nine years old
Five days before the ice show, Yuuko twists her ankle playing soccer. By the time Yuuri sees her, propped on a set of crutches, she’s bright and cheerful. But her eyes are red-rimmed and her voice bounces off the walls of the locker room, a little too loud for the space.
“I’ll help you learn my part,” she says. “And you help Takeshi-kun learn yours.”
Their coach makes a few adjustments to their elements but they do most of the work on their own, extra hours in a corner of the rink. Yuuri is elevated to princess and Nishigori his new prince as they fight off a group of bandits, then turn to dance together in celebration.
Yuuri can’t make himself correct Nishigori, not with his heart bump bump bumping as he scrambles through the familiar-but-in-the-wrong-way choreography. So it’s Yuuko, leaning over the boards, that yells at him not to swagger, he’s not the bandit captain any more.
“Being a bandit is more fun.” Nishigori swings Yuuri around, lets go too soon, and sends him sprawling.
Yuuri’s heart sinks, they’re going to ruin it all. “Sorry,” he says. “Sorry.”
Nishigori stops in front of him, face redder than just the cold. He reaches down and pulls Yuuri to his feet. “Count me through that part.”
On the night of the show, Yuuri’s heart is thump thump thumping and he’s sweating through the sparkly costume. He doesn’t realise their group has been called until they’ve all passed by, squeaking in their skate guards.
His feet still won’t move. Someone shoves him in the back and he almost goes over.
“Come on, princess,” Nishigori says. His eyes are wide and there’s a flush high on his cheeks. “Or Yuu-chan will yell at us.”
Yuuri stumbles after him and once they’re on the ice, it’s not so bad. His body moves through the elements, even if his eyes are dazzled by the lights.
Then there’s Nishigori to focus on, muttering “one two three” together through that tricky swing. They don’t make a single mistake and Nishigori grins at him.
At the end of their dance, they lean in towards each other. Even though it’s fake, Yuuri is glad this kiss isn’t with Yuuko; he’d been dreading that most of all, their faces a breath apart while everyone watched.
Nishigori’s mouth smacks up against Yuuri’s, big and damp and real. A shock of surprise ripples through Yuuri and out into the audience, a murmur of laughter following it.
They both jerk back and Nishigori falls on his butt, cheeks blazing red. He scrabbles back up as the applause rises.
They’re supposed to hold hands while they acknowledge the crowd but when Yuuri reaches out, Nishigori leaves him hanging. Yuuri’s face is hot and his mouth is still wet.
It’s two weeks before Nishigori will even look at him again.
thirteen years old
Be careful not to overtrain the poster in the weight room reads. And they’re not supposed to gain more muscle than they need. But Nishigori always pushes it, a different program every week, depending on which bodybuilding blogs are the most popular.
“You’re getting skinnier, though.” Yuuri settles in at the chest press machine and sets the weights.
“You can push more than that.” Nishigori shoots him a scornful look. “I’ll bulk up soon, I’ve got that new protein drink.” He’s almost gangly now, like one night he just stretched out six centimetres, a photo dragged to the wrong aspect ratio.
The room fills with the clink of their weights and the sound of their breath, Yuuri’s careful inhale with each rep and Nishigori’s exaggerated grunts. It always grates on Yuuri that they’re out of sync and he has to fight not to speed up.
Nishigori starts to talk. It’s something he read — you should be able to carry on a conversation while you’re working out — but the words grind out so slowly, Yuuri has to strain to connect them up into a story.
“We were having a class meeting,” Nishigori says. “To decide about the cultural festival.” His voice has a deeper growl these days, half real and half put on. “And Sugiyama dared Hasegawa and Mori to kiss.”
Yuuri can’t remember who Mori is but everybody knows Hasegawa, the closest thing their school has to a delinquent. It’s easier picturing him beating someone up than kissing them.
“In front of the whole class?” HIs voice is still light and childish, even when he tries to pitch it lower. Maybe it is the weights and if he pushes harder, he’ll grow faster. “Did they?”
“They couldn’t back down. So Hasegawa grabbed Mori and kissed him.” Nishigori’s eyes crinkle almost shut. “I could hardly watch, it was so embarrassing.”
It’s embarrassing even to hear about it and Yuuri closes his eyes too. But he can’t help thinking about it. Did Hasegawa pull Mori in by the shoulders? How long were their lips together? Was it moist? Did they open their mouths? How did it feel? Did they like it?
