“Yuuri, hurry up and bring your school bag upstairs! Okaa-san and Otou-san are waiting in the car for us,” said Mari, an excited grin lighting up her face.
“Yes, I’ll hurry,” Yuuri called over his shoulder as he ran upstairs, stumbling over one step.
“Careful there,” Mari laughed, “you can’t afford a broken leg!”
But Yuuri didn’t catch that, he was already dashing down the hallway on the first floor towards his room.
Ever since her parents had talked to her about their idea and asked her for help, she’d had a hard time keeping it a secret. Only a little longer now.
When Yuuri came back, his hair was tousled and his glasses sat askew. Like this he looked so much younger, and Mari couldn’t help it: she pushed off from where she’d leaned against the wall, and went to fix her brother’s glasses.
“Neechan I’m not a baby any more! I can handle my glasses alone,” Yuuri said, and turned away to escape her reach.
Chuckling, Mari crossed her arms in front of her. “Sorry, sorry!”
Yuuri was thirteen now, but to her he always seemed younger than he was, as if she couldn’t grasp how fast he was growing up. She quickly bit her tongue before she said that out loud.
With his shoes back on, Yuuri straightened his posture and adjusted his glasses until they sat perfectly balanced on his nose. Raising his brows, he gave her a short look, and with his mouth twitching into a quick smile he stalked past her, and out of their front door. Cute.
Their parents already asked Yuuri about his day at school when she reached their car.
“Okaa-san, where are we going, you didn’t tell me,” Yuuri asked.
“Some place that you’ll really like,” Mari grinned, earning herself another look from her brother.
“Oh, we’ll go to visit a dog village! We thought you’d like that after you worked so hard for your first Junior’s competition,” Hiroko said, smiling.
“Aahhh! Really? What dogs do they have? Do they have poodles?” Yuuri positively vibrated in his seat, his eyes sparkling.
“Ah, I guess we’ll have to see. Please don’t be sad if there aren’t any,” their mother answered.
During the rest of their ride Yuuri kept talking about the different dog races, and what he had learned about them. His favourite? Poodles. After all, Victor Nikiforov had one. Mari started to mentally count down how long it took for Yuuri to gush over Makkachin from the moment he began to talk about poodles in earnest. She made it to seven.
Thirty minutes later, they parked not far from the entrance, marked through a tall arch with colourful kanji painted over it. Right next to the entrance was a map that showed the areas of the “dog village” that had the size of a small park.
“They have a dog education center! And an area where you can pet dogs! Oh, look, they also make shows and give courses,” Yuuri said while he studied the map.
Mari only half-listened to her brother. She’d been the one to look for this place, and right now she was busy with enjoying Yuuri’s excited reaction.
They paid a small entrance fee, and while she and her mum kept her brother occupied with walking through the education center, Toshiya stayed back to talk to the owners.
In the end Yuuri’s excitement to go and pet the dogs won over his desire to learn about the park and the tradition of dog breeding. The first petting area was for rescued dogs. Puppies of all colours and sizes could be found there, most of them mixed-breeds. All of them were open for adoption.
“Welcome to the home of our rescued dogs. My name is Maeda Hina, please ask me anything you want to know about our dogs, or if I can help you in any way,” a young woman in the park’s uniform introduced herself at the gates of the outside enclosure.
Thanking Maeda-san, they introduced themselves, and together with her they entered the petting area. Some of the dogs had come running to the gates, now forming a tail-waggling, barking bunch they welcomed the Katsukis into the enclosure. It was a small struggle to get in.
“Right now isn’t a busy time, so they are more focused on all of you. Once more visitors will come by they’ll scatter around and it’s easier to get to know a single dog...” Maeda-san said with an apologetic smile.
“Oh I don’t think that’s a problem,” Mari shrugged, “I’m sure we’ll have a great time either way.”
Yuuri cooed at the dogs, tried to greet and pet them all at once, while the caretaker desperately tried to get the dogs away from the entrance.
“I’m so sorry, they always get so excited and love to be petted,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s fine,” answered Hiroko, smiling while her eyes followed Yuuri, who was now in the middle of an excited pile of dogs.
