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When The World Stops...

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When The World Stops…

 

“Phichit, hurry up and get in here! Viktor’s warming up in a moment!” Yuuri shouts over his shoulder into the rest of their apartment, as he settles into the couch.

Phichit vaults over the sofa and gently sets a bowl of popcorn down on the table in front of them. “I’m here, I’m here.”

The logo for the 2012 Grand Prix Finals flashes on the screen as the announcer gives the current scores for the other Finalists prior to Viktor’s short program. Yuuri has already tuned it out. His eyes are transfixed on Viktor, who is gliding gracefully around the rink as he gets warm. Yuuri marvels at how beautiful both Viktor and his skating are.

“So, new record this time or nah?” Phichit asks as he grabs a mouthful of popcorn.

With some effort, Yuuri turns his head away from the screen to look at Phichit. “C’mon, you know it’s bad luck to talk about breaking records before the skating even happens. Besides, its Viktor. He’ll be incredible whether or not he breaks his previous record.”

Phichit rolls his eyes in an exaggerated motion, and Yuuri grins in response. Yuuri turns his head back towards the screen just in time to see it.

Viktor has stepped into a warmup jump, but Yuuri can tell right away something went wrong. Time seems to still for Yuuri as he watches Viktor hang in the air with not nearly enough height for the practice jump.

Yuuri has heard about stories where in crisis moments, sometimes a person’s brain will flip into overdrive and analyze the situation down to every last detail. But that’s not what happens here – his mind is blank, except for one word flaring over and over again.

Wrong. Wrong! WRONG!

Time seems to resume, and Viktor crashes down onto the ice. A strangled sound escapes from Yuuri, “No…that’s wrong.” Phichit gasps loudly as he turns back to the screen as well.

There is a moment of silence, heavy with tension as they both wait for Viktor to get up.

For a fleeting moment, Yuuri thinks Viktor looks like a fallen angel with his silver hair, gold shoulderpads, and royal purple costume. But Viktor lays unmoving on the ice.

“Get up Viktor. Come on! You’re okay.” Yuuri whispers, breaking the silence and willing his words to be the truth. Viktor shuffles a little while lying on the ice, but then stops moving again.

Medics suddenly appear on screen, moving to Viktor’s side with a stretcher. As they reach down to lift Viktor, he seems to try and push them away with a weakened hand.

At that gesture, Yuuri finally notices the tears rolling down his cheeks. As Viktor is lifted onto the stretcher and carried away, a heavy sob forces its way out of Yuuri’s throat. The announcers are talking about delaying the program while Viktor is assessed, but Yuuri barely hears them. He saw Viktor’s jump in slow motion, and judging from the slow recovery on the ice, Yuuri knows Viktor will not be finishing his programs in the Finals. And beyond that…

“Shh, shh. He’ll be okay,” Phichit whispers, wrapping himself around Yuuri in a hug. “You’ll be okay,” he repeats softly into Yuuri’s back. Yuuri’s gratitude for Phichit comes upon him slowly, as if from a great distance away, but there is still a hollow sensation throughout his body as he thinks of Viktor’s unmoving form on the ice.


 

They lay like that for a while, until Yuuri’s back begins to hurt from the lumpy secondhand sofa. Yuuri nudges Phichit, who begins to extricate himself from the Yuuri- Phichit burrito.

Yuuri smiles wanly at his friend. “Thanks Phichit…I needed that.”

Phichit returns the smile, and replies, “Of course. How are you feeling about…?” and adds a vague gesture with a twirl of his hand.

Yuuri glances at the screen, but at some point Phichit must have turned it off. He turns back to Phichit, his heart heavy as he recalls Viktor’s crash. “I’m…fine.”

Phichit gives him a knowing look as if to say, “Sure you are, and I’m going to be skating to The King and the Skater at Worlds this year.”  

Yuuri looks down, knowing he can’t meet Phichit’s eyes. “Really, I’ll be okay. You don’t have to worry about me,” he mumbles.

“Okay, well how about I go order some dinner and then we watch a movie?” suggests Phichit. Yuuri nods, and looks up at Phichit again. Phichit gives him a soft smile before walking away towards the kitchen.

Yuuri plops back down on the couch, and whips out his phone. After a quick glance to see if Phichit was hovering around, his hands fly across the screen as he searches for updates.

--

Nikiforov Takes Monster Fall at GPF

Ice Prince Crashes During Warmup

Nikiforov Unable to Continue Competing in Finals

No Further Word on State of Nikiforov’s Injuries


 

Твою Мать! Viktor swears in his mind, the pain sending him reeling. He’s lying on an uncomfortable, barren hospital bed as no less than three (3!) doctors flit about the room. He supposes that his status as a hero in Russia coupled with the Finals taking place in Sochi means that they’ve pulled out all the stops to care for him. Yakov is standing in the corner, his face looking so grim that he might as well be at a funeral.

Viktor pauses for a moment as he realizes the implication of that thought before another wave of pain washes over him when a doctor prods his right ankle. He grits his teeth against the pain as it begins to recede.

“So Doctors,” Viktor begins, emphasizing the “s,” “Can you please tell me what’s going on?”

All three of them stop moving at once. One of them, looking slightly more worn than the others, glances at Yakov in the corner, who gives a slight nod. “You’ve broken your ankle. It’s…not good, so you will not be skating for a while. But the injury has also aggravated your Jumper’s knee. You’ll need quite a bit of Physical Therapy before an assessment can take place”

Viktor doesn’t like the sound of that. He lets some air out of his mouth in a hiss “An assessment of what, exactly?”

“Whether you will be able to skate competitively again.”

Viktor starts, glancing over at Yakov and seeing a mournful look in his eyes. “Yakov…” Viktor whispers. “Please…”

Yakov walks out of the shadowy corner, putting a hand on Viktor’s shoulder. Viktor stares up at his coach, as his vision begins to blur. He wipes at his eyes automatically, belatedly realizing the wet feeling must be his tears.


 

Later that night, Yuuri finds himself sneaking out of their apartment to seek some solace at the rink. Not for the first time, he sends a silent thank you to Celestino for giving him a key to access the facility after hours.

After strapping on his skates, he starts aimlessly skating around the rink, lost in thought after putting a playlist of music on to fit his mood.

Viktor’s injury was absolutely unexpected, though injuries are rarely “expected.” It just looked like Viktor was slightly off in his lead up to the jump, and that set him for a fall (literally, in this case). It could happen to anyone, and it had happened to Yuuri before too. But it had never lead to a major injury, and certainly nothing like the pain etched onto Viktor’s face as he lay prone on the ice.

Why had it happened to Viktor? Viktor was the best in the entire world. He had so much more to give than someone like Yuuri. Viktor was beloved around the world, Yuuri just one of millions of fans heartbroken at the moment.

Why couldn’t it have happened to Yuuri instead? At least then, Viktor would continue to grace the world with his enchanting routines and presence on the ice. Only a few people would have missed Yuuri…

No. Stop.

 

Breathe.

 

Yuuri tries to clear his mind, recognizing the pattern of thoughts. Instead, he begins skating some compulsory figures as a way of reseting. The techniques his therapist has been working on with him start to slow his thoughts, though they are not entirely effective.

A few minutes later, he’s feeling a bit better.

Besides, Yuuri’s got his own skating to worry about, too. A much more familiar sense of unease settles into his stomach as he thinks about the Japanese National Competition coming up in just a few weeks. He ought to be practicing his routines for that, but can’t work up the right mentality for them right now. It wouldn’t help to try, at worst he could risk injuring himself with no supervision. Celestino’s yelled at him one too many times to be careful on his own.

Instead, he finds himself skating various parts of Viktor’s past programs. He weaves his way across the ice, mimicking the man who has inspired him so much. He alters a few elements along the way, to make it feel more natural. A spin here, adding a step to the sequence there.

He loses himself for a while, the soothing feeling of his skates on the ice his only companion.

Eventually, he yawns and realizes it’s probably time to try and sleep at least a little bit.


 

Sooner than he would have liked, Yuuri is awoken by the blaring of his alarm. He fumbles around trying to snooze it so he can drift back into blissful sleep, but the events of yesterday come crashing back and he sits upright in a flash. Across the room from him is Viktor’s face, just one of many posters plastering the walls of Yuuri’s bedroom, smiling at him. Yuuri rubs the sleep from his eyes as he grabs his phone, intent on checking news sites for updates on Viktor.

When no major news seems forthcoming, he forces himself out of bed and begins some morning stretches. He’s mid-stretch when an overly bubbly Phichit bounces into his room.

“Good morning, Yuuri! I made some eggs for us both since I saw your skates by the door. I figured you must have been out late.”

“Thanks…I couldn’t sleep and just needed to go clear my mind for a bit,” Yuuri glances away from Phichit, and his thoughts wander back to Viktor.

Noticing the vacant look in Yuuri’s eyes, Phichit steps closer to Yuuri. “Hey, let’s go eat. You’ve got class and then we’ve both got training this afternoon. Plus, you can talk to Celestino then and see if he’s heard anything.” Phichit walks towards the kitchen, looking back to see if Yuuri is following.

Yuuri shuffles to the kitchen, and goes through the routine of breakfast and then heading to class. It’s hard to focus on the lecture though while checking the news on his phone approximately every 3 minutes.

When he finally gets to the rink that afternoon, he makes a beeline for Celestino.

Yuuri opens his mouth to ask but, as if reading Yuuri’s mind, Celestino interrupts before he can even begin “All I’ve heard is that there should be an announcement tomorrow.” Yuuri pauses, and then closes his mouth. “For now, we should really work on your short program. I want you to really practice your triple axel, particularly the lead in.”

A dejected expression crosses Yuuri’s face, but he nods and leaves to get his skates on.

After a rocky practice where Yuuri wasn’t consistently landing many of his jumps, Celestino sent him to practice ballet for the rest of the afternoon. Yuuri’s mind was otherwise occupied, and it was apparent to his coach that there wasn’t a whole lot of productive skating practice that could be done at the moment.


 

As soon as Yuuri wakes up the next day, he checks his phone to see if there are any Viktor updates. While there is no new word on how he’s doing, it looks like there’s a press conference scheduled for later in the day.

Yuuri slogs through the day – he has no clue what happened in his classes and will have to get the notes from someone else. Practice doesn’t fair much better. He’s able to land the triple axel more consistently, but this time his choreography and spins feel off. Through it all, Viktor is at the forefront of his mind.

He desperately wants Viktor to be alright. Viktor is Yuuri’s motivation – to skate on the same ice, to compete in the same tournament. That’s what Yuuri’s promised himself, day after day, time after time, practice after practice. One day, he’ll skate with Viktor and it will all be worth it.

He’s shoved away family and home so he could move to Detroit to train with some of the best and a renowned coach, all with the glimmer of hope that he would be able to push himself to meet Viktor. He’s not deluded himself into thinking that he could beat Viktor, absolutely not. Nobody could do that. But he wants see Viktor’s languid grace, his musicality up close and in person. He wants Viktor to see his skating, to acknowledge Yuuri as a skater.

And all of that is at risk. What will happen to Viktor?

With that question resounding in his mind, Yuuri finally settles in to watch the press conference with Phichit. His nerves are frayed, but Phichit seems to sense it and scoots up close to Yuuri. Yuuri welcomes it, wrapping his arm around his best friend.


 

Viktor does not like The Boot. It’s bulky, uncomfortable, restrictive, and a constant reminder of his injury. The Boot doesn’t seem to care one way or another that Viktor is regularly shooting it angry glares and dark thoughts. In fact, it just seems to continue existing all the same. Damn The Boot.

Viktor carefully maneuvers himself to the table in the green room, minding that The Boot doesn’t hit anything as he shuffles across the room. He once again reads through the script. He’s read it at least a dozen times at this point, but it still feels foreign. Like this is all happening to someone else. He doesn’t get injured, after all, he’s the best.

He knows that nothing has been definitively determined yet, but he can’t help feeling like he’s about to step on a train that won’t stop until it arrives at its destination. And he doesn’t like where the destination seems to be.

He sighs heavily, grabbing the papers and shuffling back to his chair. Just as he sits down, there’s a knock at the door and Yakov steps into the room.

“Vitya, how are you feeling?”

Viktor makes a noncommittal sound and then exaggerates a sigh for dramatic effect. He’s never been particularly good at communicating his feelings, even with someone as close as Yakov. He knows he should be more forthcoming to someone who has been with him through thick and thin, but this whole…injured business… has hit him harder than he expected.

He’d been in a rough spot even before the injury.

Yakov sighs, and ruffles his greying hair. “Are you at least ready for the press?”

Viktor taps his chin playfully, mimicking thoughtfulness before replying “I’m always ready for the press.”

Yakov huffs, but a light smile spreads on his face before he asks “Just remember to stress that nothing long term has been decided yet.”

“Of course, I know that they might try and pry for details,” Viktor gives Yakov his best media smile. “Let’s go!”

Viktor pushes himself up, and makes his way out of the green room, the sound of The Boot dragging across the floor marking his progress. The smile doesn’t leave his face, but it does leave his thoughts.


 

“And that’s why for the moment, I’ll be taking a break from skating to recover and focus on my Physical Training. I haven’t made any decisions beyond that, as much is dependent on how my recovery through the Physical Training goes. Thank you, I’ll take a few questions now.”

Yuuri watches the screen as Viktor flashes his trademark smile, but he can tell there’s something just a bit off. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes, and despite his positive demeanor it is clear to Yuuri at least that Viktor is uncomfortable.

Phichit pats Yuuri on the shoulder and says, “See, he’s on the road to recovery!”

Yuuri nods his assent. He knows that he doesn’t have any special insight into Viktor as just one of many fans and supporters, but he can’t shake the feeling that something is amiss with Viktor.

Yet he knows he should not dwell on it for too long, with his own National competition coming up in a little more than a week. Besides, this was just about as positive of news as he could have expected given the apparent severity of the injury. Viktor would need time to heal, but he would be back. He had to be.

Yuuri instead spent most of the next week refocusing on his routines. His jumps are getting more consistent, but Celestino says that he is still lacking some confidence to really have them shine in his programs. He is also beginning to have a hard time connecting with his more upbeat short program, some of the melancholy from Viktor’s injury lingering around him like a cloud.

After a particularly rough session with more missed jumps than he would have liked, Yuuri makes his way to the ballet studio to escape from skating under Celestino’s watchful eye. For Yuuri, it's a breath of fresh air to lose himself in the physical strain of stretching and dance practice. While it works similar muscles, his mind is not as liable to overthink Celestino’s directions or spiral into self-doubt.

Plus, there is something so natural and calming about the movements in his ballet that even skating sometimes cannot quite provide. After a few hours of this, Yuuri is feeling much more mentally relaxed than he has felt in a while.

On a whim, he stops by the campus corner store after finishing his dancing to pick up some fresh vegetables for dinner. Once back in the apartment, he sets about cooking dinner while humming to himself. Phichit arrives back from practice shortly after Yuuri begins cooking, and seems thoroughly pleased that Yuuri is in a good mood. The two chat a bit back and forth about practice before agreeing to watch a movie over dinner.

Soon enough, the tantalizing smell of ginger signaled the stir fry was almost ready, and the two settle onto their lumpy sofa to watch The King and the Skater for what must have been at least the hundredth time.

Partway through the movie, Phichit stops watching (which doesn’t mean much, he could recite the entire movie from memory and had done so to prove a point on more than one occasion) and looks over at Yuuri before saying “You know, I’m glad you’re feeling better. I know it hasn’t been easy going, but this just makes me happy.”

Yuuri shares a genuine smile with Phichit before replying “No, it hasn’t been easy, but honestly Phichit, you’ve helped me through it. And, you know, some days are better than others for me. Today’s just a good day.”

The two scoot a bit closer to cuddle and turn their attention back to the movie. It isn’t long before Yuuri nods off, worn out from a day of skating and ballet. Phichit lazily runs his hands through Yuuri’s soft, shiny hair and smiles warmly. As the movie ends, Phichit helps a sleepy Yuuri find his way to his bed before returning to his own room, and the two are both asleep before long.


 

“Oi, Viktor! What the hell happened!” Viktor can’t help but smile as he hobbles into his home rink, only to be greeted by a familiar angry voice that seems at complete odds with the cute and tiny skater it belongs to.

“I missed you too, Yura.”

“I’m supposed to be the one to knock you off your high horse, not some stupid injury,” Yuri jabs a finger at Viktor to accentuate his point. “You’d better be taking your PT seriously, I want you back in peak condition before I get to Seniors.” Yuri finishes, skating over to the railing to look Viktor in the eyes.

Viktor huffs a bit, making a show of how Yuri is somehow always mildly annoying. “Believe me, I want The Boot gone just as soon as possible too,” he says, patting his leg for emphasis.

At that point, the rest of his rinkmates have noticed the commotion and are skating over as well. There are various greetings and well-wishes shouted at him.

Georgi and Mila skate up close to Viktor, at the front of the group.

“Ignore Yura, you know what he’s like. How are you feeling, Viktor?” Mila swats at Yuri before turning to look at Viktor, an expression of worry on her face. Yuri mutters something derisive towards the young woman before glowering at the ground.

“It hurts. And I wish I was on the ice, even if it isn’t helping me heal physically…it just helps,” he answers wistfully.

Georgi smiles widely, chiming in “My friend, we all know the ice is your true love! You’ve never had eyes for anyone else. Ahh, to be truly caught in that embrace…” he trails off, looking into the distance.

Mila snickers a bit at Georgi’s proclamation, and then gives Viktor a friendly shove. “Hope to have you out here again soon. We better get back to practice, or Yakov will grill us all.”

As if on cue, a new source of shouting emerges from the back offices, and the skaters share a smile together before returning to practice as usual. Viktor waves at his rinkmates before heading to the source of the shouting. Viktor had been avoiding coming to the rink for the past few days, but Yakov had insisted he come by for a bit to check in after his physical therapy for the day.

Yakov was still giving some “firm advice” to one of the younger skaters as Viktor approached him, and Viktor cocked his head as he listened in.

“You need to focus more on your technical elements. Run through your jumps and spins a couple times, paying close attention to which ones work and why. Then tell me what you notice. Your choreography is improving.”

That’s Yakov, always up front with what’s missing and grudgingly acknowledging what’s working well. Even if his coaching style left a bit to be desired, Viktor had always known when and how to push back. Eventually, the two had reached a (somewhat) tacit agreement, where Viktor would drive Yakov crazy, Yakov would give Viktor advice (which he mostly ignored), and then Viktor would win regardless.

Viktor smiles again, thinking back on just how often he had tuned out Yakov’s coaching over the years. But Yakov was probably the closest he had to family. They’d been working together for over 10 years now, and Viktor had even lived with Yakov and Lillia for some of it before moving into his own apartment with Makkachin.

He hardly thinks of his parents anymore, as it brings a whole host of other feelings he’d rather not deal with, especially now.

“Viktor. I’m glad you came by. You’re keeping up with your PT, right? I know you’ve been avoiding me.” Yakov’s voice snaps Viktor out of his musings.

Viktor pouts a bit, “It’s not you I’m avoiding Yakov! It’s the rink. I just want to be back out there, it’s so unfair being stuck on this side of things. Of course I’m keeping up with my therapy, how else am I going to get back on the ice?”

Yakov doesn’t look particularly relieved, but responds “Good, good. Listen, can you keep an eye on that skater I was just talking to? She’s supposed to be tracking her successes on her own, but I’d appreciate if you were to observe and give her some pointers too.”

“Hah, I overheard you talking with her and she didn’t seem thrilled,” he says, thinking it over for a moment. Truthfully, he’s got nothing better to do but lounge in his apartment with his poodle. It’s not even like he can take Makka on a walk. So unfair! Besides, maybe if he’s around the ice it will help him feel better…or make him miss it more. Damn.

“Viktor?”

“Oh, uh, sure. I can stay for a bit and watch over her.” Yakov makes a brusque sound of approval and pats him on the back before walking away, towards Mila who is on her phone.

Well, it looks like he’s been roped into spending a bit more time at the rink. With a shrug, Viktor heads over to the railings (The Boot in tow) to keep an eye on the young skater as Yakov’s shouting begins anew.


 

Yuuri is not a fan of travelling. Despite his small frame, he feels smushed against the side of the airplane while seated next to a snoring Celestino. He is simultaneously irritated by and envious of his coach’s ability to fall asleep anywhere.

He would have thought his penchant for sleeping in and avoiding activity would come in handy when trying to nap on airplane, but no, instead he’s left to peruse his mental catalogue of all the things that could go wrong with his performances at Nationals in two days.

Redoubling his efforts to empty his mind, he pops in his earbuds and tries to lose himself to the music for the rest of the flight. He’d have plenty of time to stress later, especially since Phichit wouldn’t be accompanying him as a distraction.

Yuuri’s eyes shoot open and he groans as he fully realizes that he’ll be sharing his hotel room with his snoring coach. So much for getting good sleep before a competition…

After a heavy sigh, he closes his eyes again and starts imagining a dance to accompany his music. 1, 2, 3, 4…2, 2, 3, 4…


 

After checking in to their hotel that night, Celestino and Yuuri are both too jetlagged and tired to do much more than get a quick bite to eat. As he gets into bed, Yuuri spares a fleeting thought for his family, but decides it’s too late tonight to give them a call. He usually speaks to them once a month or so, but being back in Japan has reignited the ache in his heart for home.

He knows he couldn’t have asked any of them to come to Sapporo to watch him, it’s hard enough for his parents to manage the Onsen with just Mari to help out. And instead of helping his family, Yuuri had fled halfway around the world to chase a dream about skating. Guilt washes over him as he thinks about Vicchan sleeping alone on his old bed. He knows Mari watches over the little poodle, but that does little to comfort his rapidly spiraling mind.

“Yuuri, it’ll be okay. Do you want to talk about it?” Celestino’s voice diverts Yuuri from the storm of thoughts in his head, but it also helps Yuuri realize that he is breathing heavily.

Yuuri sits up and looks over at his coach. The concerned expression on Celestino’s face doesn’t help Yuuri feel much better, but he knows that his coach is just trying to help. For as long as Celestino’s worked with Yuuri, he’s been aware Yuuri’s mental weakness. In fact, it had been Celestino’s suggestion to start working with a therapist more regularly. Yuuri had come to appreciate that Celestino genuinely cared for his students beyond their skating potential. Though he apparently saw a lot of that potential in Yuuri too, for whatever reason.

Yuuri just ends up shaking his head before answering, “Thanks Celestino, but I think it’s just the shock of being back in Japan again…” he trails off without adding anything else.

Celestino looks somewhat unsatisfied with the response, but over their time together has learned that sometimes Yuuri isn’t ready to share exactly what’s going on in his mind.

“Of course, I can imagine it must be hard. Just let me know if you want to talk.”

Celestino lays back down in bed, and Yuuri sighs gratefully, glad that Celestino didn’t push him right now. He settles into bed, hoping he’ll get a restful night of sleep.


 

While restful might not be the word he would use describe his sleep the past night, he does at least feel less jetlagged and a bit anxious to get on the ice for his scheduled practice. After as hearty a breakfast as Yuuri can manage, he and Celestino head over to the arena for his allotted practice time.

As they exit the shuttle, a number of reporters are waiting outside the venue and seem liven up as they notice Yuuri approach.

“Excuse me, skater Katsuki. How are you feeling about your programs?”

“Do you think you’ll win gold this year?”

Yuuri does his best to ignore the questions as he and Celestino make their way to check in. Yuuri has never been a fan of the press, and the questions only served to remind him of his country’s growing expectations of him.

As soon as he’s cleared to, Yuuri starts getting ready for practice. There’s something soothing for Yuuri about the action of putting on his skates. It takes just enough concentration to be sure he’s got everything properly adjusted that he’s not able to let his thoughts wander much. Once laced up, he makes his way past a group of skaters coming off the ice from their practice. A few of them greet him, and he does his best to be polite in response.

There are not many skaters that Yuuri is very friendly with in the world, let alone among his fellow countrymen. There are a few friends he has made on the international circuit, particularly during his time in Juniors, like with Christophe Giacommeti. But he does a pretty poor job of keeping up with any of them actively.

Sure, he follows them on social media, but Yuuri’s also notoriously bad at using SNS like Instagram. He’s lucky that he got saddled with Phichit thanks to his training in Detroit, or he might never have found such a close friend. And it helps that Phichit has taught him a thing or two about using Instagram. Even if Yuuri rarely does post anything.

After a few short interactions, Yuuri is able to take off his skate guards and make his way out onto the ice. He does a few slow laps of the rink, breathing deeply and enjoying the feeling of freedom that comes with returning to the ice. The pressure of National is still there, but this is just a practice session before anything even begins. There are no stakes right now.

He works his way through a number of warm up exercises before Celestino calls out to him to practice his routines in full.

Yuuri gathers his thoughts, and hears the music start in his head before setting off into action.


 

“Yuuri, you short program really has come a long way. Your quad toe-loop is looking more and more consistent. I’m excited for you to get to show everyone else how much you’ve improved!” Leaning over their dinner table, Celestino pats Yuuri on the shoulder in affirmation of his statement.

Yuuri doesn’t shy away from the contact, but Celestino’s words do get him thinking. He will be performing in front of the entire country tomorrow. His parents will undoubtedly be watching. And Minako-sensei, too. He wants to show them that all the time he has put into skating has been worth it.

Celestino seems to have developed a pretty keen sense of when Yuuri’s thoughts start drifting into more dangerous territory, as he’s quick to follow with, “Hey, Yuuri, no matter how things go tomorrow I will be proud of your skating.”

Yuuri looks up and smiles softly, grateful for his coach. He moves the grilled vegetables around on his plate, but the nerves of competing tomorrow have dampened his appetite.

Celestino starts to talk through Yuuri’s programs and where he has excelled and where there is room for improvement. Yuuri listens, but continues to absentmindedly push his food around without eating much.

Yuuri does his best to get ready for bed early to maximize his opportunity to sleep, but he has a hard time finding rest. His mind continues to run through scenarios of what the day tomorrow will be like, and soon enough his coach falls asleep and starts snoring.

Eventually, the sweet blanket of sleep surrounds him.

Yet all too soon, he finds himself waking up the next morning and getting ready for the competition. It isn’t too long before he and Celestino are on the shuttle to the arena, and Yuuri once again does his best to avoid and ignore inquiring press. He knows that he will have to talk with them at some point, likely after his program today.

As Yuuri laces up his skates, his phone pings with a message.

 

Phichit:

Hey Yuuri, want to wish you good luck on your program today! You got this ^.^

 

Yuuri smiles down at his phone for a second, thinking of Phichit watching from back in Detroit. As he makes his way towards the rink, his mind wanders to everyone else he knows will probably be watching – his parents, Mari, Minako, and rinkmates back in the U.S. At that thought, he can feel his nerves starting to rise up, settling into a lump in his stomach. He swallows thickly, resolving to do the very best he can. After all, the short program is a fresh start.

Yuuri begins stretching some more, running through his routine in his head. He loses himself to his thoughts and the music for a while.


 

After a time, Celestino nudges Yuuri to indicate that he’ll be up next.

Yuuri nods to Celestino. He’ll do the best he can and try to make everyone proud; show them that all his work has been worthwhile. Shoving down his nerves and ignoring all the eyes that must be on him, Yuuri walks towards the gap in the rink with a determined look set in his eyes.

As he takes off his skate guards and glasses, Celestino starts talking to him in a calming voice, “Yuuri, you’ve got this. Do your best, and remember you’ll do us all proud no matter what.”

Yuuri fixes his eyes on his coach and gives a single vigorous nod before skating out. He does a few laps, the feel of his blades carving a path across the ice a comforting reassurance. He takes his place, and waits.

The music starts and Yuuri bursts into action, wasting no time and setting off into a blistering step sequence. Doing his best to ignore the audience around him, Yuuri focuses instead on the music. Each step a deliberate, precise motion, yet effortless at the same time.

Dancing across the ice, enthralling all. Striving to be the image of grace, just like Viktor.

At that thought, Yuuri comes careening back to the present, surrounded by a cheering audience and nearly trips over himself.

Wait, now is not the time for this! Yuuri’s breathing picks up, and his mind goes blank.

The swell of the horns comes crashing down, and Yuuri latches onto it, willing himself to get caught back in the music. He carries on past the hitch in his step, picking up nearly immediately.

As the strings take over again, he leans into a tight spin. The audience becomes just a blur as he rotates, and he commands his mind to continue thinking of them as just that: a mass of blurred colors, nothing more than a backdrop without his glasses on.

The music slows and the winds come in, he steps out of the spin and into a choreographic sequence, preparing for his first jump – the quad toe loop. He goes through the motions just right, and launches into the air. As soon as he’s in the air, he knows that he got it right. His heart soars, grateful for the hours of repetition that Celestino had been drilling into him. He nailed the hardest jump!

Newfound confidence surging through him, he lands the jump nicely and quickly begins another spin as the winds continue. Pulling out of the spin, Yuuri launches into another step sequence. As the music picks back up, he prepares for his second jump – the triple axel.

Riding the high from the last jump, Yuuri jumps a bit higher than normal and slightly overrotates the jump, but navigates the landing. Feeling a bit abashed that he let his quad influence the next jump, Yuuri strives to let his mind empty as the final jump approaches – his triple flip, triple toe loop combination.

As the music nears its end, Yuuri leaps into the air, nailing the flip before immediately launching into his triple toe loop. With a clear mind, Yuuri’s jumps go just as they had in practice – smoothly and without incident.

The music builds to its finale, and Yuuri strikes his final pose, holding still for several seconds before the audience erupts in cheers. Yuuri finally drops the pose, and his breath comes out in ragged pants. That wasn’t too bad – he hit the quad, and didn’t fall or embarrass himself any other major way! He stumbled a bit early on and overdid his axel, but neither had stopped him too much.

Flowers and other plushies are thrown onto the rink, and Yuuri obligingly grabs a few as he makes his way back to Celestino.

“Yuuri, that was great! Well done!” Celestino grabs Yuuri and pulls him in for a hug, and Yuuri blinks a few times before tentatively wrapping his arms around his coach. As they make their way over to the Kiss and Cry, Celestino catches Yuuri off guard with a perceptive comment about the performance.

“I saw you stumble early on – you were moving with such poise just beforehand, but recovered from it quite quickly. I doubt it will impact your score much.” Celestino had apparently caught when Yuuri’s thoughts had turned to Viktor. Yuuri had been avoiding returning to that thought since then, but for now he could just rest a moment as he waited for his score.

After just a few minutes, Yuuri’s scores are announced and his name shoots to the top of the scoreboard! Yuuri gapes at the scores, and while they aren’t on Viktor’s level, they do represent a new personal best for his short program and put him in a lofty lead. There are still a few skaters to go before the day ends, and Yuuri tries not to think too much about what it might mean if the scores stay that way.


 

As Yuuri’s luck would have it, he remained in first place at the end of the day. While many might relish leading the pack, that has never been Yuuri’s mindset.

Which is why Yuuri finds himself nervously pacing around the hotel room later, trying to convince himself that he will do fine tomorrow. His coach even said to him that no matter the outcome, he would still be proud. Of course, Yuuri had just painted a massive target on his back after the day’s events. He was in first place out of the entire country. Everyone would be expecting him to fight to keep it. And yes, he wanted to stay in first, but Yuuri’s anxiety rarely made it easy to hold on to good things.

Yuuri so much preferred being in the middle of the pack, where he wasn’t feeling pressure from being near the bottom or at the top. Though, he often found a way to stress about his placement no matter where he landed.

It would be so much easier if he could just get out on the ice at times like this! Thinking felt so much smoother when he could move more freely. But he knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the official rink, and he is unaware of any other local rinks nearby.

He must have been lost among his thoughts for a while, as when Celestino enters the room carrying a number of take-out boxes, Yuuri realizes it must be around dinner time. On cue, his stomach growls. A cheeseburger sounds really good about now. And fries. Maybe a milkshake? He probably shouldn’t be eating that kind of food, but…

Celestino has really come a long way in interpreting Yuuri, as he seems to read Yuuri’s mind. “Yuuri, I brought some take-out, chicken and grilled veggies. It might not be exactly what you want, but it will help with tomorrow. Since you didn’t respond to my text, I just picked up what was closest.”

With a start, Yuuri realizes he had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t checked his phone all afternoon or evening. A quick glance shows quite a few missed texts from his coach, Phichit, and family. He had a missed call from Phichit as well. And…an Instagram private message? Who would that be?

As Celestino sets out the food, Yuuri swipes on his phone to see who could possibly be messaging him on Instagram that did not have his cell phone number. After all, given how rarely he uses SNS everyone should know how much easier it is to get in contact with him through his cell phone. Though, that had not worked out too well this afternoon, to be fair.

A few swipes and taps later, Yuuri opens his direct messages to a surprise:

 

christophe-gc:

Congrats on your short program Yuuri! It was absolutely enchanting…

 

Yuuri gawks at his phone for a minute, mouth agape.

“That’s step one Yuuri, next maybe try putting the food in your mouth?” Celestino offers, chuckling to himself.

Yuuri glares at his coach, but can’t help smiling as he looks back down at his phone. Truthfully, he hasn’t talked with Chris in a while. They occasionally run into each other at events, and competed more directly back in Juniors. And while Yuuri would say they are somewhat close, they haven’t really exchanged messages all that much. He spends a minute pondering how to reply before settling and typing out a response:

katsudonyk:

Chris, you’re watching Japan Nationals?! But, thank you for compliment.

I didn’t embarrass myself at least.

 

Satisfied, Yuuri returns to eating his dinner (however bland it may be in comparison to the desired cheeseburger).

After dinner, Yuuri takes the time to respond to his missed texts. He reassures Phichit that he is, in fact, managing alright. And that maybe their coach is starting to understand Yuuri more, intervening at just the right times. Plus, the distraction of dinner and Chris’ message had taken his mind off overthinking tomorrow.

Wait, tomorrow.

He’s still in first and would be competing last. He swallowed, feeling like something was caught in his throat. Is he good enough to hold his spot…?

Ping!

Yuuri’s phone buzzes in his hand, and a quick look down shows that he has a new Instagram message. Grateful for something else to think about, Yuuri eagerly opens it up.

christophce-gc:

https://media2.giphy.com/media/l3q2YLHpmkiq4kBmU/giphy.gif

Yuuri, how could I miss a chance to watch you perform! You most certainly didn’t embarrass yourself, was that not a new personal best?

katsudonyk:

But why are you watching me? Sure, it was a new best but it could have been better.

 

christophce-gc:

https://media.tenor.com/images/59bd29dcc92ebb9bdd238c2bf79c2c8f/tenor.gif

Yuuri, you are selling yourself short on this, and you are always worth watching :smirkingface:

katsudonyk:

Well, thank you again. We’ll see if that holds true tomorrow.

christophce-gc:

I look forward to it! And let me know what you think of my performance next time 😉

 

Despite his fatigue from the day, Yuuri can’t help but smile a bit at Chris’ messages. Clinging to that ray of light, Yuuri gets ready for bed.

Yet, it isn’t too long before negative thoughts start making their way back into his mind. He climbs into bed, hoping sleep will come quickly.


 

It doesn’t. After a night filled with tossing and turning and not nearly as much rest as he needed, Yuuri finds himself watching the world go by as he and Celestino ride the shuttle to the rink the next day.

As they pull up to the stadium, he steels himself for the gauntlet of reporters. As the current frontrunner, he knows that he is bound to get a lot of questions. Climbing down the steps from the shuttle, he is immediately buffeted by a barrage of questions. Schooling his face into a neutral (if tired) expression, he begins making his way towards the entrance.

“Katsuki, how are you feeling after yesterday’s program?”

“Katsuki, this is the one of the first times you’ve been in the lead after the first day!”

“Do you think you’ll win gold?”

Each question was another burden to add to his worries, but the last question really drove the point home. Doing his best to keep his face blank to avoid giving any indication of a response, Yuuri speeds up his walking.

Once inside past the gauntlet, he lets out a hefty sigh. Even though the press were a common part of his skating life, he still was not used to the pointed questions they sometimes threw at him. Yuuri waves to Celestino before leaving to put on his skating gear.

Yet, as he focuses on lacing up his skates, the reporters’ question kept rattling around in his head – could he win gold? It would be arrogant to assume he could, after all he was just another dime a dozen Japanese skater. But Yuuri’s competitive nature has always been a core part of his drive to achieve success. He cannot deny how much he would like to win…but does he really deserve it?

He’s had so much help and support, from his coach, his family, Phichit. Can he show them how much he appreciates it?

Feeling more than a little rattled, Yuuri makes his way to the ice for his practice session.

Celestino must have noticed something, as he turns to Yuuri and says “Once you’re ready, run through your program but just mark the jumps. I don’t want you worrying about jumping right now.”

Yuuri nods, his thoughts elsewhere. Breathing deeply, he takes off his skate guards and hands them to Celestino before pushing himself out onto the rink.

A few slow laps around the ice later, and his mind is clearing up. He continues warming up, gliding across the fresh ice.

Yuuri loves just leaning into the feeling of weightlessness as he dances across the rink. It has become such second nature that he hardly even realizes it, but he’s running through a level 3 step sequence as he’s just warming up. A few minutes later, he is feeling more than a little better.

His mind blissfully blank, Yuuri begins to run through his program.

As he approaches one of the jumps, Celestino’s request flashes in his mind. He knows he should listen to his coach, but he’s feeling better now. He can handle this, it’s just practice after all.

Yuuri gathers himself up, leaping into the air for his quad toe loop. There’s a moment of serenity as he floats in the air, before he crashes back down, wiping out on the ice.

A shuddering breath escapes Yuuri, and he pushes himself up onto his elbows.

Shit.

One measly jump in practice and he can’t even manage it, how the hell is he supposed to compete for gold when he’s on the verge of tears while down on the ice.

A moment later, he stands up, noting that nothing is hurting too much. Water pinpricks clouding his vision, he skates over to Celestino. Though he tries to look as stoic as possible on his way over, he practically collapses onto the railing.

“Yuuri, are you okay?!”

“I’m…,” fine, is what he wanted to say. But he’s not fine. He can’t even get his practice right. Taking another ragged breath, Yuuri finishes with “I’m not hurt.”

“That’s a relief,” Celestino looks around before leaning in. “Listen, Yuuri, these kinds of things happen to everyone, even the best.”

Yuuri’s head snaps up at that. He barks out a laugh, sounding bitter and harsh. “Even Viktor? I doubt it.”

Celestino sighs. “Yuuri, you are an incredible skater even if you don’t necessarily feel like it.”

Yuuri makes some sort of noncommittal noise, looking back down. Celestino taps his chin for a few moments before forging ahead.

“Alright, here’s what I think you should do. If you are up for it, go back out and finish practice. Don’t do any more jumps. In fact, do whatever else you think will help you feel better as long as it isn’t a jump. Even if it means you just spend the time skating around the rink.”

Yuuri looks up again, only to find Celestino looking at him with an incredibly serious expression.

“I mean it, Yuuri. Do what you would like.”

Yuuri continues to stare at his coach, unsure what he wants do. After what might have been a few more seconds or a few more minutes, Yuuri resolves to get back to skating. He turns around, and pushes himself out into the heart of the rink.

As he skates nowhere in particular, Yuuri wonders what he wants to do. Well, of course he wants to win. But what does he want right now, in practice? He wants to land his jumps, but Celestino had seemed even more serious about avoiding them.

As he continues pondering what he’d like to do, Yuuri unconsciously begins skating compulsory figures. Few people really practiced them anymore, but Yuuri had come to love them…

Oh, duh.

There are parts of skating that he really likes. If he can cling to those moments, revel in the feeling as he darts across the ice, then maybe he can bring that to the parts he doesn’t like as much too.

Shaking his head at his own stubbornness, Yuuri starts actively engaging the figures. He skates some figure eights next, his thoughts clear as the sky for the moment. He knows that this cannot last forever, that his fears and anxiety will return, but for now he can just be.


 

And somehow, someway, he carries that mentality with him through his free program. Well, for the most part. He had botched a landing or two, but nothing quite like his fall in practice. Amazingly, Yuuri found himself standing atop the podium, neck bent as he received his gold medal. For being the highest scoring skater. In all of Japan.

Yuuri’s mind was suspiciously blank for most of the proceedings that followed, not quite accepting or processing his success. Perhaps that’s why he isn’t as intimidated when he gets interviewed, and actually manages to string together more than a few coherent sentences about his performance.

The official medal photographs go by in a similar sort of haze, such that Yuuri can only remember a brief period of posing and the flashes of many cameras going off.

He finally snaps back into focus as if rising from a deep slumber when he hears the all-too-familiar notes that mark the beginning of The King and the Skater, Phichit’s personalized ringtone. Yuuri looks around at his surroundings and realizes that he’s somehow ended up back in the hotel room.

Fumbling with his pockets, Yuuri pulls out his phone and answers.

“Hello?”

A loud and happy voice bursts through “Yuuri! You did it, congratulations! I’m so proud of you!”

“yeah…” Yuuri trails off, at a loss for words.

Phichit follows right back with “Hey Yuuri, are you alright? Do you want to talk about it?”

How is Phichit so good at telling when something is off with Yuuri? A smile touches his lips briefly before he responds. “I’m not sure…really. It just feels surreal you know,” and suddenly the words are tumbling out of him, and he can’t stop.

“I’ve never really actually held on to a lead I’ve had before. And I still can’t believe I didn’t embarrass myself. I’ve, uh, kind of just been in, like, a trance or something since I finished.” His voice quiets a bit before he continues, “and I’m not sure how I should feel right now. Good, probably?”

At that, a giggle escapes from Phichit before he covers it with a cough and answers in a more serious tone, “I think I understand a little. And Yuuri, you should feel however you’d like. And if you aren’t sure, that’s okay too. I’m still so incredibly proud of you and how far you’ve come.”

At his friend’s kind words, Yuuri begins to tear up. How did he get so lucky to have support like this? Tears flowing now, Yuuri works himself up to respond in a breathy voice, “Thank you so much Phichit. I don’t think I’d be here without you.”

“Of course, Yuuri. Aww, now you’re gonna make me cry too!” A few sniffles come through, and Yuuri can’t help but laugh a little bit.

“We’re just a soppy mess, aren’t we Phichit?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other,” responds Phichit, and then they both laugh, the sound echoing in the tiny hotel room.


 

A number of (lengthy) days later, Yuuri is back in Detroit and coming to terms with the fact that since he came in first at Nationals, he is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, competing in Worlds in a little over 2 months. He’s laying in bed, grappling with the fact that he needs to get up and get to exercising to keep in shape for the upcoming competition. Instead, he curls the blanket tighter around him and snuggles deeper into his bed, thinking about the last week.

Chris had actually messaged him again the night after he had won, and Yuuri was grateful that the Swiss man had extended another offering to stay in contact. Yuuuri was always concerned about imposing on others, but Chris’ persistence might be indicating a genuine desire to reconnect with Yuuri.

He hadn’t been able to stay in Japan to visit family or anything after the competition, but he had finally given them a call the night of the banquet. They had, of course, been incredibly excited to hear from him and proud of him for winning. His mother had gleefully told him of the watch party they had at the onsen (though Yuuri was glad he only learned of it after the fact). Sometimes he was still baffled that they didn’t resent him for basically leaving their lives, and he felt incredibly lucky to have them supporting him still. He would be sure to send some of the extra winnings from Nationals to support the onsen, once he received them.

He’d been lucky to have a full day of rest after returning from Japan, though. Which brought him back to the current problem at hand – getting up.

After what feels like the battle of a century, Yuuri finally wills himself to get up. He grabs a banana, and then heads out into the frigid morning air for his run.

Celestino proves to be ruthless in the coming weeks of practice, pushing Yuuri incredibly hard to get him prepared for Worlds. Yuuri had been working on adding a quad Salchow to his repertoire, but it still just isn’t consistent, even in practice.

His days are filled with exercising, skating, dancing, classes, and homework. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t have to keep ballet in the mix, because of everything else, but he wanted to. It was another excellent escape for him, as even the ice could a harsh companion when Celestino was grilling him.


 

As the weeks continued to pass, Viktor still didn’t feel like he was making much progress in recovering. Sure, he had finally kicked The Boot, but he wasn’t any closer to getting on the ice really. He had a check up in a few more days, and Yakov seemed particularly nervous for some reason.

Viktor had finally resigned himself to acknowledging that he wouldn’t be competing at Worlds, as much as he had hoped against hope that he would miraculously recover ahead of schedule. Instead, he was shifting his thoughts of competing to next season after recovering. The doctors were probably just exaggerating about the scale of his injury to scare him into taking recovery seriously, anyway.

His days were pretty grueling – but not in the comforting, physical way. Since he wasn’t allowed on the ice, time felt like molasses. He had at least become more comfortable being around the rink again, thanks to Yakov’s persistent efforts to have him help out some of the younger skaters with some basic tips. Obviously, he can’t demonstrate anything for them, though it would be helpful to show them the precise movements at times... And if he could demonstrate, he should be practicing instead.

As he returns from drifting among his thoughts, Viktor ruffles a hand through Makkachin’s curly fur. There is one positive development as a result of his therapy and recovery – he can finally walk with Makka again! Grinning as he stands up, Viktor begins walking across the apartment. Makkachin perks up and immediately tilts his head to the side, reading the situation. As soon as Viktor has grabbed the leash, Makka bounds over to him, beside himself with excitement. After bundling up and calming Makkachin down enough to finally get the leash attached to the collar, Viktor makes his way out into the frigid winter air of St. Petersburg.

Viktor pauses a moment after exiting the apartment building, his breath puffing out in front of him. He looks around, noting the sidewalks have (thankfully) been cleared of much of the recent snow, though the trees and bushes glitter with a light coating of snow as they begin walking.

While he had The Boot, Viktor had been completely unable to walk with Makkachin (though not for lack of trying). There was one particularly bad day when Viktor had been fed up with just about everything going on, and had foolishly tried to walk Makka with The Boot on. They had made it about two blocks before even Viktor was forced to acknowledge the futility of it. At the time, his mood had only soured. But now, a small smile grows as he recalls Makkachin’s eagerness just to be around Viktor, walk or no walk. The poodle has an uncanny ability to tell when Viktor needs soothing.

After some time, Viktor walks through a large archway into the square in front of the Winter Palace. Dominating the square is the easily recognizable pillar, the Alexandrovskaya Column.

The column itself was supposed to represent Imperial Russia’s victory over Napoleon, but Viktor had always felt a deeper, more immediate connection to it. He was the lone champion of skaters, at the top of the world. Sure, the column wasn’t there to commemorate his own legacy, but he felt a kinship with the lone pillar, reaching for the heavens. Out of place with the many men and women who gathered around, admiring it. He often finds his way to the Palace Square after competing, whether a conscious choice or not.

Standing in the open square with Makkachin, Viktor can’t help but shiver as a gust of wind sweeps through.

Knowing that he shouldn’t be putting too much pressure on his recovering injuries, Viktor takes the chill as a signal to turn around and start heading back home. As he leaves the square, he stops by an open café to order a hot cup of black tea, two sugars for the walk home.

Tea steaming in the cold air, Viktor reaches down to pet Makkachin as they begin the journey home. While it is by no means ideal, Viktor is happy to at least have this much again. Things might even start to look up with some positive news at his next doctor’s visit.


 

“Run it again! That one wasn’t as clean.” Celestino yells from over the railing. Yuuri sighs, feeling the ache as he resets for another attempt at the quad Salchow.

After a couple weeks of practice, Yuuri was now landing the jump much more consistently, over half the time. But not consistently enough for either his or his coach’s liking.

While he is accustomated to attempting jumps in competition that he isn’t guaranteed to land, there is a limit. Just over a 50% success rate in practice is not enough for Yuuri to feel comfortable breaking out the quad Salchow in competition yet. Besides, Yuuri knows how he often does better in practice. When the pressure is on, he tends to crumble. He doesn’t like that about himself, but it’s not something he’s been able to easily change during his time in Detroit either. He knows how lucky it is that he was able to recover from his breakdown while competing at Nationals.

As he comes to the starting position, Yuuri clears his mind of thoughts about competing. After a brief moment, he winds up for the jump. The wind whistles past Yuuri as he sails through the air, completing 1…2…3…4 rotations. His heart jumps a little in his chest as he completes the last turn, joy flooding him. His foot connects back with the ice, and he flares his other leg out for balance, bringing it back around as he skates on.

Celestino claps loudly in response to the attempt before shouting, “Much better! Did you do anything differently that time?”

Yuuri skates up to his coach, running it back in his head. With so many attempts, one jump tends to blur with the rest.

After another moment, Yuuri responds. “I think…I think I cleared my mind. I wasn’t even thinking about the jump, I just let the motions happen.”

“Try to keep doing that, then. If that’s the tactic that will help you, great,” replies Celestino, nodding. “Why don’t you cool down and wrap up for today, end on a high note. We’ve been at it for quite a bit.”

After agreeing, Yuuri skates off. That’s just it though, if Yuuri focuses on clearing his mind, that in itself becomes a thought about the jump. And then he’s thinking about the jump, and more likely to mess it up. It’s almost a paradox – to land the jump, he can’t think about it. But he has to think about it to stop thinking about it. Shaking his head at the complexity, Yuuri continues to cool off until Phichit waves over at him from the other side of the railing.

As soon as Yuuri skates up to him, Phichit starts gushing, “Yuuri, I got a great clip of you landing the quad Salchow! I can’t wait until everyone else can see it – I’m saving the clip to post on Instagram later.”

Yuuri sighs, baffled at his friend’s insistence to document everything through social media. “You know you can’t post any practice footage like that until after it happens in a competition.”

“I know, I know. You just post so rarely, and this is so cool! Your fans are going to love when I post it.”

“My fans? What, you mean you and my parents?”

Phichit lowers his phone for a moment to give Yuuri The Look™. “Cmon Yuuri, you know you have fans all around the world! Even if you don’t want to acknowledge it” Phichit teases.

Yuuri shakes his head, at a loss. “I just don’t get why they follow me. Or you, if it’s to learn about me. There are so many great skaters out there.”

“Yeah, and they are interested in you,” Phichit starts tapping his chin, “so that must say something about your skill level. Hmm…I wonder.”

Yuuri snorts at the insinuation before pushing away from the barrier to continue winding down.


 

Yakov is being uncharacteristically quiet during the ride to Viktor’s injury check in, and it’s starting to unsettle the skater. Is he missing something? His recovery so far has been relatively smooth. Not as speedy as he’d like, of course, but still a relatively reasonable pace all things considered.

Viktor tries teasing his coach about Mila to see if he can draw the gruff man out a bit, but Yakov brushes him off or outright ignores him. How rude! Usually he can at least get a reaction out of his coach, especially when it comes to the fiery young woman. That more than anything sets Viktor on edge. The atmosphere in the car sours, as Viktor gives up trying to engage his coach. Instead, he tries to focus on the passing scenery, but his thoughts continually return to the expanding pit of worry in his gut.

After what feels like an entire eternity passes, the car finally pulls up to the clinic. Viktor has to force himself to calmly open the door, his desire to dash into the clinic and get to the root of the situation nearly overpowering.

If asked later, Viktor wouldn’t be able to recall more than a few moments of the time leading up to his meeting with the doctor, maybe some tests and x-rays, but would have said it seemed to last for hours. When he was finally sitting on the examination table with the doctor in the room, the tension was palpable.

Something must have gone wrong. Had Viktor put too much strain on his recovering ankle? Would it delay his return? Would he have to wait out an entire season?

Attempting a smile, Viktor resolves to start the conversation, “So doctor, how soon can I be on the ice?”

Viktor’s cheery voice rings false in his own ears, accentuated by his nerves.

The doctor’s face has a neutral expression as he responds, “Your knee seems to be making a strong recovery, which is good.”

Viktor perks up at the news, a small bud of hope growing.

The doctor continues on, his face still expressionless. “However, your ankle has not progressed the way we had hoped. Repeated stress on it from your competitions has left it in a weakened state, and it does not seem to be recovering.”

Viktor feels heat and bile in his throat, and it takes a great effort to swallow. “What are you saying?”

“Mr. Nikiforov, I’m afraid your ankle is unlikely to recover, and we believe that any extended competitive skating will result in even greater injury. Your time as a competitive skater has come to an end.”

And the world stopped.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter Two: A Crying Shame

 

 

Viktor pleaded with the doctors, hoping that there might be something that could be done to keep him on the ice. The only consolation he got was that after completing the regimen of physical therapy, he might be able to skate more casually.

Yakov had stood silently for the most part, almost stoic as Viktor’s world had come to a screeching halt. Viktor had continually looked to his coach with watery eyes, hoping that maybe Yakov would reveal that it was all an elaborate prank. But Viktor knew that Yakov had never been one for jokes, and this went far beyond just a joke into the realm of sheer cruelty.

Now, in the car again, Viktor feels sapped of all his strength. Silence is almost a welcome blanket after the nonstop pleading in the doctor’s office that had left his throat sore and hoarse. Yakov was still being quiet and expressionless. It’s almost upsetting how little response Yakov has had to all of this. Viktor can’t compete ever again, and his coach is just sitting like a goddamn rock.

Anger wells up in Viktor, and he can feel the words bubbling up, burning his throat. They come out as a whisper, but scratch at him like he was yelling.

“Do you even care?”

Yakov looks over, a surprised expression breaking through his passive demeanor.

Viktor is entering dangerous territory; he can feel his frustration and anger threatening to boil over. He knows he might say something stupid, hateful, but he’s just so broken.

“You haven’t said a goddamn thing since I found out. You’re my fucking coach, and you don’t even seem upset that I can’t…can’t…compete!” The last words come out as a sob, and now he’s choking on tears again.

His mind keeps circling the truth. Viktor will never skate again in a competition. His whole life has been pushing the boundaries of skating. He’s sacrificed any attempt at a normal life, at friends, relationships, a family. And he can’t keep chasing that anymore. He was lonely before, the feeling at the top nothing like he thought it would be, but who or what is there for him now?

Georgi had joked that Viktor’s only true love was the ice, but those words had been bitingly close to the truth Viktor sought to avoid. What was his life without skating, without competing? If even at the height of success, something had felt hollow within him, how could he ever feel complete now?

A rough, callused hand gently moving to his shoulder pulls him back to the moment. Yakov is staring at him again, this time with a sad, mournful look in his eyes.

“Of course I care, Vitya. I’m trying to be strong for you.”

At that, Viktor crumples against Yakov, sobs wracking him. Yakov looks uncomfortable for a moment before making peace with the situation. Viktor doesn’t notice any of that. He leans into the support, his anger receding to be replaced by an emptiness.

 

Though Viktor looks disheveled and nearly spent, Yakov barely catches him whisper, “What do I do now?”

After a heavy sigh, Yakov looks down at the silvery hair in his lap, an uncharacteristic flurry of emotions rising in his chest. He tamps them down for the moment, settling for a simpler response.

“You take the time you need to rest.”

And then we have work to do, Yakov thinks to himself.


 

As soon as he is back home, Viktor crashes down onto his bed. Makkachin, sensing that something is amiss, immediately bounds up and begins circling around him. For a while, Viktor just lays there like that, with Makkachin alternating between licking at Viktor and whining, unable to tell what is wrong.

Eventually, Viktor rolls over, his shirt tangling a bit with the comforter. Makkachin rushes to lay on top of him, and it’s a little uncomfortable, truth be told, but Viktor will take any love he can get right now.

“It’s over Makka,” he sniffles, wiping his nose. “I don’t get to skate anymore.”

Makkachin boofs quietly, snuggling up to Viktor’s chest. But even that doesn’t comfort Viktor entirely, an empty feeling in his chest lingering despite the fluffy curls around him.

After a time, Viktor sinks away into a fitful sleep, his dreams wracked by visions of the doctor’s office.


 

When Viktor awakes early the next morning, he is greeted first by the wagging of a tail smacking him in his jaw, and then by the rumbling of his stomach. He can’t help it when a small smile spreads across his cheeks, looking at Makkachin’s goofy face.

His stomach ruins the quiet moment by following up with another loud gurgle, and a small laugh escapes Viktor before deciding he best get up and start addressing some of his more important bodily functions. He’d ignored most of them last night, and he can’t honestly remember what the last thing he ate was.

 

After a small breakfast consisting of slightly overdone scrambled eggs and an apple, Viktor finds himself with little to do again. Going about his morning business had done a good job of distracting him from the memories of yesterday, and the hollow feeling in his chest. But now he has time to just stew on his feelings. He’s never been particularly good at processing emotions, instead throwing himself into skating, practicing. It doesn’t help that he really has no one to talk to, no chance to practice. It’s been a pretty lonely life at the top of the skating world. Viktor can count on one hand the number of close friends he has, and one of them is his coach (so does that even really count?)

His coach, who is clearly giving him space right now. Yakov has been with Viktor from the beginning, through his climb up the ladder of the figure skating world, and his plateau. The gruff man has always had a sixth sense when it comes to Viktor’s feelings. Which is good, because Viktor sucks at expressing emotions through avenues other than his skating. Yakov had once suggested talking with a professional about some of his struggles, but it just didn’t seem appropriate for the reigning champion to seek support, and Russia doesn’t have the most forgiving attitude towards mental health.

Viktor sighs, mulling over what to do next. The idea of seeking a counselor or therapist still feels out of reach. He could try and talk with Yakov, but that would likely involve going to the rink. And his emotions still feel too…raw to be so close, yet so far from the ice.

Absentmindedly running his hands through Makkachin’s soft and curly hair, Viktor reflects back on the moment yesterday in the doctor’s office. From the outset of the assessment, Yakov had seemed to sense something was off.

In fact, thinking back to his injury itself, Yakov had adopted a grave manner about the ordeal. Viktor had brushed it off, or perhaps blocked it off mentally, in his usual manner when it came to Yakov. But if Yakov had known something more serious, why hadn’t he said anything to Viktor before the ambush yesterday?

His coach has never hid anything about Viktor or his performances before, that just wasn’t Yakov’s style. He told his students immediately if something was wrong, sometimes to the detriment of the recipient.

Standing up quickly, Viktor resolves to have a conversation with Yakov about it.


 

Viktor ended up waiting until it was early evening to go speak with Yakov, as he had little desire to run into his rinkmates at the moment. He did his best to try and sneak around the massive building, to the back offices, but he has never been known for his stealth.

As soon as he steps foot in the back office, Viktor is welcomed by Yakov’s gravelly voice, “I could hear you even when you were outside.”

Viktor heaves a big sigh, loud enough that Yakov had to have heard. Abandoning all attempts at moving quietly (or his version of quiet), Viktor walks straight to Yakov’s office.

Yakov is looking at some papers on his desk, but Viktor can see the elderly man is tired. He has bags under his eyes, and his hair seems even wispier than normal.

Viktor moves towards one of the several velvet chairs facing Yakov’s desk, but is interrupted before he can sit down.

“Open that cabinet behind you and grab the bottle.”

Hoo boy.

This is really happening. Viktor opens the cabinet and grabs what he can only assume is at least a 15 year old bottle of vodka, given the collection of dust surrounding it.

Viktor turns around and puts the bottle on Yakov’s desk, and is somewhat surprised to see two clean glasses Yakov must have grabbed from behind his desk.

After settling into a seat, Viktor realizes he doesn’t know how to start. There’s so much he wants to say, but they aren’t the kind of things you just leap into. Especially for someone as poor at communicating as Viktor.

A few more tense moments pass for Viktor before Yakov finally sets some papers down and looks up. There’s a flash of something in his eyes for moment, not quite surprise, but Viktor can’t pin it down before Yakov’s gaze shifts to the vodka. He immediately reaches for the bottle and pours two “reasonably portioned” glasses, gesturing for Viktor to take one.

Viktor knows he won’t be able to drink all the vodka in the glass without feeling the effects pretty quickly, but he takes a respectful pull as Yakov does the same.

Yakov raises his glass before saying “I didn’t imagine drinking to commemorate the end of your competitive skating career would go quite like this, but here we are.”

For some reason, the comment digs at Viktor, upsetting him. He doesn’t want to be “commemorating his career”.

Yakov forges onward, “You had a remarkable run, Vitya. Years as the reigning champ.”

Something softens in Yakov’s expression, a fondness edging into his eyes and his voice gets a bit quieter. “I’m proud of you, and what you’ve accomplished.”

At that, something in Viktor snaps, and the words are out of his mouth before he realizes.

“Then why didn’t you tell me if you knew?”

A darker look spreads across Yakov’s face, starkly contrasting the warmth just prior. Viktor continues, his feelings spilling out now that cap is off the bottle.

“You saw something different when I was injured, and you didn’t tell me…I spent the whole time, hoping and thinking that I’d get back on the ice.” He pauses, and shudders as he draws a deep, shaky breath.

“You could have given me a warning, something to help me prepare for this! Because now…now I feel broken.”

 

Viktor has always put on a good media face during difficult moments, but Yakov can see the water gathering in the corner of his eyes as he finishes the outpouring.

Yakov has coached many incredible skaters throughout the years, and Viktor had surpassed them all. He had reached new heights, despite his sometimes flippant attitude towards competing. And now, it just seemed to mean he had farther to fall. He tried to open up a bit, to tell Viktor how proud, how honored he is to have worked with the young man. He has never been particularly good at complimenting his skaters.

And now…to see Viktor in such anguish in response.

Yes, he had hidden his suspicion that Viktor’s injury would have a more permanent impact. He hadn’t been totally sure, but that’s why he’d already started planning when Viktor had looked at him with those pleading eyes back at the initial diagnosis.

He can’t just offer up his plan now; he has to try and help Viktor through this first. And that might mean being a bit more vulnerable than he would like to normally be. Yakov licks his lips, the sterile taste of vodka still lingering in his mouth.

“Viktor…I didn’t know anything for sure. I thought it was possible, maybe even likely. But I didn’t want to crush your spirit. I’m sorry.”

Hurt flashes in Viktor’s light blue eyes for a moment, before the young man responds.

“And now? The end result is the same. At least I could have…” He pauses for a moment, gesturing about, “I don’t know, mentally prepared a bit more?” Viktor looks a bit unsure as he finishes, echoing Yakov’s feelings that telling Viktor would not have changed much.

Yakov takes a deep breath and a sip of vodka, fortifying himself before continuing. “Part of why I didn’t tell you was selfish, in a way. I wanted you to get comfortable around the ice again.”

“That doesn’t make sense, I’ve always been more comfortable on the ice than off.”

Yakov exhales loudly. “That’s sort of my point. I wanted you to spend time around the rink, help out a bit while you couldn’t skate. It’s a…first step of sorts.” Confusion spreads on Viktor’s face now.

Yakov grunts, if the circumstances were a bit different, Viktor’s obliviousness would be almost amusing.

“Viktor, I wanted you to get used to coaching from off the ice.” Understanding dawns on Viktor.

 

 

Coaching? Him? Viktor has always been the person on the ice competing, it is what he’s always wanted to do. But to be on the sidelines, so close to the competition but unable to participate? His heart clenches at the thought.

Feeling more than a little overwhelmed, Viktor takes another swig from the vodka, only to realize he’s reached the bottom of the glass.

“I don’t…I don’t think I could do it.” Viktor deflates a bit as the words come out. “Coaching, I mean.”

Yakov looks him up and down, as if appraising him anew. “Viktor, you have the all the practical skills of the best skater in the world. You make dozens of detailed decisions every time you choreograph a new song, or alter a program’s composition and jumps depending on the circumstances. You pretty much ignored me most of the time.” Viktor can’t help but smile at the comment, and Yakov huffs before carrying on.

“You just have to practice sharing that knowledge, and helping others find their own way to make those decisions. That’s why I had you working with some of the younger kids around the rink.”

Viktor still feels unsure, at best. Being so close to the ice will be painful, no matter how he thinks about it. He’s always struggled expressing himself, and that’s why his partnership with Yakov had worked so well. Yakov knew Viktor didn’t push back unless he had another plan that would work, even if Viktor couldn’t or wouldn’t explain it.

But learning how to verbalize all those little internal decisions? Fostering those skills in someone else? That would be a challenge. A headache-bringing, frustrating challenge aggravated by the context of his own situation and pains. He wouldn’t be competing himself.

Viktor holds out his glass, and Yakov graciously pours a bit more of the harsh liquor. It burns on the way down, a good distraction for a moment.

“I just…I can’t make a decision right now.” Viktor thinks he has to figure out what it’s like to live without skating, first.

Yakov keeps his face and voice neutral in responding, promising to give Viktor some space. As Viktor finishes off the second glass of vodka, Yakov chimes in again.

“But don’t be afraid to reach out if you want to talk…about anything.”

Viktor nods, his mind growing fuzzier as the vodka takes hold. Talking to Yakov could prove helpful, if uncomfortable. This conversation has shown that at least Viktor can share with the older man. There’s one last piece of unpleasant business Viktor wants to address before his mind is totally unable to focus.

“Yakov, we need to hold a press conference. For my retirement.” The words come out a bit slurred, but at least he got them out at all. It feels like part of his soul is leaving with them.

Yakov rumbles in affirmation. “I’ll set something up soon. You just take some time away for now. And take this with you.”

As Viktor stands up, Yakov hands over the folder in front of him labelled “Plisetsky.”

“These are all my coaching notes about Yuri. In case you want to take a look. You did promise him a program, after all.”

The world sways a little around Viktor, but he gathers himself to respond. “I did? Oh, I did. That’s right…”

Viktor could have sworn that Yakov rolled his eyes, but he knows the old man doesn’t have a sense of humor. Must have been the drink messing with him.

After a bit longer, Viktor (feeling more than tipsy) says his farewell and starts the journey to return to his apartment.


 

Yuuri thinks that even his dreams must be filled with practicing a quad salchow. Between his regular practices with Celestino and his own personal review of footage from Viktor’s successful quad salchows in competition, he goes to bed pretty much every night thinking about the right speed, timing, rotation, and landing.

It has started to show some results now – he’s landing the salchow about 75% or more of the time now in practice. Celestino always has small pointers to add when he misses, and since he is basing his form on THE top skater, Yuuri has been able to slowly adjust and refine the jump.

Whether he can actually pull it off in competition is another matter entirely, but he has pushed that aside for the moment to just focus on the mechanics of the jump.

To deal with his head swimming in quad salchow-related materials, Yuuri has been going to the ballet studio a bit more often. Running through the different positions and even a few routines has continued to prove incredibly helpful in getting away from skating, but also for clearing his mind of thoughts regarding Viktor.

There had been no further word yet on the Russian skater was recovering, but rarely a day went by without Yuuri spending at least some time thinking about the skater’s condition. It didn’t help that Yuuri spent chunks of his “free time” referencing Viktor’s past skates for his own practice (and enjoyment). Though he didn’t have much time where he wasn’t busy. Between skating, classes, workouts, and dancing, Yuuri barely had time to sleep enough, let alone do normal young adult things.

Every so often, he and Phichit would make dinner together and stay away from the topic of skating, to try and bring some variety into their lives. Occasionally, they would go out to see a movie, or Phichit would want to go shopping. Yuuri rarely bought anything, but Phichit would dash from window to window, in search of an elusive something to purchase. For Yuuri, it was just nice to be out and about with company.

 

 

One day, just a couple of weeks before Worlds, Yuuri wakes up to numerous notifications on his phone. Quickly rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes, Yuuri swipes on his phone and headlines immediately start popping up and his heart kicks into double time.

Nikiforov to Hold Press Conference

Major Announcement Expected From Nikiforov

Is Next Season Out of the Question?

Thankfully, Yuuri only has one class that day before the press conference.

If asked later, he would not have been able to tell you even the subject of the lecture. His mind was elsewhere the entire time, fretting over the nearly endless possibilities.


 

 

Viktor fidgets with the collar of his shirt sleeve, feeling his nerves build. As a professional athlete, Viktor is not unaccustomed to feeling nervous, but it has been a long, long while since he has felt this uncomfortable. He can vaguely recall feeling particularly nervous at his first Junior World’s appearance, but thereafter everything just kind of fell into place.

And these nerves aren’t tied to a competition, or something that will just go away after a time. Viktor is going to have go grapple with the reality of not skating for the rest of his life.

A pat on the shoulder alerts him to Yakov’s calming presence, something he is incredibly grateful for right now. He would loathe to admit it to his rinkmates, but the steadfast old man is a major help during times like these.

Taking a moment to consciously start smiling, Viktor walks out in front of the mass of reporters, cameras, and microphones.

He wishes he could just start with his retirement, but he has to lead up to it. So he begins with a statement about his injury and recovery, slowly building things up. Up on the stage, it strikes him that this is not unlike how Yakov tried to handle things with Viktor. Trying to leave breadcrumbs and prepare others for what is to come. Some insightful viewers may have already put it together by now.

Viktor carries on, careful not to let his thoughts distract him too much as he reads his statement. His nerves are playing up the closer he gets to the big announcement, and he slows down as he is reading to ensure he makes no mistakes.

When he finally arrives at the moment, he takes a deep breath, and does his best to project acceptance (even if he himself can’t feel it, not yet).

“Starting today, due to the injuries I’ve sustained and concern for potentially more severe injuries in the future, I will be retiring from competitive figure skating.”

The room erupts in cacophonous noise.


 

Yuuri inhales sharply at the sight of Viktor walking out onto the stage, his charcoal three-piece suit tailored perfectly. How did the Russian man always look so attractive? And without Phichit nearby to tease him for his thirstiness, Yuuri was left unchecked. The poor Thai skater hadn’t been able to get out of practice. Pushing away those thoughts, Yuuri refocuses as Viktor begins his statement.

When Viktor walks through his injury and the progress of his recovery, a sinking feeling settles into Yuuri’s gut. The circuitous path and recap Viktor is taking, the incredibly formal atmosphere to the announcement, it all seemed to lead Yuuri to one terrible assumption.

Yuuri starts pleading that he is wrong, that he is just interpreting signs that aren’t meant to be. Unconsciously, he starts chewing on his fingernails as his thoughts run wild. Half his mind is hanging on every word out of Viktor’s mouth, and the other half thinks it is already a foregone conclusion.

When Viktor takes a dramatic pause, Yuuri’s heart drops. He knows the words even as they leave the man’s mouth.

“Starting today, due to the injuries I’ve sustained and concern for potentially more severe injuries in the future, I will be retiring from competitive figure skating.”

Yuuri closes his laptop, as his world comes to a screaming stop.

Second, minutes, hours, maybe days pass by for Yuuri before Phichit bursts into the room.

“Yuuri, I just heard, are you alri-“

Phichit stops midsentence as he notices Yuuri’s form rocking slightly on the bed, tears rolling down his face. Wordlessly, Phichit crawls onto the bed and wraps his arms around Yuuri.

They lay like that for a while.


 

 

When Yuuri wakes the next morning, he can’t shake the dull sensation following all of yesterday. He feels a twinge of gratitude for Phichit’s presence the night before, but mostly…he feels empty, like the world is muffled around him.

A little voice in his head whispers what he knows with certainty: Viktor is…gone…

All the dreams and goals Yuuri has, or had, revolved around Viktor. And with him off the ice, what is there for Yuuri now?

The studious and hard working side of Yuuri recognizes that he needs to get up, but it feels like there are weights pressing him down, as if he is falling into his bed.

The little voice returns, murmuring in Yuuri’s head. Did he really expect he would ever be a good enough skater to compete with the likes of Viktor Nikiforov? And now that he had shown he would never be able to, why should he bother trying?

Yuuri tries to fight off the dark thoughts circling in his head, focusing on his breathing and summoning strength to get up for the day…but he just can’t right now.

He sinks back into his bed, eventually slipping into fitful sleep once more.

 

 

Later, Phichit returns from class (or practice maybe? Yuuri isn’t sure what time it is) to check in on him.

“Hey Yuuri…do you want to talk about it at all?”

Yuuri sits up in his bed, the covers curling around him.

“I…I don’t know what to say, Phichit. I just…I can’t…” Yuuri trails off, unsure how to even start.

Phichit hurries to fill in the gap, “That’s okay, I’m here if you want to talk. At the very least, come with me to the kitchen so we can get you some food.”

Yuuri nods automatically, and hardly thinks as Phichit guides him to the kitchen table. It wobbles a bit when Yuuri sits down and rests his arms on it, as it always does since they bought it secondhand.

Phichit quietly brings Yuuri some fruit to nibble on, and then sets about making some more food for them both. As he starts gathering things, Phichit prattles on about his day and practice, filling in the silence.

Yuuri listens with half an ear, absentmindedly grateful for the sound and a distraction from everything.

Eventually, Phichit polishes off the toppings on two sandwiches and puts a plate in front of Yuuri. The sight of a substantial piece of food sparks something in him, and he suddenly has a voracious appetite. He wolfs down the sandwich in about a minute flat, hardly noticing as Phichit gawks at him.

His stomach still growling, Yuuri turns his attention back to Phichit feeling just a little bit better. Phichit smirks back at him, raising an eyebrow as commentary.

The two sit in a more comfortable silence for a bit as Phichit finishes eating. Once done, Phichit addresses Yuuri in a more serious voice.

“Celestino said not to worry about practice today. He knows this must be upsetting. But he does want you to come tomorrow.”

Yuuri sighs, already feeling his mood slipping backwards.

“Hey, look. You don’t have to go crazy practicing or anything. Just…get out on the ice, you know? It might help.”

Yuuri doesn’t feel convinced, but he knows that even if he ignores his roommate, Celestino will find him and drag him to practice eventually. He nods to Phichit, and then heads back to his room.

He doesn’t feel much like doing anything, so he just lies on his bed.


 

After a monumental struggle getting out of the apartment in the morning, Yuuri does manage to make it to class. It feels a bit like he’s on autopilot, going through the motions of the day while not really registering as things happen. Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about out-of-body experiences.

All day, Yuuri is plagued by thoughts of Viktor. His injury, laying prone on the ice. The not-smile when he withdrew from Worlds. The image of perfection, dressed in a stunning suit juxtaposed with the pain of his retirement from skating.

When the time for practice arrives, Yuuri focuses on lacing up his skates, hoping it will snap him back into the moment like it sometimes had in the past. Yet, when he finishes and makes his way to the ice, he feels little of the spirit and musicality he usually does when skating.

He goes through his warmups mechanically, by rote memorization. He vaguely notices Celestino frowning in the distance, but doesn’t have the mental energy to expend worrying about it.

When he concludes his warmup exercises, Celestino motions him over.

“Yuuri, I can only imagine what you must be feeling right now. And I don’t want to dismiss your feelings. But there are only two weeks before Worlds start on March 11th. This is the time we really need to zero in on nailing your routines. While you are here skating, I need you to focus.”