Would Yuuri like it? The story shifts inside his head and he’s the one watching Hasegawa’s face looming closer, waiting for their mouths to touch. Waiting for the miracle to happen, the thunderbolt to strike.
Nishigori is still talking but Yuuri’s stopped trying to string the words together because he can’t get out of this loop. Someone, anyone, leaning close, breath warm on his face, over and over again.
“Good job,” Nishigori says and suddenly he’s the one who’s looming, like he teleported from across the room to stand over Yuuri.
Yuuri’s arms give out and the weights clank as they drop. He stands up and reaches for the towel Nishigori is holding out. But his reach falls short, he can’t lift his hand that far.
He steps in for it and there they are, close together, Nishigori’s face gleaming in the harsh white light.
Yuuri’s arms won’t move but the rest of him does, quick as a launching bird, up on his toes to press his mouth against Nishigori’s mouth.
There’s no miracle, no thrill of lightning in Yuuri’s puckered lips against Nishigori’s unprepared ones. Just the pressure and the sweat on Nishigori’s lip and the musty smell of years of workouts in the room. But then there’s a tingle, a current of warmth riding out along all of Yuuri’s nerves and back again to curl up in the pit of his stomach.
Three slow beats of Yuuri’s heart and then they break apart.
Nishigori blushes and turns his head. Yuuri can feel his own cheeks flame. It is embarrassing, why did he do that?
“Sorry,” he says and nothing more. He can’t explain why when he doesn’t know himself.
“I have to get home.” Nishigori’s voice cracks, wobbling up half an octave. “You should try that muscle drink.” He leaves, not quite hurrying, rubbing at his mouth.
Yuuri thumps back down into the seat. He touches his own fingers to his lips, still feeling the warmth there.
The next day they pretend it didn’t happen. But Yuuri holds on to the memory of that tingle for as long as he can.
fifteen years old
Yuuri‘s racer skids into the barrier and Nishigori pulls ahead. Yuuri swears. “You’re cheating somehow.”
“In your favour, maybe.” Nishigori weaves through the cows on the track and tosses a banana peel over his shoulder for good measure. They’re in Nishigori’s room, leaning against the side of his bed.
It feels like such a normal afternoon: an after-school hangout with Mario Kart and the chips Yuuri smuggled in instead of the healthy snacks Nishigori’s mother pushes on them.
Really, though, so many stars had to align for them to get this time together. Yuuri is at home, not away at a competition or on the train to see his coach. He’s resting a strain, no practice for a while, even though he feels just fine.
Nishigori isn’t at his school club or his part-time job. Or out with his real friends. He’s pulled in so many directions these days; Yuuri is pulled in just one.
And they’re in the short ellipsis between Nishigori’s older brother moving into his own place and coming back to take the TV and the console with him.
Nishigori easily zips up the booster ramp. Yuuri misses the turn completely and falls off the edge of the track. “Suck it, loser!” Nishigori crows.
“Shit!” Yuuri hasn’t won one race yet. “That’s because I practise skating, not Mario Kart.”
“When are you moving up to seniors?” Nishigori sets them up for the next race.
“Maybe next year.” Yuuri’s coach keeps making a face whenever this topic comes up, this twist around her mouth that tells Yuuri he’s not ready, even when she says it will be soon.
“Why wait? You look good enough to me.” Nishigori still spends hours at the rink but most of it is off the ice now, renting skates and cleaning up.
That’s when Yuuri sees him most, those moments when they pass each other by with a greeting. And those moments when Yuuri turns to watch Nishigori — the way the muscles in his back move when he gets a pair of skates down, the smile he beams on everyone he helps, the glance he shoots over at Yuuri when Yuuri’s been staring too long.
Even now, Yuuri’s eyes are on the game but his awareness is in the sliver of air between them, measuring the distance between their shoulders, their thighs. If he pointed his toe, he could touch the top of Nishigori’s bare foot.
Nishigori leans as they round a curve and then they are touching, upper arms pressed together, knees bumping.
Yuuri leans too, but into the resistance of Nishigori’s body, and the prickle of tension bursts into full-panic arousal, hot and jangling and needy. He should pull back — pull back and make an excuse to leave, jockey his jacket over his arm, and run straight into the ocean, sputtering under the cold water until he’s calm again.
