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The World Where You Exist

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 February 14th, 2014, Detroit

 

“Yuuuuuri! Stop staring at the charts. You’re going to drive yourself crazy obsessing over them!”

 

Seung-gil half snorted at Phichit’s cheerful lament. “Again. You mean he’s going to drive himself crazy obsessing over the charts again. This happens every time the charts are released. I don’t know why you continue to act surprised.”

 

The Thai singer glared at his bandmate. “Yes. Thank you for your unfailingly didactic assistance, Seung-gil.” The Korean boy raised a haughty eyebrow before returning his gaze to his phone, deeming the altercation of too little importance to continue. Phichit huffed in annoyance before returning his attentions to the oldest member of their group.

 

“The reviews were good, the test audience loved the single, the fan blogs all blew up, we’re trending on freaking Twitter,  yet we’re still charting that low in the Asian markets? We barely even made a blip on the European and American charts…” Yuuri’s brow was furrowed as he lamented their mediocre performance on the international music charts. Phichit reached out, snagging the older singer’s phone before cradling his head on his friend’s shoulder. As the oldest member of the band, Yuuri tended to take the most on his shoulders in terms of worrying about the success of their music. Well, to be fair, Yuuri would probably worry the most even if he were the youngest member.

 

Yuuri tended to worry in general.

 

“C’mon Yuuri. We’ll get there. It’s only our second album! Worry about something else for now, okay? We’re going to watch men’s figure skating tonight! The Olympics, Yuuri! We can watch that Russian pretty-boy skater you think I don’t know you’re obsessed with!” Yuuri flushed at the tease, reclaiming his phone as he shoved his friend off the couch and onto the fourth member of their group.

 

“Owwwww! Get off! You’re so bony!” Guang Hong teasingly complained as Phichit landed on him, the Thai singer turning the fall into an impromptu cuddle session with the younger boy. At just 17, the Chinese dancer was the youngest member of Quad:JUMP, and everyone’s adopted kid brother. An excited pair of yips filled the air as Yuuri's and Seung-gil’s dogs joined in on the fun.

 

Yuuri looked fondly at the mess of teenagers and fluff on the floor before worry creased his forehead again. If they couldn’t break into the international markets, the label might drop them, and the group would likely have to split up. Yuuri, Phichit, Guang Hong and even prickly Seung-gil… they were a family. Brothers. A shared dream, and a very persuasive manager, had brought them together nearly two years ago. If this album bombed… would it all come to an end?

 

“Ciao, ciao boys!” Yuuri clicked his phone off guiltily as their ebullient manager entered the room, the band’s choreographer trailing behind with an odd smirk on her face.

 

“What’s the plan boys? Olympic free skate tonight, right? Viewing party!?! I brought drinks and snaaaa-aacks!” Minako brandished several paper bags excitedly, cheerfully making her way to the coffee table in the singers’ living area and clearing space.

 

Celestino cleared his throat significantly. “Ahem. I believe you’re the one that placed them on tour diets? Also, everyone but Yuuri is underage, I really can’t condone…”

 

“Hush, they can have one cheat day. And I brought soda too!! Now where’s the remote! Don’t want to miss anything!”

 

Yuuri glanced suspiciously between their choreographer and manager. The husband and wife team always treated the band like adopted sons but joining them to watch figure skating was still a little out of character. Of course, Minako had known Yuuri since he was born, so she likely knew the real reason why the group was currently camped out, watching NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.

 

While he liked having such an important piece of his home with him on this journey, there were definitely times when having his childhood dance instructor fall in love with his band manager was less than ideal. Sure enough…

 

“Yuuuuu-uuuri! When does your darling Victor skate, hmmm?” Augh. Curse Minako and her damnably impeccable memory of Yuuri’s entire life...

 

Phichit snorted as he reached for a bag of chips and even Seung-gil raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow.

 

Yep. There were definitely days he could deal without Minako’s intricate knowledge of his entire life.

 

Missing the teasing subtext, Guang Hong looked up from where he was still laying on his stomach on the floor, feet swaying in the air, and earnestly waved his pink phone case. “Victor Nikiforov’s lead from his short gives him last position in the final flight! And Leo de la Iglesia skates only a few before him, same flight! He was at the summer dance camp I did a couple years ago in Colorado! He’s soooo cool!” The boy grinned happily before returning to his phone screen.

 

“Last hmmm? Out of, what, 24?” Minako muttered. “It’s going to be a loooong night!” Celestino chuckled, then reached over, snagging a beer from the six-pack on the coffee table and passing it to Yuuri on the couch, ignoring Phichit’s puppy dog eyes. Pausing to tap his bottle against Celestino’s, Yuuri settled into the couch cushions, letting himself forget about charts and upcoming tour dates for a few hours. The alternately lilting and raucous music and shining, twisting figures on the screen lulled him into an easy, peaceful state, his anxious mind for once at peace.

 

It was shortly after the American skater, Guang Hong’s acquaintance, had performed that Phichit settled next to him on the couch, leaning his head against Yuuri’s shoulder sleepily. “Victor’s up soon,” the Thai singer murmured, less teasingly than normal. Yuuri hummed in acknowledgement, glancing around the room. Guang Hong was rapturously watching Leo receive his scores in the Kiss and Cry, Seung-gil had dozed off between the pups, and Celestino and Minako looked suspiciously cozy under the blanket on the love seat.

 

“What’s he skating to?” Phichit’s voice drew Yuuri’s attention back to the conversation at hand. “Something I know?” Yuuri shrugged.

 

“I don’t know, actually. After officially getting named to the Russian Team, he announced that he’d be presenting a brand-new free skate for the Olympics. He’s all about…”

 

“Surprises!” Several voices chorused along with Yuuri’s and he flushed. Okay. He maybe had a few posters, and he’d dreamed about being a figure skater before falling into the boy band path, but surely, he didn’t talk about Victor enough for everyone to know the Russian skater’s motto? Right? Minako smirked at him from the love seat and he blushed harder.

 

“Ugh. Shut up. I don’t even like any of you anymore,” he muttered, studiously watching the screen where the Swiss skater was currently skating a borderline obscene program. Then he leaned forward, annoyance forgotten, as the cameras picked up on Victor Nikiforov, warming up just off the ice. As the Swiss skater, Christophe something-or-other, finished his last spin, Yuuri snagged another bottle off the coffee table, anxious to have something to occupy his hands. On screen, Victor was nodding to his grizzled coach as he absently peeled off his red and white Team Russia jacket to reveal his simple but incredibly form-fitting, shimmering deep plum costume top. Combined with the tight black skate pants, well, Yuuri maybe had to hold back the tiniest whimper.

 

Phichit nudged him, breaking his attention away from the screen. Nodding towards the bottle in Yuuri’s hands, the younger singer leaned into him. “You might want to take a drink. You look a little…”

 

“Don’t. Even. Finish. That. Sentence.” Yuuri grated. But he also drank the beer.

 

“Shhhhh,”  came Minako’s harsh hushing, her eyes now glued to the television in strangely feverish anticipation as Victor skated out to the center of the ice. The announcer’s voice echoed through the quiet living room.

 

“Representing Russia, Viiiictor Nikiforov! Performing his free skate to ‘History Maker’ by Quad:JUMP’.”

 

The bottle slipped from Yuuri’s suddenly nerveless fingers as the familiar swirling opening notes sounded.

 

Nobody noticed as it hit the floor.

Chapter Text

 

February 14th, 2014, Sochi

 

“Victor! Congratulations on your gold medal! Can you tell us about your plans for the rest of the season? Will you be sticking with your new free skate?”

 

“Skater Nikiforov! Do you plan to retire now that you’ve received your second Olympic Gold?”

 

“Victor! Can you tell us about how you chose your new free skate music?  And tell us about your daring decision to change your free program only weeks from the Olympics?”

 

Victor smiled his first genuine grin of the entire press conference as he turned towards the last reporter. AH! Yes, as he had thought, it was Morooka, the Japanese reporter. “Well! It’s a very good song, no? So catchy! Just officially released this week, so it’s very new and exciting! The lead singer for the song is from Japan, and he’s very cu…talented!! My choreographer knows the choreographer for the band and gave me a copy of the demo since she knew I liked their first album. I asked for the rights to use it for my free skate and their manager was kind enough to allow it! Quad:JUMP! Please give them a listen!”

 

The reporters murmured as flashes went off, catching Victor’s trademark heart-shaped smile. Soon enough, his coach pulled him away, waving apologies as they exited the press scrum.

 

“Vitya. What was that, an advertisement for some boy band? You’re here to advertise yourself, not some obscure… musicians.” Yakov spat the word ‘musicians’ like it was a horrible epithet and Victor wasn’t sure whether he should be offended or amused.

 

“Yaaakov!” He practically sang, “Their choreographer is friends with Lilia!” And yes, maybe he took a tiny bit of satisfaction in Yakov’s grimace at the mention of his coach’s ex-wife, the woman who’d practically raised him… “She won a Benois de la Danse!”  Okay, no, it wasn’t a tiny bit of satisfaction. It was outright glee. For the first time in years, Victor was feeling something close to happy after a win.

 

Like most emotions, he was sure it would fade quickly enough.

 

Yakov narrowed his eyes but didn’t say anything. He’s not blind, or heartless, he knew his protégé had struggled to find inspiration the last few seasons. If that inspiration had been found in something so vapid as a group of pretty-boy singers, well, so be it. Watching Victor’s eyes sparkle as he continued to gush about the band, he vowed to force himself to ask Lilia about this friend of hers.

 

February 15th, 2014, Detroit

 

Yuuri startled as he felt a body flop on top of him, Vicchan yipping a similar protest at the sudden intrusion.

 

“Yuuuuu-uuuri!” Came the familiar sing-song of Phichit’s voice.

 

“Noooooo,” he groaned, struggling to keep the blanket over his head as it was dragged away from him. After a brief tug-of-war, he abruptly gave up, letting go of the blanket suddenly enough to cause the Thai singer to stumble backwards. Smirking, he struggled into a sitting position, only then realizing that he was on the couch instead of in his bed.

 

Dropping the blanket, Phichit glared haughtily. “Rude, Katsuki Yuuri. That was just rude!”

 

Yuuri shrugged, pulling Vicchan up with one hand to cuddle against his chest. Glancing around, he snatched his phone from the coffee table, blinking at the number of notifications lighting up the screen.

 

“Soooo, exactly how many times did you rewatch that interview last night?”

 

Yuuri ignored the question, scrolling through the notifications as his anxiety slowly mounted. Suddenly, the phone was yanked out of his hands.

 

“Nope. I can literally see you starting to freak out Yuuri. Come on. This is the actual best thing that could have happened for us! Our new single was played at the OLYMPICS. Victor freaking Nikiforov won a gold freaking medal skating to OUR music! We’re blowing up! Seung-gil says that radio and internet play of ‘History Maker’ is up 415%!”

 

Yuuri snorted. Of course, Seung-gil had run actual numbers on their sudden fortune. He ran a hand through his thick black hair, trying to force the unruly locks into something resembling order. “He knows who we are…”

 

Phichit rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Duh. He used our song!” Yuuri shook his head, his eyes suddenly lighting up in excitement.

 

“No, I mean, he said he liked our first album. He… he knows who we are. He didn’t just use our song because his coach suggested it…” Yuuri paused, his eyes dimming. “Or… or maybe he did? He said his choreographer gave him the music, he could just be making up the part about liking our first album…” He reached out, trying to grab his phone out of Phichit’s hand. “Let me watch it again, I can’t remember exactly what he said…”

 

The younger boy shook his head slowly, letting his breath out in a low whistle. “Wooooow, Katsuki. You are something else. We just got the biggest break of our career and you are in complete denial mode. You aren’t even flipping out over the fact that he almost admitted on international television that he thinks you’re cute.”

 

Yuuri narrowed his eyes. “Ha. Fake.”

 

Phichit draped himself over the back of the couch in a mock-swoon, eyelashes fluttering. “Don’t act like you didn’t catch that little slip of tongue. The hottie of your dreams, secretly pining for you, probably listening to your sexy voice, touchi… mmmph!”

 

Yuuri stood, picking up the couch cushion he had flung and brandishing it at his still stunned bandmate. “You deserved that.” He stalked towards his room, Phichit trailing behind him. “Why didn’t Celestino say anything about Victor using our music at the Olympics?” They entered the neat bedroom, several posters of the Russian skater clustered near Yuuri’s keyboard, scattered notebooks filled with scrawled lyrics on the nearby desk.

 

Phichit leaned against the door. “Say what you really mean Yuuri. Why didn’t Minako say something? She and Celestino clearly knew he’d be using the music. She’s your childhood mentor, she clearly had some sort of weird hamster in the race.”

 

Yuuri gave his friend a flat stare. “You know that’s not the real saying, Peach.”

 

“Stop ignoring the issue at hand! Victor Nikiforov specifically called out the Japanese singer of ‘History Maker’. He all but called you cute! Minako is friends with his choreographer! There are K-Drama levels of plotting going on here!!”

 

“You’ve clearly never seen Winter Sonata.” Both Yuuri and Phichit startled at Seung-gil’s sudden interruption. The Korean singer was leaning against the wall in the hallway, his husky, Jimin, at his side. Despite the early hour, he looked alert, aloof, and perfectly ready to face whatever might await the group.

 

“Your eyebrows look fake,” Phichit blurted, drawing a near-hysterical giggle from Yuuri and an exasperated sigh from Seung-gil.

 

“Celestino messaged us, he wants everyone in his office by 8:30.” Turning on his heel, he waved for his dog to follow, flashing a last flat stare in Phichit’s direction.

 

Huffing out a breath, Yuuri sat on the stool near his keyboard before turning to glance at his friend. “Do you think we’ll actually get an explanation?”

 

Phichit chuckled lightly. “I’m honestly just hoping we’ll at least get coffee!”

 

February 15th, 2014, Sochi

 

Victor groaned as he sat up, the late afternoon sun streaming through the tiny window informing him that he had clearly slept well past his alarm and the fierce ache in his head giving him the crucial clue as to why. Briefly, he contemplated rolling over and hiding in bed the rest of the day. Other than cheering on the Russian ice dance and women’s singles skaters later in the week, he didn’t really have to do anything until the closing ceremonies. Surely, he could have one day to himself?

 

Of course, the universe being terribly vindictive, someone chose that moment to pound on his door.

 

“Konechno,”  he sighed. Then, louder, “Just a minute, please!” He rolled out of bed, wryly noting that he was still wearing the slacks he had donned before heading to the after party last night. Stumbling to the door, he pried it open, somehow unsurprised to come face to face with the true root cause of his pain.

 

“Darling, you look terrible!”

 

Victor glared at the Swiss skater who, of course, somehow managed to look flawless despite the fact that Victor knew damned well the man had been drinking right along with him. Backing away from the door, he let the other athlete enter, mostly ignoring Chris in favor of digging out a bottle of painkillers from his tiny bathroom. Pills taken, he splashed water on his face, ran a toothbrush through his mouth, and snagged his rumpled shirt from beneath the sink before re-entering the bedroom. Pulling the top over his head, he shrugged at his disheveled reflection in the mirror over the desk and flopped down on the bed where Christophe had perched, scrolling idly through his phone.

 

The younger man glanced at him in amusement. “Rough morning, mon cher ?” Victor ignored him with Gallic restraint, reaching instead for his own phone. Dozens of notifications lit up his screen and he groaned, dropping the device back to his bed. He couldn’t deal with the requests for interviews and photos and sound bites. Victor had done his job, won his medal - let Yakov deal with the rest of it. He was tired.

 

“They don’t harass the silver medalist quite as much, but Josef’s been after me to do the rounds already. I feel your pain.”

 

“Doubt it. You’re far too chipper to know the pain I’m in,” Victor groused.

 

Chris chuckled at his glowering friend, then, in a swift change of mood, the Swiss turned serious. “Victor… are you alright? Last night… you seemed rather determined to drink yourself under the table. Most gold medalists manage to at least seem excited. You acted like that damned medal was a death sentence!”

 

From his prostrate position, Victor shrugged, eyeing the medal sitting on his desk with something akin to distaste. Chris sighed, then pulled up a link on his phone before handing it over to the Russian. “Maybe this will cheer you up,” he crooned, before pressing play on the video.

 

Six hours earlier, Detroit

 

“No.”

 

Celestino and Minako exchanged long-suffering glances but held their tongues. Yuuri could be strangely camera shy for a pop singer, but thankfully they had a secret weapon in the form of an exuberant Thai boy.

 

“Yuuuuuri! C’mon! Think of the hits we’ll get! We get money from that! My hamsters need new shoes!”

 

Yuuri rolled his eyes. “Phichit. Hamsters don’t wear shoes. You know this. I know this. You are not convincing.”

 

The Thai singer latched onto his friend, eyes wide and pleading. “C’mooooon! It’ll be good publicity! The album drops in two weeks, tour tickets go on sale soon… we neeeed to do something while the Olympics are still trending!” His tone grew wheedling. “Maybe the hammies don’t need shoes, but you can buy cute things for Vicchan…”

 

“Ugh. Fine. We can do a YouTube video,” Yuuri finally conceded, grinning sheepishly as Guang Hong and Phichit cheered. Even Seung-gil managed to look pleased as Phichit raced over to help Celestino set up the camera. Accepting that the video was an inevitable result of their song’s unexpected rise in popularity, he settled in bemusedly as his friends and manager quickly made plans in the chaotic swirl of chatter that he’d grown to begrudgingly love over the last couple of years. He nodded along to most of the ideas, only balking at Celestino’s final suggestion.

 

“Ciao Ciao! No! We can’t… he’s not even going to see this, he just needed obscure music to surprise the audience, he doesn’t actually know who we are…”

 

Lost in his own panic, Yuuri didn’t even notice the number of eyes rolling in the office. His protests didn’t matter. Soon enough, the camera was recording.

 

The members of Quad:JUMP grinned and flashed heart signs as they took turns gushing about their excitement at having their new single featured at the Olympics. As the video drew to an end, Phichit nudged Yuuri, who barely resisted glaring in the middle of the live feed. Instead, the Japanese singer flashed his sweetest smile toward the camera. “And Victor Nikiforov! If you’re watching! Consider this your standing invitation from Quad:JUMP! Anytime you’d like, please join us as a VIP guest at any of our tour dates! We’d love to say ‘thank you’ in person!”

 

They finished with a practiced farewell pose, waiting until Minako flashed a thumbs up before collapsing in relief.

 

Yuuri snagged a water bottle from the mini-fridge, flushed in a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. Phichit leaned against the counter, glancing appraisingly at his friend. Yuuri shook his head.

 

“Peach, don’t start. He’s not going to watch. I’m glad we thanked him, but after this blows over, it was just a random song to him.”

 

“He likes you…”

 

“Ha… just let it go, okay? Whether he knows it or not, he did us a huge favor and we can’t afford to waste this opportunity.” His brow was furrowed, determination and something almost wistful shining in his face. Phichit started to protest but Yuuri cut him off. “Victor Nikiforov doesn’t even know my name. Just let it go.”

 

Six hours later, Sochi

 

Bright blue eyes widened as the YouTube video ended. “Oh my god, Chris. The prettiest boy in the world knows my name!

 

Chapter Text

February 21st, 2014, Detroit

 

The week since Victor Nikiforov startled the world by skating to an untested single by an obscure boy band had passed in a blur of interviews and late-night show appearances. Yuuri felt like he was living his life in flashes of lights and emotion. *Blink* The Morning Show, Detroit. *Blink* SiriusXM. *Blink* Seung-gil honest to god tearing up on Ellen’s couch. *Blink* A surprise performance on Jimmy Fallon. *Blink* *Blink* *Blink*

 

It felt like History Maker was everywhere. And now… “We’re… we’re the number one single.” He looked up from his phone, his exhausted band mates surrounding him in the messy living area. Phichit pulled his head off the back of the couch, blinking blearily in Yuuri’s direction.

 

Yawning, he asked, “Where? The U.S.?” Yuuri shook his head slowly.

 

“Everywhere. Ev-every country we released the single. All of them.” It was as if time stopped for a moment, Yuuri realizing he would forever remember the looks on his friends’ faces as the realization of their dream suddenly fell into their laps. As the moment broke, the other singers crashed on top of Yuuri, even stoic Seung-gil piling onto the couch in an ecstatic hug. From the bottom of the tangle of limbs and bodies, Yuuri held onto his friends, buzzing with the realization that nothing would ever be the same.

 

Suddenly, it felt as if the entire world knew their name.

 

February 27th, 2014, St. Petersburg

 

Victor’s return to the St. Petersburg Skate Club was kicked off, quite literally, by the club’s star Junior skater. Wincing, he rubbed the small of his back before turning around and grinning broadly at the tiny blond boy currently fixing him with what was probably intended to be a threatening scowl. Victor’s grin softened into something a little more genuine.

 

“Yuuura! Did you miss me?”

 

“Tcha! You wish mudak! Just wait until I’m in Seniors! Nobody will even remember your name! ” The boy shoved his fists into the pockets of his hoodie and turned on his heel, starting to walk away.

 

Victor tried not to laugh, but really, the boy was seriously adorable! “Hmmm, I guess you don’t want your souvenirs then?” He dangled a stuffed bag bearing the Olympic logo from a fingertip, shrugging as he started to tuck it back into his duffel. Yuri pulled an about-face, snatching the sack from the older skater’s hand with a snarl before stomping away.

 

“You’re welcome!” Victor called in a sing-song voice.

 

“Whatever! I still hate you!”

 

Slim arms wrapped around him from behind and a bright head of red hair ducked under his arm. “I see the kitten found you,” chirped 16-year-old Mila. Victor pulled her close for a side hug, handing off a second bag of souvenirs.

 

“What did I do this time?” Victor wondered out loud, drawing a bemused glance from the young woman.

 

“You seriously don’t know?”

 

He flashed wide eyes in her direction. “I haven’t seen him in nearly a month! What could I have possibly done?” She shook her head, giggling. “Milaaaaa,” he whined, “I swear I don’t know!”

 

The younger skater shook her head, still laughing as she stepped away. “Nope, I’m not getting in the middle of this! I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon enough! Thanks for the gifties, Vitya!” She swung the bag happily over her head as she sauntered towards the lounge area. Victor huffed as she walked away. Honestly. What good was a gold medal if your own rink mates didn’t take you seriously?

 

Shaking his head, he moved through the club, heading to the locker room to change. As he tucked his street clothes away, he caught sight of a familiar head of pointy black hair. “Georgi! How was your time off?”

 

The other skater barely glanced in his direction. “I’ve already been back at the club for two days, Victor,” Georgi said tersely. Then, he relaxed slightly. “But Anya and I went out the night after we got back, celebrated our team gold and her bronze.” Georgi’s face softened at the mention of his ice dancer girlfriend.

 

“Ah! Lovely! Congratulations to both of you.  Your free really helped us get the points for our team gold! We did well, da?”

 

Georgi grimaced. “Be honest, Victor. I was only given the chance to skate for the team medal because you couldn’t do both programs.”

 

“Gyosha, I…”

 

“Don’t. It’s fine. I just want to focus on Worlds, alright?” The brunette abruptly strode away, effectively ending the distressing conversation. Victor was left staring after him, stomach churning. As he watched his rink mate leave, his eyes caught on a brightly decorated locker. Little Yura’s, he recognized. Something stirred in his memory at the sight, and he walked closer.

 

The nearly 14-year-old had covered the metal door with magazine cutouts, mainly of cats and various bands. Actually, mainly of one band. As he stared at the familiar faces of the boys from Quad:JUMP, Victor suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that he knew why Yuri Plisetsky was so pissed.

 

February 28th, 2014, Detroit

 

“Heeyyyyy JUMPers! As you know, it’s album release day! Are you hype? Because not only do you get History Maker  and eleven other awesome new songs, but, guys, more tickets for our History Makers International Tour have just been released! Whaaaat?” Phichit was at his camera best as he started their YouTube feed. Yuuri never could bring himself to feel as at home during the mostly unrehearsed live sessions, but his best friend absolutely thrived. He found himself smiling as Guang Hong continued the patter.

 

“That’s right! Come see us as we perform in each of our own home nations as well as our adopted country! Tour dates in Japan, China, South Korea, and Thailand as well as the United States are up on our website, so please take a peek!”

 

Yuuri felt himself blushing as he took over. “We’ll be kicking things off in my home country of Japan on April 2nd with a show in Tokyo!” He gave a half bow, then continued. “Please come see us live!”

 

“And please be sure to click the ‘subscribe’ button down below to keep up with the latest from Quad:JUMP.” Seung-gil drawled as the video drew to a close, all four boys cheesily pointing down to indicate the location of the button. As Minako flashed her thumbs up sign, they all collapsed with sighs of relief.

 

“Nice work, gentlemen!” Celestino boomed from the other side of the room where he had been watching the live feed on his iPad, headphones covering his ears. Peeling them off, he strode over, tablet in hand. Settling onto the chair next to his wife, their manager took a moment to glance appraisingly at the four young men on the couch in front of him. He’d seen them all grow so much over the last two years… to see them on the cusp of greatness was one of the finest moments of his life. He reached for Minako’s hand, giving it a light squeeze before addressing his band.

 

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of your hard work, boys. It’s been an honor to work with you and I’m so thrilled to see your efforts paying off. I’m thrilled to say that as of now our Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Beijing, Detroit, Chicago and Orlando tour dates are nearly sold out.” He ignored the chatter coming from the couch, including what sounded like an incredulous gasp of disbelief that seemed to come from Yuuri’s direction.

 

“Additionally, initial day one iTunes sales data is already up nearly 500% from Quad:JUMP’s debut album release.” This time, the tumult was overwhelming as the young men cheered. Beaming, Minako produced a bottle of champagne from the spacious depths of her bag, popping the cork and taking a swig before passing it to Yuuri. Laughing, Celestino didn’t even protest as the teens celebrated alongside their older bandmate. His boys were in for a long road, they deserved a few moments of joy.

 

***

 

Later that evening, Yuuri found himself leaning on the railing of the band’s tiny balcony, seeking a breath of bitterly cold, somewhat fresh air. His head was buzzing from a turbulent mix of champagne, excitement and nerves. At times like this, he sometimes felt desperately homesick, missing his quiet hometown and the warmth of the onsen. He’d spoken to his family earlier, their cheerful chatter only exacerbating his heartache. It had been years since he’d left his friends and family behind for Detroit and Eros Records, following Celestino’s cheerful promises of fame and fortune.

 

At least now he could finally tell his family that the sacrifices had paid off.

 

He didn’t turn when he heard the sliding door open and shut, the soft sound of muffled footfalls informing him that he was no longer alone. Settling beside him, Minako offered a bottle of water, holding her silence for a moment as she glanced out at the city lights. Yuuri drank, slowly capping the bottle before leaning his head on his mentor’s shoulder.

 

“Big day,” she murmured.

 

“Mmhmm.”

 

“You earned this Yuuri. I can see the wheels spinning in your head, and whatever they are telling you, you earned this. You, Phichit, Seung-gil, Guang Hong… you’ve worked so hard these last couple of years. Let yourself enjoy it, okay?”

 

Yuuri nestled closer, taking comfort in Minako’s presence. She tightened her arm around the young man, ruffling a hand through his hair. “We sent tickets for the Kyoto show to your family and to the Nishigoris. They’ll be at the after party.” A sob welled up in his throat, the kindness almost too much on top of the rest of the overwhelming day. “Ohhhh, Yuuri. Go in and get some sleep, okay?” He nodded against her neck, tears welling up in his eyes.

 

“Thank you, Minako-sensei. Thank you.

 

March 12th, 2014, St. Petersburg

 

“Vitya, take a break,” Yakov’s stern voice floated across the rink to where Victor was doubled over, breathing heavily. Slowly, the silver-haired skater straightened, flicking his bangs out of his eyes.

 

“I’m fine, Yakov, I can go again,” he protested.

 

“You’ve been skating for three hours straight. Get off my ice, Nikiforov,” came the unimpressed response. Victor gritted his teeth but complied. Stepping off the ice, he shoved his blade guards on before stomping over to the nearest bench and all but collapsing onto his back. A water bottle filled his vision and he took it, trying to ignore the shaking in his hands.

 

“Why are you practicing so hard? It’s an Olympic year, nobody even cares about Worlds,” came Yura’s petulant tones. Victor forced himself into a sitting position, gratefully slurping at the water. The boy kicked at the ground with the rubber blade guards, refusing to meet the older skater’s eyes.

 

Victor sighed. “I care about Worlds. If I win, it will be my fourth in a row. Nobody’s ever won more than three in a row, so if I can win, I break the record.”

 

Yuri was quiet for a moment, fidgeting with a small plastic bag in his lap. “Take me with you!” The boy finally blurted.

 

“Ah…”

 

“To see Quad:JUMP. I know they invited you, you could go whenever you want! Senior Worlds is in Saitama and they have their first concert in Tokyo right after it ends! You could go and take me with you! It was just my birthday, it can be my present!” The words streamed out in a tumble of earnest teenage chatter.

 

“Yura, you’d have to get a travel visa and there isn’t enough time, kotenok,” Victor began gently. Yuri bristled anyways.

 

“It’s not fair. I liked them first. You borrowed my cd and then you never even shared the new single when Lilia gave it to you! You could have let me at least listen to it! And now you get to go to their concerts and it’s not fair!”

 

Victor couldn’t bear the tears that had welled up in the boy’s eyes. He pulled the angry teen into a tight embrace. “Yura,” he crooned into the pale hair, “I promise you. I’ll take you to a concert. Okay?”

 

“You’d better old man. You owe me for letting you listen to my cd!”

 

Victor nodded solemnly in agreement. “I promise, Yura. We’ll go, okay?”

 

Yuri huffed out a harsh breath, dashing the tears from his eyes before flinging the plastic bag into Victor’s lap. “This came out today. I thought maybe you’d want a copy.”

 

Victor didn’t have a chance to reply, as Yakov chose that moment to call the boy back onto the ice. As Yuri clomped away, the silver-blond pulled a glossy magazine out from the folds of plastic. He couldn’t help the smile as he admired the face gracing the cover of the entertainment rag. It seemed he wasn’t the only fan of a certain Japanese singer.

 

Chapter Text

 

March 20th, 2014, Detroit

 

Vicchan nosed around the packed bags, his tiny whimpers a clear sign that he knew his boy was leaving. Yuuri reached down to pick up the little poodle, nuzzling his face into the soft curls. He hated this part of touring, hated leaving his companion in the care of the band’s pet sitter. While he knew that the constant flights and stress of the trip would be hard on Vicchan’s little body, he was selfish enough to dread the loss of his pup’s comforting presence.

 

“Six weeks is so long,” came a pitiful whine from Yuuri’s door. He turned to see Phichit leaning against the frame, his trio of hamsters clutched to his chest. Yuuri sighed in agreement.

 

“At least we get a break between the Asian and American tour dates this time. The last tour was worse,” the Japanese singer temporized, trying to convince himself of the truth of his words. Phichit made a face, then moved to sit on the edge of Yuuri’s bed.

 

“Yeah, but this one might end up going for ages… The album’s doing so well that the label’s thinking about adding a European leg.”

 

“What? We’ve never done shows in Europe!” Yuuri yelped.

 

“Mmhmmm, don’t you ever check your inbox? Social media’s been blowing up with fans begging us to come to their countries. Celestino’s been tallying the requests, trying to figure out what venues would work. We’ll probably end up heading back on tour again after we finish with the American leg.”

 

“AND the label wants us shooting videos for History Maker and Almavivo when we get back from China, so forget about a real break between legs,” Guang Hong chimed in, suddenly leaning in from the hall.

 

Yuuri sighed. “I… I guess this is just how it works. We have to build on the momentum of the early sales and the best way to do that is to stay in the public eye as much as possible. It makes sense and we can do it. We just have to, ah… um, to keep our energy up and make our fans happy! This is what we’ve been working for, so… let’s just do our best, okay?”

 

Slow clapping sounded from the hall and the trio turned to see Seung-gil leaning against the wall, Jimin beside him. Yuuri flushed, the Korean teen’s icy personality a constant confusion for the emotional older man. Seung-gil cocked an eloquent brow, burying his hands in Jimin’s fur before speaking. “Yuuri is correct. It’s our task to entertain our audience. We have a dozen shows over the next six weeks in order to prove that we’re capable of that task. Celestino picks us up in eighteen minutes.” He nodded, then turned and plodded away, his husky following at his heels.

 

Phichit let out a nervous giggle. “Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a motivational speech as interpreted by Lee Seung-gil!” Yuuri and Guang Hong joined in on the laughter, and for a few precious moments, they were just a trio of young men, laughing at a friend. Let the tour bring what it may. They’d weather this storm together.

 

March 29th, 2014, Saitama

 

Victor flashed his patented media smile from the top of yet another podium. Chris stood to one side, silver shining around his neck, his smile smaller, his demeanor frustrated. On his other side, Georgi stood, happily displaying his bronze. The distance between gold and silver had been nearly 5 points; the gap between silver and bronze even greater. The competition had been… easy. Even skating to History Maker  hadn’t brought him the thrill it had at the Olympics.

 

At 26, Victor was virtually untouchable in his field, and had been for years.

 

A flurry of official photos preceded the final victory lap and then he was finally able to step off the ice, trading his bouquet for the rubber skate guards as Yakov met him at the gate.

 

“You could at least try to look like you aren’t bored, Vitya,” his coach scolded as they made their way to the press conference. Victor shrugged into his red and white Olympic jacket, following in his mentor’s wake.

 

“It’s fine, Yakov. I won. That’s the important thing, right? Russia gets another gold.” Eyes downcast, he missed the concerned glance the older man cast in his direction.

 

“You’re still going to this concert?” Yakov queried.

 

“Mmmmm. Chris is coming with me. I’ll be back in St. Petersburg in a few days.” His voice was dull, exhaustion written clearly across his handsome features.

 

Yakov sighed, his worry for the young man growing. “Take your time. Take a break, Vitya. I’m cancelling your appearances for the next few months.” 

 

Victor stuttered to a halt, eyes wide with surprise. “Yakov. I’m fine. I can do whatever you need…”

 

“What I need is for you to come back ready to compete. You’re exhausted and, worse, you’ve become discontented. Go to this… this boy band show. Travel. Spend some time with your friends. You’re going to burn yourself out if you don’t.” Yakov began to walk again, knowing they couldn’t miss the post awards conference.

 

“Maybe I should just retire,” Victor said softly. “Go out at the top of my field. Let Georgi have a few years to shine before little Yura makes it to Seniors…”

 

Yakov stopped dead in his tracks just outside the press room, turning slowly to stare at the young man he’d practically raised. “Vitya… it’s just the post-Olympics slump. You went through this after Vancouver, when you…”

 

“Chopped off all my hair.” Victor practically snarled. Then, calmer, “Yes, I recall. This isn’t the same. You’d never have let me get out of competing in Sochi and we both know it. Winning glory in the homeland and all that. But now… I hold the record for consecutive GPF and Worlds golds, I have two Olympic golds, three if you count the team skate. I can go out on top, or I can skate until I can’t. I have what, maybe two, three more years at this level? And then I’m stuck. If I’m still skating in 2017, hell, if I’m still skating in 2016, then it’s going to be ‘ah, but PyeongChang is so soon! You can skate for Olympic gold one more time!’ And then I’m trapped Yakov! Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe I’ll just announce my retirement when I go into that room…” He laughed, almost hysterically, hunching in on himself. “God, wouldn’t that surprise them all…”

 

“Vitya…” Yakov’s voice was soft, as if he were soothing a child.

 

Victor straightened, then flicked his bangs out of his eyes, flashing the famous grin that Yakov had long ago realized was false. “Don’t worry, Coach. I’ll keep skating. I’ll keep winning.” He turned to finally push his way into the press conference. “After all, it’s not like I have anything else.”

 

***

 

The banquet was, as always, a terribly dull affair. Chris was constantly threatening to drag a pole into the mix but, alas, he’d never delivered. A flash of red hair distracted him and he reached out, snagging the glass of champagne from the girl’s hand as she passed.

 

“Hey! Vitya! No fair!”

 

“You’re 16, Mila.”

 

“So? I made top ten at my first Senior Worlds! I have to celebrate! It’s just one glass…” she wheedled, flashing her best puppy dog eyes. Victor rolled his own in response.

 

“That’s why I’m stopping you. You just moved up to Seniors. You need to be talking to sponsors and making friends with other skaters. Neither of whom need to see an underaged skater drinking,” he sighed. God, he sounded like he was trying to be her father…

 

“Look,” he said, nudging the girl’s shoulder until she was facing a cluster of teenage skaters on the dance floor. “The Crispino twins just moved up to Seniors, too. The girl… what’s her name, Sala?”

 

“Sara.”

 

“Sara. She was last year’s Junior Worlds Champion. Go introduce yourself. Ask her for advice. Make a friend.” Mila’s eyes narrowed speculatively before she nodded in agreement and bounced into his arms for a brief hug.

 

“Okay. Oh! And congratulations! Not that there was ever any doubt you’d win!” She cheered as she walked away.

 

Odd how that didn’t quite feel like praise, Victor mused. He downed the confiscated glass of champagne and settled it on a nearby table.

 

“Funny, I seem to have rather fond memories of you sneaking me champagne when I was 16.” The Russian Champion turned, accepting the second glass as the silver medalist handed it to him. Clinking his glass against Christophe’s, Victor flashed a wry smile as he drank.

 

“Were you ever 16?”

 

“Ah, what was it you once called me? A little boy running through the Swiss meadows?”

 

“Lies. You were made of pure lies.”

 

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, sipping their champagne as they watched the intricate dance of skaters, coaches, officials and sponsors. Their combined reputation kept them safely ensconced in an odd bubble of personal space, sponsors instead cornering their coaches. Victor honestly couldn’t decide if it was peaceful or lonely. After a period of time in which the only interesting thing that happened was Mila disappearing through the banquet hall doors arm and arm with a giggling Sara Crispino, Chris finally broke the silence.

 

“So... Tokyo.”

 

“Mmmm, yes. You’re still in?”

 

“As if I would miss you making an idiot of yourself over some pretty singer. We’re good to go?”

 

Da. Lilia talked to her choreographer friend. She’s sending someone to pick us up from the hotel. We’ll go to the concert and then do the rounds at the VIP party.”

 

Christophe snagged another pair of flutes from a passing server, handing one off to Victor with a inquisitively arched brow.

 

Victor flushed at his searching gaze.  “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

 

“Vitya… mon ami… what exactly are you looking for with this little expedition?”

 

Victor scuffed a foot against the floor, refusing to meet Christophe’s eyes. The Swiss skater waited patiently, sipping his champagne. Finally, the silver-blond heaved a deep sigh.

 

“They invited me…” he started, halting at Chris’s skeptical snort. He gathered his thoughts, began again. “It’s stupid. I know it’s stupid. I’m crushing on a pop singer like a teenager.” He leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes. “Chris, it’s like I’m running on autopilot but, I listen to him sing, I watch his videos and… and he makes me feel something. I won Olympic gold and felt nothing, but this boy… Yuuri…” He shook his head, not sure how to continue.

 

Chris glanced away, trying to hide the concern in his face at his friend’s words. “Victor Nikiforov, you may be the only person in the world who doesn’t sound like a conceited ass claiming to win gold medals on autopilot. ” He turned back, placing a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “We’ll go find this pretty Japanese boy. See what exactly it is he makes you feel, eh?”

Chapter Text

April 2nd, 2014, Tokyo

 

“If you don’t stop fidgeting, Sherri is going to stab you in the eye and you’ll have to do the concert in an eyepatch,” Phichit instructed from where he was perched up against the makeshift vanity. The band’s make-up artist flashed him a grin, long used to the idiosyncrasies of the Quad:JUMP boys. Phichit cocked his head, finger tapping thoughtfully at his lip. “Aaaactually, go for it! Pirates are super sexy right now, we can make it like… a thing.

 

Yuuri flashed a glare in the Thai singer’s direction, offering a quick apology when Sherri grabbed his chin to keep him in place. “We should have done this yesterday,” he grumbled under his breath. Phichit rolled his eyes.

 

“And why is that? So we could have celebrated my birthday? Ooooh, Yuuri! Would you have sung me happy birthday on stage??”

 

“Sure. That. Plus, when I inevitably fuck everything up, we could have just pretended it was on purpose. Y’know, ‘Surprise! April Fools' Tokyo!’”

 

“Language, Katsuki Yuuri!” Minako’s scolding sing song preceded her into the room, Guang Hong and Seung-gil trailing in her wake. “Is he nearly done?” Sherri added one last coat of mascara and nodded to the choreographer, finally releasing Yuuri from the prison of her chair. The young woman packed up her kit, flashed a grin and a thumbs up in the band’s direction and discreetly exited the room.

 

Minako waited until Sherri was gone before turning her steely gaze on her young charges. “You looked good at practice today, boys. All you have to do is perform like you’ve been doing in the studio and the crowd will love you. Don’t stress. It’s the first concert of the tour, nobody knows what to expect and they’ll be so thrilled about being the first to see you that they’ll forgive almost anything.”

 

Ha. Don’t stress. As if things could ever be that easy, Yuuri thought to himself. Out loud, he ventured, “Is the crowd very big?” Everyone turned to stare at him incredulously.

 

“It’s a sold-out show. Celestino has told us this. Multiple times,” Seung-gil pointed out, looking faintly annoyed.

 

“Sounds fake,” Yuuri muttered, earning him a stern glare from Minako. Celestino chose that moment to make his appearance, bursting in with his normal exuberance. Yuuri tuned out the last-minute pep talk, taking a moment to glance around at his bandmates instead. Excitement and nerves were shining in each of their faces, even, to his surprise, Seung-gil’s.

 

He felt a mental switch flip as he fell into the headspace he often found himself in while performing. There would always be a part of him that wanted to hide himself away, but there was a piece that came out at moments like this, a tiny part of Yuuri that desperately wanted to force everyone to keep their eyes on him.

 

As the stage-manager stepped in to give them their five-minute warning, it was that tiny piece that was firmly in control.

