That didn’t mean he was happy. When Yuuri was having a bad day, or week, or month, he could waste hours at a time scrolling endlessly on his phone, looking at other people’s lives. He tried to stop himself from checking up on skaters because it just made him beat himself up for giving up. From the outside, it was easier to pretend skating was always rewarding. 

At his lowest points, seeing images from Viktor’s life had always made him feel a little better. Now he wondered if those pictures had ever had anything to do with Viktor’s life at all. He had leaned on Viktor without even realizing it. Yuuri was just as bad as the gossip bloggers.

After a couple days of fall classes, one of Viktor’s likes wasn’t so random. 

Viktor Likes Yuri’s Cat Photo: What Does it Mean?

Wherever Viktor Nikiforov is hiding, at least there’s WiFi. The stealthy heartthrob’s latest move was to like a picture of Yuri Plisetsky’s beloved cat, Potya.

Is Viktor extending the olive branch to his onscreen brother? Since Viktor’s disappearance, multiple accounts have emerged of explosive arguments and animosity on the Agape set. No wonder those fight scenes were so convincing! 

One anonymous source from the set offered a different take. “They were just like brothers even when the cameras weren’t rolling. They had their differences, but at the end of the day, they looked out for each other.”

Only time will tell if we’ll see these brothers in action again, because just like Agape, this story ends with a cliffhanger.

Phichit swore this meant something was coming, but the next week passed without event. Yuuri’s first quiz stole his focus, and before long, he was spending his nights pouring through textbooks rather than scouring the internet. 

A bell woke Yuuri out of a dream—late to class and completely naked, again—after a night of studying. Good riddance to that nightmare, he thought. 

Had he forgotten to silence his phone again? Like a punch to the gut, Yuuri recalled the time Matt had woken him up from a drunken blackout because his phone wouldn’t stop going off. 

Humiliating, he thought with a cringe. He still couldn’t believe he had gotten so drunk that night. 

This morning, his head was blessedly clear and his phone had only gone off once, but Yuuri didn’t want to wake Phichit up, either.

Wait. Phichit is the only one who ever texts me, he realized. Even without his glasses, he could make out a Phichit-shaped lump in the bed on the other side of the room. 

He fumbled for his glasses and confirmed that Phichit was asleep.

That wasn’t even my text sound, he thought. He hadn’t heard the sound in a long time. Was that Instagram?

Yuuri only had Instagram notifications enabled for one person.

He held his breath and unlocked his phone.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

There it was. The banner at the top of his screen. This is not a drill, thought Yuuri. It had been eight months. 

The app seemed to take another eight months to load after he tapped the notification. 

Makkachin! Yuuri barely contained his squeal. She was okay! He knew all too well how devastating it was to lose a beloved companion, and he was so glad that Viktor still had his pup.

Makkachin was curled up on Viktor’s lap and a single mug of coffee sat on the table in front of them. Viktor himself was only visible as a graceful hand behind Makkachin’s ear and a pair of knees beneath her, but they were in his apartment in New York. Had Viktor been there all along? There was no way.

The caption read, Every morning is beautiful with you. 

Yuuri tried to keep himself in check. He didn’t want to wake Phichit but he was bursting to talk to someone. Shouting into the void on Twitter was no good (he only kept the account to follow Viktor and Phichit anyway), and he definitely wasn’t going to leave a comment on Viktor’s picture. 

He couldn’t stop himself from double tapping the image, watching the heart turn red with a giddy stomach. Viktor was back, and this was the only way Yuuri could tell him how happy he was. Viktor was okay. 

Wasn’t he? Yuuri’s stomach turned. He’d gotten so excited that he’d forgotten that Viktor might have never been okay. Maybe this was just an attempt to convince the world that he was fine. Yuuri wore his emotions plain as day, but he wasn’t an actor.

Happy people didn’t just disappear, leaving only a trail of random likes to prove they weren’t dead. There was nothing unhealthy about Viktor taking time to himself, but Yuuri had spent far too much time imagining possible reasons for Viktor's silence.

Yuuri didn’t want to assume or project, but he couldn’t stop his own memories from polluting his brain, memories of times when his anxiety had made it almost impossible to live his life. When he moved to the United States, when Vicchan died, when he gave up on figure skating...

He hoped Viktor had worked through his struggles, whatever they were. He hoped Viktor was truly happy. 

Phichit snored and rolled over. Yuuri locked his phone and froze, and stared at Phichit. Had he been too loud? 

Phichit slept on, but Yuuri was wired. He crept out of bed and grabbed his things to get ready in the bathroom. Phichit was still sleeping when he dropped off his toothbrush and pajamas, so Yuuri grabbed his backpack and left for breakfast. 

Yuuri checked Viktor’s photo again as he walked to the dining hall. He had been one of the first people to like it and now the likes were in the tens of thousands. 

@christophe-gc had the top comment: She’s a good girl. Have you been a good boy?

Had Chris known where Viktor was? He hoped so, for Viktor’s sake. Viktor needed friends, and not just Makkachin. But was this just Chris’s usual oversexed banter or was there more to it? How close were they really? Rumors had always followed them, but Yuuri had no idea if they were even real friends, let alone ex-lovers. It was none of his business. 

Somehow, Yuuri kept his phone in his pocket for the entire duration of his Microcomputers class. It was much harder to resist during Russian Culture class, but he managed to avoid checking it again until lunchtime.

He had missed 10 texts from Phichit.

8:13 AM
yuuri

8:13 AM
yuuri

8:13 AM
YUURI!

8:14 AM
I KNOW YOU SAW IT

8:14 AM
WHY DIDNT YOU WAKE ME UP? (´°̥̥̥̥̥̥̥̥ω°̥̥̥̥̥̥̥̥`)

8:15 AM
we’re getting to the bottom of this at lunch 

The last several texts were just links to articles from gossip sites. 

Viktor’s Back! Here’s What You Need to Know
Viktor Nikiforov Breaks His Silence
Viktor Shares Picture of Makkachin
Yes, Viktor Nikiforov is Alive and He Had Coffee this Morning

Yuuri was close to the Student Center, so he texted Phichit to meet him there. 

“Oh my god, Yuuri!” Phichit grabbed him by the shoulders. “Big day. Huge day! How are you feeling?” 

“I’m fine, Phichit,” said Yuuri. 

Phichit pulled back, eyebrows raised. “You know you don’t have to hold back with me. Let it out.”

“Well…” Yuuri looked left and right, and no one was paying them any attention. “I’m so excited that Viktor’s back, and Makkachin is a princess. He looked relaxed in the picture, but any actor could fake that. And why come back now? Is he making a new movie? Did someone force him? Does he even want to come back? Because wherever he was or whatever he was doing, I just want him to be happy and I can’t tell from this one post.”

He took a moment to catch his breath. Phichit had said not to hold back. 

“There we go,” Phichit said. “He’s with Makkachin so I’m sure he’s happy about that.” 

“You’re right,” Yuuri said with a nod. “At least he has Makkachin.” 

“Let’s take a selfie to commemorate their return!” Phichit pulled Yuuri toward him, beaming as Yuuri forced a smile. “Perfect! And look, #WelcomeBackViktor is trending! Now let me just tag him and—”

“Phichit, no!” he shrieked, grabbing for Phichit’s phone. 

Phichit pouted. He his phone out of Yuuri’s reach. “Fine. I won’t post it. But one of these days, he is going to see your beautiful face and fall in love with you.”

Ridiculous as it was, Yuuri couldn’t stop himself from blushing. Ever since quitting skating, he’d taken great pains to avoid posting on social media. Having a friend like Phichit made his mission much harder, and Yuuri’s face did show up on Phichit’s accounts from time to time. As long as Phichit didn’t tag him, it was fine.

Yuuri had purged his old accounts and he didn’t post on his new ones. If Viktor happened to click on @poodles-are-love (which he never would), he’d find an empty page with a profile picture of Vicchan. Yuuri didn’t do anything worth sharing anyway.

“It lends some credibility to the Makkachin was sick theory,” said Phichit as they headed toward the dining area. 

Yuuri frowned. “I don’t like that theory. She’s such a good girl.”

“She’s the best girl, but you don’t like any theories,” Phichit pointed out. “You’re still Team Viktor-Owes-Us-No-Explanation.” 

“Well, it’s true,” said Yuuri. 

“Bit long for a hashtag, though.” 

It didn’t matter because Yuuri wasn’t about to tweet it. “If he took a break to get away from the media, bugging him about why he was gone is just going to make it worse. He’ll tell us if he wants to.”

They sat down to eat and Yuuri checked his phone again. No new notifications, but Chris was tweeting.

Phichit glanced at Yuuri’s phone from across the table. “Yes, yes, Viktor deserves his privacy, but here you are scouring Twitter for news.”

Yuuri blushed again. “That’s different.” 

Chris’s first post was just five winking emojis.

7 minutes ago
If you’ve been sleeping on my podcast, first of all, how dare you, and second of all, tonight is a good time to start listening. ;)

6 minutes ago
Special guest on tonight’s CWC. ;) Somebody who has been sorely missed. Going live at 7 PM EST.

“Yuuri!” Phichit must have been reading the tweets, too. “It has to be Viktor.”

Yuuri agreed. If Viktor was going to give an interview to anyone, it would be Chris. Phichit was a fan of Chris and of entertainment news in general, Yuuri never missed an episode in hopes of Viktor news (there hadn’t been any in a long time).

To see Viktor again (at least part of him) and hear his voice in the same day? Yuuri was truly blessed.

With his classes out of the way, so went his restraint, and he gave into his compulsion. 

Rumor has it Viktor Nikiforov will break his silence with an appearance on Coffee with Chris (longtime friend and entertainment personality Chris Giacometti’s podcast) this Friday. Sources say he’s gearing up for a big announcement, and given Yuri Plisetsky’s recent subtweets, we can only imagine Agape 2 is a go! Fans have been thirsty for more since the original hit theaters almost two years ago, but sequel talk was plagued by rumors of cast tension. Viktor’s shocking disappearance only added fuel to the fire…

Yuuri alternated between reading more articles and studying Viktor’s picture, but the minutes dragged by. 

He and Phichit ate quick dinners that night and settled in with their phones, waiting for the upload. Yuuri linked his phone to a speaker and Phichit sar poised to livetweet the podcast.

“Are you ready?” Phichit asked. Yuuri nodded. 

Chris’s voice filled the room, as smooth and silky as his intro music. “Hello to all my lovely listeners. It’s Chris, your friend in the business and purveyor of ethically-sourced coffee and entertainment news. Today’s cup was suggested by Monica G. of Baltimore, Maryland, and…” But Yuuri couldn’t focus as Chris described the coffee of the day, and he was practically shaking when Chris finally gave the roaster’s website. “As always, tweet or email me your coffee recommendations and I’ll feature my favorites on the podcast.”

“Normally, I’d make you wait for it, but I think my guest tonight has made us wait long enough, don’t you? That’s right, friends. I have in my humble little studio today none other than the elusive Viktor Nikiforov.”

If anyone but Phichit were in the room with him, he’d be self conscious, but Phichit had seen him at peak fanboy and Yuuri felt no shame as he held his breath. 

What would Viktor say? What would his first words to the public be? Yuuri straightened, wishing he had opted for earbuds not for privacy, but to hear Viktor better. 

“Hi, Chris! Thank you for having me on your show again. Hi, everyone!” Viktor dragged his words out like an exuberant child and Yuuri exhaled, letting the tension roll down his back.

“That’s right! You were one of my very first guests. Welcome back to the podcast, and welcome back to civilization,” Chris began, voice lilting with amusement. “So, what’s new with you?”

Viktor laughed and Yuuri’s heart melted. 

“Not much, how about you?” Viktor matched Chris’s coy tone and Yuuri’s melted heart sloshed around in his chest. “Kidding, kidding. I guess I’ve missed a lot, haven’t I? I hear you’re off the market, what a pity.”

“Oh, Viktor, you know I’ll always make an exception for you.” 

Phichit snickered. It was just playful banter, but Yuuri wondered if there was any truth behind it. Viktor deserved every bit of happiness he could get. 

“I must know, who is this mystery man who’s swept you off your feet?” asked Viktor.

For someone who kept on top of everyone else’s business, Chris was notoriously private. No wonder he and Viktor got along. Viktor presented himself like an open book, but as his hiatus had proven, he was anything but.

“Ah ah ah,” tutted Chris. “We’re not here to talk about me.”

Viktor sighed. “It was worth a try.”

“Let me guess. You’re deflecting because you’ve eloped, and you’ve been on an extended honeymoon, ravishing your—”

“Nothing quite so exciting, Chris, I assure you, but that sounds lovely.” Viktor let out another sigh. “Where do I start?”

“Tell us, what have you been up to? There’s been a lot of speculation but as you know, I like to go straight to the source.”

“There are a few rumors floating around, aren’t there?” Viktor sounded more bemused than upset. “I used to read the tabloids and gossip blogs, you know, even though my manager told me not to.”

“When have you ever listened to him?”

Viktor laughed. “Touché. But I’m afraid the truth is rather boring. I took some time off for myself. Traveled. Spent time with Makkachin. Rediscovered some old passions—no, Chris, not people—and discovered some new ones—again, not people."

Viktor laughed off Chris’s interruptions, but Yuuri had never heard him talk like that before. He almost sounded lonely. 

“Everyone needs time to themselves,” said Chris. 

“Exactly.” Yuuri tried to imagine Viktor’s expression as he gathered his thoughts. Viktor was smiling, Yuuri was sure, but Yuuri wondered if it reached his eyes. When he continued, his voice was softer. Something about his tone struck Yuuri, though he couldn’t place it. “I had a lot of time to think. I’m so very grateful for my fans and all the wonderful people I’ve worked with. I’m lucky to have been a part of so many amazing projects, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Yuuri’s chest tightened and he glanced at Phichit, who met him with wide eyes. Was Viktor going to... 

“Does this mean you’re retiring?” Chris finished the thought. 

“Absolutely not,” said Viktor, and Yuuri heaved a sigh of relief. “I absolutely want to continue acting! That is, if anyone wants me back.” He added a self-deprecating laugh, forced and foreign to Yuuri’s ears. 

I want you back. Guilt rose in his chest at the selfish thought. 

“Well, I teased your appearance on Twitter, and at last count, it had 98,000 likes,” Chris pointed out. “I think there’s still a market for Viktor Nikiforov.”

“I hope so,” said Viktor. 

“On that note,” Chris began, “your fiery young costar has been making some tweets of his own.”

“Hmm? Which one now?” asked Viktor. Yuuri blinked. Viktor wasn’t being cute—he sounded like he had no idea who Chris was talking about. After a moment, Viktor said, “Oh, you mean Yuri!” 

Chris coughed and Phichit snorted. “Yes, I mean Yuri, Viktor, where have you been?” 

There was silence for a moment until Viktor laughed, catching the joke. “I suppose I deserved that.” 

“Let’s read some of his tweets, shall we? Friends, I apologize for the crude language.” Chris cleared his throat. 

“Must be nice to take a fucking holiday but some of us take our careers seriously.”

“Dying to take on a new project but someone won’t get off his ass and commit.”

“That does sound like him,” Viktor mused. 

“This one’s fun: You owe me a game of fucking laser tag. But anyway, care to tell us what Yuri’s talking about?”

Viktor laughed. “I forgot that I promised him a game of laser tag because he was too young to—”

“I meant the new project, Viktor.”

“Oh!” Viktor laughed again. “Of course you did. He’s referring to the sequel to Agape. We’re going to start filming this spring.”

“I knew it!” cried Phichit, thumbs going a mile a minute as he typed. Yuuri could hardly believe his ears. Viktor had just come right out and said it, like he was reporting what he ate for breakfast. Hadn’t he just been talking like his career was done? Then—boom! Yuuri’s heart could barely take it.

“That’s fantastic! How do you feel about it?”

“Amazing!” Viktor exclaimed, sounding much more like his old self. Yuuri wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. “I can’t wait to work with Lilia, Yuri, Anya and the rest of the cast and crew again.”

“So, everyone’s on board?” 

“Yes. The script is phenomenal and it’s an honor to be asked to return.”

There was a pause before Chris spoke again. 

“You did some location shooting on Agape. Will you be going on location for the sequel?”

Thank you, Chris, thought Yuuri. He didn’t have to look up to know that Phichit was watching him. 

Viktor didn’t answer right away. When he spoke, his voice was subdued. “I loved filming in Detroit and I very much hope we’ll be back.”

Yuuri’s heart fluttered. He had missed his chance last time. Did this mean there was hope?

“You don’t say,” said Chris, sounding almost as excited as Yuuri felt. “You always speak fondly of Detroit. Anything you’re looking forward to seeing again?” Chris’s voice carried the distinct air of nudge nudge, wink wink.

“Well, I still dream about these cherry cookies I had at the Athena Bakery.” 

“Cookies, Viktor?” Chris didn’t sound impressed, but he would have been if he tried the cookies. Yuuri knew exactly which ones Viktor was talking about. “How about the people?” 

“I met a lot of lovely people in Detroit,” said Viktor.

“Anyone in particular you’d like to see again?” It almost sounded like Chris was prying. 

“Well, I met some delightful fans who have been with me since On Thin Ice. A few of them asked about you, Chris!”

“Then they have good taste in Detroit. Maybe I should visit you on set,” said Chris. Whatever he was digging for, Viktor wasn’t giving it to him. “Give you a little push?”

“You’re always welcome on set,” said Viktor, voice getting stiffer with every pry and prod.

“My presence is quite the gift. And speaking of gifts, did anyone give you any gifts in Detroit?”

Yuuri glanced at Phichit, but Phichit was deep in thought. What on earth was Chris going on about?

Viktor took a deep breath. Maybe it was a sigh. “The response to Agape is the best gift I can imagine, and all I want is for everyone to enjoy the sequel. We’ll be giving it our all, and we can’t wait to tell the rest of the story.”

“And does the story have a happy ending?” asked Chris.

Viktor gave a smug little laugh. “You’ll just have to wait and see, like everyone else.”

“Ooh, so cold. Tell me off the air?” asked Chris. 

“Sorry, Chris. I’ve already said too much.”

Chris gasped. “And I thought we were friends!”

And that was it. Yuuri and Phichit sat in silence as Chris talked about one of his podcast sponsors. 

Yuuri tried to gather his thoughts after the roller coaster ride of an interview. First, Viktor sounded like he was retiring, only to announce his comeback, and oh, by the way, it’s the sequel to Agape. Sometimes, he sounded like his old self (or whatever public persona Yuuri recognized), but he dipped into emotions Yuuri had only seen from him on camera. Was it his imagination, or was Viktor annoyed with Chris? And what was with all of those questions about Detroit?

Yuuri couldn’t keep up.

Eyebrows knitted and lips thin, Phichit was still deep in thought. He nodded and then his thumbs were flying over his phone once more.

“What is it?” Yuuri asked. 

“I have a theory,” Phichit said. He scrolled some more and nodded again. Face grim, he held up his phone. “Look at this.”

Yuuri didn’t recognize the Twitter handle. 

um, anyone else get the idea viktor met someone in detroit??????? #cwcpodcast #coffeewithchris #ineedanswers

“You think so?” Yuuri wondered. “It sounded like Chris was just trying to get a rise out of him.”

“Maybe.” Phichit took his phone back, then snorted a moment later. “Oh my god, Chris liked it. He liked that tweet.”

“Oh,” said Yuuri. That was as good as a confirmation. Had Viktor spent his hiatus with a boyfriend, like Chris implied? His heart sank just a little. Don’t be a jerk, he chided himself mentally, be happy for him. This was a good development. He pushed down any nagging thought to the contrary.

“That’s why Chris wanted him to admit there was someone he wanted to see in Detroit. Someone who gave him a gift. Was it a fan?” Phichit stopped speculating out loud when he saw Yuuri’s face. 

“It’s fine.” Yuuri forced himself to laugh. “Come on, don’t look at me like that. I’m just happy he has someone.”

“I don’t know. It kinda sounded like a sore subject…” Phichit said, scrolling deeper into the Twitter rabbit hole. “Don’t worry. I’ll get to the bottom of it.” He was trying to be helpful but Yuuri shook his head.

“It’s really none of our business.” Yuuri took a deep breath, swallowing the lump in his throat. His heart was still pounding from the emotional whiplash. “Don’t bother.”

“Are you sure?” Phichit asked, eyes wide with concern. 

Yuuri nodded. This was a sign. A sign that he needed to take a step back and get past this obsession. Engineering classes were getting tougher and he needed to focus on studying, not on who Viktor was or wasn’t dating. Phichit was way too busy to keep being his digital enabler. 

Of course Yuuri would see the new movie when it came out, but he was just going to enjoy it like a normal person. He was done infringing on Viktor’s privacy. 

“I’m sure,” Yuuri said. He pulled out his phone and unfollowed v-nikiforov on every social media app he had. 

Chapter Text

(about two years ago)

Viktor was filming in Detroit. It was the one bright spot in an otherwise terrible year. Yuuri couldn’t skate and he had failed Vicchan, but at least Viktor was in the same city, visiting places Yuuri passed every day. 

Viktor tagged his location everywhere he went: sampling savory dishes and tempting sweets in Greektown, admiring the buildings by the river, dancing and drinking at clubs Yuuri had been to once or twice. 

Yuuri didn’t do anything differently. He liked each post and went about his day, as if Viktor was in Los Angeles like usual. He wasn’t going to stalk Viktor, at least not outside of Instagram. Tagging his location was not an open invitation to ask for pictures or an autograph (although from his tagged photos, it looked like Viktor had been doing plenty of both) and Yuuri was going to respect his privacy. Once the movie came out, he’d be able to see Viktor in his neighborhood. 

But if he happened to run into Viktor getting coffee while he was here, well, he’d cross that bridge when he got to it. He’d smile. Maybe say “hello.” If he was feeling brave, he’d ask for a photo.

Or maybe he’d put his head down and keep walking rather than make a fool of himself. 

It went on like that for over two weeks until Yuuri’s heart stopped. Viktor had posted a photo of himself, grinning, next to a sullen Yuri Plisetsky, framed by the Detroit River and the Canadian border. The caption read, That’s a wrap! Thank you, Detroit. I’ll be home soon, Makkachin! #yurihadfuntoo #ipromise #wrappartytonight #seeyouattheafterparty #locationtba

That was it. They were done shooting in Detroit. Viktor was leaving, probably tomorrow morning. Yuuri had missed his chance.

He couldn’t be mad. Viktor had to get back to Makkachin. She deserved all of Viktor’s attention, and Viktor probably couldn’t wait to come home to her. Yuuri would never be able to come home to Vicchan again. He tried to let the thought pass without spiraling, focusing instead on Viktor’s hashtags.

Viktor sure makes himself easy to find, he thought with a frown. Viktor loved his fans, and he wasn’t a huge star (at least not to anyone but Yuuri) but anyone could have a stalker. Then again, there would probably be tons of security wherever this afterparty was.

Yuuri wondered which club Viktor would choose. One of the few perks of being a 21 year old sophomore was legal drinking, and his first class wasn’t until noon the next day. 

Don’t kid yourself. What does it matter where the party is? You’re not going.

Yuuri sighed. Another night alone. Maybe he would watch The Shore again. Rumor had it Lilia Baranovskaya had been so moved by Viktor’s performance that she had actually reached out to Yakov (her ex-husband) personally to ask for Viktor to read for his part in Cloak and Dagger (or whatever the real title was).

Yuuri didn’t put much stock in rumors, but Viktor was amazing in The Shore. Then again, he had also been amazing in his two episode arc on Seattle Med last month. 

Since his roommate was out being a normal student, Yuuri could get away with a drink or two. It wasn’t like he had practice in the morning anymore. 

He started the movie and opened a bottle of cheap wine. No one was around so he skipped the glass and drank right from the bottle. The wine wasn’t bad, Viktor was mesmerizing, and the bottle was empty before he knew it. Didn’t he have another one around somewhere? 

Bingo. Under the bed. Yuuri cracked it open. He could make a game out of it. Take a sip every time Viktor looked hot. Which was every time he was on camera. It was a good thing no one was around to watch him make an ass of himself. Viktor was so gorgeous and talented, it just wasn’t fair. Maybe Yuuri would tell him. He had never commented on any of Viktor’s posts before but tonight seemed like an excellent time to start. Yuuri just had to think of something witty to say. 

Yuuri could be charming. He could even be sexy when he wanted to. Pole fitness class hadn’t just been for his core strength, after all. Words were hard, but his body didn’t need words. His body needed to be doing something. Dancing or skating or walking, it didn’t matter. Not skating. Too drunk to skate.

Oh, and he had quit.

But enough of that. He was supposed to be thinking of something sexy to type, and Viktor looked so, so good in the photo he had just posted.

“Yuuri!”

It would be way easier to be sexy if that was Viktor calling out his name in bed and not his roommate shouting at him from across the room.

“Yuuri. Wake up.” Matt sounded annoyed and so, so loud. “Your phone, man. Turn it off.” 

“Sorry,” mumbled Yuuri. He groped for his glasses on his nightstand but found it empty. Crap. He had fallen asleep with his glasses on, and the nose pads were cutting into his nose. Now his glasses were going to be crooked. 

It took a few tries, but he silenced his phone (how drunk had he been to turn the ringer on?). The screen was way too bright.

1:36 PM. “Shit!” Yuuri was late. What had happened to his alarm?

And if that wasn’t his alarm, then it was texts or calls. Had someone in his family died? It was the middle of the night in Japan. His hands shook as he checked his notifications.

There will multiple text notifications from someone called “Love of My Life.” Yuuri’s heart began to race, and not in a good way. He scrolled down to the first text, skipping over a few Instagram notifications for Viktor.

1:56 AM
Sweet dreams ❤️

It had to be some kind of mistake, but there were more from today.

1:23 PM
How are you feeling? I had so much fun dancing with you last night!!!

1:25 PM
Sorry if it’s too soon, just couldn’t wait to talk to you again!

1:58 PM
Last one, I promise. I just really hope we can keep in touch.\

“You got home really late last night, man.” 

Matt’s voice made him jump, then Yuuri registered his words. Shit.

There had been a death in the Katsuki family after all. Katsuki Yuuri had died of embarrassment. He had chatted up a stranger last night. 

Yuuri looked at the text chain in the message app. He cringed when he saw that there were more messages, and he had sent the first three himself. 

12:52 AM
Here’s my number :)

1:56 AM
I’m okay
Thanks for a wonderful night ❤️

He didn’t even remember leaving the dorms, and he was still wearing his clothes from yesterday. He was still wearing his shoes. 

At least it seemed like nothing had really happened, aside from getting a random number. He was pretty lucid, no different from a usual hangover.

Yuuri rubbed his eyes and stared at his phone. “Did I...say anything last night?” he asked Matt.

Matt laughed. “You said your night was, and I quote, A-fucking-mazing, and then you passed out.” 

A-fucking-mazing? Yuuri felt hot to the tips of his ears. 

“Oh, and I found two bottles of wine in the garbage. Well, next to the garbage. They didn’t all fit.”

“Two bottles!?” Yuuri instantly regretted shrieking.

“Didn’t know you had it in you,” said Matt. “Don’t worry, I recycled them.”

It took Yuuri a minute to realize what that meant. Matt was only 19. “But you could have been caught!”

“Like I haven’t snuck alcohol in and out of here before,” snickered Matt. “Besides, it was a gesture of respect.”

Yuuri laughed nervously. “Thanks. I, uh, better get ready.”

Maybe it was a good thing he had blacked out. He didn’t want to remember anything from the night before. The texts were mortifying enough as it was.

A quick flick through his photo albums was fruitless. He hadn’t taken any pictures yesterday. That’s a relief.

There was only one thing to do. Yuuri blocked “Love of My Life” and deleted the texts. 

There was no point trying to make it to class, so he opted for a shower instead. Yuuri dressed, brushed his teeth, and gathered his supplies.

His notebooks and textbooks were where he left them, but his favorite pen wasn’t.  

He rummaged through his drawers, his backpack, and his pockets, but his blue 0.38 mm tip emulsion ink pen with the super comfort gel grip was nowhere to be found.

Had he taken it out last night? Who took a pen to a bar? Assuming that was where he had he gone. 

“Drunk Yuuri, apparently,” he muttered under his breath. He’d have to beg Mari to send him a new one, if the company even still made them. Most American pens were terrible, and he couldn’t afford to spend more than a couple bucks on a pen. At least he had a backup pen from home, though it wasn’t nearly as fancy. 

Yuuri put the mediocre pen in his backpack and headed to Chemistry, trying to forget the morning like he forgot the night before.

Fresh air roused his appetite, so he munched on a protein bar on the way. Out of habit, he reached for his phone and saw the Instagram notification he had ignored.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

His hangover came crashing back as he remembered. Viktor had been in Detroit for two weeks and now he was gone. Yuuri had missed his chance. The post was tagged at the airport hours ago. Yuuri recognized the fountain behind Viktor’s coffee cup, no doubt containing his favorite Caramel Macchiato. As if bidding Detroit goodbye, the caption read, Until we meet again ❤️

Before his protein bar could sour his stomach, hope bubbled up in his chest. If the movie did well, maybe there would be a sequel. Maybe they’d film in Detroit again, and he’d have another chance to glimpse his idol. Maybe he’d even get that picture. 

Yuuri knew one thing: if he got that second chance, he was going to stay stone cold sober.

Chapter Text

Yuri Plisetsky flopped down on the couch next to Viktor. “Wrap parties are boring.”

“You’ve only been to two,” Viktor pointed out. They’d had a party in LA with the full cast and crew, so the party with the skeleton crew in Detroit was small and subdued. Viktor preferred smaller gatherings, but teasing Yuri was too fun to resist. “The real fun doesn’t start until the after party, anyway.”

“After party?” Yuri curled his lip in disgust. “I can’t believe you’re going out for more drinks when we have a six AM flight.”

Viktor laughed, swirling the ice in his glass. “You’re just jealous because you’re underage.”

“Jealous of your saggy old ass? Yeah right,” Yuri scoffed. He stood up and pulled his phone from his pocket to check the time. “I’m going back to my room to call my grandpa and then I’m going to bed.”

It almost sounded responsible, but Viktor knew Yuri better than that. Viktor placed his glass on an end table and stood.

“Don’t pretend like you won’t be on your phone until two. I’ve seen you playing that cat game,” said Viktor. He plucked Yuri’s phone from his hands and held it over his head, pretending to examine his phone case.

Yuri snarled and swiped for the phone. “What the hell? Give that back!” In his leopard-print hoodie, he looked like a wild animal as he jumped and clawed at Viktor.

“Not before you apologize for calling me saggy. You hurt my feelings, Yuri.” Viktor put on an exaggerated pout, but Yuri just growled. 

“Oh, shut up, I did not.”

Viktor dangled the phone right in front of his face. “Youth is nothing to brag about.”

Yuri snatched his phone back. “Neither is being tall,” he grumbled. It was as close to an apology as Viktor was going to get out of him. With a smirk, he added, “At least I’m not going to look like a hot mess on the plane tomorrow.”

Viktor smiled down at him. “Don’t worry. When we film the sequel, we’ll do laser tag after the cast party.”

“What makes you think I’ll work with you again? And for the record, I could kick your ass at laser tag.”

“Sure you could.” Viktor resisted the urge to pat Yuri on the head. Yuri was all bite, and no matter what he said, they had worked well together. Viktor felt good about his scenes with Anya, too, but all of those scenes had been filmed on soundstages back in Los Angeles. There was something special about the experience of traveling and filming on location with Yuri. It was almost like bonding, and it made Viktor wish he had siblings. “Admit it. You’re going to miss me, little brother.”

“Shove it.” Yuri had grown out his hair for the role, and he pushed his bangs out of his eyes, still glaring at Viktor. 

Viktor wondered if Yuri would cut his hair now that they were finished. It wasn’t as long as Viktor’s was when he was Yuri’s age. “Don’t cut your hair yet,” he said. “They’ll have to fit you with a wig for any reshoots and it might not look as good.”

Yuri looked confused. “What are you—I already knew that!”

Of course you did, Viktor thought, smiling. You say you know everything, and yet you listen to my advice. 

“Stop looking at me like that!” Yuri went on. “We’re on the same flight tomorrow and we’ll be stuck on a press tour all goddamn summer.”

“Yes, but it won’t be the same!” he moaned. The press junket would be too frantic to be fun, and then it would be back to California where all he had to look forward to was seeing Makkachin. He couldn’t wait to get home to her, but she didn’t have to live in Los Angeles—Viktor could take her anywhere. Maybe Chris was right all those years ago. Maybe he should have moved to New York. 

“It’s not my fault you don’t have a life,” Yuri said.

Viktor frowned. Makkachin was his life! And he had friends. Well, he texted with Chris occasionally. At least a couple times a month. They were both busy. And Yakov counted as a friend, didn’t he? 

“I have a life!” Viktor insisted. Yuri was already walking off. 

“Whatever, old man. Don’t miss the flight,” he said, waving a hand behind him. 

