Chapter 1: Going Down
It had been a good morning....
Mood board created by PaintingWithWords
Chapter 1 - Going Down
It had been a good morning, Yuuri thought as he made his way down the snowy sidewalk from the arena to the hotel for the athletes. He was in fourth after the Short program. His practice had gone well, although he still only landed that quad salchow cleanly one in three times. He'd had a good night's sleep and so far his anxiety was under control.
And he was skating on the same ice as Victor Nikiforov.
The Legend had been rehearsing when Yuuri had arrived at the rink earlier and Yuuri had been spellbound, watching the effortless way he executed his jumps. Fortunately for Yuuri's nerves (and state of mind), Victor had left shortly after that, bound for the press rounds. Otherwise Yuuri would have probably embarrassed himself by falling all over the ice during his practice.
He had showered at the arena and changed into his Team Japan track gear, then did his own press rounds before Celestino sent him back to the hotel for a light lunch and a nap. Not that Yuuri thought he'd get the latter - he'd always found it hard to sleep before a performance. But he was looking forward to a little peace and quiet, lying on his bed with his earphones in. He needed to charge his phone, too - he'd forgotten to do that last night and just had time to grab it before practice.
As he entered the hotel lobby his ringtone went off and he saw his sister's image pop up on the screen. "Moshi moshi," he said cheerfully as he answered. "Ohayo, Mari-neesan."
He paused and glanced over at the stairwell, and for a moment he thought about taking the stairs up the three flights to his room. But his legs were already tired from his workout and he needed to save his energy for that night, so he ducked into the elevator just as the doors were closing.
"Yuuri - " her voice said, sounding troubled, and then her voice cut out as the doors closed.
Yuuri sighed as he disconnected. He'd have to call her back once he got to his room. One of the several inconveniences at Sochi was the unreliable cell phone reception, particularly inside the buildings. At least he hadn't gotten stuck in his own bathroom, like that guy at the Olympics. Or in the elevator -
As if he'd summoned bad luck with that thought, the elevator suddenly stopped with a loud noise and shuddered ominously.
"Oh no no no," he said, pushing the button for his floor again. Nothing happened. He pushed the emergency call button but there was nothing, no ear-piercing sound from speakers, no noise at all. He opened the emergency phone box but it was empty, wires just dangling in the hole. Frantically he scanned the panel but there was nothing else, no call button or other way to summon help.
Yuuri slammed his hand against the doors, cursing in Japanese, and spun around in place. That's when he realized that he wasn't alone in the elevator.
Victor Nikiforov was standing in the back of the elevator, his skating bag by his feet. Victor, the man he'd idolized since he was twelve.
It's possible that Yuuri screamed. It's possible that Yuuri fainted.
It's certain that he did both.
Chapter 2: Kinda Hope that We Get Stuck
Chapter 2 - Kinda Hope That We Get Stuck
Yuuri hadn't intended to nap before the competition but he must have because he was lying down with his eyes closed. His bed was harder than he'd remembered, though, and his pillow warm but lumpy. And for some reason, his alarm clock was talking to him with Victor Nikiforov's voice.
"…and then Makka shook and mud went everywhere, all over the priceless rug and her Dior gown…."
Yuuri blinked his eyes opened and stared up at Victor, puzzled. "Victor, why are you telling me stories about your dog?"
"You're awake!" Victor beamed down at him, that charming heart-shaped smile of his that graced so many of the posters on his walls. "I read somewhere that you should talk to unconscious people."
"Pretty sure that's for ones in a coma," Yuuri said. Realizing that he was lying in Victor's lap, he sat up, blushing bright red.
"Are you alright? When you fell down, I was afraid that I'd frightened you to death. Or are you claustrophobic?"
Yuuri shook his head. "Um, no. Just - just anxiety in general."
"Oh." Victor gave him that heart-stopping heart-shaped smile again and said, “Hello, I’m Victor Nikiforov.”
He doesn’t even know that I’m a skater, thinks I’m a fan, Yuuri thought with irritation. “I know,” he replied with the implication of “obviously”.
Victor’s smile widened into a more genuine one and he added, “And you are Katsuki Yuri, from Japan, currently in 4th place."
Yuuri blinked, totally astounded that Victor even knew who he was.
It must have shown on his face because Victor rolled his eyes. "Yes, my memory is bad, but there are only 6 skaters so even I can remember my competitors. Plus, Yura is always yelling at me about how my step sequences are rubbish compared to 'Japan’s Yuri'."
Yuuri must have heard that wrong. There's no way that anyone anywhere ever thought that he was better than Victor at something. "Yura?"
