A boring, grimy building set in the south of Detroit hides the ISU headquarters in plain sight.
The Intelligence and Security Union, one of the few international spy networks, has been centered in Detroit for nearly fifty years. Katsuki Yuuri has only been their operative for five, their trainee since he was sixteen and Minako made the call.
“I’ve taught him,” she’d sworn, “he’s ready.”
Surely, if she’d seen Yuuri’s handling of the mission in Sochi, she would’ve gone back in time and cut her own phone line. Unfortunately, Minako had not seen the Sochi debacle. Nobody had, because Yuuri had been alone.
Now, wedged in a sea of cubicles, Yuuri is the opposite of alone.
Even more so, when he sees the camera phone peeking around the edge of his cubicle wall.
“Phichit. You know we’re not supposed to have non-regulation cameras at work!”
His best friend’s cheerful brown eyes pop up over the divider.
“Who says it’s not regulation?”
“I’ve played with the programming myself,” Phichit scoffs, “nobody’s going to hack it and get at any sensitive information.”
Yuuri wants to tell him he’s being arrogant, but Phichit Chulanont is a technological genius, so he has to rethink it.
“Here,” he says instead, and lifts up a cheerfully bland paper mug. “Two shots of caramel and two of espresso.” Ever since Sochi, Yuuri’s been the one going on coffee runs for the entire team. Phichit is the only one whose order he has memorized.
“Mmm,” Phichit moans on an inhale, “Yuuri, have I ever told you you’re my best friend?”
Yuuri covers his heart with one hand, covers his mouth with the other. “Never in person before, just over Instagram. Wow. I don’t know what to say.”
“Sassy!” Phichit declares with a grin, and then both he and his pearly whites disappear again. He’s a busy man—he has criminals to catch, trafficking rings to detect online. Yuuri turns in his squeaky, uncomfortable office chair, spins back to the glaring white of his paperwork.
All paperwork, all the time, since Sochi. He’ll be lucky if he ever draws a gun or tackles a felon ever again.
With Phichit gone, the best part of Yuuri’s day is already over. His legs already itch to move—dance, run, wrestle, kick, spring, skate—
Instead, Yuuri picks up his pen. Just like the last three months, today is going to be uninspiring.
In a conference room at the end of the hall, a phone call comes in.
“How hard could it possibly be?” Agent Matthews rubs a hand over his eyes. “Talk to the officials! Tell them to throw the scoring so we can get an agent there to pose as one of the competitors!”
“And if the bomber hears so much of a whisper of us planting a spy in their midst, you don’t think they’d immediately suspect the guy whose scores are through the roof but who can’t manage to land a double?”
“Depends on who the judges are,” one man in a blue suit adds wryly. “Score inflation isn’t just for secret agents.”
“Not to even mention the public’s reaction! Those fans are vicious! Vicious and suspicious! My daughter skates and I think she’d be willing to high kick a man just for seats at that competition, much less a spot as a competitor. We should send someone in as a reporter.”
“And just leave the skaters defenseless at the official hotel, and in the skaters’ only areas?”
“Oh, please,” Matthews groans, “it’s basically a beauty pageant. It’s not a real sport. All they do is flounce around in sparkling outfits and wink at the crowd. Put Agent Bond in a tutu and let’s go.”
There is brief silence in the room.
“May I remind you,” Celestino cuts in, quietly, “that men’s figure skating is an Olympic sport.”
“Oh, come off it—“
“Their reigning gold medalist has been practicing for hours, every day, for over twenty years. If you think we can send an agent who’s been trained as a sniper or a martial artist and expect to stay under the radar, you’re wrong.”
“Oh?” Matthews challenges. “And what’s your suggestion? We’re going to give a Glock to some teenager in spandex that already knows how to skate and hope he can defend a whole stadium against a bomb?”
“No.” Celestino stands, looks around the room, makes eye contact with a few other men in crisp suits, bullets and steel hanging at their hips. “We’ve been granted an opportunity. One of my operatives is a former Juniors World Champion.”
The resulting clamor is unstoppable. “Really?”
“One of ours?”
“He’s a field agent. A specialist. One of our best,” Celestino promises.
“Well for god’s sake, man, call him in here and lace his skates up for him! Get him in one of those skintight outfits!”
“Wait,” comes one voice. “You’re telling me we’ve had a gorgeous, elegant figure skater as part of our crew? He must be a good secret agent—I, for one, have never seen him.”
“Oh,” Celestino says, “you have.”
It is at this moment that Yuuri arrives, pushing the door open with one soft hip, a tray with Celestino’s coffee propped on his arm, a half-eaten donut in the other. There is powdered sugar on his nose and his pant leg; his thick hair looks only half brushed. With both hands occupied, he can’t adjust the blue frames slipping down his nose, so he tips his head back in a utilitarian but mostly awkward motion.
“Sorry to interrupt.” He gestures the coffee cup. It splashes a little. “…I should just go?”
“Gentlemen,” says Celestino, “I present to you our representative at the World Figure Skating Championships. The man who will stand between a bloodthirsty bomber and thousands of innocent civilians.”
The coffee ends up on the floor. Yuuri almost beats it there.
“So,” says Celestino, once Yuuri has regained some semblance of consciousness and they’re alone in a new meeting room, “I think you’re owed an explanation.”
“Maybe,” Yuuri offers, “the explanation can be that this was all a dream.”
“Yuuri. This isn’t a joke. Our latest intelligence has warned us that there will be a bomber at the World Figure Skating Championships. We need an undercover agent in the field to protect the spectators and the competitors, and I’m confident it should be you.”
“Me?” Yuuri can still taste his last donut. He’s been barred from fieldwork for the last month. Yes, he’s been going stir-crazy; yes, he’s been spending hours at the gun range and the rink, and yes, he’s had to buy a new punching bag to work out on, because his last one is in tatters.
He’d begged Celestino to go back in the field. For another chance. But not like this. The last time Yuuri figure skated publically, he was sixteen and eating ice on international television at his first Seniors competition. He’d bruised his knee, his pride, and any hope of success in the Seniors division.
Yuuri was a decent figure skater. But he’d never be the best.
Minako had called the ISU the next week; as much as she’d approved of his figure skating, Yuuri knew that his ballet teacher’s career as a dancer was just a cover. Her heart was in ballet, but it was also in gunpowder and aikido, in back alleys and codebreaking.
“As a competitor, you’d be able to access skater-only sections of the rink. You’d be able to gather information without anyone suspecting you. You could survey all the other skaters and see if any of them are involved in shady business—have you seen that one man’s face when he skates? That intense emotionless focus, like he’s about to assemble a bomb. We need someone trustworthy undercover. We need you.”
“No,” Yuuri denies desperately, “no. It can’t be me. I’m—I’m not qualified!”
Celestino raises one thick eyebrow at him. “Just let me go grab the other top intelligence operative from our group who also happens to have a professional figure skating career as a hobby—oh. Hmm. It seems none exist.”
“But I haven’t skated at a competitive level in—in years.”
“Some of our operatives haven’t skated in their entire lifetime, much less won the Juniors World Championships.”
“Yuuri.” Celestino firmly says, bringing a gentle hand to rest on his shoulder. “Yuuri, you’re not just our only choice. You’re our best choice. This mission is essentially designed for your skillset. Being trapped at a desk, weighed down by paperwork, grabbing coffee for other agents—that isn’t you. Motion and music, that’s you. Yuuri. You asked to get back out in the field. This is the way to do it.”
Yuuri takes a bolstering breath, looks out the tinted windows of their office. Thinks of the trap of reports lying in wait for him, back at his dusty cube in the corner.
Viktor Nikiforov is set to win his fifth gold medal at Worlds. Scant months away.
Somebody could hurt something that beautiful. Something that valuable.
“Okay,” he whispers, “okay. Tell me what I need to do.”
Yuuri’s not stupid. Just because he still skates every night at one of Detroit’s rinks doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near competitive level.
Maybe, if Worlds was judged just by how well you skated figures, Yuuri could actually win.
He runs till he can’t breathe, skates till he can’t feel the blisters and bruises on his numb feet.
He watches Victor’s skating programs, and falls in love all over again with the ice, even though it’s already broken his heart.
Months of intense, backbreaking training in skating, and Yuuri finds that his worst torture waits for him the week before Japan’s Nationals.
“Remember,” Phichit says solemnly, “how we are best friends and you trust me with your life?”
“Uh,” says Yuuri, because he trusts Phichit with his life, but maybe not with his social media passwords or a stick of eyeliner.
“Just drive to the address I’m about to send you.”
