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You Ruined Everything (In The Nicest Way)

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Sochi, 2015.

 

Katsuki Yuuri made it to the Grand Prix Final, and he is stressed beyond belief.

He keeps trying to tell himself it’s just another competition.

It’s just another competition, it’s just another competition, it’s just another competition.

But it’s not just another competition, and Yuuri knows it.  It’s something so much bigger.

It’s bigger than the first time he competed nationally, or even the first time he competed internationally.  It’s bigger than the first time he was approved by the ISU to compete in the men’s singles category.

This is Viktor-fucking-Nikiforov big.

Of course, they’ve shared the ice before.  Yuuri has competed in Grand Prix qualifiers against Viktor many times.  But the four-time international champion and holder of more than a few world records definitely doesn’t have time to pay attention to lower-ranked competitors.  Viktor rolls among the best of the best, and Yuuri is just lucky enough to get a glimpse of what that looks like this year.

It’s two days until the first men’s singles event, and Yuuri is more stressed than he’s ever been in his life.

It’s not really about Viktor, or about the pressure of making it to such a high-level competition.  It’s partially the jet-lag, partially coping with the news from home that his dog Vicchan died.

It’s mostly that his daughter Eri, six months old to the day, has been miserably sick ever since they arrived in Sochi.  She has a cold, which means she can’t breathe, which means she hasn’t stopped crying.  Yuuri wouldn’t have believed that such a large volume of snot could have come from such an impossibly tiny little button nose, except that he’s been suctioning it out himself, every few minutes, just to give her some relief.  

And himself.  He needs relief from it too; he’s already pushed the limits of how much headache medicine he can take, and he’s running on a far-reduced sleep schedule.  It’s okay to want your own relief.  It’s okay to admit that parenting is hard.  He has to consciously remind himself of these things as he looks down at his sniffling daughter.

She looks the most like she did when she was born like this, despite all the layers of protection against winter’s cold.  Bundled up in her bassinet, Eri is a wailing red raisin with a shock of jet black fuzz on top, and Yuuri is sure he’ll never fall in love again if it means having to divide his heart between his beautiful girl and someone else.

Except that his heart is already broken from her constant, pitiful whining and screaming brought on by tiny little clogged-up sinuses.  He’s about ready to drop out of the competition.  He has no desire to tear his attention away from her, even if it means professional (and personal, cough, Viktor, cough) opportunities he hasn’t yet encountered.

Although, if by some miracle a few skaters really mess up their free skates, Yuuri could be on the podium with Viktor Nikiforov.

The same Viktor Nikiforov that still winks down at him from the posters in his room, same as he has for the past ten years.

That chance, small as it may be, is still there.  And Yuuri knows he has to compete.

Fanboyism aside, he’d be letting himself and everybody else down if he chose to let this one go.

Yuuri doesn’t know what he would do without Phichit, who told every one of his professors that he had also made it to the finals, knowing none of them would be interested enough to watch or check, and tagged along to provide moral support and serve as Eri’s personal “baby-nanny.”

(His words.)

(Definitely not Yuuri’s words.)

Yuuri had pushed back on the idea of letting Phichit help, at first.  He’d protested and cried and they’d fought and Yuuri’d had to order an apology pizza for being stubborn.

“It’s not like What’s-His-Name is going to come and help you take care of her,” Phichit stated calmly once Yuuri had given in, “and I know your family can’t close shop for that long.   And,” he added with a wicked smile on his face, “I don’t think Celestino’s ever held a baby in his life, let alone taken care of one.  You're going to need someone to help you out.”

Now that he’s here, tucked away in a corner of the locker room, Yuuri is so glad he let Phichit muscle his way into his position as single-dad’s-right-hand.  Otherwise, he might have already lost his cool.

“Yuuri,” the Thai skater soothes, flashing a sympathetic smile as Yuuri fusses over Eri’s face yet again with a little plastic bulb and a warm washcloth, “you need to start lacing up if you’re going to make practice on time.”

“She’s still not eating,” Yuuri mutters.  “My poor akachan.  Phichit, she’s miserable.”

“Well yeah, dear, she can’t breathe,” Phichit sighs.  “I’ve got this.  Go shake it off, get a drink, and then come back and lace up before Celestino has to tell you.”  He pushes Yuuri aside, pausing just long enough to let the wrung-out father kiss his baby on her soft, warm forehead.  “You’re doing great.  Keep letting me help.”

“But—” Yuuri whines, but Phichit takes his hand, interrupting him.

“She’ll be fine.  If at any moment I’m concerned, I’ll come and get you,” he says, his smile warm and reassuring.

Yuuri knows he’s right.  Rationally, it makes sense.  She’ll still be taken care of.  She’s only got a cold, anyway, and he’s been doing everything right to make sure she’s comfortable and healthy.

But rational rarely exists in Yuuri’s life after Eri.   Rational isn’t even a thing when Eri is sick, let alone sick and jetlagged in another country.  Yuuri can feel his mama-bear instincts kicking in.  He reaches out one more time, smoothing back the wispy tangle of her pitch-black hair, before hoisting his skate bag over his shoulder and pulling himself away in the direction of the rink.

It’s going to be fine.  Everything’s going to be fine.

And for the most part, it is.  Yuuri tries to make quick work of lacing up his skates, although he knows the trouble he’d be in if he broke his ankle from a loose boot would far exceed Celestino’s annoyance at his tardiness.

He can’t help but wince, his heart heavy with guilt, any time the echoes of Eri’s hiccoughing and wailing make it out to the bench, though.

This is the hardest traveling with her has ever been.  Yuuri is starting to wonder whether he’s being selfish.  He’s starting to wonder if What’s-His-Name was right, if he doesn’t have Eri’s best interest in mind.

Maybe he’s trying to have it all out of spite, to prove he could do what he was told was impossible.  Maybe he just wants What’s-His-Name to see him succeed in raising their kid and in doing what he loves—the one thing that he has passion for and the thing he’s best at.

It occurs to Yuuri that proving a point to an ex isn’t a great motivating operation for anything.  Even success. Not if it’s eating him up.

The twitch of Celestino’s brow, the quirk of his lip indicate the most sparing hint of impatience as he preps Yuuri for their practice session.  Yuuri does his best to focus.  He does his best to let everything fall away out on the ice, to ignore the other competitors, to avoid scanning the arena for a hint of silver hair and the ruthless angle of high cheekbones.

He tries to relinquish all concerns about Eri to his best friend and closest rinkmate in the locker room.

He tries especially hard not to wonder if this is his last season as a professional skater.

 

 


 

 

Viktor Nikiforov is trying to decide what to do with this season.  It’s the day of another free skate in another Grand Prix Final, and yeah, they were exciting when he started making it this far, and more exciting still when he started placing.  But four wins later and Viktor is starting to lose direction.

What more is there to strive for when you’ve met everyone’s expectations, except to defy them over and over again?  Viktor’s been defying expectations for years, just for his own benefit, out of a need to challenge himself and push himself further than anyone else could.

Now, even that is starting to get stale.  And what does he have to show for it?

A display case in his home rink that’s starting to run out of room?

Enough sponsorship deals that he could retire today and be set for life?

(And he’s considered it, no doubt.)

What Viktor has now is a big, empty penthouse apartment and a ticking time bomb of a career.  A set of eyes on him everywhere he goes, waiting to see what the great, unpredictable Viktor Nikiforov is going to do next, because everyone knows it’s going to be big and surprising and record-breaking.  But nobody ever breaks away from the onlooking crowd to try to meet him—the real him, not just the one everyone loves to watch on the ice.

What Viktor has now is an image to uphold, and not much else, and he’s starting to crack.

He doesn’t know how to say any of this to Yakov.  He knows he’s the old man’s greatest asset, but that’s just his problem.  He hates that he even considers that as a factor in his decision.  Viktor doesn’t want to be a moneymaker anymore, he wants to be… something.   Something he can’t figure out yet.

Valued, maybe.

Loved, in a way that a crowd cannot love.

Viktor has tried love.  He’s tried his hand with women, then with men, and he’s met a few who made his heart race and his skin crawl.  He’s met a few who have made him feel good for a while, and a few who have made him feel terrible for a long time.

With each new partner came a choice to make time for them or to continue to grind and disappear into his work.

It’s never felt worth it to make time.

He worries he’ll never be able to make time for someone.

He thinks of all this stuff during the official warm-up, marking idly through his program as he tunes out the sound of the crowd and the announcers.  The sounds that make up his life.

Another skater breezes by him close enough that he has to stop himself short, and he looks up to see Japan’s Ace caught up in a beautiful step sequence that reminds him of his Firebird Suite from two years ago.

Wait, actually, it is his Firebird Suite from two years ago.  Viktor choreographed that exact step sequence; he remembers because Yakov gave him hell about the transition out of that Choctaw turn.  

It’s weird, considering Katsuki’s performance the previous day was nowhere near as fluid or as remarkable.  He’s been on Viktor’s radar, sure.  He’s been on everyone’s radar.  After all, he made history by competing even as he went through hormone replacement therapy, enduring several years in women’s seniors before the ISU finally accepted him into the men’s category.  It’s a feat of bravery Viktor would never have been able to achieve at such a young age.  He’s always admired the younger skater for staying true to himself.

But yesterday, Viktor was actually a little disappointed.  Yuuri didn’t seem to be on his game at all.  Normally, his ballet is unparalleled, his musicality so intuitive you’d think he’s making music with his body rather than the other way around.  But this week, his short program was stiff and stilted and full of irredeemable mistakes.  Then again, Michele Crispino, another GPF first-timer, didn’t do so hot himself.  Maybe Viktor just can’t remember what that kind of pressure is like anymore.

He makes a mental note to make a comment about it to Katsuki later; to apologize for almost barrelling into him and to point out that he really did the move justice.  Maybe a little recognition from an older skater will be the morale boost he needs.

Anyway, it’s kind of flattering.  That’s not the first time he’s noticed elements of his own programs in Katsuki’s skating.  That’s… nice. Unexpected and nice.

He scans the faces in the locker room when they leave the ice, to no avail.  Chris catches his eye questioningly, but Viktor brushes him off.  He’s not in the mood for making post-competition plans or getting roped into helping his friend stretch.  Viktor just wants to get this over with.  Another free skate, another medal ceremony, another exhibition, another evening of nodding and smiling and being coy and pleasant with the sponsors, then he can return to teaching kids’ classes all day, curling up with Makkachin and wine all evening.  

It’s just that he’s got to wait.  He scored highest in the short program; that means he goes last today.  He’s got a copy of Wuthering Heights in his bag.  He grabs it before stalking out again, confident that when it’s his turn, someone will come find him.

The skater’s lounge is practically empty, everyone off touching up makeup, or stretching, or sewing their costume pieces in place.  Viktor settles in on one of the less-than-comfortable seats, getting ready to lose himself in some gothic tragedy before he realizes he’s sharing the room with one of his competitors—Katsuki Yuuri is crouched down by a nearby bench, talking in hushed tones to someone Viktor is pretty sure is another figure skater.  They’re hunched together, leaning over what looks like a bundle of blankets and towels, muttering to one another in hushed but urgent tones.

“—just changed her so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Kiss her and go, you’re first, Yuuri.”

“I know, but—”

“Yuuri, she’s asleep.  She’ll be fine.”

Yuuri straightens up then, his costume shimmering with his movements, a frown deepening in his brow.  “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous. What if I finish last?”

The other skater stands too, pulling Yuuri close and wrapping him in a tight hug.  “Then you’ll finish sixth in the world, baby, you’ve got to remember how amazing it is that you’re here.”

Before Yuuri has the chance to argue, the bundle of blankets starts crying, the distinct colicky scream of a distressed infant, and Viktor can actually see the color drain from Yuuri’s face.

“Phichit, I—”

Phichit Chulanont.  Thailand.  Viktor competed against him in Skate Canada.

“Go and do your best,” Phichit urges.  “I know this is hard. After the press, you can spend the rest of the day in daddy mode.  For now, take a breath, find your zone, go out and get it. Okay?”

“Phichit, she’s crying—” Yuuri pleads, his voice heartbreakingly small and helpless.

“I know, I’ll get her.  Go show everyone what you’ve got.  Skate so hard that Viktor Nikiforov falls in love with you.”

Viktor feels his face burn.  He buries it in his book, glad for the little corner he snagged and the degree of seclusion it affords him, and tries to get some actual reading done and stop being so nosy.

But as Yuuri makes his way reluctantly to the rink, unaware that he’s being watched, Viktor finds himself silently rooting for Japan’s Ace, hoping that, at the very least, he’s happy with his performance.

“It’s not nice to eavesdrop, Nikiforov,” the Thai skater calls, as if into empty space, as he scoops the fussy baby into his arms.  “Yuuri would probably have a heart attack if he knew you heard any of that.”

Viktor laughs, letting his book drop down into his lap and looking up at where Phichit is sitting, cradling the little swaddle dutifully.  “Can’t a guy read Brontë in peace?” he jokes.  “You two are a handsome couple.”

Now it’s Phichit’s turn to laugh, a sputtering giggle that has him sprawling out on the bench, the baby still clutched tight in one arm.  “Oh my god, we’re not…” he chortles, “Yuuri’s my roommate, I’m here to nanny.”

The heat in Viktor’s cheeks deepens a degree more.  “O—Oh,” he mumbles.  “That’s his kid though, right?”

“Right,” Phichit confirms.

“But not yours.”

The young Thai man eyes him suspiciously, and Viktor realizes he might be prying.

“I’m sorry.  Sorry,” he says, diffusing the conversation with a wave of his hand in front of him.  “I’ll mind my own. Your friend is just full of surprises, that’s all,” he says.

“You’re telling me,” Phichit says, his face relaxing into a fond smile.  “I don’t know what I would do without that fool.” He starts to say something else, but the baby’s crying drowns him out and he frowns again, folding back layers of blanket to examine her face.

Viktor knows the sound of colic, and with a pang of sympathy he realizes this kid, barely twenty years old by the look of him, is trying to figure out what to do next.  He hops up and wanders over.

“You could try laying her across your lap,” he posits, hovering just at the end of the bench.  “Like… on her stomach? And rubbing her back. Here,” he runs over to his bag and grabs his heat buddy, just a simple fabric pouch full of rice to compress his sore muscles, and hands it to the puzzled skater.  “Sometimes a little bit of heat does the trick too. Just don’t make it too hot,” he adds with a wink.  

Phichit stares up at him, then back down at the heat buddy, then back up at Viktor.

“Are you a god?” he asks, his tone hushed and reverent.

Viktor laughs and stalks back over to the seat where Catherine and Heathcliff were waiting for him.  “Despite what people will try and tell you, no.” It comes out a little more conceited than he would have liked, and it shows in Phichit’s puzzled expression, so after floundering to come up with something to say next, Viktor sits and turns his attention back to Brontë.

Pretty soon Phichit and the baby are gone, and other skaters start to flood in, chattery and drenched in glitter.  Chris drags Viktor up and out of his reclusion to help him stretch as they watch the first few skaters, and Viktor obliges.  According to the closed-circuit TV in the lounge, Katsuki didn’t do very well at all in his free skate, but Viktor can’t blame him in the slightest.

Now he really needs to get to the Japanese skater and offer up some words of encouragement.  He doesn’t think Yuuri realizes how much more work he’s putting in than any of his competitors right now.  That deserves some recognition.

 

 


 

 

“Phichit, I’m sorry, I don’t really care about Viktor Nikiforov right now, please just give me my daughter,” Yuuri groans, throwing himself down on the bench by his bag.  “In fact, I don’t want to talk about skating, or other skaters, or anything related to today ever again.”

“Dramatic, but okay,” Phichit tuts, lowering Eri into Yuuri’s arms.  She’s fast asleep for once, nice and warm bundled in her blankets.  In fact, she’s incredibly warm.  Yuuri’s first instinct is to panic, and he pulls back the blankets to get a better idea of her temperature, when a beanbag topples out from beneath the folds and onto the floor.

“What’s this?” Yuuri asks, kicking the beanbag up with one foot and catching it in his free hand.  It’s warm, and Yuuri determines it to be the source of the heat.  “Did someone give you this?” He asks.

“Yeah, to soothe her stomach,” Phichit grins.  “It’s been working like a dream.  You’ll never guess who gave it to m—”

If he gets any further than that, Yuuri doesn’t hear.  He’s too busy staring in horror at the influx of notifications scrolling across the lockscreen of his phone.

“Oh god,” Yuuri moans, his stomach turning over.  A flood of “It’s okay, Yuuri!” and “Keep it up, there’s always Nationals” and “We’re so proud of you for trying” messages are pouring in, and Yuuri feels the dread creeping up on him as he sees just how numerous they are.  He isn’t sure he can handle having to apologize to this many people.  Not only that, his Twitter mentions are skyrocketing, and he knows that the internet is a tool created by the devil for the express purpose of tormenting him, but he can’t help but click one of his notifications.

It’s a Pandora’s Box of bittersweet well-wishes and disappointed admonishment.  He’s done a decent job at filtering out the transphobic remarks, but a few stragglers have made their way in, and all of that isn’t to mention the ruthless coverage of real-time reporters, tweeting out their headlines along with links to news articles, all declaring Katsuki Yuuri’s crushing failure at the Grand Prix Final.

“Stop.  Stop, Yuuri,” Phichit says through gritted teeth, prying the phone from Yuuri’s fingers.  “That is not going to do you any good right now.”  He pulls Yuuri’s laptop from his bag, setting it up on the bench opposite them and kneeling on the floor to type in Yuuri’s password.  “Since you don’t want to hear about skating, I’ll spare you The Skater and the King , but you owe me once we get home.  How do you feel about Terrace House?”

Yuuri doesn’t feel about anything, except for the walls of helplessness closing in around him.  He didn’t just perform less than his best today, he performed less than his average.  This competition is going to reflect poorly on all the decisions he’s made for himself—transitioning, continuing to compete so soon after Eri was born, insisting on getting used to the lifestyle of bringing his kid along to compete and making this split life his New Normal.  After today, it all stinks of self-sabotage, and Yuuri is certain that’s exactly what the press is going to say.

Not that he’s letting the press anywhere near his baby.  He’s been very clear with Celestino on that.  The second they come for her, he’s out.

“Yuuri?”

Phichit’s face is wrinkled with concern as he leans in close, studying his friend closely.  Yuuri shakes himself out of his negativity spiral and tries to do an impression of a pleasant smile.

“What?”

Phichit eyes him suspiciously, biting his lip.

“What, Phich?”

“I asked if you’re caught up, and then you zoned on me.”

Yuuri hugs Eri close to him in his lap, suddenly aware of just how much he hurts.  She’s getting heavy, and even more so with this little heat compress Phichit managed to procure, and Yuuri thinks if he sits up for even another second, his back is going to snap in half.

“I’m going to sleep,” he mutters abruptly, rising to his feet with a groan that shocks even him and returning Eri to her carrier.  Baby in one hand, warm-up mat and winter coat in another, he moves to a patch of open floor towards the far wall of the lounge and sets up camp, curling up on his side around the carrier with his coat under his head and a baby blanket wrapped around his torso.

He knows it’s bad, this low, because Phichit doesn’t even try to stop him.  He sleeps through the rest of the competition, even Viktor’s free skate, and Stammi vicino is one of his favorite programs Viktor’s choreographed so far.  He doesn’t get up until Phichit tries to physically force him onto his feet, warning him that Celestino’s threatening to put him on locker room detail if he doesn’t come support his competitors at the victory ceremony, which means another emotional Eri handoff and taking a minute to fix his hair in the bathroom before he has to present himself once again to the crowds that watched his fall from grace.

“How are you holding up?” Celestino asks as Yuuri approaches the rink’s entrance.

The lights are already beginning to dim, the ice adorned with a royal blue carpet and the coveted podium at one side.

“I finished sixth of six,” Yuuri deadpans.  “So… yeah.”

Celestino nods.  “You pushed your limits this time around.  That’s okay, though.  This is the furthest you’ve advanc—”

“Don’t,” Yuuri interjects, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other.  “I just need to do better.  I know.”

Celestino frowns, but doesn’t protest, and a moment later the announcer introduces this year’s Grand Prix champions:  Viktor, Christophe, and the youngest competitor, Jean-Jacques Leroy from Canada.

How’s Yuuri supposed to come back if people younger than him are already surpassing him?

He watches as Viktor Nikiforov does his sweeping entrance, addressing the audience on all sides.  As he passes by where Yuuri and his coach are standing, he waves, a smile like sunshine spreading across his face.

Yuuri has to do a double take, spinning around to see if he recognizes anyone behind him that Viktor might have been waving to.  Maybe it was Celestino.  Russia’s Living Legend is on good terms with all the coaches.

But for a second, a weird, fantastical, euphoric second, it felt like the wave was directed at Yuuri.

It wouldn’t make any sense, though.  They’ve never spoken.  Viktor’s just this beacon of hope from his childhood, proof that boys can look like girls and still be boys, an icon that watched over him for a decade from the posters on his walls, who made him feel safe and understood.

All Yuuri has ever done is a couple of homages to Viktor’s program in his own skating, in the hopes that Viktor would notice.

As if he would ever notice.

 

After the medal ceremony, Yuuri watches numbly as Viktor gets swallowed up by the press, thankful at least that that isn’t him, because even on a good day, a crowd like that would send him into total shutdown mode.  As he heads for the locker room, Celestino begins to rattle off reminders for the following day; the round table discussion and press conference are non-negotiable, but the rest is optional, and Yuuri is already planning on making himself as unavailable as possible.

His bag is all packed and ready to go, a Pirozhki in a paper bag sitting on top along with a note from Phichit informing him that he and Eri decided to beat the crowd and make their way back to the hotel, and that Yuuri’s phone is in his coat pocket with all social media apps silenced.

At least, no matter what happens, he’s got his best friend looking out for him.  He makes a mental note to figure out a way to thank Phichit now that a cut of his winnings isn’t an option.

He pulls on his coat and his bag, preparing himself mentally to step out into the bitter cold, and makes his way out into the lobby, only to be intercepted by Hisashi Morooka, a reporter and compatriot who has always had his back at these kinds of events.  Yuuri swallows back the urge to make no comment, because he really does owe Morooka a pleasant interaction at least, but he finds himself growing more and more irritated at the hint of sympathy half-veiled behind the journalist’s encouraging words.

Yuuri gets it.  He let everyone down.  He let himself down.  You only get “Never give up!” speeches when everyone knows you didn’t do your best.  It’s hard to escape the implications of that.

As the impromptu interview winds down and Yuuri starts to lose steam, he hears something that cause the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end.

“Yuu- ri,” drawls a familiar voice, the word rolling off his tongue in such a unique and beautiful way, rounded and musical.  It’s a voice Yuuri knows from a decade of interviews and tv spots, from every little time he’s gotten to be near to his idol over the course of his career.  After the wave and the smile at the victory ceremony, he was shaken, but he can feel the course of the adrenaline through his veins as he turns to see why in the world Viktor Nikiforov is saying his name.

But Viktor has already swept right past him with long strides.  He’s caught up in a phone conversation, his Russian rapid and heated as he trails behind Yakov off toward another group of reporters.

It figures that it was too good to be true.  Yuri must be a Russian name, too.  Yuuri should know better, at this point, than to get his hopes up.  There’s no way he’s ever going to get Viktor’s attention.

He realizes that in his surprise, he’s drifted away from Morooka a ways and in the direction of the distracted Viktor.  He’s hovering awkwardly and is about to turn to leave when Viktor glances back over his shoulder and meets his gaze.

Yuuri can’t remember what it feels like to breathe - he can’t seem to get his body to make it happen.  He’s sure he’s taken a breath before, but as long as the impossible clear blue of Viktor Nikiforov’s eyes is directed at him, Yuuri might as well be underwater.  How long have they been standing here like this?  Seconds?  Hours?  Every detail of Viktor’s face falls into sharp relief - the hint of black residue where he scrubbed off his mascara, the soft “o” of his lips as he stops short mid-sentence, the imperative quirk of one eyebrow all fill in the gaps in the image of Russia’s Living Legend in Yuuri’s head.

The moment hangs like perfection in the space between them, and just as Yuuri is wondering whether he needs to pick his jaw up off the floor, because he really can’t tell what his face is doing but it can’t possibly look graceful, Viktor opens his mouth to speak.

“Commemorative photo?” he asks.  His smile looks nothing like the smile he gives to the press.  Yuuri’s never seen Viktor smile like this before.

At first he thinks Viktor’s joking, that any moment he’ll break into a chuckle and clap Yuuri on the back and say anything that cancels the suggestion that Viktor Nikiforov doesn’t at least recognize him as a skater, one of only five others in the whole competition.

But instead he just looks on expectantly, grin plastered in place, a hand over his cell phone’s speaker.  Yuuri feels like he’s been punched in the gut.  It’s like the floor is falling out from beneath him; everything he’s been holding onto up until now feels like it’s been in vain.  

If he made it this far and still couldn’t even make an impression on the man who inspires him, what’s the point?

What’s the point of continuing this game that’s been made a thousand times harder by the mistakes he’s made along the way?  What’s the point of putting Eri through the struggles of traveling at such a young age if he’s not good enough to even register on his competitors’ radars?

He doesn’t even answer.  How could he even respond to a diss like that?  Instead, Yuuri turns on his heel and rushes for the door, aware that his skin is on fire and his chest feels like it’s going to burst open, desperate to escape the frosty sting of those azure eyes.

All Yuuri is doing here is torturing himself and his daughter.  He can’t give his all to Celestino, he’s created a world of hardship for his best friend who feels obligated to help out with the baby, he hasn’t seen his family since well before Eri’s birth, and all this to prove to What’s-His-Name that he could take care of their daughter without giving up on his dream.

He suddenly realizes it doesn’t matter.  Why continue being so stubborn if he has nothing to show for it?

He’s barely through the door when the tears come.  They hit him with a wrecking force, twisting his face into an uncomfortable grimace and seizing his chest just as the door opens and he receives a blast of freezing-cold air.

He just can’t stop crying.  He was so determined to “win” that he misjudged his own weakness.  Pretty soon his mask and scarf are soaking wet, then frozen from the chilling wind, and Yuuri’s lungs burn from gasping at the frigid air.

This will be his final season.  He’s sure of it, now.

The air in the hotel lobby burns in comparison to Yuuri’s face, which is numb and raw from the walk back.  The feeling is relieving and painful at the same time.  All Yuuri wants is a bath and his warm bed, although he knows he won’t get nearly as much sleep as he’d like to with Eri up every hour or so.  That’s fine.  His life with his daughter is fine.  And without the stress of competing, it will only get better.

Chapter Text

Hasetsu, 2016

 

Yuuri’s mother has not given Eri up for a second since they arrived at Yu-topia Katsuki.

(And honestly, Yuuri couldn’t be more fine with it.)

He knew plenty of people back in the States who moved in with their parents or moved their parents in with them once they had a baby.   That is not what feels shameful about this homecoming.  What does feel shameful is how long it’s been since the last time he stepped foot in his own family home, how it took total failure to get him back.

His mom seems happy enough though, buzzing around the house with Eri on her hip, only occasionally humoring the baby’s fussing about being held by someone other than her dad.  It’s only their first day back, and it’s Eri’s first time meeting her obaasan, but Hiroko is apparently a baby whisperer, and she takes to the ten-month-old with ease and enthusiasm.

Yuuri feels like a slug, lounging around while his mother both cares for his daughter and continues working around the onsen.  He’d like to help out, but Eri’s teething, making her incredibly fussy when he puts her down. After a few hours of alternating between watching his mom, laying on the dining room floor while Eri crawls all over him, and trying (without success) to put her down for a nap so he can relax in the hot springs, Yuuri digs through his suitcase and finds his ring sling.

Eri screams when he hands her off to mom so he can situate the long swath of fabric across his shoulders.  He tucks the free end through the ring on the other side, pulling the sash shut loosely around his middle, and situates the folds until there’s a little pouch he can drop his baby’s bottom right down into.

Hiroko looks on in amazement as she hands Eri back and watches Yuuri situate her so that she’s seated flush against his side, legs wrapped around his middle.  Yuuri takes a moment to tighten some ends and pull the bottom up and under Eri’s little chubby legs, then tucks in the length that remains so it isn’t constantly dangling at his sides.

“Oh, she looks so cozy!” Hiroko sings, swooping in to peck one of Eri’s soft, round cheeks again before skipping away in the direction of the kitchen.  “You’ll have to teach me how to do that sometime, Yuuri! I want one of my own!”

Yuuri could cry for how amazing his mother is.  

“I… I can show you later,” he mumbles before asking, “Okaasan?”

Hiroko stops in the doorway and turns back to him, her face so full of unabashed joy that he feels his breath hitch again.  “Yes, Yuuri?”

“I wanted to help out… show you I’m not just here to take up space… I’m going to be eating your food after all, and—”

“Not on your first day, dear,” his mom says, her adoring smile unfaltering.  “Although, I’m sure Mari will put you to work if you can find her. Are you sure you don’t want me to take the baby?”

Yuuri laughs, half out of relief, half because it would be inappropriate to break down crying at his mother’s unquestioning love.  He doesn’t even have the energy to consider whether it might be a mask covering her disappointment; at this moment it is so much easier to just accept the nurturing and care.  “You can have her anytime you want, but let me show her around some more first,” he says, one hand straying to Eri’s wild puff of black hair.

Just being home (because this is home, no matter how long he’s been away) is enough to ease the tension in Yuuri’s shoulders, burdened as they are with twenty pounds of baby girl.  Everything about the onsen—the traditional decor, the savory smell drifting from the kitchen competing for his attention with the soft, mineral-rich aroma of the hot springs, the fact that he can turn a corner and there’s his dad, hauling a keg of beer on the same bright-red dolly Yuuri used to ride as a kid—fills him with this overwhelming sense of belonging.  It’s as if he’s picking up right where he left off five years ago.

Just… with an extra twenty pounds hanging off his middle (and that’s not to mention the extra twenty that he’s put on in the last year) and an extra little mouth to feed, an extra hundred decibels any time she opens her mouth…

“How’s it going, little brother?” Mari hums, an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips.  “And little niece? I guess?” She frowns, her brow furrowed. “Yuuri, what am I supposed to call her?” she asks.

Yuuri laughs.  His sister is caring, protective, and passionate, but Yuuri doesn’t necessarily consider her nurturing, per se.  “You call her Eri, like the rest of us,” he laughs.  “Right, E-ri-chan?” he singsongs, swaying his torso a little, making the baby in his arms dance and giggle.  

Eri mimics the cadence of his voice, although the way she babbles it sounds more like, “Aaa-daa-daa!”

“Shit, she’s cute,” Mari sighs.  “You weren’t even that cute.”

“Neither were you,” Yuuri retorts with a little swat at her arm.

“Oh, she’s got your fat cheeks,” Mari points out, poking a finger into the pudge on the side of Eri’s face.  It’s squishy and bouncy and both siblings squeal at the confused look the little prod elicits. Eri’s eyebrows quirk up with urgent concern as she looks between the two grown adults giggling and cooing in her face, and Yuuri strokes her hair to calm her as his sister straightens up.

He manages to convince Mari to let him help clear out a private dining room for an upcoming event.  She does most of the lifting after Yuuri demonstrates the headache-inducing consequences of setting down a cranky ten-month-old, letting him do general tidying and cleansing until the floor is clear and clean.  By the time they’re done, Eri is due for a nap and already nodding off against Yuuri’s shoulder. He could also use some rest; the hot springs have been calling him ever since they arrived that morning, and he hasn’t been able to find time enough to soak.

“It’s good to have you home, Yuuri,” Mari says as she watches him change Eri and get her ready to sleep.  “I thought maybe you’d gotten too big for us or something.”

Yuuri frowns, his hands dropping the snaps of Eri’s onesie.  He can feel the redness building in his cheeks, the heat that spreads from his face to his neck to his chest as he thinks about the past season.

“Did you even watch Nationals?” he whispers.  “I bombed. I’ve been bombing ever since… you know…”

“You had a major surgery and gained a major new set of responsibilities?” Mari suggests.  “Yuuri, that stuff takes time to acclimate to.”

Yuuri bites his lip, staring down at Eri kicking and squirming in front of him.  Ever since the early end to his season, he’s been able to give her the time and attention she deserves.  He can’t imagine trying to split that time again, not with teething and solid foods. Not if she might have to struggle along with him on the road.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Mari asks, leaning against the door post.  “I mean, if you want to keep skating, we’ll support you.” She slides down the doorframe and sits against it, knees tucked up into her chest as she watches Yuuri continue buttoning Eri into her onesie.  “Anyway, isn’t that exactly why you left What’s-His-Name?” she mutters, almost as an afterthought, but the question burns into Yuuri’s mind.

After all, she’s right.

All Yuuri wants in the world is a skating career that makes him feel full and happy.

But if setting that aside means a happy, healthy life for his daughter?  Actually being around family? He’s happy to do that.

“You could always train here, with us here to help with Eri,” Mari points out.  “Out there you were all on your own.”

“I don’t have a coach anymore,” Yuuri shrugs.  Or any sponsors. Mizuno is dropping him if he doesn’t return next season.

That’s not to mention how terrified he is of continuing to fail.

“Anyway, whatever you do, we’ve got your back,” Mari shrugs, pushing herself back to her feet and fishing in her apron for a lighter.  “And Eri’s. Although I’m not changing any diapers.”

She winks as she strolls away, sparking the lighter as she does, leaving Yuuri alone to consider what to do.

That night, Eri’s emerging teeth have her uncomfortable and cranky, and even though she’s already eaten and burped, she’s still fussy and agitated.

Her cries are starting to bother the customers, and Yuuri is reaching his limit as he tries everything to get her to calm down.

Finally, he decides to go for a foolproof method that will get Eri to sleep and give the guests of the onsen a break.

“I’ll be back,” he mumbles to his mom as he gathers up his gear bag and his diaper bag, hauling both on one shoulder so that he has a free hand to carry the baby carrier.

Back at school, where Celestino had granted him unlimited access to the rink, Yuuri used to take Eri for late skates when she was up all night, and eventually the routine became the only sure method to get her to sleep.

He was lucky enough to have unlimited access to a rink back home before he moved.  He hopes now that he’s still welcome on short notice as he admits himself to Hasetsu Ice Castle, his true home rink.

“Sorry, we’re closed for the—Yuuri-kun!!”  Nishigori Yuuko nearly climbs over the counter to wrap her arms around Yuuri’s shoulders in a crushing hug.  “Finally! It’s been so long!”

Yuuko was Yuuri’s number-one friend and ally long before he knew Phichit.  From the time they were small children, Yuuko understood who Yuuri was and stood up for him, his best friend and protector on and off the ice.

No one ever gave Yuuri trouble when he started wearing boys’ uniforms to school, because Yuuko was standing behind him with her fists out.

No one dared put him down when he was working overtime to catch up with his fellow skaters at the rink, lest they receive an earful for it.

When Yuuri knew for certain he was a boy, it was because Yuuko had introduced him to Viktor Nikiforov’s skating, and he saw how blurred the lines could be between feminine and masculine.  Viktor wasn’t trans, but Viktor helped Yuuri understand that he was.

And Yuuko was the first to know.  Yuuko accepted Yuuri without question, no matter what he told her or what he chose to do, and he loves her for it.

“I’m sorry it took so long for me to come home,” Yuuri says sheepishly.  “I missed you guys.”

“Do you want to skate?” Yuuko asks excitedly.  “Wait, is that your baby?”  She runs from the back office, coming out to meet him and grabbing his bags so he can hold the carrier up.

“Yuuko-san, this is Katsuki Eri,” Yuuri says with a smile, pulling back the blanket to reveal his little girl who’s gnawing away on her pacifier, keeping herself content for the moment.

Yuuko squeals over Eri the entire time Yuuri’s lacing up his skates, cooing and giggling as she plays with the baby.

“I was going to skate with her to get her to sleep, then can I show you something I’ve been working on?” Yuuri asks.

Yuuko nods excitedly, absolutely beaming.  But before either of them can do or say anything else, a little hurricane of sparkles and hair bows and shrill little voices swarms them, and suddenly three little girls are wrapping themselves around Yuuri’s legs, screaming with excitement.

“This is—girls, quiet, you’ll disturb the baby!—these are my triplets, Axel, Lutz, and Loop,” Yuuko grins.  “Do they look a little different from the last time you saw them?”

“They’re so much bigger,” Yuuri says, tousling one of the girls’ hair.

“They’re huge fans,” says Yuuko.

The triplets do not ease their grip on his legs, hurling questions up at him with such rapid fire speed that he has no time to answer any of them.

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

“Why are you so fat?”

“Is it because of the baby?”

“Is Phichit the father?  Online—“

Yuuko stamps her foot and points toward the stands.  “Girls! Enough!” She says sternly, her voice raising in pitch and in volume, but just like Yuuri, she’s more amused than upset.

The two of them are wiping away tears of laughter by the time Yuuri’s ready to take the ice.

He does a little ring sling demonstration for Yuuko, just like he did for his mom.

“Heaven forbid I ever have to use something like that again,” Yuuko jokes.  “Unless I’m babysitting for you.”

Yuuri makes sure Eri is tightly secured to his side, tugging at the ends of the fabric until they’re bundled together snugly.  Then, making sure to keep himself steady as he removes his skate guards, he steps out onto the ice and lets himself glide in a wide arc around the rink.

Even though he trusts the sling and he knows Eri is fine, he still holds onto her with one arm, something to make himself feel safe just as much as it is for her.  He keeps his pace slow and steady, not venturing to do anything other than the simplest figures when he’s got precious cargo affixed to his side.

This ritual calms Yuuri down just as much as it does his daughter.  The soft press of her warm little body against his side feels secure, it grounds him, and the little moments when she clings to him, pulling at his shirt in the tiniest little fistfuls and pressing her face into his chest, fills him with so much joy that his chest can barely contain the fullness of his heart.  A few times, he has to stop at the boards just to contain himself, to squeeze Eri close and feel the unconditional love radiating from her.

This, he knows, is why he can never fully leave the ice.  This rink is his temple, his place of comfort and of quiet.  It’s always been his oasis, his judgement-free zone where he was free to be himself and never had to worry about prying eyes.  Yuuri doesn’t think he will ever stop finding peace in letting himself let go on the ice, never stop skating through his feelings.

When he can feel Eri’s gentle snores against his side, he steps carefully back into his skate guards and brings her back to her carrier.

“She really takes after her dad.”  Yuuko smiles as she helps Yuuri arrange Eri’s blankets around her.

“High-strung and cranky, that’s her,” Yuuri grins.

Yuuko laughs.  “You know what I mean!”

“So can I show you what I’ve been working on?” Yuuri asks, stepping back onto the ice with his phone and scrolling through his skating playlist to find the track he wants.

Yuuko nods excitedly, and Yuuri hooks up to the sound system and hits “play” before drifting back to the middle of the rink.  He catches a glimpse of her eyes widening, sparkling with amazement as she recognizes the program’s intro, before he leans into his first turn.

 


 

“I don’t know, Chris,” Viktor groans, shuffling through a stack of CDs at his kitchen island, scanning the songlist of each one for a track that catches his eye.  Chris is looking up at him from the screen of his tablet, which he’s propped up against a bowl next to him. “What am I supposed to do, keep going until I injure myself and can’t continue?”

“You know that isn’t it,” Chris hums, blinking briefly behind his wire-rimmed glasses.  “No one can make this choice but you, Niki. If you made it up to me, I would want you to stay in the game at least until I get the opportunity to beat you.”

Viktor chuckles, setting aside Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 4 into the “maybe” pile and turning to the back cover of the next album in the stack. “I would love nothing more,” he says, staring down a tracklist that looks as inspirationally barren as the last fifty have.  “Chris, I don’t think anything tops the On Love pieces, but I can’t make up my mind on them.”

“I’ll always tell you to channel your Eros,” Chris purrs.  “Not that you have anything to channel.”

“Shut up, I’ll hang up on you,” Viktor pouts.  “Besides, what about Sochi?”

“What?  As in, ‘What about Katsuki?’”  Chris laughs, falling back on his elbow.  Viktor nods. “Mon cher, do you really think Daddy has time for an overseas romance?”

That is what Viktor thinks.  Or at least, it was at first, those few days following the Sochi banquet where Yuuri had pushed him into an empty bathroom and kissed him like the world was ending.  Where he’d whisked Viktor away onto the dance floor and pulled him into a spicy and exciting pas de deux before mysteriously losing his pants and asking Viktor to come join him in Japan to be his coach.

Every moment of the banquet had been enthralling, magical, and all too tempting, and Viktor had found himself having fun.  For the first time in a long time, he’d had no clue what to expect next. He’d been able to let go and let Yuuri lead him along on a thrilling, silly, sexy adventure, and Viktor found himself all too willing to follow.

But Yuuri had gotten far too drunk.  If Viktor had caught it earlier, he might have thought twice about their impromptu makeout session, or about letting Yuuri open another bottle of brut before the stripper pole had been brought out.

Viktor had had to carry Yuuri back to his hotel room and explain to Phichit that his friend had had too much to drink.

When he woke up the next day to his neck peppered with little, dark bruises (and a hangover that persisted well into the following night), Viktor couldn’t help but consider Yuuri’s offer.

He still can’t.  He’s thought about the possibility of flying Yuuri out to St. Petersburg and coaching him right here at his own rink, balancing his time as a coach with his time as a student.

He’d have to get Yakov’s approval, of course.  But even Yakov can not deny that Viktor has to start thinking about his future.  The sooner he starts getting real, competition-level coaching experience, the better.

The only problem is, he doesn’t have any way to get a hold of Yuuri.  And Yuuri has never reached out to him, either.

Either their magical banquet tryst has gone forgotten, washed away by the extreme volume of wine, or Yuuri woke up with regrets and decided never to pursue him.

And how horribly embarrassing it would be for Viktor to follow after him only to learn it was the latter.  How offensive, for someone who’s responsible for a whole other budding life to have to entertain the advances of someone he’d considered a little fling before having to return to his own reality.

“Look, I can’t deny that he had you under his thumb for that entire night,” Chris laughs drily, “but he’s also still working through what I must assume is the worst possible breakup situation.  I’d make some bold, drunk rebound decisions, too.”

Viktor laughs at the idea of Chris rebounding.  “You’d be a disaster,” he sighs.

“Exactly,” Chris says with a final little nod, straightening back up as he checks his phone.  “Don’t worry, Niki. This is the year we find you your Er—well speak of the devil and he doth appear…”  The intrigue in his face intensifies as he inspects something on his phone. “I’m sending you a video. Have you seen this?”

A push notification pops up on Viktor’s phone.  He sets down a Verdi collection and clicks on the YouTube link.

The video’s title is enough to make his heart jump into his throat.

【Yuuri Katsuki】tried to skate Viktor Nikiforov’s FS 【Stammi vicino (Stay close to me)】

“I’ll talk to you later, Chris,” he croaks, ending the video call before his friend has time to respond.  He’ll be in a lot of shit for a while for hanging up like that, but he can handle whatever Chris throws at him.  Even the unending ridicule he’s bound to face for getting full-on nervous about a video clip that has both his name and Yuuri’s in the title.

This is way better than trying to look up hints of Japan’s Ace online, as he has been for the past three months.  Yuuri’s online presence is all but nonexistent, and secondary sources tend to feature the skater pre-transition. That’s fine, he understands, but he assumes it’s not how Yuuri wants people to see him.

Phichit’s Instagram has given him some glimpse into to world of Katsuki Yuuri, but not nearly enough, and there’s no hint of the man as a skater among his friend’s photos.

All he’s wanted to do is see how Yuuri is doing since Sochi.  He knows Nationals was… a fluke , but a bad season is just that.  They happen.

Viktor wanders over to his sofa and scoots over to grant Makka access to the spot in his lap.  He has a feeling he’s going to watch this clip a few times.

It was posted not even a week ago.  Viktor needs to use his knee to keep his hand from shaking as he hits play, his breath catching in his throat as he hears the first few notes of his free skate program.

Yuuri is alone out on the ice, but his usual aura of defensive restlessness is nowhere to be seen.  Just like Viktor saw at the GPF banquet, this is Yuuri when he’s wide open and vulnerable, totally in his element.  He melts into the melody of the first verse, his movements like the brush strokes that spell out each syllable. The first triple lutz almost takes Viktor by surprise.  The way Yuuri preps so fluidly into it gives it an improvisational feel, as if each step, each element is spur-of-the-moment, propelled by the song Viktor commissioned at a time in his life when he felt directionless.

Viktor sees every emotion he felt during the production of this program reflected in Yuuri’s face, in his body language as he pushes off into a triple flip.

Viktor definitely isn’t tearing up at this.  But holy shit, he would be, if he wasn’t working so hard to hold it together.  He’s reviewed hours of video of himself performing this same program; never has he seen the layers of meaning that exist in Yuuri’s interpretation.  Viktor’s program was a plea, a yearning, but an introspective one. In the intensity of Yuuri’s reaching, the fullness with which he embodies every swell and change in the music, Viktor sees not just an invitation, but a challenge.  Not just the desire to keep his love of skating close, but the pursuit of that passion, even when it’s absence pervades every moment.

The finishing pose nearly wrenches Viktor’s heart from his chest.  Yuuri grasps at the air so desperately that Viktor can nearly see the fleeting figure being torn away from him, an invisible Love that slips through his fingertips just at the last moment.

And then the stillness of the shot is broken by a baby’s cries, and Yuuri races out of frame, his soft voice low and comforting in the background.

Viktor smiles. It’s adorable. Yuuri is adorable, and Viktor is in a big heap of trouble.

He would have liked to see more quads in this program.  He hits “replay” and examines the video again, trying to parse just how Yuuri manages to take it to the next level with only the toe loop.

But quads can be learned far more easily than what Yuuri has.  The drive, the raw emotion, is there, and if it’s this intense at a distance, removed by time and dimension on the minuscule screen of Viktor’s phone, then he wants—he needs —to experience it in person.

 


 

 

Chris, I’m about to do something impulsive and irrational.

What, like hang up on me?

Like make a big career decision.

I can’t decide whether I’m about to be entertained or disappointed.

Just please tell me I’m not reaching when I assume this video means something.

You’re not reaching.

It means he’s a fan.

Okay.

So, go ahead and get ready to be disappointed then…

Niki, what are you planning to do?

Viktor Nikiforov, do not ghost me at this crucial moment!!

 


 

 

When Yuuri wakes up from his first full night’s sleep since returning home, his name is trending on Twitter.  It’s not the first time, but he was certain he’d seen the last time long ago.

At first he thinks he’s dreaming, and what a nightmare that would be, awaking to learn the skating he’s doing in private, here at home, has reached the public eye.

But no, if his inbox is any indication, Yuuri’s Worst Imaginable Scenario has come true.

His Stammi vicino that he skated for Yuuko somehow made it to the Internet.

His temple has been compromised.  It has always been safe to skate his heart out at Ice Castle without fear of being watched, but he hasn’t skated since Yuuko raised three bona-fide skating otaku. And gave them camera phones.

Yuuri is in huge trouble, because the last thing he needs is for Viktor to see him, a dime-a-dozen wannabe skater, butcher the best program he’s ever produced.  He would be so insulted to see Yuuri attempt the culmination of his entire career, downgrading the jumps and getting interrupted by his kid. Viktor worked hard to get where he is.  Yuuri feels ashamed for even pretending he can lay claim to any of it.