 

***

 

“Oh my god,” Victor breathed as the final song faded into thunderous applause. Chris laughed from the seat beside him, the two of them ensconced with a handful of others in the VIP section. “Chris. Chris. Ohmygod. I saw a boy so beautiful I cr-mmmmph!

 

“We do not meme, Vitya,” Chris scolded, removing his hand from the Russian's mouth.

 

“But Chriiiis…” Victor groaned. The look Chris flashed him was unimpressed. Victor slumped down in his seat, pouting.

 

The Swiss skater heaved a deep sigh. “Darling, look. You can act like the thousands of screaming teenagers that have just flung their actual underwear at these boys. Or you can show up to the VIP event as Victor Nikiforov, international sex symbol. Which do you think will better impress our dear, lovely, oh so talented Yuuri Katsuki? Hmm?”

 

Victor Nikiforov, international sex symbol, glanced up as the aforementioned pop star took his final sweat drenched bow and whimpered.

 

***

 

As Yuuri came off stage, Minako was the first to grab him for a fierce hug. “Mi-Minako! I’m so gross right now!” He stammered, his performance mindset melting away as he began to come down from the high of the concert. She ignored him, as she usually did, ruffling his damp, dark hair as she pulled back to look at him with pride.

 

“Yuuri, that was… you were incredible. All of you. Even better than the end of your first tour. You had the audience absolutely panting.

 

Yuuri flushed a brilliant red that had nothing to do with the dancing or the stage lights. “Minako!” he half shrieked. “You can’t say things like that!”

 

Minako leaned away from her protegee, smirking, as Celestino came up behind her, snaking an arm around the slender woman’s waist as he addressed the younger man.

 

“Yuu-uuuri! Excellent work tonight! I have several media requests for you all to consider later, but for now, go get a shower and enjoy the after party, yes?”

 

Yuuri stuttered out an affirmative before stumbling over to where his bandmates were gathered in an ecstatic huddle. Seung-gil was the first to greet him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders in what, for him, passed for an affectionate hug. As the Korean singer released him, Yuuri accepted Phichit and Guang Hong’s embraces in something of a daze. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it began to occur to Yuuri that, somehow, they’d managed to make a success out of their first concert date. Still trying to wrap his mind around this thought, he allowed Phichit to lead him back to their car (limo, the small part of Yuuri’s brain that was still functioning provided. They got to ride in a limo now!)

 

The quartet tumbled into the spacious vehicle, flushed and disheveled but overflowing with an electric sort of happiness as they rode the high of their successful performance. Curious, Phichit pulled open the mini fridge, revealing an assortment of flavored waters and, surprisingly, a bottle of champagne, a note hanging from its gold foil wrapped neck. He handed the bottle off to Yuuri, who unfolded the tiny card.

 

Just this once, in celebration. Congratulations. Behave. -Ciao Ciao,” the Japanese boy read out loud, grinning as his younger bandmates cheered. Phichit snatched the flutes from the built-in rack as Yuuri popped the cork with a practiced twist. As they toasted, the older boy leaned in and whispered in the Thai singer’s ear. “Guess he’s finally given in to your nickname for him,” Yuuri teased, laughing as Phichit blushed.

 

They passed the bottle around, even a couple of glasses enough to bring a light buzz to the younger singers. Yuuri leaned his head against the leather seat, smiling contentedly as he watched the happy young men that were closer to him than family in so many ways. It felt as if they were on the cusp of accomplishing everything they’d worked so hard to achieve for so long, as if they were all caught in some lovely liminal space where all of their dreams could become real. Lost in a fuzzy haze of happiness, he almost didn’t notice Phichit’s shoulders stiffen beside him. Glancing over, he saw his friend hunched over his phone, tapping frantically at the screen.

 

“Peach?” He queried softly, earning himself a slightly wide-eyed stare.

 

“Ah… I… I’m not sure you want to know?”

 

Yuuri gave him a flat stare. “You do realize that now you have to tell me, right?”

 

Phichit hesitated, then passed over his phone, a celebrity gawker site pulled up on the screen.

 

“Olympic Gold and Silver Medalists spotted at sold out Quad:JUMP concert in Tokyo,” Yuuri read slowly, eyes widening at the accompanying photos, showing Victor Nikiforov and Christophe Giacometti in what was unmistakably the VIP box at the concert that had just ended. The phone fell from his numb fingers, Phichit catching it nimbly before it hit the floor. Seung-gil and Guang Hong glanced over curiously.

 

“You did invite him,” Phichit pointed out, watching Yuuri nervously.

 

He drank the rest of the champagne straight from the bottle.

 

***

 

“Hmph, you’re both taller than I thought you’d be,” came a drawl. Victor and Christophe turned, coming face to face with a slim Japanese woman eyeing them speculatively.

 

“Ahhh…” Victor started, flashing an uncertain smile. Beside him, Chris lit up with his own flirtatious grin, graciously extending a hand in the woman’s direction.

 

“And whom might I have the absolute pleasure of addressing?” The Swiss skater purred, curling his fingers around the woman’s palm.

 

“Oh, now you are charming,” the woman laughed.

 

“Christophe Giacometti.”

 

“Minako Okukawa,” the woman responded, pulling a surprised gasp from Victor’s mouth. She turned at the noise, pursing her lips.

 

“And you, Victor Nikiforov, need no introduction,” she said, casting an appraising glance up and down his frame. Victor felt himself unexpectedly flushing. “Your posture could be better. I’m honestly surprised Lilia lets you get away with it.”

 

Chris hid his gleeful grin behind his hand, not quite managing to suppress the delighted chuckle at his friend’s discomfiture.

 

Victor valiantly struggled to regain control of the situation. “Ms. Okukawa, I wanted to thank you for giving Lilia the early copy of History Maker and for inviting me here…”

 

She waved a delicate hand. “Yuuri is the one who invited you. I just dealt with the logistics. And handing the music off to Lilia was just a favor to an old friend that ended up working delightfully in the band’s best interests.”

 

Victor perked up as the woman mentioned the Japanese musician. “And, ah, where is Yuu… the band?”

 

Minako cocked an intrigued eyebrow at the stumble, then bent over her phone, checking her texts. “Ah. ‘Tino says they’re on their way from the hotel. Should be here any minute.”

 

“’Tino?” Victor queried.

 

“My husband. And the band’s manager. Celestino Cialdini to those who don’t really know him. My happy accident after following my best student from Japan to Detroit.” She flashed a sharp grin at the Russian and Victor didn’t miss her heavy hint as to her pre-existing claim on Yuuri. A commotion near the banquet hall’s doors drew their attention and the DJ paused to announce the entrance of the guests of honor. A swarm of well-wishers swamped the young men, but Victor still managed to catch a glimpse of the lovely young man who’d been haunting his dreams.

 

Yuuri had changed his clothing and slicked his hair back since the end of the concert. He looked… amazing. Victor swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. A cocktail was shoved into his hand, Christophe smirking knowingly at him.

 

“Easy, Vitya. Play it cool,” he hummed in an undertone, both men keenly aware of Minako watching them closely.

 

“Would you like an introduction?” She asked, her voice too casual.

 

Victor could feel Christophe staring a hole in the back of his skull as he carefully took a sip of his drink. “I’d be delighted to meet, ah, the band,” he responded, feigning nonchalance, his eyes continuing to dart over to where Yuuri was posing for photos with the fans who had paid for VIP tickets. Minako waved them forward, her confident stride parting the small crowd until they stood directly in front of the band. She introduced the singers to the pair, finishing with Yuuri, who glanced between Minako and Victor, the skater easily recognizing the younger man’s polite ‘media face’. After all, he’d been using a similar mask for more than a decade.

 

Undaunted, he held out his hand to the younger man, a thrill running up his spine as Yuuri’s fingers curled around his. He wondered if the sudden warmth between them was entirely in his mind as those startlingly large, whiskey brown eyes widened at the touch.

 

“It is an absolute pleasure to meet you, Yuuri Katsuki.”

Chapter Text

April 2nd – 3rd, 2014, Tokyo

 

“Why are you brooding all alone over here, Yuuuu-uuuri?”

 

Minako flopped down beside him on the couch in the dimly lit corner, where he had definitely not been brooding. Or hiding. He pulled his legs up onto the couch, hugging his knees to his chest as he continued to stare out at the rest of the party. Well, at one particular cluster of party-goers anyways.

 

“Ah. Staring at Victor?” Minako mused, following his line of sight. She had seen the posters in his childhood bedroom, remnants of one youthful dream given up in pursuit of another. Whether she knew about the posters on his walls in Detroit was uncertain, but Yuuri wouldn’t put it past her to have snuck a peek at some point. There really wasn’t much point in denying her accusation but…

 

“I’m not staring,” he said anyway, fully earning the disbelieving sniff Minako aimed in his direction.

 

“You know, you could be over there, talking with him. Or hell, the way he was looking at you earlier, he could be over here, making much better use of dark corners,” she said, a sly quirk to her mouth.

 

“Mi-Minako! You can’t keep saying things like that!”

 

“Oh? And why not?”

 

“He’s… he’s Victor Nikiforov. Two-time Olympic gold medalist!”

 

“And you’re Katsuki Yuuri. Leader of a band with an international best-selling album, a sold-out concert tour, and a million fan blogs. You wrote and sang the song that helped him win that last gold medal! Do you know how many requests for interviews and photo shoots Celestino has fielded tonight alone?”

 

“That’s… that’s not just me…”

 

“Stop. Yes, you’re right, most of the requests are for the whole group. But some of the magazines just want you. Every girl and half the boys in the audience tonight would kill for one minute alone with you. And that pretty Russian boy over there? He can’t keep his eyes off you. And you can’t keep your eyes off him. So. Go. Do. Something. About. It!” She punctuated her last words with a pointy finger to his chest.

 

“Ow! Minako!” Yuuri rubbed the spot where she had poked him, glancing yet again in Victor’s direction. The skater seemed to feel his gaze, ruffling the silver hair at the nape of his neck before turning around, his crystal blue eyes latching onto Yuuri despite the crowd and the low lights. The singer felt that same strange warmth that had washed over him when they’d met. He ignored Minako’s smug hum as he stood up, already halfway across the floor before he even realized he’d made a decision.

 

***

 

Victor posed for yet another selfie, his plastic smile feeling fixed in place by now. This wasn’t really how he’d hoped to spend the evening, but it seemed that even the attendees that didn’t normally follow figure skating knew who he was thanks to his use of History Maker. His smile quirked a little closer to something real as he contemplated the novelty of being noticed because of his association with a boy band. A prickling on the back of his neck caused him to glance behind him, his throat clenching when he locked eyes with the handsome young man that he’d hoped to spend the evening getting to know.

 

He’d been more than a little disappointed when Yuuri had brushed him off after their too-short introduction, disappearing into the depths of the shadowy party space. He’d tried to shrug it off, chatting with the rest of the band and their hangers on, but it had stung more than he’d like to admit. Of course, it made sense really. He had a little bit of notoriety for his part in bringing figure skating back into the cultural mainstream, and sure, he’d just won a pair of Olympic golds in Sochi but… Quad:JUMP was on the cusp of the type of international fame of which an athlete in a niche winter sport could only dream. Yuuri could speak (flirt, touch, kiss, spend the night) with literally anybody in this room. Why would he spend any more time than necessary on him?

 

Except… the gorgeous man was walking closer, was still looking at him. He glanced surreptitiously around, making sure some other lucky person wasn’t the actual recipient of that intense gaze.

 

“Hey,” came the soft voice. (And hell, how was it fair that even standing still, one word was enough to send music coursing through the air, as if the singer’s very body produced it?)

 

“Ah, hello, Yuuri, yes?” He tried not to wince. Smooth.

 

“Ah, yes, Yuuri Katsuki. And ah, you’re Victor Nikiforov. I… thank you for using our song. It… it really boosted our reputation.”

 

“OH! It was an honor! I was just glad that I was allowed to use it!” Victor didn’t have to feign his enthusiasm, it really had been a thrill when Lilia had told him he’d be permitted to use the then unreleased song. “Can I get you something to drink?” He nodded in the direction of the bar, but, to his dismay, Yuuri shook his head.

 

“Sorry, no. I had a couple glasses of champagne earlier, but Celestino doesn’t really allow my bandmates to drink in public since they’re underage in the USA, so I don’t really drink at official events either since it’s not really fair.” Victor nodded in understanding and they glanced awkwardly around, fishing for something else to say.

 

“Do you want to dance?” Yuuri blurted out suddenly, a charming blush crossing his handsome face as he gestured towards the sparsely occupied floor.

 

Victor lit up. “Yes! Let’s dance Yuuri!” The younger man let out a delighted laugh as Victor snatched his hand, practically dragging him out to the floor.

 

***

 

If this were a movie, or one of Seung-gil’s impossibly romantic K-dramas, the music would swirl and Yuuri and Victor would dance in a perfectly choreographed montage, never missing a step, never having to question who was leading.

 

Reality was messier.

 

Reality was better.

 

Yuuri found himself grinning so broadly his cheeks hurt as what had started as a tango devolved into a silly pose-off. Victor Nikiforov. Being silly. In all his fantasies about meeting his idol, he’d never once considered the possibility that maybe they’d just… have fun.

 

Gone was the Ice Prince, the coolly smiling sex symbol. This Victor was young and disheveled, and those blue, blue eyes suddenly seemed to blaze.

 

Privately, Yuuri had to admit he preferred this perfectly imperfect version to the glossy magazine image.

 

He pulled Victor up from where he’d been holding the taller man in a dip, their chests suddenly  coming flush as the Russian slightly overbalanced, steadying himself against Yuuri. There was a moment where they stood, eyes locked in the impossible electricity of it… until Yuuri’s stomach loudly reminded him that he had utterly failed to take advantage of the buffet arrayed against the back wall. The skater laughed, a high, delighted tumble of giggles.

 

“Have you not eaten, Yuuri?” He asked, his head tilting in an inquisitive little gesture that did funny things to Yuuri’s already strained breathing.

 

“Ah, no,” he admitted blushingly. “I was too keyed up after the show and then I was here and I just… forgot,” he finished lamely. Reluctantly, he stepped away, suddenly realizing the intimacy of their position. Victor looked strangely disappointed for a moment, but his faltering smile recovered quickly. He gestured towards the buffet table before noticing how sparse the selection had grown over the night.

 

“We can go see what’s left? At least get some food in you?”

 

Yuuri made a face at the unappealing option before brightening. “Orrrr, we could go find a late-night ramen spot!” He practically glowed at the idea, the knowledge that he was in his home country for the first time in years lending him a strange sense of confidence. He wanted to be out in the streets of Tokyo. More, he wanted to show Tokyo to Victor. The realization stopped him in his tracks and he suddenly deflated. Victor surely had plans with his friend, why would he want to leave this twinkling room full of cameras and fans to spend time in a dive bar with a man he’d only just met?

 

To his surprise, Victor positively glowed at the suggestion. “Yuu-uuri! Yes! I’d love to! Let me just go tell Christophe so he doesn’t come looking for me!” He bounded in the Swiss skater’s direction, leaving Yuuri feeling like he’d possibly bitten off more than he could chew. Shaking his head, he edged his way off the dance floor, making his way as quietly as possible to the door.

 

“And where do you think you’re sneaking off to?” Phichit. Of course.

 

“Just getting something to eat, Peach,” he said, trying not to roll his eyes as his friend’s face lit up.

 

“With Viiiictor?”

 

God, his friends were the worst. He sighed.  “Yes. With Victor.”

 

Phichit positively beamed. “Oh my god. YES! Thank you! My baby is all grown up!” His expression turned serious. “But Yuuri, be careful.

 

“Peach, he’s not going to jump me…” Yuuri trailed off as Phichit frantically shook his head.

 

“Nonono! Not him. And god I hope he jumps you. Or that you jump him. I need to live vicariously through you, Yuuri! But I meant… you’re an international pop star who just finished a sold-out concert in the area. And Victor’s not exactly unrecognizable.”

 

Yuuri laughed. “Phichit, I’m a Japanese man. In Japan. Unless I start belting out song lyrics on the table I don’t think anybody is going to recognize me.”

 

Phichit just stared flatly at him. “Right. Wear your face mask on the streets, okay?”

 

“Yes, Mom.

 

“Ah. Am… I interrupting?” Victor came up behind Phichit, looking uncertain. The Thai singer’s grin turned sly and Yuuri lunged forward to snag Victor’s wrist and pull him through the door before his friend could do something incredibly embarrassing.

 

***

 

Vkusno!” Victor chirped. “I’ve had ramen before, but this is so good, Yuuri.”

 

The younger man beamed in delight, happily slurping his own noodles. “Mmm, it’s never really the same anywhere else. The best ramen is at these tiny little places. You can find them all over Japan, but they’re usually a little off the beaten path.”

 

“Is this your favorite food, then?” Victor wondered.

 

Yuuri shook his head, taking a sip of the tiny glass of beer Victor had talked him into enjoying. “No. My favorite is katsudon, but my mom’s is so good that I really can’t eat it anywhere else but at our family’s onsen.” He noticed the quizzical glance on Victor’s face and answered the question before the Russian man could ask. “It’s basically a hot spring resort, with a restaurant attached. But I haven’t been back in a while.” Yuuri gave a little half shrug, digging back into his meal.

 

Victor eyed the younger man for a long minute. “How long?”

 

“Three years.”

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m sure you must miss them,” he said softly.

 

Yuuri nodded. “Mmmm, I do. But,” he said, brightening, “I get to see my family and my childhood best friends in a couple days! They’re coming to the concert in Kyoto!”

 

Victor felt his throat tighten at the sight of the brilliant sparkle in the younger man’s eyes. He longed, in that moment, to be the one who had brought that gleam of joy to Yuuri’s face. Unfortunately, the Japanese singer misinterpreted his gaze.

 

“Oh, um, sorry, is there something on my face?”

 

And Victor was a weak, weak man, because he couldn’t resist leaning across the table and running a gentle thumb from Yuuri’s cheek to his chin, catching an imaginary drip. And yes, that skin was exactly as soft as it looked. A little piece of him preened, noticing the way those cinnamon eyes widened, the pupils blowing out as Victor’s touch lingered just a little longer than it should have.   

 

Their reverie was interrupted as the shopkeeper set the bill down in between them, both men leaning back, the moment bursting at the intrusion. Yuuri hastily pulled out a wad of yen, throwing them down before swallowing the last of his beer.

 

“Ah, we… we should get back,” the singer stammered, suddenly shy again. Victor cursed the shopkeeper’s timing but nodded before rising and offering his hand to the other man. Yuuri hesitated before taking it, quickly dropping it once he stood. After replacing his face mask, the Japanese man led the way back towards the hotel, their shoulders almost touching as they moved. Summoning his courage, Victor brushed his knuckles against Yuuri’s, catching those enormous eyes as he turned his palm invitingly. He could see the wheels turning in the younger man’s face for a moment, but then he was tangling his fingers with Victor’s, a blush highlighting the tops of his cheeks as he faced forward once again.

 

It felt like he’d barely blinked, but he found himself stepping into the hotel’s elevator, Yuuri’s finger hovering over a button.

 

“I… the party is probably still going if you want to head back…” the singer offered, his voice softly hesitant.

 

Victor shook his head slightly. “I don’t want to go back to the party, Yuuri,” he said hoarsely.

 

Yuuri pressed a different button, for a higher floor, then turned to him, eyes blazing. “Good,”  he murmured, surging into Victor’s arms and catching him against the wall in a searing kiss. The ride up was both too short and too long, but the doors opened and they stumbled out, wrapped up in each other. They somehow fumbled to a stop outside of a room where Yuuri finally broke away, flashing his keycard and shoving the door open. Victor caught the younger man’s slender frame in his arms as he backed them into the room, spinning to pin Yuuri against the wall once the door closed.

 

Yuuri’s hands slipped under his shirt, trailing heat everywhere his fingers touched, moaning as Victor’s hips ground against his own. Yuuri’s mouth opened under Victor’s desperately searching tongue and the skater felt like a drowning man that could finally breathe again.

 

The tiny part of Victor’s mind not entirely wrapped up in taking apart the beautiful man in his arms paused to wonder when, exactly, he had slipped under the water in the first place.

Chapter Text

April 3rd, 2014, Tokyo

 

Victor woke up alone in the overlarge bed the next morning.

 

It wasn’t the first time he’d woken up alone after a tryst, but he still felt a stab of groggy disappointment. They didn’t know each other very well (yet, whispered that hopeful little piece of himself), but he’d thought they’d connected enough for Yuuri to stay through the night. He glanced forlornly at the bedside clock, suddenly noticing the folded glasses and the unfamiliar suitcase near the window. Oh, he realized. This wasn’t his room.

 

Also, he smelled bacon.

 

Sitting upright, he dragged a hand through his hair, patting it into something resembling order just in time for the bathroom door to swing open. Yuuri stepped back into the room, wrapped in the hotel’s fluffy bathrobe, a towel draped over his neck. He looked adorable like that, free of both makeup and hair gel, and Victor suddenly wished he had a way to magically remove morning breath so that he could kiss a blush onto those perfectly round cheeks.

 

“Oh! Good, you’re awake! Uh… the bathroom’s free if you need it, and there’s, um, breakfast… that is, if you have time before you need to get back to Christophe…” Yuuri offered, the morning returning a hint of shyness to his demeanor.

 

“You ordered me food, Yuuri?” Victor crooned.

 

“Ah, yes? Well, I mean, I ordered food for both of us? It’s morning and I didn’t want you to be hungry…” The singer blinked at him in confusion.

 

Morning breath be damned.

 

***

 

“Victor, you can’t marry a boy because he buys you post hook-up breakfast,” Chris drawled from where he was preening in front of the mirror. He glanced over his shoulder, laughing under his breath at Victor’s inelegant sprawl across the bed.  

 

“There are definitely worse reasons to marry someone,” Victor groused.

 

Chris made his way to the bed, sitting on the edge so that he could peer down into his friend’s face. “You really like this man, eh?”

 

Victor flushed, throwing a hand over his face to hide his expression. “God Chris, he’s beautiful. But he’s not just pretty. Did you know he writes almost all of their lyrics? And he played keyboard on their first album! And he’s so kind. He cares about his friends and his family. Plus, he has the cutest little poodle! Like a mini-Makkachin!” The Russian’s face was animated as he spoke, flushed and happy. It made Chris pause thoughtfully for a moment. He’d thought they’d come here on some sort of fanboy whim, that Victor’s crush would fade once he’d met and maybe had a brief fling with Katsuki. This though… he hadn’t seen Victor light up like this in years.

 

“Tell me you at least got the boy’s number? Not that international hook-ups are the easiest to coordinate, but it does help if you at least got his number. Or was your sex addled brain too far gone to remember?”

 

“Chris!” Victor gasped, aghast. “Of course, I got his number! How else would we exchange pictures of our dogs?”

 

Chris blinked. Was that a euphemism or… nevermind. It was Victor. Of course, they’d exchange pictures of their dogs.

 

***

 

“My skin is clear.”

 

“Phichit.”

 

“My crops are flourishing.”

 

“Phichit, I swear to god.”

 

“My room is clean.”

 

“That’s it. I’m not helping you find any more vintage Hamtaro merchandise.”

 

“Yuuri! No! I’m sorry! I’ll stop!” Phichit clung to the older singer’s arm, his half-wailed plea earning him a glare from the shinkansen’s other occupants. From across the aisle, Seung-gil and Guang Hong glanced over curiously at the commotion.

 

Rolling his eyes, Yuuri snatched Phichit’s phone out of his hand, scrolling back through the photos Phichit had been gushing over. He paused at one, showing him dipping a softly smiling Victor. A lump formed in his throat as he quickly sent himself the photo, then set about deleting the rest from Phichit’s sim card.

 

“Yuuri!” Phichit gasped in horror. “What are you doing? I need those!”

 

Yuuri held the phone out of Phichit’s grasp, continuing to delete the images. “Nope. I know you too well Mr. Instagram Junkie. If I leave these, they’ll end up on some shitty gossip site.” He finally handed over the phone, depleted of its most recent pictures.

 

Phichit took it back, a strange look on his face. “Sooooo, what, you don’t want people knowing that you’re dating Victor Nikiforov?”

 

Yuuri slouched in his seat, biting pensively at his lip. “I’m not dating Victor Nikiforov,” he half-whispered.

 

Phichit made a little sound of disbelief, leaning over Yuuri’s phone to bring up the picture he’d sent himself. Deft fingers zoomed in on the look on Victor’s face. “Right, because that isn’t the look of an utterly smitten man. Try and tell me you didn’t hook up with him after you left the party.” Yuuri blushed, images from the night before flashing before him. As beautiful as Victor looked in the picture, the vision of Victor wearing nothing but utterly blissed out dishevelment was one he’d treasure even more deeply. Even if he’d probably never see him again…

 

Life being utterly ridiculous, his phone chose that moment to buzz with an incoming message, drawing a gleeful gasp from his friend.

 

V.Nikiforov: Miss you already. Don’t forget to message me when you get to Kyoto!

 

“Riiiight,” Phichit drawled. “Definitely not dating Victor Nikiforov!”

 

***

 

As the shinkansen pulled up in Kyoto Station, Yuuri was practically vibrating in his seat, the anticipation of seeing his family after so long pushing all other thoughts from his mind. Minako flashed him a sympathetic glance from her seat, her thumbs working over the screen of her phone, probably messaging with his sister. As the train pulled to a stop, Yuuri bounced out of his seat, struggling to pull his bag from the overhead rack.

 

“Yuuri! Leave your bag, I’ll take care of it,” Celestino boomed with a grin. Yuuri flashed him a grateful smile and slipped out the doors as soon as they opened. He scanned the crowd eagerly, dancing from foot to foot.

 

“Yuu-chan!” A familiar voice reached his ears and he snapped around, spotting Yuuko standing near his sister, Mari. Both women were waving as he set off at a brisk jog, launching himself into their welcoming arms. Happy tears streamed down his face as he let himself relax into their embrace. Finally, he pulled away, Mari steering him to look at her.

 

“You look good little brother. Too skinny, but good.”

 

Yuuri laughed. “It’s good to see you too, Mari-neechan. Where’s mom and dad?”

 

“Outside, waiting with Takeshi,” Yuuko replied, leaning into the siblings’ space. He flashed her a grin, dropping one of his arms to link it with his old friend. Arm in arm, the trio made their way out of the station.

 

His reunion with his parents was another round of tearfully joyful hugs, and for a long moment he refused to move away from the comfort of his mother’s arms. After a long moment, they pulled apart with near identical happy laughs.

 

“Are you okay to leave? Do you need to wait for Celestino and Minako?” Hiroko fussed.

 

Yuuri shook his head. “No, kaa-san, I already cleared it with them. Our gear won’t get here until tomorrow morning, so Celestino gave us the night off.”

 

Hiroko beamed. “Oh good! Let’s get lunch and catch up before we head back to the ryokan, hmmm?” Yuuri beamed in agreement.

 

Minako had coordinated with his family to rent out an entire ryokan for the band and their contingent and Yuuri was looking forward to introducing his adopted brothers to the familiar surroundings and food of his childhood. For now, though, he’d enjoy lunch with the family and friends of his youth.

 

***

 

“Last chance, we can hop on that train and catch the show in Kyoto. Enjoy a night with your musical little hottie…” Christophe waggled his eyebrows in a manner Victor could only describe as blatantly lascivious.

 

He sighed, clutching his carry-on full of souvenirs a little closer to his chest. “No. I should get back to St. Petersburg. I know Yakov said to take some time but… I didn’t really plan ahead for a long trip. Plus, my sitter can’t watch Makkachin indefinitely.”

 

“In other words, you don’t want to seem desperate.”

 

Victor grimaced. “In other words, if I go to Kyoto, there’s not much to stop me from going to Osaka. After Osaka, it’s what, a week until Beijing? Hell, I have the money, I could buy enough clothes and plane tickets to follow them the whole damned tour. Which would be asinine. Insane.”

 

“But you’re tempted anyway,” Chris said, not meeting his eyes.

 

“God, I’m tempted.”

 

“Then why not do it? As you said, you have the means, and you’ve certainly earned a few weeks of vacation…”

 

And that was the thing. He could do it. Indulge himself in a harmless affair for a few weeks. Let himself enjoy Yuuri’s company, no strings attached. But that was it, wasn’t it? As short a time as he’d known the man, he knew he didn’t want a fling. For the first time in, well, longer than he cared to think about, he wanted the strings. He didn’t want Yuuri Katsuki to see him as a groupie, someone who’d flit in and out of his bedroom only when it was convenient, only when it was dark. So, he’d go home. He’d send pictures of Makkachin, flirt a little over Messenger and Snapchat, figure out the next step.

 

He didn’t know how, but he knew he didn’t want to slip back into the numbness that had consumed his life for so long.

 

Chris eyed him as if he could read the thoughts behind his eyes. The Swiss man sighed, shouldering his own bag. “C’mon then Vitya, let’s get you home.”

 

Chapter Text

April 5th, 2014, Kyoto

 

Yuuri pushed the last bit of rice around on his plate, his eyes narrowed as he watched the trio of women in the corner of the room. He wasn’t sure what Minako had pulled up on her phone but based on the gasps and ‘ohmygods’ coming from Yuuko and Mari, he was also fairly positive he didn’t want to know. Footage from last night’s concert? A clip from that embarrassing moment when those girls had burst into tears mid-selfie at the VIP meet and greet? Or…

 

Another plate was shoved in front of him as a second body slumped down beside him.

 

“Here. You haven’t had your mom’s cooking in three years. I don’t know how she bribed her way into the kitchen but you should take advantage of it while you can.”

 

Yuuri smiled as he stabbed a bite off the plate. “You know, you used to call me fat, now you’re feeding me second helpings of katsudon?”

 

Takeshi shrugged his broad shoulders, looking a bit sheepish. “Ah, well. I’ve got kids now and if anybody called them names, I guess I’d be pretty damned mad. So… sorry I was an asshole back then.”

 

Yuuri grinned and bumped shoulders with the other man, before continuing to eat.

 

“Besides, you’re way too skinny now. All of you are. They work you that hard in Detroit?”

 

Yuuri paused, a bite halfway to his mouth. “We burn a lot of calories on stage,” he shrugged. “But, Minako did have us on a tour diet before we left, and we have dance lessons and a personal trainer to keep us trim. We’re not just selling music, we’re selling an image."

 

Takeshi eyed him in slight disapproval. “You’re quoting,” the older man pointed out bluntly.

 

Yuuri hummed in agreement. “The studio head, yeah. But he’s right. A lot of young people buy albums because of the cover art, or because they see photo shoots in magazines. If we want people to listen, then we need them to look first.”

 

Takeshi shook his head slowly. “That doesn’t sound like the Katsuki Yuuri who quit figure skating lessons because he couldn’t stop writing music. If you wanted people to stare at you, skating would’ve been easier. You quit because you dreamed of using your voice, not your body.”

 

Yuuri shrugged. “And now I use both,” he said calmly, glancing around the room and spotting his bandmates in a happily chattering knot. “Besides,” he said softly. “It’s not just my dream anymore.”

 

April 7th, 2014, St. Petersburg

 

Victor skated in almost mindless patterns, his feet half-mimicking the dance replaying in his memory. A few steps of the tango, a swirling waltz that led into a salsa… a dance for two, performed solo in the quiet rink.

 

“Oi! Mudak! I thought Yakov banned you from the rink for another week!”  A bucket of cold water in the form of a perpetually angry newly-fourteen-year-old drowned out the deliciously mindless reverie.

 

“Ah! Yura! If you’ll recall, Yakov said he didn’t want to see me at his rink for another week!” Yakov had a meeting with his divorce attorney this morning and Victor was not above exploiting loopholes. He’d be off the ice before Yakov ever knew. Except…

 

“Yeah, well, when I tell him you were here, he’ll be pissed!”

 

Victor sighed. Thankfully, he had come prepared with a bribe. Skating to the edge of the rink where Yuri stood, tiny fists planted on his hips, Victor tapped thoughtfully at his lips. “Ah, but if you tell him I was here, I might forget to give you your souvenirs from Tokyo! My memory is just so terrible, you know!”

 

“What!? Hey! That’s… that’s not fair. You promised you’d bring me something!” Yuri spluttered.

 

“And when Yakov asks if you’ve seen me?”

 

“You were never here. Fine. Whatever. What did you get me? Is it here?” Victor grinned at the boy’s enthusiasm as he stepped off the ice, pausing to grab his guards from the wall. He nodded towards his gear bag as he began to slip the bits of hard rubber over his blades, laughing as the blond dashed away, too impatient to wait.

 

“The white paper bag, Yura, should be right on top.”

 

Yuri crowed as he found his gift bag, gleefully dumping the contents onto the bench. Victor smiled as the teen held the tour shirt up against his torso, then quickly pulled it on over top of his workout gear, the colorful lanyard soon following suit.

 

“All four of them signed that shirt, so be careful, da?”

 

Da, da, oh! Did they sign the photo book too? Ah! They did!” He ignored Victor as the older skater sat beside him. “Oh hey, what’s in the green bag?” He cast avaricious emerald eyes on the similar package still nested into Victor’s duffel.

 

“That’s for Mila, leave it alone.”

 

Yuri huffed, still casting glittering glances at the unopened souvenirs, then turned back to flipping through the glossy photos in his book. Victor gazed fondly down at the boy, resisting the urge to ruffle his hair. It was nice, really, seeing Yuri act like the kid he was. The kid Victor had never been allowed to be. When he was fourteen, who had his heroes been? Lambiel and some of the other older skaters, probably. If he’d listened to music or watched movies, it was typically just when he was deciding on performance pieces. The FFKK had been in something of a rebuilding phase, and even as a Novice, Victor Nikiforov had been the golden child; Russia’s path back to figure skating glory. It hadn’t exactly left him much time to enjoy being a teenager.

 

“Oi! Hey! Vitya!”

 

“Oh, ah, sorry, yes Yura?”

 

The teen eyed him suspiciously. “You were doing that weird spacing out shit again.”

 

Oh. Huh. When had Yuri Plisetsky become so observant? “I’m fine, kotenok. No need to worry.”

 

“Tcha, who said I was worried?” Yuri clutched his souvenir book against his chest, looking very young in the slightly too large tour shirt. “It’s just, Yakov’s due back soon, so you should probably get out of here.”  

 

“Ah, right. Thanks, Yura.”

 

“Ugh, whatever.” The young skater turned and stormed towards the ice, carefully setting his book near his duffel bag. Victor shook his head and started to unlace his skates.

 

“Oi!”

 

Victor glanced up to see that the boy had paused to look back at him before moving out onto the ice for his warm up.

 

“Thanks.” Yuri indicated his t-shirt with a flippant wave of his hand before spinning back around and skating off.

 

Victor grinned.

 

April 9th, 2014, Kansai International Airport

 

“Sooooo, whatcha looking at all dreamily?” A chin hooked over Yuuri’s shoulder, a slim finger reaching to poke at the hastily dimmed screen.

 

“Phichit! I’m, I’m not… that’s… it’s… ah… nothing?” Yuuri spluttered, yanking the phone back out of his friend’s reach.

 

“Lyyyyying!” Phichit sang out, drawing Guang Hong and Seung-gil’s attention.

 

“Why are you like this?”  Yuuri whispered furiously, reluctantly pulling up the image he’d been looking at before Phichit could cause any more of a commotion.

 

“You love me,” Phichit crooned, leaning forward to zoom in on the photo.

 

And that was the thing. No matter how crazy Phichit drove him, he couldn’t imagine life without him (or Guang Hong and Seung-gil for that matter). He already missed his family, having bid a final teary farewell to Mari at the security gates after she’d tagged along for the Osaka concert. But if he couldn’t be here, in his homeland, at least he got to spend his time with these kindred spirits who shared his dreams. He smiled fondly at the exuberant man draped over top of him, feeling a warm sense of happiness.

 

Of course, Phichit was nothing if not a little shit so he, of course, chose that moment to open his mouth. “Daaaamn, Katsuki, how many pictures are IN this folder? I mean, I get having a stash, but this just keeps going !” The Thai singer gave a low whistle as he scrolled.

 

He side-eyed the younger man. “Go be elsewhere? Now?”

 

Phichit flashed him a teasing grin before pushing off from his shoulders and moving to join the other boys across the aisle in the Asiana lounge.

 

“There aren’t that many photos,” Yuuri grumbled under his breath, thumbing absently through the images. He paused at the most recent, a photo of Victor with his arms slung over the shoulders of a pair of teenagers, both of them wearing shirts from Quad:JUMP’s tour.

 

“If he hasn’t posted that online yet, please make sure he does,” came Minako’s elegant drawl.

 

Yuuri decided he needed to resign himself to absolutely zero privacy, ever.

 

The choreographer settled herself on the leather sofa beside him, a martini glass held loosely between her long fingers.

 

“You do realize it’s like 9:00 in the morning?” Yuuri couldn’t resist pointing out.

 

“Time doesn’t count in airport lounges with open bars, Katsuki Yuuri. And don’t change the subject. We should be capitalizing on Victor’s association with the band.”

 

The Japanese singer squirmed. “That’s… I don’t… Minako-sensei, I don’t really feel comfortable with that idea.”

 

“Why, because you slept with him?” she asked bluntly.

 

Yuuri tried, but despite his best efforts, the couch refused to open up and swallow him whole. “Tha-That’s… Minako!”

 

She waved off his vague protest. “Look at this,” she instructed, pulling up a video on her phone. The footage was shaky but was unmistakably from the tour launch party. Yuuri watched, wide-eyed, as he and Victor danced across the tiny screen. Part of him hated that Minako had this footage. The other part of him was ready to beg her to send it to him for his stash.

 

“Okay,” he said shakily. “Why are you showing me this?”

 

Minako gazed at him seriously. “Yuuri, you’re an adult. I don’t care who you do or don’t spend your evenings with, as long as you’re careful. But what I do care about is how well you two move together.”

 

“What are you trying to tell me, Minako?” he asked, cinnamon eyes still glued to the screen.

 

“We have a music video to shoot for History Maker when we get back to Detroit and I think Victor Nikiforov should be in it. He helped make it famous, it’s only fitting. I can talk to Lilia, see if it can be arranged, but I won’t unless you’re okay with me doing so.”

 

Yuuri’s mind came to a grinding halt.

 

“Think about it Yuuri-kun. I don’t need to ask her today, but we don’t have a ton of time if we want to get him to Detroit by June.”

 

Chapter Text

June 3rd, 2014, Detroit

 

Victor moved past the security barriers, glancing around uncertainly in the unfamiliar airport. Surely, he’d been here before? Skate America? Perhaps an ice show? He shook his head, trying to focus through the haze of the 14-hour flight. Right. Someone was meeting him. If he found them, he’d be that much closer to a real bed. His bleary eyes finally alighted on a vaguely familiar figure bearing a handwritten sign, his surname neatly printed in English. He paused in front of the man, unable to help the tiny grimace of disappointment when he realized Celestino Cialdini was alone.

 

“Ciao ciao, Victor! Welcome to Detroit!” The ebullient man reached a large hand forward to snag Victor’s rolling suitcase.

 

“Ah, thank you for meeting me, Mr. Cialdini.”

 

“No, no! Thank you for agreeing to travel all this way! I’m sure you must be very busy back in Russia!”

 

Victor briefly thought of the cancelled ice shows, the frequency with which Yakov and Lilia had been banning him from practice…

 

“Ah, yes. Well, it’s always good to have a change of pace,” he said, flashing his tight media grin. “I look forward to working with Quad:JUMP!” He couldn’t help craning his head slightly, still hoping to catch sight of a familiar head of lush black hair.

 

“I left the boys sleeping off one of Mina’s practice sessions. A treat you’ll get to enjoy soon enough, my friend!” Celestino boomed, his cheerfulness almost oppressive. Then, catching sight of the dark circles under Victor’s eyes, he continued in a moderated tone. “And speaking of sleep, let’s get you to a bed.”

 

“That... that isn’t…” his protest faded under an enormous yawn. “That sounds amazing, Mr. Cialdini,” he finished sheepishly, smiling at the manager’s knowing laugh.

 

“This way. And please, call me Celestino!” The two men were silent as they made their way to the parking lot and loaded the bags into an oversized Cadillac. Victor slid into the passenger seat, gratefully leaning his head back against the leather headrest.

 

“Here.”

 

Victor blinked out of the mini-doze, opening his eyes to see a metal thermos.

 

“The coffee should still be hot, if you’d care for some.”

 

He smiled gratefully as Celestino began pulling out of the lot. “Thank you, it was kind of you to pick me up yourself.”

 

Celestino waved away the grateful words. “You’re doing us a very great favor, it was the least I could do. Seeing my boys succeed, well, it’s worth a little trip to the airport to pick up Russia’s golden child, yes?”

 

Victor hid his grimace at the nickname behind his cup. “Right. Yes. Ah, where am I staying?”

 

Celestino raised an impossibly bushy eyebrow at the deflection. “Mmmm, well, for tonight, you’ll stay in the spare room at the band’s flat. If that’s not to your liking after tonight, there’s a Hilton not too far from the studio. We just thought to see if the flat worked for you, since we’re not sure how long you’ll be staying, and it might be more convenient for you to be near the band.”

 

“Oh! I’m sure the spare room will be fine!” More than fine. After two months of brief texts and briefer FaceTime chats, staying in the same house as Yuuri sounded like heaven.

 

***

 

“Ciao Ciao just texted. They’re on their way!” Phichit called out from the hallway.

 

“Did we put enough towels in the guest bathroom? Oh god, what if he doesn’t like memory foam pillows? Should we have gotten feather pillows? Maybe they prefer feather pillows in Russia?” Yuuri’s voice drifted from the bedroom, growing increasingly frantic.

 

Phichit sighed and tucked his phone into his back pocket before making his way to the spare room where Yuuri had spent the morning frantically straightening the non-existent mess. Sure enough, the Japanese singer was refolding a blanket that Phichit was certain had already been perfectly folded before he’d left the room. He gently pulled it from Yuuri’s hand, settling it on the bed and steering his friend out of the room with a firm push.

 

“But… I should…”

 

“Nope,” Phichit said, popping the ‘p’ sound. “No more cleaning, the bedroom is fine.”