His phone buzzes. “Phichit, that’s an abandoned warehouse. In Detroit! It’s probably filled with gang members.”
“What if I told you they had kidnapped a small but very fluffy dog and were holding it hostage?”
Yuuri drives to the warehouse. It is not abandoned. In fact, Celestino meets him out front.
“Ah, good. Victor is waiting for you.”
Yuuri’s stomach drops down to his knees. “V-Viktor?”
“Yes. He’s excited to meet you.”
Yuuri’s taken a taser to his stomach before. This feels worse.
The warehouse, on the inside, looks less rat-infested than the outside had hinted. Rather than mildew and stale air, Yuuri is hit with a refreshing blast of hairspray.
In the middle of it all, a man with silver hair is sitting, back facing them, on a swivel chair—his suit and polished leather shoes are impeccable.
“Victor,” says Celestino, and Yuuri wants to die.
The chair swivels around. “Victor Melling,” says the man who is definitely not Viktor Nikiforov. He’s just the man who designed Viktor’s famous bondage-lingerie costume, back when he was sixteen; just the man who has done makeup for skaters like Giacometti and Viktor, back before Viktor started doing everything himself. “At your service. And where is our new, breathtaking champion?”
Yuuri has come directly from the rink; and he went directly to the rink from the sparring mats at work.
He’d be a hot mess, except he’s not hot. So he must just be a mess.
“Hmm,” says Victor Melling. “His face is… workable. But we’ll have to take off whatever mascara and foundation he’s got on, and start him from the bottom.”
“I’m not wearing any makeup?”
“I knew you secret agents were trained to lie, but you can’t fool my eyes when your bone structure and lashes are…” a pause. Celestino pushes Yuuri forward. “Well. All right then. Now show me your best walk.” Another pause. “You want to pay me to make him easy on the eyes? Really?”
The situation might be hopeless, but maybe Victor Melling can transform him.
“Quickest money I’ve ever made,” says Melling, because he must be confident. “Now. There’s waxing strips and lace waiting to be made acquainted with your skin.”
“There’s what,” is Yuuri’s faint reply, and then he is choking in a fog of cologne, and everything goes dark.
“Operation: Eros is underway.”
At Nationals, Yuuri is several pounds lighter. At least a pound of that was body hair; the rest was probably lost from the stress of Victor Melling, former top fashion designer, beating him with celery and carrot sticks. It’s all disappearing in a haze. Yuuri desperately wants some katsudon.
Even when his flight touches down in Japan, he knows he’s not going to get it. Even if he ‘wins’ Nationals, it won’t be a true victory.
“Yuuri,” Celestino reminds him, “we’ve got this set up for you to at least make top two. Don’t be reckless. Just skate and try not to break your legs.”
Yuuri nearly breaks his nose, instead.
Yuuri’s been to Nationals before; he’s been to skating competitions. He knows how hard the men here have worked. He knows how fiercely the dreams in their hearts clamor to be realized. He knows, because he used to be one of them. Figure skating had been everything. They deserve his respect.
So damn it, Katsuki Yuuri is at least going to skate his hardest.
When the scores come in, Yuuri’s still blowing blood into a tissue.
“I gowt first place?” Celestino forces his head back, again. “Why dibn’t they jus give me sebbond?”
“Well,” Celestino laughs, “I don’t know that much about figure skating, but I’m pretty sure that the highest score gets first place.”
“Ha,” says Yuuri, and mournfully takes a carrot out of his bag.
Finally, Yuuri is going to a Worlds competition in the Seniors division, and it won’t even be because he earned it.
“I’ll meet up with you after you’ve changed and spoken to the press.”
How a man that tall, with a wavy ponytail and a distinctive Italian accent, can melt so easily into a crowd, Yuuri will never figure out. This is why Celestino was such a great spy, back in his day. Swinging his skating bag over his shoulder, Yuuri begins his journey to the locker room.
Everything is fine, for a few precious seconds.
Yuuri has spent years being shot at, trailed, and spied upon (when he wasn’t the one doing the spying). He knows when there’s eyes on him.
Casually flicking a glance over his shoulder, and speeding up his steps, he can make out the shape of his pursuer. They’re surprisingly small.
But also fast.
Yuuri rushes forward, but so too does his shadow. No matter the turns he takes, the people he maneuvers around, he can’t escape them. Ducking his head down, he hisses into his mic lowly, desperately: “I think I’ve been made!” He knew this wouldn’t work. Of course it wouldn’t work—what was he thinking, him as a skater again—he’d tried to warn them—
Oh, god. In his panic he’s hit a wall of press. Yuuri is basically at a dead end; memorizing a building layout without people in it is useless. Steeling himself, Yuuri turns, reaches one steady hand inside his skate bag.
An object is thrust towards his face, but Yuuri is faster. With lightning reflexes, he wrestles the weapon from his assailant’s hands, smacks it aside and is halfway to jabbing those determined, bright eyes when—
It’s a kid.
“You’re amazing!” The owner of those fiery eyes shrieks. “I saw your performance! Your costume! I couldn’t believe you’d come back, after all these years! Japan’s Ace here!”
Yuuri looks down to the floor. A pen is snapped in half, ink beading on the black surface.
Great job, Yuuri. You disarmed a teenager with a ballpoint pen. Really saved the day.
“I’m sorry about your,” he gestures awkwardly.
“What? Oh!” Minami only scrabbles with his wild hair, pulls another pen seemingly out of nowhere. “I was prepared! There was no way I was gonna lose a pen and not have a chance to get your autograph.”
“Please!” Minami leans in. The last time someone invaded Yuuri’s personal space like this, it was a yakuza leader. Yuuri had broken his arm. Yuuri should… probably not break this kid’s arm. That is not what skaters do to their competitors, especially not when they’re the one with a gold medal.
Especially not when they’re the one who had the government hand them a gold medal.
Yuuri takes the pen, and he signs. Minami is babbling—something about my inspiration and comeback, but all of the skaters Yuuri’s ever met talk about their inspiration frequently. Yuuri is too busy trying not to bleed his shame out to properly listen.
A stupid, worthless signature is the least he can do.
One competition down. The real competition is only beginning.
The ratty apartment in Detroit that Yuuri and Phichit share, but rarely see, is about half the size of Yuuri’s hotel room at Worlds. Yuuri’s not really sure what he’s supposed to do with a king-sized bed or a bathtub that big.
The last person he should voice this to is Christophe Giacommetti, who sidles up to him in the hotel lobby with a, “cherie, I’d recognize you from behind even after a few years.”
“Chris!” he yelps, subtly shifting so Christophe’s wandering hand doesn’t bump into his gun. He ends up hip-checking the Swiss skater, who flutters his eyelashes at him. Yuuri stares for a few moments. “You, ah! You got taller.” Much taller. Even the television couldn’t do his height or his rakish expression justice. Yuuri almost misses seventeen-year-old Christophe, who was small and sweet and cherubic in both his looks and personality.
“I assure you,” Christophe simpers, “I’ve grown everywhere. But I’m not as interesting as you— Katsuki Yuuri has blessed us with his return after all these years. You disappeared so thoroughly, darling, so secretively! And then you didn’t even tell me you were coming back—so cruel. It’s almost suspicious.”
“Ha ha,” Yuuri forces out loudly. “Ha!”
It’s one thing to put on an arrogant, smooth façade when he’s on a mission in a foreign country, where no one will meet him again. Where the person he’s pretending to be can disappear along with the contact lenses and hair dye, the suits and dresses.
But this is his real name. This is someone who knew him back when he was still a chubby-cheeked dreamer.
Yuuri’s pretty confident Christophe isn’t the bomber, having kept in casual touch with the other skater, although he’d be the one with the easiest way of packing heat—slip a gun in his pants pocket, and no one would question him because of his licentious behavior.
No. Christophe has a good heart. He also has an in: he’s friendly with most of the other skaters, and has been in the circuit a long time. Christophe is also still a frighteningly good mind reader.
“So, Yuuri,” a catlike, curious smile, “still have that massive crush on Viktor Nikiforov?”
He remembers. It takes none of Yuuri’s years of intense psychological training to bury his face in his hands and, tortured, hiss, “Christophe, no!”
“I’m going to take that as a yes. Don’t you worry, Yuuri. I’ve got you taken care of. We’re going to get you two introduced right away.”
Christophe is in the middle of herding him, with one palm on each side of his waist, when any introduction becomes unnecessary.
Yuuri gets no warning, no reprieve. He just gets an entire eyeful of Viktor Nikiforov’s toned chest, which is hiding underneath a shirt that is more like a piece of plastic wrap.