However, it isn’t the leaked video that prompts Yuuri to shut his phone off for a week.

It’s a text from Phichit, a link with the comment, “LOOK WHAT VIKTOR TWEETED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” that really does it.  Phichit hasn’t texted him about anything besides Stammi vicino and Terrace House since the video surfaced.  So Yuuri does not need to see for himself what Viktor tweeted.

If there’s even a chance it received the reception that Yuuri himself did in the lobby of the rink in Sochi, he doesn’t want to know.

Minako wants him to know too; she tells him every time she visits the onsen, glaring at him with his baby in her lap as though maybe her little toothless smile will work as leverage.

(It almost does.)

But Minako knows, as Phichit does, that Yuuri is as stubborn a creature as there ever was.  He’s made up his mind about retiring, and he’s made up his mind about any Viktor-related news.

This way, he can focus on being the dad that Eri deserves.  He can be with his family after five years away from them. Nothing, no one is going to change his mind on that.

“Papa is in denial,” Minako coos to Eri in her lap.  “He deserves more than he lets himself have! Yes! Who’s going to set him straight?”

“Minako-sensei,” Yuuri pouts.  “Don’t.”

It’s actually kind of nice, cutting himself off from the world outside Hasetsu for a bit.  He’s able to refresh and reconnect with his home. He helps out around the onsen in exchange for help with the baby, and in the evenings he takes Eri to Minako’s studio or Ice Castle, provided that the triplets have eyes on them whenever he skates.  He knows Mari will tell him of anything really important, and he can count on his parents to be completely unacquainted with social media of any kind. Takeshi always had to come and show them how to access the live stream whenever Yuuri competed. He is safe there.

He’s had his phone off for six whole days when he wakes up freezing cold to his mother’s call for him to shovel the drive.  He can’t remember the last time he saw snow in April. Thankfully, Hiroko doesn’t wake Eri, so Yuuri steps out to try and get the job done before she wakes up.  

The morning is brisk and refreshing, the soft orange glow of the sunrise glistening over the sprinkling of snow.  It’s barely an inch thick on the concrete, and he’s able to get the job done in less than twenty minutes.

As he steps back inside, kicking the ice off the soles of his boots, he finds Eri already up, crawling around in the dining room with Hiroko hovering nearby setting tables.

As Yuuri is hanging up his coat, Eri screams with laughter, chortling and snorting as she crawls toward him.  He turns, smiling, to catch her at the step, only to find that she’s being followed by a large puff of curly brown fur.

Vicchan?  No, this is standard poodle, just like…

Just like Viktor’s…

It couldn’t be, right?  Yuuri doesn’t have any reason to think that Viktor might be…

“Oh, doesn’t she look just like Vicchan?”  Yuuri’s dad chuckles, emerging from the kitchen to see what Eri was up to.  “Just as friendly too! Eri’s been playing with her ever since she got up!

“I hope you don’t mind, she started crying a little after you went out,” says Hiroko with a warm smile.  “This dog’s name is Makkachin; she came in with a really good-looking foreign guest this morning.”

“He’s in the hot springs now,” Toshiya adds.

Yuuri isn’t in the room long enough to hear the rest.  He practically jumps out of his shoes as he scrambles for the hot springs.

There’s no way, there’s absolutely no way this could just happen , as if by providence, without Yuuri knowing about it.  He and Viktor haven’t even spoken, save for those two words that broke his heart and his spirit after the Grand Prix Final.  He shouldn’t know where to go, he shouldn’t know this place exists, unless the triplets are leaking more than just videos online.  

He’s dreaming.   This time he’s dreaming.  His parents don’t know about Viktor’s dog’s name, and there’s no way Viktor and his dog could have come, so this is a dream.

He runs for the hot springs anyway, because if it is Viktor, Yuuri needs to know why.  Coincidence? He wishes he could even come up with another option, but there’s nothing he can think of.  Nothing he’s done this season is worth any sort of recognition from anybody , let alone the now five-time world champion.

The air is thick and steamy as he races through the lockers, then the showers, toward the baths in the back, just to ensure that they’re empty, or at least clear of beautiful Russian figure skaters the way they ought to be.  He skids through the glass door, sliding it shut behind him, and feels his insides turn the stone as he looks across the water and sees the orange glow of the sunrise over ivory skin and silver-blond hair.

Viktor Nikiforov is standing in the onsen, beaming at him.

...Viktor Nikiforov is standing naked in the onsen, beaming at him.

Yuuri only sees his bright, toothy grin, the flash of icy blue eyes, and the hand outstretched in his direction for a moment before he claps his hands over his eyes, shielding them from the image that has already burned itself into his retinas.  He can never unknow what he knows now about Viktor freaking Nikiforov, who is standing right in front of him, oh god, and Yuuri is just crouched there hiding his face in embarrassment and shock .

He can’t stay like this, not with all the questions that are swirling around in his head.  If he prolongs this moment any longer, he’ll be causing quite a scene, so he cautiously straightens up and wagers a glance up into Viktor’s eyes.

He realizes that this smile is the odd, unfamiliar one he saw in Sochi.  It seems… too big, too indulgent, like this is the most excited Viktor has ever been.  That level of theatrics is beyond Yuuri. As long as he can keep his head up, not letting his gaze drop below Viktor’s shoulders, it doesn’t matter.

“Yuuri!  There you are,” Viktor says with a smile.  “Starting today, I’m going to be your coach.”

The words make sense, the way Viktor put them together, but they can’t be right, that doesn’t sound… right.

But Viktor doesn’t seem to be confused, with his chest thrust out confidently and his eyes sparkling.  “I’m going to make you win the Grand Prix Final,” he adds with a jaunty little wink.

Yuuri really hopes he isn’t dreaming.

Chapter Text

“Please pick up, please pick up, please pick up,” Yuuri whines as he hits the “call” icon next to Phichit’s name in his contacts.  Eri is seated in her ring sling at his side, babbling into his left ear as he presses the phone into his right.

Viktor, jet-lagged and drowsy from his hot bath and a meal prepared by Hiroko, is fast asleep in the dining room, curled up with Makkachin on the tatami.  He didn’t tie his jinbei properly, and it’s hanging loosely around his shoulders, but Yuuri doesn’t have it in his heart to tell him.  The plunging V reveals a hint of beautifully-angled collarbone that Yuuri would like to savor for however long Viktor is here.  The jinbei will remain improperly tied.

The second he was sure Viktor was asleep, Yuuri bolted for his room to call his best friend.  Jamming his foot into the edge of his door so that no one can walk in on him, Yuuri dances impatiently as the dial tone drones in his ear.

“Yuuri,” Phichit groans as he picks up the phone, “I don’t have time to yell at you for how ridiculous you’re being, but thank you for remembering that you have a cell phone.”  From the way the Thai skater is practically vibrating on the other end of the line, Yuuri can tell he has news, but this is Yuuri’s call, and he’s pretty sure what he has to say far eclipses anything, Viktor-related or not, that Phichit might need to tell him.  “I have to tell you, it’s all over the news! Viktor’s—”

“Viktor’s here, in Hasetsu, at my house,” Yuuri interrupts.  “He’s asleep in the other room.” He wants to drop the phone, throw his head back, and laugh at the hideous irony of this whole situation.  Either that or curl up into a ball and cry, because he really has no clue how to handle any of this. He has been so reassured in his choice to come home this the past week; he swore no one would be able to change that, but he wasn’t counting on The! Viktor! Nikiforov! to show up and take it into his own hands to personally drag Yuuri back out onto the ice.

“He’s what?!” Phichit screams, his piercing voice so loud that it crackles as it maxes out the speaker in Yuuri’s phone.  “I knew it!  I knew he had his eye on you ever since he started asking questions at— oh…”  Phichit’s voice trails off, like maybe he’s said too much, but Viktor-asking-questions is news to Yuuri.  

“Where?” Yuuri asks.

“Uhhhh…”

“Phich?  Asking questions where?” he grills, wiping at Eri’s nose with the thumb of his free hand.

“...Sochi…” Phichit says sheepishly, making Yuuri’s face burn.  “He said you’re full of surprises and gave me that heat buddy for Eri’s stomach—”

“Jesus,” Yuuri moans, sinking down to the floor, making Eri giggle and jump next to him.  “You tried to tell me that, didn’t you?”

“That and how he tweeted about your video being amazing, but don’t worry, I have lowered expectations when it comes to you listening to me,” Phichit snaps.

Oh.

“Oh my god,” Yuuri breathes.  “Oh my god, that’s not— I can’t— What am I supposed to do?  He wants to be my coach!”

Phichit is incoherent for the better part of five minutes as Yuuri fills him in on everything that’s happened so far that day.  It kind of helps; Yuuri really just needs the time to freak out and let it sink in that this is really happening .  

Viktor is here for him .  

“Katsuki Yuuri, you are not allowed to turn down anything he says or offers you, do you understand me?!” Phichit continues to yell into the phone.  “I don’t care if you want to retire, I don’t care if you think you’re not good enough, Viktor seems to think you are, and you will insult his judgment if you suggest otherwise, do you understand?”

“Phichit, I—”

“That man helped me to get Eri sleeping comfortably while you were performing at the GPF, Yuuri.  He has talent, in more ways than one, and you are going to be open to it, do you understand me?”

“But mayb—”

“Yuuri, this is your gay romantic comedy dream! Please please please let him coach you!” Phichit pleads.

“I would have to be crazy not to at least try, huh?” Yuuri laughs.  “God, I would have to be really crazy to turn this down. I just don’t understand how I deserve any of it.”

“Baby, you deserve the world,” Phichit assures him.  It sounds sincere, but even so, Yuuri has trouble believing it.  “And if Viktor Nikiforov shows up naked on your doorstep and offers you the world, you take it, and you figure out the rest later.  Okay?”

“I can try,” Yuuri says.  His heart has not stopped racing since he saw Eri playing with Makkachin.

“Okay,” Phichit says.  Yuuri can hear his own uncontrollable grin reflected in his friend’s voice.  “Now, don’t you dare let him wake up to an empty room. Go. Take Eri, put on your finest Hasetsu tourist hospitality, and make that man feel welcome in your home.”

“I’ll try,” Yuuri mumbles, pressing his palms into his cheeks as he starts to realize just how overwhelmed he is.

“You’ll do, or I will come out there and do it for you,” Phichit warns.  “And if you do not text me on the hour, every hour with updates, I will post your rink Christmas party photos on my Instagram and tag everybody you know, and you know I am not playing.”

Yuuri has to admit, it’s a compelling point.

After another five minutes of Phichit blessing Yuuri’s future relationship and dreaming things Yuuri couldn’t even dare to dream about just what role Viktor will play in his life, Yuuri manages to end the call by saying Eri needs a diaper change ( and oh god, Phich, it’s everywhere, I gotta go!).

Then, despite his fear of just what’s going to happen when Russia’s Living Legend wakes up in his childhood home, Yuuri does exactly what Phichit told him to do.  He sets up Eri’s play blanket in the dining room and sits her down with a couple of her quiet toys. Now’s as good a time as any for some floor play, and if he situates himself at the table with a book and a little bit of finger food, he can get her used to not being held while encouraging her to crawl and stand.

And this should be fine.  By all accounts, this should be a routine part of Yuuri’s afternoon, except it’s so clearly not , there’s nothing remotely routine about it, because no matter how hard Yuuri tries to focus on Dreamcatcher, he can’t seem to tear his attention away from the lithe figure sleeping peacefully in front of him.  Viktor is practically glowing, simultaneously imposing and delicate in his beauty. It’s nauseating; Yuuri can’t handle this.  There is no reality in which he deserves the gift or torture of this weirdly intimate arrangement. Somehow he is so entirely in possession of Viktor’s trust that the man can just drop down and snooze after hardly two words spoken between them.  It’s simultaneously intoxicating and horrifying, and so instead of relaxing like he’s been able to do for the past week, Yuuri sits in a sort of stunned paralysis as he tries to figure out what to do next.

When Minako storms into the onsen to deliver the same news Phichit tried to, she has to bite her fist to suppress a scream, her eyes frantic and searching.

Makkachin has moved over to the table and is waiting patiently next to Eri’s fruit puffs, chin resting heavy and hopeful on the tabletop, leaving Viktor to his nap.  As Minako sits, Makka whines, puffing her cheeks a little bit, a gentle reminder that she’s here and hungry and waiting so nicely. Yuuri is too scared to feed her anything without her owner’s approval, so he rubs her head apologetically and turns to his former teacher.

“So, I don’t have to tell you that… uh…” he starts.  Minako rolls her eyes so aggressively Yuuri worries she might fall backward.

“You don’t have to tell— God, Yuuri, what did you do?” she asks.

Yuuri ducks his head sheepishly.  “I’m having trouble processing it… I don’t really understand what’s going on.”

“Why is Viktor Nikiforov sleeping in one of the onsen’s robes?” Minako begs through gritted teeth

Yuuri shrugs.  “He soaked in the hot spring, then ate and fell asleep…”

“It was big news in Russia that he was taking the season off to consider his next move…” the ballet teacher muses.  “And then when he posted your video on Twitter… Oh my god. Yuuri, Viktor is here because he chose you! You brought him here—that’s incredible!”

Yuuri has to let that sink in for a while as Minako moves on to shower Eri with affection.  He’s spent so much of the past few months in mourning, so sure he’s thrown away any chance at achieving the dream he’s held onto for a decade, that of becoming the man Viktor inspired in him.  He can’t imagine a reality in which that’s true, in which he’s somehow caught Viktor’s attention, but it’s becoming apparent that he has to consider the possibility.  Right?

“He… chose me…” he whispers to himself from behind the pages of his novel, trying to weigh the feelings of excitement and confusion and fear swirling in his chest.  On the one hand, this is the kind of thing twelve-year-old Yuuri would daydream and fantasize about with Yuuko, imagining what it would be like to work with Viktor, to see how he makes magic on ice in person.  His adolescent self would have an aneurysm if someone suggested that one day, he’d be Viktor’s prospective protégé.   The possibilities of what working with Viktor would even be like are endless and overwhelming.  On the other hand, however, the reality of this whole situation scares Yuuri out of his mind.  He’s let himself fall out of practice and out of shape over the past four months, and he wasn’t that great to begin with.  Even if some element of his performances caught Viktor’s eye, Yuuri can’t deny that one warm-up session will be enough to convince Viktor that he’s made the wrong choice.  That an early retirement would be better spent on someone else’s career, not his.

“I see your face; I know you’re not reading,” Minako murmurs, pulling Eri up to stand and helping the ten-month-old to hold onto her knees.  “You’re scared, aren’t you?”

“I’m scared,” Yuuri confirms.  

Minako chuckles.  “I suppose that’s only natural.  This is pretty big, isn’t it?” She tucks her thumbs under Eri’s arms to keep her steady and ducks her head momentarily to plant a kiss on top of her head.  “It’s going to be like that first step out onto the ice all over again, isn’t it?”

Yuuri smiles.  Minako always knows what to say to keep him in perspective.  Of all the people he knows and has worked with outside of his family, Minako knows him best.  She is family, as far as Yuuri concerned.  She was the first to take him to Ice Castle and set him up with a nice pair of rental skates; she held his hand the first time he stepped into the rink and felt the gentle glide of the ground slipping smoothly beneath him.  It had been terrifying; he’d been sure he would fall, but he didn’t. As soon as he was out there, with Minako supporting him and showing him how to step, Yuuri felt a rush of excitement, a sudden certainty that this was something he wanted in his life.

Which is why he turned to her when he knew for sure who he was.  Why he knew he could trust her with this critical information, something he couldn’t keep in any longer, even before he considered telling his parents.  When he came to her with tears and questions and anger, she helped him through those first steps so he could access the exhilarating sense of self that waited just beyond.

“Give him a chance,” she advises. “Give yourself a chance.”  Everything about how she says it stinks of romanticism, and Yuuri has to consciously remind himself this is just a coaching thing just to keep from freezing up again.

It is just a coaching thing, right?

If that’s the case, what about that over-the-top introduction?

A soft sneeze startles them both, and Viktor pulls himself up to sitting, looking around blearily, one shoulder jutting out from the collar of his poorly-tied jinbei.

“Hungry…” he mewls, even though he ate hardly two hours ago.  Yuuri has to struggle to keep from gaping, dumbfounded, in his direction, so taken in is he with the statuesque contours of his idol in front of him.

It’s not fair.  It’s not fair that he’s here like this, so casually slaying Yuuri with every little shift in his posture, blinking adorable sleepy blinks in his direction, daring him to keep it together.

But it’s Yuuri, and it’s! Viktor! , so the Japanese man bolts for the kitchen to work up the constitution to even speak to the now five-time world champion while he whips together a few bowls of katsudon.  Hiroko shoots him a little, knowing smile as she busies herself with prep for the dinner rush, and now it’s starting to feel less embarrassing and more ridiculous.  Yuuri can’t function knowing everyone in this house (and out of it, the persistent buzzing in his back pocket reminds him) is trying to push him gently in Viktor’s direction.  He needs to take control, or else he’s going to go into defense-mode really soon, so he loads up a tray and starts back out toward the dining room.

“Here,” Yuuri mumbles sheepishly, uncovering one of the bowls in front of Viktor.  He has to bite his lip to keep himself from breaking into a satisfied smile at the way Viktor swoons as the steam rises up and wafts temptingly in front of him.

Viktor makes the unholiest of noises as he gulps down his first bite, undignified and enthusiastically appreciative.  “Wow! Amazing! Yuuri, did you make this?”

“Um, technically my mom did…” Yuuri says, eyes fixed on a morsel of rice that didn’t quite make it past Viktor’s chin.  “I just put it in the bowl.”

The only way he can make it through dinner is by treating it as a challenge.  How much of Viktor’s entirely unreal personality can Yuuri take before he loses it, grabs Eri, and hides in his room for the rest of his life?  He tries to hide his nerves behind the bowl of food in front of him, nodding and smiling and begging quick, terrified glances in Minako’s direction.  His mentor isn’t of any help though, not in this case, when she knows that all Yuuri wants is to escape the best thing that could have happened for his career.  She slips Eri little bites of egg and rice as she laughs off Viktor’s excitement over her Benois de la Danse.

“Yuuri never told me he had such a prestigious foundation behind him,” Viktor raves through a bite of pork.  He turns to Yuuri, his features alight with excitement. “Now I see why your dance style is so fluid!”

Yuuri nearly chokes.  “Why my— I mean— Yeah, I guess…” he sputters, shrinking a bit under Minako’s pointed stare.  “Minako-sensei has been incredibly influential.”

His teacher beams, letting Eri pull herself up to standing before excusing herself and skipping off to chat with Hiroko in the kitchen.  The baby bobs and bounces for a moment, looking back and forth between Dad and stranger, before she catches sight of the big, fluffy dog who was curled up once more on her master’s lap.  She sidles along the table’s edge, teetering and swaying as she attempts to maneuver the corner, eyes locked on Makka’s inviting curls. She’s getting a little close to Viktor. And Yuuri, eyes fixed on her, is ready to spring to his feet and scoop her up at any second.  He can’t focus on anything else, not even Viktor’s voice, low and tuneful in its heavily-accented English as he spells out his expectations.

(Okay, Yuuri was paying attention, but it’s too scary to even think about right now.  He can always ask to be reminded later.)

“—coaching fees can be discussed another day.  I assume you recorded Stammi vicino at your home rink?  It’s marvelous; nice and simple.  Will you show it to me?” As he looks up, eyes sparkling, he reaches out a hand to steady Eri and guides her back to the table’s edge.

If Yuuri were a little less nervous, he might have noticed how gentle and mindful the older man’s touch was, how he barely made contact at all and hovered, ready to catch Eri if she took a tumble.  He may have noticed how naturally Viktor responded and how little the baby seems to care; in fact, she looks up into Viktor’s eyes with another little bounce and bats the tabletop amusedly.

But Yuuri’s nerves have been right on the edge of out-of-control all day, without letting up.  For someone, world-renowned or not, to waltz in and assume that by merit of their status and just being there they can put their hands on Yuuri’s daughter without his consent?  That’s too much. He vaguely remembers what Phichit said about Viktor’s help in Sochi as well.  It’s just… What does he know anyway, when he doesn’t even have a kid?

Before Yuuri can rationalize past his gut reaction, he’s on his feet, Eri in his arms, consciously putting physical distance between himself and Russia’s Living Legend.

“I… I think she needs a diaper change,” he stammers weakly.  He could kick himself for how poor his excuse is; he knows Eri is dry, but he’s reached his limit.  He needs to escape.

As he makes a beeline for the door, praying that Minako or even his mom will come in and keep Viktor company for a while, he’s intercepted by Mari, who’s gazing at the European guest with a puzzled expression.

“...Is this the guy with all the boxes?” she mutters.  “CedEx just unloaded two full trucks out front. They’re blocking the entrance.”

“Boxes? What—” Yuuri began to ask, but Viktor jumped to his feet, causing Makkachin to bark excitedly.  Yuuri’s vaguely aware of the anxious knit of his daughter’s brow, one that surely mirrors his own, because he is no closer to escaping and if those boxes are what he thinks they are…

Viktor slides himself into the conversation, his chest brushing against Yuuri’s shoulder as he cranes his neck through the doorway to see out into the hall.  “ CedEx? ” He asks.  “Does that mean my things made it?  Thank goodness. Yuuri,” he says with a turn of his head, making no effort to correct his breach of Yuuri’s personal space, “will you help me take them up to where I’m staying?”

“Staying?” Yuuri stammers, distracted by his baby who’s about to start screaming any second, frozen to the spot by the heat radiating in waves from Viktor’s body suddenly against his, and now facing the realization that Viktor isn’t just staying in Hasetsu, he’s staying there, right at home with Yuuri and his family.   What is happening?  “Where will… ah…”

“We still have the empty banquet room,” Mari suggests.  “I’m not hauling all these. Want me to take the kid?”

Surprisingly, moving the frankly extravagant volume of shipping boxes actually calms Yuuri down, even though the heavy work and repeated trips up and down the stairs tear through his body and leave him exhausted.  It’s dark by the time they finish, and when the last box is out of Yuuri’s hands, he slumps down against a nearby pile to take a breather.

The slide of cotton against cardboard and a soft thud next to him signals that Viktor is ready to relax too.  The slip of his bicep against Yuuri’s isn’t enough to spark panic in him anymore, not after two-person carries and tight corners and a few instances of Makkachin circling their legs, almost causing them to trip.  No, with as tired as Yuuri is now, he can only marvel at how surprisingly soft Viktors arms are, as toned and defined as they appear, and how, for now at least, he gets to bear witness to that fact.

Viktor sighs—or laughs, rather, breathy and relieved—and turns to face Yuuri.

This has got to be the closest they’ve ever been.  Viktor’s breath is warm against Yuuri’s collar, his eyes piercing and curious as if he’s searching for something familiar in his features.

“You’re nervous?” he asks bluntly.  Yuuri nods, too tired to lie. “Don’t be.  I’m just so excited to work with you. I want to know everything about you, Yuuri Katsuki.”

For a moment, Yuuri is almost taken in.  God, something about the way Viktor bats those impossibly long eyelashes and angles his shoulders ever so slightly in Yuuri’s direction almost makes it seem like… of course, that would be stupid to assume.  But it’s so beautiful to imagine, the two of them breathless and worn-out on the floor here.  As long as Viktor is giving him his time, as long as he’s wearing that silly, half-open jinbei, Yuuri thinks it might be nice to indulge a little bit.

But then, from downstairs, he hears the unmistakable, piercing scream that indicates that Eri is 1) awake, and 2) very aware that Dad is not with her, which means 3) the game is over.  Yuuri knows he can’t have this. He doesn’t deserve it, not when he has a full-time responsibility to give his child the best life he can. He’s not going to turn down this offer, but he needs to remember boundaries, and Eri comes first.  Eri comes before any of this.

If that means Viktor’s wild, exciting plan isn’t going to work, so be it.

“I’m sorry, I have to—” Yuuri mumbles as he scrambles to his feet.

“Oh… okay,” he hears Viktor murmur as he runs out of the room and down the stairs, where Mari is already holding her niece out at an arm’s length, her expression sour.  

He apologizes, taking Eri into his arms, and hurries off to his room.  Safe behind the cover of closed doors and certain now that he needs a break or his head might explode, Yuuri clutches his daughter to his chest and breathes deep.

No one can replace her.  No one can replace this. Nothing can, even if he manages to regain his footing as a skater.  Even if Viktor is able to draw out the very best that Yuuri has to offer, even if they somehow make a fantastic team and are able to work together to hone and showcase Yuuri’s strengths, there is no way he’s returning to the competition circuit if he thinks for a second that it will impact Eri.

But still…

Now that he can breathe, now that he’s away from everyone, Minako and Phichit included… he has to admit that it makes his heart race to think about that first step out onto the ice… and everything that might follow after.

 

 




The next few days are some of the hardest Yuuri has had to endure in a long time.  Between early mornings with Eri, who is finally sleeping through the night but getting up at an ungodly hour, and long days of training with Viktor, who seems content to push Yuuri right on past his limit and then some, he’s hardly able to stay awake long enough to feed himself and his daughter at the end of the day.  The Nishigoris have been an amazing help in prioritizing Yuuri’s personal rink time and keeping prying eyes out.  Yuuko has even been offering up her time and energy to help take care of Eri while the girls are at school, though Yuuri suspects it’s all in an effort to be around to watch Viktor work.

(He can’t blame her at all.  He’d find any excuse to hang around if it were the other way around.)

Minako does the same when they skip the ice in favor of ballet.  She wears Eri in the ring sling while pacing around the studio, drilling both men through her favorite exercises.  Yuuri has to remember to spot himself even when they aren’t doing spins, just to ensure his eyes don’t wander to Viktor’s lithe yet powerful form next to his, creating the most beautiful lines with its long, slender limbs and just barely glistening with sweat.

He wants that delicate masculinity.  He wants to be strong yet graceful, and so he pushes himself as hard as he can.

By the end of the first day of training, Yuuri aches more than he ever has in his life.  By the end of the second day, it’s even worse. He can barely get the sling around his shoulders to carry Eri, and he has to (very sheepishly) ask Viktor to position it for him.  Just carrying her around the house hurts like hell, but he’s determined to keep the responsibility to himself. If he’s going to do this, he’s going to do this right.

By the end of the first week, however, Yuuri is beginning to notice the difference in how he feels; the dull pain that pervades everything is gone; instead, he notices how much more energy he has—an old, familiar state of being that he didn’t realize until now he’s been missing.  Granted, he’s still relying heavily on his capsaicin cream to keep him from seizing up, but as training continues he can feel himself progress. The rush of endorphins about an hour after a really challenging drill has him actually feeling relaxed and happy in the evenings. He thinks he should probably be terrified of the nightly baths he and Viktor have been taking, but even their time in the onsen together stops stressing him out after a while.  For one, the hot water and the fragrant steam are welcome remedies for his tired body. But beyond that, Viktor’s actually… kind of cool.

Like, really cool, in a way Yuuri wouldn’t have expected before they met.

They’ve started watching television together while Yuuri does playtime with Eri to tire her out, sprawling out haphazardly around the table together and flipping through channels until something peaks their attention.  Yuuri’s gotten Viktor into Terrace House a few times, translating and explaining the housemates’ relationships as they watch, but generally they settle on something that isn’t so dialogue-heavy or something that can play in the background while they chat.  

Eri usually winds up with their full attention before too long.  Her giggles and screams are infectious, and even with his back and shoulders on fire, Yuuri can’t help but give her a good dose of roughhousing to get her laughing, bouncing her up high and “crashing” her down to the floor before letting her crawl away and pursuing on all fours.  He almost always rolls on his back and lets her “defeat” him, sitting her on his tummy to bat at his chest while he and Viktor make up her superhero theme song.

“She conquers big, bad Dad, she’s Captain Yu-Topia!”

Yuuri loves that having a baby around doesn’t seem to deter Viktor in the slightest, even when she takes up so much of his time.  That said, he still has his reservations about letting Viktor interact with her too closely. Sure, Phichit practically co-parented her while they lived in Detroit, mainly out of necessity and love for his roommate, but Phichit had been around long before What’s-His-Name was even in the picture.  Yuuri already trusted him with his own life. When a baby didn’t manage to change anything between them, Yuuri knew nothing he could do would turn his best friend away.

He doesn’t know that with Viktor.  So when they play, he tries to keep his distance.  When they eat, he sits between Viktor and his baby or sits across the table with her in his lap.  He can’t trust himself to keep Viktor around, even when he sees the smile in the older man’s eyes, even when his cynical little jokes elicit genuine belly-laughs and they end up in a giggly pile on the floor around Makkachin.  It’s too soon to tell if he’s really going to be able to trust himself enough to let Viktor in, exposing all the drama and baggage that he carries with him.

 

 


 

 

“Lohengrin?” Yuuri asks, fumbling with the lid of his thermos to get to the hibiscus tea Yuuko made him.  She’s currently in the rink’s office starting another pot for herself and Viktor. “I should be able to do it from memory… I think I even have the music.”

“No music for now,” Viktor says with a warm smile and a wave of his hand.  “I just want to see the technical elements. Do this program for me, and we can be done for today, da?”

“D—Da,”  Yuuri mumbles, taking a few sips of tea and wiping his nose on his glove.  He pushes off to start the program and pauses before imagining the soft, ethereal strings painting the German countryside in a sweeping soprano.  He’s skated this program so many times the track is embedded in his mind, and along with its melody come his movements, as if involuntarily. He tries to channel the part of himself that shines when he skates on his own, that feels comfortably obscured by the privacy of his home rink, even though the world’s most intimidating pair of steel blue eyes trained on him, applying their expert scrutiny to his every step.

“Good, Yuuri, square your hips more this time,” he hears Viktor call after him.  “Don’t let yourself… Good… yes!”

Viktor’s praise hits him like a beam of energy, and suddenly it’s exhilarating to be running through this old piece, challenging himself to elevate moves he nailed down years ago now, to take them to that next level.  

Sometime after his halfway point, as he goes into his step sequence, he hears Eri start to fuss from her playpen where Yuuko left her to go make tea.  He tries to drown out her whining, but as he launches into his second-half elements, her whimpering escalates into wailing, a pitiful and bone-rattling sound that echoes through the rink over the scrape of his skates and threatens to stop him in his tracks.  He keeps pushing, a test of his own limits as well as Eri’s, because all he has left is a triple axel and a little more choreography before the program is finished.

The second he hits his final pose, he rushes for the boards, the heat of embarrassment rising in his cheeks as he stammers out his apologies for his daughter’s interruption.

Yuuri freezes at the boards when he sees that Viktor’s attention was no longer even turned on him.  The tall, Russian man was seated at the end of the bench by Eri’s playpen, a patient, peaceful smile in his eyes and a hand resting gently on the little gate panel.  It was the first time since that first day Yuuri noticed how soft Viktor can make himself, how gentle and muted when he wants to be.

And that’s when he hears a melody, plaintive and low, a quiet drone underneath Eri’s cries.  It takes him a moment to connect what he’s seeing and what he’s hearing, to realize that the sound is coming from Viktor, and oh God, Viktor is singing to his baby, a soft, slow tune that sounds like it must be in Russian.  Either that or Yuuri is too in awe to be able to decipher English, which wouldn’t surprise him.  He thinks he might be dreaming. Maybe he’s having a stroke. He doesn’t know anything except Viktor Nikiforov is singing softly to his daughter, and it seems to be calming her agitation.

Viktor lets a thumb brush over the top of Eri’s hand as he sings, and Yuuri watches her reach out and latch on, looking up at the singing Viktor with wide, wet eyes.  Pretty soon, the creases in her brow start to soften and fade, and she listens to the simple little lullaby, hanging rapt on every note.

Just like Yuuri is.

Viktor Nikiforov never stops surprising him.  As the older man looks up and realizes he’s under Dad’s watchful eye, he seems to shrink a little, his nose and ears tinged pink with embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt you….” Viktor hums as Yuuri approaches to pick Eri up.

“No!  No, it’s… it’s okay,” Yuuri mumbles.  “She seemed to like it anyway…” He presses his lips into his daughter’s shoulder, patting her gently on the back.  “Thank you.”

Anything he could say after that would be out of pure, uncontrollable panic, because Viktor Nikiforov might just be a baby whisperer.

And if that’s true, Yuuri is in for a world of trouble.

Chapter Text

Viktor isn’t quite sure what he’s doing wrong. As far as he can tell from talking to the Katsukis and the owners of the local rink, he’s been the inspiration for Japan’s Ace since juniors.  And yeah, the implications of that are, if nothing else, daunting, but no less so than the fact that Viktor can’t seem to get through to Yuuri at all, on or off the ice.

For two months now, they’ve been living and training together, and it still feels as though Viktor is on the outside looking in, trying to influence and connect with Yuuri from behind a pane of glass.  He’s building the most beautiful, most complex, most interesting ship inside a bottle, and he fears that one wrong twitch of the hand will send everything crashing down.

He fears it because he can’t deny that he’s got his own selfish motivations for being here, too.

Viktor is certain that the Yuuri from the Sochi banquet, the Yuuri that skated Stammi vicino with complete abandon and kissed him as if reclaiming something he knew was his— that Yuuri —is somewhere beneath this cool, impenetrable exterior.  It’s not surprising. Yuuri has every reason to be untrusting and private toward someone who essentially barged into his personal life and began upending every aspect of his routine.  Viktor has to give him that. Between the ghost of a version of himself, left behind but none the less real, and a child who bore protecting and nurturing before all other responsibilities, Yuuri was justified in his caution.  But Viktor was also hoping that maybe eight weeks would have been enough to at least merit a degree of intimacy between the two of them.

Maybe Chris is right.

Maybe Viktor really is as naïve as they come.

His fans would be distraught to learn the truth about the man portrayed in every news feed as a worldly heartbreaker.

If he weren’t so invested in seeing what he and Yuuri could achieve together this season, he’d consider abandoning the sport for good, returning to Moscow, and devoting his time, his energy, and his winnings toward helping Nikolai raise the kids.

At the very least, Viktor has found his allies here in Hasetsu.  Despite her initial intimidating edge, Mari has been welcome company in those times when Yuuri has shut himself away in his room with the baby.  She’s the first person to show him around the village, pointing out interesting shops and popular tourist traps that are worth checking out. She’s also the one who is able to rope him into helping with the chores, filling in for her brother whenever he’s being stubborn.  Viktor is getting pretty good at cleaning the onsen and remembering where all the various dishes are stored after washing. He even gets the hang of setting tables out in the dining room, and it soon becomes one of his favorite ways to kill time when he’s by himself in between training sessions.

He didn’t expect to have this much alone time.

It’s not for lack of trying, either.  At least once a day, Viktor ventures to find some little activity to coax Yuuri into doing with him, whether it’s going out into town to buy toiletries or running with Makka down at the beach.  He has been reasonably successful in getting Yuuri to come with him to the baths after practice, but he knows timing is on his side with that one. Nothing feels better on their aching muscles than the gentle, lively mineral waters of the onsen.  He’s sure if he were to ask on an off day, he’d be met with the same sheepish sideglance and mumbled apology.

Some days, it’s not so bad.  Some days, Yuuri seems to steel himself and put himself into Viktor’s space with surprising intent, like their evenings around the television with Eri tottering around them.  He wonders if perhaps, the exhaustion from training leaves the Japanese man feeling emboldened or uncaring in some way. Viktor knows that his own anxieties seem to dissolve after a good workout, and even more so when he feels he’s accomplished something.

At the very least, they’re making remarkable progress on the ice together.  Viktor knows how pushing one’s limits can start to become an addiction. The rush of breaking yourself just one more time is all too appealing, and Viktor has to be careful not to chase that rush himself and push his student too far in the process.  After his first session, Yuuri asked to learn all the jumps Viktor knows, his hands steepled in front of his bowed head, as though there was a chance of Viktor refusing.

Viktor doesn’t think he could refuse Yuuri a single goddamn thing if he tried.

He’s in too deep, and he knows it.  He will continue coaching Yuuri because on ice is the only place he gets the opportunity to see that shell open to reveal the stunning, gentle, passionate creature that resides within.

They spend their days going over the quad salchow over and over in Minako’s studio, then at the Ice Castle, until they’re dizzy and hardly able to stand, at which point they drag their withered bodies to the onsen to reconstitute in the waters.  When Yuuri is at least landing it in practice, which takes some time, Viktor is ready to move on to something new.

He already knows which short program he wants to see this man perform.

It’s only inspired by the wild night of dancing they shared together, after all.

So one quiet evening, Viktor plants himself at the table in the family room, a bowl of katsudon next to his notes in front of him and Terrace House playing on the tv in the background.  Makkachin is waiting patiently in his lap for a morsel of food, and he keeps his nerves down by letting his fingers tangle in her fur as he makes what he hopes are a final few edits to the program he’d initially written for himself.

He might as well be setting a trap to ensnare a wild Japanese skater, with an array of his favorite things gathered together like this.  Sure enough, before he can finish his own pork cutlet bowl, Yuuri wanders in with one of his own on a tray, along with two tall beers and a bowl of cut-up noodles in broth for the baby.  Eri is arranged backpack-style in her sling, pulling at her dad’s hair and glasses and giggling as he kneels down next to Viktor at the table.

“Hi hi!” she coos, reaching a grabby-hand in Viktor’s direction.  She’s been saying “hi” at everyone and everything in her line of sight for the past few weeks.  Viktor thinks it’s the most adorable thing he’s ever seen, but he can see it starting to wear away at Yuuri slowly.

“Always a pleasure, little one,” Viktor says with a discreet little wink in Eri’s direction.  “And Dad as well. I’m glad to see you out and about tonight, Yuuri.”

“Oh… uh, yeah,” Yuuri says, shifting his shoulders in that adorable way he always does when he’s feeling nervous.  Regardless, he settles at Viktor’s side, pulling Eri free from her carry and sprawling in a manner that almost resembles relaxed    “Can I see what you’re working on?”

Viktor has heard people say, “Hook, line, and sinker” in situations like this.  He’s pretty sure it’s a sporting term of some sort. He’s also pretty sure it means his target is precisely where he wants it.

In which case, hook, line, and sinker.  He nods and slides his journal across the table.

Yuuri leans over to get a good view of Viktor’s notes.  “Program elements?” he asks, an eyebrow quirked up in curiosity.  Viktor would have to be an actual brick to not notice the sparkle in those velvety-brown eyes.  He had Yuuri’s attention.

“I was hoping we could start work on it tomorrow,” he hums.  Eri crawls around them and pulls herself up to Viktor’s other side, tugging at his sleeve with sticky fingers as she reaches for her bowl.

“Papa,” she chirps, bouncing impatiently, eyes locked on her noodles.  Yuuri jumps to the realization that he’s prepared more than finger-foods, and starts to scramble to his feet.

“Oh, right, come here, love,” he says, scooting backward to reach around Viktor’s back.  With a gentle tug on Eri’s arm, he guides her over to sit on his lap. Her sticky fingers go straight for Viktor’s journal, but Yuuri is fast to react.  “Oh no you don’t,” he laughs, holding the book high over his daughter’s head. “Here, itadakimasu,” he sings, pulling her bowl closer.

“Masu!” Eri echoes, plunging her hand into her bowl and fishing out a piece of noodle. Yuuri fumbles to steady the dish as broth splashes out onto the table, sputtering apologies as he hurries to dry it up.

Viktor can’t believe he gets to spend his summer here.  It’s almost entirely worth it just for these moments that feel like home.  “You know what,” he says, taking the book from Yuuri’s hand, “let’s discuss this once the little one’s in bed.  For now, let’s enjoy our company, shall we?”

Yuuri sighs, his cheeks pink.  “She can be a handful,” he laughs.

“I know, once they start moving, they don’t stop,” Viktor says with a smile.  “My siblings were the same.”

Yuuri’s eyes light up.  “Oh, you have siblings?” he asks, spearing some noodles on a little plastic fork.  

“A few,” Viktor says, watching as Eri grasps for the fork as it nears her mouth.  “My father fosters wards of the state who are waiting for adoption,” he explains, turning to his own dinner still sitting, half-finished, in front of him.  “I guess they’re not really siblings, but a few who still live with him I’ve known for their whole lives.  Sometimes we had as many as eight or ten in the house. Now he never keeps that many though, since he’s getting older.”

Yuuri gazes up at him.  “Wow… I never knew that,” he says.  “That’s amazing.”

Viktor nods.  “I don’t know what I’d have done without him or Yakov,” he admits.  “I certainly wouldn’t be here.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Yuuri says, and immediately Viktor sees the color spring to his cheeks as he realizes what he’s said.  “I… I mean—” he stammers, but Viktor laughs, waving it off.

“I’m glad I’m here too, Yuuri,” he says, putting a hand on the Japanese man’s shoulder.  “I’m glad to share this time with you and Eri like this.”

He worries he might have pushed it too far, because Yuuri is positively crimson in his overwhelmed state, fumbling to get more food on Eri’s fork.  That being said, he doesn’t quite mind. He doesn’t seem to have scared Yuuri away this time. In fact, their dinner continues, and another round of drinks after that, and Yuuri doesn’t even bat an eye when Viktor comes with him to put Eri to bed, they’re so deep in conversation.  Yuuri’s trying very hard to convince him that sci-fi novels are at least worth a try, and yes they can have quality romances woven into their plots but made ten times more interesting by interdimensional politics or artificial intelligence or something like that.

And Viktor is prepared to argue that tragic romance is a source of unparalleled catharsis, that no, he doesn’t at least need to give Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a try , because the original is just as riveting.  But then again, he’s sort of curious about how they could keep the main plot with the addition of zombies… he’ll have to rent it on his tablet to ensure Yuuri doesn’t find out.

Viktor sits on Yuuri’s bed as the baby is changed into her pajamas, watching Yuuri busy-body around the room. He dims the lights, turns on the white noise machine, and lays out clothes for tomorrow morning before bending over to give Eri one last kiss goodnight.

“Wanna come tell me more about that program?” he asks with a shy little smile that makes Viktor’s heart flutter.

“I would love nothing more,” Viktor smiles.

 

The next day, Viktor runs through the choreography for On Love: Eros twice for Yuuri before they start work on the ice together.  Yuuri picks up the steps quickly, and Viktor knows with time that he’ll get the technical elements down as well.

But the man skating a program about mature physical love seems stiff and uncomfortable; Viktor isn’t sure what he needs to do to help him loosen up.

They make it through the first few steps of the piece before Yuuko comes rushing in.

“There’s someone here,” she says, and Viktor can tell by her voice that she’s confused and alarmed.  “He won’t go away, some kid looking for Viktor.” She glances back nervously. “He seems… angry?”

Viktor’s stomach drops.

No, he couldn’t have

But sure enough, he can already hear the persistent shouts of “Viktor Nikolaevich!” and a whole slew of other words he’s going to have to address later.  He races off the ice, apologizing to a stunned Yuuri, and marches in the direction of the lobby, where sure enough, he finds his brother waiting for him.

Yuri is slight in build, and with his pin-straight blond hair, most people would mistake him for a girl.  Although his face, twisted into a furious snarl, mixed with the string of curse words he’s spitting, certainly add an interesting edge to his whole angelic aesthetic.

“You’d better have Nikolai or Yakov with you, or we’re going to have a problem,” Viktor demands in Russian, taking Yuri’s suitcase into his hand and turning without another word back toward the rink.  “What are you doing here?”

“Collecting your stupid ass and going back to Moscow,” the twelve-year-old growls, trotting along at his heels.  “You promised you’d come home this summer.”

Viktor sighs, trying to calm the seething in his chest.  “I said I would come home if I had a break, Yura, something came up.”

“Yeah, you’ll have to explain that one to me too,” Yuri says, trying to pry his suitcase out of Viktor’s hands as they brush through the double doors and back into the rink.  “You’re such a fucking poser, it’s my thing to like—”

The preteen’s face goes scarlet as the Japanese skaters come into view.  Yuuri looks up from trying to balance a cranky Eri in one arm and a steaming thermos of hot water in the other, his glasses fogged and his face glistening with sweat.

“Viktor…?” he asks, his confusion exaggerated by the characteristic squint he has to do to see without his glasses.  God, he never stops being an adorable little mess.

“Who is it you like, Yuratchka?” Viktor teases, throwing a glance back over his shoulder just long enough to see the flames raging in his little brother’s eyes.  Without another word, Yuri snatches up his suitcase and retreats to the stands.

This just figures.  Viktor probably should have seen it coming.  After all, isn’t he as close as he’s ever been to finding something he’s really, truly passionate about?  With someone he genuinely cares about, even if they aren’t quite as close as he hoped?

He’s been on the path to having it all for weeks, with no interruptions or obstacles until now.  

Until now.  He has no clue how a twelve-year-old kid managed to make it to this little village on his own, or why Nikolai isn’t freaking out—Yuri must have been gone a few days now!  

Viktor shuts his eyes, sucking in a deep breath of cool air and letting it out through his nostrils in a slow, steady stream.  He will not compromise his rink time with Yuuri.

“I’ll be back for you when we’re through,” he shoots, jabbing a finger in Yuri’s direction.  “Keep it together, or I’ll take you right back to the airport, and that is a promise.”

Yuri snorts.  “Fuckin’ liar,” he retorts.

“Language,” Viktor warns.  “This isn’t funny.  You’re in serious trouble.”

He takes another deep, grounding breath, trying not to panic, and strides back over to where Yuuri and Yuuko are huddled around Eri.

“Well, then!  Let’s get back to it,” he staged, retreating into press-mode in order to tamp down his frustration.

Yuuri squints nervously up at the stands.  “Are you sure?” he asks. “Is everything okay?”

Viktor flashes a camera-ready smile and gestures toward the ice.  “I think my brother thought it might be sweet if he surprised me with a visit while I was away,” he said.  “Nothing we can’t address after practice.”

“Oh—Ok,” Yuuri stammers, giving Eri a kiss on the cheek before stepping out of his skate guards and back onto the ice.

Viktor follows, trying to steady himself.  He can handle this. He can show Yuuri he can handle this.



“Okay, Yuuri, go cool down,” Viktor huffs an hour later, his eyes still locked on his little punk of a brother up in the stands.  “Then we’ll all get acquainted, yes?”

The second Yuuri leaves the rink, Viktor summons the preteen with a pointed stare and a gesture toward the bench next to him.

Yuri skulks over, sitting as far away as he can without falling off the edge of the bench, and silently watches Viktor wipe down his blades.

“Now, before you tell me just how you got here,” Viktor warns, “consider that I’m not willing to believe Nikolai gave you permission to travel halfway around the world by yourself.”

Yuri remained silent, his eyes fixed on the gold of Viktor’s skates.

“Explain yourself, boy, or I’ll call Nikolai right now,” Viktor threatens.  

Yuri winces.  “Nikolai knows I’m here,” he says defensively.  “It’s just—he thinks I’m with Yakov.”

Thank god for skating with Yuuri, Viktor thinks.  Thank god for relaxing evenings in the onsen. For singing to Eri, and katsudon, and runs on the beach with Makkachin.

Because if Viktor wasn’t so deeply saturated with these calming, enriching things in his life, he might actually lose control and lash out at his brother right now.  

Instead, he closes his eyes and presses another cool, controlled breath through his nostrils before speaking.  “Which one did you convince to buy the ticket?” he sighs. He thinks his head might split in two from the stress; he pinches at the bridge of his nose to fight off the pressure building behind his eyes.