"Yuri Plisetsky, a Junior."
Yuuri nodded. He knew about the other Yuri, the 'Russian punk' as he was called by the press. He must have been pulling Victor's leg when - if - he'd said that. He didn't feel that he could call Plisetsky a liar, though, so cast about for something else to talk about.
"Um, does this sort of thing with the elevators happen often?"
The minute he'd said it he realized that he couldn't have said anything more stupid or boring unless he started talking about the weather. And the way that Victor's expression immediately closed down confirmed that thought.
Victor shrugged. "These things happen – I read that something similar happened at the Sochi Olympics."
"You read a lot."
"I spend a lot of time alone, or waiting for things to happen," Victor said, running a hand through his hair. "Aeroflot keeps me waiting a lot, and then there are a lot of nights alone in my hotel room at competitions, or my apartment."
Yuuri was surprised; he’d thought that Victor would spend a lot of time out with friends but he didn't say that outloud. Instead he said, "Someone will notice that you’re missing soon. We should probably get comfortable." He sat down in one of the back corners.
Victor settled a few feet away from him and they were both silent for a long time.
Chapter 3: Gonna Be a Real Fast Talker
Chapter 3 - Gonna Be a Real Fast Talker
It wasn't a comfortable silence and Yuuri was painfully aware of his lack of social skills. If Phichit was here with Victor, he'd probably already be best friends with him and they'd be sharing Instagram pictures. Which reminded him of his phone and he pulled it out again, hoping for a signal. There wasn't one and he groaned, dropping the phone down into his lap.
"No signal?" Victor said from his corner.
"I also tried while you were unconscious," Victor said, then added. "I was trying to get medical help - I was afraid something had happened to you."
Yuuri was touched by that. "Thanks. But, um, that's not why…" He bit his lip and looked down at his silent phone again. "I'd just gotten a call from home but I lost the signal. I'm worried that it’s about my dog. My mom said last night that he wasn't eating."
"That's terrible!," Victor said, looking troubled. "What kind of dog do you have?"
"A toy poodle." Yuuri looked down at his phone and then opened up his gallery. It was probably stupid but everyone knew that Victor was very fond of dogs. "Would you like to see pictures of him?"
Victor lit up like someone had just said it was Christmas and scooted closer so that he could see Yuuri's screen. Yuuri flicked through the pictures, going from the most recent all the way back to when Vicchan was a puppy. Victor made little noises of pleasure at the pictures, completely enchanted by them.
"He looks like my Makkachin, only tiny! Would you like to see?" Victor asked, pulling out his own phone and opening the gallery folder.
"I'd love to," Yuuri said, then admitted. "I, um, I might already know about your dog. I'm - I'm a fan of yours. I got my poodle because I saw how happy you were in the pictures of you with him."
Victor looked down at the picture on the phone. "Makka is my best - my only - friend."
His voice was so wistful, so sad, and it broke Yuuri’s heart. No one should be that alone. Even though Yuuri didn't have many friends, there was Phichit and Yuuko. And there was his family, unquestioningly supportive even though they didn't understand him or his obsession with (Victor) skating.
He opened a different folder, holding his phone so that Victor could see the picture. "That's my home," he said, showing Victor the picture of the outside of Yu Topia. "My family owns an onsen in Hasetsu - that’s an inn with a hot spring?' he added, looking questioning at Victor who nodded, his eyes fixed on the screen as Yuuri paged through pictures of the public rooms and the outside springs. "I wish I could go back to visit after Nationals. I haven't been home in over four years - I'd like to see Vicchan and my family. I've been in the US, training."
"With Celestino," Victor said absently, his eyes fixed on the images of Hasetsu as Yuuri slowly paged through them.
Yuuri nodded, no longer surprised that Victor knew that. He should have figured that a top skater like Victor would be aware of even the most insignificant of his competitors. "I finish school in March but I'm not sure what I'm going to do after that. Celestino’s been a great coach but I don't think I've been living up to his goals for me. Plus, well, it’s expensive." He winced at that; Victor had so many endorsements, so many sponsors. Talking about money must seem so crass.
Victor opened another folder on his own phone and started showing Yuuri pictures of his rink mates and his apartment. There was a picture of his mother in her iconic performance as Odette, a beautiful woman who had died tragically young, but there were no pictures - or mention - of his father. Yuuri knew that Victor's father had remarried and relinquished the boy to Yakov's care, that his coach was more of a father to him than his biological one.
