Chapter 1: Nice and Sneaky
Waiting for luggage is the worst. If everyone would stay a few feet back from the conveyor belt, it would be easy for anyone to spot their luggage coming and step forward to get it. Instead, everyone crowds close, jostling each other out of desperation to retrieve their belongings as quickly as possible, making the process more inefficient and unpleasant all around. Normally, Yuuri Katsuki makes sure to travel light enough to fit everything in a carry-on, to avoid this exact situation. But now, returning to his hometown after failing miserably at the Grand Prix Final, he’s stuck here, hovering at the edge of the crowd, waiting for all of his earthly possessions to be carelessly tossed down a chute. Finally, the mob has dispersed, and he sees his bags making their way forlornly around the curve. Taking them in hand, he turns and continues on to the next leg of his trip.
It’s mid-afternoon when he arrives in Hasetsu, but he finds himself blinking blearily and fighting sleep. That’s what he gets for blowing up his career and having to travel halfway around the world to lick his wounds, he supposes. Someone shouts his name and he jerks around to find the source. Minako is there, apparently waiting for him, leg extended behind her in a beautiful arabesque. He smiles in spite of himself. A dancer will always be a dancer… will a skater always be a skater?
“You didn’t have to come get me, Minako,” Yuuri says, mouth twisting. He is going to be enough of a burden on his family and friends in the coming months, he doesn’t need them acting as his chauffeurs on top of everything. “I could have taken a cab.”
Minako rolls her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. You haven’t been home for years. We wanted you to have a proper welcome. Your parents and Mari would be here too, if they weren’t busy at the onsen.”
He looks at the sign she’s holding, now. Large, somewhat messy letters spell out, ‘Welcome Home, Uncle Yuuri!’, and glitter is scattered haphazardly all around them. It looks like it was made by a child. Or children. Yuuko’s triplets, maybe? That’s cute. He’s looking forward to meeting them; he’s heard they are quite the mischief-makers, though.
Yuuri follows Minako back to her car, trying to avoid looking at all the skating posters of himself around town. How embarrassing, now that he’s failed so thoroughly. The car ride goes quickly enough, with them chatting a bit about his life in America and how things have been back here in Hasetsu while he’s been gone. When they arrive at the onsen, he does his best to struggle through properly greeting his parents and sister, but he can barely keep his eyes open and they shuffle him off to his room after just a few minutes.
Closing the door to his room behind him, he huffs a sigh and looks around. He cringes internally at all the posters of Victor Nikiforov that are still lining the walls of his room. Victor is an amazing skater, but remembering the crush he held onto for most of his teenage years is uncomfortable. All of the years of training and living abroad to claw his way into the ranks that were worthy to skate on the same ice as Victor, all thrown away over the course of a few disastrous days. He feels a pang in his heart, thinking of how different things are to how he had expected to return home. Vicchan, running up to him with her tail wagging, jumping up and down for attention. People cheering for their hometown’s skating success story. Yuuri returning feeling accomplished and fulfilled, instead of directionless and insignificant.
Shaking himself, he sets to the task of unpacking, as much as he can do before passing out, anyway. Unzipping his largest suitcase, he carefully removes the old shoebox containing his deepest secrets. He lifts the lid and sifts through the envelopes inside. Sometimes he finds it hard to believe that he’s held onto these letters for all these years, but every time he’s thought of getting rid of them, it feels like he would be getting rid of a part of himself. Each of these letters feels like a representation of a different time in his life, even if none of them are particularly applicable at the moment. The names jump out at him as he places them back in the box one by one.
Yuuko, his childhood friend.
Mei Nakamura, from skate camp, over a decade ago.
Victor Nikiforov, of course.
Jeremy Meyers, an American skater from his first international junior competition.
And Phichit Chulanont.
Everyone he’s ever been in love with. Yuuri is very good at articulating his feelings. On paper. In a letter to be sealed in a box and never sent. In person? Not a chance. And a good thing, too, because his feelings of romance have always faded over time. When Yuuri had first met Phichit, he had fallen hard and fast. Phichit was just so alive and energetic, he had a magnetism to him that made it impossible to look away. Yuuri had needed to get his feelings down on paper before they came spilling out of his mouth and making a fool of him. Of course, Phichit had turned out to be an amazing roommate and training partner, and while Yuuri considered Phichit to be a treasured friend and was sad to be apart from him now, the idea of a relationship was laughable.
As for the rest, he had been “in love” with Yuuko at seven years old, had known Mei Nakamura for all of two weeks, and had had one conversation with Jeremy Meyers that happened to coincide with an especially inconvenient rush of teenage hormones. And Victor Nikoforov… well, his bi awakening had to happen sometime, and everyone is entitled to a celebrity crush or two, right? Yes, it’s a good thing he restricts his thoughts of romance to the form of secret letters that will never see the light of day. He doesn’t need the potential complications and heartbreak of an actual relationship.
He replaces the lid of the box and sets it aside. He shoves a few armfuls of clothes into drawers until the suitcase is mostly empty. Blinking blearily, he falls back on his bed and decides the rest can wait until his body has recovered from the abuse of the last twenty-four hours of travel.
Axel has admired Uncle Yuuri for all her life, even though she’s never met him. She and Lutz and Loop faithfully watch every competition, collect every poster, and grab Mama’s phone whenever they can, to check Uncle Yuuri’s roommate’s instagram for new pictures of him. Ever since Mama told her that Uncle Yuuri is coming home she has been asking when she will be able to see him. She doesn’t understand why Mama gets so frustrated when she asks again, now; it’s been at least five minutes since the last time she asked.
The walk over to the onsen is taking forever. And it’s boring. It would be so much better if people could skate wherever they needed to go. Uncle Yuuri would probably want to skate instead of walk, too. Here they are, now. Auntie Mari says that Uncle Yuuri is sleeping and they have to wait until next time to meet him. But Axel really wants to meet him now; she’s been waiting forever, so that’s more important. A quick huddle with Lutz and Loop and the special triplet sneak technique is in action, allowing Axel to get away without the grownups noticing, while the other two make it seem like all three of them are still there.
Down the hall and to the left is Uncle Yuuri’s old room. One time, she and Lutz and Loop were supposed to stay overnight at Grandma’s house, but she missed her own room so much, she couldn’t fall asleep and had to go back home. Uncle Yuuri has probably been missing his room all this time, and that’s where he would want to sleep now. She carefully nudges the door open and peers inside. She barely contains her excited gasp as she realizes she was right; Uncle Yuuri is here, sprawled out on his bed, and a bit of drool is dribbling out of the corner of his mouth.
“Uncle Yuuri, wake up!” she whispers, as loudly as she dares, because if a grownup back in the main room hears her they will come and get her before she can talk to Uncle Yuuri. “Uncle Yuuri, we walked all the way to the onsen to meet you and we’ve been waiting forever. Please wake up so I can tell you how I can skate almost as amazing as you, and then you can go right back to sleep, I promise.”
Axel reaches out to poke him in the side, but he just grumbles in his sleep and rolls over. He’s not waking up. Maybe he’s too sleepy. Her lower lip starts to tremble and she fights back tears. This is just so disappointing. She’s waited so long. Uncle Yuuri shifts again and something falls to the floor with a soft thump. A box is upside-down on the floor and the lid has come off. She bends down to look and finds a few letters. Axel loves getting letters in the mail, and she’s been asking Mama if she can send a letter to a friend sometime. Uncle Yuuri is probably going to be really busy with all the friends and family who want to see him again now that he’s back home... and Papa says if she’s going to be sneaky she should try doing nice sneaky things instead of ‘mischief’.
Her mind is made up. She collects all the letters that fell out of the box. She’s going to do a nice sneaky thing and put Uncle Yuuri’s letters in the mail for him.
Chapter 2: Jump and Spin
Victor confronts Yuuri about a letter he received.
I know some of this must seem contrived, and a better writer could probably make things seem more natural. But I'm still learning, so, it is what it is.
Yuuri blinks against sudden bright light. His head hurts and his back is cold. Something — no, someone — moves into view, eclipsing the lights shining down from the high ceiling of the arena.
“Yuuri? Yuuri! Are you okay? I’m sorry, that was stupid. I should have waited until we were off the ice.”
That voice… no. No way. Victor Nikiforov’s face is hovering above him, brow furrowed, eyes worried. This is a dream. I’m dreaming.
Yuuri manages to slur a confused, “What happened…?” and lifts himself up onto his elbows. Shifting his weight onto one side, he gingerly touches the back of his head. Ouch. That must have been a bad fall. He feels his face flush. Falling in front of Victor Nikiforov, as if this situation could get any worse. Memories flood back into his mind and his eyes widen as they drift to look at Victor’s hand, at the envelope clutched there.
Yuuri’s hand flies to his mouth. “No… no. No, no, nonononono. ”
He had been practicing the day before he was supposed to skate his short program at World’s. He had heard someone call to him and turned to see Victor skating towards him with an envelope in his hand. Victor had looked awkward, embarrassed. He had said something about being flattered, appreciating the sentiment but being unable to reciprocate… and then Yuuri had noticed his own handwriting on the front of the envelope. The roaring in his ears had built up until it had drowned out everything else, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up on the ice.
He almost wishes he hadn't woken up. It was one thing to get a cringy love letter from a fan, another thing to get one from a fellow skater Victor would have to see at competitions. Well. After this Yuuri is pretty sure Victor won’t have to see him anymore. Because the earth is going to open up and swallow him whole. At least there’s that.
“...Yuuri? Can you hear me?” Oh. Victor has been talking to him. He looks uncertain. “Do you want me to go get your friend? I saw him just a moment ago...”
“My friend?” Yuuri tries to blink away the fog clouding his thoughts. Concussion, maybe.
“Yes, your friend, Phichit. We should really get you to medical...” Victor looks around. “Oh, good, he’s coming over here now!”
The world feels like it goes into slow motion as Yuuri turns to look in the direction Victor is facing. Phichit is approaching, a concerned expression on his face, but something else is there too. Yuuri doesn’t want to find out, but his eyes betray him as they shift downward to see that Phichit, too, is holding an envelope. This can’t be happening.
Yuuri turns back to Victor. Later, he wouldn’t be able to explain exactly what went through his mind in that moment, only that he knew he couldn’t face Phichit and had to do something to avoid that confrontation.
That’s how he finds himself lying on the ice, kissing Victor Nikiforov in front of dozens of people.
“Victor! Would you care to comment on your relationship with fellow skater Yuuri Katsuki?”
“How long have you been seeing each other?”
“Have you been keeping your relationship secret?”
“Does Christophe know you are seeing someone new after your dramatic breakup earlier this year?”
Victor pushes through the media storm surrounding him as he makes his way out of the arena. After suddenly pulling him down into a kiss, Yuuri had broken it off with a string of expletives, scrambled to his feet, and skated away with impressive speed before anyone could react to what had just happened.
What had just happened? Victor looks down at the letter in his hands. Yuuri was clearly harboring feelings for him, but his behavior didn’t make much sense. Why had he fainted on the ice after Victor tried to ask him about it? Why had he reacted the way he did only after seeing his friend approaching them? Guilt gnaws at Victor as he remembers the look of horror on Yuuri’s face right before he had fallen. Yuuri had sent the letter to Victor, hadn’t he? Victor had assumed that Yuuri would have expected a conversation about it the next time they saw each other, but he had seemed shocked that Victor had approached him. Obviously it had been a bad idea to ask him about it right then. It was bad form to distract another skater during practice; he should have waited until he had had a chance to speak to him off of the ice. If anything, he’s lucky that Yuuri had kissed him, as bizarre as that had been, or else his own behavior is what everyone would be focusing on now.
Victor taps his finger against his mouth as he contemplates what to do next. Yuuri had taken a hard fall on the ice and should really be checked out for a concussion. Where would he have gone? Looking around, he notices Phichit in the parking lot speaking to his coach, Celestino Cialdini. Victor hesitates. Cialdini is probably not very happy with him for arguably being the cause of his skater’s potential injury.
Phichit is walking away now, but Cialdini is still there, frowning at his phone. Victor approaches slowly. He takes a breath. “Excuse me, sir!”
Cialdini looks up, his eyes narrowed. “Nikiforov. What the fuck? I know things got a little out of hand at the banquet a few months ago, and if you want to make out with Yuuri that’s none of my business, but in the middle of the ice during practice? Jesus.”
Victor opens and closes his mouth a few times. Is that what it had looked like? Is that what everyone thought had happened? His PR agency is not going to be happy about this. “Me? Make out with Yuuri? No, no, no… you have the wrong idea. He pulled me down to him, completely out of nowhere!”
Cialdini is frowning, skeptical. “That doesn’t sound anything like Yuuri. If he were in the habit of doing this sort of thing, I think I would know.”
Victor nods. That makes sense. The way Yuuri had kissed him on the ice hadn’t seemed the most experienced. “I understand. I don’t think he’s quite himself right now. Maybe it’s because of a concussion?”
Cialdini sighs impatiently. “I don’t have time to debate this. As you’ve just mentioned, he may have a concussion. I may not have been coaching him for the past few months, but I still need to find him and make sure he gets checked out properly.” Victor blinks. Why wouldn’t Cialdini have been coaching Yuuri?
Cialdini glances back down at his phone. “I need to find out if he’s gone to a rink nearby. He likes to skate alone whenever he’s feeling worked up about something.”
Cialdini looks up at him again. Some of the concern Victor is feeling must be showing through on his face, because Cialdini’s expression softens. “If you really want to help, you can go check some of these places in person while I call around; they might not answer.”
“Are you sure he would have gone to a rink? Not a doctor?” What if Yuuri had been injured worse than he thought? Could he be lying dead in a ditch somewhere? He definitely shouldn’t be skating after hitting his head like that.
“It’s the best place to start looking. If he goes to a doctor, they’ll call me anyway.”
Victor nods again. Cialdini would know best. This might end up being a long night, but he feels partly responsible for what happened, and this is the least he can do.
As luck would have it, the first place Victor decides to check is where he finds Yuuri. What he doesn’t expect to see is the routine Yuuri is performing. Victor stands silently, mouth agape, as he watches Yuuri move beautifully through the steps of Victor’s own free program. There is no music playing, but it’s as though he can hear every note just from watching Yuuri’s movements on the ice. How could he have missed that Yuuri’s skating was so expressive? He’s simplified some of the more technical aspects, of course, but would easily beat Victor’s performance score if he skated like this in competition.
Yuuri finishes the final spin looking upward, arms folded above him, chest rising and falling heavily, and Victor can’t stop the cheer that bubbles out of him of its own volition. “Amazing!”
Yuuri whirls around to face him, eyes wide, and Victor internally chastises himself for nearly causing Yuuri to fall for the second time in one evening.
“What are you doing here? Oh my god! How long have you been watching?” Yuuri’s words come out fast, and he’s starting to hyperventilate.
Victor waves his hands in front of himself placatingly. “No, no, it’s fine! That was incredible!” Victor smiles wide, trying to look reassuring.
Yuuri stares at him. Then he blinks, and his face flushes bright red. “I kissed you. I kissed you in the middle of practice in front of everyone.”
Victor shakes his head. “You hit your head pretty hard. You weren’t thinking straight. It’s okay. The media are having a lot of fun with it, though.” Victor rolls his eyes. “They’ll jump on anything they can spin as drama in my love life.” Then, realizing that he has just stood by and watched Yuuri skate a challenging routine with a head injury, “What do you think you’re doing, skating like that with a potential concussion? We have to get you some medical attention! And I need to call Cialdini.” Victor sets his mouth in a hard line and frowns, hoping he looks serious enough that Yuuri won’t argue with him.
Yuuri groans and squeezes his eyes shut. “Please don’t. I’ll go to the doctor, but I really don’t want to hear Celestino yell at me for the next two hours about how irresponsible I’ve been.”
Victor sighs. “He’s worried about you. He needs to know you’re alright. Let me tell him I’ve found you, but that I’ll take you to the doctor myself, that we have it handled without him.”
Yuuri puffs out his cheeks and looks upward, running his hand through his hair. Cute. He exhales loudly, and says, “Fine, okay. Let’s go.”
Victor leads Yuuri to his car. Seems they’ll have a chance to have that conversation, after all.
Chapter 3: Yuuri Katsuki and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Yuuri and Victor have a heart to heart.
Yuuri rests his head against the car window and wraps his arms around himself as he tries to focus his attention on the drifting patterns of light and shadow outside. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Victor glancing his way every few minutes, and the silence stretches awkwardly between them. The day has been so horrible it almost seems unreal, and he wonders if he might find himself waking up in his hotel room and breathing a sigh of relief that this was all just a stress nightmare. It would make sense; the pressure of the competition looming has been fraying his nerves.
Victor clears his throat. “Yuuri, I want to talk to you about your letter. As much as I appreciate your thinking that ‘my eyes sparkle with the beauty of the ice’...”
Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. “Oh, god.” Why did his teenage self have to be so dramatic? The earth can go ahead and open up any time now.
Victor seems unaware of Yuuri’s internal agony as he continues, “You’re wonderful, but I’m just not in a good place right now to be getting into a new relationship. Chris and I broke up a few months ago, but things are still so complicated—”
Yuuri turns and really looks at Victor for the first time since getting into the car. He frowns. This is a lot more of an explanation than he would have expected in response to a stupid fan love letter. “Victor, are you trying to reject me? Because I’m not interested. No, I mean—!” Ugh, why can't he string a coherent sentence together? “I’m interested in what you have to say, in you as a person, but I’m not interested in a relationship. With you. Or anyone, really.”
While he had been talking, Yuuri thought he had seen Victor’s mouth start to form a pout, but now Victor is smiling and tilting his head. Maybe he’d imagined it. “Yuuri… you sent me a letter expressing your undying love. If that doesn’t suggest interest, what does?” Victor’s voice is gentle. Maybe he thinks Yuuri is still addled by the knock to the head.
The car has stopped. Yuuri realizes they’ve arrived, but neither of them make a move to get out of the car.
“I have no idea how you even got that letter. I wrote it when I was fourteen. I thought you were the love of my life because your skating made me feel… things. Things I didn’t realize boys could make me feel.” Yuuri blushes and focuses on his hands in his lap.
“... Oh.” Then, after a pause, “Why did you write a love letter to me if you didn’t intend to send it?” Yuuri can’t bring himself to look at Victor, but he just knows he must have an intensely pitying expression on his face. Of course this doesn’t make any sense to Victor; Yuuri can hardly explain it to himself, let alone another person.
Yuuri covers his face with his hands. “That’s the worst part. It wasn’t just you. There were five letters.”
He nearly jumps out of his seat when Victor suddenly laughs. It’s hearty, genuine, and a little bit ridiculous. Yuuri has never heard Victor laugh like this in recorded interviews. He can’t help but look up and smile when he sees Victor with his head thrown back, wiping tears from his eyes. Then, remembering that Victor is laughing at him, he glances away again, biting his lip.
Victor touches his hand and Yuuri looks at him again. He’s not laughing anymore, and his smile is soft. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh at you. You just surprised me. It was an impressively heartfelt letter! And you’ve written five!” Victor strokes his thumb gently against the back of Yuuri’s hand. “It just means you’re a very passionate person!”
Yuuri blinks against the stinging sensation in his eyes and laughs weakly. He doesn’t deserve this attention and kindness from Victor Nikiforov, who really has much more important things to be doing than comforting some crazy fan the night before a major competition.
“Look, Yuuri… You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but… why did you kiss me on the ice, really?” Victor is still holding his hand. It feels nice. And when he says Yuuri’s name, with that accent… Ugh, maybe his brain is still addled by that fall. But it really would be nice to talk to someone, and Victor seems to genuinely want to listen. Yuuri sighs heavily.
“You know my friend, Phichit? He was coming towards us when I… you know.” He feels his face heat up, again. He wishes he could borrow Victor’s unflappability for a while. “We were roommates and training partners in the US until I moved back home recently.” Yuuri exhales shakily.
Victor nods, and gently squeezes Yuuri’s hand.
“I write letters to sort my feelings out privately so I don’t do something stupid like actually tell someone I love them. I always get over it eventually, and saying something would just complicate things, so why bother?”
Yuuri hears a noise of protest from Victor, but now that he has started to explain, he finds he wants to continue.
“It’s one thing to find out you got my letter. That’s embarrassing, of course. But honestly, it doesn’t really change my life. But Phichit had a letter too; I saw him holding it. I think it’s safe to assume all my letters were sent.” His stomach twists and he feels himself start to shiver. One of the more annoying symptoms of anxiety.
“Phichit is my best friend. And I don’t… make friends easily. I have a hard time opening up to people. I could tell him I don’t have feelings for him anymore, which is the truth, but would he believe me? Can we still be friends, after this, or will everything change?” His voice breaks, and he feels a traitorous tear escape down his cheek. He pulls off his glasses so he can wipe it away roughly. Keep it together. “I don’t want to lose him.”
Yuuri takes a deep, stabilizing breath and looks Victor directly in the eye. Victor meets his gaze calmly and Yuuri is suddenly aware of his own rapid heartbeat. “I’m sorry for kissing you like that. I guess, in the moment, I panicked. Maybe I thought that if he saw me kissing you, he wouldn’t think I was in love with him? I know it doesn’t make any sense. Maybe you’re right that I wasn’t thinking straight, but I don’t want to make excuses. I shouldn’t have done that to you, and I hope you can forgive me.”
Victor graces him with a sunny smile, and says, “You surprised me, but I didn't mind so much. I forgive you!”
Yuuri looks exhausted and defeated as they make their way into the hotel lobby. The examination had revealed that while Yuuri’s head injury wasn’t too serious, another hit to the head within the next twenty-four hours could be dangerous. Which means, of course, that performing his short program tomorrow is out of the question. A devastating outcome for any skater, but Yuuri seems to be taking it particularly hard. His shoulders are hunched, and both of his hands are gripping the strap of his skate bag so hard that his knuckles are white.
Victor furrows his brow and tries to think of something helpful to say. He wishes he could reach out and take Yuuri’s hand again, since that had seemed to work well enough in the car, but Yuuri’s posture is so defensive that he can’t think of a way to do that without making things awkward. Yuuri hadn’t said anything during their trip back to the hotel, and the notion of breaking that silence is daunting, to say the least.
They reach the elevator and Yuuri quickly taps one of the buttons and then slouches against the wall. Victor’s suite is in another wing of the hotel, but…
“Let me walk you to your room, at least.” His voice somehow seems to echo within the tiny space of the elevator. Yuuri just nods mechanically.
The elevator dings, the doors slide open, and they walk silently down the hall towards Yuuri’s room. They pass a few other people in the hall who stare at them a little too long for Victor’s comfort. He’s used to people gawking at him, but this feels different. Gossip always spreads quickly within the figure skating world, he supposes.
Yuuri stops at one of the rooms and turns to Victor. His voice is quiet as he breaks his silence for the first time since hearing the news. “I don’t know why you’re being so nice to me, but, um, thanks. You've been really understanding. I hope I didn’t ruin the competition for you, since you didn’t get any practice time today.”
Victor smiles wide. “I may not have been able to practice for tomorrow, but have a few ideas for how I can improve my free program after watching a beautiful skater perform his version of it.” He catches Yuuri’s eye and winks.
Yuuri blinks and his eyes go wide. “Victor! Stop teasing!” His face flushes and Victor catches a glimpse of a small smile before Yuuri covers his face with his hands. “There’s nothing you could learn from watching me.” Has he managed to say something right? If Yuuri is smiling, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?
Yuuri lowers his hands and his expression grows somber. Victor deflates a little. I guess it’s not going to be that easy. He tries again, more seriously. “Yuuri. I mean it. You are an amazing skater. Watching you skate my routine was inspiring. I’m so sorry you have to sit this one out, but there will be other competitions! I can’t wait to see you reach your full potential.”
Victor looks on in horror as Yuuri bursts into tears. Oh no. What has he done now? He’s never been good with handling other people’s emotions. He should have just said goodnight and given Yuuri some space; obviously his attempts at cheering him up have failed utterly. “I’m sorry! Yuuri! What did I say? What can I do?”
Yuuri scrubs roughly at his face, knocking his glasses askew. Victor has to stop himself from reaching out to straighten them. “You don’t understand, Victor. After humiliating myself at the Grand Prix final, and my mediocre performance at Nationals, this was my chance to redeem myself. To prove that I still deserve to be here, sharing the ice with people like you .” Yuuri stifles a sob and Victor just wants to hug him.
“So… if I can’t prove that to myself, I don’t know if there will be any other competitions. I’ve had a lot of chances to ‘reach my full potential’... maybe this is it. Maybe it’s time for me to admit that I don’t have what it takes, and retire.” He falls silent, and starts searching his pockets for his key card.
The idea of never seeing Yuuri Katsuki skate in another competition is heartbreaking. Sure, his jumps could use some work. But jumps are just jumps; technical ability can be learned with adequate teaching and conditioning. Yuuri’s skating is musical and expressive, and he seems to have no idea whatsoever how rare and wonderful a skater he is! Victor clenches his jaw. Celestino Cialdini has been a neglectful coach if he hasn’t been telling Yuuri these things every single day.
Victor hesitates. Yuuri is clearly exhausted, but he might be too worked up to get the rest he needs. He's not sure if Yuuri would appreciate much physical contact right now, so he tentatively reaches out to gently touch his shoulder. Yuuri’s hands cease their rummaging and he meets Victor’s gaze.
Victor hopes he can say something to make a difference for Yuuri. “You've had a long, awful day. A lot of unpleasant surprises, emotional and physical. Don't make any big decisions tonight, just get some rest.” He tries to smile reassuringly. “I don't skate until late tomorrow, and Yakov hates it if I overdo it in practice on the day of a competition. I'll come see how you're doing in the morning.”
Yuuri stares at Victor for what seems like forever. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, and nods. He must have finally located his key card, because he turns and opens his door. He looks back for a moment.
“Goodnight, Victor. And good luck tomorrow.”
Victor makes his way to his own suite in a daze. It's been a long time since he last made a genuine emotional connection with someone, and here he was, filled with nervous excitement at the thought of seeing Yuuri again in the morning. A plan is starting to come together in his mind. He suspects that he and Yuuri can help each other with their respective problems. Maybe they can even be friends.
Victor has a small smile on his face as he drifts off to sleep that night.
Chapter 4: Do It For The Gram
Yuuri is not a morning person. Victor has a plan. Phichit takes a selfie.
Bright light floods through a gap in the hotel room curtains, and Yuuri grumbles and pulls the comforter over his head. He has a splitting headache and his eyes feel like they’ve been stuffed full of sand. He rolls over and tries to fall back asleep, but it’s still too bright. If the sun could fuck right off for at least another hour, that’d be great. He could get up and fix the curtains, but that would mean getting out of bed. He huffs a sigh. He probably does need to start getting ready soon, though. He doesn’t skate until later in the day, but he has a lot of things to do to prepare…
What time is it, anyway? Why didn’t my alarm go off?
Yuuri frowns, and tries to think through the sleepy fog still plaguing his mind. In a rush, the events of the previous day come back to him and he scrambles to sit up, gripping the comforter with both fists in his lap, knuckles white, eyes wide.
Inexplicably being taken care of by a very patient Victor Nikiforov, who definitely had better things to be doing last night. Victor finding him skating. Victor, with his letter. Phichit with his letter. Kissing Victor on the ice. Fuuuuck.
Yuuri groans and flops back down on the bed. He hadn’t been dreaming after all. Which meant he wouldn’t be competing later today. Or maybe ever. His stomach twists and a current of jittery energy runs through his body. He tries taking a few calming breaths.
His phone isn’t on the nightstand. He rolls over onto his stomach and lets his arm flop over the edge of the bed, fumbling around to find his jacket. Last night he’d just collapsed into bed after stripping off his outer layers and letting them lie wherever they fell.
After some rummaging around, he locates his phone and rolls onto his back. He nearly drops his phone on his face when he squints at the screen and sees a barrage of missed calls and messages from Phichit and Celestino. There’s a missed call from the onsen, as well. Probably Mari wanting to ask him why the internet is going crazy over him kissing Victor fucking Nikiforov. Or maybe it was Yuuko, who would have also received a letter. But she would definitely have noticed it had been written by a child, right? That particular crush is a well-known relic of the past for both of them.
A sudden knock at the door results in him actually dropping his phone on his face. “Ow, fuck!”
“Yuuri? Is everything okay?”
No, everything is not okay. But if that voice belongs to who he thinks it belongs to, maybe… some things… might be a little bit okay.
He looks down at himself still wearing yesterday’s rumpled clothes. With no small degree of apprehension, he lifts an arm and sniffs. Eugh . Nope. Nope nope nope. He’s not answering the door like this.
“Uhhh… just a minute, please!!”
He takes the fastest shower of his life. Emerging from the bathroom, he towels off his hair with one hand while brushing his teeth with the other. After blindly pulling a random selection of shirts, pants, and underwear out of his suitcase, he hops around ungracefully pulling on his pants while one arm is still stuck inside his shirt trying to locate the sleeve.
Is Victor even still here? Would he have waited this long? Yuuri presses his face up against the door to spy through the peephole.
There he is. Victor Nikiforov, looking around awkwardly, holding a to-go cup in each hand. Yuuri never expected he would associate 'Victor' and 'awkward' in the same thought, but Victor has managed to surprise him in a few ways in the past twenty-four hours; this is just one more.
Yuuri opens the door.
Victor has been standing in the hallway just long enough to start to feel uncomfortable with the lingering stares of passersby when the door finally opens to reveal a slightly disheveled Yuuri. Still-damp hair is slicked back with a few locks escaping to dangle in front of Yuuri’s forehead. He’s not wearing his glasses, and his dark eyes are narrowed with intensity. Victor glances downward. Yuuri is holding the door wide open with one arm and bracing against the doorframe with the other, and his t-shirt is pulled taut against his chest as a result, the material clinging to not-quite-dry skin. He’s breathing hard.
Victor feels his heart thudding in his chest. Memories of drinking and dancing spring to mind unbidden, and he forcibly redirects his thoughts to the present. It’s normal to feel nervous about developing a new friendship, right? It’s overly warm in this hallway. He’ll have to speak to the hotel manager about maintaining appropriate temperature control.
Victor clears his throat and forces his gaze back up to meet Yuuri’s eyes. He plasters a smile onto his face. “Good morning, Yuuri! How are we feeling today? Better, after a good night’s sleep?” He holds out a coffee.
Yuuri reaches out to take his drink, and the fabric of his shirt relaxes. Victor lets out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.
Yuuri’s hands fold around his cup and he lifts it to his face, inhaling deeply. His eyes close and he smiles softly. “Mmmm. You’re a literal angel. Thank you, Victor.”
Victor catches himself staring. If he’d known all it would take is a coffee to get this side of Yuuri to come out, last night could have been a lot easier on both of them.
“Oh!” He searches his pockets. “I wasn’t sure if you like it black, or if you take it with anything, so, uh...?” He had taken an assortment of sugar, sweetener, milk, and cream containers, but now he’s finding it difficult to offer them all to Yuuri while still holding his own drink in one hand. He crouches down to place his coffee on the floor of the hallway. He stands up again, blowing his hair out of his face, and holds out the lot of it towards Yuuri.
Yuuri blinks at him like he’s grown a second head. A nervous laugh bubbles out of him as he realizes that Yuuri will have just as much trouble holding his own coffee while dressing it. Yuuri seems to make the same realization, because he snorts adorably. His eyes go wide and he lifts a hand to cover his mouth. Victor can’t help the genuine smile that comes to his face, and Yuuri’s expression relaxes into a small smile.
They spend the next few moments juggling coffee and sweetener packets until they realize they have no way to stir, and the whole situation devolves into breathless laughter.
“It would probably have been easier if I had just taken you out for coffee, instead.” Victor grins, looking over at Yuuri sitting against the wall next to him.
Yuuri inclines his head. “That might not have helped your PR situation. We’re all over the internet.” He cringes. “Sorry, again.”
Victor sees his opportunity, and jumps before he can talk himself out of it. “About that… This might be a crazy suggestion, but what if we just don’t bother to correct them?” Victor looks around again to make sure no one is coming their way from down the hall.
Yuuri frowns. “What do you mean?”
“What if we let everyone think we’re together?” Victor holds his breath. This is insane. Why did he think this was a good idea? Yuuri is going to tell him to get lost and then he’s going to go to the nearest tabloid with the full scoop on how Victor Nikiforov is so desperate for a relationship that he proposed a fake one.
Yuuri is staring at him again. “Why on earth would you want that?” He looks utterly confused. That’s not a no, at least.
“Well… I don’t know if you remember, but last night I mentioned that things are complicated, with Chris.”
Yuuri looks offended. “So, what? You want to use me to make him jealous, or something?”
Ugh, he knew that would look bad. He sighs. He hasn’t talked about this with anyone, really, but if Yuuri is going to understand then Victor needs to open up. “No, no, not like that. The tabloids went nuts when we broke up, speculating wildly about the reason behind it. But there wasn’t any infidelity scandal or rejected marriage proposal or anything dramatic, honestly. The real reason was a lot simpler.”
Yuuri looks skeptical but doesn’t interrupt. Victor continues, “I’m just… not very good at relationships.” He looks down, feeling a bit ashamed. “I can be a bit self-absorbed. I’m not always attentive to others’ needs.” He blinks a few times and looks at the ceiling. “Chris has a playboy reputation, but that’s not who he really is. He wants someone he can be happy with in the long run.” He glances at Yuuri and looks away. “And that… wasn’t me.”
Yuuri is quiet for a moment, and then Victor feels a hand on his arm. He looks over. Yuuri’s expression is heartbreakingly soft. “You still love him,” he says quietly.
Victor nods. “I thought… ugh, I don’t know. I thought maybe if he could see me being a good partner to someone, he might be willing to give me another chance. But I wouldn’t want to hurt someone who actually wanted to be with me by using them in that way.”