Viktor wasn’t old, and he had a life. He had friends, and people liked him. Most of the cast and crew came to the after party, and that had to mean something. They had seemed really happy when he bought everyone’s drinks, too. Viktor had tagged the club on his Instagram as an invitation, and the post had gotten plenty of likes. 

So why was he sitting all alone at the bar? 

The music was good, the drinks were tasty, and all around him, people were dancing and chatting. 

“Thanks again, Viktor!” Sara from makeup called out as she breezed by hand in hand with Mila. Mila (who wasn’t old enough to drink but was old enough to get into the club) echoed her thanks, and Viktor smiled back. Behind them, Sara’s brother gave him a curt nod. He was also in makeup, but Viktor couldn’t remember his name—Sara did his makeup and her skills were superior. 

Viktor didn’t have many scenes with her, but if he had one bone to pick with the script, it was that Mila Babicheva was vastly underutilized. Her character survived the ending, so maybe she could do more if they were lucky enough to make a sequel. He’d have to ask Lilia once he got home. Lilia had made a brief appearance at the actual wrap party before taking her jet back to California.

Sara and Mila danced nearby to a peppy song, and even What’s-his-name Crispino seemed to be enjoying himself. Viktor laughed to himself. Even if he wasn’t dancing, he could watch other people dance. It was fun enough.

He sighed and summoned the bartender. “Another martini, please,” he said. 

“Make it two.”

Viktor turned at the sound of a smooth voice next to him. Dark, tousled hair and blue-rimmed glasses framed a striking profile, but when his new companion faced him, Viktor was hit with the full force of deep brown eyes. 

“Can I see some ID?” asked the bartender. 

“Of course,” said his companion, breaking eye contact to pull out a wallet. Viktor couldn’t look away, cursing the dim lighting when all he wanted to do was take in every inch of this person beside him. 

Viktor’s companion turned back to him, and only then did Viktor realize how close they were. Had his eyelashes been that long before?

There was something familiar about him, but even with his memory, Viktor was sure he’d never forget this face. He opened his mouth to speak, but words failed him and he just stared. What could he say to such a beautiful stranger? 

The beautiful stranger smiled and Viktor’s cheeks warmed. 

“You’re even more handsome in person.“ That voice dripped with confidence, and his eyes locked onto Viktor. They might as well have been alone in the room. 

“You’re a fan?” Viktor asked. His companion must have seen the Instagram post. Viktor was fiercely grateful for the existence of social media. 

A flush crept onto the stranger’s cheeks, and Viktor had never seen a lovelier shade of pink. 

“From the moment I saw you step out on the ice,” he said. The first scene of On Thin Ice, Viktor realized. “You’re captivating, Viktor.”

Viktor couldn’t place the accent, but he needed to hear his name like that again. No one had ever called him captivating before. 

“Two vodka martinis,” said the bartender. Viktor blinked. 

Oh, right. We’re at a club, he thought. Two drinks sat on the bar in front of them. The handsome stranger reached for his wallet again, but the bartender shook his head. 

“Your friend’s getting everyone’s tabs tonight,” said the bartender, pointing to Viktor. Oh, if only the bartender knew how badly Viktor wanted to this stranger to be his friend. 

His companion left a tip and turned back to Viktor. “You’re so nice,” he said, drawing out the words. “I knew you’d be nice.” He wasn’t slurring, but Viktor was pretty sure the martini wasn’t his first drink.

“We’re celebrating,” said Viktor, hoping his companion didn’t find it pathetic that he was sitting alone at a party. But he wasn’t alone anymore.

“That’s right, you finished shooting your movie! Congratulations!” The stranger grinned and held up his drink, adding something that sounded like, “Kampai!”

Viktor had heard that word before. Japanese, he thought. I need to learn Japanese.

“Kampai,” he repeated, clinking his glass with his companion’s. A little vodka splashed out but he didn’t care. They both downed their drinks in a few gulps, and his companion took his hand. 

“Dance with me, Viktor.” 

All Viktor could do was nod, abandoning his glass and letting himself be pulled onto the dance floor. 

Music pounded in his ears, too loud for talking out on the floor, but the longer they danced, the less he wanted to talk. Words were overrated. 

How could anyone make club dancing so graceful? Viktor considered himself a good dancer, but trying to impress his new friend was pointless. With each roll of his body against Viktor’s, he tore away pieces of Viktor’s heart, then his mind. 

Viktor had no idea hips could move like that (at least not on a dance floor). Hiding those strong thighs under denim was downright criminal, and the rest of him was perfect; soft in exactly the right places. They were too drunk for anything but dancing, but every brush of flesh had his imagination running miles ahead. 

Breathless and glowing, he whispered things to his companion, in Russian, in English, maybe some French. Whatever language seemed the most tantalizing in the moment. Words passed by his own ears, unintelligible and beautiful as lips grazed his skin. Viktor ached to kiss those lips but it wasn’t the time, because when they kissed (and it would happen), they were both going to remember every second. 

The handsome stranger pulled him to a couch and they both sat to catch their breath. Viktor wanted to know everything about him: his name, his dog’s name (Viktor could just tell he was a dog person), his favorite food, his favorite color…

He opened with “Why didn’t you come find me sooner? I’m leaving tomorrow.”

His new friend was still red from dancing. “Had to work up the confidence. Alcohol helps.” Viktor laughed and his companion flushed deeper. 

“I never would have guessed you were shy,” said Viktor. 

His companion straightened his glasses. “I had classes, too.”

“Oh, you’re a student?” Viktor had worked with private tutors since he was in third grade, but college fascinated him. “What do you study?”

“Biomedical engineering.”

Viktor’s pulse was quickening again. “That sounds fascinating! Tell me more about it.”

His companion shook his head. “I don’t want to bore you.”

“I don’t think you could if you tried,” Viktor said, touching his new friend’s arm. “You’re a good dancer and a genius. You’re amazing.”

“You’re the amazing one,” said his new friend. He touched Viktor’s thigh and Viktor could have squealed. “You’re the best actor of your generation.”

That was a ridiculous exaggeration but his new friend’s face was genuine. Viktor tilted his head, taking the compliment with feigned coyness. “You really think so?”

But he never got to hear the answer. 

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but you’re really Viktor Nikiforov, aren’t you?”

Viktor sent his new friend an apologetic smile before summoning his trademark look for the interloper. “I am. What’s your name?”

His new friend—Viktor really needed to ask him his name, or at least come up with a better moniker—watched with keen interest. There were worse things than being interrupted by a fan in front of a guy he was desperate to impress. Posting his location had worked splendidly, Yakov’s advice be damned. 

“Um, I’m Candace. I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long time! I still can’t believe you came to Detroit, and that you invited your fans here. I was hoping I could meet you but I didn’t think it would happen!”

Viktor smiled, waiting for her to finish her thought. “I’ve had such a wonderful time here in Detroit! I’m glad you caught me. Want to take a picture?” 

Candace nodded. “Oh my gosh, would you mind?”

“Not at all.” Viktor pulled away from the handsome stranger (But are we strangers anymore?) and stood, trying not to show his reluctance. Viktor put an arm around her shoulder, letting his bangs fall into his eyes as he summoned a perfect smile for the selfie. 

“I loved you in On Thin Ice!” she gushed. 

“Thank you! That means so much to me,” Viktor said. He couldn’t believe the show had been so popular in Detroit. Maybe it was because Detroit was so close to Canada. 

“I know I’m being annoying, but could I please have an autograph?” Candace asked, glancing at his friend. “All I have is a receipt, but…” 

“Of course! You’re not being annoying at all.” Viktor reached into his jacket, but he couldn’t find anything to write with. It wasn’t like he got asked for autographs a lot. “I don’t suppose you have a pen?” 

“Oh, um, no…” Candace’s face fell. 

“Here, take mine,” said his handsome companion (Accurate, but still too impersonal). He pulled a blue and silver pen out of his back pocket and handed it to Viktor. Viktor had never seen a pen like it before.

“Thank you!” Viktor squeezed the gel grip and it gave under his fingers like a waterbed. “Wow! It’s so squishy!” 

“Isn’t it? It’s really comfortable to write with, too,” said his future boyfriend (There we go). 

To Candace, Viktor wrote. The ink flowed in a beautiful, narrow strip, as smoothly as if the pen were an extension of his hand. “Amazing!” he cried as he continued writing. Thanks for your support. I ❤️ Detroit. He signed his autograph and handed her the receipt. 

“Thank you so much!” Candace clutched the paper to her chest.

“I can’t wait for you to see the movie,” said Viktor, still squeezing the grip of the pen. He wanted to squeeze it forever, or at least until he could squeeze his future boyfriend’s thighs instead. 

“Me too! Well, um, thanks again! As you were. Sorry.” Candace laughed nervously and scrambled back to her friends. Viktor turned his full attention back to his future boyfriend.

“You really made her night,” he said, eyes so full of affection that Viktor wanted to kiss his cheek right then. Viktor shook his head, rolling the pen between his fingers.

“It’s the other way around,” Viktor insisted, sitting down close enough for their thighs to touch. “I didn’t think anyone remembered On Thin Ice.”

“How could anyone forget it? I never missed it, Viktor,” said his future boyfriend, serious as a heart attack. Vitkor’s name was brand new every time he said it. He adjusted his glasses, scrunching up his adorable nose. “It meant so much to me, and you really inspired my skating.”

“Really? You’re a figure skater?” asked Viktor. 

His future husband nodded. No wonder he was so graceful. Even though Viktor had always taken the show seriously, it had a reputation as a fluffy teen drama. He had no idea the show had inspired anyone. Viktor had watched tons of competitions for inspiration while he was filming, and he still watched skating when he caught it on TV. Was that why his future boyfriend looked familiar?

“Did you compete?” Viktor asked. 

“Oh, I wasn’t that good,” he replied, pressing his lips together. Viktor was going to protest, but his future husband added, “I sort of stopped to focus on school.”

“Wow!” said Viktor, nodding along. “You’re so dedicated! So, from a skater’s perspective, was the show authentic?”

His future boyfriend let out a breathy laugh that crinkled his eyes and wrinkled his nose. Viktor wanted to see that laugh every day for the rest of his life. Multiple times a day. First thing in the morning and last thing before bed, at the very least. 

“Well…” 

“Be honest with me,” said Viktor, learning in. “I can take it.”

“Not really.” His future husband scratched the back of his neck. “I mean, from what I’ve heard, it wasn’t like it was on the show, you know, dating and stuff. Plenty of drama, but not like that.” 

Viktor remembered filming a lot of scenes involving disastrous dates and wild parties, even some big confessions and confrontations on the podium. 

His future husband went on. “It didn’t matter to me. That show was everything when I was growing up.” 

Viktor he put a hand over his heart. “That show will always be near and dear to me. I’m glad it meant so much to you.” 

“Your skating was incredible,” his future husband gushed. “You would have gotten better component scores than some actual skaters.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. And it was all Coach Artinian’s doing.”

His future husband’s eyes sparkled under the dim lights in the club. “I don’t care how good your coach is. Nobody can start skating at 16 and learn to jump as fast as you did.”

His heart rate had long since recovered from dancing, but Viktor wondered if his future husband’s pulse was pounding as hard as his own. 

“Skating was always fun,” Viktor admitted. “Sometimes I wished I had started sooner. Don’t you miss it?” He regretted the question as soon as his future husband’s smile faltered. 

“Something your show definitely got right was the pressure.” Viktor had to lean in closer to hear him now. “No matter how hard I worked, I just wasn’t cut out for it.”

Viktor wanted to understand. Viktor wasn’t a real skater, but the skating he had done for the show had come naturally to him. Acting was as simple as breathing. The movie he had just finished was the closest a role had ever come to challenging him. Modeling had always been easy, too. In fact, Viktor couldn’t remember having to work at anything. But his future husband was different. Viktor could see it as plain as day.

“You should be proud,” said Viktor. “I only played a skater on TV, but you actually skated, and now you’re an engineering student. That takes so much drive. It’s incredible.”

His future husband looked down at his hands. “Not really.”

Confidence was sexy as hell on him, but this vulnerable side made Viktor burn with the desire to build him up until he saw himself the way Viktor saw him.

Viktor touched his future husband’s chin, coaxing his face up until they were looking into each other’s eyes. “It is. I’m very impressed.”

Those huge brown eyes glistened, then blinked, and the confident glint was back. “You’re pretty impressive yourself.”

Those were unmistakably bedroom eyes. If only they hadn’t been drinking. Viktor took his future husband's hand in his. “Can I give you my number? This gorgeous guy let me borrow an amazing pen.”

His future husband laughed. “You can just put it in my phone,” he said, reaching into his pocket with his free hand. 

He handed Viktor his phone, and Viktor reluctantly let him go to take it. He added himself into the contacts as Love of My Life ❤️ and saved the entry. When he passed the phone back, his future husband covered Viktor’s hand with his own, his soft fingers leaving Viktor’s skin tingling. 

His future husband tapped out a message and Viktor’s phone buzzed in his pocket a moment later.

Viktor wanted to ask him out a real date, but what was the point when he was headed back to California in a matter of hours? Would it be too forward to ask his future husband to come with him?

A voice that sounded suspiciously like Yuri’s told him, Yes, that would be too much.

“Care for another dance?” Viktor asked, offering his hand. It was a good start.

His future husband took it and stood. On his tiptoes, he was nose to nose with Viktor. He opened his mouth to speak, then swayed on the spot.

Viktor steadied him with a hand on his lower back. “Are you all right?” 

“I…” His future husband swallowed. “I have to go.”

Was it the lighting or did his future husband suddenly look a little green? “Do you need me to call you an car?” Viktor asked.

“No no no, it’s okay. I just need some air.”

“Are you sure?” Viktor asked, letting his hand fall to his side.

“Yeah. Yes. I‘ll text you when I get home.” His future husband stepped back, sweat beading at his forehead.

“All right,” said Viktor. He didn’t like ending things like this, but he had to respect his future husband’s decisions. “Oh! Your pen!” Viktor pulled it out of his jacket pocket and held it out.

His future husband had a hand over his mouth, but it sounds like he said, “Keep it!” Was he going to be sick? Viktor made to follow him, but his future husband shook his head rapidly. “I promise I’ll be fine. I’ll text you, Viktor!”

And he was gone. 

Viktor stared at the door, wrestling with the urge to follow. No, he thought. He’s an adult. And Viktor really didn’t want to smell or see vomit, even if it was his future husband’s vomit. 

Instead, pulled out his phone. In spite of the abrupt ending to the night, he smiled when he saw the text from earlier. 

12:52 AM
Here’s my number :)

Viktor stored the number as Future Husband. He had no idea how long he stared at his phone before he sat down with another drink. The cast and crew danced around him, but he didn’t pay much attention. Viktor couldn’t stop thinking about his future husband. He was smart, talented, graceful, Japanese, adorable, hopefully not too sick…

Viktor sighed with relief when his phone vibrated.

1:56 AM
I’m okay 
Thanks for a wonderful night ❤️

His future husband was all right. He’d probably have a horrible hangover in the morning, but he was okay. Viktor typed Sweet dreams ❤️ and hit Send. 

The club would have stayed open longer if he wanted, but things were winding down so he paid the bill and called for a ride back to the hotel.

Viktor’s future husband filled his dreams, dreams so sweet they left him smiling even when his alarm woke him a mere two hours later. Was it too early to text back? Was his future husband a morning person? They still had so much to learn about each other.

“At least one of us deserves our beauty sleep,” he said to himself. Viktor got out of bed, showered, and dressed, transferring the blue pen to the pocket of his sweatshirt. He was still smiling as he packed up the last of his things. 

He resisted texting on the ride to the airport and his future husband remained nameless, but they had time. Viktor was sure that this was going to last forever.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Yuri!” Viktor lifted his sunglasses as soon as he saw Yuri frowning at him from across the airport lounge. 

“Why are you smiling?” Yuri asked. His backpack hit the floor with a thud when he reached Viktor. “You look like shit.”

Viktor’s smile faltered but he quickly replaced it—and his sunglasses. The shades weren’t intended to keep him from being recognized (even if he wanted to pretend that they were) but to hide exactly what Yuri had pointed out. He wasn’t magic with a makeup brush like Sara, and no amount of concealer had been able to mask the bags under his eyes. 

“Worth it,” said Viktor, trying to sound mysterious.

Yuri shrugged. “Whatever.” He flopped into the seat opposite Viktor, eyed fixed on Viktor’s breakfast.

Viktor slid the menu over to him and took a long sip of his quadruple shot caramel macchiato. The airport lounge served coffee but Viktor was addicted to Starbucks. Chris would be so ashamed, he thought.

Did his future husband drink coffee? Did he prefer sweet or savory food? Was he sleeping right now? It was all Viktor wanted to talk about.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about the party?” 

Yuri glared at him, but the server approached before he could speak.

“Something for breakfast?” 

“Yeah,” said Yuri. “I’ll take a western omelet and blueberry pancakes with whipped cream and syrup. Oh, and a large orange juice.” 

The server nodded and Viktor blinked at Yuri from behind his sunglasses. “Hungry?” 

“So what?” Yuri propped his feet up on the coffee table between them, dirty sneaker soles dangerously close to Viktor’s french toast. “I’m still growing, and Yakov paid for these first class tickets so we might as well make the most of them.”

Wrinkling his nose, Viktor wrapped his napkin around his hand and pushed Yuri’s sneakers off of the table. “Don’t be disgusting,” he said.

“You’re one to talk,” Yuri retorted. “I don’t wanna know who you hooked up with last night.”

Viktor pressed a hand to his heart. Yuri was so crass. “It wasn’t like that! Last night, I met the man I’m going to marry.” 

Yuri raised an eyebrow. “Okay, that’s just creepy.”

“Creepy?” Viktor gasped. “We danced and talked and it was perfect.” 

“Oh yeah,” said Yuri. The server returned with Yuri’s juice and he gulped down half the glass at once. “Baba told me you danced with some fan of yours until he ran off. Creepy.”

If Yuri thought Mila was old, there was no hope for Viktor, but he put the nickname aside. “He wasn’t just a fan! He was a figure skater and now he’s studying to be an engineer.”

Yuri took another drink. “Uh huh. And what’s his name?” 

“I don’t know,” Viktor admitted. “But he did give me his phone number!”

The server brought Yuri his food and he shoveled pancakes into his mouth. “Was that before or after you proposed?” he asked, mid-chew.

“I didn’t propose,” said Viktor. “Wait, should I have?” That would be one way to convince him to come to LA. 

“No, dumbass.” Yuri started on his omelet, eating like it was his first meal in days. “You only just met the guy.”

“But Yuri, he was just oozing with…” Viktor grasped for the right word. “Eros.” 

“The fuck does that—” Yuri almost choked on his hash browns. “Gross! I’m trying to eat here!” 

Was this just Yuri’s immaturity? Viktor chuckled. “Oh, Yuri. Little kitten. Maybe in a few years you’ll understand.”

“First,” Yuri chewed a huge bite of food and swallowed, “ew. And second, this has nothing to do with age. You’re just awkward as fuck.”

“Says the child talking with his mouth full.”

Yuri rolled his eyes. “Look. You’re a...decent actor.” Coming from Yuri, that was quite a compliment, but Yuri cut him off before he could revel in it. “But you have the social capacity of a toddler.”

Viktor didn’t understand. He charmed reporters and fans alike, and all of his costars (with the exception of Yuri, who protested too much) said he was a pleasure to work with. And even though the paparazzi mostly left him alone, Viktor had never seen a candid shot of himself where he wasn’t smiling. His social graces were utter perfection. 

Meanwhile, the one time Yuri had been approached by a reporter, he had flicked the guy off. 

“What are you talking about?” Viktor asked, crossing his legs.

Yuri finished his meals and sighed. “You met this guy once, you don’t even know his name, but you’re going to marry him? No wonder he ran off. Life isn’t some movie. In the real world, that’s fucking creepy.”

Had his future husband faked being sick to get away? The thought hadn’t even occurred to him before. Had Viktor scared him off? 

But his memories said otherwise—memories of the way their bodies fit together on the dance floor, the easy laughter, the lingering gazes. Viktor couldn’t remember ever connecting with another person so quickly. No, he had to believe in his future husband. It was early, but Viktor was sure there would be multiple texts waiting for him by the time they landed in LA. Then Yuri would believe him. 

Viktor put a tip on the table and stood, coffee in hand. “It’s time to go to the gate,” he said, lifting his handbag over his shoulder. Yuri rolled his eyes again but grabbed his backpack and followed Viktor out. 

“I’m taking the monorail,” Yuri announced.

“Have fun!” 

Yuri grunted, but there was a bounce to his step as he headed off. Viktor chuckled. Monorails were interesting, but the novelty had long since worn off for him. He’d do plenty of sitting on the flight. And even though his head was certainly better off than his future husband’s this morning, a walk sounded pleasant. Too bad it gave his mind a chance to wander.

You have the social capacity of a toddler. 

Viktor tried not to let Yuri’s words get to him. Was he that bad? Growing up all over Europe had made it difficult for Viktor to make lasting friendships, but he was more than capable of conducting himself in public. He’d had boyfriends, though none of them had been too serious. Still, maybe Yuri had a point. He had to take things slowly with his future husband. If Viktor ruined his chance at happiness, he would never forgive himself.

A compromise, then. He would hold off on sending any texts, but maybe a subtle gesture was in order. Instagram had brought them together, so it felt like a safe bet.

The terminal was sleek and modern but not terribly picturesque. Viktor vaguely remembered going by a fountain on his way to caffeine. It was on the way to the gate, so it would have to do.

The fountain wasn’t as pretty as he remembered. It shot jets of water up in patterns over a black platform. The streams landed with pleasant little splooshes, but it wasn’t exactly The Bellagio and finding a good angle was tough. Viktor held out his coffee in front of the fountain, making sure his name was visible, and snapped a picture. Considering his surroundings, it wasn’t a bad picture, and he had the perfect caption.

Until we meet again ❤️

His footsteps were lighter the rest of the walk to the gate. Yuri was already there, hunched over his phone in one of the seats. He looked up at Viktor, eyes narrowed, and held up his phone. It was the fountain picture.

“Seriously?” he muttered. “Did you even hear a word I said?”

Viktor put his bag in a seat in the row across from Yuri’s. “I heard you. I simply chose not to listen.”

Yuri sneered and shoved in his earbuds. “Do what you want, but you know I’m right.”

Viktor sat down and pulled out his own phone. His picture already had dozens of likes, and he wondered if his future husband was among them. Viktor had never dated a fan before, but none of his fans had ever ensnared him like this. 

Sneaking a glance at Yuri, Viktor decided that scouring his followers for anyone who looked like his future husband was a bad idea. He looked through his feed instead.

Yuri had posted a picture of the tram and captioned it Red. Viktor sighed. Yuri was truly atrocious at captions. 

Chris had posted a picture from one of the network morning show green rooms. It sounded like he was appearing to promote his new podcast (which Viktor kept meaning to listen to). It had been a long time since they had talked, but they were both busy. Chris hosted some sort of singing show that Viktor kept intending to watch, but he never knew when it was on.

Maybe my social skills do leave something to be desired, he thought. He liked Chris’s picture and opened his messaging app. His heart leapt when he saw the brief exchange from last night, but he scrolled through the other messages to find his last conversation with Chris. 

Two months had gone by, Viktor realized with a wince. Well, he had been filming and working non-stop. 

He tapped out a message. Just wrapped the movie! You look good this morning. 

Chris was quick to respond. I look good every morning ;) or have you forgotten?

Viktor should have expected that. No one could ever forget you, he replied. 

He should have expected the barrage of winking faces, too. Viktor was tempted to mention that he was taken now, but Yuri’s words ran through his mind again. He had to slow down.

Chris’s message snapped him out of it. I’m on in 30, hope you’ll be watching, followed by a kissing face.

Sorry, typed Viktor, I’ll be on a plane :(

DTW->LAX right? Congrats on the movie btw. Come on my podcast and we’ll plug it.

Chris abused the winking face, Viktor decided, but the podcast was a good idea. There were probably ways to record an interview remotely, but if he could squeeze in a visit to Chris, all the better. Surely Yakov would go for that.

Would love to!!! I’ll check when the press tour goes thru NYC, he replied.

After a moment, Chris sent him a selfie flanked by two people with brushes and makeup palettes. Time to go get prettier. Miss u ;)

Viktor typed, Good luck!! Talk soon!! He locked his phone and looked triumphantly at Yuri as if to prove how social he was, but Yuri had pulled his hood down over his eyes and dozed off. Viktor clicked his tongue. If he’d have known Yuri would fall asleep, he definitely would have mentioned his future husband to Chris. 

But it was hard to be annoyed with Yuri while he was sleeping. He looked like a kitten, all curled up in the chair. It reminded him of filming; Yuri had a habit of falling asleep on set and Viktor was always the one wake him when it was time to film. Much like a cat, Yuri was extra grouchy when he woke up.

Viktor would get him up if he didn’t hear the boarding call. They were going to be spending a lot of time in airports over the summer and Viktor was almost looking forward to it. He liked watching over Yuri, which was good because Anya seemed to hate it. Viktor and Anya had good on-screen chemistry but when the cameras weren’t rolling, she kept to herself, usually on the phone in her trailer. She was serious about her career and Viktor respected that. Sleeping Beauty had done well at the box office, and Anya had the sort of classic beauty that had been inspiring painters and photographers for generations. Just like Viktor.

Before this film, Viktor had kept to himself on set, too. Even when he had been part of a cast of dozens of his peers, he had really only spent time with Chris (and that was only because they were fooling around in his trailer). It seemed like a lifetime ago. 

It wasn’t that he was trying to be aloof. Traveling with his mother had taught him that there was a time and a place for everything, and everything was temporary. Live sets weren’t that different from practices and completions. He was on when he needed to be on, and he kept distractions to a minimum. 

Things were different now. Yuri needed guidance. He had his grandfather, and he had Yakov, but he needed someone a little closer to his age to keep him out of trouble.

“We now welcome our First Class passengers to join us at the gate to begin bordering.”

Viktor tapped Yuri’s shoulder and Yuri’s eyes snapped open. 

“I wasn’t sleeping,” he said. 

Viktor smiled down at him. “Just resting your eyes, I’m sure. Come on, time to board.” 

Yakov had booked them on opposite ends of the cabin, but Yuri couldn’t get into much trouble on the plane. 

Once in his seat, Viktor checked his photo—a couple hundred likes now, but Chris had called him “basic” in the comments. It didn’t matter. His future husband would know it was for him.

Even though he hadn’t received any texts or comments from the object of his affection, it was probably time to stop ignoring Yakov’s voicemails.

Yakov’s screeching voice made his temples pound. He pulled the phone away from his ear as the recording played. 

“What the hell do you think you were doing, inviting a whole city to go clubbing with you? One of these days it’s going to get you killed! And as if that weren’t enough, you go out drinking all nighmt? You’re on your own if you miss your flight, do you hear that? How do you think this makes you look? And what kind of example are you setting?”

Viktor sighed and deleted the message before Yakov was done yelling. 

On to the next, he thought, queueing up the other voicemail.

“I see you made it to the airport, and that your phone is in perfect working order. Try to sleep on the plane because I need to see you this afternoon. Call me when you land.”

Great. No time to see Makkachin or rest. Viktor pulled out his sleep mask and stowed his bag. He put his phone on airplane mode and slid it into his jacket pocket. It clicked when it hit the pen and Victor smiled. He reached in and gave the gel grip a squeeze. 

It was a favor. Like Cinderella’s glass slipper or a handkerchief in an old movie (only not disgusting). Viktor drew it out of his pocket to admire. 

No monograms or labels gave any hints at its owner’s name, but at least his future husband wasn’t a pen biter. In fact, the pen was meticulously cared for. Aside from the well-worn grip, it looked brand new. It even still had the label, all in what Viktor recognized as Japanese. He couldn’t wait to start studying the language. Viktor brushed some lint from the rubber grip and tucked the pen back in his pocket. 

Blue, he thought as he drifted off to sleep. He likes blue. 

Viktor didn’t remember taking off when the plane touched down at LAX. He switched on his phone, dismayed when once again, he hadn’t missed any texts. 

His future husband must be sleeping, he decided. Instead of wallowing, Viktor sent a text to the dog sitter to let him know he’d be home soon. Leo responded with a picture of Makkachin on her morning walk, which perked Viktor up better than the coffee he’d had at the airport. Leo deserved a bonus not just for taking good care of Makkachin but for supplying Viktor with a constant stream of photos. Viktor wasn’t sure how he would have gotten through without it. 

Viktor herded a groggy Yuri to baggage claim and collected both of their bags. Yuri didn’t start to perk up until they were in the parking garage. 

“That seat was badass. I’m never flying coach again,” he said, stretching his arms above his head.

“Just wait until you see how much those tickets cost when you have to buy them yourself,” said Viktor. He understood the feeling, but even with his syndication savings account he could rarely justify the expense. Yakov must have found some good investors to even get them this flight. 

“Won’t be a problem,” snorted Yuri, climbing into the passenger seat. “Unlike you, my career is going to get off the ground before I’m ancient.”

Viktor shook his head. “Keep talking like that and you’ll be bankrupt before you’re my age.” 

“Whatever.” Yuri buckled himself in and pulled out his phone. 

Viktor was halfway to Yuri’s grandfather’s house when a call came in over the Bluetooth. Oh, right, I knew I was forgetting something. He summoned a cheery tone. “Good morning, Yakov!” 

Yakov sounded much less cheerful. “You were supposed to call me. Your flight landed an hour ago.”

Viktor suppressed a yawn. “Baggage claim took a while, and I had to keep Yuri from getting lost. It’s a big airport.”

“I wasn’t lost!” Yuri protested. Viktor didn’t remind him that he had almost wandered into customs while looking for a bathroom.

“Well, take him home and meet me at the studio at noon. I need to talk to you about this movie.”

“Why just him?” Yuri demanded. “I’ve got just as much screen time.”

“Yes, but you need your rest,” said Yakov. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning.”

Yuri snickered and went back to playing on his phone. 

“When do I get to rest?” Viktor whined. He had actually gotten good sleep on the plane, but the thought of coming home to Makkachin only to turn around and leave for a meeting broke his heart. Plus, he still smelled like an airplane.

“As much as you try to convince the world otherwise, Vitya, you are an adult,” grunted Yakov. 

“Can we at least meet at the cafeteria? I’m starving.”

“Fine. Noon.” Yakov ended the call.

“Sounds like you’re in trouble,” said Yuri. 

“That’s just Yakov’s way of saying he cares,” Viktor replied. He turned onto Yuri’s street. “We still have a lot of details to iron out for the press tour. Lilia wants to promote this movie a little differently. It’s exciting, isn’t it?”

“If you say so.” But Viktor caught Yuri smiling out of the corner of his eye. 

“Do you need a hand with your bag?” Viktor asked, pulling into Yuri’s grandfather’s driveway. 

“No! God, Viktor, just pop your trunk! I’m not a kid.” Yuri jumped out of the car and slammed the door behind him. He grabbed his bag and slammed the trunk, too. 

Viktor rolled down the window. “Get some rest, little kitten! I’ll see you in a few days!”

“Up yours, old man!” 

That’s was code for I’ll miss you, too.

 

Chapter Text

If traffic cooperated, Viktor would have just enough time to get home, pay Leo, pet Makkachin, and shower before he had to meet Yakov. 

He’d been lucky that his filming schedule hadn’t conflicted with any of Leo’s competitions. There was no one he trusted more to watch Makkachin. 

Skaters, Viktor decided, were good people. A brilliant thought struck him then. Maybe Leo knows my future husband! 

But the thought shattered when he remembered that his future husband had said he was never good enough to compete. Viktor doubted it had anything to do with a lack of skill—anyone who could dance like that would be breathtaking on the ice. 

It left Viktor even more determined to marry him. His future husband needed someone to boost his confidence (without alcohol). Maybe it was time to send that text. 

But it was harder to focus on anything else when his favorite girl was so close. Viktor pulled up to his condo and almost ran to the door. The moment he pushed the door open, Makkachin overwhelmed him with puppy kisses. Did Makkachin associate the smell of airplanes with Viktor?  

“Hello, beautiful!” he cooed, scratching behind both of her ears. “Have you been a good girl? Of course you have!” 

“Welcome back, Viktor,” Leo called, getting up from the couch. His duffel bag was already packed by the door. “How was the flight?”

“Slept like a baby,” Viktor replied, straightening to look at him. “Thanks again for all the pictures. You have no idea how much that helped.”

Leo grinned. “She’s just so photogenic, I couldn’t help myself.”

Viktor agreed. “I know you have to get to the rink, but we should talk soon about your schedule for the next few months. I’ve got a promotional tour coming up.” Makkachin’s ears drooped as if she had understood him, and Viktor’s heart sank.

“I’ve got some trips coming up, but let me know when and I’ll see what I can do. Count me in for anything during my off-season!” 

Viktor handed him an envelope. “There’s more in there than we discussed, but I won’t take any of it back. You’re a godsend.” 

