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the certainty, the second hand

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It happens on a Saturday morning.

Viktor comes back from a run and gets in the shower when he finds Yuuri still asleep in bed. It’s eight AM and it’s their day off but he’s already tired, the arches of his feet aching. One of his blisters has turned bloody and the soap stings against it. He leaves the door open because he’s half-hoping Yuuri will get up and join him, but Yuuri only wanders into the bathroom once he’s put clothes on and Viktor is sitting half-dressed on the edge of the bathtub, bandaging his foot.

“That looks like it hurts,” Yuuri says.

Viktor hums noncommittally. It isn’t that he doubts Yuuri’s concern, really; it’s just that there’s a slight edge to Yuuri’s voice that tells Viktor that’s not the only thing he means.

He’s too tired to parse it out, though. The gap between Four Continents and Worlds is not long enough for this, just as the gap between Europeans and Four Continents was not long enough for this. It feels like they’ve been dancing around something since January and despite their best efforts, it’s cracking open.

“How are yours?” Viktor asks. It feels like the wrong thing to say as soon as the words are out, because this is something he should know, does know, bandaged Yuuri’s own blisters yesterday—or maybe it was Thursday—and laces up his skates two, three times a week but he’s just so tired, but still, he should know. He should know.

“I’m not the one coaching and competing at the same time,” Yuuri says, and by the way that his mouth twists down unhappily Viktor knows that this is what he was thinking about with that first sentence.

“Ah, but I’m doing it so well,” Viktor says. He pulls his socks on to cover up the band-aids and lowers his foot to the ground. It forces them both to look at each other instead of at the small collection of wounds on Viktor’s feet.

“It’s not that I doubt what you’re capable of,” Yuuri says carefully. “But it’s not—you seem very tired.”

Viktor’s legs protest as he stands up. “That’s what rest days are for.”

“I don’t just mean now,” Yuuri says. “I mean all the time.”

“That’s what the season is like,” Viktor says with a shrug.

“It just seems like—” Yuuri stops and looks at him. “I’m just not sure.”

For two people with so many blunt pieces and sharp edges between them, they do try to be careful with each other. Most of the time Viktor is proud of this, that love has compelled them to learn to handle the fragile pieces of each other’s hearts. But this time care has left them in a holding pattern of tension, skating delicate compulsory figures around each other but leaving them to live with the way it scars the ice.

“We agreed on this,” Viktor says, too tired to blunt the harshness in his voice. “Are you having second thoughts?”

“No,” Yuuri snaps back, although he’s clearly full of second thoughts. Viktor feels another upswell of bitterness at the idea that Yuuri has decided he is something to regret.

“What is it, then?” Viktor says. “Do you think I’m hurting your career?” Yuuri won Four Continents; Viktor has no doubt that he is capable of winning Worlds, the way his programs look, the scores he is capable of. Viktor doesn’t think he’s hurting Yuuri’s career, but if Yuuri believes it—

“No,” Yuuri says, and this at least it sounds like he means. “Of course not.”

“Of course not,” Viktor echoes. “What, then.”

“I’m worried you’re hurting yours,” Yuuri snaps.

Viktor is truly annoyed now. “Yuuri,” he says, drawing out the vowel sound, his voice low and annoyed. “You are not my coach.”

“Don’t use that tone of voice,” Yuuri says. “I hate that.”

“What tone of voice?” Viktor says. “I don’t have a tone of voice.”

“You do. That’s not the point. Has Yakov said anything?”

“Yuuri.”

“That tone,” Yuuri snaps. “That tone right there.”

“I’m sorry, I won’t use any expression at all,” Viktor says sarcastically.

“Save it for your skating,” Yuuri says without a pause, “It seems like your PCS could use it.”

Viktor blinks. Yuuri covers his mouth, as though he’s surprised that it came out. There’s a fraction of a second where it seems as though he’s about to apologize, and later Viktor thinks that maybe if he’d managed to keep his mouth shut for another thirty seconds everything would have been okay.

Of course he doesn’t. He’s tired, and he’s angry, and so he speaks and it comes out low and cold. “What, Yuuri,” he says, in the exact tone Yuuri hates. “Is my skating not good enough for you anymore?”

“No,” Yuuri says. “That’s not what I meant at all—but—“

“I won Europeans,” Viktor says, sharply.

“I know!” Yuuri snaps. “It’s not about your skating it’s about you!”

“Right,” Viktor says. “So I’m not good enough for you anymore.”

“That’s not—“ Yuuri breaks off, frustrated. “God, you always do this, you—“

“I do what?”

“I try to bring something up and you take it so personally,” Yuuri says.