"And our fierce little Yuri," Victor said, grinning as he showed Yuuri his last picture, that of the Junior Russian Champion, wearing a delicate pastel blue costume that contrasted starkly with the glare he was giving the photographer. "He's a big fan of yours."
Yuuri blinked at that. "Why? He shares a rink with the most legendary skater in history! Why would he care about a dime-a-dozen skater from Japan?"
Victor gave Yuuri an odd look, and with a sinking feeling Yuuri knew that Victor had just realized that Yuuri wasn’t worth his time after all. He started to move a little away, not sure when they'd come to be sitting so close together, but Victor grabbed his arm, holding him in place.
Yuuri was pinned, both by the hand holding his arm and by the intense look in Victor's eyes.
"Yuuri, you made it to the Grand Prix Final. You are among the top skaters in the world," Victor said. "You won Skate America and came in 2nd to Christophe in France. Unless everyone who skated against you was incompetent and fell on their asses - "
"No!" Yuuri said immediately, horrified. Could Victor really think that he was so impolite as to suggest such a thing? "They skated their best!"
"And you beat them," Victor pointed out.
Yuuri was speechless. He'd never thought of that. He'd been so caught up in his own head that he'd never really thought about those he'd skated against, how they had all skated the best that they could that day and how they'd all wanted to win. And if he'd beat them, it didn't mean that they were failures or losers, it meant that he'd skated better than they had on that day.
"Huh," he said, feeling a revelation beginning.
"Yes, 'huh'." Victor's eyes twinkled at him.
And that was something else he'd never thought about. Victor obviously knew more about him than his name. He knew how Yuuri had placed in each competition (did he know that about all of them? Yuuri could barely remember who else skated against him in his own competitions!) He thought that he could die happy now, but --
But he wasn't even close to perfect, and Victor needed to know that, the truth. "I messed up in the Short program. There was a bad wobble on the triple-axle and I two-footed the quad salchow." He put his hands over his face, blocking him from seeing Victor's disappointment in him. "I can land quads in practice but not competition."
"And why is that?" Victor asked quietly.
"Because I don't have a lot of confidence," he admitted miserably.
“That’s right,” Victor said. "Yuuri, do you know what I've always admired about you and your skating?"
Victor admired something about his skating? He shook his head, peeking up at Victor through his fingers.
"Music flows through you - no, it's more than that. You create the music, through the way you move and the way you skate," Victor said, his voice dreamy. "The music flows out of you and onto the ice, and it's beautiful."
Yuuri's hands slowly dropped away from his face as Victor spoke and then one his hands was in Victor's.
"You have a higher PCS potential than anyone else, Yuuri, even me," Victor said, and his voice was so hypnotic that Yuuri couldn't look away. "If you concentrate on that and stop worrying about your jumps, you could make the podium."
Yuuri shook his head - that just wasn't possible. There were stronger skaters, better skaters. "What about JJ?" he asked.
Victor blinked at him. "Who?"
Yuuri gaped. Victor knew who he was but didn't know the Canadian wonder?
"Kidding," Victor said, grinning at him. "I know JJ Leroy, but it drives him crazy when I pretend that I don't."
Yuuri couldn't help laughing at that, and he could well imagine how upset it would make Leroy.
"Plus he's soooo annoying," Victor complained. "Yura hates him - they competed in Juniors together, you know. And yes, he's good." Then he got serious. "But he just moved up to Seniors and he can be inconsistent, plus he focuses on jumps and neglects the PCS. You're better - you understand the flow of a program. You just need a more challenging program to bring up your base score."
Yuuri grimaced. "My coach doesn't think so. He said I should downgrade my two quads to triples, reduce the stress on me."
Victor was shaking his head before Yuuri finished speaking. "I think you need more challenge, Yuuri. I think you have the ability to surpass us all and to change figure skating."
Yuuri was speechless. How could Victor say things like this, unless he was trying to set Yuuri up to fail? But that was so unlike everything he'd heard and read about Victor Nikiforov, who was always so encouraging to other skaters. Could it - could it possibly be even a little bit true?
"I've always prided myself on my ability to surprise my audiences," Victor said, softly. "Now everyone expects that, there's no longer a surprise. I'd lost my joy in skating and I'd been thinking about retiring. But then I saw you at the Short program." He turned his head and looked Yuuri in the eyes. "You were nervous, yes, but when you skated you surprised me! I felt the music and I knew joy again. You made me skate better."
Yuuri's eyes felt wet but not with sad tears. He remembered watching Victor skate, how beautiful and with such feeling. He opened his mouth - not sure what he was going to say but something to reassure Victor.