Victor looks around. The hallway has thankfully remained deserted. The silence stretches on, and Victor wonders if he should tell him to forget the whole thing. Then, finally, Yuuri says, “Last night I told you I don’t actually want a relationship with anyone. So you thought I would be a safe choice?”
That makes it sound pretty selfish. But Victor had tried to consider Yuuri’s situation as well, when he came up with this ridiculous idea. “Well, yes. But also, I thought it might allow you to be more convincing with Phichit, when explaining that you don’t have feelings for him currently? Like how you kissed me, just... more of a long-term thing.”
Yuuri purses his lips. “I don’t know, Victor… I appreciate you thinking of me, but this would involve me lying to basically everyone in my life. I don’t even know how that would work.”
“Look, you don’t need to tell me yes or no right now.” Victor reaches over and squeezes Yuuri’s hand on his arm. “Come watch me skate tonight. If decide you want to go through with this, meet me at the kiss and cry. I’ll make sure the officials know to let you through, just in case.”
Victor gets to his feet. “I’ll give you some space to think about it. See you later, maybe? I hope we can be friends, regardless of what you choose. To be honest, I don’t make friends easily, either.” He pulls up one corner of his mouth ruefully, and turns to walk away.
He’s almost to the elevator when he hears Yuuri call his name. He spins around to face him. Yuuri is blushing hard as he almost shouts, “I would be glad to call you my friend!”
Victor smiles so wide his face hurts.
Phichit Chulanont is no stranger to Victor Nikiforov’s incredible skating. All season long, Victor has been consistently technically flawless and beautiful to watch. Some commentators had noted that there was a ‘melancholic tone’ to his skating which wasn’t entirely explained by his chosen theme. Phichit hadn’t been sure about that; it made more sense that Victor was just getting bored with winning after five straight years of gold, gold, gold.
Watching Victor perform his short program now, though, he’s questioning everything, because something is definitely different this time. Victor seems to have found a new source of inspiration, because this is absolutely going to be his season’s best short program score. Phichit suspects it probably has something to do with the baffling events of the day before.
The bizarre letter he had received from Yuuri last week had been so confusing that Phichit had been hesitant to try to sort things out via texting, which was possibly a lifetime first for him. He’d expected that Yuuri might be nervous about seeing him at World’s after sending him a love letter (what.) , but he hadn’t expected to see him making out with Victor Nikiforov (again, what???) in the middle of practice. He’s surprised Victor even knows who Yuuri is; the way Yuuri tells it, he’d been humiliated at Sochi when Victor had mistaken him for a fan wanting a photo with him.
Phichit checks his phone again and frowns. Still nothing. After the way Yuuri bolted the day before, Phichit’s given up on catching him to talk in person, but now he’s not responding to texts either. Worry gnaws at him and Phichit tries to shake the feeling. Everything’s probably fine. He’d pestered Celestino and found out that Yuuri was okay, but that he wasn’t going to be able to compete, and he knows Yuuri couldn’t have taken that news well. If Yuuri were really freaking out, he’d know that he can still count on Phichit, weird love letter or no, right?
The crowd suddenly goes nuts — the noise is deafening. People are whooping and cheering and frantically pulling out their phones to take pictures. Phichit looks up from his own phone and tries to find the source of the commotion. His mouth falls open. There on the jumbotron, being broadcast live to millions of viewers worldwide, his best friend is being thoroughly kissed by Victor Nikiforov.
He can’t help it. The selfie opportunity is too great to pass up. He frames himself looking up at the two skaters in the kiss and cry on the jumbotron and doesn’t have to try hard to put on his best 'what the fuuuuck' face. He’ll worry about sorting out what in the world is going on with Yuuri when he has the chance. For now, his followers are going to go insane.
Chapter 5: Demands and Promises
Yuuri introduces Victor to a local delicacy.
Yuuri swears his heart is about to pound its way out of his chest. The sensation of Victor kissing him had drowned out everything else, but now that it’s over, the world is rushing back in. Victor’s thumb is resting softly against his cheek, fingers gentle along the side of his neck. The other hand is still tangled in his hair.
“You did great, Yuuri. Very convincing.” Victor’s voice is close and quiet.
The crowd is so loud, it’s overwhelming. He’s vaguely aware of the announcer stating the scores, but the voice over the speaker just sounds like a jumble of noise.
He feels like every nerve in his body is firing at once. Is this a good feeling? This is a lot. Too much. His breaths are coming quick and shallow and he squeezes his eyes shut. He’s aware that cameras are still on him from all directions. Now is really not a good time for a panic attack. One, two, three, four… He focuses all of his energy into counting out each breath.
He opens his eyes. Victor looks worried. Probably wondering if his new fake boyfriend is about to fuck everything up less than five minutes after agreeing to this arrangement.
Victor leans in to speak close to his ear. “We can go out the back way.”
Yuuri nods. They might be able to avoid the bulk of the press mob that way. Victor pulls on his skate guards and stands up, smiling and waving at the crowd. In skates, Victor towers over Yuuri in sneakers. Heh. It feels like a metaphor, considering their respective places in the figure skating world. He ducks his head and tries his best to put on a smile for the crowd and the cameras.
Victor laces their fingers together and leads the way out of the rink.
Once they’re through a few sets of doors, the noise from the crowd drops off dramatically and Yuuri can breathe again.
“Are you alright?” Victor asks, frowning. “You seemed to be… struggling? For a moment, back there.”
Is he alright? Yuuri chews his lip and tries to figure out exactly what set him off. The crowd was a factor, for sure, but also...
“I’m…” He hesitates. “I’m okay. I’m just not used to that sort of thing.”
Victor tilts his head, one eyebrow raised. “The crowd? I know it was a little over the top tonight, but you’ve dealt with your share of fans and fame, no?”
Yuuri blushes and looks away. “No, not the crowd. I mean... um.” Ugh, this is embarrassing. “The kissing.” He clears his throat and looks at Victor.
“It wasn’t good?” Victor chuckles and shakes his head. “Maybe I have more to work on than I thought.”
Yuuri cringes. “No, it was… really nice. I just, uh. Yesterday, with you, that was a first for me.” Victor looks stricken. He’s probably not looking forward to faking his way through a relationship with someone who has no experience whatsoever. “I’m just realizing that since I’ve never been in a relationship, anything we do for show will be a much bigger deal for me than it is for you. It’s a little overwhelming, I guess.”
“Oh my god, Yuuri!” Victor grabs him by the shoulders and Yuuri stares up at him, eyes wide. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to! I thought kissing you would be alright, because you initiated the first time, but if you’re not comfortable I won’t do it again. Jesus, I’m an ass!” Victor turns away and looks up and looks up at the ceiling, one hand sliding down his face.
“I knew you were… reserved, when it came to romance. But I didn’t realize you had never… ” Victor sighs, dropping his hands to his sides. “We can call the whole thing off, if you don’t want to do this. I don’t care how strange it will look.”
Yuuri shakes his head. “No, no. I do want to do this. We can help each other. And I’ll get over it, about the kissing… it’s not like anyone will believe we’re in a relationship if we never kiss!”
The determination on Victor’s face is almost intimidating. He takes both of Yuuri’s hands in his, and his tone leaves no room for argument when he says, “No. We can find other ways of expressing affection that you’re comfortable with. You deserve some real firsts, with someone you really love.”
Someone I love? Yuuri wonders. That’s not the hard part. Aloud, though, he says, “Yeah, sure. One day.” He forces a smile.
His stomach gurgles. Oh, right. He hasn’t eaten much today. Last time he’d experienced bad news right before a competition, he’d demonstrated a shameful lack of control and eaten a lot of high calorie junk. He may have somewhat overcorrected this time.
Victor seems to have noticed his audible hunger pangs. “Let’s go out to eat! We can work out the particulars of our arrangement over dinner. I’m sure there are some good places around here!”
Victor grips his fork and pokes trepidatiously at one of the gravy-smothered cheese curds nestled amongst his fries.
“Just try it!” Yuuri smiles, eyes crinkling. “I was skeptical at first, too, but I learned to love it while I lived in Detroit. Did you know some people say Michigan is Canada’s eleventh province?”
Victor lifts his fork to get a closer look and narrows his eyes suspiciously. Normally he’s very open to experiencing international cuisine, but this combination just seems strange. He pops it into his mouth. The flavor isn’t bad, actually. He starts to chew, and his eyes go wide. He raises a hand to cover his mouth. “Yuuri, why is my cheese squeaking?!”
Yuuri laughs, and it’s a wonderful sound. “That’s how you know it’s authentic! It’s not real poutine without the squeak.” He pokes around with his fork and lifts it to show Victor. “It’s best to get a combination of fries and curds, and make sure there’s enough gravy on every bite.” Yuuri’s eyes close blissfully as he closes his lips around his fork.
The noise Yuuri makes while enjoying his mouthful of poutine is sinful. Victor chokes on his squeaky cheese.
“Victor!” Yuuri jumps up. “Hang on, I’ll go get some water!”
By the time Victor has recovered from his coughing fit, Yuuri has returned with a glass of water for him. He takes a sip and lets his gaze drift toward the park across the street. He doesn’t trust himself to look at Yuuri right now. Kissing him freaked him out badly enough, he doesn’t need me practically drooling over him like this. Sure, Yuuri is attractive, but he’s made it clear that he’s not comfortable with their pretend relationship crossing that line. Victor resolves to bury his feelings of attraction and keep things strictly professional, like Yuuri wants. He needs to figure out some relatively innocent way for them to maintain the image of a genuine relationship.
Victor turns back to Yuuri, contemplative. “Could I hug you?” he suggests.
Yuuri drops a forkful of poutine onto the floor. “O-oh! What, here? Right now? S-sure, I guess?”
Victor groans and rubs a hand down his face. He needs to learn how to communicate properly.
Yuuri looks confused for a moment, and then flushes bright red. “Ohhh, of course, uh. You mean, like, in general. In terms of our agreement. W-why would you want to hug me?” He laughs, high and nervous. “Obviously, you wouldn’t.” He drops his head onto his folded arms on the table.
Did Yuuri… want him to hug him? Or want him to want to hug him? Or had he just agreed because he thought that was what Victor had been asking for? “I could hug you now, if that’s what you want?” he asks, unsure.
Yuuri shakes his head without looking up. “N-no, Victor, you don’t need to hug me, it’s okay. I just misunderstood, sorry,” he says, voice muffled.
“But, in terms of our agreement, would that be alright, generally speaking?” Victor frowns, hoping he’s being clear enough this time.
Yuuri nods, still facedown on the table. “Sure, yes, I can live with that,” he says, tone unreadable.
Victor tries to think of more overt romantic gestures that Yuuri might be able to accept, maybe even something he would genuinely appreciate. “I could write you romantic notes --- like your letters?”
Yuuri lifts his head and looks at Victor. “You’d do that?” he asks, softly.
Victor’s heart skips a beat. He clears his throat. “Yeah, I mean. It seems like something a good relationship partner would do, yes? A-and I could give them to you when the media might catch it, and Chris might find out.” But… he hadn’t actually been thinking of Chris at all when he came up with that idea, had he? Chris is the whole reason behind this, he reminds himself; he doesn’t necessarily have to be explicitly thinking about him to come up with good ideas to that end.
“... Right. Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Yuuri says, after a beat.
Victor realizes there are a few other things he’ll have to ask of Yuuri if they want things to be convincing. “You’ll have to come to the banquet with me, of course. And any others while we still want to keep up appearances.”
“Ugh,” Yuuri groans. “I hate those things. I either stand in the corner alone the whole time, or I have too much to drink and embarrass myself.” Victor raises his eyebrows. He supposes Yuuri had been fairly intoxicated at the last one. “But I guess you’re right, it wouldn’t make sense for your boyfriend not to be there with you,” Yuuri says, sighing.
Yuuri’s expression shifts suddenly, a fierceness behind his gaze. Victor blinks. What’s he thinking of?
“I don’t want to go to these events and have people look at me like I’m just some failed figure skater who happens to be ‘Victor’s date’! I need to be better than that. If I’m going to do this, I… I want you to help me with my jumps!”
Victor laughs delightedly. “I would love to, Yuuri!” Another idea begins to form in Victor’s mind. I wonder if he’ll agree… “If I am going to spend time whipping you into shape as a skater, there’s something else I want in return. Something I’ve always wanted to do with a special someone.”
Yuuri looks apprehensive. “What is it?”
“Let’s skate together for the exhibition after the next Grand Prix Final!” Victor feels excitement bubbling in his chest.
Yuuri frowns. Oh. Victor had hoped he would be excited, too. “I don’t know the first thing about pair skating, Victor…”
Maybe he just needs to explain himself better. “I’ve just always found it so fascinating. What could be a more perfect expression of total trust and cooperation? Every move one skater makes relies on the other to be right there, perfectly in sync, the perfect complement, completely supporting each other. If I could perform a routine like that with someone... it would prove that I can do those same things in a relationship!”
Yuuri looks skeptical. “Do you really think we’ll still be doing this by the next Grand Prix Final? That’s practically at the end of the year! Hopefully, Chris is the one you’ll be able to skate with. And he's a better match for you on the ice, too.”
Yuuri makes a good point; he's getting ahead of himself. “Yes. Of course,” Victor concedes. “You’re right. How about this? If we’re still pretending in a few months, we’ll start practicing just in case.”
After a moment of further hesitation, Yuuri replies, “Sure, Victor. If it's that important to you, we can do it.”
Victor smiles, relaxing. He leans back in his seat and looks out the window again. The park across the street is quite large, with an open central area and trees lining the edges. Tonight, the central area is brightly lit and quite busy. An event, perhaps? People are milling around in the middle. Victor leans over to get a better look around the trees, and gasps excitedly, sitting up straight.
“Yuuri! I think they have an outdoor skating rink set up in the park!” He’s struck by a wave of nostalgia. His mother had taken him skating in a similar place in his hometown as a small child, before it had become a full-time competitive sport for him. He smiles wistfully. “Shall we go for a stroll in the park?”
He pushes away from the table and gets to his feet, offering his arm to Yuuri with a flourish.
Chapter 6: Stammi Vicino
Yuuri thinks back on his evening with Victor. Phichit does some digging and delivers a warning to Victor. Victor prepares to perform his free skate.
Yuuri shuts his hotel room door and leans against it, eyes closed. He’s starting to understand why people willingly put themselves through the risk of heartbreak for the sake of a relationship. Tonight, he supposes, could be considered his first fake date with Victor, and it had actually been very... perfect. Nice. It had been very nice. The small smile on his face slowly spreads into a wider grin, and he wraps his arms around himself to somehow try to contain the bubbly feeling expanding inside his chest.
The chill of the not-quite-spring evening air had initially caused Yuuri to curse his lack of mittens, but when he’d started to put his hands in his pockets, Victor had laced their fingers together instead, winking at Yuuri and glancing conspicuously at the people already starting to gawk at them and pull out their phones. With the number of people attending the public skating event in the park, photos of Victor holding hands with his latest love interest were bound to spread like wildfire on social media. Victor’s hand had been warm enough to keep him comfortable, maybe even better than mittens.
They’d sat on one of the benches surrounding the outdoor rink and watched the skaters making their way around the ice, some gracefully, others clearly focused on just trying not to fall. The tiny kids clumsily propelling themselves forward, looking excitedly toward their parents when they managed to glide for a few seconds, had made Yuuri’s heart squeeze, bringing to mind his own first time experiencing the joy of skating.
Yuuri collects himself enough to push away from the door, kicking off his shoes and stripping off his jacket. He digs through his suitcase to find a soft t-shirt, changes quickly, and climbs into bed, depositing his glasses onto the nightstand. A tingle of excitement spreads throughout his entire body as he recalls how daring he’d been in his efforts to play his part.
Emboldened by the easy justification of so many people around them recognizing Victor and taking photos of them together on the bench, Yuuri had leaned over and let his head rest on Victor’s shoulder.
His heart races at the memory of how Victor’s breath had caught, how his arm had slowly slid around him, how his hand had come to rest gingerly against Yuuri’s waist. If this is what it feels like to have someone’s affection, even just for pretend, he can imagine why it might be worth everything when it’s real.
He rolls over to face the window, pulling the comforter up around himself until just his eyes and nose are peeking out. The city lights are a blurry mass of haloes and streaks across his vision; the sounds of distant traffic a faint symphony in his ears. He could get up to close the curtains... avoid another rude awakening via morning sunbeams… but this is the first time in ages he’s felt this relaxed and content at the end of a day. He closes his eyes and snuggles further down into the blankets instead.
Phichit pulls his earbuds out and gets up from where he had been stretching when he spots Victor Nikiforov and his coach entering the warm-up room. Victor’s coach is yelling at him in Russian, but Victor is just smiling and nodding without seeming to pay much attention. Phichit looks around at the more experienced skaters warming up nearby, who aren't reacting to the scene at all — nothing new, he guesses. He'd better wait.
What's he supposed to call Victor, anyway? Nikiforov? Mister Nikiforov? He shakes his head. Those are both ridiculous. ‘Victor Nikiforov’ makes it sound like he doesn't know for sure if he's talking to the right person.
Eventually ‘Mister Angry Coach’ moves on, throwing up his hands and storming off, and Phichit makes his move.
“Hm?” Victor turns toward him with a polite smile. “Can I help you?”
This is so weird. But he can’t seem to get ahold of Yuuri any other way, so here goes. “Yeah, I was wondering—”
“Oh!” Victor’s eyes go wide. “You’re Phichit! Yuuri’s friend.” Apparently world-class celebrity athletes know he exists, now? He’d figured that Victor following him on insta a few months ago was just some social media manager following a bunch of other skaters for him, but maybe not?
“Uh, yeah. That’s me! Actually that’s why I wanted to talk to you. It’s about Yuuri,” Phichit explains.
Victor frowns slightly. “Maybe you should just speak with him directly?” He glances away and back again, fidgeting with his hands. Phichit narrows his eyes. Obviously something is going on with Yuuri, but Victor is acting super nervous too.
“Well, yeah. I would if I could. But he’s not answering my texts, and you two seem to be, uh, spending time together…?” Phichit says, spreading his hands questioningly. Hopefully Victor will say something that will help him make sense of this bizarre situation.
“Yes, it does seem that way,” Victor replies, slowly. He really doesn’t seem to want to make eye contact.
Does he know about the letter? Is that why he’s acting so sketchy? Phichit frowns, puzzled. If Victor and Yuuri are dating, he doesn’t want to cause trouble by bringing up Yuuri’s weird letter confessing his feelings to Phichit. But maybe it’s okay as long as he keeps it vague.
“I think Yuuri might be avoiding talking to me because of something that happened, but I just want to know if he’s okay. We can talk about that other stuff when he’s ready, it doesn’t have to be now.” Phichit tilts his head and tries to look innocently curious. “How long have you two been a thing, anyway? Not to be creepy, but I saw a bunch of pictures of the two of you from last night — they were all over the internet… I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Yuuri look at someone that way.” His friend really had looked ridiculously happy while out with Victor, but Phichit knows something is off about the whole thing.
Victor bites his lip, blushing a little. He ducks his head, silvery hair falling into his face. “It’s all still pretty new. I’ll let him know what you told me, okay?” He waves vaguely around at the other stretching skaters. “I should really get to it. Nice talking with you, Phichit.”
He starts to leave, but Phichit grabs his arm before he can go too far. Victor looks back at him, eyebrows raised, eyes wide. If Victor does know about the letter, he hopes he isn’t about to sound like some jealous ex-boyfriend...
“Victor,” Phichit says quietly, trying hard to look as serious as he can. “Yuuri doesn’t let people in easily. Don’t break his heart.”
Victor’s face relaxes and he smiles. Whoa. Phichit knows he’s seen Victor smile before — during countless interviews and skating routines, even just a few minutes ago he was smiling while getting an earful from his coach, and when Phichit had first started talking to him. But this is like looking at a totally different person. He looks really, honestly, happy.
“Of course, Phichit. Yuuri’s heart is safe with me.”
Something weird is definitely going on, but Phichit feels himself relax. Yuuri will be alright.
A weight settles onto Victor’s chest as he watches Chris finish up his step sequence and move into the second half of his routine. He’s having trouble keeping his mind focused on his own upcoming program, knowing that in a few minutes they will have to pass each other in close quarters as Chris makes his way off the ice and Victor steps onto it.
A queasy sort of nervousness has him feeling shaky and unprepared. This is the first competition they’ve both attended since… well. Since Victor had his heart ripped out. He’s spotted Chris several times in the preceding few days, but they seemed to be on the same page about keeping a respectful distance from each other.
Victor grimaces. Will they settle for basic civility? Act like acquaintances? Old friends? One moment of direct contact shouldn’t matter so much, but a lot can happen in a few seconds. Eye contact? A nod, a smile? How would Victor behave if he really had moved on, if he really were falling in love with someone new?
Victor scans the crowd, frowning slightly. He hasn’t been able to see Yuuri all day. Yakov had caught him first thing that morning, pounding on his door before he’d even had a chance to shower. He’d lectured Victor about letting himself get distracted from the competition to “suck face with some crap skater”. Victor sighs. Yakov means well, of course; he knows how useless Victor was after the whole thing with Chris, how terrible Victor is at balancing personal life and skating priorities, how it’s more than likely that if Victor gets involved with someone new it will just be the same thing all over again.
But all that doesn’t give Yakov the right to be insulting to Yuuri. It had been a testament to Victor’s self-control that he hadn’t let his anger show through the smile plastered on his face as he listened to Yakov’s tirade. Explaining the true nature of his and Yuuri’s relationship is out of the question; Victor doesn’t want to think about what Yakov’s reaction would be upon finding out he was going to such extremes for the sake of love.
Just then, he spots a head of black hair weaving its way towards him through the people milling about rinkside, and his heart leaps. And then his jaw drops. He doesn’t know where to look. Slicked back hair, stylish suit, narrow waist, breathing hard, flushed cheeks… is that eyeliner? Oh, god. Yuuri is evidently taking his banquet date responsibilities very seriously.
“Victor! Sorry, I meant to get here sooner, but I lost track of time while getting ready…” Yuuri bites his lip, looking out at the ice, and Victor has to stop himself from making an inappropriate noise. “Oh my god, I can’t believe I almost missed your performance!”
“You look incredible,” Victor breathes. He reaches out to tilt Yuuri’s face toward him, a finger tracing under his jaw, thumb brushing against his chin. It is eyeliner. It’s a good look on him.
Yuuri’s mouth drops open. “Oh! Uh, th-thanks! I guess it was worth the extra time, then?” He laughs, and his eyes flicker to Victor’s and away again, back out on the ice. His expression falls — just a little, but Victor is paying attention.
They both start talking at once.
“Are you alright? This should be your competition, too—”
“How are you doing, seeing him out there—?”
Victor smiles. Yuuri is so thoughtful to be concerned for him. On impulse, he pulls Yuuri into a hug. He’s allowed to, and it feels nice, so why not? The tension drains out of him as he feels Yuuri relax and hug him back. “I’m okay now, thanks,” he murmurs against Yuuri’s temple. “You?”
He feels Yuuri nod. “Me too.”
He looks back out to the ice as the last note of the music cuts off, the echo sounding throughout the rink as Chris holds his final pose for a moment, and then that fades too.
Victor reaches into his pocket and pulls out the neatly folded note he had written for Yuuri. He lifts Yuuri’s hand in his, palm up, and places the note there. He folds Yuuri’s fingers closed over the note and winks at him, performance smile in place. “For you. Wish me luck!”
He makes his way over to the gap in the boards and waits as Chris skates towards him. He takes a breath and lifts his chin, meeting Chris’s gaze. As Chris reaches the edge of the ice, Victor holds out a hand. Chris looks mildly surprised, but reaches out as well, allowing Victor to shake his hand.
“Chris. Congratulations on a good performance. It’s nice to see you.”
Chris nods at him, one eyebrow still raised. “It’s good to see you’re doing well, Victor.” His eyes dart to look somewhere over Victor’s shoulder, and he purses his lips. “I think I see why.” He looks back to Victor, one corner of his mouth pulled up in a wry smile. “I’d wish you luck, but I think your new lucky charm has got you covered.”
Victor steps onto the ice. He glides around the rink, waving to his fans, and then comes to a halt in the center, hands open at his sides. He bows his head and closes his eyes, mentally preparing himself to perform this particular program for the last time. After Chris’s scores are announced, the music will start; in the meantime he runs through his entire performance in his mind. Only this time, images of Yuuri spring to mind as well, skating alone in a quiet rink, making soundless music with the movements of his body.
The music starts to play, and Victor skates.
Chapter 7: Best In Show
Chris and Yuuri have a chat. Victor makes a big decision. Yuuri eats a burger.
A few warnings for this chapter (these won't be a major theme for the overall story so I'm not sure whether I need to put them in the tags — please let me know if you would be more comfortable with actual tags!):
- Yuuri is very drunk in this chapter
- There's a vague suggestion that Victor might be into BDSM to some degree
- Chris says something that comes across as if he thinks Victor might try to sleep with Yuuri while he's drunk
- (He doesn't really mean it that way but that's how Victor takes it. Victor 100% would not ever do that.)
- Victor vaguely speculates that Yuuri might have issues with disordered eating (I will tag this properly if I ever go into depth about Yuuri's feelings about food)
- There's mention of vomiting (due to alcohol) but it doesn't happen
Yuuri lifts his champagne glass up to his face to examine it. When had he finished this one? He deposits the empty glass onto a passing tray and reaches for a full one. He’d told Victor he didn’t like banquets because he either ends up alone in a corner or having too much to drink, and here he is, drunk and alone in a corner.
Sponsorship vultures have stolen Victor and are holding him captive. Yakov Feltsman is hovering around the edges, glaring at Victor whenever it seems like he’s trying to get away. Fuck that. These stupid things are supposed to be for skaters to relax and have a little fun after all the stress and pressure of the competition, not for coaches to force their skaters to prance around like prized show dogs.
Yuuri looks around at the crowd. Mostly other skaters he’s barely interacted with. He’d been so fucking worried that he’d have to face Phichit tonight, and he didn’t even show up. Maybe he and Celestino have an early flight tomorrow. Or maybe Celestino is worried about Phichit being able to drink in Canada. Doesn’t want to have to deal with two skaters making spectacles of themselves. Would have been fun, though. Except not. Because he had to go and fuck everything up with that stupid letter.
How did they even get out, anyway? How the fuck did he not notice they were missing? He really needs to clean his room.
“Having a good time, Yuuri?” He nearly falls over as Chris suddenly appears right beside him, deep voice loud in his ear.
“Jesus!” When did Chris learn to be so sneaky?
He can feel the alcohol in his system, heating up his face and making his arms and legs feel weird. Always fucks up his verbal filter, too. Probably going to make it pretty hard to lie. This was such a bad idea. Why did he let himself drink this much? Now he’s going to have to have a whole conversation with Chris and try not fuck things up for Victor.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Chris seems like he thinks it’s pretty funny, though, so he probably didn’t mean to not startle him, either. Didn’t not mean to startle? Yuuri shakes his head to try to clear it. That last glass is hitting him pretty hard.
“S’ok. I’ve had one too many, I think. Better quit while I’m ahead.” Yuuri tries to focus on pronouncing everything properly. His accent gets thicker when he’s drunk, or so he’s told.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Chris is looking at him with a weird expression. “It worked out well enough for you last time, apparently.” What?
Yuuri’s about to ask him what he’s talking about when he feels a hand at his elbow. Oh, it’s Victor. Victor is here! Yuuri leans gratefully against him. It’s really nice not to have to concentrate so hard on standing.
“Evidently you were right about my new lucky charm, Chris.” Fuuuck. Victor’s voice is sooo smooth. Yuuri could listen to it alllll day. And night. Yuuri giggles. He did not just think that thought.
“Looks like it. I’ll have to pull out some pretty fancy tricks to beat your record, now.”
Victor’s gold medal is dangling within reach, so Yuuri tugs it a little closer so he can tilt it make it shine in the light. Ha! Victor had moved to follow where he pulled. That's fun. Like he's Yuuri’s show dog now.
He grins up at Victor. Oh. Victor is flushed and biting his lip. Is he embarrassed? Yuuri realizes he still has Victor pulled uncomfortably close to him and drops the medal like it’s burning him. He remembers that Chris is right there and looks over at him in horror. Chris’s eyebrows are raised high and he's looking between Yuuri and Victor.
“Is our innocent little Yuuri not so innocent after all?” Chris is still looking at Yuuri, but seems like he's talking to Victor, who clears his throat loudly.
“I’d better get him back to his room.” Victor says, hoarsely. He sounds nice like this, too, somehow.
Chris frowns. “Victor, he's had a few too many…”
“Jesus, Chris, I don't mean—! I'm just going to make sure he drinks some water before he passes out.” Victor sounds angry, now. “You must have a truly dismal view of me.”
Oh fuck, did I screw up? Yuuri’s eyes dart between Chris and Victor. Shit. Victor wants Chris to think he's good at relationships. But Chris thinks he's… dismal?
“No, no. Chris. Victor is wonnnnderful. He's going to take good care of me.” Yuuri nods emphatically to be extra convincing. “He’s the best.” Yuuri giggles again. “Best in show!”
Victor and Chris both look confused, now.
“Okay, then. Come on, Yuuri. Let's get you to bed,” Victor says, voice gentle.
Yuuri nods and lets Victor lead him away. “Sweet dreams, Chris!” Yuuri shouts over his shoulder.
Victor tries to regulate his breathing as Yuuri stumbles into him when the elevator stops. He can feel Yuuri’s body pressing all along his side as he clings to him for balance. His traitorous brain jumps back to the moment when Yuuri had grabbed his medal and yanked him close, and he exhales sharply, lips parted, a shiver of sensation racing down his spine. Fuck. No, don't go there.
He breathes in shakily and sets Yuuri back on his feet, holding his shoulders for a moment to make sure he's capable of keeping himself upright. He rests a hand at the small of Yuuri’s back — just for stability — and guides him down the hallway.
Yuuri’s steps are unsteady as they walk towards his room. He’s giggling softly. “Victor, we’re on a boat.” What? Had he really had that much to drink...?
“Yuuri, did you eat enough today?” Victor frowns, concerned.
“Hmmmmm… breakfast, I think? And a bit at the banquet.” Yuuri laughs. “I didn't win a medal — no katsudon for me,” he says, in a singsong voice, but there's a bitter undertone to it.
Victor isn't sure what katsudon is, but this is… worrying. Yuuri is in fantastic shape, for sure, but it's easy to go too far, in this sport especially. Something to address another day, certainly.
At this point, is it better to get some food into his stomach, or is that riskier if he ends up vomiting? Victor isn't familiar with taking care of someone this drunk; everyone he knows is quite capable of handling copious amounts of alcohol. He pulls out his phone and tries to find some information on taking care of an excessively drunk person.
Stop them from drinking any more alcohol. Okay, that shouldn't be hard; the remaining champagne is back at the banquet.
Give them a glass of water. Oh, he knew that one already, at least.
Get some food for them to eat. Room service will have to do.
Make sure someone stays with them through the night.
Shit. Was it really too much to hope for that he'd be able to drop Yuuri off and go back to his own room to have a cold shower and lecture himself about propriety in private?
They reach their destination and Yuuri is miraculously able to produce his room key without too much trouble.
Yuuri starts stripping his clothes off as soon as they get inside. Victor wheezes. He drags a hand down his face.
Victor has never been a particularly religious person but it's not hard to believe that someone or something is serving him a cruel and unusual punishment.
Yuuri drops himself onto the bed and squirms around until he's under the covers. Victor isn't sure whether to celebrate or mourn.
Oh. That's adorable. Yuuri has pulled the blankets around himself like a cocoon. He looks comfortable, at least.
Right. Water, room service, make sure he doesn't roll onto his back.
Victor peruses the room service menu while filling up a glass of water. Something greasy, but not too excessive. A burger and fries should be fine. He glances at Yuuri, and decides to order one for himself, too, even though he's not particularly hungry.
He crouches down beside Yuuri and coaxes him to sit up and drink some water. Yuuri grumbles about it but ultimately cooperates.
Victor sits beside him on the bed. “How are you feeling?” Hopefully the water is helping. He isn't certain whether it's supposed to have any immediate benefits or if it's just to prevent feeling worse later.
Yuuri looks at him with watery eyes. “I'm so sorry, Victor. It was so stupid of me to drink so much without anyone else there. And now you're stuck taking care of me even though this whole thing between us is fake.”
Victor feels a pang of sympathy, and tentatively reaches out to brush Yuuri’s hair out of his eyes. He had told Yuuri to come as his date and then abandoned him; inadvertently, but even so. Extricating himself from sponsorship conversations had proven more difficult than he’d anticipated, especially with Yakov sticking to his side like an unwanted barnacle.
It's not fair for Yuuri to lay the blame entirely on himself. “Hey, no. Not everything between us is fake. We're friends, remember?” Victor catches Yuuri’s eye and smiles gently.
Tears well up in Yuuri’s eyes. “Oh no,” he wails. “Victor, I'm a horrible friend. I haven't seen Phichit in months and I avoided him this whole time and now it's too late to talk to him.”
Victor finds himself patting Yuuri’s back as he sniffles against his shoulder. With a stab of guilt, he realizes he never got the chance to tell Yuuri about his conversation with Phichit this afternoon.
“You're not a horrible friend. Actually… Phichit approached me earlier today and asked me to tell you that he understands if you can't talk about things yet. He just wants to know you're alright. It's clear that he still cares about you.”
Yuuri lifts his head to look at him with wide eyes. “What, he did?”
Victor chuckles wryly. “It was a lot harder than I expected, lying to his face — about us being together, I mean. I was so worried I would say the wrong thing and give it away.” He smiles softly. “He’s very protective of you, you know.”
Yuuri laughs. “What did he say??”
“Oh, just, ‘you'd better not break his heart, Victor!’ That sort of thing.” He grins at Yuuri. “Obviously, you know him better than I do, but I get the sense that he would understand if you just explain the situation.”