“Is this not personal?” Viktor says. “It feels personal.”

“Not everything is about you,” Yuuri snaps.

That does hurt, coming from Yuuri, the only person who has never casually dismissed him as selfish. “Please tell me what this is about, if it’s not about me.”

“It’s about us,” Yuuri says.

“But of course you’re not doing anything wrong,” Viktor says. “So it’s about me.”

“I want us to talk about this,” Yuuri says. “Why is that such a problem?”

“You wanted this,” Viktor says. “You wanted me to compete again. You—”

“And now I want to talk about something that clearly isn’t working—”

“I’m glad you think you winning Four Continents isn’t working. Or me winning Europeans isn’t working.  Or—”

“You’re not listening to me!” Yuuri snaps. “I hate it when you don’t listen.”

“Yuuri.”

“And that tone—”

“You seem to hate a lot of things about me,” Viktor says, dispassionate and cold.

“You’re not listening.” Yuuri throws up his hands. “I’m going to go.”

“Fine.”

Yuuri turns and walks out. Viktor feels something clench in his chest after a moment of his absence, and he starts to follow before he realizes he’s still shirtless and his hair is damp. He towels it off roughly and discards the towel on the linoleum in favor of pulling a shirt over his head.

The carelessness doesn’t save him enough time, though, and by the time he’s walking out of the bathroom he can hear the front door clicking shut.

Makkachin whines in the entryway at the closed door, upset that someone has gone out without inviting her. Viktor clicks his tongue to call her over and stroke her head. “It’s okay,” he promises. “He’ll be back soon.”

He isn’t.

The air in the apartment feels cold against his skin, still slightly damp from the shower. He goes and checks the thermostat, but it confirms what he already knows, that the temperature hasn’t changed since he got up this morning. Yuuri must be colder, outside. Viktor hopes he brought a coat.

He sits on the edge of the bed for the next ten minutes. Yuuri didn’t make it when he got up, so his side is still folded back and rumpled. Sometimes he goes back and fixes it, but more often Viktor does it himself when he circles back through the bedroom. He doesn’t mind.

Now it seems like the dwindling evidence of Yuuri’s presence, and so he leaves it alone and waits for Yuuri to return.

After twenty minutes, he realizes how stupid this is, to sit and wait like a dog waiting for its owner to come home. He forces himself to get up. He still can’t make the bed, but he goes through the other paces of his morning routine, combing his hair, hanging up the towel and bath mat from the shower.

He circles into the kitchen. There is fruit for smoothies, eggs and vegetables in the fridge, but despite his run he has no appetite. He opens the fridge and looks inside, then shuts it again.

There is a list of things that need to happen today, chores he’s been waiting to do, a book he’d like to read. Choreography he’s been thinking about that he could start to work through, looking ahead to next season. He can’t make himself do any of it. He wants to go back to sleep and pretend this morning was a bad dream, but he knows if he goes back into the bedroom he’ll end up curling up on Yuuri’s side of the bed in what remains of the warmth he left.

His feet ache. He’s been pacing back and forth, tracing the length of the kitchen. He makes himself go into the living room but it’s no better; everything, the scarf on the hook by the door, the gaming system, the walls they painted together, all of it reminds him of Yuuri. So does the front door that Yuuri went through. At least his coat is gone.

Viktor hasn’t felt this way since Yuuri came, but the feeling is still familiar, the sick sense of pointlessness that settles in his stomach. Why not sit on the floor here and wait for Yuuri to come home? It would be so much easier.

But Yuuri is already angry, Viktor’s common sense argues. You don’t need to show Yuuri more parts of yourself he won’t like. You don’t even like this part of yourself.

So he leaves the living room and forces himself through the motions. Back in the kitchen, he empties the drying rack of dishes. He vacuums. He picks up his book and stares at the pages but can’t read a word. Eventually he gives up and scrolls through Instagram, mindlessly liking friend’s pictures without really seeing them.

Makkachin seems to sense something is wrong and comes over and lays her head in his lap. He strokes her head and scratches her ears until she gets bored and goes to the door he’s trying not to look at.

For a split second, he hopes that she’s heard something, that Yuuri’s returned, but she’s just restless. He coaxes her back over and finds a rubber ball, rolling it underhand across the living room for her to chase. It’s not really a substitute for going outside, but some nasty embedded instinct has convinced him that he can’t leave in case Yuuri comes home.

He tries to think of something else, but all he can conjure is You’re not listening and I’m going to go. Go where? Yuuri has friends now, a favorite coffee shop. Viktor took him to get a library card. There are plenty of places he could be, but Viktor could probably track him down.