“Oh,” says Viktor Nikiforov, politely, “excuse me. Hi, Chris.”
“Viktor, I would like to introduce you to the delicious Katsuki Yuuri, the man who used to be called Japan’s Ace.”
There’s a brief, mild glance. “Used to be?”
Yuuri wants to melt into the floor. He wants the ISU to suddenly become The Men in Black, to wave a flashing stick and have Viktor forget all about him.
“Well, he’s made a comeback after what is undoubtedly the longest hiatus in figure skating history.”
“One competition isn’t a comeback!” Yuuri blurts helplessly. “I haven’t done anything yet.”
“Not skating competitively for years and then coming back and breaking Japanese records is hardly nothing,” Christophe says with a wink. Yuuri makes a noise that probably isn’t human, but Viktor thankfully doesn’t turn and leave. Instead, he says,
“Why did you stop?”
Yuuri stares at him for a few moments, dazed. Years ago, when Yuuri had failed his first Seniors season and left the world of skating behind, one of the things he’d told himself was that Viktor Nikiforov wouldn’t care. He wouldn’t want to know why. He wouldn’t have any idea that Yuuri had even left. Even if it might have felt like a betrayal of Yuuri’s love for Viktor, it wasn’t as though he had to answer to the man himself.
“My last season went—terribly, and I thought I had nothing left to give the ice,” Yuuri replies, slowly. “Nothing left of me to—give.” No talent, no inspiration, no grace, nothing.
Instead of judging, all four-time Worlds winner Viktor Nikiforov says is: “Yet you’re here now.”
The man who has everything to give to the world, questioning Yuuri about his motivations. There’s a flicker of empathy somewhere in those eyes, a dim spark, like he could possibly understand Yuuri’s absence from the ice.
‘I’m here to stop a bomb threat because I’m the only agent at the ISU who doesn’t have to hang onto the wall when I skate’ is hardly the right response. All Yuuri has is the truth, the truth that lies beneath the truth of his identity as an agent.
“Because I love it,” Yuuri finally concludes. “I love skating, and the ice still gives to me, even if I can’t give anything in return right now. I want to find the feeling I used to have, and I—I think I am.” He swallows. “I hope I am.”
Christophe smiles at him, slow and catlike. “I can tell you’re going to be good competition, Yuuri.”
And Viktor, Viktor doesn’t say anything at all. He just stares, quiet and too thoughtful, until he takes a step forward, opens his perfect mouth—
“Stop chatting with the skater eyecandy and get ready for your first scoping of the hotel, Agent.”
“—dinner with us?” Viktor finishes.
Yuuri has an earpiece to communicate with the rest of the agents for most of this competition, covered for the most part by the blue beanie he’s wearing. Clearly, Yuuri has misunderstood the second half of Viktor’s sentence, what with all the noise.
“I have to go talk to my, ah, coach,” Yuuri says. “Immediately. It was nice to see you, Chris, and nice to meet you. Viktor.”
Bowing low, he exits as quickly as is possible without busting through a window.
The surveillance van is parked inconspicuously behind the hotel, disguised as some kind of pet shop truck. A friendly hamster cartoon waves from its side. Yuuri slides into its back doors, into surveillance cam feeds and building blueprints, and they prepare.
“Concealed badge?” Celestino checks, and Yuuri pats the side of his dancer’s belt.
“Your skating bag has a gun in the secret inner compartment, but if you’re separated from it you’ll have to make do with the weapons you’ve got on you.”
Yuuri pauses, looks down. “What?”
“Your skates, Yuuri.”
Yuuri blinks at them. “I don’t see any concealed compartments on these, and I don’t think it’d be a good idea with the constant impact against the ice.”
“Yuuri, they’re essentially knives.”
“Oh! Oh, right, yes. I forget. I definitely practiced getting them off quickly and swinging them around.”
The first part had been simple: Yuuri could unlace and take off his skate in a few seconds. A fighting dummy at Yuuri’s house had taken the brunt of the second part, skates clutched tightly in his fists, though Yuuri always felt ridiculous doing it. Eventually he’d decided it was better to jump and slice with them on, but he hadn’t exactly mentioned that to Celestino.
“Here’s a master electronic room key,” says Celestino. “And here’s a picture of your roommate.”
“Thanks,” Yuuri replies, and then, “what?”
“Just so you’re not alarmed.”
“Why do I have a roommate?”
“The Worlds organizers felt it would be safer for the competitors to share rooms. Less area for security to cover. Most skaters took the opportunity to pair up with their friends or rinkmates. It’d look suspicious for you not to have one, too.”
“And my roommate…?”
“…Seemed to imply he’d rather be kidnapped by a criminal during the night than have a sleepover with a competitor. So he wound up with you.”
Great. Yuuri’s sure he and his roommate are equally delighted about the situation.
“Also,” Celestino continues, “he may or may not be the skater who looks like he is a psychopath with no feelings. Someone needs to keep an eye on him.”
“I’ve always wanted to be defenseless and asleep in a room with a suspected psychopath, that’s why I joined this division,” Yuuri mutters, before realizing it has been said aloud.
“You’re my favorite,” Phichit proclaims delightedly, swinging open the backdoor of their surveillance van. “Now. Go make some hot skater friends.”
“Hi,” he greets upon pushing open the room’s door, which apparently was the wrong thing to say. His new roommate, Seung-Gil, stares at him blankly for a few moments from his seat on his double bed. Then, he sighs.
“Rules,” he says succinctly. “There’s three of them. I will go to bed at 9:30pm exactly, and you will not disrupt my sleep. You will not try to engage me in unnecessary conversation at any time. Thirdly,” he wrinkles his nose in the largest display of emotion Yuuri has seen from him, “you won’t bring any vegetables or women in here.”
“Are you trying to tell me not to bring back a lover?”
“No,” is Seung-Gil’s scathing reply, “no. Fangirls.”
With no further conversation, he checks his watch and sifts through a suitcase that looks suspiciously like someone has labeled outfits with days of the week. Contentedly, he pulls out the gaudiest, brightest, most horrifically neon-striped pajamas that Yuuri has ever seen.
It’s a onesie.
Thank goodness Yuuri’s hidden camera is turned off, or he’d be dealing with a bunch of guffawing secret agents.
All of the other skaters expected Yuuri to be friendly, polite. Normal.
“So,” he tries to begin, “what do you think about the—“
“Rule number 2,” Seung-Gil asserts mechanically, and then sequesters himself in the bathroom.
Between Viktor Nikiforov’s strange closeness, Seung-Gil’s distance, and Yuuri’s entire career hanging on its last, unstable thread, Yuuri can only hope he makes it to the short program.
At exactly 9:33pm, there’s a knock on his door. Seung-Gil does not deign to remove his eyemask.
So Yuuri is the one who rolls off his bed and scurries to the door, slides open the three locks after the peephole reveals someone with a fluffy towel over their head.
Yuuri doesn’t think criminals wear fluffy towels over their heads during surprise attacks, but he feels for his gun under his pajama pants anyway as he swings open the door.
He’s shirtless. All he has on is swim trunks. Yuuri’s eyes drop to his pectorals faster than he can shoot off a bullet.
“Oh,” Yuuri manages to choke out, trying to urge his eyes back to Viktor’s face. “Hi.”
“Hi!” His voice lowers, then, to a conspiratorial whisper. “Are you busy right now?”
Yuuri looks down to his rumpled sleep shorts and too-big T-shirt. Then back at Seung-Gil, who appears to be asleep but who is also scowling ferociously. “Um? I guess I can get away from all of…” he gestures. “This.”
A chuckle—Yuuri made him laugh—and a tug on the towel that’s still draped over his silver hair. “There’s a pool on the roof.”
“An indoor pool?”
“Of course,” says Viktor, in a way that makes it very clear it is not an indoor pool. “Well. No.”
If Yuuri catches hypothermia, at least he’ll have an excuse for performing worse than everyone else that isn’t ‘I’m a government agent working undercover.’
“Let me get my swimsuit.”
Patiently, blue eyes sparkling, he waits as Yuuri roots through his suitcase and then stumbles into the bathroom to change. Then, warm hand gripping Yuuri’s own, they tumble up the hotel’s staircase to the roof.
The roof is all theirs, and in this moment it feels like the world is, too. How did Yuuri get here? He can’t think about it too much, or his head spins.
“We can stick our toes in,” Viktor says cheerfully, looking a little shy, “if you’re willing. I know it’s cold.”