 

Yuuri wrung his hands, anxious for something to do. “He’s probably used to five-star hotels when he travels. I should have gotten fancy coffee. Oh! We have good tea! Russians like tea, right?”

 

“Hey! Focus, Katsuki! Stop freaking out! This hero worship stuff was cute before you met him, but you need to get over it! The guy is clearly crazy about you, there’s no need to try to impress him with fancy teas. We all saw the way he looked at you back in Tokyo, and I don’t care what the spin is, there’s no way he’s doing this video just for the PR. He’s here to see you.”

 

“Sounds fake,” Yuuri muttered.

 

Barely suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Phichit grabbed Yuuri’s hands, halting their panicked motions. “Stop. Yuuri, for once, just let yourself have nice things? Get to know him. Take him for bubble tea. Sneak into his bedroom for sloppy make-out sessions when you think nobody will notice!” Yuuri blushed and Phichit dropped his hands, leaning in to wrap his arms around the taller man. “You deserve good things, Yuuri. Please, just relax, okay?”

 

Yuuri relaxed into the hug for a moment. “I don’t know that I deserve good things, but I already have you and that’s pretty amazing, Peach.”

 

“Big ol’ softie.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

A brisk knock on their door pulled them out of the hug. Yuuri cast huge eyes in Phichit’s direction as Seung-gil and Guang Hong came out of their rooms.

 

“Are we just going to pretend we can’t hear the knocking?” Seung-gil asked dryly when nobody moved to open the door.

 

Shaking his head in exasperation when Yuuri still didn’t move, Phichit finally stepped forward to turn the handle, revealing Celestino and a drained looking Victor.

 

“Ciao ciao, boys! I’ve brought your guest!” He moved past the Thai singer, half-dragging the Russian skater at his side.

 

Victor waved weakly, his eyes locking instantly on Yuuri’s face. From behind the tall Russian, Phichit frantically waggled his eyebrows, trying to convey some sort of indecipherable message to his bandmate.

 

Yuuri steeled himself, then stepped forward. “Hey, you must be exhausted,” he said softly, reaching forward to grab the handle of Victor’s roller bag.

 

“A… a bit,” Victor admitted, his blue, blue eyes shining with a swirl of emotions which Yuuri couldn’t quite read.

 

“You should show him to his room, Yuuri, we can all hang out later!” Phichit called from by the door.

 

Yuuri flashed him a brief glance of exasperation.

 

“Ah, right. It’s, um, this way?” He gestured towards the hall with a tentative wave of his hand. Victor followed quietly behind him, stopping in relief when he laid eyes on the comfortable looking double bed. “The, uh, the pillows are memory foam!” Yuuri blurted as Victor dropped his shoulder bag near the bed.

 

Victor smiled uncertainly in his direction. “I’m... sure they’re lovely?” He moved into Yuuri’s space, a gentle hand moving to sweep Yuuri’s hair from his eyes. Yuuri swallowed at the sudden proximity, backing away in a mindless panic.

 

“Right. So, um, we’re just down the hall if you need us. The bathroom is through there and um, right, take your time and nap, and yes, okay, goodbye then,” he blurted before moving rapidly in the opposite direction. He resisted the urge to look back, not wanting to make the encounter even more awkward by staring at the stunning man that fortune had somehow delivered right to his literal doorstep.

 

If he had turned, he would have seen Victor collapse heavily onto the bed, something more than exhaustion clouding those brilliant sea-blue eyes.

 

***

 

Victor groggily retraced his steps a few hours later, jet lag and a prolonged nap putting him into that strange transitory state in which he was somehow simultaneously exhausted and wide awake. Peering hopefully into the living area, he was disappointed to find it abandoned. He perked up slightly at the sound of tuneful humming, following it to a small kitchen where he smiled to see a petite man with a mop of dark hair shimmying to the tinny music leaking from a set of enormous headphones. Still dancing, the young man flipped the switch on an electric kettle before finally turning around.

 

“Gyah!”

 

Victor winced at the surprised yelp and held up a sheepish hand in greeting as teen yanked the headphones from his ears. “Ah, sorry! Hiiiii! I didn’t mean to scare you… um, Phichit, right?”

 

The singer grinned and bounced forward, his hand extended. “Victor! Good to see you again now that you’re a bit more alert! Do you like tea? Would you like some tea?”

 

“Oh, please? I love tea!”

 

Phichit looked strangely pleased at his response, gesturing for the taller man to take a seat at the tiny table crowding the corner of the kitchen space. “Yuuri’ll be thrilled,” he muttered as he quickly set out the cups and filled a pair of metal strainers with leaves from a small container. He settled the cups on the table before deftly pouring the hot water and settling into the other chair. As they waited for the tea to steep, Phichit leaned forward, steepling his fingers as he eyed Victor curiously.

 

“Sooooo, where are your bandmates?” Victor asked, uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

 

Phichit’s grin widened. “Where’s Yuuri, you mean?”

 

Victor felt himself blush, nervously ruffling a hand through his hair as he stayed silent.

 

The Thai singer leaned back slightly, his gaze suddenly narrowing. “Huh. Damn,” he muttered, moving to pull the strainers from their cups. He offered the sugar to Victor before adding several heaping spoonfuls to his own drink. He stirred thoughtfully for a long moment before sitting back again.

 

His silence began to make Victor nervous.

 

“Um…?”

 

“I was going to give you the shovel talk, but I’m not entirely certain you’re the one who needs it,” Phichit said pensively. He sipped his tea, glancing at Victor over the rim with merrily flashing eyes.

 

Victor felt his blush deepen. “Oh?” He offered, feigning nonchalance. Phichit’s grin was starting to become unnerving.

 

“He’s shy, Nikiforov,” the younger man said bluntly, pointing his spoon in the skater’s direction. “You met him coming off a performance high. He’s not always that open with people he… well, with people. In general.”

 

Victor bit his lip, torn between wanting to hear more and feeling like he was going behind Yuuri’s back. His internal debate was abruptly sidetracked when a tiny nose poked its way out of Phichit’s collar. The older man shoved back from the table, eyes wide in shock.

 

“Is… is there a mouse in your shirt?” Victor’s voice sounded shrill in his own ears.

 

Phichit’s affable expression abruptly shifted to one of outrage. “How dare you! THIS,” he began, abruptly pulling a small wriggling creature out of his shirt. “Is Arthur and he is a hamster!”

 

“And these are Arthur’s sisters, who should probably not be wandering around the hallway by themselves.” Yuuri suddenly leaned into the kitchen, two more wriggling rodents held in his grasp.

 

“Oh… good, there’s more of them,” Victor said faintly.

 

He suddenly had the feeling  he was completely out of his depth.

 

Chapter Text

June 4th, 2014, Detroit

 

Yuuri’s fickle brain decided he’d had enough sleep sometime around 4:00 a.m. and he lay for a while in bed debating the merits of moving or just allowing the pre-dawn hours to pass while lazing in the comfortable warmth. Vicchan whined in his sleep and Yuuri smiled, laying a calming hand on his pup. Soothed, the fluffball relaxed again, his little paws twitching slightly. Yuuri however, felt the familiar creeping fingers of anxiety as they crawled up his spine, driving him to get up and do something.

 

With a sigh, he crept out from under the covers, careful not to disrupt Vicchan’s sleep. He quickly pulled on dance gear, determined to at least take advantage of the clarity of the early morning hours. He stepped into the hall, gently closing his door before peering longingly in the direction of the spare bedroom. The band had passed a pleasant evening with their guest, teasing Victor about his obvious rodent phobia and watching goofy YouTube videos. Yuuri had caught the Russian casting more than a few glances in his direction, but he hadn’t been able to work up the courage to speak more than a few words to the gorgeous man.

 

Shaking his head, he moved past the turnoff to the tempting door, padding his way to the kitchen. To his surprise, it was occupied.

 

“Oh!” Victor’s silver blond hair was deliciously unkempt, his bangs obscuring his eyes, and, much to Yuuri’s dismayed (delighted? ) confusion, he was shirtless.

 

“Yuuri!” The tall blond chirped. “I heated some water if you want tea!” He indicated the electric kettle with a cheerful grin, lifting his own tea cup in greeting.

 

Yuuri ruffled his hand through his hair awkwardly, shuffling his way past the half-naked skater to reach the cabinets. Quickly pulling together his own cup, he turned and leaned against the counter opposite the other man. “Ah…” His eyes alighted on the jam jar sitting out on the counter and he grasped at the slim straw. “Oh, did you make toast?”

 

Victor looked confused. “What? No? I haven’t eaten anything yet. I just… couldn’t sleep.” He shrugged. “Jet lag, you know.” His accent was thicker this morning, heavy with exhaustion and Yuuri felt himself flush at the deliciously low burr of it.

 

“Ah. Okay…?” Yuuri tucked the mystery jam back into the fridge, turning back to pull the tea strainer out of his cup and taking a tentative sip. The men drank in silence for a few moments, before Victor shifted in his chair, leaning forward and propping his elbows on the counter.

 

“So… I know why I’m awake, but why are you up, Yuuri?” Victor’s bright blue eyes were wide with honest curiosity.

 

“I… I couldn’t sleep so I was going to go to the dance studio, get a little work in before everyone else gets up...”

 

Victor perked up. “Oh! Can I come, too?”

 

Yuuri was torn between melting and combusting at the eager, happy look on his crush’s face. “Oh… um… I don’t see why not? I was just going to start reviewing the choreography for History Maker… I could show you? I guess?” He tried not to wince at the slight squeak in his voice.

 

Victor didn’t seem to notice, grinning happily as he drained his mug. “Let me change and I’ll be right back!”

 

“Ah… sure!?”

 

***

 

Victor somehow found himself trailing along behind the most beautiful man in the world on a Detroit sidewalk at 5 in the morning. A sneaky pinch to his inside elbow proved that he was, in fact, awake, so he continued to gamely tag along.

 

(Part of him was starting to believe that he’d follow wherever Yuuri led.)

 

He shoved the dangerous thought to the side, forcing himself to focus on the realities of the present. He blinked and found himself paused beside a nondescript building, Yuuri hovering at the door, gazing quizzically in his direction.

 

“This is it,” the younger man softly proclaimed, unlocking the door and slipping into the shadowy depths of the studio. Victor followed him bemusedly, still caught up in the odd spell that seemed to have wrapped him in its depths. Yuuri spun, beckoning him down the hallway with a mischievous grin and, dear gods, Victor was utterly lost. He followed the younger man into the room, eyes catching on the dramatic floor to ceiling mirrors and the wrap-around barre.

 

“I… I thought we could warm up and then I could show you some of the sequences Minako and I have been working on?”

 

Victor blinked in surprise. “You do choreography as well? I thought you mainly wrote lyrics?”

 

Yuuri blushed. “Um, oh, mostly? But I’ve been working with Minako-sensei since I was a kid and, ah, sometimes I help with some of the dance arrangements?” The younger man hesitated, finger hovering over a worn cd player. He offered a sweet smile in Victor’s direction, then pressed a button on the machine.

 

The lilting opening notes of History Maker filled the room and Yuuri stood, shyly offering Victor his hand. “We mostly used slower Latin dances in ¾ time,” Yuuri murmured, already drawing the skater into a slow Bolero. Victor gave himself up to the direction of the raven-haired beauty, allowing himself to be drawn around the room, matching the sensuous hip movements of his partner.

 

“We’re setting a mood,” Yuuri continued softly. “A pair of dancers, in a club, changing the scene from sedate to provocative as they move together. Changing their world as they dance…” The cinnamon eyes were hooded as he spoke, continuing to move his hips, guiding Victor in a slow, sensuous dance. The early morning air crackled between them as their bodies moved together, finding a natural rhythm that had less and less to do with the beats of the music.

 

“…Tired of feeling never enough…” Victor sang lowly as they danced, his breath whispering warmly over Yuuri’s lips. If he just leaned down…

 

“Ahem.”

 

The men jolted apart, only then noticing the bright sunlight that was streaming in through the high windows.

 

“A bit of early practice, hmmm, gentlemen?” Minako queried, one eyebrow cocked eloquently in their direction. She offered a dry chuckle at their silence before stepping into the room, dropping her bag near the cd player.

 

“Alright, then,” she said, briskly clapping her hands together. “Let’s take it from the top, shall we?”

 

 

***

 

Yuuri collapsed on the couch, exhausted. The early hours, plus a full day of Minako’s training had left him completely drained. His own fault, really, for the pre-dawn start. From the loveseat, Phichit smirked at him.

 

“Long day, eh, Yuuri?” The Thai singer teased, raising his brow suggestively.

 

“Hush, you,” Yuuri halfheartedly grumbled.

 

“Unnngh, how do you all move at the end of the day?” Victor whimpered from the hallway. “I thought Lilia was a tough taskmistress, but Minako might put her to shame!” He strode forward, settling himself on the other end of the couch, not seeming to notice as Yuuri nervously hitched his knees closer to his chest.

 

“Minako expects the same level of perfection from us that she would expect from any student of a premier level dancer. Which, considering Yuuri’s abilities as a danseur, makes at least some sense.” Seung-gil explained from his perch on the loveseat.

 

Yuuri flashed the Korean singer an exasperated look, one which Victor couldn’t hope to interpret. It didn’t seem to affect the taciturn man, who merely leaned down to pet his husky. “I’m taking Jimin out for a while, do you want me to take Vicchan?”

 

Yuuri muttered an affirmative and Seung-gil clicked his fingers, drawing the tiny poodle’s attention. As they exited, Phichit rose with an exaggerated yawn.

 

“Welp, I’m heading for bed. We’ve got another long day in the studio tomorrow!” He flashed a significant glance in Yuuri’s direction, chuckling softly when the older man avoided his eyes. Then, with a nonchalant wave, he was gone.

 

Yuuri sat, huddled awkwardly for a long moment, before chancing a look at Victor. The Russian still sat, eyes hooded as he returned the gaze. Licking his lips, Yuuri forced himself to stand, gesturing half-heartedly in the direction of his room.

 

“I… ah… it’s late…”

 

Victor stood and closed the distance between them. “Right,” the Russian muttered, stopping inches away. Hesitantly, the taller man moved to place his hands on Yuuri’s hips. “Am… have I misjudged things between us, Yuuri?” His voice was a bare whisper as he peered down, pupils darkening.

 

“I…”

 

“Because if I have, tell me, and I’ll leave you be…”

 

Yuuri whimpered, leaning forward to press his forehead against the taller man’s chest. One of Victor’s hands crept up, burying itself in his hair, lips suddenly pressing urgently to the crown of his head.

 

“But dearest gods, dorogoy, if I’ve not misread this… if you want me half as much as I want you...”

 

Yuuri reached up, tangling his own hand in silken silver as he craned his head to capture Victor’s lips against his own.

 

“Take me to bed, Victor?”

 

Chapter Text

June 10th, 2014, Detroit

 

In less than a week, Victor had managed to slot himself effortlessly into the band’s life. Into his life. The pre-dawn tea meetings had become something of a routine, the mystery of the ever-present jam jar finally solved one morning when Yuuri had accidentally taken a sip from Victor’s cup.

 

Russians clearly could not be trusted with good tea.

 

After their morning tea, they’d either wait for the rest of the band to wake up or head over to the studio together to work with Minako on their partnered choreography. He’d enjoy this more if Minako didn’t keep making insinuating comments which, to his bewilderment, drew increasingly gleeful smiles from Victor. It was almost as if the skater liked being linked to Yuuri in other people’s minds. Which… no. Yuuri wouldn’t let himself dwell on that dream, as pleasant as it was. The occasional bedroom romp didn’t mean Victor was his.

 

Victor Nikiforov was far too bright a star for Yuuri to ever be able to hold on to…

 

The rest of their day was typically filled with vocal rehearsals and the occasional media appearance, Victor tagging along often enough that several news outlets had begun to jokingly refer to him as Quad:JUMP’s fifth member. This, too, seemed to make the Russian strangely happy, and he was quick to share each article linking him with the band on his vast social media networks. If Yuuri was perfectly honest, he felt more than a little guilty at the amount of attention Victor was helping them gain. Their album sales, which had finally begun to flag during the break in the tour, had spiked again, driving them back to the top of the charts.

 

Their evenings typically ended here, with the band and their guest sprawled out in the living room, some mindless film playing on the mostly ignored flat screen. Yuuri smiled softly, the sight of Victor and Seung-gil wrestling with Vicchan and Jimin on the living room floor filling him with a fuzzy sense of warmth.

 

Oh.

 

Happiness. That’s what this was. He was happy.

 

June 12th, 2014, Detroit

 

Victor laughed delightedly as Guang Hong sent the towering stack of wooden blocks crashing onto the coffee table. Again.

 

“Noooooo,” the boy groaned theatrically. “Why am I so bad at this? Why are you so good at it? Are you using some sort of weird Russian voodoo?” He squinted suspiciously in the skater’s direction, drawing another deep burst of laughter.

 

“Ji, you have never once managed to win a game of Jenga. Against anyone. Ever,” Seung-gil pointed out from where he was lounging against the arm of the couch, Jimin draped across his lap as the Korean singer scrolled through his Instagram updates. Guang Hong shifted his glare from Victor to his bandmate and stuck out his tongue.

 

“Rude,” he sniffed, already starting to reset the tower of blocks for the next round. Victor leaned back against the couch from his seat on the floor, absent-mindedly scratching behind Vicchan’s ears when the pup plopped down beside him.

 

“Alright! Snacks and drinks for all! Let’s get this movie night started!” Phichit tumbled back into the room, an enormous bowl of popcorn in one hand and what looked suspiciously like a bulk bag of mini candy bars in the other. Yuuri trailed behind him, carrying one six-pack of soda and another of the trendy local microbrew that Victor had grown fond of during his visit. The Japanese singer set the drinks down on the coffee table, precariously close to Guang Hong’s wooden tower, earning a half-hearted glare from the younger boy.

 

Yuuri smiled in apology, then handed Victor one of the cold beers, leaning down to ruffle his hands through Vicchan’s fur. His fingers grazed purposely over the back of Victor’s hand, drawing a frisson of warmth up the Russian’s spine. Yuuri’s gestures of affection were rarely offered in the presence of others, and Victor cherished the sporadic displays, clinging to Phichit’s advice. Shy he could handle. Victor could be patient, especially when the reward was time spent with the most beautifully complex man he’d ever met.

 

“Whose turn is it to pick a movie?” Victor wondered innocently, turning his hand slightly to give a quick squeeze to Yuuri’s fingers before they pulled away.

 

Seung-gil made a face.  “Unfortunately, that would be Phichit.”

 

“Haaaa-ah!” The Thai singer gasped in offence. “Unfortunately ? I have exquisite cinematic tastes thank you very much!”

 

“Which ‘The King and the Skater’ film are we watching Phichit?” Yuuri asked drolly.

 

Phichit transferred his glare in his best friend’s direction. “Yuuri Katsuki, I am Offended. With a capital O. Victor told me he hasn’t seen any of them! Clearly, we’re starting with the original!”

 

Yuuri aimed a quizzical glance in his direction. “Really? Nobody ever made you watch ‘The King and the Skater’? Not even when you were hanging out with your skating friends?”

 

Victor floundered for a moment. How did he explain to a man who clearly had a wealth of companions that hanging out and friendship were rare commodities for him? He had Christophe, sure, but they’d only really become close after the Swiss skater had turned 18 and even then, their time together was typically limited to competitions. He’d been close to Georgi in Juniors, but their friendship had soured as Victor’s star had risen. Mila and little Yura were more like protegees or younger siblings… so… No, for years there’d really only been Makkachin and Yakov… and the ice. Spending time with people close to his own age, to do something as simple as watch a movie? This was a novelty.

 

“Ah, no, I didn’t know there was a film about skating!” He blurted, realizing he’d hesitated for too long.

 

A??”  Phichit gasped, appalled. “Four movies in this series alone.”

 

The Cutting Edge?”

 

“Blades of Glory?”

 

“Ice Angel?”

 

We do not mention that wretched made for TV monstrosity Guang Hong!” Phichit sang out.

 

“That’s not even the original title,” Yuuri muttered under his breath.

 

Victor felt utterly bewildered as the swirl of cheerful debate surrounded him.

 

Still he wouldn’t trade it for all the gold medals in the world.

 

***

 

Halfway through his second beer, Yuuri felt sudden pressure against his shoulder. Turning, he caught a face full of silver fluff. Oh. Victor was leaning against him. He cast a quick glance around the room, but both Guang Hong and Seung-gil were fast asleep and Phichit was too engrossed in his favorite film to pay any attention. Tentatively, he crept his arm around Victor’s waist, drawing a sleepy hum from the older man.

 

This… this was nice. Surrounded by friends and his beloved pup, snuggled up with someone he… someone he…

 

What?

 

Cared for? Craved? Dreamedofwantedimaginedneededlongedfor… The room was suddenly too warm, and he hastily pulled his arm away from the tempting beauty nestled up against him, drawing a soft murmur of protest. Determinedly, he faced forward blindly, trying and failing to focus on the film. From the corner of his eye, he watched Victor sit up, reaching for his neglected beer and taking a long pull. Victor’s gaze flickered in his direction, but he couldn’t meet it, standing up quietly instead and gently picking up his drowsy poodle. Phichit and Victor both turned towards him, their eyes holding questions he wasn’t ready to answer.

 

“Ah, sorry, I’m just… Vicchan’s tired and… um… goodnight?” The other men blinked owlishly as he departed, face flushed, knowing he was fleeing and not really knowing why. He sped down the hall, clutching his dog tightly. Finally, he reached his room and its comfortingly dark confines. He leaned against his door as he stared around at the once-familiar walls, now barren of the posters he’d torn down in a panic upon Victor’s arrival.

 

“What am I doing?” he gasped into the darkened space. Seriously. The actual man of his dreams snuggled with him and he ran like… like…

 

Exactly like Katsuki Yuuri.

 

Stupid,” he grated, striding towards his keyboard and throwing on the connected headphones. His fingers began dancing aimlessly across the keys as he berated himself. So, what, he couldn’t handle a little semi-public intimacy? So what if his idol turned lover wanted a little mid-movie cuddle? He knew Victor was casually affectionate… he certainly never minded it in the dark of the bedroom, why was it so different on the couch?

 

He played a harsh chord, devolving into a melancholy tune he’d been toying with. He minded. He minded because it was so close to everything he wanted. He minded because it would hurt too much when the casual intimacy went away, when Victor Nikiforov went back to the spotlight where he belonged, when their time together was once again relegated to an occasional encounter on tour, or, worse, to nothing at all.

 

He was selfish to want more. He knew that. He didn’t know how he been lucky enough to tumble into bed with Victor back in Tokyo, but now, with the skater basically living here, spending time with his friends, petting his dog… It was all so achingly, blissfully domestic and he desperately wanted it to mean something more than just…

 

Vicchan’s high yip pierced through his headphones and he paused, only then hearing the gentle knocking at his door. He moved to open it, unsurprised to find Victor standing in the hall, looking unfairly beautiful.

 

“Oh, ah, is the movie over already?” Yuuri asked, aiming for nonchalance.

 

“Don’t care about the movie,” Victor said, pupils dark as he moved into Yuuri’s space, reaching for him.

 

He knew he should stop, knew it would only hurt more when Victor was gone, knew he was only handing over his heart to break.

 

Yuuri closed the door behind Victor, pulling the other man into his arms.

 

Their lips met in a rush, hands already reaching beneath shirt hems as they collided.

 

“So beautiful,” Victor gasped as he drew Yuuri down onto the bed, teeth and lips working their way down the column of the singer’s throat. As clever fingers began to work at the clasp of Yuuri’s jeans, he had a brief moment of clarity.

 

He was utterly lost when it came to this man, heading towards a cliff, towards heartbreak...

 

And he couldn’t bring himself to stop.

Chapter Text

June 24th, 2014, Detroit

 

“That’s a wrap!” The director shouted, causing all five men on the set to slump in relieved exhaustion.

 

Victor took the bottle of water he was offered, smiling up at the production assistant before glancing over at the man beside him. Yuuri was breathing slightly harder than normal, but otherwise, there was no indication that the singer had been dancing his ass off a few moments ago. His stamina was incredible… Victor couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy. If the younger man had gone into skating, he’d be a force to reckon with. As it was, he managed to wrap up a music video looking as if he’d merely jogged down a flight of stairs. Unfair!

 

As he watched Yuuri gulp down his own cold drink, Victor felt his throat constrict. The end of the shoot meant he no longer had an excuse to stay in Detroit. Meant that he no longer had an excuse to stay with Yuuri. He’d been ignoring Yakov for the last week, but surely Minako would mention something to Lilia who would rat him out to his coach and then…

 

Back to St. Petersburg.

 

Back to the ice.

 

He swallowed. He’d known this was temporary, but for the first time in… well, a long time, he’d been having fun. He’d loved every minute he’d spent here, spent with Yuuri and the band. As if sensing his thoughts, Yuuri glanced over, flashing him a sweet, quizzical smile. Victor offered a tired grin and shook his head, not wanting to worry the younger man.

 

Three weeks spent in Yuuri’s arms and Victor couldn’t say for certain what exactly they were to each other. Lovers, friends, yes. But when Victor was gone, would Yuuri still be his? Or would the beautiful singer move on, find someone else to fill Victor’s space? He’d be out on tour soon, with thousands of fans screaming his name. Thousands of fans who would be there and available.

 

For the first time in well over a decade of competitive skating, Victor was deeply tempted to just… walk away from it all. To follow Yuuri out on tour, to stay by the younger man’s side…

 

He knew he shouldn’t; knew he was a temporary intruder in Yuuri’s life, knew that they were living on borrowed time.

 

But god, one word from the singer and he’d leave everything else behind.

 

***

 

Yuuri caught Victor’s eye as he gulped down his water, the strain of the final day of shooting surely showing in his features. Victor smiled at him anyways, sending a warm glow shooting down his spine. The last few weeks had been… a dream. Having Victor in his home… in his bed… it was more than he could have ever imagined.

 

It was certainly more than he had ever deserved.

 

And soon he’d be gone. And once Victor was back in Russia, how would Yuuri ever manage to keep those perfect eyes on him?

 

A heavy thud on his other side heralded Phichit’s arrival and he was unsurprised when the Thai singer wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Post shoot selfie time!” Phichit crowed, snapping several shots in rapid succession before releasing Yuuri so he could examine the images.

 

Victor hooked his chin over Yuuri’s shoulder, arms wrapped around his waist as the Russian curiously watched Phichit flip through his camera roll. Not one to miss an opportunity, Phichit quickly flipped the phone and took a picture of the pair, rotating the screen to show Yuuri and Victor. Yuuri felt his heart constrict at the sight. It… it was a good photo. It was a really good photo. They looked…

 

They looked like a couple. He was torn between wanting Phichit to post the image and wanting to hide it where nobody else could see.

 

“Send that to me? Please?” Victor murmured from Yuuri’s side, soft eyes locked on the picture. Yuuri swallowed. Sometimes, when Victor spoke like that, looked like that, he almost thought that maybe…

 

But no. Victor belonged to the world. Who was Yuuri to take him away?

 

Phichit flashed a satisfied little smile, before pressing send on the photo. “So, we following tradition Yuu?”

 

“Ah… I don’t know, Peach…”

 

“Yuuuuuuri! Union! It’s a Tuesday night… we need to do show tunes…”

 

Victor perked up at his side. “Oh? What’s this?”

 

Phichit flashed a shark-like grin. “It’s a tradition! Anytime we wrap a shoot or a recording session, we get to blow off steam with dancing and show tunes!”

 

Victor raised an eyebrow, “Ah… show tunes?”

 

Phichit gasped dramatically, collapsing backwards. “Yuuri. You have failed to teach this poor gay Russian boy anything of use. How does he not know about show tunes?”

 

Yuuri rolled his eyes. “Victor knows what show tunes are, you idiot, he probably just doesn’t know the English term.” He glanced over at Victor. “Songs from musicals,” he muttered in an aside, smiling at the dawning understanding in the Russian’s face. “Union is the local gay bar. On Tuesdays and Sundays they play popular show tunes for people to sing along with. It’s actually pretty fun and they allow us all in as long as no, hmmm, blatantly noticeable underage drinking occurs, so it’s something we can all do together.”

 

“Ooooh! Are we talking about show tunes?” Guang Hong chirped as he and Seung-gil walked over.

 

“I… ah… yes?”  Yuuri stammered, “But… I didn’t know if people were too tired?”

 

Seung-gil raised a perfectly coiffed brow at his flimsy excuse. “Because we have frequently missed post-wrap show tunes due to being tired,” the Korean man drawled flatly.

 

Yuuri flushed, passing a furtive glance in Victor’s direction. “Right. Ah… so. Show tunes it is.”

 

The rest of the group cheered.

 

Later that night

 

“Why don’t you want to take Victor to show tunes?”

 

Yuuri glanced up, seeing Phichit reflected in the mirror, reclining in the doorway behind him. He ignored his friend for a moment, focusing on the gel he was brushing into his hair.

 

“That’s… that’s not it, Peach,” he said, licking his lips nervously as he picked up his worn eyeliner pencil. Phichit knocked his hand aside, snatching the liner with a huff. Resigned, Yuuri held still as the younger man worked on his face.

 

“You’re full of shit, Katsuki,” Phichit said quietly, tongue tucked between his teeth as he worked. “You care about him. He obviously cares about you. So why are you still holding him at arm’s length?”

 

“That’s… I’m… I’m not. I just, he’s going back to Russia. I probably won’t ever see him again and I just…”

 

“You’re just too chicken shit to let him get close enough to see the things that you enjoy. To let him see the real Katsuki Yuuri. Have you let him find out anything about you? Or are you so damned convinced that you don’t deserve this that you aren’t even giving him a chance?” He set the eyeliner down with a snap.

 

“Why are you pushing this Phichit?” Yuuri asked softly.

 

“Because I know you. You’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t matter to him. You’re going to let him walk out of your life without even trying to find out if this could actually be something. And dammit Yuuri, I think it could be something if you’d just let it! What do I have to do to convince you to take happiness when it’s being offered to you on a damned silver-haired platter?”

 

“Because I’m afraid that if I let him get too close it’s going to hurt too much when he inevitably ends this!” Yuuri finally snapped. “Okay? He’s an Olympic level athlete. He has sponsors and competitions and commitments! And I have the band and the tour… Celestino was talking about awards season as if we actually have a chance this year… We’re in two different worlds, Phichit.” His voice had softened to a wheedling tone, as if he was trying to convince Phichit, or perhaps himself, of something. “I had his attention for a few weeks and that’s so much more than I ever dreamed.”

 

Phichit wrapped his arms around the older man’s shoulders, pulling him into an embrace. “Oh, Yuuri. I wish…” He hesitated.

 

Yuuri pulled back, peering into the slate grey eyes. “You wish…?”

 

Phichit shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Just… don’t end things before they begin, please? Let’s just go to show tunes. You can scream along with Wicked. Sneak Seung-gil one of those gross gin cocktails he likes. Make out with Victor in the bathroom.”

 

Peach…

 

The Thai singer grinned wickedly, then sauntered out of the room. He was going to make sure the night was a memorable one. And if he had dreams of forcing Yuuri and a certain Russian hottie to actually talk?  Well, nobody could prove anything.

 

***

 

“You surprise me, Yuuri,” purred a heavily accented voice. Yuuri turned, smiling up at the Russian stunner leaning beside him at the bar.

 

“Oh? How’s that?” He sipped his cocktail, wincing a bit at the bite. He was pretty sure it was 99% vodka.

 

“You always seem like the responsible one, but… I’m pretty sure I just watched you hand Seung-gil and Phichit drinks.” Victor smiled, making it clear he wasn’t being critical just… curious.

 

“Ah. I mean, they’re 19. If we drive less than thirty minutes we can be in Canada and they could order their own drinks. The owners don’t really care if they have a drink or two as long as nothing gets posted online, so…” He shrugged. “They know I won’t order them anything if I think they’ve had enough, and it keeps them from taking anything from strangers. Guang Hong’s our built in DD for now, but once he turns eighteen I promised him we’d go out.”

 

Victor laughed in delight. “Oh Yuuri, only you could manage to make breaking the law sound so responsible!” Yuuri blushed, mumbling under his breath. Victor grinned. “Sorry, dorogoy, I didn’t quite catch that?”

 

Yuuri huffed, taking another gulp of his drink. “I said I can be rebellious if I want,” he pouted. Victor’s grin hitched into something a little more suggestive.

 

“And it’s very sexy, solnyshko,”  he purred, leaning forward to run a teasing finger down the back of Yuuri’s hand.

 

The younger man snatched his hand away, turning too quickly to see the flash of hurt that spread across the Russian’s pale features. From across the crowded bar, he caught an alarming sight. “Oh no,” he muttered, downing his drink and hastily beckoning to the bartender for another. Victor glanced in the direction he’d been looking but didn’t notice anything particularly out of the ordinary.

 

“Yuuri? What’s wrong?” He queried.

 

“Phichit,” he said, his tone dire, “Is talking to the DJ. Which means he’s making requests.” He looked like a man about to face a firing squad. He poked at Victor’s half-finished drink. “Trust me, you’re going to want to finish that. And order another. They put together a King and the Skater medley for him the last time we were here. It’s 12. Minutes. Long.” Victor laughed in rueful commiseration, offering his Manhattan in a cheeky toast. Sipping his drink, he gazed thoughtfully towards the DJ booth. Requests, huh?

 

***

 

“Love is a many splendored thing…”

 

The familiar spoken opening rained down from the speakers, drawing a cheer from the crowd and a Cheshire cat grin from Victor. Yuuri looked at him in astonishment as the music cut in, the movie clip playing on the televisions hanging above the bar.

 

“Elephant Love Medley? Really? You like Moulin Rouge?”

 

Victor gasped in mock affront. “I don’t actually live under a rock, Yuuri! Moulin Rouge is a classic!” His mouth twisted into a slight frown. “Also, it came out before I entered Juniors, so I still had time to actually watch movies…” He waved away Yuuri’s quizzical glance, grinning mischievously as he sang along to Christian’s lines, drawing a surprised laugh from the younger man’s lips.

 

Victor grinned in delight when the singer began crooning along with Satine’s responses, his lovely tenor brimming with barely contained humor. As the music ended, Victor risked a delicate stroke of his thumb down Yuuri’s cheekbone, caught in the sparkle of the stunning cinnamon eyes. To his delight, Yuuri didn’t pull away, leaning his face into the gentle touch.

 

“I have to go home soon, dorogoy,”  Victor whispered. Yuuri swallowed, finally looking away.

 

“I know,” the younger man replied, his tone mournful. “You have to get ready for competition and we go back on the road in a few weeks…”

 

Victor took heart from the regret filling Yuuri’s words. Maybe they weren’t in a defined relationship (yet, that hopeful piece of his heart once again whispered) but it felt as if the singer would at least miss him a tiny bit.

 

“You have my number… I’m expecting at least one puppy picture a day, you know!” he quipped, trying to lighten the mood. Yuuri glanced up at him, eyes sparkling. “Plus, if we’re ever in the same city…” Victor continued, his voice dropping to a teasingly seductive range. To his surprise, Yuuri turned away, the light in his eyes suddenly going dark.

 

“Right. Of course,” Yuuri murmured, refusing to look at Victor as he raised his empty drink in the bartender’s direction. “Same. Feel free to look me up. If we’re ever in the same city.”

 

Victor was left floundering for a moment. “Ahhhh…?”

 

Yuuri smiled up at him, his eyes flashing oddly in the lights of the club as he accepted the glass from the bartender. He tapped it against Victor’s then downed it in one quick gulp. Victor hastened to follow suit, trying not to stare at the way Yuuri’s throat bobbed when he swallowed.

 

The singer set his glass back on the bar and held out a hand in invitation. “Let’s not waste the night, Victor. You’ll be leaving soon enough… let’s dance.”


Chapter Text

June 30th, 2014, Detroit

 

Yuuri watched anxiously as Victor handed off his suitcase to the ticketing agent, his stomach in knots. The last few days had been hard; trying to spend as much time as possible with the Russian skater while simultaneously trying not to seem too desperate. Too clingy. Too much. After all, Victor had hinted that he was at least interested in sharing Yuuri’s bed again in the future. He supposed it was more than he’d expected.

 

It was so much less than he wanted.

 

He knew. Knew that they moved in different circles, existed in different worlds but… for a few glorious weeks their orbits had overlapped and damned if they hadn’t been the best weeks of Yuuri’s life. Soon, their lives and careers would pull them apart again and Yuuri knew he’d do whatever he could to at least stay on the other man’s radar. Victor turned away from the counter and Yuuri beamed at him with a little wave, relieved to see the answering smile as the taller man strode in his direction.

 

Victor paused, just outside of Yuuri’s reach, his smile sadder as he glanced down at the boarding pass clutched in his hand. “I’ll have to go soon. I don’t know how long it’ll take to get through customs…”

 

Yuuri nodded in understanding. “Wouldn’t want you to miss your flight,” he said, trying and failing to put a cheerful lilt into his voice.

 

“Listen, Yuuri…” “Victor, I…”

 

Victor huffed a little laugh as their jumble of words came to a halt then stepped forward and pulled Yuuri into a tight hug. The singer allowed himself to melt into the embrace, sternly telling his brain not to freak out. Gestures of affection between them had been mostly limited to the flat, or the darkness of the bar. Never somewhere open, where others could see. Stubbornly, Yuuri shoved away the hopeful little bubble of joy that screamed that this meant something. Victor had made it clear what he wanted from their relationship. Friends with benefits. He couldn't bring himself to voice the second term in his head. He didn’t want to think something so crude, not when Victor still meant so much to him… Not when it wasn't Victor's fault Yuuri was selfish enough to want more...

 

Still, friends with benefits at least still implied a closeness of some sort and maybe, just maybe he could someday push that closeness a little, well, closer to what he so desperately craved. Maybe a tiny push now, a compromise of sorts...

 

“Skate America,” Yuuri blurted. Victor pulled back slightly to glance down at him but didn’t let him go. “I… I know you don’t have your assignments for the Grand Prix yet but… Skate America is in Chicago this year.” He hesitated, looking down as he nervously fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. Victor waited patiently, still not releasing his hold on Yuuri’s shoulders. Finally, Yuuri glanced back up, peering through his lashes, a thrill running through him at the tiny (but real !) hitch in the Russian’s breath. “We’ll be on break before the European leg of the tour… I was thinking… maybe? If, ah, if you get placed at Skate America and had a couple days to spare? I mean, Detroit is pretty close, we could meet up after the competition for a bit? Maybe?”

 

Yuuri tried not to wince at the desperation in his voice. So much for playing it cool. So much for not wanting to go down the friends with benefits route, his anxious brain screamed, the thought twisting cruelly in his heart. Was he really so desperate for Victor’s attention?

 

“Yes!” Victor blurted, leaning forward to tighten the embrace again. “Even if I’m not assigned, sometimes I go just to check out the competition…” His face fell suddenly. “But Yuuri, October is so far away… I’m going to miss you.”

 

Yuuri’s heart skipped a beat. “Really?” he asked, voice cracking.

 

“Really,” Victor whispered, one hand coming up to thumb at Yuuri’s lower lip. “I’d like to kiss you goodbye… if… if that’s okay?”

 

Out of habit, Yuuri glanced around, searching for cameras. Even if Victor was feeling some sort of regret at their parting, he was sure the skater wouldn’t appreciate being romantically linked to Yuuri in some shitty gossip rag. Thankfully, they seemed to be free of prying eyes for now. He tilted his face up in invitation, feeling a mix of longing and joy as lips pressed against his, chaste but firm. All too soon, Victor was pulling away, vivid blue eyes shadowed with suppressed emotion.

 

“I have to go, Yuuri. I’ll... can I call you when I land?” Yuuri nodded, struggling to dredge up an encouraging smile. Victor’s hand stroked his cheek one last time and then the silver-haired Russian turned, joining the security queue. Yuuri watched until the skater was out of sight, lifting his hand in a farewell wave when Victor turned back one last time.

 

The singer stood frozen for a moment, eyes still glued to the spot where he’d last seen the literal man of his dreams. Still numb, he finally turned, stepping out into the blazing Detroit summer sun.

 

The last four weeks suddenly seemed like a dream from which he’d been too abruptly awakened.

 

July 3rd, 2014, St. Petersburg

 

Victor pulled out of the final spin and came to a halt, breathing heavily. He’d managed to find a rink near the studio in Detroit, but he had to admit he hadn’t spent nearly as much time on the ice as he normally would have over the last month. Still, as he glanced over to where Yakov was watching, he was surprised to see that his coach didn’t look upset. If he wasn’t imagining things, the man actually looked… impressed? He shook his head, shaking out his arms as he skated to the edge of the rink to snag his water bottle. He heard the faint sound of blades behind him and turned to see Yakov eyeing him contemplatively.

 

“Well?” He queried, flipping his hair out of his eyes.

 

“Your edgework is sloppy, and I’ll want to see it with full jumps eventually but… the choreography is passable. I’m not convinced about this On Love nonsense, but I’m glad to see you didn’t waste your time off.”

 

Victor smirked. Passable was high praise this early in the season.

 

“No, Yakov, I definitely didn’t waste my time,” he said with a laugh. And oh, the many, many layers in that statement. Not that his coach needed to know just how well he had spent his time. To his surprise, Yakov nodded in satisfaction.

 

“Good. You look better. Less burned out,” the coach grunted, patting Victor’s shoulder with an awkward hand. “Now, take ten, then I want to see it with music.” Yakov nodded at him, then moved off, heading towards the other side of the rink, where Georgi was running through his own choreography.

 

“Wow! You’ve been gone for a month and Yakov hasn’t yelled at you once! Who are you and what have you done with our Vitya?” A slim shoulder bumped against his arm and he looked down at the red-headed teen leaning against the rink wall behind him.

 

“He told me to take a break, Mila,” he pointed out reasonably, shaking his head to clear the gloomy thoughts. “He’s just letting me settle in, then, when I’m comfortable, he’ll pounce.” He lunged towards the girl, drawing a squeal from Mila and a glare from Yakov. Laughing, he wrapped his arm around her, leaning his head companionably against hers.