But Yuuri needs space when he’s angry, and sometimes when he isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with that—only something wrong with Viktor, who has apparently lost the ability to function like a human being.

He checks the time. It’s been a little over an hour.

He makes himself wait another hour before he texts, each minute dragging by slow as molasses. He makes tea. He wipes down the bathroom counters. He lies on the floor of the living room and stares at the clock on his phone.

The minute the clock ticks over, he’s texting.

Are you alright?

He waits ten minutes, but there’s no reply. He keeps waiting for the bubble to pop up, to indicate Yuuri is texting back, but there’s nothing. He can’t make himself do anything except keep looking, though. He moves away from it, opening other apps, going through his email, the thousand little things he should do or can do to keep him busy, but none of it functions as a distraction.

Eventually he texts again.

You don’t have to come back yet if you’re mad at me. Just let me know you’re okay.

There’s still nothing. Makkachin whines and scratches at the door, and it’s her wet nose in his face that makes him haul himself to his feet and go on a walk. It’s shorter than they normally go, barely looping a few blocks so that Makkachin can use the bathroom and stretch her legs, but thankfully she doesn’t complain when they go back to the apartment.

He gets her comb and brushes through her fur once they’re back home. It’s a long process when he does it thoroughly, working his way through the curls, slow and careful. They’ve been doing this a long time, since they were both children. She’s an old dog now.

Viktor drops the comb and hugs her when he finishes. He doesn’t know what he’ll do when she’s gone.

Through it all, the door hasn’t opened, and Yuuri still hasn’t texted back.

Will you be home for dinner?

Nothing. Still nothing. There are other things to be done today, people he could call, things he could see. He and Yuuri had talked about going out. There is food in the refrigerator that they meant to cook tonight. All of those plans are splintering in the face of Yuuri’s absence, of that stupid fight.

I’m sorry. Please come back.

Nothing, nothing, nothing. Viktor can’t make himself do anything else after that. He lies on the floor in the living room for another hour and stares at the ceiling. Eventually Makkachin comes over and paws at him until he gets up and goes back to the bedroom. When he first got her, Yakov had said that maybe having a dog would be good for him. Viktor thinks he probably meant something about responsibility, not that sometimes she is the only thing besides Yuuri that can make him get out of bed, but he was right either way.

He checks the clock. It’s been five hours since Yuuri left, when Viktor turned to Makka and said he’ll be back soon.

The covers are still folded back where Yuuri slept. They’re cold now, no trace of Yuuri’s body heat, but Viktor slides under the duvet fully-clothed and curls in the empty space anyway.

After a full night’s sleep and a day with nothing to do, he is somehow more tired than he was at the end of the week, more tired than all the skating and coaching could ever have left him. He stares at the phone in his hand, at the string of texts left unanswered, until his eyes slide shut and he drifts into an uneasy sleep with one thought remaining.

Yuuri isn’t coming back.

 


 

It’s cold and dark when Yuuri returns just past five o’clock, sliding the door open carefully like it might trigger a bomb. He’d meant to come back sooner, after an hour or so at the dance studio, but it was easier to settle in the warmth of the coffee shop a few blocks down than to brave the cold the rest of the way back home, and easier to drink not-quite-as-bad-as-the-rest-of-Russia tea than risk another fight.

The apartment doesn’t feel like a powderkeg, though. It just feels quiet. The living room is dark and he flicks on the light after he hangs up his coat. He’s taking off his shoes when the noise finally triggers something from the depths of the apartment, and he hears the clink of Makkachin’s collar and the click of her nails on the hardwood as she pads out of the darkness to nose at his ankles.

He follows her into the equally-dark kitchen. Here at least there are signs of life—the dishes are gone from the drying rack, a few things have been moved—but Makkachin sits by her food dish and whines.

“I’m not giving you second dinner,” Yuuri says, reproachfully, but then glances at the clock. It’s almost five-thirty and Makkachin gets her meals at five in the winter, since the growing darkness makes her antsy to be fed. He can’t tell whether she’s been fed or not. He can’t tell whether Viktor is home, actually, although it feels uncharacteristic for him to leave Makkachin alone.

Unless he expected Yuuri to be home sooner. Which would be fair, since Yuuri expected Yuuri to be home sooner. He bites the bullet and turns his phone back on.

He pets Makkachin while he waits for it to power up and investigates. There’s no food residue in the bowl. He opens the refrigerator and counts the plastic containers of food and decides she hasn’t eaten yet. By the time he’s scraped it into her dish and set the container in the sink, his phone is back on and he can see the string of texts from Viktor, in reverse order.

I’m sorry. Please come back.

Will you be home for dinner?