Celestino pauses for a moment to give Yuuri a chance to respond, but Yuuri just nods. He doesn’t know how to say that he can’t separate Viktor from his skating, and trying would just lead to an argument.

Celestino doesn’t look thrilled at the lack of response, but presses on. “Let’s start with running your short program today. I want to see how bringing in the quad salchow goes.”

Yuuri dutifully runs the program, but he feels utterly disconnected from the upbeat nature and excitement the song brings. He tries to think of how Viktor might perform the piece, in an attempt to locate his usual fluidity and musicality, but all he can think of is Viktor’s last skate.

When he gets to the quad salchow, he lines up correctly, but doesn’t have nearly enough strength or height in his jump. He crashes down onto the ice, his breath knocked out of him.

He lays there for a moment, the bitter cold of the ice and slight pain from the fall a welcoming diversion. The music continues, though, and Yuuri does his best to pick himself up and carry on. He knows it’s a pitiful performance, so he’s not surprised afterwards when he sees Celestino rubbing his eyes, a look of frustration etched on his face.

The rest of practice goes much like that, with Yuuri only landing the quad salchow twice – and one of them was incredibly wobbly.

Bruised and aching in more ways than one, Yuuri is almost glad to be off the ice at the end of the day. He’s working on peeling off his skates when Celestino walks by with some final words for the day.

“Yuuri, everyone has bad days. Try not to worry too much. Be sure to eat something tonight, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Did his coach really just say “try not to worry about it?”

As if it was that easy.

Yuuri knows somewhere in his mind that his coach is aware it’s never been easy for Yuuri to stop worrying. But Yuuri’s mind hasn’t been the most rational as of late, and he spends the rest of his shower silently upset at the man. As he walks out of the skating club, his stomach growls, a reminder of Celestino’s last advice.

Yuuri would be sure to eat something. But not necessarily something Celestino would approve of. On his way back to the apartment, Yuuri stops at the first fast food place he sees and gets a double cheeseburger and fries.

When he sits down to eat, with the burger and fries spread in front of him, a splatter of ketchup drips off the side of the burger. It looks greasy, almost unappetizing. But Yuuri digs in anyway. The oily, heavy food slides into his stomach like a rock.

At least he doesn’t feel as empty now.

The food comes to rest uncomfortably at his center, a companion to Yuuri’s anxiety about skating and Viktor. Weighing him down.


 

Following his announcement, Viktor had elected to hide away in his apartment for the better part of three days. When he first arrived back, there had been a damn mob of reporters and journalists outside his apartment building, which is what had prompted him to hide away to begin with.

He watched as over the course of the next few days, they slowly trickled away until just a few were left. He felt progressively more comfortable about having to walk Makkachin, since he wasn’t being bombarded by aggressive questions incessantly as he walked.

It was also a good thing he had done away with his old landline, as it would undoubtedly be ringing off the hook with interview requests. Though his cell phone had definitely blown up following the press conference. He had neglected to tell his rinkmates the reality of his situation, so they found out at roughly the same time as everyone else. A twinge of regret hits Viktor, but he honestly hadn’t really felt up to letting any of his fellow skaters know ahead of time. They were friends, but mostly in passing. Viktor didn’t really let them be much more out of concern for what that would entail.

He had also received a slew of Instagram messages from some of his competitors, and he had almost replied to some of them. But he had little interest lately in sharing updates on the application, and it felt crass to just message a few people. Christophe had written a heartfelt message about their companionship, though. Viktor should probably respond to him, if nobody else.

The two had shared a hearty rivalry and friendship (probably the closest one Viktor has known). Viktor smiles at some of the memories of the two of them, often involving Christophe flirting or touching Viktor in some comedic way.

His thoughts sour as he settles into the realization that the two of them will never meet at competitions again.

Viktor still can’t quite grapple with the idea that he won’t be competing any longer. It seems like if he just waits another week for all this to settle, he’ll be back on the ice. That thinking is only compounded by the fact that his ankle and knee are both feeling much better these days, despite his doctor’s repeated assurance that high levels of stress placed on his ankle will lead to further injury.

He turns around as his thoughts start to wander again, his eyes settling on the folder he had been consciously trying to avoid during the last few days of isolation. Somewhat unsuccessfully, considering this was probably his 5th staredown with the folder already.

Opening it would represent a step back towards the ice, towards his rinkmates. And that’s a commitment he’s not ready to make. He pivots again, instead grabbing Makkachin’s leash. As the metal of the leash clinks to the floor, the poodle scampers over to Viktor, boofing a bit along the way.

The dog sits down in front of Viktor, pulling Viktor away from thoughts of the ice and back towards more pressing (and fluffier) issues.


 

Yuuri smacks down onto the ice again after flubbing the quad salchow, rolling with the impact. At this point, he has fallen dozens of time in practice this week, and his whole body feels bruised and sore. That does not stop an increasingly frustrated Celestino from telling him to run it again, and again, and again. They are just a few days away from the start of Worlds, and Yuuri’s programs have become facsimiles of what they were just weeks prior.

It’s so hard for Yuuri to work at his skating and convey purpose when he is feeling utterly devoid of inspiration. Viktor’s absence hangs over him; like a guiding star has been plucked from the night sky, leaving Yuuri to fumble in listless darkness.

He runs through the program again, operating by memory of what his program used to be like. He actually lands the jump this time, to his own surprise.

Celestino doesn’t look any happier afterwards, a frown pasted on his face as he knits his eyebrows in concentration.

“It’s all mechanical, like you’ve forgotten about the music.” Celestino declares as Yuuri skates over.

It’s true, Yuuri hasn’t felt much connection to his performance pieces recently. Music in general has lost some of its luster. Ballet hasn’t helped him much either, other than to calm his breathing. His thoughts still run wild and he can’t find that link to the music. But the more bombastic short program has especially suffered as a result. Yuuri tries when he is on the ice, reaches out to the music. But he just isn’t there.

Yuuri leans over the barrier, murmuring “I know…”

Celestino unknits his eyebrows and clears his expression, something more neutral appearing in its place. He takes a deep breath.

“Yuuri, I think you are going to need to get over Viktor’s retirement to compete effectively.”

Yuuri looks up in shock, like a deer caught in the headlights. Nobody has confronted it so head on yet, while the wound is still raw. He splutters for a moment, unable to respond before looking back down.

“You haven’t been skating the same since he retired. I know he was an inspiration to you, but...if you want to do well at Worlds, you’re going to have to let it go.”

Viktor was so much more than just an inspiration. He was an aspiration of sorts, something that Yuuri could strive to reach. And Yuuri has been in mourning for that loss. He belatedly realizes that this is the first time he’s thought of it as mourning.

Yes, he’s mourning Viktor’s loss of a skating career. The fact that he would never again grace the ice, enrapture an audience. But Yuuri was also grieving for his own choices that lead him so far, so close to Viktor. Yet he would never even see the silver-haired skater on the ice again. After all he had sacrificed to get this far.

Hot tears are spilling down his cheeks when he looks up again.

“I can’t…” he whispers quietly.

Celestino leans down closer to Yuuri. “What was that?”

“I said.” Yuuri’s voice is growing louder. “I can’t!”

He’s shouting now, overflowing.

“I CAN’T LET HIM GO!”

Anger flashes on Celestino’s face too, and he starts shouting back. “Well then, I don’t expect you’ll make it past the short program next week!”

Yuuri’s heart clenches. Hearing one of his closest supporters yell shifts something inside him. He turns and skates away, faintly hearing Celestino stammering “No, Yuuri, I didn’t…come back!” before heaving a large sigh.

But Yuuri’s already at the gate, putting on his skate guards before trudging off to the locker room so he can change and leave.


 

One large chocolate milkshake and a slice of cake later, Yuuri is laying on his bed in silent misery, feeling nauseous from both food and anxiety about his yelling match with Celestino.

Celestino had struck him where it hurt most when he was not yet ready to talk. His coach is normally really perceptive about these kind of things, and Yuuri knows the pressure of Worlds coming up likely got to the older man. But right now, his heart feels like it is breaking twice over.

He looks up at his walls, and the posters seem to mock Yuuri now, a smiling Viktor staring down at him. As if Yuuri could ever have competed with Viktor. Skating without him just seems dull now.

Celestino does have a point, as much as Yuuri hates to admit it. How can Yuuri expect to do much at Worlds in this state? How can he expect to do anything skating like this?

He curls up in the blanket, wishing he could hide away.

But he can’t. He’ll just have to do the best he can at Worlds. And then think about what comes after.


 

For better or worse, getting to London, Ontario for Worlds the following week was just over a 2 hour drive from Detroit. They didn’t have to leave until the day before Yuuri’s short program as a result. At least it didn’t involve another lengthy flight, but it did still leave plenty of time for awkward, tense silence as Yuuri did his best to avoid talking with Celestino.

The relationship between them was still frosty at best, with Yuuri mostly ignoring Celestino throughout the remaining days of practice prior to Worlds. Celestino had initially tried to talk with Yuuri about their conflict, but Yuuri fled whenever possible.

He just isn’t very good at handling conflict, particularly around an issue so personal and so recently after the event. The rational part of Yuuri knows that Celestino was just as caught in the heat of the moment as Yuuri, and that his coach almost certainly wants to make amends. Yet Yuuri can’t stop the childish, selfish, self-destructive desire to continue isolating himself. It’s almost like a punishment he can administer to himself for failing to ever achieve anything before Viktor’s retirement.

Some part of him can recognize that this is only hurting his chances to do well, and Yuuri’s competitive nature balks at the self-sabotage. Yet if Yuuri could somehow succeed despite his world crumbling around him, would that make him a good skater?

Yuuri’s thoughts continue to chase around in circles until they pull up to the hotel. This time, Yuuri at least had the foresight to ask for a separate room from his coach. Though Yuuri still hadn’t really opened up to Phichit about everything yet, it was nice that Phichit would be there accompanying him this time.

As Yuuri unloads his overnight bag and skating gear from the car, his phone buzzes. Yuuri waits to check until he and Phichit have made it up to their room.

Mari:

Hey little bro, wishing you good luck at your competition. Vicchan and I will try to watch in between serving customers.

Oh.

His sister, despite everything, would still watch him. In between working. A wave of guilt crashes over Yuuri, as he imagines Mari bustling around the Onsen sneaking glances at the T.V. as Yuuri competes.

And Vicchan. The little poodle, following Mari around and giving the occasional bark of encouragement.

He has not been there for his family, but they continue to be there for him. Yuuri flops onto his bed, a sob escaping him. They probably had little idea about Viktor’s retirement, and Yuuri’s current predicament. He had begged off their latest phone call, citing the need to practice even as he stuffed his face with popcorn while watching a movie.

Phichit takes notice, and shuffles over to Yuuri’s bed. He begins gently rubbing Yuuri’s back in a soothing manner, as tears roll down Yuuri’s face.

Yuuri sniffs, wiping his eyes and nose with the side of his arm. He whispers softly, “Thank you, Phichit.”

Phichit hums quietly in response, altering the pattern of his hands slightly on Yuuri’s back.

After a few more minutes, Yuuri summons up some strength. “It was my sister, wishing my luck tomorrow. It just…surprised me.”

Phichit nods gently a few times, letting Yuuri sniffle a bit more. The quiet companionship helps Yuuri recenter himself after a little, and he starts to compose a response.

Yuuri:

Thank you big sister! I’ll do my best! I hope things at the Onsen are busy, so don’t feel like you have to watch me.

 

Yet, how could Yuuri say he would do his best if he can’t even keep it together when his sister texts him? What kind of performance can he hope to put on tomorrow?

A response from Mari arrives shortly thereafter, catching Yuuri by surprise.

Mari:

We’ll always support you whenever we can, even if it’s just a few minutes between tasks.

Feeling rattled, Yuuri goes through the rest of the night in a daze. His thoughts constantly return to the fact the has to compete tomorrow. His family’s continued backing should be a reassurance that no matter what, he still has support, yet he can’t help feeling guilty about leaving them to fend without him. His normally fiery competitive spirit feels doused by Viktor’s absence and Yuuri’s own mental image of himself and his supporters.

He drifts off eventually into a broken, fitful sleep.


 

Viktor lets loose a hefty sigh, quite literally twiddling his thumbs. He’s doing his best to avoid thinking about the fact the Worlds are happening right now, to minimal success. Yakov’s there with Georgi and Mila, so the only person Viktor could possibly contact would Yuri. And he’s not so desperate as to contact a 12 year old boy who hates him about his boredom. Plus, it would mean interacting with the same person whose file is still sitting on Viktor’s countertop untouched.

He’d take Makkachin for a walk, but it’s close to 11 at night and they’ve already been on two walks today. He shoots a quick glance at his feet, where the poodle is curled up. Viktor just senses a restless energy bouncing around inside, but he feels like there is nothing he can do about it.

All the strolls around St. Petersburg as of late have been good for rebuilding the strength in his ankle, though. He stands up, resolving to go for a late-night walk. He bundles up a bit, though it’s not quite as chilly as it could be for a mid-March night.

There’s no snow on the ground as Viktor exits his apartment building and turns down the street, though there are lights twinkling all over. The city doesn’t really sleep, does it? He carries on walking aimlessly for the most part, only vaguely keeping himself oriented by metro stations.

His thoughts inevitably circle back to skating, despite his best efforts.

He still can’t skate at all, though his doctors have said that in the coming weeks (or months), he might be able to start casually skating a bit.

He’s not sure how to feel about that. Getting on the ice at all feels a bit like a betrayal, like it could only ever be a shadow of the real experience Viktor wants from it. But with all the time he has now, his life is just empty.

In a literal and figurative way.

He has nothing he needs to do, other than his physical therapy. He doesn’t need to work, the money from his winnings and sponsorships enough for a lifetime. He has no hobbies outside of skating, really. He never had time for much else. Maybe his interest in music, but that was always parallel to skating, another way for him to find pieces for his performances and ways to express creativity. Though that was admittedly narrow in scope, focusing on only a few genres.

He hasn’t felt inspired to take up any new hobbies, in part because of the vacant feeling that pervades his life now. He has nothing to strive for, nothing to achieve. It’s not dissimilar from what he had been feeling when he summitted the skating world, but at least then he still had the fun and challenge of creating new programs ahead. He hadn’t really shaken that funk off prior to his injury either; his current situation felt like an amplification of where he had been.

He walks past someone smoking a cigarette before hesitating on the corner of the street, uncertain where he should go next. He sees the Nevsky Prospekt metro station across the street, so he at least knows where he is. A quick look at his phone lets him know it’s closer to 11:30 now, the bright screen illuminating his face. He debates turning to head home, but his thoughts are interrupted by the sound of someone behind him.

“Извините, а вы Виктор Никифоров?”[1]

Viktor turns around rapidly, his silver hair obscuring his vision for a moment. He recognizes the man he had passed earlier, holding the cigarette out to the side now. Viktor schools his face into a more pleasant expression, recovering from the shock of being recognized.

“Yes, that’s me!” he says, flashing his trademark smile.

“Oh wow, I can’t believe it! I’m a huge fan of yours, and I’m so sorry about your injury.” The man seems genuinely excited, and Viktor has always had a hard time being rude to his fans. Interacting with them almost always puts a smile on his face.

But he doesn’t really have a good response to someone wishing him well right now. How do you respond when someone apologizes for a life-altering injury?

“Thank you.”

It sounds lame to Viktor, but the man’s grin broadens before he takes another puff from the cigarette.

“I’m just surprised to see you out on the streets right now, I would have expected you to be watching Worlds.”

Viktor flinches a bit at that.

It isn’t an unreasonable expectation. The man couldn’t know that Viktor has been actively avoiding Worlds, and all the memories and thoughts it brings.

It takes a moment for Viktor to snap back to the present and respond.

“I’ve been taking a bit of a break recently. You know, with my injury and all.”

Not much of an explanation, but Viktor isn’t sure he even knows how to verbalize precisely why he is dodging around Worlds. Let alone then explain that to a random fan on the streets.

The man’s smile falters for a moment before returning, and he continues on seemingly undeterred.

“Well, I’m a bartender at that fine establishment just over there.” He points behind him a couple of storefronts, to a building with a neon sign flashing the word “open” repeatedly. “We’re actually watching the competition in there, and you’re more than welcome to join us!”

Viktor is caught off guard by the offer, not really sure how to respond (that seems to be a recurring theme at this point, he notes). He opens his mouth to stutter out some vague excuse, but is interrupted as soon as he starts.

“And, the first drink is free if you’d like to come by!”

Viktor is not normally one to be swayed by the offer of alcohol, he’s never really been much of a drinker. The last time he’d had much to drink was back in Yakov’s office a few weeks back, and that had left him in a sorry state. Plus, being a professional athlete often meant watching how much he was consuming.

But with a whole lot of uncertainty in his life right now, a drink doesn’t sound all too bad. Something totally new and random like going to a bar with strangers also has a bit of an alluring appeal; something out of the norm of Viktor’s monotone life. Besides, he wouldn’t be watching World to dissect the competitors, he’d be with a bunch of other people who could pull him from reminiscing, should his thoughts wander.

Before Viktor can really process his decision enough to rethink it, he nods. “That sounds like fun, I’ll take you up on it.”

If the man had looked thrilled before, it pales in comparison to how he seems to vibrate with excitement now. He hastily puts out his cigarette, stomping on the butt before extending a hand to Viktor.

“Oh, I’m Dimitri by the way. Dimitri Mikhailov”

Viktor takes the offered hand and gives a firm shake. Dimitri turns around after the handshake, motioning for Viktor to follow.


 

A few minutes later, Viktor finds himself in a somewhat dim room, nursing a Moscow Mule. He couldn’t help a laugh from escaping when Dimitri had handed him the drink, the irony of being in Saint Petersburg a little funny.

True to his Dimitri’s word, there was a large screen behind the bartender displaying the ongoing competition in Ontario. Viktor hasn’t spent more than a few seconds looking at the screen, instead taking in his surroundings. (And maybe avoiding looking at the skating on screen a bit).

He’s sitting at the bar, with Dimitri behind the counter. A couple of the man’s friends were gathered around as well, initially a bit awestruck when Viktor had walked in.

Dimitri seemed a bit more comfortable and relaxed behind the bar than he had outside, falling into an easier conversation with Viktor about intricacies of finding the right fitting skates. It turns out that Dimitri has been ice skating for years, and had briefly entertained the idea of trying to compete before life got in the way.

“I still try and get to the rink a couple times a month now, but it’s a pretty expensive hobby, you know.” Dimitri looks a bit wistful as he finishes polishing another glass.

Viktor hadn’t really thought about the costs behind skating in a while. Since he debuted internationally, he’s always been fortunate enough to have sponsors and winnings to support him. There had been a few years of training when he was not yet successful as a young teenager, but he’d been able to use money from his estranged mother to cover the gaps then and Yakov had helped with everything else.

Shivering a bit at the unwanted memory of family, Viktor turns his attention to screen, hoping for a diversion.

He looks up just in time to see someone, a Japanese skater it looks like, darting across the ice. The movements seem stiff to Viktor though, like something is off. Watching a bit closer, he can pick out more melancholic gestures in the man’s choreography, in contrast with the bombastic music filtering out of the speakers.

The man lines up for a quad Salchow, before launching into the air and crashing down onto the ice sideways.

Viktor winces in sympathy, a ghostly sense running down his ankle. Dimitri’s friends also take notice of the fall, some muted exclamations escaping and a few glancing in Viktor’s direction.

The skater pops up quickly though, and carries on with the program.

“That must have hurt.” Viktor shakes his head. “But at least he’s up already.”

The skater must be carrying some sort of burden, for his skating to convey such sorrowful emotions that clash with his chosen music. Viktor wonders briefly at it, before one of Dimitri’s friends engages him in a conversation about the varying difficulty of edge jumps.

The night passes more cheerily after that, some unseen barrier broken after watching Worlds for a bit. Viktor eventually drinks enough for a pleasant buzz, and the banter between everyone gets progressively louder as they begin to poke good-natured fun at each other. Viktor even gets thrown into the crossfire a few times as they take a jab at his personal flair.

Occasionally, they all stop to watch a skater perform. (This was the case when Christophe takes to the ice, though the Swiss man doesn’t do his best. Viktor tries to file that away mentally so he can ask the skater later, but his mind is getting a bit fuzzy by that point.)

After another skater had just finished his routine, Viktor looks around and soaks in the sight of a half-dozen or so people he just met, all talking and gesturing animatedly as they interact. His heart fills with an emotion he hasn’t felt in a while.

It takes a moment for him to identify exactly what it is – contentment.

The last few months have been consumed by his injury, recovery, and retirement. Before that, he had been the lonely skater at the top of the world. This was something different, something normal. There had been no chance to go out drinking with friends when he was competing, aside from the occasional celebratory night with other competitors. Nothing as typical or mundane as this.

And it brought a smile to his face.

He takes a quick selfie with Dimitri and his friends with Worlds on in the background before uploading it to Instagram – his first post in a long time.

 

In the wee hours of the morning, Viktor finds his way back his apartment. When he gets inside, he leans up against the door, letting his back slide down until he is sitting on the floor. He starts humming to himself, a bright tune. At that, a very excited Makkachin scrambles around the corner and bowls into Viktor.

Despite the early (or very late) hour, a bubbling laugh escapes from his throat as he ruffles Makka’s fur.

When he makes it to his bed, he collapses on the covers and slips into a deep sleep.


 

Yuuri remembers panicking as he tried to squeeze into his costume, which was uncomfortably tight from all the stress eating he has done recently.

He remembers Phichit trying desperately to calm him down as he stretched and warmed up, coaching him to breath and in out.

He remembers the terrible, hot anxiety bordering on nausea that clung to his throat as he skated to the center of the rink.

He does not remember much of anything after that moment, not the sadness that overcame him, not his fall, not his terribly low score.

All he knows is that right now, back in the hotel room with Phichit, he is deeply, soul-crushingly embarrassed. He didn’t even make it to the free skate portion of Worlds, his score had been so poor. He had been Japan’s top representative, and he was already out.

The entirety of the work he had put into skating feels worthless, pointless. Yuuri tries to think about how he could redeem himself after such a pathetic performance, and finds his mind startlingly blank. His competitive drive has been beaten into submission.

Phichit is attempting to cheer Yuuri up, but Yuuri mostly ignores his friend. In fact, he ignores pretty much everything going on around him. He doesn’t respond to the texts from family, to the message from Christophe later, or even when Celestino knocks on the door that evening for dinner.

It’s only the scent of food that really snaps him out of his stupor, and even then, he doesn’t talk much over dinner.

His thoughts just keep running around and around in his head, one terrifying (or blissful? Yuuri can’t even tell anymore) realization rocking him over and over:

Why bother continuing to skate like this?


 

They all head back to Detroit the next day, Yuuri doesn’t even want to stick around for the free skate.

The entire car ride back, Celestino can tell that Yuuri is working up to something. His eyes keep darting around, and he looks more present than he has in the last few weeks.

When they arrive and begin unloading the car at the skating club, Yuuri finally tugs Celestino away for a bit.

“Celestino, I am very appreciative for all the coaching you’ve given me the last few years.”

Uh oh. Celestino was hoping that this was going to be a speech about newfound inspiration, that Yuuri had finally moved past his roadblock.

Yuuri doesn’t stop, the words flowing now. “But I think that right now, I need to take a break for a while. I’m not feeling inspired to skate at all, and after I embarrassed myself yesterday…I just need to step away.” The younger man looks down and shuffles his feet a bit, clearly still uncomfortable.

Celestino’s heart drops. He knows that he has put tremendous strain on their relationship lately. Until now, he had genuinely believed that by pushing Yuuri, he would eventually overcome this obstacle. He has such potential! It’s devastating to imagine Yuuri might stop skating altogether.

He can’t help himself as he asks, “Yuuri, are you planning to retire? I hope that you might just take a little time and return after finding a path forward.”

Yuuri shyly looks up, and Celestino has a sinking feeling his fears might be true.

“I haven’t made any final decisions yet, but I will certainly let you know when I do.”

Yuuri looks…more relaxed now, at peace now that the words are out.

Celestino nods, unsure exactly what to say. He doesn’t want Yuuri to leave, but he has also worked with unwilling skaters before. And that just led to destroyed relationships entirely. Better not to try and force anything now, and just hope that Yuuri will identify whatever it is he needs to succeed in time. He settles on an amicable response.

“I appreciate you letting me know about this. And I mean it when I said I hope you come back. Just keep in touch. We can work out the finer details later, you should go rest.”

Yuuri takes a moment before nodding and turning away, going back to help Phichit finish bringing the gear inside.

Celestino rubs his eyes, hoping that yesterday will not prove to be the last time he sees Yuuri skate.


 

After such a late night, Viktor spends the morning sleeping, and most of the rest of the day lazily moving about his apartment before ordering some take-out for dinner.

When the free skate program for Worlds is about to begin, he makes a split second decision to turn on his TV to watch.

Yesterday had shown him that it was possible to enjoy skating in a context other than being a competitor, something he hadn’t had to grapple with in over a decade. He doesn’t have to take painstaking mental notes about the skaters, pick out the flaws and imperfections. He doesn’t have to look critically at each program, identifying if there is anything particularly inspiring. He can simply be a spectator for a bit.

As he watches the programs unfold, Makkachin hops up onto the couch, snuggling up to Viktor. The poodle’s warm presence helps steady Viktor, even as he struggles with watching at times.

When it gets to the final 10 contenders, Viktor pours himself a glass of red wine and settles in for the long haul.

Even though he doesn’t have to take stock of the skaters, he slowly finds himself starting to do it again. Not because he has to, but because a part of him enjoys it.

At the end of the last program, Viktor sends off a message to Christophe, congratulating him on his silver medal. It is a bit disappointing that his rival hadn’t been able to secure gold with Viktor out of the way, but Viktor isn’t going to tease the Swiss man about it.

As he stands up to go to the bedroom, his eyes once more settle on the folder at the center of his coffee table labelled “Plisetsky”.

He makes another quick decision, and takes the folder with him as he heads to bed.


 

Translations:

[1] Excuse me, but are you Viktor Nikiforov?

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 3: Finding a New Rhythm

 

 

For several days now, Viktor has taken to looking over Yuri’s file on and off. It isn’t like he has very much else going on, and at some point he had crossed the invisible border that had prevented him from even considering coaching.

A lot of the file covered what he already knew about the fiery young skater – he is incredibly passionate in his pursuit of success, he has a scary knack for jumps, and his flexibility lead to some incredible combination spins.

He had already started landing a quad Salchow in practice and a single competition (after which Yakov had exploded at him).

For once, Viktor was inclined to agree with Yakov. Yuri tended to disregard both his own safety and other people entirely in his drive to rise in the world of skating. Completing a quad Salchow so early was certainly a feat, but it also showed that Yuri was stubborn in ignoring his coach and in following his drive for victory.

Though Viktor could certainly relate to that drive from when he had started out, Yuri abandoned decorum and guidance in a way that Viktor had not.

It presented a unique coaching challenge; one that Viktor still wasn’t sure he wanted to get involved in despite taking the step to look Yuri’s file over.

Though some annoying voice in the back of his mind keeps reminding him that he owes the fierce kitten a program at some point. Viktor still hasn’t really talked with his old rinkmates since retiring, and he is beginning to feel a bit guilty at how long he had avoided them now.

And that means he’s going to have to go to the rink at some point, and figure out what he wants to do.


 

Yuuri is certainly not accustomed to having such huge amounts of free time. It’s been great for enabling him to catch up on missing schoolwork, especially as the semester is coming to a close in a month or so in early May.

Preparing for Worlds had set him behind in his courses, not to mention his absence both physically and mentally because of Viktor’s injury and the subsequent sorrow.

But all the extra time also left more opportunities for Yuuri to reflect on his failure at Worlds.

Phichit had noticed that Yuuri had seemed withdrawn in the week following his decision to take a break from skating, despite the fact that Phichit continued to keep a busy schedule practicing.

Yuuri had been trying to avoid a conversation (in his typical fashion, opting to hide away in his room snacking). But that couldn’t last forever.

Yuuri was making dinner one evening (chicken stir fry, since he was feeling guilty for his poor eating) when Phichit returned from practice and practically cornered him in the kitchen.

“Yuuri! How are you doing?” Phichit inquired innocently.

“Hey Phichit, I’m doing…fine.” Yuuri almost grimaces as the words come out, knowing that Phichit will see right through his façade.

“Mhhm. Look, I know I’m usually one to give you the space you need, but you’ve been hiding away in your room all week. I’ve seen you like, three times, and you scamper away right after.”

Phichit pauses, leaving space for Yuuri to jump in.

When Yuuri isn’t forthcoming, Phichit gives Yuuri The Eye™, hoping it might get the solemn young man to say something.

He’s never been good at resisting Phichit. Yuuri caves after a number of sustained seconds of eye contact.

Taking a steadying breath, Yuuri opens his heart up a bit.

“Phichit, I fucked up. In front of the entire world, when I was supposed to be representing Japan, when I wanted to show everyone how far I’d come.” He sighs, looking away from Phichit.

“Yuuri, everyone makes mistakes, even in competition.” Yuuri looks up at that, opening his mouth. Phichit continues before he has a chance to interrupt. “Yes, even the best skaters like Viktor have made mistakes before. Not to mention, you’ve been battling the grief from Viktor’s injury and retirement.”

Yuuri looks a bit stumped by the solace Phichit offered. A few moments pass before Yuuri collects himself to respond.

“Thanks Phichit. I think I knew that, but it’s so hard sometimes to just ignore all the thoughts in my head. And I can’t promise that everything will instantly be better…but it helps to hear someone else say it too.”

Phichit softens a bit at the admission, moving closer to offer Yuuri a hug.

Yuuri hesitates for a second before closing the distance, letting Phichit encircle him. Yuuri leans into the contact for a bit, before smelling something burning slightly.

He quickly steps back from the hug and turns his attention back to finishing up dinner.

Before Phichit leaves the kitchen, he looks back and adds, “And while I think it’s good for you to take some time away from skating, I hope you’ll come back.” A smile crosses his face now, as he finishes, “and now that you’ve got some more time, we’re going to have some fun on occasion!”

The smile turns a bit wicked for a second, and Yuuri lets out a little groan. Phichit is definitely scheming something.

Yuuri’s a little afraid he’ll find out what in the not-too-distant future.

 

 

The next day, Yuuri does get a bit of a surprise when he comes back in the evening from getting some schoolwork done in the library to find Phichit cooking dinner for the both of them, and a movie queued up on the T.V.

The aroma of homemade Thai food is sweet in the air, and Yuuri takes a moment to just inhale the lovely scent. It reminds him of happier times, not that long ago. Opening his eyes, Yuuri shoots Phichit a questioning glance.

Phichit looks over and smiles widely. “I got off practice early, and it’s been a while since we had dinner and watched a movie together.”

Yuuri returns the smile, grateful to have such a kind friend. “Thank you...So what are we going to watch?”

Phichit’s grin turns a bit mischievous as he responds, “I picked out a trashy action movie neither of us will remember. Which is good, because I’ve got some new gossip.”

Yuuri can’t help but giggle a little bit at Phichit’s impish nature. Yuuri isn’t one to swap rumors often, but his roommate lives for the drama and gossip around the rink and throughout the sport.

Quieting himself, Yuuri looks around the kitchen for a moment before offering, “Is there anything I can do to help finish up in here?”

“Nah, not in here, but if you want to set up the T.V. that would be sweet.” Nodding, Yuuri sets off to get things ready.

A few minutes later, Phichit waltzes into the room with two heaping plates of food, and they settle into the couch.

After stuffing their faces for a bit and sufficiently losing interest in the movie, Phichit turns to Yuuri, the wicked smile returning.

“So, guess what the latest is?”

Yuuri frowns, at a loss. “Phichit, you know I’m never going to guess. I’m terrible at guessing what the drama is. Hell, I miss it most of the time even when I’m involved.” Phichit cackles at that, something unreadable glinting in his eyes.

“True, you are a bit oblivious sometimes.” Yuuri stares at him with a blank face for a moment. “Okay, most of the time. You remember Aaron from the skating club?”

Yuuri has to think for a minute, as he has done a poor job of getting to know other skaters in the club outside of Phichit. He can vaguely recall a lanky American college student who is a decent skater but not one looking to accomplish much internationally.

Phichit continues on, unaware of Yuuri’s internal struggle to recollect.

“So, he was blabbing with someone else while I was getting my skates on today about who knows what. But I heard him say he was crushing on someone, so naturally, I slowed down so I could listen.”

“Phichit…” scolds Yuuri, playfully swatting at his roommate’s arm.

“He was talking about this cute foreign guy, and how he was sad he probably wouldn’t get to see them much anymore. At that point, they had finished getting skates on so I had to casually sneak around behind them.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes, well aware of how “sneaky” Phichit was likely to have been. Phichit smirks as he notices.

“So anyway, I had a vague idea of where this was heading by now, but I basically confirmed it when Aaron said it was someone who used to be in the club. Once we got out on the ice, Aaron outright said it. Turns out, he’s been crushing on you.”

Yuuri blinks, a little stunned. “Me?” he says, pointing at himself to emphasize his question.

“Yes, you! Did you not see where the story was headed?”

“Noooo,” Yuuri grumbles, his cheeks tinged by red now.

“I mean, you are a foreign snack.”

Yuuri buries his face into the side of the couch. He’s never been good at handling other people’s affection, especially when he doesn’t feel like he deserves it. Not to mention, his complete lack of experience when it comes to romance.

Yuuri had known he was attracted to Viktor from nearly the moment he first laid eyes on the slender skater, and that had pretty quickly helped Yuuri realize he was interested primarily in men. But that had translated into very little practical experience with relationships. He’d been on a few dates since living in Detroit, but nothing lasting. There had been no “spark” between him and anyone else.

Phichit snickers a bit, bringing Yuuri back to the moment as his roommate teases him about being embarrassed.

“Besides, at least it means there is someone besides me at the rink missing you.”

That catches Yuuri by surprise. The idea that other people might be missing him skate is alien, he’s only been able to imagine a world in which everyone has moved past his abysmal skating.

“You…you really mean that?” he whispers.

Phichit looks at him, a very serious expression on his face now. “Of course I do Yuuri. I want you to take the time you need, but I also want to see you back on the ice. And so do other people.”

He smiles after a moment, a bit more playful. “Besides, we never had the chance to skate against each other. And I’d like the chance to compete with someone who inspires me.”

Once again Yuuri, is totally unprepared for the idea that he might be a source of inspiration for others. Even when he is at his lowest, apparently. Phichit has seen him at his worst. A small voice in Yuuri’s head also chimes in, he’s seen you at your best, too.

Yuuri can’t do much besides nod his head in response.

They continue watching the movie, Phichit sharing a few other snippets he’d learned since Yuuri had left the rink.

Afterwards, Yuuri heads to his bedroom.

He lays there for a while, grappling with the idea that some people may still want to see him skate. But what if he doesn’t want to? What if he doesn’t know if he wants to?


 

Viktor had put off going to spend time at the rink for a few days, but after that he quickly realized there is not much for him to do unless he wants to find a new hobby or interest entirely (and that feels more daunting than just going to the rink.)

Steeling himself, Viktor pushes open the door into the skating facility. He’s immediately greeted by the comforting sound of skates gliding on ice, and Viktor even closes his eyes for a moment to revel in the memories it brings.

While Viktor has his eyes closed, he hears a woman on the ice shout and the sound of skates grows louder, and Viktor assumes someone is approaching him.

When he opens his eyes, he is greeted by the sight of Mila and Yuri, both shoving each other as they scramble to close the gap with Viktor. Viktor snorts a little laugh, amused at the two. He sidles up to the edge of the rink while the two continue some sort of pushing match.

Georgi is the first to actually get there, seemingly oblivious to the tussle going on behind him.

“Viktor – it’s so good to see you again! It’s been so long.”

Viktor feels a twinge of guilt, knowing that he had chosen to avoid his rinkmates for so long.

“Aww, thanks. I’m sorry I haven’t been by sooner.” It sounds a bit lame to Viktor, and it becomes clear it wasn’t enough for everyone when Yuri breaks free from Mila’s grasp.

“You bastard, that’s all you have to say?! You didn’t even tell us anything before you retired!” yells the blonde skater, as he pulls up to the border of the rink.

Mila is quick to follow, skating up as well before saying, “I’m sorry Viktor, I was trying to pound some manners into this one, but he wasn’t having any of it.” Yuri flicks a glare at Mila when she finishes, then resumes his staring contest with Viktor.

Though poorly worded, Viktor has to admit it’s a fair accusation. He really had just cut his rinkmates (friends?) out of his life for a time. They had been there to support him, and even now seem to care for him. Viktor wants to try and make amends, particularly with Yuri. Plus, some distant, calculating voice in his head warns him that he needs a good relationship if he ever pursues coaching.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Viktor responds, “No, Yuri does have a point. I’m sorry I didn’t let you all know what was happening.” He pauses, resolving to try and be a little honest. “I was kind of isolating myself because I didn’t know how to handle things. I’m trying to do a bit better now.”

Georgi almost coos at the admission, while Yuri makes an unpleasant face.

“My friend, that’s completely understandable! I can only imagine the shock of losing the ability to skate.” He does a dramatic twirl, as if to emphasize the importance of the ice in his life.

At that, Yuri fakes a retching noise. “All these feelings are making me sick.”

Viktor cracks a smile at that, while Mila returns to lecturing Yuri about the proper behavior when a friend is struggling.

It’s clear now to Viktor in a way that it hadn’t been before – his rinkmates do genuinely care for him, each in their own way. Georgi perhaps understands his feelings most, Mila tries to be supportive by quibbling with Yuri about his behavior, and Yuri shows his care in his typical standoffish way. Before, he’d been too caught up in his own skating and the associated isolation with being at the top.

Thinking quickly, Viktor comes up with a plan. “Hey, let me make it up to you all. Why don’t you three come over to my apartment next weekend? We’ll have some food, maybe watch a movie or something.”

Mila’s expression lights up at the invitation, clearly excited at the prospect. “That would be awesome! I’d love to spend some time with you all.” She looks around at the group, but her gaze lingers on Viktor, admiration flashing in her eyes. It’s easy for Viktor to forget how distant he had been before, and yet people still respect and look up to him.

Georgi quickly agrees as well, and Yuri grumbles out what might pass as an acceptance. They hash out the timing (Saturday evening works best, it seems), and then the three skate off to return to practice.

Pleased to have made some plans with friends, Viktor heads towards the back offices to find Yakov.

Wait.

Plans. With friends.

 

 

 

A few minutes later, Viktor knocks on Yakov’s office door before he can change his mind.

A muffled grunt comes from the other side, which Viktor assumes to mean Yes, please come in, I am delighted to speak with you!

When Viktor walks in, Yakov looks up at Viktor and huffs again, but Viktor can’t read anything on his neutral face. Maybe not quite the reception Viktor had imagined.

“Hey there Yakov,” Viktor says, trying to sound casual and not-at-all nervous.

“Hmmph.”

“Expressive today, aren’t we?” The quip is out of his mouth on reflex, though he immediately covers his mouth in an apologetic manner.

Yakov stops writing, and leans back in his chair, turning his full attention to Viktor. “Fair enough. How are you doing? And don’t bullshit me, you started it.”

Viktor considers for a moment before responding, knowing that he can’t fib to Yakov now. “Kind of shitty, but getting better. I had a fun night a while back that helped me get over my reluctance to think about skating.”

Yakov grunts again in response, but Viktor could swear he sees the beginnings of a smile before the older man looks down again. Feeling like that was as close to a fresh start in the conversation as he’ll get, Viktor determines to move on to why he came.

“I started looking at Yuri’s file a few days ago.” Viktor bites his lip, before adding on “Just a little bit.”

Yakov’s eyes dig into Viktor, his face inscrutable again.

“Oh? And what did you learn?”

“Not much I didn’t already know, honestly. He’s fiercely passionate about improving his skating. Until recently he was obsessed with beating me.” Viktor laughs dryly at the thought before continuing, “His jumps are above average, but his spins are where he shines most. His step sequences are a tad uninspiring.”

Viktor pauses a moment, quietly adding, “A bit like me in that regard.”

Yakov folds his arms over his chest now, clearly interested in the conversation at this point.

“And what would you do to coach him into improving, especially given his drive?”

“That’s what I came to talk about. I don’t think I’m ready to really look at coaching yet.”

Yakov tilts his head, the question apparent in his posture, but unvoiced.

“I don’t think I’m ready to work with Yuri as a mentor or leader. Or anyone really, for that matter.” Viktor hesitates for a few seconds, licking his lips.

“I know I promised him a program, and eventually I’ll make sure he gets it. Right now though, I can’t see the programs unfold in my mind’s eye, I can’t feel the connection with the music while I’m off the ice. And I don’t know how I could even begin to coach someone when I still have to sort through that, and other…feelings.”

As he finishes, a shiver passes through him as he recalls the loneliness he’s felt since his injury. Yes, he’s making progress, but the wound is still fresh.

Yakov rumbles, a deep throaty sound, before he starts speaking. “I think the best way for you to get over that is to spend time here, reacquaint yourself with the ice from another perspective. Spend the season shadowing me, and see how you feel as the season progresses.”

Viktor wants to protest; wants to say that it isn’t something easy enough to just get over. But he also knows that Yakov is even more stubborn than Viktor when he wants to be. Who knows, maybe spending time around people more will be good for him anyway. And help him feel less lonely.

“I’m not coaching.” He says to clarify, “But I will shadow you starting next week.”

Yakov mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like pretty much the same thing, but Viktor deigns not to respond.

Swallowing his pride for a moment, Viktor takes a step closer to Yakov. “Thank you. For helping.”

Yakov softens a little, and nods.

As Viktor turns to leave, Yakov calls behind him, “You might mention to Yuri that you haven’t forgotten about the program. May help.”

Viktor grinds his teeth a bit as he walks away, but he knows his coach has a point.


 

After another week passes by, Yuuri finally admits to himself that he’s going to have to make the call. The term is coming to a close, and if he wants a clear conscience before finals, he’s got to act now. He’s been avoiding talking with his parents much since his disastrous showing at Worlds, but the stress of hiding the fact that he’s taking a break is getting to him.

He nervously sets up a time that evening that works for his parents and sister back in Hasetsu, and then spends the rest of the day psyching himself out about the call.

Would his parents be upset with him for taking a step away from skating? After all, it was why he moved to the United States.

When the time finally arrives, Yuuri is set up sitting on his bed, laptop open and plugged in. He’s nestled under the covers, taking comfort in the warmth.

As soon as the notification pops up on his screen, he hits accept and tries to plaster a smile on his face.

He’s greeted by all of his family huddled around the camera, with Mari lifting a small furball that can only be Vicchan into view.

Mari maneuvers Vicchan’s paws in a wave at Yuuri, and suddenly tears threaten to spill over. He takes a deep breath, willing the tears away for now.

“Hi Vicchan! And to you Mom, Dad, Mari.”

“He misses you!” Mari exclaims, punctuated by a soft ruff-ruff as the microphone picks up Vicchan’s response as well.

“You’re too sweet, Mari. I miss you all!” Yuuri says, wiping at lingering wetness around his lashes.

His mother chimes in next, “How are you doing? We watched the competition – it looked a bit rough.”

Yuuri covers his face at that, pressing his hands against his eyes. “Ughh, I know. It was so embarrassing.” He moves his hands, staring into the camera. “I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment. I had really hoped to do well and make you all proud.”

“Yuuri, you are no disappointment. We’re always proud of you – and have the wall to prove it.” Hiroko tilts the camera to point at one of the walls in the inn, covered in memorabilia of Yuuri from his skating career. There’s a pedestal with the medals he’s won, including the gold from Nationals he had shipped to them.

His mother tilts the camera back, showing her smiling face now. “Even Minako is proud of all that you’ve accomplished.”

Yuuri blushes at that, his cheeks flooding red. He certainly doesn’t feel like he is deserving of praise right now.

Sobering up a bit, he works up his courage to the admission churning in his stomach. He averts his eyes from the camera.

“After Worlds…I decided I want to take a break from skating for a bit. Beyond being embarrassed about my performance, I’m just not feeling…inspired to continue right now.”

He looks back up now, trying to read the faces of his loved ones. Maybe it’s the grainy image because of the camera, but he can’t read any of their expressions.

He rushes to fill in the void of the conversation, hoping that he hasn’t let them down too much.

“I’m sorry. I hope you aren’t too upset, and I haven’t made any permanent decisions yet. I’m just sitting out this season.”

Yuuri is surprised when it is his dad who starts talking next, “Yuuri…I think I speak for us all when I say that we aren’t upset.”

Yuuri lets out a deep breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding.

“We just want you to be happy, and if you need to take some time to figure out how to make that happen, then we’re here to support you through it.”

Yuuri inhales, feeling dizzy. He feels like…

Like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders, a burden supported by the rest of his family.

His mom takes over next, “I can echo everything your father said.” A smile spreads on her face. “And maybe, you will have some time to come visit soon if you aren’t skating.”

Visit?

Yuuri hadn’t even though about it. But she’s right, he isn’t nearly as busy as he would normally be. Could he?

“Wow, I hadn’t even thought…Well, I’ve already signed up for some summer courses to make up for missing a bit this last season,” he says sheepishly. “But this winter, maybe I could come home for the New Years?”

His parents beam at that, and even Mari grins a bit. Vicchan starts to bark excitedly, and Yuuri’s heart swells at the sound and sight of his family.

His parents speak simultaneously, “We would love to have you then.”

They continue to chat a bit back and forth, catching up on the latest. Yuuri even shares that his former rinkmate is apparently crushing on him, and Mari teases him nonstop the rest of the call, asking when the date is.

When he finally hangs up, Yuuri is feeling lighter than he has in weeks. He hums to himself, deciding to listen to some music while lying in bed. There are still disconcerting thoughts that pop in his head about his future, and his lingering humiliation at Worlds, but they feel distant for the first time.

He spends the rest of the evening puttering about, before drifting into a peaceful sleep.


 

Viktor starts coming by the rink regularly, only missing one day that week due to a physical therapy training session.

It’s a…strange experience, returning to the rink with some semblance of a schedule. It feels familiar in some ways, but completely different in so many small details. He greets many of his rinkmates like he used to, and now makes even more of an effort to engage with them. Even the skaters he previously barely knew.

It’s funny what a change in perspective can do.

He still goes through stretching and warming up, but can’t cross the boundary onto the ice with the rest of the skaters after.

Something that Yuri seems to flaunt regularly, the little brat. Each day, he’s got a new jab to throw at Viktor.

“Even your Salchow couldn’t match this.”

“Too bad you won’t be skating for me to beat your sorry ass.”

“Got a new program in mind yet?”

The last one strikes particularly close to home, forcefully reminding Viktor of his nearly forgotten promise to the feisty young skater. If he wasn’t so stubborn and smug all the time, it would be easier to have a real conversation with him. Viktor knows he’s older and should be more mature about the situation, but the petty side of his nature holds him back.

The first day, once everyone was on the ice, Viktor found Yakov and followed him around for a while like a lost dog.

It clearly bothered the surly coach, as he eventually turned around and shouted at Viktor, “Are you lost? You don’t need to follow me everywhere. Pick a skater, watch them for a bit, and then find me with what you noticed. Now GO!”

Viktor couldn’t help but snicker a bit as he turned around to leave Yakov following the outburst, amused that he could still get a rise out of the old man. He pushed away the discomfort that followed at being left alone to supervise the skaters, instead trying to focus on one person at a time without feeling overwhelmed. At the end of the day, he shared his observations with Yakov over a glass of vodka, and Yakov grilled him on all the small things he overlooked and why they were important.

The rest of the week, Viktor makes his way around the outskirts of the rink, picking a new skater to observe every half hour or so. The pattern repeats at the end of the day, with Viktor sharing the fruits of his studies and Yakov picking him apart.

It’s tough in many ways, and after a particularly cruel session with Yakov, Viktor returns to his apartment exhausted and overloaded with coaching details. He ends up curled around Makkachin on top of his bed, his tears mixing in with the dog’s curly hair.

But there’s also something recognizable about the struggle – something akin to the feeling he had when he first started skating. Fatigue for sure, and bouts of hopelessness. But there are flashes of insight that come too, helping balance things. The sensation is…perhaps not quite comforting or reassuring, but knowing that it’s not completely uncharted territory for Viktor helps him push through the hellish week.

 

 

When Saturday arrives as a break, Viktor is relieved, nervous, and excited all at once. The return to a busy schedule has proven taxing, so he sleeps in a bit later than he normally would.

He is eventually woken up by the mid-morning light streaming in through the window, casting everything in an ethereal glow. Viktor stirs in his bed, and Makkachin is quick to start nosing him for breakfast after that.

Lounging in bed for a bit longer, Viktor feels a bit nervous knowing that he’s actually having friends over this evening. But it is also exciting, that he’ll be able to spend some time with Georgi, Mila, and even Yuri outside of the rink.

Choosing to cling to the exciting aspect of the day, Viktor practically bounces out of his bed as he thinks through what needs to be accomplished before the evening.

The rest of the day goes by startlingly quickly, Viktor is out for part of it buying food (some of it pre-prepared so he can’t possibly mess it up). He’s careful to buy some drinks that don’t have alcohol, knowing that Yuri and Mila can’t have any.

It’s a strange phenomenon for Viktor, buying for more than one person. He hasn’t had to keep a fridge stocked for anyone but himself, and his pathetic cooking skills meant it was empty more often than not.

Once that is done, he spends a ridiculous amount of time worrying about how to set up the food and his apartment. After rearranging it a few times, he finally settles on leaving the food out on his kitchen island, opting to have people grab food and come sit in the living room.

And then, it’s practically time for them to start arriving. In a last minute panic, Viktor queues up a playlist of classical music that he likes to have some background noise. He just manages to get it set up before his doorbell buzzes, and Viktor scampers over to the door, smoothing his hair as he goes.

Heart pounding a bit, he tries his best to look casual. All three of them are already gathered as he swings the door open. Mila takes one look at him and giggles a bit, before quickly covering her mouth.

Georgi and Yuri walk past Viktor into the apartment promptly, but Mila slows as she walks by Viktor.

Out of the side of her mouth, she whispers, “You’re trying too hard, silly.”

Viktor feels a flicker of worry that she was able to read him so easily, but relaxes after a moment.

Mila flashes a smile before walking past Viktor.

Georgi is already looking around the space, opening his mouth “Wow, Viktor, this is quite the apartment. It feels…”

“Empty. And adult, so boring.” Finishes Yuri, frowning at some artwork he passes by.

Georgi sputters for a moment, and Mila cackles a bit as Georgi’s face turns a bright shade of red.

“That’s not what I meant, Viktor. It’s lovely!” he stammers out.

Viktor laughs along with Mila at the sight. “No worries, Georgi. Thank you, I’m glad you like it.” He turns his attention towards the small skater prowling around the apartment as he finishes the sentence, and Yuri mumbles something ambiguously apologetic in response.

Viktor gives them all a quick tour of the apartment, and lets Makkachin out of the bedroom once they have all settled down in the living room. The poodle immediately bounds around, running from person to person excitedly. When he gets to Yuri, the blonde scrambles to bring his feet up on top of the chair as well, shying away from the dog.

Mila and Georgi burst out laughing at the cat-like reaction from the young skater. Viktor feels a pang of guilt, but doesn’t intervene right away.

Yuri stares at Viktor from across the room, a panicked look in his eyes. “Get the dog away from me!”

Viktor tries to stifle a giggle, but can’t help it from escaping. Georgi responds before Viktor can stop giggling, “He’s so friendly though, Yura. Just give him some pets!”

Yuri stops looking panicked, and instead turns to look at Georgi with a deadpan glare. Mila and Viktor both can’t help howling with laughter now, but Viktor calls Makka over to stop Yuri from being “tormented” while Yuri shouts “Shut up, Baba!”

Viktor, Georgi, and Mila fall into an easy conversation after that, chatting about some rinkmates while Makkachin rotates around the room to bother whoever most recently got some more food. Yuri sits quietly for the most part, occasionally chiming in to add something or make a disparaging comment about a skater. Whenever that happens, Mila immediately chastises the blonde for his poor manners, but Yuri seems to ignore her.

After a lull in conversation, Mila turns to Viktor. “What the hell are we listening too? This is some stuck up shit.”

Viktor makes an offended face while Yuri actually laughs at the comment. “It’s just one of my go-to playlists of classical.”

Mila sticks out her tongue in response. “You really listen to that stuff outside of practice too?”

“Well, it’s how I found music for most of my programs.”

Mila shakes her head. “You need to expand your music tastes.”

Georgi frowns, then joins the conversation. “Let the man listen to what he likes.”

Mila clicks her tongue, and then holds out her hand. “Let me play something.”

Viktor shrugs, hardly about to quibble over the music.

The music that Mila puts on starts slow, but proves to be more upbeat. Viktor is quickly surprised by the French lyrics, portraying something contrasting deeply with the upbeat feel of the song.

It cuts deep for Viktor, a story about an absent father. Dredges up some painful memories.

The music is surprisingly catchy, though. Viktor finds himself tapping his foot with the rhythm and humming along, the dark thoughts whisked away. Even Yura seems to have stopped sulking to listen.

When it finishes, Viktor speaks up. “Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s such a sad song…but there’s so much energy in it.”

It’s a paradox of a song…and Viktor can almost imagine how he might try and set a routine to it, playing around the contradiction. It’s the closest he’s felt to being inspired about choreographing since his injury.

Viktor is startled out of his thoughts by Georgi’s voice.

“I forgot that you speak French as well Viktor, it just sounded like a captivating and enjoyable song to me,” Georgi offers.

Mila has a bit of a smug look on her face as she declares, “See Viktor, there’s a whole world of interesting music out there, this was simply one brand new song. Just because Yakov wouldn’t let us skate to it doesn’t mean it lacks value or that it’s boring.”

Surprisingly, Yuri is the next to speak. “I wish that Yakov would let us skate to some nontraditional pieces, instead of the stupid stuffy shit we always get.”

Viktor and Georgi exchange surprised glances, and then Viktor looks at Yuri curiously. “You mean you don’t pick your own music?”

Yura folds his arms across his chest, pouting but looking awfully like an adorable kitten in the process. “No. Yakov won’t let me. I tried to once, and he said absolutely not.”

Viktor taps his chin, thinking. Viktor had always pushed for his own music, and Yakov had acquiesced pretty much every time. Yakov did have a tendency to pick drab music. But he was clearly keeping a tight leash on Yuri for the time being.

What if…?

Would Yakov accept it? Probably, it worked to both of their advantages. Yakov would get Viktor one step closer to coaching, and Viktor could fulfill his promise.

Fortifying himself, Viktor starts talking. “Yura, I haven’t forgotten that I promised to choreograph a program for you.”

Shock spreads on Yuri’s small face, and even Mila and Georgi look a bit stunned.

“What if I pick a nontraditional song? For next year, not this season since you’ve already got plans in the works.” Viktor hopes the excuse to wait doesn’t seem too flimsy, but he’s not ready to jump into choreographing something so soon, and to an unfamiliar kind of music.

Yuri scrunches his eyebrows for a few seconds. “You promise it won’t be shitty? I don’t want your pity choreography.”

Viktor nods more enthusiastically than he feels. Yura nods back, satisfied.

The group continues to talk after that, with Mila changing the music every so often to something more upbeat (or popular, if Viktor had to guess). Viktor is surprised by the fact the a few of the songs stick out to him, and he resolves to do some exploring in the future. Yuri joins the conversation more readily as well, and Viktor feels like some weight has shifted in their relationship.

The evening progresses merrily, with Georgi and Viktor eventually having a glass of wine. Viktor can’t remember the last time he had just spent time with friends casually, outside of a rink. It warms his heart to have companions around, even if they can be irritating (Yuri) sometimes.

As the evening winds down, Viktor whips out his phone and loudly declares “Selfie!!”

Georgi and Mila immediately smush themselves together on the couch, and Viktor joins them. Yuri remains in his chair, staring suspiciously at the trio.

“Yura…” Mila whines, before getting up and dragging the boy onto the couch.

Viktor beams, positioning the camera to get all four of them in the picture. Georgi leans on Viktor, throwing up a peace sign, while Mila has her arm around a grumbling Yuri. Yuri’s hair is ruffled from Mila wrestling him onto the couch, but he leaves it be. Viktor takes a plethora of pictures, certain at least one of them will be Instagram worthy.

Viktor sifts through the photos quickly, finding one where it *almost* looks like Yuri is smiling too. He posts it and tags the three of them right away, before Yuri can voice a protest.

The young blonde scowls as his phone starts to ping with notifications, but he doesn’t spit any insults (which Viktor takes as progress).

The group says their farewells and leave shortly afterwards, Viktor feeling much more relaxed this time as he holds the door open for them.

He does some tidying around the house, but eventually weariness gets the better of him. He tumbles onto his bed, with Makkachin following suit right after.

It was certainly tiring to have guests over. But Viktor also feels…happy. More whole. He thinks over the day a bit, sorting through the highs and lows. But soon his mind goes blank as sleep overtakes him.

 

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 4: On the Brink

 

Yuuri woke up the week of his finals feeling surprisingly confident about his preparation. In the weeks following the conversation with his parents, Yuuri had redoubled his efforts to study and prepare for exams, determined to pass them successfully after such a dismal skating season.

This meant lots of late nights at the library, alternating between his laptop and dusty textbooks, but at least he had the time to commit to studying now. He’d picked out a cubby on the 3rd floor, tucked out of the way where he is very rarely interrupted.

One of the side effects of his increased studiousness was that he didn’t cross paths with Phichit much. Phichit was still skating regularly, gearing up for the next season.

So when Yuuri has to get up early for his first final that week, he is pleasantly surprised to see Phichit in the kitchen as well, eating some oatmeal before a morning workout.

Yuuri waves awkwardly at his roommate, still too sleepy to really engage. He puts some water on to boil, and then slides haphazardly into the seat across from Phichit. His eyelids droop closed for a moment, and time slips by.

The sound of the water boiling stirs Yuuri, and he gets up to gather his tea and throws some fruit in a bowl with yogurt.

He settles back into his seat, leaving the bowl in front of him while holding the steaming mug. He takes the occasional sip, the hot liquid burning a bit on the way down, but also waking him up more.

Yuuri works himself up to take a spoonful of the yogurt, and then finally feels like he can take part in a conversation.

“Morning Phichit.” Yuuri mumbles.

“Good morning sleepyhead,” Phichit smirks.

Yuuri grunts in response, nothing to add.

“Knock out those finals, bud!” Phichit gives him a thumbs up to accentuate it, a goofy grin on his face. “Maybe I’ll see you a bit more after you finish.”

“Thanks Phichit, I hope so too. And good luck with…whatever it is you’re about to go do.”

“Run to the gym and then weight training.”

Yuuri winces, replying instantly, “Yep, don’t miss that.”

Phichit snorts at the comment, grabbing his bowl to clean up. “This Friday after your finals, I’ve got a plan. We’re going out, so plan accordingly.”

Yuuri jolts awake, eyes flicking to Phichit’s mischievous grin. “What does that mean…?”

“You’ll find out!” Phichit winks mysteriously at Yuuri, then skips out of the kitchen. A minute later, Yuuri hears the door close.

Sighing, Yuuri digs into his breakfast, minor concern for Phichit’s brooding plans settling into his stomach alongside the yogurt.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Yuuri refocuses on his Finals for the time being. Soon enough, Phichit’s plans pale in comparison to Yuuri’s burgeoning anxiety about his finals.

The next few days pass by in a blur, a haze of cramming, writing papers, and minimal sleep. Yuuri runs into Phichit once or twice, but hardly takes notice of his roommate otherwise.

(Which is a good thing for Phichit, as he gets things together for Friday.)

Thursday afternoon, Yuuri puts the finishing touches on his final assignment for the semester. After submitting it, Yuuri makes a beeline back to the apartment, the adrenaline of finishing carrying him the distance. Once in his room, he throws his bag into the corner of the room and falls face first onto his bed, utterly spent.

He’s out in a matter of minutes.

 

 

When he returns to consciousness, his mouth is dry as a desert, despite the small puddle of drool on his pillow. He shakes himself a little, trying to orient himself. It’s light outside, but Yuuri feels far too rested to have only been out a few hours.

He fumbles around for his phone, slapping at his bedside table a few times before successfully grabbing it. Yuuri thinks something must be wrong when he sees the time is 1:17, because it means he slept more than 16 hours straight.

He forces himself up and out of bed, stumbling into the bathroom while yawning. Flicking on the light, he’s greeted by a pale zombie with a serious case of bedhead in the mirror, half his hair sticking out.

Finals clearly did a number on him, but he doesn’t feel mentally drained for the first time in a week.

He takes a lazy shower, letting the water run over his shoulders as he revels in his freedom from immediate academic commitments. He’d been able to use his winnings from Nationals to help fund some summer courses he’d signed up for, so responsibilities would return in due time.

Though truth be told, Yuuri was going to be running a bit tight on money eventually. While he wouldn’t get getting any more winnings for the year, he also wouldn’t be spending money on coaching. He’s going to have to confront the issue eventually, but for now he could just relax as he towels his hair dry.

After cleaning up the detritus from his finals, Yuuri leaves his room and settles onto the couch with his laptop. He just kind of sits there for a few moments, figuring out what to do.

He’d normally probably go skating with free time like this…but that doesn’t seem appropriate to him right now. Dismissing the thought, Yuuri flips open his laptop and runs on autopilot for a minute while he thinks about what he should do.

When Yuuri looks down at his laptop, he recoils upon seeing figure skating headlines. He must have opened the page by default, and he quickly closes the browser while taking a deep breath.

Evidently, some part of him is still attuned to skating if he can’t get it out of his head, even during a break.

Clearing his mind, Yuuri opens up Netflix and puts something, anything on as a distraction.

With some comedy on in the background, Yuuri’s thoughts turn to Phichit’s mystery event for the evening. Finals had kept him preoccupied, which was probably a good thing. Even now, Yuuri’s concern for tonight’s plans have receded compared to when Phichit had first mentioned it.

But knowing Phichit, it would probably involve something Yuuri wouldn’t initially love.

Yuuri spends the next few hours flipping between shows as he waits for Phichit to get back from practice and reveal his masterful plan. It’s actually a fairly boring afternoon for Yuuri, which is a strange experience. He’s typically so busy between skating and school, he doesn’t really have time to be bored.

When Phichit gets back, Yuuri feigns nonchalance as best as he can.

Ineffectively, apparently.

As soon as Phichit sets down his skate bag and turns around, he smirks at Yuuri. “You’re bored, aren’t you.”

Yuuri opens his mouth in his best approximation of surprise. “No, I’m not!”

Phichit just flops down next to him on the couch, smirk not leaving his face. “Are too.”

Yuuri gives him a little shove, and Phichit dramatically rolls off the couch in response. Both of them start laughing as Phichit picks himself up.

“You’re curious about tonight.”

“…Maybe…”

Phichit leans closer to Yuuri, whispering conspiratorially. “I’m not telling you what the plans are yet, you’re just going to have to come with me.”

Yuuri pouts in response. What could it possibly be? Phichit must think Yuuri will really want to avoid it, given how secretive he’s being.

“I did pick out some clothes for you tonight, though.” Phichit skips away to his room, and returns a minute later, a mischievous look still flashing in his eyes. “I left them on your bed.”

Curious despite himself, Yuuri gets up and heads to his room. Laid out on the bed is a small navy blue t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. Yuuri decides to bite the bullet, and puts them on, curious why Phichit would have picked them out specifically.

He throws the shirt on, and it’s definitely giving his body a snug hug. He pulls the pants up next, and it is tight getting them on. Did Phichit give him clothes that a size too small?

Yuuri moves into the bathroom to see what the hell they look like, suspicion beginning to dawn on him.

Yep.

The shirt is tight, accentuating Yuuri’s quickly waning muscles from skating training. If he raises his hands, the shirt rides up just enough to see the bottom of his stomach, and the “v” leading downward. The jeans are also exceedingly tight, hugging his legs and butt. He doesn’t love the sight, but he knows what’s going on now.

Phichit is trying to get Yuuri to look as hot as possible, despite his tendency to fall out of shape quickly.

Yuuri storms out of the bathroom, into the living area to confront Phichit. He musters his best scolding tone. “Phichit…”

Phichit looks up from his phone as Yuuri walks in, and then whistles in appreciation. “You look really good like that, you know.”

Yuuri just glowers at Phichit for a few seconds. “Tell me, what are we doing tonight that requires I look like this,” he motions up and down at his body.

“Oh, we’re still getting started. I haven’t done your hair or makeup yet.”

Yuuri just gawks at Phichit, confused.

A wide grin spreads on Phichit’s face, unable to keep the secret any longer. “We’re going clubbing!” He says, waving what can only be a fake I.D. in the air.


 

Viktor rose the morning after having his rinkmates over feeling exceptionally well rested. Who would have thought that cutting loose and having some fun with friends would prove so helpful in resetting after a draining week?

Well, it seems obvious in hindsight. But Viktor might just be a tad dense when it comes to the benefits of friendship, given that he had only recently put true effort into the relationships. He spent the morning relaxing, taking some time to respond to the hordes of replies to the Instagram post from the previous evening.

Lots of people seemed excited he had posted again after such a long break, and it served as a good reminder that Viktor had neglected to do much on social media following his injury. Given his reputation as a prolific poster, it wouldn’t do to have another long stretch without posting. He couldn’t let his image slip!

Eventually, he roused the strength to take Makkachin on a walk through the city, taking a few pictures along the way with the energetic poodle to share later.

Throughout the day, Viktor spent time thinking about his promise to choreograph a program for Yura. It certainly poses a challenge, and Viktor loves the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

But there were a lot of factors for him to take into consideration, too. Yura wants something that isn’t set to traditional classical music, which is outside of Viktor’s wheelhouse. Which means, he’s going to have to do some serious exploring to find the right music and then be confident in choreographing it.

Furthermore, choreographing a program for Yura would inevitably border on coaching. Viktor still doesn’t feel particularly comfortable with the idea, especially when his new relationship with the younger skater felt rocky at best. Ordering him around, especially with a program he may not like, could just fray their tenuous connection beyond repair.

It doesn’t help that there are still conflicted emotions in Viktor about creating a program at all. Since his injury, Viktor has felt a distinct lack of motivation and inspiration for programs. Before, he had loved creating new stories and surprising his audience with something new.

But how could he create something new now that he wasn’t skating? How could he surprise an audience without being on the ice?

The thought kept bouncing around in his head through the evening, and Viktor felt a few times that he was close to making some important connection that might help him surmount the issue. But each time he felt close, it danced just out of reach. It was a frustrating feeling, to be so tantalizingly close.

After a time, he did his best to let it go and avoid dwelling on the frustration so he could fall asleep.

 

The next few weeks of Viktor’s life assumed a pattern not too different from his first week shadowing Yakov. Preparation for the next skating season was now well and truly underway, which meant all of the skaters were piecing together their own programs.

It left Viktor a lot of opportunities to observe and file away mistakes and opportunities for improvement. Yakov seemed to appreciate the extra set of eyes on his students, but that didn’t stop him from relentlessly drilling Viktor on the things he missed, and different approaches to helping skaters.

Yakov was curiously adamant that Viktor learn numerous solutions to issues, which surprised Viktor since the older man only ever seemed to resolve things by yelling. Though perhaps it had something to do with Viktor’s tendency to suggest just “doing it better” instead of providing meaningful, constructive direction in their conversations.

It was incredibly taxing, adjusting to a consistent routine that involved hard work (with the added challenge that much of it was not physical). But it also began to feel familiar, reminiscent of the push to prepare for a new season. And that was encouraging.

 

After some time going through his new routine, Viktor finally began to feel that he at least could identify some of the common mistakes the skaters were making, and was able to brainstorm some ideas to help remedy them.

But that didn’t mean he felt comfortable offering any of those suggestions.

Skaters are at an emotionally vulnerable point when making mistakes in practice, Viktor knew that himself from practicing. Of course, he had an incredibly thick skin when it came to practice and he had also been the best, so his errors were far fewer (or so he told himself). But that won’t work for everyone.

To just step in and offer advice would be arrogant. He did his best to imagine how it would feel to have the former World Champion watching you make a mistake and tell you how to do better. (Pretty shitty, he guesses).

Instead he just keeps quiet, and observes.

 

Until one day, when he notices Mila keeps making the same mistake in her triple flip, a mistake that he had made countless times in practicing for his quad flip. And he thinks that, as a friend, he would have wanted someone to let him know back then.

So he decides to take a chance, signaling for her to skate close over to him.

She obliges, gliding over with an irritated look on her face.

“What is it, Viktor?”

Viktor tries not to try too hard, schooling his face and tone into a neutral place like Yakov had recommended when giving criticism.

“Mila, I was watching you as you—”

“Why are you watching me?” she interrupts, her voice cracking.

Damn. This is what he had wanted to avoid. Time to change tacts.

“It’s because Yak—because you’re my friend, and I want to see you skate well. And I’m learning.”

Her face shifts, and a new expression crosses it. Relief? Viktor isn’t sure.

“I know. I’m sorry I was snappy there, I’m just a bit…frustrated. What did you see?”

Viktor tries to smile genuinely, hoping it won’t come across as patronizing. “You’re jumping just a smidge too early on your triple flip—it’s something I had a ton of trouble with when I was learning the quad flip.” She nods in response, clearly remembering Viktor’s many plunges onto the ice as he practiced the jump. “What worked for me was waiting until a millisecond or so after I thought I should jump, and then actually starting the jump. It gave me just the right amount of airtime.”

Viktor smiles sheepishly, afraid of sounding too commanding. “Maybe try that?”

Mila pauses a moment, clearly thinking it through. Viktor bites his lip, worrying she might reject it outright.

She nods once emphatically, then skates away and lines up for the jump again.

When Mila goes for the jump this time, she leaps just a little later than previously, and completes the full amount of rotations before touching down on the ice.

She flashes a quick smile at Viktor from across the ice, and gives him a wave before lining up to do it again.

She repeats the jump a couple more times, landing it more cleanly after each attempt. At the end, she gives Viktor two thumbs up and a beaming grin.

Viktor can’t help himself from grinning back, feeling just a little proud.


 

“Sit still, Yuuri.” Yuuri tries his best not to move, despite feeling antsy that they will be heading to a club soon. Phichit is carefully working at finishing Yuuri’s makeup, nearly done after close to thirty minutes. Yuuri has had makeup done a number of times for competitions and a few photoshoots, but the sensation feels just as strange now as it did the first time.

Earlier, Yuuri had insisted the two of them eat a large dinner to help soak the alcohol later, and since then Phichit had been working on completing their looks. Phichit had tackled his own appearance first, putting on a pair of skinny jeans and black mesh crop top that left his slim stomach on display.

Which now left him time to fiddle with Yuuri, who is still clad in the tight shirt and jeans. Phichit had slicked Yuuri’s hair back first, which made him look startlingly more mature. Then he had set to work on the makeup.

Phichit leans back after another minute or two, giving Yuuri some space. “There. Done!”

Relieved to be able to move, Yuuri stretches his neck, catching a quick glimpse of himself in the mirror. Surprised, he turns back to examine the unfamiliar face more closely. Phichit had clearly put some black eyeliner and eyeshadow on him, lending him a mysterious air. Phichit must have touched up the rest of his face too, though Yuuri has no idea how exactly. He looks…fierce? Ethereal?

It is a completely new look for Yuuri, something so different from his normal attire and even from his look for skating events.

He turns his head a few times, inspecting it from different angles. Yuuri doesn’t dislike it. It adds a layer to his fragile image, and he almost feels like he can draw some strength from the new look.

“You look stunning, Yuuri.” Phichit snaps him out of his contemplation.

Yuuri turns to look at Phichit, taking in his complete ensemble for the first time. It’s…a statement, to be sure. But Phichit wears it well, exuding comfort and confidence. “So do you! You’ve got quite the knack for makeup. I mean, I knew you did since I’ve seen you before…but. I’ve never looked…or felt like this.”

Phichit smiles playfully before replying, “Thanks, I’ve worked on it for years. And I’ve been thinking about that look on you for a while now. Now are you ready to go break some hearts?”

Yuuri laughs at that before nodding, and the two get ready to leave. Yuuri lingers in the bathroom an extra moment, looking in the mirror again and moving his hands down his side, tracing the tight shirt. It feels good to be doing something just for the hell of it.

 

 

The idea of confidence while looking in the mirror was great, but standing just inside the club was another matter entirely. Lights were flashing from mounted beams above a dancefloor directly in front of Yuuri, and there is a long stretch of a bar off to the right side of the room, with tables around the edges. The music is definitely louder than Yuuri is accustomed to, and part of him wants to hide in a corner right away.

The trip into Detroit and to the club had been pretty uneventful, Phichit had picked one not too far away and that was known for being more LGBTQ+ friendly, thankfully. He also made the most of their outfits, taking a plethora of pictures with Yuuri on the ride over, though he wouldn’t be able to do much but save them until he was of age. They’d even got into the club without much trouble, Phichit’s fake I.D. evidently passing the cursory inspection.

Adjusting to the dim interior, Yuuri feels like his senses are still overloaded from the music, flashing lights, and moving bodies out on the dance floor. Mercifully, Phichit notices that Yuuri is frozen in place, and guides him past the entrance to a slightly sheltered table away from the dance floor.

“It’s alright Yuuri, take a minute here. I’ll go get some drinks and be right back, you hang tight.”

Yuuri nods, not really registering his surroundings completely. Phichit takes another look at Yuuri, as if willing him to stay and be alright, before darting off towards the bar.

As Yuuri waits, his ears start to adjust to the volume of the music, but his mind still struggles to adapt. What is he doing here? This isn’t the dance studio or the ice, he doesn’t belong. He’s not the attractive, carefree, clubgoing type. He’s in over his head…he should just head home now and let Phichit know he’s not feeling up to it.

Just as he is about to move towards the exit, Phichit returns to the table, clutching two brightly colored drinks.

“Here you go, I’m not entirely sure what it’s called but it tastes good—Yuuri, are you alright?” Phichit must have noticed the desperate look on Yuuri’s face.

Yuuri raises his voice a bit to be heard over the music, “Phichit, I’m not really feeling up to it anymore…I don’t belong here.”

Phichit locks eyes with him, staring intensely. “Yuuri, you look drop-dead gorgeous right now. You absolutely belong here, if you want to. I don’t want to make you stay if you’re unhappy, but…lets at least drink these before we decide anything else.”