 

“He was worried about you, I think,” she murmured. Victor’s lips thinned. “I think he was scared you might not come back after Worlds.”

 

“Mila…”

 

“Don’t tell me I don’t understand or that I’m just a kid, Vitya. I'm seventeen, not blind. I saw the way you looked after the Olympics. You weren’t happy and you were exhausted. Even Yura noticed.” She glared at him, daring him to contradict her.

 

He didn’t.

 

Instead, he watched Georgi’s practice for a moment, contemplating the younger skater’s words. Finally, he turned back to her, honest curiosity in his face. “And now?”

 

She looked up at him, surprise melting into consideration. “Less tired. Not happy but… happier? ” She reached her hand up, cupping his cheek as she peered into his face. “There’s something in your eyes now, something less sad than before…”

 

Victor leaned into the girl’s touch, wondering how someone so young could see through him so completely.

 

“Hope,” he said softly. “It’s hope, Mila.”

 

July 18th, 2014, Los Angeles

 

“Next tour, we’ll aim for the Staples Center,” Celestino was saying as Yuuri entered the green room where the rest of the band was already relaxing after the lighting rehearsal. Which, really, was ridiculous.

 

“The Staples Center seats 20,000,” Yuuri pointed out flatly. “We can’t fill that many seats.”

 

Minako laughed. “Oh, Yuuri-kun. The Hollywood Bowl seats 17,000 and we’re sold out. Tickets are going for triple the asking price on resale sites. I think you can fill the Staples Center.”

 

Which, okay. Wow. Had he slipped into some alternate reality? The smaller venues they’d played during the Asian leg of the tour were one thing. 17,000?

 

“That. That is a lot of people.” His voice sounded strange in his own ears and he recognized the incipient panic attack before Phichit was suddenly in front of him, close but not touching as Yuuri’s breath began to hiccup and hitch in his chest.

 

“Hey. Yuuri. Buddy. Pal. Breathe with me, okay? Hayci , Yuuri. Hayci.

 

And, okay. He could do that. He could breathe. This was fine. This was…

 

“I can’t do this,” he blurted, eyes blown wide.

 

“Everyone but Phichit, out ,” Minako’s voice crackled through the sound of Yuuri’s ragged, stupid breath. How was he supposed to sing when he couldn’t even handle breathing?

 

Stupid.

 

There was a low rumble of voices and then the room was blessedly quiet. He opened his eyes, the world seeming to narrow and tilt in front of him. Then Minako was there, her familiar voice steady.

 

“Yuuri, can I touch you?” She asked, one hand hovering near his. He nodded, and she took his shaking hand in her own. “Okay, we’re just going to breathe for a bit. Nice and slow. In. And out. In. And out. That’s it. Stay with me, Yuuri. In. And out.” He matched his breath to her words, feeling the world slowly shift back into focus.

 

“There we go Yuuri, you’ve got this. Let’s think this through okay? Can you tell me why you panicked?”

 

He thought for a moment, still maintaining his breathing, eyes moving to Phichit, who was matching him, chest moving in exaggeratedly slow breaths. Finally, he nodded. “I forgot how many people the venue holds.”

 

Minako squeezed his hand gently. “Okay. Why did that make you panic?”

 

“It’s… it’s so many people.”

 

“Yuuri…” Phichit’s voice was hesitant. “You look at the charts every week. You know that most of the tour dates are sold out. Why does this keep surprising you?”

 

Yuuri licked his lips, feeling his breathing fall into a slightly more natural rhythm as the panic began to recede. His shoulders slumped as he tried to relieve the strain in his neck, Minako moving her hands up to gently rub at the stiff muscles. He sighed. “It just doesn’t feel real , y’know? That there’s so many people who want to see us.” He offered finally. “Th-the album sales are anonymous. They’re just numbers. They aren’t people watching me, judging me . I can’t, I can’t see them. Hear them.”

 

Muscles finally relaxing, Yuuri felt the tension slowly draining out of him as Minako continued her ministrations. He heaved a deep breath. “I’m, I’ll be fine. I know it’s stupid…”

 

Both Phichit and Minako made noises of protest. “Don’t say that Yuuri,” Phichit insisted. “You aren’t stupid. Being nervous isn’t stupid .” The Thai singer’s voice was fierce in defense of his friend. “Nobody gets to call you stupid. Not even you. Dummy.”

 

Yuuri’s wet laugh was slightly hysterical as he leaned over to hug the younger man. “Ass.”

 

“You love me.”

 

“I really do.”

 

Minako finally removed her hands, patting Yuuri’s back before stepping away. “Alright Katsuki. Go get some rest, okay? You have an audience to seduce later.” She grinned as Yuuri stuck his tongue out before allowing Phichit to lead him out of the room and back towards the hotel. Celestino stepped back in as they exited, and she briefly met her husband’s worried eyes with a tired smile. Her boy wouldn’t break under the pressure, not if she could help it. She wouldn’t let this break him. Katsuki Yuuri was a diamond and she’d do her best to make sure he could shine.

 

Chapter Text

July 25th, 2014, St. Petersburg Skate Club

 

“Play it again!”

 

Victor grinned down at the tiny blond teen before pressing the button on his phone. The familiar swirling notes from History Maker’s opening filled the air as the video played, Victor and the Quad:JUMP boys appearing and disappearing on the screen as the song progressed. Yuuri had sent him the finished video, warning Victor not to post it online or send it to anyone before the official launch on their YouTube page. It had seemed an easy enough request but…

 

“You have to send it to me. I promise I won’t post it, I just want to have it to watch later!” Huge emerald eyes shone beseechingly up at Victor, and really, did kids come pre-installed with puppy dog eyes, because unfair. He sighed, tugging the phone gently out of Yuri’s grasp and locking the screen.

 

“I’m sorry, Yura. I promised I wouldn’t send it to anyone. It’ll be online next week, and I swear you can watch it on my phone until then.”

 

“It’s not fair! Why do you get to do all the cool stuff?” Yuri huffed, thrusting his fists into the pocket of his ever-present hoodie.

 

Victor couldn’t resist ruffling the boy’s pale golden locks. “Hey, you get to do cool stuff, too! You have your first JGP event of the season in less than a month, that’s pretty cool.”

 

“Ugh, stop patronizing me old man. I’m going to win the stupid JGP Final and then I’m going to win Junior Worlds and I still won’t get to do anything cool,” the boy huffed, leaning against the rink wall. “Stupid age rules. Juniors is boring.

 

Practice was long over, but Victor had stayed behind to share the video, finding a strange sense of satisfaction in spending time with the younger skater outside of practice hours. Biting his lip in thought, he unlocked his phone, checking something before sending a quick text. “You know, Quad:JUMP has a show in Moscow at the beginning of January.” Yuri glared at him suspiciously.

 

Da, I know. I have an alert set up for when tickets go on sale.”

 

“Hmmm, if only you knew someone with access to VIP seats, someone who might be able to introduce you to the band…”

 

Yuri latched onto his arm, his disgruntled expression melting into pleading hope. “Take me, Vitya, please, please, please take me!”

 

“Tell you what, if you listen to Yakov and do your best at your competitions, we’ll go, okay?”

 

“Watch me! I’ll win ALL of them!”

 

Victor smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm. “That’s exactly what I want to hear!”

 

The assistant coach in charge of the Novice and Junior dorms appeared, beckoning impatiently to Yuri.

 

“Looks like it’s time for you to head home,” Victor said, pointing the younger skater in the direction of the waving woman. Yuri looked longingly at the phone in the older man’s hand. “Don’t worry, I promise you can watch the video again tomorrow.”

 

Yuri slumped but nodded as he narrowed his eyes at Victor. “Okay. But don’t forget. You’re taking me to the concert in January.”

 

Victor nodded in turn. Somehow, he had a feeling the teen wouldn’t let him forget this particular promise. Yuri waved a brief farewell, then jogged off to the waiting coach. Victor felt a brief pang as the boy left; the company had been nice, despite the kid’s sometimes prickly personality. Leaning back on the bench where they’d been sitting, Victor pulled up the messaging app, reading through the brief conversation before pressing the call button.

 

“Yuuuri!” he crooned as the call connected. “Good morning! Where are you today?” he asked, as if he didn’t have the tour dates memorized… as if he didn’t obsessively scan the news for every photo and report on their sold-out concerts.

 

A yawn echoed down the connection. “Mmmm, ohayo, Victor. We’re in Seattle today. Ah, in Washington? But not the DC one, the one near Canada?”

 

Victor smiled softly as the younger man babbled. “I know where Seattle is, solnyshko,” he murmured into the phone.

 

“Ahhh! Gomen , of course you do! You’ve probably skated here!”

 

Victor’s smile widened. Adorable!

 

“Yuuuri!” He crooned, changing the subject. “The video looks amazing!”

 

I miss you, he didn’t say.

 

I wish you were here so my only companions weren’t teenagers, he refused to blurt out loud.

 

“Oh. Ah, yes. They did a good job, right?”

 

The video screams romance and seduction and pent up longing. Yes. Yes, they did a very good job, Victor continued to not admit.

 

“Mmm,” he murmurs over the line. “I showed it to my rink mate. He’s a big fan of Quad:JUMP.”

 

“Oh. Yes, the one you mentioned in your text? Of course, he can come to the show in Moscow. Anything for you… ah! I, I mean, you’ve helped us so much, the least we can do is accommodate a friend… Or, or, more like, a protégé? A student? Ahh…”

 

And god, if Victor was in the same room, he’d kiss the awkward right off of those plush, perfect lips. But he wasn’t.

 

He wished so much that he was.

 

“Yuuuri!” He settled for dragging the man’s name out in the way that had seemed to send shivers down his spine in bed. “He’s a friend. But he’s a big fan of yours, he’ll be absolutely blown away.” Victor grinned at the long pause, he could practically feel the blush burning Yuuri’s cheeks from half a world away.

 

“Oh, ah, I mean… it’s really not a big deal. We really do owe you so much for everything you’ve done…”

 

Ah. Right. A debt, nothing more. He winced, dropping his head against the bench. Just because he wanted more, didn’t mean the singer was willing to offer it. Still…

 

“Still on for Chicago, Yuuuuri?” He chirped, feigning a cheerfulness he couldn’t bring himself to feel.

 

Yuuri hummed an affirmative. “If you still want to… I mean, it was pretty lucky that you ended up placed at Skate America, but I don’t want to distract you from practice…”

 

Victor chuckled. “ Please distract me! I like when you distract me, dorogoy.” The words were out of his mouth before he could think about them and he bit his cheek.

 

Silence held for a beat too long and Victor cursed himself. There was such a thing as too honest… Finally, a low, warm laugh trickled down the line.

 

“Oh?” Yuuri teased, a hint of a purr curling through his voice. Victor breathed a sigh of relief. Flirting he could handle. Honesty…

 

Not so much.

 

“Mmmmmhmmm. I’ll have a few weeks between Skate America and Rostelecom, and Yakov will be at Skate Canada with Georgi and Mila anyways. Nothing to stop me from taking a few days to do a little sight-seeing.” His tone was insinuating, leaving no room for doubt as to exactly which sight he was looking forward to admiring.

 

When Yuuri finally begged off the call, Victor stayed put on the bench, his head still resting against the seat. He felt almost hollow, his throat aching with the emotions he’d stubbornly pushed down during the conversation. With a sigh, he pulled up a different contact on his phone, waiting impatiently for it to connect.

 

“Bonjour, Vitya,” came the familiar voice and Victor smiled.

 

“Chris. Hey. I…I need some advice…”

 

August 5th, 2014, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Phichit watched as Yuuri fidgeted with his phone for what was surely the hundredth time since they’d sat down for lunch. Which, okay. He’d been on his phone the majority of the afternoon, but that was definitely unusual behavior for his friend and bandmate.

 

Leaning his chin against his hand, Phichit smirked in Yuuri’s direction. “Waiting for a text?”

 

Yuuri’s eyes widened and he dropped the phone like it had burned him. Phichit winced. How anyone could treat an iPhone like that… He settled his chin into the palm of his hand, studying the other singer for a long moment. Finally, he reached across the table, nudging the phone. “You’re blushing, and you won’t meet my eyes. Spill.”

 

Yuuri blushed harder, but finally raised his eyes to glare in Phichit’s direction. “Nothing to spill,” he muttered before shoving a bite of salad into his mouth and chewing defiantly. Phichit rolled his eyes.

 

“Cute, Katsuki. Real mature.”

 

Yuuri just shrugged and kept eating. A few minutes passed, Phichit alternating between his own phone and watching his friend. Something was definitely going on, and he had every intention of figuring out exactly what it was. The buzz of Yuuri’s phone cut through the silence and the Japanese man snatched it quickly, glancing at the screen briefly before dropping it back to the table. Phichit narrowed his eyes. He hadn’t missed the flash of anticipation that had crossed Yuuri’s face.

 

Or the disappointment that had followed.

 

“Okay. I’ve done the respecting your space thing. But you’re upset about something, Yuuri.”

 

“Peach, I’m fine…”

 

“Nope,” he chirped, scooting his chair closer. “I’m invoking the official best friend rules.”

 

“Never should have let you talk me into signing that stupid contract…” Yuuri muttered under his breath.

 

“I didn’t hear that,” Phichit sang. “You know the drill. If I guess in three tries, you have to spill.” Yuuri rolled his eyes but didn’t move away.

 

Phichit poked thoughtfully at the phone sitting upside down on the table. “Don’t even think I need all three. This has something to do with your boyfriend.”

 

To his surprise, Yuuri flinched.

 

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” he muttered almost sullenly.

 

Bingo, Phichit thought to himself.

 

“Oooookay. Guess number two then. This has to do with Victor.”

 

Yuuri snatched the phone from the table and tucked it into his back pocket. “Fine. Yes. It has to do with Victor. But it’s stupid. It’s nothing.”

 

“It’s obviously not nothing, Yuuri.”

 

“God. Fine. He hasn’t replied to my last text and it’s bugging me because it’s been a lot longer than he typically takes to reply. See? Stupid.” He threw back the last of his iced tea in a petulant huff. “Can we go now? I’m done.”

 

Phichit sighed. “Okay. Sure. We’re all paid up. But you’re not getting out of telling me about whatever’s actually bugging you.”

 

Yuuri stood, waiting just long enough for Phichit to grab his bag before striding out of the mostly empty restaurant. He trailed his friend, growing more concerned as the silence stretched. Finally, Yuuri stopped, whirling around to face Phichit.

 

“It’s not a big deal. I get it. He’s getting busier with his competitions getting closer, so of course he doesn’t have as much time to waste on chatting with some guy he barely knows that lives halfway across the world. I don’t blame him, really, I don’t. I kind of figured he’d get bored with me eventually,” he paused, a pained look crossing his features as he deflated. “I just… I just kind of hoped I’d be able to keep his attention for a little bit longer, y’know?” He looked rather forlorn and Phichit felt the first faint stirrings of anger for the person who had caused his best friend’s pain.

 

“Ooookay,” he said slowly. “I’m going to need a little more context here, Yuu. I thought you two had plans to meet up after his competition in Chicago?”

 

“We did. Do?” Yuuri shrugged. “But, I mean, that’s not until October and it’s not like either of us has a ton of free time to meet up before then. Texts and FaceTime just aren’t enough to hold his interest in the meantime, is all.”

 

“Dude, you were on the phone with him constantly until recently. His Insta profile pic is a still of the two of you from the History Maker video. What’s changed? Is it just that you aren’t talking as often? Because that could be a lot of things, Yuuri. I saw him when he stayed with us. He’s definitely interested, okay?”

 

“He doesn’t FaceTime me unless I ask him to. He’ll text, but only if he’s responding to my texts. It’s… it’s like I have to remind him of my existence all of a sudden.”

 

Phichit hummed thoughtfully. “Okay. That does seem a little strange, but it doesn’t mean he’s lost interest. You’ve said yourself that he’s gearing up for competition season. Between that and the time difference…”

 

Yuuri sighed. “You’re right. I’m just being greedy… I got so spoiled getting to spend so much time with him, it just… I wish…” He hesitated.

 

Phichit waited patiently, waiting for his best friend to work up the nerve to share this piece of his heart. To his dismay, Yuuri finally just shook his head.

 

“Doesn’t really matter what I wish, I guess. I’ll take what he’s willing to give me. It’s not like I can really offer much more than the occasional phone call or meet up anyways.” He offered a shaky smile. “Thanks for listening Peach, sorry for being such a moody shit. I’m okay now, really.”

 

He didn’t try to stop the older singer as Yuuri moved to resume their walk. As they made their mostly silent way back to the hotel, Phichit made a silent vow to keep an eye on this situation. He didn’t think he’d misread Victor’s interest, but… Yuuri’s glass heart didn’t deserve to shatter if he was wrong.

 

 

August 17th, 2014, St. Petersburg

 

“Well?”  Yuri’s voice was harsh with labored breathing as he skated up to where Victor was leaning over the boards. The tall Russian tapped his lip thoughtfully as he looked down at the Junior skater.

 

“You could use more emotion in your step sequences, they’re still too stiff. You’re focusing on the technical elements over the performance. Your combination spin is still traveling, and you over-rotated your triple salchow.”

 

Furious emerald eyes blazed up at him. “So, basically it sucked.”

 

“No, Yura, that is not what I said. It was very, very good. Your base score is higher than what anyone skated at the last Junior Worlds. As long as you do not take a bad tumble, you should easily win in France. But there is always room for improvement, and you are more than capable of making that improvement.”

 

“I could improve if Yakov would let me try for the quad salchow. That’s why I keep over-rotating, the triple’s too freaking easy…” the boy whined. Victor valiantly held back a laugh at the boy’s anguished expression.

 

“You know why he doesn’t want you trying quads.”

 

Da, da, ‘You are still a growing boy, Yurachka! You cannot put such stress on yourself!’” Victor lost control of his giggles as tiny Yuri pulled off a passably gruff imitation of their coach. The boy smirked up at him, bad mood fading in one of his mercurial shifts in temper. “You really think I can win the Final?” The boy’s voice was almost wistful as he glanced out at the scuffed ice.

 

“You can do this, Yura. Besides, if you lose, who will go with me to the Quad:JUMP concert?” Yuri looked back over at him sharply, then slumped when he realized Victor was just teasing.

 

"Mudak,"  he muttered.

 

“Yuri!” One of the assistant coaches was calling across the ice, waving in their direction.

 

“I think that’s your cue to get ready to head to the airport,” Victor said, nudging the boy. He couldn’t resist ruffling the blond fluff, earning a snarl. “Go win your medal, Yura,” he said, smiling fondly as the boy finally skated away, heading to the rink entrance on the other side of the ice. As the teen disappeared, the smile slipped from Victor’s face and he pulled out his phone, biting his lip as he stared down at Yuuri’s most recent text.

 

Yuuri’s most recent unanswered text.

 

“You can’t seem overly eager, Vitya. Wait for him to call you. Don’t reply to texts during training hours. Don't throw yourself at him. He's a celebrity, he's got hundreds of people throwing themselves at him. You of all people should know how this works. If you want him to take you seriously, then he has to see you as someone who has their own goals, their own life. If you’re always available, he’ll continue seeing this as a fling, something for convenience. Let him work a little bit, Nikiforov!”

 

Chris’s advice replayed in his head as he pocketed the phone. Today was mostly a rest day for much of the rink, since Yakov was busy preparing to leave for the JGP Courchevel, but Victor found himself here anyways. He told himself he was just here to see little Yura off to his first international competition of the season, but there was a part of him that knew he was just lonely and looking for company. He could understood why Chris had given the advice he’d given, and sure, Yuuri initiated calls more frequently now, but the younger man also seemed more distant, less open when they talked. He bit his lip and pulled his phone back out. Surely, he’d waited long enough to respond.

 

His thumbs were hovering over the screen when someone settled against his side heavily. He twisted his head, unsurprised to see Mila leaning against him.

 

“Done with conditioning?” he queried, tucking the phone away again. She heaved a deep sigh, sinking against him until he was practically holding her up.

 

“Yes, finally,”  she heaved in exasperation. “That sadist Nikolai kept me for an extra half hour because he thought I was slacking on my planks. ‘You need to tighten that core, Ms. Babicheva! How will you land a triple axel if you have such poor control of your core, Ludmila!’ Augh! I’ll show him core control…” her voice trailed into a disgruntled mutter and Victor felt the faintest hint of a smile cross his lips. He glanced down and saw an answering smile on Mila’s upturned face. She nudged him playfully with her shoulder.

 

There it is. You were looking sad again,” the young woman said, moving so that she was slumped over the boards next to him.

 

“Ah. Was I?”

 

“Mmmm. You were looking happier for a while, but something changed. Did Yuuri break up with you?”

 

“What? Mila, no! That’s… we’re just friends… Yuuri’s busy and… everything’s fine!” Victor stammered a protest, earning a cool glare from the redhead.

 

“Right. I’m seventeen, not blind, Vitya. I know you like him. Two weeks ago, you wouldn’t shut up about him. Yuuri said this, and did you know that Yuuri did that… Yakov had to threaten to confiscate your phone because you wouldn’t stop talking to him. Now it’s practically like he doesn’t exist. So, what happened? Did he hurt you?” She cracked her knuckles threateningly, something fierce in her eyes.

 

“No! Mila, no, that’s not it at all. Yuuri hasn’t done anything. I just… I haven’t been talking to him much. Don’t want to be a bother, you know? He’s so busy…”

 

Her bright blue eyes were narrowed as she glanced over at him contemplatively. “Did he tell you that you were a bother?”

 

“Ah, well, no…”

 

“Has he ever asked you to stop calling him?”

 

Victor slumped further over the boards. “No…”

 

“You know, if I were in a long distance… whatever… and someone went from calling me all the time to hardly ever calling, I would probably be a little confused. Do you want to call him?”

 

He sighed, blowing his bangs out of his face. “Yes,” he said in a tiny voice.

 

“Then call him, you silly man! You are making yourself sad and you are probably making him sad, too! Stop being so dramatic!” She hip-checked him in a huff, then spun on one delicate foot to walk away. Victor shook his head, watching her storm off, before pulling out his phone yet again. This time, he checked the clock before finally pressing the call button.

 

“Vi-Victor?”

 

His heart felt instantly lighter as the breathy voice came over the line. “Yuuri! I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while. Is this a good time?”

 

Chapter Text

August 30th, 2014, Orlando

 

Guang Hong slumped down beside Yuuri, his young face twisted with exhaustion. The older singer glanced around the green room, seeing identical expressions on the rest of the band. Four weeks into the American leg of the tour, and they were all feeling the strain. Performances interspersed with long stints on the tour bus didn’t leave much time for relaxation, but after tonight’s show, they finally had a few days off before they had to make the drive to their Atlanta engagement. Yuuri had leaned on Celestino a bit, making a suggestion about how he and the other boys might like to spend their free time. Their manager tended to treat the quartet as if they were his children; Yuuri was sure he’d indulge this whim.

 

He leaned his head back against the wall, allowing his eyes to close as he worked to steady his breathing. Between the already blazing Florida heat and the stage lights, Yuuri was feeling a bit faint after their final bows had ended. Something cool nudged his forehead and his eyes flew open, hand automatically reaching to take the cold water bottle from Celestino. Their manager frowned down at him for a moment.

 

“Katsuki, you know better. If you get dehydrated and pass out on me, I’m grounding you for the next week.” Yuuri grimaced but twisted the cap off to take a long gulp.

 

“I’m fine. Just hot and tired,” he insisted, ignoring Celestino’s narrowed eyes.

 

“You sounded a little hoarse on the encore of History Maker,” the burly man mused. “Maybe this trip isn’t a good idea…”

 

“No! Nonono, I’m fine, seriously! I won’t scream, and I’ll stay hydrated, I swear!” Yuuri began to feel nervous as Celestino continued to stare him down, Guang Hong watching them in wide-eyed confusion.

 

Finally, the manager nodded in acquiescence. “Okay. But I’m counting on you to be the responsible one. And you know the drill on this…”

 

Yuuri nodded feverishly. “Stick with the security crew, post videos and pictures over the course of the day, don’t let Phichit have too much sugar.”

 

Celestino boomed a good-natured laugh before patting his head fondly. “Alright boys,” he called out to the rest of the band, who quickly moved to join them. “Nice work tonight. We have a few days off and I want you all to relax. Get showered and enjoy the VIP party but get some sleep tonight. I bought you all passes to a theme park tomorrow and I want you to make the most of it. Remember, you’re still representing the studio, so have fun but behave.”

 

Phichit’s eyes had grown wider with each word, barely contained glee suffusing his features. “Oh my god,” he squeaked. “We’re going to Disney World!”

 

 

August 31st, 2014

St. Petersburg, late afternoon

 

Yakov was yelling in his direction, but Victor couldn’t really have repeated anything his coach was saying. He moved into a set of twizzles, mostly because he could and then skated toward the rinkside wall, grinning in the older man’s direction. “Yaaakov! Relax! I have almost two months to polish the free skate!”

 

His cheerful reassurances only drew an unimpressed grimace. “Vitya. You are well behind your typical schedule. You know the free skate is where it counts, you can’t keep changing the song choice on a whim!”

 

Victor pouted slightly but chose not to respond as he sipped from his water bottle. He knew he was pushing it close with the music, but nothing felt right . He was happy with his short program, happy with the emotions it invoked, but the free… He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, his eyes roving. Little Yuri caught his attention, the boy flipping through something on his phone eagerly, Mila hovering behind him. Biting his lip, he snatched his guards from the rink wall, jamming them onto his blades before making his clomping way towards the young duo.

 

“Yuuuura! Whatcha looking at?” He singsonged, laughing when the boy glared up at him, quickly covering his screen.

 

“Nothing, mudak, ” the boy grouched, Mila’s delighted giggle bringing a smile to Victor’s face.

 

“Bet you can figure it out if you look through your Instagram,” the redhead said teasingly, sticking her tongue out when Yuri glared at her.

 

“He doesn’t need to. He shouldn’t. He’ll just make it gross somehow.”

 

Victor ignored the boy’s grumbles, already flipping through posts. His eyes alighted on one particular image with a gasp. Mila smirked.

 

“Looks like he found it,” she said with satisfaction, dodging Yuri’s annoyed shove with a little twirl.

 

“Ohmygod. I am dying of cute. A castle? What is this? What are they doing?? It’s adorable! Ah wait… Are… are those mouse ears? Why rodents? Is this a Phichit thing?”

 

“Ugh, do you pay attention to anything besides skating? They’re at fucking Disney World, you idiot!”

 

Orlando, Early Morning

 

“Alright guys, say cheese!” Phichit cheered, his selfie-stick extended. Yuuri forced himself to flash a proper smile, trying to ignore the ridiculousness of the mouse hat currently smooshing his already unruly hair. Satisfied, the Thai singer moved quickly to post the photo, his thumbs flashing quickly across his screen before he pocketed it in satisfaction. With a relieved sigh, Yuuri pulled the hat off his head, handing it gratefully to one of the cheerful assistants that Celestino had insisted accompany the band. At least… he tried hard to pretend that Tamara was just an assistant, but the way her eyes constantly darted around the crowd was a reminder that despite her ready smiles, the young woman and her partner were there for more than just carrying souvenir hats.

 

“Say ‘cheese’. You are such a dork,” Guang Hong chirped, nudging Phichit with his elbow as they began walking. Yuuri trailed behind, Seung-gil glancing around with calm curiosity at his side.

“Whatever. You love my cheesiness,” Phichit said slyly, laughing as Guang Hong groaned. Yuuri chuckled, trying to ignore the prickle on the back of his neck as he caught some of the teens in the crowded park beginning to eye them with excited recognition. He resigned himself to the inevitable blurry photos that would make it onto TMZ and other celebrity gawker sites. At least there was nothing truly gossip worthy about a group of young men hanging out at Disney World.

 

Phichit turned and looped his arm through Yuuri’s, eyes sparkling. “Okay, so, photos with the characters? Rides? Dole whips??

 

“Teacups.”

 

The group paused turning to stare at Seung-gil, who had a slight blush on his otherwise expressionless face. The Korean singer shrugged. “I’d like to ride the Teacups. I always wanted to when I was a kid. It would… mean a lot.”

 

Phichit beamed. “Oh my god. Our precious Seung-gil is all grown up and having emotions.” Seung-gil rolled his eyes but grabbed Phichit’s other arm and began tugging the group deeper into the park. Phichit’s eyes widened. “Best. Day. Ever.”

 

Yuuri laughed, nerves abating as he snagged Guang Hong’s hand. TMZ be damned. He was going to enjoy himself.

 

 

September 6th, 2014, St. Petersburg

 

He was in a daze, headphones on, a picture shining up from his phone. Lost in the music, Victor didn’t notice the figure in front of him until the headphones were yanked unceremoniously from his ears.

 

“The hell…” he started, stopping when he caught Yura’s eerie catlike eyes glaring at him. “Jesus, are you part gargoyle or something?” He spluttered the question, earning an even deeper glower from the teen.

 

“Stop moping, idiot, it’s been a week! Georgi thinks someone died or something. It’s just a stupid picture.” Victor clutched the phone to his chest dramatically. Yuri just rolled his eyes and dropped the headphones into his lap before turning to walk away. “You deal with him Baba, I’m done,” Victor heard him mutter before Mila dropped down to sit beside him.

 

Hooking her chin on his shoulder, the girl nudged at his phone until she could see the picture he’d been moodily perusing. Yuuri was blushing in the center of it, some overly primped blond in a ridiculous costume smiling a little too fondly down at him, one arm slung familiarly over Yuuri’s shoulder. And okay, the man was kind of attractive in that very overblown sort of American way but…

 

It was the hashtag that really bothered him.

 

“Aw, Prince Phillip! He’s my favorite, too! How cute,” Mila chirped, finally looking up from the picture. Victor grimaced.

 

“He’s not that attractive,” he pouted, drawing a surprised giggle from the girl.

 

“Oh my god, Vitya. You’re jealous. Of a fictional character,” she teased.

 

“He doesn’t look very fictional,” Victor said, glaring down at the image. There was a long moment of silence before Mila shifted slightly, drawing his attention to the way she was staring at him. “What?” He asked defensively, suddenly uncomfortable with the scrutiny.

 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tease you. I forget sometimes…” her voice trailed off and she shook her head as she gently tugged the phone out of his hand. “You really like this guy, don’t you?”

 

“Forget what?” Victor asked, choosing to ignore her question. He imagined it had been a bit rhetorical anyway.

 

Mila tilted her head. “You were already famous when I started taking lessons at the rink. I remember you as this beautiful but mysterious grown up, but you can’t have been more than, what, 14? 15? Younger than I am now, anyway. And you’d already been skating for a long time and you were always here. I thought you lived in the rink!”

 

Victor snorted. “You’re not far off, honestly. Yakov used to have to come hunt me down because I’d fall asleep in the locker room.”

 

She looked at him curiously. “Gosha started skating not long after you, but I don’t remember seeing him here nearly as often.” He shrugged, not really ready to let the teenager in quite that deep. She pursed her lips, but let it go. “They didn’t ever really let you be a kid, did they?”

 

Victor felt her words like a punch to the gut. “Mila…” He could hear the exasperation in his own voice and Mila must have as well.

 

She shook her head. “I’m overstepping. Sorry. But someday, if you need someone to talk to…”

 

He stared straight ahead, blinking hard. “It’s fine. I appreciate it. And I’ll, ah, I’ll keep that in mind. But I think maybe we’ve strayed off topic. We were talking about my reaction to this silly picture.” He forced a cheerful lilt into his voice, ignoring the suspicion that the girl saw right through his act.

 

Mila hummed thoughtfully. “Is it the Prince that’s bothering you? Because, you’re way cuter, you know.” Victor laughed but couldn’t help the tiny sense of satisfaction at her words.

 

“No, not… not really…”

 

She nodded. “You probably didn’t watch a lot of Disney growing up. I was lucky, American films were less taboo when I was little. All those princesses and princes… it’s… it’s a fantasy, you know? To have some dashing prince or beautiful princess sweep you off your feet? Nobody really wants the character, it’s more like… oh, like… a metaphor. A desire for romance. Love at first sight. That sort of thing. This guy,” she turned Victor’s screen back on, tapping on the costumed man at Yuuri’s side, “Is Phillip. He’s the prince in Sleeping Beauty.”

 

Victor’s eyes widened. “Sleeping Beauty? I thought the prince was Désiré?”

 

Mila laughed. “You’re thinking of the ballet. They changed his name in the cartoon movie. Funny that you and your boyfriend both seem so fond of the story though. I wonder if he’s ever seen your Lilac Fairy performance…”

 

He chose not to correct her continued misunderstanding of his and Yuuri’s relationship. “This hashtag though, it, ah, seems kind of… romantic...”

 

“What, #onceuponadream? It’s a song from the Disney film.” She hummed a few bars of a lilting tune, tapping something into Victor’s phone. “You should listen to the original, but this version just came out a few months ago. There was a live-action adaptation of the movie, so it’s popular again.” She popped his headphones back onto his ears and pressed a fond kiss to his forehead before standing up. She paused, peering down at him for a long moment. “It’s funny. I’ve never seen you so…” She trailed off, unsure of how to finish.

 

“What? Ridiculous?” Victor supplied. It wasn’t like he hadn’t heard it before.

 

She shook her head thoughtfully. “Normal,”  she corrected before flouncing off.

 

He watched her making her way back to the rink for a long moment before finally starting the music.

 

Yuuri wanted a prince, huh?

 

Maybe he could work with that…

 

Chapter Text

September 25th, 2014, Detroit

 

“Alright gentlemen,” Celestino boomed, his indefatigable cheer sending a shudder of exhaustion down Yuuri’s spine. “Take a couple of days to relax, but I want you back at the studio on Monday. We have quite a bit of planning to do. I want to capitalize on our time before the European Tour and we have awards season approaching, so we need to work out some media appearances.” A murmur traveled through the tour bus at that, the potential of actually being nominated for awards suddenly a very real possibility.

 

From the seat next to Yuuri, Phichit called out. “Are we going to get a chance to start working up any new songs?”

 

Celestino exchanged a measured glance with his wife. “Ah. Not just yet, Phichit. Let’s just stay focused on this album for now, shall we? Plenty of time to work on new material after awards season, yes?” The band murmured an assent, Yuuri and Phichit chiming in reluctantly.

 

Finally, the bus pulled to a stop outside their flat and they all filed off, collecting their luggage and various souvenirs tiredly. The door to their home swung open, cheerful barks filling the air as their pet sitter let Jimin and Vicchan loose to greet their owners. Yuuri grinned, exhaustion forgotten as he dropped his bags to scoop up his tiny poodle. Two months was entirely too long to go without the unconditional love that the fluffball provided. One of the many reasons why tours were his least favorite aspect of his career.

 

Phichit brushed past his shoulder, making a beeline for the door to check on his own furbabies, Guang Hong trailing tiredly behind him, leaving Seung-gil and Yuuri to wave farewell to the rest of their crew as the bus pulled away from the curb. Picking up Vicchan with one arm and his shoulder bag with the other, Yuuri made his way toward the door, catching sight of Phichit chatting animatedly with the sitter. With a smile and a tired wave, he deposited the bag into his room, then helped Seung-gil with the remainder of the luggage.

 

He wanted nothing more than to collapse face first onto his bed for the night, but he found himself lingering in the hall outside of the guest room that had somehow become irrevocably ‘Victor’s room’ in his stupid, sentimental mind. He nudged the door open, swallowing hard against the sudden lump in his throat as a wave of loneliness threatened to overwhelm him. His bandmates were in the living room, Vicchan hovering at his heels. He’d spent the last two months surrounded by dozens of stagehands and roadies, not to mention tens of thousands of screaming fans… But here, staring at the empty space that had so briefly housed the tempest of blazing energy and beauty that was Victor Nikiforov…

 

The aching wave of loneliness crested.

 

He sat on the edge of the bed, then finally gave in to the temptation to curl up on top of the blankets that he’d once shared with the Russian skater. If the pillow grew a bit damp over the next few minutes, well, Vicchan would never tell.

 

October 3rd, 2014, Detroit

 

Yuuri yelped as the headphones were pulled from his head, Phichit’s lithe frame molding itself to his back as his best friend reached over him to peruse the notebook he’d propped up on the stand of his keyboard. He waited, resigned, knowing that the younger man would speak when he was ready. Sure enough…

 

“You were quiet on the livestream today,” Phichit murmured, still determinedly looking through the notebook.

 

“I’m never that talkative, Peach,” Yuuri pointed out, earning a skeptical hum in response. “I’m fine,” he insisted, moving to close the notebook with a snap.

 

“Right. Which is why you’re writing moody lyrics and hiding in your room every night,” Phichit deadpanned. Yuuri shrugged. “When’s the last time you talked to your boyfriend?”

 

“Please stop calling him that,” he said flatly, standing up and moving out of his friend’s grasp. “We aren’t dating.”

 

“Does he know that?”

 

He is training in Russia.”

 

“So?”

 

So, we’re, at most, friends. With occasional benefits. If he even still wants that the next time I see him. I’m not going to risk that by pushing for something he doesn’t have the time or desire to commit to, Phichit!” His voice was shrill in his own ears, too loud for the small space.

 

“Dammit, Yuu! The sexy moody thing is supposed to be Seung-gil’s schtick. You’re crazy about the guy. Anyone with eyes could see that he’s just as crazy about you!” Phichit’s exasperation leaked into his voice. “Why won’t you let yourself have this? You’re so goddamned determined to be miserable! Call him! Go be ridiculously in love and let yourself be happy!

 

“And what gets sacrificed, huh? You want to keep pushing this, but what happens Peach? Do I go live in Russia and give up the band? Is that what you want? Or does he give up his Olympic gold-winning career? What’s the magical happy ending here, hmm? What. Gets. Sacrificed?” Yuuri’s chest was heaving at this point.

 

Phichit pulled away, quiet, a wounded look flashing across his dark features. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “It’s just… you two seemed happy together. Good together. But… but it’s your life. Your choice. I don’t… I’ll stop prying. But Yuuri, please, I only ever wanted to see you happy.”

 

“Yeah. I know that Phichit.”

 

The Thai singer nodded, his steely grey eyes suspiciously moist. “Okay. I’ll, ah, I’ll leave you to your music.”

 

Yuuri pulled his headphones back on in stubborn acknowledgement, refusing to meet his friend’s troubled gaze. Three weeks. He could get through three weeks before seeing Victor again. He’d gone most of his life worshiping the man from afar, he could certainly get through three weeks of occasional FaceTime chats and texts. The Russian skater wouldn’t thank him for getting needy, and the gods knew Yuuri wasn’t about to risk losing the sweet sliver of the man’s attention which he’d somehow managed to maintain in the months since they’d met.

 

Three weeks…

 

Right. He would totally be fine.

 

October 26th,  2014, Hoffman Estates, Illinois

 

“Idiot boy,” Yakov said flatly, staring at his top skater. To his chagrin, Victor Nikiforov merely grinned.

 

“Yaaaakov, it’s only a few days! I’ve already booked the trip, I’ll pay for it myself, so you don’t have to worry about sponsors being upset!” To Victor’s mild surprise, his coach only looked resigned, rather than furious.

 

“You could have told me about this in advance,” Yakov pointed out bluntly. “What was the point of booking two separate return flights?”

 

Victor ducked his head sheepishly. “Ahhh…”

 

“You felt I would not approve. To the point that you felt the need for deception. Foolish, foolish boy,” the Russian coach said blandly.

 

Victor blinked, surprised. “I… I thought… I thought you would be upset with the disruption in my training…” he trailed off, suddenly feeling terribly wrong-footed.

 

Yakov rolled his eyes. “Yes,” he said flatly. “I am absolutely furious at you for wanting to spend time with the person I suspect has a great deal to do with both your current programs and the fact that you are still on the ice this season. Still winning this season.” He glanced significantly at the gold medal currently resting against Victor’s chest. The skater blushed, knowing his coach had seen right through his new choreography.

 

The older Russian rolled his eyes. “Do I need to request guest credentials for tomorrow’s banquet?”

 

And oh… wouldn’t that be lovely… but… “Ah, no. He’s… he’s not coming until Monday.”

 

They’d never spoken about Yuuri attending the competition or any of the associated events. Which, in retrospect… why hadn’t they? Chicago wasn’t far, Quad:JUMP was on break before the European tour… He could have asked Yuuri. Hell, he could have invited the entire band. Guang Hong knew that American skater that had taken bronze, didn’t he? But… Yuuri had never mentioned it and Victor hadn’t thought to bring it up. Not that the singer would necessarily want to see him compete. In fact… had they ever really talked about skating? He knew Yuuri had seen his Olympic skate, but that was different, he’d been using Yuuri’s music…

 

Yakov was watching him with narrowed eyes, as if he could read Victor’s thoughts. “Too busy to come one day early?” His voice was suspiciously casual. The skater flushed.

 

“I didn’t ask him, actually,” he replied, mimicking his coach’s nonchalance. He moved to finish packing up his gear bag, refusing to meet Yakov’s eyes.

 

He heard a deep sigh from behind him but refused to turn around. He finally straightened, throwing his bag over shoulder. “Back to the hotel then? I promised a few of the other skaters we’d meet up for drinks now that the competition is over,” he lied glibly, flashing a broad grin.

 

Yakov merely glared, his eyes beady. “Vitya…”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“You are… fond of this singer boy.”

 

Victor bit his lip, not wanting to give his coach any fuel for the warning he knew was coming. Yakov sighed again.

 

“When you are… well known in your field, it can be difficult to… be with someone who is successful in a different field,” the coach grated. “What is best for one is not always what is best for one’s, ah… partner. If you… care for each other, you should know that there will be sacrifices if you want this relationship to last.”

 

Victor glanced up, surprised at the words. Part of him wanted to ask if Yakov was speaking from personal experience but… he didn’t really want to go down that road. Besides, he already knew the answer.

 

“It’s just casual, Yakov, nothing serious,” Victor said carefully, trying to imbue his words with a sincerity he didn’t feel. From the older Russian’s flat gaze, he wasn’t terribly successful.