Seeing how Yuuri laughed and desperately tried to pet all of them at once, Mari decided to follow her brother and help him out. As she got closer, a big, multi-coloured dog turned around and trotted towards her. Tail waggling, the dog pranced around her once, sniffing on her clothes, before he nudged her hands and jacket with his snout.
“I have no treats, sorry,” she said, and carefully started to pet his head.
Her hands got swallowed in the long, unruly, but still soft fur. The dog had his eyes closed, and tilted his head to press closer to her hand, clearly enjoying the attention.
When she looked up again, Yuuri and their mother sat between the group of dogs from earlier. Some had settled down and patiently waited for their turn of belly rubs, but a few tried to steal the attention from her family in various ways: one dog gave her brother puppy kisses while he was cuddling with a second one, a third one joined in, prodding Yuuri’s back. Yuuri’s hair got proceedingly more ruffled, with his glasses sitting askew again. As she was grinning over the picture in front of her, her eyes met her mother’s. Hiroko’s eyes sparkled, and she tried to hide her grin. Pressing her pointer finger to her lips, she nodded towards the entrance behind Mari, and when Mari turned her head she saw their father trying to get in as quietly as possible. The family camera clutched in his hands, he started to take pictures as soon as he could.
They stayed a bit, playing with the dogs and taking pictures, until a second member of the staff who introduced himself as Satou-san came by to inform them that everything was prepared now.
Yuuri looked up in confusion, “why, where are we going? I still want to stay a bit...”
“We’re going to meet a few puppies now,” Toshiya explained, “one can’t always see them, so you have to make an appointment for it.”
“We made one for today,” Hiroko added.
Yuuri’s eyes grew big. “Really? And we can go now?”
“Yes, sweetheart, come on,” their mother said with a smile.
One last time Mari ruffled through the fur of the big dog who’d stayed by her side through all this, and when she turned to go the dog gave her his best puppy-eyes.
“Sorry bud, we have to go now. Was nice meeting you!”
The dog huffed and looked away, which only made her shake her head in amusement.
Following the second caretaker, they went into a smaller, adjacent building. Above its entry was a sign saying “nursery”, and its inside walls were painted with puppies of various dog races.
“How lovely!” Hiroko exclaimed.
“Look okaa-san there’s a poodle puppy,” Yuuri called, pointing towards the opposite wall.
Wait till you see the real puppies, Mari thought, not bothering to hide her glee anymore.
“Please come with me to the second room on the left,” Satou-san said quietly, “and please try to not talk too loudly when you’re in the room with the small ones.”
“Yes, I’m sorry sensei,” Yuuri answered immediately.
“It’s fine,” he ensured.
In front of the door he paused and turned around again, “Katsuki-san, please make sure the flash of your camera is disabled.”
“Yes, yes of course,” Toshiya replied, already fumbling with his camera.
As soon as they opened the door they were greeted by high-pitched yips from a few puppies. Right at the entrance there were a few seats and a table over-looking the fenced and puppy-safe area filled with some toys, cushions, dogfood and water. Within the low borders of the area a few small poodle puppies were waiting for them: all of them had the same light, reddish brown, and were only really distinguishable by their different coloured collars.
Next to her, Yuuri’s breath caught, and his eyes were wide with disbelief.
“I’m sorry I can only ever allow one person into the enclosure. Who wants to go first?”
Mari patted her brother on the shoulder and said, “you go, this is for you to enjoy.”
Yuuri looked close to tears, but nodded. Without another word he followed the caretaker, and carefully stepped over the small railing.
Together with her parents she took a seat while Satou-san gave Yuuri some instructions.
“Let them come to you, they’re playful and curious, but some might take a bit longer to warm up to you. Please give them the time they’ll need.”
Yuuri nodded again, and sat down betweens a few cushions. Instantly a puppy with a green collar paddled towards Yuuri and began to sniff on Yuuri’s leg. When Yuuri extended his hand for the dog to sniff on, he yipped and hopped back and forth; each time getting a bit closer until he finally sniffed on Yuuri’s palm. His tiny tail started waggling, and two more puppies, one with a yellow and one with a red collar came closer now that their sibling seemed to trust Yuuri. Her brother giggled when the first puppy licked on his hand.