Leo shook his head but accepted the money. “My mom’s allergic to dogs, so I just feel lucky to get to spend time with Makkachin,” he said, picking up his bag and tucking the envelope inside. “If I’m in town, I’m happy to do it.”

“I’ll text you when I know my schedule, and you can send yours. And tell Coach Artinian I say hello!” Viktor said as he saw Leo out the door.

Leo turned back to face him. “I will! He always asks about you. I think he still wishes he got to train you for real. You should stop by the rink sometime. Might be fun to put on a pair of skates again, right?”

“Oh, it’s been years,” said Viktor with a laugh. “I’m sure I’d just embarrass myself. But maybe I can see you compete sometime?” 

“You totally should! If you can. I mean, I know you’re busy.”

“I’d love to go. Send me your schedule.” He’d always enjoyed competitions before, and going to support a friend sounded even better than researching for a role. Leo bid them farewell and Viktor patted Makkachin’s head. “I’m sorry, girl, but Yakov wants me to meet him in a little bit. I hate leaving you so soon.” 

Makkachin whined and Viktor wondered how mad Yakov would be if he brought her with him to the studio. He wouldn’t even have time to unpack, but that reminded him of something in his bag.

“I have a present for you!” He searched his carry on bag until he found the s squeaky hockey puck toy he’d bought for her. Makkachin brightened and started chewing it right away. 

He couldn’t take Makkachin to the studio, and he probably couldn’t take Makkachin to see Leo compete. Maybe Leo would have a competition in Detroit? Hockey was so popular there that there was bound to be a big rink. Viktor checked his phone again. It would be around 1:30 in the afternoon back in Detroit, and he couldn’t resist any longer.

He typed the message before he could lose his nerve. 

How are you feeling? I had so much fun dancing with you last night!!!

The message sent successfully, and Viktor stared at his phone for a full two minutes, heart thumping as he pet Makkachin with his other hand. 

Nothing. Maybe his future husband was big on sleep. Or maybe Yuri was right, he thought. 

Either he hadn’t seen any of Viktor’s messages yet or he didn’t use read receipts. That was fine. Viktor turned them off, too. Most people did. It was probably nothing. He sent another message to explain himself.

Sorry if it’s too early, just couldn’t wait to talk to you again!

A shower would help him relax. Viktor headed to the bathroom and Makkachin followed, squeaking away as he washed and dressed. He checked his phone.

Still nothing. 

One more text couldn’t hurt. Viktor didn’t want to sound too desperate but he couldn’t resist.

Last one, I promise. I just really hope we can keep in touch.

With traffic, he’d have to leave soon if he wanted to be even close to on time, but Yakov would understand if he spent every second he could snuggling his dog. Her food and water bowls were freshly filled (bless Leo de la Iglesia) so Viktor let her out to relieve herself and run around the yard. 

When he couldn’t put it off any longer, he brought Makkachin in and fed her a treat, promising he’d be back soon. 

He didn’t get any texts on the way to the studio, and Yakov was less understanding than Viktor thought he’d be.

Instead of listening to Yakov chew him out, he wondered if his future husband was all right. Viktor didn’t want him to be sick, but it would explain why he hadn’t texted back.

“Vitya! Stop daydreaming and listen. Are you still hungover?”

“I don’t get hangovers,” said Viktor. He sipped his iced tea and peered down over the top of his sunglasses. 

“You’re not 22 anymore.”

Ouch. Viktor shot him a fake smile. “Thanks for the reminder.” He waved his hand in the air and went on. “You want me to keep interacting with fans on social media to promote this movie from the ground up.”

“That’s...yes,” said Yakov. He knew that Viktor always came through when it counted. “The events we’ve scheduled aren’t going to attract large crowds, but we think we can use that to our advantage.” 

“You must really believe in this movie,” said Viktor. “Is it odd to be working with your ex-wife again?”

Yakov narrowed his eyes. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business, but we can be civil. We’re adults. You should try it.” 

Viktor stifled a yawn. “Is that all? We could have had this meeting over the phone.”

“You’re going to complain when I bought you lunch?” Yakov’s head was getting red. Maybe they should have eaten inside—Los Angeles was much sunnier than Detroit, but sunshine was overrated. 

“I’ve got some SPF 50 in my bag,” Viktor offered. 

Yakov ignored him. “We both know this movie is a departure from your recent work. In a way, it’s going back to your roots.”

That was true. Even though this film was grittier than On Thin Ice ever was, it was definitely going to appeal to a young demographic. Anya was a proven winner with teens and young adults, and Yuri would be a huge draw. Viktor was the only wildcard, and they both knew it. 

“I’ve been sitting in on some edits,” Yakov continued. He sounded almost reluctant when he added, “It’s good, Viktor, some of your best work. Don’t let it go to your head.”

Viktor grinned. “You and I both know it’s too late for that, but I’m flattered.”

Yakov went on as if Viktor hadn’t said anything. “A traditional marketing campaign isn’t going to attract the viewers we want, so we’ll go to them. Let it become their movie.” 

Marketing always rubbed Viktor the wrong way—it felt manipulative—but he had been in the business long enough to understand it. “In other words, keep doing what I’m doing?” 

“This isn’t my area of expertise, Vitya,” Yakov said with a sigh. “I can barely keep up with you kids online. I’m leaving it up to the three of you. But please, before I lose what little hair I have left, stop broadcasting your location every time you leave your house. Keep it to official events.”

Viktor pulled off his sunglasses and set them on the table. “You asked me to use social media. That’s how you use it.”

“Look, if this movie does as well as I think it will, your life is going to change. You won’t be able to avoid the paparazzi much longer. I’m just thinking about your safety,” Yakov said. “Reach out to your old fans, attract some new ones, but be sensible. I know that’s a lot to ask of you.” 

His old fans. Like his future husband. Who still hadn’t texted him back.

Viktor had a feeling this movie was going to do well, but he hadn’t thought about what that would mean. Would he still be able to walk Makkachin? Make his Starbucks runs? Jog?

Would he still be able to date his future husband? Get married? Would his future husband even want the hassle of being with an actor? Maybe that was the problem. Biomedical engineering sounded so intense, and the last thing Viktor wanted was to get in the way of that. Would his future husband even be able to work in LA?

“I just have one question,” Viktor said, scratching his chin. Yakov nodded. “What does a person do with a biomedical engineering degree?”

Yakov almost fell off his chair. “How the hell should I know? Have you been paying attention at all?”

“Never mind, I’ll look it up online,” said Viktor. “Are we done? I miss my dog.”

Yakov groaned. “Go get some rest. I’ll have Judy email you your schedule.”

“Thanks for lunch!” Viktor called over his shoulder as he left.

It was almost four in the afternoon in Detroit, and he’d heard nothing. Viktor checked once more in case the messages hadn’t sent, but there were no errors. 

Maybe his future husband had gone straight to class. He was so dedicated. 

Too dedicated to even say hello? The thought crept into his head before he could stop it. Viktor tried to listen to the radio to distract himself, but every song was about dancing, love, or sex. He switched it off. 

Viktor was prone to getting caught up in his work, or at least caught on autopilot. Maybe his future husband was like that, too. He’d get back to Viktor soon. Maybe he was so excited and shy he didn’t know what to say. 

Or maybe Yuri’s right.

Or maybe Viktor just needed to focus on getting home to Makkachin and snuggling with her on the couch. 

When he pulled into his garage, the message from Yakov’s assistant hit his inbox. He had a couple weeks to catch his breath, then day after day of interviews, appearances, and events. This had always been the goal, hadn’t it? This was why he moved to Los Angeles. 

He made himself a cup of tea and curled up with Makkachin on his couch, feeling much better with her at his side. He snapped a few pictures and posted one to Instagram with the caption, Love coming home to you. Maybe that would get his future husband’s attention. 

Before the photo even finished uploading, they both fell asleep and Viktor didn’t wake until Makkachin wedged her nose into his hand, asking to go outside. 

It was eight o’clock in Detroit, and Viktor had no new messages.

 

Chapter Text

All Yuuri wanted was to eat his breakfast in peace.

“Hey! It’s Drunk Hero!”

People were always yelling in the dining halls. Yuuri cringed at the noise but he didn’t look up. No one ever talked to him.

“Don’t you remember me?”

The voice was louder now. A guy Yuuri didn’t recognize was standing over him. 

“Sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong person,” said Yuuri, blinking in surprise. 

The guy’s jaw dropped, but he looked impressed. “No, it was definitely you. Man, you must have been wasted!” 

Yuuri’s stomach turned. Please tell me this isn’t the guy I chatted up. He had finally gotten past the point of constant mortification and now this?

The guy sat down next to Yuuri and Yuuri wanted to merge with the floor. He wasn’t Yuuri’s type at all (if he even had a type outside of Viktor Nikiforov these days) and he clearly had no idea that his presence was unwelcome.

“Come on, at least tell me it worked out with the love of your life,” said the guy.

“Huh?” So this wasn’t the guy, but that was only a small comfort. How much had happened that night? Did Yuuri even want to know?

The guy shook his head and laughed. “Boy, you don’t remember anything. We met outside the dorms, you threw up in the bushes, and then you handed me your phone. Ring a bell?”

All Yuuri could remember was waking up with a sour mouth and regret. He shook his head. 

“You told me that you had just met the love of your life and you had to let him know that you were okay,” the guy continued. “I’ve never heard someone be so coherent after puking.” 

“I don’t remember any of this,” Yuuri said, shaking his head. 

The guy laughed again. “I guess I should have expected as much from the guy who somehow forgot he killed that Usher song half-naked last year.” 

Oh god. Yuuri had all but blocked those rumors from his memory. 

Retirement had hit him hard. So hard, he had apparently stripped down to almost nothing and sang Love in This Club at a karaoke contest. He wouldn’t have believed the rumors except he had woken up with a certificate proclaiming his victory and a giftcard to Waffle House.

Yuuri didn’t know of any recorded evidence of the incident, but he swore he still caught winks from random students. 

At least he had kept his clothes on this time (as far as he could tell). He was afraid to ask, and he wasn’t in skating shape anymore. 

“Ah, well. Sorry it didn’t work out,” the guy said. He scooted closer to Yuuri, arm creeping around his shoulder. “You looking to make another drunken mistake with anyone else?”

“What?” Yuuri’s eyes went wide and he dodged the offending arm. “No! No no no! Sorry. No.”

“Jeez, I get it. Some Drunk Hero you are.” The guy left without another word, and Yuuri stared at his breakfast. His appetite was gone. 

Were people really calling him Drunk Hero?

There were so many things to beat himself up over. For being in the situation at all, for not finding better ways to cope with stress, for not even being interested in flirting back, for being destined to remain single for the remainder of his college career...

He had no interest in that guy, at least. All he had wanted was to disappear. Yuuri was done with drunken mistakes and he didn’t want to be anyone’s Drunk Hero. It was a terrible pick up line anyway. 

But at the same time, part of him said, This is why you don’t have a partner. This is why you don’t have any friends. Because he never took chances. Chances were just opportunities to fall.

His last friend and the last person he had harbored any real feelings for was back in Japan, and she was married with kids now. Yuuko sent him messages from time to time but he rarely had the energy to give her the replies she deserved. 

Skating had kept him too busy for friends and romance, or so he had told himself. Plenty of other skaters had time for both. Now, he had no excuse. He had pushed his family away, pushed other skaters away, and he kept his classmates at arm’s length.

Still, he’d take no relationships over friends who just wanted to get wasted.

Making an ass of himself in some bar was bad enough, but complete strangers all over campus only knew him for being a drunken asshole. How far Japan’s Ace had fallen. He had never deserved that nickname, anyway. 

Yuuri’s phone buzzed once in his pocket. 

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

The notification was like a weight off his shoulders. He tapped it and there was a picture of Makkachin with a bow in her fur. Freshly groomed but always lovely, the caption read. Makkachin made everything better.

Makkachin was always there for Viktor when he needed her, and Viktor’s Instagram was always there for Yuuri. She looked adorable, and Yuuri smiled, remembering how soft Vicchan’s fur had always felt right after he had been to the groomer. 

Viktor probably had much more stress in his life than Yuuri did. He’d be going on a publicity tour soon, separated from his beloved pup, but Viktor was handling it just fine. He wasn’t drinking himself into a stupor for the tabloids. Meanwhile, classes were Yuuri’s only responsibility and he was a hot mess.

He had to do better. For Viktor, if not for himself. Yuuri ate a few bites of his breakfast and headed to class. 

That afternoon brought another notification from Viktor. This time, it was a photo of a bowl of ramen brimming with slices of pork and green onions. 

Yuuri’s appetite returned with a vengeance, mouth watering a little bit at the sight. Savory broth, tender meat, but if the noodles were perfect, the bowl could ascend to something divine. Yuuri missed ramen. There wasn’t much to be had around Detroit, but it was probably easy to find in Los Angeles.

In the mood for Japanese food lately… Delicious #ramen today! #oishii 

The caption tickled him. Viktor was enjoying Japanese food, and even trying to use Japanese words! Yuuri was so proud. Images flooded his mind: taking Viktor to a festival (God, he would look good in yukata), trying food from every stall. Viktor would shout, “Vkusno!” or maybe, “Oishii!” 

Get a grip, he told himself. There was no way he’d ever get to share a meal with Viktor, let alone a meal in Japan. Going back to Japan meant facing his failures, and daydreaming was pointless. 

At least he could see Viktor’s meals on Instagram. Yuuri got another notification while he was studying on his bed that night. His eyes went wide––sukiyaki! The photo was gorgeous. Thin, marbled slices of beef were meticulously folded and fanned out next to silky blocks of tofu, sumptuous mushrooms, springy yam noodles, and fine strands of cabbage, all waiting to be cooked in delicious broth. It looked like a fancy restaurant.

Still craving Japanese food! #sukiyaki #itadakimasu #oishii

Yuuri double-checked the location just to make sure Viktor wasn’t actually in Japan, but the restaurant was in a suburb of Los Angeles. Was Viktor on a date? Maybe it was a business dinner, or an evening out with friends. Viktor probably never had to look hard for company.

As for Yuuri, he was studying alone in his room on a Friday night. Loud music started blaring from another room and Yuuri sighed. He popped in his headphones, cued up his study playlist, and went back to work.

That weekend, Yuuri studied and avoided leaving his room. Viktor ate Japanese pastries, udon, sushi twice, curry rice, and even a traditional multi-course meal that must have cost a fortune. Was Viktor dating a Japanese guy? Preparing for a film in Japan? Putting on weight for a role?

But as the days passed, Viktor added in his usual mix of selfies and Makkachin, and then a salad showed up on his feed. There wasn’t even any corn on it. Viktor was out of his Japanese phase.

Viktor hadn’t even gotten to the most delicious dish of all, the perfect marriage of Japanese and European culinary influences: katsudon. After his family and his beloved Vicchan, katsudon was probably the thing Yuuri missed most about his life in Japan. None of the restaurants near him ever got it right. LA was probably a different story, though he doubted any restaurant could top his mother’s cooking.

Viktor often asked for food recommendations, and he usually replied to those comments. It would be so easy to get his attention: Next time you’re craving Japanese, you should try katsudon! But Yuuri couldn’t bring himself to do it. 

Disappointed in himself, Yuuri scrolled through his feed, stomach sinking lower with each image. Skater after skater shared selfies and photos from practices, and some had even posted videos of spins and jumps. The season was in full swing, and Yuuri was just preparing for an Organic Chemistry test. Each picture felt like a personal attack, but he doubted any of the other skaters even remembered who he was. 

He was better off as a nobody than as a mediocre skater who also happened to take go to college. Now that he didn’t skate, he made better grades and he had time for a major that could actually get him a job. Yuuri was made to blend into the background—it had just taken time for him to accept it. He closed the app in disgust and focused on his schoolwork.

With an A on his test and a package of three new pens from his sister, Yuuri was feeling a bit better. 

A notification on Wednesday cheered him up even more. It was just a picture of a white backdrop and some lights, but the caption was the real draw.

Super secret photoshoot today, wish me luck!

It wasn’t much of a secret if Viktor was going to tell all of his followers about it. Yuuri checked his phone constantly for updates. The two day wait was agonizing but absolutely worth it.

The first photo from the shoot was devastating. No one did forlorn and beautiful as well as Viktor. Splashes of deep red marred a pale suit cut to perfection on Viktor, who was contorted in an angular, impossible pose so graceful it may as well have been a spin position. The red looked like blood at first glance, but upon closer inspection it was rose petals. 

Yuuri shuddered. He could hardly tear his eyes away to read the caption. 

love 

It had to be a hint about the movie. He stared at the picture for at least ten minutes, marveling at everything from Viktor’s flexibility to the anguish on his exquisite brow. 

Later that week, Yuri Plisetsky posted a photo of himself in a suit nearly identical to Viktor’s. The lighting was the same, only Yuri was seated with one arm draped over his head and the other hanging loose at his side. A blood red rose jutted out of his lapel. Yuri was every inch the dejected teenager, but there was fear in his eyes. His had the same caption: love. The photo clashed with the rest of his Instagram, but then again, the only recurring theme among his posts was cats. 

And then days later, Anya Garina’s photo from the shoot hit the internet. She was regal in a blood red dress, face stoic except for striking, tortured eyes. The top edge of a handgun was just visible in her hand at her side. Hers, too, was captioned, love. Yuuri wasn’t sure what any of the photos had to do with love, but he loved all of them. 

Even though Viktor’s was the best of the three, Anya’s had the most hits. Yuuri reminded himself it wasn’t a contest, and she was a movie star. The truth was, all of the photos were stunning, and the internet was abuzz. Viktor’s name was popping up more and more, and people were starting to ask who Yuri Plisetsky was.

Between his quizzes and class projects, Yuuri was glued to his phone, and he hit the jackpot when Viktor announced he had joined Snapchat. 

Yuuri downloaded the app immediately, knowing it would be a huge drain on his time. He’d never use it for himself, but how would he get anything done with a daily stream of selfies from Viktor?

“Can you believe Yuri prefers a dry rub to barbecue sauce?” Viktor asked in his story, looking scandalized. The video flipped to Yuri across the table, behind a plate of half-eaten ribs.

“The sauce gets everywhere. It’s a mess,” Yuri said, mouth full. Cat ears appeared on his head as he continued. “You’re just a freak who doesn’t need napkins.”

Yuuri sighed. Viktor was truly perfect. Viktor giggled behind the camera and Yuri’s eyes narrowed. 

“I swear to god, if you put that fucking flower crown on me again—” The video cut off as Yuri’s dirty hands reached for Viktor’s phone.

Viktor followed the video with a picture of himself with the flower crown, captioned, Yuri can’t handle the flower crown. Viktor was always beautiful, but with that filter, he was otherworldly.

The final picture was of Yuri, barbecue ribs in his hands and cat ears superimposed on his head, tagged with the name of the restaurant. They were in Tennessee, Yuuri determined. But why?

Anya solved the mystery the next day when she went viral for popping up at a fan’s reception. The couple had thrown a Sleeping Beauty-themed wedding (Anya’s version, not the regular fairy tale). Anya was great in Sleeping Beauty, but it wouldn’t have been Yuuri’s choice for a wedding theme. Still, he was a sucker for videos of celebrities surprising their fans. The odds were slim, but knowing that ordinary people met their favorite stars once in a blue moon made it feel like anything was possible.

Not that there was ever any hope of Viktor surprising him in person. That was just a silly dream. Viktor always managed to surprise him anyway, and that was enough for Yuuri. 

Off to Chicago! Food recs please, proclaimed the caption of Viktor’s airport selfie the next day. Yuuri had been to Chicago before and he had enjoyed a mixture of caramel corn and cheese popcorn from a shop downtown, but he kept it to himself. 

When his classes were done for the day, he ventured off campus for a Chicago-style hot dog. He went out alone and he didn’t post about it online, but a piece of his heart was in Chicago that evening.

A notification stopped him three bites in—Viktor was eating a Chicago-style hot dog, too. Yuuri liked the photo and savored every last bite. 

Chapter Text

Viktor was beginning to hate airplanes. 

He couldn’t see Anya from his seat, but Yuri was fast asleep in the row behind him. Viktor was jealous. It was a short flight, but Viktor paid for WiFi just to have something to keep him from getting lost in his thoughts yet again. He had seen all the in-flight movies already and he still didn’t have a taste for games.

His hunch (and Yakov) had been right. The movie was doing well and it hadn’t even come out yet. Viktor’s follower count had tripled in the past month alone and his Snapchat account had taken off. He was getting recognized in the airport even though the public didn’t know what the movie was called. The latest round of interviews was sure to only add to the momentum.

At least they were finally heading to New York. After months of traveling together, jetting back to LA for a second between cities when they could manage, Yuri and Anya were both getting short with him. A night off was just what everyone needed. Viktor was looking forward to seeing Chris and taking him up his invitation to appear on his podcast. It wasn’t much of a break, but that suited Viktor just fine. 

Anything to keep his mind off of Detroit. 

At least he’d been too busy to bother trying to reach out again. Nothing worked. He’d posted all that Japanese food for nothing. Okay, it had all been delicious, but what did it matter if the one person he’d wanted to entice didn’t even notice? Maybe Viktor had been mistaken. Maybe he wasn’t Japanese. Maybe he had unfollowed Viktor. Maybe Viktor needed to just let go. 

Besides, there was work to do. Yuri and Anya needed him at his best if this movie was going to succeed. It had to succeed.

Every interview, appearance, and livestream, every single post was an acting job. Anya knew it, but Yuri hadn’t figured it out yet. Viktor had assumed Yuri was just playing up the surly teen act but he knew better now. That was just how Yuri was and he made no apologies. 

Had Viktor ever been like that? Not abrasive—Viktor would rather die—but sensitive. He was so used to the business, so used to being accommodating, he couldn’t remember ever taking things personally the way Yuri did.

If a reporter crossed a line, Yuri didn’t politely sidestep the question. He challenged the reporter, put them in their place. It was admirable. Then again, if a barista got Yuri’s order wrong, he was equally combative. 

“You’re going to get a reputation as a jerk if you’re not careful,” Viktor had warned him.

“And if I have milk I’m going to be on the fucking toilet all day so I don’t give a shit about my reputation.”

Viktor remembered cringing at the crude image. “Well, you could try being a bit nicer. It was an honest mistake.”

“And you could try not being a robot.”

Viktor had always let little things roll off his back, and Yuri’s comments were no different. Viktor dealt with reporters when he didn’t want to, he gave up his free time when he just wanted to be with his dog, and he did what he had to do with a smile on his face. 

Except, he couldn’t just let Detroit go. Why couldn’t he just forget about it? It was only one night, and it was months ago. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to give up on a guy, either. Work always came first. 

What was so special about the guy in Detroit? He was beautiful, yes, but Viktor’s line of work was full of beautiful people. The beaches near Viktor’s house were packed with gorgeous men, many of whom would jump at the chance to meet a working actor. 

Viktor had been down that road before, used for his connections, or used for his status and promptly discarded. “I’m dating an actor” was exciting until they realized that actors were always busy and had no time for a personal life.

Maybe that was the problem. The guy in Detroit had figured out that they never would have worked. He was a genius, after all. He had goals, he had a life, he had things to strive for, and Viktor? Viktor was just an professional liar, going through the motions of his shallow LA life.

Yuri was right way too often. Viktor was a robot (but Yuri did need to learn to be nicer to people in the service industry). 

They deplaned and both Anya and Yuri headed straight to the hotel. Viktor had his luggage sent to the hotel and looked up directions to Chris’s studio. He had done more than enough thinking for one day. 

Heading your way, he typed in a message to Chris. Want me to pick up coffee?

Chris replied quickly. Don’t you dare. You have terrible taste. ;) I’ve got it covered. 

Viktor downed a dark roast in the cab anyway, but he chased it with a piece of mint gum to hide the evidence. 

Chris’s studio was bigger than Viktor expected. He wondered if Chris was renting the space or if reality TV just paid that much better than movies.

When he came in, Chris was standing in front of an expensive-looking espresso machine. “That you, Viktor?” he asked, not even looking over his shoulder.

“Don’t I even get a hug?” Viktor asked, folding his arms across his chest. 

Chris turned around, two tiny espresso cups in hand and a glint in his eye. “I’ll give you more than that once I set these down.”

“There’s the Chris I know,” said Viktor. Some things never changed, but Chris seemed taller. Viktor couldn’t remember the last time they had met up in person. “You look fantastic.”

“I’d give you my aesthetician’s card but you’re still stuck on the West Coast,” Chris said. He placed the cups on a table and embraced Viktor, kissing him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you.”

Viktor returned the gesture and sighed. “How long has it been? Four years?”

“Two, Viktor. Two years. Honestly, what am I going to do with you?”

“You’re one to talk,” Viktor said, smirking as Chris’s hand drifted lower down his back. “As perky as it ever was, I assure you.” 

Chris lifted his hand. “Just curious.”

“I wasn’t aware that ‘doing a podcast’ was slang for something else.”

“That’s because you’re getting old,” Chris replied. 

Viktor played along even though there was only a year and a few months between them. 

“Educate an old man, then,” said Viktor, stretching away the last of the tightness from the plane. “How does this podcast thing work?” 

“We drink coffee. We have a conversation. That’s it!”

“We don’t rehearse? You don’t prepare questions ahead of time?” Viktor wondered. 

“I think it feels more organic this way,” said Chris, waving a hand. “Besides, we fix a lot in post.” 

Viktor raised his eyebrows. “You’re not going to edit me into oblivion, are you? I know how reality TV works.”

“Viktor! I wouldn’t do that to you.” Chris looked offended for just a moment and Viktor bit back some guilt. Chris didn’t give him a chance to apologize. “We edit out long pauses, bits that don’t work, things like that. I’m not interested in tricking my audience. Besides, The Next is live.” 

The Next?” Viktor frowned. Why did that sound so familiar? “Oh, your show!”

“Yes, Viktor, my show.” Chris rolled his eyes but he didn’t look hurt this time. “Shall we?”

“I’m game.” Structured or not, Chris or not, it was just another interview, and Viktor could do interviews in his sleep. 

Chris retrieved the cups and went back to the espresso machine. Viktor had never made espresso so Chris may as well have been doing close up magic, but soon, Chris was handing him a cup.

Gratzie,” said Viktor. He took a sip, and it was better than Starbucks. “Squizito!” 

“Isn’t it? Shall we take a photo?” Chris held up his cup and wrapped his other arm around Viktor, and Viktor pressed his cheek to Chris’s and winked. They clinked their glasses together and Chris snapped the picture. They nailed it on the first try, of course. Chris tagged Viktor and captioned the photo. 

On Thin Ice reunion! #nsfw #allgrownup #dimichaelforever

“Perfect,” Chris said as the post uploaded. It was a good picture, tamer than Chris’s tags suggested, but funny and appealing to Viktor’s old fans. Just like Yakov wanted. Chris had a much bigger fanbase than Viktor, and more visibility was better.

He and Chris headed over to the recording area, espresso in hand. 

“I’ll record my little blurb about the coffee later, but be sure to give me some of your thoughts, too. That’s my thing—I feature a local roaster every episode. Eventually I’d like to include roasters all over the world, but my listener base isn’t quite there yet,” Chris explained. Viktor nodded absently, not sure why this was important. “I’m telling you,” Chris added, “because I’m sure you’ve never listened to the podcast before.” 

“Ah, you know me so well,” Viktor replied. He had tried to listen once but he had fallen asleep.

“Let’s get started.” Chris was, in all aspects of his life, hands on. He started recording and summoned his smooth, extra sultry radio voice. 

“You’re in for a treat. Today in my studio, I have a talented actor and old friend of mine: Viktor Nikiforov. Thanks for joining me, Viktor. How do you like the coffee?”

“It’s delicious, Chris, thanks for having me.”

“You haven’t been to New York in a while, unless you came back without telling me,” said Chris. 

“I wouldn’t dream of it!” Viktor exclaimed. “Work has kept me around Los Angeles for the past couple years.”

“Such a shame. What can I do to convince you to move?” Chris touched his arm as he asked.

“Find me a place with a yard. Makkachin needs her space.”

Chris waved him off. “I can name at least seven dog parks within walking distance from this studio. How do you walk Makkachin in LA? In your car?”

“I have a yard,” said Viktor. “A small one, yes, but a yard. And more than two rooms in my house. But if you’re offering me a place…”

“You’re always welcome to bunk with me. But speaking of yards, weren’t you just in the Midwest not too long ago?”

Viktor didn’t miss a beat, even though his heart tore a little. “Yes, I was filming scenes for my new movie in Detroit. It was a lovely city, full of wonderful people.” He left it at that but Chris raised his eyebrows. 

“Sounds like it really made an impression. You’re not going to abandon the business and put down roots in Michigan, are you?”

Viktor flashed him a secretive smile to cover up the pit that was forming in his stomach. For the right reason, he would have considered it, but it didn’t seem likely anymore. “That would be quite the shock, wouldn’t it? But don’t worry, I won’t do anything until after the movie comes out.” He tried to make it sound playful, hoping Chris would pick up on the topi change. 

“Tell me more about the movie. I saw those gorgeous promo shots on Instagram. Anything you’re allowed to share?”

This was much more comfortable territory, and Viktor grinned. “I can’t say a lot, but what I can tell you is that it’s close to my roots. It’s based on a graphic novel by a Russian-American writer, Katrina Orlova, and she did a lot of work on the screenplay. Of course, it’s a Lilia Baranovskaya film—she’s an amazing director.”

Chris nodded. “Tulips was fantastic. Listeners, do yourselves a favor and check it out. But your costars are your fellow countrymen as well, right?”

“Yes. Anya Garina is quite the rising star and her hometown is about 20 miles from mine. And if your listeners follow me online, which I hope they do, they’ll have seen a lot of Yuri Plisetsky.”

Chris laughed. “Ah, he’s quite the little firecracker, isn’t he?” 

“Just wait until you see him act. He channels all that spunk into a magnificent performance.” Yuri would probably be annoyed if he heard, but Viktor was just telling the truth.

“But you haven’t told us much about the movie itself,” Chris pointed out. 

“Haven't I?” Viktor said. He ran a finger along his chin. Yakov was going to kill him because it was a few days early, but he couldn’t resist. “Did I mention it’s called Agape?” 

“Why, Viktor, is that a casual title drop on my humble little podcast?” Chris gasped. “I’m honored! So, Agape is the title? What does it mean?”

Viktor laughed. “I suggest you and your listeners Google it. If I explain it, I’ll be in even more trouble.”

“We wouldn’t want that. Let’s discuss something safe, then.”

Viktor made mindless conversation with Chris about their TV days and what their former costars were up to. 

“If people wanted a reunion, I’d absolutely do it, but I haven’t put on a pair of skates in years,” Viktor lamented.

“Neither have I,” Chris said. “But it would be fun to do a more adult plot. Where do you see your character now, a decade later? I think Michael would still be skating, still trying to catch up to Dimitri. He’d have a smoking hot boyfriend, though.”

Viktor paused. He hadn’t given it much thought. Dimitri and Michael’s fiery passion had led to explosive arguments, and they hadn’t ended up together. Michael resented Dimitri’s talent, and deep down, Dimitri never saw Michael as real competition. Despite Chris’s hashtag, “Dimichael” was never meant to be forever. Dimitri was a lonely figure in the end, married to the ice and never quite sure why he felt so empty.

“Dimitri would be a champion. Worlds, the Olympics, the Grand Prix. He’d be untouchable. But all that gold wouldn’t make him happy. He’d still be searching for meaning, wondering what he was missing.”

Chris fell silent. It was dark, but Viktor had always felt that was the direction the character was headed. This must have been one of those long pauses he would edit out. 

“So, what else is new, Viktor?” Chris finally said. “Seems like you’ve got quite the foodie reputation these days. I think you’ve tried every Japanese restaurant in the LA area at this point. Do you have a favorite to recommend?”

Viktor almost faltered. Why was Chris so perceptive? “I liked them all for different reasons, but I think I was chasing an experience I just can’t duplicate.”

Chris gave him a strange look. “You mean compared to something you ate in Japan?”

“Something like that,” sighed Viktor. The interview was stagnating and they both knew it. Maybe the flight was catching up with him, or the jet lag. “Speaking of food, where are you taking me for dinner, Chris? I don’t know New York.”

“We can change that,” said Chris with a wink. They discussed their favorite foods, and Chris gave some recommendations before they settled on a trendy spot. At least the podcast wouldn’t air until later so Yakov couldn’t berate him for giving away his location again.

“Anything else going on? Anyone special in your life?”

Viktor’s eyes narrowed, but he recovered before Chris could catch on. “Just you, Chris. And Makka, of course.”

“Well, then I feel very special. Thanks for making time for me, I know you’ve had a hectic schedule promoting Agape. When can we expect to see it in theaters?”

“This summer,” Viktor said. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t mentioned that yet. The release was the one thing he was supposed to tease. “But I’d expect a trailer early next year.”