The pool is as blue as Viktor’s eyes—one side is glass, open to the city lights and the masses below.
Once, Yuuri staked out a drug smuggling ring in Siberia, huddled in a snowbank for hours. He can get in a pool for Viktor Nikiforov, most beautiful man in the world. Yanking up his shirt and tossing it to the side, he edges towards the wavering glow of pool lights.
“Oh,” Viktor breathes, suddenly, and Yuuri shoots a glance over his shoulder.
“Are you backing out, when you’re the one who wanted to swim?”
“No, of course not, just let me,” and Viktor rucks his shirt off, too, pale chest open to the moonlight. God, life isn’t fair, especially not when Viktor creeps up close, tucks his head down to look Yuuri in the eye. “Ready?”
His pupils are dilating, cheeks flushed, and Yuuri has no idea why he’s so excited about a freezing swim in the pool. Still, Yuuri gets to be here, gets to interact with a man who he actually respects, adores, like some dream from childhood.
But Yuuri isn’t a little boy in Hasetsu, anymore. So he puts an arm on Viktor Nikiforov, and pushes.
Viktor shrieks, delighted despite himself, elegant even in the way he rebalances and scrabbles for Yuuri’s elbow.
“Don’t push me in! Don’t, Yuuri Katsuki you are—“
He balances Viktor, right there, bright pool behind him, Viktor on tiptoe and held in a dip in Yuuri’s arm, the perfect work of art. All those interviews Yuuri watched, a million hours of skating footage that got him through miles on the treadmill and late night boxing sessions, the rink and the studio and everywhere in between. Hours, and yet when Viktor makes eye contact here, instead of through a screen, it sets Yuuri’s body on fire.
Don’t, Yuuri warns himself.
Up, up, he pulls Viktor, till they’re both flat on the pool deck again.
“Thought you wanted to get in the pool,” Yuuri says, unable to look at him, and ducks his head. Viktor huffs, breathless, and then Yuuri dives in.
When he resurfaces, Viktor laughs. With a whoop, he cannonballs, shoving his fringe back when he resurfaces in a pile of bubbles.
“You’re actually going to swim with me!”
Yuuri blinks. “Isn’t that what you invited me to do?”
“Yes. But people tend to interview me, worship me, or dislike me.” Viktor floats closer, in, nose too close to Yuuri’s own. “You’re fun, Yuuri. And honest.”
Viktor’s the playful one, and he proves it by splashing a little, swishing back through the water.
“I might,” Yuuri admits, because it feels awful to hide it, “worship you a little. A—“ he flushes, and hopes the blue light of the pool hides it “—lot, actually. And I’m not sure I’m fun.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Viktor says, and circles once before latching onto Yuuri’s back in the water. “Pull me around!”
How could Yuuri say no?
Later, after more floating and splashing and laughter, they end up back in front of Yuuri’s hotel room. Yuuri has to scan his master key twice, and he prays he’s remembered the right room number. As soon as the door opens, the room illuminated dimly by one lamp, Yuuri’s old skating bag propped up on a chair, he relaxes.
He’s tense again, as soon as it becomes clear Viktor hasn’t just come to drop him off. They huddle into the room, Viktor dancing between his still-wet feet on the plush hotel carpet.
“My roommate’s in bed but I think he’s a heavy sleeper,” Yuuri whispers. “So we should be quiet, okay?”
“Okay,” Viktor whispers back. “Thanks for coming with me.”
“Of course?” Yuuri replies, blinking, but Viktor is already rushing forward.
Viktor hops onto Yuuri’s bed, bouncing, a droplet streaming down the side of his face. “Sorry. The other skaters heard ‘pool’ and shut the door in my face. I guess I can’t blame them—it’s cold, and no one else is Russian.”
Yuuri doesn’t know what is expected, here. He awkwardly runs over and hops on the bed next to Viktor—is this friendship? Are they… being friends? Him, friends with Viktor Nikiforov, four-time world champion?
“I thought Georgi was Russian,” Yuuri mutters. The mattress settles beneath his knees.
“Ahh, but Georgi is a whole culture of his own.” The smile Viktor gives him is sloping and sweet. “I guess competitions are a stressful time to try and make friends. But I don’t see the other skaters for the rest of the year.”
“What about the other skaters at your rink?”
“Mmm,” is the noncommittal reply Yuuri receives. “Yuuri?”
“I’m glad you made a comeback.”
I’m glad to be here, with you.
Being told this feels like too much. Yuuri itches to move—sees Viktor doing moving of his own, long fingers shivering. Darting into the bathroom, Yuuri grabs him another towel and wraps it around his neck, goes to the room’s hot water maker.
“Tea? I have matcha.”
“Yuuri, it’s ten o’clock!”
Caffeine at three in the morning, pacing and cleaning his gun, isn’t uncommon for Yuuri. But perhaps now is not the time to mention it. Spotting the little packet, he waves it in Viktor’s direction.
“Hot chocolate, then?”
“Better,” Viktor declares, and begins to trace shapes on Yuuri’s coverlet. Waiting patiently. Wrapped up in towels and, for some strange reason, wearing Yuuri’s shirt, he looks settled and cozy.
Then he opens his mouth.
“About your programs,” he says, “I watched them all after we met, and…“ Yuuri flinches. Hearing the rest of Viktor’s words would be like torture.
Dumping the packet into the hot water, and depositing the mug into Viktor’s hands, he sees Seung-Gil’s lumpy form beneath his blankets and is inspired.
“Who are you staying with?” He questions, quickly, bouncing back onto the mattress.
Viktor breathes a little faster, leans a little closer, right into the distraction Yuuri has set for him. “Christophe is rooming with me, but he’s disappeared to, ah, do some sightseeing.”
“It’s ten o’clock,” Yuuri scoffs, and then blushes to the roots of his hair. “Oh! Right. Sightseeing in another… hotel room.”
“I told him not to,” Viktor says lowly, “We’ve both been threatened by fans before, but he’s never had one follow through. And now I have the room all to myself. It’s,” he swallows, “a little frightening.”
The bomb threat is no ordinary fan. “You shouldn’t be alone,” Yuuri agrees, squeezing his hand. This, Yuuri can do; comforting these skaters, giving them security, is his job.
“I shouldn’t,” Viktor breathes, nodding, eyes bright, “Yuuri, I—“
“You should stay with Seung-Gil!”
God, why didn’t Yuuri see it before. It’s brilliant. It’s fantastic. It’s… making Viktor look like he swallowed a lemon, but is trying to enjoy it.
“What,” Viktor says.
“Not with me here too,” Yuuri clarifies hurriedly, to clear the sour look. This does not work. But this is the perfect excuse for Yuuri to be alone, to do his investigation and talk with Celestino and Phichit throughout the night. “We can switch rooms.”
“I’m not interested in that kind of switching,” is the instant, flat reply. Viktor pulls his hand away from Yuuri’s on the bed. “Besides, if we exchange, you’ll be the one left vulnerable. How is that better?”
Because I’m trained in ten types of combat is probably not the answer that would help Yuuri. But at least he still has another up his sleeve, one that’s honest, one that trips its way out of his mouth.
“Because you’re precious,” oh, Yuuri is in trouble and it keeps getting worse. Viktor’s eyes are wide, and impossibly blue, fringe falling back in perfect time with the elegant drop of his jaw. Still, Yuuri’s not going to take it back—it’s true. And so are the next words that drop from his lips. “…And I’m just the guy Japan sent in because their best choice retired last year.”
The only sound in the room is of Seung-Gil rolling over, letting out a slight snore.
“Oh,” Viktor sighs, finally, rolling the sound around on his tongue uncertainly. “We… don’t have time to unpack that statement tonight. But you,” he presses on Yuuri’s hand, “are just as precious, Yuuri. Now, it’s late.”
And then, with a last squeeze to Yuuri’s hand and his heart, the sweet smell of chocolate on his breath, he leaves.
Still have that massive crush on Viktor Nikiforov?
There’s no question about it.
The short program is uneventful, thankfully. Not a hint of TNT or suspicious figures in the crowds. Yuuri’s results scrape him into the top quarter of skaters.
(“I thought we told the ISU to put me in the top half, we agreed,” he hisses into the microphone attached to outfit. “Then stop scoring so high,” Phichit retorts.)
Yuuri stays vigilant, eyes on everything, but besides the screaming fans and waving banners, the tense skaters, it seems calm. After walking the hallways of the rink in the night, familiarizing himself with the layout again, he even has time to skate figures.
