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the city of bridges

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Yakov sweats through his shirt before he even leaves the train station. Hasetsu in mid-April is not horribly hot, but when he left St. Petersburg three flights, one train, and eighteen hours ago, snowdrifts still lined the streets. He strips off his jacket as he steps on the escalator.

Finding the walls of the station covered in Katsuki’s face does not surprise Yakov, but he stops in his tracks when he sees a life-size banner of Viktor smiling and reaching out to him. Only a few years ago, Viktor had stepped off of this same train into a completely foreign country, his record-breaking career and long-suffering coach abandoned behind him, with no plan but the memory of a half-naked trainwreck humping his leg and blind, reckless hope. Now, he’s got a small Japanese town wrapped around his finger. 

If anyone ever asks Yakov to describe Viktor, he should probably just tell this story.

“Yakov!” the man in question exclaims, rushing over from the train station’s entrance. His hair is longer than it was in the poster, his bangs pulled out of his face with a clip. He pulls Yakov into a hug and Yakov, quite used to this, lets him. “Did you have a nice flight?”

“Long, uneventful. I don’t know how you and Katsuki do this all the time,” he grumbles.

Viktor just laughs and waves a hand. “First class! Do you want help with your suitcase?" 

“I can carry it, I’m not that old.” Yakov takes a step toward the door and his knee pops. Viktor laughs again.

“Whatever you say. Come on, Yuuri’s father is waiting in the car.”

 

 

Yakov, who has listened to Viktor wax poetic about Hasetsu for a year now, had imagined a small town. What he finds instead could almost be called a city, with multiple bridges stretching across a river that runs into the ocean. On the hill in the distance towers a castle that Viktor describes as if it were the Winter Palace (if the Romanovs were ninjas) and not merely an aesthetically pleasing facade. 

“Over there is Nagahama Ramen, they have the best shoyu ramen in town. And straight ahead over the bridge is Ice Castle Hasetsu! I’ll have to take you to visit sometime. It’s a bit smaller than Sports Champions, a lot smaller actually, but it works well enough. The Nishigoris work there—actually, you’ll probably meet them tomorrow. They have triplets that are like Sasha from your novice class, if there were three of her… Oh! On the right, over those buildings, that’s where we’re planning on having the ceremony. There’s a pavilion right up against the beach, so we should be alright even if it rains, and it’s easier to set up chairs than on the sand. There are usually lots of seagulls, too, which Yuuri complains about sometimes but I don't mind. They remind me of Piter. Have you noticed the seagulls in Piter, Yakov? I didn’t really, until I moved here and heard them calling and thought, oh, that sounds like home.” 

Yakov learned many years ago that when Viktor is excited, it is best to just let him talk. Viktor has been excited a lot lately. There was a time, a period of a few years actually, where Yakov would have given the rest of his head of hair to hear his star student so animated about something, anything.

Listening to Viktor talk about Hasetsu, Yakov relaxes.

Katsuki’s family’s hot springs is quaint, to say the least. During the months after the Sochi GPF that Viktor spent working on Eros and Agape and pining after the sixth-place skater that stole his heart, he’d spoken a few times of “Yuuri’s family’s hot springs resort” as if the Katsukis owned a sprawling seaside establishment. With the price tag on competitive figure skating set so high, Yakov had assumed the same. What he finds instead is Yutopia Katsuki, owned, operated, and lived in by Yuuri’s family. Hiroko Katsuki herself places a giant plate of food in front of him minutes after he arrives.

Yakov frowns, looking to Viktor. “Are these pirozhki?”

“I showed her how to make them,” Yuri Plisetsky, who arrived last week, interjects from the other side of the table with a half-full mouth. “It’s dedushka’s recipe. Katsudon pirozhki.”

Yakov does not have to ask what this means; with Viktor, Katsuki, and Yuri skating together in his rink for the past year, pork cutlet bowls have become infamous. Yakov’s grandmother would have had a conniption if she saw him eating this, but the food is delicious, meaty and silky and fried and fried again, and it’s well worth his savta rolling over in her grave.