“Anything else you’d like to add?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure when this goes live, but Anya, Yuri, and I will be in New York for a week before we head off to Orlando, Florida for Comic Expo. We’ll be all over the country and then heading to Europe. Check our accounts for updates and please come out and meet us.”

They wrapped up with some more pleasantries and Viktor thought he had escaped unnoticed, but the moment Chris stopped recording, he turned to Viktor.

“Are you all right?”

Viktor frowned. “What do you mean? I’m fine.”

“Sure you are,” Chris said, eyeing him skeptically. “Let’s go get a drink. I’ll take you out for your birthday.”

“Bit early for that,” he said.

“Oh, don’t be like that.” Chris tilted his head and smiled. “Come out. Let’s catch up.”

“Fine.” It was probably good for Viktor to spend a little bit of his night off relaxing, and if he had a few drinks, he could throw Chris off the trail.

Viktor expected Chris to get stopped everywhere on the way, but things seemed different in New York. People might have recognized Chris, but the two of them had no trouble getting a cab, and no one was waiting for them when they got out at the corner near the bar. Maybe there was something to be said for living in New York.

The bartender knew Chris and wasted no time mixing their drinks. A few sips in, Viktor felt a bit better, but he wasn’t ready for Chris’s off-the-record questions.

“There’s something bothering you. Want to talk about it?” Chris asked, turning to face Viktor.

“I’m just tired from the flight,” Viktor said airily. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“I know what you can handle, remember?” Chris shook his head before Viktor could point out the innuendo. “You know what I meant, Viktor. You’re pushing yourself pretty hard.”

If Chris wasn’t making double-entendres, Viktor must have been worse off than he thought, but he wasn’t going to let Chris win. “That’s just the way this business is. I know you understand.” 

Chris was undeterred. “Come on, when’s the last time you took a break?”

“I had a couple weeks off after we wrapped,” said Viktor between sips.

“And what do you do to relax?” Chris lowered his lashes, adding, “Or who? There’s no better way to relieve stress.”

Viktor finished his cocktail. “I told you, I only have eyes for you and Makkachin.”

Chris pursed his lips. “Now that’s just sad. Tell me you at least have friends.” He summoned the bartender and ordered more drinks while Viktor scrambled for a response. Chris was just as bad as Yuri, or maybe Viktor wasn’t as good at acting as he thought he was.

“Does Yuri count?” Viktor asked, once he had a new drink in hand. Chris shook his head.

“We’re going to need more drinks,” he sighed, beckoning the bartender once more. Viktor could outdrink Chris any day, but Chris seemed to be on a mission. It took more rounds than Viktor could count, but eventually everything came spilling out.

“So there was a boy in Detroit?” Chris asked. “He swept you off your feet and then ghosted you?”

“Yes. No. I’m sure he has an explanation, but it’s been so long and…” Viktor trailed off, wishing he hadn’t said anything. “I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I? What’s wrong with me, Chris?”

“I’ve been wondering that same thing for almost a decade.” When Viktor ignored his joke, Chris went on. “I doubt it’s about the boy. It sounds like you wanted an escape.”

Viktor tilted his head. Of course it was about the boy, but he wanted to hear Chris out. “An escape from what?” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen you in two years,” Chris deadpanned. “Does it matter? The solution is the same no matter what.”

Viktor could guess where Chris was going with this, but he said, “Do tell.”

“What you need is a good old-fashioned, no-strings-attached, one night stand.” 

Viktor had guessed correctly, and he shook his head. “That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it?” 

“That’s because it works.” Chris gave him a knowing smile. “That’s what you wanted with your Detroit Boy, wasn’t it? If you both hadn’t been drunk.”

“Chris!” Viktor said. “I was thinking something more long term.” He didn’t use the words Future Husband but Chris filled in the blanks. 

“That just shows how badly you need to get laid,” Chris said. “Look, odds are, he just wasn’t interested once he sobered up.”

“But he seemed so genuine.” You were captivating. Viktor could still hear his voice. 

“Trust me. People will say anything to get with a celebrity,” Chris pointed out. Viktor couldn’t imagine Detroit Boy being so gross, but then again, he had called Viktor the best actor of his generation. And Chris was probably speaking from experience. “Maybe,” Chris went on, “he fucked off when he realized you weren’t going to fuck him.”

“No!” Viktor gasped. But he did remember whispering into Detroit Boy’s ear, telling him all the things he would have done had they not been drunk. He had only meant to be enticing, but what if he’d been misunderstood? Overpromised and underdelivered? Had Detroit Boy only wanted to sleep with an actor?

Chris’s eyes were full of pity. “Come out with me tonight. We’ll sober up on the dance floor and find you someone cute.”

Viktor pouted, not caring how pathetic he sounded. “I’ve already met someone. What if his phone broke and he doesn’t know how to contact me? What if he died, Chris?”

“Then he would want you to be happy.” Chris didn’t miss a beat. “Come out. I know a great club. If you meet someone, great. If not, you get a fun night of dancing with your old friend Chris. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

It did sound better than his original plan of staring at the ceiling all night. “Maybe.”

“This guy made you feel special, right?” Chris asked. Viktor nodded. “There are lots of guys out there who can do that, especially for just one night.”

And hours later, Viktor was dancing with Chris, sweating, and feeling better than he had in weeks. The alcohol had faded and Chris’s plan seemed logical. Sober, he wondered why he was so hung up over a guy he had only spent a few hours with. 

Everyone in the club recognized Chris, some of them even recognized Viktor, and people got a huge kick out of seeing Chris and Viktor together. Viktor couldn’t believe so many people liked their old show. Yakov would approve—this was just reconnecting with old fans.

The guys here were nothing like Detroit Boy, but maybe that was what Viktor needed.

“So, what do you do?” one asked between dances. “I’m David, by the way.”

Viktor summoned his winning smile. “Viktor. I’m an actor.”

David looked impressed. “Ooh, have you been in anything I’ve heard of?”

“Obviously not, or else you’d recognize me.” It didn’t come out as playfully as Viktor had intended.

“Sorry,” David drawled. “I don’t own a TV.”

Oh. One of those. Viktor resisted the urge to roll his eyes. But what did it matter? Really, it was better this way. He needed to get Detroit Boy out of his system and move on, and it was better to do it with someone who wouldn’t remember him. 

“Then I can be a mystery,” he said. Was that all Detroit Boy had been to him? An exciting mystery? An escape? Whatever that meant. 

David lowered his eyes to take in Viktor’s body. “I like the sound of that,” he purred. “Wanna take this back to my place?”

Viktor was a good actor, but even he couldn’t pretend he felt anything for David. They hadn’t even gotten their clothes off before Viktor realized it wasn’t going to be the miracle cure that Chris promised it would be. 

“Sorry,” he said, pushing David away. “I just got out of a relationship.” Lying was as easy as reading lines.

“It’s okay,” said David. “How long are you in town? We could try again sometime.”

Viktor stood. “I won’t have time.”

“Too bad. Want my number? You can text me next time you're in New York.”

Viktor made a non-committal noise and took David’s number, knowing he’d never use it. He saw himself out and took an Uber to his hotel. 

He had a text from Chris. You good? Let me know if you need a rescue.

I’m great, he replied, adding a winking face. He’d let Chris think he was cured. In a way, he was. Seeing Detroit from the other side opened his eyes. It would have ended up the same way, and he’d been a fool to think it could have been different. 

——

Almost 500 miles away, Yuuri Katsuki checked his Viktor news alert.

No one deserves a break more than Chris Giacometti. The actor turned reality host and radio personality was spotted cutting loose at Moment, one of Brooklyn’s hottest clubs. Joining him was friend and former costar Viktor Nikiforov. According to Twitter, Viktor was in New York to promote his upcoming film on Chris’s podcast, Coffee with Chris. The trip wasn’t all business, though, as the two teased a “not-safe-for-work reunion” between their On Thin Ice characters. Adding fuel to the flames, the two were photographed dancing together and looking very NSFW indeed. Chris and Viktor were all over social media, posing with fans at the club. Unfortunately for Dimichael shippers, onlookers reported that the pair left separately. 

[photo of Chris and Viktor’s reunion on Instagram]

[photo of Chris and Viktor dancing]

[photo of Viktor leaving with another man, face obscured]

[photo of Chris getting into car]

Yuuri closed the article. “This is fine,” he said to himself. 

Chapter Text

If Viktor was tired after the American preview tour, he was exhausted in Europe. 

“What am I supposed to do with these?” Sara asked, poking one of the bags under his eyes.

“Touche Éclat?” 

“Sheer coverage isn’t going to cut it, Viktor. What you need is sleep.”

“I’ll sleep when I get back to LA.” Viktor sipped his espresso as Sara pulled out the full coverage concealer. It was nice to see a familiar face, and not just because Sara was the only person who could make him look like he slept eight hours every night when he was averaging more like four. 

“And you need to drink more water and moisturize,” Sara said, prodding his T-zone. “You’re dry.”

“Planes are dry.” And all Viktor ever did these day was fly. The interviews, appearances, and photoshoots were all a blur between flights, back and forth. Most nights, he didn’t know how he got back to his hotel, and not because he had been drinking.

“Do it for me, Viktor.” 

“She has better be talking about moisturizer,” Sara’s brother called from the other side of the room where he was checking Yuri’s makeup. Yuri was focused on his phone, earbuds securely in place. 

“Mind your own business, Mickey.” Sara turned her attention back to Viktor. “What have you been doing without me?” 

“Relying on teams of talented photoshoppers,” he said, keeping his voice light. Other makeup artists did fine, but Sara knew his skin like no one else. “Thanks for doing this even on your vacation.”

“It’s a working vacation. I should be thanking you for coming to Italy,” Sara said, dotting and blending concealer in more places than usual. “Besides, you pay me a whole lot and I like feeling needed.”

Did he look that pitiful? Maybe Sara just missed Mila and was desperate to care for someone. Viktor knew that feeling. “When do you get to see Mila again?”

“Next week, when Mickey and I go back to the states.” She let out a longing sigh. “Too bad they didn’t need Mila for press. I would have loved to show her my country.”

“I’m glad she’s not here,” Sara’s brother muttered. “I like having you all to myself, like old times.” 

Yuri shuddered and Viktor wondered if it was a coincidence or if the headphones were for show. It was a bit drafty. 

Mila was lucky. She had Sara, and she didn’t have to deal with the tour schedule. She would probably handle it better than he was, though. Viktor offered Sara a sympathetic nod and smile. “I’m sure you’ll make it over here together someday.” 

Viktor had a feeling Mila’s career was going to take off as soon as the movie came out. Lucky as she was, Viktor would have gladly let her take his place on this press tour.

“Hey, did anything ever happen with that guy back in Detroit?” Sara asked. 

“Ugh, Sara, why did you go there?” Yuri muttered. Were those earbuds even plugged in?

“We had a nice dance and a good chat, that’s all,” Viktor said. Yuri frowned at him from across the room but Viktor just stared back, unblinking. He believed himself, even if Yuri didn’t. 

Sara didn’t seem to notice the exchange. “That’s too bad! He was such a great dancer. I’ve never seen you have so much fun.” 

“Why were you watching him dance?” asked Sara’s brother, saving Viktor from having to respond. 

“Boundaries, Mickey!”

As the twins bickered, Viktor focused on his wardrobe. They wanted him in a black, long-sleeved v-neck first—very European, just like the tight pants that went with it. It was drab, but then again, it was Viktor’s job to bring life to the photo. The outfit was irrelevant. At least he didn’t have to wear a suit this time. 

Even suits were boring now. 

Sara’s hand on his shoulder startled him. “All right, I did the best I could. The rest is up to you.” Viktor looked up at her and she smiled, adding, “Try to get some sleep, okay?”

Viktor thanked her. Once she and her brother were gone, he and Yuri changed clothes, careful not to ruin the makeup. Anya was already in the studio doing her a few test shots as assistants and techs scurried around the room. A few of them introduced themselves and Viktor nodded politely, not remembering any names. When Anya was done, she headed over to Viktor and Yuri as the director approached.

The shoot director introduced herself and then spoke directly to Viktor. “All right, let’s start by getting some of the three of you together. Do you have a playlist? We can connect your phone to the sound system.” She gestured like she was conducting an orchestra and added, “You have music?”

“No,” said Viktor, not sure why she was repeating the question. He didn’t want to listen to any of the music on his phone. Not anymore.

“What do you mean, No?!” Yuri demanded. “You make us listen to your shitty playlist every time.”

Viktor turned to him and shook his head. “I don’t feel like listening to it.” 

Yuri wrinkled his nose and squinted at Viktor. “English or Russian, old man. You know I don’t speak Italian.”

Viktor hadn’t even realized he had been speaking Italian. What language had the director used? He could have sworn she’d spoken English, because Yuri seemed to understand her. Had she been going back and forth? “You or Anya can pick the music,” Viktor said in English, playing it off with a shrug.

“Seriously?” Yuri gaped at him. 

Viktor examined his fingernails. At least his cuticles weren’t suffering the same fate as his dry face. “I thought you hated the playlist. If I’m not mistaken, your said it was, ‘Ancient, pathetic, and gross.’”

Yuri shifted his weight from one foot to the other, slouching and looking as put out as he could manage. “I’ve been using it to get back in Ilya’s headspace, okay?”

Viktor thought Yuri was always in Ilya’s headspace, but this was the most interesting development of the week. “Is that so?”

“It’s your fault for forcing it on us all the time.” Yuri turned to Anya. “You use it too, don’t you?”

Anya didn’t even look up from her phone. “I literally could not care less what we listen to.”

Yuri rolled his eyes and handed his phone to the director. “Just play this, okay?”

The director passed the phone to an assistant and within seconds, the opening beats of the Todd Terry remix of Missing by Everything but the Girl came on. 

Viktor was so amused he almost didn’t mind having to hear the song again. “You recreated my playlist?”

“It’s an acting tool, Viktor. Don’t piss yourself.” But Yuri’s cheeks were tinged pink. 

The director talked about what she wanted from the shoot—it was an entertainment magazine, so she wanted some shots in character, but she wanted casual shots, too. Some together, some solo, some in pairs.

“Wonderful,” said Viktor. “Let’s get started.”

Anya and Yuri stared at him expectantly. 

“Aren’t you going to translate?” Anya asked. 

“Oh, sorry.” Viktor relayed the information as best as he could remember. Anya nodded but Yuri just glared at him.

“The fuck is with you?” Yuri hissed in his direction as they got situated. “Usually you’re chomping at the bit to interpret like it’s the fucking United Nations or something.”

“I’m fine. I’ll get another coffee when we break,” Viktor assured him. 

“Why? Obviously, it doesn’t do shit.”

“Wow,” Anya mused. “This music really does help you get into character.” 

They arranged themselves as the photographer alternated encouragement and commands in English and Italian, but Viktor was only half paying attention. He hadn’t listened to the playlist since their last shoot weeks ago, and even then, he’d tuned it out. He knew all the songs by heart, so deeply that he could practically convince himself they were written for him. That was the beginning of the end.

The playlist was full of old songs, many he was too young to actually remember (and all of which predated Yuri, as Yuri was keen to remind him). Anya had once remarked that Viktor had the same taste in music as her mother. Alina Garina was a soap opera legend in Russia, but the melodrama paled in comparison to her actual torrid affairs and three very public divorces. Viktor still wasn’t sure if the comparison was meant to be a compliment or an insult. 

But even the bridge of Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover didn’t do anything for him anymore. 

That night in Detroit, as the crowd had thinned and Viktor had waited, the DJ had taken to playing 80s and 90s adult contemporary (perhaps ironically) and that had stuck with him. It was the only piece of that night he could cling to.

Like Yuri, he had let the music transport him, only Viktor had visited a world where he’d had a real relationship—one with a beginning, middle, and a tragic end. A poetic breakup that gave him the right to feel as jilted and heartbroken as he had. 

Maybe he had just listened to the playlist too much. He’d relied on it, because that longing ache was closer to inspiration than anything he had felt in months. But with every listen he felt it less and less. It made him an imposter and a liar, and now it was as empty and vapid as the expression on his face. 

“Beautiful, Viktor, that’s perfect,” the photographer cried. 

By the time Viktor stepped aside so the photographer could get some shots of Anya and Yuri, he wasn’t even aware of what song was playing. An assistant handed him some water and Sara’s advice rang in his head. He drank it even though he wasn’t thirsty—people’s paychecks depended on his glowing skin so the least he could do was try to stay hydrated. Someone hustled him into a new outfit and he posed with Yuri, then Anya, as the photographer raved about Yuri’s emoting. At least something good had come from the playlist. 

Viktor was on autopilot by the time they wanted shots of him alone. He gave the photographer what he wanted in minutes and the director was happy, and the next thing Viktor knew, he was back in his own clothes and in a car with his costars.

“Hungry?” Anya asked. “My agent told me there’s an amazing seafood restaurant around the block from the hotel.”

“I’m all right,” said Viktor, staring out the window. “Be sure to take pictures if you go.”

“How about you, Yuri?”

“Yeah, why not?” Yuri and Anya talked about octopus and squid and Yakov and Viktor just wanted to sleep.

The next thing he knew, Yuri was jabbing him in the ribs. “Oi, Viktor. Get up.”

“Sorry, I must have dozed off,” said Viktor, getting out of the car. “Have a nice dinner.”

“You want me to bring you something?” Yuri asked. 

“I’ll just use room service if I get hungry.” 

Yuri shouted something about his face that he didn’t catch. Viktor greeted the doorman on his way back to his room, took his shoes off, and drew the curtains. Sara would kill him if he didn’t wash his face, so he did before burying himself face-down in the fluffy goose pillows. 

Suzanne Vega’s detached vocals drifted in and out of his head, the same section of Tom’s Diner stuck on repeat. He never should have dozed off in the cab because now he was buzzing. Viktor needed sleep. People were counting on him. He'd spent so long getting those songs out of his head and now he was stuck. It wasn’t about Detroit. It would have been so easy to keep focusing on that, but he couldn't pretend anymore.

Head pounding to the beat of that damned song, he couldn’t remember any of the other words, couldn’t escape the loop of, straightening her stockings, her hair has gotten wet

He hated it. Hated this song, hated this bed, hated being away from Makkachin, hated that he couldn’t just sleep. 

Viktor lost count of how many times the line played in his head until his phone jarred him awake. He didn’t lift off the pillows, just grabbed his phone and put it near his ear.

Yakov’s wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but at least the song had left his mind.

“I heard you might need a wake up call,” Yakov grunted. “So here it is.”

“Good morning,” Viktor managed, turning his head to the side.

“Are you hungover?”

It felt like it. That would have been an easier explanation. “Something like that.”

“Vitya…” That wasn’t Yakov’s usual exasperated tone. “Take a few days off. Come home early.”

Viktor shot upright. “But we’re not done yet.” 

“Anya and Yura can handle it from here. You should rest up for the run up to the premieres.”

What was Yakov saying? “I slept fine last night. I’m just jet lagged. More time on a plane isn’t going to help.”

He glanced at the clock and figured he must have gotten around 10 hours of sleep. How had he managed that? It felt like less, but once he got some coffee he was sure he’d be back to a hundred percent. 

“Take the day off, then,” said Yakov. “Go sightseeing or something. You like sightseeing.”

Viktor had seen most of the sights of Milan touring with his mother’s team in his youth. “I’m not really in the mood.”

“Go shopping, then. Or stay in your room. Just take a break.”

Since when was Yakov advocating shopping? “Honestly, I’d rather just get the rest of the week over with. Besides, Anya and Yuri need an interpreter for the interview today.”

“We can hire one.” 

“I’d rather do it myself,” Viktor said, getting out of bed. “I want to make sure we convey the right messages about the movie.”

Yakov let out a series of grunts. “Viktor, this is no time for your nonsense. It’s just a quick puff piece. Take a day off.”

Well, now he definitely wasn’t going to. “Okay, Yakov,” he sang. “I’ll take it easy. Thank you.” He hung up his phone and put Yakov on Do Not Disturb. Viktor drank a full bottle of water (the expensive glass bottle kind) and ordered room service coffee. 

The combined forces of coffee, a shower, and concealer had him looking enough like himself that he felt more like himself, too. It wasn’t bad for not having Sara around.

He dressed and headed out to the cafe where the interview would take place. It was cold outside, but not so unpleasant that he wanted to wait inside. Anya and Yuri gaped at him when they pulled up.

“Good morning!” he said brightly.

“The fuck are you doing here?” Yuri grunted.

Anya frowned. “Didn’t Yakov call you?” 

Viktor shrugged. Anya and Yuri must have told Yakov how tired he had been yesterday. Their concern was touching, but there was no time for a break. Viktor couldn’t handle a break. Makkachin was in good hands, and he was going to see this movie through all the way until it came out on Blu-Ray.

“You were supposed to be resting, asshole,” said Yuri, scowling at him. “Fly home.”

“Nonsense,” Viktor said with a smile. More plane time was the last thing he wanted. “I was feeling a little ill yesterday but I’m all recovered today.”

“His color does look better,” said Anya. 

“But you have to admit the palor worked for the shot, didn’t it?” Viktor threw her a wink, but Anya just shook her head and took a picture of the cafe storefront on her phone.

“What, are you some kind of method actor now?” Yuri asked. “I thought you hated that shit.”

“So you do listen to me!” Viktor patted Yuri’s head. “I’m so happy.”

“Let’s just get inside,” said Yuri, barging past Viktor and Anya to the door. Viktor figured he must have been cold, but as soon as he got inside, he saw what had Yuri so excited: cats. There were cats everywhere. Was this a cat cafe?

“Yuri, did you pick this place?” 

“So what if I did?” he retorted. “Anya likes cats, too. We’re not all smelly dog losers like you.”

Viktor liked cats just fine. It was their dander he didn’t love, but he could manage as long as he didn’t touch his face. Probably.

“The writer sent some locations and we picked this one,” said Anya, bending to scratch a ginger cat. “You okayed it. Cat Cafe is right there in the name.”

“I figured it was just a cute name,” said Viktor, suddenly tempted to scratch his nose. He would not do it. “It’s fine.”

“You’re not allergic, are you?” Yuri asked as he let a black cat sniff his hand. “You did fine with Potya.”

Viktor glanced at the tiger cat that was headed his way, trying not to make eye contact. Potya was one cat, not thirty, and Viktor had taken a benadryl. Today he had nothing. “And I’m fine now. Let’s find our journalist, shall we?” 

“Giulia’s right there,” said Anya. “We met her yesterday at the shoot, remember?”

Viktor did not remember, but he greeted her by name and said it was lovely to see her again. Giulia’s English was good, but Viktor’s Italian was better, and despite constantly fighting the overwhelming urge to rub his eyes, he managed to keep both languages straight. Normally when he spoke Italian, he used his hands as much as his words, but he kept his gestures tight lest he accidentally brush against a cat. At least it gave him something to focus on other than sneezing. 

Someone from the magazine was taking candid shots for social media and he didn’t want the world to see his hives. He’d probably have to burn these pants. There was no way they were going in his luggage, not with cats rubbing against him left and right.

Meanwhile, Yuri was in heaven. It was worth it to see him like this, relaxed and light, snapping picture after picture as cats crawled all over him. Most of the questions were for Anya, which suited Yuri and Viktor perfectly. But with that ginger cat on her lap, Anya looked more relaxed than she had in days. They were all tired—it wasn’t just Viktor. But all the cats made him miss his dog (and his allergy medication).

Viktor nursed his cappuccino, or cappuccinos. Whenever he got close to the bottom, a new one appeared. He wondered if the magazine was paying for all of those refills, and he wondered how much cat dander he could ingest without his throat to closing up. The end of the interview couldn’t come soon enough.

“One last question for Viktor,” Giulia said. “Can we use the stuff about the playlist yesterday?”

“I’m sorry?” Viktor had understood the Italian, but that question hadn’t been on the list.

She switched to English. “Your sad music?”

“Oh, right, my playlist,” he said, forcing a laugh. He stayed with English. “Of course you can write about it.” Yuri turned to him in shock and Viktor ignored him. He could see the appeal—it added human interest to the story.

“We want to put it on Spotify, okay?” asked Giulia

Yuri kicked him under the table, but Viktor just nodded. It was a chance to engage on multiple platforms. “That sounds fun.”

Giulia smiled. “Should we put a spoiler alert?” 

“The songs aren’t related to the story,” said Viktor, switching to Italian despite Yuri’s dagger glare. “Just a mood I wanted to explore.”

“A future role then?”

“No,” Viktor sighed. Definitely not. “But an actor can never be too prepared.” 

He confirmed the list of songs and titled the playlist Mood. Viktor swore then and there that he would never listen to any of those songs again, and that he would never go anywhere without antihistamines again.

To his relief, Giulia addressed all of them in English next. “Thank you for everything. I can’t wait to see the movie.” She shook all of their hands and Viktor’s eyes watered a little more. She had been petting cats, too.

Viktor needed to get out before he got all red and puffy, but then the server put down a plate with a brownie on it in front of him. Just him.

“Dessert! It’s free,” said the server, winking at Viktor and solving the mystery of the bottomless cappuccinos.

Yuri snorted. “Is that a phone number?”  

“Written in chocolate syrup,” Anya confirmed. There was a little chocolate cat face on one side, too. “You gonna call him, Viktor?”

No, because if I touched someone who worked in this place I might actually die. Out loud, he said, “This is so kind! I love sweets.”

Yuri pointed his phone at the plate. “This is going on Snapchat.”

Anya swatted Yuri’s phone out of the way. “You can’t put someone’s number online!”

“I was going to censor it!” Yuri insisted.

The writer grinned. “May I put this in the article, too?” 

“Why not?” Viktor muttered, taking a bite. It was fine, but he wasn’t in the mood for chocolate. He wiped the corner of his mouth with a napkin before he realized his mistake. Once he let the first sneeze out, he couldn’t stop the torrent.

Anya and Yuri had to help him out of the cafe.

“Don’t put this in the article,” Yuri snapped at Giulia. She nodded, apologizing over and over again in English and Italian as the barista rang her company card. 

“I’m fine! I’m fine! No harm done,” Viktor insisted between sneezes.

Once they were outside, Yuri let him have it. Or at least Viktor assumed Yuri was yelling at him—he couldn’t really see. “You dumbass! Why didn’t you just say you were allergic?”

“We could have moved the interview,” Anya said. 

Viktor insisted he was fine, but the sneezing didn’t let up until he was in the bath in his hotel room.

----

Yuuri didn’t speak Italian but OnThinIceItalia did, bless them, and they had promised the StillOnThinIce subreddit a translation of Viktor’s appearance in an Italian magazine. Yuuri had tried to read the article, but Google Translate was getting him nowhere. Gazing at the picture was better than nothing. It was Viktor and it was Agape news, but (he hoped) the translation would explain the bizarre Spotify playlist embedded at the end of the article. 

Yuuri recognized some of the songs. Minako used to listen to Roxette when she warmed up, and Mad World had been memed to hell. He didn’t understand what it had to do with the movie, but he had been listening to it for hours anyway. 

Until this year, r/StillOnThinIce got maybe one or two posts every few months. Someone would share their favorite scene, ask where to watch it online, or ask if there was going to be a reunion (even after Chris’s Instagram tease, the answer was still no).

Yuuri  had posted there more than a few times. His list of every element in every routine had gotten him a lot of karma and his admittedly Viktor-heavy Where Are They Now? megapost had even been pinned for a while. 

Chris’s “reunion” selfie had opened the floodgates. People who had forgotten all about the show were rediscovering it, and rediscovering Viktor. Much to the chagrin of On the Ice purists, it had become the unofficial Viktor Nikiforov subreddit. That was fine with Yuuri. Since the graphic novel (which Yuuri was still trying to translate) was so obscure, it was the unofficial Agape subreddit, too. 

Yuuri had already ordered a paper copy of the current Ciak, but until it arrived, the teaser picture soothed his parched throat.

(27) r/StillOnThinIce・Posted by r/OnThinIceItalia2 hours ago

Viktor in Ciak this month! UPDATE: translated and scanned!

[photo of Viktor, Anya, and Yuri]
(ciakmagazine.it)

14 comments

OnThinIceItalia 29 points・2 hours ago・edited 2 minutes ago
New article on Ciak’s website to promote Agape! Translation coming soon here! Now with scans!!!! Sorry about the mistakes!! ^^;; English is not my first language.

VchanPup 1 point・1 minute ago
HOLY SHIT THAT WAS FAST THANK YOU! u/OnThinIceItalia is a bilingual superhero!

As soon as Yuuri submitted the post, he clicked the link. Beautiful, high quality scans of Viktor could probably sustain him for years. It had been a long time since Yuuri had seen him in clothes so tight, clinging toned muscles and making it hard for Yuuri to focus on the article. He read through the interview, which was mostly about Anya. He learned nothing new about the movie and not much about Viktor, but it might as well have been Yuuri's bible.

If you can’t wait for the movie, let yourself be inspired by the playlist Viktor uses at all photoshoots. He promised there are no spoilers, but Yuri said it helped him get “in character” at photoshoots. Listen and decide for yourself when the movie comes out! (Spotify Link)

Oh. It was Viktor’s playlist, and now the common thread was obvious: they were all break up songs. Had Viktor been through a breakup, or was it just another clue about the movie? Yuuri didn’t want Viktor to be heartbroken. 

Once he’d saved the pictures and read the article a few more times for anything else he’d missed, he went back to the thread.

christophesearlobe 4 points・28 minutes ago
is viktor ok?

dontaskmeagain 11 points・25 minutes ago
Looks fine to me. ;)

sgl-or-bust 5 points・17 minutes ago
Chill. I’m sure the music was just for the movie.

kenny3213 16 points・8 minutes ago
ciak just put this up on their instagram omg look at him he’s beautiful

Was that a cat cafe? What was Viktor doing in a cat cafe? Yuri had posted pictures of a cat cafe on his own Instagram weeks ago, but Viktor hadn’t posted anything about it. Yuuri remembered something he had read in a teen magazine years ago.

VchanPup 3 points・6 minutes ago
But Viktor is allergic to cats??

OnTheIceItalia 5 points・3 minutes ago
Of course u/VchanPup would know lolol!!
Btw the caption says “Viktor did double duty and translated for this interview! Yuri and Anya enjoyed the cats, and Viktor enjoyed his free dessert courtesy of a fan/barista.”

dontaskmeagain 2 points・2 minutes ago
Confirmed: Viktor does not succumb to allergies. Allergies succumb to Viktor.

No one had broken Viktor’s heart. He had admirers everywhere he went. Even allergies were nothing to him. He was fine.  

Chapter Text

Even though Viktor didn’t really remember it, the London premiere had gone perfectly. The numbers were huge—bigger than Lilia and Yakov expected—and the American numbers would be bigger. Praise was coming in from all corners of the globe.

In anyone else’s hands, Agape could have easily descended into forgettable teen melodrama, but the three leads (Nikiforov in particular) rise to Baranovskaya’s impeccable direction and elevate the film into something else entirely. It won’t win any Oscars, but it’s one hell of a ride with a touching and timeless message of unconditional love.

Viktor should have been thrilled. Instead, he was sitting in front of Yakov like he’d been called to the principal’s office, assuming school was like it seemed on TV. Viktor didn’t really know.

“I told you to take time off before the premiere, and what did you do?”

Viktor kept his posture stiff, feeling the pull in his shoulders when he shrugged. “I promoted the movie.” 

“There’ll be nothing left to promote if you keep this up,” Yakov growled. When Viktor didn’t say anything, Yakov gestured to the pile of scripts on his desk. “Have you read through any of the scripts I sent you? Other actors would kill you for roles like these, and you can take your pick.”

“Because that’s all I’m good for,” said Viktor, staring out the window. Making money, generating buzz, acting, always acting.

“What are you talking about?” Yakov shook his head. “You can take your career anywhere you want it. This is what you worked so hard for.”

It was.

“None of those scripts appealed to me.” 

“That’s because you didn’t read any of them!” Yakov punctuated the word read with a pound on the table but Viktor didn’t flinch. 

“I don’t have to read them. I can tell.” Viktor looked from the window to the bookcase behind Yakov, tuning out the lecture. A history of Viktor’s training lined the shelves, classical and regimented but informal. Private instruction and avid interest had carried him through each trusted text and beloved play, squeezing reading between set time and fashion spreads.

Beneath it all, what else was there? Enthusiasm has carried him through the beginning of his life, but without it, he had nothing but natural ability. Plenty of people had that.

Viktor was only vaguely aware of Yakov watching him.

“Vitya. If you need to talk to someone, we have people for that.”

Not, I’m here for you, Vitya. Not that he needed to hear that from his manager. Yakov wasn’t his father. He had a father and a mother (who didn’t say comforting words to him, either) and a manager, and Yakov wasn’t exactly the cuddly type.

“I don’t really buy into life coaches or spiritual advisors, if that’s what you mean,” Viktor said. Shrewd parenting and management had helped him avoid those traps, at least.  

“I mean a therapist,” Yakov snapped. “A good one. Dr. Rhee elped Lilia and me reach the pleasant working relationship we have today.” 