Then he hears footsteps—sees a shadow, at the edge of the rink. Did they see me? Did they see me casing the building? As fast as he can, he rockets himself towards the source.
He barely stops in time, once he sees the silver hair, the hands splayed out, flat and apologetic, at Viktor’s chest. In fact, he doesn’t stop, just careens into the other man, who barely manages to catch him. They end up half sprawled on the top of the boards, Viktor’s pulse erratic beneath Yuuri’s fingertips over his heart.
“Sorry!” Yuuri bolts up, moves back.
“No worries. Sorry to frighten you,” Viktor Nikiforov says. He looks… guilty. Incomprehensibly guilty.
“Why are you here?” Yuuri asks, and Viktor smiles.
It doesn’t look natural. “Christophe told me you liked to skate figures at night. Also, Seung-Gil was adamant that I couldn’t wait for you in your room.”
But why? Yuuri wants to ask, again. Neither of those things explains what Viktor is doing here—like there’s any normal reason he would want to follow Yuuri around. Maybe… Yuuri doesn’t want to know his reasons.
Viktor would never hurt anyone.
Yuuri only knows Viktor from interviews and magazines and a religious following of all his social media accounts, but something in him rebels against the idea that Viktor could be cruel. No, Viktor needs to be protected, not suspected.
“I’m done now,” Yuuri says, moving to put on his guards. “Can I walk you back to the hotel?”
“Yes please,” Viktor murmurs, voice oddly quiet.
They talk about dogs the entire way back, and Yuuri tries not to think about how that means Viktor didn’t really have to track him down to tell him anything important.
After a grueling practice session on the ice the next day, Yuuri gets to rest and recuperate by listening to a squad meeting about the bomber while he stakes out the hotel. This is fine, until:
“Aww, do we really have to tell him?”
“I trade in intelligence, Phich, you tell me everything!” Yuuri insists, after checking yet another room for surveillance devices besides their own.
“Well.” Yuuri’s earpiece buzzes. “I mean, obviously keep an eye out for every competitor we mentioned. But also, um, you may be interested in knowing that Viktor Nikiforov has a rap sheet?”
“He has a what?”
“Your beloved Viktor Nikiforov may or may not have done something very illegal, back when he was seventeen.”
“Viktor’s never done anything illegal except look the way he does in a three piece suit!”
“You’re talking aloud, Yuuri.”
“I,” Yuuri pants, frazzled. “Right. Ah. Just… what did he do?”
“Well, his coach did a great job of covering it up. The press didn’t get their teeth in it—but he had breaking and entering, among other… things. At a cosmetics company in the west of Russia.”
“Saw some eyeliner and just had to have it,” Celestino mutters into the same line. “Typical celebrity.”
“Technically,” Phichit interrupts, “the only thing he stole was a bunch of dogs who were being used to test an eyeshadow brand that has since been condemned as ‘toxic.’ So. There’s that.”
“Oh my god,” Yuuri whispers.
“If you could stop having your daydream about you and Viktor making out on top of a pile of dogs, that’d be awesome.”
Yuuri is never going to stop having that daydream, now, but Phichit doesn’t need to know that.
“We have to focus!” Yuuri insists.
“Yes, please. Let’s focus.” Celestino, at least, can get their investigation back on track. “Viktor may know more about the threat to the Worlds competition than he’s letting on. Yuuri, it’s your job to get that information.”
“Yeah, Yuuri, just interrogate him! Tie him up in a chair. Whisper questions hotly in his ear. …subtly.”
“Interrogate him? I can barely hold small talk with him! Our conversations are going to go from me gaping at him to me questioning him as to whether he’s ever built a bomb, and you think he won’t catch on? He’s smart, Phichit.”
“Nikiforov is smart?” Someone else interrupts on the line. One of the other suits: Matthews. “Viktor Nikiforov. The guy who wears sparkly pink, dates around, and has a whole Instagram full of selfies and dog pictures.”
“What does any of that have to do with intelligence,” Yuuri begins darkly, “if you’d ever watched any of his interviews or seen him handle a whole crowd of reporters you’d know—“
“Alright,” Phichit interrupts. “No one is doubting that Nikiforov is smart. He’s a polyglot who’s made millions in financial investments.”
“I—what?” Yuuri is already supposed to know everything about Viktor, but he’s learned more in the past ten minutes than his fourteen-year-old self had religiously collected over the course of a month.
“All I’m hearing,” Matthews says over the line, “is that the man is intelligent, rich, manipulative, and flirting a bit much with our undercover agent.” Yuuri opens his mouth to protest, but Phichit has already pressed the mute button. “Who says Katsuki hasn’t already been made? Who says Nikiforov hasn’t already bought a weapon with his millions? Katsuki needs to get in there and feel around.”
“Yeah, Yuuri. Get really close and just… feel Viktor Nikiforov. Out. Feel him out. You know, to see if he’s a criminal.”
“I’m leaving,” Yuuri announces, voice high. “I’ll talk to him. I’ll talk to all the skaters. Just give me a night.”
One night for Yuuri to clear his name.
Or to learn that the man he’s adored for years has a dark side.
Thanks to Victor Melling, Yuuri knows exactly how to get all of the skaters out and about.
“Seung-Gil,” he calls as soon as he bursts through the door of his room. Flatly, Seung-Gil looks up from his phone. Yuuri rummages through his skating bag, finds his cup of carrots, and pulls one out.
Then he hurls it to the ground.
“You have my attention,” Seung-Gil says gravely.
“I want some food,” Yuuri says. “Real food. Come with me.”
“It will be faster and more pleasant to eat by myself.”
“Between Viktor Nikiforov and I, we have at least 30,000 megabytes of dog pictures and videos. You don’t even really have to talk to us.” The pictures are true; the lack of talking is a lie. Yuuri can lie; he’s a federal agent.
Seung-Gil sighs, but he also pulls on his shoes.
Christophe, Viktor, and most of the other skaters are far easier to convince. A nice restaurant, a bottle of wine or two, and Yuuri has them.
“Has anyone ever been to the club two blocks from here? They have glow-in-the-dark paint drums.” Yuuri knows. Last year he pulled a raid on the gang using the club as a headquarters, and spent two weeks with his own hair as a nightlight before the paint washed out.
The suggestion is all it takes.
Conversation has never been easier. He learns more about Christophe’s plan to maintain his gluteus maximus than he’d ever thought possible; he plays drums with Leo de la Iglesia; he gets Georgi to talk about something besides his dramatic breakup with Anya; he even manages to yank a few sentences from Seung-Gil.
A table is commandeered that looks out over the dance floor, and before Yuuri knows it, he and Viktor are the only ones sitting at it. Viktor, splatters of neon pink and blue sprayed over his cheeks, sips at beer and blinks sleepily over the plastic rim.
Yuuri wants him.
Yuuri is supposed to be a federal agent.
“Uhm.” Those blue eyes are on him, the instant he makes a sound.
“Georgi is, ah. A bit dramatic about dating.”
Viktor waves a hand. “Some people might say we all are. Surely you’ve had your fair share of lovers, Yuuri.”
“I—what—no! No comment.”
The one who’s supposed to be in an interrogation is Viktor, not Yuuri.
“Mm,” is all Viktor continues. “Well! I’ve put a lot of thought into my dating life, after my last few lovers!” It takes everything in Yuuri not to frantically flag down a waiter and begin tossing drinks down his throat. “A reporter asked me about my ideal date today.”
Surely this information must somehow be relevant to his mission here. It’d be a shame not to listen. Lives would be at risk.
“And?” Yuuri tries not to squeak.
“I told her I’d like to take them out—a fancy dinner in my nice car. Maybe to a winery, on a day date. But,” he holds up one finger, leans in, “it wasn’t true. My ideal date is—is at a beach. They’d pick me up and we’d drive there, in my car, with Makkachin in the backseat. There’d be a few boutique shops, sprinkled along the coast. Pink pop-up umbrellas, with beer served by nice waiters. And after shopping we’d walk along the beach and talk about books, and skating, and hold hands in the light of the sunset.”
God, Yuuri wants to be the lucky man who experiences Viktor’s ideal date.
“You deserve that and even more, Viktor.”
That’s all it takes—one little, ridiculous sentence, and Viktor perks up. Scoots his chair a little closer, and—
“Sorry.” He covers the yawn, leaves a finger on his lips when he’s done. A shiver zig-zags across Yuuri’s shoulders. “I’m not usually out so late. You must think me boring.”
Yuuri has to smile. “You’re not missing much. Mostly video games and regret and all of the fun aftereffects of sleep loss.”
