Victor weaves his way through the crowded ballroom, dodging chattering groups of banquet guests and passing catering staff, trying to get to the drinks table as quickly as he can. It’s a bit pathetic, having only just left Yuuri deep in conversation with Phichit and Chris at the other end of the ballroom, but he already feels tense and slightly bereft away from his fiancé’s side.
He scoots out of the way as Mila and Sara pass him, hand in hand, seemingly headed for the elevators back to the hotel rooms, and finally sees his goal - the drinks table. He’ll just pick up a couple of glasses of punch for himself and Yuuri, and he’ll be back where he belongs in no time.
He tenses up as a loud, brash, American-accented voice rings out behind him, and then again as a large, meaty hand claps him on the shoulder, spinning him around. He quickly hides his irritated grimace behind a smile as he finds himself face to face with Don Thomas, marketing executive for a well-known athleticware company Stateside, longtime sponsor, and one of the least pleasant human beings Victor has ever had the misfortune to meet.
Despite his dismay at being forced into a conversation with the executive, Victor smiles and makes polite, friendly small talk with the man. Even though all he wants to do is get back across the room to Yuuri’s side, he feels obligated as Yuuri’s coach to make nice. No point in letting a potential sponsorship deal for his student slip through his fingers, after all.
During the course of the conversation, the engagement comes up, because it’s Victor and these days he’s pretty much incapable of having conversations without bringing the engagement up. He flashes his ring, smiling genuinely for the first time since he was forcibly intercepted, and the man asks if they’ve set a date.
“Not yet,” Victor says, still smiling. “We both want to really focus on the season ahead before we start planning.” That, and Yuuri still has it in his head that he needs to earn five gold medals before they get married. As if he needs to prove something. As if Victor wouldn’t marry him right here and now in this ballroom if he’d let him.
“Ahh,” Mr. Thomas chortles. “Probably for the best. Enjoy your freedom while it lasts, young man. You’ll want to value all the time you have left before hitching yourself to the ol’ ball and chain!”
Victor’s smile freezes on his face. “Excuse me?”
The sponsor continues on, not realizing the extent to which he has really, truly fucked up. “Take it from a married man, you’re going to want to put it off as long as you can. I mean, hey, I’ve seen how Katsuki behaves, and why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, am I right?”
He claps Victor hard on the back, throws back his head and laughs, loud and abrasive.
Across the ballroom, Yuuri catches sight of the pair out of the corner of his eye. They’re too far away for Yuuri to actually make out what is being said, but the look on Victor’s face says plenty on its own.
“Oof,” he mutters, wincing.
“What is it?” Phichit asks, trying to follow Yuuri's gaze.
“Whoever that is Victor’s talking to, he just said something really, really stupid.”
“What do you mean?”
Before Yuuri can explain what that particular smile means - namely, that Victor is furious - Chris lets out a low whistle. “Oh boy, he looks about four seconds away from tearing that guy’s head off. I haven’t seen him like that since that interviewer implied that Mila was involved in that doping scandal a few years back.”
As the three watch from a distance, Mr. Thomas continues to dig his own grave, an arm still slung around Victor’s tense form.
“My wife Helen nagged me for four whole years before I let her drag me down the aisle, but a man’s got to put his foot down. You give your spouse an inch, and boom. Before you know it, they’ve got a ring on your finger and your life is over.”
“I'm sorry to hear that, Mr. Thomas.” Victor says, smile ice cold. “And how long have you and your ex-wife been separated?”
Mr. Thomas’ brow furrows in confusion. “Separated? We're still together.”
“Are you?” Victor asks, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise. “My apologies for assuming. The fact that you’ve done nothing but complain about her and your marriage for the past two minutes suggested otherwise. Not to mention the fact that you’ve projected those feelings onto my fiancé in the process. I hope you’ll forgive me for jumping to the conclusion that a man of your age would choose to end an unhappy marriage, rather than ranting about his wife to near-strangers like some sort of petulant child.”
Mr. Thomas looks momentarily stricken, then angry. “I beg your pardon?”
“My Yuuri is not a ball and chain, Mr.Thomas.” Victor interrupts him, before he can launch into an inevitable rant about the disrespect of the younger generation. “He is my fiancé. I love him. I enjoy spending time with him, that's why I'm marrying him. I have never felt more happy or free than I have since I met him, and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the rest of my life with him. He is not a burden, and quite frankly I don’t appreciate you insinuating otherwise.”
The American seems to have caught on to the fact that he's made a terrible mistake, because he flushes red and quickly tries to backtrack.
“I wasn’t - I didn’t-”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, my fiancé is waiting for me and I really must be getting back to him. Lovely talking to you, Mr. Thomas. Enjoy the rest of your night. Give my condolences to Helen for her unfortunate choice in a partner.”
Across the room, Yuuri, Phichit, and Chris try desperately to stifle their giggles as Victor, still smiling that ice-cold smile, turns on his heel and makes his way to the bar, leaving the businessman sputtering and purple-faced behind him.
“That really never gets old,” Chris says, grinning.
“I just want to know what he said to him,” Phichit muses, looking impressed.