“Nikolai,” Yuri mumbles sheepishly.  “I… I might have told Yakov you paid for it, though…”

“What the hell, Yura,” Viktor hisses.  “You know what? I will pay for it, as soon as I tell Nikolai the truth, and then I’ll pay a second one and fly your scrawny butt right back to—”

“Hey,” Yuri whines.  “Come on, I need a break.  Please give it a couple days at least?  The kids are kicking my ass, and the old man expects more and more out of me with you gone.”

Viktor feels a pang of guilt as he realizes that this kid is starting to feel the pressures of being the oldest.  Maybe he shouldn’t be so harsh. He knows firsthand how chaotic the house can be when it’s full, especially when they’re all so young.  

“Nikolai knows you’re a responsible kid, Yura,” Viktor says sympathetically.  “He needs your help, and he trusts you to help him.” He puts down one skate and starts on the other.  “But I understand it can be frustrating. It used to be the same way for me, you know.”

“Yeah, until Yakov took you away and made you a star,” Yuri huffs.

Viktor smiles.  “Well, practice hard, and you’ll be next to move to St. Petersburg,” he suggests.  “I’m sure that’s already Yakov’s plan.”

Yuri turns away with a stubborn huff, his chin thrust out in an unseemly pout.  It’s kind of nice, actually, getting to talk to him in real life instead of through FaceTime for once.

“Just realize that you owe me big time for this,” Viktor adds with a cheeky grin.

Yuri has his sneaker off and has his arm raised mid-throw when the Japanese Yuuri wanders back out from the lockers to gather up Eri’s things.  The tween goes pink once more, and the shoe topples to the floor.

Viktor hops up to meet him, taking over his task of packing up and gesturing back toward where his brother sat speechless on the bench.

“Ah!  Yuuri, come meet my brother Yuri—oh, that will be confusing, huh?”  He laughs nervously as the two shake hands. “Oh well! We’ll figure it out, I suppose.  He’s a big fan of yours! Yura, this is Katsuki Yuuri, Japan’s Ace!?”

“I know who he is, asshole, you just said I’m a fan,” Yuri snarls in Russian through gritted teeth.

“It’s nice to meet you, Yuri,” Yuuri says with a polite smile.  “Welcome to Hasetsu!”

“Whatever, aren’t you some kind of has-been now, anyway?” Yuri shrugs.  “You should have kicked Crispino’s ass at Sochi, he’s nothing compared to—”  He trails off, blushing once more. “Whatever. You’re wasting Viktor’s time, let him come back to Moscow.”

 

Yuuri has to be dreaming.

This is the exact plot of one of his worst nightmares, for sure.  A child he had the opportunity to inspire meets him for the first time and 1) expresses complete utter disappointment in his skating, then 2) suggests he’s wasting Viktor’s time, his current biggest fear, because it’s true, oh god, he’s a complete waste of Viktor’s time.

The program they began working on today is fantastic and exciting and just different enough from his previous material that if he were able to return to competition, people would be shocked.  Maybe even impressed.  He doesn’t want to get too hopeful, because 1) it’s a Viktor program, that’s got to be way above his level and 2) Yuuri hasn’t even thought about his own eros since Eri was born, maybe longer.  He’s not even sure he had much eros to begin with.

But if Viktor’s own brother thinks he’s not worth it…

He hangs back as they walk home, watching the two brothers quip and bicker while Eri babbles and whines in his ear.

Viktor’s family saw him perform and concluded that he’s washed up.

For all the pleading and soothing and explaining that Phichit had to do to convince Yuuri that wasn’t how the world saw him.

It doesn’t even matter.  Phichit was wrong.

But then again, they’ve only worked this piece for one session.  And this time, Yuuri has a stake in whether or not he succeeds. If On Love: Eros isn’t absolutely perfect, Viktor is going to go back to Russia.

For good.

And Yuuri is not willing to let that happen.

He’s totally underestimating you, he tells himself as they near the onsen.   Besides, he’s just a kid.

He’s going to show Viktor’s rotten, foul-mouthed brother that he is worth the man’s time, that he will kick butt in competition.

He’s just got to figure out what it takes to get there.

After putting Eri down for her nap and taking a quick shower, Yuuri brings a bowl of katsudon out to the family room to welcome Yuri to his home.

“Ah—There’s another one?” Mari asks as she walks by with a basket of folded laundry.  

“This is my brother Yuri,” Viktor says with a smile as Yuri devours his pork cutlet bowl.  “He decided to surprise me with a visit!” Yuuri watches his smile falter when Yuri doesn’t even attempt to look up with his food.  “Hey,” Viktor hisses, elbowing the tween in the side. “Say hi.”

It would be generous to call the sullen glare and slight wave of the fingers a “hi,” but Mari seems satisfied enough with it.

“Can we call him something else?  Like a nickname? Otherwise, I’m going to get confused,” Mari says with a smirk.  “How about Yurio?”

Yuri’s eyes go wide as he looks up at Viktor in horror, shaking his head in a silent plea that he knows won’t be honored.

“Yurio is perfect!” Viktor laughs.

As a fellow younger sibling, Yuuri is sort of indirectly embarrassed on behalf of his Russian namesake.  Then again, a nickname would make things so much less confusing.

Pretty soon, Eri is up again, and Yuuri sits with her at the table, making sure she doesn’t eat too rapidly while he finishes up some plans for her birthday the next week.

His baby is going to be a year old.

Yurio has already retreated to Viktor’s room, exhausted by jetlag and uninterested in any of their conversations, so it’s just Yuuri and Viktor once more, shifting their legs cautiously around one another under the table, semi-chatting while they work on their separate computers.

“Shit, there’s some sort of conference this week in Fukuoka,” Viktor grumbles.  “This is ridiculous. I’m sorry, Yuuri, he might not be out of here for another week.”  He rakes his fingers through his bangs as he scrolls. Yuuri hasn’t seen him stressed like this before, but he’s not sure why it’s such a big deal to him that Yurio leaves so soon.  After all, they’re brothers, and from what he could tell by their conversation the night before, Viktor’s pretty close with his family.

Then again, Yuuri’s the one who waited five whole years to return home to his family.  And those five years were filled with more change than any of them could have imagined.  Maybe some of those changes have made an impact on his perspective.

“It’s fine,” he says, patting his coach on the arm.  “I’m happy to meet your family! After all, you’ve met all of mine.”

Viktor looks like Yuuri has just confessed his belief that the moon landing was fake and there’s a species of sentient Zambonis living up there.

“Are you sure?” he asks with a disbelieving laugh.  “He can be a handful. He was so rude to you! I feel awful about it.”

“He’s twelve,” Yuuri laughs.  “Don’t worry about it.  You’ve met my mom. He’s more than welcome here.  If he helps your dad out, maybe he can help out with Eri while we work!”

Yuuri can see the conflict of relief, confusion, frustration, and exhaustion swirling just behind Viktor’s eyes as he processes what he’s just heard.  He can imagine that Yurio showing up was nowhere in the realm of possibility in Viktor’s mind, that he’s struggling with interrupted plans. But if there’s anything that Eri has taught him, it’s that interrupted plans do not have to be terminated.

What’s one more little challenge?

The next day, Yurio comes with them to Minako’s studio and then the rink.  Yuuri actually thinks the way he snips away at Viktor’s sanity is sort of endearing; it certainly knocks the Living Legend down a few pegs in terms of his elusiveness.  The way he blushes and pouts when his kid brother gets one over on him is adorable.

Then again, Yuuri seems to have some innate ability to connect with the teen that essentially called him a failure the day before.  The Russian boy hovers curiously whenever they’re taking a break or when Yuuri stops to check on Eri, asking questions and showing off photos of random cats he has saved to his phone.

This goes on for the entire week.  Yuuri doesn’t mind talking to the kid, even though he’s a little arrogant at times, even though he can get a little too caught up in his opinions.  What kid doesn’t talk like that though?

He’s delighted to discover that the young man is a skater himself, and aspires to compete once he’s of age.  So much so, that (to Viktor’s chagrin) he starts spending some of his break time working with Yurio on jumps—doubles only, at Viktor’s insistence, although it doesn’t take the preteen much time at all to push that boundary.

Yurio’s last day comes faster than expected, right on Eri’s birthday, with a flight booked for the following afternoon.  He’s up at sunrise to help with breakfast, and when Yuuri and Viktor get ready to take Makka out on a morning run, they’re surprised to find that Yurio would like to join as well.

(Neither of them complains when he tires out well before their halfway point and asks to go home.)

Minako and the Nishigoris all come for dinner that evening to celebrate one whole year of Eri.  The evening is a blur of gifts, food, cake, and photographs, and Viktor and Yurio are no less of a part of it than any member of the family.  Yuuri helps his daughter curl her little fingers around folds of colored paper as he helps her open her gifts, and it never gets old the way her eyes light up when she sees something new that she likes.

Viktor even got her a little poodle onesie, “so she can look just like Makkachin when they play together.”

The entire celebration is heartwarming and emotional and overwhelming for Yuuri.  So much has happened in this first year of his baby’s life, and he just hopes that he’s doing a good job.  All he wants is for her to have all the happiness from the past twelve months, and none of the struggles, but he knows that’s not always going to be realistic.  So instead as he blows out the candles for her, he wishes that he can be there for her no matter what, that he can provide for her no matter what, and that she always knows the love of every person at their little table that evening.

Viktor sticks around long after the baby is in bed, long after his brother passes out tableside, and the guests filter out.

“Proud Papa?” he asks, holding his arms down to accept the dishes Yuuri is stacking.  Maybe it’s the buzz of celebrating an amazing thing with the people he loves, maybe it’s the couple of shots of shochu they shared once the kids were asleep, but Yuuri slips right in between Viktor’s hands and falls gently into his chest for the first hug they’ve ever shared between the two of them.

“So proud,” he murmurs, willing himself to stand back up and not be taken in by the subtle spice of Viktor’s cologne, or the warmth of him so close.  “Thank you so much for the onesie. I guess I can throw out all her other clothes now!”

Viktor laughs, and they’re still close enough that Yuuri can feel the rumble of his chest against his arm.  “Save at least one outfit for laundry day,” he suggests, “but I think you may be right.”

Yuuri looks up to see the gentle expression in Viktor’s eyes directed at him.  For a moment all worry about the upcoming season and skating programs and travel and everything melts away, and it’s just the two of them—Viktor smiling down at Yuuri, and Yuuri smiling right back.

It’s a little exchange, it doesn’t last more than a moment, but there’s enough in that moment for Yuuri to treasure for the rest of his days.  Even if Viktor were to leave tomorrow with Yurio and never come back, even then, at least they had that moment.

“It’s been a good birthday,” he finally says, stepping in the direction of the kitchen.  “I’m glad you were a part of it.”

“I’m glad I was too, Yuuri.”

Chapter Text

Eri looks adorable in the Makkachin onesie.

It’s become her rinkside regalia as if she’s Yuuri’s own personal mascot, motoring around on strong little legs that want to take her everywhere, her ears bouncing just like Makka’s as she explores the world around her.  Summer may have been hot, but it’s always cold in the rink, and Yuuri foresees always having warm, cozy kigurumi to keep his baby girl warm during practice.  It’s too cute.

Viktor can’t even handle it.  Eri has the power to distract him like no other, and Yuuri no longer has the heart to stop him; for as much as he’s finally growing into his trust in the older man, he also just really likes to watch Viktor interact with Eri.  They’re two peas in a pod, goofy and dramatic and both so very beautiful. It’s enough to make Yuuri forget his nerves sometimes, enough that he betrays his urges to shield and protect her, as long as it’s him.

Just as long as it’s him.

Yuuri looks at his daughter all bundled up in her stroller as he and Viktor follow the signs marked “Registration” through the entrance hall of HEALTHPIA ice skating rink.  She’s a sleepy, grouchy mess today, with hair that wouldn’t sit flat hidden underneath her dog-ear hood, and clutching Yuuri’s newly-commissioned tissue box cover—a spitting image of Makkachin, plush and almost as squishy as the real thing.

Yuuri didn’t even commission it - the adorable plushie was all part of a scheme Viktor’s been cooking up since they finished On Love: Eros and started on Yuuri’s free skate.  In the past month, he’s been showering Yuuri with gifts related to the upcoming season, insisting they’re “nothing but the necessities,” and brushing off any attempt Yuuri has tried to make of repaying him.

First of all, there’s the costume.

The Viktor costume.

Viktor went through all the trouble of shipping out every costume he’s ever competed in, from the most notable Stammi vicino jacket to some earlier ones Yuuri barely remembered.  Many of the costumes were torn from wear, or too small for Yuuri to squeeze his hips into, but one outfit stood out in particular, tucked away beneath a costume of emerald velvet with frills and an elaborate peplum.

There was no way Yuuri could mistake those distinct, sparkling jewels that cascaded down over the torso between mesh cutaways, no way he could miss that pop of red that peeked out from under a playful half-skirt.

The Lilac Fairy.  

Historically, it’s the most shocking of Viktor’s costumes by far, and a symbol of the first time Yuuri can remember actually looking his idol and feeling the dizzying heat of wanting press against his sternum.  When Viktor turned one way, he was handsome, debonair, a dashing and princely figure. From the other side, however, he was a spellbinding combination of delicate and desirable. He danced the line between roles so seamlessly and Yuuri wanted all of it, wanted to feel it and to become it, and since he couldn’t have the costume, he spent hours upon hours with Yuuko in their home rink practicing and perfecting the program itself.

He prayed to the gods of hormone replacement therapy that his hips wouldn’t completely ruin his chances at seeing himself in the skating outfit of his dreams.  He had to hide his face in his hands as Viktor zipped it up, couldn’t control the accelerando of his heart drumming against his ribcage.

And yeah, he cried when he saw himself standing there, filling out the body-suit in a slightly different way than Viktor had back when he was a willowy teen.

Viktor said he looked like a transformation.

Yuuri is excited beyond belief to emerge from the ashes of his own self-destruction in an outfit that is not only famous, but a cheeky statement about the Yuuri who is, who once was, and who always was.  He wants the world to see him like this. But more than that, he wants Viktor to see him like this, to see the Yuuri that once existed only in his own daydreams, the Yuuri who looks and moves like Viktor.

He couldn’t have achieved that from copying videos and memorizing another person’s program, even if he had the costume to back it up.

This short program, Yuuri’s own, created by Viktor for him, embodies the version of himself that he’s beginning to meet and understand and love more and more since they began working together.  A version of himself that is valued and desired for everything that he is without question or reproach. That’s a wonderful thing, and one that Yuuri never really believed in.

He’s still not sure he does, once the skates come off.

All he knows is that once he’s on the ice, he can be sure that Viktor is watching him.  When Viktor is watching him, nothing else matters.

“Ah, Minako and Takeshi just arrived,” Viktor murmurs, scrolling through his messages as Yuuri fills out his registration.  “Let me take Eri to them while you finish up.”

Yuuri almost protests. He feels the clench, his knee-jerk reaction to keep his daughter in his sight, but he swallows it back as quickly as it comes.  Mari has been on his case about letting Viktor—experienced with children, rich, handsome, and everything Yuuri has always wanted—feel valued and wanted and all those things Yuuri’s been experiencing since his celebrity crush moved into his family home. So he swallows his fear and his pride for as long as it takes to give his daughter a kiss on the forehead and push her stroller into Viktor’s hands, then turns back to his form.

Eri cries almost immediately.

Yuuri knew it.  This is exactly how he thought it would go down.

Eri doesn’t sleep nearly as much as she did when she was a newborn. She’s just as fussy, if not more, and that’s not to mention her new favorite pastime of wriggling out of his arms and walking towards anything that catches her eye.

(Her first steps on her own were toward Makkachin, much to Viktor’s teary-eyed delight.)

That being said, nothing is as interesting or desirable to her right now as her own father.  Even in her adorable budding friendship with Viktor, she wants nothing to do with anyone who falls under the non-Yuuri category, even her own grandparents.  Even Minako, her baby-whispering godmother.

They’re not Papa, so they might as well be dirt to Eri.  Yuuri would be touched, even flattered, if it wasn’t so exhausting to be in full demand every waking moment.

“Minako said not to worry, you’re going to be amazing and Eri is going to be just fine,” Viktor says, returning to Yuuri’s side as if he can sense the beginnings of Yuuri’s stress spiral.  His voice is low and calm as he takes Yuuri’s bags. “Try to relax. Breathe through it.”

He’s always doing things like that, little, kind gestures that tend to make Yuuri’s life easier. Like letting him concentrate on paperwork and entry fees and program music. Like having food on the table when Yuuri comes in from a run, or making sure his thermos is always full and hot, keeping an eye on the baby while Yuuri runs to the bathroom.  It feels nice, if not a little unnecessary. But who is Yuuri to complain?

After all, the low, invigorating burn of excitement starts up in his stomach when he realizes that Viktor is still doing it here in public, away from the quiet seclusion of the onsen.  People are going to see them together. People are going to watch Viktor while he gives all his attention and care to Yuuri, and wonder the same thing he’s been asking himself for the past six months—

Why him?

It’s a question that’s been eating away at him for weeks now, ever since they finished the short program and started planning the free skate. Why would Viktor want to back someone who has physical disadvantages to contend with? Who can hardly handle the stress of skating for his friends, let alone skating for thousands? Whose attention is so permanently divided between his sport and something— someone —that will always take precedence?

It’s romantic to imagine, but if he thinks seriously about it too long, he starts to panic. He knows that realistically he’s a ticking time bomb; it’s only going to take one breakdown or one bad season to prove to Viktor that he’s been wasting his time after all.

“Yuuri-kun!”

A piercing scream echoes through the entrance hall and has Yuuri wheeling around in surprise.  He has no reason to believe he’d have fans screaming for him besides his two-person cheer squad, who he can currently hear trying to soothe a fussing baby in the distance.  He scans the crowd for the source of the high-pitched squeal, looking for a girl or possibly even a child, when his eyes fall on a familiar and slightly intimidating face.

(Intimidating, that is, only in theory, because the source of the scream is actually quite adorable.)

“Minami-chan,” Yuuri mumbles with a nervous laugh as the kid who always hung around him in juniors shoves past a couple people in line and bows dramatically in front of him.  “Nice… uh, nice to see you again. Viktor, this is Minami Takeno. She’s—”

He stops his introduction short as his words seem to pierce Minami.  The younger skater deflates, hurt and embarrassed as if Yuuri has just said something gravely insulting.

“Um,” Minami squeaks with an uncertain side-glance.  “That’s not my name. That’s not… that’s not me.”

The realization at what he’s done dawns slowly and horrifically on Yuuri as Minami introduces himself to Viktor, correcting Yuuri’s mistakes in the process.

“I’m Minami Kenjirou,” he says shakily, his hands balling into little, tightly-clenched fists.  “I’m still skating in ladies’ seniors, but… but Yuuri-kun is my biggest inspiration and my favorite skater of all time!”  

Viktor casts a cautious glance in Yuuri’s direction, and Yuuri is caught by how stern his coach looks all of a sudden.  He might melt into a pool of embarrassment; he knew about Minami.  He knew all of that, it’s just… god, he’s just committed a cardinal sin; he doesn’t know if he’ll ever forgive himself.  He wants to say something, anything to right his mistake, but Minami seems to be handling himself just fine in explaining.  Yuuri definitely will not get his pronouns mixed up again.  If Viktor had ever done that to him…

“It’s nice to meet you, Kenjirou, my name is Vikt—”

“—tor Nikiforov!  I know!” squeals Minami.  “It’s so cool that you’re Yuuri’s coach!  I’m so happy you see how amazing he is! You can call me Minami-kun,” he says with an impish wink.  “I wish we were actually competing against one another! I can’t wait to watch the men’s—”

Yuuri is sure Minami is still talking, but he’s starting to zone out from the pressure building right behind his eyes, the pure embarrassment of starting out this way.  And all that after Eri gave him such a fuss this morning…

“Good luck today, Minami-kun,” he mutters, gathering up his paperwork and his access badge, and turning on his heel to escape in the direction of the locker rooms, conscious that he’s leaving Viktor to clean up his mess, to ever-so-gently handle the skater scorned Yuuri left in his wake, but if he doesn’t get to a quiet place soon, he’s going to freak out.

He does have fans.  He’s in his home country, the one he’s represented internationally numerous times, where people actually care whether he does well or not.  They saw him fail in Nationals, and now he’s back and trying some over-the-top Nikiforov-tier stunts at a regional-level competition?  One where he’s so out of touch, he can’t even remember crucial details about his teammates?

Where, at any given moment, his focus could be shattered by his infant daughter screaming for him in the stands?

This was a mistake.  This was all a long, elaborate set-up for him to show Viktor just how hard he can fail, just how disappointing he is, even to his own people.  He won’t let himself worry about Minami until he’s done competing. Then, he swears, he’ll attempt to apologize and make up for his inexcusable misgendering-deadnaming combination.  For now, it’s enough to worry about how he’s going to make it through the weekend in one piece.

When Viktor enters the locker rooms a few minutes later, laden with skate bags and costumes and sticking out like a sore thumb in his designer suit, he stares icy daggers in Yuuri’s direction, the kind that strikes mortal dread in the hearts of men, the kind that signals that Yuuri has royally fucked up.

“I was going to ask you to take my picture to commemorate my debut competition as your coach,” he sighs, “but I think there are a few more pressing questions we need to address.”

Yuuri crumples on the bench, his chest tight, unable to find the breath he needs to handle the look of disappointment his coach is giving him.  “Viktor, I can’t handle it, I’m so stressed. I know I messed up, it’s just I can barely focus when Eri is so—”

Viktor holds up a patient finger to silence him.  “I understand you’re stressed. Which is why I will handle the press and public relations whenever you need me to.  Yuuri—” He steps closer closing Yuuri into the corner where he’s seated. “Is your own motivation so dead that you have none to spare for your juniors who look up to you?  Even after all the amazing work we’ve done together?” The question hits Yuuri in the gut, knocks the wind out of him. Does Viktor think he doesn’t motivate Yuuri to do better?  Wouldn’t that indicate to him that his coaching isn’t effective?  Is this it? Will he go home after this competition?  “Now look, you’ve sulked in here for long enough that they’ve already drawn the order,” he continues flatly, holding up a slip of paper.  “You’re first. Let’s get you ready to show the world your Eros .”

He holds out a hand, his gaze still stringent and unreadable, and waits for Yuuri to take it before pulling the skater up into a firm hug, squeezing him tight and cradling his head against his shoulder.

“Trust me, Yuuri,” he whispers.  “Trust yourself, but if you can’t find the will to do that, trust me.  You’ve seen now I’m not the only one who believes in you this strongly, although you should have seen that at home with everyone who stands by you and cheers you on.  Don’t you take that lightly.”

 

 




It’s been years since Viktor has felt nervous at a competition.  For as long as he can remember now, they’ve been easy, almost routine, and he’s been able to approach the prospect of judgment and scrutiny without the fear of losing or even of disappointing his fans.

No, Viktor’s fears take a much deeper, much more sinister shape than that.

Today, at a regional championship Yuuri clearly has in the bag, one for which he’s overqualified and also over-cautious, Viktor fears he won’t be able to figure out to do what his student needs of him—that is, be an effective and validating coach.

“I don’t know why anyone thinks that,” was what Yuuri said in the locker room when Viktor tried to express to him how loved and valued he is as a skater.  “I don’t know if you know this, but people thought I was injured at the end of last season, but it just turned out I’m weak. I’m mentally weak.”

Those words continue to reverberate in Viktor’s mind as he watches Yuuri warm up, stiff and somber, clearly battling his nerves as he marks through a couple key transitions they’ve been focusing on in the past few weeks.  He hits a triple axel and lands cleanly just as the announcement is made that warm-ups are over.

Minami’s screams of encouragement can be heard above the crowd’s polite chatter, but Yuuri doesn’t seem to acknowledge them as he skates over to Viktor and braces himself against the boards.

“I want to say something encouraging, since this is our first competition together,” Viktor muses, taking Yuuri’s gloves and handing him his thermos.  “I don’t know… Do you want to hear that you’ll do great? That Eri is counting on you?” Perhaps that you need to smile a bit more and look like you actually want to be here?

Yuuri presses a dramatic breath out through his nostrils and shakes his head.  Viktor frowns. He isn’t intuitive in these kinds of situations. He has no clue what will shake Yuuri from this tense state.  But he knows that if his student goes out like this, anxious about his kid and unable to recognize his potential compared to the literal children he’s competing against, the Eros he’s supposed to be skating will be lost.  He has about ten seconds to evoke the entire theme of the short program in Yuuri, or it will have a fraction of its impact.

So he takes a chance.

“Yuuri, turn around,” he murmurs, brushing off the skater’s confusion as he waits for him to comply.  Then, without even so much as a warning, he snatches Yuuri up in a tight hug, one that triggers an explosion of camera flashes and gasps from the audience.

He can’t deny that this is as indulgent as he can get, teasing his fingertips along the mesh cutouts to caress Yuuri’s side, the delicate softness just below his ribs, pressing his cheek against Yuuri’s and whispering to him with lips dangerously close to soft, smooth skin.

“Don’t worry about a single person out there,” he says, fighting the urge to press a kiss into the curve of Yuuri’s jaw as he does, “because the only one you need to seduce is me.  If you can do that, you’ll have everyone enthralled. Okay?”

He can see Yuuri’s ears, his cheeks, even his neck flushed red, and he knows he’s hit his mark.  With a gratuitous slide of his hands along Yuuri’s side once more, he pulls away and watches his student skate the sexiest Eros he’s seen yet.

Half of what Yuuri gives would be enough to seduce Viktor.  But Yuuri doesn’t give half. Yuuri stiff and nervous and unable to concentrate would be enough to seduce Viktor.  He’s been hooked for months, but he won’t tell a soul. For some reason, his last-minute strategy works, and he knows from nights of watching video after video of Yuuri’s program that his student—his friend just skated one of his best performances.

Yuuri is silent as they await his score, and even after it tops his personal best by double digits.  Viktor wonders if it has something to do with the distinct sound of his baby fussing in the stands almost directly behind them, but before he gets a chance to ask, they’re surrounded by cameras and journalists rushing to ask questions before the next skate.

When the lights dim and the press backs off, Yuuri brushes right past a herd of skaters waiting to congratulate him and back into the locker room.  Not long after that, he’s back in his track pants and his team jacket, and Viktor watches as he retreats to the stands to pry his baby out of Minako’s arms.  Then father and daughter are out the door and undoubtedly in search of a secluded room to hide out for the rest of the day.

He has to admit he’s sort of peeved at that.  Nerves are one thing, but sheer avoidance is another.  The last thing Viktor wants as a coach is for his student to only hang around for their own engagements.

After all, that’s what he did as a student.  And he had to see the look of disappointment befall the face of a younger competitor when they realized he’d let them down, same as Yuuri.

That competitor was Yuuri.

Viktor finds him in a service hallway, Eri hanging from his shoulders in her little sling, drowning out the noise from the event with his headphones and swaying gently back and forth in his signature soothing rock-a-bye.  He wants to grab him by the wrist and drag him back out, but at the same time, the little family looks so peaceful together. There isn’t any room for Viktor’s annoyance in their soft, gentle dance. There isn’t any reason he should de-legitimize Yuuri’s stress, at least not today.  He resolves to make sure things go differently tomorrow, and to be there to support Minami in the meantime. That’ll give him enough time to try and figure out how to keep him from shutting down again.

He breaks the news the following morning as they walk into the rink together with Minako and Takeshi.

“Oh no, don’t worry about her, we’ve got her,” he says with his most convincing smile as Minako starts to take the carrier from Yuuri.  “You two go and enjoy the competition!”

“Viktor, what are you—” The younger man stammers, but Viktor takes his hand and kisses the knuckles, swift and firm and without hesitation, lest he should chicken out.

It’s effective in shutting up Yuuri’s protests, that’s for sure.

“You’re in first, my dear student, you’ve got plenty of Eri time before you have to go on.”  He winks to a confused Takeshi, grinning when Minako gives him a knowing look and guides her former student away from the sign-in table and toward the stands.  “Remember yesterday? You can trust me.”

Yuuri sighs, the tension melting from his shoulders just a bit.  “What about when I go on?’ he asks.

“Just like practice,” Viktor assures him.  “Eri can wait with me at the boards. Yesterday it was me, but today you can get a hug from her before you go out!”

The doubt is clear in Yuuri’s expression, but he doesn’t appear to be fighting Viktor on this.  

“If it’s going to be too stressful to be separated from her right now, I don’t want to do it,” Viktor presses.  “Yuuri, I know that having her nearby calms you down. That may not always be possible, but today it is. Let me help you nail this free skate.  And in the meantime—” He jabs a finger into Yuuri’s chest. “Quit draining the motivation of those who look up to you.”

Yuuri’s brow knits together in confusion as they walk toward the locker rooms.  “What?”

“You have a teammate who finds his inspiration in you, for more reasons than one,” Viktor says.  “But I don’t know how you’re supposed to motivate him to do better when you can’t even motivate yourself.”  He rushes to pull the door open so Yuuri can make it through with his bags and baby. “In his eyes, you paved the way for him to succeed.  Everything he wants to achieve—you made that possible for him. Do you remember what that was like?”

His words seem to hit hard.  Yuuri is quiet and serious for a good portion of the morning, but Viktor notices the difference in how he handles himself.  He takes Eri out to watch the early events, holding her up to watch the junior skaters’ routines, walking her around from one side of the rink to the other, then retreats back to the skater’s lounge during the break to get her fed and changed.

There’s something about this man that Viktor can’t quite figure out.  It’s like he flounders hopelessly until the moment he figures out what he needs to do to succeed… and then it’s as simple as working hard to achieve it.  Maybe all Yuuri needs is a goal. Or little goals along the way. Viktor’s never really had to think that way until now; he just did, following the trajectory he created for himself along the way.  Coaching is proving to be a stimulating challenge for him; he wants to help Yuuri work towards whatever it is that drives him forward.

When the ladies’ seniors are announced, Yuuri surprises Viktor by shoving Eri into his arms and running out to the rinkside to watch.

It’s refreshing to see him engaged and pragmatic today after yesterday’s freakout.  Viktor doesn’t want to hang back and wait for him to return, he wants to see more of this fresh side of Yuuri that he thought only existed in Hasetsu Ice Castle.  

“He’s got a chest binder on,” Yuuri points out as they watch Minami perform a spunky rendition of a classic rock-n-roll routine.

“A what?” Viktor asks.

“A compression shirt,” Yuuri explains.  “For a more masculine-looking torso.” His mouth twists into an unsatisfied frown.  “He shouldn’t be doing that. He could really hurt himself.”

“Oh,” Viktor hums in response.  “He’s really good, though.” Yuuri nods in agreement.

And then something happens when the free skate is finished.  Viktor watches with interest as Yuuri waits for Minami to receive his score, a stern expression painted across his face just like the one he’d tried to copy off Yakov in the locker room yesterday.

It clearly takes Minami by surprise; the teen’s excited squeals of “What did you think?” trail off as he catches Yuuri’s eye.

“You really shouldn’t skate with a binder on,” Yuuri says bluntly, looking down unfalteringly into Minami’s wide-eyed stare.

“But—”

“No buts, Kenjirou-kun, it’s dangerous,” Yuuri insists.  “If you ever want to compete against me in men’s, you’ve got to stop.  You’ve got more potential than this, but you’ll never know it if you don’t stop restricting your breathing.”

He pulls out his phone and holds it out for Minami to enter his number.

“I can help you find shirt styles, exercises, anything else that will give you the silhouette you want; but I will not watch you injure yourself, do you understand?”

The tears in Minami’s eyes are contagious, Viktor realizes as he tries to blink back his own emotions.  The teen thanks Yuuri over and over again, clinging to him with an iron grip even as they are approached by the press.  The teammates answer a few questions together, Yuuri responding with flat distaste after a reporter makes the same mistake he made just the day before, warning of the importance of calling Minami by the correct name.

He’s full of surprises.  He’s nothing but surprises, and Viktor is thirsty for everything he has to offer.

Once he breaks free and returns to lace up his skates and prepare for his own event, Yuuri catches Viktor’s eye and smiles.

“That felt good,” he admits.

Viktor only nods, still shaken by just how much Yuuri there truly is.

“Come back here you,” Japan’s ace coos at his daughter, pulling Eri into his arms and snuggling her close.  “Thank you for holding her,” he adds.

“Anytime,” Viktor murmurs.  “Anytime at all.”

They sit together on the floor after the official warm-up, their legs tangled lazily with Eri in between them, trying in vain to keep her from going her own way.  Yuuri has to crawl after her several times, dragging his skates behind him along the way, before tossing her back into Viktor’s arms for “Viktor tickles.”

It’s one of her new favorite games.

And one of Viktor’s, too.

“And she’ll be there with you while I skate?” Yuuri asks, as if he can’t believe it, a smile glimmering somewhere behind his caramel-chocolate eyes as Eri attempts to climb up his torso into his shoulders.

“We’ll be cheering you on together!” Viktor reassures him.

For the rest of the interval before his free skate, Yuuri’s face is soft and relaxed, and Viktor can’t help but drink it in; there’s something about the combination of his hair slicked back and his glasses on that is overwhelmingly handsome, even more so than with glasses off, and Viktor can’t deny that he’s living his dream in this moment.  He could easily forget the rest of the competition, the rest of the season, in favor of sprawling out on the floor with these two forever. Silver and gold sparkle light sunlight, but nothing is as bright as Yuuri’s face, unobstructed by his usual tangle of hair, lit up by the sight of a giggling Eri sitting on his stomach. Together, they shine, and just on the outskirts of their little two-person utopia, Viktor basks in the loving glow and hopes he never has to leave.

When the last skater before Yuuri makes his way to the rink, the skater-coach team decides it’s time.  Yuuri gathers up Eri in his arms, and Viktor gathers up everything else, all the water and tissues and other accouterments that his student may need in the next ten minutes, tossing them into Eri’s diaper bag and striding ahead to grab the door.

Minami is waiting at the boards, starstruck fireworks erupting in his eyes as he watches them emerge.  Viktor can’t help but milk it, scooping up Eri into the ring sling they pre-tied back in the lounge, then making a bit of a show of removing Yuuri’s jacket, biting back a private little smile when Minami emits a dramatic gasp.

He understands.  In his new skate costume, embellished with the highest-quality embroidery that Viktor could afford, Yuuri is a sight to behold.  Meticulously tailored fabric hugs every curve of his body, making him more alike to a living statue than a man, a shining model of beauty, a gift to anyone who lays eyes on him.

Viktor understands, because he couldn’t possibly look away if he tried, and he has to fight off the possessiveness growling in his chest as he adjusts Yuuri’s hair, applies a generous layer of balm to unfairly soft lips, and pulls Yuuri in for one more hug before he releases him out onto the ice.

“This is your story to tell to the world,” he whispers in the skater’s ear.  “No one else can skate this program like you can.”

Eri babbles along with him, picking up a few of his words and grabbing preciously at her dad’s face as he straightens.

“Shh, little one, Papa’s going to go win his gold,” Viktor soothes, holding her up for Yuuri to plant one more kiss on the top of her head.  “Good luck, Papa!”

“Papa!  Papa!” Eri echoes, jumping and waving in her sling, and then Yuuri pushes off and takes the center of the ice for the debut of his free skate program, Yuri on Ice.

Yuuri illustrates his story with breathtaking elegance, his figure cutting through the air like a bird on the wind, the glittering, hopeful sound of the piano dancing off him like a twinkling of morning dew, and Viktor watches as a lifetime of hope, and fear, and challenge unfold in front of his eyes, each new chapter portrayed in vivid detail in Yuuri's face, his posture… The nuance of his movements evolves with each new chapter of his life that he explores:  A young child discovering their love for dance, finding the fear and thrill combined that comes with taking that art onto the ice. The fear and shame and worry of understanding who they really are, of knowing that their experience is an exception, an “other.” The relief and hope that acceptance brings. Yuuri skates the tumult of his fight to be seen for who he really is, the triumph of achieving his goals, the shock and struggle of having that success ripped away by an unexpected change.

Viktor helped Yuuri translate his story into motion, up until a certain point.  He wanted to see what the final measures of the piece meant in the most inner, personal parts of his student, he wanted to know how the story ends from Yuuri’s perspective.  Where is he going? What is it all leading up to?

“Your Papa is beautiful,” he murmurs to Eri, holding her up to the boards to watch with him.  The glitter of Yuuri’s jacket catches her eye and she gazes transfixed as he sweeps past. “He’s fantastic, and he does it all for you, little one.”

Yuuri swims through a torrent of emotions, swirling so rapidly and erratically that it almost seems like he’s losing control, but at the last moment it clicks, he stops in place, creating beautiful shapes as he goes into his final spin, until he slows to a stop, arms outstretched.

At Viktor.

Or maybe at Eri.  The latter would be more understandable, the way she really is Yuuri’s everything, but even without his glasses, Yuuri’s eyes are fixed on Viktor’s, bright and longing and starting to droop with exhaustion.  That last moment, as the final note from the piano dies out, that pause right before the crowd erupts into applause is breathless and infinite. Viktor feels his heart reaching right back, aching to reciprocate.

He isn’t certain that Yuuri was pointing at him, but god, he wants to believe.  He wants it more than he can remember wanting anything.

When Yuuri comes off the ice, he takes Eri from Viktor and holds her close, and the novice coach can’t help but hold him close too, squeezing his shoulders and murmuring breathless praise in his ear as they wait.  

His final score blows his competitors out of the water.  It isn’t an official win, but Viktor would be willing to kiss that gold medal all the same as he and Yuuri jump up and down in excitement with Eri between them.  He tries to search for the words he needs to congratulate Yuuri, but that sweet smile, magnified through big, shining tears, steals his words and his breath once more.

“I did it,” Yuuri laughs, wiping fruitlessly at his cheeks and eventually just burying his face in his daughter’s plush onesie.   “We did it!”

“You did it,” Viktor reassures him.  “Yuuri, you did amazing.”

Yuuri looks up with him, the gold flecks in his cocoa-colored eyes refracting and sparkling in the performance lights.  There’s something there in that gaze that Viktor can’t quite place, something delicious and soothing and exciting all at once.

“I want katsudon,” he blurts, his face breaking into a ridiculous grin, every inch of him shaking with laughter as he falls back into Viktor’s arms.

“Oh good, I love katsudon,” Viktor laughs.

He’s one syllable away from spilling the truth.

He’s not sure he can hold it in much longer.

Chapter Text

“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.

“Sad?”

“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.

“Purupurupurupuru...gacha! Moshimoshi~”

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?”

Viktor nods.

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.

Chapter Text

The morning of the free skate is silent, but silent is fine compared to last night.

Yuuri is running on a full two hours of sleep—still sore from the previous skate, still worn thin by Eri’s night-long tantrum, still raw from his sour exchange with Viktor.

He kicked him out, even when all he wanted was to let him in.  So he wasn’t the least bit surprised when he awoke to a text saying that his coach had already departed for the rink, to take his time and get some rest.

He pushed, and in response, Viktor put distance between them.  It was the natural order of events, but it wasn’t how Yuuri had intended things to go.  Not before his free skate. Not before he proved Viktor right with a GPF gold.

He doesn’t even try to wake Eri up just yet.  He knows it’ll just make her cranky and harder to put back down, so he packs her things in a hurry, skips breakfast, and makes his way to the coffee stand they’d found the previous morning.  Too much coffee wouldn’t do him any good, but he can’t risk being drowsy today, so he gets a shot in the dark and a piece of fruit and rushes for the sports complex to register and get set up.

Viktor does not look pleased when he arrives.

Viktor looks awful, actually, his hair so uncharacteristically out of place, and a telltale touch of cover-up smeared under his eyes to cover up the bags.

Yuuri will be doing that himself, in enough time.  In spite of his efforts, he did catch sight of himself in the mirror on his way out the door.  His face was a grim mask of death, skin pale and eyes dark and mouth turned into an irreparable scowl.  It’s not what he needs today, his program is all about wonder and growth and the relief that comes with change.  It’s not a danse macabre meant as some sick joke.

This does not seem lost on Viktor as he gives Yuuri the staredown, his eyes searching and unreadable, his fingers curled in front of his lips to hide his deepening frown.

“Go get some rest,” he mutters curtly.  “I’ll wake you when it’s time.”

“I’m not a child, Viktor, I can—”

Viktor cuts him off, his fingers raking through his disheveled silver hair in frustration.  “As your coach, I’m not permitting you to participate in anything until your official warm up, so you might as well sleep.  Go.”

Yuuri feels his chest tighten as he turns away, off in the direction of the dark, unused meeting room he’d found to get some peace and quiet earlier in the week.  He hasn’t seen that face since training with Celestino, so full of pity and disappointment and worry. Sickening guilt churns in his stomach, that and hunger, and he instantly regrets the extra-caffeinated coffee he chugged on the way in.  He unfurls a makeshift bed out of his exercise mat, baby blankets, towels, and coats, and curls up around Eri until he finds a position somewhere close to comfortable.

What the hell is Viktor trying to do?  Why isn’t he being gentle and supportive, doing his best to help Yuuri win?  Up until now, they’ve been like a team, giving and taking in equal measure in order to create something that was working, something beautiful and exciting that made Yuuri want to get out of bed in the morning.  Up until now, Viktor has been giving him what he needs to be a good parent and a great skater, a combination he once truly believed wasn’t possible, not for someone as weak-willed as him.

As if he could even sleep right now, anyway, he’s crawling out of his skin from caffeine and Viktor’s not-so-subtle way of signaling that whatever Yuuri’s doing, it isn’t enough to satisfy him as a coach or a friend.  The adrenaline is rattling through his veins as he tries to even out his breathing, tries to surround his daughter with something close to calm, but he can’t help it. The tears come anyway, stinging at the corners of his eyes and clogging his sinuses, and he clutches Eri to his chest, hoping the comfort of her warmth, her smell, everything about her that makes her his blessing will ward off the oncoming spiral of emotions.

Almost two years ago now, when he broke the news to What’s-His-Name that, despite his doctor’s assurance that he couldn’t get pregnant while taking testosterone, he somehow had, this discussion came up.

He’d already taken a season off to recover from top surgery.  It was a stretch, but he was sure that if he stayed in shape, planned his programs ahead of time, and trained hard once the baby was born, he could be back in time for the next competition season.  

He thought they’d have a family together.  

He thought he’d have support.

But What’s-His-Name had other ideas, ones that involved using his pre-med degree to provide for the three of them while Yuuri stayed at home with the baby.

While Yuuri quit his dream of one day competing against the man who’d inspired him, to stay at home with the baby.

He remembers his boyfriend’s shaking hands spilling coffee on their outdated kitchen table, the mug toppling to the floor and shattering with a sickening crash.

He still can’t stomach the smell of hazelnut.

He remembers the threats to leave, and who would support him then?  Who would take care of her while he worked on finishing school and tried to find a career he could actually balance with this new life?

For a while, he relented.  For too long, actually, so long that he let himself be coerced into staying in Detroit to give birth, with What’s-His-Name beside him instead of his own mother, ready to commit to a life he didn’t want.

It wasn’t until he looked up and saw the impatience in his lover’s eyes as he was undergoing the local anesthesia that Yuuri realized he didn’t want that man anywhere near his child.

He turned to the nurse and said, “Get him out.”

He gave birth alone.  But his loneliness was short-lived, because a beautiful bundle of purple-red wrinkles came into his life that night.  A love he’d already felt deep within himself surfaced into his every day, and he didn’t need a second name on her birth certificate to validate her role as his Eri, a blessing and a benefit in his life.

What’s-His-Name didn’t trust that Yuuri could do it on his own.  Yuuri thought, he really did, that Viktor at least had that much faith in him.

He thought he’d be able to keep him around at least a whole season.

“Can I really do this?” he whimpers into his daughter’s hair.  “Can I really have this?”

He feels lower than he had in Sochi.  Then, too, he’d curled up on the floor with Eri, unable to stop himself from crying, unable to determine who he was hurting more—himself or her.

He doesn’t know, he can’t know, and he can’t find the answer like this, so he cries until he can’t cry anymore, then lays in the dark, watching his daughter sprawled out and dreaming peacefully.

Whatever he does, whatever he chooses, it will be for her.

He just hopes it doesn’t mean sacrificing everything he’s worked for up until now.

He hopes he doesn’t have to let go of Viktor in the process.

 

 


 

Viktor is a wreck, an absolute bundle of nerves over today’s performance.  

He knows Yuuri will be crushed by anything less than his best, and after an hours-long battle to get Eri in bed and asleep, Yuuri is nowhere near his best.

Nowhere, Viktor realizes as he wanders into some secluded corner of the arena—seriously, where does Yuuri find these places?—and discovers his skater laying on his side, just as strung-out as he looked that morning, zoning out as Eri sits dutifully beside him with a tower of blocks.

At least she looks happy.

All Viktor wants is to help Yuuri, not hurt him, and somehow he’s failed so miserably at it in the past twenty-four hours that he doesn’t know where to turn next.  He doesn’t know how to act, what to say, anything to make Yuuri look a little less tortured.

Honestly, all he wants to do is call the free skate off and whisk him away back to the hotel and a warm bed and the promise that Eri would be fine while he slept.

He knows that in reality, at least two aspects of that fantasy would push Yuuri even further into a panic.

Viktor is stuck, and the only thing he knows how to do when he’s stuck is push through, even if it sucks.

“You didn’t get much sleep, did you?” he asks quietly.

“None,” Yuuri whispers.  “I’m sorry, Viktor.” He sits up, his black tee shirt rumpled and riding up on his torso to reveal the long, shiny, silver-white scar that sits just above the jut of his hips, and Viktor remembers just how sensitive their situation is.

Whatever happens in Yuuri’s life, in his career doesn’t affect just Yuuri.

Wherever this career takes him, it takes Eri.  Viktor can’t imagine the pressure an ultimatum like that must conjure in one’s mind.  How pressing every event, every day must feel.

He just wants to be a source of comfort, but for some reason, ever since last night, he’s been a source of stress.  And so he backs off. He lets Yuuri prepare in privacy the way he prefers. He finds Chris and distracts himself with some idle chat for a while, reads another chapter of Tolstoy, and returns to the rink, only to be stopped by a concerned and questioning glare from Phichit.

“What did you do?” he asks seriously.

Viktor doesn’t know how to respond.

“Yuuri’s been texting me all day asking if I think Celestino will take him back, Nikiforov.  What did you do?”

The tension in Viktor’s shoulders doesn’t go away.  He doesn’t know, he thought he was doing the right thing, but instead, he messed everything up, and now…

Now Yuuri wants to leave.

He did it.  He pushed too far, burned too hot, and now he’s about to lose his first and only skater before they’ve even finished a whole season together.

Before he even sees Yuuri’s full potential.  Before they even…

Viktor thinks he’s going to be sick, but he can’t let Phichit know.  There are too many eyes in the arena today, too many people watching him, them, specifically, for Viktor to let on that anything is wrong.

He can handle a rough patch in his own career, but Yuuri?

He takes a moment to breathe, puts on the mask that belongs here, in front of the crowd at a competition, and smiles politely.

“Yuuri was up with the baby all night,” he explained coolly, trying to steady himself, trying to focus on the what’s next.   “I offered help, but… well, I don’t think it was really my place.”

“He needs to understand that—”  His eyes dart over Viktor’s shoulder suddenly, and he scrambles to ease his stance a little bit.  “— that Tuptim is writing an ice show based on a book Anna lent her.  But the British skaters show up early, and —Hi Yuuri!”