“That tickles!” he said, and picked the small pup up.
From next to her came the clicking sounds of her father’s camera, and when she turned to look at him she found him looking nearly as excited and happy as Yuuri. Mari turned her attention back to her brother, who now had the red and yellow collared poodles playing on his lap, and held the green one carefully to his chest. But the pup seemed to tolerate being hold only for a short time, since he began to scramble in Yuuri’s hand already. Yuuri lowered the dog with a small struggle, and let him join his siblings. Despite his best efforts, Yuuri couldn’t really pet them, and had to settle on engaging in their games, as well as taking care that they didn’t get too wild, or fell from his lap.
Aside from the three that occupied her brother there were two more: one with a pink and the other with a blue collar. The pink one was about to join its playing siblings, but the one with the blue collar stayed back. Only watching from a safe distance, the small one seemed intimidated, and Mari couldn’t help the pang she felt in her chest for the little poodle. Yuuri hadn’t noticed the fifth one yet. Too much of his attention was taken up by the now four poodles jumping on and over his lap, their tiny barks filling the room.
After some time they started to calm down, exhaustion getting to them. The yellow one left first and toddled to the water bowl, and soon the one with the green collar followed. Both red and pink kept lazily playing on the floor. Now that they had quieted down a bit, the blue one slowly began to walk along the railing, halting a few times when his playing siblings came near.
“Oh! There’s a fifth one,” her brother exclaimed.
“Yes, he is a bit shy. Do you see that plush bunny over there? He likes it, so if you take it he might come to you,” Satou-san, who sat on the floor outside from the enclosure, said.
Yuuri followed that advice instantly, and held it towards the puppy, which started waggling its tail slowly.
“Yes, come here,” he whispered.
Bit by bit the poodle crossed the distance between them, letting out small whines a few times. Occasionally, he took a step back before proceeding. Yuuri kept talking to him, encouraging him with a soft tone of voice, until he was finally close enough to sniff on his favourite toy. His tail started waggling faster, and he barked once.
“Yes, good boy, come here,” Yuuri murmured.
Yuuri gave the toy to the puppy, which was still big for him. Struggling with the plushie, the poodle tried to get closer to Yuuri, and lay down against his leg, with his bunny firmly between his paws. Cooing, Yuuri began to pet him.
All of Yuuri’s attention was on the one puppy now, which began to lick on Yuuri’s hand every time it got close to his snout. Barking again, he let go of his toy and tried to get onto Yuuri’s lap instead. Quick to help, Yuuri lifted the puppy up and set him down on his lap, where the poodle made a few clumsy steps until he lay down again and snuggled up to Yuuri’s hand.
Yuuri seemed to have forgotten about his surroundings. His expression was full with wonder and happiness as he watched the small fluffy bundle in is lap.
“Oh you did great! He looks really happy and relaxed in your lap,” Satou-san said.
“Thank you,” Yuuri answered, a sheepish smile on his lips.
Mari took her eyes off him and looked over to her parents. Both were leaning forward. Looking closer, Mari saw that her mother’s eyes were glistening. Hiroko tried to hide her smile behind her hands, while her father had temporarily forgotten about the camera hanging from his neck.
She tapped her father on the shoulder, and when he turned she pointed to the camera, “come on, take a picture of them.”
Toshiya followed her request immediately.
For a while they all went quiet and contented themselves with watching Yuuri pet and coo over the puppy with the blue collar. The poodle responded incredibly well to Yuuri and kept warming up to him. He even played with Yuuri’s hand.
When their time in the nursery neared its end, Yuuri struggled to say good-bye to his new friend. He picked the poodle up, and carefully held him up to his face.
“I’m so sorry we have to go now. I wish I could take you home with me,” Yuuri said, giving the puppy’s snout a light nudge with his own nose.
The poodle yipped and showered Yuuri in kisses.
“Oh now you’re making it even harder,” Yuuri’s voice sounded close to tears.
“Don’t be too sad Yuuri, maybe we can come back soon...” Hiroko said.
“Really?” Yuuri asked.