Pleasant wasn’t the word Viktor would use to describe their tense meetings and tight conversations, but they didn’t openly loathe each other. That had to count for something. 

“Therapy?” He had never considered it before—not that he was against it. He had advocated for mental health awareness back in his TV days. They had done a whole campaign. He could almost recall the script: Shatter the stigma. Because mental health matters. “Yeah. All right.”

“Here’s his card.”

Wow, Viktor thought as Yakov slid it across the desk. He had it ready to go. Viktor turned the card over in his hands. Was this Dr. Rhee a couples’ therapist? Or maybe he was a therapist specializing in celebrities and the people who enable them. 

“Vitya.” Viktor knew that voice. Yakov had bad news for him. “Jean-Jacques Leroy’s people called.”

“Who?”

Late Night with JJ,” said Yakov. Viktor had heard of it. “They want all three of you on the show after the LA premiere. I’ve half a mind to get you out of it—”

“But they won’t say yes without me?” Viktor didn’t wait for an answer. “I’ll do it. It’s always nice to go to New York.”

“You don’t have to do it. They’ll understand.”

Viktor shook his head. “I said I would do it. I’m going to see this movie through.”

“And then what?”

That was the question, wasn’t it?

----

Yuuri wasn’t a complainer, but his repeat viewings of Agape were really starting to cut into his study time. Detroit to Chicago and back in a day was no joke, but the advance screener had been worth it. Same for staying up late to see it the first night it came out in Detroit. It was still worth it the tenth time. 

His roommate did not understand. 

“Pike is throwing their end of the year rager tonight. You sure Drunk Hero doesn’t want to make an appearance?” asked Matt, snickering. 

“Please don’t call me that,” Yuuri groaned. “I have to study this weekend.” 

Matt’s friend’s cough sounded suspiciously like the word nerd. Matt snorted a laugh. “Lighten up. It's only Friday.”

And studying with a hangover sounded like a delight. “I’m going to stay in and watch a show tonight.”

“You’re going to stay in and watch that stupid skating show again, aren’t you?” 

Late Night with JJ, actually.” Yuuri didn’t know why he bothered answering.

“My mom watches that show,” said Matt’s friend.

Matt rolled his eyes. “Let me guess. Viktor’s going to be on?”

“Among other people,” said Yuuri, not looking up from his laptop. 

“Man, even my little sister wasn’t this bad when she went through her boyband phase. Just download it and watch it later. This party is once in a lifetime.”

“Maybe I just don’t like parties,” said Yuuri. He definitely didn’t like the kind of parties that fraternities threw. He didn’t care if it made him seem pathetic. Yuuri didn’t care for Matt and his friends, either. 

“Everyone likes parties. You’d rather fantasize about your imaginary boyfriend than go out and meet actual people.”

Matt’s words stung but Yuuri said nothing.That was exactly why he preferred to stay in. Viktor was charming, kind, and completely incapable of hurting Yuuri’s feelings. 

Matt and his friends only wanted to see what Yuuri would do after too many drinks. 

“God, you’re so creepy,” said Matt. “Have fun jerking it to some movie star you’re never going to meet.”

Yuuri shouldn’t have taken the bait, but he snapped. “Have fun getting busted for underage drinking.”

At least the school year was almost over. Matt wasn’t taking summer classes, so Yuuri would be on his own for the summer. 

Come fall he’d have a new roommate, one who would also think Yuuri was weird, but it wouldn’t be Matt. 

Matt and his friend slammed the door behind them and Yuuri was alone. But when the feed started, Yuuri forgot all about his roommate.

JJ’s band started up the theme music. Yuuri had only seen a few clips of the show before, but the theme had a nasty way of getting stuck in his head. 

“Live on tape from New York City, it’s Late Night with JJ!”

The audience roared as the band played. Yuuri had seen some photos from the recording earlier that day, and his heart quickened with anticipation.

“Tonight’s guests: the cast of Agape!”

Now the audience was shrieking. Yuuri would have given anything to be there, but there was something comforting about watching from the safety of his dorm. 

“And now, the king of late night television, Jean-Jacques Leroy!”

The screaming grew louder, and JJ did his trademark “JJ Style” shtick. Yuuri didn’t get it, but his fans ate it up. Once the applause died down, JJ launched into his monologue, but Yuuri didn’t really register his words until he said, “Wow, what a show we have for you tonight. You picked a great night to come because the cast of Agape is here!” The audience exploded and JJ clapped, too. “I saw the movie and it was just incredible, wasn’t it? So stick around, we’ll be right back!”

Screams erupted once more and Yuuri couldn’t blame the audience. He’d loved every minute of Agape, every time. 

It wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but Viktor deserved one, along with a Golden Globe and Sexiest Man Alive, just for starters. Every critic was suddenly adamant that they alone had known Viktor was rife with potential and just needed the right vehicle to propel him to stardom. It was vindicating to see him finally getting the attention he deserved, and he seemed to be enjoying it.

Once the commercials were over, Yuuri bounced his foot to get through the banter between JJ, his announcer, and the band. The fanmail segment was tougher, and he stretched his arms and legs like he was warming up. 

Finally, JJ changed gears and Yuuri was glued to his laptop once more. “Tonight’s guests have been getting a lot of buzz! The cast of Agape is here!” The audience dissolved into screams again and JJ laughed. “Wow, what a hot film. I just can’t get over it, I’ve seen it three times. I loved it, my wife loved it, you love it, right?”

The audience loved it. 

“Let’s take a look at a clip.”

The screen faded, and Yuuri recognizes the scene from the first frame. That particular clip had been around for a while, but Yuuri got chills every time Evgeny saw the cold, ruthless teen his little brother Ilya had become, all while Katya looked on. 

The clip faded back to JJ, who nodded and clapped along with the audience. “Wow! Wow. All right, are you ready?” The audience roared and he said, “First up, in his motion picture debut at just 16 years old, please welcome Yuri Plisetsky!” 

Shrieks rose from the audience––Yuri’s fans skewed young and female––and Yuri walked out stiffly but with his head high. JJ tried to hug him as the band played but Yuri didn’t return the gesture. 

Yuri took a seat on the couch as far from JJ as he could get, slinking into a relaxed posture. JJ didn’t seem bothered. “And next––what a performance––it’s Viktor Nikiforov!” 

Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat as Viktor walked out, the portrait of ease and calm. He waved at the roaring crowd, less shrill but even louder than Yuri’s cheers. Viktor had no trouble hugging JJ, and he pulled Yuri out of his seat for a hug, which Yuri did return (albeit reluctantly). Viktor blew one quick kiss at the crowd, to their delight. 

“And of course,” JJ began, “last but not least, please welcome back the phenomenal Anya Garina!” It made sense that JJ would announce Anya last, since she was the highest billed star in the movie. 

Anya strode out to cheers, and she kissed JJ, Viktor, and Yuri’s cheeks in turn. As the crowd grew louder still, the band reached a crescendo and ended with a bang. It took a while for the applause to die down but the actors eventually sat on the couch, Anya and Viktor poised and proper and Yuri slouching. 

“Wow! Thanks so much to all of you for coming!” JJ said, taking his own seat. 

“Thanks for having us,” said Viktor. Yuri gave an neutral sort of grunt.

“It’s good to be back,” said Anya. 

“Great to have you back! I remember when you came and visited us last year for Sleeping Beauty,” said JJ, prompting more applause. “We were in the middle of that big heat wave, and here we are again.”

“It’s May! It shouldn’t be this hot!” Anya fanned herself. “Before the show we went out to get hot dogs, because you have to have a hot dog in New York, right?” The crowd clapped. She went on, “But when it’s this hot, I didn’t realize that New York foods were not a good idea. Hot dogs? Pizza?”

“Of course hot dogs are hot, it’s right there in the name!” said JJ. 

“Are there dogs in them, too?” Yuri muttered. 

JJ laughed and the audience ate it up. “Well, next time, get ice cream. Or release a movie in winter, when it’s 20 below.”

“I’d love to see New York in winter!” Anya’s eyes lit up. “I love the cold, and it would be pretty to see all the decorations.”

“Oh, you definitely should,” said JJ. “Come see the big tree, see all the lights, and then stay for New Year’s, there’s nothing like it. Come back on the show while you’re at it, we’d love to have you!"

The audience whooped and Anya said, “We’d love to, right?”

Viktor clapped and nodded, but Yuri just shrugged. 

Once the cheers died down, JJ addressed the group. “So, your new movie is A-ga-pe. Not a-gape. Right?”

“That’s right,” said Anya. “Agape.

Agape?” JJ tried again and Yuuri wondered if he was obligated to say the name of the movie a certain number of times. “And what does it mean?”

“You said you watched the movie. Weren’t you paying attention?” Yuri snapped. The crowd laughed even though Yuri probably hadn’t been trying to make a joke.

“I was, I was! But it’s been a long time since high school Latin, okay?”

“It comes from Ancient Greek,” said Viktor, ever patient. “Agape is the highest form of love. Unconditional love, spiritual love. This would be in contrast to eros—sexual love. Passionate love.”

The audience exploded and JJ waggled his eyebrows. “I get it. Two kinds of love. So are you saying there’s going to be a sequel?”

Viktor stroked his chin and raised his eyebrows suggestively (even as Yuri Plisetsky made gagging sounds). “A sensual sequel?” he asked, sending the audience over the edge. “I like that idea. I’ll let you know.”

Yuuri lost it a little bit, too. Viktor had done plenty of racy scenes in his films, but the prospect of a sex scene was almost too much to think about. 

JJ laughed and the audience (and Yuuri) got it together. “Viktor, this is your first time on the show, but I was talking to my wife last night and it turns out she’s been a fan of yours for a long time.”

“Has she?” 

“Yeah, she used to be an ice dancer—she’s retired now—but she loved On Thin Ice.”

Yuuri made a mental note to look up JJ’s wife after the show was done. 

”I’ve been hearing that a lot lately! It makes me so happy to know people enjoyed that show and still think about it even years later,” Viktor said. 

“It’s everywhere right now, thanks to Hulu,” said JJ. “And I know you and Chris Giacometti joked about this a while ago, but would you really do a reunion?”

Yuuri had given up hope a long time ago but the audience hollered. Viktor crossed his legs the other way and said, “If anyone else in the cast wanted to do it, I would.” The hooting intensified and Yuuri almost choked on his saliva.

“Do you think you could still skate?”

Viktor laughed. “Probably not, but it’d be fun to try.” 

“Looking at you now, though, I almost don’t recognize you,” said JJ. He pulled a picture out from behind his desk of Viktor with his long, flowing hair, adorned with a crown of roses. Yuuri had that poster, too. The crowd went wild and Viktor smiled at the picture. 

“It was a good look, wasn’t it?” he said. He swept a hand through his fringe. “I don’t miss the upkeep, though.”

“Well, what about you, Yuri? Are you paying homage to Viktor with your hairstyle?” JJ asked, to more squeals. 

Yuri glared daggers at JJ while Viktor preened. 

“He wishes,” snorted Yuri. 

Once the laughs subsided, JJ went on. “Now Yuri, this is your first movie, right? How did you get the part?”

“I auditioned.”

“Oh.” JJ actually seemed stumped for a moment.

Yuuri had never seen anything like Yuri’s behavior, not on one of these shows. It was the opposite of Viktor’s cool, pleasant manner. Years of media conditioning did that to a person, but it was weirder to see someone act a different way.

Viktor spoke instead. “We have the same manager, Yuri and I, and when the director requested me, she asked if our manager had anyone in mind to be my little brother.”

“Because the movie is all about you,” Yuri drawled. 

“Yuri had an amazing audition and our screen test was phenomenal,” said Viktor, much like a proud parent.

“You don’t have to answer for me,” Yuri snapped.

Anya looked at JJ for sympathy. “Can you see why they were cast as brothers?” The audience laughed.

“Was it like this all the time?” JJ asked.

“You have no idea,” she said. “I mean, the cast and crew always feels a bit like a family because you spend so much time together, but those two are extra brotherly.”

“No, Viktor’s just extra,” Yuri muttered, sending the JJ and audience into stitches. 

“We need to take a break, but when we come back, will you stick around and play a game?”

“Of course,” said Viktor. 

Anya and Yuri nodded (Yuri grudgingly). 

JJ grinned. “Great! Stick around, everyone, because after the break, Anya, Viktor, Yuri, and I are going to play Charades!”

The commercials dragged on forever until the cast returned, now seated in a different area. 

They divided into teams: Viktor and Yuri, Anya and JJ. JJ explained the rules and added that Viktor and Yuri had won a coin toss and would go first.

Viktor picked a card and wrinkled his brow. “What is this? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Oh, great,” Yuri muttered. “That’s just great.”

“You’re not supposed to talk!” JJ cried. “Emil, help him out!”

JJ’s announcer ran on and whispered something in Viktor’s ear. With a nod, Viktor cracked his knuckles and put the card down on the table. 

“Time starts now!” said JJ, and the clue that Viktor had never heard of appeared on the screen.

Flappy Bird. 

The audience laughed.

No wonder he's confused, thought Yuuri.Viktor had said before that he didn’t play games, wasn’t good at them, and didn’t have the patience or attention span to improve. It was probably just a cute way of saying he didn’t have time for them.  Yuuri had given up on Flappy Bird fairly quickly himself, long before it got taken down.

Viktor mimicked playing a game with a controller and Yuri curled his lip.

“It’s a game? Oh, we’re screwed.”

Viktor held up two fingers.

“Two words," said Yuri. "Yeah, yeah, keep going.”

Viktor extended his arms, graceful all the way to his fingertips. 

Yuri scrunched up his face in a frown. “Flight Simulator?” 

Even though he was all alone, Yuuri burst out laughing. He thought there was nothing Viktor couldn’t convey, but apparently, flappy was not in his arsenal. He danced about the room with the poise of a ballerina as Yuri called out game after game, not even close. 

Just DanceFinal Fantasy? Viktor, are you even sure it’s a game?” He pointed at JJ and then at Emil, who was offstage. “How do I know they’re not trying to cheat?”

The camera panned to Emil laughing his head off. “We wouldn’t do that!” he said.

Black Swan!” Yuri called out. “Swan Lake! One Flew Over the bleeping Cuckoo’s Nest, bleep I don’t bleeping know.”

“Whoa, whoa, Yuri, this is a family show!” JJ said, waving his arms in front of himself. 

Yuri paid him no mind. “Madame Butterfly? Bleep, Viktor, do something else!”

Viktor frowned and Yuri made one last attempt—“Angry Birds?”—before the timer buzzed. Close, but not quite. 

“It was Flappy Bird!” said Viktor. “Yuri, have you heard of that?”

“Of course I have! Can’t you flap your arms like a normal person?” Yuri flailed his arms at his sides. 

“But that’s so ungainly!” Viktor protested. 

Yuri rolled his eyes so far back, Yuuri’s mother would have warned him they’d get stuck that way. JJ was doubled over laughing and even Anya was chuckling. 

“This is the extra kind of bullcrap I have to deal with,” Yuri grumbled, trying very hard not to smile. 

“Okay, okay, Anya, pick a card.”

Anya’s card said Sleeping Beauty, and Yuuri snorted. Ths game was totally rigged. Sure enough, JJ got it in two guesses with time to spare. 

Russian Yuri had the same complaint. “You set us up! What the f—hell?”

“The cards are random, I swear!” JJ said, but when the camera panned to Emil and he was in stitches.

“Whatever. Let me see about that.” Yuri stomped up to the cards and picked one. He turned to Emil, mouth gaping, and demanded, “You gotta be kidding me!”

The words Viktor Nikiforov appeared on screen.

There was nothing random about this game, but Yuuri laughed anyway. Yuri put his hands on his hips and the timer began.

“Okay, it’s a person,” said Viktor, scooting to the edge of the couch. Yuri nodded and began flouncing around the room, doing surprisingly skilled pirouettes. The audience cheered. “Wow! So graceful, Yuri! Oh, it’s Flappy Bird!”

“THAT’S NOT A PERSON!”

Viktor watched as Yuri shook out his hair, blew kisses, and winked at the camera. Viktor’s eyes lit up and he shouted, “Oh! It’s me! Viktor Nikiforov!”

“THANK YOU.” Yuri went back to scowling and the band played a ta-da. Yuri took a quick bow and said down as the audience, JJ, and Anya clapped. No one cheered harder than Viktor.

“Yuri, I’m so flattered, that was uncanny!”

Yuri burned with embarrassment. “It wasn’t supposed to be a compliment.”

Anya and JJ ended up winning the game, but Viktor had won Yuuri’s heart ten times over. 

Chapter Text

Viktor Nikiforov Fans @ViktorFansUS 2h
Whether you’re #TeamJJ or #TeamYuri we can all agree that #ViktorNikiforov is a national treasure! [gif of Viktor playing charades]

Henry Leung @henryleung2009 2h
@ViktorFansUS More like international treasure! #hifromhongkong

cat is on vacation! @1sillykitten 2h
@ViktorFansUS my day isn't complete unless i watch this clip

burgundy @burgundyblue 2h
@ViktorFansUS JJ and Yuri could both learn from Viktor. He’s grace personified.

#1 yuri fan @bananaaaaa 2h
@ViktorFansUS @burgundyblue gtfo with that shit, yuri is HONEST unlike viktor who is basically a robot #yurisangels

logan davis @itslolologan 2h
@ViktorFansUS @burgundyblue @bananaaaaa NO ONE INSULTS VIKTOR IN MY HOUSE

People could say what they wanted about Viktor (and as online comments went, that one wasn’t too bad), but no one could say he didn’t take his mental health seriously. He (almost) never looked himself up online, he stayed out of the Yuri’s Angels vs. JJ Girls  Twitter war that was somehow still going on, and he answered when the therapist’s office returned his call.

It had taken him a while to get around to it, but he had left a message that morning before the office opened. They didn’t waste any time calling him back—the office couldn’t have been open for more than a few minutes.

“Dr. Rhee has some openings later this week. Can you come in this Thursday at 3:15?” asked the receptionist.

Viktor looked out his window at the skyscrapers that stretched for miles. “That’d be tough.”

“Okay, no problem. What days could you come to the office?”

“Well, the thing is, I wasn’t planning on coming back to LA any time soon,” said Viktor.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were out of town. When will you be available?” asked the receptionist.

Viktor sat down on his new couch and Makkachin crawled into his lap. “I don’t suppose you have a New York office, do you?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Did I forget to mention I just relocated to New York City?” Viktor asked. “Must have slipped my mind.”

“Relocated? Wouldn’t you prefer to see a local therapist? We can refer you to—”

“Yakov recommended Dr. Rhee, so I’d rather see him.” Flying was the last thing he wanted to do, but maybe Chris could watch Makkachin for a day. “I suppose I could fly back next week.”

“May I put you on hold for just a moment?” the receptionist asked.

“No problem,” Viktor said. He was content to sit and pet Makkachin. He tapped his foot to the hold music until the receptionist came back.

“Dr. Rhee does offer distance therapy to accommodate his traveling clients. Normally, he prefers to have the initial meeting in person, but he is willing to make an exception.”

“Wonderful!” Viktor cried. “Then my schedule is wide open.”

Viktor had to fill out and return some forms, but he had an appointment and that was progress. As Makkachin napped on the couch, Viktor stepped out on the balcony. The sun’s rays peeked through gaps between the buildings and he just had to get a picture for Instagram.

Within minutes of posting, his phone was ringing.

“Hi, Yakov,” he said cheerily.

“Vitya.”

“What, no, Hello, how are you?” Viktor teased. “And here you’re always coaching Yuri on his manners.”

Yakov didn’t laugh, but that was nothing new.

“Do you have something to tell me?”

“I do!” Viktor exclaimed. “I called Dr. Rhee.”

“That’s…good.” There was a rumble on the line before Yakov spoke again. “Anything else?”

“Not really,” said Viktor. “I’m thinking of ordering Chinese for lunch.”

Yakov's voice was unnervingly calm. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you playing a game with me?”

Viktor didn’t give up his hand. “What do you mean?”

“I have no time for your antics, Vitya. I’m a busy man, with plenty of actors who actually care about their careers.” Yakov took a deep breath. “Where are you?”

“I’m at home,” and this would surely break the calm, “I needed to get out of LA. Surely you understand.”

“Understand?!” Yakov growled. “What I understand is that you sold your house and moved clear across the country without so much as a word!”

Perhaps Yakov was more social media savvy than he realized. Viktor pulled the phone away from his head to protect his hearing. “You’re the one who told me to get away,” he said.

“I meant a vacation! A couple of weeks to clear your head! I’d ask what your plan is, but you don’t have one, do you?”

Viktor had a plan, but it was…open-ended. He went back inside and Makkachin roused to greet him. “I need more than a couple of weeks. Surely you can tell the press something. You’re good at that.”

“What do I tell them? That your next move after the biggest movie of your career is to disappear?”

Viktor grinned. “That sounds pretty mysterious, doesn’t it? Sure, go with that.”

“You are in demand right now. Every day, directors, producers, reporters are calling, and I have no idea what to tell them. If you don’t strike while the iron is hot, your career will disappear right along with you."

“Would that be so bad?” Viktor wondered. It was something he had to figure out for himself.

“What, you’re going to quit acting? Retire to the Hamptons and knit sweaters for your dog?”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ll keep my engagements, for now.” Viktor stroked Makkachin, imagining what color she would look best in—any color, of course. He didn’t know how to knit but it looked like he would have some free time soon.

Yakov didn’t seem satisfied with that answer. “This is ludicrous. If you put your career on hold now, you won’t be able to come back. There are thousands of actors waiting to take your place. The industry will move on without you. ”

Yakov’s words reminded him of lines from Agape. “Then you’ll be plenty busy while I figure things out,” Viktor said. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Vitya, don’t you dare hang—”

Viktor hung up and turned his phone off. He spent the whole day doting on his dog, and he ordered Peking Duck, to be delivered to his new home.

----

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

Yuuri gasped out loud when he saw it. That skyline could only be New York City and the caption read, Home sweet home.

Had Viktor moved? Viktor had lived in Los Angeles since he was a teenager. Even after his mother had gone back to coaching in Europe, LA had been Viktor’s home.

Not anymore, apparently. Yuuri liked the post as the flutters in his stomach reached embarrassing levels.

Viktor lived in the same time zone. Viktor was probably up and about right now, maybe having brunch in a trendy New York cafe or walking Makkachin at some exclusive dog park. Yuuri had been to New York a few times, and even though he hadn’t seen much of the city, it suited Viktor.

This meant exciting things for Viktor. Yuuri spent the rest of the morning scouring the internet for more news, undistracted for hours until a new email from the university popped up.

Subject: Roommate Assignment

It was probably the only thing that could have torn his attention away from Viktor’s move. 

Phichit Chulanont (Freshman)
Age: 19
Major: Film
Minor: English
Hobbies: Figure skating, movies, social media, games, pets

Yuuri hadn’t seen the footage but he’d heard about it. Rising star Phichit Chulanont, the most accomplished Thai skater ever at just 18 and would-be rinkmate if Yuuri hadn’t quit, had fallen and broken his ankle during his long program in his Grand Prix Final debut. 

According to Twitter, Phichit had decided to take some time off to “recover and refocus.” His prolific tweets had dwindled to a trickle since then, and Yuuri had lost track of him until now.

Yuuri stared at the message. This morning was too intense for him. He wasn’t ready to face another figure skater. He’d known that Phichit was enrolled at the same school, but with competing, he wouldn’t have been around campus much. Yuuri remembered.

He had left the sport before Phichit had started training in Detroit, before Phichit had even made his senior debut, so Phichit probably didn’t even know who we was.

Somehow, that made him feel worse.

Another new email popped up, because Yuuri couldn’t catch a moment of peace.

From: Phichit Chulanont
Subject: Roomie!!

Yuuri was almost afraid to click. 

YUURI KATSUKI OH MY GOD. I was bummed about not skating this season, but not anymore because now I can’t wait to meet you! I’ve looked up to you forever and I wondered what happened to you but holy crap, you’re an engineering student, wow!

YUURI!!! KATSUKI!!! Sorry, still screaming. Would you email me back? Or here’s my number if you want to text!

See you soon!!!

Phichit

Phichit had heard of him? Phichit wondered what had happened to him? Yuuri wasn’t keeping secrets. He hadn’t even left Detroit. Okay, he had deleted his old social media accounts and started new, secret ones, but he hadn’t changed his real name or anything.

Maybe Phichit was just being polite. He had probably googled Yuuri’s name when the announcements came out, and obviously, he would have found Yuuri’s tiny Wikipedia page. Phichit might have thought it would be awkward if he didn’t mention it, but he was laying it on a little thick. The idea of anyone looking up to Yuuri was utterly ridiculous.

Yuuri's career had been a disaster. All he could see when he looked back was fall after stumble.

Phichit’s skating was fresh and light, with solid fundamentals. He’d had bad luck with his injury and he needed time to heal. Yuuri fell far too much for it to be bad luck.

But Phichit always seemed friendly in interviews and online, and if they were going to be roommates, Yuuri would have to make an effort. No one could be worse than Matt.

Hi Phichit,

It’s nice to talk to you! I’m a fan of your skating. You never hold back on the ice and it’s always fun to watch you. I’m surprised you’ve heard of me. I hope we can get along and I hope you like it here! Here’s my phone number.

Yuuri

He had barely hit send when he had a text from the number Phichit had given him.

12:12 PM
YUURI KATSUKI IS A FAN OF MY SKATING??? OMG (ᵒ̤̑ ₀̑ ᵒ̤̑)wow!* i’m dead
but idg why you are surprised
everyone knows you!

Phichit was probably just being nice. But I don’t skate anymore, he replied.

12:13 PM
well neither do i
but let’s not talk about that right now
what’s our theme this year?

Theme? Yuuri’s theme had been Perseverance for his final season, and he had failed. Yuuri returned the text. What do you mean?

12:14 PM
decorations! 
for our room
also how do you feel about hamsters? because i have several ʢ• ͡•ʢ• ͡•ʢ• ͡•ʡ

I like hamsters, Yuuri wrote. He looked around his room to address Phichit’s first point, and the theme was obvious: Viktor Nikiforov. Well, Phichit was going to find out about it anyway. Do you like movies? he asked.

12:15 PM
i LOVE movies!! (*꧆▽꧆*)
have you seen the king and the skater?

No, Yuuri replied.

12:15 PM 
OMG it changed my life!!
first order of business we are watching it together!
and then we’re watching your favorite movie! 
what is it?

They were already getting along better than he and Matt ever had, so he decided to go for it. I really like The Shore, but I also love Agape, he wrote. Throwing caution to the wind, he added, Seen it so many times, lol.

12:16 PM
i saw agape too! sooo good, right?
wait
i am sensing a theme
don’t tell me
you used to watch on thin ice, didn’t you?

Phichit was officially the best roommate ever.

From the moment he moved in, it was like they had always known each other. In a way, they had, because they had been at the same competitions, in the same circles, and shared so many experiences. But it was more than that. Within days, it was like they had been friendly for years.

Phichit complimented Yuuri’s posters and Yuuri admired his hamsters. Phichit’s eyes lit up every time he watched The King and the Skater (which they had done three times already), and they didn’t glaze over when Yuuri went on about Viktor. They watched movies and TV shows between classes and homework, and it was weeks before they really talked about figure skating.

“Wow!” exclaimed Phichit, texting at rapid speed. This was a common occurrence.

“What’s up?” Yuuri asked.

“Guang Hong landed a quad toe! He’s been trying for ages. Do you want to see?” Phichit held up his phone so Yuuri could watch. Fully rotated with a clean landing, it was a flawless jump.

Although they had never really spoken to each other, Yuuri has seen Guang Hong Ji rise up through juniors and remembered his cheery attitude.

“That was really good,” Yuuri said. “He’s really come along.”

“I’ll tell him you said that! He’ll be so excited.” Phichit typed as he spoke, and apparently Guang Hong was just as fast. “Guang Hong is freaking out right now. He can’t believe you know who he is.”

The feeling was mutual. “Do you talk about me with your skater friends?” Yuuri knew Phichit was still in touch with several of them, but he didn’t remember Phichit mentioning that. 

“Well, yeah. They’re all dying to know what you’ve been up to.”

“Why?” Yuuri wondered. He’d always assumed everyone had blocked his last competitive seasons from memory, just like he tried to.

“Because you were the top-ranked figure skater in Japan, with step sequences that could bring even the hardest heart to tears?” Phichit said it like it was obvious. “They don’t call you Japan’s Ace for nothing. You inspire us.”

Yuuri knew his footwork was his strength, but lots of skaters were better. Phichit made it sound like Yuuri was still inspiring people, as if he had done anything worth remembering. “They also called me ‘the figure skater with the world’s biggest glass heart,’” said Yuuri. That name was far more appropriate.

“So you had bad days. Everyone does.” Phichit looked down at his foot. “At least you never broke an ankle.”

Yuuri frowned. Phichit was long done with physical therapy, but as far as Yuuri knew, his skates spent most of their time packed up under his bed.

“You said it healed up well. Have you thought about going back?” Yuuri asked.

“Sure, I’ve thought about it.” Phichit sighed. “I’ve skated here and there, nothing serious. But I can’t even blame the ankle. I’ve been stuck for a while.”

Yuuri could understand that, but Phichit always seemed so effortless on the ice. “What about skating just for fun?” 

“When’s the last time you skated?” Phichit countered. There was no accusation in his tone but it burned Yuuri nonetheless. 

“I don’t remember,” he lied.

But he did. The last time was three months ago but everything was wrong—his center of gravity, his timing, his state of mind… Nothing had worked.

“Do you ever think about going back?” Phichit asked.

Maybe in his wildest dreams, but it was too late. He was too old. “It’s been too long. I don’t think I could.”

Phichit shook his head. “It’s only been two seasons. People have come back from longer.”

How did Phichit know how long it had been? “Three seasons if you count this one,” Yuuri corrected him. "And I haven't been practicing consistently."

Phichit watched Guang Hong’s video loop over and over again. “But don’t you ever feel like a part of you is just missing?”

Yuuri thought about his own skates, buried under piles of clothes and books, and about the ice he rarely touched. “You get used to it.”

They sat in silence, watching Guang Hong Ji jump until Yuuri’s phone sounded.

Phichit grinned. “Viktor alert!” he said, breaking the tension.

v-nikiforov just posted a photo.

Viktor, smiling on the streets of New York City (God, but New York suits him, Yuuri thought), with one arm around Anya Garina and the other around Yuri Plisetsky.

Together again! the caption read.

“Why are they all in New York? They couldn’t be filming the sequel already, could they?” Yuuri wondered. It was too soon. Viktor had earned a nice, long break. Then again, maybe he loved acting too much to take one.

“I’m on the case,” Phichit said, going to Twitter.

They had it figured it out by the end of the day. Viktor would be walking the runway, like he had as a teenager, and Yuuri couldn’t wait to see.

Chapter Text

The high of moving to New York had worn off quickly. It was supposed to be a turning point, a change of pace, but it was just more of the same. Viktor had kept working, doing appearances, and telling Yakov he’d think about this role or that one. On top of that, he had the paparazzi to deal with. 

Viktor had always heard it was worse on the West Coast, but with the exception of his last weeks in LA, he had rarely dealt with the paparazzi at all. His apartment was secure, and he didn’t have issues with fans, but Yakov had been right. 

As soon as a fan posted a picture, Viktor got inundated wherever he was. He had to get his groceries delivered now, he had to make his own coffee, and he rarely went out to eat. He could still walk Makkachin, but it wasn’t easy. 

He had yet to make any real breakthroughs on therapy. Viktor was willing to admit it would probably take more than three appointments in five months to make progress.

Yuri’s career had taken off. Young and eager as he was, he was managing just fine without Viktor’s help. Viktor was happy for him, but their last interaction (via text) hadn’t gone well. It had been right after Viktor moved.

yakov says youre taking a break
what the fuck

Viktor knew he had forgotten to tell someone about his move, and apparently, Yuri didn’t keep up with him online. He had tried to explain but Yuri had just closed up and Viktor hadn’t heard from him since. Viktor hadn’t reached out, either.  

Eventually, Viktor had stopped answering work calls. It wasn’t always on purpose at first, he just missed them. He’d leave his phone at home when he walked Makkachin, or he’d forget to charge it. Not returning the calls was a conscious decision, and they began to taper off.

He’d dreamed of a day without a work call for over a year, but when it happened, there was no relief. He had no idea what to do with himself. It turned out he only got work calls.

Time off was supposed to make things better, but without work, he had nothing. Nothing but Makkachin.

Makkachin was his shining star. Never going out or working meant he had all the time in the world for her. Their early morning walks were sacred, even if Viktor had to plan strange routes to avoid other people.

This morning, Makkachin stopped to sniff a lamp post and Viktor paused to give her a chance to do her business. It was a cold morning, but the cold never got to Viktor. It was one of the few things that worked for him about New York. 

“All done, Makka?” asked Viktor, looping her leash around his wrist. He bent down to clean up after her when Makkachin jerked forward so hard that the leash cut into his skin. He snapped his head up to look at her. “What’s wrong?” 