Drop-dead gorgeous? Yuuri? Phichit has to be flattering him. He’s just…Yuuri. Awkward and unsocial most of the time.

Nonetheless, Yuuri accepts the offered drink and takes a sip. It’s fruity, and surprisingly smooth on the way down. He takes another drink despite his cantankerous mood, and it’s just as delicious the second time.

Settling into the table now that he is committed to the drink, Yuuri looks around at his surroundings again. The dance floor is filling up a fair bit at this point, the DJ playing some popular tunes as the night gets into full swing.

It’s been a long time since he’s been out and about, and the nervousness that plagues Yuuri at the start of any new situation starts to fade a bit as he adjusts. Honestly, he hasn’t done anything as exhilarating as dancing in a long time. It might be fun to just cut loose for a bit.

He continues to sip on his drink, his previous uncertainty ebbing away slightly as the drink empties. He knows that the slow change in his disposition is at least in some part due to the alcohol, but there’s a small, hidden part of him that longs for the release of dancing too.

Sooner than he expects, he tries to take a sip from his drink only to find it completely empty. He looks down in surprise, swirling the glass and hearing the ice cubes clink but not finding any last vestiges of liquid courage. Determined now, Yuuri gets up from the table and heads straight towards the bartender across the room.

He can’t help but notice when a number of heads turn to follow him as he makes his way past the dancefloor. Were people really taking notice of him?

Yuuri arrives at the bar, and waves to get the bartender’s attention. The bartender nods in acknowledgement, but Yuuri can tell he is still helping someone else. Yuuri turns around to wait, looking out at people dancing. He’s a little envious of their ability to just get out there, nerves be damned.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees someone moving towards him. A taller blonde man, dressed in a grey t-shirt that hugs his defined muscles. Why is someone coming to talk to him? His nerves spike as the man gets closer, stopping in front of Yuuri.

“Hey there, handsome. Are you here with someone?”

Yuuri is stunned for a moment and blushes, before stuttering out a response. “N-n-no, well, I mean, yes, my friend is over there, but I’m not with him.” He trails off, worried about making a fool of himself.

“Want to dance?” the man holds out his hand as an invitation, and flashes a sparkling smile. The man is undoubtedly attractive, and Yuuri isn’t sure why he’s asking Yuuri of all people to dance. Overwhelmed, Yuuri does his best to turn the man down graciously.

He’s thankfully saved from further embarrassing conversation by the bartender’s timely arrival.

“What can I do for you?”

“Two more of whatever this was.” Yuuri says, plopping his empty glass on the table.

“Coming right up!” The bartender winks at him before turning around to grab various liquor bottles.

“Why does everyone keep doing stuff like that…” Yuuri mutters mostly to himself, his cheeks still tinged with red.

The bartender turns around grinning after a minute, setting down two drinks in front of Yuuri. “Flirting? It’s because you look good. And it’s a bad habit for me, I’m sorry if it bothered you.” He does look apologetic, and Yuuri thanks him profusely before returning to Phichit.

He slides into the booth at the table, sighing heavily.

“What’s the matter, Yuuri?”

“It’s just…I think two people were hitting on me when I got the drinks. And I don’t get it.”

Phichit snorts with laughter. “Yuuri, it’s because they find you attractive.”

“Yeah, that’s the part I don’t get.”

Phichit is the one to sigh now, looking Yuuri over before responding. “Go take a look at yourself in the bathroom mirror—you look better than almost anyone here.” Yuuri opens his mouth to protest, but Phichit doesn’t let him. “I mean it! Damn, you can be stubborn about the most ridiculous things sometimes…” Phichit shakes his head, unsure what else to say.

Yuuri doesn’t respond to that, because…shit. He knows it’s true. He’s stubborn about absurd things. It’s just incredibly hard to believe Phichit about these kinds of things.

But can he really ignore two separate instances of strangers suggesting the same thing? He takes a hefty pull from the refreshed drink.

Something shifts inside him, and he doesn’t know if the root of it is the alcohol, his brain, or some warped combination of the two.

He practically chugs the rest of his drink, and then turns to Phichit.

“Let’s go dance.”

 

Within a couple of minutes, the two find themselves near the center of the dancefloor, moving with the rhythm of the pounding music.

If there is one thing Yuuri actually does know how to do, it’s dance and move with music. He’s been doing it for over a decade, and now he is quick to relinquish control of his body to natural movements in time with the thumping bass.

He and Phichit dance across from each other, and Yuuri can tell his friend is smiling broadly, shaking his head and hips to the music as well.

Several songs pass, and Yuuri can only guess that other people have taken notice of their graceful dancing, judging by the gathering surrounding them when he peeks over his shoulder.

As a new song comes on, a thought occurs to Yuuri, and he pulls Phichit close enough to whisper in the younger man’s ear.

Phichit’s eyes go wide in response, and then his trademark devilish grin spreads across his face as he nods at Yuuri.

The two scoot a bit closer to each other as they resume dancing, and Yuuri starts to grind up against Phichit, intertwining his legs with Phichit for a moment. He wraps his arms around Phichit suggestively, grinding again for good measure before backing away a bit again.

Yuuri takes Phichit’s hand, and gives him a spin in time with the beat before dipping him. Phichit twirls expertly, and then the two lock eyes in the dip. Both are grinning widely, beads of sweat visible on their face. On the way up from the dip, they both take a peek at those around them.

Several onlookers are staring at the pair openly, barely dancing now. Good, Yuuri thinks. They have the attention now. Some animalistic part of Yuuri delights in the focus on them.

Phichit hops closer to Yuuri, and then Yuuri turns around, backing into Phichit before dropping down low, sticking out his ass and grinding against his friend. It’s all Yuuri can do to keep from laughing at the hilarious situation. A quick glance back at Phichit to see his dopey smile lets Yuuri know that he must be feeling similar.

The two move in time with the music, bodies undulating with each other as the beat pounds in a hypnotic fashion. Yuuri starts to slide his hands sensually up and down his waist, while Phichit grips his stomach.

Reveling in the heat of the moment, Yuuri spares a look at their spectators, and is rewarded by the sight of several people gawking at them with wide-open jaws and lustful looks. He can’t help a hearty laugh from escaping now, luxuriating in the joy of putting on a ludicrous show.

The floodgates open, Phichit also starts cackling now. Yuuri slows his rolling, and turns around to face Phichit again. The two burst out giggling again, Yuuri’s plan to mess with their observers   clearly a success.

The song ends, and a new one starts. The two fall into a more relaxed, less sexually-charged dance together. Feeling a bit beyond tipsy now, Yuuri basks in the open and joyful feeling of just dancing with a friend for fun.

It’s fitting that the song seems to be speaking to him, and he bounces alongside Phichit as the chorus hits.

Don’t you worry, don’t you worry child. See heaven’s got a plan for you.

He soaks in the sensation of heat, the pulsing of the bass, the comfort of a friend. Moving together. Free of concern for skating, for Viktor, for his nerves.

He and Phichit lock arms together at the start of the next bridge and through the chorus, shouting the lyrics at each other, joy evident in their expressions. Their voices ring out as the music quiets, building up again.

Could it be enough for Yuuri to just enjoy the moments as they come? To live with his demons, but also have fun? He will take what he can for the time being and relish it. His brain might fight him again tomorrow, but he will find a way to work through it.

Don’t you worry, don’t you worry now.


 

 

They dance the night away, stopping occasionally to recuperate and get more drinks. Yuuri gets approached a number of times, by both men and women, to his own surprise. He turns down each as courteously as he can, content to have Phichit’s partnership for the night. Phichit even had a few suitors, but he also turned them away.

At some ungodly hour, the two stumble back into their apartment. Phichit fumbles for the lights, while Yuuri rushes to the bathroom. As he washes his hands, Yuuri is caught again by his reflection—so unlike what he’s familiar with. Something new, different. But still him. He takes a single picture to have something to remember it by.

He and Phichit quickly clean up together, wiping the makeup away and changing out of their sweat-soaked outfits. At that point, they are both exhausted and collapse onto the couch together. They swap stories for a little bit, laughing at the memory of dancing with each other before drifting off into blissful sleep.

 

Yuuri wakes the next morning with a groan, his head pulsing pain with each new movement. He gropes blindly for water, eventually finding success and gulping down the entire glass he’d left nearby. Feeling sluggish, he slowly rotates himself into a sitting position on the couch.

Phichit must have awoken before him, as the younger skater is nowhere to be seen in the living room. A few moments later, he hears a clatter in the kitchen followed by a vociferous “fuck!”

Yuuri smiles at the sound, the edges of his dry lips cracking at the sudden motion. A few minutes later, the smell of coffee is enough to entice Yuuri to begin the risky adventure to the kitchen. He wraps a blanket around himself as armor for his quest, and then hobbles the short distance towards lifeblood.

Yuuri thanks his lucky stars that Phichit had made extra coffee today, somehow sensing that Yuuri would need the caffeine after last night’s escapade. The two sit across from each other, slowly sipping their hot coffee and sharing a companionable silence.

After a time, Yuuri’s stomach rumbles unpleasantly and reminds him that it has been more than half a day since he’s eaten anything. He looks through the fridge to find the easiest possible thing to make, and settles for scrambling some eggs to share with Phichit.

As they sit down to eat, Yuuri decides to break the silence.

“I had a lot of fun last night.”

“Me too.”

“Thanks for dragging me out…it turned out I just needed a hard push.”

Phichit smiles fondly. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you recognize it at least. Any plans for the day?”

“Not particularly…I’ve got some free time from now until my summer classes start. And I think my body would appreciate some time to recover.” Yuuri laughs a bit at the end, the motion rocking his head and emphasizing his hangover.

Phichit groans in response. “You’re lucky, I’ve got some exercises that Celestino assigned. Hopefully recovery happens quickly for me.”

Yuuri grimaces in sympathy for his friend. “I’ll organize the funeral if you don’t make it,” he adds somberly.

Phichit scowls at him, but smirks right after.

 

 

Once Phichit leaves for his work out, Yuuri is left with time aplenty and little to do. He decides to take a walk to the waterfront, knowing it will eat up a few hours and give him some time to just think on his own. The weather is quite nice, the early summer sun warm enough that he forgoes a sweatshirt. He sets off, earbuds in and thoughts adrift.

Last night was a great reprieve from his typical stress and worry. Sure, alcohol had loosened his inhibitions, but he’d committed himself to having fun at some point.

And his appearance, wow. Phichit had really transformed him. Could he really pull off such a bold look? Yet, he had been forced to actually recognize that he and Phichit had been attractive to others at the club, their flirtatious dance strong evidence.

He’d enjoyed that sensation, the transformation into someone a bit more confident and capable of holding an audience captive. It’s not a totally unfamiliar feeling, fragments of memories from some of his skating competitions come to mind.

But could he possibly skate with that air, the audacity to demand an audience’s attention? Especially when he’s lacking inspiration.

Getting away from thinking about Viktor had been another plus, for sure.

Not that Yuuri is eager to completely forget about his idol, he doubts that he’s in any position to bid a farewell to the Russian skater’s influence on his life. But living his life for a night without centering it on the man had been…liberating.

In time, Yuuri finds himself at the waterfront. He pulls out his earbuds, soaking in the sound of the water lapping at the stony beach. He steps out onto the beach carefully, the stones presenting uneven footing.

Looking at the water gives him an idea. He pokes around for a minute, looking for the most flat, disk-like stones possible. He’s seen people skip stones across the lake before, but never really tried it himself.

After finding a few reasonable candidates, he tries to sidearm one. It drops straight into the lake with a loud plop.

Exhaling, Yuuri tries it again, adding a bit of spin to his throw. This time, it skips once before sinking.

Another toss, this time three skips before dropping into the water. He pumps his fist at the success, and then throws his last stone. This time it doesn’t skip at all.

Yuuri huffs, annoyed.

Well, that was certainly a representation of Yuuri’s skating. Trying and failing at first, then practicing and learning to achieve new heights. Only to suddenly take two steps backward when he should be ready to soar.

He leans down to grab one final stone, and tosses it. To his astonishment, it skips off the water five times, getting out far enough in the water that he can’t even hear it drop beneath the surface.

Maybe there is hope for him yet.


 

 

Classes started up again soon enough for Yuuri, and he settled back into the pattern of attending classes and completing assignments. It was nice to be able to focus most of his efforts on learning, but in time he began to miss parts of skating as well.

The feel of his skates tracking on the ice. The connection between movement and music. The thrill of completing a challenge, of entertaining.

Not enough to go back to the rink, really, but enough that he picked up ballet again to try and scratch the itch. It was at least another way for him to get some exercise too, as he was feeling increasingly guilty about his eating habits.

It didn’t help that he still had rough days fairly frequently. Days when he felt listless, at a loss for what to do beyond trudge to class. Viktor was still a frequent visitor in his thoughts and nightmares on those bad days, but Yuuri felt no nearer to finding closure about his favorite's retirement.

Yuuri still kept up with him on social media, especially since he started posting more frequently. It was clear he was slowly adapting to his life off the ice, though based on his tagged photos he was still spending time around the rink for some reason.

Before Yuuri could really register it, July 1st arrived. He knew it would be a tough day, with announcements for the 2013-14 skating season coming out.

He had tidied everything up with Celestino and the Japanese Skating Federation ahead of time, so he wouldn’t be included in the draw this year.

The JSF had really put up a fight, wanting Yuuri to continue. Yuuri had to be painfully transparent about his complete lack of motivation before they relented, though they did ask him to reconsider for the following year.

The part of him that loved competition warred inside, rebelling at Yuuri’s complete withdrawal from engaging with skating.

He spent much of the afternoon laying on the couch, torn between wanting to look up the placements on the ISF website for some masochistic reason, and fighting his own thoughts to try and move past skating altogether so he could focus on schoolwork assignments.

 

He is disturbed from the confrontation in his mental landscape when his phone buzzes, indicating a new Instagram notification.

He has a sinking feeling he already knows what it will be about. He swipes on his phone and brings up the application deftly.

Sure enough, it’s from exactly who he suspected.

christophe-gc:

Yuuri, did I miss your name on the ISF list today or is there something you aren’t telling me

 

Yuuri sighs, knowing that this conversation was likely inevitable. Christophe just seems to care for Yuuri despite his forgetfulness and absentmindedness when it comes to reaching out to the Swiss man. Well, maybe Yuuri can afford to be a bit more open with him.

 

katsudonyk:

No Chris, you didn’t miss anything. I’m not on the list because I’m taking a season off. After my embarrassing showing at Worlds, I just decided I needed some time away from skating.

Plus, when Viktor got injured, I lost a major source of inspiration for my skating and I haven’t rediscovered it yet.

 

Yuuri inhales deeply, calming his racing heart. It’s still so difficult for him to share personal details with others, he hates that he has to burden others with knowledge of his own struggle. He sits for a few minutes, working through some breathing exercises until his phone pings again.

 

christophe-gc:

Well, as much as I wish I could say I understand needing to take a break, I don’t really. I do hope that you return soon though—skating without you as well will make this whole thing so dreary.

But, let me just say about Viktor:

https://giphy.com/gifs/debbyryan-debby-ryan-3oKIPzQqxaZRPkeJl6

It’s why I didn’t win at Worlds, he was an inspiration for me as well. And why this season will be so hard without you both ☹

 

Well, at least Christophe is straightforward about not understanding Yuuri’s withdrawal. Better that than pretending to get it. But it is still a surprise to Yuuri to see the Swiss skater admit so freely that Viktor had served as motivation for him as well. And that he is struggling too.

Yuuri’s relationship with Viktor has been so all-encompassing and unique that it was easy to forget there were millions of other fans, including professional skaters who drew strength from competing with the Champion.

 

katusdon-yk:

I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling too, thank you for sharing that with me. It’s nice to know that other skaters are facing some of the same things I am. And handling it better, clearly.

 

Chris’ response is almost immediate.

christophe-gc:

Of course, Yuuri. We friends have got to stick together and support each other, right?

By the way, I can’t believe that you haven’t been on the ice since Worlds. I would have thought that skating might help you work through some of these issues.

 

It’s not an unreasonable idea. Following Worlds, Yuuri had toyed with the idea of just going skating more casually. But over time, the thought had grown sour. He still had keys to the rink tucked away somewhere. If he wanted.

Yet hearing the idea from someone else brought it back into consideration for him. It shouldn’t always take someone else, but lately it seemed the extra push he needed to accept an idea.

 

katusdon-yk:

That’s…not a bad idea, Chris. I might give it a shot at some point. In the meantime, I wish you the absolute best this season. I’ll be watching!

 

Christophe responded once more, indicating his excitement that Yuuri would be watching him with some winking emojis.

Yuuri still lay on the couch, but now with a new mental problem to grapple with. Could he just go skating for fun sometime?

 


 

After a couple months of shadowing Yakov, Viktor was finally feeling comfortable enough to start providing suggestions and advice to many of the skaters, though he is still too nervous to interfere in Yura’s training. It had taken that long for Yakov to beat it into him that he probably knew how to help fix the problem, but he didn’t know how to effectively communicate it without just demonstrating.

But he is tantalizingly close to being able to skate again for the first time since his injury. In the mid-summer, his doctors had directed him to start a final round of physical therapy that involved specifically building up the strength in his ankle again so he could do some casual skating.

Jumps are definitely going to be off limits for a while still (or at least the bigger jumps, Viktor tells himself), and he won’t be able to stay on the ice for more than a just an hour or two at the start.

Viktor is eager to get back on the ice, but also nervous that it will feel different. What if he gets on the ice and is either a) a complete novice again, or b) unable to capture the magic of his past skating? The latter scares him more, despite knowing he won’t ever be competing again.

His budding interest in coaching could be halted before it even takes off if he loses his connection and passion for the ice.

And now that the season had officially been announced, the skaters were really getting into training.

Viktor was truly enjoying being swept along with it, even if he wouldn’t be directly participating. Yakov had effectively deputized him as a coach with a number of the younger skaters.

They were surprisingly receptive to his attempts at coaching, and it was helping build some confidence in his skills. The initial taste of coaching…it holds promise for his future, Viktor thinks. It might be the outlet he needs to be close to the ice if he can’t be competing.

But he still has to reconnect with his creative side. Try though he might, he still hasn’t been able to picture and design a routine in his mind. It feels blocked off by something, something undefinable for Viktor. But he has to keep pushing, hoping to break the seal.

He had at least started branching out into different music choices, which provided some new potential inspiration. He was casting a wide net, listening to more pop, Jazz, rock, and electronic music following his exposure to new music from Mila.

He owes it to Yura to find his inspiration and create a kickass program.


 

By the summer’s end, Yuuri was thoroughly bored.

He was lying in bed, unable to sleep after an uneventful day. Classes were enjoyable for the most part, and he was excelling at the work with little else to do. He and Phichit had even gone out a few more times in their time off, each occasion providing another opportunity to cut loose and for shared joy.

He had continued his ballet practice throughout the summer, glad for the opportunity to do something physical, but also for the musical and artistic aspects of it.

Yet he couldn’t help the pangs of jealousy he felt as he watched Phichit gear up for the start of the new skating season. His roommate really seemed to be serious this year, wanting his first year in the Senior division to have a strong showing.

It was a familiar sensation, one Yuuri could relate to from his own battles up the circuit ladder. He felt a bit of the secondhand effects from watching Phichit’s growth, and Yuuri had to admit it kindled his own desire to enter the fray.

It was times like this when skating would help slow his thoughts.

But he still wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of trying to compete again, lacking the drive and creativity he would need to be successful without Viktor to draw from.

Yuuri pulls down the blanket on his bed, the muggy heat of Detroit getting to him despite the late hour. He puffs out a breath, his thoughts still running wild.

The seconds tick by, into minutes. Sleep still feels distant.

Would he be betraying his own promise if he went to skate now?

It must be possible to skate, just for fun. Just to relax. Without committing to competing.

The thought moves through his brain like molasses, taking a long while to register. Yuuri sits up, breathing heavily, at the brink of decision.

He vaults out of bed, throwing on his socks and shoes. He slips out of the apartment quietly to avoid waking Phichit, keys in hand, doing his best not to think about the bag on his shoulder.

Once outside, Yuuri breaks into a jog towards…his destination, earbuds in. The moon is out and nearly full, shining a surprising amount of light along the sidewalk as he runs. He does his best not to think too much about what he is doing, but that’s a tall order for his overactive brain.

Instead, he focuses on counting each time he draws in a breath, and the sensation of his feet pounding on the pavement.

Suddenly, the rink is looming in front of him, shadow and light splayed across the uneven roof. Yuuri almost stops moving, conflict raging inside of him. But his momentum carries him forward over the threshold, automatic habits taking over as he moves to the locker room to put on his skates.

His mind is remarkably blank as he laces up his skates, making sure they still fit snugly after all these months. His mind drifts on the emptiness, the routine habit of it.

Yuuri snaps back to reality, staring out at the pristine ice. He has one skate guard in hand, the other still secured on his skate.

This is the point of no return, his mind supplies. If he steps back out on the ice, he’ll be skating again. But not competitively, another part of him responds. It’s just for himself.

With conscious effort, he removes his last skate guard, and pushes himself out onto the ice.

For a minute, he just glides. Riding the feeling of his skates on the ice, carving a new path. Next, he does a few circuits of the rink, slipping into his old warmup habits.

It’s…a soothing sensation, calming. Both the feeling of doing something familiar, and the acute buzz of his skates on the ice. He starts some compulsory figures next, the shapes an easy comfort.

Maybe Yuuri could do this. He can skate just for the joy of it, to help himself.

He spends the next hour reacquainting himself with the ice, relaxing into the feeling. It’s a bit like a homecoming. Lots of stress and drama leading up to it, but now that he is at the main event…it’s pleasant.

He doesn’t really try too many jumps, a few singles and lighter doubles, landing them without too much trouble. Yuuri really doesn’t want to push his luck and sour the experience.

When Yuuri returns to the apartment, he silently closes the door and leans up against it. A smile on his face. He slides his back down the door until he’s squatting, breath coming in ragged heaves after the jog back. He had done it.

He can skate for himself.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 5: Comfort & Reconnection

 

 

Summer closes out quickly, and fall settles in with its changing colors and whispering winds. Yuuri takes to jogging to the rink when he wants to skate, relishing the sight of the beautiful golden leaves hanging in trees. The weather starts to turn as well, and Yuuri has to start throwing on a sweatshirt for his runs.

Yuuri likes the tickle of the chilly breeze on his runs, though. It reminds him of his daily jog to the Ice Castle back home, when he was training there. Even if he’s not truly training now, just going skating a couple times a week to relax as he navigates his fall classes.

Yuuri had worried how Celestino might react to seeing him around the rink again, but the Italian man had seemed excited that he was skating again, even when Yuuri made it clear he wasn’t returning to competition.

The fall passed surprisingly smoothly, Yuuri was able to manage the stress of his increased courseload by escaping to the rink regularly. It was a reminder that he shouldn’t have needed in the first place, that skating does so much for his mental state when he isn’t focused on competing.

Snow soon accompanied Yuuri on his journeys to the skating rink, and Yuuri had to bundle up even further. Yuuri had once loved snow, and how it could transform a mundane cityscape into a glittering mystery. As he’d grown older, he came to dislike it a bit when he had to start shoveling the snow around the Onsen. But now with less direct responsibility to keep things clear, he and Phichit had a number of prolonged snowball fights as the semester neared its end.

Finals this time around went far more smoothly than in the spring, skating certainly providing an excellent outlet for Yuuri’s anxiousness. But there is also the promise of home.

A few days after finals finish, Yuuri will be flying back to Japan for close to 3 weeks. It’s a long trek back to Hasetsu, which is part of the reason he hasn’t been home in the years since moving to Detroit.

But Yuuri could have gone home, made the extra effort during an offseason or after a competition in Japan. The other reasons are harder to pin down, lying deeper than Yuuri likes to admit.

 

The days between Yuuri’s finals and his departure home are torturous, time passing so incredibly slowly. No classes to take up his day, no homework to do after. The potent mix of his anticipation for returning home combined with lingering guilt about his long absence leave him feeling sick to his stomach.

He tries to go skating, but he actually falls on a few of the simpler jumps. It rattles him, despite knowing that it shouldn’t matter at all. Some bad habits are hard to shake.

When even skating doesn’t prove effective in helping Yuuri manage his stress, he surrenders to just being miserable for the last day.

It’s Phichit who comes to his rescue, curling up with Yuuri on the lumpy sofa, swaddling them both in blankets as they marathon watch the Mission Impossible series. Yuuri tries to watch the movies, but his attention flits between the plot of each film and his own internal turmoil.

His parents had let him know they supported him no matter what, so why did he still worry they would be upset at him when he arrives?

And how will Vicchan react, after not seeing Yuuri for years? In some of his darker ruminations, the poodle doesn’t even recognize Yuuri when he returns. His stomach twists at the thought, and he has to take a shuddering breath before moving beyond.

“Hey, Yuuri. What kind of pizza do you want?” Phichit pulls Yuuri’s attention with the unexpected question.

“Huh?”

“I’m getting Hawaiian, what toppings do you want?”

“I really shouldn’t…” Phichit levels a glare at Yuuri, silencing his protest. “Okay fine, I’ll get pepperoni and mushroom.” Phichit grins at Yuuri before pulling out his phone and tapping away.

It’s almost scary how good his roommate has become at detecting when Yuuri is spiraling and needs help. And it’s hard for Yuuri to admit how much he’s come to rely on it and appreciate it. Instead, he reaches over to Phichit and squeezes his shoulder, willing his gratitude to transmit through the touch. He leans back against the lumpy couch, moving a pillow to support him.

“You’re seriously ordering pineapple on your pizza?” Yuuri asks, relaxing a little.

“Hey, don’t judge me. I like the sweet and salty combo.”

“Oh no, you don’t get to avoid judgement for your wild pizza topping combinations.”

Yuuri continues to tease Phichit about his pizza selection until it arrives, but when Phichit isn’t looking he sneaks a slice to give it a try.

To his surprise, it’s actually palatable. Definitely not better than his tried and true combo, but altogether not unpleasant.

The rest of the night, the two of them poke fun at the plot holes in the series and Tom Cruises’ affinity for motorcycles, laughing with each other.

 

 

Yuuri’s alarm goes off at the crisp hour of 5:00 am, marking the start of his lengthy journey back to Hasetsu.

Two flights and over 20 hours later, Yuuri stretches gently while standing on the train platform, a yawn following after. He had been able to sleep for a good chunk of his longer flight, but travelling for so long has left him feeling grungy and exhausted regardless.

Yuuri pulls his luggage behind him as steps onto the train bound for Hasetsu, careful to lift it over the gap between the train car and the station. He still has a few hours to go, but once the train starts moving his eyes blur, the motion of the train lulling him into sleep.

Yuuri expects stepping off the train to be a like a blast from the past, yet it’s anything but.

The Hasetsu station was clearly renovated in his time away, dingy lights and old benches giving way to more sleek, modern facilities. He’s most surprised when he gets to the main entrance of the station and is greeted by a frighteningly large poster of himself.

Heat floods Yuuri’s cheeks as he gawks at the larger-than-life version of himself, captured midair with a cheering crowd behind him. He’s suddenly grateful he is wearing his travel mask, so he can’t be caught staring at himself by any hawk-eyed onlookers.

Collecting himself, Yuuri steps onto the escalators and emerges into more familiar territory, a seagull passing overhead. He looks around for a moment, soaking in surroundings he hasn’t seen in years.

There’s a crafts shop missing at the corner of the station, but much else seems similar. He frowns, worrying at what else might have changed or left in his absence.

His gaze continues to wander, until he recognizes a face amongst the crowd. Pulling his bag behind him, he practically breaks out into a jog as he closes in on Minako.

Yuuri pulls to a stop just in front of her.

“Yuuri, it’s so good to see you again!” She steps forward, giving him a light hug before stepping back again, graceful even in the casual movement.

Yuuri pulls down his mask and smiles at his old ballet teacher. “It’s great to see you too! But you didn’t have to come pick me up, I could have gotten home.”

“It’s nothing; I wanted to. Plus, now I get to watch the reunion!”

Yuuri frets, the worst possible situations popping into his head. If his parents were upset…

“Don’t you have ballet classes?”

“No, not today. There aren’t many people taking classes these days…or staying in Hasetsu.”

“I saw that the store on the corner closed. It’s sad to hear things are so different.”

“That’s just the first place you’ve seen. The Nakamura family had to close their onsen this fall.”

“Really?! That’s terrible…”

If the Nakamura’s had really closed, then there are only two onsens left in Hasetsu. Are his parents really doing alright?

Minako keeps chatting away about the latest news as they drive to Yu-topia Katsuki, Yuuri responding occasionally. His thoughts are elsewhere, darting between seeing his parents and the state of Hasetsu.

When they arrive, Yuuri tries to slip in quietly, but Minako has other ideas.

“Hiroko, I brought Yuuri home!”

Yuuri hears a soft exclamation from around the corner, and moments later is greeted by the sight of his mother running towards him. “Thank you for picking him up, Minako!”

She looks smaller than Yuuri remembers (or maybe Yuuri is larger?), wearing an apron stained various colors from lots of work.

His mother pulls him into a crushing hug, and it feels like she’s trying to squeeze every last drop of air out of his lungs. He wraps his arms around her, a little unprepared.

She sniffs deeply, and Yuuri thinks she might have wiped away something near her eyes as she steps out of the hug. She looks at Yuuri fondly, a heartwarming smile on her face.

“Welcome home, Yuuri. I’m so happy you are back.”

“Thank you. I’m…I’m sorry it took me four years to come visit.”

“Nonsense, you were busy! We’re just glad you’re here. Do you want some katsudon for dinner?” She offers, a knowing look in her eyes.

It’s Yuuri’s turn to sniffle a bit now, overwhelmed by his mother’s response. He nods in response, unable to verbalize his feelings.

Minako glances at him, eyes flicking down to his stomach and back up again. She cocks an eyebrow at him, questioning. Yuuri blushes a bit as their eyes meet.

He’s saved from a proper response by the sound of skittering paws and muffled ruffing approaching. In the blink of an eye, a bundle of fur plows into Yuuri’s legs.

He’s immediately on the floor, wet licking covering his face as he runs his hands through Vicchan’s brown curls. This time, he really can’t stop the tears from flowing as his dog alternates poking him with a wet nose and licking his cheeks.

“Vicchan…”

Yuuri lays on the ground a minute longer with his companion, the world feeling more whole again. He’s pulled from his blissful reunion by his father’s hearty laughter.

Yuuri looks up to see the source of the laugh, looking older than before. Gray streaks through his hair, and Yuuri can make out bags under his eyes. Yuuri scrambles to stand up, anxiousness returning.

“Dad…” he starts.

“It’s so nice to see you with Vicchan again, even if it means we’ll have to clean the floor later.”

Yuuri’s heart sinks. “Oh no, don’t worry about that. I-I’ll clean it!” Toshio laughs again.

“That’s alright Yuuri, I was just kidding. I’ll gladly clean it up for the chance to see you two together. But if you want to help out around here, I’m sure we can find a few things.”

Yuuri relaxes a little, his gaze returning to Vicchan walking in circles around his legs.

“Of course. I’d be happy to help, anything I can do to make up being away for so long.”

Yuuri leans down to pet Vicchan again, savoring the feeling of the soft fur against his hand.

“Why don’t you go soak in the onsen for a bit? You must feel grimy after travelling.”

“That sounds perfect, mom. Thank you!”

Yuuri pulls his baggage towards his room, Vicchan happily following along. Yuuri can’t help the feeling of déjà vu as he walks down the corridor to his bedroom. There are posters of his skating framed along the hallway, a small difference but a reminder of how far he had come.

Stepping into his bedroom is comforting, but the sight of Vicchan jumping up onto his bed and settling down just about liquefies Yuuri’s heart. Viktor surrounding him, smiling from the walls is a bit disorienting at first, especially since many depict him with long hair.

It takes a moment for Yuuri to remember it’s been four years, so the posters are bound to be a bit dated. Yet, Viktor remains a constant in his life all this time later. Even after a career-ending injury.

Yuuri sighs heavily, grabbing a change of clothes. As he slides open his door, he finds himself face to face with his sister. Her eyes bore into him, piercing.

Unprepared, he recoils quickly, backpedaling into his room.

“Hi Mari! How are you?” He hates how his voice seems to have jumped an octave higher, nerves betraying him.

A sly smile creeps onto her face. “Long time no see, Yuuri.”

“S-sorry it took so long for me to come home.”

Mari shrugs, nonchalant. “You can help out a bit while you are home. Things have been busier since the Nakamura’s closed.”

Yuuri swallows thickly, a lump in his throat. He bounces his head in what he hopes approximates a nod.

“You’re going back to Detroit after the New Years?”

Yuuri looks down, uncomfortable. “That’s the plan.”

“Skating?” she asks.

So much is left unsaid in the question. His eyes fly to the posters of Viktor on the wall, frozen in lithe grace with silver hair flying behind him, cheeks tinged red from exertion. Mari doesn’t say anything else, waiting, watching. Yuuri shakes himself, shifting his mind from Viktor.

“I’m…not sure. I-I mean, I’m skating again. But I don’t know if I want to skate competitively.”

She grunts, but Yuuri is left to wonder whether it’s in acknowledgement or disapproval.

“Well, don’t let me keep you from the water.” Mari steps to the side of his door, and motions for him to leave.

Practically sweating, Yuuri slinks out and makes a beeline for the onsen.

As he settles into the hot water, a soft moan escapes from him. The water is just warm enough without being scalding. He feels the troubles of travel leaking out, slipping into the springs. Eyes closed, Yuuri just drifts for a bit. It takes some effort not to fall asleep, the cumulative fatigue of his trip and welcome weighing on him.

But the promise of katusdon in his future lures him out of the springs eventually. When Yuuri returns to his bedroom later, he slides into bed alongside Vicchan. The comfort of his dog a buffer against lingering worries, Yuuri fades into sleep.

 

 

Yuuri wakes up the next morning feeling refreshed, enjoying a late breakfast of eggs and bacon. His phone buzzes at his side, and he slowly pulls it out of his pocket.

Phichit:

Hey bud, are you settled in at home?

Yuuri:

Yep! Eating some breakfast now, and I’m meeting my old skating friends for dinner.

Phichit:

That sounds like fun! Since you didn’t answer I’ll ask more directly. How was seeing your family again?

 

Yuuri:

Mostly good. My parents were both super nice about it.

Phichit:

But…?

Yuuri:

But I had an awkward conversation with Mari. And it’s clear that it’s been hard for all of them without me here. They’re older, tired.

I’m going to try and help out where I can while I’m here.

Phichit:

Oh Yuuri, I’m sorry to hear that! You should probably talk with your sister to try and clear the air.

Yuuri:

…Maybe.

I don’t think she wants to talk with me.

Phichit:

I seriously doubt that. But ultimately you’re gonna do what you decide to no matter what I suggest.

 

Yuuri shakes his head; Phichit knows him too well. The idea of trying to talk things out with his sister leaves him squirming in his seat, so instead he gets up to find his mom and see what he can do to help.

The rest of the morning goes by in a blur of activities; shoveling snow around the entrances, cleaning in the kitchen, setting and clearing tables. It’s good, hard work and Yuuri slowly breaks into a bit of a sweat as he bustles about.

He spots Mari a couple of times throughout the day, busy with her own work. But they both seem to avoid running into each other, content to go about their business (or worried about starting something, in Yuuri’s case).

At one point in the midafternoon, Hiroko stops Yuuri as he’s washing some dishes, a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Yuuri, you really don’t have to help so much. You should go enjoy your time while you’re here! Maybe go visit the Ice Castle?”

“That’s okay Mom. I want to help out here. I’m here for a few weeks, I’ll have the chance to go skating and see Hasetsu later.”

She looks at him reproachfully, and Yuuri worries for a moment that she’ll snatch the sponge out of his hands and shoo him out of the house.

Instead, she just sighs and smiles softly, patting him on the back.

“You’re too sweet.”

After she walks out of the kitchen, Yuuri lets out the breath he hadn’t even noticed holding.

 

He meets Takeshi and Yuuko at their favorite local ramen shop for dinner, mouth practically watering the entire walk there. Turns out that doing an assortment of chores all day works up quite the appetite.

When Yuuko catches sight of Yuuri, she comes sprinting down the street and tackles him into a full hug. All the breath comes whooshing out of Yuuri, but he returns the hug after a quick breath to replenish his air supply.

“Yuuri! It’s been so long, we’ve missed you!”

Takeshi strolls up to the two grinning, “Speak for yourself!” He ruffles Yuuri’s hair as soon as Yuuko steps back.

Yuuri rolls his eyes at the familiar feeling of Takeshi teasing him.

“How are you both? And the triplets!?”

The couple share a knowing look with each other, turning back to Yuuri. Yuuko speaks first, “We’re good! Business is a bit slow at the rink these days, but it was crazy busy after you won Nationals.”

Takeshi chuckles, “We actually had to turn away some walk ins. You should have seen their faces.”

“But they still took pictures next to your poster on the way out.”

Yuuri’s jaw drops. “My WHAT?”

Yuuko looks around a bit nervously. “Well, uh, we might have asked your parents for one of your signed posters they had in the inn. And then hung it in the entryway. Just in the corner!”

A booming laugh echoes out from Takeshi. “And by corner, she means front and center next to the sign declaring Ice Castle your home rink for years.”

Red floods Yuuri’s cheeks, and he rapidly covers his face. “I can’t believe you did that, Yuuko.”

Yuuri lowers his hands, and sees an apologetic look on her face. “I’m sorry Yuuri – if it helps, it really did attract more skaters!”

“Well, at least that’s something.”

There’s a pause in the conversation, as each of them tries to figure out what to say next. It’s been a while since they have all interacted, and Yuuri fidgets uncomfortably. Thankfully, (or embarrassingly) Yuuri’s stomach chooses that moment to rumble loudly, and the trio hasten inside to order their ramen.

 

Once the three of them settle into their table, conversation picks back up pretty easily. They fall back into their old patterns, Yuuri and Yuuko rapidly exchanging quips with Takeshi chiming in occasionally and joking around.

Yuuri is struck by how much more adult the pair look, and the casual mannerisms that reveal their familiarity with each other. Yuuko pokes Takeshi in the ribs when his jibes strike a little close to Yuuri, while Takeshi nudges Yuuko occasionally, affirming their presence together.

Then their food arrives, and the conversations comes to a halt while they all tuck in and eat the steaming ramen. The broth is delicious and flavorful, warming Yuuri right down to his toes. He hadn’t realized quite how cold it had been outside until now.

They sit for a while, exchanging stories from their time apart. Yuuri lets slip that Phichit had tried to set him up with some blind dates in the fall (which hadn’t panned out), and then Yuuko won’t stop pestering him about it.

Takeshi saves Yuuri from going over every detail of the failed dates with a story of the Nishigori’s most recent trip into Tokyo, when Takeshi got the pair of them lost trying to find a particular shrine.

Eventually, they pay for the delectable dinner, and bundle back up to brave the outside.

The three continue to catch up, but decide to go for a walk along the ocean, the last fading rays of sunlight dancing across the waves. Despite the chill of the evening air, Yuuri is warmed by the friendly banter and reassuring sight of the water, mind wandering as Yuuko talks.

“Yeah, they were absolutely devastated when Viktor retired. So young, and yet still able to appreciate such a profound loss! How’d you handle it, Yuuri?”

“What?” Yuuri snaps his head around, trying to catch up to the conversation.

“You must have been pretty upset with Viktor,” Yuuko clarifies.

His body shivers for a moment, but he takes a stabilizing breath. “No, no. I wasn’t mad at him, but it did leave me incredibly sad that he wouldn’t be competing anymore.”

“And now you’re not competing either! Any connection there?” Yuuko mischievously jabs Yuuri with her elbow at the same time, and he stumbles a bit. “The triplets practically wailed when they heard you wouldn’t be skating this season.”

“Well, it’s true that Viktor retiring did leave me with a lack of inspiration. I’m still trying to figure it out. I wouldn’t have guessed Axel, Loop, and Lutz would be so upset about it though.”

It was still surprising whenever he heard that people actually cheered for him, but Yuuri is finally starting to notice a pattern. He smiles a bit at the thought of the three of them cheering him on, grateful for the support.

Yuuko looks over at Takeshi, something passing between the two before Yuuko continues.

“They asked me to check if you were planning to skate next season.” She hastily adds, “I told them I wasn’t going to press you though, so you don’t have to answer.”

Yuuri sighs, turning to look out at the water. The light is pretty much gone, but he can hear the comforting sound of the waves crashing against the shore.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m still missing…something important.” He turns back towards Yuuko, expression brightening, “But part of me would really like to compete again.”

“You never could resist a challenge,” Takeshi adds.

“No, I suppose I can’t. Instead I just obsess about reaching my goal.”

“Well, if it works, it works.” Takeshi says solemnly, as if delivering mind boggling wisdom.

“You’re not wrong, smartass.” Yuuko shoves Takeshi, and Yuuri laughs a bit, the tension defused. They spend a bit longer staring out at the water, recounting past times. With the night growing later, Yuuri soon bids the Nishigoris goodbye (at least for the evening, he was confident they would spend more time together).

As they start to head their own ways, Yuuko turns and shouts back at Yuuri, “You’re welcome to come practice at the Ice Castle anytime!”

Yuuri flashes a quick thumbs up to her before turning around, heading home for the night.

 

When Yuuri walks into his room, his breath catches as Vicchan looks up from napping on his bed. Coming home to the little dog is profoundly soothing, and Yuuri quickly goes through his nightly routine so he can climb into bed with the poodle.

He coos at the dog as he slips under the blankets, ruffling his hand through the curls. Vicchan turns to look at him with those big brown eyes, and yawns widely.

Heart melting, Yuuri snaps a photo before laying down in earnest.

 


Viktor stands in his kitchen doing nothing in particular, but quivering with anticipation for the day. He’s already taken Makkachin for a walk, but he doesn’t have much left to do to burn time. He barely slept, but he feels wired with energy.

Because today, he gets to skate again.

After the last round of physical therapy, his doctors had encouraged him to slowly build up his stamina again before skating through other low pressure activities. Viktor had elected to listen to his doctors, though he had half a mind to get straight on the ice after he completed the PT. Which meant that alongside shadowing Yakov through the practice and competitions in the fall, Viktor set about kicking his own ass into better shape through swimming, running, and more gym visits.

It was far from pleasant, but it did give him plenty of opportunities to sift through music for inspiration. And over time, the results of his work began to show. Viktor’s muscles took shape again after months away from active training, and while his stamina was still a far cry from his peak competitive level, he could actually make it through his runs around St. Petersburg.

And now, he gets to put his stamina building and training to work by getting back on the ice.

It’s what he’s been waiting for, for such a long time. It’s a bit of an early birthday present, at this point.

Time crawls by as he waits to go to the rink. He throws on his favorite purple skating shirt, and gives his hair some extra attention as he sweeps his bangs into place on his forehead. He picks up a book about Impressionism from his coffee table, flicking to where he left off and starts reading.

Makkachin pads over to him, and he scratches the poodle behind the ears. Time is still moving slowly.

He reads the same sentence for the 4th time, still not processing the words. Sighing, Viktor sets the book down, at a loss.

“Makka, why is waiting the hardest thing?”

Makkachin tilts his head in response, and Viktor can’t help showering the dog with love.

He tries turning on his T.V., but just ends up flipping through channels. Five seconds of each channel before the next one, and the next after that. After flipping through a few times, he’s almost pieced together the plot for the soap opera on one of them.

He finally throws his hands up in the air after turning off the drivel on the screen.

“It won’t matter if I’m a little early, right Makka?”

“Boof!”

“Exactly, it’s good form to be early for important events! And what could be more important than my return.”

He flips his hair, just a part of the show. Makkachin looks unimpressed. Viktor sighs and stands up, gathering his skating gear. If only his dog could speak and appreciate his performances.

 

At the rink, Viktor’s day starts just like any other. Stretching, warming up, chatting with any of the skaters who aren’t out at a competition. Things are a little tense with Russian Nationals just around the corner, so he tries to defuse some of the friction with light banter.

But when the time comes for the skaters to go lace up, when he would normally go check in with Yakov, he goes with the skaters. His skin feels like it is buzzing as he approaches the locker room.

Georgi greets Viktor at the entryway, radiating excitement. Viktor gives him a big grin, and Georgi claps him on the shoulder. Viktor sits next to Georgi, pulling his gold skates out and setting them in front of him. He just stares at them for a minute, lost in thought. The light seems to catch on the blades, glinting with the same excitement Viktor feels.

“It’s been a while since you’ve put those on. But I can’t wait to see them on the ice again.”

“Thanks Georgi, I just hope I haven’t forgotten everything.”

“Viktor, there’s not a chance in hell.”

Viktor finishes lacing up his skates, nice and tight, and turns to look at Georgi. The man looks dead serious, and Viktor realizes that Georgi genuinely has faith in Viktor and wants him to go out and crush it.

It’s easy to forget that friends support each other, when you didn’t really have any growing up.

 

As Viktor steps up to the border of the rink, he looks out with yearning eyes. Morning light floods into the rink from vaulted windows, reflecting off the ice and casting an ethereal glow around the spacious room.

Breathing deeply, he pulls off his skate guards, and steps out onto the ice.

Viktor lets his momentum carry him for a bit, drifting out towards the center of the rink. His first feelings are of freedom, and he starts to work up some speed. He pushes his skates against the ice, muscles surging.

Then, he’s flying around the rink, arms splayed behind him and a shit-eating grin on his face. Air flows around him, a gentle caress on his face. For a bit, he just revels in the long-forgotten sensations of the wind in his face, the sound of his skates carving the ice, and the soaring speed.

Confidence building as he warms up, Viktor gathers the necessary speed and flows into a simple double flip. The wind whistles in his ear as he rotates through the air, and he kicks his leg out as the ice rushes back up to greet him.

Viktor is more than a little shocked when he hears whistling and applause from behind the rail guards of the rink. He spins around rapidly, and his heart swells at the sight of Mila, Georgi, and a few other skaters clapping and cheering for him.

His friends, supporting him. Happy for him.

He spins around, skating backwards so he is facing the small group. He does a quick twirl, and an exaggerated bow as he glides.

Yura skates by him right then, speaking over the sound of their skates. “Guess somebody’s excited to be back.”

Viktor just flashes his winning smile, and skates away in response. Today’s not the day for petty confrontations.

He tries a few more basic jumps and spins, careful to space them out so he can test his ankle and knee in between them all.

There’s definitely a twinge he can feel on his jumps and landings that he hadn’t felt previously, but his doctors had warned him about it. With more consistent practice and exercise, it could start to fade. But there was a possibility he would be stuck with it forever.

Once, that would have crushed Viktor’s spirit, to know he might have a slight debilitation. Yet, now he is just grateful to be able to get on the ice again, surrounded by people who want to see him succeed as a coach.

Viktor doesn’t want to push things too hard on his first day, but…There’s something else he wants to try while on the ice today, now that he’s fully loose and slightly more adjusted to skating again.

He pulls out earbuds from his pocket, popping them in and queuing up the song that first broadened his horizons

As it starts, he tries his best to just let his motions flow naturally. He’s spent an absurd amount of time thinking about this song, hoping to find the catalyst for his choreography again.

Viktor mouths the lyrics as the start, sweeping into a lighter step sequence. When the bridge of the song rolls in, he tries to convey the sense of searching and loss he has felt at various stages in his life. He steps into a small jump just as the chorus arrives, and transitions into a spin.

Then, he drifts for a bit. The lyrics are still on his lips, but his mind is drawing a blank on the movement. Frustration wells inside him, building. Just as the song starts to convey anger at the world, anger at a place that can’t provide needed connection and guidance.

Tapping into that discomfort and resentment, he punctuates his motions with more abrupt stops and changes his mannerisms to match the emotion. It’s not something he would have done before, changing disposition so quickly and tapping his more volatile emotions as part of a performance.

Ou t’es, papaoutai?

And then he shifts again, searching for something that he hasn’t yet found. He’s spinning, round and round. The rink and ice blur into one, white ice giving way to smudged grey surroundings, until he steps out and pushes past the fatigue in his knee. He dances to the beat, holding the emotion even as he energetically steps across the rink.

The music turns sad, questioning, and Viktor matches it. Syncs with the feeling, communicating melancholy now through his steps and dancing. A melancholy that he’s familiar with, questioning that he now recognizes from his own experiences this year. And an even deeper question about his own family, from years long past.

He approaches the final chorus with an air of resolution, still asking the question but unafraid to press onward now. Feeling the fatigue, he only marks the jumps towards the end. It hurts him a bit to accept that he can’t push himself like he used to, yet it doesn’t paralyze him as it once did.

And as the song winds down, he can’t help but feel elation. It wasn’t perfect choreography by any stretch, but he had actually created the barebones of a program for the first time in nearly a year.

And Viktor can see it now, see what was different from before.

He’s different. His emotions, his feelings. His willingness to be vulnerable, to try new things, to use music in a new way. Getting injured, being sidelined, and learning how to live again had changed him. Made him stronger in so many ways, even if he is weaker physically. It happened so gradually for him, he hardly noticed.

And that means anything he choreographs now will be distinct from what he’s done before. He smiles, true excitement prancing in his mind as he contemplates the possibilities unfolding before him.

 


 

Yuuri slipped back into the routine of being at home pretty quickly, going out of his way to help out around the inn as much as could. It felt good to be helpful, useful. Mari had actually softened her attitude a bit too, after seeing how Yuuri had thrown himself into assisting. While they still weren’t talking to each other much, she was at least tolerant of Yuuri’s presence.

His mornings were spent cleaning and otherwise helping out throughout the inn, or prepping the Onsen for another day of use. Over lunch, he’d help his parents in the kitchen or Mari with customers. Then, they would typically sit down for a late lunch as a family.

Every day, Yuuri is continually surprised by how happy and excited his parents seem to be to have him home. They thank him profusely when he helps, softly touch him on the shoulders or arms often, smile at him when they think he isn’t looking. It’s like they have to keep reassuring themselves that Yuuri, is in fact, still in their home.

He doesn’t really understand how they can do it, be so caring when he was gone for so long.

Then again, he supposes that is the definition of unconditional love.

After lunch, Yuuri usually has some free time. He alternates between going skating at the Ice Castle and stopping by Minako’s dance studio, even getting some one-on-one coaching from her.

She had not been thrilled when he first arrived and been out of shape and inflexible from lack of practice.

So Yuuri also received some “light” training from Minako he had to do every day, though he didn’t mind it too much. Practicing in person with her was a very different experience and fostered a healthier mindset than when he was practicing for competition. Some part of him appreciated the training too, knowing it was helping keep him in relative shape.

In the evenings, Yuuri would have dinner with his family, or go over to the Nishigori’s. Any time that he was with Takeshi and Yuuko, the triplets would pester him about skating incessantly. It was grating, but also endearing in a way, to see proof of his small fan club. It’s clear that the three of them are going to be big fans of the sport, despite how young they are.

And then he would return to his room for the night to find Vicchan, curled up on the covers of his bed. It was a cozy, comfortable time. Yuuri finds himself increasingly grateful that he was able to come home, even if it had been the result of less-than-savory events.

 

 

It wasn’t until he’d spent nearly a week at home that something about Vicchan’s behavior began to bother him.

The small poodle had never been very rambunctious or energetic, but Yuuri really only ever saw Vicchan lounging on his bed. Yuuri began checking the dog’s food bowl after meals, and discovered that a fair portion was left each time.

What started as an odd observation began to curdle into worry. Yuuri would normally sit and stew on his fear for days, but with his dog’s health on the line he wasted uncharacteristically little time.

The next day, he speaks with his parents. They are in the kitchen, cleaning up from breakfast when Yuuri works up the courage to begin.

“Mom, Dad, I think Vicchan isn’t well.”

He’s still scrubbing a plate, not looking up when he hears the response.

“What do you mean? Isn’t he spending most of his time in your room?”

“I mean, yes, but why does that—wait, did Vicchan normally spend most of the day in my room?”

His parents look at each other, blinking. “Well, yes, for the most part. Sometimes he would come out for a bit, and Mari would take him out on walks.”

Yuuri’s feels a wave of guilt and nausea roll through him, but he pushes it down. There are bigger issues at hand than his own self-loathing right now. He sets down the sponge he’s holding, and wipes his hands on a dish towel.

“Look, he’s not eating either. And he barely moves.” His parents stare at him with blank expressions, and Yuuri’s heartrate kicks into high gear. “I’m worried. I think this is really important.”

Hiroko places a comforting hand on Yuuri’s shoulder. “Yuuri, if you are that concerned, we can set up an appointment with the vet soon, maybe after you’ve left.”

Yuuri takes a deep breath, steeling himself to push farther. “No, I want to take him now. Or, or, as soon as possible, and while I’m here.”

His father gives him an appraising look, but nods. “Alright, why don’t you call and find out if you can take him in. Don’t worry about helping out this morning, we’ll take care of it.”

Yuuri’s morning becomes a flurry of research and phone calls, as he determines where he can most quickly get to see a vet. By lunch, he’s able to make an appointment for the next day.

Which leaves plenty of time for his brain to run rampant with worst case scenarios. The first part of the afternoon slips by, with Yuuri sitting in his room muttering to himself and occasionally stroking Vicchan’s fur.

At some point, there’s a knock at his door that he hardly registers. He only notices when the door slides open and Mari is standing in front of him, looking unhappy.

“Hey, what’s going on? You’ve been in here for hours.”

“I think Vicchan is sick,” he mumbles.

“Shit. I’m sorry.”

“I’m taking him to the vet tomorrow, but I just…I’m worried about him, like what if he…what if it’s serious?”

“So, you at least got a plan. That’s something positive.” Yuuri sniffles, rubbing the water forming in the corner of his eye. Mari sighs. “I think you should get out. Go skate, maybe go see Minako? Just, do something somewhere else.”

“I don’t really feel like…” Yuuri trails off, but is quickly pulled up to his feet by Mari.

“Nuh-uh, you don’t get to sit and be miserable at home when there are ways to help. Go!” She tries to pull him out of the room, but Yuuri just kind of flops around. He’s not used to having someone actually drag him around.

Mari’s expression softens. “Maybe you can at least try to go check in with Minako. It might be good to have someone else who knows about Vicchan but can help keep you busy. Can you do that for me?”

Yuuri bobs his head a few times, pushing himself up. He takes a quick look at Vicchan, still sleeping on his bed unphased, before picking up his exercise bag and trudging out of his room.

It turns out Mari had been right, Yuuri didn’t get much of a chance to be miserable after arriving at the studio with Minako, who gave him a tight hug before launching into an absolutely brutal training session. By the end, Yuuri was exhausted and slick with sweat. The sheer difficulty of ballet coupled with Minako’s constant direction kept his mind from expending energy stressing about Vicchan.

And after his ballet session, he took a shower and then soaked in the Onsen. His mind was delightfully blank, the emotional and physical fatigue of the day catching up to him. Instead, he just floated in the steaming waters.

 

The next day, Yuuri and Vicchan’s visit to the vet flew by. Yuuri took Vicchan himself, since his parents were busy with keeping things running smoothly at the inn. After checking in, Yuuri stayed with Vicchan as they ran what seemed like an innumerable amount of tests to see if they could find anything wrong.

The whole time, Yuuri’s heart was beating at a fever pitch as stared into the tiny poodle’s big, brown eyes. Vicchan was clearly disoriented by the whole experience, which left Yuuri feeling guilty again despite knowing that the visit was for a good reason.

After waiting for a couple hours, Yuuri is ushered into a room with the vet and Vicchan.

“I’ve got mostly good news for you today,” the vet begins.

Yuuri lets out a deep breath, relief flooding as his posture relaxes. “I’m so grateful to hear that.”

“Through the tests we ran, we were able to determine that Vicchan has a stomach infection. We were able to catch it before it developed into anything more serious. It could develop into something deadly over time, so I’m prescribing medication that should stop the infection.”

“So, you’re saying that Vicchan--he could have…died?” The words come out slowly, quietly.

“It was a possibility. But you noticed something was wrong before it reached that point. You did well.”

Yuuri bows, colliding emotions of relief and fear at the near loss make his eyes tear up. “Thank you very much for helping, doctor.”

For the rest of the visit, Yuuri was in a stupor. He only was able to focus when the doctor talked with him about how to administer the medication (wrapping the pill in…peanut butter?)

When he returned home in the afternoon, it took him several tries to fully relate the outcome of his visit to the vet to his parents. While he was talking, a wave of exhaustion slowly crept up on him. His eyelids started to droop, and by the end of his recounting his parents sent him off to his room to rest.

Yuuri crashed onto his bed, still feeling an unbalancing mix of fear for Vicchan, relief he would be okay, and guilt for his condition in the first place.

 

Yuuri wakes up later, feeling supremely disoriented. When had he fallen asleep? A quick peek out his window to see darkness lets him know it must be late. He still feels…raw, vulnerable from the past few days.

He lays in bed for a few minutes, staring at Vicchan. But his thoughts get too loud, and he has to get away.

Wanting to go somewhere, anywhere else for a little, Yuuri tiptoes out of his bedroom and sneaks out back towards the Onsen.

To his surprise, he sees a flickering light sitting on a step not too far away. Curious, Yuuri slowly approaches.

“Are you trying to sneak up on me?” Mari’s voice pierces the silence, her mouth moving around the cigarette Yuuri recognizes as the source of light.

Shrinking away bit, Yuuri responds. “No, I just didn’t realize it was you.”

Mari blows a puff of smoke into the air, the hazy tendrils drifting away into the night. She looks at Yuuri with appraising eyes, assessing something. A few seconds later, she pats the wood of the seat next to her.

Yuuri hesitates a moment before settling in beside his sister, unsure what to say.

“Thanks for taking care of Vicchan. I know seeing the vet can’t have been easy.”

Yuuri looks down and picks up a tiny stick, and begins tracing the patterns of the wood step beneath him. “It was nothing. I’m glad I could do something.”

Mari huffs, annoyed. “No, it wasn’t nothing. You noticed something was wrong when none of us did. If you hadn’t been here…who knows?”

“If I had been here all along, this might not have happened at all. I could have been helping.” Helping. With Vicchan, with the inn.

Mari pulls the cigarette out of her mouth, holding it away. “Dammit Yuuri.” Yuuri looks up to see a pained expression on her face. “You were off skating, doing incredible things. We…managed without you. It was hard, yes, but you were chasing your dream. You shouldn’t feel guilty for that. I didn’t chase mine, and I’ve made peace with that. But you still have that chance.”

There it is again, that boundless kindness his family seemed to have for him. It feels strange mixing with his already frayed emotions.

“But I left you all. And I didn’t achieve my dream.”

“Yuuri, you have to know that we will always support you. Even if I was a bit…gruff…when you got back. I’m sorry for that, by the way. I think seeing you again--it was harder than I thought. And I was a little…resentful, stupidly so.” She pauses a moment, thoughtful. “But if you ever need reassurance that we aren’t upset, that we do want you to succeed, that it’s okay for you to be doing what you want, even when it takes you away from us, just ask. Me, mom, dad, we’ll tell you. It’s okay.”

Her voice cracks on the last part, true honesty ringing through. The words hang in the air a moment, followed by the silence of a calm night. And then Yuuri is sobbing, his emotions pouring out of him.

Maybe it’s finally starting to sink in, that his family really do want him to chase whatever it is that excites him. That they will support him unconditionally. That he doesn’t have to feel guilty about it, and that when he does it’s okay to reach out and ask for support.

Tears run down his face, and he presses himself against his sister. She puts out the cigarette, the light puffing away and leaving them under dim glow of the night sky.

She turns towards him, smoothing his hair and whispering, “Shh, it’s gonna be alright.”

The words sneak out, quiet. Whispered into Mari’s shoulder. “But I didn’t achieve my dream.”

Mari pulls a strand of hair to the side of Yuuri’s face. “What do you mean?”

“I didn’t skate with Viktor. And now, he’s injured and retired, and how can I skate without him? He was my inspiration, my goal.”

“I didn’t realize that you…well, it sounds like you need some closure. Do you think skating again might help you say goodbye?”

Yuuri shudders at that word, a goodbye to Viktor. “I…I don’t know. I think I want to skate, but I just don’t know how to do it without him.”

Yuuri is surprised to find that it’s true, that he would like to skate and compete again. But could he really do it without Viktor? To say goodbye to the inspiration and goal he had for so long, to find someone or something new?

“Whatever you choose to do Yuuri, you know we’ll support you.”

Yuuri hums contentedly, grateful. He still feels raw, but leaning against his sister has lent him some strength and comfort.

She pulls out another cigarette, and the quiet is broken by the snick of her lighter.

“Do you have to do that? It’s such a bad habit.” Yuuri teases, poking Mari.

Mari grins at her brother, cigarette hanging loosely. “You’re one to talk about bad habits, you worrywart.”

They shove each other playfully a few times and then stop, content to sit together under the starry sky a bit longer.

 


 

Viktor finds it while he’s jogging on the treadmill in his apartment (He’d much rather be running outside, but it’s just too frigid). He’s shuffling through the new music he downloaded, listening as he runs, hoping that something will stick out to him.

Sweat is rolling down his face at this point, he’s been running for close to an hour. His pace has slowed steadily, but his endurance has been improving at least.

It catches him at the start, the strings urging him forward and wiping away his fatigue. He actually has to crank up the speed on the machine, because he wants to move. Fast.

And when the chorus hits, the pieces fall into place. He knows. As the song plays out, he only has two concerns. Will Yura like his choreography? But more importantly, is it too self-centered?

Viktor would have never asked that question before, yet now it weighs heavily on him. Still determined, he steps off the treadmill right after the song ends to get to work.

 

A few days later, it’s Viktor’s birthday. Oftentimes, he would be at a competition (or preparing for one). The Russian National Championships had a nasty habit of occurring at the end of December.

This year, it was in Sochi. Yakov hadn’t told him to come along, and Viktor hadn’t asked. The idea of being surrounded by other Russian skaters competing to take his throne is still discomforting. But that meant his newfound friends were all away competing, and he was left to his own devices on his birthday.

He didn’t really have any family left to speak with, or at least none he wanted to engage with.

So, he has a lazy day of mostly nothing planned for his birthday. He thinks that eating a lot of chocolate sounds good. Maybe watch some movies, read a bit.

He’s interrupted from his thoughts by the sound of his doorbell. Viktor wracks his brain, trying to recall if he’d ordered something online recently. He can’t think of anything, but he’s also terribly forgetful.

 He tentatively opens the door, Makkachin sitting behind him.

“Good morning, I’ve got a delivery for a Mr. Nikiforov.”

“That’s me” Viktor smiles dutifully, curiosity peaking.

A vest clad man Viktor hadn’t seen standing in the hallway sweeps into his apartment, supporting a large covered platter. Viktor furrows his brows, opening his mouth to question.

Another man steps in purposefully, carrying an ornate bottle of something and a card. Both intruders set their various items down on the island in his kitchen.

Just as he’s about to voice his thoughts, the men exit his apartment just as quickly as they entered and close the door softly behind him.

Viktor just stands still, dumbstruck for a bit with a quizzical expression on his face. What in the world was that? He doesn’t usually get any visitors, and they didn’t even explain themselves.

Makkachin bumps his legs, and it prompts him to start moving again. He stalks over to the island, snatching the card.

On the front, his name is written in scrawling script that he doesn’t recognize. He flips open the card and starts reading.

“Dear Viktor,

The past year has certainly been an unfortunate one in many ways. Your injury and retirement hurt us all in ways we couldn’t have expected, and undoubtedly changed your life. Yet, there are some fortunate things too. You’ve found a new interest in skating, a different perspective that seems to have brought fresh joy into your life. And you have connected with us in more meaningful ways this year than ever before.

We can’t wait to see what you accomplish on the other side of the ice. Know that your friends are cheering you on!

In the meantime, enjoy this lovely breakfast on our behalf. We wish we could be there celebrating with you.

 

Love,

Georgi and Mila

 

P.S. Yura didn’t want to sign the card but he chipped in and cares too. I’m definitely not writing this while Georgi distracts him.

P.P.S. Yakov also contributed but practically blushed and ran away like a schoolgirl when we asked him to sign the card, the old codger.”

 

Viktor’s vision is blurring by the time he reads the last postscript, and he has to wipe away the unfamiliar water in his eyes. Then he sniffles, his nose running. Makkachin boofs at him, concerned as the tears continue to drop on the counter.

God, he hates crying.

But his friends. They remembered, they cared. It’s possibly the sweetest gesture in Viktor’s life, or at least that he can remember right now.

Okay, that might not be saying much with his shit memory, but still. It’s thoughtful, and nobody has been that thoughtful for Viktor in…so long.

Tears drying now, he carefully lifts the metal cover off the platter.

It’s a veritable feast, lovingly plated to look beautiful and delicious at the same time. Eggs (of several varieties), crispy bacon (just the way he likes it), fresh fruit arranged in the shape of a blooming flower (why!?), salmon and bagels. There’s even orange juice in a small pitcher!

And to top it all off, a bottle of champagne. He cracks it open, the pop resounding in his apartment for a moment. Smiling, he mixes the orange juice and champagne and sips the mimosa contentedly.

It’s more than Viktor could ever hope to eat on his own. But he settles in, a new goal for the day in mind. He’s not going to let this gift go to waste.

 


 

For several days after his and Mari’s conversation, Yuuri was content to throw himself back into helping his family out. Except now, he did it because he wanted to, and not because of some misplaced sense of guilt for his absence.

Family meals were far more cheerful now, with Mari and Yuuri exchanging banter that often ended with Yuuri slightly embarrassed, his parents laughing, and Mari smirking. It was invigorating, to spend time with all of them and just enjoy it.

Feeding Vicchan his medication even became a highlight for Yuuri, the strange feeling of the dog licking the pill and peanut butter off his finger making him laugh every time. And seeing the poodle start to eat more food again heartened Yuuri.

But Yuuri’s mind wasn’t kind enough to go on permanent hiatus. When he only had a few days left in Japan, his thoughts returned to circling the messy tangle of skating and Viktor, and his future stuck between the two.

Yuuri tried to keep up the easy conversation while assisting in the kitchen, but his mom was quick to sense that he was distracted by something and sent him to go relax.

Which, of course, meant he did just about anything but relax. He lay on his bed for most of the day, only getting up to have a quick dinner with his parents and Mari.

And then he was back to dwelling on the same, frustrating issue. How can he skate without Viktor as a motivator, an inspiration? As his mind chased itself in circles, never finding an answer, he grew increasingly irritated.

Frustration boiling over, Yuuri decides he needs to go do something. It worked when Mari suggested it last time, and he hopes it might help now.

He grabs his skate bag, throws on a sweatshirt, and sets off running towards the Ice Castle.

 

It’s been a while since he skated at night, when he had the whole space truly just to himself. He steps out on the ice, head tilted back as he listens to the sound of his skates scraping against the freshly smoothed ice.

He starts on some basic steps, getting the blood flowing in his legs despite the piercing chill in the arena. By focusing on the physical aspect of his skating, Yuuri is able to keep his mind empty for a bit.

But by the time he’s warm, his thoughts have come crashing back.

It’s just so frustrating that Yuuri can’t separate Viktor from his own skating. He wants to compete, wants to capture an audience and hold their attention. His brief foray into club dancing had reminded him that much, at least.

Could he just…find something else to focus on and still maintain his drive for skating?

An exasperated growl escapes from Yuuri as he launches into a triple toe loop.

No. He really can’t skate without Viktor. It’s hard to accept, but Yuuri has intertwined his career as a skater with his focus (okay, perhaps obsession) on the Russian skater.

What was it Mari had said? That he needed to find some closure?

Could there be a way for him to still tap his connection to Viktor so he could skate and use that as a final chapter of sorts?

He shivers, a tingling feeling at the thought. If anything, his visceral reaction only serves to further his resolve that he needs to find some way to move on.

Yuuri’s life has been in a holding pattern since Viktor’s injury. And he can’t stay here forever. His time spent with family had reminded him that the world keeps moving onwards, even as he was learning to appreciate their support for him.

He puts in his earbuds, hoping to smooth some of the rampant thoughts in his mind. 

Instead, he just starts skating parts of Viktor’s old routines. Yuuri has spent so much time watching the Russian man’s performances and practiced emulating them, he could very well run through most of the champion’s programs.

He takes a deep breath, a new idea in mind.

Yuuri centers himself, trying to put on his best Viktor performance. A bit more confidence, certainty in his power.

He flows with the music, and hardly registers when he leaps into the air for a quad salchow.

He lets out a gasp as he lands it cleanly. It’s been months since he tried the jump, and yet picturing Viktor had led him to nail it.

Yuuri continues onward, letting the music guide him as he now mirrors a different program from Viktor’s history. His step sequence is beatific, a tribute to the original yet slightly altered in ways Yuuri doesn’t really comprehend. His skates are light, his movements preordained.

Had there been anyone watching, they would have been entranced by the elegance and beauty in Yuuri’s skating. Yet as it is, Yuuri just carries on with his mind blank, the movements flowing naturally.

Suddenly, he notices he is skating Viktor’s last routine. Tears well up in Yuuri’s eyes, but he keeps his balance and slides into each step, each spin exactly as Viktor had. He surges into the jump that claimed Viktor’s career, nerves entirely absent.

And it strikes him midair.

The realization is like a meteor crashing from orbit, a dawning of such an obvious opportunity left unconsidered, as he balances his landing. Phichit had once joked about his obliviousness, but he hadn’t realized just how true it could be.

He would skate, one last year, one last time. A tribute to Viktor, to all he had done to inspire Yuuri and countless others. A memory of what the man had accomplished, of how fans had felt when it ended.

It might be arrogant to assume that Yuuri could represent someone like Viktor’s career on the ice, but it felt right. He knows Viktor’s skating well, so well. And at the end, perhaps he would be really, truly ready to move on.

It hurts, knowing this will be the end. But it’s a reassuring pain, to know he has a plan. Along with it, too, is a bud of hope for the future. Yuuri may not be able to see past Viktor’s shadow right now, but perhaps that would come in time.

Chapter Text

The rest of Yuuri’s stay with his family was a mix of joy and anticipation. Having finally made a decision about his future and accepting his family’s support, Yuuri was able to simply enjoy the trip so much more.

Spending time with the Nishigori’s at the rink became a regular activity as he began to ramp up his skating time, and both Yuuko and Takeshi were beyond excited that Yuuri had decided to skate competitively again. His most vocal supporters at the rink, though, were the triplets. On his last day at the rink, the three of them brought him a card and a cake to bring home, wishing him luck. It warmed Yuuri’s heart to see how nervous and happy they were to interact with him regularly.

After more frequent skating and ballet sessions, Yuuri took to soaking in the Onsen a lot more as well. The relaxing heat and steam from the water was invaluable in soothing his aching muscles the last week of his stay. He knew he shouldn’t be so reliant on the Onsen, it was spoiling him. Going back to training in Detroit would only be more jarring after the luxuries of soaking at home.

But most of all, spending time with his family and dog after he made his decision was an absolute delight. Yuuri did his best to capture all the memories in his mind that they made together, whether working around the inn, sitting down to dinner, or out on a walk. Surprisingly, Mari started to accompany him on some of his walks to the beach with Vicchan.

Getting to hear about her life in more detail felt like a gift; he had little idea what she had been up to during his time away. Apparently, she had been on a number of dates with a local guy but it hadn’t panned out. Yuuri treasured the moment she opened up about not chasing her dream of attending college, and did his best to support her as she described the challenges of working at the inn fulltime.

In turn, Yuuri tried to open up a bit more as well. Not just with Mari, but with his parents too. He shared about some of the “events” he and Phichit would go dancing at (Mari knew exactly what was happening, and pestered him about more details later). He talked about the difficulty of his studies in Sports Psychology, how juggling his classes and competitive skating is such a challenge. He even walked them through some of his mental struggles surrounding skating, to try and help them understand more acutely.

He wasn’t sure if they truly followed his explanations, but just talking out loud about some of the problems Yuuri faced in his own mental landscape helped him process them.

Celebrating the New Year was a night Yuuri won’t soon forget. At least the parts he can remember (he might have gotten involved in a drinking contest with Minako). The inn was turned into a festive gathering with about a dozen of the Katsuki’s good friends joining. Lights hung throughout the dining room, and there was an impressive array of impeccable food on display. The Nishigoris were present, though the triplets pouted when they were taken home early. At some point, Yuuri remembers trying to teach Mari a dance while she laughed at her own clumsiness, until Minako took over with her no-nonsense attitude. The rest of the night passed by in flashes of lucidity for Yuuri, snatches of joy-filled memories and shared moments.

 

And not too long after that, Yuuri finds himself back on a flight to Detroit. It is, perhaps, the first time that Yuuri has approached a new skating season with such a strong sense of direction, a goal, and a theme.

He’ll have to talk with Celestino, and hopefully start getting some more official coaching. Though he may have to wait a bit before starting the coaching, given his relatively limited bank account. It’ll be a while before he gets another infusion of funds, and that will only be if he manages to perform well.

No, the more pressing issue is likely to be convincing Celestino to let him choose his own music and theme. Yuuri had previously always let Celestino determine things, content to go along with the ride. He’d only tried to suggest music once, and had been shut down. But this season will be different. It has to be.

 

After returning to Detroit and spending a sufficient amount of time recovering from travelling halfway across the world, Yuuri set out to the rink with Phichit.

It’s still brutally cold outside, so the pair are bundled up nicely for the walk over. Yuuri is actually putting a scarf to use, something he rarely does. As a gust of icy wind sweeps by, Yuuri grips the warm fabric tightly, grateful for his decision.

Phichit has been bouncing with excitement since Yuuri’s return, glad to see his friend again, but also ecstatic to hear about Yuuri’s decision to skate for the season.

Right now is no exception, Phichit is vibrating with such intensity that Yuuri almost thinks he could melt them a path through the snow straight to the rink.

When Yuuri comments as much out loud, Phichit laughs, the sound bright and clear.

“Who can blame me!? I’m just so thrilled that you’re going to be skating again.”

“It depends on what Celestino thinks, to be fair.” He replies, wringing his hands nervously. Will Celestino be offended at his sudden change of heart?

“Celestino will probably also be glad that you’re back. He’s been pestering me about it pretty much since you stopped. I doubt that’s changed now.”

Yuuri draws in a sharp breath, surprise springing up. “Really, he wanted me to come back that much?”