You don’t have to come back yet if you’re mad at me. Just let me know you’re okay.

Are you alright?

Yuuri feels guilty, seeing the evidence of Viktor’s worry. But the texts stop hours ago. There’s no indication of where Viktor might have gone.

He leaves Makkachin eating and heads further into the apartment, down the hall to the bedroom. The light is off there, too, but he can see the familiar shape of Viktor curled on the bed. He’s on Yuuri’s side.

Yuuri knocks twice on the doorframe, and Viktor sits up, so Yuuri guesses he wasn’t asleep after all. “Hey,” Yuuri says. “We should talk.”

“I’m sorry,” Viktor says immediately. “You were right.”

Yuuri has spent all afternoon bracing himself for another drawn-out argument, rehearsing his words in his head, anticipating the responses. This isn’t in his script. He pauses. “About what?”

Viktor wrinkles his nose for a split second like he’s annoyed, but when he speaks there’s no hint of it in his tone. “I need to listen to you.”

“Okay,” Yuuri says. Viktor’s on his side of the bed and he can’t quite bring himself to take Viktor’s, so he sits at the foot of the bed, cross-legged, and faces him.  “I, um. So.”

“So,” Viktor says. There’s something guarded about his expression but in the dimness Yuuri can’t quite read it. He wishes he’d turned on the light.

Yuuri barrels ahead into his pre-planned talking points. “I’m sorry about what I said this morning. I was annoyed and so I started saying things I thought would upset you instead of things I thought were true, and that—I’m really, really sorry.”

“Forgiven,” Viktor says, lightly. “What did you mean to say, though?”

“What I meant,” Yuuri says, “Is that I know you’re skating well, and obviously coaching well, I mean, I’m skating well, this is my best season ever, I feel like—we don’t have time. We never had time and I know the season is tiring but you’re tired all the time and I...our relationship is important and we need to have time to spend together that isn’t just practice. But also you need to be able to have a life outside of skating—your skating and also coaching me. Not because it’s something I want!” he quickly interjects. “But because I’m worried about you and your—health, I guess. This can’t be all you do.”

“Okay,” Viktor agrees. “What do you think should change?”

“I don’t know,” Yuuri admits. “I’ve been thinking, maybe an assistant coach? There’s—I mean, there’s plenty of other good coaches at the rink, so you don’t have to be the only one training me. Or less choreography—I don’t know. But something else.”

“Okay,” Viktor says.

Yuuri has bullet points for this argument that is simply not materializing. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Viktor says. “I’m not sure we can find anyone in the middle of the season, but we can start looking now. And I can find someone else to do my programs next year, or yours, or one of each.”

“Okay,” Yuuri says. “Are you okay with this?”

“Yes,” Viktor says.

“I mean,” Yuuri says. His eyes have adjusted to the darkness by now and he can read the slight downturn in Viktor’s mouth, the resignation in his eyes. “You don’t look happy.”

“Well,” Viktor says.

“If this isn’t what you want,” Yuuri says, “Then you should say so.” He can’t reconcile Viktor’s prickliness this morning, how upset he was with even the suggestion that something was wrong, with his total agreeableness now.

“Of course it isn’t what I want,” Viktor says. “But you’re more important.”

“What I want isn’t more important than what you want,” Yuuri says. “We have to decide these things together.”

“You,” Viktor says, “Are more important than my doing every little thing I want.”

“Me,” Yuuri says.

“Yes, you,” Viktor says, and leans forward to rest the tip of his index finger against Yuuri’s lips. “Being here with you. Having you.”

“You’d have me anyway,” Yuuri says without thinking, and at this distance, light or no light, he can read every microexpression that flickers across Viktor’s face and the penny drops. “Viktor. This isn’t—you’d have me anyway. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Viktor lies unconvincingly.

“I just needed—space. Need space, sometimes.”

“I know,” Viktor says. It sounds somehow even less genuine than that first ‘yes’.

“I didn’t—” Yuuri feels terrible, suddenly, a swooping sinking feeling in his gut. “Viktor. I was always coming back.

“I know,” Viktor repeats. Yuuri gives him a sharp look and he sighs. “Or. I thought you were, and then,” he shrugs. “It doesn’t matter.”

“This isn’t,” Yuuri begins, and then stops. He’s spent all day practicing for another conversation, but that’s not the one they’re having now and it’s the less important one, anyway. He should have known better than to leave and turn his phone off, than to be gone so long, just like he should have known better than to be unkind this morning and Viktor should have known better than to be sarcastic and dismissive.