Makkachin had never barked this loud before. She didn’t chase squirrels or cars, but all dogs got spooked. He didn’t see anything at first, but someone shouted his name. It didn’t sound like a fan. Makkachin barked again, and Viktor turned in the direction of the voice.

The flashes were blinding and Viktor hid his face. How many of them were there? Makkachin whined and scrambled to get away. “It’s okay, girl,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm without addressing the paparazzi. He picked an open path and tried to pull he but Makkachin wanted to go a different way. 

“Viktor! Viktor! Come on, turn around. Your fans will love this!” 

Even at 4 o’clock in the morning. Even with sunglasses and a hoodie. Even when he was with his dog. Viktor couldn’t get away. He gave in and went Makkachin’s way. 

“Viktor! Is it true you’re in an alcohol treatment program? Have you been dropped from Legend Management?”

Viktor tried to hurry but Makkachin yanked him this way and that. Maybe she was reacting to Viktor, but he had never seen her like this. Could he pick her up and carry her? She was a full size poodle. How much further could they follow him? 

“Did you think people wouldn’t notice that you haven’t done anything since Agape? Give us a smile, for your career!”

Couldn’t they see that Makkachin was old? Her poor heart couldn’t take this, and neither could Viktor’s. He imagined hurling the bag of dog shit at them, but that would definitely end up online. 

A picture of the back of his head was worth nothing, so he stayed in front of them and soothed Makkachin as best as he could. 

Then, he saw it. Like a beacon, an emergency vet. He picked up Makkachin even as she thrashed and hurried inside. The smell of the veterinary office didn’t do much to calm her down.

“Is everything all right?” The person behind the desk stood and hurried to the door. “Is your dog hurt?”

“I don’t know.” Viktor stroked Makkachin, trying to calm her once more. “It’s all right, girl, we’re safe now.”

 “My name is Mel, vet tech on duty this morning,” said Mel, speaking in soft, soothing tones. Even though it was probably for Makkachin’s benefit, it helped calm Viktor, too. “Please tell me what happened.” 

 “We were chased here. Makka—she panicked, and I didn’t know where else to go.” Viktor pulled down his hood. Mel’s eyes went wide and Viktor knew he had been recognized. “I’ve never seen her so worked up.” 

Mel blinked at him but nodded and turned to Makkachin. “Keep talking to her, Mr. Nikiforov, and we’ll get her checked out.” 

In the end, Makkachin was fine, but the paparazzi camped outside for two hours before giving up. Dr. Alcivar, the vet, tried not to charge Viktor, but he insisted on paying. He ended up taking pictures with half the staff, forcing a smile even though he was still shaken. It was the least he could do for them after they took care of Makkachin and gave her a place to hide. 

Viktor hired a car to get home, and the driver recognized him. He only felt a little better when Makkachin was safe at home.

None of it should have happened.

It wasn’t worth it. Makkachin was okay today, but what if something happened to her next time? Viktor wouldn’t be able to live with himself. He was lucky they had made it this far without a run in. Viktor loved sharing pictures of Makkachin—but like a fool he had assumed that would protect her. If he posted constant pictures of her, then he assumed they would have no monetary value.

All of this just to get him in some insipid Stars – They’re Just Like Us! feature, picking up Makkachin’s poop. 

Now he’d have to take Makkachin to that snooty dog run. What was the point of living in New York if he couldn’t enjoy the city? 

It reminded him of questions Dr. Rhee had asked. 

Do you enjoy acting?
What would you do if you weren’t an actor?
Why do you keep up this pace?

He hadn’t given them much thought before, but maybe it was time. 

Viktor pulled out his phone and found a contact he hadn’t used in months.

How’s your season going? Let me know if you’re still up for watching Makkachin after the season ends. I’m planning on taking a trip this summer.

Leo got back to him quickly.

2:13 PM
Sure, I’d love to watch her.
I’m going to Worlds this year, if you can believe it. I can get you tickets if you want to come.

Viktor did, and he didn’t. The World Figure Skating Championships was a huge event. It would be televised internationally, not to mention all over the internet. But he had forgotten his promise, and he was asking Leo for a favor (even if he was paying him).

Maybe he could make it work. He typed his reply. Congratulations! I’d love to see you compete. 

Leo gave him the date and place. Boston wasn’t far, and maybe he could disguise himself better in the future. He’d need to, lest he get recognized while he was traveling. He took it as a sign when Leo said he’d be spending June in New York volunteering as a youth skating instructor. 

Do you need a place to stay? Viktor wrote. You can use my apartment while I’m travelling. 

2:20 PM
Are you sure? That would be fantastic. NYC is so expensive.

Viktor’s open-ended plan was beginning to take shape. He made arrangements with Leo and started making his own travel plans online. He could travel discreetly as it was, but Viktor needed time away from his fame, and everything that came with it. 

He also made some calls to Makkachin’s usual vet—despite the paparazzi run in, Dr. Alcivar’s place just wasn’t discreet enough—to see what she’d need to travel.

The next step was to call Chris. 

Viktor hadn’t spoken to Chris since he had offered to throw Viktor a birthday party, but more attention was the last thing Viktor needed. He didn’t have the patience to fake it with a bunch of celebrities who were just about as interested in Viktor as he was in them. 

“Good morning, Viktor. Finally cashing in that belated birthday present?” Chris said.

“Actually, I am! Would you be so kind as to recommend a good stylist? One who knows how to be discreet.”

 Chris chuckled. “Of course I will, but what exactly are you planning?”

The next day, before the salon opened, Chris found out.

“Absolutely not!” Mi-young, Chris’s hairdresser friend gasped. “When I got my license, I took an oath. First, do no harm.”

“Isn’t that for doctors?” Viktor wondered. He crossed his legs and swept the black hairdresser’s cape over his lap. 

“If I dye your hair, we will definitely have a medical emergency on our hands,” said Mi-young.

“No one will ever know it was you.” Viktor wasn’t planning on being spotted any time soon. 

“No shit they won’t. No hairdresser with a conscience would go on record as the one who ruined Viktor Nikiforov.”

“Is this for some super-secret role?” Chris asked. 

“No role.” The words came out before Viktor could take them back. That would have been a good lie.

Chris crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not about that guy in Detroit, right? Detroit Boy? I thought that was done.” 

“It is done. This is about…” What could Viktor say? “Look, I’m just tired of being recognized, okay?”

“Seriously? Viktor ‘be sure you get my good side’ Nikiforov is tired of fame?” Chris asked. 

Mi-young mirrored Chris’s posture. “I’m not doing this. It goes against my values.”

“But I’m asking you,” said Viktor, pouting. “I’m paying you a lot.”

“No, I’m paying you a lot,” Chris pointed out. “Happy belated birthday.”

Mi-young pushed her fingers through Viktor’s hair. “Isn’t there another way? I’m still heartbroken from when you cut it all off.”

“If I wanted to wear wigs, I’d be back in Hollywood.”

“Do you know how many clients ask me for your exact color and cut?” Mi-young moaned. “It’s not possible to get this shade from a bottle and you just want to throw it all away?!”

Viktor shrugged. “Hair grows.” 

“What are you planning?” Chris stroked his chin. “Viktor, if you need to talk to someone…”

“Yakov already got me a therapist, okay? I’m sure about this. Do it.”

“I am going to hell for this,” said Mi-young. She disappeared to mix the color and was still repeating the words when she came back. It was all she could say as she brushed the color onto Viktor’s hair. 

“So, therapy?” Chris asked, sitting in the chair next to Viktor’s. “That’s good. Good for you.”

“It has come to my attention that I have no life outside of work.” 

“And that you’re fixated on pleasing everyone even though you have no idea how to go about it?” Chris suggested, resting his cheek on his hand. 

Viktor narrowed his eyes. “I was getting to that, but yes, Chris, I’m not perfect.”

“No one is,” replied Chris. “And you don’t have to be perfect, you know? I like you just the way you are.”

“Which is why this is so effing wrong,” Mi-young muttered, sectioning off the hair on the back of Viktor’s head.

“I like you just the way you are,” Chris repeated, “but I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself. Everyone could use a good therapist.”

“I’m going to need to up my meds when this is said and done,” Mi-young said. “My anxiety can’t take this.”

Viktor was calm. “Just know that you’re helping me, Mi-young.”

“I think New York is doing you a lot of good. You can take some time to yourself and go back to work feeling reinvigorated.” Chris tapped Viktor’s arm. “All the good movies are made here anyway. Or you could go back to TV! I could get you in as a guest judge on my show.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

But Viktor didn’t think about it while his color was processing. He didn’t think about it while Mi-young tipped his head back in the bowl and applied dye to his eyebrows. He didn’t think about it while she rinsed and washed his hair, even as she choked out gasps. 

“Oh, Viktor.”

Chris sighed. “I can’t believe it’s come to this.”

Viktor said nothing as he stared at himself in the mirror. His roles had called for different hair colors before, but always temporary color or wigs in various shades of blond. He had never been this dark before. This was a deep, cool brown. He looked a bit like Snow White from his childhood books, icy pale with dark hair and eyebrows—brown eyebrows. Who was he?

“If you tell anyone I did this I will murder you in your sleep,” Mi-young said to Chris and Viktor. 

“She’s a genius with a straight razor,” said Chris.

Mi-young flicked Chris’s chin. “Not that you’d know. When’s the last time you shaved that thing?” 

“It’s my signature look.”

“That doesn’t mean it looks good.”

Viktor let them bicker. Knowing his secret was safe was enough. 

“You’re going to start showing growth in a few weeks. I don’t care how you touch it up, just don’t involve me and try not to blind yourself.” She turned to Chris. “See you next week.”

“Thank you, Mi-young,” said Viktor, still staring at himself in the mirror in shock.

“I don’t want to see you again unless we’re stripping this travesty out,” Mi-young replied, leaving the shop.

It was still very early, and Chris and Viktor had snuck in under complete cover. It was a private salon, and they could sneak out easily.

“One more chance, Viktor. What’s this about?” Chris asked as they reached the door. 

If anyone deserved the truth, it was Chris. And it wasn't a bad idea for someone to know where he was going, in case something happened. Viktor took a deep breath. “I’m taking a break from acting. I’m going to Russia for a while.”

“To see your parents?” Chris asked.

“My father.” 

“Oh, that’s right. Your mom still coaches, right?”

Viktor nodded. “She’ll be harder to pin down, but I’m going to visit her, too.” 

“Ah.” The corner of Chris’s lip twitched up. “Your therapist’s idea?” 

“Not exactly. But I think it’s time. It’s been years.” Viktor couldn’t even remember how many. It had been months since he had talked to either of them.

“Are you taking Makkachin, or do you need someone to watch her?” Chris asked. “I can recommend an excellent sitter, and he does dogs as well as cats.”

“Thank you, but Makka’s coming with me to Russia, and I have someone for when I visit my mom.” 

Chris smiled and nodded. “Keep in touch while you’re gone, all right? It’s a lonely business, ours, but I’m always happy to keep you company.” With a wink, he added, “In any capacity.”

There was concern there, beneath the playful lust. 

“You never get lonely, do you?” Viktor asked, keeping coy at the surface.

Chris studied him for a moment. “Of course I do. But I don’t think it’s quite the same. Not anymore.”

Later that evening, Viktor still wasn’t sure what Chris meant.

 

Chapter Text

The year was shaping up to be Yuuri’s best in recent memory. He might not have been able to set foot on a rink, but now that he had a friend, it didn’t sting so badly. Yuuri was working out again, even dancing (and not just in clubs). The timing was perfect, because his main hobby (Viktor) had been pretty quiet lately.

Yuuri still checked daily, but updates from Viktor or even posts mentioning Viktor were scarce. He must have been hard at work on a secret project. Was it too soon for that Agape sequel? Maybe a clothing line? Yuuri could only speculate.

It was a particularly cold, sloppy Detroit winter. All around Yuuri, students murmured about spring break in Miami or Cancun. Maybe Yuuri was missing out on a rite of passage by never doing a spring break trip, but he could make a drunken fool of himself right here in Detroit. No need to waste a bunch of money on it.

Phichit hadn’t mentioned spring break at all. It was still a while away, but Yuuri figured he had a trip planned with other friends and was just trying to spare Yuuri’s feelings.

After a morning of battling high winds and subzero temperatures to get to class, Yuuri and Phichit gave themselves permission to skip the gym.

They picked up dinner from the dining hall and took it back to their room. “Movie tonight?” Phichit asked, balancing a roll on top of his soup container.

“Sure,” replied Yuuri. He opened the door since his boxed tuna salad on lettuce left him with a free hand. “Your turn to pick.”

On Thin Ice marathon?” Phichit suggested.

Yuuri shook his head. “You don’t have to pick that just because that’s what I would pick.”

“There hasn’t been much Viktor news lately, I figured you’d want a fix.”

“I’m fine,” said Yuuri, sitting down at his desk to eat. “I’m sure he’s hard at work or taking a vacation.”

“Last time he went on vacation, he posted two pictures an hour,” Phichit pointed out.

“A social media vacation, then,” said Yuuri. “People do that sometimes, don’t they?”

“Never heard of it," said Phichit. He frowned as if the idea left a bad taste in his mouth and Yuuri laughed.

“Anyway, you should pick.”

Phichit smirked from behind his soup spoon. “Well, I have had Shall We Skate? in my head for a week…”

“We’re so predictable,” said Yuuri.

“That’s why we’re best friends.”

When the movie was over, Phichit was still singing Shall We Skate? to himself. It was going to be in Yuuri’s head for days.

“Let the record show I gave you the chance to watch something else,” Phichit said.

“I really don’t mind,” Yuuri insisted. He had had lost track of how many times they had watched The King and the Skater 1 and 2 this year, but it always put Phichit in a good mood.

“I still can’t believe no one’s ever used the soundtrack for a program,” said Phichit. “I had a million ideas, but the timing never worked out.”

A movie about skating did seem like a natural choice for a routine, but then again, there weren’t many skaters from Thailand. If Yuuri thought about that for too long, he’d feel guilty (even though Phichit had decided to take time off on his own).

Instead, Yuuri thought about the soundtrack. He could see it working, especially for Phichit, and he asked, “What song would you pick?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Shall We Skate? I think the crowd would be really into it—with the right skater, that is.”

“Why not you?” The words left Yuuri’s mouth before he could stop them. That question would have made Yuuri feel terrible, but Phichit just looked thoughtful.

“Maybe if my ankle behaves itself, I could throw something together, just for fun,” he said. “But I might need some help with the dancier elements.”

He didn’t come right out and ask for Yuuri’s help, but the invitation was there all the same. Yuuri made a noncommittal noise and Phichit dropped it.

Skating didn’t come up in conversation again for another two weeks.

“Got any spring break plans?” Phichit asked.

“I’ll probably just stay here and study,” Yuuri replied. “Campus should be nice and quiet.”

“Or,” Phichit began, grinning like he was about to ask a favor, “you could come on a trip with me!”

Yuuri raised an eyebrow. “That depends on where you’re going.”

“How about a fabulous trip to balmy, beautiful Boston?” Phichit stretched out his arms like he was showcasing a prize on a game show.

“Boston? As in Massachusetts?” asked Yuuri. “One of the few places in the country that’s probably colder than Detroit right now? Why?”

Phichit winced and his words tumbled out all at once. “Because the World Figure Skating Championships are being held there this year and I was hoping you’d go with me?”

“Oh,” was all Yuuri could manage. Static clogged up his brain as he tried to process the invitation. Maybe he had misheard. There was no way he could face Worlds, let alone from the stands. Phichit knew that. Yuuri was about to refuse when Phichit went on.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to. My friends, you remember Guang Hong and Leo, they both qualified for Worlds for this first time this year, and Guang Hong got me some tickets.” Phichit sighed. “I want to go to support them, but at the same time, it’s the last place I want to be, you know?”

Oh . Yuuri didn’t say it aloud this time and guilt hit deep in his stomach. Of course Phichit wanted support. Yuuri was so caught in his own head that he hadn’t considered the possibility that Phichit was just as conflicted as he was. Phichit was always so cool and calm that it was easy to forget that he was, as he put it, “missing a piece of himself.”

Yuuri used to be brave. He used to skate his emotions in front of thousands of people. The least he could do was watch someone else skate t to support his friend. It was a long way away and he had time to prepare.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll go with you.”

“Awesome! I’ll book the Airbnb now.” Phichit grin softened, and he added, “Thanks.”

Naturally, Yuuri’s ample preparation time slipped away and left him an unprepared wreck the night before Worlds. He had faked some excitement for Phichit in the lead up but all he felt was growing dread. He couldn’t believe he had even made it to the apartment they were renting in Boston.

“...and tomorrow, we can leave whenever you want. You just give the signal and we’ll go. Maybe a bird call? Can you do a bulbul?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t do it, Phichit,” Yuuri said.

“How about an oriole?”

“I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but you’ll just have to go without me. You can scalp my ticket and keep the money.” Yuuri could always just go to the museum or do a walking tour tomorrow. Boston was an interesting city, so long as he stayed far from the arena.

Phichit sipped his beer and sighed. “I’m not going to make you go if you don’t want to, but don’t you think you might enjoy it? Just a little?”

Phichit wasn’t wrong. Yuuri still liked skating, even though his failures loomed over him, reminding him that his senior “career” never really amounted to anything. But he had come for  Phichit’s sake, and he had made it this far. Yuuri finished his beer and frowned. “Maybe I can sneak a flask into the arena.”

“I don’t think the ISU is ready for lit Yuuri,” Phichit said. “But I’d keep you from going too far.”

“Please, you’d put it on Instagram,” Yuuri asked. Now there was a goal he could meet. He cracked open another beer.

“I’d ask first!” Phichit insisted. They drank in silence for a moment before Phichit spoke again, trying to sound casual. “I mean, if you’re up to it, I could introduce you to Leo and Guang Hong tomorrow. Well, reintroduce you.”

Yuuri almost spit out his drink. How had he not realized someone might recognize him? “No. Absolutely not. I’m not ready to face anyone.”

“Well, then I guess you better not go, because they’re going to recognize you,” said Phichit. He deflated as he let out another sigh. “It hasn’t been that long since you retired.”

Sometimes Yuuri forgot. He thought that he had disappeared the moment he stepped off the ice, forgotten and not missed. Maybe Phichit and his friends remembered him, but surely no one else did.

“I don’t want to be recognized.” He finished the rest of his beer in one go. “I never should have gotten your hopes up.”

Phichit frowned at the table, deep in thought, until he jerked his head up. “I’ve got it! What if you wore a disguise?”

“A disguise?” Yuuri really should have gotten vodka or something stronger.

Phichit nodded. “You can wear sunglasses and a hat and like, a big coat or something.”

“A big coat? Am I trying not to be recognized or am I trying to shoplift?” Yuuri asked.

“Hear me out! Celebrities do this stuff all the time.” Phichit smiled slyly and added, “For example, a certain Viktor Nikiforov dons a hoodie and sunglasses when he wants to avoid the paparazzi.”

That was true. And Viktor was getting good at hiding from the paparazzi lately. Ever since he’d been photographed cleaning up after Makkachin, he hadn’t been seen in public. Not that Yuuri could blame him. Viktor deserved his privacy, and a moment like that was clearly meant to be private.

Yuuri much preferred to get his pictures of Viktor and Makkachin from Viktor’s own Instagram. He hadn’t been posting as much as usual, but he was probably just busy with his next big project. Whatever Viktor was willing to share was enough for Yuuri.

“Ha! You’re thinking about Viktor now, aren’t you?” Phichit said. He finished his beer with an exaggerated smack of his lips. “Mission accomplished. I’m going to drink some water and head to bed, and I think you should do the same.”

“Okay, Mom.” But the Viktor effect had calmed him, and the disguise wasn’t a bad idea. He could go, for Phichit.

Phichit said goodnight, and after a large glass of water and several minutes of browsing Viktor’s Instagram, Yuuri was ready for bed, too.

Just before he fell asleep, he realized needed to go for himself, too.

---

Agreeing to go to Worlds had been a huge mistake. Viktor wanted to see Leo, of course. It was the least he could do for all the times Leo had cared for Makkachin. She was curled up on her bed now, next to Viktor’s suitcase.

He’d be uprooting her the day after tomorrow, putting her on a plane, taking her to another country. Was it selfish of him?

“I’m sorry, girl,” Viktor whispered, not wanting to disturb her. She needed her rest. Viktor probably needed rest, too, but he went to the kitchen and poured himself a tall shot of vodka. He downed it, poured another, and repeated the process.

Before long, he didn’t feel too bad. His phone sat on the couch, dead, and it seemed like a good idea to plug it in. It seemed like an even better idea to text Yuri.

I’m going to Russia soon do you needs anything!

No response. Maybe that little punk had blocked him. It would serve Viktor right for all the unwarranted “brotherly” advice.

He really needed to text Chris. Why would he text Yuri when he had an actual friend who wanted to be around him?

Thanks for being such abgodd friend

No response. So much for being there whenever Viktor needed him. Or was his show on? Viktor kept meaning to watch it, and now seemed like a good time. But first, he needed another shot.

Viktor tried to find Chris’s show, but he had too many TV channels. Why did he even have cable? He never used it.

This called for mode vodka.

But no matter how much vodka he drank, he’d still have to drag himself to Boston the next day. This was a promise he couldn’t break. Leo had done so much for him, and for some reason he couldn’t grasp, Viktor felt like he had to be there.

Figure skating. A piece of his past, and a future that never was. Pieces of a role he played, a role he was still playing, and one he would never play. What if he had actually trained as a skater instead of just playing one on TV? What if he hadn’t scared off the guy from Detroit, or met him sooner, or skated with him, or…or what?

What if he quit acting, got a GED, went to college, and just moved the hell on with his life?

Viktor scrolled through his contacts until he found him: Future Husband, still there (even though he pretended not to see it every time he came across it). Viktor was supposed to be over it. It wasn’t healthy.

He wasn’t drunk enough to call, but he was drunk enough to text. It took so long to compose that he was sober by the time he hit Send.

I’m sure you blocked me or changed your number or just don’t want to hear from me, but I need some closure. I’ve built you up in my head to be this perfect person, my one true love, but it’s a fantasy no one could live up to. I should know. I did the same thing to myself. I’m tired of trying to live up to my own expectations so I’m letting them go. Maybe I don’t know who I am, and I definitely don’t know you, but I do know the night we shared was the closest thing to a connection I’ve felt in years. But I’m ready to let go of that, too. If you want to start over, I’ll be watching the Men’s Short Program at the World Championships in Boston tomorrow. It’s a long shot, and I’m sure you won’t be there, but if by any chance you are, find me in section 22 row 10. And if I don’t see you, then I’ll let you go.

The phone broke his organized thoughts into awkward chunks, but the message was out there. Eyes wet and mouth dry, Viktor finally fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Yuuri was too nervous to eat, even though Phichit had gone to the trouble of making eggs and toast.

You can’t even make it to Worlds as a spectator , he thought. How could you have ever thought you’d make it as a competitor?

Phichit was talking to him, but Yuuri had been too focused on shifting his scrambled eggs around his plate. “What was that?”

“You can pretend you don’t speak English,” Phichit said. “I’ll say you’re an exchange student from Japan who likes skating.”

“Fine,” he muttered. Whatever Phichit wanted was fine. All he wanted was to catch the first flight home, but flights were expensive and his thoughts stabbed at him like knives. If you don’t do this, you’re an even bigger failure than before.

Even Viktor couldn’t help him now. All that was left was to do it.

He put on his sunglasses (the bulky driving ones that went over his glasses), pulled on a hat, and looped a scarf around his neck until it covered his mouth. His glasses and sunglasses fogged up with every breath, but most of his face was obscured. He thought about ditching his glasses altogether, but he had always gone without when he skated. Wearing them would just add to the disguise.

“I don’t even recognize you,” Phichit assured him. “But you do look a little like my grandpa.”

It was probably the driving glasses that did it, but Yuuri couldn’t even muster a laugh.

“Ready?” Phichit asked as they sat in the subway car. The T went right to the arena. Boston’s transit system wasn’t nearly as clean as what he was used to in Japan, but at least it was convenient, and better than what they had in Detroit.  

Yuuri nodded.

“Already in character,” said Phichit. “Good work.”

In character? Maybe Phichit was onto something. His disguise wasn’t enough—he had to pretend not to be Yuuri. He’d done it in his programs, or at least he’d tried to. He could do it again.

It felt strange to enter the arena with the masses. He’d never been to an event as an outsider before. 

Yuuri only had to take off his costume briefly for the security check, but no one recognized him. There was relative anonymity in the general audience, he realized. And with his disguise, there was no way he'd wind up on the Jumbotron—not that anyone was expecting Katsuki Yuuri, glass-hearted disappointment, to be in the crowd.

Oh no, he thought, glancing at Phichit.   Phichit Chulanont, injured hero of Thailand, was a prime Jumbotron target. And Katsuki Yuuri, who sometimes conceded to appearing on Phichit’s Instagram, just might register in the back of someone’s brain. He’d just have to turn away or run to the bathroom if the camera found them.

Yuuri's head was constantly on a swivel, like some sort of super spy plotting routes to the exits and lavatories. He tried not to linger on the ice too long. Every time a skater fell, Yuuri felt the sting of the ice, and the sting of regret that these skaters got back up when he didn’t.

But Yuuri had also forgotten how long these events were. He didn’t even recognize anyone from the first group, he realized. Guilt and disappointment hit him from all angles. Either he hadn’t paid attention to rising skaters in his own time, or he’d been gone so long that there had been a total regime change. Both possibilities made him sick to his stomach.

Phichit tried to make small talk, mentioning skaters to watch for and their best moves, but it wasn’t until the third group that Yuuri started to pay attention.

“That’s Guang Hong,” said Phichit. “Remember? He’s had a great season. Wish I could skate against him. He was really pushing me last year.”

“He’s good,” said Yuuri. Guang Hong Ji was in a different league from the previous skaters, and his performance put him in first place by a hefty margin. The podium contenders had arrived, and even Yuuri couldn’t pretend that wasn’t a little exciting.

“Did you ever meet Leo de la Iglesia?” Phichit asked. Leo was known for choreographing his own programs, and to reach this level without quads was quite a feat. Phichit went on. “He trains near LA—”

“—with the same coach who worked with Viktor,” Yuuri finished for him. He’d never had the nerve to ask Leo about it, but Coach Artinian’s influence had been obvious in Viktor's skating on TV, and while Leo had his own style, there was plenty of Artinian's coaching in it, too. Maybe that was why Yuuri kept following Leo’s career.

Leo edged out Guang Hong’s score to end up in first place, but there was still another group left. The last group.

These were the names Yuuri knew as well as he knew his own. Names that had always come before his own in the rankings. Names that didn’t get qualified with phrases like “in a disappointing showing” in articles and tweets.

As skater after skater demolished personal records, Yuuri felt more tired than if he had skated himself. By the end of the performances he felt numb and all he wanted was to leave. He was grateful they only had single session tickets, but then Phichit was grabbing his arm.

“I’m going to go see Guang Hong and Leo. Want to come? Or do you want to wait in the bathroom?”

Yuuri didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he didn’t want to be alone, either. “I’ll come.”

They headed down toward the ice, Phichit texting as he walked, until Guang Hong called out, “Phichit!” Yuuri had no idea how they had gotten there, but they were in the thick of it. It was surreal.

Phichit greeted Guang Hong, Leo, and their coaches, because he was still a part of this world. “Congratulations! I wish I could see the free skate in person,” Phichit moaned. “Either one of you could be on the podium!”

“You think so?” asked Guang Hong, who had ended up in seventh overall, just behind Leo.

“Definitely! We’ll be watching online.” Phichit was all smiles and Yuuri just stood uncomfortably on the fringe.

“Who’s that?” Leo asked, pointing at Yuuri. Yuuri wished he had decided to wait in the bathroom.

“Friend of mine,” Phichit said casually. “He’s an exchange student at my school.”

“A friend of Phichit’s is a friend of ours! Come on!” Guang Hong urged. Before he could get away, Yuuri was pulled into the circle.

“Are you okay?” asked Leo, taking in Yuuri’s appearance.

“Sensitive eyes,” said Phichit. “He’s from southern Japan so he’s not used to the cold, either.”

Leo looked at Yuuri carefully, and Yuuri pulled his hat down lower on his head.

“From Japan?” Leo repeated. “You look kind of familiar. Did you ever skate?”

I knew this was a bad idea, thought Yuuri. He tried to shake his head but froze, mouth open and trembling.

“No,” said Phichit. “This is Kenshin. Ken, for short. He doesn’t speak a lot of English.”

Kenshin? Yuuri almost slapped a hand over his forehead. They really should have agreed on a name beforehand. Sweat was beading on his chest now, even worse than in the stands.

“Oh.” Leo’s shoulders slumped a little but he extended his hand and said, “ Hajimemashite, Ken.”

Yuuri shook his hand and greeted him in a gruff voice.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ken!” said Guang Hong, shaking his hand.

Leo looked back at Phichit. “For a second, I thought he was Katsuki Yuuri. You guys are still close right?”

Yuuri’s blood went ice cold. He turned to Phichit, pretending like he didn’t understand, but all he wanted to do was run. This had been a terrible mistake. The whole day. Leo was far too clever.

“We’re roommates,” said Phichit.

“I haven’t seen him in so long,” said Guang Hong. “Please say ‘Hello’ for us!”

“Oh, I will,” said Phichit. He glanced at Yuuri. “He’ll be so surprised. He thinks no one remembers him.”

Yuuri almost swore. Of course Phichit wasn’t at all fazed. Yuuri tried to shuffle away and prayed Phichit would take the hint that it was time to go.

“Are you serious?” Guang Hong blurted. “Everyone remembers Katsuki Yuuri!”

Yuuri must have misheard him.

“It’s too bad two you aren’t competing,” said Leo. “This season could have been a lot more interesting.”

Yuuri was sure he was mostly talking about Phichit, but Guang Hong nodded, adding, “You're totally inspiring, and it was always my dream to skate against Katsuki Yuuri.”

His dream? There was no way. They were just being nice, and Yuuri’s only salvation was the dark sunglasses hiding the beginnings of his tears. He had to get out of there.

“Yeah,” said Phichit coolly. “Mine too.” He looked over at “Kenshin” again and Yuuri looked away. What was Phichit doing? He had to go, and he edged closer to the exit, hoping Phichit would finally catch on.

“You‘re coming back next season, right?” asked Guang Hong. “I’m sure it’s not too late.”

Maybe it wasn’t too late for Phichit, but it was far too late for Yuuri. Today proved it, and he couldn’t take it any longer. He bolted for the door without a second look.

Yuuri never heard Phichit’s response.

What was I thinking? I don't belong here.  His eyes stung, his chest was tight, and the scarf felt like a tourniquet at his neck

Yuuri looked up to check for the exit just in time to collide with someone. His hand flew up to keep his sunglasses on, and he couldn’t seem to find the words to apologize in English or Japanese.

The other person took a step back, securing their own hat over dark hair and pushing up their sunglasses. The collision startled Yuuri out of his funk for a moment, and he took in the person’s bulky hooded sweatshirt. Why was it so familiar? And why did it look so good on this stranger when Yuuri looked like a frumpy nightmare?

The stranger froze for a second, disoriented, then coughed out an apology, brushing past him and heading for the ice.

At least Yuuri wasn’t the only one dressed so weird. Still, there was something he couldn’t shake about the stranger’s retreating form. Something about that walk, that voice, that build… It all reminded him of Viktor, but the idea of Viktor Nikiforov being at Worlds was ridiculous. The idea of Viktor Nikiforov with dark hair was ridiculous. It had been a long day.

“Whoa,” said Phichit, appearing behind Yuuri. “You started a look! Hey, do you think that actually was someone famous?”

“Maybe that's a look. I’m just a pathetic nobody trying to hide my face,” Yuuri mumbled as the stranger disappeared. At least he wasn’t crying anymore.

“I’m sorry. Was it bad?” Phichit asked. “You were really quiet.”

The guilt on Phichit’s face made him feel even worse. He had to put on a brave face for his friend. “It brought back memories.”

Phichit smiled as they headed out. “Yeah, me too. Good ones?”

“Some of them,” Yuuri said. It wasn’t a lie. For a few moments there, he had enjoyed himself, even wondered what would have happened if he hadn't quit. But it didn't matter.

“Same,” Phichit said.

They didn’t speak the whole ride back to the apartment, but it was a comfortable silence. Phichit knew Yuuri well enough to know he needed time to process his thoughts. As the train thudded along the tracks, Yuuri realized that Phichit was probably wrestling with plenty of thoughts of his own.

---

Viktor had stayed put all day. He’d waited through multiple breaks, hadn’t used the bathroom once, hadn’t eaten anything, just in case. Nothing. He’d gotten there early and waited until he was the only person left in his section. Still nothing.

Viktor had known it was a long shot. He checked his phone one last time. Nothing.

It was time to let go.