Viktor is puzzled for a moment at the sudden change in topic, but whirls around just in time to see Yuuri approaching with Eri, his hair slicked back and team jacket on.

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember whose turn it is,” Yuuri mumbles, eyes down.  Viktor can see the tension still lingering in his shoulders, even though he’s been warming up for quite a long time now.

“Viktor’s turn, honey, we have the warm-up,” Phichit soothes, rubbing Yuuri’s back as he hands Eri off.

Eri is an angel, this time in a lion onesie Yuuri found at the airport while they waited for their flight.  She grabs excitedly at Viktor’s hair.

“Bika!”

Viktor sways side to side a little, only half-consciously, but he tries to stay professional.

He tries.

“The official six-minute warm-up for the final group, men’s singles, is about to begin,” the announcer’s voice blares over the speakers.

“Yuuri,” Viktor mutters, grabbing his skaters hand before he departs.

Yuuri looks up at him with eyes that have scarcely lost their desperation.

“Take it easy in the warm-up.  No jumps,” he warns. “You’ve got to preserve everything—stamina, strength, and morale—for this skate.  Okay?”

Yuuri turns and walks away without a word.

Skaters’ hearts are as fragile as glass.  Viktor is running out of things that can hold his together.

In the fourth minute of the warmup—Viktor is counting, because all he wants is to get Yuuri someplace safe and quiet where he can actually do something to help for once—Yuuri attempts a quad toe loop and overrotates.  The thud of his body crashing down onto the ice has the audience groaning sympathetically, and Viktor tenses as he watches Yuuri pick himself up.  There’s something lackluster about him out there, some absence of life that claws at Viktor’s chest as he racks his brain trying to think of a solution.

It’s the Yuuri he saw in the lobby after last year’s GPF.  Maybe it’s just the lack of sleep, but he looks deflated, exhausted, and Viktor can’t help but worry.

Viktor gives Yuuri his daughter along with a prodding, questioning glance as he leaves the ice.  Yuuri keeps his eyes down.

Starting the second day of the competition in the lead comes at the price of performing last, but Viktor is thankful for any spare second he can get.  He doesn’t wait, doesn’t insist Yuuri watch any of the programs, he just moves, dragging Yuuri and his warm-up mat to the unused conference room where he tried to sleep that afternoon.  He doesn’t speak a word, but neither does Yuuri, and he isn’t sure whether that has anything to do with confusion, or anger, or some quiet understanding. It doesn’t really matter at this point.

“Here, it’s quiet in here,” he mutters awkwardly.  “Yuuri. What do you need?  What can I do for you?”

Yuuri manages the slightest quirk of a half smile.  “Just watch Eri while I stretch, please,” he rasps flatly.  “That’s fine.”

“Absolutely,” Viktor says, trying to adjust his voice to sound softer and more comforting.  

He steps out a few times to check progress but keeps himself and Eri close by, never straying too far from Yuuri’s radar.

Just as Phichit is set to go on, he ventures into Yuuri’s zone of focus and taps him on the shoulder to get his attention.

Eri is asleep again, lulled to sleep by Viktor’s pacing and undoubtedly still worn out from the previous night.

“It’s time to go, Yuuri.”

Yuuri turns, pulling his earplugs out as he does, and Viktor watches the horror fill his eyes as he hears the crowd’s uproarious approval of Phichit’s free skate.

But Yuuri is already white as a sheet, the hours’ worth of loosening and relaxing undone.  

Viktor has no solutions.  He has this one last shot to help Yuuri find his drive.

If skater’s hearts are as fragile as glass…

He turns toward the door.

“Yuuri, if you mess up this free skate and miss the podium, I’ll take responsibility by resigning as your coach,” he deadpans, doing his best to keep his voice unwavering.

The room is silent for a few moments as Viktor’s words sink in.

And then it’s filled with the sounds of Yuuri’s soft, restrained cries.

“Why—why would you say that?” He grits, his hands balling up into fists at his sides.  “Why would you even joke about something like that?”

“Yuuri, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to—“

“What?  Test me?” Yuuri sobs, his face drawn into a pained grimace.  “To see how hard I will push?  As if I didn’t push on during puberty, twice?  Through a surgery that took me out for a whole season?”  He points a shaking finger at Eri. “I spend every day working to prove that this is worth it, that I can do it for the sake of more than just myself!  All of my mistakes reflect on my choices—transitioning, competing in men’s, continuing even after… Viktor, now they reflect on you!”

Viktor watches in silent agony as Yuuri clutches at his temples, his chest heaving.

“I need to believe that I can do this.  I need to believe that I made the right choice, that he was wrong when he said I couldn’t handle both.  All this time, I’ve been worried he was right, and all this time I’ve been worried you want to quit!”

Viktor feels a pang of sadness as he realizes how bad his jab must have sounded.  “I don’t want to quit,” he says cautiously.

“I know that!” Yuuri yells.  Viktor hears Eri start to stir and whine behind him.

“What do you want me to do?” Viktor asks again, his voice barely a whisper.

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut, his hands dropping futilely at his sides once more.  “Just have more faith in me than I do that I can do it,” he cries.

Viktor is silent; every possible way he could have messed this up, he did, and now Yuuri is crumbling in front of him and he doesn’t know what to do.  Yuuri’s shoulders shake as he struggles to pull himself together, but pretty soon his breathing evens, and he grabs Eri before walking past Viktor towards the door, shoving the Makkachin box of tissues into his chest.

“Let’s go,” he mumbles.

 

 


 

When Yuuri takes the ice, he hands Viktor his jacket, then Eri, letting out his breath in a soft but steady sigh.  Eyes down, without a word. The contrast from yesterday’s display is jarring.

Phichit sidles up beside Viktor as the lights dim and the announcer reads the program notes.

“Is everything okay?” he asks.  “He looks…”

“Broken?” Viktor asks.  “Hurt?”

“Calm.”

Viktor hitches Eri up on his hip.  “I think I’ve messed up every single thing I could mess up today,” he admits.

Phichit sighs, a slow, dark exhale that turns Viktor to ice.  “Look,” he says, as the twinkling piano music signals the start of Yuuri’s program.  “Drew—What’s-His-Name—was a great guy. A med student—He wanted to be an oncologist. He escorted Yuuri to classes when he was being targeted for being transgender.  Drew was kind and caring, but finding out about the baby?  That changed him. He couldn’t handle it, he started to get controlling and over-protective. He never got physical, but he consciously said some things that really hurt Yuuri.  He was still manipulative.”

Viktor blinks, taken aback by this sudden very personal information.  In front of him, Yuuri lands a clean quad toe double toe combination.

“Viktor,” Phichit urges, “He was Yuuri’s first and only anything.   He loved him immensely and he didn’t stay.  Eri has never actually had another father… it’s always only been Yuuri.”

Viktor steadies himself on the boards, his mind reeling as Yuuri hits his quad salchow.  He isn’t sure he understands exactly what Phichit was saying, but he thinks he has the general idea.

“Phichit, I’ve been trying to tell him all this time,” he starts, but a pointer finger jabbed sharply in his side makes him choke on his words.

“Show him,” Phichit hisses.  “Show him you’ll stay.”

Viktor watches Yuuri launch into his triple axel, his chest tightening as he realizes what Phichit is saying.

What Yuuri has been saying this whole time.

He isn’t sure he’s breathed since the start of the interlude, but the way Yuuri transcends everything and floats through his choreography is fascinating and raw and heart-wrenching.  This story is his life, everything that has brought him here.

Everything that makes this worth it.

He’s got an ethereal air to him, like someone reborn, and Viktor bites his fist as he executes another combination.  He overrotates, but he stays on his feet, and the combo to follow is practically flawless.

Viktor ought to be taking this more seriously, he ought to be taking notes, paying attention to more details, but Yuuri’s soft, somber face as he seems to spin on air through his step sequence is so captivating.  So raw and vulnerable.  Out there, he can say everything he needs to say openly, without worry of the reception.  He's telling Viktor something he doesn't have the words to convey.

“He’s prepared a quad toe loop for his final jump,” the announcer murmurs, but before Yuuri is even in the air, Viktor sees the subtle difference in his angle, switching his edges ever so slightly.

A quad flip.  Viktor’s signature move.

Viktor’s breath catches in his throat, his eyes brimming with tears as Yuuri touches down, but he sure as hell manages to keep his footing, and Viktor receives his message loud and clear.

He should have remembered, from regionals.  He should have remembered from the viral video way back in April, that Yuuri has been reaching out to him all this time.  

He’s already unloading Eri into Phichit’s arms by the time Yuuri hits his last pose, arms outstretched in his direction, but when the music stops and the crowd breaks into uproarious applause, Viktor is already running to the ice’s entrance.  He needs to show Yuuri he understands, to show him he’s there to stay no matter what.

He’s not sure what the best way is to do that, but her certainly know what way he’s going to choose.

 

 


 

Yuuri’s knees shake as he does a loop around the ice to address the audience one last time before turning in the direction of the exit.

He worries they might give out on him, that he might not even make it off the ice.

He can hardly remember what he skated, only that it was the most refreshed he’s felt in years, a cathartic journey that reminds him why he’s here.  That reminds him that his goals define him, not his struggles, and that he’s surrounded by love and support wherever he goes.

Love and support follow him.  Stay with him.

He looks love and support in the eyes as he glides toward the gate, a rush of relief washing over him as he sees the tenderness in those endless blue eyes.

And before he can comprehend what’s happening, Viktor launches forward, his arms encircling Yuuri, caging him in as Viktor’s weight plows into him, throwing him backward in the air.

There’s a slight shock of Yuuri’s breath being knocked from his chest, the smell of cologne and  stale coffee, and then a gentle pressure, a soft, wet warmth against his lips, Viktor’s hand cradling the back of his head.

And then a thud, a scrape as they slide across the ice together, the sting of the ice against the back his neck, and the tingle that refuses to go away, still lingering on his lips where Viktor just kissed him .

Viktor just kissed him.

The sensation is gone too soon, and too electric and invigorating to ignore, so Yuuri cranes his neck up and returns the kiss, crushing his lips into Viktor’s without a single care about who is watching or how many of them there are.

His breath comes rushing back to him as they part, a soft, airy giggle, and Viktor looking down at him like this is so perfect, more so than whatever his score could be, that he isn’t even interested in getting up.

“Don’t stop,” Viktor whispers, leaning down to rest his forehead gently on Yuuri’s.  “Please never stop surprising me, Yuuri.”

And Yuuri can only gaze up into those eyes like cloudless summer days, mesmerized and unbelieving and amazed, because he’s already forgotten the flip and everything about how he just performed.   He’s not the one full of surprises, not when Viktor has him safe in the fold of his arms out on the ice in front of everybody.

The walk to the kiss and cry is surreal, a minute of cacophony and chaos suspended in time as he walks past awed faces, Viktor trailing behind him, gripping his hand tight.

He knows he messed up enough to affect his scores, but he doesn’t care for a moment.  There’s something different about taking the bench in the press box this time as Viktor slides in beside him, arm steady and secure around his shoulders.  Every time he looks up, a warm, slightly nervous smile envelops him like a warm blanket, and for the first time since their strange, prodigious partnership began back in April, Yuuri doesn’t question it.

He doesn’t have to.  Here in the kiss and cry, Viktor next to him feels like a fact, a constant in an ever-changing world.

The din that follows Yuuri’s final score is deafening, and only partially because Viktor is yelling in his ear that he made the podium.

“I knew you could, Yuuri, only you could shine like that against all odds!”

It’s not a gold, he realizes; he finished in second place, and the winner of first is currently running toward him with his child in their arms.

Phichit is radiant, a smile like sunshine spread from ear to ear as he passes Eri into Yuuri’s arms by way of a crushing group hug.

Being here like this, Viktor on one side, Phichit on the other, with the realization that he’ll be sharing the podium with friends, is as much of a win as Yuuri could ever have hoped for.  If he’s going to miss out on gold, this is the only way he’d want to do it. He almost forgets his exhaustion as he breathlessly answers press questions, with Viktor beside him jokingly reminding the reporters to stick to questions about Yuuri’s performance, we’re all professionals after all…

(He pairs that last bit with a coy wink that instantly, infallibly charms everyone, something Yuuri still can’t wrap his head around, but he’s thankful for it in the moment, because he has no clue how to address the myriad topics being tossed at him, from his relationships to his daughter to his gender to the kiss that just happened right here, right in front of everybody. )

Viktor is unfaltering in front of the cameras.  He deflects attention to Yuuri, supporting him with a firm, grounding hand on his shoulder.  Something about it feels like a promise, a hint toward what comes next, once they leave the cameras and crowds behind.  And Yuuri can’t wait.

 

 


 

The second the victory ceremony is over, the lack of sleep hits, mixed with the exertion from the most difficult program Yuuri has ever skated, and everything that follows is a blur of thank-yous and polite nods and hauling belongings into the car Viktor called for them.  Breakfast plans are made with Chris and Phichit, calls from friends and family are answered, photo ops are offered to fans and spectators on the way back to the lockers. Eri is wide awake now, of course, a day of catch-up sleep and an evening of excitement sending her energy levels through the roof, and if it weren’t for Phichit and Viktor keeping her occupied, Yuuri thinks he might have already broken down crying again.  He can’t keep up. He’s thankful to be back in sweats, albeit with the addition of a shining silver medal hanging, cool and heavy, around his neck. Doing his best to maintain his appearance until he’s in the car and on his way, he waves to the last few lingering fans and drags his body out to the car alongside Viktor.

Everything’s ready; gear in the trunk, car seat installed courtesy of Viktor, motor running and two steaming paper cups of tea waiting in the cupholders.  And although it’ll be the sixtieth time he’s heard it that day, Yuuri winds up putting on Eri’s favorite kid’s music playlist on YouTube just to get her into the car seat and quiet as he and Viktor pile in after her.

If not for Teku, Teku playing on repeat and driving Yuuri crazy, he could easily fall asleep in the five-minute drive back to the hotel.  Well, the music keeps him agitated at the very least; the thing that keeps him awake and alert is the brush of his shoulder, his knee, his ankle against Viktor’s as the car jostles them from side to side.  It’s not the first time Viktor’s touch has left maddening flames lingering in its wake, nor is it the first time Yuuri has consciously remained still, not bothered enough to adjust or move away. He has to admit there’s nothing he wants more than to keep feeling the warmth that is radiating from right beside him, the miniature gravity of two celestial bodies on a painfully slow collision course for one another.  He received a prophecy in Viktor’s kiss, a prelude to something wonderful and amazing and unknown, something he’s hoped for and feared for months, and now all he can do is wait and wonder and want.

He wasn’t even aware, not until now, how badly he wants.  Of course he does; he always has, but the feeling has never taken shape tangibly in Yuuri’s chest like this, the draw of Viktor’s closeness, the ache of wishing to slot into the crook of his arm and settle there, soft and comfortable and quiet.  His desire has always been for Viktor’s attention, which he earned long ago, and then his approval, which followed almost immediately. Then he wanted his time, which he has—he has had for months now.  How has he missed the underlying pull in Viktor’s direction all this time?  He’s never realized until tonight how tedious it has been to skirt cautiously around one another all day, calculating and weighing every word spoken between the two of them as if its weight could accidentally crush the other if not chosen with precision.

The way he crushed Viktor yesterday, when all he wanted was for him to stay.

It takes the help of a couple of porters to get the gear and the car seat and all of Eri’s things up to their floor.  Normally Yuuri would be mortified, normally he would insist on doing it himself, but tonight the help is a welcome means of expediting his passage straight upstairs and to his bed.

“Eri, shhh, my love,” he whispers, his daughter’s whines in his ear grating through him like flashes of blinding white-hot light.  “Bedtime now.”

The chorus of “nos,” shrill and defiant and his daughter emits as he drags the two of them into their room, Viktor trailing behind silently with his gear, is not a friendly prospect for how this night will go.

Viktor has been quiet since they arrived on their floor, and as Yuuri lowers Eri into her crib, thankful they had the forethought to change her diaper and her clothes before they left the rink, he realizes the other man is lingering awkwardly in the doorway, no doubt unsure whether he’s welcome inside or expected to retire to his own room for the night.

“Oh… um, can you…” Yuuri fumbles for the right words as Eri claws at his shirt, threatening to pull him off balance in his exhausted state.

“I figure now isn’t exactly a good time to talk, huh?” Viktor says with a somber little smile.  “I would understand entirely if you’d like me to leave you be, to let you unwind and get some rest until morning.”

“N-no,” Yuuri gulps, helping Eri lay back down in the crib.   “Time for bed, love, time for sleep.”  He looks up and sees Viktor frozen in place, like he was about to turn to leave.  “Stay.”

Azure eyes, tired as they are, light up with joy.

“I don’t think I’m getting to sleep anytime soon anyway,” Yuuri mumbles, trying to adjust Eri’s blankets to get her comfortable enough to stay down.  Viktor steps inside, shutting the door gently behind him, but keeps his distance.

“I’m sorry for scaring you today,” he says, his voice low and fried from two long days in a noisy arena.  “And for offending you last night. I—”

“No,” Yuuri interrupts, daring to hold Viktor’s gaze, to keep the attention of those piercing eyes for as long as he’s able.  “I’m sorry. I… I have trouble believing in myself sometimes,” he explains, finally just picking Eri up and sitting her in his lap at the end he of the bed.  “And trouble believing that others could believe in me. I spent so much of my life being told I can’t… growing up, and then when I started competing, and then… What’s-His-Name made me believe that the life I had and the life I wanted were mutually exclusive.  He made me believe I couldn’t….”

“I’m so sorry,” Viktor murmurs, perching on the edge of the bed next to him.  “I’m so sorry anyone has ever made you feel like less than the remarkable man you are.”

“I’ve never felt remarkable,” Yuuri admits, his ears burning at the dollop praise Viktor’s just laid on him.  “All I’ve ever felt is the need to prove that I am good enough to validate the important decisions I’ve had to make along the way.”  He swallows hard. “Viktor, I believe in myself as a skater when I’m with you. And with you and Phichit, Yuuri, Minako… my family… the love and support that surrounds me.  You all help me be the father I was told I couldn’t be. I can do it with you by my side.”

He looks up to meet Viktor’s eyes and can feel the compassion in his gaze.  He moves in closer, leaning over and letting Viktor’s shoulder catch his weight.  He’s heavy and happy and having trouble keeping his eyes open, but he’s determined to let Viktor know how he feels after Viktor broadcast his feelings to the world.  He knows that Viktor will meet him where he is, that he’s been doing that this whole time.

“I want to be whatever you need me to be,” Viktor murmurs.  Yuuri can tell he’s tired, his voice is a low, soft rumble, his arm wrapping around Yuuri’s middle gentle and reverent.  “Whatever it takes to stay with you like this.”

“Don’t change anything,” Yuuri says.  “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do. I want you to be Viktor.”

“Can you let me help you, even if it’s just for tonight, and get this girl to bed so you can sleep?”

Yuuri nods into his bicep, enjoying the press of the firm muscle against his cheek.  “I want to kiss again,” he hums.

Viktor chuckles, scooping Eri into his arms and letting Yuuri tumble into his pillow before stooping down and pressing a soft kiss into his temple, then his lips.

His deep voice whispering, “Goodnight, my Yuuri,” is the last thing Yuuri hears before sleep overtakes him, and his dreams are filled with more tender, warm hugs and plush kisses, something rose-colored, precious and intimate.  They were the out on the ice, the air around them shimmering lilacs and indigos as they glided over pristine, reflective ice, twirling together in time to a familiar tune, eyes locked and burning with passion.

He’s had these dreams before, had them for years, but not like this, not vivid and born of Yuuri’s real, sensual experience.  Not with the knowledge that his yearning is not only known, but reciprocated, that Minako was right, Viktor chose him —the feeling was delicious and overwhelming all at once.

The anticipated shock of landing a jump jolts him awake after god only knows how long.  The lights are out, and it’s still and dark outside, but Yuuri scans the suite anyway, making sure his daughter is asleep before shutting his own eyes once more.

He finds Eri fast asleep on her stomach, her hair a tangled black bramble that he looks forward to combing out in the morning, her body wrapped in her favorite chenille blanket and her favorite cow plushie dangling from her fist.

She’s passed out in a sleeping Viktor’s lap in the recliner, her head square in the middle of his chest, bobbing up and down ever so slightly as he breathes.

They both look so utterly relaxed, completely content in one another’s company, that Yuuri feels his chest swell at the sight, filled with the joy of seeing how Viktor and his daughter genuinely enjoy one another so organically and so completely.

It really seems like she’s in good hands.  Yuuri is willing to let them sleep like that.  And as he drifts back into his own dreams, thankful that it’s not quite time to get back to reality yet, he can’t help but think that he’s in good hands, too.

He’s got this something for Viktor.  He’s still working on what exactly the right word is.  But until he figures it out, he decides to go with, “love.”

Looking at him fast asleep with Eri, Yuuri feels that something like love so deeply, he thinks for a second it just might be the real thing.

 

Chapter Text

Viktor grew up in a modest, red-brick townhouse in the outskirts of Moscow, shaded by birch trees and accented with clean, white shutters framing the windows.  The door is painted a light, mossy green, a row of bird feeders and birdhouses line one side of the sidewalk, and a pair of heavy, mud-caked boots await their next use up on the front step.  Along the side is the hint of where a vegetable garden would be in summer, and as the rented Lada Granta pulls down the gravel drive, Yuuri can hear the familiar crow of a rooster somewhere nearby.

“This is it,” Viktor smiles, shifting into park.  “This is home.”

It’s almost six in the morning, and everything is coated with a shimmering layer of translucent frost that stings at Yuuri’s cheeks as he steps out of the passenger’s seat and starts to get Eri unfastened.

“Don’t be nervous,” Viktor murmurs as he pulls their bags out of the trunk.  “It’s a bit of a zoo, but Nikolai has got nothing but love in his heart. Got it?”

“Got it,” Yuuri says, groaning as he hoists Eri up to sit on his hip.  He is nervous; he usually is when meeting new people.  But Viktor reaches up as they climb the doorstep and wraps his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders in a quick half-hug, and he feels a surge of reassurance.

He’s not doing this alone.

It’s been nice these few days since the Cup of China ended, feeling his walls come down around Viktor.  He wasn’t even really aware until now that there were walls at all, barriers he’s constructed over the years from his own doubts and fears and disbelief that he could have something like this… As he looks up into the eyes of the man who shattered those walls to reach him, he can’t help but wonder how long he’s been holding himself back.

Viktor’s grin beams down on him like the soft, frozen sunshine that will soon peek over the horizon.  Yuuri can feel the excitement radiating from him on all sides; this is Viktor’s family, after all, his home.  Yuuri’s been imagining it for the whole of their day and a half of travel.  Viktor speaks about Nikolai with such warmth and affection, like within these brick walls lies a haven for kids like him, a place of safety and compassion and love.  

Perhaps that’s why whenever they’ve talked about the house in Moscow, Yuuri has always pictured it as his own home.

Eri is snoring, soft and squeaky with breath that is hot against Yuuri’s neck, breath that still makes him shiver when mixed with the cold morning air.  He’s grateful when the front door opens to reveal Yurio’s half-asleep scowl beneath a mess of tangled, blond hair. The preteen examines the two of them silently with groggy eyes for a moment, then turns and calls out over his shoulder.

“Viktor doma.”

He wanders back inside to give them room to enter, and Viktor leads Yuuri into a cozy little family room, an arrangement of mismatched sofas and wooden rocking chairs littered with toys, blankets, lost socks, and cat hair.  The coffee table is piled high with children’s books and magazines, and a little rack closest to the entryway houses a collection of little shoes, coats, and backpacks.

The morning news is blaring on the television, and immediately Eri starts to stir and whine in Yuuri’s arms as they step into the room.  Yurio runs over and turns the volume down, taking a moment as he does to switch the program over to cartoons and take up camp on the sofa.

“Wow, you must have cleaned,” Viktor says with a teasing grin at his brother.

“Shut up, it’s more than you would have done,” Yurio spits, burrowing deeper into his blankets and turning with a huff toward the television.  “Where is he? Papa!” he bellows.   “Viktor doma!”

Yuuri isn’t sure he expected anything like this.  It’s so… well, so clearly lived-in, a house full of energy and the remnants of playtime.  It reminds him of the daycare where he sometimes took Eri when he was still in school, chaotic and cluttered but a child’s absolute dream.  They hear heavy footfalls descending the stairs, and as Viktor and Yurio exchange a series of petty little gestures and faces, an older man emerges from the second floor, with a face that looks as though it was once soft and warm but has gained its sternness over the years; Nikolai’s hair is streaked with silver and his beard is brassy but well-kempt.  

“English, Yura, be polite,” the old man says.  “And quiet, I just told Maks he’s got to stay in bed a little longer.”  He turns to regard Yuuri and Viktor then, his eyes warm and welcoming as he holds his arms out.  “My Vitya, I wasn’t expecting you so early!”

He has to pull Viktor down by his shoulders to plant a kiss on his temple, even then craning his neck just enough to reach.

Viktor’s cheeks are beautifully pink as he breaks into a full smile, the kind Yuuri rarely saw before they began working together, and even then only on special occasions.  When Vikor lets himself really smile, full and uninhibited by the need to keep up appearances or shelter feelings, his eyes and nose crinkle just a bit, interrupting the picture-perfection most fans have come to expect from him, and it is absolutely stunning.  Yuuri catches himself staring.

Yuuri has caught himself staring more and more in the past few days, unsure how it is he made it to this place in his life.  He still hasn’t talked about it with his family, although they’ve talked plenty of times since his free skate. He has enough unanswered texts from Mari that contain enough exclamation points to know it will have to come up sooner rather than later.

Him and Viktor.  He doesn’t really know what to say about it, just thinking about it fills his head with funny, fuzzy fireworks that border on the irrational… it’s a giddy, dizzying feeling that has the ability to spread throughout his body in an instant, filling him with sensational, restless excitement to consider that for the past few days he and Viktor have been… well, something.   They haven’t even really had time to discuss it between themselves, although that isn’t for lack of trying.  It’s just, other things seem more important whenever they get a moment to themselves, things that they’ve been trying to refrain from around Eri.  Viktor is overwhelming in the way he fills Yuuri’s senses, and even just sitting close together on the plane was enough to have them breathless and restless, their ankles entwined under Eri’s blanket for the whole ten-hour flight.

“Our flight was moved up,” Viktor explains, reaching out to rest a hand on Yuuri’s shoulder.  “Papa, this is Yuuri Katsuki, who I’ve been coaching this season, and the little one is his daughter Eri.”

Even when Nikolai turns to address Yuuri, Viktor’s hand remains, his grip on Yuuri’s shoulder firm and reassuring, thumb brushing back and forth over the seam of his jacket.  The old man shoots a knowing glance from Yuuri to Viktor and back again, doing his best to conceal the smile blooming on his face.

“This is Yura’s favorite skater, is he not?” he asks.

“Papa, oh my god,” Yurio whines from the couch, hiding his face in his pale blue comforter.

Nikolai winks.  “I’ve heard a lot about you from both my sons,” he says, finally breaking into a tender smile.  “I can’t imagine you three have gotten a good night’s sleep. Vitya, let’s set up in—”

His words are cut short by the thunderous sound of feet and a chorus of excited squealing as four little bodies in colorful pajamas sprint down the stairs and swarm Viktor’s legs.

“Kids…” Nikolai laughs.  “I told you all to let me get up and make breakfast!”

Yuuri looks down at the gang of little ones who are practically hanging off Viktor’s coat and sleeves and legs.  There are two boys and two girls, all of whom have to be under ten years old. Viktor immediately stoops down and picks up the youngest, a skinny little boy in nothing but his underwear with big, green eyes that peek out from a messy black bowl cut.  

“Maks!  Look how big you are!”

“Maks turned three yesterday,” says the older of the two girls, whose dark brown hair is cut shorter than Yurio’s. She stands taller than the rest of the children, rocking back onto her heels then up on her toes with her hands clasped behind her, peering up at Viktor from behind pink-framed glasses.  “We made him a chocolate cake, but Vova ate too much and threw up!”

“Shut up, I didn’t eat too much,” grumbles a boy with sandy blond hair.

“But you did throw up,” the older girl says smugly.

“Don’t be a tattle, Tonya,” Viktor tuts.  “Yuuri, these are the kids. There’s no one here I don’t know this time!”

All the children laugh as Viktor wades through them to the couch.

“Antonina and Vladimir are the oldest, then there’s little Alexandra, and Maksim here is the youngest.”

“Viktor calls me Sasha,” says the other little girl, her hair bright white, even whiter than Viktor’s, and her eyes the palest blue Yuuri has ever seen.  “So you can call me Sasha. Is that your baby?”

Yuuri laughs.  “Yes, this is Eri,” he says, smiling down at the little girl.  Her pupils seem to move back and forth involuntarily as she squints up at him, her head cocked to the side at an angle.  “It’s nice to meet you, Sasha.”

At that, the two older kids rush over to Yuuri too.

“I’m Tonya!”

“I’m Vova!  I like your baby,” the older boy says.

“Are you a mom or a dad?” Tonya asks, looking him up and down quizzically.

“I’m a dad,” Yuuri says simply.  

“Can we call you Eri’s dad?” Vova asks, dancing on his toes as he examines Yuuri’s luggage in the doorway.  “We already have a Yuri.”

“How about Yuuri Katsuki?” Viktor suggests from the couch.  “It’s polite to use people’s names when you talk to them, Vova.”

“Yuuri Katsuki, do you do skating like Viktor and Yuri?” Tonya asks.

“I do,” Yuuri smiles.

“I’m going to be a skater just like Viktor when I’m older,” Vova says with a proud expression.

“No, I am!” Sasha whines.

“Can’t skate if you can’t see, stupid,” Vova teases, sticking his tongue out at his foster sister.  Nikolai and Viktor both jump to their feet.

“That’s enough,” the old man growls, catching the older boy by the wrist.  “Girls, back to bed. Breakfast isn’t even ready and Vitya’s guest has had a long night.  Vova, kitchen. Now.”

The older boy sulks away into the kitchen behind his foster father, leaving the girls giggling behind him.

“Vova always gets in trouble for talking about Sasha’s eyes,” Tonya explains.  “He’s gonna lose TV I bet. Maybe even computer!”

“I believe Papa sent you two back to bed,” Viktor reprimands.  “It’s not nice to tattle and it’s not funny when someone gets in trouble.”  His voice softens a little when he sees the trouble expression on the younger girl’s face.  “Sasha, are you okay?”

“Yeah, he just doesn’t know what it’s like,” the younger girl says with a sigh, following her foster sister up the stairs.

“I’ll punch his eyes, then he’ll know,” Tonya says with a grin, although it fades quickly as she catches Viktor’s eye, and the two rush up to their room in a hurry.

Viktor sighs, a little exasperated exhale that dissolves into laughter at its end.  “It’s good to be home,” he says. “Let me set Maks up in the kitchen and then I’ll show you where we’re staying.”

They probably haven’t even been there ten minutes.  The kids are fascinating and exhausting, and Yuuri finds it hard to hold onto any of his cares about the upcoming Rostelecom Cup in this place, so homey and casual and warm.  There’s something about it, something about seeing Yurio snoring on his couch even with all the little voices causing a commotion around him, or the tutus hanging off the banister as Viktor and Yuuri climb the stairs to the Russian man’s childhood bedroom.  The room was his until it was Yurio’s, though Yurio has been moved back into the boys’ room this week. Nikolai would never make a guest sleep on the couch. As they drag their things up, they find the old man has already set up the crib, as outdated as the rest of the furniture and in stark contrast to Yurio’s current tiger-themed decor.

“It’s a good thing we never had to share with one another because I think this aesthetic would have been an issue,” Viktor laughs.  

Yuuri lays Eri down in the crib, grabbing her blanket from home and tucking her in.  He’s ready to sleep, but for the first time since they left China, he’s got some time with Viktor, just the two of them.  He looks up at the other man changing into an oversized teeshirt and feels the familiar ache in his chest. Who knows how long Eri will sleep?

Viktor turns and catches him looking, the corners of his mouth curling up at the realization that he has an audience.  “What?” he asks with a smirk. “Like what you see?”

“Do you think we should talk?” Yuuri asks quietly.  “About… you know. Before your family starts asking questions we don’t have the answers to?”

Viktor’s smile fades a bit.  He comes over and takes Yuuri in his arms, squeezing him so tightly that his glasses push up the bridge of his nose.  “Yeah, let’s talk,” he whispers into Yuuri’s hair. “Can we talk while we get ready to nap? I’m going to collapse.”

“Please,” Yuuri says, smiling into his chest.

The room has two twin beds from an earlier time when there were too many kids to fit in the standard boys’ and girls’ rooms.  The two men wind up using Yurio’s bed, stripped to the mattress, to hold all their luggage and clothes and take the other. At least for now.  At least now that all they know is this insatiable need to be close together, a sudden awareness that they fit like a puzzle squeezed together on this tiny mattress.

“Is this okay?” Viktor murmurs, pulling Yuuri in close to his chest, caging his arms around his back to keep him from falling backward onto the floor.  “Do you have enough room?”

“I’m worried you’re going to fall between the bed and the wall,” Yuuri laughs, scooting his hips forward to fit flush against Viktor’s.

“Me too,” Viktor says.  Yuuri can feel him smiling against his bangs, a grin that matches the one he’s pressing into Viktor’s shoulder as he snakes his arms around his torso and pulls himself in tight.  “It’s not quite the Hilton, huh?”

“It’s perfect,” Yuuri sighs, his skin burning everywhere they touch, which right now is everywhere, and he can’t resist craning his head up to press a little kiss into the curve of Viktor’s jaw.  “Thank you so much for bringing me here. This is better than a hotel, I promise.”

“The kids can be…”

“A lot?” Yuuri asks.

“A lot,” Viktor confirms.  “This is nothing, though. Four is more than manageable.”

Yuuri yawns, pressing his face once more into Viktor’s chest, and the smell of him, even after a long flight, is so heady and familiar, it instantly makes his eyelids heavy.

“Don’t let me sleep, we have to talk,” he whines.

“Okay, so let’s talk.”

“Mmm,” Yuuri agrees.  He can’t help it. He’s surrounded by everything Viktor, his warmth, the smooth softness of his threadbare tee shirt, the low rumble of his voice, and that’s enough to fuel such pleasant dreams, dreams he’s more than happy to slip into.

“Yuuri,” Viktor whispers.  “Come on, you’re right, we need to get this over with.  We had our first fight and our first kiss all in the same hour, maybe some boundaries are in order.”

He’s right.  Before anything more happens they can’t take back, before they continue with the competition season or even face either of their families again, they need to work a few things out.  First off…

“You threatened to leave,” Yuuri says quietly, looking up to find Viktor gazing down at him with eyes so serious yet so beautiful.  How can a look like that make him feel so special? So important? “You threatened to leave me right before a skate I was… Viktor, my free skate in Sochi wasn’t even that stressful.”

“I’m sorry,” Viktor murmurs.  “I panicked. It was the wrong move.”

“Don’t… don’t do it again,” Yuuri yawns, craning his head up for another kiss.  “Don’t ever do that again.”

Viktor’s lips meet his and Yuuri feels himself go boneless in his arms, feels himself kiss back in long sips until Viktor is laughing and sighing into his mouth, squeezing him as tight as he can without their bodies literally occupying the same space, and all talk is put on hold.

It’s exactly what has happened every time before this.

“Mmm, stop, talking, we have to… we have to stop,” Yuuri breathes between kisses, pulling back just enough to see Viktor’s lips jut out in an expectant pout, swollen and red.  It isn’t fair to have to talk when Viktor’s lips look like that, so sweet and velvety soft.

“No more empty threats seems like an obvious one in retrospect,” Viktor says blissfully, ducking his head for one more peck on Yuuri’s cheek.  “That’s… unacceptable. I should never have done that to you, Yuuri.”

“It’s really annoying that it worked,” Yuuri laughs, nuzzling into him.  “I was so mad at you that I didn’t have any option but to prove that you had no reason to go.  But you’re right. That doesn’t make it okay.” He looks up again. So… are we…?”

He trails off, and Viktor quirks up an eyebrow.  “What were you going to say?” he asks, unable to conceal the mirth in his voice.

“You know,” Yuuri says, burying his face back into his shoulder.  “Don’t make me say it.”

“I don’t know what you were going to say!” Viktor laughs.  “Viktor, are we…?”

“Stop, shut up, I don’t know,” Yuuri laughs, feeling his cheeks start to burn.

“Best friends forever?” Viktor suggests with a giggle.

“No, Viktor,” Yuuri whines.

“Viktor, are we courting?”

“Ew, no, what does that even mean?”

“See?  If you would read Jane Austen, you would know that!” Viktor teases.

“Together,” Yuuri finally blurts, shaking with laughter.  “Are we together.  Dating.   Dating?”  He looks up to see the incredulous expression on Viktor’s face and turns himself completely around in embarrassment so he can hide his face in his hands.

Viktor pulls his hips back flush with his own and presses a kiss into his hair, curling around Yuuri and letting out a satisfied little sigh.  “I would love to tell people we’re together, Yuuri,” he breathes.  “I would love to be together with you.”

Yuuri smiles into his hands.

“Although we can’t say we’re dating until I take you on a date,” Viktor adds with his own little yawn, shifting once more against Yuuri’s back before laying his head down.  “So let’s arrange for that as soon as possible.”

Yuuri drifts into unconsciousness with heart racing, his cheeks sore from smiling, letting the gentle wave of Viktor’s chest rising and falling against him lull him to sleep.  He has so much more to say, so much more to ask, but he doesn’t have the energy to do anything other than take in everything about the way Viktor surrounds him and think about that word.

Together.

 


 

 

A giggle from Eri wakes Yuuri up, and immediately the conversation he had before dozing off floods his mind.  He’s the only one sprawled out on the little twin bed now, though Viktor’s scent lingers on the sheets, and Yuuri stretches, nuzzling his face indulgently into the soft fabric and breathing in.

He hears Eri again, realizing that her little chirp is what woke him up, and as he regains consciousness, he realizes there are other voices in the room with him, too.  Viktor’s deep baritone is there, speaking Russian in soft tones, and he’s accompanied by a number of little whispers.

Yuuri rolls over, not bothering to untangle himself from the blankets, to see Viktor sitting cross-legged on the floor, Eri in his lap.  He’s hunched over, watching something on his phone, conferring in low tones with Tonya and holding sections of Eri’s hair between his fingers.

His hair is… well, Yuuri has never seen anything quite like Viktor’s hair to begin with, but right now it’s exceptional in a way Yuuri can hardly describe.  It reminds him of the handful of times he’s seen someone dressed in decora kei fashion out in the city streets in Japan.  Every inch of Viktor’s bangs are covered in barrettes and clips of every color and style, some sparkling and glittery, some plain and plastic.  They’re still coming, too; Sasha is adding new embellishments anywhere that they’ll fit, and Yuuri can see the box by her feet, still nearly full with little decorations.

Eri hates having her hair done.  She gives Yuuri such a fuss even just brushing it, flailing and crying no matter how gentle he is.  But right now, as Viktor attempts a little, thin braid with Tonya referring back to the video, Eri is sitting happily munching on a senbei from her bag, chewing open-mouthed and looking back at the crowd around her, eyes wide with interest.

“Bikaa~” she announces, holding up a rice cracker near Viktor’s face.  Viktor grabs the senbei with his teeth, his eyes fixed on his braid, and chews it up happily.

“Vkusno,” Viktor hums warmly, “ oishii.”   He leans over and peeks back down into her eyes.  “Eri, say ‘vkusno.’”

“Ku-no!” Eri recites, and the girls break into giggles at Viktor’s sides, chattering amusedly in Russian.  Empowered by the enthusiastic reception her new word receives, Eri starts chanting it, looking around wildly to see how her new friends react, swinging her senbei in front of her.

Yuuri has to fight back a squeal that’s threatening to escape his lips, because he’s never seen anything so adorable or soft in all of his life, and he can’t think of anything to do except to reach up next to his head and grab his phone, snapping a few pictures on the sly before rolling back over and enjoying this little moment, confident that his daughter is in good hands.

He lays in silence and looks at the pictures, at Viktor’s gentle smile, that laugh that crinkles his eyes and nose, and decides to do something drastic.

The last post on his instagram is from graduation, a selfie taken and uploaded by Phichit of the two boys in their caps and gowns.  The last one before that was taken almost a year earlier… by Phichit, once again.

Yuuri is notoriously bad on social media; he doesn’t really have anything to say or show that he feels is worth broadcasting to the world except for his daughter, and yet he prefers to keep her life private most of the time.  He doesn’t know how much What’s-His-Name still follows him online, even though he’s blocked his ex on just about every platform imaginable, and he wants Eri to have at least some say in how much of her life winds up on the internet.

This, however… This is something the fanboy in him would have lost his mind over, back when he was active on figure skating fan servers and forums.   This is the kind of thing he… he could have been enjoying this for months now.  He can’t believe how relaxed his daughter looks around all these new people, loud and imposing as they are, and Viktor handles her with such care and patience.

That grin is more beautiful than any of the official posters Yuuri had hanging up on his walls. That grin is a side of Viktor that Yuuri didn’t know about before they met.  Something more people ought to see.

He’s happy.  He’s vulnerable and soft and tender.  Yuuri can’t keep that to himself.

He posts the picture with the caption, “Salon day in Moscow #RostelecomCup”

Phichit will be so proud of him for using a hashtag.

He hears a buzz amplified on the hardwood floor as Viktor receives a notification, then another one.  Yuuri’s phone starts buzzing on and off as well, and it’s about that time that Viktor breaks into laughter behind him, his phone clattering to the floor.

“Yuuri,” he cries, but Yuuri is already drifting back into sleep, not ready to get up quite yet.

He’ll let Viktor and Eri have their hangout time.  In the meantime, Yuuri is pretty sure he just broke the Internet.

 




Viktor is weak for Katsuki Yuuri.

A photo he’d never allow to remain on the internet is proof of that.

Viktor’s bedhead was out of control before the girls put a thousand plastic doodads in it, not to mention the large purple bags under his eyes from his interrupted sleep schedule.  He’s laughing in the most undignified way, his nose scrunched up and wrinkled and showing a little too much teeth; it looks like he’s snorting.  And Yuuri didn’t even put a filter on it, for gods’ sake.

But for some reason, this photo on Yuuri’s Instagram is Viktor’s life.   It’s so soft and candid and cute, and so unlike Yuuri to post something this intimate, something that so quickly confirms what Viktor had hinted towards with a kiss only a few days ago, a point of contention among fans up until now.

This is it.  This is life with Katsuki Yuuri.  He’s an unending source of surprises, and Viktor can’t get enough.

They spend the day relaxing with the kids in front of the tv once Yuuri wakes up, attempting to tidy up the place a bit for the old man and checking in with Yurio about school and skate lessons.  

Yurio begs Yuuri to show him how to make katsudon, something Yuuri had offered to do back in Hasetsu but never got around to.

“I even found the seasonings in this recipe online,” the preteen gushed as he and Yuuri went head-to-head in some fighting video game.  “Is there really tuna powder in it?”

Yuuri throws back his head when he laughs, causing Eri to look up and giggle in his lap.  “It’s more like soup base,” he says.

“Nikolai had to go to a specialty store to get it,” Yurio says, chewing on his lip as he leans into an attack.  “Shit, I’m dead.”

“Language,” Viktor chides.  

“No one here knows any English swears, what’s the big deal?” Yurio snaps.

Nikolai pops his head in from the kitchen.  “I absolutely do,” he growls. “Turn that off right now, games are done.”

“Not fair, Yuuri Katsuki’s playing too,” Yurio groans, pausing their current battle.  “I’m sorry.”

“There’s a lesson to learn here,” the old man tuts.  “Come on, if you’re going to try out that pork bowl, come do it now, or we’ll have a late dinner.”

“I think that’s a lovely idea,” Yuuri says with a smile, setting his controller down.  “Um, is there somewhere for the baby to sit while we’re cooking?”

“I have Maks’ old high chair,” Nikolai assures him.  “If you’d rather just rest, I could have the boy help me make stew.  Don’t feel like you have to cook.”

“It’s not a problem, Mr. Plisetsky,” Yuuri says, “I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to make katsudon.  Come on, Yurio.”

They all disappear into the kitchen, Eri tottering after them, leaving Viktor alone with Maksim in the living room.  The little one sits stacking blocks on the floor in between Viktor’s feet.

“A red on the blue, and a red on the red, and a green on the red, red, red, red,” he mumbles.  “I want Ulitsa Sezam.”

“How do you say it politely?” Viktor murmurs, unlocking his phone to find another hundred mentions on Twitter before tossing it aside.

“Please?” Maks asks, blinking up sweetly from his blocks.  “Elmo has a pet fish.”

“Of course, little bear,” Viktor says, beaming down at the boy between his feet.

He loves Maks.  He has loved Maks since he came home from the hospital straight into Nikolai’s care three years ago.  The little boy is quiet and curious, always content to sit by himself and build miniature cities out of blocks and building toys.  Viktor turns off the game console and flips through the channels until he finds the children’s station and the room fills with the voices of puppet monsters singing the alphabet.

NIkolai emerges from the kitchen, wiping his brow and settling in the rocking chair.  “Do you mind if we chat, Vitya?” he asks.

“Sure.”

“About this boy Yuuri Katsuki.”

Viktor feels his face burn.  The old man always gets right to the point.  “Yes?”

“This is more than just a professional relationship,” Nikolai suggests, his eyes narrow with concern.  “I’m right in thinking this?”

Viktor nods silently.  It’s been too long since he’s had a relationship talk with his dad.  They used to be so embarrassing, so annoying to endure, back when all Viktor wanted was excitement and new experiences.  Then there was the bisexual talk, where Viktor learned his father’s compassion knew no bounds, where he had approached with fear and apprehension but was met with nothing but understanding and acceptance.  These talks were never controlling or uncomfortable, Viktor never felt any shame in them, but Nikolai’s willingness to discuss these things openly meant a lot of feelings conversations, ones Viktor wasn’t always proficient in navigating.  Still isn’t, really, if Beijing is anything to go by.

“How serious are you two about this relationship?” the old man asks.

Viktor shakes his head.  “It’s so new, Papa, I don’t know yet.”

Nikolai sits back and ponders that for a while, his eyes set on the tv, then Maksim, then back on Viktor.  “Do you love him?” he asks after a few moments.

“I think I do, yeah,” Viktor whispers.  In the kitchen, he can hear Yuuri laugh as Yurio raves about a new game.  “I don’t know if it’s mutual.”

Nikolai hums his understanding with a curt nod.  “That comes in time, Vitya. Make sure you show him.”

Viktor laughs.  “You know, you’re not the first one who told me that this week,” he says, snatching up a dropped block before it can tumble under the couch and handing it back to Maks at his feet.  “I’m trying.”

“That little girl of his is young, but you’re still playing with two hearts, not just one,” the old man grunts.  “I want you to make sure this is something you want before you all get too attached. No child deserves to be hurt like that.”

“I understand,” Viktor murmurs, gazing down at Maks, stacking his blocks by color.  “I don’t want to hurt her, Papa. I don’t want either of them to have to wonder if I’m going to stay or go.”

Nikolai smiles a quiet, knowing smile.  “I like them,” he says finally, letting his eyes flutter closed with a belabored sigh.  “I wouldn’t mind having them around again.”