 

October 28th,  2014, Chicago

 

Yuuri bit his lip as he stared at the hotel door, his hand poised to knock. It had been poised to knock for longer than he cared to admit.

 

It had been months since he’d seen Victor but somehow, standing here in this empty hallway, he couldn’t bring himself to take the final steps towards seeing the other man. He was second guessing his request to meet up here in Chicago. Surely the Russian beauty would be happier with someone who shared his interests, his lifestyle… someone who could be more present.

 

Was that why Victor hadn’t asked him to attend the competition? When he had suggested that they meet up after the competition, he’d had a faint hope that maybe Victor would want him during the competition too. Perhaps there’d been a good reason that Victor hadn’t extended the invitation. Objectively, he knew it was possible, maybe even likely that the Russian legend had other… what? Friends with benefits?

 

Had one of them been at the competition?

 

It would make sense why Victor had suggested getting a hotel in downtown Chicago instead of the suburban Hoffman Estates where Skate America had been held. Hell, Yuuri should probably even be grateful… If Victor had someone else, someone who’d been at the competition…

 

Well, Yuuri would really rather not sleep in the same bed.

 

He still stood there, alone, facing the damned door. “What is wrong with me?” he swore under his breath. Hidden in that room was a man; a beautiful, talented man, who was willing to share a fragment of his time with someone like Yuuri. What did it matter that Victor could only ever be Yuuri’s in these stolen moments, these hidden spaces?

 

One knock and Victor would be there, ethereal and lovely and a dream far too grand for Yuuri to ever hold on to… one knock and he knew he’d give another piece of his heart away. How many times could he do this? How many times before it became too hard to keep giving Victor back to the world when their fleeting time was up, like grains of sand in the bottom of the glass...

 

One knock...

 

The door swung open, Yuuri’s hand still poised mid-air. Victor looked startled, his eyes wide and a brilliant grin beginning to spread across his handsome face. “Yuuri! You’re here!” He looked delighted and Yuuri couldn’t stop himself from reaching, from wrapping himself into the warmth of the Russian’s embrace. Victor backed them into the room, tilting Yuuri’s chin up for a kiss.

 

The door clicked shut.

 

The hourglass turned.




Chapter Text

 

October 28th, 2014, Chicago

 

Yuuri Katsuki kissed the way he sang; soft and slow, before moving into a heart-pounding crescendo that left one aching for more. Victor nudged at the bag on the other man’s shoulder until it hit the floor, then continued backing up until he felt the edge of the mattress. Drawing Yuuri down with him, he settled on the edge, humming in satisfaction when the singer moved to straddle his lap, lips and tongue and teeth still tangled in a heated cacophony of pent up loneliness and pure desire.

 

“Missed you,” Victor gasped, slipping his hands beneath the soft sweater, desperate for the warmth of skin against skin. He nipped a line down the slender neck, a chuckle on his lips at the slight whine as he pulled away just enough to pull the cloth over the dark hair. The laugh broadened into a grin when Yuuri emerged from the shirt with a grimace, glasses askew. The singer glared half-heartedly as he primly plucked the glasses from his nose, settling them carefully on the nightstand before diving back in for another kiss, his hands creeping down the buttons on Victor’s shirt. He shoved the shirt half off Victor’s shoulders, leaning forward to mold himself to the taller man’s bare torso, drinking in the tiny whimper that escaped Victor’s mouth as those plush hips gave a tiny half-buck in his lap.

 

Blyad,” the Russian swore. “ Dorogoy, slow down sweetheart.” Yuuri pulled away, his amber eyes molten as he bit his already kiss-swollen bottom lip. Victor’s heart lurched; the singer looked absolutely wrecked and forlorn at the forced pause. He knew he should slow this down, that they should talk, reconnect in more ways than just the physical, but…

 

He flipped them in an impetuous mood, recapturing that perfect mouth as he ground down against the answering hardness beneath him. Yuuri’s panting breath was encouragement enough as his fingers sought the fastening on his lover’s jeans; a strained “Yes, Victor, please,” driving him forward as he brushed against a particularly sensitive spot. He lost track of time, sensation and instinct moving him until Yuuri was suddenly beneath him, nothing to separate them, just the dizzying touch of hard flesh to warm skin.

 

“Beautiful,” he choked out, his breath ragged. Had it only been minutes since he’d opened the door to find Yuuri Katsuki standing there? Surely it had been longer? How quickly he’d fallen to pieces in the other man’s arms.

 

He’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Yuuri pressed a sucking kiss against the crook of his neck, the sensation going straight to his core.

 

“Fuck, solnyshko, I want… god, I need you…”

 

The raven-haired beauty grinned crookedly up at him, the clever fingers of one hand doing blissful things to his body while the other reached down to strain towards the discarded bag. Victor pulled up, smirking down at the smaller man before batting his hand away to reach instead for the night stand’s drawer. Dropping his prizes to the mattress, he leaned in for another searing kiss, grinning against Yuuri’s mouth at the insistent little thrust against his hips.

 

“Tell me what you need darling,” he crooned, biting back his hum of satisfaction when Yuuri pressed the slim bottle into his hand, his back arching as he strained against Victor’s larger form.

 

You,” Yuuri choked out. “Want you, please,Victor…”

 

The Russian frowned slightly, the sound of his name suddenly sounding wrong on those beautiful lips. Later, he told himself before once more becoming lost in the younger man, the slickness between them becoming unbearably intoxicating. Yuuri’s perfect thighs hitched around his waist and Victor soon lost himself to all rational thought.

 

***

 

He’d never considered himself much of a ‘bathing in the afterglow’ sort of guy, but with the late afternoon sun lending Victor’s silver hair a halo of gold, he thought he might be willing to reconsider. There was something radiant about the long lean form in his arms, the sharp planes of the athlete’s face softened by the filtered light, a soft smile curving the slim lips. Stunning.

 

“Ruble for your thoughts, dorogoy?”

 

Yuuri could feel the blush highlighting his cheeks. “Ah… nothing. Just… just looking.” He hesitated for a moment. “At you, I mean. Looking at you.” And oh, wasn’t that pink flush glorious on that so-pale skin? Some hopeful inner voice prodded him to wonder why exactly his flustered admission had caused Victor to blush.

 

“Yuu~uuri,” Victor crooned, drawing a gentle hand through his hair, cupping his face. As if he was something precious, someone Victor treasured, someone he…

 

That way lies madness, he told himself sternly.

 

“We should get up. Get dinner or something,” he said, struggling to move past the perilous moment. Victor looked surprised at the suddenness of Yuuri’s suggestion.

 

“Oh. Ah, yes? I suppose?” For a moment the Russian looked genuinely distressed and Yuuri felt a brief moment of panic. The last thing he ever wanted to do was to cause Victor any anxiety. He’d been a fan ( and so much more screamed his traitorous heart) for far too long to ever want to disrupt the skater’s life.

 

“We don’t have to? I mean, if you’d rather not be seen, we could get room service?” He couldn’t help the hint of disappointment that colored his tone. This is already more than you deserve, he scolded himself. It didn’t mean that he didn’t still feel the desire to be out and about, together, in neutral territory, exploring the sights and doing all those touristy things that couples did. He thought longingly of the famous jazz club he’d always wanted to visit, of introducing Victor to the late-night buzz of Boystown…

 

Victor wrapped his arms around Yuuri’s shoulders, silencing his doubtful heart for a brief instant. “Yuuri, I would love to go get dinner. Just let me put on something a bit more appropriate, hmm?” He winked broadly before sliding off the bed, striding in all his glorious, brazen nakedness towards his suitcase. Yuuri couldn’t help staring. “Oh, did you have someplace in mind?” Victor asked, turning to look over his shoulder, catching Yuuri mid-drool. A wicked grin flashed on his too-handsome face and he stalked back to the bed where Yuuri sat, frozen.

 

“I like having your eyes on me, darling,” the skater half-whispered, leaning down for a lingering kiss before sauntering back to his luggage. “Although, you should probably put clothes on,” he teased with a smirk. “Not that I’d mind the view, but I don’t particularly want the other patrons getting a free show.”

 

Yuuri yelped and shot up, snatching his discarded clothes from the floor. They were, thankfully, not too rumpled and he pulled them on with a frantic pace. Snagging his phone, he pulled up the listicle he’d saved, browsing through for a low key but still sufficiently high-brow restaurant in their vicinity. Within a few clicks he’d made reservations, just in time for Victor to emerge from the bathroom, hair freshly coifed. Yuuri shuffled into the abandoned space, cleaning up a bit and running a tiny touch of gel through his hair so that it didn’t scream their activities to the world quite so noticeably.

 

As he exited the bathroom, Victor straightened from where he’d been slumped against the wall, absently thumbing at his phone. The Russian flashed him a happy smile. “All set then, solnyshko?” Yuuri nodded and Victor dipped into a playful bow before tangling their fingers together as they exited the room, much to the singer’s surprise. Victor looked thoughtful as they made their way to the elevator, uncharacteristically quiet as they waited for the lift to arrive.

 

“Victor?” Yuuri prodded, bumping his shoulder into the taller man’s.

 

The silver-blond startled out of his reverie. “Ah! Sorry! I was just… we always seem to be in your, ah… territory.”

 

Yuuri blinked. “Ahhh, sorry?”

 

Victor shook his head. “Hmmm, no, sorry, that didn’t come out quite… ah, anyway. I was thinking, I cannot wait to show you around Moscow. It’s like a second home to me and… I would like to be able to finally plan one of our dates.”

 

The elevator arrived with a ding and Yuuri blindly followed the taller man into the enclosed space. He said ‘dates’. Victor Nikiforov just called this a date, right? The singer desperately hoped his face didn’t betray the turmoil those words had caused. Because in that moment, something occurred to him. He desperately wanted this to be a date.

 

And as Victor eagerly tugged his hand when they exited the elevator, he had to allow himself to wonder.

 

Maybe Victor wanted this to be a date, too.

 

October 30th, 2014, Chicago

 

They went for ramen on their final night in Chicago. It was a trendy spot, crowded with young people, several of whom seem to be angling phones in their direction. A far cry from their quiet little hole-in-the-wall in Tokyo nearly seven months ago. And how had it been so long already? Still, there was something nostalgic about the night. Yuuri seemed more open than he had just two short days ago, ignoring the eyes on them in order to absently play with Victor’s fingers where they splayed over the table top.  

 

“I don’t want to leave,” he mused glumly, chopsticks abandoned as he leaned his chin into the hand not currently occupied by Yuuri.

 

“I know what you mean,” the singer replied, brow furrowed, eyes distant. His hand clenched a little harder around Victor’s for a brief moment before suddenly pulling it back. “Ah, I mean, going back to practice isn’t really ever much fun.”

 

Which hadn’t been was Victor was hinting at but… “You don’t enjoy practice?”

 

Yuuri hunched his shoulders slightly, poking through the dregs of his soup. “Ah… practice can be okay. But we leave for England in two weeks, then it’s six more weeks of shows… I’m just, I guess I’m just tired.”

 

Victor had spent hours staring at his lover the last couple of days. He’d re-memorized the perfect dip in Yuuri’s upper lip, the curve of his cheek, the flutter of his thick dark lashes. Now, looking past the too-lovely surface, he wondered how he’d possibly missed the slight gauntness of those same cheeks, the circles under the deep brown eyes. “Yuuri,” he started slowly, “Do you not like touring?”

 

Yuuri bit his lip, (and oh, that did things to Victor) glancing around at the still-crowded restaurant. “Ah, let’s walk? We can head back along the river for a bit?” He stood when Victor smiled in agreement, offering his hand to pull the skater to his feet.

 

They walked in thoughtful silence, the skyscrapers and bright lights of the city passing in a blur. Yuuri still hadn’t released his hand, and Victor reveled in the sensation. It felt like romance. It almost felt like…

 

“... love the music,” Yuuri was saying softly, breaking into Victor’s thoughts. “I, I’ve always loved making music. Figuring out the words, the rhythms… I love working with my friends, love the dancing, I even love the recording sessions, the videos.”

 

Victor glanced over at the singer when the younger man paused. “But…?”

 

Yuuri tightened his grip on Victor’s hand, gazing up at the passing buildings. “How do you deal with it? The… the attention. All… all of those eyes, always on you… watching, judging, wanting something… The people touching you…”

 

Victor halted, alarmed as he pulled Yuuri around to face him. “Dorogoy, did something happen? Did someone…”

 

Yuuri’s eyes widened. “OH! Nonononono! Nothing like, not like… Just, there’s all the meet and greets and everyone seems to want a hug, or to shake my hand or just… touch me and it’s just… it’s a lot. Is all.” He winced. “Sorry, I’m explaining things badly. I must sound like an idiot…”

 

The Russian shook his head earnestly. “Not at all, solnyshko.” He moved to take Yuuri’s other hand, grateful for the relative anonymity the crowded city streets afforded them under the cover of darkness. “You asked how I deal with it. The truth is… I don’t give them any more of myself than I have to. I haven’t for a long time.” He knew his grin was a little lopsided, but he couldn’t help the honesty, even as Yuuri stared up at him in confusion.

 

“Oh, I used to,” he admitted as he continued. “Used to be honest, used to love the thrill of the audience. But after a while… well. It’s, it’s so much. They want you to be perfect, always. So, you smile a little wider, stand a little taller. You say what they want to hear, but you don’t let them in. Did you know I used to have long hair?”

 

Yuuri looked confused at the non-sequitur. “Ahhhh…”

 

Victor shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I did. Until after the Vancouver Olympics actually. People made a lot of assumptions about it, about what it said about me. Fans, they’d touch it. One time, a guy grabbed it, yanked me towards him, claimed he thought that must be what I liked since I wore it so long. I cut it off the next day. Don’t let them define you, Yuuri…” He knew his voice had grown a little desperate, that he had moved to grip at Yuuri’s upper arms…

 

“Oh, Victor,” Yuuri’s voice was gentle. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories… I never, I never realized it was so hard for you…” He hesitated, then, softly. “You don’t smile like that with me… the wide smile, the media smile…”

 

Victor closed his eyes, swallowed. “No, dorogoy, never that smile. Not for you…”

 

Standing there, in a city of nearly 3 million, Victor suddenly felt as if they were the only two people in the world.

Chapter Text

November 17th, 2014, London

 

“Why are you watching that interview again?”

 

Yuuri startled at Minako’s sudden question. “Ah, no reason?” He paused the video, Victor’s face frozen on the screen, his hair and smile perfect, gold gleaming on his chest. The Rostelecom Cup had concluded the day before and Victor had won, to nobody’s surprise. What had been surprising, was his post-skate interview. Notoriously tight-lipped about the motivations behind his choreography, the Russian legend had been unusually open, if vague, in his responses.

 

“Victor! Your choreography this year has been described as ‘expressive and romantic’, but the pieces are quite different. Can you tell us a little bit about the emotion behind your choreography?”

Victor tapped a long finger against his chin in contemplation. “Ah, well, they are very different, no? But they are two sides of the same coin. Desire and longing. Want and need.”

The reporter looked slightly confused. “Can you elaborate on that? What is the difference between desire and longing?”

The skater looked delighted at the question. “Oh! Well, there is desire; for the physical, for the… well, for the erotic I suppose. This is On Love: Eros; pure, physical, desire...” here he winked suggestively. “And then, with Stammi Vicino, there is longing; the… the need to find and to hold on to something precious.”

“Something, or someone?” the same reporter queried.

“Hmmmmm, I think that is for me to know for now,” Victor responded with a soft smile.

 

The clip ended there, but Yuuri had found himself re-watching it more times than he cared to admit. There was something about Victor’s smile…

 

He shook himself away from the frozen screen, flushing to find Minako still staring at him, a knowing glint in her steel-grey eyes. “What?” he asked, his voice cracking.

 

“You’re avoiding my question,” the choreographer said blandly. “What is it about this interview that you’re fixating on, Yuuri? He did the same pieces back in Chicago, so it’s not the skating…”

 

“It… I just… it kind of sounds like he…” he paused, glancing down at the screen once more before clicking out of the video.

 

Minako stood over the couch, looking down at him with a furrowed brow. “Like he…” the older woman prompted.

 

Yuuri hunched slightly. “Like he… met someone,” he half-whispered.

 

Minako was silent for a long moment before speaking in a flat voice. “Yeah. It kind of sounds like he met someone.” Yuuri glanced up in time to catch an exaggerated eye roll. “You know, I can’t tell if you’re being deliberately obtuse at this point, or if you just genuinely have so little self-awareness that you can’t see what literally everyone who sees the two of you together can see. I thought maybe you’d work this shit out in Chicago which is half the reason I talked ‘Tino into allowing the trip.” She groaned before flopping down on the green room couch beside Yuuri and leaning her head on his shoulder.

 

“Yuuri, I love you like a son but sometimes you drive me nuts. That pretty-boy skater of yours? He’s crazy about you. I’m willing to bet that he’s dropped a million hints about his feelings and that anxious brain of yours has convinced you that you’re misinterpreting him. Hmmm?” She nudged her shoulder against his side when he stayed silent. “I know I’m right. Look me in the eye and tell me he’s never said anything about wanting to date you or spend more time with you…”

 

Yuuri bit his lip, remembering those nights in Chicago when he’d almost thought… “I… maybe?

 

“Yeah, gonna take that as confirmation,” Minako deadpanned. “You have a show tonight. What’ll it take to get your head in the right place?”

 

“I’ll be fine, Minako-sensei,” Yuuri muttered.

 

She eyed him, unimpressed, then snagged his phone.

 

“I… hey!” he protested as she effortlessly unlocked the screen and fiddled with it for a moment before thrusting it back into his hands.

 

“Talk,"  she ordered as he scrambled to figure out who she’d dialed. His eyes widened as he recognized the photo.

 

“Yuuri?” came a familiar voice and Minako smirked as she walked away.

 

“Ah… Victor! Um, hi!”

 

November 17th, 2014, Moscow

 

“… and then Sara said that she’s sure I’ll get at least silver at the NHK and that we’ll hang out in Sochi for the Final. Do you think I can? …Vitya?”

 

Victor shook his head, blinking, as he tried to catch up with Mila’s chatter. “Oh, of course, kotyenok! You can probably take gold, but you’ll definitely qualify for the Final, I’m sure of it!”

 

The redhead beamed up at him before returning her attention to her phone, likely texting the Italian skater she’d befriended months ago at Worlds. If he was honest, he had to admit he was relieved at her distraction. He was exhausted, and his only solace was that he had drawn early enough qualifiers that he now had a solid few weeks before he had to worry about another competition.

 

Of course, in that time there would be press conferences and interviews and there was that commercial for Chanel…

 

His phone buzzed, dragging him out of the spiral of remembered obligations. His eyes widened as he caught sight of the caller. Quad:JUMP had the first show of their European tour tonight; he hadn’t expected to hear from Yuuri until tomorrow but he wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Frantically pressing the accept button as he stood, he strode to a quieter corner of the sparsely occupied banquet hall, the phone clasped to his ear.

 

“Yuuri?”

 

“Ah… Victor! Um, hi!”

 

“Is everything alright, dorogoy? Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your show?” A low thrum of worry passed through him, the break in their routine unusual enough to unsettle him. The long pause did little to calm his nerves.

 

“It’s… everything’s fine. I just… I was watching the interviews from your last performance and… I just…”

 

Victor waited patiently for a long moment. The silence stretched unbearably, and he couldn’t help himself. “Yuuri… what is it?”

 

A deep breath echoed through the line. “I just… I missed you…” Yuuri finally admitted, something joyful buzzing in Victor’s core at the confession.

 

“Yuuuuri,” he crooned lowly. “I miss you too…” He bit his tongue at the endearments that wanted to flow out at the end of his declaration. He hesitated for a long moment, Yuuri’s words finally catching up to him. “You… you watched my interviews?”

 

Yuuri hummed in confirmation. “I did. I… it…”

 

Victor waited, knowing Yuuri would get to his point at his own pace.

 

Itsoundedlikeyouwerethinkingaboutsomeone…"  Yuuri blurted in a rush, causing Victor to blink in surprise as his mind fought to catch up.

 

“Oh,” he finally purred. “Well, I mean… I was.”

 

There was a sudden gasp of breath through the speaker followed by a hesitant, “Ohhh… um… Do I… ah, know them?”

 

He allowed a fond grin to spread across his face. “Oh, zolotse moya,” he crooned. “Can you truly still have any doubts?” He grew concerned at the long silence that followed. “Yuuri?” he prodded gently.

 

“Sorry, I just… it was beautiful, Victor. You were beautiful,” Yuuri’s voice, soft and reverent, caused Victor’s breath to catch in his throat. “Crap, Victor… I’m sorry, we’ll talk tomorrow? I… I have to go… they’re calling me for makeup…”

 

Victor grinned. “Okay. Tomorrow. Think of me tonight?”

 

“…I will.”

 

They said their farewells, but Victor couldn’t bring himself to rejoin his rink mate and the rest of the banquet just yet. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, a giddy grin spreading across his face.

 

*click*

 

His solitude was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a camera app going off. He cracked one eye open. Christophe. Of course. He closed his eyes again, feeling his friend slump against the wall beside him.

 

“You, mon cher, look like a man in dire need of a toast with the finest off-brand champagne that Moscow has to offer,” Chris teased, bumping a shoulder against him.

 

Victor laughed, finally lifting his head from the wall in order to take the proffered flute, clinking it against Chris’s and taking a sip.

 

“To another trip to the Final,” the Swiss skater toasted in mock solemnity.

 

“You haven’t actually qualified yet,” Victor pointed out, earning a sniff of derision.

 

“Please darling, I took silver yesterday and neither you nor Cao Bin are at the NHK this year, have some faith in me!”

 

Victor raised his glass, conceding the point. “Fair enough. It would just be nice if the Final were a little less easy to predict, don’t you ever think?”

 

Chris eyed him for a long moment. “Careful, Vitya, that smacks strongly of disillusionment.”

 

Victor snorted. “God, you sound like an Austen novel. But seriously, you, me, Cao, and Georgi are practically shoe-ins. Just like last year.”

 

“That still leaves a couple slots, one of the younger crowd might surprise you,” Chris pointed out. “The Canadian kid has a couple huge quads and there’s that weird Italian, Crispino… his sister qualified, he’ll try to get in if only to keep an eye on her.”

 

“I’m sure Jimmy John and the Wonder Twin will make for an interesting Final, but are they going to shake up the podium?” He started to say more but hesitated at the frustrated look on his friend’s face. “Aaaaand I’m being an ass, aren’t I?”

 

“Leaning a teeny bit arrogant, oui,” Chris said with a small but genuine smile. “But, never mind that, I came over to ask what had you looking so content. I’m starting to think it didn’t have anything to do with the gold medal around your neck.”

 

He’d nearly forgotten the damned thing was there, truth be told. “No,” he said with a soft smile. “Yuuri called.”

 

The Swiss skater leered in delight. “Oh? And how is your delicious little Japanese songbird?

 

Victor rolled his eyes before swatting at Chris’s arm. “Yuuri has a show in London tonight. And he’s doing well. His tour is sold out and they’re front runners for a lot of the upcoming American music awards,” he said primly.

 

Chris laughed. “Well, then! Look at you, playing the proud boyfriend!”

 

Victor ignored the twinge at the term. Surely after their time in Chicago he could lay at least lay some claim to that word? He settled for an uneasy smile. “He’s lovely, Chris. Truly. I only hope I can keep his attention when the rest of the world is clamoring for it.”

 

Chris’s expression soured slightly, his hazel eyes narrowing. “Ah. Is he still acting the playboy then?”

 

“No! That’s not what I meant!”

 

“Really? Because you told me back in July that you were worried he saw you as some sort of… occasional fling . It’s November now and you are dodging me. Is he your boyfriend, or isn’t he?”

 

“I…”

 

Mon dieu, Vitya!” Chris exclaimed, exasperation heavy in his tone. “You are not a convenience! You told me you wanted the strings! Do you know how many men would kill to be your boyfriend?”

 

“Dammit, Chris, it’s not like that, he cares he’s just… shy!”

 

“He’s an international pop star! He’s not shy, he’s holding you at arm’s length!” The Swiss skater’s voice had risen, and they were beginning to draw stares from the banquet attendees.

 

Victor grasped one of his friend’s aggressively flailing arms. “Why is this so important to you?” he hissed softly, glancing pointedly in the direction of their onlookers.

 

Christophe’s hazel eyes darted around, finally noticing their audience. He visibly forced himself to relax, taking a nonchalant sip of his champagne before speaking in a low but urgent voice. “Because I’m worried, Vitya! I think you’ve been lonelier than you like to admit for a long time and Yuuri is the first man, hell, the first anything who’s actually held your interest in years . I think you’re more than a little bit in love with him and you can’t even tell me what your relationship is. And that worries me because I think you’ll get hurt if what he wants doesn’t match up with what you need!”

 

Victor slung back the last of his drink and deposited it on a side table before reclaiming Chris’s arm and all but dragging the taller man out of the banquet hall.

 

“Ah, not that I mind being dragged around by you, darling, but where are we going?” Chris’s tone was friendly but slightly alarmed as Victor jammed his thumb into the elevator call button.

 

“The lobby bar. If we’re going to do this, I need something stronger than that pitiful excuse for champagne,” Victor snapped as they stepped into the lift. An awkward silence descended along with the elevator and soon the doors were pinging open in the hotel’s foyer. A few moments later and they were safely ensconced in a plush booth, glasses of clear liquid cradled between two sets of long fingers.

 

Chris took a sip and then cleared his throat, eyes locked on his glass. “I’m sorry if I’m overstepping my bounds,” he offered tentatively.

 

Victor grimaced. “Just tell me what set you off. You aren’t usually one to care that much about defining relationships. Mine or anyone else’s…”

 

The Swiss skater bit his lip. “I… I’m seeing someone. It’s… I think it could be serious,” he admitted.

 

Victor brightened for a moment before narrowing his eyes. “And this is the first I’m hearing about it because…”

 

Chris sighed. “Because I wasn’t sure where you stood with Yuuri. I called to cancel that magazine shoot and I was kind of surprised when they said you were still on the schedule and then Yakov told Josef that you’d stayed in Chicago for a few extra days but that Yuuri hadn’t even bothered to come to the competition…”

 

Magazine shoot? Do I have a magazine shoot scheduled?  Victor wondered, before dismissing the thought. He probably did, he tended to let his PR crew handle that. He ignored it for the latter part of Chris’s statement. “Yakov and Josef gossip like teenagers. I didn’t ask Yuuri to come to the competition.”

 

Chris pursed his lips behind his glass. “He’s the one who suggested you two meet up in Chicago, he knew you were competing, why didn’t he come to see you skate? You’ve seen him perform once already, you flew out to Detroit to be in his music video, you’re planning on taking your little padawan to the Moscow show…”

 

“Ah… padawan?”

 

“God, we have GOT to get you some culture, Vitya. Protegee, shadow, pseudo-brother, whatever you’re calling young Plisetsky. The point is that if you’re in a relationship, he should support you as much as you support him. And from what I can see, it’s been pretty one-sided so far. So yeah, I worry.”

 

Victor’s brow furrowed as he sipped from his glass, desperately fishing through his memories for a way to prove Chris wrong. “I… I don’t think it’s on purpose Chris. I just… I think he hasn’t had the opportunity. He watched my interviews yesterday, he pays attention. He cares!” The words were more forceful than he intended. “…He cares, I know he does…” he repeated softly.

 

Chris reached across the table, placing his hand over Victor’s. “Okay. Then… give him the opportunity. You get comp tickets to your competitions, send him some. There’s the Final…”

 

Victor was already shaking his head. “He’ll still be on tour. And before you ask, Europeans is right before the Grammy awards and I’m sure they’ll be nominated…”

 

“Worlds then. Give him tickets to Worlds,” Chris said firmly, flipping through his phone. “No tour dates, no scheduled appearances so far, no awards shows… give him tickets early enough that he can arrange the travel with his manager. You say he’s lacked the opportunity to support you, so give him that opportunity. You deserve to know for sure that you’re more than a fling, Vitya.”

 

Victor swallowed down the last of his drink, his throat suddenly dry.

 

“Okay. I will.”

 

Chapter Text

 November 29th, 2014, Barcelona, Spain

 

“Alright JUMPers!” Phichit screamed into his mic. “Thank you for an epic night here in Barcelona! We’ve been having a blast exploring your gorgeous city, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from our Instagram page, curated by yours truly of course!” He took an exaggerated bow as the crowd cheered, grinning from ear to ear at the attention.

 

Yuuri couldn’t help a tired laugh as he pushed his sweat drenched hair out of his face, taking advantage of the break between songs to try and catch his breath.

 

“You’re getting a little distracted, Phichit,” Seung-gil drawled. “I think there was something you were supposed to do…”

 

Oh. Oh no. Yuuri glanced around, trying not to appear frantic as he suddenly realized Guang Hong was nowhere to be found.

 

Phichit’s grin turned teasing as he tapped a finger against his chin. “Oh, that’s right! JUMPers, you probably already knew this, but today’s pretty special! Not only is it our very first time performing here in Spain, but we’re celebrating the birth of one of our own!”

 

The crowd screamed, chants of Yuuri’s name breaking out throughout the venue. He forced himself to smile and wave in acknowledgement as Guang Hong came back onto the stage, a candle adorned cupcake clutched in his hands as the entire crowd broke out into a chorus of “Happy Birthday”. Yuuri blushed as he blew out the candle, bowing and waving to the crowd. His bandmates soon surrounded him in a group hug, and he laughed even as he gave them all a mock glare.

 

As they broke apart to start the next song, he had to admit that there were probably worse ways to spend a birthday…

 

***

 

Minako piled into the limo with them for once, drawing a surprised glance from her favorite protegee. “Happy birthday, Yuuri!” she cheered, dropping a pile of cards and small packages into his lap as she leaned against him. The rest of the Quad:JUMP boys echoed her sentiments, as the choreographer leaned down to drag a bottle of champagne out of the ubiquitous mini-fridge. Yuuri laughed in exasperation as he accepted the glass she handed him, his gaze settling on Guang Hong in the plush seat across from him.

 

“Phichit and Seung-gil lucked out this year, but you do realize your 18th birthday is the same day as the Moscow concert, right?” he teased.

 

The teen squirmed in realization, his eyes widening comically. “Oh nooooo, Yuuri! It wasn’t my idea! I swear! Phichit made me do it!”

 

The Thai singer flicked the younger boy’s ear. “Traitor,” he said with a laugh before turning back in Yuuri’s direction. “You can’t have been that surprised. A concert on your birthday? No way were we missing the opportunity to embarrass you!”

 

Yuuri rolled his eyes as he sipped his champagne, his eyes falling on the small pile of gifts in his lap. Settling the glass into the holder, he idly picked up the first card, sliding it open to find an almost cheerful birthday greeting accompanied by a gift card to the pet store in Detroit that he and Seung-gil frequented. He flashed a smile and a chipper ‘thanks'  in the Korean man’s direction before making his way through the rest of the stack. He hesitated on one, the postmark heavily stamped in what he thought was Cyrillic. There was no return address but…

 

“Something from your boyfriend, I imagine,” Minako murmured into his ear. He flushed, not bothering to correct her. He slit open the envelope with shaking hands, excitement building as he pulled out the card, a sheaf of cardboard tickets tucked inside.

 

Grinning, Phichit leaned across the gap in the seats, stealing a glance at the contents. “Passes to the figure skating World Championships and round-trip flights from Detroit to Shanghai. Not too shabby, Katsuki!”

 

Yuuri couldn’t help the sheepish grin that crossed his face. Victor had invited him to see him skate… at Worlds.

 

Maybe… just maybe… Minako and Phichit were right.

 

Victor Nikiforov really did want to be his boyfriend.

 

December 2nd, 2014, Paris, France

 

It wasn’t that he hated photo shoots. It really wasn’t. It’s that, at the end of the day, they were incredibly boring.

 

“Okay, that’s great, Victor. If you’ll just change into the next outfit…”

 

He sighed, his trademark grin fading as he followed the production assistant back to the changing area. He’d somehow let Christophe talk him into this shoot for… whatever magazine. And then the man had bailed with no excuse other than a new boyfriend. Romance hadn’t stopped Christophe from embracing publicity in the past but Victor had long since given up on understanding his friend’s oddities.

 

Yakov, too, had offered to let him back out of the shoot, but with all of the missed ice shows and photo ops he’d skipped out on over the summer, the professional side of him had balked at one more missed engagement.

 

He’d already trotted out all the standard PR-approved interview responses earlier: hobbies, romantic inclinations, favorite music/movie/actor, etc. They were almost always the same anyways, even if the overly eager journalist had looked thrilled at his answers. He’d only hesitated once, when the interview had drifted into questions about his association with Quad:JUMP in general and Yuuri in particular. Something had held him back from admitting the nature of his feelings for Yuuri… maybe because those felt too private, too new. So he had waxed eloquent about the fun of working on the music video; had hinted teasingly at Yuuri’s influence on his competition routines.

 

The writer conducting the interview had pressed him a little too hard on his ideal romantic partner, and Victor had taken an odd sense of delight in delivering deliberately vague answers that described Yuuri… without actually giving away his lover’s identity.

 

He pulled on the next outfit, pausing to glance at himself in the mirror, pulling a face as he did. He looked… perfect. Exactly like he was supposed to look.

 

His fingers itched as he glanced at his abandoned phone sitting out on the dressing room vanity. He’d rather text Yuuri. Maybe talk to him. If the timing had been slightly better, he could have caught the band’s Paris show. Instead, he would miss them by a scant handful of days, heading back to the St. Petersburg ice before his lover could arrive in the same city.

 

Oh well, he thought as he smiled towards the cameras once again. Moscow. He’d see Yuuri in Moscow.

 

Soon.

 

December 5th, 2014, Paris, France

 

The whole crew was piled on the couch in Celestino and Minako’s suite, glued to CBS’s announcement of the 57th Annual Grammy Award nominees. Their first album hadn’t garnered enough attention to earn more than a handful of technical nominations, but Celestino was convinced that History Makers as an album and History Maker as a single had good chances at a nomination or two. They’d sat through the rock and country nominations already, and as the pop nominations drew closer, Yuuri found himself in a cold sweat of nerves.

 

Nominations inevitably led to sales boosts for the lucky albums and artist, which, with the sales and attention they were already receiving, seemed impossible. Yuuri vowed not to be disappointed if their names weren’t called. After all, hadn’t they already achieved their goals with this tour?

 

Lost in thought, he missed the nominations for Best Pop Album, only coming to his senses when he heard high pitched squealing coming from either side. Guang Hong and Phichit had wrapped their arms around him, and Minako was sobbing against a grinning (grinning!) Seung-gil. He blinked. Oh. The announcer had said their name again. Two nominations in the pop category? That… that was really good. He sat in a daze, hearing their name announced twice more before a grinning Celestino finally turned off the television.

 

Clapping his hands, the manager smiled broadly. “Well, we didn’t get Album of the Year, but four nominations including Record of the Year is very good, boys!” He paused as the singers and choreographer broke out in another round of cheers. “Now, this means more work of course. The Grammy Awards are only a couple weeks after our tour ends and the Best Song and Record of the Year nominees are expected to perform, so we’ll only have a week or so in Detroit before we have to head out to L.A. to practice.”

 

The quartet nodded in understanding, the high of the announcement still enough to overcome any worries about schedules or break time. Minako stood, disentangling herself from the pile of boys on the couch and making her way to her husband. Glancing at her phone she smiled regretfully. “Hate to break up the party, guys, but we have a show to put on tonight! Let’s channel this energy into a hell of a performance, eh?”

 

Yuuri joined his friends in one last cheer before they headed out the door. One thought rose to the surface of his roiling mind as he prepared to head to the concert venue.

 

A Grammy was like the gold medal of the music world… if they won… even if they just won one of the major awards they’d been nominated for…

 

Maybe he’d finally be worthy of staying at Victor’s side.

 

December 10th, 2014, Sochi, Russia

 

It should have felt strange to be back in the same rink where he so recently took Olympic gold. There should be some sort of sense of déjà vu or excitement or … something. Instead, as he finished his practice session it just felt… routine. Georgi and Christophe were nearby, Bin and Crispino and some Canadian teenager still out on the ice finishing their own practices.

 

“Lunch?” Christophe suggested, leaning down to slide the guards onto his blades.

 

“Sorry, Yakov wants to do some sort of team building thing. I can’t skip out,” he replied, trying to sound apologetic.

 

Chris made a face. “Right. Because you never skip out on team lunches. Is this about what I said after Rostelecom? Because I was just trying to help...”

 

“No,” he lied before relenting somewhat. “Listen, we’ll get dinner or something later. Half the rink qualified for the Final this year, Yura’s talking about moving to Seniors next year if he takes gold this weekend…”

 

Oui, oui, go be with your teammates. But I’m holding you to dinner, Vitya.”

 

Victor nodded tiredly. “Of course. I’ll see you later, Christophe.”

 

***

 

“… and that Japanese kid just won’t shut up,” Yuri was saying, his words accompanied by an expressive roll of his jewel-bright eyes.

 

Anya turned from where she’d been talking to her ice dance partner, a disdainful look on her face. “That kid is older than you and the audience seems to find his cheerfulness rather charming.

 

“The judges give more points for landing jumps than for being charming,” Yuri sneered.

 

Georgi chimed in to defend his girlfriend. “Still, your performance score counts for a lot. Minami made it into the Junior Finals, after all. It wouldn’t kill you to emulate his expressiveness.” His advice veered into a lecturing tone and Victor could see Yuri bristling.

 

“… it might kill someone,” the teen muttered darkly.

 

Anya opened her mouth to retort but Yakov finally intervened.

 

“Enough,” he commanded gruffly, beckoning to the server to take their orders. That business taken care of, the coach steepled his hands on the table, glaring at his fractious skaters. “As long as you stay focused, there is no reason any of you should miss the podium this week. No partying, no drunkenness, no fighting…” he paused, staring flatly at his youngest skater.

 

Yuri bristled, clearly ready to toss back a hot retort until Victor cuffed his shoulder lightly.

 

“Pick your battles, Yura,” he murmured under his breath, gratified when the teen settled.

 

Their meals came in short order and the team tucked in under Yakov’s watchful gaze. As Georgi began droning on about some random hockey player he was convinced had a silly little crush on Anya, Victor found himself picking listlessly at his salad, beginning to regret turning down Chris’s offer. His friend had good intentions, perhaps he was being overly sensitive… Surreptitiously, he tapped out a quick text.

 

Yakov had said no drunkenness. The man should know better than to leave him such easy loopholes…

 

December 12th,  2014, Florence, Italy

 

Yuuri absently accepted the catered salad that Minako handed him, his eyes glued to the screen where the men’s finalists were finally warming up for their short programs. He’d watched Victor’s young protégé win the Junior men’s gold earlier that afternoon, sending a congratulatory text via Victor. It had been well received, if the reciprocal selfie of a beaming Victor and a blushing Yuri Plisetsky was anything to go by. Minako had dragged him and the rest of Quad:JUMP to a dance rehearsal afterwards, but she’d promised the whole crew could watch the Final during their dinner break.

 

“Good luck selfie time!” Phichit cheered, nearly knocking the salad from Yuuri’s grip when he crowded him on the couch, Guang Hong flopping down on his other side. Seung-gil rolled his eyes but sat up from where he’d settled on the floor in order to fit into the photo. Satisfied with the image, Phichit moved to the other side of the couch, tapping away at his phone. “How many hearts should I put after ‘Good Luck Victor!!!’” he mused aloud.

 

“No hearts,” Yuuri muttered. “Not on the band’s Insta, at least, keep it somewhat professional?” he temporized when Phichit shot him a horrified look. The Thai singer’s gaze turned sly as the older singer shoved a bite of food into his mouth. Onscreen, the men’s Finalists were coming off the ice, Victor chatting with Christophe Giacometti as they replaced their skate guards. Yuuri could feel Phichit’s gaze still burning into the side of his face. “What?” he finally asked in exasperation.

 

Phichit leaned against him, flashing his phone screen to prove that he’d left the hearts out of the SNS posts. “I did like you asked. But please tell me you sent that boy some heart emojis today? Doesn’t Victor deserve heart emojis, Yuuri?”

 

He couldn’t help blushing. “Yes. He deserves all the heart emojis,” he muttered truthfully.

 

Phichit beamed. “Aaaaand?” he prompted.

 

Yuuri sighed but pulled out his phone, quickly tapping at it before returning to his salad, ears burning red. A few moments later, his phone buzzed with a response, a simple heart sent in return. He looked down at his phone for a long moment, a mingled sense of warmth and loneliness welling up inside of him.

 

From his other side, Guang Hong gave a little gasp. “Wow,” the teen chirped. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile like that…”

 

Yuuri looked up, catching sight of Victor practically glowing on the television, a soft smile on his face as he glanced down at his phone, clearly ignoring Yakov ranting at his side. “Oh,” Yuuri gasped. Maybe Guang Hong hadn’t seen that smile, but Yuuri had.

 

It was the way Victor smiled with him.

 

“Holy shit, Yuu, teh heck you send that boy?” Phichit asked, hand covering his mouth in scandalized awe.

 

“Nothing! Just what you said! I sent hearts!” Yuuri flailed a bit, not even paying attention as the first skater, another of Victor’s rink mates, took their opening pose.

 

“So, can we finally call him your boyfriend now?” The question, unexpectedly, came from the floor where Seung-gil was calmly making his way through his dinner.

 

Yuuri flailed, the bombastic music from the Russian skater’s routine a strange counterpoint to the surreal conversation. “Wh-why would you ask that?” he managed to stutter.

 

Seung-gil shrugged, his eyes on the screen, where the dark-haired Russian was receiving his scores. “He’s different than he was, when we first met him back in Tokyo. He skates differently than he used to skate. And now he apparently smiles differently than he used to smile.”

 

Yuuri took a moment to process the fact that Seung-gil knew how Victor used to skate. A distant part of his focus registered the Italian skater taking the ice. “S-so?” he asked defensively, aware that Minako was watching them with interest.