Victor hesitates. He’s been wondering, but maybe it's wrong to ask while Yuuri is in this state. “Yuuri… what would you do if Phichit likes you too? I mean, of course he likes you, but… romantically.”
Ever since his conversation with Phichit, this has been weighing on him. Yuuri had claimed not to have feelings for Phichit anymore, but would that hold true if those feelings were potentially reciprocated? What if this arrangement with Victor is holding Yuuri back from a genuinely fulfilling relationship?
Victor is startled out of his reverie when Yuuri laughs loudly. “Oh my god, no. We would never work. I love him, yeah? But I do not have the energy for that.” He shakes his head vehemently and flops back down on the bed.
Yuuri drops an arm across his face. “I need to just stay in and do nothing sometimes, y’know?”
Victor looks down at his hands in his lap and his mouth curves into a small smile. He thinks of quiet evenings with Makkachin in his lap, one hand absently toying at her fur, book held open in the other. It was a little lonely sometimes, but...
“Yeah, I know,” Victor says, quietly. Silence settles comfortably between them.
A knock at the door signals the arrival of their midnight snack. Victor retrieves the food and pulls Yuuri upright again.
“Ugh, Victor, I'm going to get crumbs all over the sheets,” Yuuri complains.
Victor rolls his eyes. “Well, it's our last night here, anyway. You can just move over and sleep on the other side.”
Yuuri looks at him, horrified. “But what will housekeeping think?”
Victor laughs. Of course Yuuri is worried about the housekeepers. “It’s my idea for you to eat in bed, so it's my responsibility to leave them a big tip. That will keep them happy, okay?”
Yuuri concedes, and they spend the next little while eating together mostly in silence. It's apparent that Yuuri had been ravenously hungry.
“Victor,” he says, between bites. “your free skate… you were amazing today.” Yuuri gets a far-off look in his eyes. “Your quad flip… oh my god. ” He shoves the last bit of his burger into his mouth and chews fast, as if he can't wait to voice the next thought. “And the flow out of your axel into that spread-eagle? Unbelievable.”
A warmth spreads in his chest. He's been praised for his skating thousands upon thousands of times in his life, but coming from Yuuri now, guileless and emphatic — it's genuinely touching. He can't help but beam at him.
Winning again had been pleasing, of course, but the greatest satisfaction has always come from surprising his fans. After five consecutive years of performing excellent programs and taking gold, the biggest surprise he could achieve via continuing to compete would be if he lost. Victor chuckles to himself. That's not the kind of surprise he's going for.
When Yuuri had asked him, completely sober, for help with his jumps, that had been a delightful surprise. The idea of Yuuri skating another season under his guidance is far more exciting than the prospect of adding — or failing to add — one more year to his reign as the champion.
The weight of expectation is stifling. Now that the idea has crossed his mind, that immense weight is starting to lift off his shoulders. The path is clear. Victor makes up his mind.
“Cialdini hasn't been doing you justice, Yuuri,” Victor asserts. “With me as your coach, you could do quad flips, too.” Victor allows himself a moment to imagine what a program with consistent technical elements and Yuuri’s evocative movements would be like. “We would do great things together.”
Yuuri blinks at him slowly. “That would be so wonderful,” he says, dreamily. He's obviously fighting sleep.
“Perfect! I'll change my flight tomorrow. Now, how's your crumb situation? Tolerable?” Victor asks, gently teasing.
Yuuri lies down experimentally and wrinkles his nose. “Sesame seeds.”
Victor laughs, soft and low. “Okay, then. Scooch over.”
Yuuri rolls over obediently and Victor reaches over to reposition a pillow to ensure Yuuri can't roll onto his back in his sleep. He seems a lot better now than he was before food and water, but it's best to be safe.
Victor kneels on the bed, leaning over to arrange the pillow, trying to tuck the blankets around it somehow to keep it in position. He hovers, contemplating. Maybe if he puts it on top of the blanket and then rolls the blanket over it? It's probably fine how it is.
He nearly stops breathing when Yuuri reaches up and touches his cheek.
Yuuri pulls him closer and brings his other hand up to gently lift Victor’s hair away from his face.
“Mmm. You do have beautiful eyes. Not icy, though.”
By the time Victor has recovered his capacity for speech, Yuuri is already snoring lightly.
Victor collapses into the bedside armchair, heart racing.
Chapter 8: The Flights We Don't Take
Yuuri pieces together what happened the night before. Victor resolves an internal crisis. Yuuri and Victor go to Toronto.
Yuuri shifts to get more comfortable, and becomes aware of the sensation of smooth sheets against bare skin. His brow creases, slightly. Where are his clothes? It's hard to care, though, with nothing forcing him to stay awake. He begins to drift off again.
He tries to roll into his back, but stops suddenly when he feels a presence behind him on the bed. His eyes snap open. He's on the wrong side of the bed, facing the wall instead of the window.
Oh god. What did I do?
Ever so slowly, he shifts little by little until he can turn his head enough to look to the other side of the bed. Oh. It's a pillow. A wave of immense relief washes over him. He's had enough life-altering mistakes in the past week; he could do without another.
The pillow has been propped deliberately behind him. Oh. He knows what this is. He must have gotten too drunk last night. Again. The curtains have blessedly been pulled closed — properly, this time, with no gaps — or the dull throbbing pain in his head would probably be much worse.
His gaze drifts down from where he had been admiring the curtains for finally doing their job and stops dead when it falls on Victor, draped across the chair with his Team Russia jacket rolled up to form a makeshift pillow on the armrest, fast asleep.
Yuuri just stares, for a minute, processing. Then his eyes dart around the room, taking in the clues: an empty glass on the nightstand; room service trays on the counter, plates stacked neatly on top; his suit hanging in its garment bag on the door hook. And Victor himself, still in his own formalwear from the night before, only undressed as far as his tie being draped over the back of the chair and the top few buttons of his shirt being undone.
Nothing happened. Well, nothing aside from Victor being burdened with the task of babysitting too-drunk Yuuri all night long, making sure he didn't choke and die if he puked. Fuck, at least he's pretty sure that hadn't happened. His mouth tastes only a little gross — like he drank a lot and ate greasy food and fell asleep without brushing his teeth — not completely disgusting like it would if he'd vomited.
He leans over the edge of the bed to see if he has any hope of reaching some clothes. He gropes around under the bed and manages to find a pair of boxer-briefs. Thankfully, they are his! He shudders at the alternative. After some fumbling under the covers, he tip-toes over to the bathroom.
One fresh mouth and empty bladder later, he emerges. Good, Victor is still asleep. Although… he really can’t be comfortable in that chair. Yuuri looks more closely and frowns. Victor looks exhausted, even while still sleeping. The jacket is no good as a pillow, really, with very little bulk.
Yuuri grimaces. It's his fault Victor had such a poor night’s sleep. He crosses the room and gently touches Victor’s shoulder.
Victor inhales sharply, lifting his head and blinking blearily. He winces and rolls his shoulder, rubbing at his neck.
“Sorry for waking you up,” Yuuri says quietly. “Do you want to move to the bed? That chair looks really uncomfortable.”
“Ugh. What time is it?” Victor asks, voice rough.
“Not quite ten. What time is your flight?” Yuuri still has a couple hours before he has to get to the airport.
“Mmph. Later.” Victor has already shuffled over to the bed and is fumbling to pull the blanket up. He gives up with it only partially draped over his waist, already having fallen back asleep.
Victor is lying on his back with one arm flung out, the other still clutching at the blankets at his waist. One of his legs is poking out from under the covers and bent over the edge of the bed. Yuuri carefully lifts Victor's leg the rest of the way onto the bed, tugs the blanket out of Victor's grip, and pulls it over him properly.
Hopefully Victor will be able to get in at least a little bit of restful sleep. Coffee would probably go a long way to making things a little more pleasant for him the next time he wakes up, though.
After showering and dressing, Yuuri is about to head out the door when he stops. What if Victor wakes up while he's gone? After a moment’s consideration, he pulls out a clean t-shirt and athletic leggings and leaves them folded at the foot of the bed. They won't be a perfect fit, but Yuuri figures this will be better than having to stay in last night's clothes.
He heads out in search of caffeine and sends a quick text to Victor with an explanation about the clothes and where he's gone.
Victor is screaming into a pillow.
It had taken Victor a very long time to fall asleep last night. After a few minutes trying in vain to process the overwhelming rush of feelings he'd experienced, Victor had decided to distract himself with tidying.
By the time he’d dropped back into the chair, his breathing a little steadier, heartbeat a little less frantic, he'd concluded that he was not, in fact, in love with Yuuri Katsuki. Because that would be insane. It was simply that Victor was lonely, and missed receiving affection from another human, while Yuuri was painfully attractive and a very affectionate drunk. It made perfect sense that Victor's body and mind could get confused in the moment. Crisis averted. Still, he hadn’t fallen asleep for at least another hour.
Consequently, when a half-naked Yuuri had woken him up, coaxed him into bed, and so very sweetly tucked him in, he was evidently too exhausted to consciously process what was happening. And his brain is just now allowing him access to that information. Thank you, brain.
Victor rolls onto his back and sucks in air, preventing death by suffocation. He's not in love with Yuuri. He's not. It would be completely ridiculous.
He sits up and a pile of clothes falls onto the floor. He frowns, because he's pretty sure he had picked up all the clothes that had been scattered on the floor and the bed. The ones that just fell appear to be a plain t-shirt and leggings. Spandex leggings. Yuuri’s form-fitting, spandex leggings.
Victor is having an oxygen problem again.
What time is it, anyway? And where is Yuuri?
Locating his phone provides the answers to both of those questions. He still has an hour or so before he needs to get ready to leave, and Yuuri has gone to get coffee. And… oh. Victor presses a hand to his chest. Yuuri is too good for this world. Laying out his own clothes for Victor to change into?
Maybe he's not done screaming into the pillow.
He's not in love with Yuuri. But maybe… he might just possibly have a little crush on him.
Victor ponders the implications of his revelation while changing into the revelatory clothing. It's okay. Everyone gets crushes. They come and go. He'll just handle his feelings like an adult. No problem.
He has the leggings on (a couple inches short, but otherwise a decent fit) and is in the process of pulling the shirt over his head when he hears the door open.
“Victor, are you awake? I brought —” Yuuri’s voice cuts off suddenly.
What's wrong? Victor quickly pulls the shirt the rest of the way on. Yuuri is just standing there, mouth open, holding a coffee in each hand.
As if awakening from a trance, Yuuri blinks several times and snaps his jaw shut. “Um,” he says.
Victor waits for him to continue. Several seconds pass.
Yuuri holds out one of the cups towards Victor. “I remembered, from the other day. What you take in your coffee, I mean. I hope that's okay. Or maybe you don't always want the same thing? I, uh, h-haven't put anything in mine yet. You can have mine instead, if you don't want yours. I'll drink yours. Oh, uh. Unless you want yours too? You can have both, if you want. I'll just, um.” There's a momentary break in the stilted flow of words coming from Yuuri’s mouth, but Victor has no idea what to say. “I'm really sorry about last night. And for not, uh, knocking. Just now.”
Oh. Is that the problem? Yuuri is anxious that Victor would be upset that he walked in on him changing clothes?
He smiles reassuringly. “Don't worry about it! Last night or just now. It's completely fine,” Victor says, taking the cup from Yuuri. “And just the one coffee will be enough for me, thanks.”
He grins. He had been a little worried that he would feel nervous around Yuuri after admitting his feelings to himself, but instead he just feels… happy. Being around Yuuri makes him happy, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Maybe he can just enjoy the good feelings that come along with having a crush while carefully managing his behavior so as not to make Yuuri uncomfortable.
Being a competitive figure skater means getting used to a lot of travel. But Yuuri will never get used to the twenty-four hour trip back to Japan from North America.
Yuuri isn't surprised that Victor’s trip back to Russia also has a stop in Toronto. London International Airport doesn't actually do much to deserve the ‘international’ part of its name. It is a bit of a coincidence that they are on the same flight to Toronto, though.
Of course, Victor is flying first class, while Yuuri can't fathom ever having enough money to be able to justify booking first class tickets for himself. There are benefits to being connected to a famous person, though, because Victor has pulled strings so Yuuri can sit up in first class with him.
Contemplative, Yuuri lets his gaze settle on Victor, dozing across the aisle with his head resting against the window.
They should probably talk about the logistics of how they’ll maintain the appearance of being in a relationship. It won't be too hard whenever they happen to be in the same location for a competition, but what about in the interim? How will that even work? Maybe Victor would rather just be done with it.
Huh. A few days ago he'd been on the verge of retiring, but now he's anticipating future competitions with Victor. He’d held up his end of their bargain by attending the banquet, and so Victor would help him with his jumps, right? Maybe Yuuri even has a chance of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final again next season, if Victor can spare some time to teach him a little here and there.
Their little propeller plane lands after what seems like no time at all and Victor rouses from his brief sleep. Crossing the tarmac, Yuuri braces against the wind. It's March, but still very cold in Toronto. It must be even worse in Saint Petersburg.
“What's the trip back to Russia from Toronto like?” Yuuri asks, curious.
They've reached the main concourse of the terminal, and Victor is looking up at the departure listings.
Victor taps a finger on his lips. “Usually there would be a stop in Munich, but this time it would have been Zurich.”
Oh. Zurich. Maybe Victor will be on the same plane as Chris. Maybe they'll sit together. Victor would be able to sleep a lot more comfortably with his head resting on Chris’s shoulder rather than the hard plane window. Yuuri presses his lips together.
“Why do you ask?” Victor’s voice startles Yuuri and he turns to see that Victor is looking at him quizzically.
“I was just curious. Wondering what your next day is going to be like,” he explains.
Victor frowns. He speaks slowly, as if he thinks Yuuri might have trouble understanding. “Yuuri… I'm not going back to Russia.”
“I'm coming to Japan with you, remember?”
Chapter 9: Katsudon and Constellations
Axel greets Yuuri and Victor as they arrive back in Hasetsu. Victor tries katsudon. Yuuri finally texts Phichit. Victor and Yuuri go for a run. Victor makes a phone call.
This one turned out a lot longer. It's over double the length of some of the previous chapters. I couldn't find a place to break it up in a way that felt natural, though, so here it is.
“Uncle Yuuri! Uncle Yuuri!!” Axel waves her arms as big as she can so he’ll see her right away.
“I think he saw us, Axel,” Auntie Mari says. “You can stop jumping up and down.”
“Does he have a friend with him?” She squints, trying to see better.
“Auntie Mari. Auntie Mari! Aunti Mari!! That’s Victor Nikiforov! Uncle Yuuri brought Victor Nikiforov home with him??”
“Looks like it,” Auntie Mari says. Why isn't Auntie Mari excited that Victor Nikiforov is here??
“Is Victor friends with Uncle Yuuri?” Axel asks. Why didn't he tell her?
“That's one word for it,” Auntie Mari says, but Axel isn't sure what she means.
Oh! One of Uncle Yuuri’s letters had had “Victor” on the front, but she hadn’t been able to sound out the other part of the name. It did start with an ‘N’!
“Uncle Yuuri! Is Victor your friend? Have you been pen pals for a long time? Why didn’t you tell me??” Axel has so many questions. It’s a good thing they’ll be riding in the car all together so she can find out everything!
Uncle Yuuri and Victor look at each other. For some reason Uncle Yuuri looks like he’s surprised about something. Maybe he’s surprised that she came with Auntie Mari to pick him up.
“Hi, Axel,” Uncle Yuuri says. Uh oh. He sounds like her parents do when they’re trying to figure out if she did something against the rules. “What do you mean about Victor being my pen pal?”
Axel looks between Auntie Mari, Uncle Yuuri, and Victor. Is she in trouble? Auntie Mari just seems confused, but Uncle Yuuri and Victor are both looking at her with their eyes open really big.
“A pen pal is someone you write letters to,” Axel explains. “Does Victor write letters to you, too? Can I see them? I could practice reading English!”
Uncle Yuuri covers his face with both hands. What’s going on?
Victor crouches down. It’s nice when grown-ups do this, so she doesn’t have to look up at them when they talk to her. He says, “It seems you already know who I am, but let’s introduce ourselves properly. My name is Victor. What’s your name?”
“I’m Axel! Like the jump! And my sisters are Lutz and Loop,” she declares proudly. “This is the best day of my life!”
“What a wonderful name! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Axel. I’m just wondering… how did you know that Yuuri wrote a letter to me?” Victor is smiling and doesn’t seem like he’s mad at her at all. She can’t wait to tell everyone that she got to meet Victor Nikiforov and he’s super nice in person.
“Because we mailed it to you! We mailed all of Uncle Yuuri’s letters for him. Did you know he has a lot of pen pals? Was it a good letter? Did you like it?” She hopes he did.
“It was a very good letter, and I liked it a lot,” Victor answers, and then he stands up and puts his hand on Uncle Yuuri’s shoulder. Uncle Yuuri laughs and laughs, like Victor just told the best joke. Axel laughs too, even though she doesn't get it.
“You know, I actually haven’t sent a letter to Yuuri, but I do like to give him little notes. Maybe you can help me write one, if your parents say that’s alright,” Victor says. That would be so amazing!
Auntie Mari coughs. “I’m not sure what that was all about, but we should get going. Victor, will you be staying at the onsen?”
Victor nods. “Yes, please, if that won’t be too much trouble,” he says. As if anyone wouldn’t let Victor Nikiforov stay at their house if he wanted!
Victor still hasn’t let go of Uncle Yuuri’s shoulder. Hmm. Papa sometimes puts his hand on Mama’s shoulder like that. Axel gasps.
“Victor! Do you love Uncle Yuuri?? Can I call you Uncle Victor?”
Uncle Yuuri blushes and hides his face again. Victor looks back at her with a smile, and winks.
Victor has died and gone to heaven. This is ambrosia of the gods, too delicious for any mortal to eat. The crispy breading, the succulent pork, the fluffy rice and egg… he understands why Yuuri reserves this for victory celebrations. The temptation to eat it every day would otherwise be far too great.
It's possible that the past twenty-four hours of airplane food have biased his taste buds slightly. But still.
Yuuri and his mother — Hiroko, Victor reminds himself — are looking at him expectantly. “Delicious!” he declares.
Yuuri’s posture relaxes and he smiles. “I'm so glad you like it!” he says, as if people exist who wouldn't. Victor feels a flutter in his chest at being the cause of Yuuri looking so pleased. Which is ridiculous, because he didn't do anything.
He tries to savor every bite, but his bowl ends up empty disappointingly quickly. Oh well, he'll have plenty of opportunity to eat katsudon while staying here.
“What should we do next, Yuuri? Will you show me around?” Victor asks, hopefully. The two of them touring around town together would be delightful.
He’s been to Japan for competitions before, of course, but only major cities. He's curious to see what day to day life is like here, and especially intrigued to see what life is like for Yuuri in particular.
Yuuri yawns suddenly, covering his mouth. “I want to, but I'm pretty sure if I start walking around town I'll pass out and fall on my face. And if I go soak in the hot spring I'll pass out and drown.” He rubs at his eyes. “Tomorrow, okay?”
Right. Of course experiencing everything Hasetsu has to offer would include soaking in the hot spring. Which sounds incredible, but also… Victor isn't sure how he's going to survive the sight of Yuuri stripping off all his clothes again.
Maybe having a day to mentally prepare will help him maintain a professional demeanor. There's no justification for him acting like a smitten fool if there's no one else around to see the two of them together.
“Sure, tomorrow. I think I'll go out for a walk on my own, then, if you're going to sleep so early.”
Yuuri looks like he's fighting to keep his eyes open. “Aren't you tired too, Victor? We were traveling for an entire day.”
“Mm. Normally I would be, but I had a very comfortable shoulder to rest on during the flight,” Victor smiles. “But if you’d rather I stay with you…” He trails off, reaching for Yuuri’s hand.
Yuuri’s face flushes bright red and he quickly glances at his mother, who is in the process of bringing their dishes to the kitchen.
She laughs. “You two lovebirds don't mind me! Would you look at that, I just realized I forgot to sweep the walkway.” She deposits the dishes on the counter and unceremoniously walks out the door, leaving them alone. Victor likes her already.
“I'm going to bed,” Yuuri says, and turns to head upstairs. Did he sound a little annoyed? Victor catches his arm gently. Yuuri looks back at him tiredly.
“Is something wrong?” Victor frowns.
Yuuri sighs and shakes his head. “No. It's fine,” he says, unconvincingly. “I’m just tired.”
Victor notes his wording. ‘It's fine’. Not ‘I'm okay,’ or ’nothing's wrong’. So there’s an ‘it’. Well, if he doesn't want to talk then Victor's not going to force it out of him.
Victor bites his lip, releasing Yuuri’s arm to wrap his arms around himself. “Okay, then… rest well, Yuuri.”
Yuuri’s expression softens a touch, and Victor feels slightly relieved. Maybe he was worried over nothing. Maybe he's especially nervous about Yuuri being annoyed with him because he's just uprooted his whole life, and aside from Yuuri, Victor is completely alone in an utterly unfamiliar place.
Yuuri wakes up with no sense whatsoever of what time it is. Intercontinental jet lag is the worst. It's going to take him forever to get his body’s clock adjusted back to Japan time. Which is stupid, because he was gone less than a week.
He rolls into his back, looking up at the ceiling. There's one last Victor Nikiforov poster still pinned up there, one corner peeling. Yuuri laughs to himself.
What a week, though. And all because the triplets had somehow found his letters. They probably thought they were helping him out by mailing them. He drops a hand onto his face. He can only blame himself, really, for actually addressing the envelopes, like a complete idiot.
He grabs his phone to check the time. Ugh, middle of the afternoon. He pulls up all the texts and calls he had ignored. On the plane, Victor had filled him in on the important details he'd forgotten while blackout drunk. Like agreeing to Victor coaching him — Celestino’s reaction will be interesting — and Phichit’s conversation with Victor.
He takes a deep breath. He has to text Phichit back. The whole reason the letter had him so scared was because he was afraid of messing up their friendship, but ignoring someone for a week can mess up a friendship, too.
Yuuri had felt so overwhelmed with anxiety over it at World's that talking to Phichit had seemed literally impossible, but Phichit doesn't deserve the way Yuuri has been treating him. He didn't do anything wrong.
He types a message and sends it before he can talk himself out of it.
It's the middle of the night in Detroit, so Phichit probably won't answer right away.
The little dots appear. Huh. Phichit is typing.
Phichit: what's going on??
Yuuri isn't sure whether that's supposed to be casually asking him how things are, or more like ‘what the hell is going on, why did you send me a love letter and then make out with Victor Nikiforov on live television and ignore me for four days’. He'll find out shortly, because the dots are back.
Phichit: are you ok? how's your head?
Yuuri: I'm okay. Sorry I haven't responded until now.
The dots appear and disappear several times like Phichit is typing and erasing his response repeatedly. Yuuri feels more and more anxious the longer he waits.
Finally, Phichit replies.
Phichit: it's ok
Yuuri groans in frustration. He wishes Phichit would just tell him what he's thinking so Yuuri can figure out what to say. But that's not fair. Phichit is probably waiting on Yuuri to start explaining.
Yuuri: I was worried you would be weirded out.
Phichit: you want to video chat? might be easier?
Noooo. He would not be able to have this conversation face to face.
Yuuri: I don't think I could handle that right now.
Phichit: i'm not weirded out, just confused
Yuuri: Yeah, sorry.
This is really hard. His hands are shaking so badly it's hard to type.
Yuuri: Isn't it the middle of the night in Detroit?
Phichit: no i'm not there anymore, i'm in bangkok
Oh, what? But Celestino was with him at World's — was that his last competition coaching Phichit?
Yuuri: You're training there now?
Phichit: yeah, detroit wasn't the same without you so i came home after worlds
Phichit: ciao ciao will still meet me at comps but i have another coach here in thailand with me
Yuuri: Oh, cool.
Yuuri flops over into his stomach, face buried in his pillow. He needs to just get over it and tell Phichit he wrote the letter ages ago and hasn't felt that way for a long time, and hope he believes him.
He spends a minute trying to come up with some better way to say it, but nothing comes. He pushes up onto his elbows.
Yuuri: I wrote the letter ages ago and haven't felt that way for a long time.
Phichit is already typing but Yuuri has to get the rest of the explanation out.
Yuuri: It was just supposed to be a way to sort my feelings out on paper.
Yuuri: I never expected it to be sent. Apparently the Nishigori triplets got ahold of them and tried to do something nice by mailing them for me.
The dots go away. And reappear. And go away. Ugh, maybe he should have taken up Phichit’s offer to video chat.
Phichit: wait, “them”?
Phichit: i only got one letter
Phichit: victor got one too, didn't he?
Yuuri drops his head down again. Phichit is too clever for his own good sometimes.
Phichit: well, congrats! as long as you're happy!
Should he tell him the truth, that it was all fake? No. That would just make things even weirder. Plus, Phichit could end up letting it slip.
Yuuri: So… we're still friends?
Phichit: omg it was never in question
Phichit: BFF means best friend forever, not best friend until something awkward happens
The tension drains out of him. The prospect of losing one of his only friends had been weighing on him heavily. He smiles, feeling much lighter.
Phichit: just… be careful, k? this is a new thing for you, and victor is a lot more experienced
Yuuri: I'll be okay. Thanks for looking out for me.
He'd better head downstairs. He told Victor he would show him around today, and he's already wasted half of it sleeping in. He really should have done more last night to help Victor settle in, but he was just so tired. And acting like a couple in front of his family had made him feel so uncomfortable, he’d needed to get away and be alone for a while.
Do they really need to pretend in front of his own parents? The alternative would be telling them he's been faking it all along, but he would probably die of embarrassment if that ever came out. And pretending to break up doesn't make sense since they still need to fake it for fans and the media. Even though things are okay with Phichit now, he still wants to help Victor with Chris.
Still, though, his own discomfort isn't Victor's fault, and he shouldn't take it out on him. Maybe he can just suggest that they tone it down a bit while in Hasetsu, keep things to the absolute minimum necessary to be convincing.
“Looks like he didn't die in his sleep after all, Mom,” Mari deadpans, taking a sip of coffee.
“Yeah, yeah,” Yuuri rolls his eyes, taking his place at the table across from her.
Mom shoves a bowl of cold soba into his hands. “You need to start eating and sleeping on a normal schedule, or it will take weeks for your body to adjust,” she tells him.
“Oh, is that how it works? Thanks,” he says, smiling so she knows he's not actually grumpy about it.
“Young man, we do not tolerate sarcasm under this roof,” she replies, eyes twinkling.
Mari chimes in, “When you're done, go make sure your celebrity boyfriend didn't drown in the hot spring.” Yuuri makes a face at her.
After fourteen hours of sleep, he's starving, and demolishes the noodles in a few minutes. He's planning on bringing Victor to the rink, so he’ll need the energy. He gets up to go find him.
Victor hasn't drowned. He's fine. He's soaking in the hot spring with his eyes closed blissfully. A bead of moisture tracks a line down his chest to the surface of the water. Yuuri bites his lip.
Oh my god. He's being such a creep. Obviously, Victor has an incredible physique — he's a world class athlete! — but patrons of the hot spring don't come here to be ogled by the owners’ son!
He clears his throat and Victor's eyes snap open.
“Yuuri, you're awake!” Victor smiles, but there's tension in his posture. Something about him seems uncertain.
“Yeah, sorry I slept in so late. I said I'd show you around — do you want to go now?” Yuuri asks.
Victor nods. “Sure, let me just dry off and get dressed.”
He stands up.
Smooth, glistening skin; beautiful, strong legs; water running in rivulets down sculpted abs — Yuuri yelps and whirls around.
“Oh! I thought nudity in the hot springs was expected? One second, I can grab a towel.” Fuck. Victor sounds embarrassed.
“No! No, you're right, Victor. Nudity is totally fine in the hot springs.” What excuse can he possibly give for freaking out? “I, um. Forgot.”
What the fuck. ‘I forgot’?? Yuuri drags a hand down his face.
“You… forgot.” Victor says, voice flat.
Yuuri turns around slowly to face him. He has a towel around his waist now. Yuuri shrugs, smiling sheepishly.
Victor snorts. Then laughs. “You,” he gasps for breath, laughing harder. “Forgot??” He's doubled over, wheezing, wiping tears from his face.
Yuuri’s face feels hot — his cheeks must be bright red — but a laugh bubbles out of him anyway.
“Sorry. I'm just not used to seeing someone so…” attractive. Nope. That's creepy. “Someone I've… kissed,” he finishes, mumbling. Victor is close enough now to hear him anyway.
Victor raises his eyebrows. “Well, you'd better get used to it. Because I plan to be in there every day I'm here.” He sighs wistfully. “What a luxury to have available whenever you want, especially after a long practice session!”
Yuuri rubs the back of his neck. “You’re right,” he admits. “It would be crazy not to take advantage of the hot spring. Being able to come home and soak my sore muscles was one of the things I missed most while living abroad.” He grins at Victor. “Don't worry. I'll get over it, I'm sure.”
Victor gets dressed and they start jogging together to the rink. Yuuri points out landmarks along the way, recounting childhood memories connected to each one.
“I walked to the edge of that pier when I was exploring last night,” Victor says, slowing down and gesturing.
Yuuri smiles and stops running, turning to rest against the seawall. “That's a great spot for stargazing.”
“I noticed that! There's not too much light pollution, since Hasetsu isn’t a big city.” Victor comes to stand beside him and points out a few areas of the sky. “I could make out several constellations!”
Something in Victor’s voice makes Yuuri turn his head to see his expression. He's smiling, but his eyes look… sad? Nostalgic?
“Have you ever lived in a small town?” he asks. In his fanboy days he’d learned everything he could learn about Victor, but there was very little available about his early life.
“Only when I was very small,” Victor says quietly. “My mother used to let me stay up late on clear nights.”
Yuuri is struck by the urge to slip his hand into Victor’s, but catches himself. No one is watching them, so it would be weird, right?
“Sometimes I take Makka out for walks at night, but you can't really see anything in Saint Petersburg unless you drive outside the city.”
“Do you miss her?” Yuuri asks.
Victor looks at him, startled. “My mother, or Makkachin?”
Yuuri blinks. He hadn't realized the ambiguity of his question. “Uh, both, I guess? You just seemed… lonely, just now.”
“Ah, Yuuri. How could I be lonely when you're here with me?” Victor is looking straight into his eyes.
Wow. Isn't that a pretty romantic thing to say? Maybe he just means he's not alone, generally speaking, and Yuuri happens to be the other person present? That's not how it sounded, though.
Yuuri parts his lips, feeling warm all of a sudden. His heart is beating fast. Why are they standing so close together?
Victor looks back out at the ocean, and Yuuri exhales.
“To answer your question, though… yes,” Victor says, softly. “It's kind of you to ask.”
They stand together quietly for a few moments.
“I had a dog, too,” Yuuri says almost voicelessly, as if that part of him doesn't quite have the will to talk about this.
Victor looks at him. “Oh?”
“She died.” It comes out a whisper. “The night before the free skate at the Grand Prix Final.”
Victor’s mouth drops open. “Oh my god, Yuuri.”
Yuuri finds himself pulled into a tight hug. Tears spring to his eyes and he clenches his jaw. He doesn't want to have a meltdown here.
Victor’s chest is pressed against his, and he can feel his rapid heartbeat. Or is that his own? Since when do hugs feel so ridiculously nice? He drops his forehead to rest against Victor’s neck and lets his arms come up to reciprocate the embrace.
All of this, everything. Hugs, holding hands, having someone listen, it all just feels so… fucking… good. Why on earth had he wanted to ask Victor to tone it down? He's going to hang onto this as long as he possibly can.
“What do you want, idiot?”
Yuri Plisetsky had been wondering when Victor would call.
“Hello, Yuri! I need a favor!” Victor’s voice is sickeningly cheerful for someone who just blew up his whole life.
“Why should I do you any more favors when I'm already dogsitting for you indefinitely and you’ve abandoned your promise to choreograph my short program?” Yuri grumbles. Victor’s overblown sense of entitlement has gotten even worse if he thinks Yuri will do one single thing more for him.
Makkachin tilts her head at him and whines. Maybe she recognizes Victor’s voice over the phone.
Yuri bends down and scratches behind her ears. He covers his phone with a hand and whispers, “You're a good girl. I don't really mind taking care of you. I just can't let him know that.”
Victor’s reply is frustratingly vague.
“Because this favor will solve both of those problems!"
Chapter 10: Family Portrait
Victor has a surprise for Yuuri. Victor and Yuri Plisetsky have a chat.
Yuuri is awoken by a sudden weight landing on his chest and something warm and wet on his cheek. He scrambles to sit up and figure out what’s happening. Fluffy brown fur fills his vision. It’s a poodle. It’s… Makkachin? He leans over to see past her and spies Victor leaning against the doorframe, grinning.
“Surprise! I called Yuri Plisetsky to bring her over on a redeye,” he says.
Makkachin pants at him expectantly and he reaches out a hand to rub one of her ears. That’s apparently not good enough for her, because she pushes in closer until he’s got a face full of fur. He loops his arms around her and scratches her back.
“You missed her that much?” he asks, somewhat muffled.
Victor’s expression sobers a bit. “Can I come in?”
Yuuri nods. Victor sits on the bed, which is now getting a bit crowded. He rests a hand on Makkachin’s head, scratching behind her ears.
“After what you told me yesterday, about Vicchan… I felt like I couldn’t not have her here with me. And I thought… you could use someone to cuddle, too.” He smiles softly. “I hope that wasn’t too presumptuous.”
That smile is doing things to his heart. Someone to cuddle… he means the dog. Obviously, he means the dog. Even though he is in Yuuri’s room, sitting on Yuuri’s bed. He can feel the weight of him against his leg through the blankets.
Maybe he needs to write another letter. Otherwise he’s going to end up voicing some of these thoughts someday and make everything weird.
He rests a cheek against Makkachin and squeezes her gently, looking at Victor. “Thank you,” he says. “That was… really thoughtful.”