He should but he doesn’t, just keeps leaning, trailing by two places, and taking what he can get before Nishigori moves away.
But Nishigori doesn’t move away. He’s still playing, drifting into the curve at the end of the last lap, snugged up against Yuuri. And he wins again, but this time he doesn’t gloat. He drops his controller. “I miss skating with you,” he says, eyes still fixed on the screen.
Yuuri looks at him: the shape of his profile, the quirk at the corner of his mouth, one angry pimple at the side of his nose. He breathes out with a gust, harder than he means to, and the hair at Nishigori’s temple stirs.
Nishigori turns his broad face to Yuuri. He doesn’t speak as they stare at each other, as the air in the room goes thick and close and Yuuri’s heart hammers in his chest.
“Come skate with me any time,” Yuuri says.
Nishigori is the one who moves, slowly, steadily, closer and closer until his mouth closes over Yuuri’s. Then they both move at once, clutching and kissing, wet and open. Yuuri’s glasses twist against his face and he pulls them off, tosses them who cares where.
He pulls Nishigori down and they lie together on the floor, making out in the flicker of the TV screen and the obnoxious game music. Yuuri feels possessed, there’s a dragon inside him, arched and lashing to be free. He rolls them both so Nishigori is on top of him, so he’s pinned down and rising up, oh god, what will happen next.
What happens next is Nishigori’s mobile rings, that cheerfully insistent tone, and they both stop dead.
Nishigori sits up to answer it, drawing a deep struggling breath and turning his back to Yuuri. His hair is ruffled up and the back of his neck is red.
Yuuri fumbles for his glasses, smooths his own hair down, rubs his tingling lips.
“I’ll be there right away.” Nishigori puts the phone down. “It’s work,” he says and doesn’t turn around. “Someone’s sick so they need me to come in.”
“I’m late anyway.” Yuuri picks up his jacket, maybe he’ll run right into the ocean after all.
“Yuuri.” Nishigori looks back over his shoulder. “Want to race again tomorrow?”
Yuuri can’t keep the smile from spreading over his face. “This time I’ll win.”
sixteen years old
Yuuri can’t help running. Not the planned-out pace of his roadwork, he’s springing down the sidewalk, eyes watering in the wind.
He should be tired, after a weekend’s competition and just off a long flight. But that moment on the podium is still buoying him up, all the fizz and glory of a medal banging against his breastbone. Bronze, but from the look in his coach’s eyes, much better than she was hoping for at his international senior debut.
A fluke, for sure, the little voice in the back of his head tells him, but he drowns it out with the memory of the compliment from the gold-medallist, the praise in the media, the flowers on the ice.
He dodges around a couple, threads between a group of students, nearly has to leap over a trotting dog. Too fast, he’s causing trouble, but he can’t slow down.
First, he’ll duck into the store to see Yuuko. Even when he’s not at a competition, he’s in Okayama on the weekends, working with his coach, and they haven’t spoken for a while. He’s still got her texts on his phone but she’ll want to hear in person. She’ll clap her hands and smile and ask all the questions he’s dying to answer.
Then he’ll go find Nishigori.
When Yuuri opens the door, no one is at the register or dusting the shelves. No customers either, just the waiting rows of books and magazines, comics and prints. It makes him feel guilty, somehow. When was the last time he read something that wasn’t on his phone?
Maybe she’s making tea in the back, an extra cup out in case he comes by. Maybe she didn’t hear the bell. Maybe he’ll go and see.
He hesitates, but why should he? He’s been in and out of the shop all his life, tagging after Yuuko. So he goes to the curtain and draws it aside.
She’s there. So is Nishigori and they are kissing. Standing together beside a pile of boxes, Yuuko’s arms around Nishigori’s neck and his hands on her waist. Three cups on the table, steam rising from just two.
Yuuri can’t move, shocked into place, the fabric of the curtain crumpled in his fist and his gut filled with ice. Deep down, though, he’s not surprised at all.
They break apart. Nishigori turns away, so all Yuuri can see is the flush on the back of his neck that he knows all too well.
Yuuko is blushing too, but she looks so pretty, eyes shining even as her apology rushes out. “Yuuri-kun, congratulations,” she says and she does clap her hands.
Yuuri shrugs, his joints unlocking. He’s heavy now, sluggish. “It was just bronze,” he says and he feels that third place for what it really is.