The beer is set down. Viktor is leaning in, cheek in his palm, and the look on his face.
Like he wants to spill all of his secrets to Yuuri, press his confessing mouth right to Yuuri’s own, until there’s no secret Yuuri doesn’t know the taste of.
Focus. Yuuri has to focus—he’s on a mission. He may as well get to the point.
“Lots of, um, crazy things happen at night! Illegal things,” Yuuri says, desperately resisting the urge to scoot closer. “Speaking of! Have you ever done anything… illegal?”
“Well,” Viktor replies, sing-song, taking another sip of his drink, “I probably did a lot of things with Chris that would make Yakov’s head pop, but they weren’t strictly illegal.”
Yuuri can’t help but smile. “Really? And here I thought you were Yakov’s most behaved skater. But I meant actually against the law.”
The song’s changed; frantic, upbeat dance to a slower, deep bassline.
“Oh.” Viktor’s brow furrows a bit, the flush of the alcohol deepening. “I guess… one time. With a sponsor? He wanted to talk about a contract.”
No. Not Viktor. Yuuri had asked him the question because he needed to, because he had to question everyone, not because his childhood idol had agreed to do something for a sponsor that would abet a violent crime.
“Viktor. What do you…”
“Can we have,” Viktor interrupts, vaguely flapping his hand at a waiter, “another one of those cherry drinks? Those don’t have alcohol, right? Right.”
“Two Shirley Temples, please. Thanks.” He shoves a wad of cash blindly in the waiter’s direction, nudges his way back against Viktor’s side. “A contract?”
“Oh. Right. He wanted to talk about a contract. Or he said he did. We went to one of the hotel’s meeting rooms.”
Yuuri knows what it feels like, to see the pieces coming together in a case. He wishes he couldn’t; wishes the chill would seep right back out of his spine.
“Anyway, he attacked me.” Viktor laughs a little, swirls his drink. “All he really did was feel me up. I was a grown man; I should’ve done something. But I never let Mila or Yuri talk to sponsors by themselves. After all, these things probably happen all the time.”
Yuuri puts one hand on top of the table, palm up, a helpless invitation. Viktor doesn’t look him in the eye, but he still takes it.
“No,” Yuuri grits out, “no, they shouldn’t just happen all the time. Your gender, his gender, how tall and strong you were, those don’t matter. That’s not okay. Did you report him?”
“I was eighteen and a scandal could have derailed my career; he was a CEO. Later, after my third Worlds gold, I said his products were cheap and used bad labor—his stock plummeted and he got fired.” He touches one finger to his lip. “I probably should’ve reported him. But I was nobody then. By the time I wasn’t…. it had been years.”
Yuuri squeezes his hand. He wishes Viktor weren’t tipsy; wishes they weren’t in a crowded club. Wishes he could say a million things that don’t seem right, under strobe lights and with alcohol breath. This is what he ends up saying:
“He was a bastard. Can I teach you some self-defense?”
Slowly, thoughtfully, “you mean it?”
“Of course I do.”
“I’d really like that.”
Self-defense might give Viktor and some of the other skaters more peace of mind. Determinedly, Yuuri makes himself a promise. By the time this competition is over, the person planning to hurt Viktor or any of the other skaters will be behind bars, and Viktor will be able to knee a man in the groin as elegantly as he can flow into a spin.
Yuuri pops to his feet, opens his stance. “Okay! Okay. Then first you—“
Viktor beams, brings a palm to rest on Yuuri’s bicep. Rubs it, gently, just a little. Makes electricity run from every cell on Yuuri’s arm straight to his heart.
“Maybe tomorrow. Or after the free. But I really like the idea of it, Yuuri.”
No one, no one at all, deserves Viktor.
“Do you also like dancing?”
Yuuri gets his answer on a crowded dance floor. Tango and salsa, and then a dance he doesn’t know—Viktor’s cheek on his shoulder, slow swaying, a molten glow in Yuuri’s chest that he doesn’t dare question or touch.
Yuuri’s a fake and a cheat, a workaholic who’s been banned from work at all. Someone who gave skating up because he was weak, and shouldn’t be able to take it back.
But Yuuri wants to skate, and he wants to save lives, and he wants to win.
He wants Viktor, tracing illegible promises over his collarbone with long fingers and low-lidded eyes. Forever.
“Darlings,” Christophe calls, after what feels like hours. His shirt has been hastily buttoned back up, and on his arm is—
“Phich—Peach! Peach sangria! I am dying for some peach sangria.”
“No peach here, sorry,” Phichit cheekily apologizes, “hi. My name’s Lou Freebush. I’m a sweet American from New Jersey and I’d do anyone for a seat at Worlds. I mean, anything.”
Phichit must have decided that running his computer intel from a van outside the Worlds stadium wasn’t enough. Why he has to go and seduce figure skating’s beloved silver medalist and sex symbol to get in when they’ve got several government agencies behind them, Yuuri doesn’t know.
“Someone like you will get a ticket no matter what, cherie,” Christophe promises.
“Flatterer,” Phichit purrs, patting his hand on Christophe’s chest. His everything may be on Christophe, but his eyes are suddenly on Yuuri, and he gives a few, slow blinks, smile strained. Yuuri and Phichit have been on numerous undercover missions together, and the last time that look surfaced, the building they were in hadn’t made it through the afternoon. “Flattery gets you everywhere, you know.”
“I know,” Christophe agrees easily, eyes sensuously moving over him, “but there’s only one place I want it to get me, and that’s in your p—“
“Can I,” Yuuri interrupts, bravely wedging an arm between them, “steal him for a second? You and Viktor could dance together?”
Christophe looks surprised, but he still nudges Viktor’s shoulder towards the dance floor.
“Yuuri,” Viktor mumbles, but then Christophe pinches his award-winning butt—Yuuri is not jealous, he’s not—and they’re off together. That smile still rests firmly on Phichit’s face, and Yuuri’s stomach churns.
“In the back,” Phichit mutters quickly, and they’re off to a back hall of the club, red and blue lights flickering dimly, the thumping music a vague hum in the background.
“Lou,” he hisses, and can’t help but roll his eyes at the name, “what are you doing in here? I thought I was undercover alone!”
Phichit glances around, yanks him further into the shadows. “Yuuri. You’re not going to like this.”
“Matthews found some shady guy near the Worlds stadium with explosive supplies who he’s convinced is the bomber. They think they’ve got him, Yuuri.”
“Just,” Yuuri tries to breathe, “just because they found someone with explosives doesn’t mean they captured the guy!”
It’s rare, to see Phichit look so grim. “The orders are in. Mission’s over. We’ll say you had an injury, and pull out of the competition.”
Time is pressing in. Yuuri doesn’t have the luxury of a panic attack right now.
“I’m not leaving Viktor alone. Not him, not the other skaters, not the thousands of fans in the audience. No matter what, I’m staying and protecting them. This isn’t over.”
“So stubborn. I thought that’s what you would say.” He reaches up, squeezes Yuuri’s shoulder with one hand. “And if you’re staying, I’m assigning myself as your partner.”
That’s not fair. Phichit is the only one who’s treated Yuuri exactly the same, ever since the Sochi debacle. He already owes Phichit so much.
“The union isn’t going to let you. If they said to pull out and you don’t, you could…” Yuuri is already a failed agent. If his career goes down the drain, so be it; this is worth more. But Phichit’s just beginning his ascent to success—he has so much to lose—
“If I don’t stay, and someone gets hurt, I won’t be worthy of whatever success I get from here on out. We’re in this, Yuuri. I’m Thailand’s pride, and you’re Japan’s ace. We can do this.”
Don’t cry. Yuuri sucks in a breath. “New Jersey’s.”
“New Jersey’s pride. That’s where you said you were from, Mr. Lou Freebush.”
Phichit cackles. “This undercover work is hard. I’m going to need New Jersey emblazoned on a sash for anyone to believe my new identity.”
“Ha, you’ve already got Christophe eating out of your hand.”
“Oh, my naïve little ice skater, there are other body parts he’s much more interested in eating out.”
Phichit. “I really don’t deserve you.”
His face is wet. So much for not crying.
“Hey,” Phichit says carefully, “we’re going this alone, now. It’s not rigged anymore. The higher up you place in the free, the more likely you’ll be able to stay close and vigilant when they’re doing awards on the podium—“
The world seems to blur, for a second, things clicking into place. “Oh, god. I need to medal.”
“Whoa. Hey. We need to be realistic here, okay? Until a few months ago you weren’t even planning to compete, much less win.”
