“Eri! My baby! My baby girl, come and see me!”
Phichit’s delighted cries can be heard above all other noise in the hot pot restaurant as Viktor and Yuuri arrive for their first dinner in Beijing. He’s there to compete, same as Yuuri, in the qualifier for the figure skating Grand Prix, but you would think, just looking at him, that the only thing bringing him to China was a wiggly, giggly little girl in a polka-dot turtleneck and glittery leg warmers.
“I want to see my little girl,” Phichit sings, cracking up when Viktor, not Yuuri, sings the responsive “Here she comes.” He can’t even help himself from dancing on the spot with excitement, beckoning with shaking hands as Yuuri unloads his daughter into his arms. “Oh, you smell so good, you wouldn’t even know you’ve been on an airplane all day!”
Yuuri rolls his eyes up at Viktor. His smile is so relaxed and adoring (if not a little incredulous). It’s not fair, it hasn’t been fair for weeks, because Viktor wants whatever is motivating those sweet, sweet glances, but he hasn’t figured out if it’s even his place to say so. Yuuri plays hot and cold, opening up to give Viktor brief glimpses of his inner self, his feelings, his passion, before retreating to the safety and security of an arm’s length.
All the same, he can’t help but rest his hand on Yuuri’s shoulder, squeezing gently as they get situated in the booth across from the ecstatic Thai skater. Yuuri doesn’t bristle at his touch, he even leans into it a little bit, his head tilting in Viktor’s direction half-consciously as he breathes out a satisfied little sigh.
Thankfully, “Eri time” is the only thing that Phichit is concerned with, and Viktor takes advantage of the fact that he’s busy taking a series of “reunited at last” selfies to lean in and steal Yuuri’s attention for just a little while.
“Let’s get a bottle of wine,” he suggests, leaning in to peek at Yuuri’s menu. “Something to share.”
“There’s beer, and I’m not drinking before the competition,” Yuuri mumbles. He’s been fairly quiet all day, and Viktor can tell that he’s nervous about bringing his new program—and new image—to the international stage. He slides his hand down between Yuuri’s shoulder blades and rubs a gentle back-and-forth to try to alleviate some of the tension his student is carrying.
“Suit yourself,” Viktor says with a smile. “You can always sip some of mine if you want.”
Yuuri shakes his head with a little lick of his lips and quickly switches the subject to their order, twirling the pencil in his fingers and pointing out the things he likes. Viktor is up for anything Yuuri wants. He wants to know everything that satisfies his tastes, the little things that make him happy, anything and everything that is Yuuri.
After their drinks come, Yuuri slides into the other side of the booth to take a few pictures and finalize their order, although his attempt at getting his daughter back into his own lap is blocked by his friend. Phichit uses his foot to scoot him all the way to the edge of their bench, clinging possessively to a giggling Eri with an unapologetic grin.
“No, Katsuki, she’s mine tonight, I missed her too much!” he says, Eri squealing along with him in unison. “You get to see her every day! Somewhere between graduation and now she turned into a little teenager and I wasn’t even there to see!” He nuzzles an exaggerated pout in Eri’s direction, gasping when her little hands cup his cheeks.
“Yes! Papa made Phichit sad from keeping you away from me for so long!”
Yuuri raises an amused eyebrow in Viktor’s direction. “Someday I’m going to have to teach her what real sad looks like, since someone taught her to pout to get her way.” His entire being seems to sparkle with mirth as he awaits Viktor’s response with coy anticipation. It’s becoming too much, Yuuri is too much for to handle as a student and as a friend. Viktor has been stripped, over months, of his usual wit and flirtatious façade and reduced to a fumbling, nervous idiot who can only swallow and nod and ache whenever that glimmer of golden-brown is angled in his direction. Viktor is lucky to even have to the opportunity to wonder whether it could ever be more than it already is. Yuuri spoils him with even the most sparing of attention, and Viktor is all too willing to wait around for the next chance to receive it, too nervous to push too far or overstep, but too covetous to give it up.
He can hardly conceal his laughter behind a phony pout. “Yuuri, sad,” he whines, and pays for it with a swift kick to the shins under the table. He winks away the admonishing glare he’s earned, golden-flecked and gorgeous even though it’s meant to signal danger, and pats Yuuri’s hand before pulling the diaper bag close to him on the bench to find some toys to keep the baby occupied.