The threat of tears pricks at Viktor’s eyes and he blinks it back quickly before rising to his feet and stepping over Maks to envelop Nikolai— his dad— in a tight hug.

“Thank you,” he whispers.  “Thanks for letting us all stay this week, Papa.”

Nikolai laughs, rising to his feet to brush Viktor’s shoulders off before turning back toward the kitchen.  “All the more mouths to feed,” he says with a wink. “Doesn’t bother me one bit.”

Chapter Text

It’s hard to remember that this week is about Yuuri.  About the competition.  After their first day, the men find their schedules swamped once more with press junkets, sponsorship meetings, training sessions, and rehearsals.  They attend, they have to, and of course they work hard on Yuuri’s program—after all, he’s got a new jump to hone and incorporate, and there’s no way Viktor is letting him retire the quad flip after it changed their lives in China.  Viktor gets permission to bring Yurio along with them to help with Eri, although any time Yuuri is out on the ice he can rest assured that his daughter is in Viktor’s arms, decked out in her newest animal onesie.  This time, it’s a white-and-brown cow outfit. Viktor had to calm Yuuri down when his baby made the front page of Buzzfeed in a community post called, “Ten Times Eri Katsuki Was Better Than You.” The article featured images of Eri in her various kigurumi:  In one, she’s smiling and clapping rinkside; in another, she has Viktor’s mouth pinched shut between her tiny fingers, a commanding expression on her face. In all of them, she is the brightest thing in the image.

The very last is his own Instagram post, captioned, “The ‘Eri’ Effect: somehow, Viktor Nikiforov’s award-winning smile has never looked quite as good as it does when he’s on babysitting duty.”

(He has it saved as a screenshot in his photos.)

(Not that Viktor knows or anything...)

All the same, it has him anxious that his daughter’s image is popping up more and more frequently online, and so on his last day before the competition begins, Yuuri gets clearance for Yurio to come along and care for Eri the way he used to with Phichit—tucked away in a quiet place where the media can’t find her.

But in the evenings… that’s what he’s really living for.  And he didn’t even know it until it started.  God, it’s heavenly, coming home to a house that is warm and energetic, to children who so readily climb up into his lap and tell him about anything and everything that their day held, uncaring about how many times he fell trying to nail that quad flip or what kind of embarrassing things came out of his mouth when an interviewer tried to ask him about “the kiss heard around the world.”

No one bothers him when he naps on the couch with Eri on his stomach, and more than once he wakes to find his daughter is already up, playing with the other kids and Yurio or Viktor, her smile wide and precious.  Everyone works together here, everyone knows that the most important thing to Papa Nikolai is that every child is safe and happy and cared for—and that includes his grown son, as well.

Yuuri didn’t even know Viktor was carrying such tension in his body—his back, his shoulders, his jaw—until he saw it released and for the first time, truly, since they met, Viktor was fully relaxed.  The effect is intoxicating, addictive, even.  Relaxed Viktor is soft and unimposing, gently reminding Yuuri that yes, he’s still there, with little, barely-perceptible touches—a hand on his shoulder when they speak to the press, or gently pressing into the small of his back as they navigate crowds, even the subtle way Viktor lets their ankles cross under the table when they sit to eat with Nikolai and family.  It’s not anywhere near the grasping, thirsty way they have been filling their moments alone (few and far between as they are, and often only a few minutes before they have to return to reality and responsibility or before one of them grows too exhausted to stay awake any longer).  But somehow, those little ways that Viktor prods his way into Yuuri’s every day are far more exciting and intense than long, deep kisses and hands beginning to wander.  It makes no sense that a brush of Viktor’s arm against his could make him burn, sweating even in the cool of the rink, when he has already known the feeling of so much more…

Yuuri is hooked on soft, pale skin and the slip of silky silver hair, of peach chapstick and even stale coffee breath.  He’s hooked on every way he can drink Viktor in, and he’s starting to feel spoiled, because he’s starting to realize…

He, above everybody else, gets to feel and taste and breathe Viktor.  And he has, all week.  And if it went away tomorrow, if he woke up and it was all just a dream, he has so much now that is so real that he can draw from and remember for the rest of his life.  He’ll take this for as long as he’s allowed it.  He only hopes he’s allowed it beyond this season.  Or longer.

With the help afforded him by Viktor and Yurio, and with a new perspective of his Eros that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to share with the world, Yuuri pulls to first place by the end of the short program event.  He stays near Eri as he warms up, letting Yurio focus on her care and Viktor focus on his competitors, and he realizes how much support, how much love he has been taking for granted until now.

The foster house is quiet when they return that evening, the younger kids already asleep and Nikolai nearly passed-out in front of the television, still tuned to the sports network and playing highlights from a regional hockey match.  Yurio needs to finish up some homework that he hasn’t been able to get to with Eri keeping him busy, and so Yuuri leaves Viktor there in the family room to help him work out an essay on the color symbolism in some short story.  With a peck on Viktor’s cheek that has the preteen groaning and gagging behind them, Yuuri hauls his daughter up the stairs and to the tiger-themed bedroom to get her ready for bed.

It’s homey.  It’s deliciously domestic in a way that Yuuri didn’t know he liked until now.  Then again, before they met, Yuuri never would have pictured a Viktor Nikiforov who changes diapers and helps his younger brother with his homework, who cooks dinners for nine and helps resolve playtime conflicts.  Viktor at home is… well, exactly what he is.  A big brother, a son who is willing to do anything to help his father, a parent-figure to vulnerable children.

That’s dangerous territory, Yuuri thinks as he gives Eri a quick bath with a warm, wet washcloth.  He could get too into the idea of Viktor in this role if he isn’t careful.  If he doesn’t remember that here, Viktor helps because he has to, not because he wants to, he might just start to imagine what life would be like with just the three of them—Yuuri and Eri and Viktor.

He shakes that image from his head as soon as it comes.  And then again, when it returns even stronger.

And then again.

It’s too much to think about right now, Yuuri won’t let himself daydream about a relationship that is still in its infancy that way.  It wouldn’t be fair to Viktor to assume that he would even want to be a parent.  They have barely even talked—

Eri looks up at him from her changing mat with her standard little worry line creased into the space between her brows.  Even with eyelids drooping, he can tell when his little girl is feeling the stress of travel and competition.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asks softly, steadying her squirming with a hand on her chest as he unfolds a clean diaper.

“Nooo,” Eri whines, kicking her feet defiantly.

“Now, don’t you start,” Yuuri scolds, working around wiggles to get her diaper secured and her pajama pants on before the fight really starts.  “We’re all sleepy from our long day, huh?”  He hums a little lullaby he picked up in college, one from a popular Christmas musical that Phichit watched year-round, and pulls on a shirt patterned with ice cream and donuts. “When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.  I go to sleep counting my blessings…”

His blessing isn’t having any sort of lullaby nonsense tonight, apparently.  She cries big crocodile tears all through brushing teeth and hair, her face wrinkled into a pitiful, red grimace.

“Shhh,” Yuuri soothes, picking her up and beginning the before-bed walk, bobbing Eri gently in his arms while he sings until the telltale signs of sleep start to overtake her and the tears start to slow.  “Let’s get you to bed, little one.”

Eri makes a half-hearted noise of protest once more as she’s lowered into the crib, still full of the will to fight but without the energy to carry it through.

“No, Bika,” she cries, standing back up and grabbing for Yuuri as he starts to walk away.  “Papa, Bika!”

It’s still hard to hear her calling for Viktor at times like this.  Yuuri will accept help, he will let them grow closer as time goes on, but he is Eri’s father.  He’s still not comfortable with sharing that title, as enticing as it seems when he watches Viktor with the other children and sees his innate skill for interacting with them respectfully and responsibly… it’s fun to fantasize about, but nights like this make it hard to even consider.

Where is he supposed to draw the line?  What if it feels okay sometimes, like after his last free skate, but other times it feels like an intrusion?  Like Viktor is making assumptions?  Yuuri knows that ultimately, he has to be the one to set those boundaries and make sure he is comfortable.  He just doesn’t know what comfortable feels like yet, until it’s not.

Whining crescendos into full-on crying once more as Yuuri strips off his own clothes and steps into a pair of cotton sleep pants.

Sleep training is the hardest thing he has ever done.  He hates putting Eri down like this, hates walking over and silently tucking her back in, listening to her little sniffles as he gets himself ready for sleep.  He times it on his phone, keeping track to make sure the strategy is working over time, and he’s pleased to see she makes it down five minutes earlier than she did the night previous.  By the time Viktor drags himself, exhausted, through the door, she is fast asleep, and Yuuri is well on his way to joining her.

He doesn’t mention Eri’s special request for the other man to put her to bed tonight or the internal struggle it caused.  In fact, he pretends to be asleep for as long as Viktor assumes it, only moving to make room once he felt the mattress sag with the extra weight.  They’ve gotten good at maneuvering so that they both fit in the tiny bed, holding one another in place so that no one slips off their edge of the mattress, legs intertwined to save space.  

Viktor gives off heat in the most relaxing way, and it’s hard to hold onto any worries once they’re pressed together tight under the worn-out comforter.  Viktor’s heart thrums in Yuuri’s ear, steady and soothing, and sleep comes without warning, without goodnights or any words exchanged between them.

 


 

Viktor is not in bed when Yuuri’s alarm wakes him up.

Eri is still there, still fast asleep in her crib, and Yuuri takes advantage of this fact to squeeze in a quick shower and get himself up before she’s up.  He isn’t necessarily thorough; as long as he’s presentable for the walk into the sports complex, he can finish up on his own looks in the locker room.  A hit of hot water, a quick brush, a swish of mouthwash, and he’s there to wake his daughter up himself instead of the other way around for once.

He picks out a kigurumi for the day, this one adorably designed in the image of his favorite Sanrio character.  When Eri is dressed, Yuuri checks her diaper bag once and then once more for diapers, juice boxes, snacks, and changes of clothes, adding in a few extras from his suitcase before he’s satisfied.  He grabs Eri and bounds downstairs, ready to start what he’s determined is going to be his gold-medal day.

In the family room, Viktor and Nikolai are huddled together on the couch, both men still in pajamas and looking down with grim expression at Maksim, curled up and shivering in Viktor’s lap.  Viktor’s hair is pushed back from his face and his forehead is gleaming with sweat, his eyes rimmed in red and dark with exhaustion.

The toddler is white as a sheet, and as Viktor tries to coerce a sippy cup into his lips, he squirms with a weak little whine, then hangs limply in Viktor’s arms, crying pitiful, noiseless tears.  The two older men are conversing in Russian, their voices low and urgent, and Yuuri can’t help but think he hears a little bit of defensiveness in Viktor’s tone.  He hangs back awkwardly until he’s noticed, and when Viktor catches his eye he quickly hands Maksim to his father and rushes over.

Maks coughs, croupy and wet, on the couch and Yuuri can see the effect it has on Viktor’s aching heart as the Russian man winces, his eyes frantic and searching as he takes Yuuri’s free hand in both of his.

They’re burning hot.

“Maks… his temperature is 40 degrees, he needs to go to the hospital.”

Yuuri looks past him at Nikolai cradling the young boy in a blanket in his arms, dialing on his cell phone one-handed.

All these kids…

“You have to go, don’t you?” he asks, studying Viktor’s worried face seriously.  “Nikolai needs you to take him?”

Viktor swallows hard, a hand drifting to his mouth to cover the sharp downturn of his lips as he nods.

“Viktor, it’s okay.  You have to go and take care of your family.  That’s okay.”

The conflict in Viktor’s eyes eases a little bit, but Yuuri can still feel his worry, his frustration, everything balled up and ready to burst.

“Papa… Nikolai is calling a car for you.  I’ll go wake Yurio; will you get him breakfast?” Viktor asks, his eyes sweeping the family room as if he’s scanning for things he needs to get done.

Yuuri cups his cheek, playing his fingertips through the soft hairs behind his ear, trying to will some sense of calm into him with the touch.  “I’ll take care of Yurio.”

“Good,” Viktor whispers, leaning into his hand.  “Good.  Go finish getting ready.  I’ll call Yakov and ask him to look out for you, okay?  He can help if you need anything, anything at all, Yuuri.  Understand?”

Yuuri nods.

“I want to hug you, but I’d worry about Eri… I’ve been holding Maks all morning…”

Yuuri moves his hand down to rest on Viktor’s shoulder, doing his best to look reassuring.  “Viktor, please breathe,” he says quietly.  “We’ll worry about that later.  Why don’t you go back and help Nikolai while I get Yurio ready to go?  We’ll all get breakfast there.”

“The car will be here in ten minutes,” Nikolai says from the couch.  “Vitya, can you take Maks while you make your call?  I will get you ready to go.”

Yurio is up and dressed within a few minutes, although it takes a few stern words from Viktor to get him to go back upstairs and brush his teeth.  Nikolai returns with an old diaper bag full of necessities before the car has even arrived, and Yurio graciously holds the baby long enough for Yuuri to kiss Viktor goodbye before he rushes with Maksim out the door.

It’s been the better part of a year since Yuuri has skated without Viktor right there watching him.

Viktor is one of the major inspirations of his free skate, his entire program, his entire career.

As the black minivan pulls out of the driveway, Yuuri’s stomach drops as he realizes he’s really on his own this time.  He has to show the world that he’s good enough with or without his coach.  That his successes are a product of his own work, not his association with the five-time world champion.  Last free skate, he felt low, he felt broken, but at least he had his coach and inspiration there with him.  Yakov doesn’t know him aside from what statistics he probably follows for the sake of his skaters, which means Yakov probably doesn’t think very highly of him at all.

He really has to do this one by himself, to show Viktor he’s at least capable, and to show himself that he’s making the right choice.

He still has to prove to himself that he’s making the right choice.

He hasn’t thought about that since China.  But now, as Viktor drives out of sight, it’s the only thing on his mind.

 


 

It’s another one of those long days of sitting around and waiting.  First for the men’s singles event, which is last, then for his skate, which is last.  He takes the opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time with Eri and let Yurio enjoy the different events taking place during the afternoon, right up next to the rink with Yakov.

The coach of the Russian skating team, a severe and imposing old man with a permanently-affixed scowl and a gaze like steel wool that leaves Yuuri feeling raw and exposed, has few words of encouragement to offer before the event starts.  He seems more interested in talking with Yurio, honestly, and apparently doesn’t share Nikolai’s stance on being sure to use English around non-Russian-speakers. Eventually, Yuuri retreats to his “Eri space” in the lounge and waits for his group’s official warm up and just lets the tween spend some time with the man who will probably be his coach one day.

He’s probably checking his phone a little too much, he probably should be preparing a little bit more, but Maks looked so sick that Yuuri won’t relax until he hears from Viktor.  He paces around with Eri, letting her lead the way, her little, confident strides guiding him in snaking circles around the lounge and out into the hallway. They chat about whatever she finds important, which today is “Bug!”, so they peer into little corners and behind furniture in search of insects and spiders, anything at which they can shout, “Bug!” before bursting into hysterical laughter and tottering on to find their next subject.

A few minutes before Yuuri is supposed to let Yurio take over Eri-care and really, seriously warm up, he gets a text from Viktor.

 

Little Maks is fine. Dehydrated
and on IV fluids for now.

They’ll probably keep him
overnight just to monitor.

Do your best.  I’m watching.
No one else can skate this
program like you can.  You
are the brightest thing out
on the ice, so go make
sure there isn’t a single
person in those stands who
doesn’t know that.

Thank goodness.

You are so good to those kids,
Viktor.  They are lucky to have
you and Nikolai.

Eri and I miss you very much.

)))))))
I miss you too. <3

I’d miss you less if I got a
selfie...

 

With an exasperated laugh, Yuuri snaps a quick photo of himself with his cheek pressed up against Eri’s.  He doesn’t like the way his squishes almost as much as hers, but he knows Viktor does from all the squeezing and prodding and smooching, so despite a visibly nervous smile and a hint of blush in his ears, he decides to just get it over with and send it.

 

I have to go warm up now.

Please watch me.

I won’t take my eyes off you.

 

Yakov is waiting with his usual, unreadable expression.  It’s more expectant than anything else, and as Yuuri nears, the old man clears his throat and gestures out toward the ice.

“I understand that last time Vitya told you no jumps and you did not listen,” he growls.

It does not sound like a question.  Yuuri nods sheepishly.

“Huh,” Yakov grunts.  “Well when I tell you the same today, you will understand that it is in your best interest to comply.”

“Yes, sir,” Yuuri whispers.

“What?”

“Yes, sir,” he repeats, a little louder.

“You’ve had a hard morning,” Yakov continues, and Yuuri picks up a slight shift in his tone… or perhaps a deeper layer he hasn’t yet noticed.  “That is enough reason to focus on your strengths out in front of the crowd and practice your jumps back on the mats where you will not lose any esteem.  Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

His answer seems to satisfy the old coach for now; he nods definitively.  “You hid that baby of yours away yesterday, but she seems to help you with this one,” he says, breathing in sharply as though he might be delving too deep into “feelings” territory.  “You should probably tell Yuratchka to bring her out when it’s your turn.”

Yuuri never expected him to have this much knowledge of what he does out on the ice.

Is… is the Russian team’s coach watching him?

 


 

Nighttime in the children’s hospital is like an alternate dimension, one where time stands still and the lump in Viktor’s throat never seems to diminish, even now that Maks’ fever has broken.  When the sun was out, the room was bright and cheery, but now the only light comes from the constantly-beeping heart monitor and a series of illuminated buttons on the wall. A few children in other rooms in this wing are crying, undoubtedly by themselves for a long and scary night, and every nurse Viktor has seen pass by the glass wall has looked exhausted.

Viktor spent so much of today so scared.

It’s not fair, none of it is fair.  Viktor would give his life and more for this little boy, who with a tube in his nose and an IV in his hand looks so vulnerable and weary, but his heart is on the other side of town, in a crowded arena, where in mere moments, Yuuri is going to win gold.

Viktor tells himself Yuuri is going to win.  He believes it; he just doesn’t think Yuuri believes it.

And he’s not there to convince the Japanese man otherwise.

He’s spent the whole afternoon telling Yakov just what to say, to rile up a little bit of self-defense in Yuuri’s spirit before he goes on.  Yuuri works best with minimum pressure and maximum stakes, and it turns out that is the hardest condition to cultivate.

But if anyone can do it, that old geezer can.  He just hopes Yuuri will listen.

Everything goes well in the official warm up.  Watching from the tiny television screen across from Maks’ bed, Viktor sees Yuuri skate confidently and somberly, no jumps this time, thank god, before disappearing once more.  It makes Viktor physically ache to not be there now, to pile on the energy and excitement with Eri at his side, to get Yuuri psyched for what was supposed to be a new and exciting version of Yuri!!! On ICE.

He shifts uncomfortably in the hospital chair, trying not to go completely stiff before he falls asleep, and checks his messages.  There’s nothing new, so he finds himself scrolling through the handful of selfies Yuuri has sent him.  A soft, shy smile shines up at him from his screen, accompanied by rosy cheeks or a furrowed brow, sometimes a splotchy blush that tinges his ears and neck.  

He’s beautiful.  He’s beautiful on his own and with his daughter.  He’s beautiful on the ice and off of it. His face radiates so much kindness and compassion, even when he’s at his most introspective and serious.  He’s deserving of the world, and everything Viktor has done until now has been in attempt to give Yuuri just what he deserves.

But what if he can’t?

First China, now this.  What if Viktor’s coaching is a never-ending series of letdowns that ultimately lead to—or worse, cause —Yuuri’s retirement?

Permanently?

Viktor hasn’t felt once like he’s come through during a competition for his first and only skater, for his… god, they still haven’t worked out what they’re calling one another yet...  Boyfriend? Partner? Has Viktor really been this neglectful?

Yuuri is a parent.  He has a first-hand reminder of the future every waking moment, which means he’s always thinking one step ahead, casting aside this moment to focus on the next, planning, wondering, worrying…

Has Viktor been feeding into that all this time?

He can hardly focus on anyone else’s skates.  Crispino does well; he always has a clean skate, even if he’s not very interesting.  The Korean skater who was so charismatic in the short program really falls short tonight, and Viktor swears he’s seen that look of resigned disappointment in someone else’s face before.

All Viktor wants, his only goal as Katsuki Yuuri’s number one fan and coach, is to see him proud and confident in his work.  He wants to see the excitement that sparkled in Yuuri’s eyes after that impromptu quad flip every time he skates. Yuuri entrances audiences; his fans are some of the most militant and supportive Viktor has ever witnessed, but he still feels he needs to prove himself, and Viktor wishes he would see that he has already proven so much.

Yuuri has beaten odds no other skater has faced, and he still treats each obstacle, each challenge, as a failure.

Maybe Viktor has underestimated coaching.  Maybe he’s overestimated himself.

Yuuri looks subdued when he takes the ice, and Viktor can tell from the start that even if he’s technically perfect, he’s not going to have as much energy in his choreography.  The cameras are sure to catch glimpses of Eri’s face from her spot in Yurio’s arms, right next to Yakov’s critical glare.

It’s not his best free.  It’s not his worst, however; in fact, each fall seems to urge Yuuri on more, ramping up his determination until he finishes off with a step sequence that has the audience at the edge of their seats.  Even the commentator trails off to watch as Yuuri’s emotion builds to almost bursting, as he weaves and cuts through the air like he’s made of air himself, shimmering and weightless on the ice.

When he’s finished, there’s no satisfaction in his eyes, no determination, and Viktor can tell before he’s even made it to the kiss and cry that Yuuri is already tearing his skate to shreds in his mind, wondering if he’s good enough to advance.

He’s good enough by a hair, by a technicality, really, and Viktor knows that’s not good enough.  Not for Yuuri, who measures his success in golds and silvers, who didn’t even podium this time around but had a higher overall score than Michele Crispino.  

It’s not good enough to be the only transgender skater to make it this far in competition twice.  It’s not good enough to be the only skater actively parenting their child out on the road and on their own.  It’s not even good enough to be both of these at once. Yuuri wants the world to know that a transgender skater, one who decided to keep skating after surgeries, hormones, and childbirth, can be the best.  Viktor can see the weight of these things on his shoulders, and for the life of him, he can’t figure out how to help ease that load.

He vows to try, though.  It’s the only way he can think to show Yuuri his love.

To show Yuuri that he believes in his goals and that he believes in the man who’s going to achieve them.

He turns the television off after final scores are announced; now that he knows Yuuri is advancing to the final, he can rest easy.  All of the damage tonight’s skate has done can be worked on between now and Barcelona. They can talk.  They need to talk.

It’s going to be a sleepless night in this chair, he thinks as he shifts yet again.  The ache in his lower back throbs with the movement and he tries to find a position that offers at least a bit of support.  He can tell when Yuuri and Yurio are home by the volume of texts that start to flood his inbox.

There’s a photo of Nikolai’s homemade pirozhki with Yurio’s excited face in the background and the caption, “HE PUT KATSUDON IN THEM!!!!” along with a barrage of questions about Maks’ status and what it’s like staying overnight in the hospital.  The teen asks for a little more homework help, and Viktor gives what he can through text, but he insists that he can’t talk on the phone during quiet hours.

Yuuri’s texts are much less enthusiastic, consisting mainly of apologies and critiques of his skating once he has access to videos.

 

Yuuri, it’s fine, you made it
to the final.  You did it!

I could have done it so
much better, though.

Of course.  There’s always
room for improvement, but
only if you look forward
instead of behind.

I hugged Yakov after the
scores were announced.

I saw that, actually.

I think I broke him.

Now you’ve gone and made
me jealous of my own coach.

I could really use a Yuuri
hug right now.

I keep trying, but the phone
keeps slipping through my
arms. ☆~(ゝ。∂)

God, what did I do to
deserve you?

Um, I think you have that
question backwards.

I’m so sorry I didn’t make
the podium tonight.

I am so much better than
that.

Yuuri, stop.

I’m sorry.

You’re fine.  You did as
well as you could given
the circumstances.

You’ll just have to make it
up to me with a GPF gold
medal…

VIKTOR.

 

Viktor can’t help but laugh, he can’t help but prod Yuuri sometimes to see those heated reactions, and he has no shortage of confidence that Japan’s Ace can actually claim GPF gold this year.

He just needs to figure out what to do to help Yuuri find that confidence in himself.

 

The sun is already high when Viktor and Maks make it home the next morning.  Lunch is probably already being prepared, and by merit of the weekend, everyone should be home.  Even Yuuri doesn’t have anywhere to be until later that evening, continuing their bare-minimum, family-first schedule for the week.

Viktor is excited to bring Maks home.  They sang Sesame Street for the entire car ride back, and the toddler was not shy about correcting Viktor’s incorrect lyrics.  He’s proud of his little bear for being so brave, but he can’t suppress the impatience thrumming in his chest. All he wants is to get home to Yuuri.  He wants that post-skate hug, he wants to continue to support and to champion and to love.  

He hasn’t felt helplessness quite like he did when he wasn’t able to give that from the dark, quiet hospital room.

“We’re home!”  Viktor calls as he swings the door open, and immediately Maksim is in Nikolai’s arms, the old man fussing over him with gentle words in Russian.

From the kitchen, Viktor hears the clatter of dishes tumbling into the sink, and an instant later, Yuuri emerges from the doorway, his eyes wide and wild and his hands still covered in soapy water.  

“Viktor,” he breathes as his soft weight crashes into Viktor’s chest, and the latter catches him in his arms and holds on tight, unwilling to let go even for the dishwater dripping down his back.

They’ve only been apart thirty hours or so; so why are tears of joy pricking at his eyes as if they’ve been gone months?

His dad is still right there, but he catches Yuuri’s lips in a desperate kiss anyway, his hands cupping those adorably round cheeks, unable to restrain himself.  Yuuri kisses back with just as much neediness as Viktor is feeling, wet hands clutching at his coat as they trundle together into the entryway.

He realizes with a wave of relief that he’s not the only one crying.  Yuuri’s tears are wetting both their faces, and Viktor pulls back just enough to wipe them away with a gloved thumb and lose himself in the glistening gold that shines in chestnut irises.  He takes it all in—the smell of jasmine shampoo and kitchen grease, the fingerprint-covered lenses in cobalt frames, the cracks in Yuuri’s bottom lip where he’s been biting it from stress this week.  The everything about Yuuri that he hasn’t been able to see or feel in over a day.

“I’ve been thinking about what I can do better as your coach,” Viktor murmurs, tilting his head to nuzzle against the soft tangle of Yuuri’s hair and whisper in his ear.  “I want to be able to give you what you need as a skater and… and just as you are.”

Yuuri laughs, the crease of his brows softening as he sniffs.  “I… I have been thinking about that too,” he admits, his eyes gleaming.  “Viktor… please be me coach until I retire!”

It’s like a marriage proposal, a subtle “stay close to me” that begs for a promise.  Just like the video last April. Just like the quad flip last week.

With a little sob, Yuuri jumps back into Viktor’s arms, and he has just a moment to catch himself to stop from stumbling backward.  But in that moment, the squeeze of Yuuri’s arms around him is everything.  Viktor presses a little kiss into his temple and rubs his back.

“I wish you’d never retire,” he whispers into Yuuri’s hair.  “I love you, Yuuri.”

The words surprise him as they escape his lips, and he waits breathlessly for a response.  He half expects Yuuri to resist, to back away and admit he’d made a mistake, but instead the grip on his shoulders tightens, and he hears four words as clear as day that he’s longed for, four words that he’s wondered about and dreamed about for weeks but hasn’t known how to ask.

Yuuri’s breath is hot against his ear, his chin digging into Viktor’s shoulder, and it’s impossible to tell whose heart is drumming so rapidly between them, the way the rhythm resonates through their chests pressed together.  

With another little sniffle and a peck on the cheek, Yuuri whispers back, “I love you too.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s nice to settle after nearly three weeks of travel.

It’s nice to settle at all, Viktor thinks as he lowers himself into the onsen.  Home was nice, was perfect, actually, even with the trip to the emergency room and the crushing blow to Yuuri’s self-esteem during the free skate.  Hanging around the kids, enjoying late mornings drinking coffee with Nikolai, all of it was wonderful, but all of it came with the stress of hospital stays and missed obligations and work.  

Training at Ice Castle is still work, of course.  But Viktor thrives in the face of this kind of work—he and Yuuri are training almost every day, almost exclusively working technical elements, taking their time and enjoying the company of the Nishigori family during the breaks.  Drilling the quad flip is not always easy, and Yuuri has had to take his share of breaks to keep from getting overly frustrated with himself. Viktor does his best to be nothing but supportive; he’s said some horrible things to Yakov in his time, back when he felt like nothing was coming together or he wouldn’t be able to make it in time.

He knows Yuuri can do this.  Just in the few days since they’ve been home, the younger skater has gone from landing the flip about ten percent of the time to a solid thirty; Viktor’s been keeping the data.  He’s made graphs. He wants Yuuri to see his progress.

He hasn’t been getting quite as much Eri time now that they’re home, but Viktor figures it was to be expected.  After all, out of everyone in Yuuri’s life here in Hasetsu, he’s still the newest, still the one how has the furthest to go to earn that kind of trust.  So while the baby is in the care of Yuuko or Minako or Mama Hiroko, Viktor is doing his best to strengthen his relationships elsewhere. He helps out when he can, insistent upon doing dishes and folding linens and learning how to stock the shelves in the back.

Mari has practically become Viktor’s shadow; she swears she’s not keeping tabs on him, why would she have to do that?  She definitely isn’t trying to determine his weaknesses, or anything. Definitely trying to find her new angle, the best way to use Viktor to her advantage, she swears.

There’s no way she’s trying to determine whether or not she needs to be wary on her brother’s behalf.  She says that too, taking a long drag of her cigarette, which she’s taken to smoking outside lately. Viktor is considering just asking her to tell him what he’s supposed to be doing right, since she clearly knows, or at least has an opinion.  So far, he seems to gain approval for clearing Yuuri’s plate when they’re done eating, for doing emergency laundry loads after a nasty diaper change, and for taking Makka out to do grocery and snack runs, equipped with long lists of not-exactly-necessary things written only in Japanese that Mari refuses to translate or explain.

Viktor can read some of it by now.  He’s been studying when he can, on nights that he can’t sleep, or early mornings when the seagull’s cries have him up before the sun or Yuuri.  Most of the lists, however, are haphazardly translated with a photo translator app on his phone.  Whatever he can’t decipher from there he has to ask about in clumsy, broken phrases once he’s out.

In any case, it’s nice to be spending time with Makkachin again.  She’s almost fifteen years old, but she hasn’t lost an ounce of the spring in her step, even after long runs on the beach in the frosty morning.  Being with his dog, the love of his life and the only thing that really kept him getting up in the morning these past few years, is the missing piece that he was looking for back in Moscow.  Being with her and Yuuri and Eri, spending lazy evenings in front of the television catching up on all of the reality shows they missed while they were gone, is heaven in itself.  Eri and Makkachin are a powerful team, especially now that the almost-toddler is up and walking. “Lazy” evenings aren’t even that lazy when one factors in the amount of maneuvering and re-directing and corralling two mischievous girls require when they’re on the hunt for something fun and fantastical.  Eri loves to get Makka riled up, teasing her with toys until the silver-beige poodle bows and huffs expectantly, hopping around the family room with wild eyes.

Viktor really loves Hasetsu.  He never realized a place other than home could feel this much like home.  Heaven knows his empty condo in St. Petersburg hasn’t given him this much energy and warmth since buying it.  It’s beautiful, meticulously styled by an interior designer that a much younger Viktor just happened to have enough money to pay.  But even when he’s not traveling for competition or visiting with his family, even when he and Makkachin are home and happy, it feels like an image in a magazine, the kind of living space meant for wealthy bachelors to show off to guests who leave at the end of the night, shallow and untouchably perfect.

He hopes, somewhat nervously, that that will soon change.

Yuuri’s birthday is tomorrow, and Viktor has… well, he has been planning his gift for a long time.

Since September, at least.

He wasn’t even sure it would be a good idea back then.  He wasn’t sure he’d be able to give it, but the idea of making it to the end of the Grand Prix without taking this stupid, crazy step was maddening.  He tried for weeks to find a good reason to drop it, to find something a little less… romantic? Drastic?

He would have found a reason, had things gone differently.  He would have convinced himself that he couldn’t take such a risk, that admitting his feelings for Yuuri with such a big gesture would be too much.  But then again, the way they finally came to light wound up being the biggest gesture one could have imagined, anyway. If things were still going well after he made a spectacle of something he’s sure Yuuri would have preferred to have kept quiet, then this should be… a little less risky?

He wants to say fine, he wants to say great, but he can never tell with Japan’s Ace.  Some days Yuuri is attached to his side, melting into him with cozy contentment in his face.  If Viktor looks too long in those deep, velveteen eyes, he finds himself getting lost, forgetting everything around him, anything beyond the minute space he has to cross to fall even deeper into the taste of that satisfied smile.  

He has to practice restraint.  He’s among family, and Mari’s eyes are always watching, and Makkachin and Eri both are on probation for stealing food from the table when no one is looking.

Besides, for as many days as he and Yuuri have nothing but ease and comfort between them, for as many evenings they sit sprawled out with legs tangled and Eri laying across both their laps, there are those that Yuuri retreats back behind his walls.  Some days he sleeps late into the morning and is in bed not long after Eri, excusing himself with downturned eyes and apologetic bows. Some days, Viktor notices Yuuri keeping his daughter from him, and he has to remember that this transition is more complex than anyone but a parent could understand.

He tries to be patient.  He tries not to take things personally.  He will wait as long as he can for Yuuri to figure out what he wants.  But it hurts so much more now than it did in June to stare down a closed door and know that his entire world is fast asleep on the other side.

Maybe that’s something else he can ask Mari about.  

Viktor is the first to wish Yuuri a happy birthday.

(Well, almost the first.  He only realizes midnight has come when Yuuri’s cell phone buzzes against his chest and messages from Phichit start flooding in.)

It’s not like he was trying, it’s not like he rushed to beat anyone to it, it just happens to be one of those nights when he and Yuuri are feeling particularly close, particularly unwilling to do anything that might separate them for even a moment.  Once Eri falls asleep (in record time, as Yuuri points out with a relieved smile), they escape the noisy onsen in favor of Viktor’s double bed and pick out an action movie to stream on Yuuri’s laptop.

They don’t even watch most of it.  And it’s all Yuuri’s fault. He’s warm and snuggly in his favorite blue flannel pajamas, and seated between Viktor’s legs with his head resting lightly on his shoulder, the stringent smell of the ice still clinging to his hair and clothes.  They start out with the laptop in their laps, and then on the bed next to them as Yuuri curls onto his side. They then push it onto the bedside stand after Yuuri’s lips find every inch of Viktor’s neck to cover in warm, wet kisses, his hushed giggles in Viktor’s ear causing his hair to stand on end.  

It is so easy to get lost in Yuuri.  Viktor revels in the little, involuntary moans he hums into his mouth as he sneaks his fingers under the hem of the flannel shirt, and he chases them however he can.  There's something Yuuri is doing with his tongue that drives him wild, makes it hard to breathe, and when Viktor pushes Yuuri back into the mattress, bracketing his head between his arms and pushing back to get a look at him, the Japanese man is beautifully flushed and flustered beneath him.  Yuuri pulls Viktor down and crushes their lips together once more, and any and all thoughts slip from Viktor’s mind as Yuuri runs his fingers through his hair, teasing his fingernails along his scalp.

Love, love, he’s so in love, and Yuuri is the only thing that exists like this.

Before they know it, the end credits are rolling, their lips are swollen and chapped, and Yuuri’s phone is blowing up with birthday wishes in every possible medium from his best friend in Thailand.

“Will you stay, birthday love?” Viktor murmurs, surprised when his voice comes out deep and dry.  He curls around Yuuri as the latter rolls onto his side, trailing kisses from the sensitive spot behind his ear down to his collar.  “Makkachin will miss you if you go.”

“Makkachin, huh?” Yuuri says with a little laugh.  Viktor can see him eye the baby monitor nervously, feels him tense for half a moment against him.  “I can stay a while longer.”

Viktor presses his smile into the nape of Yuuri’s neck and reaches up to shut the laptop, sinking silly and satiated into the pleasant stillness of his dark room.  Makkachin hops back up onto the bed and curls up at his feet; by morning, she’ll have slowly, systematically squeezed her way between them, determined to get as much contact as possible as she sleeps.

“I never thought I’d be this lucky,” Viktor whispers, his body growing heavy as Yuuri leans his weight back into him.  “I’m so happy I get to spend your birthday with you.”

“It’s not that big a deal,” Yuuri mumbles through a yawn.  “I have one every year.”

Viktor breathes him in.  It took him so long to realize Yuuri’s smell is an extension of his home, a piece of Hasetsu he carries with him wherever he goes.  It’s so lovely. It’s exactly what Viktor needs as he’s drifting into sleep, exactly the kind of little moments he wants to continue to collect as he discovers everything that makes up Yuuri.

“You’re right,” he yawns, stretching briefly before pulling Yuuri tight against him.  “As if I need an excuse to celebrate you, anyway. I can do that every day.”

“Viktor…”

Sometime within this 24 hours, Viktor is going to do something rash.  He’s going to call it a birthday present, though he knows it for what it really is—a gamble.

So he may as well gamble now too, as long as he’s feeling lucky.

“Vitya,” he says softly, his breath catching in his throat as he realizes he can’t turn back now.  “You can call me Vitya… if you want.”

“Like a pet name?” Yuuri asks, his breath falling out in a silent giggle that Viktor can’t quite interpret as incredulous or dismissive or something else.

“Something like that.”

Yuuri turns over so they’re face to face, his fingers hooking absent-mindedly into the collar of Viktor’s shirt.  “Is that something you want? For me to call you that?”

“It’s a way of showing affection, like…”  He licks his lips, trying to think of an example.

Yuuri catches him with another little kiss.  “If it’s something you want, Vitya, of course I’ll do it.”

 


 

Yuuri’s birthday is an all-day affair, starting with an extravagant, hotel-style breakfast from Hiroko in the morning and ending with what Viktor would soon learn is a traditional, Katsuki-style party in the onsen’s dining room that evening.  All five of the Nishigoris come, as do Minako and another woman Viktor soon learns is her partner, another well-known dancer named Saki. A couple of regular customers also make an appearance, despite the fact that Toshiya closed down the business for the evening.

A keg of sake and should not go down as quickly as it does, but Viktor is absolutely complicit in the drinks’ quickly-diminishing source.

“We’re so happy to have Vicchan here,” Hiroko gushes to Minako and Saki, swaying back and forth as she hangs on Viktor’s arm.  “He makes my Yuuri so happy, and Eri loves him, too!  I think she listens to Vicchan more than Yuuri sometimes.”

Viktor laughs, tutting.  “Oh, you’d better not let your son hear you say that,” he says.  “Mama, you’re going to get me in trouble.”

Minako laughs, rocking back into Saki’s lap and nearly upsetting her drink.  “Forget that boy’s ego,” she snickers. “If the baby loves you, I forbid you from not helping him.”

“Darling, don’t you think that’s for Yuuri to decide?” Saki chastises softly.  “I hardly trusted Eiko’s father to go near her, let alone anyone who came after him.  It’s not ego, it’s comfort. You can’t let just anyone be a part of a child’s life like that if you don’t know whether they’re going to stay.”

Viktor looks back at Yuuri letting the triplets swarm him for a series of silly selfies.  He wants Yuuri to know that he’s in it for as long as Yuuri will have him.

“Eri looks exactly like him,” Hiroko coos, reaching back to intercept her granddaughter as she zooms by in hot pursuit of Makkachin.  She scoops the baby up in her arms with a squeaky kiss to her cheek. “When I first saw her picture, I thought it was my Yuuri!!”

“Really?” Viktor says excitedly.

“Oh yes,” Toshiya chimes in from his spot at the table with Takeshi.  “They could be twins! Here, look!” He reaches up to pull a quilted, polka-dotted photo album off the shelf.  Inside are glue-striped pages covered with clear plastic film, and each page holds an array of photos.

If Viktor didn’t know any better, if he wasn’t looking at the clearly 1990s-era prints, he’d think it was Eri.  A wide-eyed, chubby little baby gapes up at the camera from a pink and yellow baby blanket, dressed in denim jumpers and frilly socks.  To someone who doesn’t know him, Yuuri might look like a carefree, energetic, and personality-filled little girl. Every photo is full of attitude: dance poses, Sailor Moon costumes, glitter, and stick-on plastic earrings.

“Ooh, I loved that Sailor Mercury outfit!” Yuuri says, draping himself over Viktor to look over his shoulder.  “Yuuko was Saint Tail that year!”

Viktor doesn’t know which Sailor Moon “Saint Tail” is.  He doesn’t care. Yuuri’s heart is racing against his back, the smell of birthday cake still on his breath, and Viktor can’t help but marvel at how comfortably Yuuri looks back into his past like this.

“Can we dress Eri up like this?” he asks reverently.  “Do you… do you still have…?”

“Oh, it’s somewhere in storage!” Hiroko says with a laugh.  “I have been meaning to bring out all Yuuri’s old outfits I could never get him to wear before I realized I was fighting the wrong battle.”

“Mari-neechan,” Yuuri drawls, nuzzling his face into Viktor’s shoulder.  “Come look at pictures!”

“No, I don’t want to see my long hair,” Mari protests.  “Vicchan, there’s a long-haired stranger in those pictures that shouldn’t be there.  Maybe a ghost? Don’t even look at her, you might get cursed.”

Yuuri snorts.  “I literally have boobs in some of these, Mari-neechan, I think you’ll survive a couple of bad haircuts.”

Yuuri in a blue raincoat and a little yellow cap.

Yuuri with a combination-pixie-bowl-cut, sporting an oversized sweatshirt.

Yuuri, barely 4 years old wearing nothing but a frock apron and a chef’s hat, absolutely covered from head to toe in flour.

Viktor is in love with the mere idea of these memories.  With every new photo, a different part of the lovely man.

“I should get the kids to bed,” Takeshi laughs.  “Things are starting to get a little tipsier than I thought they would.  Besides, I wouldn’t want to be around for any of our Super Sentai pictures to turn up.”

A few drinks later, Viktor is learning a bouncy, upbeat dance full of coordinated hand gestures and hip pops that Yuuko and Yuuri seem to have internalized ages ago.  The dining room is balmy and lively, it’s older occupants still chatting excitedly and pouring over photo albums, the smell of beer and rice wine heavy on the air. It’s only when his father suggests a Kyushu-style belly dance that Yuuri decides he’s had enough birthday, he would like to wind down and turn in for the night before he takes himself one drink across the line.

He’s already looking beautifully disheveled, his collared shirt unbuttoned a few too many down his chest, his eyes glassy and heavy-lidded, his hair pushed back off his forehead.

“Where’s Eri? I should have put her down a long time ago,” he mumbles, rubbing his eyes.  

“Eri?” Hiroko asks, startled. “I thought you—oh!”  She breaks into a bout of endeared laughter as she looks past Yuuri, past Viktor at an idyllic scene taking place behind one of the dining tables.

Viktor turns to look, and he can’t help but squeal, going boneless as he catches sight Makkachin curled up on the floor, snoring lightly, her chin resting protectively on Eri’s back as the baby snoozes contentedly against her side.

“They really are a team,” Yuuri sighs, pulling out his phone to take a photo.  “Should we crash Instagram again?”

“I think so,” Viktor says, swallowing back a wave of emotion.

The picture already has a couple hundred likes and comments by the time they get Eri into her crib.  Viktor lets his hand rest low on Yuuri’s back and rests his chin in Yuuri’s soft, black hair.

“Happy birthday, my Yuuri.”

Yuuri smiles, still gazing adoringly down at his daughter out cold in her crib.  “It really was,” he murmurs. “One of the happiest.”

He turns in Viktor’s arms and tilts his chin up for a kiss, his eyes rich and shimmering in the soft lamplight.

“Love you,” he whispers.  “I love you so much, Vitya.”

Viktor leans down and brushes his lips against Yuuri’s just briefly.  “Do you want your presents?” he asks, unable to control the curl of his lips into an excited grin, doing his best to keep himself steady.

 


 

“You didn’t have to get me anything, Vitya,” Yuuri chides, something giggly and expectant bubbling up in his stomach.

“I did,” Viktor assures him, leaning down to kiss Eri in the forehead before leading Yuuri by the hand out of the dark and quiet and into his room.  “It’s not nearly enough to convey how much I appreciate you, Yuuri. If I could, I would want to give you the world.”

“That’s corny,” Yuuri chuckles, falling back on the bed.  “You’re corny.”

“I’m corny for you, that’s for sure,” Viktor purrs, one eyebrow quirked up in a suggestive arch.

“Vitya.”

“Ok!”  Viktor opens a drawer in his bedside stand and pulls out a small, purple box, its lid embossed with silver embellishments and flowers.  “So the first thing is just a picture for now.”

Yuuri opens the box to reveal a picture of a storefront with a deep maroon awning, a series of expensive-looking suits displayed in the window.

“A suit?” he asks, his head buzzing.”

“A good, well-tailored suit from Barcelona,” Viktor confirms.  “I love you, Yuuri, but that navy blue thing you’ve been wearing is a crime.”

The box rattles a little as Yuuri shifts on the bed, and his attention turns back to its contents.  The lamplight plays off of something shiny and silver, something that, when Yuuri turns the box over and lets it fall against his hand, is heavy and cool against his skin.

A simple key, unmarked, unremarkable, except Yuuri can’t help but get the feeling that it is so much more than how it looks and feels.

“I was hoping,” Viktor starts, kneeling down in front of him with his chin resting in his arms on Yuuri’s legs, “that you’d continue to train with me in St. Petersburg after this season?”

Yuuri stares down at the small, metal key in his hand.

“Vitya, you didn’t get me an apartment, did you?” he asks incredulously.  “That’s too much, I can’t—“

“My apartment,” Viktor corrects, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet.  “It’s a key to my condo, Yuuri. I have plenty of space, and there’s an extra room I’ve been using for storage; we could make it Eri’s.”

“Move in with you…” Yuuri mumbles, turning the key over between his fingers.

“Move in with me,” Viktor echoes, running his hands up to rest on Yuuri’s hips.  “After nationals? Or whenever you’re ready! I just want you to know that when you want it, it’s yours.”

“Yes.  Yes, god, yes, Vitya, of course,” Yuuri babbles, cupping Viktor’s face in his hands.  The anticipation bursts, fills him with a pink, hazy, bliss. Viktor is staring, watery-eyed, into his soul, his mouth hanging open in disbelief, and Yuuri cannot look away.

“You will?” Viktor breathes, pulling Yuuri closer into him, close enough to press his face into Yuuri’s tummy, letting go of his breath in a long, shuddering sigh.  Yuuri nods, an excited laugh escaping his chest.

For the second night in a row, they crawl under the covers to go to sleep, the baby monitor hissing quietly with the sound of Eri’s white noise machine.  This time, they’re both too exhausted to do anything other than lay, heavy and happy in each other’s arms, and Yuuri realizes with a spark that this is exactly how he wants to fall asleep.

“It’s my birthday, take your shirt off,” he mumbles into Viktor’s shoulder, and the bed shakes with a squeak as Viktor rumbles with low, tired laughter.   “Vitya, let me use your pecs as a pillow!”