He pasted a smile on his face and it only faltered when someone ran into him. The stranger looked almost as ridiculous as Viktor, bundled in an ill-fitted coat and hideous sunglasses that were far too big for the face beneath them. But like Viktor, the stranger must have had a reason for hiding, so he apologized and kept moving. His smile was back by the time he found Leo.

“Congratulations, Leo! That was a beautiful performance. Your passion really came through.”

Leo was standing by another competitor, both still in costume and skate guards. Viktor couldn’t remember his name.

“Thanks!” said Leo. “Every time I skate to that song, I love it as much as the first time I heard it.”

“Wait.” Leo’s friend’s mouth dropped open as he looked from Viktor to Leo. “Is that him?

Viktor pulled down his sunglasses and winked, then put a finger to his lips. Sometimes even he was amazed by his own acting ability.

“Whoa!” Leo’s friend covered his mouth and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I didn’t recognize—I mean, your hair! Is that for a role? I’m such a big fan.”

“This is Guang Hong Ji,” said Leo, wrapping a tight arm around his friend. “He’s really excited to meet you, as you can see.”

Guang Hong was one of the Chinese skaters, and he had landed in the top ten if Viktor remembered correctly. “Congratulations to you, too, Guang Hong,” he said. “Your energy on and off the ice is infectious.”

Guang Hong grinned, almost vibrating with excitement. He began to ramble and Viktor nodded without really listening. “Oh my gosh! What? You’re incredible! Did I already say I was a fan? My mom said I was too young to watch your show but I watched it anyway. Of course, I was nothing compared to this one skater, Katsuki Yuuri. He was your biggest fan. He’s older than me. I tried to talk to him because we both liked the show but he was always so focused. Ah, I’m sorry, I just get so nervous around famous—”

Leo nudged Guang Hong in the ribs and said in a loud voice, “So what did you think of the short programs?”

“Everyone was amazing!” said Viktor. “I wish I could see the free skate and the other groups, but I’m leaving first thing in the morning. I’ll try to watch it online, and I’ll be rooting for you. Both of you!”

Guang Hong looked like he might faint, but Leo smiled. “Thanks. Say hello to Makka for me."

"Of course."

Viktor didn’t really register anything about the trip back to New York, not until he was back with Makkachin. He couldn’t wait to get out of the apartment, to get out of the country and clear his head. His father wouldn’t be around much to spend time with him, but that didn’t matter. Viktor just needed distance. He needed to go to the first place he had ever called home.

He checked his phone one last time before bed, acknowledging the texts he had ignored all day.

why tf are you going to russia?
bring me pickle chips

Have a wonderful time! Go easy on the vodka.

He could definitely get pickle chips for Yuri, and Chris’s advice was good (albeit hard to heed).

The night passed and he breezed through security in the morning. The TSA agents didn’t recognize his name on his passport (or were too jaded to care). He kept his headphones in and no one spoke to him other than the flight attendants. But today, solitude didn't feel so lonely. 

Chapter Text

Viktor’s Russian might have gotten a little rusty after a decade in the US, but it came right back to him, and he and Makkachin made it to his father’s house without event.

His father still lived in the same house. Viktor couldn’t say he had grown up in that house—he hadn’t grown up in any particular place, and he didn’t feel any attachment to this one. Technically, it was his still mother’s house too, but she only lived there a few weeks out of the year. Having oceans between his parents had always seemed normal when he was growing up.

He knocked.

His parents focused on their careers and nothing else. It was what made them happy. They were still married, but Viktor wasn’t even sure if they liked each other. He hadn’t given it much thought before.

Viktor stood outside shivering for what felt like hours (even though his phone said it was only a couple minutes). All of those years in LA had warmed his blood. He could deal with it, but poor Makkachin had never been through a Russian winter.

Viktor knocked harder. He knew his father was home.

“Who is it? I’m armed,” barked his father from inside. Viktor drew back. Was this a bad neighborhood now? And since when had his father gotten a gun? Didn’t he recognize his own son?

Oh right, it was the middle of the night and Viktor had dark hair now.

“Don’t shoot!” Viktor called. “It’s just your son, waiting out here in the cold!” He probably should have told his father he was coming.

“Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull…”

“No, really! Look, I’ve got Makkachin!” She barked when Viktor said her name. “Can we please come in?”

A couple of locks clicked and Viktor’s father opened the door, a kitchen knife in his other hand. What is he going to do with that? Viktor thought. He can’t even cook.

“You scared me, Vitya!” his father said, putting the knife down. He ushered Viktor inside and into a hug at one motion. “I barely recognize you!”

Viktor hugged him back. In better lighting he could see that his father’s hair was half gray now and distressingly thin. Or was it his mother’s brother he should worry about? Viktor would have to look up the genetics of male pattern baldness later. He was still glad to see his father.

“I guess the time got away from me,” Viktor admitted. “I should have called.”

“Not at all. You’re always welcome.” His father bent down and reached out to Makkachin. “And it’s nice to finally meet you, Makkachin! I’ve only seen pictures and videos."

Maybe it was best that he had arrived so late. If his father still worked his normal 12 hour days, he wouldn’t have been home during the day, anyway. As his father and Makkachin got acquainted, Viktor put his bags in the corner. The house was just like he remembered—tastefully decorated and barely lived in. Some of the decorations were gifts from Viktor himself, or souvenirs from his mother’s travels.

The little shrine to Viktor that his father kept had grown. Along with the magazine clippings, newspaper reviews, and—Viktor cringed—old headshots, there were Agape press photos and an up-to-date library of all of his films.

His father scratched his head. “I’m afraid your old bed isn’t made up. Been storing things in your old room, you see.”

“I can get a hotel,” said Viktor. It would be a bit more complicated to find one that allowed pets, but Viktor could probably figure something out.

“Nonsense!” his father exclaimed. “I’ll just move some boxes and rustle up some sheets and then you can sleep in your old bed.” He looked Viktor up and down. “You got tall, but I think you’ll still fit.”

Had it been that long since his last visit?

“Wonderful,” said Viktor, relieved. He took off his shoes and coat while Makkachin sniffed around the room.

Viktor’s father held up a finger. “Tea?”

“No, but Makkachin could use some water.”

“Of course,” his father said, heading to the kitchen with Makkachin at his heels. He filled a dish with water from a pitcher and placed on the floor, then set an empty bowl next to it. He looked up at Viktor as he stroked her ears. “Is she hungry? I don’t have any dog food, but I’m sure there’s something here she can eat.”

“I brought some,” Viktor said. Makkachin’s food had taken up a lot of room in his suitcase, but he wasn’t about to switch up her diet. Plus, he doubted his father had anything more than tea and bread. Makkachin barely acknowledged Viktor as he filled her bowl, relishing instead in his father’s lavish attention. Maybe she was still mad at Viktor about the plane ride.

His father yawned. “So what is this? Is this for a movie?”

“No, just a visit,” said Viktor.

“I meant your hair.” His father stood up and headed down the hall as Viktor followed behind. “I haven’t heard from you in a while, figured you must be working on something.”

Viktor made a noise of agreement.

“Top secret, eh?”

“Oh, yes,” Viktor said. He was working on something, just not a movie. But he didn’t want to have that conversation yet. “Even I don’t know all the details.”

His father chuckled as he grabbed a set of bedsheets. “Then we’ll both be surprised.”

The “clutter” in his old room was just a few boxes, marked Costumes in his mother’s handwriting. Viktor stacked them in a corner while his father made the bed. Other than that, his room was empty.

Once the bed was made, Viktor’s father patted his shoulder. “I’m sure you’re tired from the jet lag. I’ll let you get to sleep. Goodnight.”

Viktor stared at the empty doorway. It was only early evening back in New York but travelling had worn him out. Fed and watered, Makkachin wandered in. She sniffed the sheets for only a moment before hopping onto the bed. It would be a tight squeeze with the two of them, but Viktor was just happy that she wasn’t bothered by the strange place.

Viktor had to use his phone to light the way back to the front room to retrieve his suitcase. His father never wasted time or energy, so the door was already bolted and the house dark. Like he hadn’t even woken up. Viktor supposed it made sense. If he had to be up at 4 every morning, he’d probably go right back to bed, too.

Both of his parents could sleep on command, but lately Viktor’s inherited ability was failing him. As Makkachin twitched in her sleep, Viktor lay awake, wondering what he was doing there.

He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, Makkachin was prodding his face with her nose, asking to go out.

It was day and he and Makkachin were alone. No note, but there was a key to prove that he hadn’t only dreamed about his father.

Viktor let Makkachin out for quick relief and gave her fresh water. Just as he suspected, his father only had tea and a loaf of wheat bread, neither of which sounded good. Too much time in Hollywood had him addicted to cold pressed juice and Starbucks coffee, so once he was showered and dressed, he took Makkachin on a walk to the closest coffee shop he could find for a scone and a latte.

He still wasn’t used to the anonymity his hair afforded him. Of course, Viktor hadn’t spent more than a day or two in Russia for years (and never outside of Moscow), so he might have been just as invisible with his natural hair color.

Still, when the barista asked for his name, he said it was Valentin.

Not really feeling like interacting with strangers, Viktor took his coffee to go, only to realize his father had forgotten to share the WiFi password. He poked around but couldn’t find it written down anywhere. Well, even if he wasn’t generating any new income, he could afford another day of international roaming.

No mail from Yakov left him feeling unsettled. Had he finally pushed Yakov to his breaking point, or had Yuri kept his mouth shut?

He did have a message from Chris. Viktor responded that his flight had indeed landed and he was with his father, at least in a way.

He spent the afternoon tending to Makkachin and watching The Next on dubious streaming sites in his old room and eating the last of his airplane snacks. Chris really was a charming host. If he didn’t know better he would have assumed Chris was working with a writer, but his friendly, easy banter with the contestants was organic. No doubt Viktor would have managed to insult the weaker singers without even trying, but Chris was a professional.

He must have fallen asleep again, because the next thing he knew it was six in the morning. The guilt was worse than the hunger.

“Makka! I’m sorry!” Viktor called, sitting up. But he was alone in his bed. He shuffled into his slippers and found Makkachin in the kitchen, contentedly chewing on a rubber bone that Viktor didn’t recognize. She perked up when Viktor walked in and brought the toy to him, dropping it at his feet.

His father had come and gone without a word, at least not to Viktor. Makkachin was more important anyway, and his father had already freshened her water and food and let her outside.

Viktor bent down to rub her ears. “Thank goodness someone took care of you. Will you ever forgive me?” Jet lag never affected him like this.

Makkachin answered with a playful bark, which Viktor took as forgiveness. Even though his stomach was growling, he played with Makkachin for a solid 30 minutes before allowing himself to investigate his father’s lonely loaf of bread.

Only today, it wasn’t lonely. There were eggs and milk in the refrigerator and a beautiful bag of ground coffee on the counter next to a familiar French press.

His father had shopped for him! And dug through boxes for the ancient French press. Had it been his mother’s or his grandmother’s?

Either way, Viktor had no idea how to use it. He could have easily found a tutorial on YouTube but he also had his own personal coffee expert. What was a little international call between friends?

“Well, isn’t this a treat,” said Chris. “How is the time difference agreeing with you?”

Oops. Viktor had forgotten to check the time again. At least it wasn’t quite midnight in New York. “I’ll let you know once I wake up,” he said. “It’s hard to stay awake when you’ve got nowhere to be.”

“Rub it in, why don’t you?” Chris laughed. “But I’m glad you’re catching up on your sleep. What is it, seven in the morning there?”

“Which brings me to the reason for my call.”

“I knew you needed something,” said Chris playfully. “Always taking advantage of me but never in the way I want you to.”

“Can you teach me how to use a French press?” asked Viktor, ignoring the innuendo.

Chris’s chuckle was muted, like he was holding the phone away from his face. “You know, there’s this new thing called YouTube. I think they even have an app. Have you heard of it?"

“I used up all my data streaming The Next ,” said Viktor. “And since when do you pass up a chance to lecture me on coffee?”

Chris sighed. “First of all, I’m flattered. But I’m afraid you caught me at a bad time.”

Viktor raised his eyebrows. This was interesting enough to wake him up. “Oh? Who is he?”

Chris just chuckled again, nonchalant as ever. Someone else said something unintelligible on Chris’s end of the line and Chris’s reply was muffled. To Viktor he said, “If you can figure out the French press on your own, I’ll tell you.”

Viktor moaned in agony. “That’s not fair! I’m dying over here!” He must have been more desperate than he realized if he was trying to live vicariously through Chris.

“Hope you like grounds in your coffee,” Chris said breezily. “Talk to you again soon!”

“Chris!” Viktor protested. But the line had already gone silent and he was no closer to his cup of coffee.

Asking Yakov how to use the press was out of the question.

Maybe Yuri knew how. Oh right, he doesn’t drink coffee. And Viktor hoped he was asleep (even though he probably wasn’t). Maybe I should text him and tell him to go to bed.

Oh right. Projecting.

Dr. Rhee had talked about that with him at their last session. Projecting his feelings onto other people was not a substitute for a real relationship. It was just a shortcut to disappointment and it wasn’t fair to Yuri (or any other, nameless people to which he had attached himself). Yuri had never asked for a brother figure or a mentor, and that was probably why he never talked to Viktor anymore.

He really needed that WiFi password before his next therapy session.

Viktor sighed and picked up the French press. It probably wouldn’t hurt to try to figure it out himself.

Chapter Text

Viktor tried to stay awake to see his father at night, but he never made it. He set an alarm so he would wake up before his father went to work, but he set it for 3:30 in the afternoon by mistake.

More food kept showing up. Butter and jam, some pirozhki and soup from a deli, and treats for Makkachin. One day there was a bottle of Coca-Cola—a nice gesture, even though Viktor didn’t touch the stuff. He enjoyed the food, but it wasn’t very good company.

Maybe he would never see his father. That would be fine. It wouldn’t be any different from the way things had always been. They could just keep communicating through infrequent phone calls. Or they could write letters! People kept saying it was a lost art, and it wasn’t like Viktor had anything better to do. He sat down to write a note while Makkachin ate her lunch.

Thank you for taking care of Makkachin! And thanks for the food and coffee. I think there is something wrong with Mom’s old French press. I keep getting coffee grounds in my

“Vitya?” his father called. “Are you here?”

Viktor crumpled the note and shoved it into his pocket. “In the kitchen!”

His father walked in holding a large, brown bag. “I brought lunch. I hope you’re not on one of those Hollywood crash diets.”

Why was his father home for lunch? Was it a national holiday? If restaurants were open it couldn’t be. Viktor smiled. “Everything looks delicious! What’s the occasion?”

His father frowned at him. “What do you mean? It’s Saturday.”

“Of course it is.” Viktor tried to sound casual to cover up for the fact that he’d had no idea what day it was. His father stared at him for a little too long and Viktor stood. “I’ll get plates.”

“I did check on a few things at the office,” his father called from the table. With a chuckle, he added, “Look who I’m talking to. I’m sure you know how that goes.”

“How is business?” asked Viktor as he set the table. It was better to keep the conversation away from himself.

“Picking up,” his father said. “Did you see the cranes on your way from the airport? That’s the new hospital we’re building. Project’s basically running itself at this point so I’ve been able to get a little more sleep than usual. Not as much as you, though!”

Viktor joined him in a laugh, maybe too loudly. His father gave him another strange look and Viktor focused on his spaghetti carbonara. He never got to eat anything like this while he was working. No one would notice if he just retired to Russia. Sure it was quiet and boring in his father’s house, but it wasn’t like anyone else was using the place.

“Are you starting to adjust to the time difference?” his father asked.

“I am!” Viktor exclaimed mid-bite. He swallowed and grinned. “The coffee helps, thank you very much!”

“You figured out how to use the press, then?”

“Yes. The texture is…” Viktor searched for the right word, “invigorating.”

His father smiled. “I’m glad I kept it.”

Why would he get rid of the press? Didn’t Viktor’s mother use it when she visited? Did she even visit? Maybe he had only kept it for sentimental reasons. Viktor had no idea and his father volunteered nothing.

As far as Viktor knew, his mother had last visited his father back in October. After the World Championships. Her students had done well. She had called Viktor on his birthday (months later) and told him so. She’d sent him a lovely Manolo Blahnik scarf, too.

Viktor made a mental note to call her before he visited. She didn’t take to surprises quite as well as his father did. Part of Viktor wanted to tell his father about his plans but the words hung unsaid. It had been so easy to tell Yakov he was taking a break, so why couldn’t he tell his own father? And if he couldn’t talk to his father, then why was he even here?

They finished the meal in silence as Viktor racked his brain for ways to start conversations. Maybe his father thought he was ungrateful. Viktor would have to make it up to him somehow. He took Makkachin for her walk, still thinking, until he passed the market. Viktor could cook for him! His father probably only ate takeout, and Viktor’s self-imposed exile had forced him to improve his cooking.

When he and Makkachin returned, his father was on the phone with a supplier. Viktor spent the afternoon researching recipes (he would deal with the data overage charges later), and then he headed back out to the market to get groceries to make dinner. By the time he got back, his father had already eaten leftovers and was absorbed in a book of building codes. Viktor made the stew anyway, even though his father was in bed by the time he finished.

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” he vowed. Even Makkachin knew it wouldn’t happen.

Sure enough, some shipment was held up in customs and Viktor spent Sunday alone. At least his father had taken some leftover stew with him.

After that, Viktor stopped trying to catch his father and focused on cooking instead. Over a week passed before he remembered to ask for the WiFi password via note. The next day, he had his response.

dim0chka

It didn’t click until Viktor typed it. He was his father’s wifi password. Or at least his character was.

Viktor had never deluded himself into thinking any of his projects were his father’s cup of tea, least of all that one. His father had never cared much for drama, or romance, or sports. Viktor assumed he suffered through them the first time and bought the discs as a gesture of support, only to let them gather dust on a shelf.

Viktor was shocked to discover that his father’s imported Collector’s Edition On Thin Ice Blu-ray box set was neither dusty nor shrink wrapped. One of the discs was missing, and Viktor tracked it down to his father’s ( region-free!? ) Blu-ray player.

His father had rewatched his show. Recently. And it wasn’t just the out of print and very expensive box set—all of his movies were open.

His father had almost no free time, but he spent at least some of it watching Viktor. Something more than just genetics and occasional phone calls tied them together. Viktor could have cried tears of joy.

But how was his father going to react when Viktor told him he wasn’t acting anymore?

Another Saturday (and Viktor knew it was Saturday this time) his father was home in the morning. Viktor served pancakes to soften the blow of his announcement.

“I’m taking some time off,” said Viktor. His father didn’t look surprised but he said nothing. Viktor narrowed his eyes. “Did Yakov call you?”

“No, I figured it out myself after we ate lunch together.” Several moments passed before his father spoke again. “So what made you decide to come here?”

Viktor pouted. Maybe his father only wanted to see him on TV after all. “You don’t think I came to spend time with you?”

“You haven’t been back to this house since your grandmother died ten years ago. I’m not on my deathbed and you have never once asked me for money.” His father cracked a smile. “Unless you blew all of yours on that convertible.”

“Of course not.” Viktor didn’t remember telling his father about the car. “You don’t read tabloids, do you?”

“I don’t trust anything I don’t hear from you, but I still hear things,” his father began. “Maksim Ivanovich has a crush on you, you know.” If Viktor was supposed to know who Maksim Ivanovich was, he’d forgotten. “People were saying rehab.”

“Clearly not,” Viktor said. He hadn’t even had any alcohol since he arrived. Viktor didn’t care if the tabloids reported he was in rehab, but he never thought his parents would believe them. They had all drifted even further apart than he’d realized. “My therapist said it might be good to reach out.”

At least Viktor’s father was unfazed by the news that he was in therapy. “Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want,” he said.

“I appreciate it,” Viktor said. He had more to say, but the pancakes were getting cold.

So they had their conversation in pieces, over meals, stretched over weeks at a time. Waiting days to talk was nothing compared to their usual pattern.

“I’m going to visit Mom later this summer,” said Viktor. He’d made grilled vegetables and chicken—he’d had it so many times while filming Agape , he could have made it in his sleep.

“Good.” They ate in silence for a while before his father added, “I told her you were here.”

Viktor blinked. So his parents did talk to each other. Or maybe this was just a special occasion. Either way, he was speechless.

His father went on. “She worries, you know.”

That was news to Viktor, too. The instant Viktor could support himself, his mother had gone back to her true love, and it wasn’t Viktor or his father. She had given up coaching for a time to support him and he would always be grateful for that, but he had visited his father first for a reason.

“She said you haven’t called in a long time.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to take her time away from coaching.” Viktor kept his voice even, but his father closed his eyes and sighed. Viktor could only imagine what he was thinking.

“She just took on two new students,” his father explained. Viktor hadn’t heard. “She likes to stay busy. You two are more alike than you think, you know.”

Viktor wrinkled his nose at the comparison. “Maybe not.”

His mother always knew what she wanted, and all Viktor knew was that he didn’t want to turn out like her.

His father reached for his dyed hair, traces of a smile on his lips. “Is that what this is about?”  

“No!” Viktor insisted. Looking less like his mother hadn’t even crossed his mind. “I’m just trying to blend in.”

“Now that’s something I never thought I’d hear you say,” said his father. He wasn’t wrong about that. Viktor had never been afraid to stand out, but after a lifetime spent standing out, blending in for a while couldn’t hurt. His father laughed to himself and added, “I didn’t want to be like my father and yet here I am, working 80 hour weeks in the same city."

Viktor’s grandfather had died before he was born, but apparently the workaholic trait went back further than he realized. Viktor was probably bound and destined to work himself to death.

He couldn’t imagine his father rebelling. Then again, Viktor had always assumed his own conception was unplanned. Had Viktor’s birth turned his father from a free spirit into a working stiff?

“I don’t want to end up like you, either,” he said.

His father stood up and Viktor assumed that was the end of the conversation. In hindsight, his words were a little unkind. But instead, his father turned to him and said, “Well, you’ve spent more time on your own than you have with either of us. That has to count for something.”

Viktor had been on his own long enough to know that he didn’t want to do it anymore, but his father left him alone with his thoughts for days.

When they next crossed paths, Viktor was curled up with Makkachin on the couch, streaming the season finale of The Next. It must have been after midnight, but Viktor didn’t have his phone on him to check.

His father looked exhausted, but he found the extra sandwich Viktor had left for him and sat down. “Isn’t that your old boyfriend?” He gestured to the TV. “Michael? I can’t think of his real name.”

Viktor laughed and Makkachin stirred. She hopped off the couch and curled up at Viktor’s father’s feet, welcoming the fresh attention.

“Christophe,” said Viktor, trying not to feel slighted. Maybe his father needed her more.

“That was it.” His father looked up from Makka. “He hosts reality shows now?”

Viktor nodded. “And a podcast.”

“A what?”

“Never mind.”

They watched the last two contestants sing their final songs, but Viktor didn’t really care who won. His father was drifting off when Makkachin snorted in her sleep.

“You ever think about that?” asked his father, half asleep.

Viktor had no idea what his father was talking about. Singing? Lots of actors tried to cross over, but Viktor didn’t have the voice for that. He had been asked to host things before, but to Yakov’s lament, he was prone to going off script on live TV—and not in a charming way. He definitely didn’t have the patience for podcasts.

Lost, Viktor kept his voice quiet, in case his father had fallen asleep. “Do you ever think about it?” he asked.

Just when he had abandoned hope of a response, his father licked his lips sleepily. “When your mother left to focus on coaching—the first time, when you went with her—I did wonder if staying here was a mistake.”

His father’s real question clicked. Do you ever think about doing something else? And apparently, his father had.

For his whole life, his father had projected nothing but distant support on the phone as he listened to Viktor talk about their adventures. He always said it was like traveling from the comfort of his beloved desk chair. Like he was doing fine without them. If Viktor’s father ever had any second thoughts, he had never let them show.

Maybe Viktor was more like his father than he thought.

Would things be different if his father had been with them? Viktor had always considered himself an independent, mature child, but how could he be anything else when his mother left him to his own devices so often? From the sidelines, he’d honed his body and spun stories in his mind. The gymnasts had doted on him between drills, but in the end he was always on the outside looking in.

Acting got him the attention he had craved. Would he still be an actor if his parents had spent more time with him? What on earth would he have done instead?

“Oh well. We all got used to it, didn’t we?” His father yawned and sat up straight, rousing Makkachin. “Besides, I would have just complained the whole time. I hate traveling.”

With that, his father went to bed, leaving Viktor to wonder how he had even been conceived.

But that was a question for another day, and another meal: Vegetable lo mein. The noodles had clumped together, but the sauce was good.

“How did you and Mom meet?” Viktor asked. Normal people probably knew things like that about their parents.

His father looked surprised. “She never told you?” Viktor shook his head and he went on. “My father’s company put an expansion on the gym where she was training. It took weeks, and I watched her practice until I finally got the courage to ask her to dinner. We dated, and she said if she won a gold medal at the Olympics, we’d get married.”

“Very romantic,” said Viktor. In the right hands, it might have made a good movie, but his father told the tale so simply. Viktor couldn’t imagine his mother proposing like that. Then again, she did like high stakes. She had a little shrine in the house, too, with her Olympic gold front and center. Viktor hadn’t realized it was so significant.

“We were young,” his father said, as if that explained everything. “But we didn’t let it change us.”

How could marriage not change a person? Viktor had only gotten a taste of love, or infatuation, or something, but it was enough to make him want to change his own life. He didn’t know what to say, but his father kept filling the silences.

“We never wanted to hold each other back. Never wanted to hold you back, either.”

Viktor was right; he had never been part of the plan, but his parents had done the best they could. They had given him opportunities normal children didn’t have, and he had a film and TV career to show for it. On paper, it was enough.

His father was proof that someone could be alone and happy. What was Viktor doing wrong?

Viktor’s chances to cook for his father were dwindling even as the temperature rose. It wasn’t hot enough for cold soup yet, but Viktor wanted to try his hand at something traditional before he left and his grandmother’s Okroshka fit the bill. It was one of the few dishes he actually remembered.

Viktor’s father’s face sparked with recognition from the first bite and Viktor beamed a little, until he remembered the question that had been bothering him.

“Don’t you ever get lonely?” Viktor asked. “You don’t even have a dog.”

“Unless Makkachin decides to stay with me forever,” said his father with a grin.

Viktor gasped. “Don’t even joke about that!”

“I would never.” His father spun some noodles around his fork. “But sure, I guess I get lonely sometimes.”

“What do you do?” Viktor asked.

“I focus on work. I do work with other people, you know. And I talk to you and your mother sometimes. What more is there?”

“Companionship? Romance? Sex?” Viktor had plenty of suggestions. His father just shrugged. Maybe he didn’t care for sex. Viktor did, but he had worked with people who didn’t. Instead, he asked, “What about love?”

His father sent him a patronizing look. “Do you think I forget about you just because you aren’t here?”

It was strange to hear it out loud, but Viktor’s heart swelled, like finding the Blu-rays all over again. Of course his father loved him. His mother, too. He never thought about it because they loved from a distance, the only way they knew how.

“Of course not,” said Viktor. He loved his parents from a distance, but he wasn’t like them. He’d never be happy trying to live like they did.

He loved his fans from a distance, too. He didn’t take their love for granted, but they couldn’t share in his joys and sorrows. Their love began and ended with his body of work. They’d never really know him and no amount of BuzzFeed listicles could change that.

Viktor didn’t want fabricated relationships, one-sided and all in his head. He didn’t want a lover he only saw a few times a year, either. He wanted to take care of someone, to need someone as much as they needed him. But that was the key. The other person had to want him, too.

Viktor still didn’t know what to do about his career, but he was ready to go home. He had a friend to return to and he owed Yuri an apology (and some pickle chips).

“Aren’t you going to miss her?” Viktor asked, watching his father ruffle Makkachin’s ears. His flight was ungodly early, but at least that meant he got to say goodbye to his father.

“You’re both welcome here whenever you want.” His father was already dressed. Even with the goodbyes, he would be at the office right on time.

“Oh!” Viktor had almost forgotten. He whipped off his sunglasses and thrust them at his father. “Give these to Mikhail Ivanovich!”

“Who?”

Viktor could have sworn his father had mentioned someone with a crush on him. “Was it Markov? I left a signed photo on your table for him.” It was a good thing he hadn’t personalized it.

“Oh, you mean Maksim!” His father laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

The idea of delighting a fan still made him happy, but knowing he had stuffed his father’s freezer with homemade food made him even happier.

Viktor hugged his father tightly as the cab pulled up. “I’ll talk to you soon,” he promised.

His father smiled. “Or maybe I’ll come visit you someday.”

Viktor would believe that when he saw it. But a few days after he got home, his father sent him a picture of a fully grown sable Welsh corgi. 

11:15 AM
Meet Arthur! The house was too quiet without you.

Viktor replied right away, gushing over how adorable Arthur was. "Arthur" was his character's name in The Shore, but he would process that later. Right now, he had to show Arthur's picture to Makkachin. She barked in excitement and Viktor grinned. They could have doggie FaceTime!

Viktor almost asked if this meant his father would be home more, but he remembered how well his father had cared for Makka. There was nothing to worry about. 

Maybe his father really would visit someday. Stranger things had happened.

But in the meantime, he couldn't wait for the next picture. Viktor was partial to poodles, but he had always liked corgis.

Chapter Text

Viktor wasn’t ready when his alarm woke him up. Then he remembered he wasn’t working and didn’t set alarms.

It was the doorman calling. Why hadn’t he used the intercom? With a groan, Viktor caught the time—4:11 in the morning. Makkachin wasn’t thrilled, either.

“What’s going on?” Viktor answered. He figured it was some kind of maintenance emergency but the first thing he heard was muffled yelling.

Let me up, jackass! I told you, I was in a fucking movie with him .”

“Yuri Plisetsky to see you, Mr. Nikiforov. I wasn’t going to let him in but he insisted I call you.”

Spencer’s voice was clear, but he sounded as tired as Viktor felt.

“Thanks, Spencer,” Viktor muttered. It took a lot to break Spencer, but if anyone was up to the task, it was Yuri. “You can let him in.”

“Are you sure?”

Shut the hell up!

Viktor sighed. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Very well.”

Spencer hung up and Viktor dragged himself out of bed. He put on a shirt only because he was too tired to listen to Yuri complain about him being half-naked.

Makka followed him out of the bedroom and before Viktor had reached the door, Yuri was banging on it.

“Open up, dickhead!” Yuri called.

Viktor opened the door only to have a bag of pickle chips lobbed at his chest.

“Good morning,” Viktor said, barely catching the bag. “Did I get the wrong brand?”

Yuri growled and chucked another bag of chips at him. This time, he missed

“Hey,” Viktor protested. “I’m trying to keep the place clean for Leo next week.” He bent down to pick up the bag and something light hit the top of his head. Under Yuri’s heavy glare, Viktor glanced to where the projectile had landed. It was a balled up piece of paper.

“What the hell?” Yuri punctuated the space between each word.

Viktor frowned, too tired to look up at Yuri. Apparently his apology was not accepted. “Did you come all this way to throw things at me?” he asked the floor.

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m doing Rise and Shine. And not the shitty fourth hour, either.”

This brought a smile to Viktor’s face. At least Yuri was doing well for himself. Viktor had heard something about a Netflix show.

“Good for you,” he said, rising to his feet. Yuri didn’t smile back. He kept seething at Viktor, arms crossed and lip wrinkled.

“I can order my own fucking chips,” he said. “You can keep your fucking letter, too.”

So that’s what Yuri had hit him with. Viktor had mailed the chips to give Yuri some space, and because he wouldn’t have time to get back to LA before leaving for Spain.

“I see,” said Viktor. Things were not going to be amicable between them. Well, Yuri was entitled to that.

Yuri’s eyes darted around the room to Viktor’s suitcases. “Leaving again? Not that I care.”

Viktor nodded. “I’m going to visit my mother.”

“Perfect,” Yuri snarled. “Do us all a favor and don’t come back.”

He stomped off, his leopard print shirt clashing with the understated decor of Viktor’s building. Even at their worst, Yuri had never talked to him like that before. Viktor had been overbearing and maybe even a little annoying in the past, but Yuri seemed to truly hate him now. Maybe he always had.

Viktor put the chips down on an end table, retrieved the paper ball, and uncrumpled it. Had his letter been that offensive?

Dear Yuri,

Here are the chips you wanted. Makkachin and I had a nice visit with my father. The weather was just getting warmer when we left, but such is life.

I wanted to apologize for trying to force my way into your life while we were working together. Looking back, I can see you wanted me to treat you like any other colleague, and it was unprofessional of me to assume you wanted a mentor or a friend. From now on, I will respect your wishes.

But if I may offer one last bit of advice, therapy has been quite helpful for me. You might want to consider talking to someone about your anger issues.

I wish you all the best in your career.

Sincerely,
Viktor

Clearly, Yuri hadn’t taken his advice to heart. It just proved that he didn’t want or need Viktor’s help. He had hoped they would remain at least cordial, but he didn’t blame Yuri for being angry with him.