“I hope you will feel at home here,” Hiroko addresses him in accented but crisp English. “We are happy to meet you.”

Yakov’s own English is just as accented but far less crisp. “I am happy to be here. Thank you for the pirozhki.” He doesn’t know what else to do, so he offers a little bow. Viktor laughs.

Mari Katsuki offers to take Yakov’s luggage to his room and he wants nothing more than to follow her and collapse into bed, but he will have to stay up just a few hours longer if he wants to beat jet-lag. So when Toshiya Katsuki offers everyone small cups of sake, Yakov doesn’t say no, and he doesn’t say no again, and again... The wine is as clear as vodka but far gentler on the throat. It goes down like water.

Yuuri doesn’t touch even a drop of alcohol and after the spectacle that was Sochi, Yakov can’t blame him. Viktor, on the other hand, matches Yakov, Toshiya, and Mari glass-for-glass until laughter booms through the dining room and Toshiya and Viktor find themselves shirtless. Thankfully, Yuuri stops Viktor before he goes for his pants. 

Viktor hangs onto his fiancé like an octopus, which is nothing at all new. Katsuki humors him, pushing stray strands of hair from his eyes and tolerating the wet-mouthed kisses and love declarations that Viktor, ever the sappy drunk, plies him with continuously.  

“Vicchan did most of the wedding planning,” Hiroko tells them, a blatant attempt to change the subject from the (graphic) recounting of their recent joint bachelor party. Yakov’s ears trip over the nickname.

“Not just me!” Viktor protests, slurring his words slightly. “You helped so much, Okaasan!”   

“I want you boys to have a special day.” 

Viktor beams and responds in what sounds like garbled Japanese. Judging by the confusion on Hiroko’s face, it didn’t make sense to them, either. She smiles fondly. 

“I think you have had enough to drink, Vicchan. Yes?" 

“Yes,” Yuuri agrees, pushing the half-empty glass away from Viktor, who doesn’t even protest. 

Yakov, who has always known Viktor to drink away his sorrows, finds a drunk but grinning Viktor to be a novel combination. He clings to Hiroko and Yuuri as they help him stand.  

“‘M going to sleep,” Viktor announces. Hiroko has an arm wrapped around Viktor’s waist to support him; she may be small, but together she and Yuuri could easily carry Viktor’s weight. Viktor beams down at her. “I had fun making the pirozhki with you , we should do that more. I could show you how to make borscht! Although it can be hard to like borscht, unless you’re Russian. Even if you’re Russian. What else does Russia have, Yakov? Blini? Oh, syrniki!” 

Over twenty years ago, Yakov met Viktor Nikiforov for the first time. He’d been a slight boy, with thin, platinum hair down to his shoulders and a smile so bright it rivaled the sun. He’d been brought to Yakov’s attention by a coach at a rink in an affluent area on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Yakov had seen the boy’s gift immediately, just as the child’s coach had, and invited him to be his student at Sports Champions Club in the city. His first sit-down meeting with Valentina Nikiforova came the next day, and he had known from experience that this would be the most crucial part—it was never easy to convince a parent into a daily hour-long commute, or else to enroll their young child in boarding school in the city. He’d come to that conversation armed with an arsenal of persuasion tactics.

He had hardly even had to use them.

Young Vitya had been thrilled when he heard the news. “I want to be the best skater in the world!” he exclaimed, and Yakov had known even then that he’d found a champion. The boy had talked his mother’s ear off about costumes and edges the entire way out of the rink lobby. Valentina Nikiforova had said, “That’s nice, Vitya,” hardly even looking down at him.

For the next few years, he saw Viktor’s mother only a handful of times. He can hardly remember her face, but he certainly remembers what Viktor’s had looked like in her absence. Yakov was not a soft man, but the dawning disappointment that young Viktor tried to cover up at every missed competition had been heartwrenching. Yakov could see it weighing down his limbs when he jumped. 

Yakov let the boy hug him, let the boy talk to him, let the boy do all sorts of ridiculous things like adopt a poodle, because he knew full well there was nothing he could do to make it better. 