The voice was distant and faint, above them, and it shattered the bubble they were in. Victor rose and went to the door, looking up towards the ceiling.
"Da, we are here!" he called out, looking over at Yuuri.
Yuuri moved over to stand beside Victor, looking up at the roof of the elevator. After a moment, the elevator speaker crackled with static and then a voice came over it. "Hello? Power to elevator has stopped. We are getting engineers. Will be fixed - an hour, maybe more. Do not…be panicked."
The voice cut out and they stood there for few minutes longer, looking up at the ceiling and waiting. Then music began playing, no doubt to reassure and calm them - Russian pop music. They looked at each other and Yuuri couldn't help it: he started giggling.
Chapter 4: Gotta Get My Timin' Right
Chapter 4 - Gotta Get My Timin' Right
After a moment, Victor joined in. "It's worse than the stuff they play at the banquet!" he complained in between giggles.
Yuuri nodded. "Who do you think chooses that music?" he wondered. "They could at least play something people could dance to!"
"Da, the banquets are so dull !" Victor said.
"It's too bad because I like to dance," Yuuri said, leaning back against the elevator door and sighing. "I took lessons in Detroit, even ballroom and exotic dance."
Victor looked intrigued and Yuuri blushed, cursing his babbling.
"Could you dance to this music playing now?" Victor asked.
Yuuri shrugged. "Maybe."
"Show me," Victor challenged.
"Okay - but I'm not dancing alone."
Boldly, Yuuri grabbed Victor's hand and tugged him into the center of the elevator. He started off easy, a simple two-step to the music. Victor easily followed his lead, even when Yuuri changed to a faster swing dance. On a crazy whim, he suddenly swung Victor under his arm and out to arm's length. Victor laughed, surprised, then spun himself back in, challenging Yuuri.
Yuuri turned Victor in his arms, into a salsa hold, ignoring the music overhead in favor of the music that they were making with their moves. He started with the basic steps and it was clear that Victor had some dance training himself as he allowed Yuuri to guide him through the movements for several repeats before Yuuri daringly threw in another spin.
Victor laughed and provocatively moved in closer to Yuuri, changing up the dance to a samba and taking the lead. Yuuri let him, surrendering to the movements for a dozen or more stanzas before he snatched the lead back. This time it was to a paso doble and Victor happily stripped off his team jacket and flourished it for Yuuri to charge before dropping it to the floor and tugging Yuuri into a promenade and a set of traveling spins. Victor ended the spin by once again moving provocatively close.
Time for me to retake the lead, he thought. Yuuri pulled Victor into a tango hold, which shouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did, given their height difference, but somehow it did. Victor easily followed, a little stiff and uncertain on the first dip which Yuuri kept shallow, but when Yuuri tossed him away and pulled him back in fast he burst into laughter and loosened up. There wasn’t much space for fancy steps but Yuuri made the most of what they had, and at the end he dipped Victor so that his head nearly touched the floor. Victor laughed with surprised joy and then, when Yuuri lifted him back up, kissed him.
Yuuri was startled and froze, and Victor pulled back.
"Yuuri, I'm sorry!" Victor said quickly, running his hand through his hair. "I didn't mean to take advantage, or to presume! Only - I've never had so much fun - "
Yuuri stepped forward, into Victor's personal space, and kissed him back.
It probably wasn't a good kiss - Yuuri had never really kissed anyone. Victor didn't seem to care, grabbing his shoulders and holding him close while they exchanged a dozen or more kisses, losing count but it didn't matter. They only had to stop when Yuuri got dizzy and had to sit down.
“That was such fun!” Victor said. He grabbed both of their discarded jackets and turned them into a pillow, then stretched out with a happy sigh. He held out his arm invitingly and Yuuri shifted closer, lying with his head on Victor's shoulder and Victor’s arm around him. "You have to dance with me at the Banquet! Can you foxtrot?"
Yuuri sighed contentedly. "I'm obviously still unconscious," he said dreamily. "I struck my head hard and I'm hallucinating."
Victor laughed softly. "If that's the case, I'll have to keep talking till you wake up."
"Still pretty sure that's for a coma."
"That's okay - I like talking to you."
"And I love hearing your voice, even when you're talking nonsense."
Victor kissed his hair. "You can't keep talking to me like that, dorogoi. We're bound to be rescued soon and it will be very embarrassing for me to walk out of here with an erection."
Yuuri blushed bright red and turned his face more into Victor's shoulder. "I - I'm not very experienced at this. I mean, at all. You're the first man I've even kissed."
"You've kissed women?"