Victor is staring. What? Maybe his hair is messed up from sleep. Or, shit, does he have dried drool on his face?
Yuuri clears his throat. He runs a hand through his hair and tries to subtly wipe his face. “So, how did you convince Yuri Plisetsky to bring her on such short notice?”
Victor blinks. “Oh. Yeah.” Does he look flushed? “A few months ago I had agreed to choreograph his short program, so I told him if he wanted me to keep that promise he needed to come here.”
“Oh. So, will he be staying here?” His previous encounter with Yuri Plistetsky hadn’t been a particularly fun one. It’s not often that a grown man gets yelled at by a teenager for crying in the bathroom.
Victor chuckles. “Don’t look too excited, now.” He coaxes Makkachin into his lap, and Yuuri finds himself missing the contact. “Yuri can come across as somewhat abrasive—” Victor laughs at Yuuri’s raised eyebrow. “Okay, that might be a bit of an understatement. But he’s a good kid, once you get to know him.”
Yuuri sighs dramatically and pouts. “I suppose I can give him the benefit of the doubt, if you’re vouching for him,” he nudges Victor with his knee through the blankets, letting a grin break through.
Things will be different with another skater drawing Victor’s attention. Will they still be able to spend time together alone? Or will Victor want to take advantage of the presence of Yuri Plisetsky to keep attention on their ‘relationship’ via social media?
Victor nudges him back. “He’s sleeping for now, anyway, so you have a few hours to prepare yourself.”
Movement at the door catches his eye.
“Axel, what are you doing here?” Yuuri asks. “Did you get ahold of your mom’s phone again?”
“I was looking for you and Uncle Victor!” she says. He needs to talk to Yuuko and Takeshi about making it clear to the triplets that upstairs is off-limits. “Look, I took the cutest picture!”
She jumps onto the bed. This is getting ridiculous, but the mattress hasn’t collapsed yet. Yuuri leans in to look at the photo on the screen. “Victor, you look too!” Axel insists.
Oh god. She must have been standing in the doorway for a while, because it’s a photo of him hugging Makkachin with Victor beside him on the bed. And he’s looking at Victor with the most dopey, ridiculous soft look. Fuck, had he really looked like that? And he does have an extreme case of bed head. No wonder Victor had been staring.
“I need that as my new phone background!” Victor says emphatically. Now Yuuri is the one staring. “You have to send it to me right away, please!”
“I think you can just download it! It’s already been shared a bunch of times, see?”
@ranulo935 omg I am *living* for Victor and new guy
@trampir347 “new guy”? That's Yuuri Katsuki, he was a skater in the gpf this year
@burthombo22 I heard a rumor that Victor isn't skating this season, is this guy the reason?
@ldrone96 I just can't handle how cute they are together. And with Makkachin too?? I'm *dead*
@stefona6 first we get the makeout in the kiss n cry and now this? please sir I want some more
@umfrast24 you can tell just from looking at them in this pic how crazy in love with each other they are
@dusterxa this wannabe is just using victor for fame and skating lessons
@rustwarp33 is that a poster of Victor on the ceiling???
@predrom54 brush your hair, Yuuri!
Victor can't stop reading the comments. It's 3AM and he's supposed to be up early tomorrow to start choreography with Yuuri and Yuri. Yuri had woken up right before dinner and demanded to get started right away. Hunger was the only reason he'd given in and agreed to wait until first thing tomorrow morning.
But instead of sleeping, he's lying in bed, the glow of his phone most likely the only source of light in the whole onsen. He keeps zooming in on various parts of the photo and finding new details each time. Like the faint pink flush in his cheeks.
Is it really that obvious? Does his face give that much away?
He gets a new notification.
Chris: You got it bad, V
Chris: I'm happy for you
His stomach twists. This was the plan, right? Make Chris see that he's capable of being good in a relationship?
Victor: I don't know if I'd go that far. It's still very new
Chris: There isn't a single photo of us that has you looking at me like that
Victor: Maybe there could have been? You could have given me the chance
Chris: Come on.
Chris: We both know it wouldn't have made a difference
Victor: I don't know that.
He rolls into his side, tucking his knees closer to his body. He feels queasy. Makkachin whines in her sleep at the foot of the bed.
Chris: Just because I decided you weren't able to be the person I needed…
Chris: That doesn't mean you can't be that person with someone else
What is he supposed to say to that? His initial reaction had pulled him in several conflicting directions emotionally. He lets his phone flop facedown on the mattress.
Part of him wanted to protest, to say he could be — wants to be — good enough for Chris, too. But that would look bad coming from someone supposedly in a new relationship, wouldn't it?
Part of him didn’t want to say that, because… is it really true, anymore? Does he still want to be with Chris? Of course he does; they had been together for almost five years, and it had been devastating when it ended. If he doesn't want it anymore, why does it still hurt?
His own shaky breathing is loud within the small room.
Part of him… Part of him wonders if Chris is right. He hadn’t even known he was being observed when the photo was taken. There’s no rationalizing the look on his face as being anything other than genuine. He's too tired to think straight about this.
Victor: I need to sleep. Goodnight, Chris
He rolls into his back but can't bring himself to close his eyes. The whole building is silent, other than the occasional creaking whenever the wind gusts. Suddenly the unfamiliarity of the room jumps into sharp relief. It simultaneously feels claustrophobic and like the walls aren’t providing enough of a barrier between him and the outside world.
He needs some air.
He pulls a robe around himself and heads out the front door. He settles himself down on the step and looks out at the town. It’s mostly dark, just a few brightly lit windows in the distance. The sound of the ocean is faint, but soothing nonetheless.
The door behind him creaks open. “What’s wrong, old man?” Victor turns to see Yuri Plisetsky with his hands shoved in the pockets of his leopard print hoodie.
“What are you doing awake?” Victor asks. Deflecting, maybe.
“Couldn’t sleep. I just woke up, like, eight hours ago.” Yuri comes to stand next to where he’s sitting on the step. “I heard someone get up and come downstairs, and then I saw you go out the door. Figured talking to you might be a bit less boring than staring at my phone until I pass out.”
Victor hums an acknowledgement. Yuri sits down next to him.
“Seriously, Victor, what are you doing awake? It’s not like you to neglect sleep the day before training.” There’s a note of genuine concern in Yuri’s voice.
“Chris texted me.” Victor sighs.
“Ugh, you’re kidding me! You can’t keep doing this to yourself.” Yuri frowns. “I thought you were seeing this other Yuuri now, anyway.”
“I know,” Victor mumbles.
“Well, I hope you’re not expecting any advice from me. You’re a grown man, you shouldn’t talk to teenagers about your disaster of a love life.” He waves his hand dismissively.
Victor props his elbows on his knees and lets his head drop into his hands. Yuri acts like a brat sometimes, but ultimately is trustworthy. He trusted him enough to leave Makkachin with him for a week. Maybe it would be good to tell someone about what’s really going on between him and Yuuri.
“Can I trust you to keep something to yourself?” Victor asks. He turns his face to look over at him.
Yuri drops his affected glare and asks quietly, “What’s going on, Victor?”
“It’s fake.” He sits up to face Yuri, who looks confused. “The thing with other Yuuri. We’ve been pretending.”
“What?!” Yuri says, too loudly. He winces and says it again, more quietly. “What?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous. I made up this stupid plan to show Chris I could be good in a relationship.” This sounds even worse out loud than in his head.
“This is some next level drama, Victor, even for you. Why would Yuuri even agree to that? No, you know what? I don’t want to know.” Yuri sounds incredulous. Victor couldn’t have expected anything else.
“That’s the thing, though, that’s not even the whole of it,” Victor whispers.
Yuri is silent, seemingly waiting for him to continue. Or maybe he’s just done contributing to this conversation.
“I might be developing… real feelings.” Victor tucks his arms around his middle.
Yuri sighs. “What did I just say about talking to teenagers about your love life?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m not expecting anything from you. I just needed to say it out loud to someone.” A wave of exhaustion washes over him and he sways.
“Victor…” Yuri sighs again, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know anything about any of this stuff. But I don’t think I’m the one you should be saying this out loud to. You can’t toy with someone like this, it could really mess things up for him. You know I caught him crying in the bathroom after the Grand Prix Final?”
Victor frowns. “His dog died. He had a good reason to be upset.”
“Is that why you needed Makka here as soon as possible?” Yuri throws up his hands.
Victor waves that aside. “He told me right from the start that he’s not interested in a relationship with anyone. That’s why I thought it would be safe with him, so no one would get hurt.”
Yuri groans. “How’s that working out for you? It’s been, what, a week? And it’s already a mess.”
“I’m only putting myself at risk, here.” A week, really? It feels like it’s been a lot longer. “And you’re right. It’s new. I’m probably just dealing with getting-to-know-someone flutters.”
“Whatever. Why were you even trying to get back together with Chris in the first place? You never really seemed happy.” Yuri looks to the side. “Not that I was paying much attention. It was obvious.”
Victor looks at the sky. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was something. Something other than skating.” Victor glances back at Yuri. Sometimes it seems like his life is traveling down the exact same path as Victor’s.
“Yuri,” he starts, and hesitates. Depending on Yuri’s mood, this sort of thing could go over really badly. But he’s been a good listener tonight, and shown some degree of emotional awareness, so maybe now is as good a time as any. “Don’t make the same mistakes as me. Make sure you have something else you care about. You and I both love the ice, but it can’t be everything.”
Yuri nudges his shoulder. “Your ramblings have turned senile, old man.” Harsh words, but his face doesn’t match. He’ll think about it, at least. “You look like shit. Go back to bed.”
Victor nods. “You should try to sleep, too. Fix your schedule.”
Yuri stands up and holds out a hand to Victor to help him up. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Thanks… and sorry. You’re too young to have to worry about these things.” Victor shakes his head. Confiding in a teenager. He needs to get his shit together. He follows Yuri inside.
“I guess I should be thankful for your drama. Otherwise where would you find inspiration for your choreo?” Yuri looks back from the doorway to his room. “Goodnight, Victor. We’ll probably both be too tired for an early start. You should sleep in.”
Chapter 11: The Safe Shallows
Yuuri takes Makka for a run. Victor and Yuuri discuss the reason for Victor’s troubled sleep. Victor gets a reality check. Yuri Plisetsky tries to get Yuuri to read between the lines. Yuuri finds his Eros.
Today will be the first day of real training with Victor. For once, Yuuri has no trouble waking up without snoozing his alarm, even though he had set it earlier than strictly necessary. In fifteen minutes he’s completely ready to go.
That’s odd. The door to Victor’s room is closed and Yuuri can hear whining and scratching coming from within. He knocks softly, but the only response he gets is the sound of Makkachin’s tail thumping the floor just on the other side of the door.
He inches the door open and Makkachin bounds into the hallway. Yuuri gets a glimpse of Victor, who once again looks exhausted even while asleep. He frowns. He’ll have to ask Victor later if there’s something they can do to make his stay more comfortable.
Makkachin is full of energy. He and Victor had brought her out with them for a tour around Hasetsu yesterday, but she’d spent hours cooped up on a plane and probably needed some extra exercise to compensate.
“What do you think? You want to go for a run?” Obviously, Victor isn’t going to be ready to start training him for an hour or two, but he can always practice his basics in the meantime.
Makkachin prances in a circle. That’s a yes, he supposes.
He takes the scenic route to the rink so Makkachin can get a bit more energy out. Yuuko waves at him from behind the counter when he arrives.
“Hi, Yuuri! All by yourself today?” She smiles cheerfully.
“Not quite - I have a friend with me!” He grins down at Makkachin, who jumps up and puts her paws on the counter.
Yuuko laughs and reaches out to scratch Makkachin’s head. “Do you want me to watch her while you skate?”
A large arm suddenly drops itself around his shoulders. “What’s this about you putting the moves on my wife, Yuuri?”
Yuuri looks at Takeshi in horror. He doesn’t really think— Oh, he’s teasing.
“Takeshi! I wasn’t going to bring that up!” Yuuko says, sounding annoyed. To Yuuri, she says, “My parents brought by some mail of mine that had been sent to their house. Including a letter from you which was clearly over a decade old. ” She looks back at Takeshi and raises her eyebrows.
“I’m just kidding around! Your penmanship at that age was awful, Yuuri.” Takeshi laughs.
Yuuri groans. “Sorry about that. Apparently I had left some of my old things out where your girls could get at them, because Axel was excited to ask me about all my ‘pen pals’. I guess they thought they were doing me a favor by mailing them for me.”
“Oh no! It was the girls? We really need to talk to them about respecting boundaries, Takeshi.” Yuuko sighs. “Sorry, Yuuri. It’s tough to keep a close eye on all three of them at once if they are really determined to get up to no good.”
Yuuri shakes his head. “What’s done is done. Anyway, you don’t mind watching Makkachin for a bit? Victor probably won’t get here for a while.”
It's at least an hour and a half before Victor and Yuri Plisetsky arrive, and by then Yuuri is starting to feel frustrated and sore from missing his quad salchow repeatedly.
So when Victor announces that Yuuri will be skating a routine that will require him to somehow fabricate sex appeal out of nothingness, and then proceeds to demonstrate the choreography with plenty of natural sex appeal, Yuuri is feeling somewhat inadequate. And turned on. And fuck, just how is he supposed to be able to concentrate on where his center of balance is and what edge he's on and how deep his knee bends are after that?
“I need a break. I'll be back in ten.” He hopes his frustration isn't audible in his voice.
Some water, a snack, and a quick check on Makkachin has him feeling a bit better by the time he joins Victor at the boards to watch Yuri Plisetsky run through his routine. It's clear, and a little intimidating, that he has the winning combination of natural talent and willingness to put in the work. If he isn't a contender for gold at the final this year, it won't be long until he is.
“I'm surprised you two got here so late; last night, Yuri seemed insistent on getting an early start,” he says, glancing at the dark circles under Victor's eyes. “Did something happen?”
Victor takes his eyes off Yuri Plisetsky to return Yuuri’s gaze. “I couldn't sleep. Yuri up late too, and suggested we start later,” Victor explains. “Sorry, I should have texted you.”
“It's fine. I wanted to get some extra practice in before learning the choreo anyway.” Yuuri frowns. “Is there something we can do at the onsen to make you more comfortable? Why couldn't you sleep?”
Victor sighs deeply. “No, there's nothing wrong with my accommodations. I was texting with Chris, and had a hard time getting settled afterwards.”
Oh. He hadn't realized that Victor and Chris were still in touch. His stomach feels off. Low blood sugar, maybe. Why was Victor texting Chris in the middle of the night before a scheduled early morning training session, though? It really couldn't wait until daylight hours? And if Victor is trying to look like he's taking a new relationship seriously…
“Don't you think it might send the wrong message if you're texting an ex in the middle of the night?” The words are out before he can stop them. “I mean, since you're trying to look like you can be a good relationship partner.”
Victor looks taken aback. Ugh, why couldn't he just keep his mouth shut? “Well. It would be hard for you to understand, since you've never been in a relationship.” Yuuri winces. That stings. “But after five years, people don't always just completely cut each other out of their respective lives after a breakup.”
Victor folds his arms. “It's not out of the question to talk to each other, even if someone new is in the picture.”
Yuuri is quiet for a moment. It's none of his business if Victor and Chris are talking. Even in terms of Victor being his coach, it's reasonable for a training session to be moved around by an hour or two to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. If Celestino had done the same, Yuuri would have been understanding.
“You're right, Victor, I'm sorry. I don't have any experience with relationships to be making any comments about yours. I'm glad you and Chris are on speaking terms.” Yuuri looks at his feet.
Victor lets his arms unfold, resting one on the boards and turning to face him. “It's alright. I know you're just trying to help.” Victor chuckles lightly. “It's a weird situation we've gotten ourselves into, isn't it?”
Yuuri nods. He breathes a sigh of relief at the tension between them dissipating.
“I've been wondering, Yuuri,” Victor says, tapping his fingers where he's resting a hand on the boards. “I'm sure people have been interested in you before, so why do you think you've never dated anyone?”
Yuuri twists his mouth. This is a difficult topic for him, but Victor has been understanding about other things, so maybe he can try to explain. “I guess I've just always been… afraid.”
He takes a breath. “It's a bit embarrassing to admit it, since other people seem to manage just fine, but letting anyone get close to me in that way feels like… I don't know. Kind of like swimming out over water where you have no idea how deep it is or what might be lurking. It feels safer to stay in the shallows.”
Victor tilts his head. “But… you don't seem like you're afraid when you're opening up to me.” He gestures between himself and Yuuri. “ This doesn't seem to terrify you.”
Yuuri flushes. Obviously, things would be really awkward if he told Victor that a week with him has made Yuuri completely reevaluate his stance and relationships might be worth the risk after all. The other part of it is that there is no risk with Victor, since none of it is real. He can give that part of the answer, at least.
“But none of this is real, so it's fine.” He mirrors Victor's gesture.
Victor's expression clouds over. “Right. Of course, this isn't real.” Victor clears his throat, and in an instant is back in coach mode. “It's time to get out there and run through your program; looks like Yuri is finishing up.”
Yuuri frowns, confused. Victor's sudden shift in demeanor was jarring. “Wait, Victor. Is everything alright?”
Victor nods, but he still seems tense. “Yes, everything is fine. Now show me some Eros!”
None of this is real.
Victor clenches his jaw in frustration. He's been so stupid. The only reason Yuuri is able to be comfortable around him at all is because he thinks they are in agreement about there being no possibility of a real relationship. For a moment, when they had argued about texting with Chris, he had seemed almost… no.
Victor has to get his feelings in check. He can't afford to indulge in the fantasy of this arrangement between the two of them ever turning into something genuine, and he can't afford to allow his crush to blossom into anything more serious.
If Yuuri finds out that Victor has any real feelings, his sense of being in the safe shallows will vanish, and everything between them will come to an immediate end. He's not sure Yuuri would even be willing to still be friends. Would he feel like Victor had been disingenuous? He hadn't tried to be, he just hadn't anticipated the way that Yuuri had gotten under his skin.
Watching him skate Eros now is just frustrating. Victor has firsthand knowledge of how incredibly alluring Yuuri has the capacity to be, as well as how capable he is of expressing his inner life through skating. But his skating right now is utterly devoid of any sign of Yuuri’s sensuality. How can he possibly draw that side out of him while trying to temper his own feelings?
“How was it, Victor?” Yuri asks, coming to stand beside him.
He hadn't really been paying attention, if he's honest with himself. He’d seen enough to know that there hadn't been any egregious mistakes. But if there had been anything truly spectacular about Yuri’s performance, it would have demanded his attention.
“I'll have to watch it back on the recording,” he hedges. “But I think you still need to work on grasping the true meaning of Agape. Clearly, Yuuri is struggling with his interpretation of Eros as well.” He taps a finger to his lips. “I'll have to come up with some way for you both to access those parts of yourselves.”
Yuri isn't sure how standing under a freezing cold waterfall is supposed to help him understand the true meaning of universal love. All he's learning about is the true meaning of cold. It does make him miss his Grandpa, though, who always fusses over him, whether he's warm enough, whether he's eaten enough.
He glances at Yuuri Katsuki out of the corner of his eye. This thing between him and Victor is really weird. Even if he were an adult, he’s pretty sure he still wouldn't understand why two grown men would pretend to be together. What's really bothering him about it is that unless Yuuri Katsuki has secretly spent years taking acting classes, there’s no way there had been anything fake about the way he'd watched Victor performing the Eros routine.
Is he maliciously taking advantage of Victor's situation to get close to him? To get coaching? Is he martyring himself to help Victor get back together with Chris — ugh, what a terrible idea — despite having feelings for Victor himself? Yuri narrows his eyes. He just can't figure out why he would have agreed to Victor's dumbass plan.
“Yuuri,” he says, but it comes out more like ‘Yuu-r-r-r-ri’ because he's shivering so hard.
“Yes?” comes his reply, through chattering teeth.
“Victor is—” he tries to begin, but it comes out unintelligible because he's so cold. This is ridiculous. He motions for them to get out from under the waterfall, and wraps himself in a fluffy towel, breathing onto his hands to try to get them unfrozen.
Yuuri has followed him out and grabs the other towel. “What were you trying to say about Victor?”
Now that he's out of the water and wrapped in a towel, he's not shivering so badly. He tries again. “Victor is very good at seeming confident, like nothing can shake him.” Ugh, he really hopes he doesn't regret sticking his nose in this mess.
Yuuri’s looking at him expectantly. Yuri sighs. Well, he's started, might as well finish.
“But he can be shaken. He's not as confident as he seems, in some ways. When Chris broke it off, he was…” heartbroken. Blah. No. What is he, a trashy romance novelist? “… a mess,” he continues.
This is way too embarrassing, acting like some protective mother hen over someone more than a decade older than him. He wrinkles his nose. “I'm just saying, I don't want to have to deal with him like that again. It was awful for everyone; he was unbearable.”
If Yuuri is using Victor for his own selfish purposes, maybe this will make him think twice about playing with Victor's emotions. And if he's not, and he really cares… maybe this will make him realize that getting Victor and Chris back together is not a good outcome.
It's frustrating that he can't be direct with him, but Victor swore him to secrecy; he's not supposed to know about their ridiculous situation. Adults are always going on about teenagers being dramatic, but this is the most pointlessly convoluted bullshit he's ever seen or heard of.
Yuuri nods. At least he seems to have taken Yuri’s words seriously. “I'll be careful, okay? I promise — there's no way Victor could end up like that because of me.”
Yuri could scream. Of course Yuuri is going to think that — he's an oblivious idiot and has no idea Victor might have real feelings for him. This whole thing is too goddamn stupid, he can't stick around and watch it play out. As soon as he's gotten enough out of Victor to continue working on Agape back in Russia, he'll be on the first flight back.
This is it. This is the costume that started it all, and Yuuri knows what he needs to do. When Victor had declared that they were going to be putting on an “Onsen On Ice” show and choosing from Victor's old costumes, Yuuri had been excited to get a closer look at the costumes, but skeptical that any of them would feel right for him to wear.
But this costume is the one that Victor had been wearing when he had inspired Yuuri to write his letter. This one, which celebrates masculinity and femininity and throws gender norms to the wind. And that's been exactly his problem with Eros. He's been trying to force himself to fill the role of the archetypical masculine pursuer, but that's never been how he's thought about his own sexuality or gender.
The androgyny of the costume allows him to feel comfortable harnessing the femininity he's capable of embodying, and with Minako’s help during a long night at the studio, he's feeling confident on the day of the performance. When Victor tucks a note into his neckline, he feels like he really could be authentically appealing, the genuine target of someone's desire.
And when he starts to skate, the memories of Victor telling him he looks incredible; of Victor’s fingers grazing his skin, tilting his jaw to look at his face; of standing too close together, heart racing, all flood his consciousness at once, sending electric sensations down his spine. And when he shoots that look in Victor’s direction, with all those things in mind, there's nothing fake about the look he receives in return.
Chapter 12: Training and Blossoming
Victor and Yuuri have been working hard, so Victor suggests a mini vacation.
“Yuuri, that’s enough for today,” Victor calls, leaning against the boards, sweat dripping uncomfortably down his back. Yuuri is showing signs of exertion too, skin glistening and face flushed, but if Victor doesn’t reign him in he’d likely want to continue well into the evening.
“Just one more!” Yuuri responds, already picking up speed for the jump, and Victor shakes his head. They’ll need to find a way to take advantage of Yuuri’s impressive stamina when putting together his free program. Yuuri lands the quad salchow with only a little wobble on the landing, and Victor nods to himself. The progress Yuuri has made in the past few weeks is substantial. They’ve both been putting in increasingly long hours at the rink.
Watching Yuuri perform Eros over and over again has been torturous, but Victor has been keeping his emotions on a tight leash, knowing that everything could fall apart if he allows too much to show. He's caught Yuuri looking at him, sometimes, as if searching for something in his expression, but Victor can't fathom what.
“I was thinking we'd take a break from practicing for the next few days.” Victor says, as Yuuri is starting to untie his laces. Yuuri’s hands stop their work as he looks up at Victor.
“A few days? Why?” His focus returns to his skates, lifting one ankle to rest on his opposite knee and sloughing the bits of ice off his blade. He leans back and stretches an arm out to pull a towel out of his bag a couple steps up, and Victor tries not to stare.
Focus. “I heard that the cherry blossoms are opening later than usual this year, so we could go see them in Fukuoka without all the tourists there to obstruct the view.” He figures Yuuri might not be too excited about the cherry blossoms, having grown up here, but he hopes he'll be willing to accompany him anyway.
Yuuri’s face lights up spectacularly, and Victor suddenly needs to sit down. Is his heart beating too fast? Or not at all? He belatedly realizes Yuuri has been speaking.
“—see them when I was a kid, but I haven't been in years. That's a great idea! Fukuoka Castle grounds are completely packed full of them, and there's tons of space to have a picnic with amazing views. Normally it's overrun with tourists, but you're right, most of them plan their trips for the end of March or the first couple weeks of April; there shouldn't be too many this late in the month.”
Victor allows himself the indulgence of watching Yuuri speak animatedly about the possible logistics of the trip. He still hasn't finished up with his skates. His blades are going to get rusty if he doesn't dry them off promptly. Victor picks up the towel from where Yuuri had discarded it and bends to lift Yuuri’s leg into his lap.
Yuuri stops talking, and Victor realizes what he's doing, as though waking up from a dream.
“Um! Your blades were sitting wet. I just figured, since you were distracted, I could take care of them for you. You don't want them getting rusty— we just got them sharpened. You can only sharpen them so many times before needing to replace them, you know.” He’s babbling. His face feels hot. “Obviously, you know that. And you’re perfectly capable of doing this yourself.”
He's still holding Yuuri’s skate. He looks at him. His cheeks are pink, but he doesn't actually seem displeased… it’s not that strange for a coach to help their skaters with unlacing…
Yuuri looks back at Victor. “N-no, it’s okay,” he says, a little higher-pitched than his normal voice. “You can do it for me while I look up the train schedules, if you’d like.” His eyes are wide.
Victor nods slowly. His mouth feels dry and his tongue darts out to wet his lips. Yuuri fishes his phone out of his bag and his gaze slides off Victor to look at the screen. Victor grips Yuuri’s skate at the ankle to keep it steady while he towels off the blade. He gets to work on loosening the laces while Yuuri suggests potential itineraries for their next few days.
They're discussing possible places to stay when Yuuri shifts and brings his second leg up into Victor’s lap so he can deal with the other skate.
Neither of them move to separate after the skates are properly put away in Yuuri’s bag.
The train route that runs from Hasetsu to Fukuoka is a beautiful one, but Yuuri’s attention is focused instead on the view of Victor gazing out the window. They'd woken up at an ungodly hour for the early start they'd decided on, but the image of the newly risen sun outlining Victor’s profile in golden light is worth a hundred stupidly early mornings.
Yuuri quietly pulls out his phone to capture the moment. Maybe the photo will end up in a scrapbook documenting his time in a pretend relationship with Victor. That's not creepy at all.
He hears a muffled giggle, and notices a group of teenagers looking their way and pointing, trying and failing to be discreet. If they've been recognized, the last thing Victor needs is for some tabloid to run a ‘trouble in paradise’ story on the flimsy basis of them looking too distant with each other while riding the train. He loops an arm through Victor’s and scoots closer.
Victor looks at him with his eyebrows raised, but smiles warmly. His cheeks glow a pleasant shade of pink and Yuuri can’t help but smile back. He probably has that same dopey look on his face as in the photo with Makkachin, but who cares? Victor doesn’t seem bothered. He just looks happy. Yuuri drops his head on Victor’s shoulder; maybe he can catch up on a bit of lost sleep.
“Do you mind?” he asks, hopefully softly enough not to be overheard.
Victor unhooks their arms and Yuuri freezes. He’s overstepped. Obviously, Victor isn’t here to be his pillow. Is it possible to literally die of embarrassment? But then Victor’s arm settles over Yuuri’s shoulders instead, pulling him snug against his side, and he might just die anyway, because cardiac arrest is fatal in most cases.
“Not at all,” comes Victor’s reply, murmured against the top of his head. “Get some rest.”
Well now he’s not sure he can sleep. He closes his eyes anyway and tries to force his breathing into the slow, regular rhythm of sleep.
He can feel Victor’s thumb tracing small circles against his arm. Would anyone watching actually notice that? Maybe it’s just habit, from when he was with Chris. Maybe not. If Victor had been like this when he was with Chris, Yuuri can’t understand why Chris would ever have broken up with him.
He can’t understand why anyone would give this up.
The look Victor had given him during his Eros performance hasn't made a reappearance. He's been searching for some hint of it in Victor’s expression in the weeks since, but there's been nothing as clear as it had been that night. Maybe he had let his imagination run a little wild; it hadn't actually been clear in the literal sense, from halfway across the rink without his glasses. Could he really have made out the necessary level of detail to recognize a specific emotion on someone's face?
It had been thrilling, in that moment, to feel desired. Desirable. Even if Yuuri had interpreted his expression correctly, Victor doesn't really want him, he just recognizes that Yuuri is desirable. That's… good, right? If Yuuri is ever going to get over his issues with relationships and be with someone for real, it helps to know that he is capable of passing himself off as attractive.
The chatter of the other passengers and the rumble of the train along the tracks fades into background noise. The only sensations in sharp focus are the length of Victor’s body he's pressed against and the gentle repetitive touch of Victor's thumb against his arm.
What would it be like if this were his for real? If he hadn't read too much into that look? Would he be able to fall asleep like this all the time? Would he feel that electric tingle down his spine every time Victor looked at him? Maybe Victor would feel it too. Maybe they'd even be able to act on it… Victor would tilt Yuuri’s face up to him, and lean in, and whisper his name…
He sits upright with a sharp inhale. “What? Sorry! Yes?”
Victor grins. “I woke you up because our stop is next! Are you excited?”
He must have fallen asleep after all. He has a vague sense of being robbed of something. Had he been dreaming?
“So, we've got our early check-in at the hotel, and then I figured we could pick something up to bring with us to eat at Fukuoka Castle, explore the grounds a bit and then find somewhere nice to sit for lunch. We could also do the art museum, if that sounds interesting to you… I've been before, but they did a major renovation a few years ago so I wouldn't mind seeing what they've added. We have tomorrow too, so we could try to focus on one area today and another tomorrow…”
Yuuri continues to list possible attractions they could visit, but Victor is only half-listening as they walk to the hotel. He scrolls through his camera roll, contemplating which photo to set as his lock screen. There's the selfie he'd taken where Yuuri is smiling blissfully in his sleep, but his own face is only half in the frame. There's also the one he'd gotten the teenagers to take from a little farther away, where he'd pretended to be asleep too. There's a few they'd taken with him smiling at the camera. And one with him looking at Yuuri, right before they'd given back his phone — he hadn't noticed them taking that last one.
“Yuuri, which photo do you like best?” Oh. Oops. Had he interrupted him? “Ah! Sorry, finish what you were saying.”
“I was asking if you want to go see the giant Buddha statue; it's a bit farther than the rest of our options. What photo?” He reaches to take the offered phone.
“Oh my god, why did you take these? I look so bad when I'm sleeping,” Yuuri says, cringing. “You had someone else take some too? I can't believe I slept through all this.”
“What are you talking about? You look so cute!” Victor takes the phone back and tilts it so Yuuri can still see, zooming in on the point between his brows. “See? All your worry lines are gone!”
Yuuri’s hand flies up to his brow. “Worry lines! Am I getting wrinkles already?”
Victor laughs. “They go away when you're sleeping, so they're not wrinkles yet!”
“Yet!” Yuuri cries indignantly.
Victor grins. “Oh come on, I've seen how adorable your parents are — you don't have to worry too much about aging.” He gestures at his hairline. “Me, on the other hand…”
Yuuri looks at him with one eyebrow raised. “It's hard to imagine you aging any way other than gracefully.” He stops in his tracks suddenly.
“What? What is it?” Victor looks around.
“Is that why you cut your hair? You were worried about your hairline?” Yuuri gapes at him.
“Well, with it long I always had to have it tied back, and some people say that can accelerate a receding hairline, because it pulls on the scalp…” He glances away, a little embarrassed.
He's startled when Yuuri steps closer and touches his hand. “Sorry,” Yuuri says quietly. “I wasn't trying to embarrass you.”
Victor waves dismissively. “It's okay. You’d better not go to the tabloids with the story, though!” He laughs, and it sounds awkward even to his own ears.
Yuuri shakes his head. “Your secret is safe with me.” He smiles and looks down. “For what it's worth, I loved your long hair, but… you look amazing like this, too.”
His heart picks up speed at the compliment. “Well… thanks.” An image of the two of them together, white-haired and wrinkled, jumps into his mind. He sighs, exasperated with himself. Don't be ridiculous.
Yuuri gestures ahead of them. “I think our hotel is just around the corner.”
They resume walking.
“What would I do with myself if I lose my beauty?” He laughs. “If I’m still coaching you in a few years, maybe you’ll have a Yakov of your own.”
Yuuri pulls open one of the doors of the hotel and motions for Victor to go through. He hears Yuuri chuckling as he follows him through the door, and turns to him, tilting his head quizzically.
“You sound just like Howl. What does he say? ‘What’s the point of living if I can’t be beautiful?’”
“Who?” Victor asks.
“From Howl’s Moving Castle?” Yuuri says, as if that explains anything.
Yuuri’s eyes widen. “Hayao Miyazaki? Studio Ghibli?” Victor looks at him blankly. “Princess Mononoke? My Neighbor Totoro?”
Oh, that last one sounds vaguely familiar. “Is that the one with the… bear?”
“Oh my god. We need a movie night.” That sounds nice, actually. He has a few favorites he’d like to share with Yuuri as well. That conversation will have to wait though, as they’ve reached the front desk.
Yuuri rings the bell, leaning over the counter and looking around.