“If I’m not on that podium,” Yuuri bursts, “then nobody is protecting the medalists! I—I have to be there. A criminal like that wants the most dramatic moment to strike, and that’s the awards ceremony.”
Behind Phichit, the club is still raging. Masses of people, thrumming music, the sweet sting of alcohol. This—what Yuuri needs—is madness.
“Yuuri. I don’t know enough about ice skating to tell if you’re capable of placing or not. But if you believe you can, then I believe it too.”
Does Yuuri believe he can make the podium? Can Katsuki Yuuri really be worthy of success?
Right now, he’s not sure. But one person believes that Yuuri is beautiful; one person believes he has talent and promise; one person believes in him.
Right now, he’s coming towards Yuuri with a sleepy smile.
“You two are hiding back here?”
“Ah, cherie, play fair. No hiding Lou away in a corner; skaters should share.” One of Christophe’s long arms comes to rest, easily, around Phichit’s waist. Lou Freebush simpers appropriately, making the most of his artfully winged eyeliner.
Before Yuuri knows it, there’s arms around him, too—a weight on his shoulder, a breathy little moan in his ear.
Viktor has been going to bed at 10pm sharp since he turned nineteen. Yuuri had scoffed at that interview—how could anyone go to bed so early?—but now he hoists Viktor up, just a little, till his taller form nuzzles in.
“Come on. Let’s go back to the hotel. I think we’ve had our fun.”
The other skaters are winding down, too, beginning to trickle towards them.
So strange. When Yuuri was in his first year of the Seniors circuit, he hardly talked to anyone. He’d been too anxious—all of that talent, that ambition, facing him down like a tidal wave. A few conversations, and surely they’d realize that Yuuri, sixteen and terrified, wasn’t truly one of them.
Now that his job has made him talk to them—Yuuri the fake, Yuuri the cheater—he feels more like one of them than ever.
If he wants to make a difference, he can’t do this alone. “Viktor,” he murmurs in his ear, “I really shouldn’t. But would you look at my skate tomorrow? For just a minute or two, to give me a critique?”
Yuuri expects Viktor, world champion, to laugh. And he does—a drowsy, pleased hum before he pulls back and looks right into Yuuri’s eyes.
“I’ve been waiting for you to ask. Yes.”
In all that stunning blue, Yuuri is lost. He may be lost, but the competition isn’t.
He’s going to cry twice tonight.
“Just going to ask Viktor,” Christophe interrupts, “are you? How rude.”
This is how Katsuki Yuuri finds himself surrounded, promises made, by skaters who believe they have nothing to gain from helping him.
More than ever, he knows he has to protect this.
Yuuri’s spent years without a real coach, and now he has several.
While Viktor and Christophe bicker about… something… related to his Salchow in French, Altin just steadily stares and offers sparing comments on Yuuri’s form.
He can’t feel too terrible for taking their time—he’s not the only one receiving critiques.
Anyone could stand to receive a critique from Viktor Nikiforov, even if they’re blistering. Yuuri’s withstood a lot in his life, but Viktor’s lack of tact is a special kind of weapon.
Still, by the end of the session, his jumps are cleaner, his hands have stopped shaking, and his heart is beating steadily, surely, in his chest.
Yuuri can do this.
“Any advice for me?” Viktor asks, sweeping in, golden blades singing. They’re the last here, the others having gone off to dinner. “Step sequences, perhaps? Spins? Artistry?”
Yuuri swallows. He’s a failure and a liar, and Viktor is asking him for advice. “When you skate to Stammi Vicino,” he shouldn’t, he shouldn’t say it, “it’s changed. It used to be a reach out into the darkness, but now it feels like you’re calling to someone you already know. There are motions you do that should…”
“Reflect that,” Viktor finishes softly, gently. They pause, just sitting in the warm silence between them.
"Be yourself," Yuuri tells him. "Be bold. I know you can."
"I can," Viktor agrees. “I can. I’m lucky to have you here, Yuuri.”
Viktor already deserves a gold medal, but he somehow becomes even more magnificent.
After another hour of refining, Yuuri walks him back to his room. For safety—for protection.
Those two words are all Yuuri can repeat to himself, even as Viktor nudges the door open with one hip, eyes still locked on Yuuri’s face.
“Christophe’s gone again,” Yuuri blurts.
“Well, after the skating federation told us the dangerous fan was no longer a threat this morning, there was no reason for him to stay. Also,” he explains, smiling briefly, “There’s Lou.”
The dangerous fan is no longer a threat. Yuuri’s stomach roils. There used to be trained agents in the stairwells of this building, waiting the slightest whisper of a threat. Now it’s just Yuuri and Phichit, and Phichit is busy seducing his way into a skater’s pass or a ticket.
As an international sensation and the favored winner of Worlds, Viktor is the biggest target.
It’d be irresponsible for Yuuri to leave him here, by himself.
After the skating session earlier, Seung-Gil had gravely informed him they had ‘spent too much time together in the last 48 hours,’ and disappeared to his coach’s suite for the night.
“Are you going to be alone,” Viktor asks, quietly, “in your room?” There’s no stopping it—Yuuri flushes red, forces himself not to clutch at his weapons belt for courage.
“Yes,” he tells Viktor. “If I go back there, I’ll be alone.”
“If,” Viktor repeats, and then opens his door a little wider. Safety, Yuuri tells himself, protection.
Except it’s not. Yuuri wants to be here—wants to wrap Viktor up in his arms for more reasons than he can count.
So he crosses into the hotel room.
He turns all of the locks, and Viktor laughs. “Don’t worry about Christophe coming back.” Christophe is the least of Yuuri’s worries. But he can’t—he can’t say anything at all. He looks at Viktor, who is slowly unfurling on his bed, hesitant smile growing and silver fringe falling softly away from his face. “Yuuuri. Get comfortable,” at this, he tugs his grey shirt up. “Come to bed.”
Viktor is a civilian, and Yuuri has adored him for years, and this is moving quickly. He can’t—he needs to—
“I just want to hold you!” Yuuri blurts. “Just. That, tonight. Nothing else! I’m… I’m sorry.” He backs up a step, back knocking against the wood of the door. “I can leave.”
On the bed, Viktor’s frozen, one palm still up in offering.
“Just hold me?” The question is wavering too much, makes Yuuri cringe away. He reaches for the closest lock on the hotel door. He’s stopped by light thumping, Viktor sweeping off the mattress and to his side. Cool fingers drag Yuuri’s hands from his face, coax his eyes up. “I want that too, Yuuri. So much. Please.”
Years of being a secret agent, and unlike one Agent Bond, Yuuri has never had a steamy rendezvous.
He doesn’t need it. He has this—Viktor’s body in his arms, their fingers laced together over his stomach. Viktor’s breath deep, and safe, and impossibly content. Together, they’re something both impossible and inevitable.
In hours, Yuuri will need to stop the bomber. Until then, he has this.
Phichit gets his ticket, and Yuuri gets to watch, terrified, as the skaters he’s bonded with and respected threaten his chance for the podium. His chance for protecting everyone.
When they’d first come here, all of the agency, they were supposed to catch the bomber long before Yuuri performed his free skate. Yuuri was supposed to quietly, peacefully drift to the bottom of the scores. Yet here he is, taking his starting position on the ice, and he feels that old urge flare up with the beginning of his music.
Yuuri needs to win.
Yuuri wants to win.
Though it’s shameful, thoughts of impending destruction aren’t what helps Yuuri land his triple axel or his quadruple Sal. It’s just the skaters, these skaters, the idea that this community and these fans are worth any amount of effort to protect.
That, and the hot touch of Viktor’s gaze on him as he flows into his step sequence.
Yuuri skates until his muscles and the crowd are screaming, until the ice carries him like the old friend it is. He dances.
And then—flawlessly—he finishes his free skate.
Two skaters after him on the ice, and only two skaters in front of him in their score. Christophe. Viktor. Yuuri is in third.
From the Kiss and Cry, Yuuri can see Viktor wiping his eyes. None of it seems real.
“You are incredible,” the coach the agency hired for him says. “Yuuri. You were incredible.”
Trembling, Yuuri realizes that he actually means it. No score alterations—no influence from his organization—just Yuuri, scoring a personal best that could land him on a podium in the Seniors division.
He’d given up on the ice long ago, but now he’s taken it back. Viktor Nikiforov, apparently, has come with it.
Two skaters later, and Yuuri’s fake coach pushes him from the stands.
“It’s time,” he says. “Get ready for the awards ceremony.”
Yuuri looks out into the sea of faces in the crowd, the same crowd that used to intimidate him just because they were people, and wonders if any of them are ready to kill.