Nishigori’s shoulders rise and fall. “We’re having tea,” he says and turns around at last. “Tell us about Germany.”
“I’m late.” Yuuri doesn’t say what for. “See you later.”
He spins on his heel, wonders what they see in the set of his shoulders, and heads back home.
seventeen years old
“One drink.” Yuuri opens the whisky he liberated from the onsen bar. He’ll deal with that fallout later. “It’s a special occasion.”
Nishigori frowns. “We’re not old enough to—”
“Get married?” Yuuri says.
“Good point.” Nishigori gets glasses from the cupboard and settles down beside Yuuri. “One drink.”
This is the first time Yuuri has been inside Nishigori and Yuuko’s place. He was away when they moved in and away after that too. But he’s not away now and when Yuuko told him to keep Nishigori company for the evening, there wasn’t any way to refuse.
He takes a drink and tries not to cough as the whisky burns his throat, so much stronger than the beer he’s sipped. “When is Yuuko-san coming back?” Yuuri will be gone by then if he can manage it. Have to walk the dog is always a good excuse.
“Her parents wanted her to spend the night before the wedding at home.” Nishigori drinks too, grimaces, drinks again. “They’re still unhappy we didn’t move in with them. She told them we needed more space.”
There’s barely any space here, a room smaller than Yuuri’s at home, even including the kitchen. There’s no couch, just the cushions they’re sitting on. “I’ve stayed in hotel rooms with more space than this apartment.”
“You know what I mean.” Nishigori tips his glass up, then holds it out for a refill. “Also, I think they were hoping for a different son-in-law, so it’s awkward.”
Yuuri gulps the rest of his drink. He’s starting to enjoy that warmth in his throat and down his chest. “What’s wrong with you?”
Nishigori fills Yuuri’s glass. “Dummy.” He bumps Yuuri with his shoulder. “They thought it would be you.”
“Me?” Yuuri stares down at the whisky, at the glassy surface and the light playing off of it. He’s having trouble shifting context, parsing what Nishigori means. “They always treated me like Yuuko-san’s younger brother.”
Nishigori snorts. “Like a son, you mean?” He pauses. “Anyway, it’s better to be in your own place, even if there’s barely room.”
Yuuri doesn’t answer. His own room would be a good place right now, his dog beside him, maybe the bottle too.
“Want to watch something?” Nishigori puts on a movie. There’s no TV, just a laptop, and they keep drinking as they watch. The sound is tinny and it makes the dialogue hard to follow.
Everything is hard to follow, Yuuri thinks. They’re all spinning apart. Yuuri up and out, training and competitions all over the world and university starting soon. Nishigori and Yuuko closer in, smaller and smaller circles. This cramped space, this cramped life.
And this moment is all he has, they have, Yuuri and Nishigori, closed together in the room where Nishigori and Yuuko live. Where they clutch and bicker and talk about their days together. Where Yuuri has no right to be.
Nishigori is still watching the movie but Yuuri just watches him. The solidness of his shoulders, the bend of his knees, the relaxed expression on his face as he sips his drink. The way his t-shirt pulls across his chest. What is it like to come home to all of that?
“I made out with this guy in Warsaw,” Yuuri says, right in the middle a hail of bullets. He can still feel that night inside of him, the heat rising, the scrape of their faces together. The way it moved so slowly until all at once it was too fast and he scooted, rumpled and apologetic, out the hotel room and back into his own.
Nishigori shifts beside him. He doesn’t say anything but Yuuri knows he felt the hit. That he’s spinning now, skidding on the banana peel Yuuri just tossed out.
Yuuri is glad, he should feel it.
The room is hot, close and stuffy. Hot like the onsen. Stuffy like Nishigori. Close like the bottle and Yuuri takes another drink.
Then he ducks around and kisses Nishigori, hands on his stuffy face. He feels Nishigori flash through surprise, then familiarity, then enjoyment, his lips parting against Yuuri’s. Then realization and guilt and the of-course shove away.
It only takes one second, maybe two, but they’re old friends so Yuuri knows how to read Nishigori’s reaction. “Let’s do that again,” he says. There’s only so far Nishigori can shove him in this tiny room.
“Time to get you home.” Nishigori stands. He holds out his hand, then pulls it back.
“The movie’s not over.”