The hotel receptionist arrives to greet them, and she and Yuuri begin conversing in Japanese. She’s gesturing and speaking excitedly. Maybe she's a fan of Yuuri’s? She clearly recognizes Victor as well, from the wide-eyed glance she gives him. Their conversation seems a bit involved for simply checking them in.
Yuuri looks flustered. Victor frowns. Mostly he enjoys attention from fans, but they can get overzealous sometimes. Eventually, Yuuri seems to acquiesce; there was a ‘thank you’ in the last thing he said to her. He thinks. Even basic Japanese phrases are hard for him to pick out when people are speaking quickly, so he can't be entirely certain.
Yuuri leads him in the direction Victor presumes is towards the elevators. His posture is tense, and he taps the elevator call button rapidly, as if that will make it come sooner. He still hasn't said anything by the time the elevator arrives. They step inside, and as soon as the doors close he covers his face with both hands.
“What was all that about?” Victor asks, starting to feel worried.
Yuuri groans and drops his hands. “So, apparently she's our ‘biggest fan’, and upgraded our room for us as a special favor.”
“What's wrong with that? It sounds like she did something nice.” Victor cocks his head.
Yuuri sighs. “I tried to tell her not to go to the trouble, but she insisted, and I couldn't think of a good reason to give her for why we wouldn't want the upgrade.” He leans back with his hands on the bar, metal clinking as he taps his fingernails against it. “I'll just have to hope there's a loveseat or something.”
Victor frowns. “I don't follow.”
Yuuri looks at him with a grimace. “She gave us the honeymoon suite.”
Next up: There's only one bed!! 😮
Chapter 13: Trust and Ultimatums
Victor and Yuuri discuss sleeping arrangements and Victor delivers an ultimatum. They visit a few tourist attractions in Fukuoka and Victor engages in some introspection. Yuuri makes an important realization when they return to the hotel.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” Victor says. “But if it bothers you, I don’t mind sleeping on the couch.” He gestures at the loveseat, which looks laughably small next to his tall frame.
Yuuri pinches the bridge of his nose. “No, no. This is my own issue. I'm the one who with the hangups about relationships, I should be the one to give up the bed.”
Victor rolls his eyes. He actually rolls his eyes! Yuuri is trying to do the right thing, here.
“We can't afford you developing a back problem because you slept on it wrong,” Victor argues, sounding very reasonable, but not making any sense.
“Come on. The next competition is still months away. If I have a sore back for a few days it will be fine.” Yuuri spreads his hands apart next to the loveseat. “Look how small this is. You're taller — I won't have to crunch myself up as much.”
Victor sighs. Maybe he realizes he's going to lose this argument.
“Besides,” Yuuri says, “it's just as important that you don't mess up your back, since you need to be on the ice too, showing me what to do.”
Victor puts his hands on his hips and faces him squarely. “If you sleep on the couch, I’ll sleep on the floor.”
Yuuri barks a laugh. That's just… completely ridiculous. He splutters, “Wha— Bu— Why would you do that? That's just worse for both of us!”
The idea of that gorgeous king size bed going completely to waste is offensive.
Victor folds his arms, looking awfully smug. Yuuri narrows his eyes. If Victor is going to deliver ultimatums, it's time for some low blows.
“Are you sure a man of advanced years such as yourself would be able to survive an entire night on the hard floor?” Yuuri fights a smile, mouth twitching.
Victor gawps at him. “Advanced years!” He opens and closes his mouth a few times and then seems to give up, leveling a vicious glare at Yuuri.
He's not going to laugh. He won't. But then Victor’s expression breaks with a snerk and he can't stop himself.
“Let's worry about it later,” Yuuri says, a little breathless from laughter. “We don't want to waste the day stuck in the hotel room arguing.”
Victor nods. “Okay. But I mean it. I will sleep on the floor.”
Yuuri shrugs. “If you sleep on the floor, I'll sleep on the floor too.”
The castle is fascinating, the cherry blossoms are breathtakingly beautiful, the food is delicious, and Yuuri is… wonderful.
Lying here, on the green grass, with the cherry blossoms overhead, watching the breeze ruffle Yuuri’s hair, Victor hasn’t felt this peaceful in… years? Maybe ever. How much of that is due to taking a much needed break from competing, and how much is due to Yuuri? He’s not sure if he wants to tease it apart.
He rolls onto his side, propping his head on his hand. Yuuri smiles down at him, and Victor’s heart clenches. Maybe this thing between them isn’t entirely real, but it isn’t entirely fake either. It feels good to spend time with Yuuri, and Yuuri seems to enjoy being around him too. It’s bittersweet, but maybe, after five years of being with Chris and months of failing to get over it, what he needs is to be close to someone without all the expectation and weight of a real relationship.
Maybe Yuuri has the right of it with regards to his feelings on relationships. Being with Chris had never felt as easy as this. From what he can remember, being a good partner had felt… taxing, even from the start. Every little thing had required immense mental effort to remember and attend to. Towards the end, he just didn’t have any energy left. He can’t really blame Chris for leaving.
Is it because that was real and this isn’t? Is it just a matter of not feeling the pressure to be perfect, because it doesn’t really matter to Yuuri if he fails sometimes? Or is it something… more than that? No. Relationships aren’t supposed to be easy. It’s normal for them to take a lot of energy; it’s hard work to build and maintain one.
But… is it supposed to be hard to want to?
“What are you thinking about?” Yuuri asks, laying down to face him.
“Um,” Victor begins, intelligently. “Just… thinking about how nice this is.”
Yuuri rolls onto his back and looks up at the trees. “Yeah… they are really beautiful.” He turns his head, meeting Victor’s gaze again. “Thanks for suggesting this.”
Victor’s breath catches. No. He means the trip to Fukuoka. He doesn’t know Victor’s ‘this’ was referring to something more.
Yuuri closes his eyes. “Mm,” he says. “I could fall asleep right now.”
He looks relaxed, with his hand resting loosely over his middle, one knee bent and the other leg stretched out.
“You can, if you want. I don’t mind,” Victor says. He’d be happy to spend another three hours like this.
Yuuri shakes his head and rubs at his eyes. “No, we have plans. We should get going if we want time to do the whole museum.”
He starts to sit up but Victor touches his arm. “Wait. Can we take a selfie? Sorry I didn’t ask you before, on the train.”
Yuuri looks sheepish. “Actually, I took a picture of you without asking, too. I just thought it would be better as a candid shot.”
Victor gasps delightedly. “What? Let me see!”
Yuuri unlocks his phone and holds it so they can both see. He swipes around until he lands on a photo of Victor looking out the train window, backlit by the sunrise. It’s a great shot.
“Give me that for a sec?” Victor asks, reaching for the phone.
Yuuri pulls it back protectively. “You’re not going to make me delete it, are you?”
Victor laughs. “No! I’m going to set it as your lock screen.”
Yuuri pouts. “It’s one of Makka right now, though…”
Victor’s stomach does a little flip at how Yuuri and Makka have bonded. Makka has been staying in Yuuri’s room overnight at least half the time. “Okay,” he concedes. “I can accept second place if Makka is first.”
Yuuri purses his lips. “No, it’s fine. I’ll change it. I’ll just make Makka the unlocked background instead.”
Victor smiles wide. “Now for that selfie!”
“I can’t believe you pretended to go to the restroom so you could pay the bill. I wouldn’t have ordered that second glass of wine if I’d known you were going to do that.” Victor shakes his head, fishing the key card out of his pocket.
“I was the one who suggested the place; it was only fair.” Yuuri smirks and follows Victor into their room. “Oldest trick in the book. Nobody’s ever pulled that on you before?”
Victor chuckles and rubs the back of his neck. “I guess most people I go to dinner with are happy to let me foot the bill.”
Yuuri frowns slightly. “What, even Chris?” Not that it would be a financial hardship for Victor to frequently pay for a dinner out, but it seems a little exploitative to let him pay every single time.
Victor’s expression clouds over. “Ah, no. We followed an alternating system.” Right, mention the ex who broke his heart. The perfect finish to a fun day out.
Yuuri casts around for a way to lighten the mood again. “I wonder what a honeymoon suite involves aside from a big fancy bed.” There’s a gift basket on one of the nightstands. He picks it up, tilting it to try to get a better view of the contents without actually unwrapping it.
“This says we get complimentary room service!” Victor calls over his shoulder, looking at a card he’s picked up off the desk by the window. “The whole restaurant bill discussion could have been moot.”
Yuuri laughs and puts the basket back down. “Sure, but would you really want to eat all of our meals in our room? I thought the point was to see and be seen around Fukuoka.”
Victor shrugs. “There’s lots to do besides go out for dinner. Spending some time in the room wouldn’t be the worst thing.”
Something flutters in Yuuri’s chest at the idea that Victor would want to spend time with him outside of the context of performing for their fake relationship or coaching him. But maybe he just means he could use some downtime.
Yuuri mulls it over as he changes in the bathroom. When he comes out, Victor looks ready for bed too.
Carefully, Yuuri probes, “If you want to just relax for a bit tomorrow, I don’t mind exploring the city on my own for a while, to get out of your hair.”
Victor scoffs. “Staying here all alone doesn’t exactly sound enjoyable.” His eyes widen. “But if you want some time to go do something on your own, I don’t want you to feel obligated to include me.”
Shit, that’s not what he wanted Victor to think. “No! That would be silly, we’re on a trip together — why would I want to go do something specifically without you?”
Victor folds his arms. “I don’t know, why would you think I’d want to hang out in the room, alone, without you?”
Yuuri rubs his face. He can’t exactly say that he’d only asked that because he was trying to gauge whether the exact opposite thing was true. “I don’t know. Why should I think you would want to be here with me?”
An expression flashes across Victor’s face and vanishes into a frown, his lips pressed together. “Because we’re friends, aren’t we? Do you really think every single moment with you I’m just thinking about what it looks like to the public?” He turns around, facing the window. Yuuri can’t see the look on his face anymore, but everything about his posture is tense.
He takes a step towards him. “No, Victor, I’m sorry. Of course we’re friends,” Yuuri says, chewing his lip guiltily. “It just came out wrong. I didn’t mean it like that.” Hesitation stops him from reaching out.
Victor’s shoulders rise and fall as he heaves a sigh. “I really — I mean truly — enjoyed spending the day with you,” Victor says, turning back around and half-sitting on the desk. Yuuri scans his expression. The stress at his brow, lines around his mouth, he looks… hurt. Yuuri feels a matching pang in his chest.
He takes another step forward. “I… enjoyed our day together, too.” Victor blinks rapidly, looking up and away, jaw clenching. Yuuri’s heart squeezes.
How could I be lonely when you're here with me?
Victor had said that to him, standing at the seawall in Hasetsu. Does that mean Victor is lonely when Yuuri isn't with him? For the first time, the reality of Victor's situation hits him. Everyone in the world thinks Victor has gotten past his post-Chris heartbreak because he's with Yuuri. The only person who knows that Victor is still struggling is Yuuri. If there were nothing at all between them aside from coaching and their fake relationship, Victor would feel… utterly alone.
Fuck. He's an asshole. And Victor is supposedly the one with issues being self-absorbed? Oh, god. The one time Victor had tried to bring up having trouble sleeping because of a conversation with Chris, Yuuri had totally blown him off.
That day at the seawall, with no one around to see, Victor had hugged him to comfort him about Vicchan. At World's, before they'd even talked about the fake relationship thing, Victor had held his hand while he cried his eyes out over being afraid of losing Phichit. Because he has a hard time making friends. Something Victor had admitted to having in common with him. Shit.
Victor has been consistently making an effort to build an emotional connection with him, and Yuuri has been completely failing to recognize it.
The gap between them is only a few steps wide. Yuuri moves forward and puts his arms around Victor’s shoulders.
Victor melts against him, dropping his forehead to Yuuri’s shoulder, arms unfolding and coming back up around his waist, pulling him closer. “Oh, Victor,” Yuuri murmurs. “I’m sorry. We are friends.”
Victor nods, and exhales shakily, pulling back. “Yeah, I know. Sorry, I don’t know why I overreacted like that.” He laughs, but it’s unconvincing. He looks away.
Yuuri touches his cheek, and Victor looks back at him, startled. “I mean it, Victor. I really do enjoy being around you.”
The corners of Victor’s mouth tug ever so slightly, forming a faint, barely-there smile, but it’s genuine. “Well. We should get to sleep. Should I assume you still won’t take the bed?”
Yuuri smiles wryly and shakes his head. Victor shrugs and walks over to the bed, and for a moment, Yuuri thinks he’s given in and is going to sleep in it. But Victor just takes a pillow, walks over beside the couch, and… drops it on the floor. Yuuri’s mouth falls open. Really? He’s really going to sleep on the floor?
Yuuri sets his jaw and marches over to the bed, staring at Victor the whole time. A smug look begins to form on Victor’s face before Yuuri, too, takes a pillow and throws it on the floor next to the other one. Victor gapes at him.
“If we’re both going to be on the floor, we should at least grab the blanket, too,” Yuuri says, reasonably. He drags it off the bed and over to the pillows.
Victor gestures wordlessly at the setup on the floor. Eventually, he finds his voice. “This whole argument was because you didn’t want to sleep next to me! And now you’re going to sleep next to me on the floor?”
“I didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as you,” Yuuri corrects, climbing under the blanket and settling his head on one of the pillows. He pats the spot next to him.
Victor shakes his head and hits the light switch, shrouding them in darkness. He climbs in beside him. “How is this any different?” It's dark enough that they can't really see each other, but Yuuri can make out the shape of Victor shifting himself onto his side to face him.
Yuuri bites his lip. This is a bit ridiculous — okay, maybe more than a bit. “I guess… sleeping in the same bed as someone is one of those ‘firsts’ I want to have for real.”
Victor sighs. “I can understand that being important, I suppose.” The blanket rustles — presumably Victor getting himself comfortable. Well, as comfortable as possible, anyway. The floor is pretty hard despite the plush carpet.
He hasn't fully worked this out in his own mind; maybe saying it out loud will help him get things straight. “I just feel like… being in the same bed is the context for a lot of things I know I'm not ready for.”
In the darkness, he can vaguely make out Victor moving his hand to rest halfway between them. “Yuuri,” he starts. There’s a pause, as if he’s hesitating, or deliberating about his wording. “You know I would never do anything you didn’t ask for, right?”
Yuuri nods, then realizes Victor probably couldn't see. “I know,” he says, softly. He looks at the dark shape of Victor's hand between them. He takes a breath. Heart pounding, he brings his hand up to lie beside Victor's, just close enough to touch. “I trust you.”
Silence settles between them, and Yuuri’s breathing is starting to even out when he hears Victor whisper, “Goodnight, Yuuri.”
He mumbles a reply, and spirals down into sleep.
At least one of the lines of dialogue from this chapter is going to be very significant in the future.
Chapter 14: For Piano, Violin, Skates
Yuuri and Victor wake up with some regrets. Yuuri receives something he's been waiting for and shares it with Victor. Mari catches Victor alone for an important chat.
It's cold. Victor opens his eyes in a squint. Yuuri has stolen the blanket and turned it into a cocoon. He remembers seeing him do the same thing the night of the banquet at World's. He makes a note to ask the front desk for an extra blanket next time.
Hm. Next time. He looks at Yuuri, relaxed and peaceful in his sleep. He can only see approximately the top third of his face in the tiny opening of the blanket cocoon, but it’s enough. Last night had been… well, he probably shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine. Or maybe it was for the best. He had allowed himself to show some vulnerability, and it hadn’t scared Yuuri off — it had done just the opposite. Maybe a next time isn’t as impossible as it had seemed.
He tries to lift a knee, and his lower back screams in protest. He rolls into his side instead, and his shoulder and hip ache from where they must have been pressing against the floor throughout the night. Perhaps following through on this particular ultimatum had been a poor choice.
However… the way they had whispered to each other in the dark, hands touching in the space between them… he can’t bring himself to truly regret anything about last night, no matter how sore he might be feeling for the next few days.
A muffled groan comes from within the blankets and a frown appears on Yuuri's forehead. One eye opens just a sliver. “Victor?” His voice is rough from sleep.
“Yes?” He doesn't sound much better, himself.
“Did I steal the blanket?” Yuuri asks, worming his way out so the rest of his face is visible.
“A little bit, yes.” Victor suppresses a laugh at the way Yuuri's nose wrinkles like a rabbit.
Yuuri pushes himself up to a seated position, leaning against the couch, and grimaces. “Oh my god, I'm so sore.” He reaches up to rub the point where his neck meets his shoulder, and sucks air through his teeth sharply. “How are you?” He looks at Victor, brows pulled together in concern.
“I'm pretty sore, too,” he admits. His gaze wanders to the very comfortable-looking bed. “How do you feel about being next to each other in bed, awake, while we order room service and wait for it?”
Yuuri nods, and then grimaces again. “I think my neck was at a weird angle.”
They remake the bed, not without a few more groans and grumbles, and collapse onto it simultaneously.
“Victor,” Yuuri says, sounding pained.
“Yes?” he replies, but it comes out more like ‘Yphh’. He’s not sure how clear his speech can be while he’s facedown on the mattress.
“This is so comfortable.” The last word is almost a wail. He's adorable. Warmth floods within Victor's chest and he can't help but smile at Yuuri’s playful melodrama.
Victor flops over onto his back. “We have a few more hours until we have to check out. We can enjoy it until then, at least.”
They order breakfast, and he lets himself doze lightly until its arrival wakes him up again. They move to the table to eat, and Victor eyes the gift basket Yuuri had found last night.
“We could bring it back with us, as a thank you to your family for watching Makka for me while we were away,” he muses, gesturing at the basket with one hand while grabbing another piece of bacon with the other.
Yuuri nods. “Good idea. We'll have to open it up, though. It’s a honeymoon basket — I don't think I could ever show my face again at home if I ended up giving my sister chocolate body paint or whatever.”
The email notification sound interrupts the song Yuuri is listening to. A jolt of excitement shoots through him when he checks his phone and sees who it’s from.
Yuuri squeezes Victor’s shoulder. “Victor!”
“Mm.” Victor lifts his head off of Yuuri’s shoulder and rubs his eyes. “Is it our stop already?”
“Ketty just got back to me with the new version. Will you listen with me?” He chews his lower lip. The music is supposed to represent his journey in the world of figure skating — what if it sounds overly grandiose, and it comes across as if he has an over-inflated view of his accomplishments? What if it reflects reality too accurately and is just… boring?
Victor nods and holds out a hand for one of Yuuri’s earbuds. Oh well, no getting out of it now. He hits play.
The song starts with solo piano repeating ascending runs with a steady chord progression established with the left hand. That makes sense, he supposes; in the beginning it had been a lot of him just practicing as often as possible, frequently alone, trying to master the basics. Suddenly, a run leads up to a clear, high note which is held for a few seconds. It would be perfect to put the first jump there.
“We should put the first jump there,” Victor murmurs. Yuuri smiles at being on the same wavelength as Victor.
A low chord resounds as the ascending runs resume, giving a richer context to the same notes. Higher notes interweave with more nuanced variations of the established theme. Maybe this is supposed to represent the sophistication he had developed as a skater by the time he was competing at the junior level internationally?
The next section increases in complexity and he's struck by how challenging this piece is, musically. It's impressive that Ketty had been able to put it together in such a short time frame.
And oh , she's included strings in this version. They layer over the arpeggios, harmonizing beautifully, providing a fuller, more consistent sound to the chord progression. With the support of the strings, the piano arpeggios run up, up, up and down. Up, up, up and down. Try, try again, try and succeed. Yuuri immediately recognizes what the strings are supposed to symbolize: Victor. He glances over. Has Victor realized it too? His eyes are closed, it's hard to tell.
“I think the strings are supposed to be you,” he whispers, and Victor opens his eyes, surprised.
“You think so? I was just thinking that they add an essential, beautiful element that was missing from the first version, but that seems a little vain to say, now.” Victor laughs.
“I think that's completely right, though,” Yuuri says, quietly, and then feels his cheeks warming. That could come across like he's saying talking just about the music, or about Victor himself. Both interpretations feel truthful.
Victor is looking at him with an odd expression, and the music suddenly cascades down from a high point and grows quiet; the fast, increasingly complex piano melody replaced by simple, beautiful chords held for several beats each. A wave of peace washes over him, and for a moment, the whole world is made up of just the two of them.
The spell is broken as the tempo picks up again, and it takes him a moment to refocus his attention on listening mindfully. He closes his eyes, trying to envision what movements on the ice would be best to express the feelings the music is evoking in him.
Rapid triplets hammer out a tension-building chord progression, and Victor clears his throat. “That slow section would be perfect for some long glides, maybe a spiral or an Ina Bauer… can you do a cantilever? And you could lead into the next section with an axel.”
Yuuri nods mutely, eyes still closed. He can see that Ina Bauer, and it fits beautifully.
The piano and strings crescendo together in a sequence that elaborates on all the previously established chords and melodies, and finishes with another cascade down into the simple ascending runs from the beginning. It feels… hopeful, but not presumptuous, about where his skating career might go from here.
They are both quiet for a moment after the music has stopped playing.
Victor breaks the silence first. “How do you feel about it?”
“I think… it's perfect,” Yuuri replies, honestly.
“Me too.” Victor reaches over and squeezes his hand. Yuuri looks at him and smiles.
“So, the honeymoon suite with my little brother.” Mari sits down across the table from Victor. He sits up straight. All the members of the Katsuki family — all the people of Hasetsu, actually — have been perfectly cordial to Victor since he first arrived, but Mari has mostly kept her distance. Victor isn’t sure if that’s just how she is, or if she has some problem with him in particular.
“Ah! Yes, we hadn’t planned on it, but the hotel upgraded it for us.” Victor tries for a disarming smile.
“Uh-huh,” Mari says, giving him a flat look. “And I’m supposed to believe you had nothing to do with that, Victor Nikiforov?” She emphasizes his last name and her point is clear.
“I didn’t ask them to upgrade it, if that’s what you mean. But yes, they did recognize me.” He spreads his hands in front of him, palms up. “To be fair, they seemed even more excited about Yuuri; they might have done the same regardless of who he was with.”
Mari barks a laugh, and it’s uncanny how much she sounds like Yuuri. “You say that like Yuuri has ever been found walking into a hotel as a couple with anyone else.”
She folds her arms and pins him in place with an intense gaze. “I know my English isn’t as good as Yuuri’s, but I want to make sure you understand me perfectly.”
Victor nods, as though he has a choice about it.
“You’ve known each other less than two months,” she starts.
“We’d met a few months before, actually—” Victor interjects.
“You’ve been seeing each other for less than two months,” she corrects. “I know my parents are just happy to see him happy, and are willing to overlook how out of character this is for him. But I know my brother, and how slow he is to warm up to people. And I want to make sure he is safe.”
Victor hesitates. He wants to reassure her, but he’s not sure if Yuuri has spoken with her about them before. He would have given Victor a heads up if there were any details he’d need to avoid contradicting, right?
He lowers his voice. “Look, Mari… I understand your concern. But honestly, nothing happened. We’re taking things slow.” Taking things nowhere, really.
She sighs. “You probably think that’s enough to make me not worry about it. But Victor… unless there’s something I don’t know, Yuuri’s never had a boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, before you. I know the same isn’t true for you.” She raises her eyebrows and looks at him pointedly. “What’s ‘nothing’ to you might not be ‘nothing’ to him.”
He blinks, recalling Yuuri saying almost the exact same thing when they had first formed their arrangement. His sister knows him well, apparently. Maybe she has a point — allowing their hands to touch as they fell asleep had seemed to hold some sort of significance for Yuuri. And that hug… if he weren’t sitting down he might feel a little weak in the knees just thinking about it. Maybe it wasn’t entirely truthful to say that nothing had happened. “Okay,” he tells her, nodding. “I’ll think about what you said, really. I’ll be careful with him.”
Mari nods back at him. “One more thing,” she begins. Victor tilts his head, waiting for her to continue. She seems to make up her mind about what to say next, and continues, “I know it probably doesn’t matter to him, because he obviously loves you, but it matters to me: is your coaching him… what’s the word — dependent? contingent? conditional? — on your relationship?”
“What? Oh! Not at all!” His eyes widen in horror. No wonder she’s been distant with him if she thinks he could be that sort of person. “I would never do something like that,” he asserts, vehemently.
“Good.” She stands up. “Just make sure he knows that too.”
He obviously loves you. Mari turns to leave. “Wait!”
She looks back at him, arms folded, eyebrows raised expectantly. “Yes?”
“What exactly did you mean when you said he loves me? I know Japanese has a few different words that have distinct—”
She rolls her eyes. “Are you going to make me pull out all the cheesy English idioms I know? He’s in love with you. He’s head over heels for you. He’s in deep. He has it bad. He’s smitten. He looks at you like you hung the moon. You’re the apple of his eye—”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” Victor can barely hear his own words over the pounding of his heart. She’s just come to the conclusion they’d wanted everyone to think, right? It’s only because they’ve been very convincing. Right? He stares at his hands on the table.
She walks around the table and puts her hand on his shoulder, looking down at him. “Don’t worry,” she says. “If he hasn’t told you yet, he will eventually. Just give him some time.”
The next chapter might take a little longer for me to post. I have it written (and several more) but it's the start of an arc with a little more angst and I want to make sure I have a proper resolution written before I commit to any of it.
Chapter 15: My Neighbor Totoro
Victor opens up about his past. Yuuri takes a big step.
“Oh my god! Why wouldn’t the people with the car offer to help with the search?” Victor gestures at the laptop screen in apparent disbelief. Yuuri contemplates putting him out of his misery by telling him that the little girl turns out to be fine. He’s never seen someone so stressed out by Totoro. Victor had reacted a lot better to the other movies he'd shown him over the past couple of months.
“Yuuri. Yuuri. Is that her sandal? Didn’t they show her putting on her shoes earlier?” Victor reaches over from his position on the floor without looking away from the screen, grabbing at Yuuri’s leg where it’s dangling off the edge of the bed.
Yuuri quirks an eyebrow. “Do you actually want me to answer that, or do you want to watch and see what happens?”
Victor runs a hand through his hair, still clutching Yuuri’s calf with the other. “I feel like I would have heard about it before if this movie were a tragedy, no? People let small children watch it, don’t they?”
“Yep. The triplets will probably be very disappointed if they find out we watched it without them.” Hopefully that will settle Victor’s uneasiness.
“Just tell me now if the mother dies. Then I’ll know if I can handle watching the rest of this,” Victor says, and Yuuri feels his grip on his leg tighten.
“The mom doesn’t die. Nobody dies; it’s just supposed to be a fun, whimsical story.” Yuuri leans forward to detach Victor’s hand from his leg, climbing off the bed to sit next to him and giving him a hand to squeeze instead.
They manage to get through the rest of the movie with no more interjections from Victor, but he doesn’t let go of Yuuri’s hand, either.
“Well, that was deeply unsettling.” Victor lets out a deep breath, pulling his knees up to his chest. “I liked the other ones a lot better, especially the one with Howl, and the one with the spirits.”
Yuuri shifts to face him, one arm resting along the edge of the bed. “Victor,” he starts. “Don’t feel like you need to answer me, but—” Yuuri chews his lip, unsure about prying too much.
“Go ahead, Yuuri. Ask what you want to ask.” Victor’s voice is quiet and his attention is focused on picking at a loose thread at the bottom edge of the blanket.
“Why did the mom being in the hospital bother you so much?” Yuuri angles his head, trying to get a read on Victor’s expression.
Victor turns his face toward Yuuri, resting his cheek on one of his knees. He exhales heavily. “Okay… first, I need you to understand that this isn’t something I talk about.”
Yuuri feels himself shivering slightly with nervousness. He shouldn’t have asked. This is obviously really personal. “I’m sorry, Victor, I shouldn’t have—”
“No, it’s okay, let me finish.” He maneuvers until he’s sitting cross-legged. “I feel like I can tell you, I just need you to keep it to yourself.”
Yuuri nods, but remains silent, waiting for Victor to gather his thoughts.
“When I first started to show real promise as a skater, my father and I moved to Saint Petersburg for better coaching. My mother stayed; she was a teacher, and couldn’t just drop everything to move with us.”
Victor’s fists are clenched in his lap, knuckles white. His nails might be digging into his palms. Yuuri reaches over and gently coaxes his hands open, then settles his own hands a few inches away, palms up, open in silent invitation.
Victor looks at him with a devastatingly sad smile, and curls his fingers around Yuuri’s. His hands feel soft and warm. “We went back to visit her every so often, but then she got sick.” His throat bobs. “And no one told me.”
“Oh, Victor,” Yuuri murmurs, tracing his thumb across Victor's knuckles. He can’t be sure yet, but he has a sense of where this story might be headed.
“This was before I had become internationally recognized, so you might not have known about me yet,” Victor continues. “It was my first time competing at Russian Nationals. I was thirteen.”
Victor closes his eyes. “My mother’s condition had worsened, and she had been hospitalized, but I still didn't know anything about it. My father and coach thought it best not to distract me from the competition.”
No. Oh, no. Yuuri feels tears threatening to form, but fights them off. This isn't about him; he's not going to push his emotions on Victor when he has enough of his own to manage.
“I took gold, and would have had a few weeks off that I could have spent with her afterwards. But it was already too late.” His eyes are fixed on a point on the floor across the room. Yuuri can't find the words to reply.
“I've never forgiven my father. I cut all ties with him and that coach, started training under Yakov instead, and officially became an emancipated minor when I was sixteen.” Victor gives Yuuri’s hands a squeeze, and releases, getting to his feet. “And now you know all about my tragic backstory.” He laughs, but it’s obviously forced.
“Don’t do that,” Yuuri says, surprising himself.
Victor blinks. “Do what?”
“You don’t need to pretend to be okay,” Yuuri says, rising to meet Victor. “I know I'm not the perfect example of emotional stability, but I can handle supporting a friend.” He holds his arms out — Victor can decide if he wants physical contact or not.
Victor stares at him with his lips slightly parted, and Yuuri starts to feel awkward. They've hugged again since that night in Fukuoka, but never in such an emotionally charged moment. But this is a thing friends sometimes do, isn't it? When one is sad, the other offers a hug? Phichit had never been shy about physical closeness, but understood Yuuri’s need for space most of the time.
Maybe Victor needs space now and Yuuri has made things awkward by offering a hug at the wrong time. He had just gotten up to leave. Fuck, why does he always take too long to properly read all the cues. He pulls his arms part way back in. Has he been holding them out for an inappropriately long time already? Maybe he should just drop—
Oh. The space between his arms is filled with Victor, now. He rests his hands on Victor's back gingerly, and Victor's face presses into the crook of his neck. “I'm so sorry,” Yuuri murmurs, close to his ear, sliding a hand up to the back of his neck.
“Thank you,” comes Victor's muffled reply. His breathing is quick and shallow, but gradually evens out as the seconds tick by. He lifts his face and brings his hands to Yuuri’s shoulders, creating a space between them. “It was a long time ago. I just haven't talked about it in a long time, either.”
Victor presses his lips together and looks down. “Sorry for ruining the movie. I know it was supposed to be fun; I didn’t intend to detract from your enjoyment.”
“Oh my god, no. What?” He’s worried about ruining the movie? “I don't care about the movie. This is obviously much more important. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to tell me.”
Victor nods. “I’d better go.” He meets his eyes, and glances at the bed. “Makka looks nice and cozy, doesn't she? I guess you have her for the night.”
She does look pretty comfortable, curled up in a ball on the bed. But… “Wouldn't you rather have her with you?” After reliving all that, wouldn't Victor want his dog with him to cuddle?
Victor shakes his head. “I'll be okay. I don't want to wake her.” He pauses with one hand on the doorframe, looking back over his shoulder. “You'll just have to snuggle with her a little bit extra for me.”
With a brief wave, he's gone.
Victor can't sleep. He's not crying anymore — too dehydrated, maybe — but his insides are still being torn up. It had felt right to tell Yuuri about his past, but he is paying the price for that choice now.
As soon as he had closed the door to his room, he had been alone, and overwhelmed.
He is thirteen again, having just been completely blindsided with the news of his mother's death. Once again, the fall from the elation of winning gold to the despair of losing the person he loved most in the world has the room spinning around him. He hasn't been physically capable of getting dizzy for a decade, but that doesn't seem to make much difference now.
He rolls onto his side and clutches his pillow to his chest. He closes his eyes and tries to force himself to sleep, but it's no use. His efforts to count through his inhales and exhales are just escalating his distress. The sound of his ragged breathing is interrupted by a soft knock at the door.
He scrubs at his face and opens the door.
It's Yuuri. It takes every ounce of his willpower not to collapse against him. He's already been irresponsible enough as a coach to distract his skater with his dead mother sob story, he doesn't need to make things any worse.
Makkachin pushes past Yuuri to jump up and puts her paws on his chest, licking his face. She's always liked the taste of salt. He brings his hands up and buries them into her fluffy coat, and he's almost overwhelmed by the wave of relief brought by the physical contact.
He's an adult again, in Japan, not Russia, and his mother died over a decade ago.
He backs up into his room and Makka wastes no time before getting herself settled on the bed. He looks at Yuuri, who shrugs.
“She woke up anyway.”
Victor nods. “Thank you for bringing her.” Ugh, his voice sounds awful.
He sits down on the edge of the bed and rests a hand on Makka’s curled up form, looking at her fondly. There have been times when he’s felt like she was the only thing keeping him going.
“I just thought you could use… someone to cuddle,” Yuuri says, and Victor smiles weakly. It's the same thing he had said to Yuuri months ago about his reason for having Makka brought to Hasetsu.
Yuuri takes a step into his room.
Victor looks up at him sharply. Is he…?
Yuuri just stands there for a moment, looking at the floor, fingers fidgeting with the fabric of his pajama pants. Eventually, he looks Victor in the eye. He whispers, “I'll go, if you want me to,” and Victor stops breathing.
Victor's heart is going to beat out of his chest. He tries to begin, “And if,” but the words come out choked. He clears his throat and tries again. “And if I don't want you to go?”