 

So, ” the Korean singer continued, “from what I can see, the only change has been his association with Quad:JUMP. As far as I am aware, no other member of this band has spent any one-on-one time with Victor, meaning that the catalyst for that change would appear to be you.”

 

Minako snorted from the love seat. “Seung-gil is very politely not pointing out that On Love: Eros got a hell of a lot sexier between Skate America and Rostelecom,” she said with a smirk. “Kiiiinda makes me wonder what you two got up to in Chicago…”

 

Yuuri gave up on his salad and buried his face in his hands. “Ohmygod we are not having this conversation right now.” His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out with shaking hands.

 

Victor: Watch me, please? <3

 

He couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face as he tapped an affirmative. He glanced up, meeting the stares of Minako, Celestino and his bandmates.

 

Guang Hong coughed. “Soooo… are you and Victor dating?”

 

He couldn’t help the blush that highlighted his cheeks, but on-screen, he caught a glimpse of Victor on the edge of the rink, that same soft smile gracing his handsome features as he handed off his phone and jacket to his coach. Something warm and bubbly and happy filled him as he watched.

 

He replied softly, his eyes still glued to the television. “You know what? Yeah. We are.”

 

Chapter Text

January 7th, 2015, Moscow

 

Yuri slouched in his seat, hoodie pulled up over his slightly shaggy blond locks as he tried to maintain his cool, uncaring, teenaged façade. Victor smirked slightly, amused at the younger skater’s attempt at deception. He was well aware of the kid’s excitement for this concert, even if Yura had decided to spend the last few months honing an aloof bad boy image that had garnered him a bevy of new fangirls. Which… the hoodie might actually be an attempt at disguising himself from any of his so-called ‘Angels’ that might be in the audience.

 

An excited buzz built in the concert hall and Yuri finally abandoned his aloof pose to lean forward in genuine excitement. The noise of the crowd crescendoed as the lights dimmed and then slowly rose again along with a grinding Latin-inspired guitar riff from the backing band as the opening strains of Almavivo drifted through the air. Seung-gil’s voice filled the arena and Yuri threw back his hood, positively beaming in excitement. Victor leaned back, grinning, as Yuuri, Phichit and Guang Hong came in on the chorus.

 

It was nice, really, to share this interest with his young rink mate. Yes, his interest was perhaps a bit more biased than Yuri’s, but still… for the first time since he was a kid, he knew what it was to have friends and common interests… (and maybe love, whispered a quiet, secret, little piece of his soul.) He grinned broadly as Almavivo segued into the next song, Yuuri stepping forward to pick up the lead vocals with that sly, sexy little smirk that never failed to bring him to his knees.

 

God, he was so glad that Yura would be staying with his grandfather tonight…

 

He glanced away from the stage, turning to eye the starstruck teen, knee bouncing to the beat of the music. He was happy he’d offered to bring the boy to the concert; glad he’d get a chance to introduce him to the Quad:JUMP performers - even if there was a large part of him that wanted to keep Yuuri’s time and attention to himself. He shook his head, focusing as Phichit and Yuuri dragged Guang Hong to the front of the stage.

 

“It has, apparently, become a tradition to torment anyone who has the misfortune to have their birthday fall on a concert date,” Seung-gil drawled into his mic, drawing screams from the crowd as Guang Hong squirmed in his bandmates’ grasp. “So please join us in wishing Guang Hong a very happy 18th birthday, JUMPers!”

 

Victor joined in enthusiastically, laughing as Yura screamed along with the crowd. Yes, he thought, bringing the younger skater had been a very good idea…

 

***

 

“So, this kid is like, basically Victor’s brother, right?” Phichit was scrolling through Instagram as the limo made its way back to the hotel, scrutinizing Victor’s page for images of the boy who’d be accompanying him to the VIP party.

 

“Hmmm, something like that… they train together, but I get the impression that Victor’s taken on a mentor role with a couple of the teenagers at his rink. Yuri Plisetsky is one of them; he’s really good, just won the Junior Grand Prix Final…” Yuuri replied, his eyes glued to his own phone where he’d been texting back and forth with the Russian skater since the concert ended. “I get the impression that Yuri Plisetsky is a pretty big fan; Victor promised him he could come to a show months ago.”

 

“A man of his word then,” Seung-gil commented dryly. “An excellent trait in a partner.”

 

Yuuri blushed but didn’t protest the pronouncement. Partners. The word sounded good… supportive. If he was honest with himself, Victor had been supportive from the start: coming to his shows, helping with the video… if anything, Yuuri had been the neglectful one. He’d been so scared that Victor would find out about his embarrassing hero worship that he’d shied away from talking about Victor’s career or going to his competitions. He vowed to himself that he’d change that. Starting with going to Worlds. Victor deserved a partner… and Yuuri wanted that to be him.

 

“Helllooooo, Earth to Yuuri!” Phichit’s teasing tone broke through his reverie. “I was asking what your plans were while you’re here? You’re still staying a couple extra days, right?”

 

Yuuri felt the tips of his ears heat as he remembered that, beyond tonight’s VIP party and meeting Victor’s rink mate, his plans were pretty much limited to ‘spend time with Victor, preferably in bed’. “Ah, oh, you know… just… um, touristy things? See the sights, try some new foods…”

 

Phichit’s expression turned sly. “Well, I do know you like the taste of Russian…”

 

Yuuri spluttered and flung his empty water bottle at the younger singer. “I don’t know why I tell you anything,” he huffed. “You just make it weird.”

 

“He’s just teasin’ you,” Guang Hong chirped, switching seats so that he could glomp onto Yuuri. “We’re all really happy for you. It’s nice… seeing you smile more… worry less…”

 

Seung-gil nodded. “This is true. It has been 18 days since the last time you read the charts out loud at breakfast. I approve. Your performances are better when you are less worried.” The Korean teen turned back to his phone, clearly deciding that he’d contributed enough to the conversation.

 

Yuuri ignored Phichit’s smirk as the limo pulled up to the hotel, revealing Victor and a small blond boy standing curbside with Minako and Celestino. The rest of the band held back, letting Yuuri out first to greet the Russian skaters.

 

“Yuu~uuri!” Victor half-sang in greeting, drawing a snort from his companion. Yuuri stepped forward, leaning into the offered embrace before pulling back to look curiously at Victor’s guest. “And this is my rinkmate Yuri Plisetsky! He’s actually the person who introduced me to Quad:JUMP!!”

 

Yuuri turned curious eyes in the boy’s direction as the rest of the band lined up behind him. “Oh, are you a fan?”

 

The blond hunched his shoulders, scowling as he scuffed his shoe against the concrete of the sidewalk. “I mean, when I was a kid, I guess you guys were cool and stuff.” The boy glanced up, catching Yuuri’s eyes before blushing. “I mean, your concert was good and stuff and I guess I hope you guys win at your awards thing and please sign my program book!” he blurted, drawing a chuckle from Victor as the boy held out his program book.

 

Phichit gasped in delight from behind Yuuri. “Ohhhh my god, we have to adopt him immediately!” he chirped before bouncing forward to take the program book, beckoning the other singers over with a wave. “I think we can do better than just a signature, my man,” he chuckled, already holding his phone out to Minako.

 

The choreographer willingly complied, snapping several shots of the Quad:JUMP boys surrounding the Russian skaters. “Upload this to the band’s page as well,” she instructed as she finally handed the phone back to the Thai singer who merely grinned in acknowledgement, already uploading the image. Seung-gil and Guang Hong busied themselves with signing the program book, the youngest singer chatting with Yuri as they began to walk toward the hotel.

 

Yuuri hung back, shyly peering up through his lashes at the older of the Russian pair. “It’s good to see you, Victor,” he said softly, tentatively twining his fingers with Victor’s.

 

The skater lit up. “Good to see you too, solnyshko. FaceTime isn’t nearly enough,” he purred, voice as soft as Yuuri’s. He moved closer, stroking his other hand down the singer’s face, pausing with a thumb on Yuuri’s plush lower lip as he tilted their heads together, breath ghosting warm over Yuuri’s mouth.

 

“OI! Vitya! Stop being gross! I’m hungry! There’s food at the party!”

 

Yuuri startled at the sudden shout.

 

Victor chuckled at his rink mate’s interruption as he pulled away. “Sorry, he’s… ah, going through a rather loud phase right now.”

 

Yuuri laughed nervously as they moved to catch up with the rest of the group. Yuri glowered at them as they crowded onto the elevator, his jewel bright eyes fixed on where their hands were still clasped. Phichit eyed them knowingly, before wrapping his arm around the boy to distract him with more selfies. They finally reached their destination, tumbling out of the elevator and turning towards where the raucous sounds of the afterparty spilled from the banquet hall.

 

The tiny Russian hesitated as they moved towards the party, finally holding his program book towards Yuuri. “You could sign it, too. I mean, if you want,” he blustered, not meeting the singer’s eyes. “And, ugh, I mean… I guess a picture with just you and me would be cool since we sort of have the same name...” Yuuri smiled his agreement as the boy practically shoved his phone into Victor’s hand.

 

January 8 th,  2015, Moscow

 

Victor couldn’t help but smile as he watched his lover and his protegee argue over their piroshki at dinner. From across the table, he could tell that Yura’s grandfather was also smiling behind his hand as he watched the pair discuss the merits of the different fillings. It was nice to see two of the people he cared about getting along, even if Yura had a tendency to suddenly remember his new ‘grown-up’ image in the midst of conversations. Right now, though, he was all kid, eyes sparkling as he laughingly snatched a pastry out of Yuuri’s hands.

 

Yuuri had been more relaxed with Yuri and Nikolai than Victor had expected. He bit his lip, the sudden tugging in his heart growing overwhelmingly strong. He wanted this. Wanted to introduce Yuuri to his friends, his loved ones… wanted them to see the beautiful man he… he…

 

Loved.

 

The weight of the word struck him with sudden force. He was in love with Yuuri. He didn’t know when, precisely, his feelings had become so concrete, but he knew it in his very bones. He wanted a life with this man, wanted to share his life with this man… Shining cinnamon eyes suddenly caught and held his own, taking his breath away when Yuuri smiled warmly in his direction. Did Yuuri... could the other man feel the same? There were moments when he thought… maybe.

 

Suddenly he was impatient to have Yuuri to himself; needed every moment he could steal to memorize the curves and twists of his lover’s frame, needed to draw his name from Yuuri’s lips so that he could wrap the memory up to keep him warm in the next few months. How was he supposed to survive now? It had been hard enough before he’d known what that swooping feeling in his stomach truly meant

 

Yuuri’s smile turned quizzical as he noticed the shift in Victor’s mood. He shook his head faintly, smiling in reassurance. No sense in growing maudlin over his revelation. Either Yuuri loved him back or…

 

Or he would earn Yuuri’s heart. If it took a lifetime… for Yuuri, it would be worth it.

 

***

 

The evening passed and farewells were made; Yuri and his grandfather heading back to the family home, Yuuri and Victor back to the hotel where they had, inevitably, tumbled into bed. Now, Victor reveled in the warm lassitude of their post-coital haze, content to lay there and breathe, dark hair fanning across his chest where Yuuri had cradled his head. The Japanese singer pressed a kiss against his sternum and oh, oh! That squeezing in his heart, the faint tingling sensation the other man’s lips had left behind…

 

When had he last felt like this? Had he ever felt like this?

 

Yuuri stirred against him, glancing up, and Victor was suddenly drowning in those wide, cinnamon-flecked eyes. He couldn’t help drawing his lover in for a soft kiss, parting only reluctantly as he ran his hand up and down the slender back, frowning slightly as he felt the ridges of the too prominent spine.

 

“Tell me something about yourself. Something I can’t find online,” Yuuri murmured into the dark of the hotel room. Victor hummed sleepily, continuing the soothing travel of his hand. His motions stilled as he had a tempting but oh, so dangerous thought. Glancing again at the sleepy beauty in his arms, he nodded slightly to himself before speaking.

 

“The people I’m closest to call me Vitya, not Victor. It’s… a diminutive, sort of like… a nickname used by the people you care about. The ones… the ones who love you.”

 

I love you. Love me back, please, his heart screamed behind the careful words.

 

“Who all uses it?” came the quiet response.

 

“Not many. Not since my parents, anyways,” he paused, feeling his throat close at the mention of his family. “Now, it’s… just Yakov, Chris, Mila, Yura when he feels like it… sometimes Lilia, but usually when she’s scolding me,” he replied. “I’m not really close to many people, so I rarely bring it up.” Spoken in the dark it felt like a confession, a sliver of his heart placed as an offering at the altar of Yuuri Katsuki.

 

He hesitated, then dove in. “When I was little, my mother would sometimes call me Vitenka. It’s… a more intimate diminutive. When I was hurt or scared or sad… she’d sit on the bed and run her hands through my hair. She’d call me Vitenka and… and I knew somebody loved me.” He felt tears in his eyes and remembered why he so rarely mentioned his beautiful mama. Yuuri stirred in his arms, and he came back to the present, tightening his hold on the heartachingly lovely man.

 

“Thank you for telling me,” the singer murmured, pressing another kiss against his chest.

 

“Of course, dorogoy,” Victor returned the kiss, placing it gently on the whorl of dark hair. “But we should get some sleep.”

 

“Mmmm, goodnight, Victor,” came the sleepy response. And oh.

 

Damn.

 

He’d wanted an answer but… the hopeful squeezing in his heart became a knife and it hurt as it twisted. He swallowed, determined not to let the younger man see his tears. It wasn’t the singer’s fault that Victor was an Icarus, doomed to burn.

 

After all, it was never the sun’s fault for burning so brightly, so beautifully…

 

“Ah. Yes, then. Goodnight, Yuuri. Sweet dreams, solnyshko.


Chapter Text

January 11th, 2015, Detroit

 

“Yuuri! Can you tell us why you’re returning to Detroit so much later than the rest of the band?”

 

“Yuuri! Is there any truth to the rumors of a relationship between you and Russian skater Victor Nikiforov?”

 

“Yuuri! When can we expect a solo album?”

 

“No comment. Please, let me through,” was all he could choke out as he struggled to shove his way past the small crowd of cameras and reporters. How the hell had they known when he would be returning? Why hadn’t he accepted Celestino’s offer of a bodyguard??

 

He never would have believed he’d need a bodyguard. That was supposed to be for actual celebrities, not obscure musicians like Yuuri. Thankfully, he’d sent the majority of his luggage back with the rest of the crew, so he had been able to head straight to where Minako had promised to be waiting. Of course, that had landed him directly in the cluster of paparazzi that had apparently been waiting to ambush him. He could feel his breathing starting to speed up as he scanned the crowd, the camera flashes beginning to make him dizzy.

 

He startled, his heart racing, as a hand gripped his wrist.

 

“Hey, easy, hon. I’ve gotcha.”

 

He relaxed as he recognized Tamara’s voice, the small woman a calming presence as she slung a protective arm over his shoulder, the other arm moving to push through the last of the crowd.

 

“Just keep moving,” she murmured in his ear, “Ms. Okukawa is waiting in the car. We’ll get you outta here, kiddo.”

 

Yuuri nearly sobbed in relief. “Thank you. How did you know I needed help?”

 

Tamara flashed him a lopsided smile as they reached the Cadillac, pulling open the door and nudging Yuuri inside before the photographers could catch up with them. Sliding in beside him, she nodded to the driver before responding, “Oh honey, your modesty is sweet and all, but you’re famous. Like, really famous. It’s my job to keep you safe.”

 

Minako turned from the passenger seat, her eyes flashing anxiously over Yuuri’s form before slumping in relief. “I’m sorry, Yuuri. We messed up. We figured nobody would notice that you were still in Moscow but… they did. We never should have left you without an assistant at the very least.”

 

Yuuri pursed his lips. The last thing he wanted was an assistant or bodyguard tagging along when he spent time with Victor. A chaperone wasn’t exactly romantic. Minako chuckled when she noticed his sour expression.

 

“Sorry, kid. Price of fame. Tamara’s going with you to Worlds, ‘Tino’s orders.”

 

Great.

 

***

 

Yuuri was in a bit of a foul mood when they reached the flat, exiting the car with a half-hearted farewell wave to the other occupants. He was still feeling wrong-footed when he entered to find their pet-sitter unharnessing Vicchan and Jimin. She smiled in his direction as she slipped out the door, leaving Yuuri to gather his pup to his chest as Seung-gil and Phichit wandered into the living area.

 

“Yuuri! You’re home! I need all the details!” the Thai singer chirped, pausing to scratch Jimin’s head as he passed the calm husky.

 

“Uh, yeah, later Peach.” He glanced in Seung-gil’s direction. “Was Vicchan being a handful?” he asked, slightly confused.

 

“No, he’s been fine,” the Korean teen answered curtly, turning on his heel to head back down the hallway towards his bedroom, Jimin at his side. “Welcome home,” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared. Phichit turned to watch him leave, a concerned look on his face.

 

“Why was Karen walking the dogs?” Yuuri asked, moving towards his own room, Phichit trailing behind him. The younger man didn’t answer for a long moment, settling on Yuuri’s bed and pulling Arthur out of his shirt collar.

 

Finally, biting his lip, he heaved a deep sigh. “Ah, you and Seung-gil aren’t allowed to walk the dogs without a chaperone anymore. Karen’ll be here twice a day to do it until further notice.”

 

What?”   Yuuri grated, this further indignity wearing on his already thin temper.

 

Phichit glanced nervously toward the open bedroom door and Yuuri took the hint and closed it before depositing his dog on the bed and flopping down next to his friend.

 

“Seung-gil was walking the dogs after we got back from Moscow and… a couple men started following him. He got nervous that they would follow him home, so he ducked into a Starbucks and called Celestino to come get him. They… they waited outside until Ciao Ciao got there…”

 

Yuuri gaped at him in horror, hand clenching in Vicchan’s fur. The pup sensed his owner’s distress and squirmed into the young man’s lap, stretching up to lick Yuuri’s face. “Shit. Is Seung-gil okay?”

 

Phichit shrugged. “You know how he is, he’s not really talking about it but… I think he was pretty shook up. He didn’t protest at all when Ciao Ciao offered to have Karen come in on a regular basis.”

 

Yuuri flushed, feeling slightly guilty about the fuss he’d raised about Tamara coming with him to Worlds. “Damn. Minako told me I had to have an escort when I go to Shanghai to see Victor skate. I thought she was overreacting…”

 

The younger singer shook his head solemnly. “Chaperones in public for now, at least until after awards season dies down. Not really ideal for your love life and all but…” he trailed off delicately as Yuuri collapsed backwards onto the mattress with a groan.

 

“Augh. This is so not what I signed up for,” he whined, taking comfort in Phichit’s hum of agreement.

 

“Yeah, I hear ya, buddy. Kinda thought being successful would make life easier, somehow.”

 

“I take everything back, I don’t want to be famous anymore,” Yuuri deadpanned, earning a snort of laughter from his best friend.

 

“C’mon, Yuu, it’s not all bad. The band’s the only reason we all met. You can’t tell me you’d give us up…”

 

“Nnnnng, you’re right. I guess I’ll keep you guys,” Yuuri smirked.

 

“And the band’s the reason you met Victor,” Phichit added in a slyly insinuating tone, rolling on his side to poke teasingly at his friend.

 

Yuuri blushed but didn’t bother to deny it. “Yeah, I guess that part’s pretty okay, too.”

 

January 31 st , 2015, Detroit

 

“Did we miss it?” Minako asked, looking annoyed as she peeled off her shoes. “Some body insisted on stopping for beers,” she added, throwing a glare in her husband’s direction.

 

Celestino shrugged, laughing as he handed the 6-packs off to Yuuri. “Mina! Yuuri can’t go to the brewpub on his own right now, too many cameras! I promised!”

 

Yuuri smiled sheepishly, running a hand through the back of his thick hair. “Sorry, Minako-sensei. This was Victor’s favorite when he was here, Phichit thought it’d be cool to get a photo of me with one to, ah, to wish him luck?”

 

Minako smirked at him. “Adorable. But we’d better not have missed Christophe’s free skate…” she purred, throwing a teasing glance in her husband’s direction. The manager laughed at his wife’s antics, shaking his head as he snagged a beer on his way to the couch.

 

Yuuri followed, opening his own drink and pausing briefly to let Phichit snap a photo before he responded. “You didn’t miss him. The final flight just started their warm-up before this commercial break. Christophe is skating third, Victor’s going last.”

 

“I wish Leo was at this one, too,” Guang Hong pouted from the floor where he was idly petting Jimin.

 

“Leo de la Iglesia skates for the USA, he can’t skate at the European figure skating championships,” Seung-gil pointed out. “We’ve talked about this. Several times.”

 

Guang Hong stuck his tongue out as the television switched back to the competition. An auburn-haired skater with the Italian flag by his name was up first, waving to the crowd as the commentators discussed the previous competitors. Yuuri wasn’t paying any attention to the screen though, his attention was instead fixed on his phone, a soft smile playing across his lips as he nursed his beer. Minako snagged one of the brews, curling up on the couch next to her student.

 

“You look happy, Yuuri-chan,” she murmured, reverting to their native tongue for a moment.

 

The young singer blushed. “I… I am . Victor… he… he’s special, Minako-sensei. He makes me feel special…”

 

The choreographer leaned her head on his shoulder, smiling. “I’m glad. You deserve to feel special,” she replied, sneaking a warm little glance at her husband. The Italian was glued to the screen, watching his countryman perform. She bit her lip as Yuuri’s phone buzzed. “Is… is Victor happy?”

 

Yuuri glanced up, startled. “Huh? I… I hope so? Wh-why? Do you think he isn’t? He… he seemed happy to see me in Moscow…”

 

His mentor eyed him pensively. “His free skate… it’s… it’s a little odd, don’t you think? He’s this heart-throb, dressed like some sort of prince, trying to skate something more suited to some dewy-eyed youngster…”

 

Yuuri’s shoulders tightened unconsciously and Minako sighed. “Relax, I’m not trying to insult him. I just… his song is so lonely… I like the guy. He makes you happy, that makes me like him more. I hate the idea that maybe he’s not as happy as he wants people to think. That’s all.” She hugged him briefly, moving to nestle up against her spouse, leaving Yuuri feeling more than a little confused.

 

Pensively, he pulled up the translation to Stammi Vicino that he’d begged Celestino for, perusing the lyrics as the next skater took the ice. Surely she was wrong. Victor had friends and rink mates and more fans than he knew what to do with… even without Yuuri’s affections, Victor Nikiforov had never been lonely.

 

Still, he wondered. Victor had said that his free skate was about ‘longing’. As he scanned through the lyrics, he realized he’d never stopped to wonder what, exactly, Victor was longing for.

 

February 1st, 2015, European Figure Skating Championships, Stockholm

 

“How are things with your songbird?” Christophe queried, genuine curiosity lighting his features as they settled into the hot tub at the hotel, the aches of the competition melting away in the warmth.

 

Victor hummed noncommittally, drawing a surprised glance from his friend.

 

“Trouble in paradise, mon ami? ” the Swiss skater asked, concern heavy in his voice.

 

Victor heaved a sigh, not sure how much he was comfortable sharing with the other man. He can’t help recalling his almost-confession, spoken softly  in a dark hotel room... an unanswered plea for closeness. Chris peered at him out of the corner of his eye, seeming to understand Victor’s hesitation.

 

“I promise not to overstep my bounds, Vitya,” he murmured softly.

 

Victor nodded. “I… I think I’m in love with him, Chris.”

 

The blond sighed. “I rather suspected as much. I’ve never seen you like this with anyone you’ve dated. That’s why I suggested you back out of that shoot with Vogue Paris.”

 

The Russian waved off the odd comment. “Yuuri’s a celebrity, too; he’s not going to care about a photo shoot.”

 

Chris raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Ah. I underestimated him then, my apologies. But… Vitya. You don’t seem terribly happy for a man in the throes of love.”

 

He grimaced. “Mmmmm, I’m not entirely sure Yuuri’s on the same page quite yet,” he admitted softly.

 

Christophe’s brow furrowed. “Vitya, you’ve been seeing the man for nearly a year…”

 

“He cares!” Victor insisted, his voice too loud in the quiet rumble of the hot tub. Softer, he repeated, “He cares. He does. I know he does. I just… he’s been so busy. Even more than me. We really only had the one month together… it’s not fair to expect him to be in the same place yet… I'm... I know I can be a lot...”

 

Chris still looked skeptical. “Victor, don’t sell yourself short. You are more than worthy of being loved.”

 

“He just needs time, Chris, he’s young, he’s newer to fame…”

 

“Oh, darling. You’re making justifications. Have you asked him how he feels?”

 

“No.” Victor hated how tiny his voice suddenly sounded. How scared. “What if… what if I ask him and I don’t like the answer?” he whispered, drawing a pitying glance.

 

“At least you’d know,” Chris answered, his gaze turning sympathetic.

 

“He’s got a big awards show coming up. I don’t… I don’t want to be a distraction,” Victor said, hunching his shoulders. Chris huffed in disapproval. “After!” he swore. “He’s coming to Worlds. I’ll… I’ll talk to him then. I promise.”

 

February 8 th , 2015, Los Angeles

 

Yuuri glanced up at the Staples Center, his breath catching at the memory of Celestino suggesting they could someday play the venue. It felt like a prophecy coming true as he peered at the crowds gathered on either side of the red carpet arrayed outside their limo. A knock came on the window and he heaved a deep breath as Tamara pulled open the door, the roar of the waiting crowd ratcheting his nerves up another notch.

 

“Holy crap,” Guang Hong squeaked from behind him. “We have to walk through all of that?”

 

Yuuri forced himself to smile back at the younger singer. “We’ll all stick together, okay? We’ll be fine,” he said encouragingly, earning a thumbs up from Phichit on the other bench seat. With a deep breath, he pulled himself out of the vehicle, flashing a smile of thanks in Tamara’s direction. The other boys soon joined him, and they posed for a moment, practiced smiles in place as cameras went off around them. Celestino and Minako soon joined them and Yuuri led the way down the red carpet. The boys stayed in a tight group, their manager and choreographer close behind, with Tamara keeping a watchful eye at the back.

 

Each interview and photo op wore a little further at Yuuri’s already fraying mental control. He startled slightly when a hand took his elbow, relaxing when Minako breathed a low “Relax, Yuuri-kun” into his ear. He flashed her a shaky grin and she shifted, slotting her arm through his. “Another few feet and we’re inside. Then it’s just another performance, and you all can get your trophies.”

 

Yuuri’s laughter held a tinge of hysteria. “You sound so confident. There’re so many bigger bands up for the same awards…”

 

Phichit snagged his other arm as they finally made their way into the Center, the doormen nodding respectfully as a cheerful hostess handed out goodie bags. “You know, between the door goodies and the stuff they gave us during rehearsals, I think we’ve already been pretty spoiled,” the Thai singer chirped, eagerly digging through his gifts.

 

Celestino laughed. “Yes, well, let’s add a few trophies to the rest of your treasures, shall we boys?” He reclaimed his wife’s arm as they made their way to the performers’ check in. “We’ll check in and then find our seats. They’ll send someone when it’s time for you to get ready to take the stage,” the manager added. The ebullient man was in his element as they followed an usher to their seats. “Soak it all in. You four have earned this moment. Make the most of it, hm?”

 

Yuuri’s eyes were darting over the crowd, a bit in awe at the famous faces he recognized. He was even more in awe as several of them smiled or threw little waves in their direction. A hand grasped his and he turned, surprised, as Seung-gil clutched him, the normally calm grey eyes brimming with tears. Yuuri smiled a little, bumping shoulders with his friend as he offered an encouraging smile.

 

Celestino was right; they’d all worked for this moment. It was time to enjoy it.

 

Early morning, February 9th , 2015, St. Petersburg

 

“Move it, Baba! We’re late!”

 

Victor pulled his eyes away from the livestream, smiling as Yuri and Mila entered the lounge.

 

“It’s early, Yuratchka!” Mila yawned, stretching her arms and barely missing Yuri, who snarled at her. “Why do they have to have it so early?” She flopped onto the couch next to Victor, dropping her head onto his shoulder.

 

“It’s a different time zone, idiot. It’s not early for them,” Yuri replied, eyes already glued to the screen. “Oi, old man! What did we miss while Baba was dragging her feet?"

 

Victor smiled as the boy settled at his feet, curling up on a cushion like the kitten he so resembled. “They’ve just finished the awards for the country music, now they are doing the rap music. Don’t worry, they haven’t performed yet.” He didn’t mention that he’d already been in the lounge for more than an hour… he hadn’t wanted to miss a single glimpse of Yuuri or his other friends on such a momentous occasion. He was rather glad neither of his young rink mates had been there to see him whimper at the sight of Yuuri in an impeccably cut tuxedo on the red carpet… he wasn’t sure his dignity would have survived.

 

He’d had a lot of daydreams involving Yuuri in a tux… most of which involved him wearing a matching one. Seeing that vision come to life on the screen… well. It did things to his heart. Yes, he was rather glad he’d been alone for that first glimpse.

 

“Oh! There they are!” Mila chirped as the cameras passed over the Quad:JUMP boys politely applauding in the audience. “They clean up rather nicely, don’t they?” she mused appreciatively. Victor nodded in agreement, trying not to blush at her knowing glance.

 

“Feh, I like their normal clothes better. These are boring,” Yuri complained, drawing laughs from the older skaters.

 

Victor’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he hurried to pull it out, smiling at the message from Yuuri. “Huh, the stream must be delayed, Yuuri says they’re performing soon! Look, Yura! He sent a picture from backstage, they changed their outfits!”

 

Yuri peered over Victor’s shoulder, humming in approval at the leather and mesh combos the singers had donned.

 

“Let’s send them a photo for luck!” Victor cheered, stretching his arm out to catch Mila and Yuri in the photo before tapping away to send the image off.

 

***

 

“YES!!!”

 

Victor grinned as Yuri and Mila both screamed in excitement. The last hour had been a gleeful high for the trio, first as Quad:JUMP had taken the stage to perform, then later as they took the stage to claim their dual wins in the pop category. Victor had taken to texting a running commentary to Yuuri, despite knowing that the singer wouldn’t be checking his phone while he was in the audience where he could be filmed.

 

He snapped a quick photo of the teen skaters in front of the television as Yuuri once again took the stage, solo this time to claim the trophy for Song of the Year; as the writer of History Maker, this award was his alone. His heart throbbed as that glorious blush bloomed live on the screen, Yuuri looking small without his bandmates beside him as he stammered his way through a charming acceptance speech.

 

“…never could have written this without my brothers, Phichit, Seung-gil, Guang Hong you three are the reason I can stand up here right now, I can’t wait to see what we do next! For Celestino Cialdini, Minako Okukawa, and all the folks at Eros Records who believed in me before I ever believed in myself. For my family and friends back home in my tiny hometown of Hasetsu, Japan who didn’t really understand what I was working for but supported me anyways. For…for Victor Nikiforov, who gave a chance to an untested single on the biggest stage of his career… who has proven himself time and again to be a friend and… and so much more… This… this award is for you. I mean… ah, for all of you. I don’t know how else to describe the support and kindness I have received from you, but… I have decided to call it ‘love’. Thank you all.”



Chapter Text

February 14th, 2015, New York

 

“Live from New York, it’s the cutest quartet of musical imports you’ll find anywhere! Please welcome multi-Grammy winners Quad:JUMP, performing a pair of their hit singles!”

 

The lights nearly blinded Yuuri as the studio audience shrieked, Phichit flashing him a grin that was equal parts glee and exhaustion. He empathized. Hell, they were all exhausted at this point. Whatever part of him that had thought winning at the Grammys would mean some sort of relief after their long journey had clearly been misinformed.

 

Winning hadn’t just increased their fame. It had shot it to levels Yuuri could never have imagined. He knew he should feel elated.

 

He just felt tired.

 

Still, he lifted the mic as his cue came up. The show must go on.

 

February 18th, 2015, Detroit

 

Eros wants you to consider additional tour dates before you head back to the recording studio.”

 

Celestino’s voice was simultaneously cautious and cajoling as he tried to convince the quartet of musicians of something he clearly wasn’t certain he agreed with.

 

Normally, Yuuri was the one who smiled and nodded, the one who went along with what the studio requested, but today…

 

Today, Yuuri wasn’t buying whatever Ciao-Ciao and the studio were selling. He was exhausted. Worse, his friends were exhausted. “That’s not what we agreed on,” he said flatly. “The European Tour was supposed to be it for this album for a while. We haven’t had a real break in over a year, how are we supposed to come up with new material if we don’t have any time to work on it?”

 

Celestino looked uncomfortable. “Ah, , but Eros Records believes that it might be best to capitalize on your current momentum before we move on to new ventures…”

 

“They’re comfortable with allowing us to rest on our laurels?” Seung-gil asked, raising a brow. It was a testament to the group’s collective burnout that even the normally calm and collected Korean seemed frazzled.

 

“Isn’t there some sort of Grammy curse? Where people who win never make another album?” Guang Hong asked, his eyes widening, dark in his pale face.

 

Minako and Phichit snorted in an almost identical tone.

 

“Oh, sweet Guang Hong,” Phichit said, ruffling the boy’s shaggy mop of hair. “You’re thinking of the Best New Artist category.”

 

Yuuri flinched, old wounds reopening. They’d hadn’t been nominated for Best New Artist two years ago; their self-titled debut album and its shaky singles hadn’t generated enough splash to be noticed. It still rankled, stinging a prideful piece of his heart that he struggled to keep buried. From across the room, he could see Celestino watching him, careful, assessing. He met the manager’s gaze, unusually brave when it came to things that impacted not just him, but the younger members of the band.

 

He knew why their first album had floundered. They’d gone into the studio too soon after forming. They’d been too young, too new; their styles not yet synced, mainly adapting and recording songs that Yuuri had written for himself before realizing he could never face this industry, this life on his own.

 

(After all, when had just Yuuri ever been enough?)

 

No, he was strongest when he stood for and with (or behind) others, their strengths bolstering his own weaknesses. And right now, he was standing for the trio of exhausted teenagers he was proud to call his brothers.

 

“I’m not willing to agree to new tour dates right now,” he started, almost startled at the force in his voice. Beside him, on the couch, the rest of the band straightened up and stared at him in surprise. “We can build on our momentum with media appearances, but we can’t keep up this pace.” He faltered then, nervous. A hand gripped his shoulder and he turned, meeting Phichit’s encouraging smile. Swallowing, he continued. “Celestino. Sir. We owe so much to you and to Eros Records, but… please …” his voice turned soft, pleading. “We’ll be better with a break; plus, we’ll make better music, which means we can keep selling more records for the label. We can negotiate new concert dates once we’ve all had time to recover.”  

 

Celestino and Minako exchanged a glance before the manager leaned forward. “Is this how all of you feel?” His voice was fondly concerned as he searched the young faces before him. A chorus of reluctant nods greeted him.

 

“Sorry, Ciao Ciao… but Yuuri’s right,” Phichit chimed in, his voice more subdued than normal.

 

Seung-gil nodded somberly. “I know that we need to continue our momentum, but another tour is… ill-advised at best. We’re… tired.” He looked chagrined at the admission. “I have to agree with Yuuri. I’d prefer a break and a chance to work on new music. Resting on our laurels… or, rather, touring on our laurels, feels inauthentic.”

 

Celestino pursed his lips, considering his band’s words for a long moment. “Okay,” he finally said. “I’ll speak to the studio, see if I can delay them.” His worn-dollar eyes flashed. “I’ll make sure they’re okay with a break,” he added.

 

The singers slumped in relief. Minako reached over, rubbing a soothing hand on Yuuri’s shoulder.

 

“I think I can give you until after your Shanghai trip, Yuuri.”

 

Yuuri looked up, catching the manager’s gaze. “Oh. Ah… okay? And then?” he stammered.

 

Ciao-Ciao sighed. “That’s well over a month, Yuuri. You’re going to need to appease Eros after that. I’d suggest taking the next few weeks to work on music. Give me something to convince them that you boys belong in the studio and not on a tour bus.”

 

Yuuri nodded, solemn. “I will.”

 

February 23rd, 2015, St. Petersburg

 

“Oi! Vitya! Get your goddamned head out of the goddamned clouds!”

 

Victor’s pretty little daydream (the normal one, where he confessed to Katsuki Yuuri and earned a heartfelt and actual in-person confession in return) collapsed like the proverbial china in the bull-invaded shop. Of course, Yakov was usually good for such daydream crushing interruptions.

 

Da , Coach? How can I help you?” His smile was saccharine sweet as he turned to face the older man.

 

“Don’t feed me that bullshit, Vitya, I know you,” Yakov said warningly. “You’re distracted and I know it has to do with that thrice-damned singer of yours.”

 

Victor’s grin widened. If Yakov was truly angry, he’d never have brought another person into the equation. “Yaaaa~kov!” he sing-songed, earning another glower. “Of course, I’m distracted by Yuuri! Have you heard him sing?” He tapped his finger against his lower lip, feigning contemplation. “I know! Maybe I should ask him to give the Club a private performance in Shanghai!”

 

He winced slightly at Yakov’s glare. “On second thought, maybe I’ll keep his performances to myself,” he breezed, flashing a broad wink.

 

“Be sure you do,” the coach said, a half-hearted glower aimed in his eldest skater’s direction before he skated away.

 

“Wooo~ooow!” Mila breathed as she popped up on Victor’s other side. “What did you do to Coach Yakov?”

 

“Y’know, Mila?” Victor answered. “I actually have no clue.”

 

March 2nd, 2015, Detroit

 

“…and then Tamara and Jake had to basically carry me out of there!”

 

Yuuri cuddled Vicchan close as he listened to Guang Hong’s harrowing tale. The teen had gone to the mall with two of their security detail, and yet…

 

Even that hadn’t been enough to keep him safe, apparently.

 

“That’s ridiculous,” he managed to grate through his teeth. This whole situation between the paparazzi and the more persistent of their fans had turned into a sort of siege. Leaving their flat with anything less than a full entourage was virtually impossible. He expected cameras to be camped outside their door any day now.

 

Guang Hong shrugged. “Price of fame, I guess,” he said nonchalantly..

 

Yuuri couldn’t fathom the level of acceptance that his young band mate seemed to summon so effortlessly. At 18, he’d been terrified and clinging to Minako, certain that Eros was going to realize they’d made a terrible mistake when his first solo test tracks had yielded such cringeworthy results. It had taken months of arguments from Celestino (and Minako, too, of course) to convince the studio to retain Yuuri’s contract with an eye to building a boy band. Nearly a year before they’d found Phichit and Seung-gil, younger but close enough in age to be marketable. Another year before Guang Hong, tiny and sweet and perfect, had fleshed out their crew.

 

And now, he couldn’t help but wonder… if the price of fame and fortune was the loss of all privacy and independence…

 

Was it all worth the effort?

 

He spent long hours hiding in his room, headphones on while he plodded his way through dark melodies and heavy chords, ignoring Phichit’s pleas for him to join in on movie nights. The walls of their flat seemed to close in more and more each day, even as he spoke cheerfully (falsely, his guilty brain screamed ) to Victor and his family about their media appearances and his upcoming trip to Shanghai.

 

He tried to ignore the way the world suddenly felt like it was simultaneously terrifyingly large and mind-crushingly small. His compositions spiraled into something moodier and darker than what Eros was likely looking to produce, but he couldn’t really help it.

 

Shanghai and Worlds and Victor couldn’t come soon enough.

 

March 13th, 2015, St. Petersburg

 

“Vitya, I’m surprised to hear from you so soon before Worlds. Shouldn’t you be training?” Chris’s voice was teasing on the other end of the line.

 

“Ah, yes, well, I figured I’d take a break, not as if I have any real competition,” Victor teased back, drawing a mock gasp of outrage from the Swiss skater.

 

“Cruel darling, too cruel,” Chris drawled in feigned dismay. “But spill, Vitya. Why are you calling me?”

 

“Ah. Well, honestly… I wanted to ask you about something,” he admitted with some chagrin.

 

“Ohhh?” the other skater breathed in delight. “Do spill, mon cher!”

 

Victor rolled his eyes at the insinuating tone. “Must you make everything weird?” he whined.

 

Chris merely chuckled, waiting.

 

Rolling his eyes, Victor finally elaborated. “You’re seeing someone, da?”

 

“Yes. For a while now. Masumi, he’s a choreographer. Why? Does this have something to do with your pretty little songbird?”

 

Victor hummed noncommittally. “Perhaps.”

 

A long sigh echoed across the line. “Vitya…”

 

He bit his lip. “How… how did you know it was official? That… it was real?” he finally blurted.

 

“Oh, sweetheart,” Chris purred. “It’s this little thing called communication. I highly suggest it. Once again.”

 

“I talk,” Victor protested.

 

“TO him? WITH him? About your relationship?” the blond queried. “Or do you just… fuck and flirt?”

 

“Crude.”

 

“Dammit, Vitya, then prove me wrong.”

 

He was silent for a long moment. Then, “I… can’t.”

 

On the other end of the line, Chris sighed deeply. Victor could almost imagine him rubbing the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “Vitya. Listen to me. You’re looking for reassurances that I don’t know if I can offer but… mon dieu, love. Practically the entire world has heard his little Grammy speech by now. I know I doubted before… but can you honestly tell me that wasn’t a confession of his feelings? Because… it kind of sounded like Yuuri Katsuki was laying claim to you…”

 

Victor stilled, remembering…

 

Early Morning, February 9 th , 2015, St. Petersburg

 

The screen switched to a shot of the rest of the Quad:JUMP crew applauding and cheering as Yuuri stepped away from the podium. Victor barely registered it as the host moved on to the next award, his mind caught on Yuuri’s words.

 

“… so much more,” Yuuri had called him. “I have decided to call it ‘love’,” he’d said, standing there talking about Victor. (A little voice reminded him that Yuuri hadn’t just been talking about Victor. And yet… “… so much more” had to mean something. Right?)

 

Yuri cursed and Victor blinked, trying to focus. A British crooner he vaguely recognized was taking the stage to accept the final award. “Oh, they didn’t take Record of the Year?” he asked, pulling a moue of disappointment.