Now, nearly two decades later, he watches Vitya ramble and rave about something he loves, his chest a glass case with his heart on display, and a phantom protectiveness surges forward in Yakov’s slightly-drunken mind. Like always, it comes with an edge of helplessness. For god’s sake, stop setting yourself up for disappointment, boy, Yakov thinks, or maybe just remembers thinking. 

But Hiroko holds tight around Viktor’s waist and smiles up at him, reaching up to pat his flushed cheek. “After the wedding, Vicchan. Then we will cook more Russian food.”

“Itadakimasu!” Viktor exclaims, and Yuuri snorts.

“Bedtime, Vitya. Let’s go.” 

“Allons-y!”  

Yakov watches them go, his heart thudding in his chest. 

“More?” Toshiya offers, holding up the bottle. Yakov blinks. 

“Why the hell not,” he grumbles in Russian and holds out his glass.

 

 

Yakov says he is not old, but it’s a bold-faced lie. The hair-loss and popping joints are not new—they’ve been around forever, a product of his unfortunate genetics and his chosen career respectively. However, waking up at five in the morning on his days off like some kind of walking geriatric stereotype is a recent development.

The day of the wedding, Yakov is not the only one to wake with the sun. When he heads downstairs, he hears voices coming from the onsen’s guest dining room. 

“Set these out, please,” comes Hiroko’s voice. 

“One or two on each table?” Viktor asks.

“One, please.”

Yakov hesitates at the door.

“I tried to get Yuuri to get up too, but he just groaned and rolled over,” Viktor admits.

Hiroko laughs. “That is Yuuri. You can try again in half an hour, yes?”

“Maybe you should do it. I may be his coach, but on the off-season he’d listen to his mother more than me.”

“You will be his husband today! You must learn.”

“Is there a secret?”

“Yes. Make him breakfast.”

“Are there many more secrets?”

“To being a good parent? Yes. But maybe you mean for being a good husband?”

Yakov hears Viktor laugh, but it wavers. “I assume it’s not as simple as learning a few tricks.”

“There are no secrets to being married,” Hiroko replies, and Yakov snorts. He happens to agree on a very personal level.

“I suppose not.”

“You seem worried, Vicchan. Why?”

“I’m not worried.”

“Hm.”

“...I am a little scared, though.”

“It is a big step,” Hiroko agrees. “But actually, it is not a big change.”

“It’s not?”

“Already you are promised to Yuuri. Yuuri is promised to you. You wear rings. You live together. What will change after this ceremony? Your taxes. Your names. That is all.”

For a long moment, Viktor does not reply. “I love Yuuri, and I want to marry him. He deserves… the best husband in the world.”

“That is you, Vicchan.”

“How can you know?”

“A mother knows.”

A few minutes later, Yakov enters the guest room to warm greetings and promises of breakfast soon. Viktor smiles when he sees him and continues smiling even as he works, any trace of earlier nerves banished entirely. 

When Hiroko returns from the kitchen she has a tray full of food in her arms. 

“Please, let me help,” Yakov offers, but Hiroko waves him off as she sets the food down on the table.

“No, no, you are a guest! Vicchan is helping. And soon Yuuri will be up to help, too. Now, do you like miso?”

 

 

Yakov most certainly does not cry at the wedding. If anyone challenges this (indisputable) fact, Yakov will say that the sea breeze blew a wayward grain of sand into his eye. 

Viktor does cry, which Yakov can admit surprises him. He’s seen Viktor cry plenty of times before, has even held him awkwardly while he did it, but it had always been because of a boy, or a phone call gone straight to voicemail, or (in the very early days) a horribly, unexpectedly catastrophic competition. Viktor’s tears were rare, silent, and they never talked about it afterward.

Yakov has never seen Viktor cry with joy before, and now he cannot look away. Their vows are sappy, tearful professions of life and love and forever, and it’s right about then that Yakov gets the aforementioned sand in his eyes.