Yuuri closes the door behind him before taking another step forward into Victor's space, and Victor brings his hands up to his waist. Yuuri is shaking so badly, Victor can feel the tremors spreading up his arms.
“Then I'll stay.” Yuuri’s reply seems to echo through the small room, or maybe just in Victor's mind.
“Are you shaking because you're afraid of me?” Victor asks him, whispering, but sounding loud in the darkness.
“No, it's not fear. My body just does this sometimes in intense emotional situations,” he replies. Hearing Yuuri’s voice in this room which moments ago had been oppressive in its loneliness is such a comfort, Victor feels like he might start crying again.
Victor slides his hands around to the small of Yuuri’s back, bringing him just a bit closer, and Yuuri’s hands come up along his shoulders to the back of his neck. Victor drops his head forward to rest against Yuuri, and they stay there like that for a while.
Victor feels his consciousness slipping, and shifts to lie down, scooting over as far as he can without squishing Makka. Yuuri climbs in beside him, facing away, and Victor tentatively drapes an arm around him.
“Are you sure you're okay with this?” he whispers. Yuuri has made his feelings about sharing a bed, even platonically, very clear. Has he decided it doesn't matter so much to him anymore? Or does he feel… differently… about Victor himself?
“Is it helping?” Yuuri asks.
Victor nods against Yuuri’s shoulder. “Yes,” he whispers, more forcefully than he had intended. “You're helping.”
Yuuri nestles into the blankets. “Then I'm okay with it.”
Victor closes his eyes. “Good,” he murmurs, on the verge of sleep. “Are you going to steal all my blankets?”
Here we go.
Chapter 16: The Name Of This Feeling
Yuuri and Victor fail at various methods of communication.
Yuuri wakes up with his face pressed against Victor's chest, his nose in the v between his collarbones, his head nestled under his chin. He's wrapped up in Victor's arms, their legs are tangled together, and he hasn't stolen any blankets. It's the best feeling in the world.
He soaks in the bliss for several moments, feeling the rise and fall of Victor's chest as he breathes, slow and regular, before doubt creeps in, dampening the euphoria. Is it wrong for him to enjoy this? Is he taking advantage of Victor's vulnerability for his own gain? It didn't seem like that's what he had been doing last night when he'd come here. He really had intended on just dropping off Makka, but when he'd seen Victor's haggard face and desperate, red-rimmed eyes, he would have done just about anything to help him.
Looking at Victor now, sleeping peacefully, all traces of pain gone except for slight puffiness around his eyes, he knows this hadn't been grounded in selfishness — for once, Yuuri has no problem ignoring the anxious voice in his head that second-guesses everything.
He settles his head back down under Victor's chin and closes his eyes. He's been debating about what name to give to how he feels about Victor, but things are clicking into place now, within the quiet stillness of the morning here in Victor's room. He needs to let this feeling sink under his skin, etch it into his bones, carve it into his heart, and show it to the world every time he skates.
Victor stirs, breath catching, and Yuuri braces himself for all this to be pulled away from him. He can only hope he's had enough time to memorize every detail. But Victor just pulls him closer. He wonders if his pounding heart will give away the fact that he's already awake. He might never get to experience this again, if Victor decides he regrets it, so he's going to lie here silently as long as possible.
But would Victor pull him closer if that were the case? Maybe he's not fully awake yet and doesn't realize who is in his bed. Maybe he thinks he's Makkachin. Oh, god. Maybe some subconscious part of him thinks he's Chris. If he has to see the disappointment in Victor's eyes when he realizes that he's just Yuuri, his heart might just shatter. Sudden nausea twists his stomach.
“Yuuri?” Victor squeezes his shoulder. “Yuuri, are you alright?”
Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. He can't look at Victor's face now that he knows for sure that Victor is fully aware of who he is. “Mm, yes?” he manages.
“Were you having a nightmare? Suddenly you were breathing fast and seemed upset,” Victor’s voice is full of concern. Maybe that will be the look in his eyes, now, and Yuuri won't have to see what was there a moment ago. Yuuri opens his eyes.
“I must have been,” he lies. “Sorry to disturb you. I can go back to my room so you can get some more sleep.” He pushes back away from Victor.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Victor asks, catching his hand. “You don't have to leave…” He looks worried.
Right. Tell him about it. How would that go over? Yes, Victor, I was dreaming that you were disappointed that I'm not your ex-boyfriend.
Yuuri shakes his head. “I’d better get up anyway, if we're still going over my free skate this morning. I want to go for a run beforehand to clear my head.” Victor starts to sit up, but Yuuri puts a hand on his shoulder. “You should stay, get some more rest. I know you had a rough night.”
Pain flashes across Victor's face before he slides a smile over it. Of course, being reminded of his dead mom again is exactly what he needed. Yuuri pushes a hand through his hair. “Sorry.”
Victor shakes his head, a hollow look in his eyes. “Don't worry about it. I'll see you at the rink in a little while.” His expression brightens. “Oh! I forgot to mention, your costume arrived. Yuuko will have it ready for you when you get there.”
Victor is so, so confused. An hour ago, Yuuri had freaked out as soon as he’d woken up next to him and left as quickly as possible. He'd made it clear that he did not want to be followed. He'd even apologized, which meant that he’d known that would hurt Victor, didn't it? He had been so sure that Yuuri had seen in his eyes exactly what he was feeling at that moment, and rejected it.
But now Yuuri is standing there at the center of the ice, chest heaving after having spent the past four minutes skating his routine at an altogether new level of performance. Four minutes skating in a way that Victor knows can only be done by putting everything on the ice. Four minutes skating like only Yuuri Katsuki can, every inch of his body drawing out the exact emotions he intends to evoke in his audience.
Four minutes where he might as well have stood there screaming I love you, I love you, I love you.
And he's standing there now, more beautiful than ever, with a desperate, raw look on his face, with one hand on his heart, and the other reaching out directly towards Victor.
So maybe he’d misinterpreted everything that had happened that morning. Or maybe he’d misinterpreted everything that had happened just now.
When he’d woken up with Yuuri in his bed that morning, it had felt more right than he’d ever felt about anything before. He couldn’t stop himself from tightening his arms around him, with every instinct urging him to keep that rightness… and then it had seemed like he had ruined everything.
And now he has no idea what to think. And they’ve been standing here staring at each other for a full minute, at least. Is he supposed to act like that was just a regular practice run of the routine? He wants to scream with frustration. Or joy. Or despair. Or who the fuck knows.
So he just applauds, and calls out, “Good work, Yuuri! Very emotive,” and something inside him breaks into pieces at the way Yuuri schools his expression into blankness. He's shuttered the window he'd allowed Victor to peer through a moment ago.
Victor comes to find him at Minako’s studio. He’s covered in a sheen of sweat and his muscles are screaming in protest with every movement he makes.
“Have you been avoiding me?” Victor asks, and Yuuri isn’t sure if he has the energy for this conversation. Admittedly, he has been avoiding him. He’d needed time to sort through his feelings, but everything is just as muddled as it had been hours ago.
During his morning run, he had allowed himself to contemplate that maybe he was in over his head. They’d agreed from the outset that Victor was only pretending to be with him as a path to reuniting with Chris. Victor had explicitly stated that he didn’t want to get involved with someone who actually wanted to be with him, and that Yuuri was a good choice because he wasn’t actually interested.
Yuuri’s not sure he meets the criteria anymore. This morning, the thought that Victor would rather have woken up next to Chris had been gut-wrenching. And that’s exactly what Victor doesn’t want to deal with.
He’d taken solace in the fact that even if he couldn’t be what Victor needed romantically, maybe he could still be enough for him as a skater. That if he had to suffer heartbreak, he could at least sink it all into his art. If he could lay it all out on the ice, all the feelings that were boiling over within him, at least Victor would be impressed with that. And he had allowed a tiny part of himself to hope that, if Victor had ever entertained the thought of really being with him, he might see what Yuuri was really trying to convey, and respond to it. But Victor’s reaction had been markedly lackluster. A failure on both counts.
He couldn’t figure out where to go from there, and skating itself was part of his mixed up feelings, so he’d come to dance, instead. Six hours ago.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, then,” Victor says, subdued, and Yuuri realizes he hasn’t actually answered him.
“I just needed to think,” he replies, and it comes out a lot more defensively than he’d meant it to.
Victor lifts up his hands. “I didn’t come to push you into anything. The opposite, actually.” He steps forward, but freezes, and Yuuri finds himself a step back. Oh. Why had he moved?
“I can see that you’re uncomfortable after last night. I’m sorry for burdening you with my emotional baggage.” He twists his hands together, continuing, “And I’m deeply sorry if you felt obligated to stay with me.”
How can he respond to that? He can’t tell him that he would immerse himself in all of his painful memories if it meant he could help. He can’t tell him that waking up with him this morning was the happiest he’d ever felt. He can’t tell him that he would stay every night if that’s what Victor wanted.
No. This is just Victor’s way of telling him he’s uncomfortable with Yuuri’s prying, and invading his space, and it’s never going to happen again, while still allowing him to save face.
“I’m sorry, too; it was none of my business, and I shouldn’t have pried.” Yuuri wraps his arms around his middle and forces himself to continue. “And I was the one who came into your room uninvited. It won’t happen again.”
“There’s no need to apologize. I wasn’t offended, Yuuri.” Victor frowns, displeased. Yuuri grimaces. Going back and forth like this isn’t going to get them anywhere new, and clearly Victor doesn’t want to continue this line of conversation. Victor looks down and away, and Yuuri wonders if he’s going to leave it at that. But then he looks back to Yuuri and opens his mouth as if to speak, but closes it again.
Victor seems to make up his mind — he doesn’t leave it at that. He states firmly, “I also want to make it perfectly clear that our coaching relationship is not contingent on our continuing to fake a romantic one. I'll stay on as your coach until the Grand Prix is over regardless of what happens.” Yuuri stares. Victor’s hands are stiff at his sides as if he’s not sure what to do with them. “I’m sorry if I didn’t communicate that well enough before now.”
Is he… trying to say he wants to stop pretending? Wouldn’t he just say that, then? Does he want Yuuri to end it himself, for some reason? Maybe he’s implying that Yuuri has been taking things too far, and he’s allowing him the benefit of the doubt because he might have thought that his coaching depended on it.
He's also put an expiration date on their time together. The Grand Prix Final. Less than six months away.
Yuuri shivers, feeling unsteady. He’s not sure if it’s due to anxiety, a chill from the sweat on his skin, or not getting enough food for the amount of physical activity he’s put himself through today. All of the above, probably.
“I understand,” he manages to say without letting his teeth chatter.
Chapter 17: The Truth Is In The Listicles
Yuuri competes in the Chu-Shikoku-Kyushu regional championship. The assignments for the Grand Prix are posted. Yuuri and Victor discuss what to do when they go to Beijing for the Cup of China, since Chris will be there. Victor bonds with the Katsuki family.
“I want you to downgrade the difficulty of your jumps and focus on your performance,” Victor tells Yuuri, right before he is supposed to get on the ice.
With nearly a forty point lead after the short program, the free skate would provide more than enough technical points even if every single jump were downgraded, assuming Yuuri could scrape together enough points with his performance to match his worst performance score across his entire career.
Strategically, it’s the right decision. But if Victor is honest with himself, that has nothing to do with it. Yuuri has been somewhat distant with him ever since that day they’d woken up together a couple months ago. Sure, he’s been friendly enough, and perfunctorily affectionate with him whenever they’ve had an audience, but the closeness they had been developing in the moments shared just between the two of them has vanished, leaving a hollow space in Victor’s chest.
His free skate has been emotionally flat. It’s been devastating watching Yuuri run through it again and again over the past two months, knowing what he’s capable of doing with it, and never seeing it come close.
He knows something had gone wrong during their conversation at the dance studio, but he hasn’t been able to identify what. Every time he’s tried to bring it up with Yuuri, his responses seem constructed to be what he thinks Victor wants to hear. It’s as if he’s built up a layer of defense to guard his genuine thoughts and feelings. Exactly like everyone has told him Yuuri does to most people. He hadn’t realized how much it had mattered to him that he was exempt from that rule.
If he can get Yuuri to concentrate on performance, maybe he’ll get to see a glimpse of what it had been like that day. Maybe he’ll hear a whisper of the message that Yuuri had seemed to be shouting.
Victor would like to see something good come out of the absurd situation that has resulted in Yuuri being here at this small regional competition where he has such a huge lead over all the other skaters.
It’s ludicrous that the ISU had refused to allow an exception due to the injury that had prevented Yuuri from competing at World’s. They had claimed that his scores from the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals last year hadn’t been outstanding enough to warrant an automatic qualification for the Grand Prix circuit this season. Victor had tried to leverage his own status to convince them, but they had been resolute in their decision.
Hence the opportunity to downgrade all the jumps and still win easily. But the look Yuuri gives him as he steps on the ice verges on petulant, and he proceeds to step out or touch a hand down on several very-much-not-downgraded jumps. He looks stiff during the section meant to represent the beginning of his partnership with Victor. But eventually, miraculously, he seems to relax; he looks like he might actually be enjoying himself on the ice.
Victor feels for the note in the inner pocket of his jacket that he had meant to give to Yuuri before his performance. He’ll have to find another opportunity, maybe in the kiss and cry. He looks back towards the ice and gasps in alarm when Yuuri apparently underestimates speed or overestimates distance and slams his face into the boards as he comes out of a jump.
He’s getting up and continuing. Okay. Victor tries to slow his heart rate. That hit had looked and sounded bad, but Yuuri is alright. He’s okay.
The crowd is fully energized by the time Yuuri comes out of his final spin, and Victor’s heart twinges at the sight of Yuuri reaching for him again instead of facing the panel of judges. Dropping his pose, Yuuri has the audacity to look very pleased with himself despite blatantly ignoring Victor’s directions, and Victor almost laughs at how much he is reminded of himself.
Japan is ready to have Yuuri Katsuki back. Even a fairly sloppy skate from him has the crowd screaming his name. Some of them have even been brought to tears. Victor is almost bowled over by Yuuri leaping at him, but he manages to catch him in a hug, feeling only slightly regretful at the bloodstains his new suit jacket will likely sustain from Yuuri’s bleeding nose.
He gives him the note in the kiss and cry, and his eyes track the movement as Yuuri slips it into his jacket pocket unopened. Maybe it’s for the best that he reads it later, anyway. Victor is startled when Yuuri pulls him into a crushing embrace before the scores are even announced.
“Thank you, Victor,” Yuuri whispers, trembling against him. It’s an intense emotional situation, Victor reminds himself. This is his first time in two months seeing the real Yuuri shine through, and longing wells up in him to have that Yuuri back for good.
“You’re amazing,” he whispers back. Yuuri squeezes him in response, and Victor hates that they have to separate when the scores are announced.
Yuuri scores a personal record and smiles through tears when he accepts his gold medal on the podium. Victor had been slightly concerned that the other skaters might be resentful of a world-class skater like Yuuri swooping in and taking gold — and how Yuuri might react to the negative attention — but his fears were clearly unfounded. The other medalists are looking at Yuuri in blatant starstruck admiration, thrilled just to have shared the ice with him.
Victor feels a swell of pride. Even though there was never any doubt that Yuuri would dominate this competition, obviously this moment affirming his legitimate return to the sport is immensely significant to him.
Something good, indeed.
Yuuri turns the folded up note over and over in his hands. Should he open it? He hasn't read the other ones either, though he has been collecting them in the box that used to contain his letters. The thought of opening the notes to find out that Victor hadn’t actually written anything and they really were just for show is too painful. Maybe one day he'll be able to bring himself to look at them properly. But not today. He tucks it back into his pocket.
He quickly showers in the locker room and heads out to meet Victor. Since the competition had been held in Fukuoka, they had decided to skip the hotel situation and take the train back to Hasetsu each night. Victor had made that suggestion, and the knife in Yuuri’s heart had twisted further. He knows Victor isn’t deliberately hurting him. He probably thinks Yuuri would be uncomfortable if they were placed in a room with one bed again.
And Victor is right, but not in the way that he would expect. Yuuri wants nothing more than to wake up wrapped up in Victor instead of a blanket again, but he knows it will just make him fall deeper, and he’ll be even more broken when Victor gets bored with him or succeeds at winning back Chris.
His phone buzzes.
Phichit: did you see the GP assignments???
Yuuri: Not yet, why?
Phichit: we're both going to china!!
That's in less than two months. Knowing that he'll be seeing Phichit so soon, it suddenly doesn't feel soon at all. It feels impossibly far away, and he desperately misses him. He could really use a friend right now.
Yuuri: That's good. I miss you.
Ugh, was that weird to say, given what happened with the letter?
Phichit: i miss you too!!
Phichit: promise that we'll hang out and you won't spend the whole time canoodling with victor
Yuuri: Lol. Canoodling??
Yuuri: But yes, I promise.
He looks up the rest of the information for the assignments. Oh. Chris will be at the Cup of China too. That's likely when Victor will want to make his move, then. It's a good thing Phichit will be there to help pick up the pieces when Yuuri falls apart.
“Yuuri, there you are!” Victor approaches, and Yuuri realizes he's just been standing here at the top of the stairs outside the arena, having stopped walking when he'd received Phichit’s text.
“Yeah, sorry.” Yuuri checks the time. “We should hurry if we want to catch the next train.”
They walk in silence for a while. They should talk about China. And Chris.
Yuuri clears his throat. “Did you see the assignments came out?”
“Oh, yes. Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup. I'm looking forward to showing you around Moscow!” Victor smiles, and Yuuri can't look, it's too much. He's pulled deeper every time he has to look at Victor’s hopeful smiles. He knows he’s been disappointing him by putting distance between them, but he doesn't know how else he can possibly protect himself from the inevitable pain of losing Victor, if not by gradually pulling away.
“Chris will be in Beijing.” He says, and it's out. They have to talk about it now that he's brought it up.
“Um. Yes, I saw that,” Victor replies. “And?”
“And I think we've done enough to show that you can take a relationship seriously. And things are fine between me and Phichit, too. While we’re there, I can pretend to break things off with you, and Chris will want to make sure you're okay. Then you can talk to him.” Every word is like pulling a barb out of his skin. He can't think of anything he wants less than what he's suggesting right now.
Victor is silent. “What makes you think we've done enough?” he asks eventually.
“Have you looked online at what people say about us? They make lists: 19 times Victor Nikiforov was the most romantic partner in history. 15 little things that Victor Nikiforov does for Yuuri Katsuki. 37 reasons why Yuuri Katsuki is the luckiest person in the world.” He takes a breath.
Those lists had been really hard to read. It had been a tearful night, but he hadn't been able to stop himself from clicking through to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Some part of him must crave torture.
“People are obsessed with us,” he continues. “It's like we have our own personal photographers following us wherever we go, chronicling everything we do. There hasn't been a moment they've missed of us together in public.”
Victor has stopped walking. “So, you want to end this? You… you don't even know if Chris has seen any of that. And what about the pair skating?” He folds his arms and glances away.
Yuuri clenches his jaw. He wants to shout that of course he doesn't want to end this. That he wants it to be real. But that’s exactly what Victor had wanted to avoid by choosing him.
“We haven't even started practicing for that,” he retorts instead.
“We still have time. And I think… we need to give Chris another chance to see us together in person. But I won't force you. If you want it to be over, it's over.” There's something in his voice that makes Yuuri’s chest ache, but he can't, he can't let himself keep reading into things like that.
“Fine. We'll keep going for now and figure it out in Beijing, then.”
The train ride back is oppressive in its silence. Yuuri is staring out the window, and Victor fiddles with his phone in his lap, absently scrolling through his instagram feed.
He searches the tag for their relationship, #victuuri . The most recent post is captioned, ‘Uh oh, is this the end?’ Ugh, they're like vultures sometimes. Normally, Victor is fine with fans posting happy, lighthearted moments they've captured, but sometimes he wishes people had more sense about what might be a personal moment.
This time it's a photo of them from half an hour ago, right after he'd stopped walking and Yuuri had carried on for a few steps without him, and then turned to keep talking to him. Victor's arms are folded.
People will jump on anything as a sign of relationship trouble, even a photo of them simply standing a little farther apart than usual while conversing. He glances over at Yuuri, who is now dozing lightly, leaning against the window. Victor taps the photo to get a closer look at this supposedly obvious sign of their troubled relationship, and frowns. Yuuri’s face looks… anguished. He's never seen him in that much pain. How had he missed that at the time? He zooms in on himself. Oh. He's looking away, he wouldn't have been able to see Yuuri’s face.
He looks over at Yuuri again, scanning his sleeping face. A bruise is starting to form under his eye. He’s lucky he didn’t break his nose; it’s just a little bit swollen, thankfully. Victor’s breath catches. The lines are there between Yuuri’s brows. Even in his sleep, he's still hurting about something. Maybe it's simply physical discomfort as a result of his collision with the boards, but this photo…
Victor has always considered himself to be a fairly intelligent person. When things had first become strained between himself and Yuuri, he had tried thinking through possible states of mind that would result in Yuuri suddenly putting distance between them. He had decided it was unlikely that it was a result of Yuuri having feelings for him, because the only reason he'd even thought of that possibility was because of how Yuuri’s skating had made him feel — it wasn't rational to seriously consider that to be evidence of Yuuri’s feelings. The way Yuuri had behaved upon waking up in Victor’s bed made much more sense if he had recognized Victor's interest and didn't feel the same way.
That theory fit Yuuri’s behavior fairly well: creating distance between them made sense if he thought it might cause Victor’s interest to fade. Yuuri is a gentle soul; even if he weren't interested in him romantically, he would still care enough to try to minimize the heartbreak.
The conversation they'd had earlier also made sense; if he thought it might deflect attention from himself, he would try to remind Victor of his goal to reunite with Chris.
Would Yuuri still have brought up Victor getting back together with Chris if he were dealing with feelings of his own? It didn't make sense. But, looking at that photo — which Victor is pretty sure must have been taken sometime after Yuuri had brought up Chris, and after Victor had asked him if he wanted to end things — that hadn't been the face of someone who actually wanted those things to happen.
Putting himself through the pain of continuing to pretend to be in a relationship with Victor would be selfless to the point of self-destruction, wouldn't it? Then again, Yuuri is not exactly a stranger to self-destruction when confronted with pain and loss. Fuck.
Yuuri’s expression in that photo doesn't fit the theory of him trying to discourage Victor’s attention.
But if Yuuri were trying to suppress his own feelings, instead, while still believing that Victor would be happier with Chris? It made complete sense that he would continue to pretend when necessary, but maintain distance during their genuine interactions in order to protect himself from the pain of heartbreak.
Victor is forced to conclude that he might not be intelligent at all. He might be a giant fucking idiot.
Their train reaches its destination, and Victor spends the evening somewhat tuned out to everything aside from trying to glean every possible scrap of evidence from the way Yuuri looks at him, talks to him, acts around him.
Dinner is a mostly silent affair — everyone is too busy enjoying the victory katsudon to take a break to speak. Victor rests his chin on the palm of his hand, elbow propped on the table. Watching Yuuri eat katsudon is almost as delightful as the food itself. He knows he's not the only one who thinks so, either; he's not looking, but he's sure Hiroko’s face is lit up with the usual delighted smile resulting from one of her loved ones enjoying her cooking.
“Is it that bad?” Yuuri asks, gingerly pressing the pads of his fingers along the curve of his eye socket and up beside his nose. “You've been staring.”
“Oh, sorry.” Victor grimaces. He has to stop being so obvious. He shakes his head. “It's not that bad. You should ice it for a while, though.”
Victor gets up to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer. When he gives it to Yuuri, their eyes meet, and Victor’s fingers ghost along the back of Yuuri’s hand. For an instant, the world is frozen, too.
The moment passes, and Yuuri stands up, wrapping his napkin around the ice pack and pressing it to his face. “I'm going to bed,” he says, abruptly. And then he's gone.
Mari clears her throat, but Victor doesn't look away from where Yuuri had disappeared up the stairs. “Yuuri won't talk to me, so I don't know what's going on between you two. But you'd better work it out soon, because this is painful to watch,” she says. She begins gathering up the dishes.
Evidently they haven't done a perfect job keeping up appearances. Victor helps Hiroko with washing the dishes, hoping the mundane task will consume his attention for a little while. Makkachin whines at their feet, and Hiroko smiles, giving her a few scraps of leftover pork cutlet and scratching behind her ears. It's easy to distract himself with watching Makkachin get spoiled. Mari is right, though. He has to do something, and soon.
When they've finished, Hiroko turns to him, placing a gentle hand on his arm. Victor looks down at her, heart aching at how similar her eyes are to Yuuri’s, and how full of empathy they are right now.
“Every relationship has its hard times,” she begins carefully, her thick Japanese accent reminding him how much effort she's making to reach out to him. “We can all see how much you both still care about each other. As long as you don't give up, everything will be okay.” She pats his arm a couple of times, and returns to her task of putting the dishes away.
If only it were that simple. Victor takes a stack of small plates from her and lifts it the rest of the way up to the high shelf where it belongs. “Thank you, Hiroko,” he says, and he means it. He's consistently and deeply touched by how Yuuri’s family has opened itself up to include him. The thought of losing not just Yuuri, but this wonderful family as well, has him blinking back tears.
If he's wrong about Yuuri’s feelings, bringing it up could be disastrous. If he's right… he'll have to approach things carefully. It's time for him to admit to himself that this isn't about Chris at all anymore. Maybe it hasn't been for a long time.
Beijing will be his deadline to figure out what to do.
Chapter 18: Milking It For All It's Worth
Yuuri obliquely talks to Phichit about how he's feeling, and gets some advice in return. Victor notices a change in Yuuri's behavior. Yuuri and Victor have a moment of genuine closeness. Victor dabbles in youth skating instruction. Victor and Yuuri fly to Beijing.
My husband wanted the chapter title to be "Milk The GOAT".
Yuuri has been doing his best to maintain the distance he’d desperately tried to put between himself and Victor — he’d thought, with enough time, the idea of Victor getting back together with Chris in Beijing would stop feeling like someone reaching into his chest and squeezing his heart. They leave for Beijing in two weeks, and he was right — it doesn’t feel like his heart is being squeezed anymore. Now it’s being torn out of his chest.
And his usual coping mechanisms are failing him.
Phichit: everything ok?
Yuuri stares at his phone. Since when is Phichit a long-distance mind-reader?
Yuuri: Why do you ask?
Phichit: you’ve been listening to Adele, Vienna Teng, and Christina Perri nonstop all morning
Fuck. He’d forgotten that Spotify does that. Good thing Phichit’s the only one who knows about that account.
Phichit: do you need me to come help you hide a body?
Yuuri: Lol. No, I’m fine.
He’s not. And he really, desperately wants to talk to someone about it. But it’s too risky.
Phichit: you only break out that playlist when you want to turn yourself into a sobbing snotty mess
Yuuri sits up and glances at himself in the mirror. Phichit is… not wrong.
Phichit: why won’t you talk to me?
Phichit: i know it has something to do with victor.
Ugh, he’s not getting out of this, is he?
Phichit: he’s had chopin’s nocturne in c minor on loop for like… days
Phichit: and that’s a *mood* if i’ve ever heard one
Of course Phichit follows Victor, too. Yuuri flops back onto his bed and dangles his leg over the side.
Yuuri: He’s probably just thinking about his programs for next season.
Phichit: doesn’t he always get music produced for his
Phichit: oh snap
Phichit: he’s not going to coach you next season?
Let’s go with that. He’s not going to let up until Yuuri tells him some plausible reason for being upset. He pulls off his glasses and swipes at his eyes. All this lying… he’s just so, so tired.
It’s exhausting not being able to tell anyone how much he’s struggling. What if he opens up about how he’s feeling without correcting him about the cause? He can just change a few words here and there…
Yuuri: I feel like once he goes back to competing… he’ll forget about me.
Yuuri: I’m not a good enough skater to keep his interest.
Yuuri: I have to get a head start on learning to do it without him, or else when he’s not coaching me anymore I’ll be totally useless.
Phichit keeps typing and stopping and typing again. Yuuri huffs in frustration.
Phichit: that’s the stupidest thing you've ever said
Well, that’s— that’s just— Well, it’s not like he can expect good advice from Phichit when he’s not telling him the real story.
Phichit: this is your chance to learn from the GOAT
Phichit: he’s the best skater who’s ever existed and you have him *at your fingertips* for the next few months
Phichit: why would you willingly cut yourself off from that before you absolutely had to?
Phichit: who cares if it’s not forever? milk it for everything it’s worth while you can
Yuuri drums his fingers on his chest. Maybe Phichit has a point.
Something has changed. Victor is hesitant to assume it’s permanent, but Yuuri has been making eye contact with him again. When he smiles, Yuuri reciprocates — faintly, sometimes, but still. And last night, when a fan had asked them for a selfie and Victor had draped an arm lightly over Yuuri’s shoulders for the photo, Yuuri had leaned against him, and hadn't moved to separate from him until Victor had had to detach himself to refill Makka’s water bowl.
Yuuri had made no move to reinitiate contact, but the fact that he had seemingly deliberately chosen to remain close to him for that length of time had felt like the sun coming out after weeks of incessant rain. It’s been lonely. Overwhelmingly so, sometimes. He knows Yuuri has his reasons — suspects what they might be, even — but that hasn’t stopped him from second-guessing himself and wondering occasionally if any hopeful feelings had simply been rooted in wishful thinking.
He’s had some bad days. Rest days especially have been difficult for him, because Yuuri hasn’t been seeking out his company, and that… really hurts. On those days, telling himself that he's worth something, that it's possible for someone to value him outside of the context of his skating, is never especially convincing. It isn't a new experience.
He’d even thought about asking the Nishigoris if they needed someone to babysit, because children have always had a way of elevating his spirits and allowing him to function in a simpler, more carefree state of mind. He’d ultimately decided against reaching out, fearing that it would be odd to do so without Yuuri.
But the past few days have been better. And the added bonus has been that Yuuri’s skating has regained the emotional element it’s been lacking for the past few months.
It’s unbearable, right now, watching Yuuri skate his Eros program. And not in the way that it’s been depressing to watch for the past few months. This time it’s because he’s on fire. They need to drop the temperature in here or Victor might sink right through the ice.
He’s gliding in a wide circle, trying to get a sense of what the audience might see from various angles, when Yuuri slides his hands down his body — a choreographed movement that Victor has watched at least a hundred times — and catches his eye over his shoulder in a downright smolder. Victor’s toepick catches on a divot in the ice, causing him to scramble for balance in possibly the least graceful moment he’s ever had on ice in his life.
Yuuri has stopped skating and his face cycles through several emotions: shock, confusion, concern. Finally, when Victor is upright and stable once again, Yuuri brings a hand over his mouth in a poor attempt to hide what is still obvious amusement — the adorable crinkling of his eyes is a dead giveaway.
Victor hides his eyes. “Let’s stop for today.”
“Are you alright? What happened?” Concern and suppressed amusement mingle in Yuuri’s question.
Victor feels himself flush. At least he can pass off his embarrassment as being ashamed of tripping rather than his lack of mental self-control. He shakes his head. “I'm just tired, and sore. I'm having trouble concentrating.”
Yuuri nods. “Yeah, I might go soak for a bit. You want to come?” He bends almost in half to rub at his calves while gliding towards the door, and Victor slides into the boards with a thud.
Victor may be feeling a little bit… frustrated . But this is the first time in months that Yuuri has overtly invited Victor to join him in doing anything, really. And he's been completely avoiding being in the hot spring at the same time as Victor, even when Victor has been the one to make the suggestion. He can't bring himself to decline.
Yuuri has struggled with body image issues since childhood. He consciously knows his self-image is distorted, but can’t see past his bias when he looks in the mirror. He is aware that his disgust with himself is irrational, though, and objectively understands that other people might not see him the way he sees himself. And while he can't fully comprehend it, Victor really does seem to be attracted to him. He’d seen Victor’s face before he’d tripped on the ice, close enough this time to be sure. He hadn’t meant to make him lose his balance, but he’d found himself reflecting Victor’s expression back at him, and then they’d made eye contact, and that had been that.
So maybe it's a bit petty, since Victor has been straightforward about his intentions from the beginning, but would it really be so wrong to let him have a glimpse of what he’d be missing when he gets back together with Chris?
He’s not going to do anything inappropriate, of course. But if he brings his hands up to slick his hair back with the hot spring water, and happens to arch his back slightly more than necessary, flutters his eyelashes more than strictly required for blinking, and lets his fingers trace his skin for an extra second after working at a sore muscle or two, that's not so far outside the realm of normal behavior.
If Victor calls him out, he can always claim to be exploring his character for Eros.
But Victor doesn't stay for long in the hot spring this time, so Yuuri’s efforts are cut short anyways. Yuuri twists his mouth. He had said he was feeling tired.
Victor nigh-on slams his door shut and slides down against it, panting. He squeezes his eyes shut, clutching his knees, trying to get his breathing under control. This is torture. Yuuri is torturing him.
He drops forward onto his elbows and knees, letting his forehead rest against the floor. Not helping. He sits back up on his heels and pulls his phone out of his bag to find something to distract himself.
Chris: How have you been, Victor?
Chris: Looks like we’ll be seeing each other soon
Chris: Beijing is coming up fast
He throws his phone across the room. He can't go on like this. He and Yuuri need to talk about what’s going on between them.
But not here in Hasetsu. If that conversation goes badly, Yuuri will be stuck with Victor in his space, in his home, when that might be the last thing he wants. And Victor will be more alone here than ever before. In Beijing, though, they’ll be able to put distance between themselves if necessary. Celestino Cialdini will be there if Yuuri decides he wants a different coach. Phichit will be there if Yuuri needs a friend. And Victor can go back to Russia if Yuuri decides he no longer wants anything to do with him.