"Well, you are brilliant, and a quick learner!" Victor teased, then convinced Yuuri to lift his head. "Yuuri, solnyshko , it's all right. We’ll go slowly, as slow as you need. I'm not in any rush, now that I've found you."
Yuuri shifted up onto his elbow, speechless. "Victor - "
The elevator suddenly shuddered and dropped about a foot.
Chapter 5: It's a Test That I Gotta Pass
Chapter 5 - It's a Test That I Gotta Pass
Yuuri clutched Victor in terror, and his arm around Yuuri tightened as well. The elevator abruptly stopped, with a jerk, and Yuuri was glad that they were both sitting so they didn't fall over. There was a clanging noise from above them, and a groan from the cables, and then the elevator was moving downward, slowly this time. Surely that was deliberate? They exchanged looks and sat up, attempting to smooth their hair and not look like they'd been making out in the elevator.
Their eyes caught and they both started giggling at that. Which, of course, was when the elevator doors were wrenched open.
Both of their coaches were standing there, staring at them in bemusement (Celestino) and irritation (Yakov). Victor effortlessly rose to his feet, then gave Yuuri a hand up - which he accomplished with significantly less grace. Their hands clung for a moment before letting go.
"Vitya!" Yakov said, relief evident in his voice as he embraced his skater. He began a rapid-fire series of questions to which Victor nodded, clearly asking if he was all right.
Yuuri gathered up his skating bag and his jacket, slipping past the Russian pair and into the lobby. He wasn't sure how long they'd been trapped in that elevator - it seemed like forever and yet not long enough. There were a number of people milling about the area, most of them mechanical workers, but Celestino ignored them and swept him into a quick hug.
"Yuuri! Thank God - are you alright?"
He nodded and his coach immediately released him, knowing that Yuuri had low tolerance for such things. Oddly enough, Yuuri almost wished that the hug had lasted longer as he felt a little shaky still.
"Vitya, are you both able to skate?" Yakov asked, changing over to English and including Yuuri in his questioning look. "It's only an hour till you're supposed to be on the ice for warm-ups - do you want to see if it can be postponed?"
Victor looked over at Yuuri questioningly, his eyes asking, Are you all right to skate? Yuuri nodded in response. Victor looked back at his coach and said, "We're okay - maybe water and a snack?"
"Yuuri?" Celestino asked.
Yuuri nodded. "We're okay. And it wouldn't be fair to the others to postpone. I actually had a bit of a rest, despite Victor talking." He grinned over at Victor and they both started giggling again at that.
Both of their coaches looked at them as if they were a little crazy and Yakov shook his head. "All right, Vitya. Grab your bag - your costumes and gear are already at the arena."
Victor nodded and picked up his jacket and skate bag, looked around the elevator for a moment, then stepped back into the lobby and held out his hand. "Yuuri, davai!"
Yuuri smiled and shook his hand. "Ganbatte, Victor. Do well."
"Call me Vitya," Victor said, squeezing his hand before releasing it. "I will see you on the podium."
Yuuri watched as Victor strode out of the lobby, nodding to something that his coach was saying, then turned back to Celestino to see that he was eying him with curiosity.
"So, you and Nikiforov are friends now?" he asked. Celestino was well aware that Yuuri admired the Russian skater (although not as aware as Phichit who had witnessed the glory that was his wall of posters).
Yuuri blushed and shrugged. "We were stuck in an elevator for hours. We shared pictures of our dogs. Oh!" Remembering his sister's call, he pulled out his phone only to see it power off as the battery died.
Celestino plucked it out of his hand and put it in his own pocket. "There's no time for catching up on social media! We need to get to the rink right away. You will have just enough time to get ready."
Yuuri sighed but followed his coach out of the hotel, pulling on his team jacket as they stepped out into the cold. He shivered.
"Will you be alright, Yuuri?" Celestino asked, concern in his voice. His coach was well aware of his anxiety, and having his routine so disrupted could throw him off.
"I'm fine," Yuuri said, but for once it wasn't him putting on a brave face. He could still hear Victor's words, feel their hands clasped together, feel Victor's lips on his.
Victor believed in him. And Yuuri had never felt more ready to meet his idol on the ice.
Chapter 6: I'll Chase You All the Way
Chapter 6 - I'll Chase You All the Way
Even with Victor's faith in him, given time Yuuri's nerves could have built up and overwhelmed him. But time was something he didn't have. When they reached the arena, they were surrounded by anxious ISU officials who'd heard about the elevator malfunction and were worried about its effect on the final program for Men's Singles. Yuuri was briefly checked by the rink doctor and cleared, then he gulped down a protein shake handed to him by his coach before he had to start his off-ice warm up routine. He had barely finished changing into his costume and slicking back his hair before he was being summoned rink-side to do his warm-up on the ice.