“Definitely,” Phichit replies offhandedly as he watches a brown leaf drifting in the wind alongside them.

Well, maybe this won’t be such a hard conversation after all. Yuuri was prepared to have to fight tooth and nail, argue his way back into Celestino’s coaching.

“Hopefully that extends to my plans for my theme and music, too.”

Phichit turns his head to look at Yuuri faster than Yuuri can blink. “You’ve already got music and a theme planned! Why don’t I know about this already?”

His roommate is practically hanging off his shoulder now, leaning in close to Yuuri. He can’t help but laugh a bit at the sudden change of attention.

“I’m not spoiling it yet; I need to run it by Celestino first. It’ll only hurt more if I tell you now and then something changes.”

Phichit puts on his best pouting face, lower lip sticking out. “B-b-but Yuuri!”

Yuuri turns his head away, “Uh-uh, you’ve tried this too many times on me. I’ve become immune to your wily ways of guilting me into sharing.”

“We’ll see about that…” comes the grumbled response from Phichit.

 

When they arrive, Phichit splits off to go change and get ready for practice. Yuuri, meanwhile, starts to sweat in anticipation of the conversation he’s about to have with Celestino. He makes his way to the coach’s office, guessing that the Italian man will be there.

Outside the door, Yuuri takes a series of deep breaths and rifles through his mental catalogue and plan before knocking.

Yuuri hears a muffled “Come in,” through the door, and lets himself in.

Celestino’s office is decorated with posters of the various skaters he has worked with, including one of Yuuri from a few years past when he made his senior debut. There are a number of awards on top of cabinets and shelves throughout the room. A large desk takes up much of the space, but there are two comfortable-looking chairs in front of it. Yuuri settles down in one, exchanging a few polite greetings with Celestino.

“So what brings you to my office, Yuuri?” Celestino has a way of cutting through the chaff, which Yuuri typically appreciates. Yet, he can’t help the flare of nervousness as he swallows before beginning.

“Well, I wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of skating again next season.” Yuuri twists his fingers together, interlocking them as he waits a moment. “Competitively, I mean,” he adds.

Celestino beams at him, a grin so wide that it’s almost intimidating, like a shark. “Yuuri, that’s great news! I’m so happy you decided to give it another shot!”

“Me too,” he responds meekly. But it’s true, he is glad that he’s going to have another shot at skating. It just feels a bit overwhelming right now. Celestino looks at him with a curious expression, but waits patiently.

Yuuri forges ahead after another breath. “I’ve got an idea for my theme and music. It’s centered on what inspired me to come back to skating.”

“Hmm,” muses Celestino. Yuuri grimaces inside. This is about as far as he ever got in the past when he suggested things. “Let’s hear it, then.”

Yuuri wants to communicate everything clearly, succinctly, but instead it all comes out in a garbled rush. “It’s about Viktor. My theme. Well, the theme is really more like ‘Reflection’ or ‘Memory,’ b-b-but I haven’t decided which I like more yet.”

His face flushes with red, but it’s too late to go back now. “Viktor was such an inspiration for me, I want to try and honor his career. But also show how his injury and retirement impacted me and other fans. And, and I know his routines so well, I think I can add my own spin to them and create something special that is a tribute, but also…more.”

Celestino pauses for a second, then open his mouth. Before he can start talking though, Yuuri barrels on with the explanation that apparently will never end. “I know it’s a bit presumptuous to think that I can represent Viktor on the ice, but, like I said, I know his routines so well. And I think I kind of need to do this.” His voice slows down a bit, for the first time since starting. “It’s going to be my way of getting closure.”

Yuuri cringes, physically cringes with nervousness when he finishes his outburst. He sits in the silence, rubbing his hands up and down his arms in quick, agitated patterns as he waits.

“I think that’s a good idea, Yuuri.”

Yuuri opens his mouth to protest, then closes it. He furrows his eyebrows, confusion setting in.

“You…you do?”

“Yep.” Celestino smacks his lips on the ‘p’, a popping sound resounding in the office for a moment. “It sounds like the perfect blend of what you know, and a good challenge for you. And what you need, it seems.”

The older man pauses, knowing that it would take a moment for this to register with Yuuri. Sure enough, Yuuri’s face lights up a few seconds later.

Celestino leans forward, smiling conspiratorially. “So, what about the music?”

Yuuri grins back, nervousness gone. Exhilaration bubbles up in its place, and then the two enter a rapid back-and-forth about Yuuri’s plans.

 

Despite discussing his plans in depth with Celestino, Yuuri spent much of the first month or so working himself back into a more competitive shape. There was skating practice, of course, but Celestino had given him a rigorous amount of exercising, and Yuuri augmented it with regular ballet sessions.

Despite the rigor of it, Yuuri leaned into the hard work of his training. Each arm curl, each pirouette, each drop of sweat brought him closer to reaching his goal. It was hard, hell, it was miserable at times. There were mornings when Yuuri would get up, his body hardly responding and soul withering at the prospect of an early morning run. But Yuuri would dig deep, push himself to find that motivation to continue onward.

Most of the time, it was the prospect of skating his new routines and winning that got him up and out. Sometimes, it was his drive to sculpt his body back into fighting shape. And other times, it was just the desire to listen to music while exerting himself.

Those were some of his favorite times, when he would get lost in the rhythm, work in time with the beat. He would speed through his workouts, operating in a zone of prime efficiency during those days.

Phichit welcomed this new, zealous Yuuri with open arms. The two would often exercise together, even if they weren’t going to talk and would rather just focus on their own routines. They even started to alternate cooking meals for each other, keeping it as healthy as possible. There was a lot of vegetable stir fry made, but they each at least had their own homemade sauces to mix it up.

Classes started up during this period, too. His first week back was particularly challenging, figuring out how to balance his academic work with his new, busy skating prep schedule.

Thankfully, he had knocked out most of his senior-level courses and seminars in the fall, so this last term is a bit on the lighter side. Perhaps he had subconsciously known he would want a lighter term when he scheduled his fall courses over the summer. Or maybe he was just lucky. Either way, Yuuri was grateful his classes weren’t completely overwhelming, and he was able to strike a balance after a few weeks.

Over time, Yuuri’s hard work started to pay dividends, too. His grades were holding steady, despite his focus on skating. His muscles started to fill out again, and his stomach lost some of the chubbiness he despised.

One day, Yuuri returns home from class to find his clubbing outfit laying on his bed.

Phichit leans in from the doorway, voice playful. “Try it on.”

Yuuri scowls at Phichit. “Why? Are we going out? You know we don’t have time.” Phichit lets out an exasperated sigh.

“No, we’re not. Just humor me.” Yuuri raises an eyebrow, skeptical. “Please,” Phichit adds, splaying his hands in front of him.

Yuuri huffs, irritated. But he stalks into the bathroom, and swiftly puts the clothes on. The shirt feels noticeably less tight, but it’s still hugging his chest. He turns around and catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and he stops moving. He looks really good. His hair and makeup isn’t done like they are going out, but he still feels confident in his appearance. That’s not a common occurrence, for Yuuri.

He walks out, and Phichit takes in the look, eyes flicking up and down. He starts waggling his eyebrows.

“Looks like somebody’s hard work is paying off,” Phichit taunts.

Yuuri rolls his eyes in an exaggerated fashion, but can’t help popping his hip out and running his hands down his chest slowly to play along with Phichit.

Then they both start laughing hysterically, collapsing onto Yuuri’s bed in a fit of giggles.

 


 

Following his birthday, Viktor’s life quickly returned to his (new) normal. Yakov and crew came back from Russian Nationals, with quite a glittering ensemble of medals as well.

Georgi had taken second place for the men, just missing gold by a few points to a Moscow skater. Mila had taken first place for the women, and seemed to be incessantly teasing Georgi about his shortcoming. Yura had handily taken first place for the Junior section, which prompted him to get into an argument with Yakov about being ready for more.

Yakov was still holding that Yura shouldn’t be practicing quads regularly, and Viktor honestly agreed. Put simply, he dominated the competition without the use of quads. Why even risk injuring his growing body if it’s not necessary?

But Yuri is convinced that he needs to start practicing quads to be able to topple senior level skaters, even though he’s still a year away from them. So, while Viktor agrees with Yakov, he does recognize the flame of competition and the drive to upset the natural order of the skating world within Yura.

After all, he had felt similarly just ten years ago.

With everyone back, practices resumed quickly after a short holiday for the New Year (which Viktor spent celebrating with Georgi, who still felt bad for missing his birthday).

Once Viktor’s body had adjusted back to skating a bit more, he began to arrive at the rink earlier.

Viktor has always been a morning person, so he was often up and ready before he needed to be. Getting to the rink ahead of everyone just felt like the logical next step, because he hates just waiting around in his apartment.

Plus, being at the rink before most everyone else gives him some free time on the ice to work on Yura’s routine.

It’s exhilarating to be actively planning a routine again, and the added element of choreographing for someone else actually adds something for Viktor, an unquantifiable desire to create something that will astound not just the audience, but the performer too.

One morning in early March, he’s utterly lost in the music as he works through another sequence in the music. He doesn’t notice at all when Mila comes early, far earlier than normal. Doesn’t notice as she rushes to the border of the rink, eyes transfixed on him.

Viktor’s focus is on the music flooding in from his earbuds, on the motion of his feet as he dances across the ice. Drawing on his boldness, his confidence to match the tone of the music. He marks another jump at the climax of the section, comfortable knowing that it’s all he can do for the moment. He sweeps back and forth across the ice, hands flashing out to his sides before snapping back across his chest in a finishing pose, feigning leisure.

Breathing heavily, Viktor opens his eyes and is startled to see Mila gawking at him from across the ice. He pulls out his earbuds and slowly skates over to her, taking time so his body can recuperate from the strain of skating.

“Good morning, Mila!” Viktor announces as he closes the distance.

“Viktor…that was…how long have you? Wow!” She still has a stunned expression on her face as Viktor pulls up next to her.

He chuckles, pleased that he received that kind of response for a program still in development.

“Thanks, that means a lot to hear.”

“It’s so unlike what you used to do; I loved the energy you had.”

Viktor’s grin spreads even wider.

“I was worried about that, it’s a relief to hear that it’s coming through properly.” He pauses a moment, reflecting. “It’s a bit strange to be showing a different side of my skating, but it’s also so fun to be doing something different. I don’t think I realized how stuffy it felt to be rehashing the same old thing.”

Mila laughs at that, “True, Yakov does tend to want us to repeat what proves to be successful.”

“Well, let’s hope Yakov will be alright with bucking that trend, because this music will be just a bit dissimilar from what Yura’s done in the past.” Viktor hums a bit as his own humor before adding more softly, “I hope that Yura will like it too.”

Mila reaches out over the rink barrier, touching Viktor’s arm. Her hand is warm, much warmer than the cool air of the rink, yet it’s a comforting sensation. “Based on what I saw, I think he’ll be more than pleased.”

Viktor gives her a grateful smile and the two share a brief moment of understanding before the door opens and more skaters begin to arrive.

 

Viktor gets off the ice shortly after that, despite having some ideas on how to further refine the program. He much prefers working on it when nobody’s around, which is a bit paradoxical for a routine that is intended to be a showstopper for all.

Viktor sits down on a bench in the locker room, and works slowly, methodically as he unstraps his skates. As with before his injury, he’s particularly attentive to how tight his skates are and taking care of them.

Then he heads for the showers, knowing that he’ll be focusing on helping a few of the junior skaters for most of the morning while Yakov works with (more like berates) Georgi for coming in second at Nationals.

As the warm water runs down his skin, Viktor’s mind wanders over corrections for the routine.

Even for his old routines, Viktor used to love having an audience watch as he pieced together his next dazzling performance. Thinking of doing the same now makes him…feel…different?

It’s an unfamiliar feeling, something he maybe dealt with in the distant past.

Maybe…maybe he’s a bit self-conscious about this program, his first program as a coach. And such an important one for…a friend.

He shakes his head vigorously, hoping to clear his thoughts as he steps out from under the spray of water.

 


 

As the skating season drew to a close with Worlds, Yuuri and Celestino start working more earnestly on his routines.

He still hasn’t settled on the name of his theme, but he’s fairly confident in the music choices he has picked out. Celestino actually liked his music suggestions when he shared them, which surprised him greatly. Collaborating with his coach again helps Yuuri tremendously; it’s like a missing piece of the puzzle that he had forgotten about has been found once again.

The two of them bounce ideas off each other constantly, on and off the ice. It’s an exciting period for Yuuri despite the stress of classes and his continuing workout regime. Phichit also seems more joyful, though Yuuri suspects it has more to do with their time spent together thanks to their shared schedules.

His nerves do start to creep back in a bit when Celestino contacts the Japanese Skating Federation about Yuuri’s plans to return in the new season. Working with the JSF has always given Yuuri a bit of a slimy feeling, but he understands the necessity of it.

Celestino and Yuuri actually have a video meeting with some of the JSF officials, because Yuuri would very much like to have two GPF tournament placements despite his absence from the previous season. He has to put on a brave and confident face to assure the officials that, yes, he really is coming back. And yes, he really does mean business this time.

Thankfully, Celestino backs him up and even responds on his behalf when one of the official’s comments on Yuuri’s weakness in not competing.

When it’s all over and the JSF seems to believe that Yuuri will do well with two seeds, Yuuri and Celestino share a sigh over the ridiculousness of skating bureaucracy.

 

Following the meeting with the JSF, Yuuri’s life becomes a whirlwind of skating practice, finals preparation, and work outs.

Balancing all of it is a real challenge, enough of one that Yuuri asks Celestino if they can cut back on his practicing just a bit while he finishes school. He doesn’t want to have come so far, get so close to his degree, just to accidentally come short because of his renewed emphasis on skating.

Doing his best to grin and bear the struggle, Yuuri hardly notices as the weeks fly by.

As he is standing in line to receive his diploma, it all sort of cumulatively crashes into him. The practicing, the work outs, the studying, finals.

A wave of fatigue rolls through him, and he slouches a bit, arms falling to his sides. The motion jostles the tassel on his graduation cap into view, hanging out in front of him, spinning slowly from the momentum.

And it’s a reminder of how far he has come: graduating with a college degree, and prepping for his return to competitive skating all while living in a foreign country.

Yuuri savors the sweet emotion, holding on to his hard-fought success as he is handed his degree. When he’s off the stage, he pauses and flashes a smile at Phichit, who is crouching nearby while taking a prolific number of photos.

Once the ceremony is over, Yuuri has a long conversation with his parents since they were only able to watch the livestream. His mother tears up a few times as she congratulates him, which almost prompts Yuuri to start as well. Even Mari seems a bit more emotional than usual, disappearing a few times and reappearing with tissues in hand.

It warms his heart to see them so happy and proud of him, doubly so since he actually feels deserving of it for once.

In a fit of confidence after talking with family, Yuuri actually posts some of photos that Phichit took during the ceremony on his Instagram to celebrate.

And he’s absolutely floored by the positive responses that flood in. It confounds him that so many people follow and support him given how little he posts updates or interacts with his followers. There are even a few fellow competitors who congratulate him on going through college while skating. Apparently, that’s a bit remarkable?

He says as much to Phichit, who just flicks him on the head in response.

The evening is spent lounging on the couch with Phichit, dissecting trashy American action movies and the attractive male leads while gorging on the utterly divine pesto pasta Phichit made.

It’s exactly the kind of relaxing, rewarding evening that Yuuri wants to celebrate the occasion. Nothing too bombastic, just a brief reprieve from his frenetic schedule with good food and better company.

He knows that he’ll back at the grind soon enough, but for now he’s able to set aside his brooding worry and appreciate the moment.

 


 

It’s early, earlier than usual when Viktor arrives at the rink one day in early May. Sleep hadn’t come quickly and left even sooner, so he elected to drive to the rink far ahead of when he had told Yura to come.

It gave him plenty of time to get in his gear, and start some lazy, relaxing skating exercises on the ice. All while his mind works through the choreography that he’s already reviewed god knows how many times now.

His stomach churns as he continues his warmups, despite the lackluster breakfast of toast and eggs. Why does he feel sick? He’s been particularly careful to avoid becoming ill ever since his injury. Spending more time out of commission goes directly against every waking desire Viktor has.

So he’s probably not really sick. But what else could it be?

It can’t be that he, Viktor Nikiforov, World Champion skater, is nervous about a new routine.

He does a lap around the rink, hesitant to test out a jump. Instead, he runs through a portion of the step sequence, but his blades feel sluggish through the movements.

Okay, maybe he’s a bit nervous about sharing his first new program. With a feisty, outspoken, aggressive judge arriving soon.

But he can do this, he’s been in way higher stress situations. He’s just showing a friend the new routine he’s working on. Yeah, that’s it.

Adjusting his approach, Viktor tries the step sequence again and finds that his feet are moving at the right pace this time around.

He pulls up to the rink barrier to get a drink of water and queue up his song on the speaker he brought when the doors bang open.

Yuri stalks into the rink, hands stuffed into his oversized black hoodie. He’s probably trying his best to look fierce to impress Viktor. Instead, he just looks kinda tiny and cute. Like he’s imitating something he saw a tiger do on T.V.

Viktor can’t help a little smile from slipping onto his lips as he imagines Yura trying to roar like a tiger or lion despite the appearance of a housecat.

It also helps disarm the situation, and Viktor can feel tension sloughing away.

“Good morning, Yura!”

Yuri grumbles quietly and Viktor doesn’t catch what the younger skater says until he raises his voice. “Well, why’d you call me here so early?”

“I figured you might want to see your new routine.”

It’s a bit like watching a cat disturbed from sleep before being ready; Yuri’s eyes widen and his focus zeros in on Viktor. He tries to calmly walk up to the rink, but Viktor can see the excitement shining in his eyes.

And it makes Viktor eager, too. To share a new creation with someone who has so much in common with him.

Without saying another word, he skates out to the middle of the rink. Viktor has long wanted to show his skating plans while coaching, rather than tell.

And now he has the chance.

Viktor spares a wish that Yura will find as much joy in the routine as he has, but then clears his mind. He nods at Yuri, who seems to interpret the gesture as the signal to hit “play”  on the speaker.

The sound of frenzied strings pierces the cool morning air, and Viktor wastes no time pushing off and gathering speed. Yuri wants to make a statement about his skill, about his intention to topple the world that Viktor left behind. Well, Viktor’s going to give him a program to do just that.

Put on your war paint.

Dashing around the rink, Viktor looks straight at Yura and mimics drawing two thick lines across his cheekbones.

As the verse starts in earnest, Viktor matches his step sequence in tune with the heavy beat and draws on his competitive spirit, flashing a wicked, taunting smile. He slices across the ice, eschewing grace for boldness.

Here, here, comes this rising tide, so come on!

Viktor rises into the air, right as the beat thickens for a flawless triple flip. He hardly notices the twinge of his knee or fleeting wish that he could make it a quad, seized instead by his will to perform. And it feels good to be doing it. Damn good.

He beckons at Yura in time with the music, imagining a crowded stadium in his place. Cheering, screaming for more.

Viktor dashes across the ice, his every movement dripping with confidence. He leaps into a combination spin just as the music slows down for a brief moment, strings slowing from their frantic building down to a quiet backdrop.

He steps out of the spin and starts dancing across the ice with an air of bravado, hands flashing in choreography.

As the song starts building again, Viktor mirrors the increase in pace as he prepares for a jump right as the chorus arrives.

Viktor soars into a triple toe, single, double toe combination jump in perfect time, and continues his flashy motion through the chorus. He channels the energy, the feeling, the challenge issued in the music through his skating.

Gathering speed again, Viktor jumps into a triple axel so he’s flying like a bird as the music blares, his arms flaring out to mimic wings as he lands.

He’s breathing heavily as he touches back onto the ice, but his façade doesn’t waver. He dials up the aggression in his mannerisms, playing the part of the angry performer on a mission. It does give him a brief respite to catch his breath, but he knows Yura probably won’t need that like he does.

Then the chorus is back, and he’s leaping into the air again for another combination jump, this time a triple flip followed by a triple Salchow.

Hey young blood, doesn’t it feel like our time is running out.

I’m gonna change you like a remix, then I’ll raise you like a phoenix.

Viktor’s time has certainly come, his time for performing passed by. Yet he can still give the gift of this performance to another, pass the torch to the next bearer. It’s part of the reason he picked this song, it so clearly captures the end of one era and the start of a new one, the rise of a new competitor.

And Viktor has moved past making his peace with the situation, and is now eager to raise the next generation. His eyes lock on Yura as he passes by, but Viktor can’t decipher the expression on his face at all. He knows the song may be a bit too self-referential for Yura’s taste, but he had wanted to do something different with his music.

The strings whine down as the singer begins to chant, Viktor swoops across the ice, his feet a blur of motion and precision as he moves through a step sequence. He feels positively predatory in his motions, leering out at the imaginary audience with glee as he draws them further in.

He transitions to a tight spin as the loud voice wails, vision blurring as the ice and walls become one.

As the final chorus arrives, Viktor’s fatigue finally catches up and he has to mark the jumps. His heart desperately wants to leap, to sail through the air, but he channels that passion into his choreography instead, conserving energy.

As the drums beat twice at the end, Viktor slides to a stop while snapping his head side to side, silver hair flying at the sudden movement.

Viktor finishes with his arm outstretched, inviting a challenge from any who would dare.

And then he’s doubled over panting, the exertion of performing too much all at once, his ankle pulsing as well. It takes a minute for him to catch his breath, but then he looks up at Yura, hoping for a positive reception.

There’s a monstruous grin plastered on the young skater’s face as Viktor skates up to him.

“That was…that was incredible.” Yura’s expression doesn’t falter as he compliments Viktor, which Viktor takes as a testament to its earnestness.

Still short of breath, Viktor is slow to respond. “I’m glad...so happy you liked it.”

“That’s exactly the kind of music I want to skate to. And now Yakov will have to let me, since you choreographed it!”

Viktor’s heart leaps at the praise, that his choice was well received.

“I was a bit worried you might not like it for being too metaphorical,” Viktor confesses.

Yuri flicks a glare at Viktor, “I’m not so dense as to have missed what you did, I just like the rest enough not to let it get in the way.” He folds his arms across his chest, chin upturned like a petulant child.

Viktor can’t help a little chuckle at the sight, which earns him another frown.

“There’s definitely some room for you to work with the jumps and movement, especially with your flexibility compared to mine.”

Yuri tchs, “Oh, I’ll definitely be tweaking it.” Viktor sighs, resigned to his fate. “But…th-thank you for this. For remembering.”

Viktor smiles in response, his heartfelt, honest smile and Yura practically blushes.

As Viktor heads to the locker room to shower and change, behind him he hears Yuri queue up the song from the beginning again. He pumps his fist as he turns the corner, elation coursing through him.

 


 

After getting his visa extended so he can stay in the States longer, practice resumes for Yuuri shortly after his graduation. It’s full steam ahead on preparing for the new season, with Celestino bouncing between Yuuri and Phichit as they both continue piecing together their routines.

With his academic work behind him, Yuuri works himself ragged fine tuning his new routines. At first, he makes huge strides improving (or regaining) control of his jumps and spins. But slowly, his improvement slows and Yuuri begins to feel like he’s stagnating. He has this festering worry that no matter how much he practices, it still won’t be good enough to capture Viktor’s essence on the ice.

The weeks blur together as he and Phichit fall into a pattern of eat, sleep, skate, work out, and repeat. Initially, Yuuri feared that without academics in the mix, things would start to feel monotonous. After all, it had been two years since he last had to train for the start of a season.

And while it did seem monotonous after a few weeks, Yuuri didn’t mind. He usually came home tired, but fulfilled from a day of hard work. His sleep was typically untroubled and restful, something he was now much more grateful for. Yes, there was the occasional stress dream about his upcoming return, but he was able to avoid dwelling on those for the most part.

It helped that he and Phichit found some ways to break the regularity of their schedules every so often, like when they spent a day off sunbathing at one of the nicer beaches along the lake. (Turns out Yuuri’s chest sunburns quickly when left exposed.) The water had even been warm enough for a quick swim at the end of the day, and Phichit didn’t hesitate to get into a splashing war with Yuuri.

On another day, they went to an amusement park and rode practically a dozen rides before Phichit’s stomach halted any further sudden movements from a rollercoaster. Instead, they took turns trying to win a giant stuffed teddy bear for each other in a water-gun competition. (Yuuri eventually won, but Phichit refused to keep the bear in his room. Now it sits in Yuuri’s room, staring out the window to surprise any passersby).

 


July approached with the speed of a bullet train; and with it, the formal announcement of placements for the Grand Prix Series.

Yuuri knows that he shouldn’t be fretting over it given the conversations he and Celestino had already been through with the JSF, but it was almost like residual nerves from years past kicked in regardless.

Which is how he and Phichit find themselves huddling around Yuuri’s laptop screen far earlier than either of them would have chosen to wake up so they can see the results.

Yuuri’s eyes dart over the webpage, searching out his name with single-minded focus.

When he finally finds his entry, cool relief washes over him when he notes that he has two seeds. One, of course, is the NHK Trophy in late November back in Japan. The other, somewhat surprisingly, is Skate America in Illinois at the end of October.

As he sighs thankfully, Yuuri feels Phichit quiver next to him. Guilt mixes with relief for a moment, as Yuuri searches out Phichit’s name on the listing. He had been so focused on his own placement, he had briefly forgotten about Phichit.

Yuuri finds Phichit’s name and a single GPF placement at the Cup of China. Unsure what to do, Yuuri tries to sneak a peek at his roommates face.

And is greeted by a gigantic smile.

“Yuuri, you did it! You got two placements!” Phichit throws his arms around Yuuri, pulling him into a warm embrace.

Yuuri recovers quickly, a smile of his own forming. “Thanks Phichit! And you got a placement at China, that’s pretty exciting!”

Phichit’s smile wavers, then shrinks just a tiny bit. “Yeah, it’s great that I got a placement in my first year.”

Yuuri hesitates a moment, swallowing his nerves. “But…?”

“Hey, that’s a page out of my book!” Phichit teases Yuuri, shaking his head. “But…it would have been cool to have had two. Or. Or to have had one with you, so we could compete together.”

Phichit says the last bit softly, as if almost embarrassed at the admission.

Yuuri’s heart swells, fondness for his roommate overflowing. “Phichit, it would have been awesome, a dream, to compete against you.” Phichit sniffles a little, his arms encircling Yuuri once more. Yuuri pitches his deeper, yet silly at the same time. “And I’m sure eventually the stars will align, and the earth will tremble when we clash.”

Phichit snickers at that, releasing Yuuri as the two go drain some more coffee before they have to be at the rink.

It’s probably best Yuuri not mention he isn’t sure what he’s planning after this season. He tries to quash some of the persisting guilt, downing more of the burning liquid to take his mind off it.

 

Thankfully, getting to the rink marks the beginning of a brutal practice session from Celestino, almost as if he had known Yuuri needed the mindless intensity of training to keep him from darker thoughts.

For much of the day, Yuuri loses himself to the sound of his skates slicing across the ice mixing with the music in his mind, the scream of his lungs grasping for more air during jumps, and the slick feeling of sweat on his skin.

While sitting in the stands during one of his short breaks, Yuuri’s phone pings with an unfamiliar chime.

Fumbling as he pulls out his phone, it takes him a moment to place the sound as his Instagram notification.

Sure enough, he has a new message:

christophe-gc:

Yuuri! I saw that you’ve got two placements for the GP. You sneak, you didn’t tell me you were back to skating

katsudonyk:

Oh, uh, yeah. It took a long time for me to decide, but I’m skating again this season.

 

christophe-gc:

Well, I’m glad that you’re back! Though it is a bit of a bummer that we don’t have any qualifying cups together ☹

Guess we’ll just have to meet at the GPF then!

What made you change your mind?

About skating?

 

Yuuri has to stop and think a minute before answering this time. Christophe has always been supportive, but how much does he want to say?

 

katsudonyk:

I visited my family, and they helped remind me of the support I have, and that there are other ways for me to enjoy skating again.

But it would be really cool to meet at the GPF! I don’t know that I’ll make it there, but we’ll see how things play out.

 

christophe-gc:

Ahh, family. Well, in any case, best of luck until we meet at the GPF! 😉

https://media3.giphy.com/media/ZA5DTtqkU8bQDHuu16/giphy.gif

Yuuri smiles at Christophe’s boundless positivity. It would be nice to see the Swiss skater again, even if Yuuri knows that he will inevitably try to drag everyone out for drinks no matter the results. And Yuuri’s not usually one to mix drinks with his fellow competitors.

“Yuuri! Time’s up, back on the ice!”

Celestino’s voice breaks Yuuri’s reflection, and nearly drops his phone in surprise. He swiftly climbs down the stands and takes a few quick laps before resuming practice.

 


 

Originally, Viktor had been excited that Yakov wanted him to work closer with Yura as he set about learning and fine-tuning his routines for the next season (which would be his last in Juniors, he had boldly declared).

Yet trying to coach the spirited younger skater was already proving to be quite a challenge.

“Yura, can you try to show a little more emotion as you lead into the jump?” Viktor shouts across the ice, hoping his words don’t fall on deaf ears. It’s not that he’s expressing no emotion, it just comes off as cold and distant. But how do you express that in a way that’s verbally understandable?

“Are you kidding! You don’t think I have any emotion?!” came the response.

Viktor sighs heavily, rubbing his eyes for a momentary respite. Yura always manages to latch onto the wrong part of the coaching that Viktor (or others) offer, or just blatantly ignores it altogether.

You’d think Viktor would be more comfortable with that, since it was a go-to solution for many of his own problems with Yakov when he was competing, but it was just frustrating experiencing it on the other side.

And Yakov had put up with Viktor’s shit for a decade.

He was beginning to see why Yakov always seemed older after working with Yuri for an extended period.

But Viktor does have one advantage over Yakov’s coaching.

Removing his skate guards, he steps out onto the ice and skates up to Yuri.

“Rest a moment and watch me.”

Yura crosses his arms and levels a scowl at Viktor, but doesn’t say anything.

Taking that as tacit agreement, Viktor sets off demonstrating the lead-in to the chorus. A solidly difficult step sequence that blends right into a combination jump.

Channeling confidence without being overly arrogant, Viktor skates by issuing a challenge to any who would doubt his place.

While he may have the advantage of demonstrating over Yakov, at least the older man was usually able to convey in words (or tone, or gestures) what he was trying to communicate.

Viktor still has to fall back on his own skills.

When he’s finished the section, Viktor skates back over to Yura, who gives him a nonchalant shrug before setting off to try again.

Growing increasingly frustrated with Yura’s lack of communication or cooperation, Viktor departs from the ice and resumes his post surveying the rink from behind the barrier.

Across the ice, Viktor spots Georgi in the midst of his own routine, face blissfully serene as he moves with a dancer’s grace to an unheard melody.

Viktor’s counterpart has really been trying to step up his skating quality for the new season. Viktor still can’t quite get a read on Georgi. Maybe he wants to fill the void left in Russian skating with Viktor’s departure, not dissimilar from Yuri.

Yet as he watches Georgi glide across the ice elegantly, Viktor can tell there’s something more than just a competitive drive that’s changed as of late. There were rumors he was seeing someone, an ice dancer. Maybe that’s where some of this newfound progress was coming from. With a jolt, Viktor realizes he could probably ask Georgi and the man wouldn’t mind, given their growing connection.

Viktor smiles and shakes his head. Friendship is strange.

Turning away from Georgi, Viktor sets his sight back on Yura.

The younger skater has returned to repeating the same segment endlessly, with little improvement from before.

Yura’s still missing something in his presentation right now, and Viktor has a feeling what it might be. But he won’t be able to communicate it effectively as things stand. Yura would probably just brush him off and go back to his method of brute forcing.

Viktor clicks his tongue, thinking.

 

 

Viktor is still thinking later, after practice wraps up for the day. With his mind wandering, he opts to go for a walk with Makkachin in the hopes that moving will prompt more helpful thoughts.

He sets out for a stroll through the Summer Gardens, not far from the Neva. The Gardens are always meticulously kept, and everything is beautiful at this point in the summer.

Walking among the lanes of statues and greenery, Viktor returns to perusing his troubles with Yuri while Makkachin excitedly dashes from one shrubbery to the next.

There’s a divide between Viktor the coach and Yura the skater, even if the two get along decently outside of those settings. Even if Yura loves the routine Viktor crafted, there’s something in the way, making it hard for them to cooperate.

Viktor knows what he wants to accomplish – he wants Yuri to nail the routine, for Viktor’s first coaching appearance to be triumphant. Yet, equally important to Viktor is that Yuri achieve his own goals.

With a start, Viktor realizes he’s always just assumed what Yuri’s goals are. They both suck at talking to each other, so Viktor filled in the blanks on his own without checking to confirm, because it was easier. And knowing Yura, he could easily have done the same about Viktor’s own intentions.

Mulling over the realization, Viktor wanders into a juncture in the gardens where a gold-ornamented fountain is spraying water into the air. It’s lovely, if a bit ostentatious. Makkachin follows him into the open area, and locks eyes on the fountain.

Viktor can practically sense the mischief about to happen, and thankfully tightens his grip on Makka’s leash just as the poodle tries to bound away towards the glittering water.

“Makka! You sneaky dog, you were going to take a bath.”

Makkachin turns his head over his shoulder to look at Viktor, brown eyes pleading innocence.

Viktor kneels down, running his hands through the dark curls. “Don’t worry Makka, we’ll get you a bath soon enough,” he whispers as he presses his forehead against fur.

The two of them continue along through the gardens, passing ancient marble statues and beautiful fields of flowers, pink and yellow hues intermingling.

Viktor steers them slightly, so that they are passing through a walkway bounded by a long arch absolutely covered in brilliant green life. He smiles as they meander down the length of the path, recalling years past when he would run through the archways as a kid, chasing others for a game.

They’d been yelled at more than a few times by guards, but what was the scolding of a stuffy old guard compared to the boundless enthusiasm of youth?

Viktor’s thoughts turn back to Yura: so young, yet so determined to be successful and forge his own way. It’s hard to imagine him as a carefree kid, playing mindlessly. He’s been working himself ragged for years already on the skating circuit, and he clearly still hungers for more. If this is the path Yura has chosen, Viktor can at least try and help him along the way.

As a friend, as a mentor, and as a coach.

Emerging from the archway, Viktor guides Makkachin as they turn towards home.

It’s time for Viktor to meet Yura where he is; to learn his motivations and find how they can work together instead of each individually pursuing their own imagined goals for each other.

They might just be able to break a few records along the way.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

After his walk through the Summer Gardens, Viktor felt refreshed and ready to give his coaching with Yuri another wholehearted attempt.

But the next day, Yuri brushes him off when Viktor asks to talk more seriously about the routine.

“Yura c’mon, we should at least talk through some of the stumbling blocks.”

“Why would I want to discuss my problems with you?” Yura shoots back, glaring hard enough to burn a hole through Viktor’s favorite Russian National jacket. He turns to skate away, back out to the rink.

Breathing deeply to keep calm, Viktor tries again, “Please, Yuri.”

Yuri’s expression falters for a second, but resolves back into a smoldering frown before he glides away.

Frustration simmers in Viktor, and he pivots to storm away from the rink, hair whipping into his face uncomfortably. An older part of him just wants to throw in the towel, say he made the effort and Yuri ignored him.

But his budding understanding of relationships leaves him with the knowledge he can’t just leave things hanging, the air uncleared between them.

 

 

So, Viktor goes back to the drawing board. It’s obvious that there’s still something unsettled among the two of them, enough to prevent a reasonable conversation under normal circumstances. (That won’t stop Viktor from trying to ask Yuri almost every day, though).

But he starts hatching a new plan, too.

He’s going to need to corner Yuri without strictly cornering him. Get the skittish skater into a setting he can’t just wiggle away from.

Something like…a dinner.

Viktor wracks his mind trying to think of something that could work.

Some vague memory leads Viktor to recall that Yuri loves pirozhki, maybe Viktor could take him somewhere that serves them? But Yuri is incredibly…particular about his pirozhki, Viktor can also remember him ranting about how much better his grandfather’s homemade version is than anything in St. Petersburg.

Well then, Viktor’s going to have to make an effort to find somewhere that can placate even the picky Yuri.

Which means he and Makkachin have new destinations on their walks almost every day after practice ends, going to try various pirozhki places around Saint Petersburg. (It’s a great excuse to eat a lot of delicious food, too).

Yura, meanwhile, continues to try and brute force his way through the program with relatively little success. It’s frustrating for Viktor to watch, to have an idea to address it, yet know he can’t step in without mucking things up further.

He wonders if this how Yakov feels constantly.

Although, the old man tends not to give a shit about how others interpret his direction. Maybe Viktor should try to cultivate that kind of aura, too. Except it also makes Yakov an impersonable lump of stone most of the time, and that doesn’t sit well with Viktor’s approach to coaching (or, at least the way he’d like to be coaching).

Yuri does start to work on his short program as well, which gives Viktor something new to watch and digest. Yakov had been resistant at first to Viktor’s music choice for the free program, but gave ground surprisingly quickly after his initial response.

Following that, Yuri had picked out another song for his short program. Yakov had thrown his hands up in the air upon hearing it and walked away, but he hadn’t said no. And that was enough for Yuri to take it and run.

 

 

The summer continued to tick away, the humid weather and long days beginning to take a toll on Viktor’s stamina. IT was interesting trying to go to sleep when it was still light out after midnight.

On more than one occasion when he had trouble sleeping, Viktor went for a late jog along the banks of the Neva, watching as the bridges over the river were raised at close to 2:00 a.m.

It was a mystical experience almost, with the air tinged by the fleeting light as the sun sets during such a late hour. They don’t call them the “White Nights of Saint Petersburg” for nothing. An orange and pink glow suffused the air despite the late hour, and Viktor would lose himself in the atmosphere and regular movement of his muscles. His soul heavy, Viktor relished just breathing and moving for a time, until he could feel his eyelids growing heavy enough that sleep was inevitable.

One bright spot was all the new pirozhki places that Viktor kept trying around the city. Viktor was determined to try them all; the massive popular places down to the little hole-in-the-wall shops tucked into tight street corners. He sampled savory, and he sampled sweet.

After all, how could he make a fair judgment about the best if he hadn’t tried all they had to offer?

He did try and keep his outings clandestine, in the hope that once he found the right spot he could surprise Yura (though Viktor and sneaky don’t really work well together). Thankfully, the little skater seemed far too consumed by practicing his programs to pay attention to what Viktor did after hours.

Occasionally, he gets recognized at the restaurants he ventures to and has to play it off like he’s just a big fan of pirozhki (which isn’t too much of a stretch, he does love the food). It does lead to some awkward conversations with fans curious about his new plans, but also a few fun interactions with people excited about his new path.

Viktor knows that, eventually, he’ll find the place, and hopefully lay the foundations for a proper coaching relationship. Even if it means being vulnerable with a grumpy teenager.

 


 

“So,” Yuuri begins, playfully. “I couldn’t help but notice your quad toe loop in practice today.”

Phichit grins a bit, between mouthfuls of food. They’re sitting around their scrappy dining table, steaming bowls of curry in front of them (courtesy of a very generous Phichit).

“Keep that up and soon all of Seniors will be watching their backs for you.”

Phichit grumbles a bit shyly, but his response is lost when he shovels another helping of curry into his mouth.

Yuuri takes the opportunity to take a heaping bite as well, and almost immediately regrets such a large portion. Mouth on fire, Yuuri swallows and then quickly exhales the remaining spiciness still hanging on his tongue. Phicht smirks as Yuuri chugs water, face still burning. It’s not his fault his family never loved spicy food!

Still smiling softly, Phichit asks “And what about you? Your pieces really look like they’re coming together nicely.”

“I’ve definitely made some good progress. It helps that I already knew most of the moves from Viktor before we even choreographed the routines,” Yuuri admits.

“You’re such a fanboy,”

Yuuri laughs once, “Guilty as charged. Skating his routines does drag up memories, though. Of what he was like before,” Yuuri trails off, suddenly more somber.

Phichit just considers Yuuri thoughtfully for a moment, chopsticks frozen midair in his hands.

Yuuri looks down at the colorful bowl in front of him, stirring the food around absently. “Sometimes…sometimes I worry I just won’t be able to do him justice.”

“You know, I think the same thing myself on occasion.”

Yuuri’s eyes dart up, confused. “You do?”

“Yeah. About you.”

Yuuri just stares at Phichit, mouth agape.

“No, really. You’re such a talented skater, and we’ve been skating side by side for a few years now. And I want to capture some of that, replicate and improve upon it.” Phichit sighs, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s totally normal to feel that way. Even I do, but I try to think of it as motivation to make you proud.”

Yuuri’s first reaction is continued confusion, followed by a swell of warmth at Phichit’s willingness to share despite his murky thoughts.

“Phichit…” He tries to start again, chopsticks shaking in his hands. “I don’t know how you do stuff like that. But. You should know, there’s no way you could embarrass me more than I tend to embarrass myself. And that I’m a big fan of your skating.”

Phichit nods at Yuuri, before wiping away the wetness near his eyes and sniffling a bit before speaking. “Food’s too spicy...”

“Mhm, right.”

 

 

Time blended together as Yuuri and Phichit continued to practice, and they hardly noticed as the weather cooled and the colors around them began to change. All it meant was slightly different clothing and views for their trek to the rink. Tanktops and shorts changed to sweatshirts and jeans, while the colors of leaves faded from brilliant green to a bright, burning red and brilliant orange.

Yuuri’s ballet practice kicked into full swing as well, providing both excellent practice and a source of stress relief after countless hours on the ice.

Celestino seemed quite pleased with the progress they were both making, even going so far as to clap Yuuri on the shoulder after he nailed a run through of his free skate.

But Yuuri could feel his anxiety slowly returning, building as they neared his return to competitive skating at Skate America. Despite successful practices, Yuuri started having trouble with sleeping again.

After a few nights of lying in bed spent tossing and turning and hoping that sleep would take him, Yuuri returned to his habit of late night skates as a calming mechanism.

 

 

When Phichit woke late one night to the sound of the door closing, he silently followed as Yuuri snuck off to the rink. It was a strange experience for him, to be somewhere so familiar at such odd hours. Something kept him from letting Yuuri know of his presence, some unknown feeling.

If pressed, Phichit would have probably said he didn’t want to interrupt Yuuri when he thought he was in a private space. It almost felt wrong to be observing, in a way. Like he was spying, somehow.

Yet, when Yuuri stepped out onto the ice, Phichit was mesmerized by the movements.

Yuuri had earbuds in, but Phichit could feel the music anyway from the tone of Yuuri’s skating. A wavering, mournful melody of some sort.

 

Yuuri flowed across the ice, precision and grace apparent in each step, each spin. His eyes were shut, but his eyebrows were pinched tight. Phichit could swear he saw a tear sliding down the pale contours of his face. He looked so incredibly…solemn, yet his skating felt unburdened, unhurried. His willowy figure swept from one side of the rink to another, and Phichit’s breath was stuck in his throat as he watched.

It was dramatic, elegant. It was…better than Viktor’s skating, in Phichit’s humble opinion. He could pick out how each sequence was mirrored after something Viktor had done, but Yuuri was continually altering the movements subtly with each step.

Adding to it, while keeping the beauty that had made Viktor so famous. And somehow different from even what Yuuri did in practice. More free? Phichit couldn’t be sure.

Yuuri seemed fearless as he leapt into a quad Salchow and hit it flawlessly. Yet again, it was similar but different from his approach in practice. There was no hesitation, maybe just…determination? Phichit sat there for a while, utterly entranced by Yuuri’s skating.

Phichit began to feel like he really was intruding after a time, much to his own disappointment. Despite his desire to simply stay and watch, he eventually retreated back out into the chilly late-night air to make his way back home, mind still spinning from what he witnessed.

He didn’t mention it to Yuuri the next day, but he was still surprised when he saw Yuuri fall during a quad Salchow attempt. Watching it was so completely at odds with the depiction he had seen last night. It was almost like two entirely different skaters, but Phichit knew they were both Yuuri.

 


 

Viktor grew to enjoy giving Yura a taste of his medicine each day, even if it was met with obstinate refusal each time he offered to talk about the routines. At least he could be as annoying as his younger counterpart, if only in this small, miniscule item.

And Viktor had to take his wins where he could find them, because, damn.

It was infuriating watching Yura just repeatedly throw himself at the routine, trying to find the fabled missing piece to make things click. Even Yakov had tried to help out a few times, and was met with steely eyes and Yura’s patented frown.

Admittedly, watching the two scowl at each other, each unwilling to yield, had brought a brief moment of levity and Viktor had to cover his mouth as he quietly snickered.

But otherwise, his new way of life continued unfettered. He kept trying new pirozhki places as summer wound down into fall, but with no major breakthrough.

Every week or two, Viktor would spend some off time with Mila and Georgi (with the occasional guest appearance from Yura, when Mila dragged him along). His favorite outing was when they went to the Russian Museum, and spent most of the afternoon making up backstories for each of the sculptures they walked past at the end of their outing.

“See, this fellow was the first to confront the wicked witch outside their village. That’s why he’s cowering in fear now, he saw Yura and recognized another witch,” Georgi had joked.

Mila had doubled over laughing hard, until she snorted in the throes of it and then looked up with a panicked expression.

Viktor and Georgi looked at each other simultaneously before wheezing in laughter themselves, while Yura unrelentingly repeated some variation of “Shut up Baba, you’re so dumb!” like a soft mantra as they all cackled.

It was…not an unpleasant time in Viktor’s life altogether, despite the circumstances that had lead him to coaching. The work was hard, tiring. And aggravating at times. But he was making serious progress with many of the junior skaters Yakov had assigned him (barring Yuri, who was a constant source of exasperation).

And the way they looked up to him, it reinforced Viktor’s budding confidence. He’d watched as their looks and perception of him had changed gradually. They started out in awe of working with such a renowned skater, eyes shining with the same glazed-over look that many fans had.

Over time, it shifted to confusion and consternation as Viktor figured out his own method of coaching, working with each of them differently than Yakov had. It had taken time to learn what worked for him, and how to mold that to each of his skaters.

And now, they looked at him not with the glimmering eyes of fans, or the shadowy eyes of doubt, but with eyes of promise. That they would work with him, that they trusted him.

Viktor was musing over the changes and progress each of his skaters had gone through as he walked into a new pirozhki shop, a tiny little spot on the Griboyedova River, tucked a bit away from the main thoroughfares that he had seen on one of his many walks with Makkachin, too full to stop at that time.

He put in his standard order for a mixed half-dozen of the delicious food, then took a seat at a rather flimsy table. It had checkered laminate covering the top, which looked filmy from what was likely years of use. A cursory look around the place showed a few old paintings hanging on dingy walls, the paint dulled from white to a light gray.

He was interrupted from his inspection by a young woman with her hair back in a bob, carrying out a small tray with Viktor’s pirozhki on it.

After thanking her, Viktor leaned back in the rickety chair and took a bite from his favorite, the meat-filled option. And he smiled.

He eagerly swallowed and took another bite, from a different pirozhki this time, a mushroom-filled one. It was delicate, not overly flakey. But the flavor, the taste. It was extraordinary. An explosion in his mouth. He closed his eyes, leaning back and just savoring the taste.

Viktor rapidly tried each of the remaining types, and found them all delicious. Even the sweeter jam filled one, which he typically didn’t love. Grinning madly, he approached the young woman who had brought out his food.

“I can’t believe how good this is, I’ve been trying pirozhki all across the city and this…this is the best, by far!”

She blinked in surprise, before a pleasant smile spread. “Thank you so much! It’s an old family recipe, my babushka had been making them like this for years before my parents convinced her to open up the shop.”

“Well, whatever she did to them, she’s doing something right. I’ll be back, thank you again!”

She waved shyly as Viktor bolted out the door, a plan for tomorrow crystallizing in his mind.

 

 

“Yura, can we get dinner together after practice?”

“I already told you, n—” Yuri looks up from tightening the laces on his skates, searching out Viktor’s face. “Wait, what?”

“Dinner. You and me?”

Yuri’s stare turns flat, “Why?”

“I found a good spot for food,” Viktor deadpans.

Viktor feels Yura’s eyes inspecting him, skepticism apparent. Pulse racing beneath his skin, Viktor tries to keep his expression nonchalant. Aloof. That’s what he should be going for. It’s what Yura expects from him. But shit, it’s harder to fake when you care.

Yura turns back to his skates, clearly unshaken by whatever he found looking over Viktor. “Sure.”

Viktor smiles a bit too quickly, and has to rein it back in before responding in a more even voice, “Sounds good, I’ll text you the address.”

The rest of the day is a challenge, Viktor vacillating between the feeling of the day flying by and crawling slowly. He’s surprised when he finds himself standing under the heat of the shower after wrapping practice for the day, the heat pleasant after the chilly air in the rink and outside.

He starts breathing deeply when he pulls on a blue Henley, trying to center his scattered mind.

As Viktor walks to the restaurant, the measured breathing finally begins to calm the roiling in his core. He’s finally going to have a chance to talk with Yura. Where he can’t just run or avoid a conversation.

He has to treat Yura like a partner if the two of them are really going to work together successfully. That said, Viktor’s also going to have to be the adult, push the conversation when it will inevitably be uncomfortable.

A bell jingles as he pushes open the door to the little store, the cold air rushing in alongside Viktor.

He spots Yuri seated at one of the checkered tables, and freezes in the doorway for a moment. Readying, steeling himself. The door closes softly behind him, the bell jingling again.

Viktor jolts back into motion, his movements stiff and robotic as he takes the seat across from Yura.

“You didn’t tell me it was a pirozhki place,” Yuri frowns at him.

Nerves still racing, Viktor’s eyes sweep across the dirty linoleum table, and up Yuri’s brilliant Team Russia jacket. His jaw feels like it’s suddenly made of titanium, and he can’t force out a response.

“I don’t normally like going to pirozhki places, it just makes me want my grandpa’s cooking.”

“You know, I thought I recognized you yesterday! But with your friend in that jacket, you must really be him. Viktor Nikiforov!”

Viktor pans his head slowly and catches sight of the waitress from before, her hair still back in a bob. Something about hearing his name out loud squeezes his insides, and his brain starts running again.

He flashes his media smile, nodding. “That’s me! It’s nice to meet you…”

“Yulia. My name’s Yulia,” she adds, beaming widely.

Before he can respond further, an upset-looking Yuri interjects, “Of course you get recognized when we go somewhe--,” he pauses a moment and Viktor can almost see the gears turning in his head.

“Wait, why the hell were you here yesterday too?”

Yulia helpfully supplies, “Oh, he said he was trying pirozhki all around the city! And that he liked my babushka’s so much that he’d be back!”

Yura looks at him quizzically, lost in thought. Viktor turns back to Yulia, content to let Yura gawk.

“Can we get two orders of what I had yesterday? I think that should be a good start for us.”

“Sure thing! I’ll get those started.” Yulia bounces away, enthusiasm boiling over.

They both sit quietly for a minute, eyes flitting around nervously, and Viktor can feel the tension returning. He scrambles mentally, heart pounding. Shit, why are meaningful relationships so hard to navigate? It was almost easier when Viktor was alone.

“I was looking for the right place,” Viktor says softly.

Yura’s eyebrows bunch together again, and Viktor thinks it would be a hilarious image if he wasn’t practically sweating.

“Did…did you really go try places all over the city?”

“…No?”

“Really.”

“…Yes?” Viktor hesitates before pressing his hands to his forehead, “I’m not sure what answer you’re looking for here.”

“Why? Why did you…” It sounds like the words were ripped from Yura’s throat, his voice raw and cracking.

Viktor exhales and pauses, doing his best to ignore Yura’s piercing eyes. “I remembered you mentioning how much you love your grandfather’s pirozhki. So, I figured I’d find the best pirozhki place in the city and take you there. It might not be the same, but I wanted to at least try.”

Yuri’s eyes widen, and he mumbles “Can’t believe you remember that…”

They sit in silence for another few minutes, Viktor’s mind racing as he tries to read Yuri’s thoughts. He shifts a lock of silver hair out of his eyes, tucking it back. Somehow, he’s right back at the root of the problem: trying to interpret Yuri’s feelings without asking.

He’s bailed out by the arrival of two steaming plates of pirozhki, deposited deftly in front of them both by Yulia.

Yuri wastes no time at all, taking a bite right away, and his cheeks turn bright red as his eyes bug out.

Viktor can’t help a tiny laugh from escaping. “A bit hot still?”

Yuri swallows after a moment, tongue sticking out as steam rises from it. “Shut up…”

After a bit longer, they both decide to risk burnt tongues and begin digging into the food. Once Yura takes another bite, he closes his eyes as he chews, and Viktor catches a brief glimpse of bliss on his face.

That, more than anything else so far, warms Viktor’s heart. To see genuine pleasure on Yura’s face. For a while, there is a much more comfortable silence between the two of them as they savor the delicious food, broken only when Yura groans in pleasure at the taste of the pirozhki.

But they slow a bit after wolfing down the first few, leaving an opportunity. Before he can overthink it, Viktor takes the leap.

“Yuri, what are your goals?”

“Huh?” comes the response, between mouthfuls.

“What do you want to accomplish as a skater? What do you want to achieve?”

Yura slowly sets down the half-eaten pirozhki, looking more suspiciously at Viktor now.

“Why do you want to know?”

Viktor twists a lock of hair hanging out in front of him, waiting. “Because we haven’t talked about it before.” He exhales from his nose, the sound somehow louder in the palpable silence, and he looks down at the grungy table. “If I’m going to be your coach, and we’re going to work together…I feel like I should have asked a long time ago. But we have to start somewhere, right?”

He looks up at Yura, eyes hopeful. Yura gazes back at him, green eyes searching him. He takes a bite from another pirozhki coolly, the action completely at odds with his intense stare.

The time it takes the young skater to chew and swallow is agonizing for Viktor, but he doesn’t look away. In fact, Yuri is the one to break the staring off, looking over his shoulder uncomfortably.

“I want to be the best. I want the rest of Seniors to be scared of me, for them to know that I’m on my way to take the crown. That there is nothing they can do to stop me.” Yura turns and looks straight at Viktor, his eyes flashing with fire and his face determined. “I want to break your records.”

For a moment, Viktor’s heart teeters at the edge of a cliff, torn between the past and the future. Is he actually doing this?

It takes a moment for him to really, truly decide that it’s time to jump. To jump and not look back; fly with arms outstretched towards a new goal.

And then he’s grinning, so widely it almost hurts. “Let’s do it. Together.”

Yura’s eyebrows pinch together, confusion in his voice, “You’re serious.”

Viktor can’t tell if it’s meant as a question or not, but doesn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely. But…if we’re going to do this,” he gestures between them a few times, “Working together thing, we need to communicate. Like, really, actually talk about things. That’s…that’s why I brought you here, to show that I care. That I want…” Viktor trails off, unsure how he can finish that thought.

Yuri seems to mull that over for a minute, eating the last of his pirozhki. Viktor can hear the ticking of the old clock on the wall a few tables down, hands ticking the seconds away. He starts to feel uncomfortable again, worrying that he might have overstepped.

“Alright.”

Viktor starts slowly nodding his head, “Okay. Since you probably won’t ask,” Yuri frowns, gaze darkening, “I want to tell you what my goals are, too. So that. So that we’re on the same page.”

Almost to Viktor’s surprise, Yuri nods curtly at him once.

“I want to become a great coach. Maybe even better than I was a skater. There’s something,” he pauses, searching, “intangible, yet rewarding about creating programs for others. That I wouldn’t have performed. Maybe it’s…a new way to surprise the audience.”

Viktor shakes his head for a moment before continuing, “And I want to help you be successful. Even if…even if it means surpassing me. Because I didn’t have anyone other than Yakov when I was getting started, and that was incredibly hard. And lonely.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Yura snarls, clearly uncomfortable. “…But…I will work with you.”

It wasn’t a thank you, or even a ringing endorsement. But from Yura…it may as well have been. Viktor’s heart slows imperceptibly, and his shoulders relax a little when he exhales.

Yura’s expression calms as he asks, “There’s…you’ve seen I’m having trouble with your program. Maybe.” Yura coughs, a bit strained, “Maybe tomorrow, we can work on it?”

Viktor can see something else in Yura’s eyes as well. A bit of…humility?

“Yes, we can.”

“Now go get another plate of pirozhki, I’m still hungry.”

“I knew you really liked them!”

“Shut up.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 8: Back Into the Fray

 

The drive to Illinois for Skate America eerily reminds Yuuri of the car trip to Worlds more than a year ago, when he had so thoroughly embarrassed himself.

For a while, Yuuri just watches the countryside blur together as they travel westwards. Trees, fields, and rivers all flit by as he leans his head up against the door. He can feel his stomach curling, tension building as they draw closer.

The quiet is broken, thankfully, by an exuberant Phichit (who decided to tag along since it was only a car ride instead of a flight, and Yuuri is happy to share a room).

Yuuri suspects that his friend can sense the budding unease he feels during the drive, and Phichit does his best to fill the silence with chatter about pretty much anything.

And strangely, it does comfort Yuuri a little bit, even if he isn’t paying close attention. The regular noise breaks the mirror-like quality between the last car drive to a competition, and Yuuri slowly gets drawn into the conversation by Phichit.

Which is how he finds himself in a ridiculous debate about whether Ethan Hunt or James Bond is the better secret agent. Because, apparently, that’s what Phichit wants to talk about right now (he always has been a sucker for action/thrillers).

“I’m just saying that Ethan Hunt is quicker and has a team to back him up.” Phichit announces, arms folded over his chest.

“Maybe, but Bond just thinks faster on his feet.” Phichit is adamant that Ethan Hunt is smaller and faster, but Yuuri maintains that James Bond is just better at using his surroundings (and quietly, Yuuri thinks the British man is both more mysterious and attractive as well).

Celestino then surprises both of them looking up at them through the rear view mirror and chiming in, “But what about Jason Bourne?”

Yuuri and Phichit fall silent and turn to look at each other, an electric understanding passing between them.

“No way, not smart enough” Phichit declares.

“I doubt he would be able to stop either of them,” Yuuri adds simultaneously.

The two share a mischievous smile as they return to their banter for the rest of the journey, Celestino grinning and shaking his head despite his exclusion from further discussion.

When they arrive at their hotel in the evening, the three share a companionable dinner before heading to their respective rooms for an earlier evening, since Yuuri has practice sessions the next day.

 

Mercifully, Yuuri is able to get a full night’s rest and wakes up feeling rather excited about practice for the day, muscles buzzing in anticipation of future use. He’s so close to returning to competing now, and his enthusiasm for outdoing the competition is surfacing.

After a healthy breakfast of eggs and fruit, Yuuri, Phichit, and Celestino all head over to the rink for the practice session for the day.

As they walk into the welcome area, Yuuri is greeted with the sight of a dozen or so reporters all milling about.

He’d mostly managed to forget that the media is present at these events, instead focusing the last few weeks on making sure his performance was put together and preparing mentally for his return to the skating circuit.

Nervousness sparks inside of him, stomach dropping and heart quickening. As calmly and confidently as he can manage (though it’s not very much at the moment if he’s being honest), he strides alongside Celestino as they head backstage, eyes focused forward.

Celestino catches onto Yuuri’s stiffer quality quickly, glancing at him through the side of his eyes. He waits until the two of them pass through a double door to the skating lounge before saying softly, “Yuuri, you’re going to have to speak with the press after your practice today.”

“I know…”

Phichit comes up behind Yuuri, resting an arm on his shoulder in a comforting gesture.

“They’re thrilled to be seeing you here Yuuri,” Celestino smiles a bit sadly, “it’s been so long since you’ve competed that I’m sure they just want a bit of a soundbite on your return.”

Yuuri looks down at his feet, his insides squirming between anxiousness and a desire to just go out there and prove himself.

Phichit squeezes his shoulder gently, speaking confidently. “You’ve got this, Yuuri. You don’t need to worry about them till later, you get to skate first.”

Nodding, Yuuri continues through to the changing area, passing several other skaters along the way. He only recognizes Michele Crispino, deep in a conversation with his rather bored-looking sister. Sara seems to notice as Yuuri passes by, and gives him a friendly smile, which Yuuri tries to return (it feels more like a grimace).

The Crispino’s have always been an odd pair – not that they pair skate, but that they don’t seem to match well for siblings in Yuuri’s eyes. Sara is far more outgoing and friendly, while Michele has only ever given Yuuri the cold shoulder during competitions. For some reason, the Italian skater seems to have designated Yuuri as a rival. Yuuri has wracked his memory on several occasions to try and pinpoint why, and the best he’s come up with is that he once held the door for Sara and didn’t see Michele running to catch up to her and had let the door close in his face.

Yuuri had apologized profusely, but the next interview Michele gave, he targeted Yuuri as his rival for the competition. All this despite the fact that Yuuri feels completely neutral about the man. Shaking his head in quiet amusement, Yuuri settles down to get his skate gear on.

A little bit later, Yuuri hands his skate guards over to Phichit as he steps out onto the ice. He does a quick half lap around the rink, then returns to where Celestino and Phichit are standing by the barrier.

“Alright Yuuri, we’ve been practicing your routines nonstop so just focus on getting warm. Then run the individual components of your short program. We don’t want to give too much away with a full run-through before things really start, right?” Celestino finishes a bit quieter than his normal, boisterous voice and Yuuri can’t help but feel like they’re harboring a precious secret, even if it’s only his new routines.

“A relaxing warm-up. That, I can do,” Yuuri replies while nodding. Phichit gives him a quick fist bump from over the railing before Yuuri pushes off again, sliding back towards the center of the ice.

Yuuri spends much of the practice tooling around on the ice, losing himself in the glorious feeling of freedom that he only gets from skating. He runs some of his step sequences out of order, just to make sure he has the movements down (as if he could forget movements he’s practiced since he could mimic Viktor).

He settles into a rhythm, prancing across the ice while reflecting on the emotions he’ll be evoking through his pieces. He tries to avoid settling into those emotional spaces during practice, though. That might be a bit…overwhelming.

After some time, Yuuri also tries a few jumps that go alright (not exceptionally well), but Celestino calls him over after that and asks him to limit his jumps after that.

It unsettles Yuuri a bit, to be avoiding practicing his jumps much this close to a competition. But he’s come to trust Celestino over the years, perhaps even a bit more after their collaborative work on his new routines this summer, and refrains from testing out more of his jumps.

When Celestino whistles to get Yuuri off the ice, it comes as a surprise that his time is already up. The more relaxed approach to his practice has gone a long way towards helping him settle into the realization that he will be competing tomorrow. Lurking in the back of his mind, though, is the knowledge that he’ll need to speak with the press after he changes.

He’s…not quite ready for that, but at least he feels more centered after practice.

Yuuri takes his time changing and showering, running through a variety of possible questions he might expect from the interrogation. Afterwards, he meets Celestino and Phichit in the lounge.

Phichit stands up as Yuuri approaches, and Yuuri can read the question on his lips before he even voices it. “You ready?”

“Not really, but when have I ever been ready for the media?”

“Just try to be honest, if you’re able,” Celestino adds with a knowing look.

The three pass through one of the doors in the lounge, into a smaller room with a table set up at the front with about a dozen chairs facing it. Filling the seats are the very same reporters that Yuuri had so quickly walked by earlier, all immediately turning towards Yuuri as he walks towards the front.

The collective murmuring in the room quiets down as Yuuri tries to settle into the chair behind the table, but the hard plastic shape just leaves him feeling further on edge.

A reporter from TV Asahi, a woman he doesn’t recognize, is the first to speak. He wishes it were Morooka instead, but tries to swallow past the lump in his throat. “Skater Katsuki, let me be the first to say we’re excited to have you back on the circuit!”

“Thank you for the warm welcome – I’m excited to be back.” At least, he hopes that his voice conveys excitement. He can’t really hear himself over the thrumming of his heart and blood rushing in his ears.

The same woman continues, “You’ve kept your theme this year under wraps longer than most. Can you share with us now what your plans are?”

Yuuri knew the question would be asked; it’s one that he and practiced for over and over again. Yet, his mouth still feels as dry as a desert when he goes to speak.

“Certainly. My theme this year is…” Yuuri coughs, clearing his throat and his face turning beetroot red as he resumes, “My theme for the year is Reflection. I’ve chosen to reflect on my skating, what inspires me, and how I have changed since my last competition. It’s also a tribute. In a way.”

Shit. Was he supposed to hint that his whole season is a tribute? Is that too much information? He clenches his hands together under the table, wringing them.

Another reporter, a man from a US network stands up. “Can you give us any more details about what to expect tomorrow?”

Yuuri cocks his head, thoughtful. “Tomorrow represents a stage of my reflection process while I was away, my feelings at a point in time.”

There’s a clamor as several people try to press for more details, but a louder voice asks “What led you to take such a long break from competitive skating?”

“I took a break from skating because I didn’t feel the fire to compete anymore. I was…searching for something.”

“Did you find it?” comes the immediate response.

“Umm…kind of. I definitely want to compete again!” He tries to sound upbeat, but he feels increasingly flustered by the focus on his themes. It strays far to close to…to Viktor. And to his family.

“Well, what was it?”

Yuuri’s face flushes with red, and he stammers for a few seconds before providing some vague non-answer, praying for another question.

He’s bailed out by the TV Asahi woman, who asks an easy question about his training. It helps reset him, and soon he falls into a more consistent rhythm. He doesn’t receive any more overly invasive questions, and navigates the rest of the press session without any further near-disasters.

Yuuri breathes one hefty sigh of relief as he leaves the room alongside his coach and Phichit.

“Well, that wasn’t bad Yuuri!” Celestino claps him on the shoulder in what Yuuri presumes is celebration, but it just makes his stomach roll uncomfortably.

“You certainly gave them a few teasers,” Phichit says with a wink. “And I got some good footage to post!”

Yuuri buries his face into his hands, groaning. “Please, no.”

“I can’t hear yoooouuu,” Phichit sings, jokingly.

Yuuri shoots a glare at his best friend, peeking through his hands. “I said. I hate you, and our friendship is over.”

Phichit gasps in mock surprise and hurt, clutching at his heart. He puts on his best soap opera impression and wails,“Yuuri, how could you hurt me like this?! I thought what we had was real!”

Yuuri playfully pushes Phichit away, but a grin spreads on his face anyway. “Fine, we can be friends again, but you have to handle dinner tonight.”

“A small price to pay for your friendship!”

“I still hate you.”

Celestino’s laughter booms around them as he nudges them back to the skating lounge.

 

 

Yuuri wakes the next morning with a strange mixture of anticipation, nerves, and excitement struggling for internal control of his emotions. All of which makes for a rather unhappy stomach situation, though Celestino does coerce him into at least eating something before they head over to the rink.

Yuuri isn’t due to perform his short program until the afternoon, but his ever-prepared coach wants to arrive with plenty of time to warm up, settle in, and let Yuuri work through his pre-competition jitters. At least, that’s what Yuuri is guessing based on his coach’s constant support throughout the morning. (First, it was at breakfast, and then running up to grab Yuuri’s jacket he’d left in his room, and then talking nonstop on the ride over to the arena).

When Celestino stops for a moment to check his phone, Yuuri seizes the opportunity to grab Phichit’s attention and whisper, “Help me!”

“I’m going with you, don’t worry,” is the response. But Yuuri can’t help but feel that if Celestino keeps showering him with this much attention, he’ll be exhausted before he even steps out onto the ice.

Thankfully, they arrive a few minutes later and Yuuri’s concerns about Celestino are quickly supplanted by the mass of reporters and fans swarming around the entrance. Celestino shepherds the two of them through the crowd with surprising stealth, though by the time they reach the doors a few of the crowd seem to have recognized Yuuri and are shouting.

“Skater Katsuki, do you think you’ll place first?”

“Go Yuuuriiiii!!! You’re our hero!”

“Yesterday you said your skating this year is a tribute! Who is it for?”

Celestino flashes his credentials and the three slip inside before Yuuri has a chance to even formulate a response in his mind, the noise and tight bodies crushing. Yet, as they make their way to the skater’s lounge, the last question rings in his ears.

 

As Yuuri skates around the rink during his warmup slot, he does his best to transport himself back to the feeling he had when Viktor was injured. For his short program, he wants to capture and display the emotions he felt as he watched Viktor’s career come to a screeching halt.

He glides across the ice with deliberate care, somber music in his earbuds. With his eyes closed, it’s easy to imagine he’s skating on his own, with nobody watching.

Just like his late night skate sessions.

It’s a fine line to walk, though. If he immerses himself too deeply in his feelings, they get…overwhelming. Bring him back to that desolate place he was in after Viktor’s injury. Which, in some ways, is exactly the point of his theme this year.

But he also has to cling to that glimmer of brightness, of competing, of his family, so that he isn’t completely stranded in those emotions. And that’s also part of this theme this year, recognizing the growth and tension between where Yuuri started and where he is now. He wants to translate those changes and emotions into a performance for the sake of competition, but also for his own sake. To try and process how deeply connected his skating is to Viktor.

His warmup session is spent in deep thought, with Yuuri focusing on a few step sequences and spin transitions. That, combined with Celestino’s unwavering attention, has the unintended side effect of keeping him from stressing about the competition. He only remembers that he has to compete when Celestino whistles to call him over.

Right. Costumes, competition. Those small little details.

After a brief conversation about Yuuri’s warm up, Celestino walks off to check on something (Yuuri’s already forgotten what), and Phichit takes Yuuri back to the changing room.

Phichit whispers to Yuuri as they step into his changing room, “I can’t believe Ciao Ciao was so easy to distract, he totally bought it.”

“Hmm?”

Phichit shrugs, “You look preoccupied…and like you could use a break from him.”

Yuuri turns around to look at Phichit, shoulders drooping. “This all just feels a bit...surreal right now. Like. I have to change into my costume. To go and compete. Skating a program that I helped create. About Viktor?” he pauses, shaking his head a moment. “That just felt more and more strange as I talked.”

Phichit giggles a bit, in his typical disarming way, and Yuuri feels things shift ever so slightly back towards normal. “Well, I think you pretty much covered it all with that. Though I do love your costume for this piece. The colors! I just…” Phichit squeals joyfully at the end, hands clapping together.

They both turn to look at it, hanging across the room. To be fair, Yuuri took inspiration for both the costume and music from an animated show he’d seen a while back, so he can’t take much individual credit. His designer had actually welcomed his input, despite it being his first time chiming in on his costumes.

Yuuri starts by putting on the undercostume and black bottoms. However, the black creeps down to a gray as it nears his skates, turning to a brilliant white at the ankles. Next, he changes into a crimson dress shirt, with the collar upturned. Over that goes a blinding white, tight-fitting top with long sleeves and a deep “V” at the chest for the undershirt and some of Yuuri’s skin to show through. The material is slightly stretchy and thin, but thick enough to cover the bright red of his shirt. Stitched in along his sleeves are sparkling grey and gold snowflakes, and a large, reflective one covers his back.

Phichit squeals again when he finishes, and begins layering him in makeup.

When Phichit finally steps away, Yuuri stands up and gets his first look in the mirror of the whole ensemble.

And he just stops, stunned.

He looks like an otherworldly being, ephemeral and untamed. His pale skin seems to glow, the bright red undershirt and collar popping next to it. He normally doesn’t love red, but something about this particular costume just strikes him right.

At that moment, Celestino slowly opens the door, and catches sight of Yuuri. When Yuuri turns to look, he sees a gigantic grin on his coach’s’ face and can’t resist smiling back.

“You look great! Let’s go, Yuuri. You’re up soon” Celestino motions with his head toward the rink, and the three of them make their way over.

The time until Yuuri’s skating blurs for him, between stretching and listening to his music. He continues to focus on the feeling, the emotion he’s trying to evoke.

He stops a few times to watch haphazardly as other skaters go through their routines, and he is astounded by one particular performance from a skater he’s never seen before. A younger skater, Otabek Altin. Yuuri doesn’t focus enough to retain where he’s from, but the man’s score puts him in a lofty lead, even ahead of Michele.

In what seems like the blink of an eye, Yuuri is handing his skate guards over to an eager Phichit as he takes the ice. The surreal sensation returns for a flash as the crowd cheers and Yuuri does a few quick laps around the rink.

He’s really here, about to compete.

The thought slams into him like an unseen assailant, almost suffocating. His breathing speeds up several notches, trying to catch up. He tries to calm his thundering heart as he takes position at the center of the ice.

As the first piano notes echo around the stadium, Yuuri strains to grasp the somber and isolated feeling that consumed him just a year ago, but feels only his nerves. His motions begin somewhat stiff as he steps around the rink, choreography feeling stilted.

Words ring out, and Yuuri clings to them like a lifeline.

Mirror, tell me something. Tell me who’s the loneliest of all?

He thinks of Viktor, his injury, and finally Yuuri channels the sorrow of watching and losing his idol. It’s not an instantaneous transformation, but he can feel himself settling as he clutches at his chest for choreography, distraught.

His first step sequence isn’t blisteringly fast like many before, but precise, delicate. A dance across the ice. Just like Viktor. Each step is devastatingly graceful, yet conveys a heartbreaking undertone.

As the music picks up, Yuuri leans into a tight spin, the red of his collar melding with the rest of the stadium as wind rushes by. The snowflakes on his arms glitter and catch the light as he spins, little rays bouncing off into the mysterious darkness.

Then he’s off again, conscious thought gone as he is swept up by the pleading tones.

He leaps into the air, soaring for a stunning Triple Axel. His skates reconnect with the ice and he glides, effortless and ethereal, yet oh so alone.

He dances now, flits across the ice like a mischievous fairy. Untouchable. It’s a moment he carved out specifically for ballet, like a brief respite amongst a surrounding storm of loneliness and isolation.

The rink quiets for a moment, but soon the subdued piano taps in tandem with wailing vocals. Yuuri dips down and hydroblades across the rink, fingers skimming along the surface.

As he sails across the ice, his heart swells with simultaneous joy and grief. Here he is, skating his feelings in a competition. And he’s so proud, so happy to have made it back to this position. But his idol, his inspiration, won’t ever have that chance again. It hurts, to know with such absolute certainty. He won’t see Viktor skate again, won’t have a new routine to memorize from his favorite skater. He lingers on that feeling, not bothering to hide his emotions any longer.

Yuuri pops up when the strings return, moving into a quick Quad Salchow that he unfortunately has to step out on, the transition proving too speedy. Yuuri continues largely unphased, conjuring his resolve to strengthen him even as he channels sadness into his demeanor.