Yuuri lets his longing for Victor flow through his movements as the sound of the piano and strings washes over him. On the ice is the only time he allows himself to express it. Shutting down his emotions while skating had been unnatural and stressful, and at this point he has nothing to lose by letting himself feel those feelings. Trying to not feel them hadn’t made things any better. His heart is going to be ripped to pieces in a few days no matter what he does.
He finishes with his hand stretched out toward Victor, as always. That will stay constant, regardless of what happens, because he owes this entire season to Victor. He’s given him this chance to redeem himself, to finally be able to show his love for the ice properly.
Oh! He skated it clean. His heart is already beating fast from exertion, but it pounds a little harder still as he allows himself to feel excitement for the first time. He might actually be able to do justice to Victor’s coaching.
As he exits the ice, Victor hands him his blade guards, and when Yuuri looks up while putting them on, intending to thank him, the words don’t make it past his lips. Victor’s eyes are shimmering with unshed tears.
Victor reaches for him, and Yuuri lets himself be enfolded in his arms. Warmth floods through him, and he latches onto the feeling. In skates, Yuuri is about the same height as Victor, so he can't easily press his face into Victor's neck like he would be tempted to. Squeezing him back as tightly as he feels he can get away with will have to be enough.
“You've come so far,” Victor tells him, voice thick with emotion. “I'm so proud of you, no matter what happens in Beijing.”
Tears prick at Yuuri’s eyes. “I owe everything to you,” he says, trying to get the words out before he loses the ability to speak. “You've given me such a gift. I don't know how I can ever thank you enough.”
Victor pulls back from the hug but keeps a hand at the back of Yuuri’s neck. “You had it in you already. Thank you for letting me be the one to help bring the real Yuuri Katsuki to light.”
They're inches apart. His heart is racing wildly. His vision narrows, cycling between Victor's eyes, Victor's lips, the faint pink dusted across Victor's high cheekbones. His own lips feel strange — he’s hyperaware of the cold air, his own teeth, the tip of his tongue. Victor's hand at the back of his neck adjusts slightly, creating the slightest pressure, and Yuuri shifts his weight forward—
“Victor, Yuuri, I'm sorry, but— Oh!” Yuuko stands frozen, looking between them. Yuuri stumbles back on his skates, and there's suddenly three feet between them.
“Sorry to interrupt, but, um.” She clears her throat. “I forgot to tell you we have a birthday party booked this afternoon; they've just arrived. The ice will be free again this evening if you want extra practice time.”
Fuck. What just happened? He's not sure if he's relieved or crushingly disappointed that Yuuko had come in when she had. He needs to get away, but can't exactly run on skates. He jumps at the next possible solution.
“Do you think the kids would want a lesson from Victor?” He doesn't look at Victor. He's depending on Victor's fondness for kids and his sense of indebtedness to the Nishigoris for all the free ice time to combine into willingness to go along with this suggestion.
“Oh!” Yuuko looks between them again, brow furrowed slightly. “I'm sure that would blow their little minds, if you're willing, Victor…?”
There's silence for a few seconds, and Yuuri starts inching away.
“Of course, Yuuko. Let me get my skates and I'll be right back,” Victor says, finally, and Yuuri exhales in silent relief.
Victor rests his head on Yuuri’s shoulder, closing his eyes and letting the sound of the plane engine drown out everything else. It’s such a good feeling to be pressed so close to him, but knowing that he might be about to scare Yuuri away forever by trying to make things real between them is tearing him apart. This might be the last time he can do this.
He’s not sure how he’ll get through it if that’s the case. But he knows he can’t continue with the way things are. Yuuri had clearly not wanted to talk about what had almost happened at the rink a few days ago, and Victor hadn’t pressed the subject. At least the birthday party lesson had been a success.
He drifts in and out of consciousness for the next couple of hours, and pretends to still be asleep when the flight attendant comes by to offer them drinks; Yuuri is asleep against him, now, and Victor is afraid to move. A few months ago he might have justified it to himself with the fact that Yuuri needs all the rest he can get before a competition. But he’s done lying to himself — he’ll do anything to hold onto this as long as possible.
When the plane lands, Yuuri startles awake, clutching at Victor and looking around in alarm. He relaxes after a few seconds. “Not an earthquake,” he mumbles, still sleepy, dropping his head back down to rest on Victor's shoulder.
“You must have been sleeping fairly deeply,” Victor says, reaching over to brush the hair out of Yuuri’s eyes.
Yuuri nods, face rubbing up and down against Victor's jacket. Victor's chest feels tight. Sleepy Yuuri is a side of him he hasn't been able to see in months. As if on cue, Yuuri seems to fully awaken and he sits up straight.
“Sorry,” he mutters, and the cracks in Victor’s heart grow a fraction longer.
Don't be sorry. I'm so afraid I'm about to lose you. He desperately wants to say the words out loud, to reassure Yuuri that he treasures every ounce of intimacy he's willing to share with him. Instead, he silently offers his hand, wondering if Yuuri will even notice.
But the plane jolts to a halt accompanied by the chime of the seatbelt sign being turned off, and it’s too late; Yuuri’s attention has been diverted.
When they get into the airport, Yuuri goes to find a restroom while Victor looks around at the signs for directions.
“Excuse me,” someone says. There's a woman standing nervously a few feet away. Ah, a fan.
Victor puts on a smile. “Hello! What can I do for you?”
She shifts from foot to foot. “I don't normally do this sort of thing. You're Victor Nikiforov, right? The figure skater?”
He chuckles. It's not often that people approach him who aren't sure of his identity. “That's me. Would you like an autograph?”
She shakes her head. Now that's a first. “Um, I'm sorry if this is totally creepy. I was sitting in front of you on the plane and I took a photo of you from between the seats.”
Victor shrugs. He's used to it, though most people don't tell him about it afterwards. “You wouldn't be the first. If you're lucky, it'll go viral.”
“Oh no, I would never!”
“Do people really do that, they just sneak pictures of you and post them without permission?” She looks horrified.
“All the time.” Victor feels his facade slipping. That had come out a little too genuine. Weary.
“Oh…” she pauses. “I was just going to ask if it was okay if I send it to my girlfriend. She's a huge fan. I don't know much about figure skating, but she always makes me watch videos of you, so I recognized you. But I'll delete it if you want me to.”
Victor feels a genuine smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “That's really thoughtful of you. Can I see?”
“Oh! Yeah, of course.” She hands over her phone.
Oh. Victor lifts a hand to his mouth and tears prick at the corners of his eyes. It's the moment that Yuuri had briefly settled back down against him and Victor had been brushing the hair out of his eyes. Victor's feelings are written all over his face. It might be the last photo like this ever to be taken. And to think, he might never have seen it if it weren't for this person's rare kindness.
“There's one more, from a little earlier,” she tells him. “You can swipe back.”
This one is of Victor sleeping, while Yuuri is awake. Yuuri appears to be touching Victor's cheek gently with his fingertips.
“That's your new boyfriend, right? My girlfriend talks my ear off about how happy you look with him all the time.”
Victor just nods.
“He's very romantic,” she says, dreamily. “I didn't catch a photo of it, but he put his fingers to his lips right before he touched your cheek. I just about swooned. I can see why she goes on and on about you two.”
What? Victor looks back up at her. Had Yuuri really done that? She has no reason to lie to him. “Can you send these to me? I'll give you my personal email address… just don't spread it around.”
She's just leaving as Yuuri rejoins him.
“Who was that?” he asks.
“Just a fan,” Victor says, faintly.
Yuuri nods absently. “Mm. We should get to the baggage carousel.” He wrinkles his nose. “I don't know why you needed to check a bag for a 3 day trip, Victor.”
He may have gone somewhat overboard and packed three or four outfit options for going out. “I don't know how you could possibly fit everything you need in that tiny carry-on!” He gestures at Yuuri’s bag.
Yuuri grumbles something about people waiting for luggage in a disorderly fashion and Victor can't suppress the laugh that bubbles out of him. A surge of affection prompts him to reach for Yuuri’s hand.
When Yuuri doesn't flinch away, instead letting Victor lace their fingers together and waiting patiently with him until Victor’s suitcase arrives, Victor allows himself to hope.
Chapter 19: Don't You Ever Take Your Eyes Off Me
What do we say to the god of communication? Not today!
“Ciao Ciao, I’m going to see if Yuuri is here yet!” Phichit calls, catching his coach’s attention and gesturing down the hallway.
It's been almost a year since he last got to hang out with Yuuri — two seconds of seeing him at World's doesn't count — and they have a lot to catch up on. What's Yuuri planning on doing after this season, if Victor is going back to competing? If he's thinking of going back to Detroit, that's something Phichit might want to think about too. Or… he wouldn't retire, would he? If the photos constantly flooding his feed are any indication, Yuuri and Victor are pretty serious about each other. Could he be thinking of going back to Russia with him? Somehow he doubts that Yuuri would thrive under a coach like Yakov Feltsman.
Yuuri turns out to be in the warm-up room, talking to Christophe Giacometti. That's got to be awkward. Phichit frowns. Chris is in his skates, possibly having just come off the ice, and he’s towering over Yuuri, who looks a little cornered, with his arms folded and back almost up against the wall. Christophe looks calm enough, but still, Yuuri looks uncomfortable. Maybe he could use a rescue.
“Yuuri! Oh my god, it's been ages!” Phichit inserts himself almost directly between them, throwing his arms around Yuuri. Oops, must have not noticed that he was talking to someone.
“Phichit!” Yuuri gasps, unfolding his arms to return the hug. Phichit gives him another squeeze and pulls back. Aww. A rare sighting of Yuuri with a big smile on his face.
“I saw that we both have the second practice slot! Want to give the fans something fun to catch on the practice cam with me?” Phichit grins at him.
“Sure,” Yuuri says, laughing. He glances over Phichit’s head, smile dimming slightly. “I should do introductions. Chris, this is Phichit, he's making his Grand Prix debut this season.”
Phichit leaves an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, but angles himself to be able to look up at Chris, who gives him a little wave. “Congratulations on qualifying this year. Though it's too bad we won't have Victor in the mix.” He gestures at Yuuri. “I was just saying that Yuuri must be feeling the pressure of being the one who took him off the ice.”
Ah. Yeah, that wouldn't have gone over well with Yuuri. “Where is Victor, anyway?” Phichit asks, pointedly not engaging in that line of conversation. Best to avoid piling even more pressure on Yuuri right before a competition. Phichit wants to win, obviously, but not via emotional sabotage.
“He went to get a coffee for me. I'm feeling a bit jet-lagged.” Yuuri glances around. “He should be back soon.”
“You two seem close,” Chris says with a smirk, raising an eyebrow.
Yuuri makes a choked sound.
Phichit directs a sunny smile up at Chris — the best way to deflect an insinuation like that is to take it at face value. “Yeah, we were roommates in Detroit! There’s no better bestie than Yuuri.”
Phichit spots Victor entering the room. Yuuri tenses beside him, and Phichit looks over at him, catching the briefest flash of… intense sadness? What’s that about? He wouldn’t have expected Yuuri to still be moping about Victor returning to competition next season. And that hadn't been a mopey look. For that fraction of a second, Yuuri had looked devastated.
He narrows his eyes at Victor. What did he do?
Yuuri steps out from under Phichit’s arm to take his coffee from Victor, who is looking at Phichit in surprise.
Victor loops an arm around Yuuri, settling a hand on his waist. “It's good to see you again, Phichit. Chris, how was practice?”
Yuuri somehow manages to look simultaneously uncomfortable and relieved at the contact with Victor, a line showing up between his brows, but leaning close against him. Maybe he’s just super uncomfortable about a show of affection in front of Chris? Interacting with an ex around is always a bit of an ordeal.
Victor and Chris chat a bit about Chris’s programs and Phichit watches Yuuri closely. Something is going on. Every time Victor laughs or smiles at something Chris says, Yuuri does a bad job at hiding a pained wince.
Does he think Victor is still into Chris? Phichit glances down at Yuuri’s waist, where Victor has his hand pressed, rubbing his thumb up and down. He looks back up at Victor’s face, at the superficial smiles and polite laughs he’s directing at Chris. Yeah, no.
Either way, Yuuri is obviously struggling.
“Yuuri, our practice time starts in five minutes. Want to chug that coffee so we can go lace up?” Phichit asks, making sure he sounds cheerful and not like he’s spent the past three minutes staring at his friend's boyfriend and contemplating their drama.
“Yeah, I’ll drink it on the way. Thanks, Victor. See you in a bit.” Yuuri separates himself from Victor, and they head out.
Phichit glances back as they leave, and Victor looks seriously disappointed at the loss of contact. Hundred percent, definitely into Yuuri.
Victor watches Yuuri and Phichit hamming it up for the practice cam — coordinating synchronized quad toes, spinning around together with Phichit piggybacking on Yuuri, laughing easily with each other — and feels a spike of jealousy.
He knows Yuuri doesn't think of Phichit that way anymore, but there's a natural easiness to the way they interact that Victor envies. He wants to be the one out there skating playfully with Yuuri. He'd be well within his rights as a coach to interrupt them and insist that Yuuri get down to business practicing properly. But… Yuuri looks so happy to be able to spend a few completely worry-free minutes with his friend. He'll let them continue a little longer.
Once the other skaters join them on the ice, there's no room for any more playing around, anyway.
Chris joins him at the side of the rink, looking out at the group practicing on the ice. “Did you see the look he gave you back there?” he asks, jerking his head in Phichit's direction. “I don't know if there's history there, or if he's just an overprotective friend, but watch out for that one.”
He had that noticed Phichit’s demeanor towards him had been… less than warm. He hadn't been overtly hostile, but for the entire few minutes they had been standing together in the warm-up room, he'd almost been glaring at Victor.
“I'm sure he's just concerned for Yuuri,” Victor replies. He doesn't want to get into this with Chris. Despite things being amicable between them now, if Yuuri really is upset at the thought of Victor reuniting with Chris, he doesn't want him to worry as a result of seeing them talking at length about something. By tomorrow night, everything will be sorted out anyway.
Chris leaves to discuss strategy with his coach, and Victor continues to watch the practice session.
It would be good to get a sense of the other competitors. Supposedly, Leo de la Iglesia had choreographed his own programs, which Victor can appreciate. He had admirably won Skate America without quads, but unless he's added a few since then, he shouldn't be a threat as long as Yuuri can maintain his focus. Guang Hong Ji had also been at Skate America, and had taken bronze. Apparently, he had recently added the quad toe to his repertoire, but watching him now, he's missed it a couple of times and doesn't look confident.
Yakov should be around somewhere, since Georgi is competing; they must have been at the earlier session and left already. Victor presses his lips together. His relationship with Yakov had been strained by his admittedly impulsive decision to take the season off to coach Yuuri. It would be nice if they could reconcile to some degree while they have the opportunity to speak in person.
The zamboni sounds its horn, signaling the end of practice time, and Victor watches from across the rink as Phichit pulls Yuuri into a hug. Phichit locks eyes with him over Yuuri’s shoulder, and apprehension trickles down his spine.
Victor knows Yuuri’s stance on a potential relationship with Phichit. But what if seeing Yuuri in a relationship with someone else has led to Phichit wanting something more? What if Victor’s not the only one planning to have an important conversation with Yuuri in Beijing?
He’s not absolutely certain Yuuri would say no. Maybe, when faced with reality rather than a hypothetical, he would give Phichit a chance.
Victor swallows. Maybe waiting until tomorrow night will mean missing his own chance.
“Yuuri, we need to talk about your short program before tomorrow,” Victor says, as Yuuri and Phichit are packing up their skates.
Yuuri’s skin is sticky with sweat. He could use a shower anyway. “Okay, Victor. Phichit, I'll see you tomorrow.” Yuuri stands up, and Phichit rises with him. “It was really great seeing you today. I'm glad we got to skate together for a bit.”
Phichit grins. “I'll let you know if I see any fun reactions to the practice cam stuff. Text me if you want to hang out later!”
That would be nice. It had been a relief being able to spend some time with Phichit and not have to pretend anything.
He and Victor head back to the hotel. Victor is quiet, leaving Yuuri free to ruminate on what Chris had said. No one who is a fan of Victor will be happy with Yuuri as a substitute. If the audience doesn't react well, that could really bring his energy down. And Eros is not a program that can succeed with a tepid performance.
But was Chris making an additional point? Is Victor going to be unhappy watching this competition take place and not being part of it? If Yuuri doesn't skate well enough, will Victor regret his decision to take the season off to coach him?
“I need to tell you something,” Victor says, suddenly, as they step into the elevator. His tone is serious.
“Is it about the competition, or something personal?” Yuuri asks, but he knows the answer.
Victor’s reply confirms his fears. “It's personal,” he says, in a low voice.
Yuuri’s stomach drops. He’d seen Victor and Chris talking at the side of the rink during practice. Have they already decided to get back together? Or… even if they'd decided not to get back together, then there's no reason for Yuuri and Victor to keep pretending, and maybe Victor is about to to put an end to it all.
“Good or bad?” he asks.
“Good, I think?” Victor sounds nervous.
Yuuri looks away. He’s not ready. He'd thought he'd at least have until the competition was over. A little longer, that's all he needs. To mentally prepare.
“Can it wait? I'm feeling pretty gross. I'd like to shower first.” Yuuri can't look at him. He’ll see it in his face, whatever Victor is about to do. If he can delay until after his shower, at least he'll have some time alone to get his shit together before he has to face reality.
“Yeah,” Victor eventually replies, his voice quiet. “It can wait.”
They get to their room and Yuuri tosses his bag on his bed, immediately escaping into the bathroom. He leans against the counter, palms pressed against the cool surface, and looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t look any more ready for this than he feels.
Fuck. Why would Victor decide to spring this on him the day before he’s supposed to skate against Chris? Can’t he just pretend, for one more day, that nothing’s going to change?
He strips down and turns on the water. Stepping into the shower, he closes his eyes and tilts his head back, letting the water wash over his face, drowning everything out. As long as he stays in here, everything else is on pause.
He drops his head forward, watching the water stream off the single point his hair has formed in front of his eyes, feeling the barrage of hot water against his back. He can't stay in the shower forever, though. He'll look like a prune.
He should probably actually wash, too, and not just stand in the water.
Maybe he can just ask Victor to hold off on telling him anything that might throw him off his game until after he skates tomorrow. Victor can be reasonable. It's worth a shot.
There's no point wasting any more time now that he has a course of action in mind. He finishes up and makes a half-assed effort at toweling off his hair. It's still wet, but he just runs his fingers through it to push it up out of his eyes. Ugh, he’d forgotten to grab a change of clothes. He dries himself off just enough not to be dripping all over the floor, and wraps the towel around his waist.
He steps out of the bathroom. Victor’s bed is on the far side of the room, and Yuuri squints to see more clearly. His glasses had been too fogged up to be useful. Victor had been lying down, but quickly sits up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. Yuuri can't make out the expression on his face very well, but his mouth is open and he might be about to say something.
Yuuri speaks up before Victor can have the chance to deliver his news. “I know you said you wanted to tell me something.” He holds up a hand. “But… you know I get in my head about things and mess up my jumps. I don't know how well I’ll skate tomorrow if you tell me now.”
Victor starts, “Yuuri, I think—”
Yuuri cuts him off. “Please,” he says, allowing a little bit of desperation creep into his voice. “Please, Victor. Not today.”
Victor closes his mouth.
Yuuri grabs his clothes and heads back into the bathroom to change.
Just a couple of hours, now. The short programs are about to begin, and afterwards, they’ll finally be able to talk.
“Yuuri, do you want some water?” he asks, holding out the bottle to Yuuri, who is lying flat on his back on the mat, staring blankly at the ceiling.
Yuuri shakes his head silently. He seems intensely focused on… whatever it is that he's doing. Victor feels a little out of his element as a coach. His own mental preparation techniques before competitions hadn't looked anything like this, and Yuuri hadn't acted like this at all before the competition in Fukuoka.
When Yuuri finally gets up and starts pacing rapidly up and down the hallway, Chris stands up from stretching nearby and nudges Victor’s elbow. “Is he okay?” he asks, eyes following Yuuri back and forth.
Victor regards Phichit nearby, in a deep stretch with his foot on the wall over his head. He could ask him if this is familiar behavior, but if that's the case, he doesn't especially want to let on that this side of Yuuri is completely foreign to him. And he doesn't want to confirm everyone's belief that he's too clueless and inexperienced as a coach to handle a skater at this level.
“Yes, he's fine. This is just his usual pre-competition ritual,” he replies, trying to infuse his voice with confidence. “You of all people should know how superstitious athletes can be.”
At least Phichit seems focused on his own warm-up. On the surface, at least, a grand romantic speech from him does not appear to be imminent. Maybe he knows Yuuri well enough to have reached the conclusion — without needing to be explicitly told — that Yuuri wouldn't want to deal with something like that right before skating.
The photo from the plane of Yuuri touching his cheek had convinced Victor that opening up to Yuuri about his feelings was the right course of action. But would it really be wise to take the word of some stranger that it had definitely been a romantic gesture? She could have been lying, or mistaken; maybe Yuuri had just been wiping something off Victor’s cheek, and had licked his finger beforehand like a doting grandmother.
Choosing to stay silent would be selfish, he’d told himself. Speaking up could end up being painful for Victor or wonderful for both of them depending on whether Yuuri reciprocated his feelings. Either way, he’d reasoned, he was only protecting himself, not Yuuri.
But no. It’s fair for Yuuri to want to focus on his performance. He knows his own mind best, and understands when personal matters might distract him. Hopefully, a successful short program will provide him with enough confidence that he’ll be able to handle an important conversation with the free skate still to come.
Victor just can't bring himself to pass up the possibility of seeing Yuuri skate that program after they talk, in the event that everything plays out the way it has in his wildest dreams.
And most likely, Phichit’s intentions were, are, and always will be platonic in nature. Victor had demonstrated a horrendously jealous attitude by jumping to conclusions based on a few displeased looks leveled at Victor and a healthy amount of friendly affection for Yuuri. He should be ashamed of himself for feeling like he has any claim to Yuuri on the basis of a few months of a strained, fake relationship.
Yuuri remains in his strange state of focus, disengaged from everyone around him, right up until Phichit skates to the center of the ice. He watches the monitor in the warm-up room raptly as Phichit performs, fingers steepled in front of his face. Is this how Yuuri had looked whenever he’d watched broadcasts of Victor’s performances?
Phichit misses the landing on his quad toe, and Yuuri winces in apparent sympathy. Phichit gets up to keep skating, and Yuuri softly claps his hands together a few times, mimicking applause.
“He's always wanted to skate to this music,” he says, breaking his extended silence. His gaze meets Victor’s for a moment before returning to the screen.
Victor hums an acknowledgement. “The audience is responding very enthusiastically to him. That always helps.”
Yuuri presses his lips together, and his eyes take on that distant look again. Victor frowns. Why would that have upset him? He'd thought he was making a fairly neutral observation.
Before he can ask, Phichit has finished his program and Guang Hong takes to the ice, signaling that it's time to get Yuuri ready to skate.
Yuuri takes off his jacket, and Victor’s breath catches. Victor absently takes the jacket from him. Will Yuuri in that costume ever stop having this effect on him? His whole energy transforms when he wears it. And now the whole world will get to see this side of him. Victor has always been the one Yuuri has locked eyes with at the start of each performance. But maybe Victor has been selfishly hoarding this aspect of Yuuri to himself.
“Yuuri,” he says, catching his attention. “For you.” He'd had to write something down after Yuuri told him he couldn't hear it out loud. He hands the note to Yuuri.
“Can you put it in one of the jacket pockets for me?” he asks, handing it back. Victor nods. Of course, he’ll read it afterwards.
Guang Hong is done. It's time.
Yuuri skates onto the ice, and Victor gestures him over to the boards to give him his last minute advice.
“You're showing your Eros to all of them, now.” He puts one hand over Yuuri’s and uses the other to gesture around at the audience and the cameras. “You can charm everyone with this performance. It’s not about me anymore.” He rubs the back of Yuuri’s hand reassuringly.
Suddenly, Yuuri interlocks their fingers and pushes forward to press his forehead against Victor's.
“Don't you ever take your eyes off me.”
Victor forgets how to breathe. And as Yuuri spends the next few minutes delivering the performance of a lifetime, Victor’s not sure if he'd be capable of going against that command even if he'd wanted to.
Chapter 20: I Love Katsudon
Comments are my lifeblood. Let me know what you liked!
Maybe pushing himself nose-to-nose with Victor and demanding his attention had been a bit out of his comfort zone, but Yuuri had hardly been able to believe it when Victor had tried to make it about the audience. There’s only ever been one person whose reaction Yuuri has cared about while skating his Eros program. And this had possibly been the last time he could get away with skating it entirely for him without it being wildly inappropriate to do so.
Afterwards, Victor had asked him in the kiss and cry if he’d felt good while performing, and he’d responded that he’d been thinking of making everyone else feel good watching him, but that was a big fucking lie. He’d only cared about how Victor had felt while watching him.
Victor had sent chills up and down his spine by murmuring close to his ear about how amazing he’d been, telling him he wanted to go out for dinner to celebrate, showering him with praise. He’d felt like he could skate like that every time if he knew he’d be rewarded with the sound of Victor’s voice in his ear like that.
But now, after spending the past forty minutes doing interviews about his hopes for his free skate and the rest of the season, the adrenaline crash is hitting hard and reality is sinking in. There isn’t really anything between him and Victor, and Yuuri isn’t the one who Victor really wants to go to dinner with.
Independent of all that, he's starting to worry about how he can possibly meet everyone's suddenly very high expectations for his free skate.
“Yuuri, are you ready to go?” Victor calls, catching his attention with a wave from across the room. He can see Chris nearby, talking to his coach. He looks between Victor and Chris. It’s probably best for him to get himself out of the way now, so they’ll be free to do what they want for the evening. Victor will be relieved not to have to go through an awkward conversation with him about it.
Yuuri’s heart is in his throat. Is this the end? He can't deal with this alone anymore. It's too much.
He scans the cluster of skaters, coaches, and media, and picks out Phichit chatting with Guang Hong and Leo a dozen or so feet away. He makes his way over and grabs his arm. He calls to Victor, putting everything into keeping his voice steady, “I'm going to catch up with Phichit over dinner tonight. Why don't you see if Chris wants to go to dinner with you instead?”
He's going to be sick.
Phichit looks at him like he has two heads. Under his breath, he asks, “What are you doing?”
He steers Phichit to turn around with him and starts to walk away.
He hears Victor call from behind, “Yuuri, what—? Where are you going?” He squeezes his eyes shut and keeps walking.
Once they are outside, Yuuri turns to Phichit. “Can I stay in your room tonight? I really need to talk to you.”
“Yeah, of course you can. What's going on, Yuuri?” Phichit looks worried. It's a foreign expression on his face.
“I'll tell you everything, but not here.” Yuuri looks at him, silently pleading that he'll agree without further questions.
Yuuri is really worrying him. He's barely picking at his dumplings, and he hasn't said anything since they got back to Phichit’s room.
“Okay, it's time for you to tell me what's up.” Phichit folds his arms. “Something's going on. Why would you want Victor and Chris to spend time together?”
“Because that was the whole point,” Yuuri says, miserably.
“What do you mean?” Phichit frowns.
“Victor and I… it's never been real.” Yuuri pushes his takeout container aside and drops his head into his arms on the table.
Something must have happened to really shake Yuuri up. He grits his teeth. He told Victor to be careful with him; he might need to be reminded of that conversation. But right now, supporting Yuuri is more important.
Phichit scoots a chair over next to him and sits down, putting a hand on Yuuri’s back. “This okay?” he asks. He knows Yuuri can be sensitive about physical touch when he's upset.
Yuuri nods. Phichit rubs his back. “I don't know exactly what happened between the two of you, but I'm sure whatever it was doesn't make what you had before any less real—”
“No, I mean it was fake from the beginning. We both agreed.” Yuuri’s voice is a little muffled by his face being in his arms, but Phichit is pretty sure he heard all the right words.
“What… do you mean by that, exactly?”
Yuuri turns his face just enough to peek at him with one eye. “You're going to think I’m ridiculous.”
He shrugs. “Maybe so. But I'm here for you anyway. Now spill.”
Yuuri hesitates, lifting his head. “You have to swear to me that you won't spread this around at all. No social media, no talking to anyone.”
Phichit nods. What’s Yuuri gotten himself into?
“Say it.” Yuuri looks at him seriously.
“Uh— okay… I promise I won't tell a soul.” Phichit lays a hand over his heart.
Yuuri exhales heavily and his shoulders drop. “I agreed to pretend to be Victor's boyfriend so he could convince Chris to get back together with him.”
Phichit’s mouth falls open.
He listens to the rest of Yuuri’s story in various states of shock. He can't help but interrupt when he hears Yuuri’s initial motivation for going along with it — “Why didn't you just talk to me??” — but ultimately lets it go because he knows how Yuuri catastrophizes and how impossible talking it out would have seemed to him at the time. He just didn't expect him to feel the need to go this far.
“And now I feel like a complete idiot for falling for him. Apparently I'm just so pathetically desperate for affection that I tricked myself into feeling like it was real enough.” His eyes drop to his hands in his lap. “I'm so stupid, Phichit.”
Phichit screws up his mouth. They had kept this up for months? Something isn't adding up.
“So you're telling me that Victor has been pretending to be in love with you this whole time, even in front of just your family? And it's all been for the sake of convincing Chris that he can handle a real relationship?”
“And you're the one who came up with the no kissing rule.”
Yuuri tilts his head and scuffs his feet against the floor. “I mean, I didn't make a rule, I just told him I was uncomfortable.”
Phichit rubs his forehead. “And he — like any decent person — interpreted this as you telling him not to do it again, yeah?”
“Yeah, alright,” Yuuri mutters.
“And you ran off after spending the night with him — I know, I know, not spending the night with him — even though he asked you to stay.”
“Well, he didn't ask me to stay; he told me I didn't have to leave,” Yuuri nitpicks.
Phichit glares at him until he looks up and notices.
“Okay, fine, yes, I ran off,” Yuuri mumbles.
“And Victor's the one who wanted to go out to dinner with you tonight and you blew him off.”
Yuuri looks away, but nods.
“And you think you're the one who stupidly fell for the person you were supposed to be fake dating??”
Yuuri frowns, squinting at him. “What do you mean? Of course I did.”
Phichit raises his eyebrows and folds his arms. “It sounds to me like you have it backwards. Victor is the one who fell for you, and he's probably really upset that you didn't go to dinner with him tonight,” he concludes.
Actually, it might be even worse than that — Yuuri had come with him, instead, and Victor knew Yuuri had sent him a letter, too. Maybe it’s best not to point that out.
Yuuri’s staring. “What? No.” He shakes his head. “There's no way.”
Phichit rolls his eyes. How much heartache have these two put each other through for no reason?
He pulls out his phone and Yuuri tenses. “Oh my god, I'm not going to post anything. Here, look.” He brings up the feed for #victuuri and doesn't even have to scroll that far to find a photo where Victor is obviously stupidly in love with Yuuri. He lets Yuuri take his phone to see.
“That's just one picture… anyone can cherry pick until they find what they want to see in someone's face.”
Phichit sighs. “Fine, give it back.” He scrolls a little farther to find another. And another. And at least a dozen more. “There are like twenty pictures like this that I've found in the past two minutes.”
Yuuri just sits there blinking at him. This might call for a more specific plan of action.
Phichit taps his finger on his chin. “Okay, let's see. If Victor went out with Chris and got back together with him, they'd go back to Chris’s room, since he's not sharing with anyone.”
Yuuri nods and hugs himself. He looks miserable.
“No, ugh, I'm not trying to make you think about that. I'm saying if that were the case, there's no way Victor would be back in his own room. Your room. So…?”
“So…?” Yuuri echoes. Phichit groans. Yuuri is capable of being frustratingly dense when he's decided something is impossible for him.
“ So… I’d bet my hamsters that he's there now, hoping you'll show up. And if I'm wrong, he's not there, he never finds out you went looking for him, no harm done.”
“It's really late…. Do you think he'd still be up waiting, even if he is there?” Yuuri looks at him, a little dazed, but hopeful.
“Yes! Go find out!”
Phichit swallows hard. He'd better be right.
Yuuri holds his breath for fifteen seconds before Victor answers the door. Phichit was right — he's here. But what if it's just because Chris turned him down? What if it has nothing to do with wanting Yuuri to come back?
He takes in Victor’s appearance. Flushed cheeks, messy hair, red-rimmed eyes.
“Yuuri,” Victor says, almost in a whisper. “You came back.”
“How did it go with Chris?” Yuuri asks, biting his lip so hard it hurts. Maybe the pain of that will distract from the pain of whatever it is that he's about to hear.
Victor barks a laugh that sounds almost like a sob, and he shakes his head. “That doesn't matter. Why didn't you come to dinner with me?”
Doesn't matter? What does that even mean? Yuuri shrugs uncertainly and folds his arms. “I thought you'd want to go with him.”
Victor presses a hand over his eyes. “No, Yuuri.” He drops his hand to his side and meets Yuuri’s gaze. “I wanted to go to with you. I even researched which Japanese restaurant makes the best katsudon in Beijing. It's very popular; I had to make a reservation weeks ago.”
“You were researching places to get katsudon in Beijing weeks ago?” Yuuri says, faintly. He can hear his pulse pounding in his ears.
“What do you think that means?” Victor asks, and there's something there, in his voice.
Yuuri swallows. “It means y-you… really like katsudon?” But he knows that's not the answer.
Victor reaches out a hand, and Yuuri finds himself reaching too, meeting him in the middle. Their fingers intertwine.
Victor chuckles and sniffles. “I love katsudon,” he whispers, looking Yuuri directly in the eyes.
Victor steps back into the room, still holding Yuuri’s hand firmly enough that it's a clear invitation, but not so tightly that Yuuri wouldn't be able to pull free easily if that's what he wanted. Yuuri searches Victor's face. It's there, in his eyes: he knows Yuuri might pull away, and he's ready to let go if he does. But there's also a desperate glimmer of hope. He doesn't want to let go.