Michele Crispino and Cao Bin took the ice before him, as both had scored lower on their Short skates. Michele had always been a bit erratic in his program performances and his current score reflected that, with flashes of brilliance in between average jumps and steps.
However, Cao Bin had been a top skater for years, taking gold in any event where Nikiforov or Giacometti weren't skating. Rumors were rife that he'd had an injury earlier in the season but both he and his coach were tight-lipped about that. His Free program was overly cautious with only triple jumps, his step-sequence was weak, and his spins were not as tight as he’d done in the past. He scored below Michele in the Free but his higher score in the Short program put him above Michele in total points. Since Yuuri had scored above Cao in the Short, a score of 180 or better would keep his 4th place position.
For a moment his nerves threatened to overwhelm him, but then he heard Victor's voice calling out "Davai!" He couldn't help looking for the other man and exchanging smiles, and then the announcer called his name.
Yuuri took his starting position, reflecting that Victor liked his performances and that Yuri Plisetsky liked his step sequences. He only had one quad planned, a quad-toe/double loop combo at the start of the second half, unlike JJ who had two different quads, but if he landed all his triples cleanly and concentrated on his performance, he knew he could beat Cao Bin. And, more importantly, fulfill Victor's faith in him.
With this in mind, he skated the best that he'd ever done for this program. He kept to the planned jumps, landing them solidly, instead of trying for the risky quad salchow. His combination jump was clean. His step sequence and his spins were as beautiful as he could make them, as he concentrated on letting the music flow through him. But then, at the end, he decided at the last moment to replace the triple toe-loop with the quad version instead. The audience burst into applause and he smiled and bowed in return; it wouldn't come near to what Victor or Chris could do but he knew it was a personal best.
JJ Leroy was standing at the entrance to the ice, a smirk on his face. "I'm impressed, Katsuki," he said as Yuuri passed him. "Going after Victor's medal after all?"
"Not really," Yuuri demurred as he took his skate covers from his coach, and then a mischievous impulse made him add, "I'm going after yours."
JJ looked surprised, his mouth dropping open.
"Good luck," Yuuri added sweetly, then turned to follow Celestino to the Kiss & Cry.
Celestino waited until they were sitting before he said, "I must say that I'm very impressed, Yuuri. You did remarkably well."
There was a look in his eyes that said he was wondering what had flipped the switch for Yuuri and he felt that he owed his coach an answer, even if he didn't ask directly. Celestino had been a good coach, and if he didn't have as much faith in Yuuri as Victor did, well, Yuuri couldn't really blame him.
"Victor told me, in the elevator, that he liked my performances, that I should focus on my PCS." Yuuri shrugged. "I figured he might have a point, being, you know -" The words "Victor Nikiforov, Living Legend", went unvoiced.
Yuuri's scores were announced, a technical score of 91.1 with a PCS of 92.3 for a total just over 183, a personal best. It put him ahead of Cao Bin, keeping him in 4th place if the three leaders held on.
However, as JJ Leroy launched into his program it was clear that he wasn't performing at his best. He didn't fall, and only one of his triples was under-rotated, but his jumps and spins just met their base values with no extra GOE points, and his step sequence was lacking. His combined score came in at just under 168, and even his higher score in the Short program wasn't enough to push him past Yuuri's combined score of 266.
Yuuri had made the podium at the Grand Prix Final.
Yuuri sat in the stands to watch the last two performances, feeling a bit numb and unreal. He'd seen Chris's program before in France, and he skated it better than he had then - but then again, Chris always liked to peak at the Final. He beat Yuuri's combined score by nearly 40 points to set himself up nicely for silver.
And then it was Victor's turn to skate.
Yuuri had seen the Youtube performances of Stammi Vicino many, many times, so often that he had started skating bits of it for his warm ups. He'd never seen it live, though, and never had he seen Victor skate it like this. There had always been a bit of melancholy in the performance, the skater calling out for an absent lover and begging him to return to him. But this evening Victor skated it with all the tender excitement of a man newly in love, cherishing his lover and asking him to remain forever at his side. It was beautiful and perfect, and Yuuri was in tears before it was half over because it felt as if Victor was speaking directly to him.
And the score when it came in didn't quite break his world record but it came close, and he took gold by 30 points over Christophe.