 

Mila shook her head. “No, but three Grammys is still pretty awesome. Kinda like winning gold medals, da?"

 

Yuri shook his head, scowling. “It’s stupid. They should have won all of their awards."

 

“Awwww! Yura! You’re such a fanboy!” Mila teased, catching the teen in a headlock. He escaped her grasp after a few moments and fled the lounge, muttering dire threats under his breath.

 

Victor was still trying to process Yuuri’s speech, but finally turned, feeling Mila’s intense gaze burning in his periphery.

 

“What?” he queried, feigning innocence.

 

She raised a scarlet brow, clearly waiting for some sort of explanation. “You keep claiming that this thing between you two isn’t serious but…” she gestured towards the screen. “That sounded kinda serious. Like, some big romantic gesture! So…” She flopped her head onto his shoulder. “Just promise me you’ll invite me to the wedding!”

 

March 13th, 2015, St. Petersburg

 

“…tya? Earth to Victor Nikiforov, anybody home?”

 

Victor startled out of his thoughts, Chris’s concerned tone suddenly coming through. “Ah. Sorry, I was… thinking. Mila said almost the same thing.”

 

Chris sighed on the line. “Vitya, I’m not the person you need to be talking to. The only way for you to be sure you and Yuuri are on the same page is to ask him. Tell him you want a real relationship. It’s going to be hard with your schedules both being so chaotic, but the only way you’re going to have a chance at making this work, is to be honest and tell the boy how you feel!”

 

“You think I should ask him to be my boyfriend?”

 

Mon dieu, what are you, twelve? Sure. If that’s what you need to say to start the conversation, then ask him out. Officially.”

 

Victor hummed thoughtfully. “I know! I’ll give him my medal after the ceremony and propose then! It’ll be romantic!”

 

On the other end of the line, the Swiss skater merely sighed.

 

Chapter Text

March 26th, 2015, Shanghai

 

Yuuri stretched, blinking his eyes blearily as he followed Tamara off the plane. No matter how many international flights he took, he still couldn’t manage to rest comfortably. As much as he was looking forward to being with Victor again (and thank God and Minako for convincing Celestino to at least let him and Tamara have separate rooms), right now he longed to use the hotel bed for one thing only.

 

Sleep.

 

Customs clearance was the usual mind-numbing drag, Yuuri running his hands nervously through his tousled hair when he caught a few surreptitious cell phones aimed in his direction. Quad:JUMP had always enjoyed a decent following in China thanks to Guang Hong, but right now he was desperately wishing for a modicum of anonymity. Their stares were like greasy fingers, leaving him feeling even more disgusting than the 15-hour flight. Tamara shifted at his side, putting her arm over his shoulders as they waited.

 

“Breathe, kiddo, we’re almost out of here. I won’t let them touch you, okay?”

 

Yuuri nodded, feeling calmer with her reassurance. The young bodyguard had gotten used to his discomfort around crowds; in the weeks since the Grammy Awards, she’d become something of an expert on all the singers, shielding them from unwanted paparazzi and fan attention alike. As much as he’d originally protested being chaperoned on this trip, he found himself grateful for her presence.

 

Once through customs, she steered him through the busy airport to a waiting car with heavily tinted windows. As Tamara helped the driver load the trunk with their luggage, he let himself into the backseat, slumping in surprised relief at the smiling face that greeted him. “I wasn’t sure you’d be able to meet me,” he admitted as he allowed himself to be pulled into a lingering hug, tucking himself tightly against his boyfriend’s side as Tamara and the driver took the front seats. Soon, they pulled away from the curb out into the bustling Shanghai traffic.

 

Victor kissed the top of his head, laughing fondly. “I missed you, silly man. Of course, I came to meet you!”

 

Yuuri looked up, heart too full for words as he held Victor’s gaze. Their lips met in the briefest brush, Yuuri immediately glancing towards the front of the car where he caught Tamara’s eye. She winked at him, then turned back to her phone.

 

Victor nuzzled against his hair. “So shy, my Yuuri,” he sing-songed softly, chuckling at Yuuri’s answering blush.

 

“I… I just didn’t know if your driver knew…”

 

The Russian skater pursed his lips. “Honestly, I have no idea if he even knows who I am! Yakov hired him for me!”

 

Yuuri allowed himself to relax after that, curled up against his lover in a sleepy daze as Victor chattered on about their schedule for the week. Short program tomorrow, free skate the next day, the gala and banquet the day after.

 

“That is… as long as you’re okay going?” Victor was asking tentatively.

 

“Oh, ah… why wouldn’t I be?” Yuuri asked, confused.

 

“It’s… you’d be my date… and there’s dancing… everyone will see us together…” the silver-blond said carefully, eyes intent on Yuuri’s face as if he were searching for something.

 

The singer bit his lip, thinking hard. The press and the gossip rags had been after him to make a statement regarding his and Victor’s relationship ever since he’d let his tongue run away from him at the Grammys. Pictures of him dancing with the Russian Legend at a banquet in Shanghai would certainly give them the answers they were looking for. And yet… he wanted to dance with Victor. Shouldn’t he be allowed to spend a few hours enjoying himself with the man he… with his boyfriend?

 

“I’ll go!” he blurted out. “Of course, I’ll go. I don’t care if they see us,” he continued defiantly.

 

Victor's eyes suddenly blazed incandescent as he pulled Yuuri in for a searing kiss.

 

***

 

*BzzZzztbZzzztBzZZt*

 

Victor scrambled for his phone, rushing to turn off the vibrating alarm before it could rudely awaken his sleeping beauty. It was only mid-morning, but Yuuri had practically faceplanted on the bed the minute they got in the door, and Victor hadn’t had the heart to wake him. Still, the alarm was his call back to the ice. As much as he ached to stay curled up in the bed with his beloved, Yakov would strangle him with his own boot-laces if he missed his allotted practice time.

 

He carded a gentle hand through the soft raven locks, drawing a sleepy murmur from the drowsy singer. “Sorry, dorogoy,” he murmured. “I have to go practice for a few hours.” He grinned at the grumble of protest. “Sleep a bit longer, and when I get back, we can get an early dinner, hmmm?”

 

Yuuri blinked drowsily, rousing enough to give Victor a sleepy goodbye kiss before nestling back into the pillows. The skater moved quietly through the room, snagging his gear bag before slipping out the door and making his way down to the lobby. Lost in a happy daze, he slumped in the back seat of the car, his focus only sharpening once he flashed his credentials to the diligent door attendant. As he headed towards the rink, he smiled politely at the handful of ISU-credentialed media representatives, pausing to answer a handful of questions while he waited for his turn on the ice.

 

“We’ve gotten reports that Grammy-winner Yuuri Katsuki was seen going through customs at Shanghai Pudong early this morning. Is he here to cheer you on?”  

 

Victor hesitated. It was inevitable that the media would catch on to Yuuri’s presence, but he’d been expecting a little bit more time before he had to deal with them. Yuuri had said he didn’t mind if they were seen during the banquet, but Victor had hopes that by then, they’d have an official term to attach to their relationship. He didn’t want to jump the gun by insinuating something Yuuri had yet to agree to…

 

Still, he’d practiced for this possibility.

 

“Yes, Yuuri Katsuki is here to cheer me on! I have a wonderful relationship with all of the members of Quad:JUMP, so I extended the invitation and am thrilled he accepted!”

 

The reporter looked skeptical. “Why only Katsuki? There’s been heavy speculation over the last year that the two of you are in a relationship. Is he here in Shanghai as your lover?”

 

Victor bristled at the question. Vultures. They were all vultures, intent on picking him apart and leaving him with nothing to hold onto for himself. He wouldn’t let them touch Yuuri if he could help it. Smiling breezily through his clenched teeth, he offered a suitably cryptic response. “Ah, Yuuri is my source of inspiration. He wrote the song that helped clinch my second Olympic gold, the song which recently won him his own sort of ‘gold’ as well. I suppose you could say he’s my good-luck charm!” He winked before beginning to move away from the throng of cameras and reporters. “If you’ll excuse me, I see the Ladies’ practice is ending, so I need to get ready for my own.”

 

The crowd parted reluctantly, and he made his escape, still seething. He stopped at a bench near the rink’s entrance to pull on his skates, half-watching as Yakov finished offering his critiques to Mila, her bright bob bouncing as she nodded in earnest agreement as the coach spoke. As he tugged on his laces, he felt a second body settle on the bench, knowing without looking that his best friend had joined him.

 

“You’re looking distinctly disgruntled for a man that surely just came from spending time with his beloved. Trouble in paradise?” the Swiss skater prodded without preamble.

 

Victor eyed the Press area with rancor, earning a nod of understanding from the other man.

 

Ah. Yes, well. I can never decide if they are parasites or symbiotes, but they are frustrating, oui?” Chris continued before changing subjects. “All went well picking up your darling?”

 

Victor practically melted. “Very well. I hated to leave him back at the hotel, though. He was so sleepy and perfect and adorable!”

 

“Oh, cher , you do have it bad. We’re still on for later? Masumi wants to meet you both as well…”

 

The Russian skater nodded in confirmation. “ Da. But be nice, okay? He’s jetlagged and he’s not really used to your particular brand of charm.”

 

Chris bristled in mock affront. “Darling, when am I ever not nice?”

 

Victor met his friend’s eyes, “Chris, I said be nice. Not ‘please make the man I’m in love with so desperately uncomfortable he runs away.’”

 

Chris sniffed haughtily. “Okay, rude, love, but I’ll forgive you this once. Mostly because I’m simply dying to see your darling again.”

 

Victor buried his head in his hands and groaned.

 

***

 

Yuuri carefully slicked his hair back, scrutinizing his appearance in the bathroom mirror. With a frown, he reached for the little pot of concealer he’d nicked off the band’s makeup artist. Victor would probably just dismiss the deep circles under his eyes as jetlag, but he’d rather avoid any questions. Victor didn’t need to hear about his problems. After all, Yuuri was here to support his boyfriend for once; he didn’t need to divert Victor’s focus with his own weaknesses.

 

Checking the time on his phone, he was unsurprised to see a notification from Phichit demanding that he call. Probably dying to quiz me about Victor, he mused as he clicked to connect with his friend. The other singer picked up on the first ringtone, quickly switching over to video mode. Yuuri blinked in surprise. Phichit looked serious, no trace of his usual smile present as he stared back at Yuuri.

 

“Peach?”

 

“Yuuri! Hey! How’s China? How’s Victor?” The younger man’s voice sounded strained and Yuuri’s pulse began to skyrocket.

 

“Peach, what’s wrong?”

 

“I… shit … I just wanted to get to you first in case something leaks.”

 

His pounding heart suddenly felt as if it were in the grip of a tight fist. “Phichit, please tell me what’s wrong,” he choked out.

 

“We’re going to fix this, Yuuri. I want you to know that everything is going to be okay and that there’s no need to worry.”

 

“Dammit, Chulanont!”  Yuuri snapped. “Just tell me what happened!”

 

“Shit. Okay. I’m sorry. Karen came to walk the dogs and… I don’t know. Somehow someone got ahold of our address and they… Seung-gil was at the door talking to her and then they were there taking pictures and shouting questions and I don’t know what happened but…” Phichit’s face twisted as he spoke, apologetic. “Gods, Yuuri, I came out to see what was going on and they just got pushier, trying to see into the house and somehow…”

 

Yuuri could feel cold fingers of dread crawling up his spine.

 

“I’m so, so sorry, Yuuri. Vicchan was going nuts with all the noise and he got out the door. Jake was here and he managed to get them out of there after a while but…”

 

He dropped to the bed, numb with shock. “You don’t know where my dog is.”

 

On the screen, Phichit’s grey eyes were brimming with tears. “I’m so sorry, Yuuri. I’m so sorry, everything just happened all at once and he was just gone before anyone could do anything. We’ll find him, I swear. Karen’s been looking all day and Seung-gil’s still fighting with Ciao-Ciao, trying to convince him to offer a reward for Vicchan’s return... This is all going to be okay, Yuuri, I promise.”

 

“Right,” Yuuri murmured, dazed. “I have to go. Keep me updated, please.”

 

Phichit’s eyes widened. “Yuuri, wait, please…”

 

“Goodbye.”

 

He sat, motionless for a long moment, feeling drained and lost before a choked sob tore its way out of his throat. How had chasing his dreams turned into such a nightmare? The walls kept closing in on him, the vultures coming closer, and now…

 

Vicchan. His tiny, sweet pup. The one he’d named after… after…

 

His phone buzzed and he glanced down.

 

Shit.

 

Victor.

 

Right. He was here for Victor. To support Victor. Victor who loved dogs. Victor who had a medal to win, who didn’t need his flimsy excuse of a boyfriend saddling him with stress and heartache. Victor, who was on his way back to their room. He stood on shaky legs before making his way back to the bathroom and splashing cold water on his face. His face was pale and wan as he stared into the mirror once again, running his damp hands through his hair to settle it back into place. Swallowing down all the hurt and fear and sorrow that threatened to claw its way out of him, he reached for the concealer.

 

March 27th, 2015, Shanghai

 

“You’re sure you’re alright, dorogoy?  You’ve been quiet since last night.” Victor knew he was probably worrying too much, that Yuuri was probably just jet-lagged, but something had felt off ever since he’d returned to the hotel after yesterday’s practice session. The singer had been quiet at dinner, nursing a handful of drinks and smiling wanly through Christophe’s increasingly wild flirtations.

 

They’d stumbled to bed early, too tired to trade more than a handful of lingering kisses before Victor had collapsed into a dreamless sleep. He’d thought Yuuri had done the same but… He’d worn it often enough to recognize the slight sheen of the concealer Yuuri had dabbed under his eyes.

 

“I’m fine, Victor. Don’t worry about me, I’m just a little tired is all,” Yuuri responded, offering a small smile in his direction.

 

He hesitated, uncertain if he should push the issue. Surely, Yuuri would tell him if something was truly wrong, he reasoned with himself. Still, he couldn’t help a slight twinge of uneasiness as Yuuri turned to gaze out at the ice. They’d come down a bit early so that Victor could help get Yuuri settled in the area reserved for skater’s families and personal guests, but now he found himself wishing he’d found a way to convince Yakov to somehow get a spare set of rinkside credentials.

 

“You’ll watch me, right?” he asked, clinging to Yuuri’s hand for another moment.

 

Yuuri’s smile finally seemed genuine as he nodded. “I always watch you, Victor.”

 

He swallowed, vowing to figure out a way to convince the singer to use his diminutives. His full name sounded so formal dripping from those beloved lips. He pressed a fervent kiss to Yuuri’s knuckles, lingering.

 

“Oi! Old man! Yakov’s losing his shit trying to find you. Your warm-up is in like 15 minutes.”

 

Victor blinked. “Yura! What are you doing up here? I thought you were sitting with Mila and Georgi?”

 

“Pfft. Whatever. They suck. I figured I’d keep this loser company instead, maybe explain skating to him or something. Figured with your shitty memory, you probably haven’t bothered” the teen replied, hooking a desultory thumb in Yuuri’s direction.

 

Victor rubbed a hand over his mouth to hide his grin. “Of course. I’ll see you two later then, right?”

 

They both nodded. “Um. Davai, ” Yuuri offered tentatively, the unfamiliar Russian twisting sweetly on his tongue.

 

“Watch me!” he repeated before turned to head back to the skaters’ area.

 

***

 

“You’re acting weird.”

 

Yuuri blinked at the accusatory tone in the young skater’s voice. “Um, I’m… sorry?” He didn’t really know how to interact with the teen; they’d spent a couple days hanging out together in Moscow, but Yuri didn’t know him. How would he know if Yuuri was acting strangely? Who was this boy to judge him? He felt the distant stirrings of outrage fighting against the fog of his numbness. Desperately, he fought to keep the emotion down. He didn’t need anything cracking the calm he was hanging onto by a tenuous thread. From a few seats down, Tamara eyed him curiously, obviously trying to determine if he needed her to intervene. He shook his head briefly before glancing back at the young Russian skater. 

 

“That’s it? You’re sorry?” Yuri looked furious for some reason.

 

Murmurs and cheers filtered through the crowd as the final group of skaters took the ice, Victor standing tall in form fitting black and red. Despite everything, Yuuri still felt a faint sense of excitement. He’d dreamed of this moment for half of his life, dreamed of watching Victor skate, of watching Victor win… Now he was here and they were dating and he needed to be supportive, be worthy. He didn’t have time to focus on the phones and cameras that were always aimed in his direction, didn’t have time to focus on being tired or on being sad, or on this angry teenager that wouldn’t stop glaring at him…

 

“Can we just watch Victor skate, please?” he murmured, causing the boy to draw back in surprise.

 

“Fine. Whatever. Thought maybe you’d want some company so you wouldn’t look like such a loser,” Yuri spat. “You’d better watch him win now, because when I skate against him next year, he’s going down. Then you can both be losers together.” With that parting shot, the blond stalked off, plopping down in a different row with a huff.

 

Yuuri brushed off the hint of guilt, the sensation that he had somehow said or done something terribly wrong. Not that that would be surprising, he thought to himself. He turned his focus back to the ice, watching the Italian skater currently performing. Time passed, the skaters took their turns on the ice, and then finally Victor stood there, tall and beautiful and so good. His apathy lifted as he watched the provocative spins and flourishes, a faint flush tinting his cheeks as his body took notice of the come-hither glances.

 

Victor took first easily and Yuuri glanced over to see Yuri’s reaction, feeling as if he should offer an olive branch to the teen, maybe walk with him to meet Victor after his interviews.

 

But when he turned, the boy was long gone, leaving him alone in the sea of screaming fans.


Chapter Text

Early evening, March 27th, 2015, Shanghai

 

“… I don’t care! Finding him is more important than … No!… That’s not what I meant!”

 

Victor hesitated, hand on the doorknob. He’d never heard Yuuri raise his voice before and he felt guilty, as if he was eavesdropping. He wasn’t surprised that Yuuri had gone back to the hotel rather than wait around for him to finish the post-skate press conference, but now he was hovering in the hallway, unsure of how to proceed.

 

“… Victor will be back soon, I need to go, ” he heard Yuuri say. “ Call me the second you hear something, I don’t care what time it is! … Mmmhmm, yeah, bye.

 

Victor hesitated another moment, then knocked briskly and let himself into the room. Yuuri was sitting on the edge of the bed, back to the door. As the door clicked shut, Yuuri rubbed a hasty arm across his face before turning, a too-bright smile fixed on his face. Victor’s heart ached at the sight of the red-rimmed eyes.

 

“Yuuri… dorogoy … is something wrong?” he asked, voice hushed as he dropped his bag and made his way to sit beside the other man. Tentatively, he offered the bouquet he had scooped from the ice, smiling a bit when Yuuri dropped his face into the flowers and took a deep breath. When the singer finally looked up from the bouquet, his smile was smaller, but it was genuine.

 

“You always manage to make me feel better, Victor,” Yuuri said softly.

 

Victor’s heart clenched; he’d never truly known how deeply he craved these simple, sweet moments. He ran a gentle thumb down Yuuri’s cheek, preening a bit when the other man leaned into his touch. Tomorrow, he vowed, tomorrow he would drape his medal over that slender neck and beg Yuuri to be his, to be his always. But for now…

 

“You didn’t actually answer my question,” he pointed out. Yuuri’s eyes shuttered and Victor had a brief moment of panic, wondering if he’d somehow overstepped his bounds. Then Yuuri bit his lip, hesitant, before once again meeting Victor’s eyes.

 

“It’s… I…”

 

The blare of Victor’s ringtone broke the moment and he scrabbled to turn it off.

 

Blyad. Ignore that,” he instructed. “You were saying?”

 

“Who was that?” Yuuri asked, his eyes distant once again.

 

“Nobody important.” He shrugged before continuing. “Just Chris. A bunch of skaters are going out for a late dinner and he’s been trying to talk us into going with them.” He reached for Yuuri’s hand, gently stroking the back with his thumb. “But, Yuuri, we can stay in if you’re not feeling up to dealing with crowds…” he offered, trying to gently convey his concern. Yuuri stiffened, pulling away.

 

“It’s fine, Victor. Tamara can come with us. There’s no need to change your plans on my account, I’m not that weak.” Yuuri stood, striding towards the bathroom without a backward glance, leaving Victor feeling entirely wrongfooted.

 

Taking a deep breath, he stood and followed the younger man, determined to fix whatever had left his lover in such an agitated state. Red-rimmed brown eyes met his in the bathroom mirror and Victor could see Yuuri’s hands curled around the porcelain of the sink, knuckles white with the force of his grip. Without a moment of hesitation, he wrapped himself around Yuuri’s slender back, holding tight as he nuzzled into the crook of Yuuri’s neck.

 

“I don’t think you’re weak, Yuuri. I don’t know anybody who thinks you’re weak. I don’t know what’s wrong but let me know how I can help. I hate seeing you upset…”

 

Yuuri turned, nestling himself into Victor’s arms for a long moment. Taking a deep breath, he met Victor’s eyes. “It’s fine. I’m here for you , Victor. You really don’t have to worry about me… it’s just some stuff back in Detroit, nothing to do but let it work itself out.”

 

Victor leaned back, feeling uneasy. “Problems with the studio?” he asked, scanning Yuuri’s face.

 

Yuuri shrugged noncommittally. “Basically. I’ll deal with it, no need to worry.” He flashed a cheeky grin before turning and reaching for his toothbrush. “C’mon, let’s go out. I want to meet the rest of your friends.”

 

Victor hesitated before nodding reluctantly, unwilling to press the issue when Yuuri was so determined to ignore it. Tomorrow, he swore to himself, again. Tomorrow they’d spend time just talking, just the two of them. Pushing aside his doubt, he allowed himself a twinge of excitement at introducing his (hopefully) soon-to-be official boyfriend to the rest of the skating world. He knew they’d love Yuuri.

 

After all, it was impossible not to love Yuuri.

 

March 28th, 2015, Shanghai

 

Yuuri groaned as daylight forced its way past his reluctant eyelids, sending a bolt of pain through his skull. The wine that Victor had insisted on treating him to last night, combined with another futile attempt at sleep, left him feeling achy and empty and completely unready to face the world. Propping himself up on an elbow, he gazed down at the man curled against his side, silver lashes fanned out across high cheekbones. He ghosted a gentle hand through impossibly pale hair, vowing again to be strong, to somehow be worthy of belonging at Victor’s side. In a life that suddenly seemed almost impossible to bear, this was his literal silver-lining.

 

He felt a sudden twinge of guilt as he thought of his pup, lost and alone and surely scared while Yuuri was halfway across the world, indulging in a morning lie-in with his boyfriend. He couldn’t help but wonder if this was the universe’s way of balancing the scales; mind-numbing success weighed against the loss of his privacy, love at the cost of his childhood companion.

 

(If he had known the price of having Victor by his side…would he have been willing to pay it? How terrible a person was he if the answer was yes? )

 

The thoughts jolted him out of the bed. He lunged for his phone, scrolling frantically through his notifications in desperate hope that maybe he’d just missed the call from Celestino, that maybe Vicchan was playing with Jimin even now. Dozens of consoling and reassuring texts awaited him; Phichit, Guang Hong, Celestino, Minako, even Seung-gil and Mari had reached out to promise that everything would be okay, that his dog would surely be found safe and sound.

 

He flung his phone across the room in a surge of annoyance. They didn’t know . How could they just say that it would be fine when they didn’t, when they couldn’t…

 

“Yuuri?”

 

Shit. Right. Victor. He turned to take in the first glimpse of those brilliant blue eyes blinking up at him in sleepy confusion.

 

“Ah, sorry,” he offered gently. “I, ah, dropped my phone.” He leaned down, capturing the slim lips with his own, chasing away the fear and worry with the one source of happiness he could still claim. He ignored that little voice screaming in the back of his mind, telling him that part of love was being open and honest with your partner.

 

He couldn’t. Not yet. Not when Victor still had to skate.

 

Tonight. Tonight, before the banquet, after the awards ceremony... He’d tell him everything then, seek out the comfort he had to deny himself now.

 

***

 

If you asked Yuri Plisetsky, he’d be happy to tell you that most adults were fucking morons. He’d harbored secret hopes that Yuuri Katsuki would be the exception, but that had proven to be a big fucking nope. Yeah, the guy oozed cool when he was singing, when he was dancing, when he was staring at you out of the glistening perfection of a magazine cover, but in reality…

 

The man was just as much of a jackass as the rest of them.

 

The fault, he was convinced, lay firmly at the feet of Victor Fucking Nikiforov.

 

Yuri’d be the first to admit that the older skater was talented. That he was kind when he wasn’t forgetful, even that Victor was generous with his time, money, and skills. Hell, the man had promised to choreograph his senior debut and Yuri was sure that between a genuine Nikiforov program and the music he was hoping to wheedle out of Katsuki, he’d be unstoppable next season.

 

But Katsuki had blown him off the day before, too focused on Victor to spare him a second glance after he’d gone out of his fucking way to keep the man company so that he didn’t have to spend all his time hanging out with the girl that couldn’t seem to decide if she was Katsuki’s bodyguard or big sister.

 

Which, whatever. It wasn’t like he wanted to spend time with the singer. No matter how much he’d thought they’d bonded over his Grandpa’s pirozhkis.

 

But still, he reasoned. He needed to keep in the guy’s good graces if he wanted to get permission to use his music. Which is why he found himself trailing along beside Katsuki and his weirdly friendly bodyguard, doing some quick sight-seeing before they needed to head to the rink to watch Vitya and Gosha in the men’s free skate. Not that Katsuki deserved any of his kindness after being such a jerk yesterday...

 

Whatever.

 

Still, as they wandered around the shopping district, Yuri couldn’t help but notice the way Katsuki’s shoulders hunched a bit tighter every time some dippy girl aimed her cell phone in their direction. He didn’t get it. If the man didn’t like fame, why had he tried to be famous? He’d watched Victor get this kind of treatment for years. The old man and the singer were clearly in some sort of relationship; how was that going to work if Katsuki was such a pansy-ass when it came to a little attention?

 

He bit his lip as he watched the musician flinch away from yet another overly excited fan, the bodyguard finally throwing a protective arm around Katsuki’s shoulder. The singer had his head down, staring at the sidewalk as they walked, which completely negated the whole point of going sightseeing. Something twisted in Yuri’s gut as he saw the pinched expression on Katsuki’s face, which was the only thing that could explain why he suddenly felt the need to sling his arm around the guy’s other shoulder.

 

“C’mon, losers. I wanna go into this shop,” he drawled, hooking his thumb at the nearest doorway. The bodyguard shot him a glance, a tentative smile crossing her face for a moment as she gently pulled her charge off the street. Once they crossed the threshold and were away from the crowds, Katsuki seemed to drop a heavy weight from his shoulders as he took a shaky breath.

 

“Thanks, Yuri,” the Japanese man offered.

 

“Whatever,” he snarled. “I didn’t do anything, just wanted to look at the… er… ” He finally looked around, realizing they were in some sort of book store. “Magazines.” He ignored the knowing smirk that the older man shot him, busying himself with flipping idly through the shelves. A cover in an unfamiliar language but bearing a familiar face caught his eye and he couldn’t resist pointing it out.

 

“Oi, Katsuki. You might like this one,” he called out in mock nonchalance. The singer glanced over, eyes widening at the fashionably disheveled figure featured on the cover. Yuri tried not to gag at the reverent way that Katsuki picked up the magazine.

 

“Yuuri!” the security chick interrupted. “Sorry, but we only have a half hour before when you wanted to be back at the arena.”

 

“Oh. Right. Sorry, Tamara, I’ll finish up now,” the singer offered meekly. “Yuri, was there anything you wanted?”

 

Yuri bristled at the offer. He’d been looking at a gaming magazine, but damned if he’d let Katsuki fucking pay for any of his things. The singer took his silence as an answer and made quick work of paying for the magazine, Victor’s face soon hidden in a dark plastic bag.

 

As he stalked out of the shop and back onto the street, he completely missed the security guard silently handing Katsuki another magazine to tuck into his bag.

 

***

 

Victor was fighting the urge to pace as he waited for Yuuri to get back to the arena. He couldn’t pace. He could see a fidgeting huddle of reporters eyeing him, waiting for him to do something interesting that they could spin into some sort of filler piece for their ongoing coverage of Worlds. Were there more of them than usual? he wondered. It did seem like an unusually high number of them were just standing around watching him, considering there were skaters out on the ice providing much more interesting footage than he possibly could by just standing here against a wall.

 

Huh. Strange.

 

He caught sight of Tamara leading Yuuri and Yura through the maze of staff and media crowding the area and dismissed the thought as he moved to meet the trio.

 

“I was worried you’d be late,” he chirped, earning a glare from Yura.

 

Feh,” the teen spat, “would have been back earlier if your boyfriend wasn’t so fucking popular.”

 

Yuuri’s eyes widened at the young skater’s words, and Victor hastened to take corrective action. “Don’t say things like that, Yura,” he admonished. “There are cameras everywhere, you know that.”

 

To his surprise, Yuuri flinched, shoulders hunching slightly as they walked. Frowning, he put his hand at the small of the singer’s back, allowing himself that small connection as he steered the group back up to their designated seating area. Tonight. They’d talk about everything tonight. Once everything was out in the open and official, he could indulge in all the gestures of affection that Yuuri would allow.

 

***

 

“Watch me, Yuuri. This one’s all for you…” Victor looked so soft and earnest as he clutched at Yuuri’s hand. He couldn’t help but smile in response.

 

“I always watch you, Victor,” he replied. Then, hesitantly, “I… I like your costume for this skate…”

 

The Russian legend practically glowed at the praise.

 

Pfft, he looks like some stupid Disney prince,” Yuri scoffed from behind them. The teen was practically vibrating from his efforts to simultaneously ignore them and listen in on every word. It was weirdly cute, honestly.

 

“That’s the point, Yuuuu~ra!” Victor sang out, drawing a snort from Tamara at the end of the row. Then the skater turned back to him, eyes warm and so, so blue… “You’ll wait for me? Later? I want… I’ve been wanting to talk to you… about, about us…”

 

A tingling mixture of anticipation and worry crawled its way down his spine. He wasn’t sure how much more emotion he could handle on this trip… but with Victor looking at him, so earnest and soft…

 

Everything’ll be okay, he told himself, struggling to believe it.

 

Then the moment was past, Victor pressing another fervent kiss to his knuckles before disappearing back to the competitors’ holding area. Yuuri lifted his hand to his lips, brushing gently over the space where he could still feel Victor’s kiss burning. A gagging sound reached his ears and he straightened, cheeks burning. As he moved, his foot brushed against the plastic bag from the bookstore and he hastened to reach into it, practically flinging the gaming magazine into the teenager’s lap.

 

Yuri stopped making faces and stared down at the glossy cover, seemingly shocked into silence for the moment. Out on the ice, the last of the current flight of skaters was finishing his routine. Yuuri recognized Guang Hong’s American acquaintance. Leo had been part of the group outing last night, and Yuuri had been relieved to have someone with common ground to chat with whenever Victor had been occupied.

 

As Leo’s scores were announced and the crew began working to clean and resurface the ice, Yuuri realized that the young Russian skater was staring at him. He met the boy’s keen emerald eyes, raising an eyebrow in question.

 

“I told you not to buy me anything,” the blond snapped, although his tone was less aggressive than it could have been.

 

“I know. We got it for you anyways,” he replied gently, nodding in Tamara’s direction. “Something to read when nobody’s out on the ice.”

 

Yuri stared at him, searching his face as if looking for a hidden motive. Finally, he nodded curtly. “Thanks,” he muttered, the tips of his ears flushing. At the end of the aisle, Tamara’s mouth quirked up in a tiny smile.

 

“You’re welcome,” he replied, pulling out his own magazine. Yuri seemed to accept that the conversation had concluded, and promptly buried his face in the pages.

 

Yuuri chuckled, sobering almost instantly when he felt his phone vibrate. He was grateful that Yuri was too distracted to notice the way his hands shook as he unlocked the screen, frantic to check the message.

 

Ciao Ciao: Getting a lot of interview requests. Need to discuss asap when you return.
Ciao Ciao: Do NOT give any interviews while you are in Shanghai. Stick with Tamara, please.
Ciao Ciao: Still looking for Vicchan. Stay positive, we’ll likely find him soon.

 

Yuuri felt his pulse skyrocket. Stay positive. Right. Because telling him that definitely helped his anxiety. And why was Ciao Ciao suddenly so wary about him giving interviews? Had something leaked about Vicchan’s disappearance? He hesitated, his hand hovering over the search bar in his browser. He hated Googling himself but… forewarned was forearmed, right? Forcing himself to ignore it for now, he clicked the phone back off, finally looking at the magazine cover in his lap.

 

He’d failed to notice the language when Yuri had pointed it out in the shop, but he thought it was French. Oh well, he thought. The photos were the important part, really… maybe he could look up a translation later. Or… Victor spoke French, right? He’d heard him chatting casually with Christophe and he thought they’d been speaking in that tongue.  

 

Yuuri took a moment to appreciate the cover; Victor in skin tight jeans, shirt half unbuttoned and his elegant fall of silver hair in that perfectly disheveled bedhead that only ever existed in posters and magazines. A flash of memory crossed his mind and he had to hide a small grin. He knew what Victor’s hair looked like first thing in the morning now.

 

Reality was so much better than a magazine…

 

Still, he idly flipped through, searching for more photographs. Victor wasn’t the only man featured in the pages of the magazine; an assortment of athletes, entertainers, and models mixed in with faces he only vaguely recognized. Some sort of Most Beautiful Men issue? He knew some magazines did things like that, and Victor certainly qualified for just about any “Best of” that a magazine could imagine. Finally, he flipped to a two-page spread, several photos accompanied by what appeared to be an interview. He smiled at the images, Victor dressed to the nines and coiffed to within an inch of his life. Perfect and pristine and nothing like the man he’d come to know.

 

Curious, he glanced at the interview portion. To his surprise, he recognized his own name peppered throughout the article. He glanced up, taking note that the crews had finished their work on the ice and that Victor, Christophe, and the rest of the final group of skaters were milling around, ready to take the ice for their warm-up. He looked back at the magazine, the curiosity suddenly overwhelming. He pulled his phone back out, thumbing through to search for an English language translation of the article, eyes occasionally flicking back out to the rink to make sure he didn’t miss anything.

 

Finally, a search for ‘Victor Nikiforov Vogue Paris March 2015 English’ led him to a promising link. He clicked it eagerly, turning to watch the final six skaters jump and twirl on the ice below, taking advantage of their six-minute warm-up. He glanced back at his phone as the warm-up ended, barely hearing the announcement for the dark-horse Kazakh skater to take the ice.

 

He’d barely started to read the translation for the cover page before he felt his heart freeze. Bombastic music blared in the background as he frantically scrolled to the translation of Victor’s interview, something heavy and slick and wrong settling in his gut as he finally found the right section. He felt a tell-tale grip around his lungs, the warning of an incipient panic attack. Shooting to his feet, he ignored Yuri’s startled protest as he struggled his way to the aisle, blind to the competition and the cameras, deaf to Tamara’s frantically barked questions.

 

Away. He had to get away, had to be alone.

 

Barely cognizant of Tamara trailing behind him, he shoved his way to the nearest bathroom. At the door he finally turned to face his bodyguard. “I’m… I need… please…” he panted, half incoherent in his frantic need to just be alone.

 

“Hey, I’ve got you, honey, nobody’ll get past me, okay?”

 

Yuuri didn’t know if he acknowledged the promise but soon he was hidden in the bathroom, clutching the counter as sobs wracked his frame. All pretense at control evaporated as he fought to catch his breath, the magazine still clutched in his hand, Victor’s face obscured under his shaking grip. A brief exchange of words outside the room caught his attention, giving him enough time to drop the wrinkled magazine to the counter before Yuri Plisetsky burst into the space.

 

“Oi! You mudak! Vitya’s skating soon, why the hell are you crying in a bathroom? He’s expecting you to watch him!”

 

Yuuri wiped his face, shuddering at the confused anger in the teen’s voice. “I… I can’t, I… I have to go, Yuri…”

 

The blond reared back in shock, and Yuuri had to fight a strange urge to giggle hysterically at the boy’s resemblance to the angry kitten Victor so often likened him to… His heart gave a strange squeeze at the thought. No. There could be no thinking of Victor now; that way lay madness.

 

“The fuck? You flew out here to see him, didn’t you? What the hell was the point if you’re just going to run off before he even goes on?”

 

“I can’t… I can’t be here right now…” Shit. His voice was cracking, his lungs doing that god-awful thing where they just… stopped working. His eyes caught on the magazine still lying abandoned on the counter, that perfect smile shining up at him… his vision started to go black at the edges. “I have to go,” he gasped, moving to push past the young skater. He jolted to a stop when a surprisingly strong hand latched onto his wrist.

 

“What the fuck am I supposed to tell him when you aren’t there waiting for him?” the boy grated through clenched teeth. “You’re the whole reason he’s even skating these programs!”

 

Right. What had the interview called him?

 

Nikiforov’s Muse.

 

He barked out a hysterical giggle, drawing a disbelieving glare from the Russian. It was a kinder term than ‘fuckbuddy’ anyways. He shook off the restraining hand.

 

“Tell him congratulations for me. Tell him I’m going home. Tell him… tell him…” Tell him I can’t be what he needs. He stopped himself, shrugging at the furiously confused teen before moving again to push through the bathroom door.

 

Yuri didn’t try to stop him this time, though there was a strange, shaky quality to the boy's voice as he spoke. “Y’know, I honestly almost thought you were cool. Turns out you really are a loser after all.”

 

As Yuuri walked away, he couldn’t bring himself to disagree.

 

***

 

As Victor pulled his final spin to a sudden stop, the roar of the crowd filled his ears. He dragged a few harsh breaths through his lips as he bowed, striving to stop the burning in his lungs. Straightening, he made his way towards the Kiss and Cry, stopping only to snag a tiny poodle plushie that reminded him of Vicchan. Yuuri will like such a cute souvenir , he thought happily as he took the blade guards from Yakov’s hands.

 

His eyes automatically darted up to the seating area where he’d left Yuuri and Yura, a twinge of unease running through him when neither was present. Perhaps Yura was trying to sneak Yuuri closer to rinkside for the medal ceremony? He shook his head, forcing himself to pay attention as his scores were announced, Yakov a gruffly ecstatic presence at his side as the new world record was called.

 

“You should invite that singer-boy back to Russia if this is how he improves your skating,” Yakov remarked, half-serious. Victor’s heart clenched at the aching want that the words awoke in him. How perfect would that be? Coming home to Yuuri’s perfect smile every night… He shook his head. Dreams for later. For now, he had a medal to claim.

 

He trailed after his coach, smiling and waving at the photographers that lined the exit. Thankfully the ceremony was soon to follow; he’d have to speak with the press afterwards, but the sooner he got his medal the sooner he could see his darling. He let that happy thought buoy him, vibrating with anticipation as he joined Christophe and the quiet Kazakh bronze medalist in the holding area.

 

“You look a bit wired, darling,” Christophe muttered sotto voce, wary of the cameras trained in their direction. “Excited for that proposal ?”

 

Victor grinned back at him as the bronze medalist (Altin, he suddenly recalled) was summoned out to the podium. The ceremony passed in a blur, Victor constantly scanning the crowd for the one face he desperately wanted to see. Finally, he was able to step off the ice, quickly clipping the guards back to his skates. He’d barely begun to straighten when he was shoved by 90 pounds of furious blond teenager.

 

“What the fuck did you do, you goddamned asshole?” Yuri hissed at him, flinging a magazine at his face. Victor flailed, snatching it out of the air before it could hit him.

 

“Yura? What on earth? Where’s Yuuri?” he looked around anxiously, unnerved by the singer’s absence.

 

“He went fucking home. Said to tell you ‘congratulations’ and just fucking left, ” the boy grated out. “Because of that,” he finished, pointing aggressively at the magazine Victor was clutching. He looked down, first recognizing the outfit from the photo shoot he’d done back in early December before focusing on the title blurb. He felt the blood drain from his face as he stared in numb horror.

 

Chris chose that moment to amble by and before Victor had formulated a plan, he had the Swiss skater by the collar of his jacket, slamming him against the nearest wall. He barely noticed the flashes going off in his periphery, seeing only red in that moment.

 

“Did you know ?” he hissed.

 

Chris grabbed his wrist, twisting out of his hold easily. “Vitya, mon ami, we should step away from the cameras before things get out of hand, hmmm?” The Swiss skater’s voice was low and urgent, his hazel eyes darting around in worry.

 

Victor ignored his words. “Did you fucking know what that shoot was?”

 

Christophe blinked, nonplussed, until his eyes finally caught on the magazine gripped in Victor’s shaking hand.

 

Europe’s Most Eligible Bachelors Issue,” he breathed in recognition. “Oui, of course I knew. We were supposed to do it together, but I met Mas and I figured I wasn't really single so…”

 

“And you just let me do the shoot? Knowing how I feel about Yuuri?” Victor barely recognized his own voice, low and rasping in fury.

 

Chris’s hazel eyes hardened. “I suggested that you back out. You told me Yuuri didn’t care!”

 

“I meant about photo shoots in general!” he heard himself shout. “I didn’t… I didn’t even remember what the shoot was for!” He ran a shaking hand over his face, tears streaking down his cheeks as worry and anger and a gut-twisting fear churned inside him.

 

“Vitya!”

 

He barely spared his coach a glance, his gaze fixed on the crumpled magazine that may have ruined the only dream that had ever really mattered.

 

“Vitya,” Yakov tried again, voice low and urgent. “I don’t know what is going through your head but you need to pull yourself together! The gossip mills are going to tear you apart after that display if we don’t fix this now! I need to get ahold of Karpisek, figure out how we can spin your little altercation with Giacometti…”

 

“No.”

 

Yakov froze, spinning around to stare at him in bewildered shock. “Vitya…”

 

“No more spin, no more interviews,” he murmured numbly. “I’m done.”

 

“What, you’re just going back to the hotel?” Yakov grumbled, looking furious.

 

Victor shrugged, then turned and began walking away. “Something like that.”