“God, Twitter is right about you two, you’re perfect for each other,” Phichit sighs, taking a plastic play-phone and a set of nesting cups from Viktor and setting them up on the table in front of Eri.
Viktor and Yuuri exchange glances. The beautiful shade of dusty rose that spreads across Yuuri’s cheeks to his ears is one of Viktor’s favorite sights—something he chases with little teasing comments or gestures that border on romantic—and it blooms in excess at Phichit’s words. Judging by the heat creeping under the collar of his tee-shirt, Viktor’s probably got a pretty impressive blush of his own going on as well, though he tries to hide it behind the effect of his nearly-finished glass of beer as Yuuri reprises his pleading gaze, this time in Phichit’s direction.
The Thai skater brushes him off with a delighted laugh. “—as coach and student, of course!” he adds. “Here. Eri-berry, call Papa and tell him to loosen up, okay?” He hands her the play phone and helps her dial, scrunching his nose at the way she chortles when Yuuri sings a pretend phone call with feigned surprise.
Eri laughs and tells Yuuri this week’s favorite story involving eating steamed buns with Makkachin and throwing up. It’s whimsical and surprisingly grisly for an 18-month-old, riveting and dramatic despite containing only a handful of words strung together by context rather than conventional grammar. Viktor follows along, unable to contain his reverent adoration for this little angel, and also because he’s been learning Japanese right alongside her these past few months, and he’s proud, at the very least, that he can understand the ramblings of a toddler in this new language.
And then there’s her father, driving out his own flustered embarrassment by escaping into his daughter’s pantomime, and unable to hold onto anything for all that long as long as she’s there chattering at him. Dropping his every worry for her sake. Flaunting his adorably domestic side day in and out and letting Viktor inch closer and closer into the narrative as they get to know one another better. God, how good it feels when Viktor breaks new ground in that regard, when he’s welcomed anew into some previously-unseen aspect of Yuuri’s life, something else to hoard along with the knowledge of his hopes and fears and favorite television shows and pet peeves.
He orders another drink, vaguely aware that he’s already two down when he remembers only having one, but he’s tired from travel and he’s having too much fun unwinding with the cheery and adorable trio seated across the table from him. Pretty soon, between the travel fatigue, the alcohol, and the delicious sprawl of food and the steam from the bubbling pot of broth in the middle of the table, Viktor is feeling hazy and happy and heavy. He’s perfectly content to sit and watch Yuuri laugh and relax and anything; anything he could do is sufficient for Viktor at the moment. Because he’s still there. He and Eri stayed, somehow, or let Viktor stay, and little moments like this—dinner with friends, dramatic play with the baby, casual touches and glances that grow more and more natural over time—are the highlight of Viktor’s day.
The feeling hits him like a blow to the chest, a surge of emotion that bubbles up from his core and glitters in the atmosphere around him. It knocks the breath from his lungs, sends his heart racing as he realizes that what he’s feeling isn’t new. It’s been simmering just beneath the surface for weeks, maybe months. He can’t remember when it started.
It hits Viktor that somewhere in the past six months, he has fallen love.
He loves Katsuki Yuuri without question or hesitation. He was a attracted to the Yuuri that danced his way into Viktor’s life, but now he loves the Yuuri who hovers close, who teases and jokes, who does more and more each day to show Viktor his trust. He loves Yuuri the skater, and Yuuri the father, and Yuuri the man, already counted among one of his best friends.
He can hardly focus on conversation after that, too hung up is he on the tension in his chest that seems to pull him in Yuuri’s direction, too dizzy is he from the three tall beers. After a while, Yuuri hands him Eri, full and drowsy, and Viktor basks in the fantastic revelation of just how much these two mean to him. Already, he’s wondering what this week holds for them outside of the competition. For the first time, traveling for work feels like vacation, because he gets to share it with people he wants to be near, through whose eyes he’d like to see new places.
He wants to keep doing this as long as Yuuri will let him. He wants to stay. He’s never wanted that with anyone before.