“I'm sure he'll fill us in on all the juicy details when he gets back,” Christophe assures him sagely.
Yuuri hums thoughtfully as his fiancé makes his way back through the crowd, a glass held carefully in each hand as he weaves through the mingling athletes and sponsors. “I wouldn't be too sure about that.”
“What do you mean?”
Yuuri doesn't have time to answer before Victor rejoins the group.
“Champagne, love?” he says, offering one of the flutes to Yuuri before wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him close.
Yuuri hums his thanks and takes a sip. “I thought you were going for punch?"
Victor beams, and Yuuri's stomach sinks. He knows that smile too, and it isn’t good. “I was, but tonight is a night to celebrate, isn't it?”
Victor's grip on his own glass of champagne is steady, but Yuuri can feel the hand resting on his hip shaking.
To the untrained eye, Victor looks fine as he smiles and chats with Phichit and Chris, but Yuuri has lived with him long enough to know his tells. That frosty smile, the shaking hands, the set of his jaw, the storm in his eyes… whatever the businessman had said, it had really, truly upset him. Yuuri wraps an arm around Victor and pulls him in closer, relieved when he feels his fiancé relax against him, just a little.
When Phichit and Chris excuse themselves for a moment, Yuuri pulls him aside and gives him a quick kiss. “You okay?”
“'M fine,” Victor replies softly. “It was stupid. Tell you later.”
“Okay.” Yuuri says, taking his hand and giving it a supportive squeeze. “As long as you’re alright.”
Victor nods stiffly, and Yuuri makes to let go of his hand, searching around to room to find where Phichit and Chris have gone, but Victor suddenly returns his gentle grip.
“Hey,” he says, and then hesitates for a second before his gaze softens, the storm leaving his eyes for just a moment. “I love you. You know that, right?”
“Of course,” Yuuri replies without hesitation. “I love you too, Vitya.”
The fond smile that spreads across Victor’s face at those words makes Yuuri’s heart ache with affection. There is no longer any trace of the iciness from his encounter with the older man, just warmth and adoration. He looks so hopelessly in love that Yuuri thinks he might cry.
Instead of crying, however, he leans forward without thinking and captures Victor’s lips in a quick, chaste kiss. In the split second where their bodies press together, Yuuri can practically feel the tension melt out of his fiancé, and, when he pulls away and steps back, his smile is less strained and more genuine, and stays that way for the rest of the night.
Victor tells him about his conversation with Mr. Thomas later on, back in their hotel room, still fuming about what the man had said. Yuuri finds it simultaneously amusing and heartwarming that Victor got so upset on his behalf.
“Thank you for defending my honour,” he says, half-teasing, when Victor finishes recounting the conversation. He winds his arms around Victor’s neck and pulls him down into a kiss. “My hero.”
To his surprise and dismay, though, he discovers when he opens his eyes that neither the kiss nor the joke seem to have done anything to ease the tension that has worked its way back into Victor’s shoulders. He sighs, taking both Victor’s hands in his and bringing the right up to his lips to kiss the ring there.
“Hey,” he says, softer, more seriously. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Victor sighs. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Yuuri’s bullshit-meter has been getting sharper recently when it comes to his fiancé’s constant need to pretend he’s okay, and right now, it is dinging off the charts. “Vitya…”
“Sorry, you’re right.” He sighs again. “I know it’s stupid to get so upset about something like that. It’s just that…meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Of all the things Victor could have said, Yuuri wasn’t expecting that. “Oh,” he says smartly, flushing scarlet.
“I was so… miserable, and lost, and lonely.” Victor continues. “And then you came along and, you really did save my life, Yuuri. Getting to know you… getting to marry you, and spend the rest of my life with you… I haven’t been so excited or happy about anything in a very, very long time. And to hear him talk about us, about you , like that. It, it just…”
“It’s okay, Vitya.” Sensing his agitation returning, Yuuri hushes him, pulling him in again, but this time, he’s no longer tense. “I feel the same way. I am so excited to spend the rest of our lives together. And no stuffy sponsor gets to take that away from us.”
That adoring expression is back on Victor’s face as he gently cups Yuuri’s cheek in his hand. “I love you so much.”
Yuuri leans into the touch, turning his head to kiss Victor’s palm. “I love you too, Vitya.”
He spends the rest of the night making absolutely sure that Victor can’t remember his conversation with Mr. Thomas. Or even his own name, for that matter.
A few days later, back in their apartment in St. Petersburg, Yuuri finds Victor on the couch, making some changes to his exhibition costume for the upcoming season. He leans over his fiancé’s shoulder to take a peek, and sees the additions Victor has proposed.
Delicate, golden chains now adorn the costume, wrapping around the wrists and across the waistcoat. It only takes him a second to make the connection.
“Really, Vitya?” He asks, grinning. “Just to spite a sponsor?”
“Former sponsor,” Victor corrects. “I cancelled my contract the morning after the banquet. I neither need nor want that man's money. Anyways, it’s less about spiting him and more about sending a message.”
“That message being…?”
“If Katsuki Yuuri is a ball and chain,” he says, turning and wrapping his arms around Yuuri’s neck, “then lock me up and throw away the key.”