He has to be ready.
For a time, Yuuri thinks he must have been wrong. They must have captured the bomber already; Yuuri is just a stubborn fool who wanted to keep skating.
Then the winners take the podium.
As Viktor picks up his golden medal, bringing it towards his lips, it flashes.
Not a metallic flash, but an electronic one—nearly imperceptible, but from Yuuri’s perch on the bronze podium, he sees. And Yuuri knows.
The gold is the bomb.
If there’s one thing everyone is aware of, it’s that Viktor Nikiforov kisses his medal for the crowd, just when the competition’s excitement peaks.
If Viktor puts his lips on its surface—no, no, Yuuri can’t let that happen, Yuuri promised he’d protect him, no—
He doesn’t register the lanyard of the golden medal in his hand, until he’s dragging it down towards him. A normal reaction, in this scenario, would be for Viktor to drop his head with the painful pull, and let the medal slip off into Yuuri’s possession. This is not, however, how Viktor Nikiforov reacts to Yuuri yanking on his medal.
Instead Viktor kisses him, his delighted gasp swallowed up in Yuuri’s mouth.
Oh, oh, Yuuri wants to kiss Viktor for an eternity, wants to lick up into the warm heat of his mouth, carry him back to their hotel room floor and see if every touch of their skin gives off the same fireworks—
There’s a bomb between their frantic heartbeats.
Yuuri puts a hand on Viktor’s chest, and shoves as he brings the lanyard up. He can even see it. The exact, heartbreaking moment where Viktor realizes that Yuuri is more focused on stealing gold than their kiss.
I don’t want to hurt you, Yuuri thinks, I’m sorry.
There are already tears in Viktor’s wide blue eyes as he stumbles back, and Yuuri can only desperately scramble with the too-warm medal in his hands.
“What are you doing,” Christophe hisses lowly, placing a hand on Viktor’s trembling arm and advancing across the podium. “Give it back!”
“The bronze medalist just snatched Viktor Nikiforov’s medal—“ someone from the press screams.
“It’s coming,” Phichit warns in his ear in a crackle of static, “I saw someone running, they have the remote, I’m sorry, I! Please…”
So much noise, so much panic, Yuuri can’t dismantle the bomb, the last months have been for nothing, Yuuri’s changed nothing…
“Yuuri,” Viktor pleads. This, of all things, pushes Yuuri to swing the medal and throw it, as high as he can.
In the middle of a stadium of people, a hundred feet above their heads, it explodes.
A shower of smoked ribbon and shimmering golden dust is all that remains.
Finally, quiet. Not a sound, in the whole arena. Yuuri swears he can hear the ice shifting, the collective held breath of the crowd.
But none of that matters. Viktor is whole. In Yuuri’s reach, whole and safe, a tear still rolling down one pink cheek, his eyes locked on the space above them. Protected, but still—Yuuri hurt him. Yuuri hurt him.
“I’m sorry about your medal,” Yuuri tries awkwardly. Viktor does not respond. “Viktor, really, I’m—“
“Merde,” Christophe gasps, and Viktor faints right into Yuuri’s arms.
Yuuri should give his report to Celestino, or maybe try to talk the press down, but he can’t bring himself to leave Viktor’s cot until he wakes up.
Silver lashes fluttering, Viktor looks up to meet him in the eye.
“I carried you to a recovery room,” Yuuri says, smoothing out Viktor’s sheets.
“Carried,” Viktor whimpers, and flushes, and Yuuri worries for him. Clearly, he’s still in a fragile state.
“You fainted,” Christophe reminds him, “after Yuuri ripped a bomb off your neck.”
“I’m sorry about the,” Yuuri blurts, and then gestures, incomprehensibly, to everything around him. “I’m sure they’ll make you a new medal. A real one.”
“It’s fine,” Viktor says. “That was the most exciting medal I’ve received in years.”
“Is anyone,” Christophe interrupts impatiently, “going to ask how Yuuri knew the gold medal was a bomb and built up the arm strength to toss it a hundred feet in the air? Or why, right now, I’m pretty sure he’s packing heat?”
The nurse that is tending to Viktor makes meaningful eye contact with Yuuri, and then leaves the room. An agency nurse, then. When he goes out, Phichit comes in.
“That, darling,” he says, none of the simpering left in his voice, “is on a need-to-know basis.”
“Is the bomber caught?” Yuuri asks, exhausted.
“Yes,” Phichit sighs. “Thank god. I had to chase him through the entirety of this building, but he’s in custody. Apparently he was angry that Nikiforov was winning so much, even at 27—among other things. A lot of other things, including how fed up he is with some of the scoring system. But Cao Bin is behind bars for this, and he’s going to disappear from the skating scene. Come next season, there won’t be a trace of him.”
“That’s great to know,” Christophe says, after some processing. “But I still want the answer to my other question. About Yuuri.”
Yuuri disobeyed orders. He was fired. There’s little point in hiding it, anymore, and he’s so tired of lying.
“After I quit skating,” he sighs, “I got tired of being depressed? So I picked up jiu-jitsu. And marksmanship. And a job as an international special agent?”
“Merde,” Christophe says, again, and Phichit shrieks,
“Yuuri! Why do I—don’t tell them that. How the hell are you going back into fieldwork if everyone knows?” He jabs a threatening finger at Christophe, then at Viktor, back and forth. “He saved your life! If you breathe a word of this to the press, I will ruin you. None of us are leaving this room until we have our story straight, and we can all pretend Yuuri is a normal skater who happened to see Viktor’s medal blinking. Are there any questions?”
Viktor raises a hand, slowly, biting his lip.
“Did you get close to me for the job?”
Yuuri’s stomach drops, his mouth dry. His heart wrenches in his chest as it finally hits that Viktor kissed him a few minutes ago and maybe—
“Yuuri was assigned to protect you,” Phichit chirps helpfully. “Sticking his tongue down your throat and sleeping in your bed was not in the job description. Next question?”
“What! You weren’t supposed to put cameras in the hotel rooms,” Yuuri hisses. “You know how I feel about—“ he cuts himself off, flushing, and resolutely looks the opposite direction of Viktor. “I can’t believe you watched us!”
“Didn’t have to. Just watched you get tugged into his room at 10 and not leave till the morning. But thanks for confirming, Yuuri. Next question. Yes, Christophe?”
“Are you both single?”
It was foolish, hoping the day would be calm after the bomb threat was over.
Katsuki Yuuri gets a promotion, a warm welcome back into the skating community (even from Seung-Gil), and a boyfriend. Apparently, there’s nothing the agency likes better than a convincing cover story for why Yuuri constantly needs to travel between countries. Being an internationally ranked skater explains away traveling, bruises, and any sharp blades.
He visits Russia the most, though.
“Help,” Viktor says, melting against the doorframe when Yuuri appears on his front step. “I think there’s a bomb somewhere in my clothes. We better get them off.”
“I’ll save you,” Yuuri declares, stepping into the circle of his arms, “I’ll always save you, Viktor.”
Viktor kisses him, on his forehead and his nose and his mouth, sweetly, slowly. “You have, Yuuri. Many times.”
There’s nothing better than being held by Viktor, feeling him warm and solid in his arms. Nothing else he’d rather do, at this moment.
“Viktor,” Yuuri gasps, “there’s an intruder in your house! With weapons!”
Said intruder barks, hopping down off the couch to get her Yuuri kisses.
“Puppy dog eyes,” Viktor says, sadly, as she begins to beg. “The greatest weapons of all.”
Once Yuuri subdues the intruder, rubbing her downy belly, he returns to trading kisses with his boyfriend, curled up on the couch.
“You really saw me,” Yuuri begins nervously, a topic well-tread by now, “and wanted me? At Worlds?”
“The entirety of Worlds, Yuuri. You burst in out of nowhere, saw me for who I was, and showed me love. How could I not?”
“It’s just hard to believe.”
“It’s hard to believe my boyfriend is an incredibly hot secret agent who also happens to among the top figure skaters in the world, but I make do.”
Yuuri takes a deep breath. He’s taken a bullet before. He can be brave now. “My next mission is in Barcelona.” Viktor presses in, clinging.
“Just a week.” Bullets and drug lords and bank robbers, Yuuri’s faced them all. Months of dating, and they’re here. He can do this. “Want to come?”
Viktor laughs, bright, and throws his arms around him. “A mission? Sounds dangerous. Should I be ready for surprises?”
“Yes,” Yuuri whispers. “Be ready for our whole lives to change.”
Oh, and they do.