Eventually, Eri starts to nod off, and there’s another shuffling of seats as Yuuri gets her bundled up and in her stroller to sleep. Viktor can tell he’s reaching his limit as well, the telltale droop of his eyelids giving him a soft and sultry look in the golden light of the restaurant, and Viktor suggests that perhaps they head back to the hotel, inviting Phichit to join if he’d like to keep hanging out.
He knows having Phichit around makes Yuuri happy. The Thai skater operates on some mysterious wavelength that keeps him calm and rational and open. Viktor can’t help but be a little envious; he knows now that their relationship is strictly platonic, but that doesn’t stop him from wishing he had that level of closeness that the two friends clearly have. There’s a sort of platonic intimacy between them that’s hard to resist. Trust. Just being able to see Yuuri trust so openly is refreshing.
Viktor pays for everyone without even giving it a second thought, ignoring Yuuri’s sheepish mumbling that next time it’s on him.
When they get back to Yuuri’s hotel room, they draw up a tentative rotation schedule for baby duty over the next two days. They decide to take it in shifts, with Viktor and Phichit taking it in turns to relieve Yuuri for things like warm-ups and interviews, or simply to give him the occasional break.
Viktor will take Eri out to the boards for Yuuri’s two performances, at Yuuri’s request, and otherwise, they’re able to work something out that works with everyone’s schedules.
“I like to know that we’re prepared!” Phichit beams as they hover in the doorway. “Both of you try to get some sleep, okay?”
The next morning is hectic, as many competition days are, but somewhere beneath the surface, some underlying excitement and buzz propels Viktor forward, even with Yuuri fussing and worrying at 100 words per minute and Eri chattering away in Viktor’s ear as they make their way through the gates and into the ice complex.
“—shouldn’t be a problem, but just in case I picked up a few things at the convenience store this morning and added them to her bag just in case,” Yuuri mumbles, passing off the diaper bag as they enter the athlete’s lounge. It’s adorable how much more he frets in situations like this, and Viktor almost swoons at his redundant stuttering. “That’s the purple container; the blue one has senbei, and—“
Viktor shushes him with a little squeeze of his shoulder. “Thank you, Yuuri. You’re so prepared,” he says with a soft smile. “I’ll handle Eri. You go stretch and warm up.
They arrived early on purpose, the quiet of the slowly-awakening arena a refreshing contrast to the din of excited skaters, coaches, and reporters that is soon to follow. With a blanket spread on the floor and a scattering is toys and cushions, Viktor sets Eri up with her sippy cup and a bun Yuuri’s already torn into bite-sized pieces. He sits back against the wall, nibbling at his own pastry and making quick work of the strong cup of black coffee he’d poured himself immediately upon arrival.
Coaching has its perks after all, it seems.
He opens his copy of Anna Karenina in his lap, hoping their early start might give him at least a little bit of reading time, and decides to read the Russian text to Eri as they rise and shine together, here on the floor of the arena.
It’s a breakfast like he’s always dreamed of. She’s so soft and sleepy, but she somehow possesses a king’s determination to stay awake, blinking bleary-eyed up at Viktor as she reaches a tiny hand up to feed him a bite of pastry.
“Bika~” she coos, squishing the buttery morsel against his chin. He can’t help but laugh, it’s her favorite game, and her approximation of the sounds of his name is so endearing, he half hopes she never learns the real pronunciation.
He chomps down on air, making a big show of pretending to devour the bit of food, then her arm, then up her shoulder to the top of her head where he plants a kiss with an exaggerated smack. Eri’s sleepy giggles fill the lounge, and then she reaches up once more, prodding a piece of bread at the corner of Viktor’s mouth.
“Again!” she demands, nearly smacking him across the jaw with her enthusiasm.
He plays the game again, and then a third and fourth time too, until they both tire of it and Eri lets him go back to his reading. When he’s finished with his coffee and his breakfast, he flops down on his side next to her, letting her sit up against his middle, and they read for a while before more athletes start to filter in.
Quite a few of Viktor’s old teammates come up and chat, fawning over Eri’s chubby cheeks and wide-eyed stare. A few of the ladies’ competitors ask whether she’s his, whether she’s the reason for his sudden retirement and shocking partnership with Japan’s Ace.