St. Petersburg, Leningrad, that city of bridges and grey skies that hugs the Baltic Sea—that is Yakov’s home. He was born and raised there and he has some of it in his blood, he thinks. In many ways, Viktor is the same. But as the groom stands against the backdrop of Hasetsu’s ocean, Yakov sees a home for Viktor that St. Petersburg and all its dorm rooms and pre-furnished apartments could never be. Every person in attendance of this small wedding is here for Viktor as much as they are for his soon-to-be-husband. 

Now that Viktor has officially retired and handed Yakov his final check, there is nothing keeping him and Katsuki in Russia anymore. Yakov knows they plan to move here. Viktor hasn’t mentioned anything, but he knows in the same way that all Yakov’s skaters know he’s approaching retirement. Time passes, things change, people move on to new stages in their lives. Certainly today marks an exciting new stage in Viktor’s. For a brief period of an hour last year, Yakov had imagined retiring and handing over the reins of his established career in St. Petersburg to his star pupil, the newly-minted coach. It was a pipe dream from the beginning, one he could only halfway picture and could easily have ended in disaster. Yakov hadn’t gotten attached to the idea.

But a life in Hasetsu? Investing some savings in the rink by the castle and taking on a few new students? Viktor, surrounded constantly by the Katsukis’ warmth and endless edible gestures of affection? Yakov can see that easily. 

When Viktor was sixteen, he’d called Yakov at two in the morning and asked in a very small, watery voice if Yakov could please come pick him up at an address Yakov didn’t recognize. He’d found the boy sitting on the curb outside of an apartment building he later found out housed a boy Viktor had been seeing. Foolish child, you’ll give your heart out to anyone who will take it, Yakov remembers thinking. At the core of it, he had been terrified more than disapproving. What kind of men would this reckless boy attract? 

And yet, here is Yuuri Katsuki, a picture of awe and adoration as he slips (another) ring on Viktor’s finger and takes him as his husband. When they kiss, they melt into each other’s arms.

If Yakov were to cry at this wedding, it would be out of sheer relief. 

 

 

Yakov makes a point of not drinking at the wedding reception. He learned on his first night here that just because sake goes down smoother than Russian vodka does not mean it won’t make his head pound and gut twist with nausea the next day.

The reception is held in the guest dining room of Yutopia Katsuki, a space just barely big enough for all of Yuuri and Viktor’s friends and family. Despite the constraints they find a way to clear a dance floor, and Katsuki must finally have given up sobriety because there’s a long-belated breakdancing rematch going on with Yuri Plisetsky mere feet from where Yakov sits. 

At Viktor and Yuuri’s insistence, Hiroko had hired servers for the event so she would not have to worry about the food; despite this, she has a tray in her hand every time Yakov sees her. But he is not one to judge, since he has trouble watching skating without criticizing every flaw. It is hard to turn it off, sometimes.

Eventually, Viktor catches her and sends her Yakov’s table with a plate of food and orders to “sit, relax, and enjoy the party.” She sits down next to Yakov, an amused smile on her face.

“Vicchan thinks I am working too hard, it seems.”

Yakov snorts a laugh. “He has always been very stubborn.”

“So has our Yuuri. It is good that Vicchan is his coach!”

“Hmph. It is endearing until you have to coach him.”

“You have been his coach from the beginning, yes?”

“Since he was ten.”

Hiroko grins. “Yuuri watched every competition since he was twelve. I remember seeing you with Vicchan on television.”

“He probably knows Vitya’s career as well as I do,” Yakov admits.

“Probably! Vicchan was very inspiring for our Yuuri.”

“I am sure that Vitya would say the same about Yuuri, these past few years.”

“Mm,” Hiroko hums. She looks out at the makeshift dance floor, where Viktor and Yuuri are engaged in some approximation of swing dance. “Thank you for welcoming him at your rink. He was worried in the beginning, I believe, but soon he felt comfortable.”

“Yes, well, he is good for our rink. He distracts my students, but he inspires them to work harder. Even Vitya.”

Hiroko smiles. “Vicchan is a sweet boy.”

Sweet doesn’t even begin to cover the larger-than-life personality of Viktor Nikiforov, but it’s a start. Yakov nods. “He is.”

“You have done very well with him.”

“Yes, but he is very self-motivated. A true champion.”