“I can’t say no,” Viktor says, peeling off his tee shirt and wrapping his arms around Yuuri’s middle.  His skin is hot and smooth and Yuuri nestles his cheek right in between his pectoral muscles, listening to the pounding of his heart and the slow, even rise and fall of his chest.

He thinks he can hear another “Happy birthday” whispered softly as he’s losing consciousness.  Here in Hasetsu, coming down off the high of celebrating 24 years of life surrounded by those who love him, safe in strong arms and looking forward to the promise of so much more, Yuuri has never felt more at home.  

He slips into sleep and dreams about skating, flying over the ice in a world all his own.  He’s going through the motions of a program so familiar and close to his heart it fills him with exhilaration and sadness all at once.  He’s alone, the air is still and cool against him.

Until it’s not.

And then he feels warmth, a hand on his waist, and he recognizes the music he’s moving to as the air around him glows magenta and the melody swells to its peak.  Everything is so much clearer when he’s swirling in place with Viktor at his side.  Everything is easier and equally more challenging, and it isn’t until now that Yuuri realizes he’s been skating one half of a duet for years.

He wakes up with an itching idea eating away at the back of his mind.

He barely lets Viktor eat breakfast before dragging him to Ice Castle to see it realized.

Chapter Text

By the time the trio gets to the Princess Barcelona Hotel, Yuuri and Eri are both exhausted.

Viktor can’t blame them, either.  The only thing harder than bringing a baby on a flight halfway around the world is being that baby.  It has been nearly a day and a half full of tears and squirming and screaming, interspersed with melatonin-induced naps and long, pointless walks around the airport.

And up and down the aisles of the plane.

And whatever they could do to keep the little girl calm and comfortable.

They’d made plans for their first evening in Spain.  They wanted paella and Iberico ham and sangria. This was as much of a romantic getaway as they’d get until after Nationals.  Maybe even longer, once the move and change of rink were factored in.  The pair wanted to squeeze as much sightseeing, shopping, and cuisine as they could into this week.

And they will, Viktor is sure.  Even though Yuuri slips into a dead sleep before Viktor even finishes unpacking his bags.  And Eri isn’t far behind; Viktor takes a break from hanging up his suits to move her to her crib in case she’s the first to wake.

Then, once his clothes are stored away for the week, he heads to the pool.

What else is he going to do?  A year ago, he would have gone out on the town by himself, chasing some unknown, unfamiliar joy in anonymous social spaces.  Now he has other considerations— more important considerations.  He isn’t sure how he got to this place in such a short period of time.

Viktor can’t remember the last time he was this aware of his own joy.

He’s always just pushed himself.  God, he’s been a workaholic for as long as he can remember; even at home he was either helping Nikolai with the kids or stuffing himself full of as much figure skating knowledge as he could get his hands on.  He borrowed books and videotapes and whatever else he could find from the library and holed up in his room, trying to figure out exactly what he needed to do to make history.

The water is freezing.  Honestly, it’s probably a little too cold to be swimming anyway, but what the hell.  He’s from Russia.   He spends all day hanging out around ice.   How is this any different?

Viktor tries doing some laps to warm up.  He should exercise.  He’s been sitting on his ass all day except for one Eri-laden sprint from one airport gate to the next, and it’s not like he’s been his most active this year.  Coaching has gotten him feeling lazy on days when he should be pushing himself to work, and he sort of misses the rush of reaching his limit and then surpassing it.

He sort of misses skating.   He hasn’t felt like he had a reason to do it in so long, but…

Now he does.

Viktor thought for so long that skating was his one true love.  He skated his love for the ice year after year, and he truly felt it.  He doesn’t know when that stopped, but by that time, it didn’t matter. He could keep going through the motions and keep succeeding as if his passion were still there.  And the crowds ate it up. All the more money for Nikolai and the kids.

When the love was gone, he had nothing else in his life to replace it.  He was all drive and no life. No love. He adopted Makkachin around the time he entered seniors, and she was the closest thing he ever felt to it.  He loved Makkachin more than anything else in his life. Makkachin was his life.  Or maybe skating was.  He wasn’t sure. In all honesty, he didn’t care.

Now, Viktor cares.  He’s happy to know Makka is safe in Hasetsu.  He’s happy to spend a week in beautiful Spain with his beautiful boyfriend.  He’s happy to have a child in his life and to have the trust of her father.

He’s happy.

And that sort of happiness, that sort of passion, has a million program ideas zooming around his brain, demanding his attention.  Viktor floats, abandoning any hope of actually exercising, and dreams up sequences that spell out drawn-out pining, the slow, seamless way their lives transitioned into something so sweet and easy and comfortable.  Conflict between lovers who trust one another more than they trust themselves.

His love with Yuuri is something he could skate about for fifty more seasons and still have more to share.

The water was finally starting to feel warmer than the air against Viktor’s skin.  He gazed up at the stars, basking in the stillness, the water lapping against his skin the only movement he can perceive.

Could he go back…?

The hinges of the glass door whine as it swings open, and Christophe Giacometti waltzes into Viktor’s line of vision.  The two wine glasses in his hand clink as he sets them down at the pool’s edge with a bottle of Riesling and gazes down incredulously.

“It’s so rare to find you alone these days, Niki,” he all but purrs, perching at the edge of the water and dipping his toes in.  “To what do I owe this privilege?”

Viktor makes no effort to move.  “Jetlag,” he sighs. “I’m letting the sleeping beauties rest.”

“Understandable.  “Must be nice to get a little quiet,” Chris chuckles.  “You seem like you’ve taken a serious dive into this family dynamic.”

“I suppose I have.”

“What does that mean for your career?” Chris asks.  “It didn’t seem like you were done skating before Katsuki came along.”

“I suppose I’m not.”

Chris gives a skeptical look.  “You don’t know?”

“I know what I want,” Viktor whines.  “I just don’t know how much I can get away with.”

Chris pours a glass of wine with a sympathetic nod and holds it out over the water.  “Drink on it?”

“Please,” Viktor sighs.  He swims up to his friend and takes the glass, emptying it in one long pull.  “Chris, I love them both so much.”

“I don’t think anyone who has seen you in the past year would have any doubt about that,” Chris hums, pouring his own glass.  “Are we talking marriage, then?”

Viktor holds his breath, pointing urgently at the bottle as he sinks down and lets the water surround him.  The rush of water and bubbles roars in his ears as he tries desperately to gather his thoughts. Every way he looks at it, he sees sacrifice.

“Chris,” he huffs, emerging from the depths as Christophe hops in as well.  “What do I do?  I want to skate, I know, but I don’t want anything that doesn’t involve Yuuri.  But I don’t want to spread myself too thin and then never be around to help with the baby.  But then it’s not like I’ll even be skating that much longer, is it worth pushing just to—”

“Niki,” Chris sighs, handing him another glass.  “Is it not enough to just be lovers and competitors?”

“I’m compelled to say no to both,” Viktor admits, sipping this one a little more conservatively, but still finishing it way too fast.  “Lovers would be fine, but Yuuri deserves the stability of a proper relationship and family. Competitors would be fine, but we make such a dynamic team.  I want to continue being a part of that! Is that selfish?”

“Seems like the opposite, but to a fault,” Chris ponders.  “Viktor, it’s clear how totally you want to give yourself to him.  You’ve done that from the start. But if you don’t look out for yourself and your needs, he’s going to be your next big burnout.  And I think that one will hurt a hell of a lot more.”

He’s right.  Viktor knows he’s right, as frustrating as that is.  As much as he wants it all, if he exhausts himself on his two loves, he still winds up with nothing.

Then again, isn’t he all about proving people wrong?

It’s going to be a hard conversation, and he’s going to have to have it soon, and honestly, it’s sort of terrifying.

And thrilling.

“You know, it’s a true injustice you haven’t told me anything about Masumi,” Viktor hums, cradling his chin in his hands and kicking cheekily in the water.  “I’ve only been on another continent for the past eight months.”

Chris rolls his eyes.  “I’ll humor your deflection, but only because I want to gush about my beau and his expensive presents, and because I need a photographer for all the slutty poolside pics he’s about to receive.”

“Thank you,” Viktor laughs, hoisting himself up onto the deck.  “Thanks for taking this seriously. It can feel like I’m being incredibly irrational sometimes.”

“You almost certainly are,” Chris says with a grin.  “But you know I’m going to support you as long as you’re doing what makes you happy.  Okay?”

Viktor smiles too, amazed for a moment at the unwavering love he shares with his friend.  Has he always had such a strong ally in Chris? If so, he was only realizing the true implications of their friendship now, and a pang of guilt strikes his chest when he realizes just how entirely he’s let himself neglect his life and love.

“Okay.  So. Masumi.  I want every sordid detail.”

 




When they return to his suite half an hour later, both men shivering and tipsy, they find Eri awake and playing happily in her crib.  Yuuri is still passed out cold on the far bed, his cheek pressed into the pillow at an awkward and uncomfortable-looking angle.

Viktor thinks that in spite of the snoring and the drool, he looks absolutely angelic sprawled out like this.  All he really wants is to crawl under the blankets next to him, to feel the way his belly softens when he’s relaxed.

Mostly, he wants Yuuri to warm him up after an ill-advised Winter swim.

“I’ve never had room service here,” Viktor mumbles in French, uncorking another bottle of wine and thumbing through the menu on the desk.  “Do you want to order or pick out a movie?”

“I’ll make it easy,” Chris counters.  “What’s your favorite Jeunet?”

“Amélie,” Viktor replies, reading through a list of appetizers.  “Cheese plate? Or seafood?”

Chris uncorks another bottle of wine and pours two glasses.  “Cheese. Of course you’d pick Amélie.   Too overplayed, I think.  How does A Very Long Engagement sound?”

“Whatever you like.  Phone this in for me while I change the baby, won’t you?”

“Yes, daddy,” Chris teases.

 




“The way I see it, you have two options,” says a familiar, low rumble from somewhere beyond Yuuri’s plane of consciousness.  “Either start competing again and help him find a new coach—one who will continue to bring out his strengths—or make peace with the end of your skating career and start taking on more skaters.”

“I’m not sure how long I have left as a skater, but I know that if I give up coaching, he’ll retire.”

Vitya.   Yuuri blinks his eyes open to find his boyfriend reclining against the bed opposite his and picking the last few grapes off their bunch.  Eri is sound asleep on his lap and sucking away at her pacifier, and Christophe is lounging on the bed on his stomach, swirling a glass of rosé between his fingers.

The television is a mix of raging war noises, soft, sentimental music, and the indecipherable slur of people speaking French.

“Dans la douceur de l’air, dans la lumière du jardin, Mathilde le regarde… Elle le regarde… Elle le regarde…”

It sounds beautifully romantic, but all French is romantic mush to Yuuri anyway, especially when it falls so easily from Vitya’s lips.

But he can’t help but tense at the words Viktor has just spoken to Christophe in English.

Because he realizes with horror that he’s been holding Viktor back.

How has he not seen until now?  The way his coach stares longingly out onto the ice, whether Yuuri is on or off it.  The peace the washes over his face when he’s warming up on his skates, or working through a new choreography, or just skating for fun.

Viktor never wanted to be a coach.

God, he probably thought he had to, Yuuri was such a lost cause.  And now he’s done all the work carrying Yuuri this far in the season only to be overcome with regrets…

“Oh look, the sleeping beauty is finally awake!” Chris says, amusement lighting up his face.  He pounces from one bed to the next before Yuuri has time to groggily wonder why he’s practically naked.  His skin is cold, the smell of chlorine wafting off of it stinging Yuuri’s nostrils, but that doesn’t stop him from engulfing Yuuri in a smothering hug that quickly evolves into an intimate snuggle.  “I stripped Viktor down to his bikini, wined him and dined him while watching romance movies, and he still only has eyes for you,” he purrs, his eyes raking down Yuuri’s chest.  “And I don’t blame him.”

Yuuri can feel his face grow hot.   “Chris—”

“You can go now, Giacchi,” Viktor laughs, settling Eri back into her crib.  “I think I’m about ready to turn in, anyway.”

“Oh, don’t mind me!” Chris protests, his fingers clutching tighter into Yuuri’s chest.  His beard tickles along the back of Yuuri’s neck and a shiver shoots down his spine, making him jump.  “Just resume whatever it was you were about to do! I won’t make a sound; you won’t even know I’m here!”

“Out,” he and Viktor say in unison.

“Call me when you’re up, we’ll get coffee,” Viktor adds amiably.  

 


 

The next day marks the start of a hectic practice and press schedule for Yuuri and Viktor.  Thankfully, it also marks Mari and Minako’s early-morning arrival in Barcelona. Before breakfast with Chris is even finished, Eri’s aunties are already whisking her away for a fun-filled “girls’ day.”  They promise Yuuri they’ll maintain her sleep and meal schedules and they won’t take her anywhere too far from the hotel, but at this point, Yuuri is thankful they’ll be taking her anywhere at all.

Yuuri is a tired parent with a long week ahead of him and a boyfriend who deserves some love.

Besides, he isn’t sure if he’ll ever get to do something like this with Viktor again if Viktor is considering his return as a competitor.  He can just picture it—back to trying to figure out what to do while Viktor is focusing on his own programs. Unable to spend the hours and hours of ice time with Viktor to which he’s grown accustomed, and instead working away on his own while Celestino analyzes and ponders and drills from the boards.

God, would he even be able to live in St.  Petersburg and work with Celestino?  Would he have to find another new coach—or attempt to perform under the scrutiny of Yakov until he inevitably falls short of the Russian coach’s expectations?

No.   It won’t work like that.  Yuuri can’t put himself and his daughter through that sort of stress again.  He’s already reached his breaking point more than once. He doesn’t want to go there again if he can help it.

Honestly, if it meant staying with Viktor and optimizing their time together, Yuuri could see himself happily retiring and finding a more parenting-friendly way to share his love of skating.  He’s always thought he would be a good teacher someday—maybe Yakov would let him teach youth classes or something if he wins gold. Maybe he could do dance lessons. Or maybe going back to school and getting his Masters’ would help him set a course for a new, sustainable career.

One that keeps Viktor by his side.  They can always skate together for fun; Yuuri can always do ice shows and event commentary on the side.  He has options.

Just nothing that seems nice as this season has been, even with all its ups and downs.

In any case, that is all the more reason for Yuuri to savor the next few months and make them count.  Even if he only has one season with Viktor, it will be his best and brightest year. The year he found life and love when he thought both were lost.

It’s sort of soothing, thinking about it that way.  It makes practicing their new exhibition pairs ice dance all the more bittersweet.  It makes his free skate that much more gut-wrenching. But Yuuri has made harder and more life-changing decisions than this.  With Viktor there, he can do anything.

After a long and productive morning practice, the pair is faced with nothing to do until the following day.  So Yuuri puts on his best pout and reminds Viktor that he’s owed a new suit and wouldn’t mind a sightseeing shopping spree while they’re out.

“Don’t you want to help me pick out a new kigu for Eri?” he adds with a wink.  

It’s amazing what skating Eros has done for Yuuri.  It’s surprisingly easy to tap into that mindset around Viktor.  He’s found himself turning on the charm with ever-increasing frequency.  He loves how it drives his boyfriend wild. Viktor is caring and devoting toward Yuuri, but Viktor turns to putty in the hands of Eros Yuuri.  It’s deliciously addicting, the way he can flip Viktor’s switch with one sultry glance over his shoulder or the brush of his foot against Viktor’s ankle.

Somehow, eight months haven’t slowed the rush of adrenaline he still gets from this beautiful, impossible man.

From his beautiful, impossible man.

The blushing puddle of melted Viktor agrees to the date immediately.

As is turns out, buying a suit isn’t all that exciting.

Except, of course, that Yuuri gets to watch the way the garment morphs around him into a stunningly masculine form the likes of which he used to dream of having.

But beyond thinking for the first time, Wow, I’m truly manly, or admiring the broad silhouette of his shoulders, buying a suit is mainly answering questions, being prodded and measured, and standing around for the better part of two hours while his clothes are literally pinned together around his body.

Viktor looks on with childlike delight the entire time, and Yuuri wonders vaguely whether his boyfriend has a menswear fetish or just a Yuuri fetish.

He honestly wouldn’t be all that surprised if it were both.

“Yuuri, you are absolutely stunning,” Viktor murmurs in his ear when he tries on the final fit.  “You’d better not steal any more hearts at this year’s banquet.”

“I only care about one heart right now,” Yuuri replies, admiring the straight line his royal blue jacket draws down his chest.  “Thank you so much, Vitya.”

They kiss as if their days are numbered.  Every time. Each one makes Yuuri burn and flutter and ache.

He’ll have to tell Viktor his intentions sometime.  Sometime soon. This week. He can’t help but worry, though, that the moment he does will be the beginning of the end.

After all—skating is what brought them together.  Will things stay the same once that changes?

The faint cry of gulls in the distance make Barcelona feel like home.  Despite the cool winter air, the sun is warm and refreshing as Yuuri and Viktor wander the streets, perusing shops and boutiques in between sightseeing shops.  Lunch is light and on the go, but Yuuri couldn’t be happier to stroll along Rambla del Poblenou with a paper cone full of fish croquettes, occasionally holding one up for Viktor to take a bite without having to put down his armfuls of shopping bags.

Yuuri can’t help but notice that the majority of what his boyfriend has bought so far is gifts for him and Eri.  He wants to say something, but he also can’t quite complain about the Gucci sunglasses or those children’s books that are waterproof and tear-resistant.  It’s been a while since he’s had a day to himself like this. Yuuri isn’t sure they’ve had a day like this yet as a couple.

He doesn’t want it to end.  He doesn’t want to cast aside the relaxed atmosphere between him and Viktor and return to the stress of competition and parenting.  Today is everything he’s wanted since realizing his feelings for Viktor, only magnified tenfold by the romantic scenery. He dreads going back to reality.  Given his own way, Yuuri would extend this afternoon to last the rest of their week abroad. He wants nothing more than to keep just the two for six more days of long nights, late mornings, and leisurely exploration.  Afternoon naps for that short time when all the shops are closed. No staying with family, no gingerly maneuvering around the baby, no crazy work schedule. Just Viktor’s time—his loving attention focused solely on Yuuri.

It’s selfish to want like that, but Yuuri can’t help but feel selfish when it comes to Viktor.  He’s so scared that each day will be the last before he wakes up from this fantastical dream of the ideal partnership.  He’s so scared that their days are numbered.

He’s so scared that when Viktor suggests that they head back and drop off their bags before they meet back up with Minako and Mari, Yuuri panics.

“What?” he stammers.  “We haven’t even been to Sagrada Família yet! There’s got to be a street we missed… didn’t you want to get something for Nikolai?”

Viktor frowns minutely.  “Yuuri, I bought plenty for my family.  I bought…” he shuffles through his bags.   “Damn, I thought… do you have the spiced nuts we got?”

Yuuri doesn’t have them; neither of them do, and so suddenly their precious afternoon turns into a frantic re-tracing of steps to all the places since buying the treats.

“Is that it?” Yuuri asks, pointing to a bag left on a low wall along one passage.  Viktor shakes his head.

“It’s a green bag with brown lettering, Yuuri, that one’s Prada.  We have a Prada bag right here.”

“Well I’m not the one who set it down!” Yuuri snaps.  If they’d left when Viktor wanted to, if he hadn’t asked about his family, they’d be nearly back at the hotel by now with almost two hours to spare before dinner.  Their time is dwindling quickly now. All he wants is something special; something to show how much this afternoon means to him, but instead…

“Whatever,” Viktor mutters, snatching up the rest of his things and turning to leave.  “I’ll have to find time to get some more. Let’s go.”

Oh god.   He’s mad.  Yuuri is making him mad.

“Vitya, the store’s not to far from here… I could even pay.  Or maybe at that bench where we stopped to drink our coffee? We have to find it!”

“Yuuri, no we don’t.  I’m tired. I want to go.”

“Oh—okay,” Yuuri mumbles.  “Yeah. We can do that. Sorry.”

Now he’s really messed things up.  The walk back to the hotel is silent and tense compared to the relaxed, carefree atmosphere of the rest of the day.  In the wake of Viktor’s long strides, Yuuri has to hurry to keep up, chasing the back of his irritated boyfriend’s head as he tries to find a way to right the situation.

If Viktor really is having second thoughts, if he’s really considering leaving, Yuuri has to do everything in his power to show him what he can’t put into words.  He’s been trying since the start; the Eros program, the quad flip, all of it was to show Viktor what’s in Yuuri’s heart. But Viktor is a man of surprises. Perhaps those little gestures are getting old.  

Maybe if Yuuri was stronger, he could find the right thing to say to make things better.  He’d apologize and soothe and ask what’s on Viktor’s mind. It seems so simple in theory, but he doesn’t know where he’d even begin.

So instead, he hangs back, scanning the streets for some clandestine answer, something he knows so profoundly but which lies in wait just out of reach.

Something to show Viktor just how strong his love is.

 


 

Viktor is mortified.

God, he snapped at Yuuri, poor, fragile-as-glass Yuuri who’s already as stressed as can be over the competition.  He promised himself back in China that he’d never do this again. But then he let his frustration get the better of him.  And now Yuuri is hanging back quietly, subdued and pointedly looking everywhere but at him, and somehow that is so much worse than making him break down entirely.  His demeanor is so drastically different compared to the rest of today. Coy, giggly Yuuri is gone and somber, contemplative Yuuri has taken his place.

Once upon a time, this would have been enough to scare Viktor away.  He’d be single again by the next day and recharging in the security of solitude.  He’s never wanted to push through a fight before. Or admit he was wrong.

Yuuri has changed all of that.  Vikor gives him space, lets him walk on in silence, and waits to see what he’ll do next.

“Can we cut through the Christmas market to get back to the hotel?” Yuuri asks suddenly, trotting to catch up with him.  There’s a strange sort of determination in his eyes, something bordering on frantic but full of Yuuri’s usual grace.

Something inspired.

“Yuuri—” Viktor murmurs, turning to pass under the festive archway.

“If you’re going to apologize, don’t,” Yuuri interrupts.  “I know you got frustrated.”

They walk on in silence for a while past fragrant food stands and little carts of handmade toys.

“What do you want for Christmas, Vitya?” Yuuri asks, the strings of lights reflecting off his glasses as he looks around.  “It’s the same day as your birthday, right?”

“Not in Russia,” Viktor hums.  “We celebrate Christmas in January.  And birthdays aren’t really celebrated except for on the day.”

“Oh,” Yuuri mumbles, and then he’s silent again.

Damnit.   Viktor probably should have been a little less clinical with his response.  Yuuri is obviously trying to reach out. Viktor is silently kicking himself when the smell of warm spices and woody alcohol wafts in their direction.

“Do you want some mulled wine?” he asks hopefully, trying to reconnect.

Yuuri shakes his head.  “Not before competition,” he says curtly.  

And then silence once more.

Why does everything suddenly feel so forced?

Viktor decides to wait once again.  He watches Yuuri as they stroll past stalls upon stalls of trinkets and gifts: jewelry, stoneware, live portrait painters, even a few food carts.  Yuuri scans each one, apparently looking for something. Viktor sheepishly hopes it’s not a birthday present; nothing here seems to be all that valuable or interesting, but he’s not about to say anything.  Yuuri could give him a used cardboard coffee cup and it’d be the best present in the world.

The sudden motion of Yuuri darting to the sidewalk to check the display window of a nearby shop makes Viktor jump.  The store has a royal blue awning and the cases in the window twinkle with gold and diamonds; Yuuri examines the jewelry closely before dashing back and dragging Viktor inside.

“Another present for Mama?” Viktor asks dumbly, but Yuuri is already zeroed in on a case by the register.  Viktor can feel the sudden wave of excited energy emanating off his boyfriend, and watches from a few steps back as Yuuri asks to see a set of rings from within the case.

Viktor’s head begins to spin.  The air in here is heavy, perfumed and dizzying compared to the crisp, cool air outside.  He knows Yuuri is probably squeezing in one more little souvenir for home, but he can’t help but imagine…

It’s not unlike Yuuri to be irrational and impulsive.  But it’s unlike him to move quickly too. It’s amazing how even as he stands watching Yuuri buy a pair of mens’ engraved rings, Viktor can’t read his intentions.

When the payment plan is squared away and the rings are packed into their little velvet box, Yuuri wastes no time grabbing Viktor’s hand and dragging him out, stammering a hurried “thank you” as they leave.

“Yuuri, what did you just do?” Viktor asks, trying not to trip over his own feet as he’s pulled down the street.  “Where are we going?”

His heart is racing.  Yuuri doesn’t respond, just pushes on through the crowd with Viktor in tow, determination set in his brow.  Viktor lets him lead. He tries, as he jogs along, not to let the false anticipation build of what he hopes might happen.  It’s not going to. They’ve only been officially together a few weeks now, anyway. It would be too soon, right? It feels right for Viktor, but there’s no way it would for Yuuri, right?

The steeple of the Cathedral of Barcelona looms overhead, its ornate windows lit in soft, warm gold.  In the still of the evening it is astonishing to behold. The gentle hum of a nearby choir serenades the two men as they climb the steps slowly, and when Yuuri stops at the chapel and turns to Viktor, he feels his breath catch in his chest.

“Um…” Yuuri begins, gesturing for Viktor to put the shopping bags down and fiddling with the little velvet box in his hands.  “So… I was sort of scared earlier when we were arguing,” he mumbles, not daring to tear his eyes away from the motion of his hands.  “I… I thought… well, anyway. I’m glad we argued,” he says decidedly, glancing up quickly and catching Viktor’s eyes. “Everything has been so amazing since you came to be my coach and it was sort of nice to have a reminder that this isn’t some wild, beautiful fantasy.  You’re real, you’re here, and um—” he swallows hard, looking down again.  “—and my feelings for you are real.”

Viktor is pretty sure he’s on fire.  Every inch of him burns with nervous energy.  At Yuuri’s words he has to fight down a lump that’s threatening to form in his throat, but that doesn’t stop the tears from pricking his eyes ever so slightly.

“I love you, Vitya,” Yuuri continues, taking Viktor’s hands in his and brushing his thumb lightly over Viktor’s knuckles.  “I loved the beautiful man who inspired me to be myself and continue skating. I loved meeting you in person and discovering a Vitya who was more incredible and exciting than I ever could have imagined.”

The sincerity in Yuuri’s voice and the little bit of passion that burns in his eyes are almost too much for Viktor to handle.  The warm lighting dances in his eyes, accentuating the gold flecks in his irises. He’s the most beautiful thing Viktor has ever seen, and he’s absent-mindedly opening and closing a velvet clamshell containing matching gold rings.

Oh god… Oh god oh god oh god…

“I love the Vitya who accepted every little quirk of my life without question.  Who loves me and my daughter as a pair and as individuals. You’re so sweet and patient with children and with me, especially when I’m being unreasonable or closed-off.  I love my coach who believes in me even when I can’t. Who refuses to entertain self-doubt and self-pity. I love you, Vitya.”

And that’s when he opens the clamshell for real, pulling both rings out and weighing the for a moment in his palm.  The two pieces twinkle up at them, and Viktor can just make out the image of a snowflake engraved across the both of them.  They fit together like a puzzle to complete one design.

“Is this a marriage proposal?” Viktor asks.  The question comes out breathless and soft.

Yuuri’s eyes go wide, warm and fiery and shimmering.  “No! Yes?” he stammers, his cheeks going crimson. “I don’t know, just please stay with me.”

Viktor realizes that yes, Katsuki Yuuri really can be that impulsive.

“Of course,” he murmurs.  “I’ll stay with you forever, Yuuri.  I could never leave. I would never leave.”

Yuuri’s hands are soft and warm, and then the cool, heavy ring slid on Viktor’s ringer—a subtle sensation that sends shocks down Viktor’s spine and has him gasping for breath.

“Yuuri—”

Yuuri hands him the second ring.  “Your turn,” he says with a teary grin.  “Tell me something for good luck?”

“Yuuri, I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together,” he practically whispers, choking back the swell of motion building in his chest and just behind his eyes.  “Nothing will ever change that. Nothing.”

He slides the ring over Yuuri’s slender fingers, letting the clamshell tumble to the floor and wrapping his arms around Yuuri’s middle.  The contact is everything he’s been missing this afternoon. Viktor feels himself melting into Yuuri here in the middle of the church, but he can’t be bothered to keep his distance.

“This week, don’t skate for me.  Don’t skate for your daughter’s sake or to prove anything to What’s His Name, a gold medal, nothing,” he whispers.  “This week, I want to see you skate for Yuuri and no one else.  Skate in the way that you can honestly say you like best.  Skate in a way that makes you happy. Okay?”

“I can do that,” Yuuri says with a smile.  “So… was that a yes?”

Viktor can hold back no longer.  He crushes his lips into Yuuri’s and drinks him in, his fingers curling in the soft strands of Yuuri’s hair, lost to the world outside of their two forms pressed together here.  The weight of the ring on his right hand is hard to ignore, but his inescapable awareness of it is making Viktor crazy. He clutches desperately at Yuuri as he prods his tongue past the threshold of soft lips.

Yuuri sighs into his mouth, pressing his frame into Viktor’s and clutching greedily at his sides.  

They kiss long enough to be shooed along by a passing priest.  The stern old man leans into them with a chastising tone as they bound, giggling down the steps and into the night.

“Come on, let’s go meet Minako and Mari,” Yuuri sighs, the festooned streets twinkling around him with a new clarity.

If Viktor could say anything, he’d wax poetic about how unbelievable his boyfriend—his fiancé —is.  

His fiancé.

His fiancé.

Chapter Text

They meet back up with Minako and Mari for dinner, Yuuri taking care to keep his right hand tucked away and out of sight.  He feels positively drunk on every aspect of Viktor, who holds him close with a firm hand on his waist. Viktor’s fingertips pressing gently into Yuuri’s side are comforting and reassuring—a reminder of the promise he'd just whispered, all nerves and tears and breathless sighs, in the chapel.  

It’s a silly sort of restlessness that rattles in Yuuri’s veins as they walk along, a buzzing, ringing excitement that still feels too secret to share. He tries to breathe through it to achieve some sort of calm.

His hand in Viktor’s.

Cool, smooth metal he can’t help but turn beneath his fingers.

What did he just do?  Seriously? He’d been so certain while buying the rings that all he wanted was a good luck charm, but come on, Yuuri, who buys matching gold bands as a good luck charm, anyway!?

In any case, it doesn’t matter.  He knew what they really were—what they were meant to be —when he saw the glittering tears in Viktor’s eyes and heard those words, more beautiful than anything he’d ever heard, save for his daughter’s screeching, bubbly laugh.

“I’ll stay with you forever, Yuuri.  I could never leave. I would never leave.”

Yuuri buzzes under Viktor’s touch, his body lighting up with adrenaline in a way he’s never quite felt before.  It isn’t like him to be so sure of… well, anything really, and yet there’s no way he can question his choice when Viktor’s fingers are so electric on his waist.  Viktor’s heart is pounding so rapidly in his chest that Yuuri can feel it against his shoulder blade as they walk pressed together down the snowy street.

Viktor chats amiably with Mari and Minako the entire walk to the restaurant, mostly answering Mari’s travel questions and bragging about their purchases of the day.  He doesn’t mention the jewelry just yet, but Yuuri worries that before the end of the night Viktor will have told everyone.

He thinks about how quickly the world knew Viktor’s retirement was in pursuit of a professional relationship with Yuuri—how Instagram posts of daily life and baby time had started pouring out the moment he arrived in Hasetsu—and all those hugs out in public?  The kiss, right there on the ice in front of roaring crowds and live-coverage cameras?

Yuuri almost considers eloping, getting the marriage done and over with before uproar erupts over their engagement, just to avoid having to go through that twice.

He shakes the thought from his head as soon as it comes, though, because the last thing he wants to become is a scandal.  If he and Viktor are going to spend their relationship under the scrutiny of the public eye, they’re going to do it right.  Besides, a big wedding—one with floral arrangements and dancing and Eri in a little dress dropping cherry blossom petals down a carpeted aisle—would be so lovely.  Even with all the attention from friends and family (which isn’t his favorite, but he can deal), Yuuri can almost feel the love and joy a day like that would—

“Yuuri?”  Viktor’s voice, quiet and concerned, yanks Yuuri out of his daydream and back into the quickly-darkening street.  “My love, are you alright?”

Yuuri realizes his cheeks are wet and his chin quivering, and god, his family is staring at him with the Katsuki classic brow furrow.  Even Minako.   Shit.  Viktor’s thumb comes up to his cheek to brush a few tears.  The gentle swipes are no longer a new thing, he’s cried in front of Viktor so many times, but there’s a force beyond comfort that washes over Yuuri as his fiancé consoles him—some sort of amber glow that warms his cheeks then drips down his throat like honey and pools, shining and golden, in his stomach.

He is pushing his daughter in her stroller down the beautiful and historic streets of Barcelona, he has two of his favorite women by his side, and Viktor is there.  And Viktor is a part of it all.

And Viktor is his.

Yuuri begins to realize the degree to which this upcoming week is going to be a total emotional roller coaster.

“I’m okay,” he sniffs, reaching up to deal with the side of his face Viktor can’t reach and looking up to offer a smile.  “I think the jetlag is still affecting me.  Just a little fatigued.”

Mari frowns.  “We’d understand if you need to go and rest, otouto,” she says.  “We can always get breakfast tomorrow instead.”

For just a moment, Yuuri considers taking her up on it.  How easy it would be to retreat back to their hotel room and spend the evening entangled in Viktor’s long limbs, watching movies and eating room service, getting lost in long, lazy kisses while Eri drifts off to sleep in her crib.

Maybe Minako would even take Eri for the night.  He’s aching for the late evenings back home when he could leave his daughter in his room and stay with Viktor, pressed into the mattress by his comforting weight and exploring all the little places he’s wanted to discover since he was a teenager.  It’s amazing to him how quickly that became a priority, even a necessity, after the first time he had it.  Viktor is never sparing in the little ways he uses physical touch to remind Yuuri of his love.

And all the more starving he’s made Yuuri for that touch when it isn’t available, all the more impatient and needy.

Minako and Mari paid out of pocket to come and see him though, and they deserve his time and attention, so he shakes his head with a little smile and waves off the offer.  “No, this is my last cheat day before the competition.  I’d better make it count.”

Minako laughs.  “Oh, you’ll do anything for food,” she sighs.  “Anyway, Vicchan, I believe we were talking about the possibility of a certain Swiss skater joining us?”

“He’s just told me he’ll leave the hotel in ten minutes,” Viktor replies, scrolling through his phone.  “You’re aware of my compensation preferences?”

“Kid, I’ve got videos on cassette,” Minako says with a smirk.  “Even Yuuri’s official fan club has nothing on what I can give you.”

Yuuri spins around to look at his ballet teacher, then back at Viktor.  “What?  What videos?”

“What fan club?” comes a familiar voice from behind them, causing Yuuri to jump.  Phichit bounds forward, bisecting their little group and prying Eri’s stroller out of Yuuri’s grip.  “I hope you don’t mean my fan club, Minako, my moderators are unparalleled when it comes to archiving media.”

“Your moderators will never lay a hand on my studio footage,” Minako teases.

Yuuri rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t try to protest.  Not today.  Today, Phichit and Minako can get away with whatever.  All the more freedom it gives Yuuri to nestle into the crook of Viktor’s arm as they walk.  

Viktor, however, gasps.  “Phichit, does that mean you’re ‘hamster_horror95’?” he asks.

“Who else would be ‘hamster_horror95’?” Yuuri groans.  “We have an unspoken agreement not to mix fan life and real life.”

“Which is bullshit, but I guess it’s allowed me to be a more impartial admin,” Phichit says with a pout.

Viktor chuckles.  “Well, I hope that doesn’t apply to me, because I don’t accept those terms.”

“Vitya.”

“How can I help it if I love everything about you and the internet just happens to contain an expertly-archived history of your performance career?” Viktor shrugs.  “I hope you won’t let this get between us.”

“I’ll do my best,” Yuuri sighs.  “Phichit, have you eaten? We’re heading to dinner.  Chris will be there, apparently.”

“Ooh!  I’ll text the others,” Phichit says with a grin, typing one-handed as he pushes Eri in her stroller.  “JJ might be out with his fiancée—”  He puts a strange, singsong-y emphasis on the word that has Yuuri and Viktor exchanging nervous glances.  “—so my guess is he’s probably busy.”  He looks back, and Yuuri catches a flicker of concern flash across his sunny smile.  “Everything okay back there, you two?” Phichit asks, a quizzical eyebrow quirked up at them.

Yuuri can only gulp and nod.  If his smile is anything close to the cheesy grin Viktor decided to go with, he’s totally transparent.

 


 

If Yuuri had known ‘dinner with Mari and Minako’ would turn into a full-blown competitors’ dinner (complete with Mila and Georgi at Viktor’s invitation, Cao Bin and Michele at Phichit’s), he probably would already be back in the hotel room.  But it’s also sort of nice—everyone crammed around a table, all off on their own tangent conversations while they pick at one big pot of paella. Eri switches laps every once and a while, a bite of velvety potato croquette slowly being squished to goo between her tiny fingers—goo that winds up in Viktor’s hair.  

Yuuri has to admit he’s never seen his boyfriend (his fiancé!) that shaken and vulnerable before.  It’s nice to find little things that surprise him, like touching his toes when they’re bare and wriggling on the tatami, or kissing the little whorl of thinning hair at the top of his head.  Yuuri never thought he’d be able to make Viktor jump, his voice raising in pitch and his eyes wide and searching.

Or in this case, fussing vainly over his bangs with a paper napkin.  By the time he gets all the potato out, Viktor is nearly in tears.

Chris is nearly in tears too, except from laughing.  The mirth in his smile is visible through a frosty glass of beer.  “I thought you were good with children, Niki,” he giggles, reaching a few fingers out to pick away the last of the croquette’s chunks.  

“Children are monsters,” Viktor says mournfully, burying his face into Yuuri’s shoulder.  

Phichit scoffs, a noise that Eri gleefully echoes in his lap in the middle of one of her babbling anecdotes.  “My Eri-berry is not a monster,” he says with an air of indignance.  “She’s a little angel!  Right, Yuuri?”

“I think she's getting an early start on her terrible twos,” Yuuri suggests diplomatically.  He’s picking apart a prawn shell long after eating its contents, a little too nervous and excited to actually let himself have a meal.  “She can be a bit of a beast.”

Phichit shrugs.  “As can her Papa when he’s cranky,” he suggests, his eyes bright and full of Eri.    

Yuuri cannot even comprehend how lucky he must be to have a friend who treats his daughter with such care and enthusiasm.  “I don’t know what I’d do without Vitya,” he says, softening a little as the day’s familiar swell of emotion starts up again in his chest.  “I definitely wouldn’t be able to travel and compete.”

“It’s amazing you managed to wrangle him,” Mila offers with a grin.  “Our Viktor is notoriously hard to pin down.”

“I never found it that hard,” Chris purrs, eliciting booming laughs from some of the older competitors and nervous chuckles from the younger.

Yuuri knows he’s harmless.  But something animal and protective growls in his chest.  “It’s amazing to think we never even spoke until he showed up in Hasetsu,” he says, hoping he can shift the conversation past Chris’ coy remarks and therefore shift his thoughts past the idea of Chris pinning Viktor down in any context.

The table falls silent, all sideways glances and quietly sipped drinks.  Even Phichit bites his lip, his eyes flitting curiously between Yuuri and Viktor, Eri batting demandingly at his shoulder for more attention.

“‘Chit!  ‘Chiiit!”

Phichit takes a long, dramatic sip from his cup of tea.

Yuuri starts to get the creeping suspicion that he’s on the verge of a revelation, and one he’s not going to like.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell him.”  Phichit finally breaks the silence, the daggers he’s shooting in Viktor's direction a jarring contrast from the sweet, soft face he has reserved for the baby in his lap.

Viktor bristles.  “I can’t believe you didn’t tell him,” he hisses, recoiling in self-defense.  

“Wait, he doesn’t know?” Mila says with a sharp laugh.  “Oh my god, Yuuri, you must have been drunker than I thought!”

The word hits Yuuri like a punch to the gut, and there’s a crinkle of chitin against ceramic as he drops his prawn shell.

When did Mila see him drink?  He didn’t touch alcohol in Moscow—they were too busy with Maks and the other children.  Did he drink in China? Anyway, what did that have to do with—

Oh no.

No, no, no, he couldn’t have.

“...w-when was I drunk, again?” he asks nervously, a shiver descending his spine at the shameless, gaping stare Viktor is giving him.

“Remember in Sochi when you left me with Eri and told me you were going to ‘go have a drink or two’ at the banquet?” Phichit asks with that cautious, sympathetic air that comes with telling a friend how badly they fucked up.

Yuuri’s stomach drops.  All he remembers of the Sochi banquet is Celestino leaving him unattended at the drinks table, making a pyramid of empty champagne flutes, and waking up the next day with the worst hangover he’d ever had in his life.

“Oh, I remember that,” Michele grumbles.  “You tried to dance with my sister.”

Christophe rolls his eyes.  “And how brave of you to save Sara from her former competitor by getting swept off your feet in her place,” he drawls.

“It was a dance-off…” Mickey goes crimson and shrinks down into his chair, poking at the mussels on his plate.

“I got a dance-off too,” Georgi chimes in.  “It was like Yuuri was channeling Dionysius and dragging me to hell.”

Mila snorts.  “I don’t think you know who Dionysius is.”

Chris runs a seductive hand up Yuuri’s arm.  “We did our dance-off up on stripper poles, au naturel,” he murmurs.  “I always wondered why you never approached me about pursuing it further.  I have some advanced positions I’d like to see you in…”

“Chris, my child is here,” Yuuri moans.  “Please tell me that’s it.  Three dance-offs before Celestino carted me away wouldn’t be so bad.”

He’s having horrible flashbacks to college, to What’s His Name holding his hair back in strangers’ bathrooms and waking up with no recollection of the epic things his roommates would recount to him in the morning.  He still doesn’t know what Party Animal Yuuri is like, except that he lies dormant in Sober Yuuri’s gut and waits, and when he strikes, no one is safe.

Party Animal Yuuri seduced What’s His Name.  So the sober one maybe holds a bit of a grudge.

“Well—” Viktor starts, tapping a pensive finger against his chin as he recalls the night Yuuri apparently ruined a perfectly good sponsors banquet.  Yuuri considers grabbing Eri and running, gold medal be damned, he just needs to get out of this country before any more words come out of Viktor’s mouth.

“At first I thought I had done something wrong, because you came up and started yelling at me,” Viktor explained.  “You seemed really mad, but I couldn’t understand Japanese, so I didn’t know what you were saying.  And then you started crying… and then you challenged me to a dance off!!  That was the fun part!” He takes a sip of his beer to punctuate. “And as your prize for winning, you asked me to be your coach, and then we went off somewhere to talk. Well, I say talk— you told me all about your baby and then I think we made out for about a half an hour before I realized you were much drunker than I thought.”

“It’s a good thing you don’t need brains to skate,” Mari mutters in Japanese, causing Minako to spit out a mouthful of beer.  They’re both somewhere on the gradient between horror and amusement, eyeing Yuuri with intense curiosity.

“I have pictures!” Chris announces, pulling out his phone, and apparently he’s not the only one, because suddenly five or six phones are being passed around the table—including Viktor’s—all containing photos and videos of a night Yuuri can’t remember—a night when he not only spoke to Viktor, but kissed him and danced with him and…

“I asked you to be my coach!?” Yuuri asks, horrified, as he scrolls through an album of pole-dance shots.  No wonder he’d been so sore…

“I thought that was bold of you,” Chris says.  “I never thought Niki would actually go through with it.”

“Well then you don’t know Niki very well, darling,” Viktor mutters into his beer, his cheeks going pink.

Yuuri’s head is reeling.  He doesn’t know which is more horrifying: his body, bruised and bandaged and in varying states of undress in every one of the pictures on every one of his competitors’ phones, or the fact that he’d basically drunkenly asked Viktor to abandon his career and prospects for his own selfish sake.   Oh god,  or that it’d worked!!  His breathing is starting to go all panicky, he can feel it, and he tries to remember one of the techniques his therapist taught him in college to regain control.

In...2...3...4...hold...2...out...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...in...2...3…

His bare thighs gripping a shiny, steel pole...

He and Viktor locked in what is clearly some drunken modification of a tango...

Somewhere in there he literally bathed in champagne (which would explain the sickening smell of his clothes the next morning)...

In every picture, he looks a deplorable mess, but in every picture, Yuuri catches glimpses of Viktor in the background watching.  In every picture, his eyes are on Yuuri.

Viktor never took his eyes off Yuuri for all of the untenable, mortifying crimes he committed.  Viktor heard Yuuri spew nonsense, heard about his infant daughter, and still he made the trip halfway across the world to take him up on an offer that was lost from Yuuri’s memory.

And Yuuri spent the first few months of their partnership pushing him away.

Yuuri seduced Viktor, not the other way around.

His face is burning; he’s on his fourth phone album full of pictures and still trying to put together the pieces, even after the novelty of the situation is beginning to wear off for the rest of the party.

“Chris, you need to send me these,” Phichit is saying, passing Eri off to Viktor in order to jump up and exchange numbers with the Swiss skater.

“It really was adorable, you know,” Viktor murmurs, scooting his chair closer to Yuuri’s in order to wrap him up in a one-armed hug.  Yuuri collapses into his side.  “I’ve had my share of drunken debacles and no one involved had nearly as much fun as we all had with you that night.”

Yuuri frowns.  “I know that,” he says, swiping quickly past a video of himself hanging off of Viktor like a sloth.  “I just wish I could remember anything we said to one another.  I wish I could remember you.”

“I know,” Viktor chuckles, pressing a warm kiss into Yuuri’s hair as Eri crawls across their laps and into Yuuri’s arms.  “I’m so sorry I never brought it up.”

“I’m sorry too,” Phichit interjects, mimicking Viktor with a peck to the top of Yuuri’s head.  “I know how upset you were already that you’d even gotten drunk.  I thought you might actually explode if I told you Viktor carried you damsel-in-distress style back to the hotel room.”

Yuuri moans.  “Oh my god…”

He starts distracting himself with little games to keep Eri occupied, like ‘grab the bunny,’ in which he puts her little stuffed rabbit in various places—in his pocket, on top of his head, on top of Viktor’s head—and she has to retrieve it.  Simple, but effective. Every once and a while, he catches her hands and peppers them with kisses, uncaring that they’re sticky and slobbery,and pretty soon he can feel his heartbeat start to even out.

He takes out a washcloth and dips it in his water (probably bad form, but so is passing around nude pictures of one of your dinner mates) in order to wipe the rest of the potato off Eri’s face.  His daughter protests, pushing away at his hands and grabbing at the washcloth until it falls, wet and cold, into his lap.

“Oh!  Ring!” She says with a phlegmy giggle, snatching Yuuri’s hand and examining the gold band around his ring finger.  “Bika, look!  Ring!”

“Hey, I don’t remember you ever wearing that,” Mari mutters with a confused frown.  “Is it new?”

Yuuri freezes.  Outed by his own daughter.

“I was wondering the same about Viktor’s just now,” muses Christophe, leaning expectantly on the table.  “Anything you want to tell us, you two?”

Yuuri looks up at Viktor, whose cheeks are the pinkest he’s ever seen them.  Viktor glances back down at him, chewing his lip for a moment before softening into a nervous laugh.

“Well, I don’t think there’s any hiding it.  They’re a pair!”  He holds his hand up so it’s in line with Yuuri’s and the two little gold rings sparkle in the light.  