“They’re a package deal,” he says, feeling himself slip into the phony smile he’s come to associate with competitions like this one. “After all, it’s part of my job as a coach to make sure Yuuri has everything he needs to win, that means time to himself as well.”
He doesn’t expect such an incredulous reception from his former competitors, but more and more comments of this nature fly his way as the arena starts to fill with people. With each new visitor, the concerned knit of the baby girl’s brow that she inherited from her father grows a little more pronounced, until Viktor decides it’s too much for her and puts her in the sling around his middle. She’s heavy, but Viktor sort of likes the press of her weight against his shoulders, the security of knowing she’s safe and close and held tight by the swath of dark blue fabric.
When Yuuri finally returns to the lounge, looking looser and more alert than he did when they first arrived, Viktor can see him fighting back the urge to panic.
“Was she getting too fussy for you? Is everything okay? I only ever wear her anymore when she’s upset, what—” His words fizzle out into a shuddering gasp as a familiar face emerges behind him, a sneaky hand goosing him from behind. Viktor wagers Chris’ surprise groping sends Yuuri two, maybe three feet into the air.
“Yuuri, look at what you’ve gone and done to the Living Legend of figure skating,” the Swiss man purrs in his competitor’s ear. “I was quite looking forward to beating him in this years Grand Prix Final, but instead you’ve domesticated him.”
Viktor shoots a warning glare at his friend.
“You know, many people are saying that you managed to steal Viktor from the world,” Chris continues, his coy smirk only a few centimeters from Yuuri’s reddening ear. “I hope you’re ready to live up to that image.”
Yuuri looks like he’s about ready to dissolve, and Viktor thanks the heavens for whatever invisible force is holding him together; he knows Chris is only joking, but a jab at Yuuri’s two major areas of insecurity is no laughing matter on the day of the short program.
“Chris,” he chastises, dragging his fingers through his hair in frustration. He masks his disappointment almost immediately, however, not wanting Yuuri to think of this as anything more than light banter, not wanting to perpetuate any undue stress. “I’ll have to make it up to you, in any case. Drinks, perhaps?”
“You call it,” Chris says with a wink and one more smack on Yuuri’s bottom, he whisks off in the direction of a group of pair skaters to make himself known.
“Don’t mind him, he’s a harmless flirt,” Viktor grumbles. “Is Phichit still doing your hair and makeup? I can help when it’s his turn with Eri if you’d like.” He starts to loosen the ring that’s keeping Eri slung to his torso, but Yuuri grabs his arm to stop him.
“Do you mind watching her for a little longer? I’ve got something…” he trails off, glancing up tentatively to confirm Viktor is okay with this—which he is, he nods—and then rushes off once more.
Viktor takes the opportunity to take Eri on a walk around the complex. He stops and answers a few questions for reporters, brushing off any questions about Eri as “just helping my skater focus on his win today.” The press loves him with a baby, it turns out, and it takes a few minutes to escape the swarm. Eventually he announces that the questions will have to resume sometime when he’s by himself, and practically sprints to escape the cameras and microphones.
Yakov is less than thrilled to see him running about with a child strapped to his middle, but that doesn’t stop Viktor from rushing up to him anyway, gushing with excitement about having coached a student to the Grand Prix. His former coach doesn’t seem to have any kind words of encouragement to offer, and Viktor infers that he might still be sore from his sudden departure from the sport. Yakov does, however, show some interest in Yuuri, indicating toward a secluded area of the sports complex as he speaks.
“I haven’t seen him this determined in previous competitions,” the old man growls. “I know you, Vitya, you’ve got a knack for pedagogy but your interpersonals are…” He waves his hand in a vague, wobbly motion, his scowl firmly affixed in place.
“I can’t imagine where I got that from,” Viktor snaps. “What’s your point?”
“I’m just interested to see what Katsuki has planned today,” Yakov says, turning to leave. “I wonder if it will take you by surprise.”
Viktor has to admit, his international debut as coach isn’t going quite as he planned. He looks fantastic, even if he’s been laying on the floor in his suit for most of the morning, but most people don’t seem to have any faith in Yuuri. And those who apparently do don’t seem to think Viktor has anything to do with it.