Yuuri follows him into the room, and the door closes behind him.
Chapter 21: Whatever You Want
Victor and Yuuri hash things out.
I’m anxious about this chapter. At first I wasn’t really planning on trying my hand at steamy scenarios, being so new to creative writing. Then I thought about writing it but having it marked so people can skip it, but I don’t like the idea of an entirely superfluous scene. I’ve gone over it too many times, now, and I just hope it isn’t super cringey.
It's quiet. The seconds tick by as they both just stand there. Yuuri isn't sure what to do. Victor turns to fill a glass of water and drinks the whole thing in seconds. Is he… nervous?
He places the glass on the counter and turns to face Yuuri again, but his eyes are looking at the floor. “You don't have to stay, if you don't want to. I'm glad you came, and I'm hoping we can talk, but if you want to go—”
“I don't want to go, Victor,” Yuuri says, and Victor looks up at him, shoulders sagging in obvious relief.
Victor pushes off the counter and for an instant he looks like he might take a step forward, and Yuuri feels a wild surge of hope. But Victor seems to think better of it, and stays where he is. It hits him just how much he wants Victor to close the distance between them, how much easier this would be if Victor could just read his mind and do everything he so desperately wants him to do.
He's struck by a memory of their time in Fukuoka. Something has been niggling at the back of his mind ever since Phichit had pointed out that Yuuri had been the one putting all of the limitations on Victor's interactions with him.
It clicks into place. Something Victor had said that night.
“In Fukuoka, you said you would never do anything I didn't ask for.” The swoop of his stomach makes it hard for Yuuri to continue, and he digs his nails into the palms of his hands.
Is he really doing this? He’s really doing this.
He lets out a shaky breath. “Does that mean… if I did ask…” His heart is beating so fast. Jittery energy runs all through his limbs to the tips of his fingers and toes, rushing back into his core in a cycle repeating faster and faster.
Victor’s gaze is burning a hole through him. It doesn't look like he's even breathing. Yuuri inches closer, reaching out a tentative hand toward Victor’s waist. Victor immediately leans towards him.
Yuuri’s own breaths are coming fast and shallow. He feels lightheaded. He's close enough now that he has to tilt his face up to maintain eye contact with Victor.
“Would you…?” he breathes, and he’s barely able to hear his own words.
“Yes.” Victor's reply comes brokenly; he sounds wrecked, as if it took every bit of air left in his lungs to say that one word. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, closing his eyes. When he opens them again, his pupils are blown wide. “Whatever you want, Yuuri. Yes.”
Yuuri’s hands tighten their grip on Victor’s waist and he pulls, the last of his hesitation gone. Victor’s arms come up around him, and the last few inches of space between them vanish. He feels the heat of Victor’s body, the softness of his lips, and he lets his eyes fall closed.
It’s gentle, at first, almost still, as if neither of them have fully realized that it’s really happening. And then Yuuri parts his lips so, so slightly, and Victor’s hands move, one up into his hair, the other to the small of his back, pressing them together. A jolt of heat goes straight down his spine to just below his navel, and he tilts his head, needing more.
The give and take of sensation becomes overwhelming, and Yuuri breaks it off, panting shakily, forehead pressed against Victor’s.
“Oh my god, Victor,” he whispers.
“What is it?” Victor's reply sounds pained, and Yuuri pulls back to look at him. He's afraid. Yuuri hands come up to Victor's face, and he strokes his cheek with the pad of his thumb, smiling reassuringly. Victor relaxes a fraction, but he still looks… vulnerable.
He knows how it feels to lose someone.
“I can’t believe I've been missing out on this all this time.” Yuuri moves to kiss him again.
“I’m glad,” Victor says, and Yuuri stops.
“What?” He frowns, pulling back again, withdrawing his hands from Victor’s face, fingers curling in toward his palms.
Victor’s lips curve into a heartbreakingly slight smile. He brings his hand up to trace an arc from Yuuri’s brow to his jaw, drawing his thumb across Yuuri’s lower lip in a whisper-soft touch.
“Because now this is real. I get to learn what you want, what you like, without any pretending,” Victor says, close enough that Yuuri can feel the heat of his breath against his lips. “I think it would have broken my heart if I’d been able to kiss you all along and had to hide what I was really feeling every time.”
A barely vocalized whimper makes its way out of Yuuri. How can one person be so fucking romantic?
Victor cups Yuuri’s face with both hands and pulls them together again, pressing soft kisses against his mouth.
“Victor,” he murmurs. Another kiss. “Victor.”
Victor pulls back. “Too much?” he asks, sliding his hands down to Yuuri’s shoulders.
“No, it’s okay.” Yuuri bites his lip. “It’s so good, Victor.” He tucks his arms under Victor’s and presses his hands against his back, dropping his head against Victor’s shoulder. “We should talk, though, shouldn’t we?”
Victor sighs. “Yes, we should, but… I’ve wanted to kiss you again for so long.”
Yuuri’s heart picks up speed upon processing those words. He lifts his head to look Victor in the face. “Let’s make it a quick conversation, then, so we can get back to it.” He bites his lip in what he hopes is an attractive sort of way.
Victor looks at him with raised eyebrows, and laughs lightly. “What do you have in mind?”
“I just need to hear some things out loud so my brain will stop nagging me that I’m reading too much into everything.” Yuuri says, cringing and hoping Victor won't suddenly decide he's more trouble than he's worth.
Victor slides a hand behind his neck and strokes a thumb against his skin. “Let me be perfectly clear, then. I want to be with you, Yuuri Katsuki, and not in a fake way.”
Yuuri sucks in a breath, startled at how obvious it is now, there in Victor’s eyes. Were they always this blue?
“You don’t want Chris back anymore?” he asks, in a small voice.
“I just want you,” Victor replies, sending tingles throughout Yuuri’s body, spreading heat wherever they go. Victor wants him. He’d just been answering his question, but it’s clear in his half-lidded eyes and in the heat of his body that he means it in every sense of the word.
Yuuri feels short of breath, and closes his eyes, trying to consciously take a few deep breaths.
The gentle presence of Victor’s hand at the back of his neck is reassuring. “Yuuri, it’s okay. I’m not going to push you into anything.” He presses a gentle kiss to Yuuri’s forehead. “I know this is all new to you.”
Yuuri swallows, and nods, opening his eyes. “What if you realize I’m not enough for you?”
Victor shakes his head. “I’ve been living with you for half a year. What realizations do you think I might still make?”
Yuuri pulls away and sits on his bed, running his hands through his hair. “I mean, like you said, this is all new to me. What if I just… never get used to the, um— the physical stuff, or I'm not any good at it?”
The bed creaks as Victor sits down beside him. “People aren't just inherently good or bad at any of this.” He pulls one foot up on the bed, turning to face Yuuri. “It just takes practice, and a willingness to learn what the other person enjoys.”
Victor smiles and takes his hand. He continues, “I'm not worried about it at all. Plus, I have firsthand experience with your capacity to develop your skills.”
He leans towards Yuuri. “Can I kiss you again?” he asks, and Yuuri nods, parting his lips in anticipation.
Victor’s lips touch his again, also slightly open. Experimentally, he lets the tip of his tongue briefly slide along Victor’s lower lip, and is immediately rewarded with a groan from Victor. Fuck, that's hot.
Yuuri slides his hands up into Victor's hair, and leans back on the bed, pulling him down along with him. Victor's hands drop to press into the mattress on either side of his head, propping himself up.
Victor breaks off the kiss, panting. His eyes meet Yuuri’s with such tenderness that Yuuri’s chest aches. Victor shifts his weight onto one arm so he can lift a hand to cup Yuuri’s cheek. “I’m afraid that if we rush things it will scare you away,” he says, softly.
Yuuri brings his hands to press Victor’s hand against his cheek, turning his face to kiss Victor's palm. “I'm not going to run away again, now that I know how you feel,” he tells him.
Victor drops himself down beside Yuuri, shifting onto his side to face him. Yuuri mirrors his position so they're facing each other. Victor’s arm comes around Yuuri’s waist, pulling them closer together.
Victor chuckles. “You're still in your jacket.”
Yuuri looks down at himself. “So I am.” He rolls onto his back and pulls down the zipper. When he sees Victor staring he laughs. “You've seen me naked a bunch of times in the onsen, and now my jacket coming off is fascinating to you?”
Victor smirks. “Well, now I'm allowed to ogle.”
“Yeah, my plain black t-shirt is so ogle-worthy.” Yuuri rolls his eyes while sitting up to pull his jacket off.
Victor scoots over and pushes himself up on one elbow, reaching to slide his other hand up Yuuri’s chest, the heat of his touch penetrating the thin fabric of his shirt.
He leans up to whisper close to Yuuri’s ear, and the brush of his lips against the sensitive skin along his jawline causes a shiver to run through his body. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how much time I’ve spent thinking about you in this plain black t-shirt.”
Yuuri lets his eyes fall closed and he whimpers, leaning back on his hands and letting his head drop back. Victor peppers kisses along his throat and Yuuri can hear his own breath coming in harsh gasps. The thought of Victor spending time thinking about him like that, maybe even at the same time that he himself was thinking about Victor… he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
He opens his eyes. “Wait,” he says, confused. “Really, this shirt?”
Victor laughs in a low voice, and Yuuri feels the vibration of it against his neck. “This, and others. But this one has a particularly high spandex content.”
Yuuri stares at him. “I wear this one all the time, though.” Has he been walking around everywhere looking indecent?
Victor nods. “Mhm. And I’m very grateful for that,” he says, and Yuuri finds he doesn’t care so much anymore about how he might have looked to other people.
Yuuri scoots up the bed to climb under the blankets, which, now that's he's looking, appear to have already been pulled back. “Were you sleeping in my bed before I got here?”
Victor glances away, sitting up and letting one leg dangle off the side of the bed. “Not sleeping, really. More like lying here feeling sorry for myself.” He sighs. “Sorry if that's weird. I just… I thought I'd missed my opportunity to tell you how I felt, and I wanted to stay close to you for a little while longer.”
Yuuri feels a stab of guilt. How long has Victor been hurting because of Yuuri pushing him away for no reason? “Victor,” he whispers, taking his hand, and their eyes meet again. “I’m so sorry. I should have just talked to you.”
Victor laces their fingers together and lifts their hands, brushing his lips against the back of Yuuri’s hand. “I could have talked to you sooner, too.”
“Well,” he starts, squeezing Victor’s hand. He takes a breath, feeling his heart pounding. “Do you want to stay with me tonight?” He tugs gently, silently willing him to accept.
Victor nods vehemently. “Yes, please,” he says, a little shakily.
Yuuri pats the space beside him, and Victor shifts to turn off the lamp before sliding under the covers next to Yuuri.
They’re almost face to face in the darkness. He can feel Victor’s hand on his waist, keeping him close. “How long have you felt like this about me?” he asks, sliding a hand along Victor's arm.
Victor sighs. “I’m not sure, exactly.” He hums a thoughtful sort of sound. “Almost from the start I felt like I might have a bit of a crush on you, but I tried to brush it off as just being excited about getting to know a new friend.”
Yuuri rolls onto his back, coaxing Victor along with him, and Victor adjusts his position to rest his head on Yuuri’s chest.
He continues, “And then that morning we woke up together… it felt so perfect, all I could think about was how I wanted to keep that feeling forever.”
“I was so afraid you were going to wake up and be disappointed I wasn’t Chris.” Yuuri says, teasing his fingers through Victor’s hair.
“Is that what had you so upset?” Victor asks, resting a hand on Yuuri’s chest. “Because I thought for sure you looked at me and saw how I felt written all over my face, and that you left so suddenly because you didn’t feel the same way.”
“No, that wasn’t it at all,” Yuuri hugs Victor closer to his chest. “I thought… you’d said from the start that you didn’t want to do this with someone who actually wanted to be with you.” He sighs heavily, feeling an echo of the devastation he’d felt that day. “So I thought it would ruin everything if you found out how I felt.”
Victor traces his fingers up and down his side, and Yuuri mirrors the motion on Victor's back.
Victor shivers against him. “That feels so nice,” he says, nuzzling closer to him. “I remember you telling me that the only reason you weren't afraid of being open with me was because it wasn't real between us.” He exhales shakily. “I thought you'd started pulling away from me because you'd sensed that, for me, things had started to become real.”
Yuuri shakes his head. “I wish I'd just talked to you. But honestly… I couldn't believe that someone like you could really be interested in someone like me — oh god, especially after Chris’s short program tonight. I felt like a little kid playing dress-up and trying to act all grown up, next to that.”
Victor shifts against him, until his voice is soft in Yuuri’s ear. “You were a thousand times more compelling, my Yuuri.”
Yuuri’s mouth falls open; he's breathing too fast. Is Victor's voice always going to have the power to make him fall apart like this? He turns his face and Victor captures his mouth again. The darkness boosting his confidence, he teases Victor's lower lip with his teeth, arching his body, and Victor shudders against him. Victor deepens the kiss, gripping Yuuri’s hips with his hands, and Yuuri has the sense of a whole world’s worth of unexplored territory opening beneath him. For once, it doesn't feel terrifying; it's thrilling.
Victor pulls away, breathing hard. “Fuck, Yuuri. Do you have any idea what effect you have on me? What do you mean you couldn’t believe I’d be interested in you?”
Yuuri shrugs, self-conscious. “I’ve always had a hard time believing in my own worth.” Yuuri closes his eyes, and feels Victor’s hand gentle at his cheek. “You wanting to be with me felt like an impossible dream.” He opens his eyes, laughing softly. “And then Phichit pointed it out like it was the most obvious thing in the world. He convinced me to come find you here.”
Victor suddenly laughs, and Yuuri feels it through his whole body. “I spent all day today and yesterday feeling shamefully jealous about you and Phichit. And now it turns out I have him to thank?”
“You were jealous? Why?” Yuuri runs his hand up Victor’s chest to the side of his neck, pulling him in for another kiss. It’s intoxicating; now that he can, he just wants to kiss Victor again and again. He’s not entirely sure that this isn’t a dream, that he’s not going to wake up in a moment feeling very disappointed.
But he’s not waking up. And Victor keeps kissing him back.
When they pause for breath, Victor says, teasingly, “You can’t ask me a question and then kiss me like that and still expect a coherent answer.”
Victor rolls onto his back and Yuuri curls up against him, resting his head on Victor’s shoulder and enjoying the feeling of Victor’s arm sliding around him to pull him close. It’s ridiculously comfortable. Years ago, he’d thought about buying a Victor Nikiforov body pillow, but there’s no way it would have come anywhere remotely close to the real experience.
“I got it into my head that Phichit’s feelings towards you might have evolved since receiving your letter, and that he might get the chance to talk to you before I could. That’s why I tried to tell you yesterday instead of waiting until we went out to dinner.” Victor sighs. “I told myself it was irrational, but when you went with him to dinner instead, it didn’t feel so far-fetched.”
Yuuri bites his lip. “I’m sorry. I wish I’d gone with you. But at least Phichit managed to talk some sense into me.”
“I had the whole thing thought out,” Victor says, tightening his hold on Yuuri. “You were going to ask me why I ordered katsudon for you when you hadn’t won yet, and I would say, ‘But Yuuri, you’ve won my heart.’” He laughs. “I know, it’s very cheesy.”
Yuuri lifts himself up to brush Victor’s hair out of his face and look dreamily into his eyes. And then frowns. It had been totally dark a few minutes ago. Now there’s light filtering in through the cracks in the blinds.
“Oh shit,” he whispers. “It’s morning.” He retrieves is phone and his stomach sinks. “I have to perform in like… eight hours.” That alone might be fine, but practice is in three. And he’s not sure he can get by without the extra practice session.
Victor grimaces and checks his phone too. “I wasn’t watching the time either. I feel like an irresponsible coach, but I’m really glad we were able to talk and… everything else.”
Yuuri nods. “I’m really happy, too.” He tucks his head under Victor’s chin again. “But all this was distracting me from worrying about my free skate, and now I’ll have to do it while sleep deprived, or with not enough practice, and everyone is expecting so much from me after how well I did during the short program, and there’s no way I can live up to those expectations in the best possible conditions, never mind subpar circumstances.” It all comes out in a rush.
Victor rubs his back. “You’re well-prepared for this, Yuuri. You’ve been very technically consistent in practice for a few weeks, and your presentation has improved a lot in the past week. I think you’ll be alright to sleep through practice and wake up in time to eat and warm up before you need to perform.”
Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut. Adrenaline is still running through his system from the sudden realization that he’d stayed up all night. He’s not sure he can sleep like this. He’s never been especially good at falling asleep when he knows the available time is severely limited. “Okay,” he says anyway. “I’ll try.”
Chapter 22: Stammi Vicino (reprise)
Yuuri’s nerves are getting to him. Victor takes him to the parking garage. Phichit gets to see the result of his efforts. Yuuri shows some initiative.
Warning for anxiety issues to about the same extent as ep 7 (parking garage scene)
Also sleep deprivation is awful and messes with everyone’s judgement.
How to help someone with anxiety
Worst thing to say to someone having an anxiety attack
Panic attack vs anxiety attack
What to do during an anxiety attack
Victor is glad he decided to search for information before trying to help, because the first two items on the ‘Worst thing to say’ list are ‘calm down’ and ‘you don’t need to worry’, which are probably the first two things he would have thought to say.
Yuuri is seated on a chair a little ways away from the monitors currently showing Guang Hong skating. His head is in his hands and his legs are shaking badly.
He’d expected Yuuri to be tired, of course. And every athlete gets nervous before a big event. But this is a little outside Victor's realm of experience.
Now that he has a sense of what not to do, he consults the list of things that supposedly can help.
Get them somewhere quiet, away from other people.
That will be difficult. The noise of the crowd is deafening, given that Guang Hong is skating on home ice. Maybe he should just suggest deep breathing instead?
Chris is the next skater, and the cheer of the crowd as he takes his position at the center of the ice is audible not just through the monitors, but also through the wall. Yuuri flinches and buries his head further into his arms.
Deep breaths aren't going to be enough. The most isolated and quiet place Victor can think of is the parking garage, which would be a strange place to go during a competition, but he'll try anything at this point.
He crouches down next to Yuuri. “How do you feel about going somewhere a little quieter?” He offers his hand, but Yuuri just nods and stands up.
Victor checks over his shoulder a few times to make sure Yuuri is still following him. Yuuri’s eyes are wide and worried, and Victor just wants to pull him into a hug and tell him everything will be alright. But no. Everything he’d skimmed had suggested that neither the hug nor the reassuring words would be helpful while Yuuri is in such an agitated state.
By the time they reach the stairwell, he’s already doing a little better; his eyes are still wide, but he seems to actually be seeing his surroundings instead of staring blankly, and his breathing is steadier. Victor puts an arm lightly around his shoulders, and breathes a sigh of relief when Yuuri leans in rather than jerking away.
In the parking garage, the noise from the rink is much more muffled, thankfully. Unfortunately, the floor would be much too hard for Yuuri to make use of his surprisingly effective lie-on-the-floor-and-stare-at-the-ceiling preparation approach.
Victor watches as Yuuri starts going through a visualization exercise, marking jumps with the relevant arm movements and turning on the spot. An especially loud cheer — probably Chris finishing his program — manages to filter through the concrete and Yuuri stops dead, looking up at the ceiling, as if he could see through the concrete to the source of the noise.
Shakily, he asks, “Victor, what are the current standings?”
“Don't worry about that right now,” Victor says, and immediately wants to take back the words. Ugh, don't worry is exactly the wrong thing to say. He’s useless at this. Someone who knows Yuuri better, or a competent coach, would probably say and do all the right things in this sort of situation. If only there were someone who could guide him through helping Yuuri.
Yuuri’s family would be awake to watch the competition, and Minako is on the stands somewhere, but most likely none of them would be checking their phones during a performance. By now, Phichit is the one performing, and that rules out Cialdini as well. Has Yakov ever dealt with a skater with debilitating anxiety? He’s probably busy with Georgi anyway. And who knows if he would answer Victor’s call to begin with.
Yuuri had said he’d felt like a kid playing dress-up — Victor understands that feeling too well, now. He shakes himself. Yuuri needs him to focus, not wallow in self-doubt.
“Okay, Yuuri, let’s count out some deep breaths,” he says, hoping he comes across as knowledgeable and decisive.
Yuuri nods, and closes his eyes, clearly experienced in this technique. Victor grimaces. Is there anything he can say that would actually be helpful?
But it seems to work, even if Yuuri probably would have thought to try it without Victor’s input. Yuuri begins the visualization exercise again, setting the position of his arms.
Then the crowd roars, louder than ever, and Victor stares upwards, mouth open. Phichit must have finished. He’s naturally charismatic on and off the ice, from what Victor has seen, but to get a reaction like that… he must have been flawless.
Yuuri’s suddenly harsh and rapid breathing jerks Victor's attention back to him. He's hyperventilating. And— don't do that! — he takes his ear buds out.
Victor rushes forward and presses his hands against Yuuri’s ears, trying to block the noise.
“Don't listen!” he urges, and Yuuri gapes at him, bringing his hands up to clasp Victor’s wrists. Shit. Moving into Yuuri’s personal space without warning is the worst thing he could have done.
“Victor?” Yuuri’s voice is small, and nervous, and Victor is just making everything worse. By chance, he seems to have been startled out of the spiral he was in, but that doesn't mean Victor handled things well.
He presses his lips together. He should have done the research ahead of time, not while Yuuri was in the midst of a full blown anxiety attack less than an hour before needing to perform. He'd been arrogant to think that he could be the perfect coach for Yuuri.
The fact that Yuuri has come this far as an international-level athlete in spite of such an obstacle is so, so admirable; he deserves a coach who is well-equipped to help him face these challenges.
“It's almost time, shouldn't we be getting back?” Yuuri asks, looking searchingly at him. Guilt spreads through him at the sight of the dark circles under Yuuri’s eyes. He'd kept him up all night. Yuuri would have been fine if not for that.
Yuuri gently removes Victor's hands from his head and starts towards the stairwell.
“Yuuri.” He stops, and turns to face Victor. “I'm sorry that I didn't know what to do to help.” His stomach twists. “If you miss the podium, and want me to resign as your coach…” He trails off, trying to gauge Yuuri’s reaction, heart in his throat.
Tears fill Yuuri’s eyes and spill over, dripping off his chin. Oh, no. No, no. That's not— no, that's not what was supposed to happen.
“Why would you say that?” Yuuri sobs, wrenching Victor's heart. “I thought we… I thought…” He tucks his arms against himself.
The list can die a fiery death. Victor rushes to Yuuri and wraps his arms around him. If Yuuri pushes him away, he’ll respect that, but Victor can’t bring himself to just stand there.
“I didn’t mean it like that, Yuuri, I wouldn’t want to resign,” he tries to explain. God, he’s so tired. He can’t get his thoughts to form into clear words.
Yuuri doesn’t push him away. His arms come around Victor’s waist and his face presses into the crook of Victor’s neck. His shoulders are shaking.
Yuuri starts to talk, and the words are muffled against Victor's shoulder. “I’ve been so worried about today because of how a poor performance from me would reflect on you. ” Another sob wracks his body. “Now that we’ve finally—“ He exhales shakily, and continues, “—found each other, all day long I’ve been telling myself to stop being irrational, that you’re not just going to leave me if I fuck up—“
Victor interjects, “I wouldn’t! I just—”
“I know!” Yuuri cries, pushing back to look at Victor. “I know you wouldn’t , but that doesn’t stop my fucking asshole brain from constantly reminding me that you could. That you might not really care about me if I can’t win gold.”
It’s a knife through the heart; it’s exactly Victor’s fears about being worthless outside of skating reflected back at him.
“I do care about you! I lo— “ No, he can’t go there yet. He takes a steadying breath. “I only said that because I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. That a better coach would know exactly what to do, what to say, to help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed—“
“Victor.” Yuuri cups his cheek, and Victor leans into the touch. “There’s no magical thing you can say or do to fix it. I just need you to stay close to me and have faith in me when I'm not able to have faith in myself.”
Stay close to me. Victor drops his hands to Yuuri’s waist and touches his forehead to Yuuri’s. “I can do that,” he says, letting his eyes fall closed.
Then Yuuri’s lips are on his, and Yuuri’s hands come up to pull him closer, and the relief that things are okay, that he didn't just lose everything, washes over him, and he sways on the spot. Yuuri is a stabilizing force, though, and Victor remains upright.
A text would have been nice. A ‘hey Phichit, you were right, Victor Nikiforov is totally head over heels for me and we boned it out last night’ would have been good. He’ll have to settle for Yuuri doing a quad flip, of all things, and getting tackled to the ice as a flying Victor kisses him senseless.
He supposes it's fair if Yuuri’s been a bit preoccupied.
Yuuri’s score is announced, placing him in second overall. Which means— holy shit, that means—
“Congratulations, Phichit, I knew you could do it!” Ciao Ciao says, pulling him into a hug. “You just won your first gold at a Grand Prix event!”
That probably qualifies him for the final, too, doesn’t it? Somebody on the fan forums will probably have the numbers crunched before he hears anything officially from the ISU.
He floats through the media Q&A with a giddy smile on his face the entire time. He hopes all the little Thai skating fans are watching and feel like this could be them someday.
Standing on the podium with Yuuri and Chris on either side of him is surreal. He and Yuuri always used to console each other after especially grueling practice sessions with assurances that it would all be worth it when they were sharing the podium. And here they are. For a while, he hadn’t been sure if it would ever come true, given how things had gone for Yuuri last season. If it weren’t for Victor…
His silver hair makes him easy to spot among the onlookers. Victor seems to sense Phichit’s eyes on him, meeting his gaze momentarily. Phichit gives him a little nod of acknowledgement, and Victor nods back at him. Victor had put Yuuri on the podium with Phichit, and Phichit had put Yuuri in Victor’s— well, he shouldn’t make assumptions. If his grin turns a little wicked, the cameras probably can’t tell the difference.
Victor goes back to gazing at Yuuri with that same soft, lovestruck look from all those photos, and a quick glance at Yuuri confirms that he’s staring at Victor with the exact same expression. The hilarious part is that Phichit knows for a fact that Yuuri can’t even see Victor’s face right now, given that he’s several meters away and Yuuri’s not wearing his glasses. How much of this dumbass drama would have been avoided if Yuuri would wear fucking contacts when he skates?
He tears up a little when they play the Thai national anthem. Yuuri gives his arm a little squeeze — if anyone knows how significant this is to him, it's Yuuri.
They pose for a thousand photos with various configurations of ISU officials, and Phichit's smile starts to feel a little plastered on. Yuuri and Chris join him on the highest step and Phichit links arms with them, playfully going up on his toe picks to boost his height a little. A laugh ripples through the crowd.
For his exhibition skate, he gives everyone a glimpse of what he has in mind for the ice show he dreams of putting together one day. It's not as impressive with just him as it will be with all his favorite people skating it along with him, but the crowd eats it up anyway.
And then it's Yuuri’s turn. A hush falls over the crowd as he takes his position at the center of the ice. He's not in costume; he's just wearing his black training clothes. A woodwind instrument, a clarinet or bassoon — Phichit never could tell the difference — starts to play the first few notes, and the music is familiar. A murmur runs through the entire arena as the male opera singer starts up in Italian. Beside him, Victor audibly gasps. Holy shit, is Yuuri really about to do this?
Phichit is torn between jumping and down in glee as his inner Yuuri and Victor fanboy self squeals in delight, or taking his eyes off the performance to get a good look at Victor’s reaction. Curiosity wins: Victor has a ridiculous smile on his face and tears welling up in his eyes.
“He didn't tell you what he was going to perform?” Phichit asks. He hadn't expected Yuuri to be one for grand romantic gestures, but surprising Victor like this definitely counts.
Victor shakes his head, still smiling. “He said it would be a routine from last season. I assumed he meant one of his own, since he didn't get to perform at World's,” he replies, eyes fixed on Yuuri.
“So he didn't get you to help him practice this at all?” Phichit looks back out at Yuuri. It had always been a sort of hobby of his to pick up Victor's routines, but this is polished; he must have spent a pretty big chunk of time on it, and not too long ago.
“This is all him. I knew he'd learned it, before. I caught him skating it that first night at World's.” Victor laughs. “I was so surprised, it didn't even occur to me until after he was finished that he was concussed and definitely shouldn't have been skating.”
Victor falls silent as Yuuri perfectly executes a triple Lutz triple loop combination. “He must have been practicing it on our rest days,” he murmurs, mostly to himself.
Phichit chuckles. “That's textbook Yuuri — crazy stamina.” Who can blame him if he lets the innuendo seep through his tone just a bit? He glances up at Victor and smirks as he flushes red enough to make out in the darkened arena.
Victor looks back at him momentarily, eyes narrowed, before he returns to watching Yuuri finishing up his combination spin. “You're a bit of a troublemaker, aren't you?”
Phichit shrugs, grinning. “Are you complaining?”
Victor’s mouth pulls up at one corner. “No. Who knows where we'd be if it weren't for your pushing Yuuri in the right direction last night?”
Phichit nods. It’s good to be appreciated. But… “Just promise you’ll make sure it was the right direction, okay?” His warning from all those months ago is still applicable. He doesn’t want to see his friend get his heart broken, especially not after getting a glimpse of that last night before he’d had some sense talked into him.
The music stops, and the fans lose their collective shit, making further discussion impossible. Yuuri never pays much attention to fan forums; he probably has no idea how many people here bought tickets specifically in hopes of getting a front row seat to some juicy Yuuri and Victor interaction. Between their kiss on the ice and Yuuri pulling something as ludicrous as skating one of Victor’s programs for the exhibition, they’ve made a lot of people’s wildest dreams come true. Rostelecom Cup will probably sell out within five minutes of the first fan video hitting the internet. It’s probably already sold out.
Having finished making his rounds bowing to the audience all around the rink, Yuuri makes his way over to them and throws himself at Victor, still breathing hard. It’s still way too loud for conversation, but Victor catches Phichit’s eye from over Yuuri’s shoulder and nods solemnly, tightening his arms around Yuuri.
The meaning is clear — a promise that he’ll do his best.
The moment the hotel room door closes behind him, Victor finds himself pinned against it with Yuuri’s hands on his hips. Yuuri trails hot kisses up the line of his neck and along his jaw, and Victor's eyes roll up into the back of his head, desire spiking through him.
“Fuck,” he gasps, letting his head drop back against the door, giving Yuuri better access to his throat. For someone who shouldn't really know what he's doing, Yuuri has excellent instincts. He'd stopped Yuuri after two glasses of champagne — Victor had even finished half of the second one; had that still been enough to impact his inhibitions? “What—”
“Sorry.” Yuuri breathes the word against his skin. “Just… knowing I can makes me want to do this all the time.” His fingers trace up and down Victor's sides, and Victor groans. The thin fabric of his undershirt is practically insubstantial as a layer between them.
Shit, they're right up against the door; anyone near enough in the hallway can probably hear everything. Though, with Yuuri’s hands driving him to distraction, it's hard to care about noise. “Don't apologize,” he manages. “I really— hahhhh” he cuts off as Yuuri’s fingers find skin. He was wrong; the shirt made a world of difference. He swallows, and tries again, “I really appreciate your assertiveness.”
Yuuri makes a low noise against his collarbone, teeth scraping skin, and Victor tries to remember what he was going to say next. Right. The noise, the hallway. “We should probably move away from the door, though.”
The weight of Yuuri’s body is off him in an instant, and the sudden loss of contact is almost painful. Why did they have to leave the door, again?
He kicks his shoes off, and bends down to pick up the jacket and dress shirt that had been draped over his arm. He must have dropped them when Yuuri had pressed him against the door and caused him to lose conscious control of his gross motor functions.
Standing up, and stumbling only a little, he frowns as he takes in Yuuri’s uncertain expression. “What's wrong?” He reaches for him and Yuuri doesn't stop him from pulling him close, leaning into him instead. Good.
“I'm sorry. I feel like I'm embarrassing myself trying things like that,” Yuuri mumbles. Well, that won't do.
“No, Yuuri, not at all. That was— Everything about that was… fantastic.” A shiver runs through him — the heat of Yuuri’s mouth, the pressure of hands on his hips, the slide of his fingers against his skin… “You can do— Please do that, anything you like, whenever you want.”
Yuuri makes a muffled noise against his neck, and Victor shivers again. His eyes fall closed. It's… really hard to open them again. He fights it, but they slide closed again. Right; he's only gotten a handful of hours of sleep over the past two days. How is Yuuri still going strong? He'd had a much more energy intensive day. Crazy stamina indeed.
He presses his lips to Yuuri’s temple. “I’d love to continue things right now, even, except I don't think I can force myself to stay awake,” he murmurs, letting his cheek rest against Yuuri’s head.
Yuuri’s gentle hands guide him to the bed and the pillow finds its way under his head immediately.
“Um, Victor… I’m not— I assume you don’t want to sleep in your dress pants, so I’m— I’m just going to take them off so you can be comfortable, okay?” Yuuri’s voice is nervous. “Or you can do it yourself, but it seems like you’re mostly asleep already.”
“Mm.” Victor nods. Yuuri can take his pants off for whatever reason he wants.
His belt buckle clinks, and fabric rustles, gentle tugs jostling him a little. The air briefly reaches the skin of his legs, but warm blankets come up around him, and everything is so comfortable.
A door clicks shut somewhere behind him, and Victor blinks his eyes open in alarm, looking around. But the sound of running water filters through the bathroom door, and he relaxes, settling his head back down on the pillow and curling up on his side. The white noise of the shower grows gradually more distant in his consciousness.
When Yuuri, still warm from the hot water, slips into bed behind him and slides an arm around his waist, his mouth curves into a smile. His heart flutters at the soft press of Yuuri’s lips against his shoulder. He tucks an arm over Yuuri’s, willing them to stay like this all night. Happiness suffuses his whole being, and sleep claims him again.