If Yuuri thought memories of Sochi had caused a din, he was not prepared for the way the table would erupt upon hearing that he and Viktor were— officially and publicly —engaged.

Phichit was positively screaming in the middle of the restaurant.  “Everyone! Everybody, my best friend just got engaged!  And to the man of his dreams!”

Eri was screaming and giggling along with him, unsure what was happening beyond ‘fun and excitement.’  

“When!?” Phichit demanded.

“Right before we came,” Viktor replied, beaming.  “Yuuri proposed at the Catedral de Barcelona.”

They’d have to scrape Mari and Minako off the floor, from the looks of them, too stunned to move with mouths hanging wide open in surprise.

The whole thing takes a long time to wind down, each of their competitors and teammates hurling questions their way as Viktor and Yuuri try to wrap up the meal.  There are hugs (Phichit) and tears (Minako), and congratulations from all, but Yuuri can barely process anything beyond his efforts to bundle up his daughter and toss all her things into the stroller.  Viktor is exchanging in low, rapid French with Chris as he handles the check, one hand glued to the small of Yuuri’s back.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers as they turn to leave.  “I wasn’t planning—”

“Shhh,” Yuuri shushes with a little bump of his hip.  “That was a nightmare, but I’m glad.  I’m really glad.”

They leave without the company of any of their friends or family, no fellow competitors, nobody but Yuuri and Viktor and Eri in the quiet Barcelona streets.  Unlike their walk to the restaurant, their trip to the hotel is quiet, stilled by the cool evening air.  The aftershocks of the meal’s revelations hit Yuuri in waves—subtle chills unrelated to winter interspersed with a warm, bubbling excitement, worry after anticipation after unease—but underneath it all there’s a cozy sort of relief from having been so open with those close to him.

He needs to talk to Viktor about Sochi, but that can wait.  Everything can wait until after tonight.  Once he comes down off his cloud, maybe he can think about the knot that continues to twist in his chest.

Until then, he’s got a soft bed and a loving fiancé to look forward to.

 


 

Yuuri is heavy on Viktor’s chest, and Viktor loves it.

The day was long and tumultuous, but not one that Viktor is particularly eager to put behind him.  Today is the best day of Viktor’s life so far—no question—but he can’t help but wonder if it’s the same for Yuri.

After all, the information from Sochi seemed to have blindsided him.  Viktor would have never wanted to put him through that with such a large audience.  He and Yuuri talked before bed about all the things that happened as Viktor perceived them.  Viktor took great care to include details like his breath catching in his throat and the way Yuuri’s body seemed to catch the music and carry it with him.  He listed all the little things he found remarkable, adorable, anything, between kisses that he trailed down Yuuri’s neck and peppered across his chest.  He apologized for the kiss that he could remember and Yuuri couldn’t, and vowed to never stop kissing Yuuri until he made up for it.

Yuuri promised he was owed nothing, but accepted the kisses anyway.

Now, in the blue light that spilled over them from the window, Viktor holds Yuuri to his chest with his left hand while he turns and and admires the gold ring that adorns his right.  He’s happier than he’s ever been.  He’s been thinking it since they landed, but it seems the longer he stays with Katsuki Yuuri, the happier he feels, and he has no evidence to suggest that trend will ever falter.

He’s ready to do this forever.

Yuuri is snoring delicately to his left.  Viktor can feel the beginnings of a saliva slick collecting on his chest, but he’s too tired, comfortable, and enamored to care.  If Yuuri drools on him every single night for the rest of his life, that is still the rest of his life.  Viktor will take it.  He lets his hand fall heavy at his side as the weight of sleep starts to press him down.  

Just as he starts to drift off, he’s shaken awake by a dip in the mattress to his right.  He starts, but not enough to rouse his fiancé, turning to see two round, dark eyes shining in the moonlight and a mess of tangled, black hair.

“Erichka, it’s time to sleep,” he yawns.  “Come on, off to bed.”

“No,” Eri whines, her round eyes beading with crocodile tears.  Typical bedtime.

Eri’s bed is a trundle on the floor just below theirs, low enough to prevent falling and wide enough to give her some rolling space.  Viktor gently rolls Yuuri onto his back and turns to put her down again.  He knows Yuuri’s system.  He knows he has to put her down and let her go, tears or not.

“No, Bika, I want Bika!”

The trundle has many advantages over a crib, but Viktor can’t stop Eri from climbing up into their bed from the little cot, and he’d much rather give in once than have Yuuri wake up to find him cosleeping with the two-year-old.

“Fine, come here, big girl,” he whispers, pulling her up onto his chest in her father’s place.  “Bika’s got you.”

He gets up gingerly, doing his best not to shake the bed, and carries the toddler around their little room, humming low and soft in her ear as he steps over Yuuri’s sprawl of bags and cases.  Eri fusses a little when he shushes her chatter, but pretty soon she goes from wriggling in his arms to hanging heavy over his shoulder, her little breaths evening out into soft, squeaking snores.

Once she’s asleep, Viktor lays down to tuck her back in her cot before rolling over and curling around Yuuri.

“Caught you,” Yuuri whispers, his soft, sleepy smile just visible in the dark.  “Thank you for getting her.”

Viktor kisses behind his ear.  “You should be asleep.”

“You’re a morning person,” Yuuri mumbles.  “You’ll make sure I’m up.”

“Eri will make sure you’re up if I don’t,” Viktor chuckles.  “Are you nervous?”

Yuuri rolls over to nestle once more on Viktor’s chest.  “I don’t think I am,” he admits. “I think I’m ready.”  He’s warm against Viktor’s side, his cheek unbelievably plush against his skin.  Nimble fingers play miniature figures along Viktor’s ribs and spark sensational shockwaves down his spine.

Viktor falls asleep full on food and fun and love.  Somewhere in the middle distance awaits the promise of more gold—and somewhere beyond that Viktor can see the beginning of something far more valuable.

Chapter Text

The whole world knows about the engagement by the time the short program event rolls around.  Yuuri is placed on a strict social media ban, a measure Viktor has learned is crucial to his success and is able to carry out with the help of Phichit and Mari.  That doesn’t mean Viktor can’t read all the speculation pieces or scroll endlessly through fan photos from the previous days’ events. Twitter has already developed a couple name for the pair, and Viktor is thrilled to learn that the combination of his name and Yuuri’s seems to insinuate victory, even if their fans from around the world can’t seem to agree on how it’s spelled.

Some sources claim the pair was seen leaving the chapel, speculating that they’d eloped while the world was focused on the competition.  Others believe the whole thing is a stunt developed to stir up excitement for Yuuri’s steamy, love-themed skates. Viktor likes to think he’s simply performing his duty as coach by conducting the necessary research to deflect any press questions on the matter.  He has to make sure Yuuri is competition-ready, and he has a plan.

Mainly, the plan is an Eri schedule, concrete and detailed with all the little variables Yuuri has worried over every trip.  There is also Viktor’s bank of Hard Answers, retrospective responses to all of the little, irrational worries that have plagued Yuuri during previous competitions.  Viktor even came up with a few ‘extra push’ ideas, just in case his fiancé really gets stuck.  

He’s trying not to be too weird.  Viktor has never had reason to worry about a competition in his life, but he finds himself second-guessing and overanalyzing and micromanaging as they draw nearer to Yuuri’s first event.

Eri is dressed in her Makkachin onesie, now a little tight on her but adorable all the same.  Viktor has her slung backpack-style as he attends to a few odd coaching duties the morning of the competition.  Eri is full of her usual unfazed excitement; she’s been through this song and dance so many times already, the anxiousness Viktor saw in Japan is beginning to ease.  She’s all giggles as he collects Yuuri’s forms and goes off to find Yakov, hopeful that he can squeeze in a chat about adding Yuuri to their home rink’s roster.

“Vitya, this is entirely inappropriate,” Yakov says when Viktor finally catches up with him.  “You and I both have skaters to attend to right now. Can’t this wait for later?”

“I want to be ready to prepare for Nationals,” Viktor whines.  He’s hanging, baby and all, off his coach’s shoulders as Yakov tries to differentiate his attention in Georgi’s direction.  “This way, you can add me to the coaching staff too!”

“I should hope I retire before my standards for faculty fall so low,” Yakov gripes.  “He can fill out an application form and be considered with all the other athletes.”

That’s enough of a win for Viktor, who has all of Yakov’s server passwords saved in his phone and could maybe even get the papers tonight.  They’re going to need to move quickly after Yuuri’s win if he’s going to try and be back for Nationals. He hasn’t told anybody yet—he’s pretty sure Yakov hasn’t even figured out he's planning to return.  He doesn’t know about Yuuri. Breaching that subject is going to be sore no matter what. They’re both already spread so thin.

Either way, Viktor laughs at his coach’s rigidity and bends to kiss his cheek before twisting to present Eri as well.  The little girl chatters urgently away at the coach, mimicking Viktor’s tone in doing so, and Viktor swears that for a moment he sees a fond smile flash across Yakov’s face.

“You’re going to have to get used to this face,” he says cheerily.  “She’s going to be spending lots of time at the rink with us! You won’t believe how well behaved she is.  Well, as long as she’s fed. I swear, she’s just like her father…”

It’s only when Viktor can hear the grinding of Yakov’s teeth that he retreats, promising to buy him a drink after the whole thing was done and over.

“You’re definitely Nikolai’s boy,” Yakov sighs, patting Viktor’s back as he goes.  “Don’t bother me until after the competition, for heavens’ sake.”

When Viktor returns to the athletes’ lounge, he’s surprised to find that Yuuri isn’t there by Eri’s playpen.  Neither Mila or JJ have seen him, though Viktor hasn’t seen the latter further than an arm’s length from the mirror all day.  It’d be a miracle if Canada’s King (or whatever they’re calling him now) saw anything beyond the tip of his own nose.

“He seemed to be having problems with his costume last I saw him,” Chris recalls when Viktor confronts him, scrolling through pages of a book on his tablet.  “Phichit was helping him.”

Viktor freezes for a moment but refuses to let himself panic.  Trip ups happen—maybe they happen harder to Yuuri than others, but they’ve dealt with bigger than a costume malfunction.  Viktor has his sewing kit ready, and if the problem requires a more expert fix, he knows Yuuri has back-ups packed. All the same, it takes Yuuri a long time to recover from things like that, so Viktor finds himself rushing anxiously to the locker room anyway.  Along the far wall, Yuuri is standing in front of the mirror in his augmented dance belt with Phichit clinging to his side, head on his shoulder. Yuuri is clearly upset, and it takes Viktor a moment to realize that Phichit is slowly prying the Eros costume out of his fingers, working slowly and deliberately while he whispers soothing words in Yuuri’s ear.

Viktor fights through the ‘Why didn’t you find me’ and the ‘What did I do wrong’, wading through his worried thoughts like high water as he crosses to stand on Yuuri’s other side.  Pink streaks down Yuuri’s face suggest he’s been crying, and Viktor has to count the seconds between his breaths to keep his heart from racing.

“Tell me what’s wrong, my love,” he murmurs, wrapping around Yuuri and being careful not to alienate Phichit in the process.  Yuuri pushes him away reflexively, his face crinkling into an uncomfortable grimace as he shrinks back into Phichit’s arms.

“I couldn’t get the damn skirt to sit right,” Yuuri sniffs.  The curse sounds so foreign and wrong on Yuuri’s tongue. Viktor rarely hears him swear—he can only assume that’s a bad sign.  “I can’t use this costume, Viktor, I don’t know what to do.”

Viktor does his best to be soothing, a skill he’s still not sure he has the hang of.  “If it’s a tear, we have plenty of time to mend it, Yuuri, this is fine. You always have the spare as well.  A costume issue is no—”

He’s shut up by a reproachful stare from Phichit.  The Thai skater shakes his head in warning, rubbing Yuuri’s shoulder.  

“It’s not the costume, Viktor, everything you do for me is perfect and more than I deserve,” Yuuri cries.  Viktor can’t tell if his dropped diminutive is intentional or not. “It’s my hips! We ate like idiots this week and I’m bloated, and now I have to skate the most important short program of my career looking like my mother, and—”   His voice breaks as another sob hits him and he drops down, crumpling in front of Viktor and Phichit with his face in his hands.  “This is so stupid, I’m sorry, I just can’t… I couldn’t…”

In a move so sudden and violent that Viktor can hardly process it, Yuuri spins around and whips the black costume against the lockers before collapsing into a heap once more.  The gesture is so untenable in the moment that Viktor isn’t sure it really happened, except it must have, because the costume is hanging by one of the locker handles by…

Viktor feels his face flush red, feels a surge of what he knows is frustration even as he tries to rationalize it away.

“I can’t skate, I have to drop out,” Yuuri cries, clinging to Phichit as his friend drops down next to him.  “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, it just reminded me of…” He winces as a sob shakes his body.

Viktor knows, looking at the discarded costume, the reason for the tears and the numerous apologies.  He knows because in any other situation he’d find them justified. He’d let the anger come and dictate his reaction and end up saying something that would only make matters worse.  

The costume is caught on the latch by the skirt, which hangs on by mere threads from the cutaway side of the leotard.  Viktor can see breakage in the mesh where Yuuri’s fingers must have taken hold, and a few more holes where seams popped open.

“Yuuri, did you tear your costume?” he asks gently, keeping his voice low and unaffected as he knelt down beside Phichit.

Yuuri nods, his face scrunching into a red, wrinkled mess.

“Shhh, my love, it’s okay,” Viktor breathes, placing a hand cautiously on Yuuri’s side and finding with relief that Yuuri tolerates it.  “We packed for this. You have something to wear.”

“What, black dance pants and my suit shirt?” Yuuri groans, sinking down once more.  “When Phichit looks like a prince and JJ is all broad shoulders and glamor and…  And that’s not the point. That costume is one of your most famous…”

“...and one of my most ancient,” Viktor laughs, settling on the floor next to Yuuri and shifting Eri gingerly into his lap.  “Don’t think I don’t have the most amazing tailor, my love. The costume isn’t remotely a concern to me right now.” He smoothes back Yuuri’s bangs from his sweat-drenched forehead.  This is something so beyond what he’s seen so far. “You, however, are top of the list. Do you feel like you can talk about it?”

Yuuri shakes his head no, his pained expression spliced with the welcoming smile he’s giving his daughter as she climbs his torso.

Viktor hates fake smiles.  He’s starting to get the impression that he’s on the outside of this situation, and it takes everything in him not to just start hurling out guesses as to what has his fiancé is thinking.  And somehow, he’s found himself under the appraising glare of Phichit once more—a look that seems to be more calculating than condemning, but that still makes Viktor’s blood run cold. Yuuri has someone in his life that knows all these things about him, and Viktor is just trying to catch up.

“Yuuri,” he presses, trying not to let the annoyance in his voice show.  “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s just wrong, okay?” Yuuri bites, recoiling a bit.  “I just woke up today feeling wrong, and sorry I didn’t report it to you, but it’s not exactly easy to admit I still have to live with… with this… ”  He indicates vaguely at his body.  “It’s not something you can fix, just like my anxiety isn’t something you can fix, and knowing that you’re sitting there searching for a solution instead of just being here for me makes me feel even more broken!”

Viktor’s stomach liquefies.  What is he supposed to say to that?  Yuuri isn’t wrong—Viktor’s been analyzing this situation like it’s just another obstacle in the way of Yuuri’s win.  He so strongly wants to push back, to insist that his only concern is Yuuri’s happiness and nothing else matters.

He wants so badly for that to be true.

Oh god, but it isn’t.  He might just as soon say that he only competes for the love of skating, that he’d give up the competitive circuit for good if it meant having a stable, happy family.

It’s not completely a lie.  It’s just a truth that comes with a price.  Viktor has never been one to accumulate debt like this.  With anyone else, he’d have backed out long before.

Caught between mad and worried and scared, Viktor puts an arm out and gently rubs Yuuri’s back, the way he does when they’re alone and the exhaustion from the day is starting to weigh on both their shoulders.  When Eri is awake at 4am and he can feel Yuuri tense against him in bed, pained at letting his girl cry a little longer before caving in and getting up at such an ungodly hour.

But this time, the tension doesn’t ease in Yuuri’s shoulders.  

“I don’t know whether to be coach or fiancé in this sort of situation,” Viktor mumbles, aware that he’s still under Phichit’s silent scrutiny and anything he does wrong will come back to haunt him.  “And I don’t have a lot of experience with dysphoria.”

“Welcome,” Yuuri says drily, his lip turning upward at one side.  “I don’t really know which I need more,” he admits. “I just need to know that you’re on my side.”

Viktor lets his forehead fall onto Yuuri’s shoulder.  “You could walk out the door and pack up your things and go back home right now, and I’d still be on your side,” he admits.  “It would hurt, and I’d be upset, but never at you, Yuuri.”

“You’re not upset that I ripped your costume?”

“Of course I am.”  It’s the wrong response, and Viktor can feel Yuuri tense even more under his touch.  “But not at you,” he clarifies. “I can’t blame you for responding to a pain that I’ve never experienced, my love.”

“But you’re still upset,” Yuuri says, his eyes wide and sunken again.

“Yuuri, it’s okay,” Viktor soothes, but before the words leave his lips Yuuri is on his feet again, Eri whining as he puts her down, and the restlessness that Viktor had seen when he first entered returns once more.  

“He was right,” Yuuri mumbles, clutching at his hair as he starts pacing around the locker rooms.  “He was fucking right all along, I was never cut out for this and it’s only ever going to hurt me and Eri if I keep going.  I can’t do it, Viktor, I can’t skate that program again with all of that feminine energy… Is that how you see me? Is that why you wrote me that— oh my god— I always thought you were the seductress and I was being subversive by switching it up, but… did you always… Viktor…”

Yuuri’s breath is getting shallow, and Phichit’s protectiveness dissolves as Yuuri’s current state of panic becomes first priority.

“Viktor, go get ice,” he orders, intercepting Yuuri and pulling him to the bench.  “Take Eri.”

The second Viktor is out of the lockers, a sob escapes his chest so suddenly it makes Eri startle.  Her worried look is a carbon copy of her father’s, betrayed and bewildered and searching for stability.  It only reinforces the tightness in Viktor’s chest as he full-on runs to the lounge, murmuring his apologies over and over again in the baby’s ear.  If anyone says anything to him on the way, it doesn’t register. He jams his water bottle under the ice machine and fills it to the top. He only hopes it will be enough; Phichit never said what this was for.  Viktor only hopes it will help pull his fiancé out of the spiral that won’t seem to let him go.

When he returns, Phichit is facing Yuuri on the bench, arms bracing his shoulders, breathing slowly and calmly as Yuuri tries to do the same.  Viktor hands over the ice and Phichit immediately presses a piece into the palm of Yuuri’s hand, taking a few in his own hands as well.

“Good, baby, you’re doing so good,” Phichit says softly, letting the ice cubes fall from his hands as he brings them up to hold Yuuri’s face.  “Keep breathing, honey. You’re okay. You’re right here with me, right?”

“Right,” Yuuri rasps, his voice hollow and dull.

“Eri-berry is back, do you want her?” Phichit asks, reaching out when Yuuri nods.

Eri screams when Yuuri’s cold hands touch her, giggling and kicking as she wraps around his middle.  

“Papa!  Cold!”

Yuuri laughs.  He’s still so subdued, but the weak little smile breaks the tension Viktor didn’t know he was holding in his own body.  All of a sudden, there’s air in the room again. Everyone is breathing and watching the baby, and everyone is crying, but it doesn’t feel hopeless.

“Feel my face, too,” Yuuri sighs, exhaustion dampening his words.  Eri pats his cheeks seriously, then claps her hands together with delight.

“Cold!”

“Oh, what would I do without you?” Yuuri breathes, pulling her close.  “Vitya, you too, please come hug me.”

Viktor obliges, straddling the bench and wrapping his arms around Yuuri and Eri both, pulling them into him and squeezing tight.

“I’m sorry if I hurt instead of helped,” he whispers, pressing his cheek against Yuuri’s to feel the last little chill from Phichit’s hands.  “I wasn’t sure whether to be a good coach or a good boyfriend, and… I don’t think I was either.”

Yuuri responds with a little ‘shhh’ and a kiss on the cheek—something Eri scrambles to mimic on Viktor’s other side.

“Are you still feeling dysphoric?” Viktor asks.  Yuuri is warm against him, and less tense, but something still feels off.

“I probably will for a few days,” Yuuri says with a shrug.  “Or a few hours. I don’t really know. It’s been a long time since it’s been this bad.”

Viktor frowns.  “It’s… it’s not because of something I’ve done?  Something I said?”

There it is again—that tired, sad, little smile as Yuuri shakes his head.  “I don’t think it really cares what anyone does or says,” he says. “It’s been so much better since hormones and surgery, but sometimes my brain just likes to remind me I’m not—”

Viktor doesn’t want to hear the end of that sentence.  Whatever word Yuuri might choose to finish it, it would be an ugly lie.  He pulls his fiancé closer and swallows up those last few words, kissing him maybe a little deeper than he’d intended with Eri between them, but he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t want to hear what Yuuri feels he’s ‘not.’  Whatever it is, he is. He tells Yuuri so between more kisses.

“Can you finish out the competition?” he asks cautiously.  “Do you feel like you can skate?”

Yuuri nods, but he shrinks in Viktor’s arms.  The flash in Phichit’s eyes is almost blinding.

“Great.”  Coach Viktor starts to take over once more, planning out the rest of the evening as he rises to his feet.  “If you’re feeling uncomfortable, let’s get your makeup washed off and get you into your costume. We’ll say this is the ‘origins’ version of Eros where a shamelessly smitten choreographer falls in love with the best dancer at the ball and chases him halfway around the world just to tell him that his thighs deserve their own monument.”

“Vitya!” Yuuri laughs, shouldering out of his grasp.  Viktor plants one more kiss on the back of his neck before getting to his feet and beginning to unzip the garment bag that holds Yuuri’s spares.

Phichit takes Eri and lets Yuuri go wash up.  Viktor can feel the eyes on his back but continues with his work anyway.  He’s confident anything Phichit has to say will be said, whether he turns around or not.

There are a few minutes of cooing as Eri commands the Thai skater’s attention.  Viktor re-hangs the Lilac Fairy costume in the back of the bag where it will be the least imposing.  He takes out the white shirt and the black, stretchy pants, already sort of excited to see Yuuri in such a simple coordinate.  

“I’ve gotta say, I almost doubted you,” Phichit finally admits, setting Eri down to play with his phone.  “I’m sorry if I get protective of him, it’s just… that used to be pretty frequent, to be honest.”

Viktor chews his lip, unsure just how to respond.

“I’m glad he has you,” Phichit continues, pushing into Viktor’s line of sight long enough to establish just how serious he is.  “I just want to know he feels safe, even when I’m not there.”

Viktor isn’t sure what compels him to throw his arms around Phichit like he does, but he is as surprised as the Thai man looks even as he does it.

“No one but Yuuri deserves a friend as caring as you,” he whispers.  “Thank you so much for everything you do for him. I can tell you really love him.”

“Yeah…” Phichit says with a little laugh.  “I really, really do.”

 


 

Returning to the hotel room that night comes with an alternating current of relief and dread for the two of them.  Not much is said as Eri is put to bed and Yuuri changes into his pajamas.  

Tonight’s short program was one of Yuuri’s worst.  They haven’t discussed it yet. If Viktor has his way, they won’t discuss it at all.  It was clearly a fluke of the day’s stresses and a push back against the oversexualized nature of the routine.  Viktor can’t say he’s surprised. They’d worked for the past eight months on something divine and androgynous for Yuuri’s persona, some clandestine marriage of masculinity and femininity that Viktor hadn’t even suspected might become problematic somewhere down the line.  Honestly, it’s his fault, and he’s happy to take the fall if it means not having to watch Yuuri over-analyze every penalty he took to his score and fuss over how he could have done things differently.

Viktor might have done some things differently if he could go back and do it again.  He steps behind the room’s glass partition and into the shower, letting the hot water pour over him as he considers whether he’s been paying enough attention.

Yuuri is transgender.  Viktor has known this from day one.  He’s come to know it more intimately as well, as they’ve gotten closer and he’s learned more about Yuuri’s body.  He has a very strict lifting regimen to keep his shoulders broad and his hips trim. He wears a patch on one hip that gives him a maintenance-level dose of testosterone.  He rubs lotion over the dark, silvery scars on his stomach and chest to keep them from cracking so that they’ll fade over time. All just to look a certain way that aligns with his sense of self.  All just to chase away the demons that haunt him if he doesn’t.  

Viktor can’t imagine the pain of looking in the mirror and seeing someone other than himself.  Of having to prove for so long as he transitioned that he was valid, and then going out and putting his body on display to the world, inviting scrutiny and criticism just to prove he is one of the best.

He’s always sort of assumed that parenthood was the biggest change in Yuuri’s life.  Maybe he’s been wrong.

When he’s clothed and dry, he finds Yuuri sitting in silence, staring out at the city lights reflected and twinkling on the ocean’s surface.

Viktor bends down just long enough to press a kiss into his fiancé’s temple, then sits to face him.  Looking up into that tired face, softened by a half-smile but so clearly holding something back, Viktor wonders again if he is doing right by Yuuri.  The last thing he wants is to break this precious thing they have created. It still feels so newly-formed, so fragile, like a delicate, decorated egg he has to carry with him everywhere.  The more he handles it, the more he fears he’s putting it in danger.

“C—can we talk?” Yuuri murmurs, his shoulders doing that little, uncertain shimmy that Viktor secretly loves.

But those words are his worst nightmare.

Of course he wants to talk.  He wants to talk to Yuuri for the rest of his goddamn life, whatever that takes.  But no one has ever heard a loved one say ‘Can we talk?’ without at least a little worry.  After today, that ‘little’ takes up a lot of space in Viktor’s chest. His mouth is so dry, despite having just brushed his teeth.  

“What about?” he asks, taking Yuuri’s hands in his and scooting forward on the windowsill until their knees slot together.  Yuuri’s legs are shaking. “My love, are you alright?”

He knows it’s a loaded question.  He knows Yuuri isn’t fine, hardly even okay, after his body left him feeling disjointed and frustrated like that.  He still looks so raw from everything that went down.

“I… I wanted to thank you for being my coach, and for everything you’ve done for me,” Yuuri mumbles, his eyes scanning the floor as he speaks.  “After the free skate tomorrow… let’s end this.”

Let’s end this.

Viktor is sure those are the words he heard.  But as the heat rises in his neck and in his cheeks, and everywhere, god, he’s burning, they don’t seem to make any sense.

Yuuri is still talking, too, but Viktor can’t catch his breath long enough to focus on what he might be saying.  No, no, he’s worked too hard to make sure this wouldn’t happen; he isn’t ready to just drop their life together. He isn’t ready to stop skating with Yuuri by his side, working tirelessly to achieve goals he once thought were unattainable.

He isn’t ready to lose Eri.  He loves her. Maybe not yet as his own daughter, but as his own family for certain.

He isn’t ready for the tears, but they insist on falling all the same.  He screws up his face, trying to delay the inevitable. Crying in front of others is just as difficult for Viktor as watching someone else cry; it’s a helpless, frantic feeling.  

The bathroom light glares and sparks in his vision, refracted by his tears, as the curtain of his bangs is pushed aside.  And then the light is blocked and Yuuri’s concerned face looks up at him in double.

“Yuuri, what are you doing?” Viktor mutters.

“You—you’re crying,” Yuuri croaks.

As if there could be any other response to something like that.

Viktor knocks Yuuri’s hand away.  “Of course I am; I’m mad,” he replies, trying to hone his focus on keeping his voice level and calm.  

“Vitya…”

Viktor stands up, suddenly sweating in his robe, his breath stuck in his throat.  After everything that transpired that week… After some of their highest highs and lowest lows, Yuuri must have finally reached his breaking point.  And here, Viktor thought he could finally start to hope for a life together.

Some lucid part of him hangs desperately onto the fact that Yuuri has had an emotionally trying week, its peak stressors hitting him today and affecting the culmination of his skating career up until this point.  His eyes press shut, sending stars sparkling across his vision, his head and chest suddenly full to bursting.

It’s no use.  This is it; even if Yuuri doesn’t mean it, it’s the One Worst Thing Viktor could hear tonight after having his heart pulled in so many directions.  His breath shakes from his chest, sharp at the edges, half-sob, half-laughter.

“You really didn’t mean for those rings to be engagement rings, did you?” he snaps, that minuscule lucid part of his mind begging him to stop.  “You just acted on a whim, like you always do, and owned it when it worked in your favor. I didn’t expect Katsuki Yuuri to be so selfish.”

“Viktor, how could you say that!?” Yuuri cries.  “Why now, of all times? Don’t you think this isn’t the hardest decision I’ve ever made?”

Viktor shakes his head.  “No. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“No, you’re right.”  The skin at Yuuri’s knuckles go white, his fists clenched and shaking at his sides.  “This is a selfish choice I selfishly made. I know you’re going to return to skating, Vitya.  But I can’t keep going. Even if you were able to skate and coach at the same time, I’d still want to retire.  I’m done. It’s over. This will be my last performance.”

“How am I supposed to return to skating without you there next to me?” Viktor asks, running his fingers so frantically through his bangs he’s surprised he doesn’t accidentally pull out a fistful.  “How am I supposed to even look at the ice without the one man who helped me love it again?”

“Shh, Vitya, you’ll wake…”  Yuuri’s voice trails off has his face pulls into a pained wince.  “Please, let’s try to talk about this calmly.”

Calmly.  Viktor doesn’t know the meaning right now.  He’s torn between wanting to pull Yuuri close and wanting to storm out.  But Yuuri’s right. Viktor takes a deep breath, the air falling cool and slow from his nostrils and pulling him back a few degrees into his rational brain.

“You’re not… are you breaking up with me?” he rasps.

“God, no, Vitya,” Yuuri sighs.  “I want you with me. That’s why this is so important.”

It’s like being thrown by the ocean’s waves, the way each thing Yuuri says hits him with a new emotional impulse.  Viktor drops to his knees and shuffles forward to drape himself over Yuuri’s lap, just relieved to hear that Yuuri was only talking about skating.  He can’t take this anymore; he just wants to be at the part where they’re both okay and moving forward. It is hell to have to drag himself through conflict and feeling like he has Yuuri there by his side through it all is going to make that hell a little easier.  He knows it.

But for the second time that day, Yuuri pulls back.  “I… I’m not really… I need some space, Vitya. For now.”

“Oh,” Viktor breathes, stopping short of throwing his arms around Yuuri’s waist.

“Look, if you’re marrying me, you’re marrying all of this,” Yuuri sighs, his hand resting on Viktor’s even as he pushes it away.  “Impulsivity, nerves, dysphoria, all of it. It’s not always going to be shiny and beautiful.”

“I don’t care,” Viktor mumbles into the bedspread.  “I want all of you.”

“Then I should be allowed to have all of you too,” Yuuri says with a slight frown.  “No more balance of coach and lover. No worry about how you’ll have to adjust to add skating into the mix.  I just want Viktor.”

“How did you know?” Viktor asked, letting his cheek press heavy into the mattress.  “I’ve only told Chris.”

“And Chris told Phichit, and Phichit told me,” Yuuri said matter-of-factly.  “It’s all over your face at competitions, too. You watch every routine like we’re all still your competitors.  If that’s what you want, then do it.”

“I don’t want this,” Viktor says, his hand shooting back to his bangs and getting itself tangled in the still-dripping strands of his hair.  The droplets falling down his wrist are ice cold. “How can you quit now when we’ve only just started? When we have a pair skate to surprise the world on Saturday!  How could you work so hard to escape Drew’s hold on you just to let him drag you down before you’ve even given yourself a chance to win?”

Yuuri jumps to his feet.  “You do not get to bring him into this,” he quavers, backing away from Viktor into the expanse of the room.  “You told me in the locker room today that I could walk out on the short program and you’d still support me.  You lied to me, Vitya. That’s not fair.”  

“And leaving me to walk that lonely circuit alone is?”

“Yes!” Yuuri shouts.  The tears in the corner of his eyes sparkle in the lamplight, sparking out at his sides and threatening to blend in with the city lights out their window.  “Because it’s my choice to make! Not yours, not his! To think that you’d be so stubborn not to see…”

He’s looking frantically around the room, leaving Viktor to watch him dumbly.  Viktor’s head is absolutely buzzing with a torrent of feelings, a dizzying heat that’s pressing out against his skull and making his head throb.

“Fine.  Yes. It is what I want,” he breathes, following Yuuri’s feet as he paces trenches into the carpet.  “But I want you to be there with me. Without that, I don’t think I—”

“I’ll still be there for you!” Yuuri’s words fell out of him in an exasperated laugh, his toes grinding into the floor as he dances on the spot in frustration.  “I’ll be there with you, I just won’t be competing!  Or is that all I am to you? You—”

Eri’s half-roused whine stops him short for a moment, and Viktor can see the slow shadow of guilt creep over his face.

“You don’t get to marry Yuri on ice,” he mutters darkly, lowering his voice as Eri starts to fuss.  “I’m not even quitting skating, only competition. If what I am without a gold medal to prove I’ve gotten there isn’t good enough for you, then… then…”

His voice chokes out as a sob tears through him.  Viktor is afraid to look up into those betrayed eyes, but he can still see the tears splatter onto the floor at Yuuri’s feet.

“Errnnhh… Papa…”  Eri’s fussing turns into full-on cries as well.

“Then what, Yuuri?”

Viktor chances a look up.  Maybe he’s just grown accustomed to seeking comfort in that warm face.  Maybe it’s the realization of just how hurtful he’s been. He doesn’t know, but the disappointment and remorse hit him all at once, swirling and burning in his gut.

“Then you’d be just like him.  It’s just another condition.”

The words hit Viktor like a punch to the gut.  He can’t be… He doesn’t know what to say. He’s not even sure how he let it come this far.

When Yuuri starts tossing things into Eri’s diaper bag, he can’t find the energy to stop him.

“Yuuri…” he half-whispers, still kneeling on the floor by the side of the bed, his fists twisting in the bedspread.

“I’m taking her, and I’m going to stay with Phichit tonight,” Yuuri huffs, hoisting Eri up into a quick side sling.

“Yuuri, please,” Viktor cries, burying his face in the bedspread.  Everything he wants to say is stuck in his chest, choked out by this sudden sickness churning in his stomach.  

“I have to go.  Just for tonight, Vitya.  I… I have to think about this.”

“You’ll still skate tomorrow?”  Viktor asks weakly.

Yuuri’s laughter is, if anything, sympathetic.  “You know I will, my love. I’m not giving up yet.”

Viktor nods.  “And I’m still… Am I still your coach?”

“Yeah.”  Light floods the room as Yuuri opens the door.  “Just some space to cool off?”

A whole night.  A whole night without Yuuri, for the first time in weeks.

“I love you so.  I’m so sorry.”

“I love you too, Vitya.  So much,” Yuuri says. “Go to sleep.  I’ll come get you with coffee in the morning.  Let’s… Let’s just get through the free skate. Then we’ll talk this out.”

The door closes with a soft click and the sound of dad and baby fades slowly down the hall.  And then it’s gone, the silence hanging in their wake stifling Viktor like a wool blanket pulled up high over his head, the air thick and hot and heavy around him.

He loves Yuuri more than anything.  He loves Yuuri’s entire being—every moment they’ve spent together has brought Viktor more joy than he could ever hope to express… and yet when he most needed to express his love, he was silent.

Somehow, he’s done nothing but disappoint Yuuri on what is supposed to be one of the happiest weeks of their life.

He really is stubborn, Yuuri is right.  He knows that Yuuri competing is his own selfish desire, just the fulfillment of this fantasy that they’d have this perfectly-matched competition.  He’s spent so many nights until now imagining it. The sexy, maddening drive of competition that would underlie every exchange between them. The privilege of being able to celebrate victory no matter who won.  

Glad he’s already showered and ready for bed, he pulls himself up onto the mattress and buries his face in the sheets, breathing in all the Yuuri he can as he sprawls out on his stomach.

He doesn’t know how long it takes him to get to sleep.  For all the tears, he never checks his phone, too scared at what he might find there if Yuuri decides to continue the argument.  He might have been out an hour or four when he jolts awake at four in the morning, his chest tight and seizing once more.

Either way, he sits and stares out the window until the first tendrils of sunlight finally creep over the horizon, shattering into a crimson-golden shimmer as they mix with the ocean’s dark waters.

They just have to get through the free skate.

Just past six, which is the latest he's ever known Eri to get up, Viktor works up the resolve to creep down the hall and knock on Phichit's door.  He's surprised when it opens almost immediately, the Thai skater peeking out with a carefully blank expression.

It's cold, the way those dark eyes appraise him so briefly before turning away.   Somehow, Phichit's disapproval is the worst red flag Viktor can imagine. The calculated expression on his face suggests volumes intentionally left unsaid, everything from 'I told you so' to 'Are you really that stupid?'.  All in a moment, the emotional and physical exhaustion Phichit is wearing in his face tells Viktor everything he needs to know, and none of it good.

"Yuuri," Phichit calls flatly, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand.  "He's here."

Chapter Text

Yuuri tries to breathe steadily as he brings Eri out of the bathroom, already dolled up in her newest onesie.  To say he got no sleep at all last night would be a lie, but not a very big one. Still, it was more than Eri had allowed him before his free skate in China, so he’s trying to be optimistic.  As has been the case at previous competitions, Phichit’s room is exponentially smaller than the suite that Viktor managed to book, and the second bed was already taken by one of the Thai ice dancers, so Yuuri had spent his few hours of uneasy sleep clinging to the back of Phichit’s shirt in their shared bed, his face stuffed into the soft feather pillow to muffle his tears.

Phichit has handled everything since Yuuri showed up last night, from calling the front desk to request a crib to wrenching Yuuri’s cell phone from his hands and putting an embargo on all ‘Viktor’ talk.  Yuuri is so thankful, too, because he’s pretty sure venting would have turned into ranting would have turned into actual anger, and this morning would have been far more of a problem than it already is.

Phichit thinks he should be mad.  That Viktor had every opportunity to realize how hard he was slumping and needed to take it upon himself to Try Harder or Do Better or whatever it is Viktor was supposed to do to make up for the fact that the stress was hitting Yuuri harder than ever.  As if it isn’t just a matter of Viktor keeping his dumb mouth shut for just a second to think about what he’s saying. And maybe that’s why Yuuri is more conflicted and hurt than he is mad. Maybe that’s why he’s so torn between wanting to see and smell and touch Viktor again and not wanting to be seen.  Viktor had been thoughtless, even a tad selfish, but Yuuri had been cruel. He’d let go of any semblance of control and said ‘yes’ to every emotional impulse he felt, even if it meant doubling down on things that he’d consciously said to make Viktor feel hurt.

That, more than anything else, weighs heavy on his chest as he hands Eri off to Phichit and starts to gather up his bags.

“You’re sure you’re okay with bringing her?” he asks sheepishly, trying fruitlessly to smooth down his daughter’s cowlick once more before he goes.

Phichit casts a saline glance over his shoulder, where Viktor is positively sweating in the doorway.  “Fix this shit,” he says flatly. “Both of you. I don’t care if that means kicking him out or going down on him or whatever—”

“—Phich, come on…”

“—but this is not how you want to start the day of the Free Skate, Yuuri.  You fix. I’ll take Eri Berry for some nice, sugary breakfast with Chris.” He wraps Yuuri in a tight hug, trapping a giggling Eri between them, and then gestures in the direction of the door.  “Seriously, go, because I can only smile for so long before I start yelling.”

Tearfully repeating ‘thank-you’ over and over again is probably a bad look, but appearances are the last thing on Yuuri’s mind as he drags his things out into the hall.  Viktor looks a wreck. It’s sort of refreshing--maybe the strange, vindictive part of his brain is still buzzing from last night. Maybe he’s just happy he wasn’t the only one who suffered afterward.  Misery loves company.

“Yuuri,” Viktor breathes.  It’s so unfair, the way Yuuri’s name comes rolling from his lips like that, gentle and reverent, like some sort of prayer or incantation to lower Yuuri’s guard.  Even if it’s nothing like that, the effect is still the same. Yuuri bites his lip, certain if he says anything at all, it’ll come out as a sob. If he starts crying, Viktor will panic, and things get ugly when Viktor panics, so Yuuri tries to keep himself cool as they stand on opposite sides of the hall, looking hopefully into the noticeably empty space between them.

Viktor shifts uncomfortably, even without the tears.  “I don’t think there’s anything I can say that can justify how selfishly I acted last night.”  His voice is dry and raspy, even with the mug of tea that’s steaming in his hand. A series of conflicting emotions flash across that handsome face.  Yuuri wonders if Viktor really thinks he can’t hear the muffled sob under the defensive chuckle that masks it. “I suppose it’s hard for me to express how… how anxious I am to face a future in which my actions directly affect someone other than myself.”

A jolt of panic hits Yuuri as he realizes he hasn’t prepared any grand apology or summary of his feelings like this.  He nods sheepishly, his eyes fixed on the swirling steam that’s rising from Viktor’s mug, blinking back against the threat of tears as he shuffles forward to lean into Viktor’s chest.  Viktor’s suit is all silk and buttons and tie clips against his cheek.

“You should do competitions in sweaters instead of suits,” Yuuri grumbles into Viktor’s pectoral muscle, his shoulders softening again as he takes in the soft, familiar warmth of his fiance.  “Can we not talk about…? I need to focus today, I don’t…” Sickness roils in his stomach once more.

“Shhh, we can talk about it later,” Viktor confirms, enveloping Yuuri in his arms and squeezing him tightly.  “Pan con tomate before we depart?  Or would you rather get something along the way?”

“Here is fine,” Yuuri mumbles.  “Oh god, Vitya, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”  All of a sudden, he can’t suppress the guilt and distress and anger anymore as they fight one another for dominance in his chest; he buries his face even harder in Viktor’s chest and succumbs to a fresh wave of emotion, the lapel of Viktor’s suit jacket wrinkling in his grip.  For once, Viktor doesn’t say anything at all. His fingers play through Yuuri’s still-wet hair as he cradles Yuuri’s head against his chest, his breath warm as he presses a kiss into Yuuri’s forehead.

It isn’t perfect.  It isn’t even much better, except that for the first time since last night, it feels like maybe at some point it will be okay.  Just as quickly as he drew close to Viktor, though, he finds himself pulling away, back to the security of his own space, and that little action of self-preservation eases the conflict in his gut.

They stand on opposite ends of the elevator.  Yuuri can feel Viktor’s eyes burning into him the entire way down.  He can’t bring himself to look, though—not even after Viktor goes up to the buffet to make plates and coffees for them both.

Pan con tomate is a plus, at least.  It sort of reminds Yuuri of the bruschetta he’d eaten at a qualifier in Torino back in juniors, but somehow the fresh, pureed tomato is far more satisfying than the little roasted bites in its Italian counterpart.  Yuuri eats in silence, staring at the reflection of Viktor’s concerned face in the dark, glassy surface of his coffee.

“Are you feeling better today, love?” Viktor finally murmurs, reaching out to wipe the crumbs off of Yuuri’s cheek.  “I mean… not about… damn. ”  His eyes scan the table frantically, even though all of the food is nearly gone.  “Are… are you feeling any less dysphoric?”

Yuuri laughs, rather inappropriately.  It is funny though, the way another crisis basically eclipsed the thing that had his insides in knots less than 24 hours before.  He tries to explain, but he isn’t sure how. It’s so ironic that this freakout—which was, in part, caused by how rotten his body had made him feel—actually pulled him a bit further out of his head in terms of his dysphoria.

“I… I don’t know, to be honest,” he admits.  “Everything is really blending together into one awful, numb feeling at this point.”

That doesn’t seem to satisfy Viktor at all, who is basically silent until they arrive at the arena.  They’ve agreed not to bother with press until after Yuuri skates, but that doesn’t stop the reporters and photographers from swarming around them the moment they step out of the car.

“Mr. Katsuki!  Were you ill yesterday?”

“Where’s Eri?  Is she with her father?”

“Viktor!  What do you think of Yuuri’s performance in the short program?”

If people truly do get their own personalized hell, this will be Yuuri’s for sure.  He keeps his eyes low, biting his lip so hard it hurts, trying to focus all of his energy on the set of doors that would free him one hundred feet ahead.

“Please!  We’d be happy to answer any questions pertinent to Yuuri’s skate after the competition,” Viktor sighs, waving off a few photographers with a face noticeably less pleasant than any Yuuri has ever seen him offer in the presence of cameras.  The shift in his demeanor, usually so charming and enticing, seems to surprise the reporters too. The questions die down a bit after that.

“If you’d like,” Viktor murmurs as they pass through the security checkpoint, “we have a bit of time before I have to be anywhere to practice choreography for the duetto this morning.”

In theory it sounds lovely, but even the first thought of Stammi vicino is too much for Yuuri to think about right now.  He bites his lip, turning a little too quickly into the locker room to hide the fact that he’s blinking back tears once more.  All he wants is to say ‘yes’, to spend a slow morning stretching and dancing with Viktor to the piece that has been their favorite pastime ever since his birthday.  But something—his emotions, his pride, he isn’t sure—gets the better of him, and he shakes his head stubbornly, not daring to open his mouth lest he betrays his true feelings on the matter.

“Oh… okay.”  Viktor sets down his bag near Yuuri’s things, his breath falling out in a heavy sigh.  “I know you don’t want to talk about this right now, and… and I understand that, my love.  Just know that I meant what I said here yesterday.  Whatever path you choose, I am willing to walk it with you.  I know we can make it work.”

“‘Making it work’ sounds so volatile,” Yuuri mutters, staring down at his tennis shoes as he kicks them off, using his toes to align them into a neat little pair.  “That sounds like you making a compromise.”

“What’s wrong with a compromise?” Viktor asks.  Yuuri doesn’t want to do this. He already made that clear, but he can’t bring himself to shut Viktor down, either.  The heat of the locker room is getting to him; he flails in a moment of burning frustration, shaking his head wildly, before burying his face in his hands.

“I still don’t know yet, Vitya,” he whimpers.  “I’m so scared of you having to change who you are for me.”

His glasses are fogging up by the breath trapped in his palms, but he still sees Viktor move to come sit next to him.  Viktor’s arm, warm and certain, drapes around his shoulders, and Viktor’s smell, warm and comforting and still so exciting, floods his senses.  Viktor pulls him in, patient letting him fight through his impulse to pull away, until Yuuri is practically buried in his coat. Viktor is surrounding him and squeezing him and littering his face with kisses, and Yuuri surprises himself with his willingness to give in.  

“I don’t ‘have’ to do anything,” Viktor hums in his ear, his fingers playing up and down Yuuri’s ribs the way he could have been last night, the way that disintegrates Yuuri’s walls.  “Yuuri, I do what I want to make myself happy. And making you happy makes me happy.”  He presses another kiss just behind Yuuri’s ear.  “Is this okay?”

Yuuri nods minutely, leaning his weight into Viktor to reinforce his answer.  “I don’t want you to get yourself into anything you regret.”

“I won’t know until I try,” Viktor said, his voice gentle and far from intrusive.  “Either way, whatever you choose, I’m willing to try it. I trust we’ll be able to work it out as we go.”