Phichit is supposed to hold onto Eri until Yuuri’s slot, passing her off to Viktor in time to prepare for his own skate a few slots later. Thai skater takes over with enthusiasm when they get back to the lounge, and Eri is dazzled by the hint of gold in his eyeliner and underneath the collar of his jacket.
“Come on, kiddo, let’s blow this joint,” Phichit says with a grin in the girl’s direction, leaving Viktoron his own once more.
He wanders in the direction of the hall where Yakov pointed before, checking his watch to make sure he’s still good on time. Yuuri’s there, just as he suspects, in a state of concentration Viktor has only seen those few times he’s followed his student out to the Ice Castle for one of his late night skates. Phichit must have already gotten to his hair and makeup; he’s got his glasses on but hair slicked back, his eyes pristinely wing-tipped and perfectly smoky. He’s strangely unapproachable, enough so that Viktor finds himself actually hanging back, giving him the space he needs to focus as he does his floor exercises.
This is no-one-around-to-watch Yuuri. This is knows-what-he-wants Yuuri. Viktor hasn’t seen him like this in competition, before or after their time together, and Viktor doesn’t know what to expect from him.
It’s getting close to the men’s singles event, and Viktor wants to make sure Yuuri has enough time to mentally prepare, since he’s first. He’s almost hesitant to step in, unsure where this serious side to Yuuri came from, but before he has to make a choice, auburn eyes blink up at him with unfaltering drive and plump, glossed-up lips curl into a half smile.
Viktor’s heart jumps into his throat.
He knows the Lilac Fairy costume is under that team jacket.
He may have created a monster.
But as soon as he catches sight of that sultry face, they faded into a shallow gasp.
“Is it time?”
Yuuri’s cheeks redden a little. There he is.
“Um, I have to go tell Phichit something before the warm-up,” he mumbles, rushing past Viktor toward the end of the hall. “Meet me at the boards, okay?”
They meet back up with Phichit for the last Eri trade before Eros , Viktor holding onto the baby while the two skaters take to the ice. Yuuri doesn’t appear to be as shaken as he was in regionals, every move steady and deliberate as he went through his choreography, only practicing one jump, a decision they made during practice to keep confidence high during competitions.
When the six-minutes were up, Phichit rushed to Viktor and held his arms out for the baby.
Viktor starts, pulling back at first. “What?”
“Yuuri says he wants me to take her,” he pants, scooping Eri up. “He wants you to watch him.”
Viktor is about to ask what he means, but he’s already retreating toward the lounge, and a little thump against the boards signals Yuuri’s approach.
“Viktor,” he murmurs.
Viktor turns and almost melts at the sight of his student in front of him, dripping in shimmering jewels and bound in strips of fabric that are practically painted on, and what’s with that smoldering stare Yuuri has turned up in his direction?
Despite the fact that his mouth is suddenly incredibly dry, Viktor swallows—gulps, really—and mutters, “Y-you’ve got this, Yuuri. Go out and show them—”
He sputters as he’s jerked downward, Yuuri’s hand pulling on his tie to bring him to eye level. Before he realizes what’s happening, they’re dangerously close, so close their foreheads and noses are touching, and those brown eyes burn burn with intensity as they stare into his..
“Watch me, Viktor,” he commands. “Don’t take your eyes off me.”
Before Viktor has time to respond, or even think, or even catch his breath after whatever that was, Yuuri pushes off toward the center of the ice, leaving him shaken and confused and sweating in his favorite suit.
The shimmer of the guitar awakens some new form of movement from within Yuuri, he springs into motion like a flickering flame, a flower in bloom. Viktor didn’t think he could get any weaker for him, but he’s proven wrong, god, is he proven wrong, because Viktor didn’t ever expect Yuuri to lick his lips so seductively in his direction, to look at him with smoky eyes, hooded and dark, suggesting things that make him shudder.
It turns out he didn’t need to be told not to look away; he can’t pry his eyes off Yuuri if he tries, the way those hips sway in time to the music. He’s fluid in his motions, passion and intense desire embodied, and Viktor is so entranced that it takes him a moment to realize that it’s already the second half and Yuuri has hit his triple axel perfectly. Then the quad salchow, clean and smooth in its transitions.