Before he has much chance to rest, he’s leaping again for a Quad toe-Triple toe combination, and he vaguely registers the crowd screaming as he nails it.

Mirror Mirror, tell me something. Who’s the loneliest of all?

He wills that loneliness that he felt when crying in his bed for weeks on end into his motions as he enters a combination spin while the strings climb the scale at the end.

The question finally answered and with his heart on his sleeve, he slowly dips down, kneeling for his end position with his right arm covering the lively crimson of his undershirt and his left arm outstretched behind his back.

Awareness fades back in slowly, but the first thing Yuuri senses is the deafening screaming all around him, threatening to overpower him. He adjusts a bit after a few seconds, and skates around the rink to pick up a few of the plushies and flowers thrown at him.

Heart still heavy from conveying such emotions in his performance, Yuuri skates over to his coach in a daze.

“Yuuri!”

“Well done!”

A warm embrace from Phichit helps bring Yuuri further back to consciousness. Celestino is clapping loudly beside him.

Celestino leans in closer so he can be heard, “Yuuri, what a great return to the ice!”

Yuuri steps back for a moment and looks at his best friend and his coach. A smile spreads on his cheeks, and a tear rolls down his face.

“Thank you. I can’t…thank you.” It’s for more than just their compliments, or individual help today, but for all they have done to champion him to this moment, this redemption.

Yuuri sniffles and wipes his eyes, belatedly realizing he may have smeared his makeup before deciding he doesn’t really care right now.

“I panicked a bit at the start, you know” he says to Phichit.

Celestino responds first, to Yuuri’s surprise. “That’s okay. You found your footing. And you did it yourself, on the ice.”

It wasn’t a flawless performance, but for once Yuuri didn’t really care. He went out there and skated, after more than a year away. It isn’t too much of a surprise when his scores come in and place him in 4th, close on the heels of 3rd place.

After the scores arrive, Yuuri readies himself for the press gauntlet, but finds himself feeling surprisingly buoyant despite his placing. For once, he walks out to face the reporters with a smile.

 


 

When Viktor arrives to the rink at his usual time, he’s bewildered to find Yuri already warming up on the ice. In fact, he just stares in disbelief for long enough that the tiny skater has to shout “What!?” at him from across the ice before he starts moving again.

Shaking himself a few times to verify that, indeed, Yura is actually still there, Viktor enters the rink. It’s still early enough that the rink is cast in uneven shadows, the first rays of light just beginning to filter through the big glass windows to splay onto the ice.

Yes, he had promised Yura that he would help fix his program the next day, but Viktor hadn’t actually expected him to be chomping at the bit for it.

Viktor speeds through his usual morning routine, changing and warming as quickly as he feels is reasonable so he can get to working with Yura. When Viktor approaches the ice, Yuri stops what he is doing and skates over.

He stands there quietly for a moment, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “So.”

“So,” Viktor replies.

“What do we do?”

For just a second, Viktor savors the sweet sensation of hearing Yuri Plisetsky, menace of the Junior skating world, ask him, Viktor Nikiforov, what to do. He doesn’t let the moment stretch for long, just an extra beat or two in the early morning silence.

How far they have come to reach this point.

Then, it’s time for him to put his coaching skills to work.

“Skate the program for me to start. I want to see where you are with it now – I know you had your first JGPF tournament and won, but there are ways we can improve before your last qualifier.”

Yuri nods along, and sets off without another word. Viktor queues up the music, and just watches.

Every time he watches Yuri skate, he is astounded by the young skater’s flexibility and athleticism.

In the time since its creation, Yuri has altered Viktor’s program in a number of ways. But most notable are the jumps and the undeniable grace in his spins. Viktor had deliberately stayed away from overly graceful movements in his choreography, yet they had somehow bled back into Yuri’s spins, almost innately.

And despite that elegance, Yuri still skates the program with a harder edge than Viktor intended. Like he’s angry, and wants to take it out on anyone and everything. Like he has something to prove.

While Viktor had invoked a certain degree of anger in his initial presentation, it comes across as too harsh, too desperate in Yuri’s rendition.

What was it that Yuri had said yesterday? That he wants them to know that he’s on his way to take the crown and there’s nothing they can do to stop him?

Viktor snaps his fingers, mind whirling as the pieces begin to slot together.

He continues watching as Yura finishes out the song, then waves him over at the end. Yura closes the gap quickly, eagerly.

“It’s certainly come a long way since I first shared it.”

Yuri folds his arm across his chest, looking slightly indignant. Viktor closes his eyes and take a deep breath, counting through his inhale.

“You’ve improved it significantly.” Yuri softens a bit at that, looking somewhat surprised. “I think the issue right now is that you’re skating with more anger than you need. And that you should try to substitute much of it for confidence.”

Their eyes lock for a few seconds.

“HUH?! What does that even mean?”

“Look, yesterday you said to me that you want to prove yourself and send a message to Seniors, right?”

Yuri nods curtly.

“I think that’s coming through too strongly in your skating. That you’re anxious to prove yourself, and angry they haven’t seen yet.”

“I’M NOT…” Yuri trails off, looking away from Viktor as his face reddens. They stand like that for a bit, neither speaking up.

“That’s okay, you know.” Yuri looks back up at Viktor, “To be angry, or desperate. I was desperate to prove myself when I started, too.”

Something shines in Yura’s eyes upon hearing Viktor’s admission, and they both break eye contact for a second.

“I think, instead of focusing on how they haven’t noticed you yet, you should skate like you’re already there. That you belong, and that they need to catch up to you. With confidence, but not arrogance. Make them come to you.”

Yuri actually seems to consider that for a moment, and Viktor spares a quick thought in thanks that whatever he just said made sense to the younger skater.

“Okay, but how do I…go about doing that?”

“Well, I think it’s gonna take a bit of time. But…to start, I’d like you to try less harsh movements in your step sequence and choreography. More fluid motions. That should help you get a feel for the right approach, then we can work on adapting that further. Your jumps and spins seem to be in a good place, and we can tweak those as we go along. But first, I want you to feel out the new direction.”

Yuri nods at him and smiles, actually smiles for a second before he skates away. It must have been an accident, but Viktor’s heart flutters for a moment, so happy that for once the two of them were able to talk through something in a positive way. Viktor joins him out on the ice after a moment, the two alternating as they begin to work through the program.

Viktor hardly notices when the door is flung open by Yakov arriving, too deep in thought as they alternate running a particular step sequence. The two are conversing excitedly, Viktor offering guidance as Yura works to understand. Both utterly, completely enthralled by their work.

Had either of them been looking, they would have been surprised to see a smile spread on Yakov’s grizzly old face.

 

It proves to be a long, but incredibly enjoyable day for Viktor. He and Yura spent most of the day working together and only had one (1!) shouting match that was resolved within an hour, during which Viktor helped some of his other skaters.

Part of him felt a bit badly that he ignored them for most of the day, but he had mostly ignored Yuri up to this point. It all balances out, right? He grabs his skating bag, ready to pack up now that everyone has left.

Viktor is in the middle of kneeling on the floor to pick up his skates when Yakov saunters over to him. Viktor glances up briefly before turning back to packing.

Viktor cheerfully greets him, “Hey Yakov.”

He smiles a little when he receives a grunt in return.

“Couldn’t help but notice you were working with Yuri quite a bit today.”

“We’ve…reached an agreement.”

“Part of me doesn’t ever want to know how that happened, while another part is eager to hear what it took to get him to listen.”

Viktor stands up, zipping his bag shut.

“I won’t say anything unless you ask.”

Yakov grumbles for a moment, and Viktor starts sidling towards the door, still facing Yakov.

“Listen.” Viktor stops moving, frozen in place. “Whatever it is you did. It seems to be working. And that’s a small miracle.” Yakov’s face contorts for a moment, but clears. “Well done. You really have come into your own coaching.”

Yakov isn’t typically generous with his praise, and Viktor feels more than a little pride at the compliment.

“Thanks…I doubt I’d be here now if it weren’t for you. Or your guidance.” Viktor pauses, swallowing. “If I’d had it my way, I probably wouldn’t be involved in skating at all now. But this,” he gestures around the rink, “has been good for me. And I like it. Coaching, I mean. At least, I do now. Maybe not at first, but I was absolutely terrible.”

Yakov grunts and clears his throat. “You’ve still got more to learn.”

Viktor smiles, his brilliant, shining smile. “Good. I like when there’s more to learn. Keeps things fresh.”

Yakov steps forward and clasps him on the shoulder, squeezing once before shuffling away.

Viktor spins and heads toward the door, stepping out into a world framed by the setting sun. He shifts some of his hair to block the sun from his eyes and starts heading home, the orange sky a lovely backdrop. The crisp fall air leaves him feeling chilly when he arrives at his complex, and he shivers he crosses inside.

When he unlocks his apartment, Makkachin comes racing to the door, claws skittering on the floor. Viktor drops to the ground, rolling around with his poodle, absorbing the heat radiating from the lovable curls.

“It was a good day, Makka. All around.”

Makkachin rolls over in response, vibrating with pleasure. Viktor melts just a bit and immediately starts giving him tummy rubs.

Eventually, they just lay next to each other on the floor, Viktor stroking Makka’s soft fur as he dozes off.

 


 

That night, Yuuri dreamed of home, of soaking in the hot springs, muscles uncoiling in the heat after an exhausting day. Of steaming bowls of katsudon, and heaping plates of homecooked vegetables at a family meal. Of his sister, leaning against the old tree near the onsen, framed by the drifting haze of the cigarette braced between her fingers while she smiles. Of the sound of skittering nails as Vicchan careens around the tight corners of the inn, playfully chasing Yuuri.

Dreaming of home used to be a tantalizing taste of what was missing and could not be; now it feels like a safe haven, a brief reprieve in the middle of the competition.

Yuuri surfaces from peaceful rest to a vague tickling sensation near his head. He swats lazily at his ear, hoping to return to the warm embrace of sleep for just a little bit longer.

That dream is squashed when the tickling returns on the other side of his head, and he tries to combat this by groaning into the sheets and rolling over.

Distantly, he hears giggling.

Muttering incoherently, Yuuri tries one last time to ignore the world around him for a bit longer.

This time, the tickling arrives at his nose posthaste. He fights the sensation for a bit, letting the irritation build in his nose and throat before releasing it in a violent sneeze.

His eyes fly open, and he’s greeted by the sight of a bemused Phichit standing over him, holding a rather large feather that he must have pulled from one of the pillows.

Phichit catches Yuuri’s eyes and grins mischievously, waggling the feather back and forth.

“Good morning, sleeping beauty.”

Yuuri grumbles again, bunching the blankets up and curling in on himself.

“Celestino said to let you sleep in a bit, but we’re gonna miss breakfast if you don’t get up soon.”

As much as Yuuri would prefer to hide away under the covers a bit longer, his stomach rumbles menacingly as he starts thinking about food.

“Yuuuuuriiii, don’t you want to eat something before you skate today?” Phichit teases out his name, stretching it in a song-like fashion.

Sighing deeply, Yuuri sits up in bed, his stomach growling again.

“Just because you’re right doesn’t make it any easier,” Yuuri mutters through dry lips.

“Hmm, I would’ve thought by now that you’d be more used to waking up in the mornings, but nope!”

“Phichittttt,” Yuuri half-heartedly shoves Phichit away, but stumbles into the bathroom. After a quick cup of water, he turns the shower on hot, hoping for a slightly stronger wake up call.

 

Half an hour (or so) later, Yuuri and Phichit arrive in the lobby for a quick breakfast alongside some of the other skaters, before everyone heads to the arena.

The two of them opt to sit by themselves, but that doesn’t stop Phichit from surreptitiously pulling out his phone and snapping a few photos of the skaters as they munch through breakfast. Yuuri’s confident that he’ll spot some of them on Instagram later.

“I’m still not used to being around all these skating pros,” Phichit says in between bites of oatmeal. “I mean, the Crispinos are right over there!”

Yuuri tries waving at the Italian pair nearby, but Michele’s frown stops Yuuri from even trying to go say hello.

“And there’s the new guy, Otabek.” Phichit’s whisper can probably be heard from two rooms over, and Yuuri firmly plants his face into the tablecloth as Phichit continues. “His program was wicked yesterday, it’s no surprise he’s in first!”

He’s sitting with a woman who looks slightly too old to be a partner, so Yuuri guesses it’s Otabek’s coach. They seem to be in a heated discussion, judging by his coach’s gesturing, but Otabek’s face might as well be a wall of steel for all the emotion detectable. He seems cool and unconcerned, an unperturbable aura around him.

“I wasn’t really watching his program yesterday,” Yuuri admits. “I was a bit distracted by…you know…everything?”  

Phichit nods meaningfully before launching into a detailed recounting of all the ways Otabek surprised him, which Yuuri gradually tunes out. He does at least resolve to try and pay more attention to the free skates today, knowing Celestino will probably make him watch and critique them later anyway for review.

The casual chatter puts Yuuri at ease, and he settles into a comfortable rhythm as the day starts to whizz by.

They arrive at the rink, and Yuuri passes by most of the press without having to engage (to his pleasure), only answering a few quick questions about his performance yesterday.

Practice goes quickly as well, his excitement to share his free skate building slowly as he works through several parts on the ice. Celestino seems to sense his eagerness to succeed, and works him through a few of the rough patches in his program, helping smooth them over.

Not long after that, Yuuri settles in to start watching the free skates alongside Phichit while Celestino roams around backstage a bit.

There’s something about watching skaters perform from the rinkside that always excites Yuuri, even when some of the skaters don’t quite hit the mark. He leaps with joy when watching them land a particularly tricky jump entry, just as he grimaces watching a newer skater tumble after an underrotated triple axel.

All the emotions from watching feel more present, pressing when he’s this close. And surprisingly, his emotions aren’t skirmishing for control.

After some time, Yuuri has to head to the changing room to put on his costume and get ready.

His anticipation continues building as slips into the black leggings and dress shirt. He takes a moment before continuing, looking over his costume as memories of Viktor swim through his mind. Though the outfit was designed specifically to echo Viktor’s last costume, Yuuri has yet to shake the moment where he feels like an imposter each time he changes into it.

Sighing, Yuuri steps forward.

Phichit helps him by holding open the royal blue blazer, and Yuuri slides his arms through, shuffling his shoulders to help the soft and shiny fabric settle. At his shoulders, the brilliant blue lightens to more of an aqua shade that seems to catch the bright light in the room, glinting like stardust.

Yuuri begins fastening the silver chains across his chest, connecting each side of the blazer before rolling his sleeves up slightly, cuffing them near his elbows so his black undershirt shows down to his wrists.

Phichit, meanwhile, begins fussing with the ornamentation on his shoulder, dusting it off and making sure the links are connected properly before starting to slick back Yuuri’s hair.

Once that starts, Yuuri gives up on accomplishing anything else until Phichit finishes fretting over his hair and makeup. He just has to roll with the punches as Phichit gently directs his face and one direction after another, Yuuri doing his best mannequin impression.

Eventually, Phichit steps back.

“Finally!” Yuuri bolts upright, but Phichit starts sputtering at him immediately. His friend sweeps in close to his face, their breath mingling for a moment. Phichit brushes a loose hair strand away and tucks it back behind Yuuri’s ear before humming in satisfaction.

“Thank you Phichit. I really don’t know how I’d get ready without you.”

“Well, you’ll have to figure it out for next time. But you look gorgeous,” Phichit makes a satisfied noise at the end.

Looking in the mirror, Yuuri is always struck by how different he appears in the costume, how much more imposing he seems. The blazer and chains give the outfit a surprisingly martial feeling, but the colors are far too rich and inviting to be military. Sometimes it accentuates his feelings of being an imposter, but today it makes him feel just a tad bit more powerful.

He savors that sweet feeling, willing away his hesitations. When he steps out next, it will be to perform a tribute to Viktor, something he has done on his own dozens (if not hundreds) of times.

Phichit clasps Yuuri’s arm as they exit the room, holding him for a moment “Have some fun out there.”

Smiling to himself, Yuuri makes his way back to the rink, ready to wait his turn on the ice.

 

 

As the music fades in slowly, the crowd falls away for Yuuri. For a brief moment, Yuuri feels as if it’s after midnight and he’s alone on the ice in Detroit, all noise reduced to the quiet rumbling of the rickety heater that accompanies his late night sessions. Around him is darkness, but Yuuri doesn’t feel like is without light.

That imagery is jostled from his mind as the tailcoats of his blazer swish around him, the fabric tapping his lower back when he starts building speed around the rink, but the comforting sensation doesn’t depart.

What he loves about this piece, what takes him away someplace special every time he skates it, is how it reflects Viktor’s career from start to finish. It also helps that the vast majority of the piece is constructed from various parts of Viktor’s own skating, something that Yuuri absolutely adores. For Yuuri, it’s the perfect way to remember and honor Viktor’s skating.

It starts quiet, and Yuuri mirrors Viktor’s career at it’s beginning: a focus on his jumps and choreography, while being determined to stake his claim in the world of skating.

Yuuri channels Viktor’s lithe elegance in his motions to start as the music builds, hands fluidly moving around his body, carving through the air; culminating with a Quad Toe-Double Toe combination as a voice soars in to join the fray.

Following that is a step sequence, a slightly modified version of one of Viktor’s first championship sequences. Where it once left Yuuri breathless and weak, it now fills him with heat and confidence, leaving him feeling like the rising wind as he leaps for a Quad Salchow.

His body singing with joy as he lands, Yuuri has little trouble mimicking Viktor’s ascension to the top of the skating world. Upbeat and free, Yuuri dances across the ice in a celebratory fashion. To viewers, his legs are a blur on the ice, but for Yuuri each step is part of Viktor’s journey. Deliberate, calculated, resplendent.

It had been so hard avoiding sharing everything about his routines when asked, but there is no denying how meaningful this routine is for Yuuri. To pour out his feelings for Viktor, yet create a tribute to the man’s legacy by reflecting his own patterns and routines.

The wind caresses his skin as he twirls in a spin, utterly lost in the spiraling music and thoughts about Viktor, his beautiful hair and pale, angelic face.

Out of the spin, Yuuri rises again for a Triple Axel, using one of his favorite entries from Viktor’s second World Championship.

When the voices fade briefly, Yuuri slides into a graceful Ina Bauer, drifting across the ice like a petal in the wind. For a bit, he just floats. Free. He can feel the burning in his legs from exertion, but it’s trivial compared to his own radiant delight. As the chanting voice returns, Yuuri lifts off again, another flawless jump.

For so long, when trying to present Viktor’s skating, Yuuri had felt something lacking. He felt it most acutely when others from the skating club had been watching him, and he came to associate that feeling with nervousness and fear of inadequacy. And it was hard to convey Viktor’s assuredness in that kind of mental space.

But somewhere along the way, Yuuri had found his footing. It happened in his free movements, in his late practices, in his moments alone and with family. Maybe skating like Viktor for so long had finally rubbed off on him a bit. Like a bit of Viktor’s confidence now clings to Yuuri, despite his own shyness and reticence, coaxed to stay by his hard work and friendships.

Another jump passes by, but it flows so instinctively that Yuuri hardly notices when he completes the Triple Axel-Single Loop-Triple Salchow combination. The screeching of the crowd feels distant, and Yuuri remains unphased as he darts across the ice.

It’s almost too easy for Yuuri to get lost in the routine, the call to simply skate with no inhibitions nearly overpowering. The pieces of the routine are so natural, so much like what Yuuri would skate if he wanted to just be on the ice. The little pieces of Viktor’s skating that he loves, the unreachable peaks that he climbed after winning so many championships. Yuuri is unafraid to reach for them when he’s alone, when there is nothing to lose or be ashamed of. His signature move.

It happens with him barely registering what had changed until his feet are in a different position, that his flight path will be different from the normal Quad Toe Loop.

It’s something that he’s only ever practiced in quiet, secretive moments because he knows Celestino would scold him nonstop for it, and Phichit would bother him about it incessantly if he knew.

Yet, here he is now, pushing off for a Quad Flip that shouldn’t even exist. He sails through the air at the height of the music, rotating four full times before crashing down onto the ice, his footing not quite right as he topples over. Yuuri slides on the ice for a brief moment, all the breath gone from his body. The cold stings his bare hands, ice scraping against skin, but he pushes himself up in no time. He quickly catches up to the step sequence at the end of the music, strings prancing alongside an echoing voice.

It isn’t exactly how Viktor would have done it (okay, probably nothing like it), but Yuuri’s heart is still pounding from the elation and fatigue of actually even attempting a Quad Flip at the end of his program.

As the music slows and quiets, Yuuri flits across the ice again, hands crossing his body languidly as he settles into his final pose.

When the music finishes, Yuuri’s awareness of his surroundings crawls back as he pants for breath while his body pulses with fatigue. The distant cheering climbs to a roar, the noise echoing all around him, deafening.

Skating to the barrier, Yuuri is greeted by two simultaneous shouts.

“Yuuri!!!” Phicit squeals, shock and joy evident on his face.

“Yuuri!” Celestino yells, looking angry but lacking any real venom.

Then they both start talking at once as Yuuri puts on his skate guards, and he doesn’t register a single word either of them says. He quiets them both down when he pulls them into a hug, eyes sliding shut as he squeezes them both with as much gratitude as he can muster. Phichit returns the hug instantly, and Celestino’s arms wrap around him after a moment of wavering.

Celestino admonishes him first, “You should have told me you were practicing that flip.”

“But it was insane!” Phichit counters, “I had no idea you were even trying!”

“And it’s one of the most dangerous things to practice alone.”

Yuuri has the presence of mind to look properly abashed at the scolding.

“Next time you’re practicing something like that, just tell me. I just don’t want you to get injured alone,” Celestino pleads.

Yuuri has no ground to stand on here, and knows it. “You’re right. I will.”

Celestino looks slightly mollified, and they make their way over to the Kiss and Cry area. In the silence on their walk over, Yuuri is baffled by the still thunderous cheering from the crowd. It hadn’t been a perfect program, why are they so noisy?

He looks around, and his eyes catch one of the large replay monitors. He watches as it zooms on him right before he lifts off for the Quad Flip, his feet a perfect mirror of Viktor’s own footwork.

Yuuri should know, he learned the Flip by watching the same Viktor clip over and over.

Then he flies through the air, his rotations also perfect. But he can see the moment that he stopped running on autopilot, where he realized what he was doing and tried to take back manual control. He misses the landing, and watches himself practically faceplant onto the ice and skid. Yuuri grimaces at the impact, his tired body throbbing at the reminder.

His scores arrive shortly after the replay, and he’s left absolutely astounded.

“Incredible, Yuuri!” Celestino claps him on the back, beaming.

It’s a new personal best, one that vaults him straight into first place with only a few skaters left to go. His score was dinged for his fall and subsequent errors on a step sequence, but his jump composition and presentation more than made up for it.

Yuuri just continues to gawk at the scores, tears building at the corner of his eyes.

 

 

Eventually, Yuuri settles into watching the last few skaters, his nerves climbing back into his awareness alongside his current first place standing.

Yuuri watches with mixed feelings as Michele performs a strong program, one that Yuuri thinks should probably top his own. Yet when the scores are announced, Michele falls several points behind Yuuri, and Yuuri has suddenly clinched a podium finish in his first returning Grand Prix tournament.

Next to him, Phichit bounces up and down, shaking Yuuri and yelling with joy.

After that, Otabek takes the ice. Yuuri nearly leans over the barricade, eager to pay attention this time.

Within the first minute of his routine, Yuuri is stunned by the control and finesse in his skating, despite his slightly blockier build than many skaters. Otabek moves with the kind of confidence that Yuuri can only hope to emulate, and conveys feelings on the ice far better than he seemed to be able at breakfast.

It’s a bit intimidating, if Yuuri is honest with himself, how he moves on the ice in contrast with his reserved attitude off of it. At least the music proves to be somewhat familiar, a classical piece Yuuri is certain he’s heard before.

Nonetheless, Yuuri watches with awe as the Kazakhstani skater clinches his first place trophy with a stellar program, almost entirely devoid of mistakes. Phichit was definitely right – Otabek’s skating has no limit of surprises.

Slowly, it dawns on Yuuri, like the first rays of sun creeping over the dark horizon, that he did it. He skated in a competition again. And not only that.

He took second place.

 


 

It’s not much of a surprise when Yura ends up taking first at his next Junior Grand Prix tournament, but what really pleases Viktor is the fact that Yura shattered his own previous personal best score for his free skate.

There were drastic differences in the routine now, something that sparked quite a bit of conversation among commentators and Yuri’s own fans. Viktor quite enjoyed watching social media spiral into endless debates about what had changed in the Ice Tiger’s free skate in the intervening weeks between competitions.

That said, Viktor was still able to pick out a few ways to improve the free skate (and Yura’s short program). Yakov all but cedes coaching Yuri to Viktor, which leaves Viktor plenty of time to work with the feisty young skater. For the remaining weeks in October, the two of them are nearly inseparable as they work towards preparing Yuri for the JGPF in Barcelona.

 

After a particularly productive session at the end of October, Yuri nearly manages to overwhelm Viktor.

It happens later in the day, after the two of them had left the ice, heading to the changing room.

Yura jabs Viktor, which Viktor has come to understand is his method of expressing a desire to say something. Yura also looks distinctly uncomfortable. Though, to be fair, that isn’t uncommon when the two of them actually talk.

“Listen. Viktor.” He pauses, looking lost.

“Hmm?”

Yuri looks down at his feet, mumbling quiet enough that Viktor has to strain to hear. “I want you to come to the finals.”

Viktor takes a second to clear out his ears then says, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. Did you say—”

“Yes, you asshole,” Yuri growls a bit louder, “I’m asking you to come with me to the JGPF finals.”

Yuri says something else after that, but Viktor might as well have been in another stratosphere for all that he heard. His soul has departed to another plane, so completely filled with happiness. For Yura to have actually asked Viktor to accompany him to the finals. It’s heartwarming beyond belief. So much so, that Viktor pinches himself several times and shakes his head.

“What the fuck do you mean, no?”

“Huh,” Viktor says lamely, still not quite present.

“I asked you if you would come and you shake your goddamn head? How the hell am I supposed to interpret that?”

Oh, shit. I’m an absolute dumbass, Viktor thinks.

“No, Yura, please. I just…got distracted. I would love to come to the JGPF finals with you. To be your coach there.”

Yuri grunts, hands on his hips. Viktor can tell he’s pretending to think about it, but patiently waits anyway.

“Fine.”

Viktor can’t help pulling the little skater into a hug, which he immediately tries to escape from. Yura’s arms jerk around, and Viktor can’t shake the impression of cat struggling to escape from being held.

 

But something else odd happens to Viktor that day, something that plagues him for the weeks to come. Resurfacing at the oddest times, leaving him wondering.

On his walk with Makkachin that evening, Viktor is stopped by a nondescript man who quickly shoves a microphone in his face after reciting what network he works for.

Viktor recoils for a second, it’s been so long since he’s had to deal with invasive paparazzi.

“Mr. Nikiforov, have you been keeping up with the Grand Prix qualifiers this fall?”

Blinking quickly at the rapid question, Viktor does his best to shift into media mode.

“Not really, I’ve been focusing on my role as a coach primarily.”

“So you haven’t seen the most recent Skate America tournament?”

Growing more annoyed by the second, Viktor shortens his answers even further. “No, I can’t say I have.”

“Are you aware that there is a skater who is evidently skating a tribute to another skater?”

 “No. I’m sorry, but what does this have to do with me?”

The reporter’s eyes gleam for a moment, an almost greedy look. “There is some speculation that it’s a tribute to you.”

Viktor huffs, shrugging his shoulders. “So? I’ve retired from skating.”

The man seems to deflate a bit, stumbling for a few seconds before saying, “Did you know that he attempted a Quad Flip?”

Viktor’s eyes widen for a second and his heart quickens before he schools his face back to neutral. “It’s inevitable skaters will attempt feats similar to my own as they try to become champions. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s cold out and I’d like to be sure my dog doesn’t freeze on our walk.”

He storms past the stunned reporter, Makkachin sniffing briefly at the man’s heels before continuing onward. He does his best to press on as normal.

But for the rest of the walk, he can’t help but wonder about the mysterious skater attempting a Quad Flip in competition. Viktor didn’t even ask for the skater’s name. Who would create a tribute to him and then attempt a Quad Flip?

As he returns home, he does his best to push those thoughts away, turning off his phone and opting to concentrate on outlining a plan for Yura’s training instead.

If he’s going with Yura to the JGPF, he needs to be focused. Not distracted by rumors from a random reporter.

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 9: As Sun Seeks Day

 

In the days following Viktor’s conversation with the reporter, he tries his best to just move past the awkward conversation. He avoids checking social media as much as possible, even when it bothers him to not be posting or interacting with others. It even gets to the point where Mila approaches him during practice the next week to ask what’s going on, but he brushes her questions off.

Actually, he scrapes by through pretty much every social encounter he has in those days, avoiding lengthy interactions. Instead, he throws himself into coaching Yura. They run through piece after piece, step after step of his performances. Viktor honestly thinks the young skater will complain or slow down, but Yura keeps gritting his teeth and working through. They get really good at communicating through hand motions, and grunts though. Maybe it will help Viktor understand Yakov better.

Yet, his thoughts keep circling back to the subject of the “interview”. Who attempted the Quad Flip? Why now? And each time he would dismiss them, shaking his head to clear it all away, stuffing his mixed feelings down before returning to practice.

It’s not that he’s not interested, because he is. Very interested, in fact. Which makes it all the more difficult to avoid engaging with what the reporter said, especially given Viktor’s typical curiosity and lack of self-control. (Impulse purchases are his weakness, don’t ask why he has so many different decorated leashes for Makkachin.)

But he’s made a promise to Yuri, to help him get ready for the JGPF in just over a month. If he’s going to be there coaching Yuri through it, he wants to give it his all. And that means avoiding distractions like the hubbub around the Quad Flip, and what that means for Viktor’s legacy.

So Viktor doubles down on his coaching, spending much of his free time planning out what the rest of the month will look like for him and Yura, or working through some of the tricky sequences so he can share the improvements.

He has to crank up the volume on his runs now, the music bursting in his ears so he doesn’t overthink everything while he’s out. It’s a Herculean effort to avoid all the news and discussion spreading through the skating community, but he does it.

And for a time, it works.

 


 

Yuuri remembers going to sleep with his body aching, but waking up is a whole different ordeal.

His body throbs angrily in protest as he shifts to stop the ringing of his alarm. Mouth stretching, he yawns widely, shifting into an upright position. Phichit’s empty bed and the sound of the shower emanating from the bathroom let him know that he’s the last to wake.

He tentatively reaches over for his phone again, moving slowly to accommodate the stiffness he feels. With the competition over, Yuuri finally feels like he can safely check the internet and social media again.

When he spots the 4th article in a row about his Quad Flip on a popular skating news site, he starts feeling a bit self-conscious again, and switches over to Twitter. At first, he doesn’t find quite as many tweets about his own performance, which is kind of nice. He’d almost forgotten that the Skate Canada trophy starts next week, but was reminded by a nice tweet from Cao Bin wishing Christophe good luck.

Soon enough though, he spots a tweet about his quad flip with a hashtag that he feels obligated to investigate. Somehow, #quadflip is trending and Yuuri can’t stop scrolling as he reads comment after comment about his quad, some in open admiration and awe, with others critiquing him for copying Viktor or failing to land it.

That sets his heart hammering, too; that people are already connecting his skating to Viktor. Previously, only his somewhat similar costume had given any clue to his intentions. But he is certain people will just rip him to shreds for trying to imitate the best skater ever, given time to make the connection. Yuuri quickly backs out of the hashtag and resumes scrolling through his feed, but closes the app shortly after seeing a tweet about his short program costume and how “delectable” he looked.

Yuuri’s never handled those kinds of comments well, his body feeling dirty for some reason. Instead, he retreats to Instagram and scrolls through some of the updates there. He likes Phichit’s new photos, even though several feature him in costume or on the ice.

It’s a really bizarre feeling for Yuuri, to see himself in third person while skating or in costume. He looks so different than he perceives himself, so much more than he feels oftentimes. And the quick clips Yuuri sees of his routines make him feel odd, his poise and elegance seem so in contrast with how he thinks of his appearance when skating.

From inside the bathroom, he hears a quick exclamation followed by shuffling as the door opens.

Phichit steps out, steam escaping from the bathroom behind him.

“Yuuri! You saw my photos!”

Yuuri’s tired eyes crinkle as he laughs, the motion causing some discomfort as his body jostles. Of course Phichit would know as soon as Yuuri liked his photos.

“Good morning to you, Phichit.”

“I’m just about done in here, then you can take your time. I figured you’d probably want to sleep in after all that craziness yesterday!” Phichit winks at the end, and Yuuri groans in response, ducking under the covers for a moment. Phichit’s smiling face greets him when he pokes back out.

“Phichit, why are people exploding over my routine yesterday. I don’t like it.”

Phichit stares at him blanky in response. “Because you’re the first person besides Viktor goddamn Nikiforov to do a quad flip in a competition?”

“Okay, I get that it’s a big deal—”

“Do you though?!”

“—but why do people have to be so…weird about it?”

“You mean horny about it? Because you look good. And it’s a hell of a feat.”

“Phichit!” Yuuri whips a pillow at his friend with lightning speed, but Phichit ducks back into the bathroom while cackling with laughter.

“I’ll be out in a minute!”

Yuuri flees back under the covers, wondering how he ever found such a wicked friend. He almost dozes off before Phichit stumbles back into the bedroom, but finally forces himself to get ready.

 

 

The rest of the day passes by in a blurry, tired haze for Yuuri. He somehow manages to struggle through his exhibition skate, though he knows it’s not his best showing. Talking with the press is exhausting too, and he has to dance around the questions about his quad flip carefully.

He gets asked again if his tribute is for anyone in particular, and this time gets bailed out by Celestino who declares Yuuri too tired for more questions.

Knowing that he has to at least be present for the banquet in the evening, Yuuri does indeed take a nap through part of the afternoon.

When he wakes, he tentatively stretches his muscles and is greeted by angry strain and fatigue. In contrast to his own problems, across the room from him Phichit is scrolling on his phone looking supremely happy. Feeling inspired, Yuuri grabs his phone from the bedstand nearby.

When he checks his phone, he discovers a new notification for a direct message on Instagram. Smiling, he opens it up.

 

christophe-gc:

https://giphy.com/gifs/hero0fwar-karmawhore-rhyming-g9582DNuQppxC

Congratulations Yuuri! Welcome back to the world of skating!

Also, may I say WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FLIP

katsudon-yk:

Thank you Chris, that’s so nice of you! It actually feels good to be back.

And, the Flip was a surprise for me too.

christophe-gc:

????

Elaborate

katsudon-yk:

I didn’t mean to do it, okay? It just sort of…slipped out?

christophe-gc:

https://giphy.com/gifs/mashable-l3q2K5jinAlChoCLS

Yuuri, you can’t be saying you accidentally’d a quad flip

katsudon-yk:

Okay, yes, I was practicing it secretly but I really didn’t mean to do it there!

And now everyone is talking about it and I feel even more nervous.

christophe-gc:

To summarize briefly, you just took the skating world by storm and you feel bad about it.

Well, don’t.

You absolutely killed it out there, my jaw dropped watching you skate

And that first costume oh my god 😉

And do I recognize that second costume from somewhere???

 

katsudon-yk:

Easier said than done, but thank you.

Also, good luck at Skate Canada next week! I’m going to watch!

You got this ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ

christophe-gc:

You’re so sweet Yuuri! After next week, we’ll both be one step closer to the GPF!

And judging by what I saw this weekend, I’m looking forward to skating against you soon

Seriously, I was really impressed.

A bit stymied by the compliments, Yuuri sends back another thank you before locking his phone. He definitely doesn’t want to think about Chris’ costume comment, no thank you.

But as he starts getting ready for the banquet, Chris’ words circle in his head.

It’s one thing to have accidentally snuck a Quad Flip into his program, but another entirely to deal with the effect and fallout from the skating community. And for Yuuri, the extra attention is somehow harder to deal with than actually attempting the Flip. Everything just feels much easier, more natural out on the ice.

And the banquet will undoubtedly be the antithesis of that relaxing simplicity; so much of the skating community packed into one room. Yuuri’s going to be fending off questions and compliments all evening long, he can just feel it. It will be like dancing through a minefield, with competitors and sponsors all wanting to hear the right answer from Yuuri.

Not for the first time, Yuuri wishes he was better at receiving compliments and handling attention.

 


 

By the middle of the next week, Viktor is already feeling like a string wound too tight, close to snapping. Day after day of single minded focus is wearing him down, his curiosity constantly struggling to be set free. But he keeps at it, coming in and working himself and Yuri ragged, so that he’s often bone-tired enough to just collapse into sleep soon after returning home.

At the rink, he stops greeting people each morning, or talking with other skaters as he changes and laces up. Instead, he sits in cold, calculating silence. When Georgi tries to approach him, he stuffs in ear buds to listen to Yuri’s skate tracks. Part of him twinges at the motion, recognizing his own stubbornness. But he’s not in the mood to talk right now. He pretends not to notice as Georgi shuffles away, defeated.

Yuri continues to bear Viktor’s ceaseless coaching, throwing himself into practice with a zealousness that Viktor is equally envious and frightened of. Gratefully, the intense training seems to be paying off. Viktor has never seen Yura’s skating look as polished, or seen the young skater as emotive on the ice as he has become.

Around lunch time, Viktor’s attention starts to wander away again, questions ricocheting around in his head, pinging off of each other. He tries to let his mind go blank as he devours a sandwich, but it isn’t enough.

Who was it? Are they copying me? Why?

He spends the rest of his lunch break trying to rid his mind of distractions, focusing on his breathing first. When that isn’t successful either, he gets back on the ice early, eager to distract himself.

The rushing wind howling in his ears as he careens around the ice proves to be the best diversion, and his loud thoughts stop for a spell. He spends more time than he necessarily should just tooling around, building up and dropping speed before Yura joins him and they begin again.

 

Viktor is moving on autopilot at the end of the day, striding across the rink with his skate bag on his shoulder. Before he can reach the double doors, he is jolted from his stiff movement by a hand on his shoulder. He’s more surprised than he ought to be, and it takes a moment for him to turn around and see a grim-faced Yakov staring him down.

“Viktor, what’s going on?”

Looking around nervously, Viktor scrambles to respond. He tries to smile, but it hurts. At least nobody else is around to notice. “What do you mean?”

Yakov huffs quietly, “I haven’t seen you throw yourself into practice like this since you won your first Championship. And even back then, I told you I was concerned you were overdoing it. So what’s the situation now that you’ve decided to so recklessly commit to this…regimen?”

The last word comes out with a hint of disdain, and Viktor frowns.

“The JGPF is coming up, and if Yura has his way, this is his last Junior competition. I just want him to be ready.”

“Bullshit.”

Viktor’s eyes narrow, his gaze turning icy. “Excuse me?”

“That’s bullshit Vitya, and we both know it. I’m sure you care about Yura’s performance, but there’s something else going on here too.”

There’s a tightening in Viktor’s chest, tension coiling as he nears his limit. He draws a deep breath, “How dare you—”

“Is it about the quad flip?”

Viktor deflates rapidly, blinking. “You know about that?”

Yakov sighs, scrubbing at his eyes. “Vitya, who in the skating world doesn’t know about it. The entire rink is walking on eggshells around you, and you don’t notice it. Listen, it’s okay to be upset that someone else has done it—”

“I’m not upset!” The sound echoes around the empty rink, rebounding off the vast walls.

Silence holds them both briefly, snaring them. There’s something in Viktor’s throat, something lumpy and constricting. Yakov hasn’t taken his eyes off Viktor, but Viktor has to look somewhere, anywhere else as things start to get blurry.

“Look. Vitya. Whatever you’re feeling about it, that’s okay too. You are one of the very best. They can’t replace you, or take away what you achieved. And you don’t have to prove yourself again through coaching.”

Viktor sniffles, looking up again through watery eyes. A weary sigh escapes, pressure loosening. Hearing Yakov say it…but there’s something else too. “Is it…is it bad that I’m curious?”

Yakov recoils for a moment, and Viktor’s heartrate triples in anticipation. “Curious? About the skater who did it?” Yakov leans back in, closing the distance between them. He huffs again, more amicably this time. Like he used to when Viktor made a terrible joke. “No, that’s not bad at all. Did you think that I only focused on my skaters, one at a time as they competed? That I didn’t watch your competition closely?” He laughs, the noise deep and rolling. “You’re a dumbass sometimes, Vitya. That would just be bad coaching etiquette. I had to know what the competition looked like to better coach you.”

Viktor corrects his balance slightly as Yakov taps him on the chest with his index finger, punctuating his words. Viktor’s eyes slowly widen as he takes it all in.

“So…it’s normal for me to want to see what’s going on with the flip? And I’m not like…betraying Yuri by doing that?”

Yakov shakes his head, the ghost of a smile on his lips. “I’ll say it again, since you really are so thickheaded. Yes, I think it’s almost your responsibility to learn about the skater. Especiailly if Yura will be competing against him soon. Now go get some rest. I’m not foolish enough to think I can make you, but hopefully you’ll slow down a bit, too.”

Viktor wipes his clammy face, tears smudging on his jacket. Without really thinking, he wraps his arms around Yakov and squeezes tightly.

Viktor earns a surprised grunt in response before he darts away towards the exit. “Bye Yakov! Thank you for the talk!”

“Anytime, Vitya,” Yakov calls out as the last flash of silver hair disappears out the door.

 


 

“Good morning, sleepyhead!”

A way-too-cheery-for-this-early voice dredges Yuuri from the depths of sleep. Blinking wearily, Yuuri stirs from his cozy bed. Sleepiness still clinging to him, Yuuri tries to sit up and look around his bedroom for the source of the disturbance, shifting the blankets around him. He fumbles around for his glasses, finally slotting them into place

“Aww, look at how adorable he is when he’s just waking up, everyone! All wrapped up in those blankets.”

Yuuri identifies the source of the disturbance as none other than his best friend and worst enemy, Phichit Chulanont, oddly holding his phone out in front of him as he stands at the corner of the bed. Yuuri attempts to say something, but it comes out more like “mrmph Phich,” instead.

“Say hello to everyone, Yuuri!”

Realization dawns on Yuuri in a mere moment, and his eyes shoot wide open. Wiping the crustiness around his mouth, Yuuri jolts upward. He keeps his voice neutral, but the thudding in chest increases to an unreasonable pace for the morning of his day off.

“Phichit, what are you doing holding your phone like that?”

Somehow, Phichit interprets that as an invitation to sit down on Yuuri’s bed, flipping the phone around as he sits next to Yuuri.

“Your fans were so curious about how you are doing now that we’re back in Detroit, and I figured why not interact with them live?”

“Phichit!” Yuuri hisses.

“Ooh, looks like we’ve got a question from someone named sk8rguurl, asking if you’re going to watch Skate Canada later today.” Phichit turns his head to look at Yuuri expectantly.

Yuuri hesitates for a moment, on the precipice of just getting up to walk to the bathroom for much needed relief. Instead, he yawns and accepts that it will just be easier to go along with this. Fighting with Phichit never goes well when it comes to social media (or most things).

“Yeah, I’m definitely going to watch Skate Canada.”

“Are you watching for anyone in particular?” Phichit waggles his eyebrows at Yuuri in a mischievous manner. Yuuri gives him a flat look before turning back to the camera.

“Ignoring Phichit, I’m excited to see what Christophe will bring this year! I talked with him last week and am really looking forward to seeing his routines.”

“You’re just so fun to tease, though!” Phichit bumps his shoulder as he says it, radiating joy. “Another question, this one from katsufan197. They say ‘I watched your Skate America performances and WOW! But both times you looked stunned afterwards. Were you surprised by the results?’”

Yuuri takes a moment to think before answering, Phichit seizing the opportunity to chatter away about their regular skating schedules and training in the meantime. Yuuri gently taps him on the shoulder when he’s ready, grateful that his roommate can fill the dead air that would otherwise leave Yuuri paralyzed.

“So, I think I was a bit surprised by the results. I hadn’t skated in a competition for over a year, and really didn’t know what to expect.” Yuuri nods thoughtfully, to himself. “That might honestly by why it went so well, I wasn’t worrying about the score at all. I just wanted to do the programs justice.”

Yuuri can’t help but notice as the chat bar on Phichit’s phone floods with “aww” and heart emojis. His cheeks tinge a little red, but he hopes that it’s not too noticeable in the dappled morning light.

“Damn, you’re just too sweet you know.”

Yuuri grabs one of his pillows and smacks Phichit with it, who promptly starts laughing while trying to fend it off with just one arm.

“Okay, okay, I get it. Last question for now.” A gleam shimmers in Phichit’s eye, and Yuuri doesn’t like it.

“A few people have asked already, you mentioned this year’s program is a tribute. Can you tell us who it’s for?”

Yuuri gawks at Phichit for just a moment, faintly grateful that no sound is coming out, because screaming out “You little shit!” on Instagram live early in the morning doesn’t seem like a particularly good course of action.

No, instead Yuuri feels his cheeks heat several more degrees, any hope of hiding it gone altogether. His eyes flit up to the posters of Viktor on the wall across from him, all frozen in various alluring poses, hair swaying in the rush of wind from skating.

Yuuri gathers his annoyance and tries to convert it into a coherent, reasonable sentence.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” is what he musters.

Phichit smiles again, thanking everyone and waves at the camera before ending the stream.

“Well, that was pretty fun, dontcha think?”

Yuuri immediately resumes smacking Phichit repeatedly with the pillow, even leaving his cocoon of comfort to chase his scheming roommate around the apartment, hot on his heels with the pillow in hand.

 

 

They do end up watching Skate Canada together, even if Yuuri spent most of the morning feuding with Phichit for ambushing him.

Settling down on the couch with a bowl of buttered popcorn that Celestino would hate to see, they lose themselves in the spectacle of the event. Phichit keeps making pithy comments about some of the routines and costume choices, and Yuuri ends up trying to defend them for some reason or another. They both end up laughing at one costume that makes the wearer look more like a peacock, with a feathered fan on their back. It’s their classic, time-tested dynamic, and Yuuri soon forgets about his earlier frustrations.

When Jean-Jacques Leroy steps out, they both sit up a bit straighter. Neither of them have particularly fond memories of the time J.J. spent training under Celestino, however brief it was. He was too self-righteous, arrogant at a time when Yuuri had been anything but. Yuuri had mostly wanted to stay out of the way, but J.J. managed to make everything about him, drawing even those relatively isolated skaters into eventual conflict by issuing challenges and asserting his “greatness”.

That doesn’t stop him from performing an absolutely incredible routine, though. The Canadian is vaulted into first place, and does his signature double J pose after receiving his scores.

And it irks Yuuri, that someone so overconfident can actually deliver, someone who belittled Yuuri. The fact that he can skate doesn’t validate his behavior. It just makes him an…

“Asshole,” Phichit summarizes, eyebrows slanting in displeasure. Yuuri nods in agreement, grabbing another fistful of popcorn.

Seeing J.J. like this, it stokes the fire in Yuuri’s chest. It reminds Yuuri that he wants to win, to show everyone that he can do it. Sometimes, Yuuri’s competitiveness leaves him ashamed that he wants to stand above his peers.

And other times, like now, he lets it burn through him, fill him up with a desire to look down from the top.

He clenches his fist unconsciously, crushing the popcorn he just scooped up. He deftly moves his hand over the bowl before opening it, preventing too many crumbs from dotting the couch and rug. Phichit gives him a bit of side eye with a raised eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything.

When J.J. finishes his interview, both Yuuri and Phichit lean back against the couch again, shoulders dipping slightly. They slip into their banter after that, and a few more skaters pass by before Christophe stands at the edge of the rink.

When Chris takes the ice, Phichit inhales sharply, nostrils flaring. Yuuri thinks Chris’ costume matches his usual flair and flamboyant approach to skating, wearing skin-tight clothing colored black and blue, the colors fading into each other in mesmerizing, swirling patterns. On his hands he has beautiful gloves, a luscious violet color, sparkling with diamonds as they stretch up past his wrists and cover part of his forearms as well.

“Not quite used to his costumery, huh.”

Phichit’s lips turn up slightly, “Hearing about how he dresses each season is one thing; seeing it is something entirely different.”

Chris’ routine certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination, either. He brandishes his body like a weapon as he streaks across the ice, hands sensually running up and down his torso, or sliding along his legs. Each step, each move enticing the audience further into desire.

Yuuri thinks that Chris skates with such an unapologetic, blasé air and it adds tremendously to the personality he has cultivated on the ice. Chris oozes confidence and eroticism, something Yuuri has always simultaneously admired and shied away from. He can’t quite pin it down , but there seems to be an extra bit of “oomph” in his skating today. Crisper movements, more precision? He isn’t going all out on his jumps, though Chris tends to escalate more throughout the season. It dangles at the edge of Yuuri’s awareness, but slips away as Chris comes to a halt at the end of the number, arms crossed over his chest in defiance.

Phichit whistles slowly, his usual witty commentary notably absent.

“He’s pretty good,”

Phichit snorts before responding, “Now that’s an understatement. Where does he find the confidence to just…do that?” He throws his arms out at the screen.

Laughter bubbles up from Yuuri’s throat, “I asked him once, to see if he could maybe bottle some of it and send it to me. But apparently, it all comes naturally.” Yuuri pops a few pieces of popcorn in his mouth. “Which makes sense, given his personality. And the fact that he can pole dance with absolutely no shame.”

“He can WHAT?” Phichit squeals.

Yuuri’s turns to look at Phichit, and he almost laughs again at how wide Phichit’s eyes are.

“Yeah, it’s part of his training apparently. He taught me a little bit one time at a competition when we were really bored a few years back.” Yuuri almost blushes at the memory, the two of them alone and alternating turns as Chris cooed instructions at him. How could he have possibly agreed to learn from pole dancing from Christophe Giacometti?

Phichit reaches over to clasp Yuuri on the shoulder, face deadly serious now. “Yuuri, how much is ‘a little bit.’”

Yuuri rotates his head slowly, attention turning back to the screen. “No.”

“Please?” Chris’ scores come in, putting him right on the heels of J.J.

“Not happening.” Yuuri pulls out his phone, opening up Instagram to send Chris a message, noting some new followers he’s gained. One appears to be a Viktor fan as well, judging by the name.

Phichit tries his best to put on the face of a sad puppy, eyes watering and mouth dipped into a frown. “But, but, please Yuuri. I have to know!”

Yuuri hits send, and then turns his attention back to the competition as the last skater circles around the rink. Phichit continues to pout, writhing on the sofa next to him, but to no avail.

 


 

Viktor rushes home, a thrill coursing through him. Newfound energy, excitement, and hope where there had been little of it before. Most of all, he feels relief. Relief that it’s not weird for him to be curious, to want to know more about the mysterious skater going after Viktor’s accolades, that he’ll always have a spot in history. And that it’s important for him to understand who Yuri might be skating up against next year.

It’s not often that he’s grateful to Yakov for confronting him, but he feels like he’s soaring across the darkening sky as he flits home. The dark corners that were creeping in, consuming Viktor’s attention day in and day out have faded away, the tendrils disappearing into the brisk fall air.

He bursts through the door of his apartment, giving Makkachin a quick pat on the head before unceremoniously dumping his skate bag in the corner and throwing his coat on the rack. He flops onto his couch, maneuvering a pillow behind to help prop him up. Makkachin sneaks up as well, slipping his head onto Viktor’s lap as he pulls out his phone

He starts simple. Quad Flip. Viktor’s mouth flattens in annoyance, his own performances showing up first.

He tries again. Skate America Quad Flip. This time the first result he gets is a short clip that looks new, 10 seconds or so. That doesn’t stop him from doing a double take, though. Viktor would recognize the style of costume the skater is dressed in anywhere, even with the different color pallet.

Viktor’s eyes widen as he watches the man set his feet and launch, carving a path through the air before tumbling onto the ice. The man pops up quickly, starting to continue, but then the video ends abruptly. Viktor’s phone is frozen on the last frame, a close up of the skater’s eyes. They are a rich, stunning brown; warm and inviting, yet focused.

There’s more in them too, as Viktor looks closer. He can see the flame of determination burning in the depths of the skater’s eyes, and it ensnares him. Viktor feels a chill as he continues to stare, a ghostly tap whispering as it traces his spine. There’s something more in those eyes still, something that Viktor wants to see up close.

He swipes down to the description, and finds the skater’s name. Yuuri Katsuki.

Armed with more knowledge, Viktor begins his search anew. Yuuri Katsuki Skate America. The short program loads first, and Viktor is transfixed immediately. Katsuki’s wearing an arresting white outfit, patterned with snowflakes glittering in the light as he moves. The red of his undershirt grips Viktor tightly, pulling him in, drawing his eyes to the pale chest exposed. He wets his lips without thinking, waiting.

Viktor is startled as Katsuki begins, the movements stiffer than he had expected. Yet, something shifts quickly and Katsuki transforms, blossoming. He starts moving with the grace of a dancer, laden with sorrow and loss. Viktor is mesmerized by the movements, the simultaneous elegance and precision, by the shimmering light splaying across the snowflakes. His eyes trace every movement, each subtle shift of Katsuki’s form.

When Katsuki dips into a hydroplane, Viktor inhales so sharply that Makkachin looks up at him and boofs with concern. He quickly pets the poodle, but his focus remains on his phone. Viktor is swept up by Katsuki’s deft footwork, the melancholy in his hands as they trace invisible lines through the air. Viktor’s heart cries out for the grief he can see Katsuki bearing, and a few tears dot his cheek as the song comes to an end.

Viktor sits in silence for a moment, the only accompaniment his heavy breathing and the hum of the refrigerator. It wasn’t the best performance he’s ever seen, but there’s something about it. Viktor wipes away the wetness on his face, heart still thudding.

His fingers fly across his phone, almost a mind of their own. Yuuri Katsuki Skate America Free Skate.

Once again, Viktor feels a jolt as he sees that familiar costume, but in blue. It stirs memories of his own, and he wrings his hands at the uncomfortable thought, Makkachin stirring at the motion. It was one of Viktor’s favorite costumes, though, and he certainly can’t be upset with the way Katsuki wears it. The mystical blues of his jacket come together like the sky meeting the ocean, glimmering with light. His hair is the perfect contrast, slicked and black as the darkest night, pale skin the space in between.

The music is slow to start, like Katsuki’s first piece. And there’s still some sadness, but more…pensiveness. It’s not long before Viktor gawks as Katsuki darts across the ice with nimble speed, in a step sequence Viktor recognizes as his own. Again, it’s different.

Slowly, Viktor starts to grasp at something. He notices it again when Katsuki uses the same jump entrance as he had, and again in the tilt of his spin. It’s clear that Katsuki has the lithe body and movements of a dancer, not unlike Viktor.

But his skating, it sings alongside the music. Each step, each jump is like a note. And Katsuki connects them so effortlessly, his body a constantly shifting legato. It’s like…like Katsuki accompanies the music, rather than the other way around. His presence, his efforts enhance the ambiance, heighten the sensations a viewer experiences. Viktor can feel the pride, the reflection coming through in the music as Yuuri’s body harmonizes with it. The Quad Flip happens again, and Viktor almost thinks that this time, he will land it.

Katsuki is so captivating that when it ends, Viktor rapidly presses the replay button to maintain the continuity between Katsuki’s motions. In the moments before Katsuki resumes, Viktor can feel the heat rushing to his cheeks…and elsewhere.

On his second viewing, Viktor catches even more snippets of his own skating in Katsuki, but almost always masked slightly by Katsuki’s own additions or small tweaks. It’s subtle enough that he suspects many wouldn’t necessarily see the connection. But Viktor is confident by the finish of the song, this has to be about him. And not in a selfish, Viktor is the center of the universe way. More like, Katsuki chose to make his free skate about Viktor for some reason. And that leaves a lot of questions.

The search continues, after that. Yuuri Katsuki Skate America exhibition. Yuuri Katsuki skating. Yuuri Katsuki. Heat continues spreading throughout Viktor as he watches, something taking root so slowly that he is unaware of its presence.

It’s pitch black by the time that Viktor surfaces from his deep dive, and he distantly recognizes that he ought to eat some food soon. Makkachin must have telepathy, because his tail starts wagging as soon as Viktor begins thinking of food. But he doesn’t move quite yet.

Opening up Instagram, he quickly searches out his new interest and follows him. Viktor smiles, petting Makkachin absently as he locks his phone.

He closes his eyes as he leans against the couch, the ghostly contour of Yuuri Katsuki dancing across his eyelids, overflowing with music and grace.

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 10: Taking Flight

 

 

Viktor wakes the next morning with far more energy than he expected, given his late evening. It had just been so hard to tear himself away from watching video after video, interview after interview of Yuuri Katsuki. It turns out, not only can he skate with the practiced skill of a musician, but with the grace of a fluid dancer. And, he’s also incredibly cute in his interviews.

Well, the type of cute that Viktor likes at least. He’s honest, modest, respectful, and shy almost to a fault. The way Katsuki seems to just want to run and hide throughout interviews is somehow endearing.

As he watched each clip, Viktor found himself returning to the man’s eyes; their deep, liquid brown too captivating. They have an infinite depth, like the inky darkness of the night, yet manage to be so expressive when Katsuki appears so hesitant, unsure most of the time. Indeed, there were undeniably times that Viktor caught sight of some unvoiced fire, a spark alight in Katsuki’s eyes when asked certain questions.

Viktor sighs, arms folded neatly across his chest as he lies in bed, staring at nothing and everything. At least he had the presence of mind to plug in his phone after draining the battery, though he must have kicked it across the bed through the course of the night.

He carefully strains to reach it, doing his best not to disturb Makkachin’s slumbering form. Despite his best efforts, he upends the covers slightly in his struggle to reach.

Makka stirs abruptly, looking confused until he catches sight of Viktor leaning forward, his tail softly thumping against the down covers. Unable to refuse such a sight, Viktor tucks his phone away and immediately turns to petting the brown lump occupying most of his bed.

 

 

A couple of fried eggs and a short walk with Makkachin later, Viktor lounges on his couch again scrolling through Katsuki’s Instagram profile. Viktor’s lips slip down in displeasure; Katsuki posts updates so infrequently. It’s almost enough to make Viktor feel self-conscious about how often he posts. (Almost.) He doesn’t spare much time thinking about why Katsuki’s lack of content bothers him so much. No, he keeps scrolling.

There does seem to be a theme as Viktor continues, Katsuki often posts or gets tagged in pictures with a Thai skater named Phichit Chulanont. A sloppy, early morning grin slowly spreads on his face as he navigates to Phichit’s profile – it’s a veritable goldmine of content about Katsuki, including a recent Instagram Live. He doesn’t have much time before he needs to head to the rink, and Viktor sits still with indecision for a few brief moments before curiosity gets the better of him.

Viktor eagerly taps the icon to watch the recording; simultaneously snuggling into his couch and pulling up a blanket. Makkachin woofs softly as he pulls the corner of the blanket out from under the poodle, and Viktor has to pause the video so he can apologize profusely to a disgruntled Makka.

Turning his attention back to his phone, Viktor’s heart is immediately stopped by the sight of a sleepy Yuuri Katsuki, bundled up in blankets. His hair is messy, sticking up at odds and evens, but it feels so natural, like he’s home. Viktor can even spot a bit of dried drool stuck to the side of Katsuki’s mouth before he surreptitiously wipes it away. The sight of Katsuki so relaxed, so at peace in his own environment leaves Viktor speechless. It’s practically the antithesis of the footage of Katsuki during interviews and in competitions, yet he seems to be talking with Phichit like this instinctively.

Their playfulness together is intoxicating; two best friends completely comfortable with one another. Viktor’s heart pangs with a sense of loneliness at the thought. He hasn’t every really had someone like that in his life; a friend and a partner. He can’t dwell on it for too long though, Phichit starts asking Katsuki questions and Viktor has to focus. He might as well be taking notes, given how closely he listens.

Viktor watches the entire video, and retains just about three things from it despite his earlier focus. First, Katsuki is absurdly adorable even when he first wakes up in the morning. Second, Katsuki talks with Christophe. And lastly, Phichit Chulanont is an absolute gem for providing Viktor with much-needed Yuuri Katsuki content.

“Makka, I need your opinion on something.”

Viktor drags his phone down to floor-height, tilting it just right so that Makkachin can see the image of early morning, sleep-addled Yuuri Katsuki caught mid yawn.

“Thoughts?”

Makkachin stares at the screen while wagging his tail, either deeply considering it or completely lost. “Boof, boof.”

Viktor nods at the acknowledgement, satisfied.

Before he leaves, he sends a quick message off to Christophe to see if he can find out anything more. If Chris really does talk with Katsuki regularly, Viktor’s got a lot of questions for him.

 

 

Viktor walks into the rink, a slight bounce in his step and a smile plastered on his face. He’s a bit later than usual, particularly given his recent track record with practicing and coaching, so the changing room is bustling with activity as he pops open his locker. He starts getting ready by force of habit, his mind elsewhere. Yet, his automatic behavior feels altogether different from the stilted, jittery movements of the last week or two. He certainly doesn’t have the connected, musical lilt to his motions that Katsuki embellishes his skating with, but the curtain of pinpoint-focus and despair has lifted somewhat, shining something new onto Viktor.

Though Viktor is too lost among his meandering thoughts to observe, his rinkmates seem to take notice of the change as well. Around him, they whisper to one another, some gently nudging their friends to take notice. Yakov briefly stops in the doorway to the locker room, a slight expression of curiosity evident upon seeing the open whispering and watching from other skaters. Viktor remains blissfully unaware of the rustling around him, humming to himself. The corner of Yakov’s mouth twitches up, in what might vaguely approximate a smile for the old man, and he strolls onward to the ice.

Georgi is the one who decides to take the risk, and sits down next to him, drawing Viktor out of his thoughts.

“Hey Viktor, good morning.”

Viktor looks over from pulling on his socks, blinking at Georgi. “Good morning to you too!”

Georgi pauses a moment and the conversation stops, though Viktor doesn’t seem to notice the awkward silence.

“Did you…sleep well last night?”

“Not particularly, I was up late. It was my own fault, though. I got distracted and lost track of time.”

“Distracted,” Georgi mulls the word over, like the idea of Viktor being distracted is as unlikely as a warm winter in Saint Petersburg.

“Mhmm,” Viktor hums.

“I. I hope it was a good distraction, at least.”

“The best kind, thanks!” Viktor looks up at Georgi as he finishes lacing his skates, a dazzling smile on his face.

Without another word, Viktor hops up and drifts towards the rink, leaving Georgi sitting alone, flabbergasted. He shares a quick look with some of the other skaters, shrugging his shoulders as the whispers resume.

 

When Viktor steps out onto the ice, he feels lighter than he has in weeks. Part of him wants to just run through some of his old sequences and see if he can mirror his past work, and then add some of Katsuki’s affectations in.

“Viktor, you’re basically late” Yura calls out to him from across the ice, already deep into his warm up.

But he knows that he has other responsibilities and priorities to tackle for now…

Viktor skates over and joins Yuri in his warm up routine. They stretch and skate slowly, Yuri providing some thoughts and notes on his work from yesterday. Viktor nods along, adding something occasionally, but relatively quiet throughout. He completely misses Yuri’s questioning glance as they transition to more demanding practice, sweat dotting their brows.

They get into the thick of practice after that, narrowing in on the few portions Yura has been struggling with. Several of the issues center on transitions between spins and skating, and Viktor hones in on trying to smooth the connection, the natural evolution between them.

It might be Yura that he’s watching on the ice, but in his mind, he keeps seeing Yuuri Katsuki dancing, each motion fluid and conjoined across a brightly-lit rink. It’s captivating, consuming; and he wants to see it again.

He tries to convey those feelings, that effortless linkage to Yura, but struggles to find the right words.

“You’ve got the technical portion down, but it feels too abrupt. Sudden. Look for more of a bond between your movements, like the image in between two separate photographs, connecting the frames.”

Yura furrows his brow, looking lost. He tries again anyway, but Viktor still doesn’t see what he is looking for and stops the younger skater again.

“I’m just not following what you’re asking for,” Yuri growls.

“I know, I know,” Viktor massages his forehead, thinking. “I’m not doing a good job explaining. Sorry. We’ll figure it out.”

Yura mutters something to himself that Viktor misses, but they resume practicing for a bit longer before breaking for lunch.

Viktor quickly whips out his phone while munching on food, rewatching some of the videos he’d seen last night. He’s partway through one when a notification pops up on his screen, covering Katsuki as he squares up for a jump. Viktor nearly swipes the notification away without a second thought, but notices Christophe’s name on it as it fades away, and Viktor’s face lights up.

He deftly swaps over to Instagram and opens up the message, eager to see what Chris had to say.

 

christophe_gc:

You know, you started your message with ‘Chris I need your help now’ and ended it with something that did not seem to require immediate help.

Not the best way to get me to respond quickly, Viktor.

And you’re not even asking about me or congratulating me on 2nd place last week

https://media1.giphy.com/media/3oz8xUK8V7suY7W9SE/giphy.gif

 

v-nikiforov:

okay, okay, I’m sorry. Congrats! I watched and you were awesome. Do I detect a new drive?

I only just discovered him last night though!

can you imagine, going years without ever knowing Yuuri Katsuki existed?

 

christophe-gc:

No, I distinctly can’t because we’ve run into each other off and on since Juniors.

And thank you, despite your absence I am finding some new…opportunities.

 

v-nikiforov:

we can’t all be so lucky, Chris.

why didn’t you tell me about him sooner???

 

christophe-gc:

Counterpoint: how did you only learn about him last night??

He did the quad flip like a few weeks ago at this point, do you live in the middle of nowhere?

Oh wait, I forgot you live in Russia, so that’s basically a yes.

 

v-nikiforov:

☹☹☹ that was uncalled for

I was avoiding social media, okay

 

christophe-gc:

Now that’s a first.

 

v-nikiforov:

I was a little overwhelmed that someone else did a quad flip

and concerned what it meant

 so I just avoided reading about it

for like 10 days

 

christophe-gc:

Okay that’s fair, sorry.

You’re still, like, the best skater in history you know.

 

v-nikiforov:

https://media.tenor.com/images/7c6b9b8959cedf17037511e138fe1c85/tenor.gif

;)

okay so tell me more about him now??

 

christophe-gc:

You’re insufferable.

Yes, we met when we were both on the JR circuit. He’s so timid and kind it’s almost unbelievable that he’s a professional skater, but I can attest that he’s genuinely like that. He doesn’t really have any rivals because of it, though apparently Michele Crispino has some beef with him. Yuuri has some theories, too.

v-nikiforov:

has he always been so…

melodic? graceful?

I cant explain it properly

 

christophe-gc:

I think I know what you mean…and, yes, pretty much.

The issue has never been that he can’t skate, it’s that he can’t skate consistently. He’d probably beat us all if he figured things out. He gets super stressed, or embarrassed, or nervous around competitions a lot. He’s tried to explain it to me before, but I haven’t really kept up with it very well.

 

v-nikiforov:

well, that kind of makes sense from what I’ve seen.

he seemed super jittery at the start of his SP

but then quickly found his footing and blew me away

 

christophe-gc:

Yeah, he kinda hinted that he was struggling with some things when we talked

 

v-nikiforov:

okay so how often are you two talking???

christophe-gc:

-.-

Viktor, my personal relationships are not an open book for you to ogle.

v-nikiforov:

relationship?????

christophe-gc:

Good luck with whatever it is you’re doing, Viktor!

v-nikiforov:

I’m helping little Yuri get ready for the JGPF!!!

hellooooo?

???

 

Viktor waits a few minutes, finishing up his food in the meantime, but no response comes from Christophe. He huffs, lips extending into a pout as he starts readying himself for afternoon practice with Yura.

How is it that Chris managed to only tease him further?

 


 

While Yuuri continues practicing at a steady pace, right after Skate Canada finishes Phichit enters into crunch time preparing for the Cup of China. It’s the first time that they’ve both skated in Seniors at the same time, and Yuuri is impressed by the shift in Phichit as he focuses. Phichit spends long hours at the rink, even longer than Yuuri. It’s not long before Yuuri decides to stay with Phichit most evenings, sometimes recording his practice and sometimes offering small suggestions or feedback when Phichit asks.

And it’s fun, for the most part. Phichit is far more serious than usual, which does throw Yuuri off a bit, but working alongside his friend to prepare him for a competition gets them both fired up.

“How was that?” Phichit asks in between mouthfuls of water after a run through of his Short Program the day before flying to China.

“Even better. I can really see you flowing, connecting with the music now,” Phichit nods appreciatively at that, “even if it’s not from The King and The Skater.”

“Well, your advice helped. I think I’ve internalized the songs enough that I could basically conduct them. And I’ve got plans for The King and The Skater, don’t you worry,” Phichit points finger guns at Yuuri as he skates away, and Yuuri shakes his head, snorting.

Phichit does a lap around the ice slowly before skating to the center, taking his starting pose for his Free Skate.

“Kick some ass!” Yuuri shouts as he starts the music. He can just make out Phichit’s mouth twitching up into a smile before he resets and pushes off, the music echoing around the rink.

 

A few days later, Yuuri sprawls on the couch, but without Phichit’s bubbly presence in the apartment it feels a tad empty. He’s still going to practice, but Celestino is in China with Phichit as well, leaving Yuuri mostly independent for the first time in...Yuuri doesn’t really know how long.

Celestino had said to try and take it a bit easier on his own, but Yuuri is itching to get to the rink.

Before that though, he takes time to sort through some of the boring things, like doing his laundry and paying rent. It’s not fun, but at the very least, it’s not a point of stress. It hadn’t been that long ago that Yuuri was scraping through the bottom of his bank account to keep things going. But his second place finish at Skate America and a newly ironed out sponsorship (thanks to Celestino’s sweettalking skills at the banquet) have provided a sudden influx of funds, giving Yuuri stability both physically and mentally.

He’s not rich by any means, but he didn’t think twice about ordering massive amounts of takeout for Phichit the night before he left, and the two of them kept up their tradition of watching trashy action movies together. And for Yuuri, that’s the hallmark of solid finances.

He sends off a text to Phichit, asking if he’s settled in yet and wishing him luck in the competition tomorrow. Yuuri’s planning to watch, of course, but Phichit will probably be concentrating on preparing soon. Although, Yuuri’s pretty sure that some of Phichit’s younger skater friends are also at the Cup of China, so who knows what trouble they might get into.

After cleaning the kitchen and sweeping the floors, Yuuri decides he’s successfully burned up enough time to warrant going to the rink for practice. With Phichit leaving for the GPF qualifier, Yuuri’s own hunger for rivalry has flared up again, and he wants to run through some of the “sloppier” portions of his short program. Which mostly equates to running the first 30 seconds over and over again, since he practically froze at the start during Skate America. Thanks to a recent snowstorm, he bundles up tightly in a jacket and scarf and treks over to the rink.

He pauses in the entryway of the rink, gazing out across the ice and lets out a contented sigh. It’s blessedly empty and quiet, with the last small group exiting behind Yuuri now. Though the silence in his empty apartment is unnerving, the silence of the rink is a welcome mat, drawing Yuuri in and wrapping its arms around him like a comforting hug. The only sound is the hum of the air conditioning, keeping the rink chilly despite the frigid weather outside. Yuuri grins to himself as he starts stretching, the heating of his muscles a promise of greater action out on the ice in just a bit.

 

 

The next day, Yuuri settles in to watch the Cup of China all by his lonesome. It’s particularly strange going through the habits of preparing to watch a competition without someone else along with him. He pops the popcorn and puts into a large bowl, forgetting that it’s only him who will be munching on the buttery snack (and he probably shouldn’t eat it all on his own). There is none of the typical tug-of-war for blanket coverage that usually happens; Yuuri is able to cover up his entire body and snuggle into the couch with no fear of retaliation.

Before the warm ups begin properly, Phichit would usually look through social media and hit Yuuri the the highlights. But without Phichit to do it for him, Yuuri decides to check Instagram himself to see if there are any posts from the competitors.

At the very top of his feed, posted just a bit ago, is a picture of Phichit in his short program costume smiling brilliantly, holding two fingers up in a peace sign. Behind him, the rink sparkles in the background.

And to Yuuri’s dismay, he sees his own name in the caption.

Can’t wait to step out on the ice today! I couldn’t physically bring my inspiration with me to China, but I hope he is cheering from home because I’ve got something special to share! @katsudon-yk #cupofchina #wheresyuuri

Face flushing bright red, Yuuri sputters at his phone with indignation for an excessive amount of time. Did Phichit really announce Yuuri as his inspiration on social media right before a competition? And tag him in it?

He scrolls through the comments, finding a number of fans speaking in support of both of them. There are also a number of people using #wheresyuuri, posting various pictures of Yuuri that had been snapped at competitions or when he’d been caught off guard by fans. He flips over to Twitter, and sees the same post from Phichit there, with even more people jumping on the #wheresyuuri, sharing photo after photo of Yuuri and asking where he is now.

It’s absurd, outlandish, overwhelming, impossible.

Yuuri’s gut reaction is that it must be a mistake, a draft that Phichit hadn’t meant to post; or that he should simply run away and hide until it blows over. It can’t be real.

But then his thoughts wander to all the times that Phichit has basically said as much directly to Yuuri, and how he usually fends off the compliment or redirects the conversation.

Maybe…Maybe Phichit really does look to him for inspiration. The thought hits him with surprising suddenness and strength, like a bell rung in the middle of the night, the sound crystal clear for once. A few tears cloud his vision as the first skater takes to the ice.

And for perhaps one of the first times ever, Yuuri is inspired to make a post on Instagram. People want to know where he is? Well then, he’ll tell them. For Phichit.

He hastily reorients himself on the couch, pulling up the blanket and positioning himself so it is clear exactly where he’s watching from: their lumpy secondhand sofa. Yuuri snaps a few photos quickly. Although he doesn’t love the way he looks in any of them, he also doesn’t particularly care enough to let that stop him right now.

He picks the best of the bunch and quickly posts it before he can second guess himself.

I’m lucky to call you a friend and roommate, and honored to be your inspiration. I’m cheering you on from the same place we always watch @phichit+chu! #cupofchina #wheresyuuri #onthecouch

The likes and comments start flooding in, but Yuuri is fixated on the screen at this point, pointedly ignoring the near-incessant buzzing of his phone.