Viktor sighed, alone again. He hoped Leo liked potato chips.

———

Roots freshly dyed, Viktor sat at the airport pretending to watch CNN. He would have almost welcomed the distraction of being recognized. Without the added stress of putting Makkachin on a plane, he should have been more relaxed this time, but this was his mother.

It might have been easier if he had surprised her and begged for forgiveness, but unlike his father, she was never in one place for long. He’d had no choice but to let her know.

“We’re preparing for Worlds,” she had said.

“I won’t get in the way,” Viktor had promised. “I never did before, did I?”

“You weren’t a celebrity before,” his mother had replied. “You’ll distract my students.”

“I’m getting pretty good at hiding.” He didn’t mention his hair.

His mother had just let out a hmph and agreed.

Viktor walked to a kiosk to stretch his legs. The clerk stared at him as he browsed and squinted when he approached the counter.

“You look kind of like that guy from Agape .”

Viktor couldn’t resist a little preening. “Really? You think so?” He put down a $20 bill for his gum and said, “Keep the change.”

“Um,” the cashier’s hand hovered over the register, “no one’s ever given me a tip before.”

“Is there a rule against it?” Viktor asked.

“I don’t think so.”

Viktor only winked in response. He could feel the cashier’s eyes on him even as he walked away. With a little thrill, he knew the cashier would be wondering all day if that was really him. It had been a long time since he’d been recognized, and he was having a hard time remembering why he’d hated it so much.

Oh, right. When they started coming after Makkachin. Viktor sighed and pulled his hat out of his carry on bag. He didn’t want to get sloppy.

The dread returned and didn’t fade until Viktor landed in Malaga. He had forgotten how beautiful it was here. As a child he hadn’t really appreciated it, but the beaches around LA just didn’t compare.

His Spanish didn’t come back as easily as his Russian, but he managed to tell his driver to take the coastal route to Marbella. His mother would be busy all morning, so there was no reason to hurry.

When his phone vibrated, he could barely tear his eyes away from the view.

11:34
Did you land? You never told me your flight number.

Viktor flew all the time and his mother had never cared before. He replied as quickly as he could and turned back to the water. His mother didn’t reply for a long time.

11:57
I’ll meet you for lunch at 13:30.

She sent a location next, a little cafe on the beach. It seemed a little touristy, but then again, Viktor was a tourist. He agreed and didn’t look at his phone again until he got to his hotel. He hadn’t even considered staying with his mother.

He had gotten decent sleep on the flight so he just changed clothes, coated himself in sunscreen, and went for a walk on the beach. He didn’t have any direction in mind, content to follow birds and watch people until he lost track of time.

His mother was waiting when he finally made it to the cafe. Viktor didn’t want to end up like her, but he did hope he would age like her. She could have been mistaken for his older sister. Her face soured as he approached.

“What have you done to your hair?” she asked, voice flat.

Viktor sat down and put on a fake smile. “I missed you, too.”

“Petya didn’t tell me you dyed your hair.”

“I’ve dyed my hair for movies before and you never said anything,” said Viktor.

“I thought those were wigs.” His mother stared at him longer, as if she couldn’t tell he was the real Viktor. Finally, she asked, “Is this how you’ve been hiding for so long?”

Viktor blinked. He didn’t think his mother paid much attention to his career. Did she have his entire filmography on a shelf, too?

“I don’t like it, but it’s probably for the best.” Her lip curled in disgust. “Some singer is vacationing here so there are photographers everywhere.”

Viktor felt suddenly exposed. “Won’t they recognize us together?” It wasn’t a secret that Svetlana Nikiforova was his mother. Viktor had even seen it reported in some clickbait months ago.

“No one cares what I do,” his mother said, not bitter, just a matter of fact. “And brown isn’t your color.”

Viktor flipped his hair behind his ear and shrugged. He was pulling it off, and it didn’t matter what his mother thought.

Viktor conversed with the server about today’s menu, made his selections, and ordered some wine. Breakfast on the plane had been lacking, and he couldn’t wait for a decadent lunch.

“You kept up with your Spanish,” his mother observed. “I figured all that time in America had sucked it out of you.”

Could his mother not hear him speaking Russian to her now? “We can switch to English if you need practice,” he offered.

“I’ll pass.”

Viktor downed half his glass of wine as soon as the server had poured it. His mother kept staring at him. He turned his attention to the shore instead.

“Is this color for a movie or are you having some sort of identity crisis?” his mother asked.

“No movie,” Viktor said breezily. “Didn’t Dad tell you? I’m taking a break.”

His mother snorted a laugh. “That Hollywood lifestyle must be so exhausting. Tell me, is it the daytime shoots? Or is it the assistants fetching you everything you need? Perhaps the late night binge drinking?”

“Oh, all of it. I wouldn’t know hard work if it bit me on the ass.” Viktor finished his wine and poured himself another glass. He had heard it all before. Only athletes knew true pain and hardship. No wonder he had worked himself so hard.

His mother rolled her eyes and pulled out her phone, sending work texts right at the lunch table. Viktor shook his head and used his own phone to snap a picture of the beach, which he sent to Chris.

“What are you doing?” his mother asked.

“Trying to make Chris jealous. You can use your phone but I can’t use mine?”

His mother bristled. “Don’t tell me you’re with Giacometti again.”

They’d never really been together at all, but it was funny that both of his parents had reached that conclusion. They must have talked back then, too. Viktor raised an eyebrow, curious to see where this went. “And if I were?”

“Vitya,” his mother said sternly. She put her phone down on the table. “I saw those pictures but I hoped you knew better. That man will break your heart.”

“Will he, now? How do you know?”

“Mother’s intuition,” she said.

Viktor huffed a laugh. Since when had his mother been maternal? “Well, then you should know not to believe everything you read in Page Six.”

“You don’t leave me much choice,” she said. Viktor wished the server would appear with food but he had no such luck and his mother pressed on. “You’re not seeing anyone, then?”

“Well, I did meet the man of my dreams. A figure skater and an engineering student. Body to die for.” Viktor let out an exaggerated sigh. “Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.”

“Stop joking around.”

Viktor grabbed his mother’s hand, pushing his act over the top. “But I was going to marry him!”

“That will be the day,” his mother deadpanned, snatching her hand away.

His mother didn’t know the first thing about his life, but at least he could joke about it now. His phone buzzed with a reply from Chris.

14:03
¡Qué hermoso! Give Candy my best, but be careful. If the paps catch you, you’ll have eloped by morning and even your hair won’t save you.

Candy must have been the singer his mother was talking about. Viktor had never heard of her. His mother clicked her tongue as Viktor sent a message to Chris, asking if this Candy was on his show.

“Who are you texting now?”

“Still Chris,” Viktor muttered, not looking up. Was she trying to make up for seven months of barely talking?

“Be careful with him.”

Viktor narrowed his eyes. To his relief, the first course arrived. Eating kept their mouths busy and delicious food lifted his spirits. By the time they got to the fish course (and third glass of wine), Viktor felt much better.

“Europeans went well?” Viktor asked once the coffee was served. Like his father, work was always a safe topic (so long as it wasn’t Viktor’s work).

His mother rattled off individual and team placements, throwing out names and scores as if Viktor would understand. He remembered the different events, but he didn’t remember how scoring worked. The rules had probably changed over the years anyway.

“But I need to get back to the gym. You can’t come,” his mother finished.

“I wasn’t going to ask.” Viktor didn’t want to intrude, and after lunch with his mother, he was ready for a break.

“I’m leaving for Madrid in the morning and I won’t be back until Sunday.”

“Fine.” Two of her students were based in Madrid so he had expected that. It might have been fun to tag along but just the thought of being trapped on a train with his mother for three hours was exhausting.

“I trust you’ll behave yourself.”

“Well, now that I’m not acting, I thought it would be the perfect time to turn to a life of crime, but since you asked so nicely…”

“Stick to drama, Vitya. You’re not much of a comedian.”

Viktor could have sworn Yuri had said the exact same thing to him once.

His mother refused to let him pay and bid him an unceremonious goodbye. Whiplashed, Viktor went back to his hotel to reapply his sunscreen. Shopping sounded like the perfect way to unwind, and Marbella had plenty of luxury shopping to offer.

Every tourist with a camera filled him with a dread and excitement. Viktor would have to ask Dr. Rhee about that one. He didn’t miss the paparazzi at all, but talking pictures with fans was a privilege and a delight.

Viktor took to missing Makkachin on his morning walks, retreating indoors when the sun was highest (because a break was no excuse for a sunburn), and eating his way through the city in the evenings.

After a few days in paradise he was almost wishing he had tagged along with his mother. He had always liked Madrid as a child. Back then, she was bouncing between France and Spain a few times a month. Staying in Spain was almost settled for her. How had she ever done it with a child in tow?

In the hustle of his mother’s lifestyle, he had never had a chance to visit museums, so Viktor spent one particularly hot day doing just that. A museum of paintings of cats and dogs made him miss Makka even more, especially since he could have commissioned a portrait. He settled for making an anonymous donation to local shelters and setting a reminder to find an artist back in New York.

All was well back in New York. Leo went above and beyond the call of duty with several pictures a day, and Chris was quite happy (though he was still far too cagey with the details on his boyfriend).

Viktor didn’t hear from his mother until a couple days after her return.

14:11
Dinner tonight at 21:30.

She sent details on the restaurant. It was trendy place that Viktor had admired but resisted in favor of quicker tapas bars with smaller portions. Even two people would be pushing it, but his mother did love her extravagant meals.

Viktor dressed in clothes from one of his recent shopping sprees and took a moment to admire his reflection. He missed his natural color, but his mother was wrong. He looked damn good with his hair like this, especially dressed in complementary colors. Like Snow White or a refined goth.

I’ll have to replicate this for a movie, he thought before catching himself. If I do another movie.

He took a car to dinner and had to use his charms to turn down three would-be suitors as he looked for his mother. Not my color , he thought with a smirk.

“Vitya?” asked a voice—not his mother’s. So few people called him by that name that it was a genuine shock. Viktor turned to see his mother sitting with three other people. She hadn’t mentioned it would be a group affair.

He greeted them and the same voice said, “Oh, bless him, he doesn’t remember us.”

“Viyta,” his mother chided. “You don’t remember Carla and Lorena?”

Viktor took the empty seat next to her and defaulted to a smile as he searched his memory. They did look a bit familiar, and those names had struck a chord.

“Carla,” he began, nodding toward the woman who had called him Vitya , “you preferred the ribbon and hoop, right? And Lorena, your favorite was the clubs. You always brought me tortas.” Viktor turned to the third person, still smiling. “And I’m afraid I’m drawing a blank.”

The three of them burst into laughter. “That was a trick question,” said Lorena. “This is my wife, Silvia.”

She could have been one of his mother’s students and Viktor wouldn’t have known the difference. Carla was mostly a lucky guess.

“Carla and Lorena are assistant coaches now,” his mother explained. “They wanted to see you.”

Viktor was beginning to understand the new rules. Surprises were fine as long as they were on his mother’s terms.  

“Well, it’s wonderful to see you both again,” said Viktor.

“It’s so sweet of you to spend your vacation with your mother,” Carla said. “It must bring back memories.”

Viktor and his mother exchanged a glance and Viktor saw far too much of himself in his mother’s forced smile.

“I always knew you’d go far,” Lorena said. “We just loved Agape.

“Wasn’t he excellent?” his mother added. Viktor would have to ask her if she meant it later.

“Thank you,” he said. “It was a labor of love.”

“Are you starting a new project?” Silvia asked. “Or is that your natural hair color?”

Lorena and Carla burst into laughter. “Oh no, dearest,” Lorena said. “It’s as white as Sveta’s. I wouldn’t have recognized him if she hadn’t told me he’d dyed it. Last time I saw him, it was halfway down his back.”

“Did she mention how bad she thinks it looks now?” Viktor asked.

The four women burst into laughter. Viktor joined them tepidly, surprised to see his mother so relaxed. Maybe she’d had a few cocktails before he had arrived.

He ordered one for himself. “I’m not working on anything right now,” he explained to Silvia.

Carla nodded. “Your mother said you really pushed yourself after Agape. It sounds like you could use the time off.”

Viktor didn’t let his surprise show. She told him he was living the lazy Hollywood life and told her friends he was working too hard? He didn’t mind her sharing, but it seemed out of character. “I spent the beginning of the summer with my father in St. Petersburg.”

“Yes, Sveta mentioned that,” said Lorena. “The weather here must have been a shock to your system.”

Was there anything his mother hadn’t told them?

Viktor shook his head. “Not at all! It’s quite pleasant. I just came from New York and the heat was miserable.”

“Oh, that’s right, you moved,” Carla said. “How does Makkachin like New York?”

Was she a fan or did his mother send out a newsletter? “She loves it. There are so many dog parks.”

Two gin and tonics deep, Viktor stopped questioning his mother’s intentions and just enjoyed the night. The raciones were delicious and the company was delightful. Lorena and Silvia had two beautiful children who were on holiday with Lorena’s parents, and Carla was a talented painter. Viktor learned all of this from his mother, who kept the conversation flowing with ease. They reminisced and laughed, eating and drinking until Viktor couldn’t fit another bite.

Naturally, his mother paid for everything.

“It was lovely catching up,” Viktor said. “And wonderful to meet you, Silvia.”

“You should come by the gym sometime!” Carla said. “The girls are so focused they won’t even notice you.”

“I’ll bring him by,” his mother promised.

“And don’t worry,” Lorena assured him. “Your secret is safe with us.”

Viktor took a moment to process her words. Maybe it was the alcohol, but he had almost forgotten what his secret was.

After they had all kissed goodnight, it was just him and his mother standing outside. The breeze was welcome on his alcohol-flushed cheeks.

“I can’t believe you didn’t remember Carla and Lorena. They practically raised you,” said his mother.

Oh, Viktor realized, she’s joking . He shrugged and said, “It was dark in there.”

His mother clicked her tongue and answered an email on her phone while she waited for her car. Viktor was probably supposed to leave, but he wanted to take advantage of the his mother’s tipsy state.

“You really liked Agape ?” he asked.

“Of course I did,” his mother snapped. “I told you that.”

“You told me Yuri Plisetsky was a better actor at 14 than I was at 16 and I still haven’t recovered,” Viktor reminded her. He wasn’t going to remember Lorena’s wife’s name tomorrow, but he’d never forget that critique. She was right, but mothers were supposed to be supportive.

His mother heaved a sigh, like he was annoying her.

“You’re a talented actor. I can’t keep telling you that or you’ll get an even bigger head than you already have. You’re very handsome, but I can’t tell you that either because you look just like me. What do you want me to say?”

Viktor couldn’t help but laugh at her reasoning. She made everything much more complicated than it needed to be. “Tell me you’re happy I came to visit.”

His mother frowned at him and Viktor’s heart sank until she spoke. “Of course I’m happy. It’s been four years since I last saw you. I’m thrilled that you’re here.”

Maybe she was being honest. She had shown him off to her friends, after all.

Viktor tried on a real smile. “I’m happy to be here, too.”

His mother’s car came first and she turned to him before getting in. “I’m going to Seville tomorrow. You’re welcome to come.”

“I’d love to,” he said.

Time and night air sobered him as he waited for his ride and he began to wonder just what he had signed on for.

Chapter Text

Viktor’s mother’s schedule was eerily reminiscent of his last press tour. He limited himself to chasing her around Spain so there were no planes, but there were trains and taxis and early mornings. The long, late dinners were what really did him in. Viktor was an early riser but after too much wine and too much food, he could barely drag himself out of bed in the morning.

He added two extra miles to his jog to make up for the extra calories. A break wasn’t an excuse to go overboard.

Viktor’s mother seemed to thrive on the pressure. Viktor hadn’t appreciated it as a child, but she could keep appointments like no one else. Even Yakov would be envious (or more likely, he’d lament how Viktor hadn’t inherited this talent).

She still hadn't allowed him to come to practice, which was fine. While she was gone, Viktor played tourist, taking in the sights he had never gotten a chance to see before. Part of him itched to share his exploits with his followers, but he settled for sending them to Chris. Chris sent travel recommendations in return, and to his credit, most of them were not fetish clubs.

Despite the punishing schedule, Viktor found himself with a lot of downtime, and his thoughts often drifted to his argument with Yuri. It wasn't much of an argument, since (as usual) only Yuri had been angry.

Something kept bothering him about that morning. He hadn’t heard from Yuri since (not that he expected to), but Yuri was everywhere. His Netflix miniseries had come out and it was enjoyable. The character, a meek violin prodigy, was a departure for Yuri. He didn’t seem to have his footing, but it worked well enough for the character. He was supposed to be awkward.

Out of curiosity, Viktor watched the clip of Yuri’s appearance on Rise and Shine. It would have been mere hours after pelting Viktor with chips.

“So did you learn to play violin for the role?” the host asked.

“I took lessons three hours a day, every day, for three months, but all I really know how to do is hold the instrument and look like I know what I’m doing,” Yuri explained. He cracked a smile and the host laughed. He was getting better at the media part of the job.

They went back and forth about the series until the host said, “I’ve got to ask: Is there an Agape sequel in the works?”

Viktor watched with interest as Yuri stiffened. This question wouldn’t have been a surprise. Yuri probably had some canned answer from Yakov.

“I haven’t heard anything yet,” Yuri said through gritted teeth. “But if everyone came back, I'd do it.”

It could have been a Yakov line, but Yuri wouldn’t lie about something like that. Viktor was tempted to reach out and ask him, but he had promised he would leave Yuri alone.

When he and his mother got back to Marbella, it felt like months had passed instead of weeks. They hadn’t talked much, but Viktor was happy enough with awkward silences.

Without notice, his mother announced, “You can come to practice today. Don’t get in the way.”

Viktor barely had time to get ready before his mother was hustling him into the gym.

“I told the team you were coming, so don’t bother with a disguise. Their comfort comes first, and I doubt any of them would alert the media,” she explained.

It hadn’t even occurred to him to hide. He didn’t want to scare his mother’s students.

They were stretching when Viktor and his mother arrived. Carla waved but the gymnasts didn’t notice.

“Viktor’s coming today?” one of the gymnasts whined, starting to preen. “I’m not ready!”

“Ready for what?” another snapped. “You know he’s gay, right?”

“That doesn’t mean I want to make a fool of myself in front of him.”

“Don't worry. He’ll be too busy making a fool of himself to notice,” said his mother.

The girls whirled around and Viktor smiled at them. “She’s not wrong.”

The snappy gymnast gaped. “Shit, he speaks Spanish?”

His mother frowned. “Language, Marta."

Viktor broke into a grin and said, “I’m Viktor and it’s so fucking nice to meet all of you!”

The girls (and Carla) laughed but his mother glared at him.

“Go sit in the corner,” she barked, switching to Russian. Back to Spanish, she said, “Warm ups, now!”

Everyone did as they were told. Viktor’s mother had that effect on people.

“I never realized how much he looked like Coach Sveta,” said one of the gymnasts.

“Why did he dye his hair?” another wondered. “Is it for a movie?”

“Maybe he’s in the witness protection program,” said the whiny gymnast from before. “I heard he hasn’t been seen in months.”

Marta rolled her eyes. “You watch too many movies, Alba."

“Less chatter and more stretching,” Viktor’s mother called. “I don’t want anyone to pull a muscle because they were too busy gawking at the movie star.”

“Yes, Coach Sveta.”

Viktor started to coo about how touched he was at being called a movie star but his mother cut him off.

“And you.” She was back to Russian. “Stop distracting them. If I see you flip your hair again, you’re out.”

Viktor tried to look as innocent as possible. Had be been flipping his hair? He didn't even notice anymore. He would try not to wink.

It was all business after that. Viktor stayed in his corner, with Carla occasionally explaining what they were doing. His mother paid him no mind—she was too busy coaching.

She was so good with her students, and Viktor doubted she was acting any differently just  because he was watching. She was strict but never unfair. Her praise was hard to earn but her critiques were never cruel. Had she always been such a good coach?

It brought back memories of watching other kids get the attention he had wanted. Back then, it had felt like his mother loved her students more than she loved him sometimes. It seemed silly in hindsight—she had put it all aside for his dreams, after all.

Over the past few weeks he’d watched her make endless calls. She made sure her students stayed on top of their studies, worked tirelessly to keep their parents involved, and supported them through whatever personal struggles they were going through. It was a bit like what Yakov had become to him, but on another level.

It was hard to be resentful or jealous. If anything, he was envious of his mother and the way she connected to others. Carla and Lorena were not just colleagues but friends. And their students didn’t just respect his mother—they really seemed to like her her. Even before coming to Spain, he had known she was proud of her team no matter how they placed.

Acting had given him the chance to surprise people all over the world. He could look back on his work and feel proud. His movies connected him with his fans and he knew just how lucky he was. But this was what he was missing: True personal connections. Family. Friends. Seeing his mother made it all the more obvious.

In his own hamfisted way, he’d tried to coach Yuri, but Viktor had just pushed his whims on him. He’d leaned on Yuri for emotional support when he should have been the one giving it. He hadn’t acted like an older brother or a mentor at all. Not even a friend.

He wanted to apologize all over again, but reaching out again would just make Yuri angrier. Viktor just had to let go. But something nagged at him. What was it Yuri had said?  If everyone came back...

“Good work today.” His mother’s voice brought him from his thoughts. She was talking to the gymnast who thought he was in the witness protection program. “I suppose if you have questions for Vitya you can ask him now.”

It must have been a holdover from her “momager” days.

“But I’m all sweaty and gross,” she protested. Her cheeks went bright red and Viktor pretended not to notice as she took off for the locker rooms. Her teammates followed.

“I have a question!” Carla announced, taking a seat next to him. “Do you do much skating these days?”

Viktor didn’t miss his mother’s scoff. “It’s been a long time,” he said.

“I remember when your show came out,” Carla said. “We used to have viewing parties back in college and all my friends were so jealous that I knew you.”

“Vitya was such a natural on the ice,” his mother said. “The coach who worked with him said he had never seen anyone pick it up so fast.”

“Careful, you wouldn’t want me to get a big head,” Viktor warned her.

A few team members came back from the lockers before his mom could respond. Viktor greeted them with a smile.

“It was amazing to watch you work! Thank you for letting me sit in,” he said. The gymnasts crowded around him, their excitement contagious.

“No selfies,” his mother warned them. The girls groaned and Viktor was disappointed, too.

“Did you know Agape was going to be such a big hit?” one of them asked.

“I hoped it would be,” said Viktor.

“When you played Dimitri, was that your real hair?” another wondered.

“Of course it was!” He couldn’t believe that this girl, who would have been just a toddler when his show had aired, had watched it.

“What's Yuri Plisetsky really like?” A few of the gymnasts giggled about this question.

Viktor pasted a smile on his face as he thought of a good response. “He’s very much like he seems on TV. But he's also incredibly hard working and focused.”

A few of the girls let out dreamy sighs. Viktor wondered if Yuri had gotten any better at dealing with that part of the job. Last time Yuri had stayed behind a luggage display at the airport for an hour to escape screaming fans.

“How about Mila Babicheva?”

Viktor smiled. “She’s an amazing actor. Hilarious on set, too.”

“Do you want to do a sequel?”

That was even harder to answer than the question about Yuri. Viktor hadn’t seen a script, but given the critical and financial success of Agape , it was undoubtedly in the works. Maybe they’d use five minutes of his old footage and kill him off. But did he want to do it? The students hung on his words, and even his mother glanced up from her phone.

“I would love to.”

The girls looked at each other giddily. One of them, maybe Alba or Marta, asked, “What was it like growing up with Coach Sveta? She must have been the best mom ever, right?”

Now his mother was staring at him. He could be honest and say that she was cold and distant, setting him up for an early adulthood full of fake smiles and failed relationships, but that would only be half of the truth.

“She was,” he said. The girls nodded as if they had already known the answer.

“That’s enough,” his mother said. “Go get some lunch and rest up. No staying up late tonight, Alba. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

She bid each student goodbye. Some of them snuck last glances at Viktor and his waving was met with grins and giggles.

Carla talked through the week’s schedule with his mother, then kissed them both goodbye.

“And you said you were taking a break from acting,” said his mother once they were alone. “You lied through your teeth.”

“I never lie,” said Viktor. “That’s the secret to acting. You have to believe what you’re saying is true.”

“Well, thanks for humoring them. Of course, I can’t let you come back again. They need to focus before Worlds.”

Viktor nodded. “When are the World Championships? September? I’d love to see a competition again, like old times.”

His mother frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s only a couple of weeks away, isn’t it? Where is it?” Viktor asked.

“No.”

Viktor pulled out his phone. “You can’t really stop me from going. I can just get a ticket.”

“Haven’t you wasted enough time already?” She almost sounded like Yakov.

“Quality time with my mother is not a waste.”

“Oh, please. Besides, I wouldn’t have a moment to spare,” she said. “Whatever you’re running from, it’s time to stop.”

“I’m not running from anything,” Viktor said. “I’m trying to reconnect with my mother.”

His mother scrutinized his face. “You might believe that, but I don’t.”

She collected her things while Viktor looked around the gymnasium. Just being there had him reverted back to a child, trying to convince his mother to pay attention to him. She was right, of course, but so was he, and they would never see eye to eye.

“I’m buying lunch,” she said.

He knew better than to argue.

They were a bottle of wine and a few plates deep before his mother broke the silence. “That was the happiest I’ve seen you this whole trip,” she said. “Sober, anyway.”

Viktor swirled his wine glass and winked. “As far as you know.”

“You weren't drunk. I could always tell you were a teenager and I can tell now.” She sent him a stern look. “I know you want to go back to acting. What’s stopping you?”

Viktor downed his wine in one gulp. His mother was always blunt. “I’ve been in therapy. Turns out, I’ve been depressed.” It was the first time he had said it outside of sessions with Dr. Rhee.

His mother didn’t say anything, but she didn’t look surprised.

“Did Dad tell you?” Viktor asked. It wouldn't bother him; parents talked about their kids.

“No,” she said. That made more sense. “But I had my suspicions. It runs in the family.”

And without asking questions, Viktor understood. It was just like his father said—he and his mother had a lot in common.

“After you were born, I…” His mother sighed and started over. “There was a period where I was overwhelmed. I will spare you the details. I didn’t feel like myself until I started coaching again.”

She was talking about when she and Viktor had left for Europe. “I never knew,” said Viktor.

“I hid it well.” They drank in silence for a minute before his mother said, “I knew I should have pushed you harder to skate.”

“What?” Viktor had no idea how that would have helped.

“Coaching saved me. This sport saved me,” she explained. “Gabriel said it wasn’t too late to train you, but you had your heart set on acting. If you had figure skating in your life—”

Viktor shook his head. “That’s great that gymnastics helped you, but it doesn’t always work that way. Some people need medication.”

His mother looked down at his glass of wine and back at him. “Those drugs don’t mix with alcohol.”

“Therapy and time off have helped,” he said. He wasn’t on medication, though he doubted Dr. Rhee would be thrilled about him diving headfirst into Spanish wine culture. “I doubt skating would have made a difference one way or the other.”

“But you were so good at it. Maybe you wouldn’t have been an Olympic champion, but you could have been great. You could have…”

For the first time in a while, Detroit Boy flashed through his mind. His grace and agility had shown his utter devotion to dance and sport, but his confidence had still faltered. In that light, his disappearance looked completely different. Maybe he had his own demons to battle. Viktor should have realized it sooner. But he had to keep his mind in the here and now, and so did his mother.

“I could have taken after you?” he supplied.

She cracked a wry smile. “I suppose that’s part of it. Petya always told me to let it be.” Viktor hadn’t been aware of any of their behind-the-scenes parenting as a child. “That’s why I went back to coaching when you were older, you know. I needed to go back, and you needed space to find your own way. You get that from me, too.”

She had gone back to coaching for her own mental health. Viktor hadn't fully appreciated it until now. She had given it up for him, knowing it might make her sick. Maybe she overworked herself to ignore the deeper issues, but she seemed happy now. She had a family in her work, her friends, and her students. And she always had him and his father. "I'm very grateful," he said.

“I shouldn't have said you were lazy. I know you work too hard,” she said. “Just like your foolish parents.”

Viktor smirked. “Ah, but I can learn from your mistakes.”

“I hope you do. But you’re not going to do it chasing me around again.”

Neither of them could change the past, but Viktor could change the way he looked at it. They could both do better.

They finished their meals and drank the last of the wine.

“You know, my students and I skipped practice to see Agape the day it came out. We’d all love to do it again for the sequel,” she said. “If you meant what you said, that is.”

“I did.” And that wasn't a lie.

“Good.” His mother’s smile only lasted a second. “And for god’s sake, fix your hair.”

———

Viktor had never been happier to be reunited with Makkachin. He paid Leo twice what he had promised and showered him with souvenirs from Spain.

Chris’s friend had thrown a fit when Viktor had asked her to fix his hair. “Never do this again,” she had said. “Your hair is way too thin for corrective color.”

Viktor still hadn’t recovered.

And it was in his fragile state that he got the shock of his life.

10:08
are you back yet

Yuri was in New York again, and this time he wasn’t invading Viktor’s apartment (although he did invite himself over).

“Did you find yourself or whatever?” Yuri asked. Makkachin sniffed him and Yuri gave her an awkward pat on the head. “Your dog better not drool on me.”

Viktor barely stopped himself from comparing Yuri to a kitten.

“I had a wonderful time. Would you like some Spanish nuts?” He probably had another bag somewhere.

“What? No.” Yuri brushed his hair or of his face and wiped his other hand on his pants. “Why do you make everything weird?”

“All I did was offer you a snack.” He just couldn’t help himself, adding, “Although you’d probably just throw them at me.”

“Let it go," Yuri growled. "It’s not like the chips hurt you!” Makkachin hurried back to Viktor in a huff.

“It hurt my feelings, Yuri!”

Yuri’s nostrils flared. “Oh no, I hurt your precious feelings! How do you think I felt when you sent me chips in a box like you’re fucking Amazon with a letter that said you wanted nothing to do with me?!”

Viktor didn’t remember exactly what he wrote but now that Yuri said it, he could see how it could be interpreted it that way.

“First I get a fucking show all on my own and you don’t say shit, then Yakov tells me you quit acting to go off the fucking grid or whatever. The show was a goddamn nightmare, by the way.”

Nightmare seems a little harsh,” Viktor offered. “I watched it while I was in Spain and I liked it. You seemed uncomfortable the whole time but it gave the performance an authentic feel.”

Yuri’s eyes bulged. “You don’t even remember, do you? You said if I got through the press tour, you’d help me get a show.”

That did sound familiar. No wonder Yuri was so upset with him.

“I did forgot about that,” Viktor admitted. “But you did it without my help.”

“And you saw how it went,” Yuri grumbled. He dropped onto the couch and crossed his arms. “I know you’ve been dealing with your own shit. I don’t know why I thought you’d care about mine.”

“I do care," said Viktor. "I should have been there for you, but I thought you hated me. You see, I've learned that I have a tendency to project my feelings onto others.”

"I've been trying to tell you that all along!" Yuri said. "Did it take someone with a fancy degree saying it to get it through your head?"

Things did make more sense when Dr. Rhee said them. Plus, he didn't yell at Viktor. "So you don't want me to leave you alone?"

Yuri sighed in exasperation. "You’re obnoxious and acting is literally the only thing you’re good at, but I don't hate you."

Coming from Yuri, that was basically I love you . Yuri wanted his help. Yuri was willing to give him another chance. Maybe Viktor was better at making connections than he had thought. He wanted to hug Yuri, but that would definitely be too much. “Yuri! That makes me so happy! What should I call you now? Can I call you Yura?”

Yuri wrinkled his nose. “What, you spend a few months in Russia and suddenly you’re super Russian? You haven’t lived there since you were like 9.”

“Please? Please, Yura?” Viktor leaned down to pout in his face.

“Nope.” Yuri turned away. “I take it back. I hate you.”

Viktor grinned. He wasn’t fooled. “You don’t mean that.”

“Call me Yura again and I will.”

They’d get there.

“So you’re doing better?” Yuri asked, once Viktor had calmed down.

“Much. I’ve been thinking about calling Yakov.”

Yuri’s face lit up. “Please let me be there when you do. He’s been tearing his hair out.” With a snicker, he added, “What’s left of it, anyway.”

“I’ll call him now if you want.” Viktor grabbed his phone. It was after nine o’clock in LA.

Yuri looked like he was sitting down to a feast as he watched Viktor dial. The phone rang once, twice, three times. There was a click and Viktor thought it had gone to voicemail, but Yakov’s message didn’t play.

“Hi, Yakov!”

Silence. Then, “Eight months of silence, and that’s all you have to say?"

“How have you been?” Viktor asked.

“You think you can just disappear and come back like nothing happened? I should hang up right now.”

“But you won’t, because Yuri and are I ready to talk about the sequel, and I know you have a script.”

Yakov breathed in and out on the other end of the line. Finally, he said, “I’m listening.”

Yuri’s grin rivaled the roaring tiger on his shirt.