“It’s not too far away...” Toshiya tried to save the situation before they could give anything away.
“Okay,” he sighed, his eyes trailing back to the pup again.
“I’ll go ahead, we’ll meet at the car,” their father said as he got up from his chair.
Both she and her mother just nodded, while Yuuri looked a bit confused.
“We’ll come soon,” Hiroko said, getting up too.
“I really have to leave now, little one,” Yuuri said sadly, “I’m happy we met.”
But as soon as Yuuri put the poodle down, he started to whine and paw on Yuuri’s leg.
“Oh no, oh please don’t be sad,” Yuuri tried to comfort him, holding the bunny for the puppy to take.
“He’ll be okay,” Satou-san said, “they will all see their mother soon again, so don’t worry about him too much.”
“Okay, thank you,” Yuuri mumbled, petting the poodle one last time before he stood up.
After he left the enclosure, Yuuri turned around and looked at the five puppies, “bye, I loved playing with all of you! And I will miss you...”
The last part was clearly directed at the puppy with the blue collar, which still cried and looked at Yuuri with big eyes.
“I will take care of all of them, and their breeder will be here shortly, too,” the caretaker ensured.
“Thank you for having us, it was a great joy,” Hiroko replied.
“Yes, thank you so much,” Yuuri said.
“You’ll find your way out?” Satou-san asked.
“Yes, we will. Thank you,” Mari smiled.
Together they left the nursery and went back to the car. When they reached the parking lot, they could already see Toshiya unlocking the car and climbing behind the steering wheel.
During their drive home Yuuri looked out of the window, and didn’t say a thing. Nudging him gently with her elbow, Mari asked: “what’s the matter? Didn’t you have fun?”
“Oh, yes, I had… it was great! It’s just… I’ll miss the small one,” Yuuri said, his voice growing quiet at the end.
Mari had to look away and out of her window, biting her lips to hide her smile before she answered.
“Did you like the blue one that much?”
Her gaze travelled to her parents sitting in the front, and when she looked into the rear-view mirror she met her mother’s eyes. Hiroko’s eyes wrinkled just like always when she smiled. Mari had to quickly avert her eyes again, lest she’d start smiling too.
The school bell rang and their teacher ended their last class for today. Yuuri stretched in his seat before he began to pack his things away. His classmates chattered all around him, talking about the clubs they’d go to now, or making plans for later. He barely paid attention. Today he had an off day from his ballet and skating classes, which meant he would have to focus on his homework. He’d rather not.
As he walked home he kept thinking about his short program. His steps and spins were okay for now, but he kept missing his jumps… How did Victor train his jumps that he managed to be so consistent? Yuuri’d love to know. Obviously, Victor had world class coaches. But Yuuri had also heard that Victor was thinking of dropping school and getting a private tutor instead. All so he could commit more time to skating of course.
He sighed. I’ll try to get my homework done quickly, so I can watch a few of Victor’s programs again. Maybe I’ll be able to copy his jumping technique, or understand what I’m doing wrong.
Before he realised it, he reached home. He slid the door open and slipped out of his shoes.
“Tadaima,” he called.
“Okaeri!” his mother replied from the kitchen, “come to the sitting area, there’s a surprise waiting for you!”
Frowning, Yuuri rounded the corner. What surprise could possibly—a high-pitched yip greeted him, and a small reddish-brown poodle with a blue collar ran towards him.
Yuuri gasped and fell to his knees; he barely managed to open his arms in time to catch the poodle jumping at him.
“Hello!” he called as he tried to pet the excitedly yipping puppy,”yes, I’ve missed you too! Good boy!”
The poodle’s tail waggled wildly, and as he jumped back and forth he couldn’t seem to decide whether to playfully bite Yuuri’s hand that tried to pet him, or to give Yuuri puppy kisses. In the end he settled for a mix of both.
Yuuri’s throat felt tight. “I didn’t think I’d see you again...”
“He really likes you,” came the kind voice of a woman.
Looking up, Yuuri saw that the woman who’d spoken was around his parent’s age. Aside from that he was sure he’d never met her before.
“Hello, I’m Yamazaki-san, and you must be Yuuri-kun?”