He’s trying so hard.  He’s being so patient.  After the mess of emotions that got them here, that’s a lot, and Yuuri can only tell after the fact that he’s still being difficult.  He’s just not sure how to stop it. He really doesn’t want today to bring more harm and hurt. He just wants to have a last free skate he can be proud of.  He can’t control his final score now. Yesterday was what it was, and there’s always a chance that the self-loathing will catch up with him once more before it’s his turn to take the ice.  But that will be so much less likely if he could just enjoy himself with Viktor, if he could just be present for the last competitive routine of his career.

He’s going to skate his heart out because he wants to, the way it’s always been late at night at his home rink, with nothing but him and the ice.  Except that now, it’s him, the ice, and Viktor, and the power he senses behind that combination is endless and intimidating.  The reality of a career with Viktor still has so many shadowy corners, even now that Yuuri is certain it’s what he wants.

The kicker, the real problem he has with last night’s argument and its sudden, inconclusive end, is that he wants, more than anything, to keep doing this with Viktor forever.  He’s never felt more alive than when they’re working on the ice together. The anticipation of a career skating for and against his coach and fiance feels so selfish and shameful, like it had back in China when he’d realized he was a punchline to the joke, ‘Guess what Viktor Nikiforov is doing these days?’.  Yuuri overcame that obstacle. He’s proven he is the only one worthy of Viktor’s attention when he’s on the ice, and he’s proven that he can come back from impossibly challenging circumstances better and brighter than before.  

Something childish and wistful still holds on to the hope that maybe, somehow, he could have it all.  Viktor: Coach, competitor, father, husband, and Yuuri: ...if he’s being honest, he wants the same for himself.  It’s what makes Stammi vicino such a powerful duet for him.  When he dances with Viktor on the ice, they’re equal and complete, a binary system that moves in equal and opposite ways, mirror images, like their reflections in each other’s eyes, a rare and perfect phenomenon that makes each in turn brighter.  He knows, if only he were stronger, if only he could give himself what he wants without feeling like he’s taking it from someone else, they could be like that in everything they do.

The fear of wanting, the fear of deserving, whatever it is, turns a constant risk/reward assessment in the back of his mind, flip-flopping with every micro-expression that crosses his love’s face.  It’s not himself he’s scared of hurting now. It’s Viktor. Last night was all too real. Yuuri hates himself for doing it, resents Viktor for pushing him there, and still can’t tell if he’s seeking justice or just an end.

“Vitya, I don’t want to scare you, or for… I don’t want you to take this as bad news,” he says slowly, giving crucial thought to each word.  “Go enjoy the competition today. Go do what you want, and if that means spending time with me and Eri, that’s fine, but if it means going off and making plans for your return, I want you to do that, too.”  He nuzzles into Viktor’s shoulder reassuringly. “Go be Viktor at the GPF, and I’ll be Yuuri, and at the end of the day we’ll come home to each other and Eri, and I promise you I’ll have answers. I just don’t know yet.  I am still so… Sometimes I need space to think calmly.”

Viktor leans back, looking serious for a moment, his pointer finger tapping in contemplation against his chin in that way Yuuri can’t resist.  He really is beautiful, so refined, a picker of his words. Except for when he isn’t. Ah. Well, Yuuri is still learning that no one can be perfect, be it for themselves or anyone else.

 “What if I need to kiss you?” Viktor asks, barely even attempting to conceal his pout.

“Then come kiss me,” Yuuri says, tilting his head up expectantly, looking for an immediate response to that command.  Viktor obliges, pulling Yuuri onto his lap, his hands firm and fantastic on Yuuri’s hips. “I missed you,” Yuuri breathes, the words disappearing into Viktor’s lips.  Viktor nods, a whine escaping his throat as he opens up to Yuuri’s kiss, the sweet, creamy taste of his coffee still fresh on his tongue.

“Stretching, official warm ups, and the skate.”  He lists off his absolute duties in between pecks along Yuuri’s cheekbone, pushing his glasses up and askew.

“And interviews,” Yuuri adds grimly.  He’s dreading those worst of all today.  He’s either going to have to speak out about dysphoria and face some media blowback or have to play along with the idea that he’s let himself get a little too distracted with his coach this week.  The first option is going to take a lot of preparation, and Yuuri doesn’t like anything at all about the second. The chasm of dread reopens in his gut and he pulls away from Viktor just enough to catch his breath.  “I think I need to stretch now,” he murmurs.

They go through Yuuri’s full stretch routine, opening up his hips, letting gravity and body mechanics pull him into deep, relaxing twists and bends.  Viktor spends a particularly long time on Yuuri’s neck and shoulders, splaying his fingers up through the short little hairs on the back of Yuuri’s neck as he guides Yuuri through some Alexander technique to ‘undo’ muscle engagement wherever he can.  It’s one of Yuuri’s favorite parts of stretching. He lays on the floor, his head in Viktor’s lap only until it’s in Viktor’s hands, relaxing and breathing as Viktor goes through a full range of motion, circling, craning, and turning, reminding Yuuri in low tones to give up the full weight of his skull, to relax, to undo.

The locker room starts to fill as they finish up, Viktor spotting Yuuri through a couple of cross-body leg routines that look and feel as if he’s trying to split himself up the middle.  Minako would have been so, so much harsher if she were there, so Yuuri thanks his lucky stars that his fiance seems satisfied before he works himself into any real strain. He leaves Viktor with a kiss and goes off just in time to find Phichit and Celestino entering, Eri slung happily on Phichit’s side.

“And look, no more tears in Papa’s eyes!” Phichit coos, shooting Yuuri a questioning glance as he does.  Yuuri just nods, his arms outstretched and ready to yank his sling off Phichit’s body to get to his daughter.

Celestino frowns.  “Yuuri,” he says, his accent peeking out from behind his American English.  “Are you sure you’re okay? That ‘coach’ of yours hasn’t had to deal with the stress of a close competition in almost a decade.  I don’t want this year to be like Sochi.”

Yuuri bows his head, out of habit more than anything else, and Eri bats excitedly at the back of his neck.  “I know, I— Eri, yamete! —I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want ‘sorry’,” Celestino says, his exasperated laugh a little too bombastic for Yuuri’s nerves.  “I don’t want ‘I’ll do better’, either.” He claps a hand to Yuuri’s back as they walk. “Yuuri, you were always my best skater.  You probably always will be, although your friend is going to give you a run for your money sooner rather than later.”

Phichit beams, nodding.

“‘Always room for improvement’ is fine.  But ‘never good enough’ is not. And now with a record-holding coach?”  Celestino laughs again, clapping a hand to Yuuri’s back. “What’s it going to take for you to realize you have what it takes?  You always have, even before Viktor.”

“And he’s never going to want to compete against any less than that,” Phichit says with a wink, running for the locker rooms before the realization strikes his coach.

“Viktor’s coming back?” Celestino asks, his tone dropping lower than Yuuri thought possible for such a larger-than-life man.  Yuuri nods.

“In time for Nationals,” he supplies grimly.  “He’ll soon be a six-time World Champion.”

“Not if you have anything to do with it, he won’t!” Celestino barks.  “Yuuri! Why the self-pity? He’s basically setting you up to beat him!  I’ve known you long enough to know that you want it, so what is holding you back?”

Yuuri shakes his head.  “I just don’t think, after today, that I have anything left to prove.”

Celestino rolls his eyes.  “Let’s assume, just hypothetically, you were to beat his Free Skate record today.”

“Ciao Ciao, I—”

“Listen,” Celestino orders.  “You prove your worth.  Maybe you get a gold. Then Viktor comes back, and you’re just going to step back and let him take Worlds?”

“Phichit really does tell you everything, huh?”  Yuuri laughs. “I don’t know.  Okay? Viktor is the only support I’ve got—if I can hardly balance work and family when I literally have his entire, undivided attention, how am I supposed to do it when he’s focusing on himself?”

“I guess that’s not for me to judge,” Celestino shrugs.  “I’m not one for children. But I do know that Phichit and those lovely ladies who followed you all the way out to Spain to watch you skate would be devastated to hear you call Viktor your ‘only support’.”  He casts a knowing glance down at Yuuri for a moment, and Yuuri feels a telltale clench in his throat. He bites back tears for the umpteenth time that morning. He knows, he knows.

“You know I’m right.”  Celestino breaks away, turning off toward the grab-n-go breakfast table.  God, where had he been with that kind of talk even just a year ago?

Yuuri doesn’t want to think it will change anything, but at the same time… 

He probably owes everyone a hug.  Phichit, Minako… Mari’s face will be hilarious; she’s not one for any sort of physical affection, even from their parents.  But that’s not about to stop him.

His body still feels great from stretching, so he decides to go through his choreography in a dance studio for a while.  He lets Eri crawl free in a makeshift playpen constructed out of yoga bricks and loses himself in his program music.

Celestino touched at something that’s been eating him up inside, something so raw and pressing that Yuuri just can’t stand still.  He sets up a crash mat and starts practicing jumps. He’s going to land that quad flip if it’s the last thing he ever does in his competitive career.

It’s everything he’s ever wanted.  And he has it. He has access to it.  So why is he running from it?

Viktor wants him to skate for himself.  Viktor wants him to be proud. Celestino wants him to be confident.  That’s not anything he can do for anyone else but himself.

He knows the math.  He knows that with the quad flip, he could technically beat Viktor’s free record.  And if he did that, who knows? He might be satisfied.

Or he might be hungry.

‘The way he can truly say he’s proud of’ will entail blowing everyone’s expectations out of the water.  He still feels shitty. Stretching feels great on his muscles but it also leaves him feeling a little more feminine than he’d like.  That’s okay. He’s okay today. He’s skated through worse dysphoria than this. He’s skated through a sick child, through incisions still healing and painful, through limited arm movements and taped-down drainage bags.  He’s never felt like that’s been enough, but at the same time, he’s always had an army behind him. It’s time for them to see the spoils of war.

Yuuri is going to fight, and he’s going to win.  He’s going to go out on top, find his success, and be happy with it.  And if he does everything right, he’s going to give Viktor something to work toward upon his return.

Official warm-ups are next.  Yuuri leaves Eri with Minako, repeating his thanks over and over and asking if she can stay until he skates.  Something feels tense but not, the stakes feel higher but not; everything is surreal and disconnected from the dread that preceded the day, even the ache that defined his morning.  He doesn’t try anything fancy, doesn’t showboat, even as he can hear his name rippling along the boards from the mouths of various reporters. He knows that after yesterday, the eyes of the world are on him.  But he can’t really be bothered with the eyes of the world.

Six minutes of loving the ice.  He gives himself that, and then he pushes Viktor out and into some shadowy, unoccupied hall to kiss him senseless before he changes into his costume.

“Is this what you want to do right now?” he pants, his hands fully underneath Viktor’s suit jacket, raking down his back.

“Nothing… else… ever… again,” Viktor breathes, swallowing Yuuri down and moaning when Yuuri responds by biting down on his bottom lip, tugging at it gently with his teeth.

“I don’t care what you do from the moment we leave here, but when I’m on the ice, you only watch me,” Yuuri orders, drunk off his own words and Viktor’s cologne.  It’s so unfair that he has to crane his neck up to reach his fiance’s mouth, but Viktor is practically jello pinned against the wall at this point, flushed and nodding and moments away from dissolving into a puddle on the floor.

It takes a decent amount of time to recover from their impromptu makeout session; Viktor complains about the state of his Lanieri suit.  It feels so natural to freshen up and part ways. After brushing back Yuuri’s hair, Viktor goes to retrieve Eri, and Yuuri goes to find Phichit for last-minute makeup, and then it’s time.  He’s first after yesterday’s defeat. He has no one to crush but Viktor.

He steps out next to the ice when he’s called on deck, ready to give his last performance.  Viktor returns with Eri just in time for kisses across the boards from both.

“I suppose it’s an odd time to say this,” he murmurs in Yuuri’s ear as Eri plants slobbery kisses all over his cheek, “but I’m excited to hear what you’ve picked.”  He squeezes Yuuri’s hand tight, the metal of his ring warm and smooth. Funny how all of a sudden, he’s shed his gloves from his signature coach outfit. His ring and Yuuri’s glint in the stage lights, a two-star orbit.

Yuuri’s adrenaline is pumping.  He laughs, shallow and breathless, and pulls Viktor in for a hug, tangling his fingers in his hair.  “Me too. Watch me. Please, watch me.”

“I won’t take my eyes off you,” Viktor promises.

And then Yuuri’s pushing off, addressing the audience as he gets his bearings.  He lets the cool of the ice wash over him and surround him, a calm that drips down his spine and settles comfortably in his core, a grounding connection that surges down to the very tips of his toes.  He waits, head bowed, for the music cue, breathing in the opening notes on the piano until he feels full and steady and deceivingly delicate, letting each phrase of the melody carry him on its wings.

That’s the story of his beginning.  For so long, Yuuri had been someone that life happened to.  He’d let himself take impact upon impact.  To anyone watching, it looked easy, letting himself be carried along on a wave.  They couldn’t see how helpless it felt. They couldn’t see Yuuri scrambling for footing in a world that proved time and time again to just not be made for him, a world that wanted to keep him spinning and guessing.

He registers his successful quad-double toe loop combination only from the roar of the applause.  He knows it’s well-deserved. It’s almost annoying that they should sound so surprised.

No, it wasn’t easy.  Yuuri lived someone else’s story for over a decade.  She, too, was called Yuuri, but she was imaginary—a joint-figment of the manifold imaginations around him, all seeing and expecting something different.

Quad salchow.  He has an idea.  Something not even Viktor would expect.  He promised in China he’d never stop the surprises.  Viktor wants a competitor? He wants to know what it would be like to come against him on the ice?  He ought to know that Yuuri won’t go easy on him just because they’re family.

See, at some point in his story, Yuuri broke through.  He found his legs. He stood up for himself for once in only the hardest way he could have imagined—he stood up to his friends and family.  He told them they were wrong. He started making something. He started making his own life, found his truth, whatever you want to call it. Yuuri was barrelling forward at light speed, and the faster he moved, the faster he lost control.  College. Competition. He was tired all the time, always spent, never looking inward. Drew. Yuuri began giving all his free time away like that, an endless fount as long as he gained the reassurance that he was valued, that he was valid.

After the camel spin, he goes into a triple instead of a quad, and the program change ripples outward through the audience, their applause scattered and confused.

He could never get validation from other people, even those he trusted most.  He could never count on others for the feeling of security, for the feeling of warmth.  The Yuuri that survived Drew believed in himself and no one else, because it was all he could do for her.

Eri.

She’d stopped everything.  The overhwelm, the buzz, the distance he’d traveled, none of it mattered when he first saw her face, tiny and brand-new and ancient all at once.  He held her in stillness, alone but not lonesome, for the first few days of her life before calling Phichit. She was the spark that ignited the flame of his love.  Yuuri had given birth and become reborn. A year and a half in, and she still leaves him soft and breathless. She is his and his alone, and he isn’t allowed to run.  He will be there for his baby girl no matter what twists his life brings. He’ll put her first. He’ll love openly and with certainty and without apology.

He’s sweating by the time he makes it to his triple axel, but something crucial is pulling him with driving force toward the end, toward the change that will make or break it.  He steps out of his quad toe loop, but it has enough rotations and he hardly breaks stride. Not even Viktor could backload a program like this. It’s an advantage.

He knows it was never going to be that easy.  He knows that since the first moment she peeled her eyes open and looked up at him, his life has been nothing but a whirlwind, that same eddying flow that had left him floundering, but this time he has a stake in the matter.  He had a reason to fight on, to let the waves carry him, but to roll with the punches to take control of his path. The destination is so much more important now that Eri is there, and the journey is worth taking part in.

Everything after Eri has been amazing.  It’s been up and down, but it's been amazing.

He knows as the thought flits through his mind, somewhere in between the two combination jumps in the back half of his program.  He’s throwing himself all over the ice, spinning so tightly that more than once it feels like he’s going to over-rotate. He hasn’t missed a beat so far, even with his step-out.  

And that’s what skating with Viktor is like.  He’s uncovered not one, but two outpourings of love in the past year, and one only strengthens the other.  It took both for Yuuri to begin to realize the love that’s been there all along, the people who have remained on his side through obstacle after obstacle, always urging him forward, always helping him on to the next stride.  He’s never been wanting for love, even though it’s taken him a while to notice.

That feeling is too perfect and giddy for Yuuri to handle.  It bubbles up in his chest with an infinite expending force, one that drives him into an empassioned and tempestuous step sequence.  He never knew each day, each week, every microcosm of his past year with Viktor has just been another iteration of his happy little storm.  Like all storms, it takes its casualties, but like all storms, it moves on. Yuuri feels it on all sides. No one has stepped back from him in twenty-four years.  No one of importance, anyway. As he preps for his quad flip, Yuuri can’t help but laugh at how equally permanent and impermanent Drew has been in his life.

It’s amazing how we keep only what’s important, but we cherish those things so deeply.

Drew is better off without a kid.  Yuuri is better off with. Yuuri has so much more, these days, than he’d ever thought he was capable of.

Blade leaves ice, the world revolves around Katsuki Yuuri for a fraction of a second, and then a hit.  Yuuri can feel it in his knees. He’s going to collapse, but not until he’s proven to himself that his story is his, and he can continue to write it as he wishes.

The arena is deafening as Yuuri carries out his combination spin.  He knows, when he stops, who will be there. He knows there will be tears.  He knows that going to the kiss and cry means it’s over. All the same, he reaches out, resisting the urge to squint to see Viktor’s face just beyond his fingertips.  He can see his fiance and Eri silhouetted right where they ought to be. He wishes to death he could look into their eyes as the final notes of this program fade.

“Papa!”

Bright and clear, above the roaring crowd, above everything, Eri’s voice is a cheerful chirp that breaks Yuuri out of his hold and brings him to his knees.

He can’t believe his heathen heart.

Something like a laugh shudders out of him as he braces himself against the ice, his arms and legs trembling out of control.  

He doesn’t want this to end.

Which sets him up to look pretty foolish come time to make his decision.

Viktor is insufferable when he’s right.

 

Chapter Text

Viktor will be lucky if he’s able to scrape his jaw off the floor at the kiss and cry.  

Figuratively.  He’s on camera.  He’ll look smug and pleased and definitely not like he’s ready to burst any second until he can get a moment alone to properly freak out.

“That’s just unfair,” he murmurs into Yuuri’s ear as reality sinks in.  “Do you know you’re playing with my heart?”

Yuuri is still sniffling a little bit, his body ready to crumple under its own weight.  He pushed his limits beyond anything Viktor has ever seen from him. “Might be,” he manages.  “Vitya, can you hold her? I can’t…”

“—suki Yuuri starting off the men’s singles event by breaking his coach’s world record for highest score in a free skate event.”

221.58.  It’s a world record.  All of a sudden, like that, Yuuri, his Yuuri, single parent, transmasculine Yuuri, is a world record holder.

And he’s wearing it all over his face.

It’s a dare, and Viktor knows it, and yet his fiancé is being all too coy about keeping his answer until after the victory ceremony.

The kiss and cry is an absolute mess of hugs and snuggles and squished cheeks as they hold Eri between them and bask in the uproar that hasn’t died down since they announced Yuuri’s score.  There’s a wall of friends hovering in their periphery, all except for Phichit, who Yuuri squints after closely as he takes the ice himself.

“Vitya, glasses, glasses, glasses,” Yuuri stammers as Terra Incognita begins to blare.  Viktor loves the program music.  It brings out so much of Phichit’s personality, his background, and his spirit.  Yuuri has ensured him more than once that he wouldn’t be quite so fond of the piece if he’d had a best friend force him through The King and the Skater II as many times as Phichit has.  

Phichit is still a remarkable force.  Viktor can’t believe how fluidly he incorporates Thai dance into his piece.  It’s a breath of fresh air to see a skater who brings anything new to this sport, to be honest.  He’s loved what he’s seen all season.

It’s bizarre, having people he actually sort of cares about in competition.  Of course, he’s been friends with Chris for years, but it’s always felt like him and Chris… no one else.  It was always fingers crossed to make it into just one qualifier with him until it was a given they’d be together in the finals and Worlds.

He knows Yuuri will stay close enough to the kiss and cry to greet his friend when he’s finished.  And honestly, Viktor is excited to greet Phichit as well. He’s certainly giving Yuuri a run for his money, even if he isn’t pulling out any back-pocket quads for the finals.  He’s young. He’s driven. Viktor hopes that someday soon they’ll be calling one another ‘friend’.

Phichit scores lower than Yuuri, but his overall score still puts him pretty high in the rankings.  The kiss and cry is, once again, a mess of tears and screaming that Coach Cialdini looks all too used to by now.  It’s clear, the way Yuuri is hovering at the side of the backdrop, that he’d be clinging relentlessly to his best friend if he could, and he does just that once the press settles and Phichit is released back into the world.  Celestino takes Yuuri under his arm as they walk back towards the lockers. Viktor never knew too much about Yuuri’s relationship with his old coach. The way Yuuri talked about his past career, it always seemed like they weren’t a good match.  But the pride is clear in the coach’s eyes today, and even though Viktor can’t hear what he’s saying, he can tell Yuuri is proud too.

Viktor sticks around to watch Christophe skate.  It’s sad how jealous he is that Yuuri is competing against him. Viktor misses the buzz of watching his friend skate, just as excited for their high scores as he is for his own.  He and Chris have shared the podium a number of times. It’s always a blast when they’re together for press and publicity. He really does miss it.

Still holding Eri, and letting the realization sink in that he hasn’t been beckoned along because he’s still technically on his own for the day, Viktor decides to give his fiancé some space to celebrate with the others who care for him.  He takes the baby back to the lounge and sets up like he always does, sprawled out on the floor even in his suit so that she can crawl all over him while he works. Registration for Nationals is going to be a nightmare after almost an entire year off, but he’s pretty sure he’s still got Yakov on his side.  He starts Yuuri’s registration for the rink as well, just in case those program changes mean what he thinks they mean. He doesn’t let himself get hopeful, of course. He knows Yuuri will never quit defying his expectations for as long as they both live. It’s strange, yesterday these things were so difficult.  Today, the ability to push on is a relief.

He hates admitting that Yuuri’s request for space is a relief.  But in all honesty, it has lifted a weight off of Viktor’s shoulders that he probably wouldn’t have noticed was even there.  He’s been doing that thing again, losing himself in the competition season and being neglectful in the process.  He didn’t realize how much of a break he needed until now. Lounging with Eri on the floor is doing him just right.

The buzz of his cell phone against his thigh makes him jump, which makes Eri giggle.  Viktor answers the phone, giggling himself.

“This is Viktor.”

“Vitya, put me on with Yuuri, I want to speak to him.”  Nikolai’s voice is cheerful and classically tipsy. It’s clear from background noise that the kids are still up—Viktor can make out a few well-wishes from the girls and general funny business from Vova.  His giggle rolls out into a full-blown laugh.

“Papa, he’s busy!  The event isn’t even over.  He’ll be hounded by reporters for breaking my record.”

Nikolai chuckles.  “That boy makes me proud, just like you do.  Oh? Oh! Maks wants to say hello.”

There’s some commotion as the phone is jostled around, and then the sounds of Maks’ breathing too close into the microphone, Nikolai encouraging him in the background.

“Maksimochka, is that you?” Viktor asks after a moment.

“Viktor… Viktor is coming back home!” Maks demands seriously.

Viktor laughs again.  “Perhaps soon, little bear,” he soothes.  “Did you watch Yuuri Katsuki on the TV?”

“Yep.  I saw Eri.”

“She’s here, too,” Viktor says, melting at the boy’s soft little voice.  “I miss you and all the kids and Yura,” he says sweetly. “Can I talk to Tonya?”

He listens as the phone is passed around, greeting all the children, doing his best to answer all the little, rapid-fire questions being thrown his way.

“Yuri says Yuuri Katsuki is coming to Russia!  Is he gonna be Russian now?”

“Where will Eri stay?”

“She can have my bed!”

The call is exactly what he’s been needing to break the tension, even after everything leading up to today was shattered by Yuuri’s near-perfect free.  At the end of the day, he still has his family. Little Maks is crying in the background—Viktor can hardly string two words together to talk to Yuri because the sound is so heartbreaking and distracting.

“Yakov said… damn.”  He sighs, clutching Eri a little tighter to his side to compensate.  

“I can just text you, you idiot,” Yuri said.  “Papa, let Viktor talk to Maks, he’s getting emotional over here.”

“Yura, don’t tell lies.”

“I’m not!”  Yuri sniggers.  “Check your texts.  Wait! No, I’ll text Yuuri.”

Viktor’s stomach drops.  What does his brother have to say that he’d go straight to… had he seen some of the press footage from this morning?  They’d looked such a mess together on their commute in, puffy-eyed and awkward and so clearly avoiding the reporters. Yuri is no idiot.  In fact, he’s the brightest kid Viktor knows, even if he never finds the words to articulate it. If anyone could pick out conflict and corner him about it later, it would be that little brat.

Viktor misses home.  The children. He goes back to soothing an anxious Maks once he realizes he’s already too late to change his brother’s mind.  He doesn’t think he could ever tire of his little bear. He loves that boy so much and he spends too much time grieving the gaps in their time together, during which the toddler only grows and changes and leaves Viktor further behind.

“You be strong, okay?  You take care of Papa for me, and make sure he doesn’t eat too many sweets.”

“Papa, no sweets!” Maks giggles, and Viktor’s molten liquid heart spills out onto the floor in front of him.

“And tell him to put you kids to bed!” Viktor orders.  There are all sorts of sniffles and kissy noises and Nikolai’s kind thanks and congratulations, and then Viktor is left to the relative silence of the lounge once more.

He’s going to have to start video calling them more.  With Yuuri and Eri, too. God, if he could, he’d bring them with him, or move Yakov’s rink out to Moscow, anything that would allow him to enjoy the best of both worlds.  He loves his home away from home, complete with the chaotic, warm, loving atmosphere he grew up with. But at the same time, he loves the opportunity to create his own warm, loving home.  He’s starting to see it come into formation, and he loves it.

If he could change anything at all, it would be to bring Maksim with him everywhere he went, the way Yuuri does with Eri, and to share the world with that funny, unshakable little child.  He wants a little boy. Not that Eri isn’t his entire heart and more, it’s just… There’s something about his funny little ways. He’s so unlike the rambunctious little bundle of bubbles and laughter that is Yuuri’s daughter.  Maks is more reserved, more private even as a little one, so clearly thinking away as he sits and plays. He’s so well-spoken for a kid his age, even though he barely spoke at all until after his third birthday. One day, something bloomed from him, and Viktor’s constant worry broke into something so much more dear.

He’s dancing around a thought—one he’s pretty sure he’s not allowed to consider yet, one that is so much more than he’d be ready to breach with Yuuri.  But that thought isn’t going to leave his head anytime soon. Hopefully returning to training will knock some sense into him, just as Yakov says.

Eventually, Yuuri pokes his head into the lounge and beckons Viktor out for the final skater.  The standings are looking good. Yuuri is still in the lead, Christophe second, and Phichit is defending the third place on the podium.  All they have left to contend against is Jean Jacques Leroy.

He’s been a big name for a year or two now, far bigger than Yuuri even with all the controversy this season has stirred.  Viktor has shared the podium with JJ before. He’s got a lot of hot air and good publicity on his side. His parents paved the way for a promising career—Viktor can remember many evenings at home watching Nathalie and Allain in the ice dance events on TV.  He never thought he’d be up against their kid, though. He’s got his parents’ winning smile and immovable presence as he does his first lap, waving and gesturing pompously out toward the crowd.

There’s a little tchk , the boy’s toe pick sticking into the ice and catching him off balance for just a moment as he gets into position, and then the music starts.

But JJ does not.

A murmur rumbles through the crowd.  Viktor can hear Allain from the boards, shouting at his son to snap out of it, and then with a frenzied look the kid snaps back into focus and begins his routine.  It’s a rocky start, especially when the program music is so grandiose and majestic. It doesn’t blend well with the image of a young man scrambling to keep up.

“Oh god, he’s choking up,” Yuuri murmurs, Eri bouncing gleefully in his lap.  “He has a pretty steep gap to fill… he’s… he’s nervous.” He spins around and looks wildly up at Viktor.  “Have you ever seen him nervous?”

It’s uncouth to laugh.  It’s beyond any ounce of etiquette pounded into him by Lilia.  But after all that’s happened, this might as well, too. And so Viktor laughs.  He at least has the decency to hide his face behind his hands, to bite his lip to avoid being heard, but he laughs all the same.

“Even the King gets nervous, Yuuri,” he sighs, dabbing at the corners of his eyes with his fingertips.  “You, me, him, we’re all just…”

There’s a sharp gasp all around them as the triple in JJ’s combo is downgraded to a single.  He’s so out of it, it’s hard to look away. Viktor can’t remember what he was about to say. This isn’t even enjoyable to watch, it’s just…

“It’s just so typical,” he murmurs.

“Okay, Mr.  Five-Consecutive-International-Golds,” Yuuri scoffs.  He gets to his feet, Eri swinging in his arms, and makes for the stairs.  “Are you going to come cheer him on with me, or what?”

 


 

 

In the end, JJ doesn’t do entirely terribly.  He manages to find his bearings before the second half and pulls off a very impressive quad loop right at the end of his program, sending the crowd into a frenzy.  Viktor sees the determination in this arrogant kid that he’s seen in Yuuri’s eyes every time he’s pulled off a perfect program. The force of spirit in his competitors is so strong—it’s remarkably life-bringing.  He’s certain he remembers competitions being draining rather than fun, repetitive rather than challenging, but he doesn’t see that now. He wants to know where he stands, and he wants to feel the swell of determination as he propels himself toward the end of a difficult program.  He hopes he can share that feeling with Yuuri. He hopes this particular, proad coaching feeling doesn’t have to go away.

There ought to be a lot more tension in Viktor’s gut, considering this roller coaster of a skate could make or break Yuuri’s first big gold.  But as the two huddle around Eri, waiting to hear the final scores, Viktor can’t help but notice his fiancé’s easy demeanor, loose and happy if not a little impatient in anticipation of the news.  Eri is nothing if not used to this by now. She’s not even fussy, contentedly lounging half in Yuuri’s arms and half in Viktor’s, pulling the zipper of Yuuri’s team jacket up and down with a look of subtle concentration.

“Nervous?” Viktor fiddles with the side seams of Yuuri’s costume, half-aware he hasn’t been this worried about the final scores in years.

Yuuri gives a little smirk.  “Are you?” he asks. “That’s ok, it’s your first time.”

“What has you so confident?” Viktor pouts.  “I’m supposed to be comforting and cheering you on, you know.”

“He won,” Yuuri says simply, his gaze drifting over to the kiss and cry.  “His short was near-perfect and that last quad had everyone all fired up.”  His smile is certainly a little wistful and a lot exhausted, but Viktor can’t find a trace of the self-criticism and dampened spirit that Yuuri usually demonstrates when he hasn’t met his goal.

Speechless for a moment and trying desperately to run some quick calculations in his head, Viktor just stares dumbly as Yuuri laughs at him.

“You’ve never had to do the math before, have you?”

JJ’s score is announced; just as Yuuri predicted, he’s pulled a good ten or so points ahead, but that still leaves Yuuri with silver, having scored just ahead of Christophe.

“I could have retired if I’d won gold,” Yuuri says, frowning slightly.  “I should have thought about that, I guess. Oh well, I’ll have to do better next year.”

Next year.

The words ring louder than the score that secured Yuuri’s place on the podium.  Louder than the cheering crowd. They’re all Viktor can hear as he squishes a giggling Eri yet again to get to Yuuri’s lips, kissing him with little regard for who is watching or filming or anything.  He isn’t sure if his face is wet from Yuuri’s tears or his own. He doesn’t care.  

“Don’t you dare feel like you owe me gold,” he says, suddenly pulling back.  “I talked about it a lot, but it was only to make sure you knew I believed you could do it.”

“I know, Vitya, I know,” Yuuri laughs.  “It turns out I want it pretty badly. It took me a while to figure that out.”

Viktor raises an eyebrow.  “Weird, I knew from day one,” he mutters, earning a kick in the shin.  “Hey! You’re going to have to do all the lifts tomorrow if you aren’t careful!”

“Poor me, I’d hate to show the world you love me for my strong, manly arms,” Yuuri deadpans, giving Viktor a squeeze for emphasis.

“Not just your strong, manly arms, for the record, although they don’t hurt your case.”

The noise finally starts to get to Eri, so they retreat to the lounge to calm her before the victory ceremony.

“Oh, Yurio texted,” Yuuri says, lacing up his skates as congratulations and well-wishes start pouring in.  Viktor does his best not to hover, instead opting to change Eri and gather her things for a quick exit. “He… oh.”

Viktor freezes.  “‘Oh’? What’s ‘oh’?”

“Hang on,” Yuuri mutters, typing away furiously, stopping occasionally to swipe away messages or to gaze into the middle distance, apparently lost in thought.  “Could it? I suppose we could… of course, it was going to be… No, that might not work…”

Viktor zips up Eri’s onesie.  “Papa’s keeping secrets, Erichka,” he murmurs.

“Yep,” Yuuri mumbles, still typing.

“Are you going to tell me what they are?”  Viktor asks coyly.

“One day,” Yuuri answers.  “If the ceremony doesn’t start soon, I’m going to collapse on the podium.  Is Eri ready to go?”

Viktor lifts Eri high, her little body held up by her grip on his thumbs, before tucking her into the sling draped around his neck.  “Ready, Erichka?”

“Dee richika?” Eri echoes with a giggle.  “Dee richa? Eddy rikka?”

“Silly,” Yuuri says softly, planting a kiss on the top of her head as he takes Viktor’s hand.  “Ikuzo.”

 


 

 

The victory ceremony is Viktor’s least favorite part of the competition, if he’s being honest.  It isn’t like he doesn’t believe the skaters should be celebrated for their hard work and sportsmanship, but for Viktor the ceremonies have always been an impossible obstacle course of appearances and obligations.  After a while, his empty shell took over and his soul would just go back to the hotel until he was done. Wins weren’t wins anymore. ‘Viktor’ felt like nothing without the ‘Nikiforov, five-time World Champion’ pinned on at the end.

But tonight is different, as it has been from most nights in Viktor’s life.  Tonight, Yuuri is shining. Viktor can practically hear Minako’s voice above the rest of the crowd, screaming her pride and adoration for her best student and protégé.  Underneath his title of coach, he’s right there with her, his insides dancing and tingling with unspoken excitement.

Eri, however, is not excited.  Eri has finally had enough, and the crowd is enough to have her agitated and cranky by the time the lights dim.

“I’ll be back soon,” Yuuri says, the hint of nerves behind his smile a relief.  Viktor was worried for a bit that he’d created a monster.

When his name is announced, he does a beautiful little improvised lap around the ice before taking his place at JJ’s side.  Viktor can hardly appreciate it, however, because he’s got a screaming child in his arms.

“Papa!  No, Papa!”

The irony isn’t lost on him that it’s the first time in months Eri’s begged him for her dad.  It’s usually the other way around. He doesn’t know what to do. He can’t leave; that’s out of the question, and he doesn’t have a way to make the arena quieter—they really do love Yuuri, and their cheers reflect that.

“Soon, baby girl, soon,” he croons, humming what he can remember of her favorite lullaby.  “When I’m restless and cannot sleep…”

“Oh, just give her to me.”

Viktor looks up to find Christophe holding out his arms expectantly, a sympathetic grin plastered across his face.

“What?” Viktor says, blinking.

“I’ll take her to Daddy, and you can have some relief and enjoy your eye candy, and we’ll all get some good press out of the whole thing,” Chris says as his name is announced.  “Come on, quick.”

“You’re amazing,” Viktor mutters, pulling Eri out of her sling.  “I owe you three bottles of that Lambrusco we had in Busseto.”

Chris throws a wink over his shoulder, then skates off with Eri, surrendering his chance at a victory lap in favor of bringing the baby straight to her father on the podium.  The crowd loses their minds, and Viktor thinks he might do the same, it’s so adorable. Eri climbs into Yuuri’s arms and slathers his face in kisses before snuggling close to his chest.

It’s a historic day in figure skating, Viktor thinks as he watches Yuuri rock and soothe his daughter from second place.  It’s exactly as it should be, too. Eri has been with Yuuri every step of the way for the last two years. Viktor will get his turn up there with him soon enough, but tonight is for her.

At The Podium

“You two will give me a heart attack before you see your next medal,” comes Yakov’s voice over his shoulder.  “I’ve had Mila clean out the old nursery. I’ll be hiring childcare staff for the upcoming season.”

“Really?”  Viktor spins around, stopping himself with his hands on his coach’s shoulders even as he’s met with an exasperated glower.  “Yakov, you really are the only coach for me!”

“I’m the only coach who will put up with you,” Yakov corrects.  “I hope you’ve finished the paperwork from yesterday. It will be a crunch to get everything processed in time for Four Continents.”

Viktor frowns.  “Yakov, I’ll be in Euros,” he puzzles.

“You hope you’ll be in Euros,” Yakov grits.  “We’ll see if you’ve been really keeping up or sitting on your ass all season.  Your fiancé, however, could easily win Four Continents if he doesn’t have an episode like yesterday.”

“Yuuri’s in?” Viktor breathes, watching as father and daughter wave to their family from the podium.  Yakov pats his shoulder with an amused snort.

“He was always in, idiot boy,” he chuckles.  “Nikolai would have my head if he wasn’t, and you know it.  He’s already called me once today. I’ll have you put on faculty if you’re really serious about attempting this.  It will be interesting to see how you fare.”

Viktor isn’t one to cry.  Viktor hates to cry. Life with Yuuri has had Viktor crying tears of joy, pain, worry, anger, everything all in the past year.  He never thought he’d be here, throwing his arms around his coach with throat tight and heart full to bursting, squeaking out innumerable thanks while the crowd around him directs their enthusiastic attention towards… not him, for once.  No, even with JJ up on the highest pedestal, this is Yuuri’s moment, and Eri’s with him, and no one has Viktor in mind at all.

He’s happy to let that happen for now.  Next year, though? People had better have him in mind when he and Yuuri are a fraction of a point from one another, gunning for that highest acclaim.  But even then, it won’t be ‘Viktor’s Yuuri’. If anything, he hopes they’re known as Yuuri and his Viktor, the unbeatable team. Fierce rivals. Hopelessly in love.  That’s so much more exciting than anything he’s had until now. And with Eri there? He can hardly keep himself calm, the surge of emotion that’s fluttering in his stomach has him struggling to exhale as he turns back to watch his fiancé shake hands with the ISU reps.

Yuuri’s medal doesn’t rest on his chest for long; before he can even get a photograph, it’s in Eri’s hands and then her mouth, despite the obvious chiding from her father.  They’re beautiful. They’re everything Viktor has ever wanted. He chokes back another onset of tears, certain he’s due for another slough of unflattering press photos. Yuuri has done wonders for his publicity at the price of a bit of unpredictability.  Once, Viktor was entirely in control of his public image. The sacrifices he’s made… well, they aren’t all that bad. Maybe he’s actually willing to share this side of himself with the world. Maybe it’ll change some things about his skating, too.  

Yuuri’s face is bright red but lively and glowing as he brings Eri off the ice.

“Oh god, you look a mess,” he jokes.  “Come on, get her to sleep while I talk to the press and I’ll order us some champagne for back in the hotel.”

A monster.

“Oh, well then,” Viktor laughs, dabbing at his eyes with his sleeve.  “You talk a big game, Katsuki. You’d think you won gold.”

“Oh no, you’ll know when I win gold.”

 


 

 

Eri stays in the stands with Minako and Mari for the Exhibition skate.  Yuuri has been performing Stammi vicino as his exhibition skate all season, but this is the debut of their duetto routine.  Viktor’s heart is racing as he waits at the entrance to the ice, his costume still hidden under his signature tan jacket.

He’s thrumming from head to toe.  In a sense, this is nothing he hasn’t done before.  But in a different, truer sense, this is like nothing he’s ever done in his life.  The wait for his cue is like his entire life waiting for something like Yuuri to pull him out of himself, out into a world full of love and compromise and never-ending surprises.

Yuuri never stops with the twists and turns.  He never lets up, and Viktor loves the challenge.  He left for the center of the ice with a wink and a kiss on the cheek and a whisper low enough that only Viktor could hear:

“I’m going to marry you so hard after this.”

And Viktor is going to hold him to that.  The only person besides Yuuri who knows he’s about to drop his coat and step out onto the ice is the light operator, and he cues in a lovely purple glow to beckon Viktor out.

This is basically a public announcement.  Viktor is so excited to start surprising the world with Yuuri.

He steps out onto the ice, and a gasp travels through the crowd, followed by scattered, startled applause and a murmur of speculation and excitement.

Whatever this next season holds for them, Viktor is ready for it.  Sharing the ice with Yuuri is nothing but pure excitement. Every step of their choreography has them reaching out for one another, just as Viktor hadn’t even realized he’d been doing when he developed the original program—he hadn’t realized, that is, until he saw Yuuri skate it for the first time from the tiny screen of his tablet less than a year ago.  Every time they reach out, their fingertips brush, warm despite their chilly numbness, encouraging one another with gentle touches on the side, the arm, the face, until the enthusiastic audience fades away, leaving them alone together. Yuuri and Viktor on ice. Viktor can’t think of anything more beautiful in the world.

 


 

 

“Vitya, can you come here for a moment?”

Viktor looks up from the box he’s almost finished unpacking, a collection of toys and books and crib-sized bedding.  It’s been one of the longest days of his life, beginning when their flight from Helsinki touched down in Pulkovo International Airport at three o’clock in the morning.

Eri is passed out in her playpen, exhausted from almost two days of travel, her little fist clasped tightly around Makkachin’s collar.  The dog looks so happy to be home, curled protectively around her favorite little pup. Nationals have come and gone, and both men have acquired newly-won gold medals for their countries despite the fact that their coinciding competitions had them separated for almost an entire week.

Viktor crosses the luggage-filled apartment to where Yuuri is pouring over a stack of papers in the kitchen.  “What is it, my love? I’ve already done your intake for the rink.”

A private little smile sweeps across Yuuri’s face for a moment.  “No, this is something slightly different,” he murmurs, sliding two paperclipped packets across the kitchen island for Viktor to see.

Viktor looks the papers over, unsure what he’s reading.  A few words stand out to him, words from each, words like ‘custody’ and ‘adopt’ and ‘legal guardian’.  The two forms are different. If not for the fact that there are two of them, Viktor thinks he might understand what this is.  But there’s something odd about the second form. Legal guardianship and custody of… who exactly? He shoots Yuuri a puzzled look over the top of the sheets.

“I guess this is as good a time as any to bring this up,” Yuuri says, glancing around the room nervously.

Viktor reaches out and squeezes his hand, waiting patiently as Yuuri finds his words.

“I want you to adopt Eri.”  

He chances a look into Viktor’s eyes, exhausted and full of nervous excitement.  “Obviously, it wouldn’t be right away… not until the wedding, at least, but…” he swallows, threading his fingers between Viktors and fiddling his thumb along his wrist.  “I want her to have two fathers. And she loves you so much. You’ve become just like a father to her, you know, and…”

“Yes,” Viktor interrupts, practically climbing over the island and pulling Yuuri up to kiss his face.  “Yes, Yuuri, that’s… Oh God...:”

His voice breaks, a whine that would have been embarrassing any other time, and lifts Yuuri completely up to sit on the countertop, pulling him in by his hips to kiss him properly, completely ignoring his own pathetic dribbling.  “All I’ve ever wanted was to call this my family,” he whispers. “You, Erichka, Makka… Yuuri, if I lost everything else in my life, I’d still have everything I need right here with you.”

“Well,” Yuuri says, swallowing back his own emotions as he pries the papers out of Viktor’s hand.  “You may still have more…”

Viktor pulls back, puzzled, and looks down at that other packet.  “I was wondering.”

“I was supposed to ask you ages ago.”

“Ask me what, love?”

Yuuri stares at the papers for a moment, as if divining his response from their contents, before brushing a soft thumb along Viktor’s cheek.  “Yakov is willing to coach Yurio,” he says slowly, giving Viktor enough time to keep up. “He says he’s ready to start juniors next season. But…”

“But…?” Viktor echoes softly.

“Well, Vitya, Moscow isn’t exactly close, is it?”

“So what?  Yakov wants guardianship of Yura?  He’ll have to go to Nikolai for that, that’s not something I can…”

“Yurio was hoping you would… since you’re family, at least… you could be his legal guardian here in Piter.  He could live here with us.”

Viktor thinks back to the GPF, all the chatter over text between Yuuri and his brother.  Would that really work?

“It would be a tight squeeze,” he mutters, reading over the paper again.  “Where would he sleep? Where would Eri sleep?”

“We could do a little bit of renovating,” Yuuri suggests hopefully, glancing over at the unused bedroom that is supposed to become his daughter’s.  “It could be just for now, until we find someplace bigger, I suppose.”

“Someplace bigger…” Viktor parrots.  He remembers vaguely that he had his own aspirations of growing their little family too, not even a month ago, at the same time as Yuuri was plotting to bring young Yura into their home.  “Someplace bigger might not be a bad idea.”

“He could help take care of Eri,” Yuuri presses.  “It’d be one less mouth for Nikolai to feed. I know how much food he goes through.”

Viktor considers it, filling the silence with little pecks on his fiancé’s soft lips as he thinks, his fingers drumming into the small of his back.  “You’re so hard to say no to,” he says finally, resting his cheek against Yuuri’s with an exaggerated sigh. “Especially when you have such good ideas.”

“I’m thinking that sounds like a yes,” Yuuri whispers, turning to kiss Viktor’s cheek.  “Is that a yes?”

“I’d be heartless if it were a no,” Viktor admits.  “You know, this time last year, this apartment was the loneliest place on earth?”

“It’s about to be anything but,” Yuuri says with a grin, brushing away the last hint of tears from Viktor’s cheeks with the pads of his thumbs.  “Not until summer,” he promises. “After a wedding, and an adoption, and a honeymoon.”

“I think I like the sound of that,” Viktor hums.

“Yeah,” Yuuri sighs.  The sprawling flat looks crowded and tiny with all of the boxes still left to unpack.  Eri is starting to stir, kicking gently against Makkachin’s side and causing the dog to whine in confusion.  

It looks nothing like how Viktor left it, cold and empty and chic, just like him.  

Now, just like him, it’s full and warm, a perfect place to share, and he guesses that isn’t going to change anytime soon.  It wasn’t the plan—it was never the plan, but if Yuuri has taught him anything, it’s that there isn’t always a place for plans in life and love.  Sometimes you just have to roll with it. And if some beautiful, drunken stranger stumbles in and ruins everything, for better or for worse, sometimes you just have to roll with that, too.

For Viktor, it was everything he needed and more than he could have dreamed.  Thanks to Yuuri and his beautiful, silly, incredible little girl, his life would never be the same.  They’d ruined everything he thought he knew about himself, his life, and his career.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think we all need a break,” he murmurs, letting his head fall heavy onto Yuuri’s shoulder.  “Shall we order some food and get this little one to bed?”

Yuuri’s smile is, once again, soft and reverent.  Viktor can feel it against the curve of his jaw as Yuuri plays his fingers along the collar of his shirt.

“We get to just… we get to do this every day?” he asks breathlessly.  “Me… you… Eri?”

“Forever,” Viktor promises, sitting up to lose himself in gorgeous amber eyes.  “For as long as I live. Welcome home, my love.”

It’s going to be so good.  It’s already better than anything Viktor has ever imagined.

They’re home.