Where did this confident, steamy version of Yuuri surface from? Is Viktor dreaming? He’s almost definitely had this dream before, and awakened with a blend of embarrassment and yearning swirling in his chest, since they began work on this program almost six months ago.
He’s seen a version of this dance before in person too, danced by Yuuri no less, the beautiful shapes he made with his form etched vividly in Viktor’s mind as if it happened yesterday. He’s swept away to the banquet where they twirled together like that, where Viktor had first come to know that sultry stare and those swinging hips. Yuuri danced with such abandon, as though he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, as though all he cared about was remaining in that moment with Viktor, keeping him close.
That pas de deux inspired this program, and Viktor is just as boneless watching Yuuri now as he was then.
He stiffens as Yuuri preps to go into his quad toe loop into a triple toe loop; if his past competitions are anything to go by, he’s set to flub one of these jumps, and Viktor can only hope it’s the triple. He holds his breath, scared to even breath lest he miss a moment of the combo, and watches as Yuuri lands not one, but both cleanly with full rotation.
A perfect program . Probably Yuuri’s first in competition.
And he skated it for Viktor.
Phichit is already waiting for them next to the kiss and cry, hovering with Eri in his arms and practically screaming, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Yuuri, you were amazing!” he sobs. “That was the hottest program I’ve ever seen!”
“Phichit, your makeup!” Yuuri laughs with his hands cupped over his cheeks. “Give her to me, you’re on soon!”
Phichit nods, handing over Eri and squeezing Yuuri tight before running off, leaving them to await Yuuri’s score.
The photographers surrounding the kiss-and-cry go wild over Eri in her little poodle onesie, and Viktor is surprised to see Yuuri pose with her a little while they wait, hugging her close and waving at the cameras.
The score is announced. 106.84, a personal best.
“This is the best you’ve ever skated,” Viktor murmurs, pulling Yuuri close in a victory hug. “Did it feel amazing?”
“I hope it did,” Yuuri responds. Viktor can hardly fathom anything he’s doing tonight. Was that some sort of…?
No. If he starts to assume, then he’ll start to get his hopes up, just like he did after the banquet, and then just like after the banquet, they’ll be dashed.
The score is enough to keep Yuuri in first place even after all his competitors perform. He and Viktor hang around long enough to watch Phichit, his program overflowing with charisma and excitement. Then, they all depart to Phichit’s hotel room to eat room service and watch The King and the Skater.
Eri is wired from the day’s excitement, climbing all over them first in excitement and then in agitation, until Yuuri decided it was time to go back to his room and try to get her to bed.
They thank Phichit for hosting them and drag themselves back to their adjacent suites. Viktor is certainly exhausted, but his main concern is Yuuri. He pushed himself hard, and his body needs rest in order for him to make it through his free skate. If Eri keeps him up all night…
Viktor tries not to worry too hard about it. He tries to relax and go to sleep.
But Eri’s screeching cries persist well past midnight, and then past one, and eventually Viktor can’t take it anymore. He shuffles out into the hall and knocks on Yuuri’s door as quietly as he can.
“V-Viktor?” Yuuri mumbles, rubbing his eyes. “What are you doing awake?”
“Same as you,” Viktor responds. “I was wondering if you’d like some help. If you want, I can watch her while you get some rest for tomorrow.”
Yuuri shakes his head. “That’s okay, but thank you,” he says. “I’ve got it.”
“Yuuri,” Viktor presses. “You don’t have to do this on your own. You’ve got a gold medal to win tomorrow. Let me help you take on some of this burden!”
Yuuri bristles. “This burden is my daughter, Viktor, not yours,” he says. “Thank you for your help today, but honestly I think it’s better if I take care of it myself.”
The cold dismissal knocks the wind from Viktor’s lungs, leaves him gasping and alone in the hall as Yuuri shuts the door and returns to his screaming child.
He can’t help but wonder a little bitterly if Phichit would have received the same response.
He lays awake the rest of the night, listening to Eri scream, trying to keep calm and formulate a plan to give Yuuri what he needs for the free skate.
Trying to keep his eyes from stinging with tears.