Before Yuuri quite knew what was happening, he was standing on the podium with a bronze medal around his neck, looking up at Victor as the Russian National Anthem played. As soon as the formalities were over, Victor pulled both Christophe and Yuuri up with him, posing for pictures.
"So, Yuuri," Victor murmured in between pictures. "I am looking forward to the banquet tomorrow, especially the dancing."
He smiled widely and winked at Yuuri, who giggled while Christophe looked at them both with raised eyebrows. And for once, Yuuri was also looking forward to the banquet.
Chapter 7: Lovin' It Up Till I Hit the Ground
Chapter 7 - Lovin' it Up Till I Hit the Ground
Yuuri's good mood lasted through the press conference, through the trudge up three flights of stairs, all the way to the room he shared with Celestino. As his coach headed in for a shower, he handed over Yuuri's phone. Yuuri attached the charger and turned it on, and he wasn't surprised when it lit up with messages and missed calls. Texts from Phichit, of course, who was beside himself at Yuuri's victory and who included a picture of the hamsters celebrating as well. A few other texts from fellow skaters - and then a dozen missed calls from Mari and Okaasan. Heart in his throat, he dialed his mother's number.
"Mom?" he said as her voice came on the line. "Sorry for calling so late."
"None of that, Yu-kun," she said in her sweet, warm way, and Yuuri felt himself relax. It couldn't be that bad if she was so calm. "We're all so proud of you! We had a viewing party to watch."
Yuuri could feel his face flushing, embarrassed by the knowledge that everyone he knew in his hometown had crowded into Yu Topia to watch him. "Mooom," he whined.
"I only wish that Vicchan could have been with us to watch," she continued. "You know how much he loved to watch you skate. He always knew it was you on the TV, too - he'd bark when he heard your voice."
He always knew . Past tense. Heart in his mouth, he said, "Mom? What - where - "
"Here's your sister, dear."
Mari came on the line, her voice somber as she said, "Hello, Yuuri."
"Sorry about missing your calls," Yuuri said, trying to avoid whatever it was that her tone of voice was trying to tell him. "I got stuck in an elevator for hours - no signal! - and then Coach took the phone from me before the skate - "
"Yuuri," she interrupted. "I'm sorry. Vicchan passed away earlier today."
Yuuri's squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears that were trying to start. "How?"
"The vet said that his stomach twisted on itself, and by the time we realized there was something wrong, it was too late to save him. I'm sorry."
Yuuri said something, hopefully reassuring, then disconnected. He dropped his phone to the bed, pulled his knees up to his chest, and pressed his face against them as the tears began.
The bathroom door opened and then, a moment later, there was a weight on the bed beside him. "Yuuri? What's wrong?"
He shook his head, trying to clear his throat of tears so that he could speak. "Vicchan - my dog - died. Earlier today. While I was stuck..."
"Oh, Yuuri…" His coach's hand squeezed his shoulder briefly, then Celestino stood up. "You want to be alone for a while?" he asked, knowing how Yuuri preferred to handle stress.
Yuuri nodded without looking up. Phichit was the only one he'd been able to tolerate when he was this upset - mostly because the Thai skater was as tenacious as Yuuri was stubborn, simply refusing to go away.
"I'll go down to the restaurant then. Text if you need anything."
Once the room was silent, Yuuri curled up on his side and buried his head under his pillow.
Chapter 8: And Love You Just a Little More
Chapter 8 - And Love You Just a Little More
Yuuri wasn't sure how much later it was when he heard someone knock on the door to his room. Thinking that Celestino must have forgotten his room key, he dragged himself out of bed and went to open the door. But, instead of his coach, in the open doorway was Victor Nikiforov.
"Yuuri! I wanted to ask you out to dinner, only I forgot to get your phone number!" Victor said brightly, then his eyes narrowed in concern. "You've been crying. What's wrong?"
For a moment Yuuri was tempted to slam the door in Victor's face, but he knew it wouldn't help - if Victor had been able to hunt down his room number, he wouldn't be easy to brush off. Besides, he owed the other man the truth. He should know just what a bad person Yuuri was. Leaving the door open so that Victor could come in, he stepped away and turned his back.
"I'm a horrible person," he said, not able to look at Victor as he added, "and a horrible dog owner. I haven't been home to see Vicchan, or my family, in over 4 years. I was here skating, while he was…" His voice trailed off, tears choking him.
"Yuuri?" Hands gently grasped his shoulders. "Your doggie?"