 

“What am I supposed to tell them when they ask why the World Champion is skipping his own press conference?” Yakov called after him, desperately.

 

Victor shrugged again, despair and ruined dreams crushing him beneath their weight.

 

“Tell them… tell them I quit.”

 

Chapter Text

Evening, March 28th, 2015, Shanghai

 

Victor was midway through the contents of the room’s mini-bar when the pounding on the door finally subsided. Despite his rush to get back to the hotel, he’d been too late; Yuuri’s things were gone, a forgotten hoodie and a general state of dishevelment proof of the agitated haste in which the singer must have fled. A frantic trip down the hall to Tamara’s room had yielded a confused maid already changing out the sheets. They were gone.

 

Yuuri was gone.

 

He’d called. He’d texted and called and messaged Yuuri on every social media app he could think of, then called Phichit and Celestino, even messaged Minako, Seung-gil and Guang Hong, desperate to reach anyone that could connect him with the voice he wanted so desperately to hear. He’d ignored the flood of calls and messages that Yakov, Chris, Mila, Yura and a horde of unknown numbers had sent him, pressing the call button frantically until his phone had finally died. Nobody had answered. Yuuri’s friends and family must surely have condemned him as swiftly as the singer himself had…

 

The glint of gold on the bed drew his eye to his medal, abandoned in a heap along with the hateful magazine that had sent his songbird flying. For the first time since Yura had flung the cursed thing at him, Victor felt a faint stirring of anger towards his lover. (Former lover? Were they a past tense now?) Why hadn’t Yuuri waited to talk to him? He could have dealt with rage, could have probably dealt with tears… He could have explained, could have told the man how he felt—that this whole thing was a series of errors that he would do anything to rectify.

 

God. He’d been minutes from being able to finally tell Yuuri how he felt. What hurt the most was that Yuuri’s reaction to the article was proof that Victor must have meant something to the singer. If Victor had been some passing fling, Yuuri surely wouldn’t have minded that ridiculous interview… No, Yuuri had cared, just as he’d hoped.

 

And Victor had ruined everything.

 

He snagged another miniature bottle from the tiny fridge before staggering his way to the bed, shoving the cursed magazine and his worthless medal to the floor as he sat heavily. The little stuffed poodle he’d snagged from the ice lay near the pillow, having somehow survived the trek from the arena to the room. It looked lonely laying there and Victor snagged it, swaddling it in Yuuri’s forgotten hoodie and cradling it. Sobs wracked his chest as he mourned the loss of the only person he’d ever truly wanted to hold on to.

 

Late Evening, March 28th, 2015, Somewhere Over China

 

As the plane reached cruising altitude, the vice that had held Yuuri in its grip for the past few hours eased just a bit, allowing him to finally breathe more normally. A few of the other passengers had glanced at him once or twice, but their gazes held only curiosity, not recognition.

 

Not that he looked anything like an award-winning popstar right now, he mused wryly. Strangely enough, in the midst of his heartache, he had accidentally stumbled upon the perfect disguise. In his old cat-eared beanie, facemask, and the oversized hoodie he’d begged off of Tamara after misplacing his own, he was virtually unrecognizable. Something to keep in mind if he ever showed his face in public again after this whole debacle.

 

Not that that was likely.

 

Idly, he pulled out his phone, which he’d turned to airplane mode long before the flight attendant had made his announcement. The translation of the Vogue Paris article was still on his screen, sending a dull throb through his benumbed heart. It wasn’t anger. No, at the end of the day, all of this was just what he’d always suspected deep down. He was nothing more than a pleasant distraction for a man who had always been so far beyond his reach…

 

But oh… he’d thought… he’d wanted… he’d hoped…

 

A slim hand passed across his field of vision, palm up. Tamara’s fingers curled in a clear request and he glanced up, meeting her stoic expression before relinquishing the phone into her grasp. “Stop prodding at the wound, sweetheart. You’re just gonna make it hurt more. You should try to get a nap,” she suggested in a concerned tone.

 

He shrugged, turning his head to lean against the cool surface of the window. They hadn’t been able to book business class on such short notice, but he supposed that sitting in coach gave him another layer of anonymity. He could almost feel his bodyguard’s gaze burning into his neck and he rolled back to face her with a tired sigh. “I’m sorry. You didn’t… you didn’t have to come with me, I know I’m disrupting things for you.”

 

“Honey, I kind of did have to come with you. That’s sort of my job,” Tamara pointed out gently. “Mr. Cialdini won’t be thrilled about this change in plans, but he’d be more upset if I let you run off on your own. Besides,” she continued quietly, “You shouldn’t be on your own right now. You’re hurting and I’m not sure you’re really thinking straight.”

 

Yuuri let his head drop against the back of the seat. “I thought he cared. I thought… I thought we were more than just…” He couldn’t say it, even now, even when the world knew…

 

Tamara bit her lip, hesitating for a long moment. He rolled his head on the headrest, raising a questioning eyebrow. “Maybe it’s not my place, sweetheart, but… are you… are you sure you’re reading this situation right? I spent an awful lot of time watching you two flirt the last few days, and he sure doesn’t act like someone who doesn’t care.”

 

He closed his eyes and took a deep but shaky breath. “I… I was good for his performances. I think, I do think we were friends. I just… I wanted it to be more and I read too much into it. He’s just… he’s just an affectionate person. I… I’m not mad at him. I’m mad at myself, I think. He’s too good for me. I’ve always known that, I just… I sort of… forgot, ” he said, shrugging helplessly.

 

When he opened his eyes, Tamara was looking  at him incredulously.

 

“What?” he queried defensively.

 

She shook her head. “If I wasn’t literally being paid to protect you, I’d be tempted to smack the back of your head for that. Too good for you, my ass,” she grumbled. “And you should be mad at him. If there weren’t any feelings on his part, if he really was leading you on, then that’s a shitty thing to do. But I’m still not convinced that we have the whole story here. How many times have things been reported about you and your crew that were just flat out wrong? Or even just… twisted a bit?”

 

Yuuri tried to ignore the tiny skip that his heart gave at her words. “So, you think I should have stayed? Should have waited and talked to him?”

 

Tamara shrugged. “I think that in the heat of the moment, the best thing was to get you out of the situation. You were upset, you weren’t thinking clearly, and there were an awful lot of cameras in that arena. I also think there was a fairly big chance that you’d have tried to run off without me if I tried to stick to our original itinerary,” she finished, raising a sardonic brow in his direction.

 

Yuuri flushed, avoiding eye contact. “Maybe,” he muttered.

 

“You’ve got more to deal with than any 23-year-old should have to carry on his shoulders, sweetie. You need a break. If I need to tick off Mr. Cialdini and Eros Records to ensure that you have some breathing space, then hopefully I can just count on you for an excellent letter of recommendation, hmm?”

 

He snorted at her flippant words. “I’ll just hire you myself if they have any problems,” he replied.

 

She nodded, satisfied. “Alright then. Let's get you settled in, and you let me deal with bearding the lions in their den, hmmm?”

 

Yuuri shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t deserve you. Whatever Ciao-Ciao is paying you, there’s no way it’s enough.”

 

Tamara chuckled fondly. “Oh kiddo, you don’t see yourself very clearly, do you? I’m not the only one that thinks you’re worth a whole heap of trouble. Someday you’re going to realize that.”

 

Early Evening, March 29th, 2015, Detroit

 

The internet had failed him.

 

Phichit felt a profound sense of disappointment at this realization. It wasn’t something that happened very often, but now, when he really needed it, no combination of search algorithms would produce the information he really needed. Where on earth was his best friend??

 

There were a few facts that he could verify.

 

Approximately 36 hours ago, gold medalist Victor Nikiforov had been filmed in an altercation with silver medalist Christophe Giacometti, shortly following the Men’s awards ceremony at the World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai. He knew this because his phone had gone crazy shortly after, waking him up far too early in the morning when the various media alerts he’d set up began buzzing at him non-stop.

 

At around the same time, Yuuri had turned off his phone. Phichit knew this because his calls had gone straight to voicemail and his texts had been left unread.  

 

Finally, Yuuri had been spotted and photographed by an eagle-eyed fan at Shanghai Pudong Airport approximately 90 minutes following the altercation. The blurry photo had been dismissed by some sources, but Phichit recognized the cat-eared beanie that Yuuri tended to wear when feeling particularly anxious.

 

All of this led to the speculative part of his one-man investigation. If Phichit was a betting man (and he absolutely was), he’d wager that this all tied into the issue of Vogue Paris that was currently loaded on his laptop. He glanced over at the screen, glaring at the grinning skater on the front cover. Victor had called and texted him several times, but he’d ignored them. Right now, Victor wasn’t looking too good, but appearances could be deceiving; he didn’t want to say or do anything he couldn’t take back if this all turned out to be a big mistake. Besides, Yuuri was priority number 1 and Phichit wanted his side of the story before he entertained Victor’s.

 

Still… appearing as the literal cover boy of the Most Eligible Bachelors issue didn’t really seem like the same guy that he’d watched trip all over himself last summer, trying to catch Yuuri’s attention. This whole thing was strange.

 

Phichit flopped back on his bed, absentmindedly pulling Little Sister and Big Sister out of his hoodie pocket for a cuddle as he thought. If Yuuri and Tamara had boarded a flight from Shanghai to Detroit, even a last-minute flight, they should have been here by this morning at the latest. He knew they were still awol, because Minako had dropped in to bring lunch and had grilled Phichit for any news he might have heard. She had, however, refused to share anything that she or Celestino might have known, which struck him as distinctly unfair.

 

A flurry of barks in the hall heralded Seung-gil’s arrival. The Korean singer carefully checked for hamsters before claiming a corner of Phichit’s bed. “Still no word?”he asked, a layer of concern piercing through his normal icy calm.

 

Phichit shook his head, glum. “No. Any luck on the Vicchan front?”

 

Seung-gil nodded. “I made the posters. Karen picked up one of those pre-paid phones and we used that number, made sure there wasn’t anything to identify Yuuri or the rest of the band. Jake and Karen are going to put them up in a bit.” He reached down to pull Jimin away from the edge of the bed, where she’d been fixing her calm blue stare on a wriggling lump beneath the sheet.

 

“Ah! That’s where Arthur went off to!” Phichit chirped, sitting up to rescue the buried hamster. The two singers lapsed into an uneasy silence, broken only when both of their phones started vibrating insistently. Two sets of grey eyes widened in tandem as they scanned the links blowing up their social media feeds.

 

Morning, March 30th, 2015, St. Petersburg

 

Victor woke in his own bed, his flight from Shanghai a hazy memory in the back of his head. Or maybe that was the alcohol. He definitely remembered being gently cut off by an overly polite flight attendant at some point during his exorbitantly expensive last-minute flight home. Something else for Yakov to lecture him about if there were any photos. Of course, it wasn’t really Yakov’s job to lecture him anymore.

 

After all, he’d quit.

 

Checking his phone felt like the hardest task he’d ever had to complete. Of course, right now, every task seemed impossible. As dozens of unchecked notifications lit up his screen, Victor sighed, feeling utterly drained. Still, he couldn’t chance missing anything that might help him reach Yuuri, so he began the daunting task of scrolling through them, searching for something, anything from the singer. Settling on the couch, he smiled a bit as Makkachin lazily hopped up to join him, stretching her wriggly mass against him. For an instant, he felt a bit guilty, accepting comfort he surely didn’t deserve… but that’s what pets were for, right?

 

“You’ll always forgive me, hmmm, Makka-girl?” he crooned, looking away from his phone for a moment to smile fondly down at the big poodle. He hoped that off in Detroit, Vicchan was providing the same comfort for Yuuri. His throat closed at the thought and he hastily wiped the moisture from his eyes before returning his attention to his phone.

 

Nothing. Still nothing. Nearly 48 hours and no word. He dropped the offending device, ignoring the unopened messages, and buried his face in Makkachin’s warm curls. “I know I messed up, Makka, but if he’d just let me explain…”

 

His lament was cut short by an insistent knock at his door. He hesitated, tempted to pretend he wasn’t home. Still, on the off chance that whoever it was had come bearing news…

 

He padded his way to the door, hastily running his fingers through his disheveled hair before flinging it open, half-expecting Yakov, Yuri or even Mila to be there, waiting to berate him for his precipitous actions.

 

To his vast surprise, Georgi Popovich stood at his doorstep, luggage piled to one side and a bottle of vodka held out in offering. Victor peered warily at his rink mate for a long moment before stepping to the side to allow the other man to enter.

 

“Your flight must have just landed…” Victor said, still confused. He and Georgi hadn’t exactly been on the best of terms the last several years.

 

Georgi began to shed his jacket, shrugging. “Yes. The flight you were supposed to be on. Yakov was fuming all day yesterday; the ISU officials were rather angry about their star performer skipping out on the exhibition and banquet.” Once again he held out the bottle of liquor. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Victor finally accepted it, turning to lead the way to his kitchen.

 

“Yes, well, I quit. I had no desire to be their show pony the rest of the weekend.”

 

“The singer. Katsuki. He’s the reason for all of this?” Georgi asked, his brow furrowed, pale eyes distant as Victor busied himself pouring a round of drinks, ignoring the early hour.

 

They toasted as Victor mulled his response. “I suppose… in a way… yes. And also no. I’m the reason for all this. I made a mistake and I’m paying the price but…” He hesitated, drooping in his seat. “I’m exhausted Georgi. I’ve spent most of my life focusing on skating, on being perfect, on being Russia’s Golden Boy… I can’t do it anymore. I’m envious that you managed to find a balance. Love and skating… I had a taste of love and managed to screw it all up. I don’t want the skating without it anymore. So... I quit.”

 

“Will you pursue him?” Georgi asked, that same odd distance in his eyes.

 

Victor stared down into his drink. “Part of me thinks I should, part of me thinks I should wait to see if he reaches out, you know, give him his space.” He paused to drain his glass, refilling it quickly. “And part of me thinks I should keep drinking this excellent vodka until I can’t think anymore.” Georgi snorted dryly before lifting his glass and following suit. Victor took a second to look closely at his rink mate. “Gosha…” he started tentatively, “not that I’m complaining, but why are you at my apartment plying me with alcohol at 10 in the morning? We’ve barely talked the last year, why now?”

 

Georgi finally met his eyes. “Misery loves company, I suppose,” he murmured. “Anya broke things off. At the banquet yesterday. That hockey player that kept flirting with her…” He grimaced before drinking again. “I thought she was the one. Figured maybe you’d understand, right now.”

 

Victor didn’t know what to say, so he silently toasted the morose skater, letting the silence stretch for a long moment. He’d barely opened his mouth to speak when a raucous pounding echoed through the apartment.

 

The door slammed open. Blyad. Had he forgotten to lock it?

 

He didn’t have long to ponder the question before Yura and Mila crowded into the kitchen, the first furious, the latter oddly excited.

 

Oi, mudak! Get your head out of your ass and answer your damned phone, will you?” Yura snarled, snatching the offending device from the table and flung it in Victor’s lap. “Stop moping and go fucking fix this!”

 

“Yura, he probably hasn’t seen it…”

 

“No shit, Baba! He’s sitting here drinking with this loser instead of acting like an adult,” the boy muttered.

 

“Yura, Mila… what is going on?” Victor felt bewildered at the swirl of voices and emotions filling his kitchen. He glanced down at the phone, still overwhelmed at the cluster of notifications, none of which bore Yuuri’s name.

 

“Here,” Mila said kindly. She fidgeted with her own phone for a moment. “This popped up last night, but, ah, you’ve been busy I suppose,” she finished delicately, eyeing the bottle. She passed her phone to Victor, a video featuring a very familiar figure queued up. Reaching over his shoulder, she tapped play, and Victor’s jaw went slack at the music that poured forth.

 

The group settled into an expectant hush as Victor watched. The song ended, and he could feel three sets of eyes watching him. He couldn’t quite process what he’d just heard and seen.

 

It was Georgi who broke the silence, carefully pulling the glass out of Victor’s hand. “I think that qualifies as reaching out, Vitya. I do believe it’s your move now.”

 

Very early morning, March 30th, 2015, Detroit

 

Phichit glanced blearily at the Caller ID on his phone. Victor. Taking a deep breath, he accepted the call.

 

“Tell me why I should talk to you instead of hanging up and going back to sleep,” he chirped in his best passive-aggressive tone.

 

“Phichit, please. I know I messed up, but please… I love him.”

 

“You could have told him that, y’know.”

 

A deep breath came through the line. “I know.”

 

Phichit relented. “And he should have talked to you. You’re both kinda bad at the talking thing.”

 

Victor chuckled dryly. “God, do I know it.”

 

“I’m guessing you saw the video? Are you going to try to fix this?”

 

Victor hummed in agreement. “I did. And I will, I swear, I’ll try. It was… god, he’s stunning… but he won’t answer my calls, Phichit. Please, I just need to talk to him. Can you give him your phone?”

 

Phichit barked a strained laugh. “Would if I could. He’s not here, Victor.”

 

Another shaky breath. “Shit. Okay. Okay. Do you know where he is? Please, if you know…”

 

Phichit bit his lip, then decided. “If I had to guess, I’d say he’s gone back to…”

 

Morning, April 4th, 2015, Hasetsu

 

Yuuri lay curled on his side, his childhood bed feeling both too small and too empty. Being home the last few days had been simultaneously wonderful and painful. His mother had simply held him, holding off on her questions until he was ready to talk. She’d always been so good about just letting him… exist. The pain hadn’t faded, and he hadn’t been able to bring himself to so much as glance at his phone, but Hasetsu was a good place to escape from the world.

 

He’d spent most of the first day back holed up in his room, idly running through music on his old keyboard. Mari and Yuuko had both stopped in to visit, sitting quietly as he’d played and sang, not questioning as he kept drifting into soft, moody songs. He’d caught the triplets hovering outside the door a few times, but they, too, seemed to sense that he wasn’t really in the mood to talk. Too many times, he found himself playing through the song that both haunted and comforted him.

 

Stammi Vicino… non te ne andare…

 

Even now, the lyrics filled him with longing, the hope that he’d once felt still simmering somewhere deep in his heart. He’d thought the message had been for him. He’d thought that maybe, maybe, Victor had been calling to him with the music.

 

Knocking interrupted his moody reverie, his mother’s voice calling to him. Snow. In April. Dutifully, he pulled on warm clothes and trudged his way out to clear the sidewalks.

 

Barking echoed through the quiet of the early morning and his heart jumped, hopeful until he was pounced on by a bundle of brown curls far too large to belong to his pup. He let himself fall under the eager poodle, gently rubbing at the soft fur in a moment of confusion. A slender hand entered his field of vision and he looked up, shock and hurt and hope and joy all mingling in his chest.

 

There. Pale and oh so lovely…

 

“Vi-Victor?”

 

Chapter Text

Morning, April 4th, 2015, Hasetsu

 

Victor knew he should have stopped his wayward pooch from tackling Yuuri, but the truth was that he’d been too stunned at the sight of the singer to move. Now, holding his hand out to help the other man to his feet, he wasn’t sure how to respond to the emotions swirling in Yuuri’s wide, cinnamon eyes. After a long pause, Yuuri finally took his hand, allowing Victor to pull him up.

 

He held onto Yuuri’s mittened hand for a beat, all of the words he’d practiced on the long trip to Japan failing him as he lost himself in those perfect, cinnamon eyes.

 

A flat, feminine voice called out in Japanese and Yuuri startled, dropping Victor’s hand as if it had burned him. The singer turned towards the entrance, calling something back to the young woman that was watching them curiously from the wide porch. Yuuri trudged forward a few steps and then stopped, turning back to stare at him with suddenly flat eyes.

 

“It’s cold. You should come inside and get breakfast. Get Makkachin out of the snow.” His voice was cool and polite, no trace of the emotions that had been there a moment before.

 

Victor shivered with a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. He picked up his suitcase, slightly surprised when Yuuri moved to take his carry-on before leading the way into a quaint lobby area. The young woman followed them inside, snagging a worn towel from a bin near the door and handing it to Victor with a nod in Makkachin’s direction. Dutifully, he bent down to wipe her feet, then removed his shoes and slid on a pair of the slippers that were tucked neatly into the little wall cubbies. By the time he stood, Yuuri had vanished, an older man taking his place.

 

Both the younger woman and the man bore a striking resemblance to Yuuri—not exactly how he’d hoped to meet the Katsuki family. He glanced nervously between the pair, his smile hitching its way into manic territory before the man finally spoke in rapid Japanese.

 

“He wants to know if you’re Yuuri’s friend,” the young woman translated. “And whether you need a place to stay while you visit.”

 

“Ah…”

 

“He’s just being polite,” the woman continued over him. “We know who you are.” She flashed him an odd, opaque look. “And we’re not an inn, but friends can still stay.”

 

“Oh, I… thank you. Yes, I’d like to stay if… if that’s alright?” Victor offered a little half bow in the older man’s direction, earning a sunny grin in return.

 

“Wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t,” the woman drawled. “I’m Mari. The sister,” she added with a tiny smirk. “Toshiya is our father,” the older man smiled and nodded at his name. “Mom’s cooking, you’ll meet her later,” Mari finished. “C’mon, leave your bags for now, let’s get you fed.” Without waiting for him to respond, Mari turned to lead the way out of the lobby, slapping her thigh to catch Makka’s attention as she went. His traitorous pup abandoned him to follow the woman, leaving him standing awkwardly with Yuuri’s father. The older man smiled, then patted his shoulder in a kindly manner before making shooing motions, directing Victor to follow after Mari.

 

***

 

Yuuri lay back in his bed, suddenly overwhelmed as he looked around the small room. His childhood posters, mostly of Victor, suddenly mocked him and he stood in a flurry, rushing to pull them down before the skater somehow caught sight of them. He knew he was being a coward, knew that he’d abandoned Victor to his family’s whims, but he couldn’t stay down there with his thoughts racing like this. He sat heavily on the edge of the bed, eyes fixed on the pile of faded posters in his arms.

 

Why had Victor come?

 

He felt as if his head and his heart were dueling. In his heart, he wanted, desperately wanted Victor to be there for him. Just him. Not for his music or his image, not for inspiration but for him. His head kept telling him it was more logical that Victor was there to mend their professional relationship. He still hadn’t been able to force himself to check his phone, relying on Tamara, Mari and Yuuko to tell him about any major developments.

 

Mainly on the Vicchan front, he thought, his stomach clenching as he realized he’d gone the whole morning without worrying about his pup. But that was the thing. Other than his dog and his friends… there was nothing out there for him. He couldn’t hack the fame, couldn’t handle a mutually beneficial fling without letting feelings get in the way…

 

He’d had a lot of time to think about how he felt about the Russian skater and now, seeing Victor again, in his home, with his family… he knew that he would never be happy settling for a casual relationship. He fell back on the bed once again, clutching at the tightness in his chest, his heart a wild thing beating a deafening rhythm, struggling to burst free.

 

Lovelovelove…

 

Had he ever really admitted it? Even to himself? The way his heart sped at the glimpse of aquamarine eyes? The way he ached to hear his name drip from Victor’s tongue, how perfect he felt with those strong arms around him?

 

No matter how much pain it had brought him, he knew he was in love with Victor Nikiforov.

 

He couldn’t go back to just being the skater’s muse, or back to stolen nights in dark hotel rooms. Not when he wanted to be the skater’s everything. Maybe it was selfish, maybe it was foolish.

 

He clutched the posters to his chest.

 

Please. Please let him be here for me…

 

***

 

Victor tried not to feel too disappointed by how little of Yuuri he’d seen that day. Mari had settled him into an unused banquet room, laughing openly at his confusion over the arrangement of futons in lieu of a Western style bed. She’d shown him around the onsen, studying him with heavy-lidded eyes whenever she thought he wasn’t looking. When she dragged him and Makkachin out to show them the walking paths behind the inn, he felt that he’d somehow earned her stamp of approval.

 

At least he hoped that’s what her sly laughter had meant…

 

Toshiya had shown him the hot springs, pantomiming the procedures and chuckling broadly at Victor’s enthusiasm. Of course, if the older man had known how fervently he’d been wishing for Yuuri’s company in the springs, Toshiya might not have been so amused.

 

He’d even caught a glimpse or two of Tamara, the guard nodding at him politely as she passed in the halls. But nothing of Yuuri, not since that morning. Still, it was dinner now, and surely the singer had to eat at some point…

 

As he entered the dining room, his heart skipped a joyful beat. Mari was chattering in rapid Japanese with Yuuri beside one of the low tables, so Victor made his way over to the siblings. Yuuri caught his gaze for a moment before turning back to his sister, a slight flush suddenly making its way up the tips of the singer’s ears.

 

“Ah, you should sit, Mom’s making up a tray for you now.” Yuuri gestured vaguely at the table. Mari snorted and walked away, shaking her head.

 

Tentatively, Victor reached out, grasping Yuuri’s shoulder gently. “Yuuri…” he started, not sure what to say, but desperately trying to connect somehow. “I wanted…”

 

A small, plump woman with Yuuri’s eyes interrupted him, smiling warmly. “Vicchan! Sit! Sit! I make katsudon for you,” she cooed, setting an overflowing tray down at the table and deftly setting two places. The food smelled delicious and he happily seated himself on the cushion, smiling his thanks. The woman, surely Yuuri’s mother, patted his shoulder before bustling away to greet some new customers.

 

He watched Yuuri out of the corner of his eye, waiting to see if the other man would join him for the meal. After a long moment, Yuuri folded himself down onto the cushion on the opposite side of the table and began eating. “It’s my favorite. Okaa-san must have wanted you to try it.”

 

A memory stirred, a tiny ramen shop… “I remember,” he said softly. “You told me about it. How your mom’s was your favorite. In Tokyo, the night we met.”

 

Yuuri looked up sharply, cinnamon eyes blown wide. “Y-you remember that?” he stammered before looking down at his food, flushing.

 

“I remember everything when it comes to you, solnyshko,” Victor relied fervently. “You left Shanghai so quickly… I didn’t get a chance to talk to you about that article…”

 

“Let’s not talk about that right now,” Yuuri muttered, still fascinated with  his food, the vulnerability suddenly disappearing from his face.

 

“But I want to explain everything… Please, Yuuri, you’ve inspired me so much this last year, I don’t want things to end because of this misunderstanding…”

 

Yuuri put his chopsticks down with a snap. “Excuse me, please.” He stood, looking down at Victor for a long moment before nodding curtly and all but fleeing the room. The skater spared one forlorn look at his half-finished meal before pushing his way to his feet and hurrying after the singer. He brushed past a startled Tamara, intent on his goal. He’d be damned if he let Yuuri run this time…

 

He caught up to the singer in the corridor that led to the back porch, catching Yuuri’s arm and spinning him around until they were facing each other. “Stop!"   he choked out. “God, Yuuri, just stop. Talk to me!”   he begged, grasping the other man’s shoulders with both hands in a desperate grip.

 

***

 

Huddled in his oversized hoodie, hair hopelessly disheveled, Yuuri felt the faint stirrings of anger rising. How dare Victor stand there looking so unfairly beautiful, those impossibly blue eyes fixed on him as if he mattered ? He’d said it himself: Yuuri was his inspiration. There were other, better muses out there, if that was all Victor needed. What right did the man have to barge in on him here, to try to drag him back to a world that put him under a magnifying glass but never really tried to see him, let alone listen to him?

 

“Thank you for everything you did for me, Victor, but it’s time to end this. I’m done. With all of it,” he said as calmly as possible, pulling out of the other man’s grasp and turning to leave. A tiny gasp burst from the skater’s lips and Yuuri glanced back up at him. Almost of its own accord, his hand moved to brush the fine silver hair out of Victor’s face, surprised to see the jewel-like tears dripping from the pale lashes. The older man batted his hand out of the way, a flash of anger crossing his face. Yuuri hunched in embarrassment.

 

“Ah, sorry, it’s just… I’ve never seen you cry,” he offered, moving the hand to run through his own tangled hair.

 

“I’m angry, Yuuri! You aren’t even giving me a chance to talk before making this decision! You’re… dammit, you’re being so selfish! Victor replied, his voice rough with suppressed emotion.

 

“Right,” he muttered. “I made this selfish decision on my own. I’m retiring. I’m not going back to Detroit.” Saying it out loud felt strange, but it was for the best… wasn’t it?

 

Victor was shaking his head furiously. “What about your bandmates… your friends?  What about your dreams? ” Then, in a softer voice, “What about me?

 

Yuuri backed up until he hit the wall, leaning his head back against it and attempting to keep the impending tears at bay. His voice, when he spoke, was hoarse with exhaustion, all emotion drained. “They’ll be better off without someone as weak as me. I can barely handle a good performance, I fall apart after every mistake… I clearly chose the wrong dream to chase.” Victor’s last question finally filtered through his mind and he looked back at the other man. To his surprise, tears were now streaming down the Russian’s face, misery written in his every feature. Something painful twisted in Yuuri’s chest. One more failure to think about in the dark of the night.

 

Somehow, he’d managed to make Victor Nikiforov cry.

 

“I don’t know why you’re so invested in this,” he murmured lowly. “There are other bands, other singers, you can find someone else to be your fu…” he hesitated, broken, unable to utter the phrase, even now, “… your muse.” That’s what the magazine had called him… right? “Someone like you could have anyone…”

 

“I don’t want anyone, Yuuri!” Victor’s voice was choked, almost desperate. “I want you!

 

Why? Why me?”

 

Victor looked shocked at his strangled cry.

 

Yuuri clutched at his hoodie, breath harsh in his chest as he struggled to stay calm. “I’m nothing next to you. You’re so far beyond me and you just, you just... I don’t want to do this anymore, Victor! I can’t go back to recording, to touring, to just being your sometimes lover… I’m sorry there won’t be more songs for you to skate to. I know you expected it, I know you think I helped your skating, but I can’t!” Yuuri winced as his voice broke, the cracks in his composure on vivid display for his audience of one.

 

“God, Yuuri! Do you seriously think I’m here because I want a song?”

 

“Well, why the hell else would you be here?” The words burst out of Yuuri in a rush, anger warring with a vestigial surge of longing and need. Victor practically lunged across the hall, grabbing Yuuri’s shoulders again in a bruising grip, his eyes wild.

 

“Because I love you, you beautiful, frustrating ass.

 

He froze, the moment stretching between them. Victor’s breath was harsh, inches from his mouth, and Yuuri had the wild urge to bridge that tiny space, to capture those lips with his and never let them go.

 

Instead, he jerked out of Victor’s grasp, feeling wild and lost, despite the familiar surroundings. Chest heaving, he turned and fled.

 

***

 

“Dammit,"  Victor swore, his hand clenching on air as Yuuri fled. “What the fuck was I thinking? I’m an idiot.” He dragged his hands through his hair, feeling his heart clenching in his chest. He’d always known there was a chance that Yuuri could never return his feelings, but he’d thought… he’d hoped…

 

“You’re not the only idiot.”

 

Victor jumped, the cool voice startling him out of his self-flagellation. Mari moved out of the doorway where she’d been standing, unnoticed by either of the men.

 

“Mari,” he said warily, inclining his head in her direction. She leaned against the wall where Yuuri had been standing, her flat gaze boring into him. “Ah… I’m sorry if we were too loud. Did we disturb your guests?”

 

She shrugged, eyes never leaving his face. “Doubt it. Sagan Tosu has a match; oto-san ’s leading the cheering squad.”

 

“Oh. Um, how much of that did you catch?” His question was hesitant, his nerves on edge.

 

“Enough,” she said, gaze turning speculative. “Did you mean it? That you love him?” There was an edge to her voice that made it clear that he was talking to Yuuri’s big sister and needed to tread carefully. Not that it mattered. He had no intention of lying.

 

“Yes,” he said quietly, slumping against the wall. “But I’m pretty sure he already knew and…” He shrugged as he trailed off.

 

Mari huffed a humorless little chuckle, shaking her head. “Wow. You two are a pair. C’mon, pretty-boy.” She pushed off from the wall, indicating the path to the kitchen with her chin. When Victor didn’t move, she latched onto his wrist with an iron grip and pulled him down the hall with her. She rummaged briefly in a cabinet, pulling down a bottle and handing him a pair of cups before continuing out onto the family’s small private porch. Victor dropped limply onto the bench, waiting for Mari to make some sort of move.

 

She poured two tumblers of amber liquor, handing one to him wordlessly before turning away to light a cigarette. He took a cautious sip, pleasantly surprised at the taste.

 

“Whisky?” He asked, surprised. She raised an eyebrow.

 

“What, were you expecting sake or something?” Something in her tone let him know she was teasing. She shook her head when he shrugged. “Nah. This isn’t a sake sort of conversation.” She raised her glass to him in a toast and they drank together, the balmy Kyushu air warm even in the dark of the early evening

 

When the silence grew uncomfortable, Victor finally cut through it. “Why am I here?”

 

Mari turned to look at him, her face haloed in smoke. “Based on what I just overheard, I’m assuming it’s because you’re in love with my idiot brother,” she replied, eyes warming in amusement.

 

Something inside him bristled at hearing Yuuri called an idiot. He brushed it off. “No, not… not here in Hasetsu. Here. On this porch. Drinking this surprisingly excellent whisky with you.” He held out his glass pointedly, smiling softly when Mari refilled it.

 

“You said you were pretty sure he already knew you love him. Why do you believe that?” The question threw him.

 

“Ah, I mean… I’m not exactly known for my subtlety. I’ve been practically throwing myself at him for a year now.”

 

“And I’m assuming you believe he doesn’t love you? I’m also assuming you two have a history, not that I want the details… and please do not give me the details…”

 

Victor hung his head, gripping the tumbler to keep the tears at bay. “Ah, yes. A history is one way to describe it, I suppose.” Mari rolled her eyes before taking another drag from her cigarette. “But it… it’s always just been casual for him. He’s got thousands of people throwing themselves at him constantly, I’m… I’m just one more groupie. A little more persistent than most maybe, but… At least I had the Olympics and my own press to bring to the table, to help him notice me...” He trailed off, uncertain of what to make of the wide-eyed stare Mari had leveled at him. After a long moment her shoulders began to shake, and to his surprise, she doubled over, wheezing with laughter.

 

Which… huh.

 

He drained his glass in annoyance, snagging the bottle to pour himself another drink when it seemed as if Mari had no intention of stopping anytime soon.

 

“Sorry,” she finally huffed breathlessly. “It’s just, gods do you two deserve each other.”

 

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” he sniffed.

 

“Oh, don’t get all huffy. This is all very dramatic and romantic and all, but you’re operating under some very serious misunderstandings here, Vicchan.”

 

He winced at the nickname. “Ah… Vicchan is…”

 

“Yuuri’s poodle. I know. I got him for Yuuri back when he was 13 and wouldn’t stop yammering about his celebrity crush having a damned poodle.” She threw him an opaque glance at that, then continued. “He even named the puppy after his idol.” She took another drag before locking her eyes with his, suddenly deadly serious. “Vicchan was only ever a nickname.”

 

Victor felt as if he was on the edge of understanding something enormous, some crucial piece to the intricate puzzle that was Yuuri Katsuki.

 

Mari narrowed her eyes in his direction. “So, tell me, Vicchan, as successful as you are, what would you do if your childhood crush, the literal man of your dreams, wandered into your life out of the blue? Flirted with you. Chased after you. Would you take him at face value? Or would you question everything? Assume it was a game or something temporary?”

 

She was calling him by a dog’s name again and asking cryptic questions as if he somehow understood them. He was floundering, the edge of the cliff suddenly gone from beneath his feet.

 

“Yuuri had a lot of dreams when he was a kid. He got serious about music and dancing and he had to choose. He gave up his other passion, but he never stopped loving it. When you two figure this shit out, ask him to take you down to the old skating rink. I bet you he can still do that damned Lilac Fairy routine.”

 

Victor suddenly felt like he’d landed in some strange alternate universe. “Lilac Fairy?” he heard himself ask, his voice stunned. “I skated to that piece at my last Junior Worlds.”

 

Mari laughed dryly. “Yeah, dumbass, I’m aware. God am I aware. Do you know how many times I had to watch that routine? I finally got him the dog so he’d have someone else to yammer at.”

 

Close. He was so close.

 

Vicchan. A nickname, short for a beloved childhood crush. A youthful dream of figure skating.

 

The pieces finally clicked into place.

 

Oh ,” he breathed, the last year suddenly viewed through a wildly different lens.

 

Mari smirked at him. “Finally got there, did you?”

 

He nodded, stunned. “How, how do I fix this? Mari, I don’t… I don’t know how to fix this.”

 

She shook her head, refilling his shaking glass. “Ball’s in Yuu-chan’s court. He knows how you feel now. He just has to decide what he’s going to do about it.”

 

Silence settled between them again as the level in the bottle slowly lowered.

 

Morning, April 5th, 2015, Hasetsu

 

Yuuri buried his head in his pillow as the knocking on his door came yet again. If he just pretended to be asleep, maybe he could ignore the world forever.

 

“Katsuki Yuuri! Answer this door immediately! You can’t hide from the world forever!”

 

He sat up, gaping in mingled horror and alarm. He’d always suspected that Minako-sensei had strange powers, but mind-reading was a new one. He hesitated for another long moment, before a new sound broke through his morning haze, sending him scrambling frantically for the door. Flinging it open, he stared, Minako’s unexpected presence all but forgotten in the face of eight pounds of ecstatic toy poodle fluff leaping in his direction.

 

He sobbed into Vicchan’s fur, the events of the last week finally bursting out in a cathartic rush of bottled up emotion. His dog was safe. His dog was here. The hows and whys didn’t matter in the moment, all that mattered was the squirming bundle in his arms.

 

A strangled gasp drew his attention and he looked up, meeting Victor’s startled eyes as the skater peered out into the hallway from the nearby banquet room. Guilt twisted beneath his joy as Victor watched him warily. Victor, who he’d thought he could never have after reading that wretched article. Victor, who had followed him to Hasetsu anyway. Who had shouted his love for Yuuri, despite the fact that Yuuri had given up all hope of ever hearing those words.

 

For Yuuri. Who had turned his back and ran. Again.

 

Minako followed the direction of his gaze, her eyes narrowing when she saw the skater. “I’d wondered where you’d run off to, Victor Nikiforov. Quite the scandal you’ve caused. Picking fights with your competitors. Quitting with no warning. Appearing on certain magazine covers…"

 

Victor wilted under her scathing tone and Yuuri had a moment to feel pity for the other man before Minako’s words caught up to him. “Wait, what? You quit ? You’re at the top of your game! What about your fans? Your coach?”

 

Victor shrugged, eyes blank. “I told you I wasn’t here for new music,” he said hoarsely. “Besides, I think I asked you practically the same thing.”

 

Minako’s head was snapping back and forth between the two men. “Y’know, I’m just going to go catch up with Mari and Hiroko. You two just…” She waggled her arm in a hazy gesture before turning to walk back downstairs, muttering under her breath as she went.

 

Yuuri stood, clutching Vicchan against his chest as he tried to figure out what to say. Makkachin nosed her way out of Victor’s room and, with a low boof, stretched up on her hind legs to sniff inquisitively at the new arrival. Yuuri couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. How many times had he imagined their dogs finally meeting? He glanced up at Victor, meaning to say something, but his words caught in his throat when he saw the pure longing on Victor’s face as he watched the dogs.

 

“It was kind of Minako to bring Vicchan for you,” Victor murmured quietly, eyes downcast.

 

“Mmm,” Yuuri agreed. “Honestly, I didn’t know she was coming. I, ah, haven’t turned my phone on since… ah… well, since. She must not have mentioned it to anyone, or they’d have told me. Everyone here knows how worried I’ve been about him.”

 

“Why would you have been worried? You’ve been away longer when you were touring,” Victor asked, brow furrowing in confusion.

 

Yuuri winced. “Right. Ah… well, he’s kind of been, ah… missing?  Since… since before your short program actually…”

 

Victor looked up at him in shock. “What? Why…? Yuuri, why didn’t you tell me? I knew something was wrong, but you told me it had to do with the studio!”

 

“I didn’t want to worry you! Your skating was more important!” Yuuri protested, cuddling Vicchan close to his chest.

 

“Right. My skating. Of course,” Victor muttered sourly. “You know what, I’m going back to bed. Makka! Here!” he called, turning his back on Yuuri and retreating into his room, his poodle trailing behind him.

 

Yuuri stood, feeling as if he was finally waking up after sleep walking through the last year. He had questioned and fought and denied every shred of evidence; he had finally let himself hope, only to let the doubts overwhelm him again. Yet Victor was here. Victor was here, and hurting; hurting because of Yuuri, and Yuuri was standing here like an idiot. Like the ass that Victor had dubbed him.

 

“Enough,” he muttered, forcing himself to move, to shove open the door and make his way to the futon where Victor lay curled against Makkachin. He set Vicchan down, wrapping himself around the broad back that suddenly seemed frail as it shook beneath him.

 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he whispered into the nape of Victor’s neck. “I’m so bad at this, Victor. I don’t… I don’t know how to do this, how to talk and be open. I don’t know how to let someone in, so I kept pushing you away, but I didn’t… I didn’t mean to. And… and I was so hurt when I saw that magazine and I didn’t think. I just… I just ran. I should have let you talk. I should have talked. I should have told you how I felt, should have told you about Vicchan…”

 

Victor curled tighter around his poodle, shoulders still shaking. A glimmer of memory hovered in the back of Yuuri’s mind… a dark hotel room… Moscow…

 

Hesitantly, he ran his hand through the soft, silver hair. “Please, Vitya, I’m so, so sorry. Please talk to me. Please let me try again.” He pressed quivering lips against the back of Victor’s neck before speaking again. “Please. Vitya. My beautiful Vitenka. I love you…”

 

In a move too quick to catch, Victor turned in his grasp, suddenly holding him fiercely. “Say it again,” Victor gasped, his eyes wild as he stared at Yuuri.

 

“I love you,” he replied without hesitation. “I love you, Vity-mmmph!”

 

Dimly he was aware of the dogs moving away in a huff, but he couldn’t worry about that, not when Victor was in his arms, choking out words of love in between searing kisses. He returned them, the words suddenly flowing freely as they moved together, filling the lonely void that each had felt so deeply.