The competition flows by quickly once the first skater begins, Yuuri soaking in performance after performance like a parched animal in the desert. He recognizes Phichit’s friends when they come up, both Leo de la Iglesia and Guang Hong Ji put up solid scores. And gratefully, each skater brings him one step closer to what he really wants to see.

When Phichit steps out onto the ice, Yuuri is powerless to stop a ragged cheer from escaping, tearing its way from his throat. His friend looks stunning, his costume a mix of light and dark, the negative space creating fanciful patterns that seem to be alive, moving and undulating as Phichit darts around the rink warming up.

The world narrows for Yuuri as the music starts, and his eyes track each delicate movement Phichit makes. If warming up had made his costume seem alive, then Phichit’s choreography made it dance. It was completely captivating; watching the patterns move as Phichit spun and jumped. Time was irrelevant as long as Yuuri was mesmerized by Phichit’s bold steps and leaps.

It, therefore, came as a surprise when Yuuri saw Phichit’s final step sequence leading into his last jump, a Triple Axel according to the announcers. Yuuri could recognize the step sequence right away, it was practically ingrained in him. It was the same sequence he used all the time in warm ups, tweaked slightly for difficulty. Something he had created when musing about Viktor’s skating, not really taking directly from the champion but skating freely on his own, just to warm up.

Phichit had seen him do the sequence countless times, and must have taken a liking to it himself. Enough of a liking to put at the very end of his short program, apparently. Yuuri shouts again as Phichit sails through the air for a Triple Axel, and comes to a prompt stop as the music concludes.

The camera zooms in on his face, dotted by sweat and heaving from exertion. Just before it cuts away, Phichit winks at the camera. Yuuri bites his lip, a goofy grin welling up at the lack of subtlety his roommate has. Despite Phichit hamming it up at the end, warmth radiates throughout Yuuri that his best friend had chosen to honor him like this.

When the scores come in, putting Phichit in a tight race for 2nd place, Yuuri immediately grabs his still-buzzing phone to congratulate and thank his friend.

 


 

Viktor had settled in to watch the Cup of China (he was done avoiding watching skating out of some sense of self-flagellation), when he was gifted with the most wondrous sight while scrolling through Instagram.

Phichit Chulanont had posted about his roommate, citing him as a source of inspiration. And used the #wheresyuuri as he readied for competition.

Which was now being shared and populated by people all over the world posting images of Yuuri. Images of Yuuri skating, of Yuuri stretching, of him laughing, hiding, smiling. Viktor stops himself from liking each and every image that crops up, instead screenshotting a mildly embarrassing number of them.

His own searching hadn’t turned up much new lately about Yuuri, but in swoops Phichit to shower Viktor with more once again.

And then, he sees Yuuri himself post a picture.

I’m lucky to call you a friend and roommate, and honored to be your inspiration. I’m cheering you on from the same place we always watch @phichit+chu! #cupofchina #wheresyuuri #onthecouch

Sure enough, Yuuri is smushed into (sinking into?) a rather gross-looking couch, the color fading away from use. But Yuuri is smiling, radiant. His eyes are crinkling a little, and he’s grasping a comfortable blanket covering most of his body, leaving just his slender neck and face exposed.

It’s enough to make a man’s heart swell.

Viktor finds it a bit hard to focus on watching the rest of the Cup of China.

 

 

If Viktor could see himself from an outside lens like Yuri could, he might have started to notice some changes after the Cup of China.

Oh, he still came into the rink excited and energetic each morning, jostling shoulders and trading laughs with the other skaters as everyone got ready like he used to. He still worked with Yuri for much of the day, coaching him as he practiced for the JGPF. He even started spending time with some of the other skaters outside of practice again.

But he continually missed Yuri’s frustrated glances, his deeper sighs, his harsher tone. Maybe he had just become used to the methods Yuri used to communicate, and could not distinguish Yuri’s true frustrations.

In fact, if Viktor had been paying close enough attention, he might have noticed several times when Yuri gathered up his strength to try and have a conversation about it, but backed off each time. Viktor failed to note the change in Yuri’s body language, the more dejected, defeated motions.

Viktor was oblivious to it all. And worse for Yuri, it seemed Viktor missed how often he checked his phone, scrolling through Instagram or prowling through Twitter. He didn’t recognize how quiet he had become in providing advice or corrections to Yuri’s skating practice, often opting for smaller, infrequent adjustments. He is happily unaware of how distracted he is.

 


 

Yuuri gently tosses the sweatpants onto his bed before returning to his closet, sifting through to find what else he needs to pack for the NHK tournament. He’s going to be flying out in just a few days with Celestino, and wants to be sure he’s ready. Some sort of strange guffaw emanates from the bed, and he reflexively looks over his shoulder.

On his bed next to the sweatpants is a sprawled out Phichit, laying on his back and cradling his phone carefully. Yuuri can see him idly scrolling and hazards a guess that Phichit is whittling his time away on Instagram, again.

“You know you don’t have to sit here while I do this,” Yuuri offers.

“First, I’m not sitting. And second, I want to be here because I can do things like this: come take a look at this costume,” Phichit turns his phone towards Yuuri, who dutifully leans in to take a look while folding a shirt.

“Hmmm…”

“Yep, that about captures my feelings. Although you put it more politely. Why create a costume that’s almost entirely see-through? You’re just going to weird out the judges…and me.”

Yuuri hums absentmindedly in agreement, turning back to his closet and rifling through the hangers. His costumes are already zipped up in special made opaque packaging, hanging at the front. He has to pass by them every time he starts looking through his clothes again. Yet, his eyebrows rise in shock each time. It’s extraordinarily strange to see them and think that they are his costumes, the costumes he took second place in. He continues past them, searching. Should he pack an extra set of dress clothes for the banquet? Or is that too presumptious?

“Having trouble finding things?” Phichit chimes in.

Yuuri sighs evasively. “It’s not that, really. Just trying to decide what I need to bring, and I won’t have you there to help with fashion advice either.”

“Good thing I’m here now, then. Go with the purple shirt and grey slacks for the banquet—”

“How do you know I’ll—”

“Yuuri, I know you sometimes doubt yourself, but I have faith. Plus, you’ll have Minako and your sister there to cheer you on!”

“Huh. Thanks Phichit,” Yuuri tosses the shirt and slacks directly onto an unsuspecting Phichit, but the shirt drifts onto his face slowly, a leaf on the wind.

“Heyyyy,” Yuuri’s lips twist up in a grin as Phichit flails for a moment before moving the shirt off his face.

It’s true that he’ll have Minako and Marie for support this time, though he will definitely miss having Phichit around for the competition. It’ll be his first time competing without Phichit since…well, since before his last Worlds appearance. On the flip side, Phichit managed quite well on his own in China a few weeks ago, scooping up 3rd place overall. And as much as Phichit says he draws inspiration from Yuuri, the reverse is also true. If Phichit proved he can do it, Yuuri can fumble his way through it as well.

“Yuuriohmygodyuuricomelook,”

Yuuri gently places some folded clothes into the suitcase, “What is it now?”

“Viktornikiforovisfollowingme!” The words come out in such a messy, speedy jumble that it takes Yuuri several seconds for the words to process in his brain. Once they do, he unceremoniously drops the pants he is holding onto the floor, covering the distance to Phichit in record time.

“What?!”

“Look look look, I was checking my new followers for the month and saw THIS.”

His finger is pointing at what Yuuri can tell is the username v-nikiforov, followed by the words “follows you”. Pure shock zips through Yuuri’s veins at seeing his best friend and biggest inspiration somehow colliding. Well, maybe not colliding, but at the very least forging some sort of connection.

“Ho. Ly. Shit.”

Phichit just squeals in response, the noise all heady.

“Why do you think--?”

“I have no fucking idea why! I thought it was a fake or fan account, but I checked and he’s legit!”

Adrenaline continues to course through Yuuri, but he also feels a small pang of…jealousy, his stomach curling slightly that it was Phichit who was recognized first. He quickly does his best to suppress those feelings, letting happiness bubble up as he and Phichit continue to geek out.

They inevitably spend close to an hour stalking through Viktor’s profile and pictures (even though Yuuri has seen it all before, several times), swapping outlandish theories about why he’s following Phichit.

As their initial fervor begins to tire out, Yuuri can’t help but pull out his own phone and check Instagram. He’s hoping for something that he knows he shouldn’t, realizing that he’s just setting himself up for disappointment. He should just be happy for Phichit and move on.

He checks his recent followers anyway, scrolling through and reading each name carefully. He nears the bottom of the list of recent followers, still not finding anything. He’d already known it was a foolish, fleeting dream.

But then he sees the name from the very beginning of the month, the one he’d written off immediately as a Viktor fan like himself. He double checks it this time. v-nikiforov.

Yuuri cautiously taps on the name, and is taken to the profile.

And his heart does a backflip when the real thing pops up, verified check mark and all. A smiling, beautiful Viktor shines up at Yuuri.

If he had been excited when Phichit had discovered it, then he was practically bouncing off the walls now.

Viktor Nikiforov.

Following him, Yuuri Katsuki.

On Instagram.

“ohmygodPHICHIIIIT!” Yuuri yells into the void, eyes still affixed to his phone.

“Yeeeeees?”

“He’s following me too, holy shit!”

Phichit scampers into the room, looking quickly down at the phone and then back up at Yuuri.

They lock eyes, and start screaming again.

 

 

The next few days pass by in a blur for Yuuri, lost to the whirlwind of practice, packing, and intermittent shrieking with Phichit over the fact that Viktor Nikiforov follows them both.

So it isn’t until he’s halfway across the Pacific Ocean, thousands of feet up in the air next to his slumbering coach, that Yuuri really begins to think about the fact that he’ll be competing again in something like 48 hours. In Japan, no less.

It will be his first time at the NHK trophy in a number of years now, and he’ll be more or less premiering as Japan’s Ace skater this time around. He’s probably the favorite to win, though he had avoided looking too closely to find out what people had said in the days leading up.

Where the very idea that he was competing in his home country would have left him running panicked and circuitous paths in his mind just a few years ago, there’s now some hesitant excitement building his chest now.

He’s also incredibly proud of, yet timid about his routines. They draw so much from Viktor, and are that much easier for Yuuri to skate as a result.

Somehow though, sharing them with others leaves him a bit shy at times, like he’s sharing a private part of himself. It feels different from when he just skates with abandon at the rink, even if it has many of the same parts.

But that also makes him proud, that he’s able to share with others something so profoundly intertwined with his own identity and experience. It’s grown, and evolved over time as well. Like him. Yuuri didn’t notice it at first, too busy with the trees to see the forest. He has adapted Viktor’s movements and mannerisms, molding them to fit his own quirks.

Celestino takes this moment to snore loudly, taunting Yuuri with sleep.

There’s still underlying stress and nerves about competing, about sharing his routines, making some things like sleep difficult. Worries, anxieties that Yuuri has had to grapple with for years and will have to contend with for many more to come. Yet, they don’t feel as crippling this time.

There is an ember, a growing fire in Yuuri as they draw closer to the competition. He wants to take to the ice and declare himself, to claim a spot at the top. He had stifled that desire before, concerned that it was unbecoming. But letting it out a bit, twisting the valve to let loose a controlled amount, is helping combat his typical worries. It blends with and balances out his sense of not-belonging, of being an imposter.

Flashes of insecurity and worry still overwhelm Yuuri at times, even in practice. Alongside those, though, are patches of contentment with his work and honoring Viktor, even confidence at rare moments. The spark in Yuuri keeps pushing him forward through the ups and down.

A shiver pulses through Yuuri, running from head to toe and lifting the hair on his arms as he imagines standing atop the podium, receiving the gold medal for first place as his home crowd screams and cheers.

On an impulse, Yuuri wiggles, trying to reach for the phone in his pocket. He opens up the camera, and takes a few pictures of himself.

When he takes a look at the photos, he finds a face of determination and focus, brown eyes staring through the camera. Lips tugging up in satisfaction, Yuuri connects to the wifi on the plane briefly.

It only takes a couple minutes to post the best of the batch on his Instagram, along with a simple caption.

Heading to Japan, ready to fight for first!

Who knows, maybe even Viktor will see it and watch him. Another shudder vibrates through Yuuri at that thought, something tugging at his emotions.

Feeling satisfied with the post, Yuuri disconnects from the wifi to avoid notifications, instead plugging in his earbuds and selecting a more relaxing playlist. He closes his eyes, twisting and turning in his seat to try and get comfortable.

As sleep starts to claim him, a shadowy skater takes form in his mind, his face hidden from sight. They gracefully skate Viktor’s routines, darting across the ice with the confidence and capability of a champion. Yuuri tries to focus, to see who it is, but as he gets closer he slips deeper and deeper into sleep. He’s left only with a ghostly afterimage as he drifts away.

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 11: What It Feels Like

 

Grimacing, Yuuri tries again to slick back his hair, but somehow misses a tiny patch. He sighs, maneuvering around the mirror to peer at the little bit of black hair sticking up near the center of his head. How does Phichit seem to get it in all in one go? Yuuri’s about to squeeze another drop of hair gel onto his hands when he hears a distinctive click-clack in the hallway, slowly building like an approaching storm.

The door to his prep room bursts open, and in strides an imposing figure that Yuuri can recognize just from the sound of her heels.

For the shortest second possible, Minako stops in the doorway and her eyes dart up and down, soaking in the details. Then she starts forward again, barely a hitch in her stride.

“I’m so glad you finally listened to my advice about a red costume, Yuuri. It was about time.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes, “Yes Minako, I chose this costume specifically because you told me I look flattering in red. No other motivation could have possibly crossed my mind.” He notes the tug of her lips and slight smirk through the mirror, and smiles back. “It’s so good to see you again. And thank you for coming to support me, it means…it means a lot to have you here.”

Sweeping across the room with the inherent grace of a practiced dancer, Minako swiftly deposits her brown trench coat on a hanger, and then turns back towards Yuuri, fishing for something in her large purse as she approaches. “Yuuri, of course I would come to support you. I’m relieved that you’ve taken up skating again, and Mari is beside herself with excitement as well, even if she won’t say it.” She looks up from the bag, inspecting Yuuri, “Though I do hope that you’re still practicing ballet.”

Yuuri holds her glare, not shying away from the intense eyes of his former coach. “You know I do, I can’t stay away from dancing for that long.” Minako pats him on the arm gently, satisfied.

She hoists what Yuuri can now determine is a collection of makeup materials onto the counter in front of the mirror, which is all the warning he gets before she starts covering his face with one thing after another with the efficiency of a longtime performer. While she works, they lapse into a comfortable silence.

Though it took a bit of time as a kid to learn, Yuuri has come to appreciate Minako’s ability to let silence hang in the air and be comfortable with it. When he was learning ballet, she would often keep quiet aside from instructions, avoiding superfluous chatter.

Yuuri loved that he didn’t have to fill in the empty space with Minako, that they could be together in tandem without needing more. Even now, he recognizes that she does enjoy chattering away with others, but has become accustomed to quiet moments with Yuuri. It’s a reaffirming sight to have her near, especially with Yuuri’s short program coming up within the hour.

His time in Japan has flown by so far, travel and practice and sleep all blurring together, spitting him out here and now, in costume as his short program approaches. The absence of free time has kept him on track, though, and prevented him from dissecting his return to Japan and stressing about exhaustive details.

There are still nerves, fears, prancing around in his thick skull. Worries about how people will perceive his performance, about whether he can string together the right movements, if he’ll be able to capture Viktor’s intrinsic radiance on the ice.

But alongside that, a current flowing in parallel, is his excitement to be skating in Japan again, to be asserting himself as a top skater. Knowing that Minako and Mari will be there watching also helps; he can almost imagine just performing for them, showing them how far he has come since he was last home in Japan.

And part of Yuuri wants to show him. Yuuri knows he might well be watching, and that stirs something primal inside.

“There you go,” Minako says as she leans back, “I think I got most of what that roommate of yours was doing for your first program.”

Yuuri comes back to the present, the heat in his stomach fading slightly into the background as his eyes snap up to the mirror. Once again, he looks strikingly pale (and dare he say handsome), like a fleeting, transient being brought to this realm for a short period before disappearing elsewhere.

“Thank you…this is…” he sits in stunned silence for another moment, uncertain. “Fantastic.”

Minako flashes a bright smile, quickly stuffing everything into her bag. “Well, I’d best be off so I can get back to our seats. Mari was getting some food for us, and I don’t want her to eat it all without me.” Minako scoops up her coat and bounces to the door, pausing just before the door swings shut. “Knock them out.”

Yuuri nods in response, the motion swift and surprisingly confident. He looks around the now-silent room, eyes eventually finding the mirror again. He grins at the translucent reflection, thinking back to his first appearance in this white and red ensemble. He spends enough time lurking around skating news online to have seen how popular this new costume is, how people have become fixated over his appearance in the stark red and white.

Normally, it just bothers him that people spend so much time thinking about him in skin tight clothing. But staring at it now, the snowflakes glittering alongside a bright red collar, Yuuri feels powerful.

And maybe, for once, ready.

 


 

Viktor has been vibrating with anticipation these last few days. Ever since Katsuki posted that picture from 30,000 feet, he’s been counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the NHK tournament begins.

The morning had crawled by, with him coaching Yuri through a few things. It hasn’t really settled in yet that the GPF and JGPF in Barcelona are just two weeks away. The last GP tournament feels much more immediate, and Viktor had eagerly rushed home to get set up.

And now, with the afternoon off, Viktor has settled into his couch with live coverage leading up to the NHK on.

Makkachin lounges at his feet, looking up occasionally for a head pat, which Viktor of course obliges. He whittles away the time on his phone, even posting a picture of him and Makkachin watching as the competition officially begins.

He dutifully takes in each performance and skater, trying to mentally take note of their major successes and shortcomings. Perhaps it is just his own anticipation, but none of the skaters particularly capture him. Their names fly in one ear, and then out the other.

Then finally, the time comes.

A flicker of crimson appears on screen, and Viktor’s eyes leap towards it. He knows what to expect this time, but he still can’t stop the sharp inhale that follows.

Katsuki is in the same costume, just as light and ethereal as he was when Viktor first laid eyes on him. Maybe Viktor’s own perception has changed, but it feels even more arresting now. Viktor is glued to the white-on-red form as he takes a few quick laps around the rink before the lighting dims and Katsuki takes to the center.

This time, when the music starts, there’s no hesitation, no uncertainty in Katsuki’s movements. Viktor can feel the emotion pouring out from the first step, the dripping melancholy in each adjustment.

As Katsuki gathers speed, dancing around the arena, the light plays off his costume. The spotlight catches on the snowflakes, casting glittering shadows around the dim rink. The large one on his back sparkles as he rotates in a tight spin, the shape of it burning its way into Viktor’s mind.  His steps are powerful, strong, and yet precise and elegant at the same time. He moves in sync with the music, and Viktor loses the ability to differentiate whether the music or Katsuki is taking the lead.

At each jump, Viktor sucks in a ragged breath, releasing it as Katsuki’s skates touch the ice once more. Katsuki’s lithe form flows through each movement, supplementing the music while simultaneously conveying his own story. Viktor can see the sadness and loss that Katsuki endured.

Throughout the routine, some subliminal part of Viktor also tracks the unmistakable similarities. The step sequences, spins, jumps, even some choreography. It’s hauntingly familiar, a memory of his own time past. It registers distantly, like a sound from another room.

Katsuki finishes with one hand flush to his chest and the other reaching behind, grasping at something unseen. The camera zooms in on his face, cheeks glowing bright pink from exertion and chest heaving as he sucks in breath after breath. Dragging his focus upwards, Viktor latches onto Katsuki’s eyes once again.

Whatever had been inhibiting Katsuki before seems entirely absent, and Viktor can sense the unabashed heat and drive contained within those startling brown eyes. An insidious thought about seeing Katsuki flushed and vulnerable like this again takes root, and he has to rip his attention and focus back to the screen with discernable effort.

For Viktor, it feels like no time has passed since the first haunting strains of music. Yet he knows some time has to have gone by, as his knuckles are a bright white from clenching his phone so tightly.

He watches in silence as the announcers fawn over Katsuki’s performance, instead tracking Katsuki as he hugs two women from the audience on his way to the kiss and cry. Something rumbles in his throat at the sight, coiling with discomfort. But it quiets when the announcers note his sister and teacher are visiting from his hometown to cheer him on. Makkachin turns to stare at him after, cocking his head at an odd angle until Viktor reaches over to pet him.

Viktor breaks his silence when the scores come in, cheering as they vault Katsuki into a lofty first place lead. He lays on the couch for a while longer, watching the replays and breakdown of Katsuki’s performance before his stomach growls in protest, startling both himself and Makkachin.

 


 

Yuuri takes a deep breath, letting some of the tension of the competition bleed away as he eases into his seat. Since he’d finished skating, he’d been pulled in what felt like four different directions to answer interview questions and greet his fans. All the stimulation was tiring, requiring Yuuri to put on a show as a top skater. Finally, he had some time alone.

Well, alone with family and friends.

Mari settled into the chair across from him, followed quickly by Celestino and Minako to his sides. The quiet buzz of the restaurant allows them to settle in without Yuuri being recognized, and Yuuri is very grateful. He’s been teetering on the cliff of exhaustion the last hour or two, and signing another autograph might push him over the edge. Something about greeting fans and signing things always drains him, makes him feel like he has to act greater than.

A waiter brings them their menus, and Yuuri is content to peruse his options while the others chat about this or that, relishing the calmer moment to himself.

It is, of course, his sister that draws him out of his reflection after they order food.

“Yuuri. I’m so glad that I got to be here to see you skate like that.”

His first instinct is to deflect or retreat, to instead take the conversation elsewhere. But he knows his sister. Even as he thinks about, he can see her gaze sharpening on him, daring him to try and wiggle away.

“I’m really happy that you got to come and see it, too.” Mari lifts one eyebrow, expectant. Damn, how do sisters manage to do that? “I’m…actually feeling good about my skating for once.”

Mari smiled at that, and Minako outright laughs.

Celestino leans forward, relieving Yuuri. “You know, he actually came to me with the ideas for this year. On his own! Used to be, he just wanted to go with the flow and whatever I created. But this,” he gestures at the skate bag near Yuuri’s feet, where his costume is folded neatly “is his doing entirely.”

Mari smirks knowingly at Yuuri, and he is briefly transported back to their home, sitting by the onsen at night with her as she urged him to push forward and chase his dreams, a cigarette dangling on her lips.

“It’s certainly remarkable. I haven’t seen you take initiative like this in…well, a really long time.” Minako chimes in, shooting a questioning glance at Yuuri.

Yuuri smiles softly, recalling his own uncertainty about skating again. It seems so distant and foreign now, after staking his claim on first place in the short program at the NHK. Choosing to skate again, and to skate his feelings had been a hard choice to make, but it has definitely provided boundless inspiration for his programs.

“I’ve got Viktor to thank for my programs, truthfully.”

“It all comes back to that Viktor, doesn’t it,” Minako teases.

Yuuri looks down, shyness pushing to the forefront again.

“Skaters find influence wherever they can, even from each other. Though,” Celestino strokes his thumb over his chin, thoughtful. “Yuuri’s always had a fascination with Nikiforov, and when he told me his plan for the year I was surprised too. Yet it seems to be the perfect fit. I mean, the results are speaking for themselves.”

Yuuri nods timidly, not sure what else he can put into words.

It’s more than just being able to skate with Viktor for inspiration. The words make sense in his mind, but he thinks trying to vocalize them will just muddy the waters, dilute his experience. Explaining his goals and feelings has never been a strong point, but…Giving form and substance to his program while leaning on Viktor’s history has enabled him come so far already, and he feels poised to continue pushing his own boundaries.

And has laid the groundwork for Yuuri to say farewell to one chapter of his life.

Their food arrives shortly after. Suddenly feeling famished, Yuuri digs into the healthy (and flavorful) meal. The chatter quiets down as they all tuck in, the hallmark of tasty food.

 


 

Viktor dashes through the door, stumbling over himself in his haste. He slaps a hand to the side, catching himself before falling, but regrettably drawing visible attention.

“Viktor! Are you okay?” A half dozen or so voices call out, noticing the commotion at the entryway to the rink. Viktor shrinks back a bit in the doorway, mustering some strength despite the guilt rumbling in his stomach. He strides forward with an air of feigned nonchalance, hoping to forestall the inevitable.

His eyes wander over the rink, and he says a few quick words, reassuring concerned skaters that he is fine. He continues searching faces as he walks towards the locker room, tension building in his gut as each moment ticks by.

Finally, he locks eyes with the one person he is both searching for and hiding from. Brilliant green eyes stare back, defiant and accusatory.

Yuri doesn’t say any words yet, but Viktor can read the frustration, anger, and disappointment in his eyes and body language as he skates over, pulling up next to Viktor. Even with the differences in their height, Viktor feels small standing beside the blonde skater’s focused intensity.

“Why are you late?”

The words hit Viktor like a stinging slap, and he fails to stop himself from flinching, despite the flat tone of the question.

When he turns his head back to look at Yuri, the younger skater’s green eyes bore into him. It’s hard to look at Yuri for long, shame welling up inside Viktor and threatening to bubble over. Viktor had made a promise, and he is now falling short of it. He knows, and it hurts.

Digging deep, Viktor holds Yuri’s gaze as he speaks.

“I’m sorry. I won’t let it happen again.” Viktor stops, trying to encourage more words out. They burn in his stomach, like acid. He stands there for a few more moments, teetering as the bile in his throat grows hotter.

He wants to say more, to be honest with Yuri. God knows, he at least deserves that. Especially after the two of them had committed to working together.

Yuri continues looking at him, expectantly. Maybe even encouraging.

Instead, Viktor nods at Yuri and darts off to the locker room, feeling sick to his stomach. He thinks he can tell exactly the moment when Yuri’s appraising stare curdles into an intense glare at Viktor’s shrinking back.

 

Viktor tries to recenter himself as he puts on his gear, but his mind keeps slipping. He’s being pulled between two mental states, one engrossed by Katsuki’s skating yesterday, the other reeling with remorse and embarrassment as he cascades deeper into failing Yuri, into breaking his promise.

His stomach continues to churn as he tucks his head into a shirt, lifting it over his chest. He wants to leave the guilt and shame behind, to just let his mental landscape be filled with images of Katsuki sashaying back and forth across the ice, entrancing him with each step and gesture. And it’s tempting to do so, to surrender to the ignorance of obsession; leaving Yuri as an afterthought to find his own path.

But to do that, he will have to throw away all the work he’s done alongside Yuri, all the progress in getting closer to him as a both a skater and a friend.

When Viktor was first injured, he felt isolated and hopeless, reeling from the loss of skating. He abandoned all the relationships and work he had done as a professional skater when he was in that space, lashing out at nobody and everything.

It had been his rinkmates and his coach who had helped drag him out of that hell at first. If not for their continued efforts, Viktor might well still be wallowing, spiraling.

He’s not the person he was when he got injured. Or the person in the weeks and months following it. He’s come a long way since then, as a person and a coach.

Nor is Yuri the same, now. How can he neglect Yuri, turn his back on the improvements they have both made over time through hard work both on and off the ice.

He’s better than this; this half-focused man he has slipped into. Viktor nods to himself once, resolute. Gathering his weight in his heels, Viktor springs to his feet.

Just as the door flies open, and Yuri storms in, eyes blazing.

There is a moment, a brief second when Viktor’s newfound tenacity wavers, but he stands firm this time. Even as Yuri stomps across the room, blade guards clacking noisily on the floor.

This time, there is nothing quiet about Yuri, teeth gnashing and his face a bright red. “First, you arrive late. THEN, you don’t even have the decency to tell me why. What. The. FUCK!” Yuri steps close to Viktor, in his personal space. Viktor can feel the heat of Yuri’s breath in the cold air, watches as it puffs away. “Do you even WANT to go to the JGPF with me at this point?!”

Viktor weathers the explosive outburst calmly, channeling his best coaching face. He’s had the chance to practice with other skaters before. He doesn’t hastily respond, letting Yuri lash out. The younger skater exhales through his nose loudly, like steam boiling off a kettle.

“I mean SERIOUSLY, you’ve been distracted for WEEKS now! And I didn’t say anything; hoping you’d figure your shit out, because, well, it’s your shit. But NOW. Now it’s messing with my shit!” He stamps his foot on the ground again for emphasis, and Viktor finally winces, closing his eyes.

Turning back to Yuri, Viktor sees Yuri hunched over, betrayal hanging over him like a cloud; and an unspoken question on his face. One that maybe, finally, Viktor can answer.

“You’re right. I have been distracted, and unavailable.” Perhaps its just Viktor’s own naivety, but something odd, maybe even hopeful flashes across Yuri’s face. “I…I had a crisis of sorts. I don’t know what my legacy will be for skating, and to hear that someone else had done a quad flip shook the little confidence and certainty I had. I. I panicked, and threw myself…and you, I guess, into pure, relentless training.”

Viktor swallows loudly, the temperature seeming to increase as he delves deeper. Sweat pricks his wan skin; but resolve settles in his gut again, urging him to continue.

“Then, I had to slow down. It was too much, too fast. And Yakov. Well, he did the Yakov thing where he actually talks to you instead of just grunting.” Viktor smiles wistfully for a moment, recalling their awkward embrace after speaking. “Then, I actually looked into the guy, the skater who had done the quad flip. And became, well…”

“Obsessed?”

It stings a bit to hear, but Viktor tilts his head forward in acknowledgement. “Yes, I guess that’s a good word for it.”

“So, to get this straight, you’ve been distracted by Yuuri Katsuki this whole time?”

“Yeah, that’s about ri—wait. You know Katsuki?”

Yuri sighs heavily, voice impatient. “Dipshit, he did a fucking quad flip. Do you really think I would somehow ignore that? I…I’ve watched some of his skating before.” Yuri sniffs indignantly at the end, turning away for a moment.

Viktor’s eyes widen in shock, and he grabs Yuri by the shoulders. “So, do you get it then?! Why I was so distracted?! There’s something absolutely harmonious, something indescribable about his skating.”

Yuri grabs Viktor’s hands off his shoulders, pushing them away. “Maybe. But you did a shit job of describing it when coaching, and you still can’t do it now. So how should I know exactly what you’re talking about?”

“Well, I guess you made the connection that I was trying coach you into skating like Katsuki.” Viktor stops and rubs his forehead, “God, I feel like a fool. If I’d just talked with you about it more clearly.”

Viktor leans forward, closer to Yuri, looking him in the eyes again, sincerity in his voice. “I’m really, truly sorry that I’ve been such a useless coach lately. I do still want to go with you to the finals, if you want me to. I promise I’ll do better, no matter what you decide. Whether that’s in coaching, or…or just being a better friend.”

Viktor means it. He will respect Yuri’s decision. Though he has jeopardized their working relationship, he wants to preserve their budding friendship. He can only hope that Yuri will let him build up that trust as a coach again. But if keeping their connection translates to stopping as Yuri’s coach, Viktor will pay the price.

“I…I’m not sure. You…” Yuri looks a bit surprised, even stunned. His voice quiets to barely a raspy whisper when he starts again, “We’ve made a good team so far. If you’re serious about this—and you fucking better be—then…then I still want you to come with me.” Yuri leers at him, as if doubting that Viktor would take the admission sincerely.

A surge of warmth floods Viktor, revitalizing the cold, desperate feeling that had sunk into his clammy skin. He represses the urge to sweep Yuri into a hug, knowing the rowdy skater might not take it as kindly as Yakov had.

Instead, Viktor nods aggressively, probably muttering reassurances unconsciously. Yuri turns to leave, guarded blades dragging across the floor again.

“One last thing, Viktor. We’re watching Katsuki’s free skate together this afternoon at your apartment. I want to see you struggle to put into words what it is you see.” He smiles, the wicked and cunning one that Viktor used to hate, before disappearing out the door.

 

 

Viktor paces around his apartment again, swinging his arm over the couch as he pivots back and forth. Makkachin pads around behind him, clearly thinking Viktor is playing some sort of game.

After their conversation in the locker room, Viktor had gone back to coaching Yuri right away. There was still some friction between them, but despite the difficulties, Viktor feels good about their time practicing. They hadn’t made any substantial changes to Yuri’s routine, but simply being on the same page again made Viktor feel like it had been a more productive experience this time. He only hopes that Yuri feels the same way about it.

The younger skater had vanished quickly after practice, stopping just long enough to let Viktor know he would come by around 3:00. Which had left plenty of time for Viktor to walk through the events of the day again and again in his head, replaying their confrontation. He still feels guilty for how long it has taken to own up to his shortcomings lately. But it is certainly a relief that Yuri at least knows what happened to Viktor’s life the last few weeks, even if Viktor isn’t sure Yuri understands it fully. Then again, Viktor doesn’t know if he even understands fully.

Viktor swivels again, turning to pace the other direction. Despite his penchant for timely arrivals and hard work at practice, Yuri is decidedly late.

The pre-skate analysis (drivel, more like) is playing on the television in the background, but Viktor only listens in periodically. As best he can tell, Katsuki is far and away in first and favored to win. Which, according to Viktor’s expert opinion, is exactly how it should be.

As Viktor rounds the couch again, the doorbell rings loudly. Makkachin boofs in response, skittering towards the door alongside Viktor. As he opens the door, he belatedly realizes that Yuri didn’t seem particularly comfortable with Makka the last time he visited. Viktor hastily grabs Makkachin’s collar and orders him to sit, only a tiny bit surprised when Makka listens.

Yuri slides through the door, and past Makkachin, wearing a sweatshirt prominently featuring a stylized cat on it. Yuri continues keeping his back to the wall as he sidles towards the couch, watching Makkachin like the dog is some kind of explosive. Viktor can’t help but snicker a bit at the sight of the fierce skater laid low by the presence of a goofy poodle. Meanwhile, Makkachin sniffs curiously at the new arrival but doesn’t rush away, so Viktor rewards him with a treat and some love.

The silence between the two of them stretches a bit longer as Yuri settles onto the couch and sets his bag down, pulling a smoothie seemingly out of nowhere.

Viktor searches for a way to jumpstart the conversation, still uncertain where the two of them stand. His pulse quickens a bit as the seconds tick by, and he busies himself by going into the kitchen to get some water and the snacks he prepared.

“You watched his short program, right?”

Yuri’s question pierces the silence, and Viktor’s shoulders sag at the sound.

He surges to answer, “Ye—yes. A bunch of times, actually.” Viktor looks over at Yuri just in time to see him roll his eyes.

“He was much more on form for this short program, his opening was particularly moving this time.”

Viktor cocks his head in surprise at Yuri’s comments, finding himself in absolute agreement. “Uh, yeah, I think so too.”

Viktor settles down on the couch near Yuri, and they sit quietly, watching as some of the skaters go through their free skate.

Viktor still feels awkwardness between them, like an elastic barrier, and he isn’t sure how to broach it. He keeps half an eye on the screen, and starts mentally running through coaching tricks to try and bridge the gap. Bringing up their practice seems…a bit forced, so he discards that quickly. He similarly tosses out ideas around blithering small talk; Yuri can’t stand it. He keeps wracking his brain for something, but comes up short. It’s a frightening realization, but Viktor has to admit, he may not know how to navigate this situation.

How does one go about meaningfully engaging the person they coach competitively, but have let down the last few weeks and only just recently made up? Viktor resigns himself to going against his nature and trying to make peace with sitting in the quiet, instead.

Rather unsuccessfully, as he continually fidgets around on the couch, even earning some side-eye from Yuri. Makkachin picks up on Viktor’s discomfort, whining a bit before settling down at the foot of the couch.

Then, after some interminable time, Katsuki appears at the rinkside, clad again in that brilliant blue costume, ornate silver chains decorating the blazer. The announcers introduce Katsuki, and there’s no mistaking the absolute roar of the audience. Light shimmers off him as he approaches the ice, his skin soft as moonlight. Viktor lets out a little exclamation at the sight, a quiet puff.

“Don’t let it go to your head, asshole.”

Viktor abruptly realizes someone had said something next to him, and he begs his brain to stop going on the fritz at the sight of Katsuki.

“What?”

“I said, don’t let the fact that he’s wearing your costume inflate your ego.”

“That’s not the issue,” Viktor mutters quietly. “It’s just…you see it too, the similarities.”

“The similarities?!” Yuri scoffs, “Goddamn, you’re stupid. It’s practically the same costume just in a different color!”

Viktor murmurs in assent, still processing that someone else recognizes Katsuki’s costume as Viktor’s own. Somehow, he’d worried it had all been in his own head.

Katsuki, meanwhile, is conversing with his coach before stepping out on the ice. His coach looks more stern than usual, and Viktor swears there is a stubborn expression on Katsuki’s face, before it melts back into the more tranquil, serene expression he skates with.

As Katsuki does a few laps around the ice to warm up and some simple step sequences, Viktor registers Yuri turns towards him in his peripheral vision. He continues to gape at Katsuki, his mind on a single track.

“You really don’t know how to talk about Katsuki.” Viktor rotates, facing Yuri as he shakes his head to clear his focus. “I thought it would be entertaining to watch you struggle, but this is just kinda sad.”

Viktor furrows his brows in frustration, upset not necessarily at the truth of the words, but at the bluntness (though the truth hurts a little, too). Just as he inhales to respond, the first notes of Katsuki’s song filter through the speakers, and he begins moving. Viktor quiets swiftly, looking away from Yuri and back at the screen.

Katsuki begins in an unhurried fashion, languorously moving about the ice with astounding choreography, hands gliding through the air and along his body.

As Katsuki moves into a step sequence so tantalizingly familiar, Viktor starts muttering to himself. “He looks confident, but not arrogant.”

It’s a difficult line to walk, one that Viktor chased constantly and never felt he truly found. “The way he transitions from that spin into the steps, like there’s no space in between, matching the music. And that’s gotta be my sequence from…”

Katsuki vaults into a jump as the music crescendos and releases, landing with remarkable grace. “How does he manage that takeoff and landing in time?” Yuri exclaims, gesturing with his hand.

Katsuki leaps into another jump, followed quickly by a relentless step sequence. This one is not quite as familiar to Viktor; he recognizes it vaguely, but he is entranced by Katsuki’s movements in time with the music nonetheless. “It’s like a duet, the two of them moving and shifting in tandem. And the difficulty of the sequence, damn. He’s connecting it all like it’s nothing.”

Viktor doesn’t notice as Yuri spares an appraising glance at him, too riveted by the routine.

Katsuki continues darting around, light glinting off the silver in his costume, his hair surprisingly rigid, keeping still as the night despite his speed. As Katsuki turns again, facing the camera, Viktor’s eyes are drawn to the pale hollow of Katsuki’s neck, open and inviting as Katsuki drifts on the ice. His focus is shaken only when Katsuki flies into the air again, and Viktor belatedly pinpoints more resemblances to his own skating.

As Katsuki nears the end of his routine, both Viktor and Yuri can’t help but lean forward, drawn in by Katsuki’s enchanting movement and the evocative, beautiful music. They’re both waiting, breathless for the skater’s next jump. To see what will happen.

Katsuki squares up for his last jump, the seconds flying by as he launches into the air for a Quad Toe Loop. He nails the landing, a flawless execution that even Viktor can’t fault. Yet, he finds himself a little disappointed that there wasn’t…more. He selfishly wants to see Katsuki attempt a Quad Flip again. Though whether to see the man succeed and surpass, or fail and leave Viktor’s success unsullied, he’s not sure.

As Katsuki winds down, sliding into his final pose, crowd roaring, Viktor turns to look at Yuri. He can see his own dissatisfaction mirrored there, Yuri’s arms crossed over his chest sullenly and a slanted frown on his face.

“I wanted to see the Quad Flip, too,” Viktor admits softly.

“Why wouldn’t he do it?” Yuri sounds snappish, upset. “We know he can, he just needs to land it.”

“It could be dangerous if he screws it up.” A phantom pain sizzles through Viktor’s leg, down to his ankle. “And he already had the competition in the bag, so why even risk it?”

Yuri leans back into the couch, the wind taken out of his sails. Together, they sit silently and watch the replays. The commentators start to review some of Katsuki’s more difficult step sequences and jumps, as his score is tabulated.

This time, he’s grateful for the silence as he just soaks things in. As replays and close shots of Katsuki flash across the screen, Viktor again finds himself unable to formulate words to describe Katsuki’s prowess, his eyes tracing each movement. He lingers on the costume, drawn to the memories it evokes. It suits Katsuki well, outlining the lean muscles across his arms and along his legs. What would it be like to be held by those arms? To explore what lies underneath the navy and midnight of his costume?

Viktor jolts forward as the scores are announced, confirming Katsuki to be the first place winner at the NHK tournament. He stifles a cheer, looking over at Yuri to gauge his response. Curiously, Yuri actually nods as the scores flash across the screen again, and a tiny smile even spreads briefly before Yuri notices Viktor’s attention and schools it into a half-hearted scowl.

“I get why you find Katsuki so interesting, and you actually managed to put it into words for a little bit,” Yuri’s quiet voice catches Viktor off guard, and he recoils slightly, startling Makkachin. “Even if you’re still pretty damn creepy about it.”

“It’s all of the little things he does, I think. They add up to create this tremendously flowing, interconnected, duet as he and the music compliment each other.” Viktor scratches his head, pausing. “But I’m not sure how in the world to translate that in my own coaching.”

“Shouldn’t you not let me hear that if you’re my coach, dipshit? Makin’ me think I made a mistake, asking you back,” Yuri scoffs.

“I thought you were just here as a friend who wanted to watch together,” Viktor blinks innocuously at Yuri, who looks away quickly. “Besides, now that I know you’re a fan of his too, it might make it easier.”

Yuri’s head whips back to look at Viktor, nostrils flaring. “I am NOT a fanboy like you!”

Viktor’s lips tug into a grin, the tension between them crumbling as they bicker. “I never said you were, Yura.”

 


 

Yuuri stirs awake at the sound of his alarm blaring, body creaking in discontent at the sudden motion. He’d really gone hard at it yesterday, and his body is not particularly thrilled about that.

Oh, right. Yesterday.

He hadn’t actually won, had he? That was just a dream his warped and tired mind had fabricated in the deep recesses of sleep. He lays back down, sleep clinging to him. It must be.

Yuuri jolts upright in his bed, realization slamming into him. No, it wasn’t a dream. He really did win gold. He scrabbles for his phone, swiping through various social media and seeing congratulation after congratulation for his victory (and qualification for the Grand Prix Finals).

Yuuri slaps a hand over his mouth, screaming a little. It hadn’t even dawned on him that a first place finish means he qualifies for the GPF.

He resumes scrolling on his phone, trying to calm his thundering heart. Seeing Phichit post a selfie cheering on Yuuri along with some of the skating club gang in Detroit helps, though he makes a mental note to look at Phichit’s eight text messages later.

He scrolls by post after post cheering him on his win, or wishing him well in the Finals. It’s also his first look back at the performance, and some of the photos leave him floored. Photo after photo of him mid-motion, looking perfectly placid in the spotlight, yet emanating confidence as he rips through a step sequence, or lands a jump.

Seeing such poise and skill captured in immutable photographs, Yuuri is somehow struck with memories of staring at photos of Viktor the morning after the man’s competitions. Looking at Viktor then had always felt like teasing himself with trying to reach the heavens, but his mind is somehow connecting that experience with his own photos this morning.

His phone rings, snapping him out of his thoughts. He puts it up to his ear, still in a daze.

“Good morning Yuuri, I hope you slept well.”

“I, uh, guess so?”

Celestino’s laugh booms through the tinny speaker, “Well, I hope your body isn’t in too much pain. You’ve still got the exhibition this afternoon, and they’re expecting quite the show since we’re in Japan.”

Yuuri sighs, body groaning along with him. At least he’d listened to his coach when Celestino had urged him not to attempt the Quad Flip again yesterday, or his body would be in even worse shape. “I suppose that means I really did win, huh. It still doesn’t feel real.”

“And you absolutely deserved it.” Celestino clears his throat, and Yuuri pulls the phone away for a second. “I just wanted to make sure you were up and moving. You should pack your bags and get ready, then meet me down here for breakfast. We’ll be heading to the airport pretty shortly after the banquet tonight for our flight. We’ve got more training to do now, after all, with you going to the Finals!” Yuuri can hear the grin on the man’s face, even through the phone.

“Yeah, I suppose we do,” Yuuri says, smiling a bit himself. “But what about Minako and Mari? Can I—”

“I made sure you’ll have some time to say goodbye before we leave. You might even be able to get some coffee with them in between the exhibition and the banquet.”

Yuuri perks up at that, as Celestino knows that when Yuuri gets coffee, it is almost always the overly sugary, hardly-even-coffee anymore kind. Which is why he usually drinks tea. Yuuri thanks his coach quickly, and then slowly grimaces as he urges his body into action for the day.

He’s in the midst of packing his bag later when his phone buzzes again, with a direct message from a certain friend.

 

christoph-gc:

https://media1.tenor.com/images/10ca6afa0b7336537ee5fb28f8837d3c/tenor.gif?itemid=14540901

Congrats on both the first place finish, and qualifying for the GPF!

I’m so excited to see you there.

 

katsudon-yk:

Aww, thanks Chris. You’re so sweet! It’s really hard for me to believe.

Like, I actually qualified for the Finals on my return season.

 

christoph-gc:

Even without the flip this time, you were sensational Yuuri.

And now that you’ve definitively qualified, I can also dispense with the niceties and say that I’m going to beat you in Barcelona 😉

 

katusdon-yk:

Aha, there’s the Chris I hear so much about in the media. I knew you were just a charlatan.

We’ll see how things go, but I’m not going down without a putting up a fight.

 

christoph-gc:

And I knew you were always a smart one, quick to see through me. And yet still so nice.

You can threaten to kick my ass, you know. I won’t be upset. I might even enjoy it.

 

katsudon-yk:

Now you’re just teasing me, Chris.

 

christoph-gc:

But it’s so fun! I can hardly resist.

Oh, thought I would mention, Viktor Nikiforov was asking me about you a while back.

 

Yuuri drops his phone, and is too slow to stop it from landing on the hotel carpet. Shaking, he picks it up and checks for anything broken. Then he starts to process.

Oh, god. Why is Viktor effing Nikiforov asking Chris about Yuuri? His mind runs wild with dozens of different reasons, rapid firing worst case scenarios. What if he hates Yuuri’s skating? Or forbids him from using the costume? Or noticed that Yuuri copied from him and wants him to stop?!

Slowly, Yuuri unlocks his phone again.

 

katsudon-yk:

◉_◉

oh shit, what did I do?

why?

christoph-gc:

It’s okay Yuuri, don’t worry.

He just wanted to know a bit about you, and I more or less told him to shove off.

 

katsudon-yk:

oh my god, Chris! WHY?

 

christoph-gc:

Because he should talk to you himself if he’s curious?

I’m not a messenger pigeon here

katsudon-yk:

No, I know you’re not. Sorry. I’m still just…

baffled, I guess.

I can’t imagine him being interested in me at all.

 

christoph-gc:

You’re selling yourself short. Doesn’t he follow you? I’m surprised he hasn’t reached out yet.

He seemed very interested when we talked. But who knows, Viktor is Viktor.

I’ve been talking to him for years and still don’t really get him half the time.

Anyway, just thought you should know. I’ll see you soon!

 

Yuuri just sits on his bed for a few minutes, still trying to deal with what Chris had said. Viktor Nikiforov had asked. About Yuuri. His mind still reeling, Yuuri stands up and starts pacing the tight hotel room.

At least Chris didn’t seem to think it was something serious, and Yuuri wrangles his thoughts away from various doomsday scenarios. Besides, he’d known that Viktor had at least heard of him, given that the Russian has been following Yuuri on Instagram for nearly a month.

Yuuri instead focuses on his breathing, counting his intake and holding, before slowly releasing his breath.

After a few more minutes of that, he feels at least slightly better, and has cornered his rampant thoughts about Viktor’s curiosity, squirreling them away for later. He still has to finish packing, and then he’s got a whole day ahead of him.

 

 

Body still aching with reminders of yesterday, Yuuri steps out onto the ice again. At the very least, his costume isn’t as complex for his exhibition. A loose fitting brown leather jacket covers a grey Henley, with the top buttons undone, giving Yuuri a better feeling of freedom as he soars around the rink to warm up.

The cold wind rushes around him, it’s chilly caress at his neck sending shivers down his spine. His exhibition has a very loose structure, just a few step sequences and jumps part of his plan. It’s the autonomy to add and change his exhibition that Yuuri loves so much. If skating his free program is like skating what he wants with guidelines, then his exhibition is doing what he wants with no holds barred. It’s embodies adaptation, intentionally so, given that Yuuri has had to adapt to skating without Viktor. And despite his muscle fatigue, Yuuri wants to provide a strong finish for his home crowd.

The cheering and whistles quiet down as his music begins playing. He starts slowly, twirling around the rink, less of a skating performance than a dance.

Yuuri relaxes as he goes, slipping into that coveted, trance-like state in unison with the music. As it builds, he accelerates his pace as he freely sweeps through a step sequence, blindingly fast, but leisurely at the same time. The singer crescendos alongside Yuuri, and he smiles into the wind as he prepares to for a combination jump.

His hands carve through the air as he lands, sliding into a choreographic sequence. The light music lifts him up, making him buoyant as he dashes across the ice. Yet, the singer laments the memories of the past, and how difficult it is to carry on.

Yuuri loves that tension; it augments his feelings of trepidation and loss for Viktor, while he still finds comfort in both the music and skating. Yuuri glides into a spin, watching the world whirl around him, lights flashing from the crowd in the dimly lit distance, perhaps cameras snapping. He leans into the theatrics of it, acting out the words as the singer forges onward, even burdened with loss as he is. Sharing his struggle, his story along the way.

Yuuri’s found his own path forward through Viktor’s absence, drawing strength from both of their pasts, and combining them into something new. As a result, Yuuri’s at a place now where he’s never been before. This entire season has been a learning experience for him, a processing moment stretched over months.

And with that has come the realization that life will go on without Viktor, and without skating, when he’s ready.

Oh, oh, oh, without you now

This is what it feels like

Yuuri squares himself up for another jump, a Triple Axel, and sails through the frigid air. He sways back and forth in time with the music, carving out his feelings in a step sequence, each stride another stage on his journey, whether perfect or fumbled. He nails his last jump as the music starts to close in, quieting down.

Yuuri twirls around the center of the rink, looking up at the rafters of the rink. It’s hardly believable that he’s earned himself a gold medal. Standing here, at the center of the rink, music blaring and crowd cheering, it feels just a little more real.

The music ends, and Yuuri throws his arms out to the sides, just basking in the feeling for another moment before he has to return to reality. The cheering crowd is almost overwhelming, but he smiles as the noise peaks, bouquets raining around him. He’ll say goodbye to Minako and Mari, then suffer through another banquet. And then, finally, he can rest again as they fly.

He’ll need his rest, if he’s going to win the Grand Prix Final.

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 12: When Two Hands Align

 

 

Yuuri rubs his tired eyes, shuffling along beside Celestino as they follow signs to the baggage claim. His backpack hangs haphazardly on his shoulder, limited sleep on an overnight flight after a full day wearing on him. He and Celestino exit the tight corridor and enter the baggage arena, daylight filtering in and brightening the space. Yawning widely, Yuuri spares a jealous thought for his coach’s ability to sleep at any time, even in tight and claustrophobic airplane seats.

He jolts back to awareness as he feels something wrap around him, and his eyes snap open.

“CONGRATULATIONS YUURI!! And Happy Late Birthday!”

Yuuri grimaces at the sensory overload, the noise and touch too much for his sleep-addled mind. But that doesn’t stop Phichit from gripping him tighter, shouting nonsense.

“You actually did you madlad, you took gold! None of us believe it watching! I mean, we believed you could do it of course, but just…holy shit! You were so….so…” Phichit looks around, clearly struggling. “Just so damn incredible!”

Yuuri laughs a bit at the stream of words. Even as world-weary as Yuuri is right now, Phichit manages to be endearing.

“Hah, that’s alright Phichit, I knew what you meant. Thanks—to you and everyone else that cheered for me. I actually...kinda forgot about my birthday, amid the craziness of the tournament. But I guess winning was my own gift, in a way.”

"Oh, don't worry, we're going to celebrate after you've got some sleep!" Phichit continues chattering away at Yuuri, filling him in on the latest from Detroit while they wait for Yuuri’s luggage. Celestino leaves shortly after to pick up his car, and soon Yuuri is watching as traffic whips by while they head home.

“So how was it being back in Japan again?”

“It was…surprisingly good. Having Minako and Mari there with me was really nice. Minako is just as the same as ever, she wanted to take credit for my short program costume.”

“Of course she did,” Phichit scoffs. “Because there’s no other reason you might choose a new costume.”

“That’s what I said! She did compliment your makeup work, so she was willing to share some of the success.”

“Really!” Phichit blinks in surprise, a light blush dotting his cheeks. “High praise, coming from her.”

“The crowd was really supportive, once I started strong it was even easier to keep going. Seeing and hearing so many people…it wasn’t even overwhelming, just kind of inspiring. I only had to really dig deep for my openers.”

“The…the pressure wasn’t too bad, then?”

“Uhh, there were definitely some rough points. I was close to falling apart before Minako arrived.”

“I’m sure you would have been fine, you’ve had practice at this now.”

Yuuri eyes Phichit suspiciously. “You’ve met me before, right? I’m not exactly good at handling high-pressure situations.”

Phichit rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. “Uh huh, because you’ve never successfully navigated similar situations before.”

Yuuri gives Phichit a tired-but-friendly shove, turning to look out the window instead of responding. Cars zip by, colored blurs peppering the highway, but providing little of interest for Yuuri to look at. Phichit doesn’t press Yuuri though, letting them sit in quiet as Celestino drives.

Lacking the ability to fall asleep anywhere and bored of staring at cars, Yuuri decides to start up the conversation again.

“Hey, Chris told me that Viktor asked him about me recentl—”

“Wait wait wait, back that up.” Phichit turns towards Yuuri, a bewildered expression on his face. “Christophe Giacometti let you know that Viktor Nikiforov is asking about you!?”

Yuuri nods solemnly.

“Huh. Well that’s…pretty much par for the course.”

What?” Yuuri nearly shouts.

“You always seem to be surprised when people are fascinated by you, Yuuri. You’re pretty much the only one oblivious—”

“Hey!”

“—of your ability to draw people in, whether through skating or your adorable personality.”

Yuuri glares harmlessly at Phichit, as his best friend snickers gleefully.

“But really Yuuri, that’s actually pretty crazy. Have you messaged him or anything yet?”

Yuuri furrows his brows, “What? No! I’m not going to message Viktor Nikiforov out of the blue, because I heard another friend say he was interested in me! That’s just…creepy.”

“Yeah, because there’s nothing creepy about Viktor asking Chris about you.”

Yuuri folds his arms over his chest, pouting at Phichit’s lack of support.

“You know, I heard Nikiforov is coaching now,” Celestino offers from the front seat.

“Really!?” Yuuri and Phichit say together.

So that’s what he’s been doing in his absence, coaching? Viktor has been incredibly hush-hush about what’s next for him, though he still posts on social media pretty regularly. Just never usually anything of substance (though Yuuri doesn’t mind the lack of substance, Viktor posting Viktor is more than enough). Yuuri’s mind runs rampant for a few seconds imagining absurd fantasies where Viktor is his coach. For a brief moment, he sees a flash of silver hair and hears a rugged, tantalizing Russian accent giving him instructions—but he shakes his head quickly.

Phichit sighs, “Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri.” Yuuri spreads his hands open, uncertain what to say. “Well, I supposed you’ve got to practice some more for that little event coming up called the Grand Prix Finals. Another gold medal to claim!”

This time, Yuuri is the one to roll his eyes.

“Yep, just another gold medal…” Celestino smirks at them both through the rear-view mirror, clearly joining in with Phichit to tease Yuuri.

How is he supposed to live up to their expectations for another gold medal!? Even if he won once, the GPF is an entirely different world. “I swear …you’re both going to make me want to run away and never compete again,” Yuuri says, pulling his hoody over his face and hiding away as they speed along the highway.

 


 

“Hey, Yura, you’re just a smidge behind when the chorus hits. Try double timing it at the very end of your step sequence.”

Viktor receives an unassuming grunt in response, but Yuri resets to his starting position at the center of the ice as Viktor rewinds, then presses play on their little speaker.

He’d forgotten how much time was spent just manipulating the music to match what you want to practice. It’d been so easy to take for granted that someone else would do it for him while he was skating, his own time too precious a resource to spend fiddling with a speaker or phone. But now, it’s almost entirely his role to do as much for Yuri.

Certainly, there’s been a fair bit more coaching now that Viktor had fessed up to his inadequacies, but Viktor still finds himself standing around quite a bit. More of an observer and music assistant than a true coach, a bit of a bitter pill for him to swallow so fresh off making mistakes.

The hard truth is that Yuri is doing quite well. Well enough that Viktor has only minor tweaks that he can make to little spots, polishing an already pristine combination of routines. He wants to take some credit for that, but he also can’t ignore the hard work Yuri had put in during Viktor’s “absentia”.

Viktor focuses as Yuri nears the chorus, pinpointing the moment that the lithe skater accelerates where he previously hadn’t. He parades into the chorus, syncing up perfectly with the music.

Almost Katsuki-like. But still distinctly Yuri Plisetsky.

The previous arrogance and bravado hasn’t entirely evaporated from Yuri’s attitude in the piece, but he’s managed to tamper it down to something more closely resembling self-assurance and passion.

“That’s it! Better!” Viktor shouts, clapping.

Yuri slows, drifting slowly past Viktor and giving an almost imperceptible nod. Viktor grins mischievously, blowing a tuft of hair out of his eyes as Yuri turns away back towards the ice. He’s about to tease the younger skater for his stolid impression when Yuri’s phone chimes with a strange noise beside Viktor. The cat ears sticking out on his phone case vibrate on top of the rink guard, enough that Viktor picks the phone up for fear of it falling off.

It’s not like he’s trying to look at Yura’s notification, but he can’t help taking a peek at the screen as Yuri skates over to investigate.

But when he sees the words “Yuuri Katsuki” on the notification, Viktor abandons all pretense of pretending to just glance at the phone and opts for staring at it openly.

Yuuri Katsuki has posted on Instagram, the notification informs him.

Yura glides up to Viktor at that moment, snatching the phone out of his hands.

“You have notifications on for when Katsuki posts?” Viktor says, feeling a bit dumbfounded.

“…Yes…” Yuri says tentatively, scowling at Viktor.

Viktor smacks his forehead and ruffles his hair, “Why didn’t I think of that?! It’s brilliant! Then you know each time…and don’t have to check every hour.” Yura sighs, body slanting away from Viktor.

Viktor wastes no time pulling out his own phone and navigating to Katsuki’s Instagram, quickly turning on notifications before scrolling to the new post.

He finds a short clip, just over 10 seconds long. It’s eerily silent when Viktor hits play, just the muted sound of Katsuki’s blades on the ice. Viktor spots the setup immediately, and his heart hammers in his chest with anticipation as Katsuki pushes off the ice. The video slows to half speed, capturing each of the four rotations as he sails through the air. Viktor tracks Katsuki’s muscled thighs, eyes darting to take it all in. Regular time resumes as Katsuki touches the ice, landing the Quad Flip with a surprising degree of nonchalance before turning and smiling at the camera, just before the video cuts off. Viktor smiles back at the screen, a slow response to Katsuki’s own simple, stunning charm.

How does he land it so calmly? Viktor’s own heart had raced every time he attempted the Quad Flip, and even in competitions he struggled to keep the exertion from showing on his face. But there was Katsuki, landing it effortlessly while looking jaw-dropping.

Beside him, Yura curses under his breath. Viktor cranes his head, stretching to catch a glimpse of the same video on Yuri’s phone.

Viktor inhales deeply and exhales slowly to center himself, locking his phone and pushing into his jacket.

“That’s what you’re going to have to beat next year, Yura.”

Yura’s viridian eyes snap to Viktor’s, questioning.

“If you want to make your mark in Seniors, you’re going to be competing against him.”

“He’s inconsistent, still. And my Salchow’s better.”

“True. But still, he’s a force to reckon with. And if he can hit that quad…” Viktor tilts his head pointedly.

“Then I better get back to practicing, right coach?” Yura ensnares Viktor’s eyes again, a fierce look of determination etched on his countenance.

Viktor smiles softly, “Then get back out there. We’ve got a few days before the finals still.”

Viktor rewinds the track again, once again relegated to music management. It bothers him a bit less this time, Katsuki’s skating providing some new motivation for both him and Yuri. As the music begins again, Viktor corrals his more devious thoughts about what they had both just watched, observing closely as Yuri pushes off.

 


 

Watching the lights from up high as the plane descended into Barcelona had filled Yuuri with excitement and anticipation. The ride with Celestino to their hotel had alternated between looking at the beautiful sites they passed and talking schedules and planning with Celestino. Thankfully, his coach was understanding each time Yuuri trailed off in the conversation, his attention captured by an old church or a park square.

But walking into the crowded hotel lobby filled with other world class skaters and their coaches, Yuuri felt his anxiety coiling. Yuuri spots a boisterous J.J. Leroy talking with his parents, arm encircling his girlfriend. J.J. doesn’t spare a glance for the two of them as they pass by. While Celestino starts checking them in, Yuuri waves awkwardly at Cao Bin as the Chinese skater exits the elevator, getting a quick hand raise in response.

The noise of the lobby seems to build as Yuuri stands still, waiting. He starts rubbing his thumbs against his index finger down at his sides, counting as the time passes.

Michele Crispino walks past, leaning against his sister and pointedly ignoring Yuuri.

Does Yuuri really belong here? With such renowned skaters, who have proven themselves at such a high level, multiple times? His breathing starts to accelerate.

Celestino turns around, startling Yuuri.

“Here’s your room key. We’re in separate rooms; I figured you would need some good sleep.” Celestino closes his eyes, pretending to snore. Yuuri smiles shyly, appreciative but unable to voice it.

They both grab their bags, Yuuri taking an extra second to wipe the sweat from his hand and adjust his grip. As they cross the lobby, Yuuri keeps his eyes focused forward on the elevators, filtering out the various noises and surroundings. Though his body feels tight as a taut string, he does fine keeping calm, right up until Minako steps into his frame of view and he jumps with surprise. Minako recoils slightly at the sudden movement, confused.

“Yuuri! You’re already here!” Minako leans in with her arms open, and looks closer at Yuuri. She stops partway from hugging him, pivoting to quickly take in the bustling lobby of skaters and coaches. She hesitates only a second before turning back to look at Yuuri. “C’mon. Let’s get you up to your room.”

For a few minutes, Yuuri blanks out as Minako and Celestino shepherd him up to his room. Yuuri vaguely notes they turn down a few hallways after exiting the elevator before entering his room. Inside, he sits on the bed right away and Minako starts prattling away about her flight, and how she’d sat next to some hotshot pretty boy businessman in the tech industry from Norway. Yuuri listens with half an ear as he peers out the window, the late afternoon light filtering through clouds to cast Barcelona in dappled shadow. In the distance, he can pick out one of the parks they must have drove past earlier. The quiet, consistent noise doesn’t overload him like the lobby, instead letting him acclimate.

Yuuri lets out his breath slowly, easing himself into it.

He’s really here, in Barcelona. To compete in the Grand Prix Finals. He can acknowledge that he belongs alongside those skaters he saw in the lobby, or at least he should be able to. He qualified just like they did. But his frustrating brain can’t seem to accept it, insisting that there simply has been a mistake. That someone will come barging in at any moment to say, ‘Sorry Yuuri Katsuki, you aren’t supposed to be here.’

But the longer Minako sits on his bed chatting and Celestino leans patiently against the wall, the less likely that kind of interruption seems. It gradually sinks in, and Yuuri’s body starts to loosen bit by bit.

“Thank you.” Yuuri turns around, his face relaxing, “That was…overwhelming.”

Minako stands up from the bed, padding over to the window next to Yuuri.

“It even happened to me sometimes. Back when I was performing.”

“Getting overstimulated?”

“Yes, that. But also feeling out place, even when I was an award winning ballerina.” Minako looks out the window, smiling wistfully, “I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s a word for it. That feeling.”

“Imposter syndrome. Phichit’s mentioned it a few times. But that doesn’t make it click here,” Yuuri says, tapping his forehead.

“That’s okay, Yuuri. We’re here to support you, whatever shape that takes,” Celestino offers, straightening his posture.

Not just one, but two mentors patient enough to stay by his side as he copes with…his anxieties and fears. Yuuri isn’t sure how to properly express the depth of his thanks, so he nods at his coach, grateful.

He sighs heavily, turning back to look out the window. Lights have started popping up across Barcelona as the sky darkens, the sun dipping along the horizon. He stands there, silently watching as the last sliver vanishes.

Minako gently tapping Yuuri on the shoulder after that, holding out his phone.

“This was on the bed. It buzzed a few times, but I figured I’d wait until you had some time.” Yuuri pats his pocket, and is surprised to find it empty. He takes the phone and thanks Minako, who starts collecting her things. “Well Yuuri, we’ll leave you to settle in a bit more.”

Celestino fixes him with a stern glare from the doorway, “You need to eat something for dinner, even if you’re not hungry – I don’t want you practicing on an empty stomach tomorrow.”

“Yes, coach.”

“Let me know if you want to get something together.”

“Alright, coach.”

“And if I don’t see you again, get some good sleep. That’s also an order.”

Yuuri smiles, rolling his eyes slightly. “I got it, Ciao Ciao.”

Celestino scowls, but Yuuri spots a smile underneath as his coach turns to walk out the door with Minako. Minako looks back briefly, grinning at Yuuri before the door closes gently.

Yuuri exhales into the silence, then flops down onto his bed. He pulls out his phone to check what he missed after…the lobby breakdown. He’s got several texts from Phichit, asking if he’s landed and if he’s seen any other famous skaters yet. Yuuri chokes a bit as he reads it, sending Phichit a response detailing what happened. There are also a couple notifications from various social media sites, which he trawls through, reading some comments cheering him on.

It’s still a strange feeling to share more on social media, and actually see supportive comments occasionally now. Well, more than occasionally if Yuuri is honest with himself. It’s harder to find negativity on his posts than support now, although Yuuri’s certainly tried at times. He reads a few more comments, then swipes again. There’s a direct message from Chris he still hasn’t looked at.

 

christoph-gc:

Yuuri, are you here yet?

Cao said he saw you in the lobby but you disappeared

 

Yuuri types out a response and is unsurprised to immediately see the indication that Chris is typing back.

katusdon-yk:

Yes, I’m here.

We checked in at the lobby and then I needed a few minutes to get settled.

christoph-gc:

Good! What room are you in?

I want to swing by and say hi!

katusdon-yk:

(;一_一)

Chris, I’m not going to just give you my room number so you can come and bug me.

You’ll probably do something dumb, like jump on top of me to wake me up.

And I don’t want to get disqualified for killing you if you do.

 

Christoph-gc:

https://media.tenor.com/images/b10f0d4805b961e864875ac64d62e5e7/tenor.gif

Yuuri, you would kill me!?

katsudon-yk:

If it means getting to sleep more before a competition, yes.

 

Christoph-gc:

Okay, fair

I can almost understand that

How about we just get dinner instead?

 

Katusdon-yk:

I’m not super hungry, but I guess that works.

It’s better than you ambushing me, at least.

 

Christoph-gc:

You can just watch me eat then

Meet in the lobby in 10?

 

 

 

Half an hour later, Yuuri sits down across from Chris, the warmth and dull clamor of the restaurant wrapping around them like a blanket.

Yuuri has known Chris long enough to expect him to run a little late, so it hadn’t been a surprise when the Swiss skater had strolled into the lobby 10 minutes after he was supposed to. And of course, Chris had immediately given Yuuri a hug, squeezing him just a little too tightly for comfort. He’d at least already found a place to go eat with lighter dishes, a sort of pub. Yuuri looks down at the menu, scanning through it but finding nothing particularly appealing. Between travelling across the world and the nerves of the upcoming Final, Yuuri’s stomach is riddled with anticipation and has little room for food.

But Celestino’s admonishment echoes in his mind, and he orders a bland dish with chicken and vegetables. Hopefully he’ll be able to muster the fortitude for that, at least.

When a waiter comes by, Chris orders a seafood stew and a glass of wine.

“Just one for good luck,” he says.

Yuuri stops himself from sticking out his tongue in discomfort at the idea of drinking before practice, let alone a major competition. He typically reserves drinking for the banquets afterwards when he can indulge a little bit more freely.

The two of them talk for a bit before Chris’ wine arrives, swapping stories about their travel to Barcelona. Yuuri had needed two lengthy flights to get to Barcelona, and he detailed how annoying it was to sit next to Celestino overnight. By comparison, Chris had a single relatively short flight and teased Yuuri about getting to sleep in his own bed the last night.

When Chris’ white wine appears, he takes a single sip and lets out an exaggerated “Ahh,” leaning back in his seat and relaxing.

“We’re finally here!”

Yuuri tilts his head at Chris, reflecting. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

“You don’t have to sound so surprised about it. I was certain it would happen.”

Yuuri huffs in response, “You’ve always been more confident about your skills than I have. I can’t ever assume I’m just going to make it.”

Chris raises an eyebrow, “Well, yes, I was certain I would make it. But you belong here, too.”

“Do I, though?” Yuuri lets out an exasperated sigh. Chris opens his mouth to speak, but Yuuri cuts him off. “I know, I know. I’m…I’m as good as everyone else here.”

“I’d say your better than them this year. Well, except for me, maybe,” Chris smirks.

“Walking through the lobby and seeing J.J., Cao, and Michele…I felt out of place. It’s so frustrating sometimes to know one thing, but feel something else.” Yuuri sighs, releasing some of his irritation.

Their food arrives, and Chris blows air gently on his soup, cooling it slightly. Yuuri angrily stuffs a bite in his mouth and swallows it down. It tastes rubbery, but Yuuri doesn’t think its bad cooking that’s to blame.

“But when you’re out on the ice?”

“When I’m out on the ice,” Yuuri says, “I feel…free. I’m me. This year has encouraged me, so that what I’m skating to compete is what I genuinely want to skate—”

“—You weren’t doing that before?”

Yuuri shoots a glare at Chris, who takes a sly sip of his wine. Yuuri’s voice quiets down when he speaks next, enough so that Chris leans in over his steaming soup.

“I didn’t want to skate without Viktor around. Chasing him is…was…all I wanted to do. Improving so that I could compete on the same ice as him. I was nervous that I didn’t belong, that I would make mistakes on my own; so I deferred to my coach. I still made mistakes, and it wasn’t enough. Not while Viktor was around. This year became something different. It’s for me, not to chase him. To move past where I was, stuck on him.” Yuuri smiles sadly, “Even though my routines are based on him, they’re for me.”

“I almost didn’t skate this year either.” Chris says it with such nonchalance that Yuuri does a double take, setting down his fork. “I thought, ‘what’s the point of competing without Viktor, I’ll probably just end up in first place, unsatisfied.’ But I didn’t. It was a slow start, finding motivation for new routines, for another year.”

Chris looks up from his bowl, staring fiercely at Yuuri. “But the most important step is always the next step you take. Just getting started again was hard, but I took the leap. Then, I got out on the ice again and in front of crowds, and the thrill of entertaining others kicked in. That was enough for a bit.”

“And once I saw your return…seeing you and the others skate has pushed me to work harder and improve. The Quad Flip is evidence enough of that. Not that I’m going to let you win.” Chris winks at the end before taking a big spoonful of soup.

“I wouldn’t want you to, anyway. That’s…thanks for sharing.” Yuuri says automatically, his mind still parsing through Chris’ comments. Of course, he had guessed other skaters had issues with motivation sometimes. But hearing that another top skater, especially one with as much confidence as Chris, struggles with motivation just like Yuuri…even if Chris had found his drive to succeed again sooner. It shouldn’t necessarily make him feel better, but it does.

He takes another bite of his food, and it tastes less like plastic and more like vegetables this time. Definitely still bland, but less hard to force down.

“He’s going to be here this weekend for the Finals, you know,” Chris says in between slurps of seafood.

What?”

“Viktor, he’s arriving tonight. He’s coaching one of the juniors competing in the Finals, I think, I don’t always listen to him.”

Yuuri isn’t sure how to respond, so he takes another bite of food. How likely is it that Yuuri will see him around? Most of the skaters are all staying in the same hotel for convenience, which means there’s a chance…a likely chance, if Yuuri’s truthful. His heart picks up steam in his chest and as hot lead settles in his stomach. He takes a few deep breaths, and Chris shoots him a curious glance.

It’s not really competing that’s bothering Yuuri, he’s pretty sure Viktor would have said something about Yuuri’s routine already if it bothered him. No, it’s the idea of seeing Viktor. Of Viktor seeing him. What would the Russian man think? In some ways, Viktor had simply sort of ceased to exist after his injury—Yuuri wouldn’t see him as a fellow competitor. Yes, he posted on Instagram and had given an interview or two, but that hadn’t given Yuuri any sense of his future. The thought had never really processed that they could still cross paths for different reasons.

Thankfully, Chris seemed to sense Yuuri’s discomfort and slowly shifts the conversation away from Viktor towards some of the other skaters, and then to unrelated topics.

Yuuri’s gut slowly loosens as they talk and eat; and Yuuri can see Chris’ ears tinge slightly as he finishes his glass of wine. It’s only at the very end of their meal, as they are paying, that Chris catches Yuuri off guard again.

“Hey, want to go in the pool at the hotel when we get back?”

“Excuse me, what?” Yuuri says, taken aback at the sudden question. “Not particularly?”

“Aww, c’mon it’ll be fuuuun! It’s heated!”

“Chris, I’m not getting into the pool late at night when there’s practice tomorrow and the Short Programs a day after that.”

“Ughh, fine. You’re gonna miss out. I’ll go by myself!”

“Uh-huh, just you. I’m sure you’ll be bored within 5 minutes.”

“Is it alone if I take a glass of wine?”

They both laugh as they exit the pub, slowly making their way through the lamplit streets of Barcelona back to the hotel.

 


 

“Dear god, why did I think it was a good idea to have that second glass of wine last night?”

Viktor’s laugh tinkles through the open air of the breakfast area, and Yura glares at him from his side. “Hey, you did this one to yourself.”

“I thought I was going to be alone! Then you showed up out of nowhere,” Chris pouts.

Viktor shrugs, “We’d only just arrived and I wasn’t tired yet. Why not go explore the pool?” He gestures to Yura, clad in his team Russia jacket with the hood up, arms crossed on the table. “Sleepy here on the other hand crashed immediately.”