“I do not mean as his coach.”

The spinning wheels in Yakov’s head groan to a halt.

“I cannot take credit for anything but his skating, Mrs. Katsuki.”

“Someone should,” Hiroko says, looking Yakov straight in the eyes. “And we both know it would not be his parents.”

The bottom drops out of Yakov’s stomach. “He told you about his parents?”

“No, never. And so I know.”

“Ah.” Yakov clears his throat. Maybe there’s still some sand stuck in his eyes from earlier. “I did my best, but I was not what he needed— who he needed.”

“But you supported him.”

“I tried.” Yakov massages his temples. His shoulders slump. “I never quite knew how. I am no good with tears.”

Hiroko’s laugh startles him. “Neither is Vicchan, but he is learning.” 

“Mm,” Yakov mumbles, not sure what else to say.

“He smiles more, you know.”

“What?”

“When you are in the room, he smiles more.”

Just then, as if summoned, Viktor flits over to the table with his face flushed and grown-out hair pulled back in a very messy updo. He holds a hand out to Yakov.

“Dance with me, Yakov!”

Yakov blinks and swallows down the lump in his throat. “You know I don’t dance,” he grumbles in Russian.

“Oh, aren’t you tired of that lie yet, Yakov? You have plenty of medals to prove it.”

Yakov doesn’t think much of his ten-year-long competitive figure skating career anymore. Any medals he earned (and it wasn’t plenty, in his opinion, he is a far better coach than he ever was a skater) have been gathering dust in a display case at Sports Champions Club for decades. He certainly didn’t think Viktor gave them any thought. 

It seems he had no idea exactly what Viktor’s thought of him, all these years. But none of that matters now, not as much as the hopeful grin stretching Viktor’s mouth and lighting up his eyes. When Viktor holds out his hand, Yakov takes it.

 

 

“This is it.”

They slow to a stop on a stretch of beach just like any other and Yakov tries, for the sake of his pride, not to double over as he catches his breath. To Viktor’s credit, he hadn’t lied when he promised they’d go slow, but Yakov hasn’t gone for a jog in years, let alone a jog on the beach. His knees groan in protest. He is going to be picking sand out of his shoes for weeks. 

He’d only agreed to this because Viktor said he had something important to show him before he and Katsuki take off on their honeymoon this afternoon. 

Yakov looks around. He tries not to sound as winded as he actually is when he says, “Vitya, if you dragged me out of bed at the crack of dawn to show me an empty beach, I swear…” 

Viktor laughs, light and carefree. He barely has a drop of sweat on his forehead, which is unfair no matter how young (almost thirty) the boy is. “Of course not, Yakov! I wanted to show you this.”

With a flourish, Viktor turns and points to the house situated just over the bluff, a two-story wood-framed home overlooking the ocean. He gestures for Yakov to follow him over the sand, down the stone walkway and to the back porch steps. Before Yakov can bark at him for trespassing, he notices the orange sign stuck in the sand. He cannot read Japanese, but he has a hunch it says For Sale.

“Ah,” Yakov says.

“What do you think?”

“Are you telling me you bought this house, Vitya?”

“Technically, Yuuri and I bought this house. Also technically, we haven’t bought it yet. We’re still waiting on some paperwork.”

Yakov heaves a long-suffering sigh and follows, sitting next to Viktor on the steps. 

“It’s a beautiful view,” Yakov admits. “Better than the Neva.”

“Yakov, I wanted to tell you before we committed, and we weren’t even necessarily going to buy anything for another year or so, but then we found this place, and there were other potential buyers, so…”

“You don’t need to ask me, Vitya.”

“Maybe not,” Viktor agrees. “I know I am not your student anymore. But… I didn’t want to leave without talking to you first.”

He leaves the not again left unsaid, but Yakov hears it all the same. The long grass on the bluff bends in the breeze. 

“When you left the first time, I assumed you were just running away from your problems to the first warm place you could think of. Even once I got over the anger, I didn’t quite get it.” Yakov leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “But it makes sense now. Seeing you here.”