“Hello,” Yuuri bowed, “yes, I’m Yuuri.”
“I’m a dog breeder, and the poodle who’s so excited to see you is from my latest litter.”
“Oh,” he said, question upon question filling his head.
Over the past weeks he’d tried not to think too much about the fact that he’d visited puppies that were siblings at the nursery of the dog village. Back then he’d been too distracted by the poodles, but ever since coming back he’d started wondering. Still, he didn’t want to get his hopes up, so he’d only asked about visiting the village again a few times. But the puppy he’d liked to much being here… could it really be that…? No, don’t get your hopes up just yet.
“He’s really lively with you. At home, around his siblings he’s a lot more cautious.”
“Yes, he wouldn’t come near me while his siblings were playing with me,” he replied.
By now he’d gathered the poodle up in his arms, and had walked over to the table where his sister and the breeder sat. The puppy still squirmed in his hold, but he seemed to slowly calm down now. Yuuri sat down to talk to Yamazaki-san and his sister. But while he tried and certainly didn’t want to be rude, he often forgot to pay attention to the conversation, and instead gave the puppy belly rubs, or played with him. All thoughts about homework and figure skating jumps were forgotten, too.
The smell of a light vegetable curry and freshly cooked rice preceded his mother. When Hiroko entered the room she had a dinner tray with five bowls on it, which she left on their table.
“Your father and I will join you in a moment,” she said.
“Oh thank you for this dinner Katsuki-san. It looks delicious,” the breeder said.
“Please enjoy it,” Hiroko smiled, and bowed.
Despite her words, they all waited until his mother and father came to sit down and eat with them. Over the course of dinner, the puppy never left Yuuri’s lap. Though when he tried to get some of Yuuri’s food, Yamazaki-san stopped him.
“Please make sure he doesn’t get any of it.”
“Yes, I’ll be careful,” he promised.
He felt proud that he managed to withstand the puppy-eyes and whining. (Well, partly. He didn’t give the poodle any food, but instead made plenty of petting breaks in between bites. He ended up finishing last.)
Staring down at the dog in his lap, he got lost in his thoughts again. He didn’t notice that the conversation around him had stopped, nor did he notice that his family and the breeder all watched him closely.
The longer he looked at the dog, the warmer he felt. If he could he’d take care of him forever. He didn’t even want to think about saying good-bye a second time.
“Yuuri, do you still like the puppy as much as when we visited the dog village?” his mother asked suddenly.
He kept looking down at the poodle before meeting his mother’s eyes, “no, I love him even more.”
His parents, Mari and the breeder all laughed.
“Well that’s good to hear. You see, he’ll stay with us from now on,” Hiroko said with a smile.
His heart stopped.
“Really?! We will really keep him?”
“Yes, from today on he’ll be a part of your family,” Yamazaki-san confirmed.
Yuuri felt his mouth run dry, and his eyes burned. He picked the poodle up from his lap, and held him to his chest.
“We’ll stay together from now on, did you hear that? You’ll live here,” he said with a wobbly voice.
“We wanted it to be a surprise, and it was really hard to keep it a secret,” Mari grinned at him.
Clutching the puppy close, Yuuri started to sob.
“Thank you so much, Okaa-san, Otou-san! I’m so happy!”
“We’re all happy to have him in our family now. He’s a darling,” his mother said.
For a moment they all looked at the poodle. Yuuri couldn’t believe it. Their poodle.
“Well, he still needs a name… What do you want to call him?” the breeder asked after a while.
Looking at the poodle, Yuuri thought about it: There were common dog names… then there was the name Makkachin, but that was already the name of Victor’s… Victor? His eyes widened. Victor might be a bit obvious, but Vicchan…?
The more he thought about it, the more he liked it.
Smiling, he said, “his name is Vicchan.”
“What a surprise,” Mari replied dryly.
He could feel his cheeks heat up. Quickly, he buried his face in Vicchan’s fur, which prompted Vicchan to immediately try to give him puppy kisses.
Hiroko, Toshiya, and Yamazaki-san chuckled.
“Welcome to our family, Vicchan,” Hiroko said warmly.