“Shut up, Viktor,” comes the instant response, though slightly quieter than Yuri’s usual vigor.

“Somebody still seems a little tired.”

Yura glares at Viktor from the depths of his hoodie, “Why do you have to be a morning person? It should be illegal to be so annoying this early.”

Chris laughs, “He’s got a point, you know.”

Viktor feigns, covering his heart. “Oh no, not you too Chris! I’m outnumbered.” He leans back in his chair, pretending to wilt.

Some strange muttering emanates from Yuri, but he just starts stuffing his mouth with food.

Viktor leans forward and starts eating his own food. Though he hadn’t gotten to sleep as much as Yura, Viktor still feels surprisingly energetic. Yura’s normal efforts to deflate Viktor’s enthusiasm have seemed particularly ineffective this morning. Maybe the jetlag really had hit the younger skater harder.

But looking around at the dining room packed full with various skaters, Viktor can feel the energy building in the room. Looking around, Viktor easily picks out that loudmouth J.J. Leroy at a table in the center of the room. In the corner, he spots one of the newer skaters, the Kazakhstani skater. What was his name? Otabek?

So much talent crammed together and with the looming excitement of the Finals as an outlet. There’s always something electric about being here. Even Chris, despite his griping, looks more focused as he finishes eating.

“What’re you looking at?” Yura’s softer voice surprises Viktor, and he shift his gaze back to the younger skater.

He gestures discretely across the room, “The new Senior, Otabek. I’m curious to see how he handles his first Finals.”

Yura nods, “Otabek Altin. I watched his qualifiers, he’s stupidly precise. He’s going to be annoying next year.”

Viktor gives Yuri an appraising look, surprised that he’d taken the time to watch and analyze the newer skater.

Viktor feels a hand settle on his shoulder, and a gruff voice from behind him. “I see you’re both already finished eating. Good. Mila’s just finished as well. Get your things together, we’re going to the rink for practice. Meet me out front in 10.”

Viktor turns around in time to see Yakov disappearing out the swinging door of the dining room. “Ever the pragmatist.”

Yura grunts in response, nodding to Chris before standing up.

“We’ll see you at the rink, then?” Viktor asks.

“I’m definitely not ready yet,” Chris says, rubbing his forehead. “My slot’s after you guys, so maybe on your way out.”

Viktor gives a friendly wave to Chris before grabbing his bag and following Yakov.

 

 

Viktor enters the big arena, and it feels like coming home. The overhead lights are on, illuminating row after row of empty seats, collected around the beautiful, fresh ice. He can hear muted whispers in the background, the murmurings between coaches and players reverberating around the vast space. The air is crisp and chilly, but not biting. The location of the Finals may change year to year, but it still inspires the same feeling each time.

But most of all, Viktor loves the sound of skates on the ice. The scraping, though harsh, is like music to his ears. In this hallowed hall, it’s the telltale sign that a master is at work.

While Yakov and Mila head to her changing room, Viktor and Yura head to his in the opposite direction. Along the way, Viktor cranes his neck to get a glimpse of who is skating. He’s able to spot Cao Bin in a tight spin, through a cluster of onlooking ISU staff members. Viktor smiles, thinking of years past when he, Chris, and Cao were consistently the top 3 men’s skaters. They’d developed a certain level a familiarity, constantly on the podium together.

Viktor isn’t able to catch much more of Cao’s practice before the enter the warren of tunnels and rooms spread throughout the arena. Yuri probably doesn’t need his help for anything (and almost certainly won’t admit it if he does), and part of Viktor really wants to walk back and watch Cao finish his time slot. But he resists the urge, believing that his sturdy presence as a coach right now is more important, even if there’s little for him to do.

He stands quietly in the dressing room as Yura gets ready, even though it feels a bit strange not to be putting on skates as well. Yuri doesn’t take much time, efficiently moving his things around the small space. He might be a bit of a diva sometimes, but Viktor is impressed by how easily the younger skater acclimates to a new environment. It’s not long before they head back out in the mass of hallways, slowly making their way back to the rink.

Viktor glances at Yuri as they walk and asks, “You’re going to wear your jacket for practice?”

“Yes, if I want to.” He pulls the jacket around him tighter, the Russian flag warping slightly.

Viktor shrugs, “Okay! If it works for you, it works for me.”

Yuri doesn’t say much after that, and Viktor opts to respect the silence between them. It may not be exactly the same as right before a competition, but finding the right mental space is important even for practicing. When he had started skating, Viktor often hadn’t needed much time to find that performing mindset, the one that constantly pushed him to be his absolute best.

But every skater functions a bit differently. He’s certainly learned that during his time as a coach; his methods hadn’t worked the same for some of the other skaters or Yuri. Though it had taken time for him to realize it, he understands now that letting Yuri go about his mental preparation in his own way is often for the best. After all, Yuri has a far more nuanced understanding of himself than Viktor can ever hope to have.

The two of them emerge from the hallways and approach the rink. Cao Bin appears to still be out on the ice, so Viktor and Yura stand at the rink barrier and watch. Yakov joins them, looking as immutable as ever.

Viktor peers behind Yakov, but finds nobody. “Where’s Mila at?”

“She’s up after Yura and wants to be alone for a bit.” Viktor grunts in a rough imitation of Yakov, who turns to give him a blank stare. Yura snickers briefly but quiets when Yakov turns to face the rink again. “There’s another skater up before Yura anyways, so we’ve got a bit of waiting.”

Yakov leaves for the restroom or to go talk with other coaches, Viktor doesn’t quite listen to him, instead watching as Cao continues. Viktor can tell that he’s lost some of his edge. He’s not as sharp as he used to be, not as willing to take risks with his jumps or choreography. Cao’s getting up there in age for a figure skater, and the fear of an injury looms ever-present in the background. Which Viktor understands, deeply.

He slowly starts walking around the rink, watching from different angles. Yuri trails behind him, not really close enough to talk with, but also clearly desiring proximity to Viktor. Maybe Viktor’s presence is more important to Yura than he realized.

They nearly complete a circuit of the rink, arriving at the main entrance to the ice, where a number of skaters, coaches, and ISU representatives are clustered. He stops there, surveying the area. Yura steps up beside him, quiet and observant.

Viktor recognizes a few of the staff members, and he waves politely at them. Nobody approaches him directly, which once would have bothered him. When he had been skating, he’d pretty much always wanted to be the center of attention. Learning to coach has helped with fixing that narcissistic tendency, instead teaching him to be a pillar of support for his skaters, rather than the focus.

Yuri tugs on Viktor’s sleeve, but he turns his attention towards the ice again, towards Cao’s final minutes on the ice. Yuri tugs again, harder.

“What?” Viktor whispers without turning.

Look.”

Viktor turns, following Yuri’s gesture towards the walkway from the arena entrance down to the rink.

And the world stops when Viktor finally sees what Yuri had been trying to point out.

Yuuri Katsuki is striding down the path in his practice clothes, a Team Japan sweatshirt loosely zipped up over it. He’s laughing, talking with coach and another Japanese woman that Viktor dimly recalls seeing before. It’s such a relaxed, normal thing, but Viktor tries to take a mental picture of Katsuki’s dazzling white smile, his messy black hair, his casual ambiance.

Viktor’s heart surges and flutters in his chest, a familiar feeling reminiscent of the nerves and excitement he felt when he was first skating professionally. He moves without thinking, like a satellite pulled into Katsuki’s orbit.

He vaguely hears sounds of protest from behind him and registers a brief grip on his coat, but continues forward anyway…

Only to find himself face to face with Yuuri Katsuki, staring down into those rich brown eyes. He could probably stand there and gaze into their boundless depths for hours on end.

“H-hello?” Katsuki’s voice breaks Viktor’s stupor, and he tries to suppress a shiver from running through him.

“Hi there! I’m Viktor Nikiforov!” Viktor sticks out his hand, hoping that it seems normal.

Katsuki slowly reaches out to take the hand, and Viktor can feel a slight jitter to Katsuki as they shake.

“Uh…hi.” Katsuki pauses, looking at his companions. The two of them share a look and step to the side quickly, leaving Katsuki alone. His initial bright smile slowly falters, replaced by something more nervous. Viktor waits another moment, expecting Katsuki to introduce himself or add something to the greeting. He’d normally anticipate a bit more, though perhaps Katsuki’s just focused on his upcoming practice.

But when nothing more is forthcoming, Viktor feels a knot tighten in his gut. Is he doing something wrong? He rushes to fill the silence, “So, are you practicing next?”

“Yes, I’m up next after Cao.”

“Great! I’m looking forward to watching you!” Yuuri seems to cringe away when Viktor says it, and Viktor stops himself from reaching out to ask what’s wrong, worried he’ll complicate things even further.

We look forward to watching.” Yuri interjects, stepping to Viktor’s side. “I’m Yuri Plisetsky, by the way.”

Yuri’s presence seems to jumpstart something for Katsuki, as he sticks his hand out and says, “I’m Yuuri Katsuki. N-nice to meet you.”

Yura shakes Katsuki’s hand, feigning an air of indifference. Viktor knows the younger skater well enough to see how excited he is just by watching Yura switch his weight from side to side.

Viktor doesn’t let the conversation lapse this time, picking right up. “So there’s two Yuris, huh. That’s kind of fun.”

“Well, sort of. My name’s actually Yuuri.” The way he says it is different, so much sweeter and more enticing, stretching out the ‘u’ sound just a smidge longer than Yuri. Viktor can tell there are other differences, but can’t quite pick them out. But he would happily listen to Katsuki just say his name over and over to figure it out, though.

Yuri scoffs at the clarification, giving Katsuki his trademark glare. “I don’t like sharing my name.” Viktor stealthily elbows Yuri beside him, who thankfully doesn’t make a scene of it. “But I don’t mind as much when it’s with someone who’s good.”

Viktor hurries to clarify, “We’ve watched your skating this season, and think it’s incredible!”

“Y-you have?”

Viktor nods excitedly, and opens his mouth to launch into a lengthy tirade about how great he thinks Katsuki’s skating is.

“I-I should be going. I need to practice.”

Viktor closes his mouth, “Of…of course.” Viktor’s heart sinks, and he steps out Katsuki’s way.

Katsuki passes by both Viktor and Yuri, looking far less relaxed than he had when he entered.

Yura glowers at Viktor, “Way to go asshat, you scared him off.”

“Yura, what did I do? I just wanted to meet him and talk…”

“You sure that’s all?”

Viktor sighs, opting not to respond. Nothing constructive will come out of furthering that conversation right now. He walks to the barrier again, watching as Katsuki starts to warm up. Yuri silently joins him, leaning lazily up against the barrier. Viktor scowls at the younger skater, hoping to convey his disdain for Yuri’s lack of manners. Yuri doesn’t pay him any attention though, and Viktor eventually turns back to watching Katsuki.

He starts moving through parts of his programs, but seems more disjointed, stiffer than usual. There’s no music playing out loud for Katsuki’s practice, and Viktor can’t hear the phantom rhythm that Katsuki usually conveys in his skating. He doesn’t make any blatant mistakes, but it seems…incomplete.

And Viktor can’t help but feel more than a little to blame. Whatever he’d done, it had clearly unbalanced Katsuki. Whatever the reason, it’s a starkly different picture from what Viktor and Yuri had seen from him at the NHK tournament.

That guilt sticks with Viktor throughout the day, though he tries to compartmentalize it while Yura practices to offer the best coaching he can. When they pass by Chris on their way out of the rink, he gives Viktor a questioning glance that Viktor leaves unanswered. When they return back to the hotel, Viktor spends hours replaying the conversation in his head.

Had he said something offensive? He’d tried to cover for Yuri’s callous comments, but maybe they had upset Katsuki. Or maybe Katsuki just disliked Viktor.

That thought sends a gut wrenching pulse through his body, and he tries to put it out of mind.

So instead, he focuses on the pristine image of Katsuki entering the rink, looking adorable as he’s caught laughing. It’s hard to hold the two images of Katsuki together in his mind, one smiling and at ease, the other grim-faced and tight with tension. He spends the time thinking about it now, because tomorrow the Short Programs begin, and Viktor can’t be distracted by his own puzzled thoughts. He’s promised Yuri that he would be here as his coach and support, and Viktor intends to do that.

Even if his heart is reeling with confusion.

 


 

Yuuri lays in bed that night, his mind racing. He should be sleeping, with the Short Program tomorrow, but all he can think about is how Viktor goddamn Nikiforov had decided to talk with him.

Yuuri had froze when he’d seen those blue eyes peering down at him, resorting to just smiling like a dumbass. He’d been lucky to stammer out a response at all, he was so caught up trying to soak in each feature of Viktor’s face. The silver hair, falling effortlessly in front of his eyes. The beautiful, soft curves of his cheeks. His beaming smile, blindingly bright, yet so enchanting. And those vivid blue eyes, like the summer sky.

Yuuri keeps replaying the conversation in his head, trying figure out why Viktor would want to talk with him, as it must have been like talking with a brick wall given how stupefied Yuuri had been. Maybe it was a veiled threat? The younger Yuri is in the JGPF after all, and could be moving up to Seniors next year.

That doesn’t feel right though, Viktor had gone out of his way to try and excuse Yuri’s comments.

And then there was the revelation that they had both been watching him. It sends a shudder through Yuuri just thinking about it, one that upsets his stomach but also lights a fire further below, blood rushing down to his groin. It’s both thrilling and nerve-wracking to imagine Viktor watching Yuuri’s tribute, and he has to focus on calming himself as he lays in bed. Now’s not the time for that kind of distraction.

But when Yuuri had finally taken to the ice, seeing that flash of silver hair on the side lines had sent butterflies to his stomach, like he was just skating in front of a crowd for the first time.

Viktor Nikiforov had been watching him practice. It’s like the dream he had let go of was suddenly being partially fulfilled, but Yuuri isn’t ready for it now.

Each step, each jump had sent him to a new height of tension. He hardly knows how he kept it together for the entire practice.

Minako and Celestino had noticed, of course. They ate a quiet dinner together, with both of them trying to ease his anxiety with a mixture of stories, humor, and food. It hadn’t been particularly effective, but Yuuri had put on a good face for it. There’s no reason to stress the two of them about his own inner turmoil.

But he finds himself back at square one: wondering why in the hell Viktor Nikiforov talked with him today.

Yuuri lays there for a long time, his mind circling the drain. The only concrete thing he determines is that he’ll talk with Phichit in the morning, before his Program. He won’t be on the ice until the evening, the Juniors have the daytime slots thankfully. Eventually, he drifts into a restless, dreamless sleep.

Hoping in his deepest recesses that maybe, just maybe, Viktor had genuinely wanted to get to know Yuuri.

And that he might try again.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 13: A Flash of Silver

 

Yuri wakes up slowly, blinking the sleep from his eyes as his alarm blares. For a few seconds, he just lays in bed as it rings, reluctant to move and acknowledge the start of the morning. The past day remains largely forgotten amongst his sluggish thoughts for the moment, lost amid the haziness of sleep. He eventually reaches over to pick up his phone and turn off the alarm, but as he does the memories slowly flood back into his awareness.

He had met Viktor Nikiforov yesterday. His body quickly abandons sleep in favor of momentary panic, his neurons screaming awake.

Not only had he met Viktor, Yuuri had touched him. Shaken his hand.

That hadn’t really occurred to him in the moment. He tries to recall it, to fix it into his permanent memory. It had been both so normal and so overwhelming at the moment, he’d acted on pure reflexes in shaking Viktor’s hand. Which was probably good, if he’d been thinking about it he probably would have mucked it up somehow. Like never letting go of Viktor’s hand.

But he’d also freaked out while talking to Viktor, even if his reflexes had been sufficient for handshakes. And then gone to bed freaking out about freaking out. Yuuri can only conclude that Viktor is unlikely to talk with him ever again. Worse, now Yuuri will have to deal with Viktor sitting on the sideline of the Finals watching and judging him, despite his nice comment about Yuuri’s skating.

Wait.

Had Viktor Nikiforov really meant to compliment Yuuri’s skating? Surely that had been a mistake, or Yuuri misremembering.

And just like that, Yuuri falls back into the circular head arguments he had already been through last night. He starts to rock a bit in the bed, the blankets twisting around his legs as sweat beads on his forehead. His hotel room seems to shrink, closing in on him.

Yuuri spends several more minutes trapped in that loop before his haywire mind recalls his only decision from last night: talk to Phichit.

He sends off a rapid text, and Phichit (thankfully) responds quickly:

 

Phichit please help

????

Tell me more

What can I do?

I might be panicking

Okay, count your breathing for a minute. Then text me after

And no cheating!

If it gets worse, call Celestino.

 

 

Yuuri sets down his phone, trusting Phichit’s advice more than his own mind at the moment. He sits up straight, removing his legs from the heat of the blankets wrapped around him. He starts counting his breath intake, holding, and then releasing it slowly. Yuuri lets it occupy his entire mind for a minute, and his pounding heart slows, like a descending scale.

He counts out the minute, then adds on an extra thirty seconds for good measure. Then, he picks up his phone and begins tapping out a new message.

 

Okay. Thank you, that helped a bit.

Good! Do you want to tell me what happened?

 

Yes. Can I call you? That’s probably easier than texting.

Sure. Use Messenger?

 

A couple of minutes later, Yuuri’s sitting by his window with his phone on speaker.

“Hey Phichit. Thanks for talking with me. I know it must be late for you.”

“Of course, Yuuri. I’ll always find time for you. And I may or may not be making mac’n’cheese right now. Don’t tell Ciao Ciao.” Yuuri smiles, picturing Phichit bustling around their tiny kitchen at midnight.

“Your secret is safe with me.”

“To the grave?”

“To the grave.”

Phichit pauses, and Yuuri can feel the nod even if he can’t see it. “So, what’s going on?”

Yuuri sighs, running his hand through his hair. “Phichit, would you believe me if I said that I met Viktor Nikiforov yesterday?”

“No, but please continue.”

“Okay, it’s probably more accurate to say he met me. Or introduced himself to me. Whatever.”

There’s a loud clang from Phichit’s side followed by a screech, and Yuuri is suddenly grateful the phone is on speaker and not next to his ear. Yuuri waits as he hears some shuffling.

“Sorry about that. Dropped the pot, but it’s all good now. Please explain??”

“Well, I was about to practice and he…just walked up and introduced himself.”

 “So…he just walked up to you and…?”

“Yes, we shook hands.”

Phichit squeals, and quickly whispers to himself “Okay, okay. So uh, what was he wearing?”

Yuuri scoffs, caught off guard. “I, uh, don’t remember? I wasn’t really paying attention to that.” Yuuri sighs again, almost tired of the game he and Phichit are playing. “Look, it was honestly almost a blur. And stressful. Really scary and stressful.”

“Scary? Stressful?”

Yuuri inhales slowly, uncertain where to start. “I definitely didn’t expect to see him—well, that’s not true, not after Chris told me he’d be here—”

“—Chris told you that?—”

“Maybe it’s more accurate to say I wasn’t ready to see him.” Yuuri tries to pause to take a breath, to reset, but the words just start tumbling out, like water through a sieve. “But yes, it was terrifying. Like, Viktor Nikiforov just walked up to me out of nowhere and started talking to me. Thank god my body worked on autopilot at least somewhat, or he might have thought I was a lunatic. Not that it matters, based on my charming conversational skills he’s still going to think I’m a crazy person and a shit skater. And I’m going to have to skate today with him watching and scrutinizing me.”

Yuuri finally takes a deep, ragged breath and adds on, almost an afterthought. “He said he liked my skating, but then I completely sucked during practice. I’m half convinced he said it as a joke just to mess with me.”

Yuuri hears a deep breath over the phone, “Okay, Yuuri, there’s a couple of things I have to say. First, you’re absolutely not ‘a shit skater’. You’re so far from being a shit skater, that…that…if you’re a shit skater it makes me want to eat shit.”

Yuuri scrunches his eyebrows, baffled. There’s a long pause, where he teeters. Then he laughs. A deep, full-bellied laugh that echoes in the tiny hotel room. “I’m not sure whether to be more offended that you are calling me a shit skater or concerned that you apparently want to eat me.”

There’s an audible smack, and Yuuri conjures up a mental image of Phichit facepalming. “Okay. So. Maybe not by best attempt at cheering you up. But—to be clear—I don’t want to eat you.” Phichit clears his throat. “Anyway, back to my point. You’re a fantastic skater. Even if you forget it sometimes. Second, I probably would have panicked too if Viktor had come up to me out of the blue and just started talking to me like he knew me. And then flattered my skating skills. That seems so…so…”

“Surreal?” Yuuri offers, “Like something out of one of my fever dreams? Or fantasies?”

“Yes, like one of those.” Phichit responds in a deadpan voice “And look, if he was trying to fuck with you, I’ll fuck with him. And it won’t be a silly joke. But beyond that, you shouldn’t let it get to you that he was watching. His opinion shouldn’t matter.” As if it was that easy.

“And you’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘if only it were so easy’. Well, go out there today, and skate for anybody else. Do it for Celestino, for your sister, for you, or hell, do it for me. But go out there, and don’t think about Viktor.”

“—But—”

 “Yes, I know your programs are about Viktor.” Phichit groans, “I don’t know, I guess I just want you to put this bizarre meeting out of mind. At least while you skate.”

“Hmph. Yes, you’re right…it’s just…”

“It’s gonna be hard.”

“Thanks, Phichit.”

There’s a sniffling, and Phichit clears his throat. “So, um, was anyone else there for your meeting? Ciao Ciao? Cause you should talk with him about this too.”

“No, Ciao Ciao left with Minako when Viktor walked up. They just abandoned me. And it felt too...personal to talk with them.”

“Those…traitors. But yeah, I get it.”

“They probably thought they were doing me a favor.”

“I know, I know.”

“Well, Viktor’s student popped up in the middle of us talking. His name’s also Yuri, apparently.”

“Plisetsky?”

“How is it you’ve heard of everyone in the skating world?”

“One of my many talents. And you’re oblivious. Besides, aren’t you the one who ends up actually meeting them? Meanwhile, I’m at home stirring mac’n’cheese.” Phichit must have placed the phone near the pot, because the next thing Yuuri hears is the sound of something juicy being stirred. “See Yuuri, ‘that’s what good pus—'”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Phichit!” Yuuri interjects. Phichit’s familiar cackle tinkles through the phone speakers, and Yuuri grins too. “But yes, Yuri Plisetsky was there.”

“He’s a strong contender for winning the JGPF. Pretty competitive about it, apparently.”

“I got that impression from our short conversation. I thought maybe Viktor was trying to like, threaten me with Yuri or something. But Viktor kept trying to make excuses for Yuri when he said something offensive.”

“Yeah, I seriously doubt that Viktor Nikiforov chose to talk to you just to intimidate you with a short young skater who isn’t even in Seniors yet.”

“Well, when you put it like that…but why did he talk to me at all?”

Phichit sighs again, “Yuuri, have you considered that maybe…he wanted to meet you?”

Silence hangs between them for a moment, and Yuuri hears the faint rustling of the wind outside his window. “I…may have considered that. But it seems so unlikely. Again, like it’s out of one of my fever dreams.”

“Or fantasies, right? You might just have to accept that something positive happened to you for once.”

Yuuri’s voice drops to a whisper, “But…it’s almost easier to believe it was a mistake. Or something else. If he really likes my skating…”

“Oh, Yuuri…”

Forced to say it out loud, it sounds ridiculous. It shouldn’t be easier to accept a harsher outlook. But Yuuri’s become so accustomed to doing just that, to his mind defaulting to the worst possible outcome. Sometimes, the logical answer seems like the least likely. And he knows that, he can recognize it objectively.

But subjectively, it feels like this meeting with Viktor was hand-crafted to throw him off balance, to unsettle him and unearth his recently vanquished fears about his own inadequacies. No path forward will from here will be easy, Yuuri is certain.

“Thank you again Phichit. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

“Probably still in Barcelona, about to kick some ass. I’ll be watching for you later!”

Yuuri hangs up the phone shortly after that, smiling softly to himself. He sits by the window for a few more minutes, letting Celestino know that he’s up and will be downstairs for breakfast in a bit. That restarts his mind, and it begins churning with the details of the day.

 


 

Much of Viktor’s day would be spent at the Grand Prix Finals arena, for a multitude of reasons. Of course, he didn’t spend the entire day at the rink. He left a few times, usually to get food. Once to rush back to the hotel because Yuri forgot his “casual clothes,” which turned out to be a cheetah print jacket and socks covered in kittens. But when he looks back from the future, the entire day will seem like it was spent at the rink. It’s understandable, really, given all that happens.

 

It begins, naturally, outside of the arena. It’s not like he slept there.

Viktor wakes up in his hotel room, and the white-hot discomfort of Katsuki’s reaction yesterday immediately drops into his stomach. But Viktor had spent the previous night agonizing over Katsuki’s disdain and indifference, so that today he can do his job as both a coach and a friend.

At least, that’s what he tells himself.

He slams down a cup of water and kicks himself into motion, taking a shockingly cold shower so he’s wide awake. He tries to dress nicely; he wants to at least look the part of a coach. But he ends up staring at the collection of his clothing hanging in the hotel wardrobe for several minutes, feeling apathetic despite the variety to choose from. He ends up just grabbing a white dress shirt and a blue tie so he doesn’t run late.

He throws on his black overcoat on top, heading downstairs for a whirlwind of a breakfast with Yuri, Mila and Yakov. Whispers and noise bounce around the room, as skaters and coaches share furtive glances at their competition. The undercurrent of excitement in the dining room is near infectious. Swept up in the atmosphere, Viktor’s guilt is momentarily forgotten in favor of speculating with the Russian entourage about how the day will unfold.

Yakov actually initiates the conversation, to Viktor’s surprise. “Mila, how are you feeling?”

“Eh, could be better. There’s some really good skaters this year, Sara Crispino has a really good chance of taking it.”

Viktor shakes his head, “Oh c’mon Mila, I’ve seen you practicing your ass off.”

Yakov affixes her with one of his patented stares, which Viktor is pretty confident means ‘you’re underselling yourself’. He didn’t get to see that one very often, so he’s not totally sure. Mila holds Yakov’s gaze for several seconds longer than Viktor probably would have, before tilting her head in acceptance.

“Doesn’t mean I won’t do my best to take the gold, though,” she adds.

“And what about you, Yura?” Viktor asks.

Yuri looks up as he takes a bite of his toast, keeping eye contact with Viktor while he chews patiently. Viktor raises an eyebrow, but Yuri remains completely unfazed, taking his sweet time. When Yuri finally speaks, it’s with the same matter-of-fact tone he uses when discussing something as inevitable as humidity in a Petersburg summer.

“I’m going to win.”

Mila witnesses the exchange and chuckles before chiming in, “You’re that certain?” Yuri turns his eyes toward her for a moment. “As a matter of fact, do you even know any of the other junior skaters?”

“No…they’re not worth my time.”

“What he means,” Viktor says, rolling his eyes, “is that he’s already focused on the Seniors and has largely ignored his competition. Not exactly good form,” Viktor teases.

Yuri’s attention swings back to Viktor. “You would know.”

Viktor and Mila both slap a hand over their mouths. The words hang in the air for a moment, uncomfortable. Yakov cocks an eyebrow.

Then Mila and Viktor both start wheezing with laughter, and even Yuri’s hardened expression softens.

Yakov grunts, though whether in amusement or disdain, Viktor’s unsure. “And what about men’s Seniors, then?”

Viktor sighs, and quickly tries to suppress it. Of course they would discuss Men’s senior Short Programs. Viktor’s thoughts are brought back to Katsuki, and he takes a mournful bite of his eggs.

“Katsuki’s gonna win,” Yuri says with the same forceful certainty he had earlier.

“Hmph,” Yakov grumbles, “I’m not as sure. LeRoy’s more consistent.”

“I wouldn’t count Christophe out either,” Mila says, “he’s got a surprising amount of…boldness, even after your retirement, Viktor.”

Viktor dips his head in acknowledgement, but doesn’t say anything. Viktor wishes he could share the same sentiment as Yuri, but after watching Katsuki’s practice yesterday…

“Don’t forget about Otabek,” Yuri growls from under his hoodie. The discussion continues a bit longer, but Viktor starts to tune it out.

What if Katsuki does poorly? Would Viktor be to blame? He shouldn’t be spending his emotional energy on these kinds of questions today, of all days. It’s much better suited for when he’s sad and curled up on his couch with Makkachin.

His heart pangs at the thought of poor Makkachin, left with Georgi while Viktor is away.

“Oy, Viktor.” Yakov’s gruff voice breaks him from his reverie, and he looks up to see Yakov motioning towards the door.

And then, they leave for the arena.

 

 

The morning at the rink is a whole different kind of whirlwind. When they arrive at the arena, there’s already a massive number of fans and press gathered outside, waiting to be let in. Yakov and Viktor have to flash their coach credentials to get through the crowd and past security, while shepherding Mila and Yuri. More than a few fans take notice of their small crew, perhaps because Yuri refuses to take off his team Russia jacket regardless of where they go. The fans and reporters shout as they pass by, a cacophony of noise that is surprisingly muffled to Viktor’s experienced ears. He does hear his own name shouted out a number of times alongside Mila and Yuri, though.

His heart used to soar when he heard fans screeching like that, calling out for him. Certainly less so, at the end of his skating career. Then it had just invoked a sense of monotony, of repetition. Left him feeling hollow. And now, it does give him a bit of that initial thrill again. It’s not quite the same; something different encourages him now.

But he keeps his face impassive, like he was trained to by Yakov all those years ago. A quick glance around shows the rest of the Russian team all have the same stoic expression on their faces, and Viktor lets a small smirk break through for a moment.

They eventually get inside to the skaters’ area, past an ISU checkpoint where they all have to show their badges again. After that, there’s a flurry of activity as skaters rotate practice times and get into costume.

He’s with Yuri for most of it, in their changing room or in the lounge area reserved for skaters and coaching staff. But he also helps Yakov and Mila out with a few odds and ends, like finding Mila’s makeup artist. Yuri’s practice comes and goes quickly, with little for Viktor to do but display a countenance of encouragement.

He feels almost superfluous, watching Yuri out there. When they had started together, Yuri had laid out his goal to make a declaration to the Seniors, wanting to lay claim to his future playing field. Watching him now, Viktor can only think he’s nearly there. It makes him proud, but he doesn’t feel he can take credit for it.

The younger skater has practiced so much and is so damn confident in his abilities at this point that there is no hesitation in his movement; almost nothing for Viktor to do but stand at the edge of the rink and brood. Thinking about how he hasn’t done much to coach Yuri. About how he threw a wrench into Katsuki’s skating. He shoves those disheartening reflections away as Yuri gets off the ice, presenting the image of a strong coach, offering support to someone who hardly seems to need it. That’s the least he can do now. They return to the skater’s lounge afterwards, and more of Viktor’s day is consumed by the arena.

 

 

In what feels like a blink of an eye, Viktor finds himself back at the side of the rink, holding out his hands as Yuri deposits his skate guards in them. Yuri looks up at him as he hands over the second skate guard, almost expectant.

Viktor feels like he should say something, something inspirational. But Yura hates that kind of sappy emotional bullshit, so what could he say instead and holy shit Yura’s still staring at him waiting. Mind scrambling, Viktor says the first thing he can.

“Show them you mean business.”

Yura nods fiercely at him, and relief floods Viktor as the younger skater steps out on the ice. A loud voice booms through the arena as he warms up.

“The next skater is coached by Viktor Nikiforov. Representing Russia, Yuri Plisetsky!!”

There’s a surge of noise from the crowd behind Viktor in response, startling him with their cheers. He turns around quickly to see row after row of previously empty seats…now filled to the brim. He’d grown accustomed to the audience as a skater, but now as a coach…

It feels unfamiliar, like he’s seeing the arena again for the first time. And a warm glow of satisfaction slowly suffuses his body.

The stadium quiets as Yuri’s music begins, a few piano notes drifting in on the wind.

Yuri starts out subdued in his movements, but each step and turn is technical perfection. It had taken an absurd amount of time for Yuri to learn to relax a little more through the start of his short program, hours and hours of repetition with Viktor slowly rectifying movements, but it had paid off.

Yuri calmly and gracefully slides across the rink, picking up speed alongside the music before darting into his first combination spin. His blond hair whips around him, obscuring his face like a curtain.

As the music builds, so too does Yura’s intensity. Slowly, that confidence and strength inherent in his very breathing bleeds through in his steps and motions. He carefully escalates that boldness and rebelliousness that defines him, all the while maintaining perfect coordination and form. His jumps are impeccable, not a single toe out of place. It’s impossible for Viktor to miss the declaration Yuri is making, the message he wants to send. I’m on your heels.

The music reaches its high point, and Yuri abandons all discretion, his blatant skill and confidence shining through at a blistering pace. At the peak, he leaps for a Triple Axel. Viktor watches, pride and relief coursing through him simultaneously as Yuri kicks out his leg for a flawless landing.

The piano quietly takes over again, like a gentle breeze after a fierce storm. Yuri tames his mannerisms in kind, returning to the more subdued, innocent grace that he started with as he settles into his final pose.

There’s a brief moment of silence as the last notes ring out, a collective intake of breath.

Then Viktor cheers along with everyone else, clapping his hands together enthusiastically. As Yuri gets off the ice, Viktor does another rotation to look around the rink, soaking in the sight of an entire arena cheering.

Viktor hands Yuri back the skate guards, and nods at the younger skater. For the briefest of moments, Yura honors him with one of his rare, real smiles as he huffs from the exertion. It is there for just a second, but it warms Viktor from head to toes. The two of them then head over to the Kiss and Cry to receive Yuri’s record-breaking score.

 

 

Not long after that, as Yuri tries to rip his costume off, Viktor is reminded why Yura can be such an irritation when he’s sent back to the hotel to fetch Yura’s day clothes. Viktor is peeved that he’ll miss some of the other skaters, but he obliges anyway. It’s what a coach should do, he thinks.

Besides, the skater he really wants to see won’t be up for several hours still. He redirects those thoughts quickly, not eager to spend more time dwelling on Katsuki. Instead, he thinks about Mila’s upcoming routine and sends a quick wish that she’ll do well.

When he gets back to the arena a full forty minutes later, Yura’s already abandoned his dressing room. Viktor hazards a guess that it’s in favor of the seats reserved for competitors and coaches.

Sure enough, when he scales the steps to the sectioned off area, he spots Yuri’s blond hair near the front. While they aren’t directly on the floor next to the ice, the seats are only one level up near the center of the arena, providing an excellent view of the ice. And obviously, Yuri’s sitting at the very center of it. Viktor suppresses the urge to roll his eyes, and instead slides into a side next to Yura. He quietly hands over the bag of clothes without looking.

“Thanks,” Yuri says.

Viktor turns to look at Yuri, displaying look of surprise. “You’re welcome!”

Without another word, Yuri departs to change.

“I don’t know why I bother, sometimes,” Viktor says to no one in particular.

 


 

After talking with Phichit, Yuuri is able to get himself together enough to make it to breakfast. Celestino and Minako’s reassuring presence relaxes him a bit more, and putting some food in his stomach helps as well. He’s tempted to stuff his face in, but a glance from Minako as he reaches for a donut is enough to reign in his bad habit.

Most of his day is spent along with Celestino and Minako, but in some of his spare moments, Yuuri’s mind wanders back to meeting Viktor. But Celestino always manages to find him, and drag him to answer a few press questions, or greet fans (which are a surprisingly good distraction from Viktor, demanding his full attention.) Or Minako will nab him and secret him away to do some ballet for a bit.

Practice comes and goes, surprisingly smoothly. Celestino limits his jumps to just a few, but Yuuri doesn’t push against his coach’s wisdom. No reason to tempt fate at the GPF. The feel of the ice under his blades is enough to keep his attention.

So when Yuuri finally approaches the rink again, clad in his now iconic red and white costume, he feels almost good about it. His breathing feels normal, and he doesn’t feel completely overwhelmed despite the roar of the crowd surrounding him. As he stands by the rink waiting, he absently pulls on his sleeves, watching the snowflakes stitched on it sparkle under the cavernous lights of the arena.

“All right Yuuri, you’ve got this. I know you can do it,” Celestino fluffs his red collar once, locking eyes with him and practically shouting to be heard over the building noise of the audience. “You’re the best you’ve ever been. Ready?”

“Yes.”

Yuuri steps out onto the ice at the Grand Prix Finals. He can do this. For anybody else, like Phichit said.

From all around, an announcer booms.

“And now, representing Japan, Yuuri Katsuki!” Yuuri’s awareness of his surroundings slowly dim, until it’s just him, his beating heart, and the ice.

 

--

 

Viktor feels Yuri tighten up next to him as Katsuki takes to the ice.

The first strains of piano waft in slowly, hesitantly. Katsuki’s movements start similar with hands gently tracing the outline of his body, a few languorous steps. And they serve a purpose, drawing the audience in.

Viktor is pulled towards Katsuki, leaning forward in his seat as a voice descends from the ether. Katsuki syncs up with the voice instantly, and the two move in a magnificent duet of sound and dance.

Viktor spares a quick glance beside him. Yuri is also leaning forward, elbows firmly planted on his knees. Viktor’s eyes are almost immediately drawn back to Katsuki, the glowing red of his shirt like a beacon of color out on the ice.

Viktor nearly reels back in shock as Katsuki bursts forth with sudden momentum as the song picks up pace. There’s no time to prepare himself for the jump that follows, the stunning grace and timing on display.

Katsuki is unrelenting in his speed and precision, a wicked step sequence blurring across the ice. Viktor tries to track it closely, but his eyes keep getting pulled up by gleaming light reflecting off the spinning snowflakes in his costume. The entire effect is otherworldly, enhanced by the ghostly wailing of the singer. Katsuki’s in a controlled spin now, and Viktor recalls how dizzying and disorienting it could be to see the entire world reduced to a smear of color as you whirl around and around. But Katsuki shows no signs of slowing, stepping out and into another powerful step sequence.

He darts across the rink, approaching close to where Viktor and Yuri are seated. As he passes by, Viktor locks eyes with him. It’s just for a second, but it feels like time freezes. Like the world stops. Katsuki’s eyes are bright, the brown seeming alive with concentration, yet oblivious to what’s in front of him. Viktor experiences a shift, a momentary loss of balance and Katsuki’s eyes lose that unseeing quality. As if he is just now seeing Viktor.

Katsuki’s momentum carries him past, and the shared moment ends. But he seems to falter as he takes his next step, slightly offbeat. Viktor can tell he nearly misses a step, but corrects at the last second.

Katsuki carries on, but there is a slight desync to his choreography and movement now. He gathers himself for a jump and leaps, but has to step out on the landing. Yuri tilts his head in surprise next to Viktor, the motion drawing his attention briefly. Katsuki attempts to rally, regaining speed as he sets for his last jump – a Quad Salchow, judging by the footwork. But Viktor can tell something is off as soon as Katsuki pushes off the ice, that he didn’t get enough lift or his foot was set incorrectly.

Katsuki gets into the air and seems to wobble, failing to complete the rotations before slamming into the ice and skidding forward a bit.

There’s a collective intake in breath, not unlike when Yuri had finished his program. But it’s for all the wrong reasons this time, and Viktor’s heartrate spikes in his chest. The arena gets fuzzy for a moment, darkness encroaching at the edge of his vision. Viktor blinks, and he’s…he’s somewhere else.

He’s back to his own skating. (Get up!) To his own fall. (Get up!) The ice burning his hands, the complete silence of the rink balanced on the edge of their seats. (Get up!) The torturous waiting. Alone on that frigid landscape (Get up!)

Trying to move, to push himself up, to carry on. He has to finish! (Get up get up get up)

And failing.

GET UP!

Yura’s head whips to look at Viktor, and he looks around in shock. He’s standing up, hands clenched at his side. His voice feels unexpectedly hoarse. Several other skaters and coaches in the area are staring at him openly as well.

Did he…?

Viktor sits back down, right as Katsuki gets up. Viktor’s heart continues to thump in his chest, keeping pace with the now overwhelming, discordant music. He bites his lip, hard enough to draw a speck of blood that trickles into his mouth.

Katsuki carries on, finishing the last few movements of his routine before settling into his final pose at the center of the rink. Looking away from Viktor’s section.

There’s a slow, smattering of applause to begin. It grows, to a respectful level, before tapering off. Yuri flicks a concerned look at Viktor.

“I’ll be back. I just need some time,” Viktor says, and pivots to leave. To get away from the ice. From the memory of Katsuki’s eyes widening with recognition at the sight of Viktor, losing his connection to the routine.

And his subsequent fall.

Guilt returns to Viktor in full force, an oppressive presence looming over him as he runs through the bright, clean hallways of the Grand Prix Finals arena.

 


 

“You’re lucky, Yuuri.” The doctor says, setting a clipboard down.

“What?” Yuuri tries to focus, but his thoughts are jostling together, vying for attention. He’s almost grateful for it, since it’s a distraction from the pain in his side. His muscles ache and scream, but he can almost drown them out if he tries.

“It looks like you didn’t hurt anything severely. Just a nasty scrape and some bruising. But, to be safe,” the doctor looks back at the nurse in the corner. “We recommend you don’t skate tomorrow.”

“No, that’s…I’m going to skate.”

“Yuuri, wait a second,” Celestino interjects from behind him. “This is serious. You should listen to the—”

Yuuri raises his voice, louder than he means to. “I’m going to skate tomorrow!” He shifts his weight slightly and grimaces in discomfort, but quiets himself. “I’m going to skate. That’s final. Doctor, what can I do to that might help me recover? For tomorrow,” he adds.

The doctor sighs, his bushy eyebrows pinching together. “If that’s what you intend to do, you should rest and ice your ribs.” He affixes Yuuri with a stone-cold stare, “And absolutely no practicing ahead of time. Only as part of your warmup ahead of competing, or you could risk further and more dangerous injuries. And if it feels unnatural or overly painful tomorrow, you have to stop. Understand?”

Yuuri nods instantly, willing to agree to almost anything if it means he can get back on the ice. He…he has to.

He can’t let things end like that.

His visit to the doctor carries on after that, and eventually Yuuri is given a light painkiller. Celestino had ferried him right to the ISU clinic after he got off the ice, which meant that Yuuri had to wait until after some initial tests to hear his scores from Celestino. Yuuri had missed the rest of the short programs after his fall, but surprisingly, he isn’t in last place. That dubious honor belongs to J.J., who must have had some serious issues after Yuuri’s short program. Celestino hadn’t deigned to inform Yuuri what happened, only giving him the score.

After a final test, Yuuri is released and gets to check his phone as they return to the hotel. He quickly calls his family to let them know that he’s alright. It takes a bit to reassure them that yes, he’s not seriously injured. But he appreciates their concern, and that they were watching despite the time difference. He’s on the phone with them until he gets back to his room, but he’s finally able to extricate himself as he swipes his card to enter.

He walks into the room, looking around at the gaudy décor before he gently lays face down on the bed. Yuuri sighs into the scratchy blanket, his breath fogging his glasses.

It had been going so well.

He had started so carefully, letting the feelings well up from inside. The audience had faded away into the background as Yuuri had danced through his routine, left alone to bare his feelings for anyone but him.

Then, a flash of silver in the crowd. He should have ignored it, let the music carry him away. But his curiosity got the better of him, and he let reality bleed back in.

Only to see those eyes, bright blue and intense, staring right back. Viktor had been watching him. Keenly. The music dropped away in that moment, and his heart had seized up.

It had all fallen apart after that, Yuuri’s focus completely lost as the presence of the crowd crashed down on him, little fears whispering in his ears. The doctor was right, he is incredibly lucky to have gotten out of that with just a bad scrape and some ugly purple welts up his side.

His phone buzzes in his pants again, and he gingerly reaches for his pocket to grab it. Yuuri slowly props himself up on some pillows, his injured right side protesting the sudden shift. He really hopes it isn’t his sister again, the last thing he needs right now is another lecture or pep talk from her.

Thankfully, it’s not Mari. Yuuri starts typing out his response to Phichit.

 

Hey, you didn’t respond earlier so I figured you were busy. But are you okay? ☹

 

Yes, I’m alright. Sorry I didn’t respond, I was at the hospital.

(>ლ)

Yuuri, you generally don’t go to the hospital if you’re alright.

In case you forgot

¬_¬ Thanks Phichit.

I mean, I assume you saw. It hurts like fucking hell.

But nothing is broken or terribly out of sorts.

 

I would probably say that’s not “alright”. I’m glad nothing is broken, though.

You were doing so well, too! What happened?

I saw Viktor.

In the audience, watching me.

 

ರ_ರ

oh shit

Yeah, that’s what my brain did too.

I just kind of

Lost it

Fuck how stupid is it that’s all it took for me to melt down.

Yuuri, you’re not stupid.

It probably would have done the same to me.

 

Why does it have to be Viktor though?

I’m sure he was just judging the shit out of me.

First off, you were skating damn near flawlessly before that

And second, shit happens. This caught you off guard, unsettled you

I’d say try not to dwell on it, but I know you too well

I know you’re right

But that doesn’t make it easier, because of my dumb brain

Are you skating tomorrow?

Yes, I wouldn’t let them stop me.

I want to do it so badly.

I’m sure you’ll be absolutely stunning

Can you maybe practice some beforehand to see how it feels?

No, they made me promise to wait and see how it feels just beforehand.

Which sucks, I didn’t even think about it when I agreed.

But I really wish I could just go skate to blow off steam tonight, and I can’t.

That’s gotta be frustrating. I’m sorry Yuuri.

Well, I hope you can get some rest. And I can’t wait to watch you tomorrow.

Let me know if there’s anything else I can do!

Thanks Phichit, you’re the best.

 

He receives a smiling selfie from Phichit, and he smiles briefly. Yuuri locks his phone and rolls over on the bed, earning a bright shock of pain. He grabs the remote from the bedside table and flips on the television, trying to get comfortable. He might as well.

Celestino and Minako said they’d stop by with some food later, but until then…and after that, Yuuri has nothing to do but sit on his bed and think.

And try to find a reason why. Why Viktor? Why now? And what comes after tomorrow? Was this the sign he needed to stop?

 


 

Viktor had hidden in Yuri’s dress room after his outburst, wracked by the memories of his own fall and the feeling of being all alone, against the world.

It had to be Katsuki that fell, too. And…and that moment they had shared, their gaze locked together. The glow of recognition or…something else in Katsuki’s eyes. Whatever it had been, Viktor was at least partially responsible for it now. Whatever he had felt yesterday watching Katsuki struggle through practice felt amplified tenfold.

His stomach feels like it’s coated in bile, and he constantly fights rolling waves of nausea as he sits. He fucking hates throwing up. And if he has to focus on quelling his stomach, at least he’s not thinking about what he did.

He misses the few remaining skaters, of course. Yuri eventually comes by, poking his head in the room, blond hair obscuring his face in the doorway.

“Oi, Viktor. We’ve been looking for you, we’re heading back to the hotel. Are you coming?”

Viktor tries to stitch himself back together, at least for a few minutes. He commands his face to assemble what he hopes is a passable expression, and not one grimacing in despair. “Hey Yuri, I’ll meet you back there.”

Yuri steps into the room properly now, hands on his hips. “Are…are you alright?”

Fuck, Yuri can see through him that easily? He’s supposed to be the one supporting Yuri, not the other way around. Viktor digs deep, trying to smile. He thinks he manages a terse one, but he can’t be sure. “I’m fine, thanks. You did great today, and I’m sure tomorrow will be even better.”

Yuri stares at him a few seconds longer, his expression as inscrutable as ever. Viktor’s resolve nearly wavers, and he feels the water creeping in at the edge of his vision.

Eventually, after five seconds, or maybe five hours, Yuri nods at him and turns to leave. The door squeaks closed behind him, and Viktor lets out a strangled gasp.

He can’t stop the tears now, rolling down his face. When he looks in the mirror, he hardly recognizes the face staring back. Ugly, splotchy with wet streaks and flushed a shocking shade of red against a stark, pale background.

Almost like Katsuki’s costume.

Fuck, Katsuki had been alone on the ice and gotten up himself. After Viktor had sabotaged him. But Viktor hadn’t been able to stand up on his own. He had needed his coach and friends to support him. He knows it shouldn’t, but it makes him feel weak.

He’s sitting alone in his pupil’s dress room, incapacitated. Shame mingles with Viktor’s guilt and pain, his body still fighting nausea. Viktor loses track of the time, sitting there against the wall.

At some point, there’s a gentle knock on the door and Yakov softly steps into the room.

“Vitya. Yuri said something happened. Do…” Yakov seems to take stock of the room, of Viktor huddled in the corner, hands wrapped around his knees and dried tear streaks on his face. “Do you want to talk?”

Part of Viktor is deeply ashamed that Yakov is seeing him like this, but he can also recognize that Yakov’s probably seen him similarly compromised at some point in the past during their years of partnership. Although maybe not quite like this.

“I…it was my fault Katsuki fell. I distracted him, I’m sure of it.”

Yakov snorts, and Viktor’s hurt flares at the sound. “Viktor, there’s no chance it’s your fault. Even if it was you that Katsuki saw, it’s up to him to sort through that. There’s an entire stadium watching him, you’re just another person. Apparently he’s still planning to skate tomorrow, by the way.”

That’s surprising. And maybe a little reassuring. But…he’s not just another person, is he? He’s Viktor Nikiforov, former ice skating world champion and current coach of the likely Junior GPF winner. That’s a lot of pressure from ‘just an audience member’ for Katsuki to grapple with.

“But he at least carried on. Unlike me.” Viktor turns away, lips curling in disgust at the memory of his own injury.

Yakov straightens up, and his voice cracks at Viktor like a whip. “Viktor Nikiforov, you will never shame yourself again for struggling to get up. Just because you were carried off the rink, helped by others, doesn’t mean you failed to get up. It just took you longer to stand again.”

The words lodge in Viktor’s mind, and he lets out a trembling sob.

Yakov strides across the room and kneels carefully, helping lift Viktor up and into a seat. Viktor looks at himself in the mirror again; an absolute mess staring back at him. But now, there’s a warm presence at his shoulder as Yakov places a calloused hand on his back. Calming. Resolute. Encouraging. Everything that he should be for Yuri.

Viktor takes a shaky breath, steadying himself.

“Thanks, Yakov. I…I’m not sure I agree completely, but it helps hearing you say that.”

Yakov grunts, and produces a bundle from behind him. “I brought you some food. Take your time here, and come back when you’re ready.”

“I—” Viktor coughs, his throat still rough.

“If you want me to take over for Yuri tomorrow, please let me know.” Viktor’s heart clenches, and he prepares a biting retort but stops at the sincerity in Yakov’s eyes. Viktor lets out another breath, pensive. Yakov just wants what’s best for Yuri, too. And so should Viktor. Even if that might mean stepping back for the weekend.

“I appreciate it. Really, I do. I’ll let you know by tomorrow morning.”

Yakov nods at him, the nearly imperceptible one that took Viktor years to learn to read. The one that recognizes him as an equal, not as just a student.

Yakov strolls out the door, but his hand stops at the doorframe and he reappears a few seconds later, looking uncommonly uncomfortable. “You know, there’s no embarrassment in seeking therapy, if you want. When you get back, I mean.”

Viktor scoffs, “The press would have a field day if they found out. ‘Russia’s greatest skater can’t handle it, seeks therapy!’”

There are worse things the press could find out about, but Viktor shoves those thoughts deep down.

“You say that headline like it’s a bad thing.”

“Well, yeah, kind of. Russians just love prioritizing mental health,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“And it’s bullshit we don’t. Lillia swears by her therapist, even though they certainly haven’t helped fix things between us.”

Viktor recoils slightly, surprised. Lillia sees a therapist? One of the best prima ballerinas Russia’s ever produced?

“I’m not saying you should broadcast it to the world if you don’t want to, but that you should…consider it. Look into discreet support, I seriously doubt you’re the only current professional athlete in this kind of situation.”

Viktor sighs, rubbing his forehead. Talking with Yakov for lengthy periods always seems to give him a headache. But it has kept him from escalating his own mental panic, at least.

“Thanks again, Yakov. You’re the best coach I could’ve ever had.” Viktor gets another monotone grunt in response before the wispy grey hair disappears around the corner.

Typical Yakov. Offers to stay for support and then leave when it’s time to be complimented.

Viktor slowly unfolds the takeout container Yakov left, finding a steaming serving of pasta with juicy-looking sausages and a salad on the side. Viktor’s stomach rumbles, and he takes a hesitant bite.

It’s delicious, and still hot. The warmth slowly spreads through Viktor, driving out some of his lingering feelings. There’s still guilt for Katsuki’s fall, and a tangled mess of resurfaced anxieties about his own injury and recovery, but by the end of his meal it feels slightly more tolerable.

Viktor’s tempted to return to the hotel, but…

His skates are here, in Yura’s dressing room. He could just get on the ice for a bit, skate to unwind. There’s probably not too many people left in the rink at this late hour, anyway.

He reaches for his skate bag, glad to have something exciting to help distract him.

 


 

Yuuri lays in his bed for what feels like hours after dinner, limiting how often he checks his phone. He tries watching the most boring show he can. He tries reading a book. He counts his breathing.

But no matter what he does, he can’t fall asleep. He really, really needs to rest, but of course tonight’s the night his mind won’t quiet even a little.

It’s just the kind of night he would have gone to the rink if he were back in Detroit. Not that he can do anything about that now. Doctor’s orders, after all.

Yuuri huffs, blowing a strand of his hair up out of his face. He closes his eyes again, trying to still his unbridled mind.

After what feels like another hour, he gives up. He might not be able to skate, but maybe if he goes down to the arena he’ll feel better just walking around. It’s something to do, at least. Which is better than laying still and pretending there’s a chance of sleep.

It doesn’t take long to get to the rink this late, a brisk walk through the cold winter air of Barcelona. It almost reminds Yuuri of his runs to the rink in Detroit through the snow, though with less risk of slipping on ice here.

Gratefully, he isn’t stopped by the loose security outside the arena when he shows them his credentials. He wanders the hallways a little bit, aimlessly. The stark fluorescent light probably isn’t helping him get sleepy, but he keeps walking through the barren hallways. Eventually, the pull of the ice is too strong and he angles inward, emerging out into the vast center of the arena.

There’s row after row of empty seats, stretching back into darkness. Most of the lights are off, lending a strange sense of endlessness to the place.

Yuuri looks closer at the rink and is surprised to see a single solitary figure on the ice. Who would be out this late? Probably not one of the competitors. Yuuri slowly approaches the rink, curious. The uneven lighting makes it hard to see. Maybe one of the ISU representatives out for a joyride?

He closes in on the rink guard, but stops in his tracks. A flash of silver hair twinkles in the dim light, twirling on the ice.

Indecision tears through Yuuri, paralyzing him. It’s like he’s back on the ice, in the middle of his program. Part of him wants to just run back into those white, sterile hallways behind him. But once again, his curiosity wins out and he quietly steps forward, up to the barrier.

And stifles a shout, because Viktor Nikiforov is skating. It’s not any routine Yuuri’s seen before, and his desire to flee wisps away. No, Yuuri loses any conscious thought of leaving. He’s riveted to the spot, watching in a trance.

Viktor’s moving elegantly across the ice, just as striking as ever. There’s a sadness to his movements that Yuuri’s never seen before, a melancholy to this Viktor. Yuuri finds it captivating to watch.

He’s not wearing a proper costume, just a loosely buttoned dress shirt and sweatpants. It makes him seem more human, more real. In costume, he was the best competing skater in the world. Right now though, he’s just out skating.

Like Yuuri does, sometimes.

He can almost hear music drifting in the still air of the arena, accompanying Viktor’s sorrow. Unexpectedly, Viktor lines up for a quick jump and lands a Triple Axel. It’s startling how quickly and smoothly he transitioned into it, and Yuuri can’t stop a gasp from escaping. He clamps his hands over his mouth in a panic, but it’s too late.

And then, for the second time that day, Yuuri finds himself spellbound, staring into those sky-blue eyes.

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 14: What’s Right in Front of Us

 

Yuuri couldn’t help it. When he realized it was Viktor out on the ice, he was defenseless. Slowly, he had been drawn in. Viktor’s calm elegance, his sweeping gestures seemed to beckon Yuuri. Moving him closer and closer to the rink, until he was right up against the boundary of the ice. It was as if Yuuri had no freedom, no choice in his actions.

Then, he had gasped at the sight of Viktor’s jump. Should he even be jumping?!

And now, he is locked in place, firmly rooted as he stares into blue eyes, blown wide open with shock.

Viktor’s movements come to halt on the ice, but his momentum carries him across further still, closer to Yuuri. Despite Viktor’s movement, Yuuri remains fixed in place, tracking Viktor with his eyes as the man drifts. Yuuri feels like he should say something, but his jaw remains locked in place. Thoughts about their meeting yesterday bounce around in his head, percolating.

Time seems to warp as they continue staring at each other, the very air feeling thick as sludge for Yuuri. The only sound is the slow, lazy scrape of Viktor’s skates on the ice. It’s almost…smothering for Yuuri, and he feels uncomfortably warm suddenly despite the frosty air.

It’s Viktor, once again, who breaks the spell for Yuuri.

“Yuuri…Katsuki?” His name rings out across the ice, the Russian-accented English only making it sound more enticing.

Yuuri stumbles back upon hearing his name, but he knows he can’t flee. There’s too much he wants to know for that to be an option. And…Yuuri has to admit that he at least owes Viktor a normal(ish) interaction after yesterday’s abysmal, embarrassing meeting. He tries to quell his nerves, but his voice still shakes a bit.

“Y-yes. Viktor? What are you doing here so late?”

Viktor starts moving as well now, pushing off on the ice to close the distance. Yuuri glances at Viktor’s legs as he does, something roaring up inside him as he watches Viktor’s muscles tense.

“You know, I could ask the same of you.” It doesn’t sound accusatory to Yuuri…just curious. Viktor glides up to the rink barrier, right across from Yuuri. There are a couple beads of sweat dotting Viktor’s pallid forehead. He hadn’t noticed until Viktor was across from him.

“I, uh, couldn’t sleep. And can’t skate. Doctor’s orders. Which is what I normally do when I can’t sleep.” Yuuri takes a steadying breath, closing his eyes for a moment. He can do this. He can talk with Viktor Nikiforov. “Being on the ice helps me relax. I figured being close to it was the next best thing.”

He looks around the empty stadium, darkness stretching out past the bright lights illuminating the rink.

“So here you are, then.”

“So here I am,” Yuuri says with the ghost of a smile on his lips. They slip into silence for a moment, studying each other in the quiet, both still as statues. Yuuri desperately wants to know more about Viktor—like why is he out on the ice at all? Shouldn’t his injury prevent that? Can he skate again? He tries to reign in his desperate curiosity. “And you? What brings you here now?”

Yuuri is almost proud of the nonchalance, the casual sound of his voice.

“Not all that dissimilar from you, actually.”

“You couldn’t sleep?” Yuuri furrows his brows, confused.

“I didn’t try, but I doubt I could. Really, I needed a chance to just relax. And since there’s pretty much nobody around, I figured, why not?”

Yuuri nods enthusiastically, “There’s something so soothing about late night skates, with no goal in mind. Just the sound of—”

“—of your skates, and the feel of the ice!” Viktor finishes, eyebrows dancing with excitement. “The freedom to skate however you want.”

 “You get it.” Yuuri grins without thinking, and then speaks again. “I didn’t know you could skate after…” The smile slips from Yuuri’s face as he trails off.

Viktor’s expression loses a bit of its vigor too, before he replies. “I…I had to wait a long time after the injury before I could skate. It was half a year of therapy before they even let me touch the ice.” The beginnings of a smirk touch Viktor’s lips, “It sucked. I hated not being able to skate, and took it out on everyone and everything. But it made getting back on the ice that much sweeter when it finally happened.”

A ray of hope alights in Yuuri, and he almost doesn’t want to ask. But, as before, his curiosity is insatiable. “Does that mean that you will…” Yuuri swallows thickly, “compete again?”

Viktor looks down and shakes his head sadly, silver hair shifting to obscure his eyes.

Yuuri’s heart drops. He should have known not to get his hopes up.

“No. No, unfortunately I still can’t compete. At first I was furious about it, and then so sad I could hardly get out of bed. But over time…I started to really enjoy coaching. I’ve made my peace with not skating again.” Viktor smiles softly, eyes shifting off Yuuri to somewhere and somewhen else.

It’s a bit of surprise, if Yuuri’s honest with himself. Even Viktor has come to terms with his own retirement. Yet here Yuuri is, still clinging to the past, to Viktor’s ghost. He can’t do it for much longer. If Viktor has found a way past, then Yuuri can too.

Eventually.

“Speaking of injuries, how are you doing?” Viktor asks. “After today, I mean.” Yuuri looks up at Viktor, who appears far more apprehensive now. Where before Viktor had been standing in place, Yuuri can see he’s now shifting his weight back and forth. It’s a bit unnerving, that Viktor might be nervous about something. But Yuuri’s already had to answer this question a dozen times today, and he responds without thinking.

Yuuri sighs, “I’m fine.” Viktor raises an eyebrow at him, despite his jitteriness. “Okay, it hurt like a bitc—it hurt a lot.” Yuuri corrects himself. “But I’m going to skate tomorrow.”

Some of the nerves seem to drain from Viktor, color returning to his face. “You can swear in front of me, you know.”

Yuuri recoils a bit, startled. “I, uh…I mean, you’re Viktor Nikiforov. World Champion.”

“Yes, and I hear worse on a daily basis from my lovely student. And my former coach.”

Yuuri’s conversation with Plisetsky yesterday surfaces in his mind. “That…seems about right, honestly.”

Viktor laughs, and it reverberates around the barren rink. Yuuri’s eyes widen at the tinkling sound, and he can’t help smiling too. They stare at each other again, both grinning, for what feels like a bit longer than strictly necessary.

Viktor swallows, and Yuuri watches as his throat bobs from the motion. “I’m sorry.”

“What?” Yuuri tilts his head in confusion.

“I’m sorry I distracted you during your Short Program.”

“You…you noticed?”

“Yes, I…” Viktor pauses, exhaling. “I think I’m the reason you were distracted.”

“No no no, it’s,” Yuuri stammers, heart and mind racing. He wants to say Viktor had no impact, but…that’s not the truth. He sighs, trepidation seeping in. “Okay, yes, that might have been part of it.” His heart is still racing as he admits it, but he feels better knowing he isn’t lying to Viktor.

Viktor grimaces at the words though, and Yuuri feels a rock settle in his stomach, and he rubs his fingers together. Viktor mutters under his breath, “I knew it. Yakov wanted to say…but I knew.”

Yuuri can’t just let Viktor feel like shit for it, so he tries to explain further. “I mean, It-Its just… imagine suddenly discovering the World Champion is watching you, you specifically. And you don’t know what they are thinking. It was a lot to adjust to in just a second or two.” Yuuri pauses, realizing he probably isn’t helping. “It’s also my own fault, for letting it distract me. If I was a better skater, it wouldn’t have been an issue. Don’t worry about it.”

Viktor reaches over the rink barrier, grabbing Yuuri’s left wrist with slender, gentle fingers. His touch is electrifying, Viktor’s cold digits a stunning contrast to Yuuri’s warm veins. Yuuri glances down at the contact, and then back up at Viktor as the man begins to speak, his voice almost a whisper. Yuuri leans in closer, almost over the barrier.

“I am truly sorry that I distracted you. You are a good skater. You were so captivating on the ice, and I worried when you fell. If it helps, I can stay away during your Free Skate tomorrow. Leave the rink so you can focus.”

“No! No, I…” Yuuri places his other hand on top of Viktor’s, “I don’t want you to leave.”

Viktor smiles at him again, a bright grin with teeth showing. “Good. I like watching you.” A shiver runs through Yuuri when Viktor utters the words, and heat slips up to his cheeks.

Viktor slowly extricates his hands, and Yuuri has to stop himself from reaching out to grab them and pull them back. It feels odd, to not have Viktor touching him. It was only for a minute or two, but…

The spark from their contact isn’t completely gone either, just subdued. And he wants it back.

Instead, Yuuri asks, “Did you mean that? You find me ‘captivating’ when I skate?”

“Oh, absolutely.” Viktor practically purrs, his voice silky and soft. “You’ve been stunning this year. Though I have to ask, what’s different this time? I went back and watched some of your skating from before, and it’s not the same as now.”

Yuuri gulps. Viktor knows.

Viktor knows something is up with his skating this year. He can’t just…spill everything to Viktor, he’ll come across insane. What can he say instead?

“Um, I…got to go home when I was taking time off and see my family again. They reminded me that they would always have my back, no matter what I did.” It’s not wrong, but it’s not the whole truth either. Either way, the words start to come a bit easier for him. “Actually, it was my sister who really helped me out. When I told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to compete ever again, she really supported me. And helped convince me otherwise.”

A flurry of emotions flash across Viktor’s face rapidly, too quick for Yuuri to really grasp. “That’s…really nice. To have a family that wholeheartedly supports you.”

Yuuri smiles, recalling family dinners spent joking and bickering. “Yeah, I’ve finally started to realize it.”

In the silence that follows, it dawns on Yuuri that he’s actually enjoying talking with Viktor. Much of the nerves from yesterday’s meeting are absent, whether from fatigue or newfound familiarity. And now, Yuuri doesn’t want to stop talking with him.

“So, how has coaching been for you so far?”

“It’s uh, well…Like I said earlier, it’s grown on me. Yura is a handful, it took a long time to figure things out so we could work together.”

“Should you be saying that about him?” Yuuri teases, playful.

Viktor laughs again, and shiver runs down Yuuri’s spine, like slipping into the Onsen. “Only when he’s not around.” He stops, looking thoughtful.

Yuuri doesn’t say anything to disturb Viktor, content to just look at him. Viktor has undone the top few buttons on his shirt while skating, and Yuuri can just see the smooth, pale skin poking through. It’s a tempting sight, but Yuuri drags his gaze up again as Viktor resumes talking.

“Coaching was really hard at first. I…didn’t really want to be near the ice after I got injured. Yakov—my coach—tried to get me to come around the ice, but I didn’t listen to him.” Viktor smiles sadly, “though that wasn’t anything particularly new. It was really him and my friends from the rink that actually made me listen. Yuri included, even if he doesn’t think we were friends. They were persistent when I had already given up.”

“You…you had given up?” Yuuri can’t help himself from asking.

“Yeah, I think I had. I was ready to be done with skating. I don’t know what I would have done instead, honestly. But at the time, I was just…so angry about my injury, so alone. I guess they were a bit like your sister, in that way. Supporting me, helping me change my mind about skating.”

Yuuri tries not to think too much about the fact that Viktor Nikiforov had just compared his friends to Yuuri’s sister. What sticks out, instead, is that Viktor had very nearly walked away from the world of skating, not unlike Yuuri. That he’d felt alone. The reasons are different, yes, but Yuuri feels a surprising sense of kinship since they both chose to return.

“That’s…thank you for sharing with me, Viktor. It’s been nearly impossible to imagine the skating world without you in it, so I’m glad you chose to come back. And seeing you on the ice now, it’s…like a dream.” Yuuri almost flinches at the honesty in the statement, surprised the words left his mouth. He feels like he can be honest with Viktor, for some reason.

“Really! You like my skating that much? Even this, when I’m not competing?” Viktor looks shocked.

Yuuri nods, “Even this. It’s different somehow. But I like it a lot.” Yuuri hesitates, the words he’s been keeping inside for so long at the tip of his tongue. He squeezes his eyes shut, and opens his mouth.

 

--

 

“Viktor, I haven’t told anyone else this yet, but…I think I’m going to retire after the Finals.”

Viktor’s heart plummets, his eyes darting across Katsuki’s face, unbelieving. Katsuki can’t retire, not when he’s just reaching his prime! Viktor wants to be able to watch him for years to come. To see what new height Katsuki can reach. He almost shouts that out loud, but catches himself at the last second, his mouth hanging open.

Katsuki reopens his eyes, and mutters to himself. “I can’t believe I actually just told you that.”

“No—I, I appreciate you sharing it with me,” Viktor forces out, the words clunky in his throat. “Though I hope you don’t take it the wrong way when I say that I hope you don’t. Retire, I mean.”

Katsuki’s eyebrows scrunch, “What do you mean?”

Viktor takes a deep breath, leaning against the rink barrier. “You’re so talented, and you have so much potential. I would be…unhappy to see you go.” Yuuri’s face falls, and Viktor can’t stand the look of it. “What I mean is, watching you this year has been one of my favorite things. And I’ll be sad if you choose to retire, but I absolutely respect it, if it’s your final decision.”

Katsuki looks back up at Viktor, peering through those cute black glasses. “You’ve really enjoyed watching me that much?”

Viktor nods. If only he could tell Katsuki how much he’s truly enjoyed it, without scaring the man away. How many hours he has spent watching and rewatching Katsuki’s routines. His interviews. It sounds a bit creepy, so he puts a pin in those thoughts.

“I really, really have. If you don’t mind me asking, why do you want to retire?” Viktor may be willing to respect Katsuki’s decision ultimately, but that won’t stop him from trying every way possible to find out why and see if he can change it.

“Oh, um.” Katsuki seems to freeze for a moment. “I…don’t have the same inspiration that I used to. And I think if I try to skate again as things are, it will just be a disappointment.” Katsuki looks at Viktor, iron in his eyes. “And I want to go out on a high note.”

Things had been going so well. They were talking, and Viktor had been enjoying it so much. But now…It feels surreal to Viktor, that he finally gets the chance to talk with the Japanese skater, only to find out he’s planning to retire. It seems like just his kind of luck, like with the injury.

Something clicks in Viktor’s mind as he mulls it over. That’s why Katsuki wants to skate tomorrow so badly, so he can win the Final. And then retire as the GPF Champion.

But what if he can’t skate? Or if he loses? A dozen horrible ideas flit through Viktor’s head, but he disregards them all. “Well then, I guess tomorrow will be it. It sounds like you’ve got quite the motivation to take gold.”

“I guess I do. And please don’t tell anyone yet.” Katsuki pleads.

Viktor nods, and though he might just be imagining it, it looks like Katsuki is a little sad when he says it.

“Do you think you would ever consider coaching? After?”

Katsuki shakes his head, “I don’t think I’d be very good at it. I’ve always struggled as a skater with these little fears. Like the responsibility of skating. Of other people judging me. I think coaching would only make that worse.”

“I thought so too, at first,” Katsuki looks at him curiously. “Well, maybe not the fears part. But that I would be a shitty coach.”

Katsuki snorts when Viktor swears, and his body warms at the goofy sound.

“I was, for a good while. It took Yakov some time to get me into shape.”

“You look pretty in shape to me.”

A deep laugh roils up through Viktor, and the throws his head back.

“Oh, no! I meant—”

Viktor waves him off, still laughing. “It’s alright, you caught me off guard is all.”

Viktor tries not to think too much about the fact Katsuki had complimented his appearance. He’ll just get distracted if he does, and he would much rather continue the conversation with Katsuki.

Katsuki speaks again in a quiet, timid voice. “It seems like you’re doing pretty well coaching Yuri, at least.”

“Well…thanks.” The laughter subsides, replaced by Viktor’s self-conscious criticism of his coaching skills. “It doesn’t feel that way lately. I’m just a warm body by the rink. The music starter in practice.”

“I…seriously doubt that, Viktor.” Viktor suppresses a shudder as he hears his name. The way Katsuki says it… “While you may not be solely responsible for his place in the JGPF, I am certain you’ve helped. Even if you don’t recognize it.”

“I—how do you know?”

“I guess I don’t, really. But we’re often blindest to what’s right in front of us. At least, that’s what my roommate Phichit says about me. And I’m just starting to see how he might be right.”

Viktor hasn’t really thought about it that way. Don’t people tend to have a blind spot to what’s closest to them? There’s still more Viktor could have done for Yura, but…maybe he can look forward, instead of behind.

“He sounds like a pretty smart roommate.” And also a blessing for his regular social media uploads, Viktor thinks.

“He is. He’s the best—Oh!” Katsuki’s face lights up, but he has a sheepish grin. “He’ll kill me if I don’t ask for a photo with you.”

Yes, please.

“Sure! Let’s do it.”

Katsuki bends across the barrier, pulling out his phone as Viktor leans forward. Viktor tries to casually smush his side and face up against Katsuki. Being so close again feels…excellent. He doesn’t know what possessed him earlier to grab Katsuki’s wrist, but he’s glad he did. Viktor flashes his best smile as the camera clicks a few times.

Katsuki starts to pull away as Viktor tugs out his own phone.

“Oh, you want to take a few too? I didn’t think—”

“Of course I do!” Viktor interjects.

Katsuki leans back in, and Viktor’s eyes wander over to the side, roaming over Katsuki’s cheeks. They are flushed a light pink, probably from the chill of the rink. It’s absolutely charming, whatever the source.

“Are you, uh, going to take the picture?” Katsuki asks, startling Viktor.

“Oh, yes!” Viktor flips his attention back to the phone and takes a few pictures, sneaking bunny ears up behind Katsuki’s ears for one of them. (He doesn’t notice).

Viktor reluctantly sidles away from Katsuki after that, conscious of overstaying. They separate, staring at each other again from across the rink boundary. Is it normal to just stare intensely at each someone this much? Viktor’s not sure his interactions can ever be considered ‘normal’.

“You know, you’re not what I expected,” Katsuki says.

“Really? You’re almost exactly what I expected.”

Katsuki seems baffled by the comment. “I mean, it’s just,” Katsuki mumbles, “after yesterday, I had this idea of you. But it seems like I was wrong.”

Yesterday. Maybe they both felt like it was a strange, creepy experience. Or maybe Katsuki just thought he was batshit insane. At least the implication is that now he doesn’t think those things.

“I’m sorry for sort of cornering you yesterday. Especially during a competition.”

“No, it’s alright. I’m just…really bad at handling unexpected things. Besides, at least we got to talk a bit tonight.” Katsuki smiles at Viktor, and his knees go a bit wobbly. Thankfully, the barrier is right in front of him and he grips it for support. It’s definitely been more than ‘a bit’ too. By Viktor’s estimation, it’s been at least thirty minutes. The time has flown by, for both of them.

“You know, I’m glad too. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.” Viktor smiles back. There’s still another question he has, and it seems like this might be his last chance. “How do you do it?”

“Pardon?”

Viktor shakes his head, “I’m sorry, I mean how do you skate like you do?”