“I’ll tell you how it ends tomorrow.”
Yuuri stares up at him. What’s Nishigori going to do about it? But the longer he looks, the more ashamed he feels. “Sorry,” he mutters and gets up. At least the whisky still wants him. He reaches for it.
“Leave the bottle,” Nishigori says.
Yuuri leaves the bottle. As he walks home through the dark, he wraps his arms around himself. Even by the ocean, Hasetsu is beginning to feel as cramped as Nishigori’s apartment.
twenty-four years old
Yuuri traces careful figure eights, around slowly, over and over. Focus the mind on the body, the body on the blade. Gliding silently, each new line over top the last, so precise they look like a single pattern.
Except not tonight. Tonight the lines wobble and cross. Tonight his mind isn’t focused at all and the scrape of his blades echoes in the empty rink.
Or not so empty. He looks up and there is Nishigori standing at the boards. He skates over. “I thought you were going out with the rest of the guys.”
Nishigori smiles. “I can go out drinking any time.”
“Any time?” Yuuri raises his eyebrows. “Is that what Yuuko-chan would say?”
“She goes out drinking more than I do,” Nishigori says. “If you’re fishing for marriage advice, I didn’t prepare any.”
“You’re the only one who hasn’t.” Yuuri’s been fielding lectures for weeks now as the wedding drew closer. Everybody has the secret to a happy marriage: an adage, a trick, a need to insert themselves into his private life. “So you’re here to make sure I don’t bolt before tomorrow?”
“No.” Nishigori opens the gate and steps out onto the ice. “I’m here to skate with you.”
Yuuri grins. “How are your figures?”
“Not as good as—“ Nishigori glides past him to Yuuri’s patch. “Actually, I can probably manage this standard.” He looks back. “You need to relax, come on.”
“You mean switch back to circles?”
“I mean I bet I’m still faster than you.” Nishigori swoops past and slaps Yuuri on the back.
“This isn’t a video game.” But Yuuri takes off after him and they chase each other around the rink, long loops, fast as they can.
When they’re out of breath, they do some old synchro footwork drills, barking out their best imitation of that one crabby coach at each other. Some lazy laps around while Nishigori catches Yuuri up on all the local news, a heavy emphasis on the accomplishments of his genius children.
“I’m looking forward to your show,” Yuuri says. “Nishigori Family on Ice.”
“Make sure you use my signature move when you do our choreography.” Nishigori skates out and launches himself into two double toe-loops in combination. He doesn’t quite make the last full rotation and wobbles when he comes down.
“Maybe Yuuko-chan should be the featured performer.” Yuuri grins.
“If you’re not going to coach me…” Nishigori skates back to Yuuri. “Relaxed enough to get back to those figures?”
And he is, no more tightness in his chest to keep him from drawing a deep breath. Thank you. “Maybe there’s time for a drink after all.”
“Or—” Nishigori holds out his hand. “Princess.”
It takes Yuuri a second to figure out what he’s talking about but then the memories come flooding back. “Are you still mad you didn’t get to be a bandit?” He takes Nishigori’s hand. “How did it—”
Nishigori hums the intro and they move into the dance together. Yuuri’s brain can’t call up the choreography but he hums along and after a few mistakes, his body remembers it just fine.
It’s so simple, Yuuri can hardly believe they had so much trouble learning it, even as children. Then Nishigori swings him out too soon and they both lose the steps, laughing.
“Your fault,” Nishigori says. “You’re supposed to count me through that part.”
“This better not end up on line,” Yuuri says. “Not without that costume.”
“Your third prettiest.” They grin at each other. “There may or may not be a chart ranking them all on the wall in our home.”
“Please burn it!”
“The chart or the costume?” Nishigori skates up. “Okay, time for the big finish.” He leans in.
Yuuri tenses again, a flash of panic that’s half nostalgia.
But Nishigori just brushes his lips across Yuuri’s cheek, a flutter of warmth in the cold air. “In another life,” he says.
They look at each other for a few moments, three-quarters serious, and Yuuri wonders what that other life might have been like, where they would both be right now.
Then Nishigori smiles. “But this life is pretty great.”
And the shell of Yuuri’s night-before nervousness cracks wide open and all the joy spills out, warm and bright like the sun over the ocean, strong and surging like the waves. His eyes sting and he can’t wait for the morning. “It’s the best.”