Yuuri nodded, unable to say anything. Victor didn't say anything either, just turned Yuuri around and gently folded him into his arms. And Yuuri hated to be coddled, hated to be treated like he was weak, but it didn't feel like Victor was saying that at all. He was just someone who loved dogs and was sharing his grief. Yuuri allowed himself to slump into Victor's arms and cried against his shoulder until he was drained and shaking with exhaustion.
Victor made him sit down and fetched a bottle of water, then made him drink it with some aspirin, knowing without asking that crying had given him a headache. Then he coaxed him into lying down on the bed, joining him and once more wrapping him in his arms. Yuuri pressed his face against Victor's chest, relishing the warmth and the way it blocked out the light on his tear-bruised eyes.
"Makkachin spends more time with his sitters than with me," Victor said solemnly. "I worry because Makka is getting old, and I am not spending enough time with him. And when he is gone…." He pressed a kiss against Yuuri's hair.
"Makka knows you love him," Yuuri said lowly. "Vicchan - I left him."
"With your family, who must have loved him very much." Victor replied. "I am sure he knew you loved him, too."
Yuuri wasn't so sure but he didn't feel like talking about that right now.
"What will you do now?" Victor asked. "I don't know Japanese customs. In St. Petersburg there is a cemetery for pets. I'm sorry - you probably don't want to talk about it - "
Yuuri halted his apology with a finger on his lips. "No, it's all right. He'll be cremated - then the urn placed on the family shrine so everyone can - can say goodbye…"
Tears came again because he probably wouldn't have a chance to do that before the final ritual, wouldn't help choose Vicchan's final resting place. By the time he got back home, all of that would be done.
"You are going home for this?"
Yuuri blinked. "What? No - we're flying back to Detroit on Monday."
Victor frowned a little. "Then flying back to Japan in two weeks for your Nationals?"
"Couldn't you just go home for those two weeks? See your family, say good-bye to your Vicchan…oh, you are in school - you have tests?"
"No, we're on break," Yuuri said, then frowned. "Huh. I hadn't thought… Celestino probably needs to get back to Detroit but…"
He decided he'd talk to Celestino about it when his coach got back. There would be the cost to change tickets, but maybe it would be offset by fact that he wouldn't need to fly from Detroit back to Japan. And he had some prize money coming in now, for his Bronze.
"You should visit Hasetsu, after I return home next spring," he said. "You could stay at my family's onsen - we could skate together and I could show you the sights."
Victor smiled and brushed the hair back out of his eyes. "I'd like that."
Yuuri yawned, suddenly exhausted by the emotional upset of the day coming on top of his exertions in the rink. "Sorry," he said to Victor. "You wanted to get something to eat?"
"Maybe later," VIctor said, snuggling closer. "This is comfortable and I could use a short nap." He pressed another kiss against Yuuri's forehead. "Rest, dorogoi."
Yuuri was a little tired and Victor was warm and comfortable. He allowed his eyes to drift closed, just for a little bit of a rest.
Within minutes, both he and Victor were sound asleep.
Celestino quietly opened the door to his room, hoping that Yuuri might have fallen asleep although he was worried about what emotional damage this might cause the boy. Yuuri had such a glass heart, and while his Bronze medal was surely a boost to his confidence, the loss of his beloved pet coming so close after that might knock him down further. Which wouldn't bode well for the All-Japan competition in two weeks. He just hoped that Phichit would be able to cheer him up once they got home, and he considered whether it might be a good idea to bring the Thai skater along for Yuuri's Nationals.
He shut the door and turned to the room, then paused and stared at his student's bed in surprise. There, curled up on top of the covers with Yuuri, was the legend of figure skating, Victor Nikiforov. There was nothing sexual about the embrace; Nikiforov looked to be protecting and comforting Yuuri while they both slept. He wondered just what had happened in that elevator, and the romantic Latin side of him thought it just might be Fate pushing two lonely souls together.
In any case, it was clear that he wasn't needed at the moment. Fortunately, the hotel bar was well stocked and there were many other coaches to drink with. He had a feeling that he would become a lot better acquainted with Yakov Feltsman over the next year.
Pulling out a spare blanket from the closet, he draped it over the two young men. Then he turned out the light and closed the door behind him.
Two days later, Yuuri boarded a plane to Fukuoka alongside his coach, homeward bound for the two weeks before All-Japan. Plenty of time to mourn Vicchan, to see his family, and to prepare for Nationals in the comfort of his old home rink.
As he pulled out his phone to switch it off, a text message came through, from the brand-new contact in his address book. He read it with a smile, then sent a message of his own in reply (although with significantly less emojis).
See you next level, Vitya!