But it’s okay. They’re allowed to do this, Yuuri tells himself, told himself as he danced this morning, as he shoved his coat back on and hurried through the cold and ordered bad tea in his worse Russian. They will do this whether they mean to or not, whether they know better or not, stumble over each other and disagree and say things they don’t mean. And then they will apologize and they will fix things and it will be okay.

Yuuri knows. His parents have been married for thirty years, through Mari and Yuuri and Hasetsu slowing down and emptying around them and it’s been hard, but after watching them Yuuri knows that one or two or dozens of mistakes don’t mean the end of anything.

“I wouldn’t leave you over this,” Yuuri says. “Vitya.” He’s seen Mari go through her share of bad boyfriends, knew friends in college who were cheated on and worse. There are things that would make Yuuri end a relationship, but— “Vitya, I don’t think you’re capable of anything I’d leave you over.”

Viktor looks like he wants to say something, but then just exhales a little. There’s a mixture of relief and doubt in his face, in the way he reaches down and curls their fingers together. Yuuri scoots forward across the bed and settles himself in Viktor’s lap so that they’re face to face, close enough that Yuuri would barely have to tip his head to kiss him.

If Yuuri is thinking of his parents in this moment, he figures that Viktor must be too—thinking of his father gone too soon to form a memory and his mother and stepfather angry with each other more and more until it was over. And maybe of Lilia and Yakov, too, of things getting harsher and colder and cracking and falling to dust.

Yuuri has known, intellectually, that Viktor is used to things ending, to people leaving, to holding onto things until his fingers are bloody and still, eventually, having them torn away. It’s not hard to imagine why some days Viktor looks at Yuuri like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“This is forever for me, okay?” Yuuri says. “When we argue—I don’t want us to argue, but it happens. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop loving you or that I’ll leave. We are not on the line, okay?”

“Okay,” Viktor says. Yuuri can see the tears pricking the corners of his eyes. He’s beautiful when he cries, Yuuri thinks guiltily. He can’t think too hard about it because he’s distracted by the fear: It is terrifying to realize, looking at Viktor, how much power he has over him.

How easily Viktor gave in when he thought that Yuuri might leave.

Viktor looks like he wants to say something, Yuuri realizes. “What is it?”

“When you—” Viktor stops.

“When what?”

“When we fight. If we fight.”

“When we fight,” Yuuri says. “It’ll happen, probably.”

“When we fight,” Viktor allows. “Can you—if you need. Space. Can you tell me when you’re coming back?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says, and he leans in and hooks his chin over Viktor’s shoulder and wraps his arms around him. Viktor hugs him back automatically, his arms folding around Yuuri’s back. “I’ll tell you. And I’ll come back.”

Viktor sighs softly in his ear. In Viktor’s embrace, he feels calmer than he’s felt all day, better than at the dance studio, in the cold, all those hours rehearsing what to say. There are still things they need to talk about. Those conversations, Yuuri thinks, will be harder, more push and pull, deciding what to let go and what to keep and what will make them happy.

But Viktor, he knows, he’s keeping no matter what.

“You’re more important,” Yuuri says. “What you said, that I’m more important than the rest of this—you’re more important to me. This is it, for me, okay?”

“I love you,” Viktor says. “I love you more than anything.”

“Me too,” Yuuri says. “Everything else, we’ll figure it out.”

Viktor lies back down on the bed and pulls Yuuri down on top of him. Yuuri leans his head on Viktor’s chest and listens to his heartbeat while Viktor runs his fingers through Yuuri’s hair. They lay like that for a while until the room darkens entirely and the evening comes in, until Makkachin enters and presses her cold nose to the bottom of Yuuri’s foot.

“Ahh,” Yuuri jerks his foot away from her and Viktor sees the dog on the floor, wagging her tail.

“I haven’t fed her,” Viktor says, and starts to sit up.

“I did,” Yuuri says, but rolls off him anyway. “Did you eat dinner?”

“No,” Viktor says. “We still have ingredients.”

“I haven’t either,” Yuuri says. Then he looks at Viktor appraisingly. “Have you eaten at all?”

“No,” Viktor admits.

“Let’s make dinner,” Yuuri says. “Go.” He nudges Viktor out of bed and Viktor goes willingly. He stops a few steps away to pet Makka.

Yuuri slides off the bed behind him, but turns back to fold the covers back over, smoothing down the duvet. Viktor does it, usually, because he likes how it looks but Yuuri can’t be bothered. Viktor looks back and smiles when he sees. That makes it almost feels worth it, even though they’ll be back in bed in four hours or so in deference to early morning practice.

“Are you coming?” Viktor asks from the doorway.

“Yeah,” Yuuri answers. “I’m right with you.”