Viktor nods. “I feel like me here. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Yakov repeats. “All the beauty of the sea without the ice and sludge of Piter.”

“Yes. But it’s more than that.”

“The Katsukis have certainly welcomed you with open arms.”

Viktor chuckles lightly. “They are more than I deserve.”

Yakov blinks. Straightens. Swivels his head to look at Viktor. “No,” he disagrees, before he can stop himself. “They’re exactly what you deserve.”

The porch steps creak beneath Viktor as he flinches from the sudden conviction of Yakov’s words. His eyes widen, caught off guard, but he quickly schools his expression into something more neutral.

“Yakov…”

But Yakov has committed to this conversation, even as Viktor shies away from the vulnerability. Viktor is not his student anymore, and Yakov is not his coach. He is under no obligation to keep the illusion of professional distance.

“Vitya, I have seen you disappointed and lonely for too long,” he admits, his chest tight and voice strained. “I am… very glad… that you have finally found people who are worthy of your love.”

At his side, Viktor’s breath hitches so minutely that Yakov almost doesn’t hear it. An ant crawls over the stone pathway at their feet, and Yakov studies it intently, letting Viktor control the silence.

“Piter wasn’t all bad, you know,” Viktor whispers. “I had Makkachin. And… I had you.”

Three simple words, and yet they seize Yakov’s heart in a vice grip. He takes a deep breath. “I did what I could, Vitya.”

“You always have. And I always…” Viktor trails off. Out of the corner of his eye, Yakov sees him reach out, laying a tentative hand on Yakov’s forearm. When Yakov gathers the courage to look, he can barely breathe—Viktor’s irises are blindingly blue, the whites of his eyes suspiciously red.

“It always meant so much to me,” he admits in a watery whisper.

Yakov swallows. “I didn’t realize.”

In the end, it’s Viktor who breaks the moment. He stands, offering his hand to Yakov to help him up. Yakov takes it.

“You know, that first summer here was one of the best times of my life,” Viktor says as they walk back toward the beach. “The only bad thing was that we weren’t speaking.”

“I didn’t understand,” Yakov repeats, but Viktor holds up a hand.

“Because I never tried to explain it to you. I just left last time. But this house, this town…” Viktor turns back to the quaint beach house and its soon-to-be-removed For Sale sign. “I want to move here, Yakov, but that doesn’t mean I want to leave you behind.”

Something inside Yakov, something grumpy and grumbly and hard, has softened over the course of this conversation. He has never been any more comfortable with this kind of vulnerability than Viktor has, but Viktor has changed. Maybe it’s time Yakov changes, too.

So instead of waiting for Viktor to hug him, Yakov moves first.

“Thank you,” he whispers to the boy in his arms, a boy who is now a grown and married man. Viktor tenses at first, but quickly melts into the embrace. For a moment it sounds like he’s trying to say something but can’t, his throat too tight for words.

Yakov pulls back and pats Viktor on the shoulder. “You know that I’ve been considering retiring soon. The Piter winters are bad on my body. But I’ve heard that hot springs help aching joints.”

Viktor brightens, swiping a tear from his cheek. Now, when he smiles, it isn’t fake; it attempts to cover nothing.

“This house has three bedrooms. You and Yura can both come visit!”

“Something tells me he’s going to be here for a lot more than vacation once I retire,” Yakov grumbles.

“Nothing is decided yet!”

Yakov quirks an eyebrow. “You’ve talked about it? Already?”

“Maybe a little. He’d like it if you visited, too, though he’d never admit it.”

Yakov grumbles. “That boy. I have trouble keeping up with him. You won’t, though.”

“I wouldn’t count on it. I’m nearly thirty, Yakov! My joints ache, too.”

“Well, since we are a couple of old men, how about we walk back instead?”

Viktor laughs, bright and musical. “Our students never need to know.”

When they arrive back at Yutopia, everyone is already awake and ready for a long day of travel. Hiroko has breakfast waiting for them and they settle together around a table.

Yakov picks up his chopsticks, which he has just begun to get the hang of using, and takes a deep breath. He nods to Hiroko and very carefully says, “I-ta-da-ki-mas.”