“I’m…still not following.”

Viktor sighs, not sure where to begin. “You’re so graceful on the ice, so musical. Like there’s always some distant music guiding you, that only you can hear. I feel like I can catch snippets of it from time to time watching you, but…it’s not the same.”

Katsuki recoils from him, astonished. “Are—are you sure you aren’t talking about yourself?”

Viktor laughs again, and Katsuki seems to relax a bit. “While it may be a favorite past time, no. I’m not talking about myself.”

“I still…I’m not sure how to respond, because I don’t think of myself the way you’re saying. That’s…that’s your skating. Or, it was.”

“No, I’ve watched you, and I’m certain.”

Katsuki shrugs at Viktor. Could he really not realize what he’s doing?

“Maybe it’s like your roommate said. We’re blind to what’s just in front of our own nose.”

Katsuki seems surprised by that, but doesn’t respond right away. Viktor stands in the silence, willing to let the air hang still. It’s such a distinction from yesterday, where he rushed to fill in the quiet. He feels so much more at ease with Katsuki now. Eventually, Katsuki speaks again.

“Thank you, for that…Phichit would tease me for being continually oblivious, but it really does help to have someone point it out for me. I can be a bit—”

“—Dense?” Viktor offers slyly.

Yuuri nods, smirking. “Phichit would have phrased it less nicely, probably.”

“Reminds me a bit of Yura,” Viktor replies. They’ve been talking for less than an hour, but Viktor decides to take a chance again. “I can’t wait to watch you skate tomorrow.”

The fire ignites in Katsuki’s eyes again, raw determination glowing. “Good. I want you to watch as I take first.”

Something slithers through Viktor, something largely unfamiliar. Hunger? Lust? He lets it burn through him as he gazes into Katsuki’s smoldering eyes.

“Would…would you mind if I stayed and watched a bit? If you’re going to keep skating, I mean.” Katsuki looks around, the edge fading from his eyes. “It’s comforting to watch.”

Viktor should probably be going to bed, but…if Katsuki wants to watch him skate, there’s not a chance he will say no. Especially when Katsuki asks him like that.

“I’d like it if you stayed for a bit. It seems only fair, after all,” Viktor says before winking. Katsuki stutters, but then nods gratefully at him. Viktor stands up straighter, letting go of the rink barrier.

But they both stand there, neither of them moving away for another minute. Finally, Viktor inhales deeply and pushes off, skating back to the center of the ice. When he turns around again, Katsuki is seated in the first row, watching him with those deep brown eyes.

He does his best to forget about Katsuki for the moment, slipping into the right mind state for skating. A few deep breaths help, and soon he sets off on the ice, not skating anything in particular.

Viktor hadn’t had a plan when he came out on the ice, and he doesn’t want to have one now. He came out here just to skate away some of his tension, even if he ended up talking with Katsuki for much of it.

It would have been nice to skate freely, but Viktor finds Katsuki so intriguing. He’s fine with what happened. And truthfully, it feels like this should have been their first meeting. He’d forced it yesterday, but tonight…and after such a stressful day. Just getting to talk with someone was a welcome change.

Viktor sets his feet and jumps for a simple double flip before a meandering step sequence. He spares a glance to the side of the rink. Katsuki is still watching him, leaning forward slightly now.

At least Katsuki didn’t seem to hate him, which had been Viktor’s biggest fear. If Katsuki had, how could Viktor blame him, after their momentary connection during the Short Program? Instead, Katsuki had been honest about how it affected him, but still friendly and willing to talk with Viktor. Forgiving him, even. Letting him stay to watch tomorrow. Wanting him to stay and watch tomorrow.

Viktor’s heart is torn, though. He wants to watch so badly, to see Katsuki succeed and win. But, if it comes at the cost of his retirement…Viktor isn’t sure. Whatever happens tomorrow, Viktor is going to keep trying to talk with Katsuki, to persuade him to continue skating.

Viktor tucks into a spin, carefully monitoring how his ankle protests the movement. He probably shouldn’t skate for much longer, but it’s hard to stop with Katsuki watching now. He can feel Katsuki’s tracing him as he darts on the ice, tracking his movements. It’s invigorating, to capture his attention so completely. Not unlike what used to motivate his own performances, back when it was an audience instead.

This is still slightly different, more personal. Intimate. Viktor doesn’t mind. He smiles into the wind as he dances across the ice, Katsuki looking on.

 


 

They end up walking back to the hotel together, through the midnight streets of Barcelona. Its quite cold, and they both have to bundle up to stave off the frigid air. Viktor has to button his shirt up, the sweat from practice quickly dissipating in the chilly gusts that chase them across darkened sidewalks. It blows through his and Katsuki’s hair, and they take turns laughing as they each look more ridiculous, their hair strewn about.

They talk about this and that, nothing particularly impactful or momentous. Viktor will forget it entirely by the time he gets up to his room, left only with the pleasant memory of their time together.

When they finally return to the hotel, its far later than he should be up; than either of them should be awake. But Viktor still can’t bring himself to regret any of it. He finally got to meet Katsuki, really talk with him instead of whatever yesterday’s tumultuous encounter had been. It was truly a bizarre day for Viktor, reflecting on it.

Breakfast with the Russian team, Yuri’s record-setting Short Program, Katsuki’s Short Program and fall, Yakov once again picking up Viktor in the aftermath. And then, meeting Katsuki at the ice. Talking with him. Learning about his plans for retirement.

It’s…a lot to think about, reflect on. But by the time Viktor brushes his teeth and lays down in bed, his mind might as well be a blank slate, devoid of conscious thought. He slips into an easy sleep, dreaming about what lies ahead.

After talking with Katsuki, he’s realized he has two things to look forward to in the Finals tomorrow. And both involve a Yu(u)ri.

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 15: More to Give

 

Yuuri wakes surprisingly rapidly as his alarm chimes noisily. Sunlight filters in through the curtains, the early morning light bathing the hotel blankets in a soft glow. His side aches dully, but there’s no acute pain as he rolls over. He takes that as a good sign, even if he can’t get on the ice to test his injury out until later.

Yuuri had gone to sleep content, mind filled with wispy images of Viktor out on the ice. And now, lying in bed, his usual morning slowness is absent. He feels like he could hop out of bed any minute, and leap into action. It’s odd, unfamiliar.

Seeing Viktor skate again…it was like a dream come true. Even if his hopes of seeing Viktor compete again were quickly dashed, just knowing that the man is able to skate on his own again does something for Yuuri. Warms his heart, a bit. And he had been lucky enough to watch, Viktor’s only viewer.

His skin feels tingly as he thinks about it.

Yuuri couldn’t help but notice that Viktor’s skating last night was distinctive from his past. It carried a sorrow, a weight that his past programs never had. It made him seem more severe, but not in a way that drove Yuuri away. If anything, it had only further entranced Yuuri. To see this new, more complex version of Viktor’s skating.

He also seemed more relaxed than Yuuri would have expected, too. At peace with his situation. If things had been reversed, Yuuri certainly can’t imagine taking it with the grace that Viktor seemed to. Yet, it suited him well. He still cut an incredibly striking figure out on the ice, as lithe and precise as he had always been.

Yuuri swings his legs off the bed and walks to the window, looking out over the city. He can see the beginnings of the day, people starting to bustle around the streets. It hadn’t been that long ago that he had walked those same streets alongside Viktor, guided by dim streetlights and the glowing moon.

The Viktor he had seen last night was so different. Different from the Viktor that Yuuri had imagined, the haughty champion that Yuuri had envisioned from the past. And different from their first meeting, the awkward interrogator. Last night he was so much more…real. Like an actual person, not just a myth or legend.

Vulnerable. In his skating and in his talking.

He had opened up about his struggles, his growth. To Yuuri.  Despite not knowing him well, and after Yuuri had intruded on Viktor’s skating session. Yuuri hated when people walked in on him skating at night. It had only happened once or twice, but it ruined the atmosphere each time.

To think, Viktor had given up. Much like Yuuri had. But he, too, had found his way out of it, thanks to the help of others. Like before with Chris, it is oddly reassuring to hear Yuuri is not alone in his struggles. It doesn’t make everything better, but hearing it from Viktor of all people…

And now, Viktor has chosen to come back. To stay close to skating, to be a coach. It’s almost mind boggling, to be so close to what you can’t ever do again. Yuuri’s nearly certain he wouldn’t be able to handle the proximity to competition if he couldn’t join in. It’s part of why he hadn’t skated for so long when he took a break.

Then again, Viktor seems to regard this as a new beginning. A new way to approach competition.

Yuuri makes his way to the bathroom, splashing some water on his face. The cold sensation doesn’t wake him up any more than he already is, but he does shiver as the water runs down his cheeks. He starts up the shower (carefully turning up the heat) and then starts brushing his teeth as he waits for the water to warm.

Viktor’s sincerity had been surprising, but it had truly caught Yuuri off guard how comfortable, how easy it felt to talk with Viktor. To open up about his own thoughts and plans.

To finally admit to someone he is planning to retire.

Yuuri swipes his hand through the cascading water of the shower, flexing his fingers. Satisfied with the temperature, he quickly strips and hops under the hot spray.

Yuuri’s body glows with satisfaction, from both the heat of the steamy shower and the memory of sharing. It had felt so good to communicate, to put voice to what he’d been considering for most of the season.

What he hadn’t expected was Viktor’s reaction to it. The Russian man had seemed so downcast after Yuuri told him, and he’d said that he would truly miss seeing Yuuri skate. It echoed what Viktor had said in their first meeting, but this time…it seemed like the truth. It meant that Viktor really had been watching him closely, and attentively. And that he wanted to see more.

That knowledge, more than anything, fuels Yuuri.

Heat floods his body as he thinks about it, and his hand twitches lower in response. Only the knowledge that he has to be ready soon stops him from more devious behavior. Instead, he focuses on washing himself, and wiping away the last vestiges of sleep.

Hearing Viktor’s sadness…it complicates how Yuuri feels about retiring. If his own inspiration wants to see more of him, then maybe Yuuri still has more to give.

Yuuri sighs as he steps out of the shower, carefully drying with a towel before carefully wrapping it around his waist as he steps back into the bedroom. He heads over to his suitcase, sifting through for the appropriate clothes.

It had been a wonderful evening, leaving him with lots to think about it. Not what he’d originally intended when he had gone for a walk, but it did help him get to sleep.

Eventually.

Several hours later than he probably should have. Oh, well. It was worth it.

Yuuri finishes pulling on his Team Japan hoody and reaches for his phone on the bedside table. As he swipes it open, he spots the icon for Photos, and is suddenly struck by the memory that he has photographic evidence of their evening. He opens up the picture, and studies it for a second.

Their faces are surprisingly smushed close, both smiling widely. There are creases around Viktor’s eyes, barely noticeable until Yuuri had all the time to stare without being caught. Viktor’s silver hair falls carelessly on his forehead, inexplicably stylish without any effort. They are both slightly flushed, cheeks tinged with color. Probably from the chill of the rink. In Viktor’s case, possibly from the exertion of skating.

Or, a quiet part of Yuuri admits, he’s blushing from the contact with his incredibly attractive skating idol. Who is wearing a loose, slightly-unbuttoned, white shirt that now lets Yuuri stare salaciously at the exposed shiny, smooth skin. Yuuri reflexively rubs his cheek like he’s still expecting to feel Viktor there, but only finds his own.

It’s a good thing he had Phichit as an excuse to get a photo. He’ll probably share it with his roommate eventually, but Yuuri has his own purposes as well.

But he pushes those thoughts aside. He grabs his skating bag, double checking that everything is inside. What’s important now is that he focus on his Free Skate. Viktor’s going to be watching. Yuuri shivers in anticipation, grinning.

Viktor’s going to be watching.

And Yuuri wants him to.

 


 

Viktor wakes with a start, sitting bolt upright in the hotel bed. His alarm is silent, so he isn’t running late. But something is nagging him, like he’s forgotten something important. He grabs his phone and notes that he should probably start getting ready anyway, given the time. And his propensity to take far longer than he anticipates getting ready.

He scratches his cheek absently as he stands up, thinking. Had it been something in his dream? Come to think of it, was last night a dream?

Viktor quickly checks his photos, and breaths out a sigh of relief when he sees both himself and Katsuki smiling back. He had almost been afraid he’s conjured up some ghostly dream about meeting Katsuki again. But, no. They really had spent half the night together. Just before a competition.

Oh, shit.

That’s what he’d forgotten—he was supposed to tell Yakov whether he would coach Yuri today.

He opens up his texts, but hesitates. Does he want to coach Yuri? If he has to consider it, should he even be his coach anyway? Yuri deserves a coach who can support him no matter what, who wants to see him succeed and carve his path into Seniors.

Viktor sits down on the bed again, sighing as he ruffles his messy, early-morning hair. If he’s honest with himself, like he was last night…he does want those things. He just gets distracted, diverted by his own feelings at times.

And oddly, he feels less distracted this morning. Perhaps seeing and talking with Katsuki again last night had helped him balance out his feelings. Maybe it was the opportunity to skate again for a little bit, pushing out his emotions on the ice. Or, maybe it was some combination of the two.

Regardless, Viktor feels a renewed intensity to see Yura win, to help him achieve his goals. Even if it just means standing at the sidelines passively so Yura can do what he does best.

Viktor reopens his texts, and taps out a quick message to Yakov to let his old coach know. With that out of the way, Viktor relaxes slightly. He still has some time to spare, so he starts checking social media. There’s always a lot of buzz around the GPF, and he can’t stand the idea of being uninvolved.

Time slips away from him though, and soon he’s rushing to make it down to breakfast on time. He hurriedly showers, scrubbing with a fierceness wrought of practicality. He shaves just as quickly, grateful that his facial grows so slowly. Then, he finds himself standing in front of his wardrobe again.

Yesterday, he had thrown in the towel and worn something pretty standard. That won’t do it for today, not if Viktor is going to be coaching the JGPF champion as he wins. He opts for a white shirt with maroon pinstripes, matching it with a similar color tie. Then, he puts on a slate grey waistcoat, topping it off with his black overcoat.

When he’s finished lacing up his shoes, he stands in front of the mirror to take in the whole ensemble. He tilts his head to the side, cracking his neck as he stares at his reflection.

Not half bad, he thinks. Especially for a tight timeline. His hands move automatically as he styles his hair, his customary efficiency speeding the process. And then, he’s ready to go. He wastes no time, grabbing his room key and shoulder bag, then speed walking down the hallway.

 

 

It’s probably not good form to arrive late to breakfast on such a big day, but then again Viktor’s always opted for being fashionably late to events. He strides into the dining room with a sense of purpose, spotting the Russian entourage eating at a table across the room.

As he walks, he surveys the room. There’s just as much excitement bouncing around as there was yesterday, perhaps even more. He spots the Crispinos deep in conversation over coffee. Probably about how Michele will never make the podium. Though Sara’s got a fair shot.

Viktor turns his head the other way, and spots a familiar mop of chaotic black hair across from the planned mess of blond that is Christophe’s hair. Katsuki and Christophe both turn to look at him, and his stomach does a little flip at the way Katsuki’s eyes widen. Viktor smiles at him and waves gently. Awkwardly. Why did he wave? It happened without even thinking.

Katsuki waves back.

This time, it’s Viktor’s eyes that expand in shock. His eyes dart to Christophe, who just raises an eyebrow at him.

Then, he’s sitting down at the table.

“—Katsuki’s still going to win.” Yura declares.

“I don’t know,” Mila says. “Christophe’s in the lead. And J.J.’s nowhere to be found, Yakov.”

“Okay, the consistent wonderboy had one bad outing. How could I have known?” The old man grumbles.

Mila laughs, and Viktor smiles at the charming sound. He helps himself to a breakfast roll and pours himself some tea.

“Good morning Viktor. And who do you think is going to win?”

“Good morning! I assume you’ve already talked about Juniors and women,” Viktor says, buttering the roll. Mila nods. “In that case, I’m also going to say Katsuki.”

“He’s in fifth place,” Yakov says gruffly.

“Well, I ran into him last night at the arena and we talked. Let’s just say I have faith he can do it.”

“Jesus Viktor, how late were you there?” Yuri growls, eyeing him from the depths of his Team Russia hoody. “What happened, anyway?”

Viktor sighs. He’s not sure how much he wants to share at the breakfast table. It’s…complicated, but he owes Yuri an explanation of some kind.

“Katsuki’s fall yesterday reminded me of my own injury,” Viktor rubs a hand down the side of his pants, soothing the phantom strain of his muscles. “It…dredged up some bad memories. Talking with him last night helped, though. I—I feel better about it now. And I want to see you win.” He focuses his eyes on Yura, who stares right back.

“Hmph,” comes the response. Viktor can see him leaning forward in his seat, though. Probably curious about Katsuki.

“Well, you should all eat up. We’ve got to be at the rink soon,” Yakov says, catching each of their eyes. “Mila and Yura need to warm up.”

Viktor nods in agreement, placing another roll on his plate and grabbing a banana for the road, which he stuffs into his bag. Yuri resumes shoveling eggs into his mouth at an impressive rate, while Mila sips her tea calmly.

“And how are you doing, Mila?” Viktor asks.

“Pretty good,” she replies, over the rim of her mug. “I’ve still got a solid shot at the podium.”

Yakov rumbles, “Gold, if she does everything right.”

“You know, we’re not just cogs capable of perfection on demand.” The words fly out of Viktor’s mouth before he can stop himself.

To Viktor’s surprise, Yakov smiles. “No, you aren’t. You’re all far too independent to be cogs.”

“Heyyy,” Mila says teasingly.

Yuri looks at Viktor, appraising him. Viktor waits, expecting something. Yuri stuffs a slice of bacon in his mouth and chews.

“It’s a good thing,” Yakov says. “Means you are all creative—”

“—You’re finally recognizing my talents, I see!” Viktor interjects, winking.

Mila rolls her eyes as Yakov takes a sip of his coffee before responding, “Yes Viktor, only now.”

Determined to fulfill his role today, Viktor drains the rest of his tea and stands up. “Alright, I’m going to make sure the car is ready. Meet me in ten?” He looks at each of them in turn, getting a nod from Yakov and Mila and a blank stare from Yuri. He interprets that as assent, and turns around.

As he walks through the dining room again, his eyes drift towards where Katsuki was sitting with Christophe, but they’ve already gone. In their place is Otabek Altin and his coach. Viktor spends a few seconds trying to read the man’s posture, but can’t determine anything from his stony demeanor. He turns his head around the room again, noting a few surreptitious heads turning away. He smiles to himself. It’s hard for him not to feel good about his appearance when people keep staring. He looks down at his chest, adjusting his tie slightly beneath the waistcoat for good measure.

Viktor exits the dining room, and turns towards the garage. He’s going to do his best to be useful today, whatever form that takes. Plus, at least this way he gets to set up the music for the ride over.

 


 

After breakfast with Chris and then conferring with his coach, Yuuri agrees to meet with Celestino downstairs in the lobby in an hour to head to the arena. Since Yuuri won’t be skating until near the end of the day, they don’t really have a reason to rush over. He heads back up to his room, a little unsure what to do with his freetime.

Yuuri sits down near the window, drawn to look out at the city. His room is not very high up; none of the buildings in Barcelona are particularly tall. It’s still enough to give him a bit of a view, though. So he settles into a mushy hotel-quality chair and stairs out at the mid-morning light.

It’s not often he has much downtime during a competition. And in the past, he would very likely psych himself out, stressing about all the things could go wrong. Like his costume. Or his skating. Especially knowing that Viktor will be watching.

But rather than apprehension, Yuuri feels excited. Like his blood is heating up; a fire waiting to be unleashed. He barely noticed the small twinge from his bruised side when Celestino had him work through some stretches. Perhaps his injury wasn’t very serious to begin with, or maybe the prospect of performing for Viktor has spurred him on. Whatever the case, Yuuri will happily take it.

His thoughts are interrupted by his phone buzzing angrily in his pocket. Deftly, Yuuri pulls it out and puts it facedown on the table.

Talking with Viktor last night has taken the man from being frighteningly intimidating, to…something else entirely. How do you categorize someone who waves at you across the dining room?

An acquaintance? A colleague?

Especially when they are dressed to the nines with stunning hair. Viktor had caught Yuuri off guard, true, but the clumsy wave spoke to him. It was familiar, he has done the same himself plenty of times. It was easy to wave back, automatic.

Yuuri’s phone buzzes again, possibly sounding angrier.

Bracing himself, he picks up the phone and takes a look.

 

Phichit:

Yuuri, please tell me why I had to find out that you took a picture with Viktor Nikiforov

From his own goddamn Instagram post?

For shame, Yuuri Katsuki. For shame.

Weren’t you upset with him anyway?

 

You know, it sometimes helps to let the person you are texting with respond.

 

Nah, that doesn’t sound like me.

Besides, you weren’t answering!

 

You insufferable little…

 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Okay but really, I thought you were freaking out about Viktor and didn’t want to talk to him every again.

 

Look, I really wanted to get out of my room last night so I went for a walk

And ended up at the rink

 

“ended up”

Viktor was out skating on the ice all alone

 

He was skating????

And he saw me watching. We ended up talking for a while.

You know, the running commentary is interrupting my story a bit here.

 

I’m deeply sorry

Why don’t I believe you.

So how long was “a while”?

I don’t know, I didn’t keep track.

Maybe a few hours? We got back pretty late.

(͡ ͡° ͜ つ ͡͡°)

Oh my god Phichit please stop

 

Fine. He took a picture with you?

 

More like I took a picture with him, and then he took a pity picture with me

Which I have saved on my phone. And will not be posting.

 

Yuuri, you clearly haven’t seen his post yet.

 

Well, no

But…

Okay listen up Mr. Katsuki

After this, you’re going to go take a look at Viktor’s post and realize that clearly he must like you and your skating at least a little bit

Assuming he didn’t mention as much when you “talked” last night

Then you’re going to go win the Grand Prix Finals this afternoon.

Provided your injury is fine

(please tell me its fine)

 

Yes, sir!

(and I think its fine)

Also, Mr. Katsuki?

 

I don’t know, I thought it sounded more legit.

Doesn’t matter, you’re gonna do great today.

 

Yeah, I think I am. Thanks Phichit.

 

 

Yuuri closes the conversation and smiles lazily at his phone screen. At least that had been more pleasant than he’d feared. He feels…uncharacteristically calm, despite learning that Viktor had posted a picture of him. It doesn’t seem as foreign of a concept as he initially expected. After all, they had spent a lot of time together.

He opens up Instagram, finding Viktor’s post with ease given the ridiculous volume of likes and comments already on it. It’s a very similar photo to the one Yuuri had just been looking at in his own photo collection, though Viktor seems to be staring at Yuuri a bit more in this one.

The caption reads, “So nice to get to meet you properly! Can’t wait to watch you later today 😊”

Beneath that are numerous comments about the two of them. Many commenters are excited for them, some are derisive, and some give Yuuri that gross, slimy feeling when they comment about either of their appearances. He doesn’t even want to broach the thought about fans pairing the two of them together.

Phichit was right, though. Not only did Viktor tell Yuuri as much last night, but now he has shared with the world that he wants to watch Yuuri skate. Yuuri waits for the accompanying rush of anxiety, for the room to close in on him as the realization sinks in.

But it doesn’t come.

The light nerves dancing around in his body are still making him a bit jittery, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary ahead of a competition. He just wants to skate his absolute best. And it is raw enthusiasm that surges through him in response.

Yuuri’s really going to do it. He’s going to win the Grand Prix Finals as his last outing.

 


 

Viktor looms silently in the corner of Yuri’s dressing room as the younger skater struggles with putting on his costume. Yura’s face is contorted in a snarl, silent but no less jagged. He is struggling to zip up the flap on his back, fumbling blindly around his back with too-short arms. Viktor stretches out one arm halfway, ready to do it himself. Yura growls again as he attempts to reach it, fingers opening and closing.

Viktor slowly retracts the hand. He could zip it up in an instant, but Yura might not take that particularly well. Viktor settles back against the wall, arms folded across his chest. Better to wait it out.

There’s a knock on the door, and then Yakov enters the room. His steely eyes assess the situation quickly, leaping from empty costume hangar, to struggling Yuri, to Viktor in repose. He sighs roughly, moving across the room with a thoroughly detached look on his face. He quickly zips up Yura’s backside, who affixes him with a stern glare. Yakov wastes no time transferring his own glare to Viktor.

Viktor lifts one shoulder, approximating a shrug and earning an eye roll in response.

“Anything else?” Yakov asks, gravelly voice unexpectedly loud in the quiet room.

“No,” Viktor and Yuri say simultaneously. They look at each other a moment, then Yura turns back at the mirror in front of him.

Yakov sighs again, looking at each of them in turn before moving to the doorway. “Rinkside in ten. You’re up soon.” He looks back, catching Viktor’s eye again for a moment before walking away. Viktor recognizes the reproachful gaze and stifles his own sigh.

Viktor wants to support Yuri, it’s just…he struggles with how. Rarely does Yuri ask for, or even invite help and support. And then when its given, he seems to resent it. Like with Yakov just now. It’s achingly frustrating at times.

Viktor stands up straighter, determined to at least try.

“Anything I can do?”

Yuri seems to stumble, “Ah…no.”

Viktor furrows his brow, looking at Yuri in the mirror. His costume looks great, shimmering patches of red-orange-pink patterns stitched on black, like bursts of flames. But Yura himself is hard to read, his expression inscrutable. Viktor’s never been the most perceptive of others, a poor habit built up from years of operating in a self-focused trance. He’s been learning to ask others how they are, to talk. Yet with Yura, that seems woefully unhelpful. Even with the strides they have made together.

Viktor is about to lean back up against the wall, but decides against it. They have to be out by the ice soon, so he starts to make his way towards the door. If he’s going to just end up standing beside the rink, he might as well get to it now. Yura can meet him there when he’s ready.

“Wait.”

He has one foot out the door as he pauses, confused.

“Walk out with me.” It’s phrased as a statement, but Viktor can hear the question in Yura’s voice as it wavers.

He looks back inside at Yura, expression just as unreadable but eyes latching onto Viktor, needy.

A million different thoughts race through his head as he calmly walks back into the room, leaning back up against the wall. Yuri lets out a sigh, and Viktor folds his arms. Viktor waits, but nothing more is forthcoming as Yuri finishes up. He stands there silently for a few more minutes, watching the clock.

When it is time, he stands up again, straightening his jacket and waistcoat before tapping Yura on the shoulder.

They make their way through the underbelly of the arena, drawing a number of stares as they walk along. Eventually, they emerge into the brightly lit arena, noise building slowly. Viktor takes a deep lungful of the chilly air, looking around with Yura by his side. There are a number of camera flashes and muted cheers as they make their way towards the center, towards the ice. Viktor ignores them all, but when he casts a glance towards Yuri he can see the younger skaters eyes stretched wide with—fear? Nerves? Something completely unfamiliar.

Viktor puts a steady, calm hand on his shoulder as they pull up to the rink barrier and wait. He feels Yuri let out a deep breath and squeezes his shoulder gently. Affirming.

As their names ring out, explosively loud from the announcer, Yuri leans over to pull off his skate guards. His hands shake slightly as he hands them to Viktor. Viktor carefully takes both guards, then grabs Yuri’s shoulder again.

“Yuri, I’ve watched you practice and practice and practice. You’ve got something you want to say on the ice, right?” Yuri nods, eyes downcast. “When you get out there, think about that message you want to send. They’re watching. And you are ready to show them, to make them scared. Let them know what’s coming next year. Who’s coming.”

If he’s going to be here for Yuri, might as well try and have fun with it too. Yuri looks up at him, and Viktor grins wildly. He gets a manic smile in response.

“Thanks,” comes the soft sound, so completely at odds with the light in Yuri’s eyes.

It’s so gratifying to hear that simple word. Viktor’s grin stretches even wider, and Yura pushes off onto the ice without looking back.

 

--

 

Seated in the section reserved for competitors, Yuuri watches closely as Viktor talks with Yuri Plisetsky. Between shepherding Plisetsky towards the ice and the conversation they must be having now, Viktor’s already proven far more than just the cardboard cut-out coach he claimed to be last night. Yuuri knew he had to be underselling himself; Viktor’s bound to be good at just about anything he tries his hand at.

Plisetsky steps out onto the ice, taking a few laps with a wild smile pasted across his face before settling into something a bit calmer as he slows at the center of the ice.

There is not calm for long as Plisetsky bursts into action right as the music begins, frenetic strings leading the charge. Yuuri vaguely recognizes the song, perhaps something that Phichit had played around their apartment at some time or another. He has a hard time imagining Viktor liking it, though. It clashes with all the more classical music the man had favored in his own routines.

Plisetsky’s movements are strength and grace intertwined as he parades across the ice. The sheer confidence of it all reminds Yuuri of Chris’ performances, but with a sharper finish. Yuuri’s mouth drops open as Plisetsky transitions to a combination spin with flawless technique; a move Yuuri could only dream of matching.

When Plisetsky leaps at the outset of the chorus, the flames on his costume seem to jump and twirl with him, snaking around and consuming him. He lands with no issues, no uncertainty before building speed again, his footwork light despite the rough tilt of his body.

It’s…it’s a bit like watching a phantom, an apparition of Viktor skate. Yuuri can almost see his touches, in lots of the little things Plisetsky does. Certain steps, or a hand gesture to the side. The way he connects his jumps and spins. There’s a harsher edge to it all, both more confident and more rebellious than Viktor ever was in his own performances. His hands flash around in dramatic, forceful motions. Yet it seems to suit Plisetsky, if his luminous grin is anything to judge by.

If this is what Plisetsky’s capable of now, Yuuri shudders at the thought of what’s to come. He hardly seems impacted by the restrictions of Juniors. And even with Yuuri’s limited interactions with the younger skater, he suspects Plisetsky will have more to show off as soon as he is allowed.

The drums echo loudly around the rink as the song closes out, Plisetsky frozen in place with his arms crossed over his chest, eyes shimmering defiantly. The roar of the crowd is immense, and Yuuri hastily stuffs his fingers into his ears.

It’s the most flawless performance Yuuri has seen since…well, since Viktor. It’s almost unsurprising how well he’s done.

Almost.

Plisetsky takes a deep breath, dropping his pose. When he looks back up, he searches along the sideline. Then, he points at Viktor with one hand and pumps his fist with the other, letting loose a howl.

Yuuri spots Viktor smiling, clapping with exaggerated motions as Plisetsky approaches him. As soon as Plisetsky has his skate guards on, Viktor pulls him into a hug. Yuuri cheers again, along with what feels like the rest of the stadium.

Plisetsky worms his way out of it quickly, walking on towards the Kiss and Cry. But he can’t hide the smile on his face, magnified a hundredfold on the big replay screens.

 


 

If Viktor could describe things in a word, it would be surreal.

The pep talk, Yuri pointing at him after his routine, and snapping up the tiny skater in a bone-crushing hug. It’s such a strange concept to Viktor, that Yuri might actually look to him for strength, for solidity. His mind keeps wandering back to the idea, even as they sit and receive Yur’a record-setting scores (beating out Viktor’s old record).

Yuri’s smiling openly now, even teasing Viktor after the scores are announced. And Viktor can’t bring himself to resent it at all, to take the bait.

How far they have come together.

Eventually, Viktor has to usher Yura back out onto the ice for the Junior awards ceremony.

It goes by in a blink, Viktor watching as a now more photo-apropos stoic Yuri poses for picture after picture with the gold medal around his neck. He tries to affix the image in his mind permanently, something bright that he can come back to.

And then, they are swept away by the hubbub of things to do. The competition has to continue, with women’s Seniors up next. Yakov clasps Viktor’s hands as they leave, a twinkle in his eyes. He even claps Yuri on the back, who grumbles but doesn’t otherwise protest the touch. Then Yakov parts ways with them, off to see to Mila.

Yura has to change out of his now sweat-slicked costume, and they both have to listen to numerous ISU representatives drone on about the protocol for tomorrow’s events and dinner. (Like they both haven’t heard the same spiel a dozen times before).

Once he’s finally changed, Yura of course demands they get some food. Viktor ends up running out into Barcelona to pick something up for the both of them, choosing some safe-looking sandwiches to bring back to the rink.

Thus, it takes a long while before the both of them are seated in the competitor’s section, slowly settling in and talking to the surrounding skaters and coaches. Viktor wants to try and make some connections, craft a good image. Of course, Yuri seems far more interested in staring at the gold medal hanging from his neck than talking with anyone around them. He does accept quite a few congratulations, and even Viktor’s repeated praise.

Over time, they get filled in on what they missed; Mila evidently finished in second place (Yura hoots with self-righteous laughter when he hears it), and the men’s Senior Free Skates will begin shortly. As they finish talking with another coach, Viktor hands Yura his sandwich.

“Finally! I’m hungry enough to eat an entire cow.”

Viktor rolls his eyes, trying to envision how the small skater could ever hope to manage that. “Uh-huh. If I’d given you the food before we finished, you would have just left.”

“So?” Yuri mumbles through a mouthful.

So,” Viktor says delicately, “you wouldn’t have had the chance to interact with your future competitors and their coaches.” Yura stares at him blankly. Viktor sighs. “I’m trying to set a good example for you, you can’t always be the conceited, isolated twit.”

Yura swallows carefully, “Why not? It’s worked so far.” Viktor sighs, looking out at the rink as officials clear the last of the remaining bouquets on it.

“Yeah, but with Mila and Yakov gone, now you’re stuck sitting with your coach and have nobody else to sit with or talk to. What are you going to do in the future?” Yura glares, but something twists on his face and he looks away after a moment. Viktor groans, “Okay, okay, that might have been a bit harsh. I just—”

“No, I—it’s just—” Yura sighs heavily. “This is hard.” He sets down his sandwich and lets out a puff of air. “You’re just trying to help me, and I’m resisting at each turn. I can see it happening, I’m just…terrible at stopping it. Like this morning—you offer support, and I push you away. But then I need you, and I hate it. I hate that I need you sometimes.”

Viktor starts, reaching out with a hesitant hand. “Hey, it’s oka—"

“No, it’s not,” Yura growls with frustration, shoving Viktor’s hand away. “I’m sorry. But I’m working on it. And you keep staying close, close enough to help even when I don’t want or can’t bring myself to ask for it. And…and I appreciate it.”

It feels so good to hear Yuri acknowledge it, that last bit of resentment between them. It’s validation for all the small moments that Viktor felt meaningless, like he could have been anybody. Yuri really does want, and occasionally need him to be present as coach. He wants to jump and scream and shout, to let the world know that he’s actually not shit at coaching; that his hunch was right.

But he tamps that down, instead smiling softly at Yura, listening to the ambient whirr of noise in the arena.

“Thank you. That really means a lot to hear.”

“Yeah, well. Don’t expect me to be perfect from here on out.” Yura grumbles, picking up his sandwich with renewed vigor.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Yes you would—”

“Okay, yes,” Viktor acquiesces. “I might dream of it.”

“Hah. Knew it. Now shut up, J.J.’s about to warm up.” Yura takes another bite of his sandwich, eyes turning towards the ice.

“You were the one who—”

“Shh!”

 


 

Yuuri watches from the beside the ice as J.J. finishes his routine, whatever problems he had yesterday clearly absent. He turned in his typical performance, and is vaulted into first place.

Though not for very long, if Yuuri has anything to say about it.

His warm up went smoothly, thankfully. His side had not hurt too much as he skated; he had even attempted (and landed) a few quads just to tease out where his limit might be. He had not felt anything but excitement as he left the ice earlier, any fatigue from practice or lack of sleep sloughing away like shed skin.

Once Minako helped him change into his costume, Yuuri has been standing by the ice, waiting. Stretching. Quivering with anticipation. Celestino is standing nearby, occasionally chatting with other coaches or ISU officials, but mostly leaving Yuuri to his quiet intensity.

Finally, when J.J.’s scores are announced, Yuuri sidles up to the little break in the rink barrier. Celestino walks with him, a hand on the deep blue of his shoulderpad. Yuuri practically rips the guards off his skates, handing them unceremoniously to Celestino.

“Listen Yuuri. I want you to be a little cautious.”

Yuuri looks out towards the ice, not wanting to have to pretend.

“No, look at me,” Yuuri reluctantly turns his head, knowing he can’t lie to his coach. Celestino sighs when he sees Yuuri’s determined face. “Just…win as carefully as you can.”

Yuuri laughs at that, the phrase sounding a little absurd. If this is his last skate, what does it really matter how careful he is, as long as he wins? There’s no time to explain that to Celestino, no time to let him know this is it. He just nods and steps out onto the ice, mouthing a silent “Thanks,” to his coach.

He starts gliding on the ice, his muscles adjusting quickly to the burn. The announcer is speaking, the loud voice somehow reduced to only a dull, numb blip in the background. Yuuri’s focusing on something else, eyes scanning the crowd.

He finds it quickly, the sky-blue eyes tracing his every move as he warms up. Yuuri soaks it in, the smokey gray vest, maroon tie, slender fingers poised on his chin. The flash of silver hair as Viktor sits up straighter.

Watch me.

Watch me win.

Lightning seems to zip between them for a fraction of a second, electrifying his nerves all at once. And then Yuuri looks away, taking his position at the center of the ice.

 

 

A familiar voice echoes around the arena, and Yuuri pushes off. He does it with care, with purpose. Gently. It’s a slow, dreamy start. Like the first breath of crisp morning air, sunshine streaming in.

He moves thoughtlessly, but each step is exactly where it should be. There’s only a light ache in his side as he slides into a spin, a small needling that he shoves down. His work right now is far more important.

As the music picks up in pace, Yuuri does too. His step sequence echoes Viktor’s old one, but he is beginning to see, to feel how he makes it different. A little more bounce here, less flair there. Connected, flowing. Free.

Soon, he’s in the air for his first Quad, absolutely bereft of conscious thought as he flairs out his leg on the landing. The crowd roars, but it’s dulled to a whisper in Yuuri’s mind. He’s already deep into his next step sequence, picturing Viktor side-by-side with him; a ghostly mirror. Yuuri digs deep, thinking of that melancholy he had seen. He tries to capture it, whatever it had been that had moved Viktor to skate like that last night.

It’s startlingly easy to do so, to connect with that sad emotion. Yuuri absently wonders if its because of his own experiences, or because of his new connection with Viktor. The thought leaves his mind in a split second as he moves into a combination jump as the music crescendos. He touches down light as a feather, springing into his next spin.

From the outset, this piece was about saying goodbye to Viktor, about honoring his skating legacy. About helping Yuuri find closure. And it has helped, in some ways.

Yet, Yuuri now finds himself in the odd position of having to rethink that. Maybe it’s more a goodbye to the Viktor that he knew, the Viktor that was the top champion of the skating world. The one on his walls, in his dreams; the unattainable icon. The one that he now knows struggled, despite his success.

But Yuuri’s life has changed again, now thrusting him forward to meet a new Viktor. Maybe even the real Viktor, Yuuri hopes. This one, that can skate the sorrow in his heart. The Viktor that is doubtful, humble as a coach. This Viktor seems kinder, more sincere, but less than the idol Yuuri had created in his mind’s eye. And yet, he finds this new Viktor all the more compelling.

So maybe this is a goodbye after all, to that fictitious Viktor. Yuuri can honor that Viktor’s legacy, skate out his heart to win gold. And perhaps, it’s also the opening of a different chapter with an entirely new Viktor. And the closing of his skating career.

Yuuri sets his feet and pushes off at the height of the music with no hesitation. He sails through the air, rotating one, two, three, and finally four times before touching back down onto the ice and carrying on without a hitch.

The crowd absolutely explodes at the Quad Flip, but Yuuri doesn’t even hear it. He focuses on his breathing, on the burn of his thighs. On the thought of finishing, and finishing strong.

The music crests, starting to quiet. Yuuri does a sluggish, lazy lap around the rink. It was one of Viktor’s championship step sequence. Fatigue finally catching up to him, he moves cautiously; hands slowly tracing his chest, his legs, his shoulders. He comes to a stop at the center with his left hand across his chest, stretching out and unfolding his right like a flower budding. He looks up as the music cuts out, and finds those blue eyes staring right back at him.

 

--

 

From the second Katsuki—no, Yuuri—found his eyes before starting, Viktor knew he would win. The connection they shared, the snatches of infinity as they locked eyes were enough. There was never any doubt. Viktor had seen that fire in Yuuri’s chocolate eyes, bolstered to a raging, untamable inferno. If Yuuri hadn’t looked away, Viktor would have been stuck staring even as the music began.

Viktor is still sitting, spellbound, when Yuuri’s score come in. Yura shakes Viktor by the shoulders as the announcer states it is a new world record, breaking Viktor’s old one.

“Did you see that! He did the Flip! I knew he could!” Yura screams at Viktor, any semblance of being calm and cool gone.

It was everything that Viktor could have hoped for. All the musicality, the flowing interconnectedness dialed to the absolute maximum. Coupled with flawless jumps, spins. And those tantalizing step sequences that were absolutely devastating, and choreography so enchanting. Viktor could pick out a few of his old routine pieces in there, but it seemed even further stylized by Yuuri today.

Yet, he can’t stop the flicker of disappointment curling in his chest. That was Yuuri Katsuki’s last routine. Utterly perfect.

And utterly heartbreaking.

Viktor sits through the rest of the men’s skaters, lost in his thoughts. Beside him, Yura cheers a number of times during Otabek Altin’s Free Skate. Chris does admirably, beating out J.J. but still ultimately falling into second place behind Yuuri.

And suddenly, its over. Yuuri Katsuki has won the Grand Prix Finals. It’s exactly what he wanted and feared most, mixed together in tumultuous package that leaves him breathless.

Yuuri’s back out on the ice now, accepting the shiny gold medal. Viktor finds himself cheering with Yura this time, screaming as Yuuri poses in that familiar, arresting blue blazer.

Yura continues shouting at him, something about needing to use the bathroom and disappears. Yuuri Katsuki may be leaving the world of skating soon, but…Viktor doesn’t want the man to leave his life. He wants to—no, has to find a way to talk with Yuuri again. He can’t understand why the man wants to leave skating so desperately. But maybe, with a bit of effort, he can find out.

 


 

Yuuri locks the bathroom stall behind him, glad to finally have a moment to himself. Since he won, he’s been ushered to what feels like everywhere on the planet Earth. Posing for pictures, answering interview questions, signing for fans. It’s all exhausting. He almost wants to just collapse and sleep for twelve hours.

Eventually, Celestino weaseled him away and he eagerly tore off his costume. Then he snuck away to the bathroom. There’s something he wants to do.

“Hello? Mom?” he whispers into his phone.

“Yuuri!!!” He hears several voices screaming, and abruptly pulls the phone away from his ear. Slowly, he lowers it again.

“—watching together at Yu-topia, you were incredible, and you WON!” Another round of screaming, and this time Yuuri can pick out his father’s voice in the mix.

“Th—thanks mom. Tell everyone else, too.” Yuuri sniffles, tears suddenly stinging his eyes. “I’m sorry it took so long.”

“What? Don’t be ridiculous Yuuri, you just took first place! Yuuko and Takeshi told us you were flawless. And that you set a new world record. Why are you apologizing?” His mother’s voice seems to quiet at the end.

“It took so many years for me to make it…and it still doesn’t feel real.”

“Yuuri, you know that we were proud of you before tonight, right?”

“I—”

“And that even if you hadn’t won, we’d still be proud of you and support you.”

“I…Thank you for reminding me, mom. You have a good night.”

Yuuri hangs up, and just sits on the toilet seat for a minute. Just breathing. It really doesn’t seem real, but the reassuring weight around his neck and the shiny gold on his chest keeps proving otherwise. He takes a deep breath, standing up and opening the stall door.

He washes his hands, but as he’s drying them someone else walks into the restroom. The door swings shut, but nobody walks past him. Yuuri looks up, noting a white and red jacket that looks oddly familiar. He realizes why just as he sees the other man’s face, wide green eyes staring at Yuuri.

“Yuri…Plisetsky, right?”

The other Yuri nods without speaking.

“Well, um, congratulations on your gold medal today.”

“Y—you too,” the words come out harsh, like he was biting them back.

Despite the uncomfortable moment, Yuuri nods appreciatively, “Thanks. I’ll, uh, see you at the banquet tomorrow then.” Yuuri starts to shuffle around, but stops when he hears that rough voice again.

“Hey…I’m going to be in Seniors next year. And I’m going to beat you.”

Yuuri blinks in surprise, “I—”

“I don’t care that you’re the best in the world now,” Yuri’s eyes seem to glow, “I’m going to win.”

Yuuri scrunches his eyebrows. That phrase isn’t right. He’s not the best in the world, that would be…

That would be…

Him. Yuuri Katsuki. Gold medal winner at the Grand Prix Finals. At least until someone beats him.

Or, until he retires, a small voice adds from the back of his mind.

“So don’t go anywhere or do anything stupid like Viktor. Okay?”

Yuuri is left speechless, both uncertain and unwilling to respond. He just nods instead.

Plisetsky seems to accept this, turning around towards the door. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says over his shoulder.

“I could tell,” Yuuri clears his throat. “Watching you today, I mean. That you mean business, that you’re going to enjoy being in Seniors.”

Plisetsky stops in his tracks, turning around to face Yuuri again. “You…got the message?”

Yuuri tilts his head. “Yes?”

“Good,” Plisetsky says, breaking out a vicious smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

He disappears out the door, leaving Yuuri thoroughly alone in the bathroom again. One of the automatic sinks clicks on, water running. Yuuri turns to stare, jaw hanging open. What even just happened?

Yuuri looks in the mirror, taking it in. His messy hair, slight slouch, tired-but-happy eyes.

He’s standing in the bathroom of the Grand Prix Finals. He just talked with the Junior Gold Medalist, who wants to compete against him. He talked with Viktor Nikiforov, former World Champion last night. And he’s the Senior Gold Medalist.

But he’s going to retire?

Something stirs inside, the flame of competition not quite sputtering out yet.

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 16: Gold and Bubbly

 

Yuuri collapses onto his bed, trying to summon the will to undress and brush his teeth. It’s after ten at night already, and his aching, tired muscles are crying out for rest. He only just got back to his room after dinner and an unexpected fan signing session when he and Celestino were spotted leaving the restaurant.

He’s probably so tired because after emerging from the bathroom earlier this afternoon, he had been thrust right back into the parade of engagements for another two hours. They only stopped when Yuuri’s stomach growled loud enough for Celestino to hear over the clatter of reporters trying to speak all at once.

Dinner was a brief respite alongside his coach and mentor. Thankfully Celestino had not admonished Yuuri long for his reckless implementation of the Quad Flip, instead opting to celebrate the accomplishment. Minako could hardly contain her glee, wanting to tell every passing waiter and waitress about Yuuri’s gold medal. Phichit had called him partway through dinner, impatience clear in his voice as he cheered and celebrated for Yuuri. It was honestly surprising his roommate had waited so long to try and talk.

All of the excitement and congratulations from his friends and family left precious little time for Yuuri to think about things. But despite that, his conversation with Yuri Plisetsky in the bathroom keeps coming back to him at odd moments. Like when he autographs a fan’s red and white hoody, or when someone with green eyes shakes his hand. Or when people mention wanting to buy tickets for his next competition, or ask if he’s going to do an ice show in the off season.

He’s never even done an ice show before…

It’s not surprising that the younger skater had been so bold in his declaration, given what Yuuri knows about him.

But Yuuri hadn’t expected to find the tiny Russian so compelling.

He yawns, forcing his eyes open so he doesn’t pass out with his feet hanging off the bed and shoes still on. Sitting upright, Yuuri starts to remove his clothes. His shoulders pulse in protest as he lifts up his shirt, and new back pains flare as he bends over to untie his shoes. Knowing Viktor was watching, Yuuri had given it his all today. Left everything out on the ice. There was no reason not to, if it was his last.

Yuuri smiles wanly. He still has to skate his exhibition tomorrow, but that’s far less of a commitment than his Free Skate. So, today wasn’t technically his last skate.

It’s a flimsy excuse to postpone his “last skate”. Is he really having doubts now? Yuuri shuffles into the bathroom to brush his teeth, moving like a sweatpants-clad zombie.

All season long, he’s grown more and more confident that this is the correct decision, that retirement will help him grow and move on. That there’s no reason to continue without inspiration. And last night, he thought he’d finally made true peace with that, seeing and talking with Viktor. So how had one conversation with a feisty teenager planted seeds of doubt?

To be fair, that’s an oversimplification of events, but still.

Yuuri spits into the sink, resuming his zombie shuffle towards the bed. He’s not one who loves hotel beds, but it looks absolutely heavenly right now, white sheets and fluffy pillows calling out to him.

Yuuri gently climbs into bed, rolling over to flip off the lights. As he does, something catches on his neck and he chokes for a second. Looking down, he sees the glint of gold underneath his side. He’d forgotten all about his gold medal, the weight becoming a natural comfort throughout the course of the evening. And proof that he really, truly had won the Grand Prix Finals. He’s tempted to pinch himself to confirm it, but he feels the weight of the medal leave as he pulls it over his head and sets it down on the bedside table.

Yawning widely, Yuuri rolls over again. Nothing stops him this time, and he slips into sleep.

 


 

The persistent buzzing of Viktor’s alarm draws him out of sleep, but he quickly rouses himself.

Yesterday evening had been an odd mix of celebration and regret. Cheering for Yuri and Mila, but sad to know that Yuuri Katsuki had skated his last Free Skate. And…

Viktor is likely the only other person in the world that knows.

So, he has a lot to accomplish today. He has to continue being cheerful for Yuri. And since he doesn’t have to help Yuri with any skating today (no exhibitions for Juniors, thank god), he wants to be there for Mila’s exhibition. That, to Viktor’s relief, ties into his other goal of watching Yuuri’s exhibition. Then, he’s got to get ready for the banquet. Viktor blows a tuft of hair at the thought of his full schedule.

At least he can dress a bit more casually for the morning.

And finally (perhaps most importantly, if he’s going to rank things), he has to talk with Yuuri Katsuki. And get his number.

Maybe it’s two things then. Two goals? Or sub-goals of the same goal? Viktor muses as he bustles about his morning routine, showering and shaving before dressing in a neat blue cardigan.

After running late yesterday, Viktor strolls into the dining room ahead of schedule. It feels a bit peculiar to be the one picking out a table, but he nabs a clean one without any hassle. There are not too many folks here yet, but Viktor can already feel the difference in the atmosphere. Less focused and intense.

More festive, maybe? Exhibitions and banquet days are always a bit odd, right on the heels of such an intensely competitive experience. Like most skaters, Viktor had learned to lean into the opportunity for some fun and camaraderie. Though unlike others, Viktor never really had to worry about having done poorly. He imagines it might be a bit harder to relax and have fun if he had ever fallen short of the podium.

“Whacha thinking about?” Mila asks as she leans into a seat across from Viktor, carefully setting down two mugs and a big plate of pastries, fruit, and bacon.

Viktor looks up, and smiles back at her automatically. Mila is probably the only other skater he knows who tends to be a morning person. She gestures at the mugs and food, and Viktor peers into the closer mug, noting she found his favorite Earl Grey. He wraps his hands around the comforting heat with a nod of thanks. He also sneaks a small croissant and a slice of bacon as Mila looks around the room.

“The banquet, actually. You ever wonder what it would be like having to go to the banquet without medalling?”

“No,” Mila half-scoffs, half-laughs. “I can’t imagine Yakov letting any of us finish below 3rd. Except maybe Georgi,” she amends.

Viktor lifts an eyebrow, “That’s hardly fair, he’s not here to defend himself.”

“Exactly,” Mila says with a smug smile.

“Must be hard to have any fun though, in that situation.”

Mila murmurs in assent, “What made you think about it?”

“Nothing in particular,” Viktor says, shaking his head. “Just random thoughts. How’d you sleep after such an exciting day?”

“Better than he must have,” Mila gestures at Yuri, who just appeared and is sitting in a seat next to her. He slowly slides down until his eyes are level with the table.

“A bit tired, Yura?” Viktor asks.

Viktor and Mila both turn to look at Yuri, who ignores them both and sips a steaming mug of tea. He does look a bit worn out today, though it could just his usual morning funkiness. It can be hard to tell.

“Somebody’s a bit cranky,” Mila whispers out the side of her mouth.

“And somebody didn’t finish in first place,” Yura retorts, sitting up slightly.

Viktor erupts with laughter, trying to rein it under control. He gives up entirely when he sees Mila’s bewildered and amused expression, his chuckle booming around the still sparsely-populated dining room.

“Listen here, you little shi—”

“Mila,” Yakov rumbles as he sits down next to Viktor. “Language, please. We’re still in public.”

Mila fumes silently while Yura sticks out his tongue at her. Mila quickly contorts her face with a look of concentration.

“Ow! What the fu—” Yura exclaims, standing up from his seat and rubbing his leg.

Yakov silences him with a smoldering glare, and Mila grins victoriously. Yura sits back down, grousing to himself. Viktor can’t help but smile, appreciating the small slice of home the four of them have even all the way in Barcelona.

“So, breakfast anyone?” Viktor says as he bites into a piece of bacon.

 


 

Yuuri lays in his bed, eyes staring aimlessly at the speckled ceiling. He has to get up soon, though his body feels like lead. Celestino’s already called him about missing breakfast. And threatened to have ISU officials come bang on his door until he’s ready. Though Yuuri doubts he would actually do that, since they both have a healthy disdain for officials after wading through the bureaucracy last summer.

It’s not like he slept poorly. In fact, it was quite restful. Still, fatigue weighs on Yuuri, from the collective physical and mental stress of the last few days. Competitions are always draining, but this one particularly feels so; with the emotional investment and processing he’s been through.

Determined to move as little as possible right now, Yuuri slaps the side table aimlessly, grasping for his phone. He comes away with a gold medal instead. He half-laughs, half-gasps at the sight of the blurry gold in front of his face. It still doesn’t seem like his.

Sitting up slightly, he slips the medal over his head and neck. Then, he reaches for the table again. This time, he gets his glasses. On the third try, he finally gets his phone.

Leafing through the myriad of messages, congratulations, and well-wishes he has received, Yuuri is struck by an impulse to document this. To have proof that’s won.

So he takes a photo or thirty. Of himself, lying in bed with a faded t-shirt and gold medal. And he shares it on Instagram. Because, why not let the world see it? As Yuri Plisetsky so graciously pointed out, Yuuri is currently the best skater in the world.

Likes and comments start flooding in immediately. Rather than read through things that will undoubtedly leave him flustered and uncomfortable with their straightforwardness, Yuuri finally gets up and starts getting ready.

He showers slowly, though, singing to himself as the warm water sluices across his aching body. Relishing the comfort and laziness of it, knowing that it is temporary. Unfortunately, the world will expect a lot from him today, even if he would almost rather spend it laying in bed eating junk food and watching trashy movies.

Almost.

He still wants to honor his win, after all. It’s only fitting, if this is truly his one and only time to experience it. But that previous certainty...while not gone, it feels fallible for the first time. Like Yuuri really actually does have a decision to make, as opposed to just following what felt like the correct, nearly preordained path.

But that’s a little scary to think about while singing in the shower, so he pushes it away. He’s gotten pretty good at doing that, over the years. Today should be a happy day; with the exhibition and then the banquet.

Yuuri’s definitely planning to have some fun at the banquet. It’s been a long while since he himself have more than a drink or two. Eventually, though…he will have to confront it.

 


 

Hours later, after Viktor gawped at Yuuri’s Instagram post, after he and Yura had politely cheered and clapped for exhibitions (and screamed for Mila), they have finally reached the end of the exhibition skates.

Well, almost the end.

There’s still one last skater to go, the one that pretty much everyone seems to be eagerly anticipating, judging by the rapt silence that has ensnared the audience.

Yuuri Katsuki steps out onto the ice, looking only slightly worse for wear after two intense days of competition. He does seem more relaxed, and perhaps his more comfortable outfit is contributing to it. Outside of this exhibition skate, Viktor has never seen Yuuri like this; leather jackets don’t seem to fit his style. But for this piece, it’s the perfect blend of casual and stylish. Viktor tries to catch Yuuri’s eyes before he starts, but it’s clear that the Japanese man is already somewhere else, eyes glazed and unfocused as the music begins.

Viktor really likes the music Yuuri chose for his exhibition, so much so that he’s added to some of his regular playlists after he first heard it. It’s very atypical of what Yuuri has skated to in the past, though Viktor supposes that much about this year has been atypical when it comes to his skating.

Yuuri moves slowly, slightly sluggish across the ice compared to yesterday. Viktor can understand why, he had always felt the pull of exhaustion at the end of competitions himself. And he almost never had to deal with falling the previous day.

But that doesn’t hamper the impressive difficulty of Katsuki’s footwork, or the mixed sorrow and success painted in his choreography, hands and legs moving with careful precision to tell a story.

To Viktor’s surprise, its one he recognizes more clearly now. A story of inspiration lost and of triumph, intertwined.

He knows it, from before his injury. When he was alone, the Everest of the skating world. When there was no reason to keep going, except to meet people’s expectations. A time when he had grown tired of it, always wanting to surprise and out-do, rather than just be average. If he hadn’t gotten injured…it was fairly likely he would have retired soon, anyway. It almost hurts to think about, to admit it.

Yuuri had said he was missing his inspiration, now. That he couldn’t continue properly without it. And Viktor feels, knows that. Only now does he begin to truly understand why Yuuri might want to retire at the peak of his career.

Yuuri leaps into a dazzling combination jump, a collective cheer rising from the crowd as he lands. He continues, perfectly aligned with the music. He looks so alive, his skating bursting with emotions. He holds conflicting emotions so gracefully, Viktor almost wants to take notes.

What has changed? What is different now for Yuuri, that he wants to close out his skating career? The words of the chorus echo in the stadium as Katsuki jumps again.

Without you now, this is what it feels like.

Suddenly it clicks, and Viktor feels like an incredible, gargantuan idiot.

God, it seems so obvious. How could he have missed it? It’s been there all along, right in front of his stupid, smiling face. It has been in Yuuri’s music, in his skating. His theme—Reflection. He knows exactly what has changed.

Viktor—he’s not skating anymore.

That night, Yuuri was insistent that Viktor had been speaking of himself, even as Viktor explained that it was Yuuri who was more impressive. All this time, Yuuri has been drawing on Viktor’s skating as a source of inspiration.

Yuuri’s been reflecting all season long, reflecting on Viktor’s skating. But in doing so, he’s molded it, adapted it into something beyond what Viktor could have ever accomplished. An amalgamation that brings Viktor’s skating and Yuuri’s ingenuity and rhythm together, to produce something better than the individual parts. Out on the ice, Yuuri spins, a blur of brown and black.

So much makes more sense now. Yuuri’s skating, his music—his costume, a mirror of Viktor’s. Perhaps this is all why Yuuri had been so uncomfortable meeting Viktor for the first time. And why he had wanted to watch Viktor out on the ice after talking.

Had Yuuri thought Viktor had known? That he would be mad about it?

Viktor can’t imagine being upset that someone else has drawn inspiration from him. Especially Yuuri, who has created something all the more impressive out of it. Yuuri, who has entirely captivated Viktor, along with countless others. Skaters always draw inspiration from each other. Viktor, Chris, Cao Bin. There was a give-and-take between them and others, a push for constant growth and change. And when Viktor had lost that feeling, he had wanted to stop.

Which…means that, in all likelihood, he is the reason that Yuuri wants to retire. Or rather, his lack of skating is.

And that is unacceptable. He has to talk with Yuuri. To clarify, to try and rectify it.

His first impulse is to get up right now and run, to run to the skater’s entrance and wait for Katsuki to get off the ice. He’s already lifting his body out of the seat. But that won’t work, Viktor knows better than most that after an exhibition skate a seemingly infinite number of ISU dolts have things for you to do. He suppresses that itch, meshing his fingers together in his impatience as he lowers himself.

And some nagging part of Viktor’s brain keeps screaming at him as he watches Yuuri start to close out the skate.

That maybe, this isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed. Or, at least, that it is not his to fix. If he, Viktor, had wanted to retire before his injury, the world would undoubtedly have protested. Yakov would have been a nightmare, and Yura probably would have had a fit about not beating Viktor. Why should he take it upon himself, then, to try and stop someone else from doing the same? He would not have wanted that kind of…interruption, interrogation.

He would have wanted a sympathetic ear, someone who understood. Someone he could talk to. Even if he wasn’t ready to admit that at the time.

Viktor sighs as Yuuri tools around the ice, the music softening. He poses at the center of the rink, arms outstretched and looking into the bright overhead lights. Alongside the crowd (and Yura), Viktor erupts with cheering as Katsuki bows. He claps with excitement, though it mixes with bitterness as he realizes there won’t be a chance to talk with Yuuri until the banquet. And…that very well might be his last chance at the Finals.

 

~

 

Back in the safety of his hotel room, Viktor lets out a frustrated groan. Just as he had suspected, as soon as Yuuri was off the ice, he was whisked away by innumerable ISU officials for his “gold medal duties”. Or, that’s what Viktor thinks of them as. Photos, signings, interviews.

Things that can independently be fun, but become incredibly frustrating when layered on top of one another. Especially when you, as the gold medal winner, probably just want to take a nap after an exhausting series of days.

So now he’s shifted to Plan B, which is to find Yuuri at the banquet and talk. Well, he’d already been planning to do that. But to talk about the man’s inspiration, his reason for retirement. Not just for Viktor’s own selfish purposes. He also can’t ignore his responsibility to Yura as a coach.

He will need to tag along with Yakov and socialize with sponsors. Viktor’s lips curls in distaste at the thought. He’s grown to dislike engaging with sponsors and all the other tag-alongs of the skating world, even if he is good at it. Yakov had made sure to drill it into him how important those connections are at an early age. And he had enjoyed the attention, the mutual ego stroking—for a time.

Taking a peek at his phone, Viktor’s a teeny bit surprised that banquet is approaching faster than expected. The exhibitions and various ceremonies took up much of the day. While Viktor would normally opt for a stylishly late entrance to the banquet, there’s a lot he wants to do tonight.

He pushes himself off the bed slowly, savoring the slight burn in his muscles as he does. It’s been a few days since he’s been able to go for a good run, and he misses the mindless exertion of it. He’ll have to go for a proper exhausting run when he’s back home in St. Petersburg.

From there, it’s a blitz of preparation. A hot shower and careful drying of his hair. A spritz of cologne. And then, decision time.

Viktor opens his closet, leafing through various hanging garments. The banquet is a traditionally formal event, so he passes by some of his more adventurous garb. He pulls out one hangar, then another. Setting both on the bed, he takes a step back. It’s not the most exciting, but it will certainly fit the bill.

He slides his arms into a white dress shirt, carefully buttoning it up. Like all his clothes, it’s carefully tailored to match his body precisely.

He wanders back over to the closet and selects a navy blue tie, deftly tying it around his neck. Next go the black slacks, and then the black waistcoat. And finally, the charcoal jacket. Since he’s staying inside the hotel, he shouldn’t need anything else over that.

Viktor looks in the mirror, turning from side to side and smiling. There’s a little thrill in his heart he gets when dressing up like this. It’s been like that forever, even back to his childhood. Though he has much more positive memories associated with formal dressing now.

Picking up his phone from the bed, Viktor notes that he has finished right on time. He double checks his pockets like usual, then sets out for the banquet hall.

 


 

When Yuuri walks into the banquet hall, he spares a moment to just look at the gawdy, gold decorations hanging around the space. The typical unadventurous classical dribble is playing, and celebrity schmoozing is well underway, a semi-constant whisper permeating the room.

While it looks and sounds exactly like any number of other banquets he’s been at, it feels much more special and exciting. He should probably feel a little guilty about being late; he’s not usually one to miss a time once it’s been set. He had only closed his eyes for a minute after arriving back from the exhibitions and woke up almost two hours later. But he doesn’t feel bad, he had definitely needed the sleep.

He had needed to rush to get ready, though, so he is a bit self-conscious about his haphazard appearance. He had hastily thrown on a white shirt, slacks, and a sloppy grey tie after a speedy shower. He tried to put some gel in his hair, but gave up after a half-hearted attempt that only seemed to make it messier. It looks a little wild now, but his appearance isn’t going to stop him from doing what he wants.

It’s finally time to cut loose.

Everyone will expect the opposite from him, of course. He can already see Celestino slyly beckoning him over to a conversation with a sportswear sponsor. Yuuri can feel his normal trepidation and nerves about speaking with sponsors building as he continues looking around the room. Most of the skaters seem to be here already, talking with their coaches or other important figures. But instead of plastering a fake smile and trudging face-first towards a night of tiptoeing around men far richer and more stuck up than he, Yuuri veers off to the side. Towards the drinks.

He doesn’t have to go through the regular charade. In fact, he had already decided he wouldn’t before the competition, no matter the result. Nobody else knows it, but it’s his last banquet. So it won’t matter if he ignores his responsibilities and has some fun instead.

He gracefully lifts a champagne glass at that thought, a private toast. Then, he tips the whole thing back in one go.

It bubbles and burns a bit on the way down, harsh and bitter. He stifles a hiccup in response.

Yuuri grabs the stem of another glass, taking a small sip this time. It sparkles and tingles in his mouth, more manageable but still a tad unpleasant. Drinking doesn’t come naturally to him, and champagne doesn’t help the matter.

He slowly makes his way to the hors d’oeuvres and starts popping a few in his mouth. He needs to get some food in his stomach; his plan doesn’t involve getting smashed beyond help in the first hour of the banquet.

That part comes later, with any luck.

He takes another, larger sip from his champagne flute. Why not multitask?

Yuuri peers around the room as he does, noting Celestino’s slightly more aggravated motions towards him. He spots Chris in a conversation with the sportswear representative Celestino was talking with earlier, and smiles. As he swivels his head around the room, he tries to soak it all in. The Seniors, dressed in their finest and dutifully accompanying coaches in circuits around the room. Sponsors, greedily sizing up who they think will bring them the most dividends. The Juniors, almost all glued to the sides of their coaches, wide-eyed at the controlled chaos of the banquet. The waiters and ISU officials, zipping around the room like bees in a hive. The garish decorations, the quiet music, the faux-friendly atmosphere that hangs in the air at this early hour.

Even if Yuuri doesn’t care for it, he wants to try and capture the spectacle for the last time.

“Looking for someone?”

A stern voice pulls him from his silent observation, and turns to look.

“No, not really. Just…”

“Observing?” Otabek Altin finishes. “I find it preferable as well.”

Yuuri smiles and takes another sip from his champagne.

“Otabek Altin. It’s nice to meet you,” Altin offers his hand.

“I’m Yuuri Katsuki. It’s ‘ice’ to meet you too, Mr. Altin,” Yuuri teases. Perhaps it’s the rapid onset of alcohol, or perhaps Yuuri is tired of the uptight nature of the banquet. Either way, his introduction doesn’t seem to faze Altin at all. Yuuri stares into the same stoic face as always.

“You can just call me Otabek. Congratulations, by the way. Though I imagine you might be a bit tired of hearing it by now.”

“It still seems a bit odd. But thank you,” Yuuri adds.

“I have to say I was a bit surprised to see you over here, instead of out there,” Otabek nods at the crowd in front of them. “But you look like someone who’s out to have a little fun. And that does not look like fun.”

“No, it’s really not,” Yuuri agrees. “You’ve got a lot of it ahead, too; you’re young. And really good at skating.” Yuuri leans in closer, conspiratorially. “That’s a bad combo, by the way.”

Otabek smiles and laughs, the first emotion Yuuri has seen out of him. “Thank you! But I’d be lying if I said I was excited for more of this in the future.”

“Something else you’d rather be doing?” Yuuri asks.

“What makes you think that?”

“I’ve already resigned myself to making the most of the banquet by avoiding that mess, but you still look torn. And you’re standing over here talking to me instead.” Yuuri takes another sip of champagne, and is surprised to find it empty. He deftly deposits it on the tray of a waiter passing by.

Otabek seems to consider Yuuri for a moment, scanning his face. Yuuri smiles reflexively, not quite uncomfortable, but not entirely at ease either. Satisfied with whatever he found, Otabek continues. “I’ve got a dj gig late tonight after the banquet. A bit distracted by that is all.”

“Really?! That’s awesome!” Yuuri exclaims, bouncing a bit. “Where is it at?”

Otabek shrugs nonchalantly, “Just a club a few blocks away. They reached out and offered me the chance when they found out I was going to be in town.”

“That’s wicked. You must like mixing music, then. What kind?”

“Rock, mostly. But all sorts of genres, really.”

“Mmm. I’d love to hear a set of yours at some point.”

Otabek shrugs again, but his eyes light up. “Sure. I can make tape or something for you. Maybe at the next competition? Four Continents?”

Yuuri’s heart sags, “Oh, uh, sure.”

“Well hello there, gentlemen. I noticed it looked like you were having a bit of fun. And we can’t have that, now can we?”

Yuuri snickers as a familiar figure sidles up to the two of them.

“Christophe,” Otabek nods.

“Otabek, come on. I told you—you can call me Chris.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes, “How is it that you know everyone, Chris?”

“Just a natural talent I have.”

“You’re just like Phichit…” Yuuri whispers quietly.

“Chulanont?” Chris says, as Yuuri makes a face at him. “By the way, you looked like you could use this.” Chris offers Yuuri another flute of champagne, which he promptly takes.

Yuuri lifts an eyebrow in question as he takes a sip, the bubbly liquid sliding right down this time.

“Lucky guess,” Chris responds, winking at Yuuri.

“Well, I’d best be off. I’m sure my coach will lay into me if I don’t go talk with some ‘gracious’ sponsors soon.”

“Bye, Otabek. It was nice meeting you,” Yuuri says, shaking Otabek’s hand again. “And good luck with tonight!” He says as Otabek turns away, earning a surprised glance back.

“What was that about?” Chris inquires, batting his eyelashes innocently.

“Nothing Chris, don’t you even start.”

Chris offers a roguish smile.

Yuri grins back, “You chased him away, not me!”

“Not my fault.”

“Uh-huh,” Yuuri says.

“Well, cheers to us. Gold and silver,” Chris chimes, holding up his champagne flute.”

“Cheers to us,” Yuuri echoes, tapping their glasses together lightly with a clink, before downing the remainder of the champagne.

 

~

 

The evening began like most other banquets had before—Viktor and Yakov working the room with practiced efficiency. Occasionally doubling up to talk with a particularly important official or sponsor, like with Viktor’s favorite skatemaker. Even though its been a bit since they have both been at a banquet together, they fall into their old habits.

After all, once you’ve been to a few banquets, they all tend to feel rather similar. The same food, champagne, people. The same tinny, classical music underneath it all, practically pushing Viktor to sleep.

Still, the two of them are slow and methodical. Both of them always have a drink or bit of food in hand, but never overindulge. It’s important to look like you’re partaking, enjoying the event. But much more important to be in full control of your faculties. Yakov had impressed that one upon Viktor with a terrifying story from back in the days of the Soviet Union.

It’s a mostly dull process for Viktor, navigating the same few topics. Yes, coaching is different, but he likes it. Yes, it’s odd being on the other side of the rink. No, he’s not jealous of Yuri, just excited for what he’s accomplished and what’s to come.

Viktor even gets a slightly-peeved Yura involved a couple times, carefully maneuvering sponsors or officials over to where the younger skater is trying to hide away. After the third time Viktor finds a way to do so, Yuri affixes him with a deathly glare and Viktor steers clear of him thereafter.

It’s important for little Yuri to get practice with sponsors, but Viktor is happy to spare him the tedium of extended interactions while he’s still in Juniors. God knows how much Viktor hated it when he was younger, and Yakov was inflexible.

Next year, though, will be a different story. Especially if Yuri does as well as he would like.

As Viktor slowly makes his way through the room, other skaters continue arriving. While a few are still missing, some jump right into the fray like Viktor, while others drift over to the food and drinks. Several take to dancing, but the floor remains pretty empty this early in the evening. He makes a point to try and greet each of them at some point, spending a bit more time reminiscing with Cao Bin and Chris.

Many seem surprised by the gesture, and it affects Viktor more than he would care to admit. It’s a reminder of how closed off he used to be, how much has changed. So he takes extra care, making sure to get everyone’s name fixed in his mind. He doesn’t want to be that cold, detached person anymore. Even if it was a self-defense mechanism.

As the banquet truly gets into swing, Viktor remains acutely aware of one key absence: Yuuri Katsuki. He doesn’t let it distract him from his work, but the knowledge remains in the back of his mind.

What if Viktor doesn’t get the chance to talk with Yuuri before he leaves?

Viktor takes to glancing around the room after each conversation, hoping to see the gold medalist.

After one such look-about, Viktor spots Yakov waving him over as he talks with a tall, familiar representative from Adidas. It’s one of the rink’s big equipment sponsors. Viktor heaves a tired sigh to himself, taking a calming breath before walking over.

“—new designs that we think will do really well. Oh, hello Viktor.”

“Hi there, Mason. Good to see you!” Viktor pastes on his media-smile and shakes hands with the lanky man.

“I was just telling Yakov about some new gear we’re releasing. We’ll send some of it your way, we’d love to get some photos of you and Yuri in it.”

“Of course, we would be happy to. Thank you for thinking of us.”

Mason adjusts his glasses and scoffs, “It would be hard not to think of the former World Champion and the Junior GPF Gold Medalist! How about that, huh?”

Viktor tries to look like it isn’t the fifth time tonight he’s been asked a similar question. “It’s pretty wild, but I’m thrilled for Yura. Even if it means breaking my record.” They all laugh politely, even Yakov rumbling along. Viktor flits his eyes to look at Yakov, and he shares the same tired look in his eyes that Viktor feels in his bones.

Dreadfully exhausted from the same conversation, Viktor decides to break the norm. “What did you think of Yuri’s routines?”

A look of surprise crosses Mason’s face, a flash of doubt. As if he can’t imagine Viktor breaking the time-honored tradition of talking about the same exact things all night, letting him drive the conversation. “They were—ah—interesting. Not what we typically see from your skaters, Yakov.”

Yakov stares curiously at Viktor, “This one wasn’t me, Viktor’s been working with Yuri nearly all season.”

“Is that right? How curious,” Mason asks, looking anything but.

“Yes, he wanted to make an impression if this is to be his last year in Juniors. I just wanted to find something that suited him.”

“Well, you both seemed to enjoy it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling rather peckish. Keep an eye out for our shipment, Viktor!”

Viktor smiles and nods as Mason walks away, then turns to face Yakov, his smile dropping as he does. He trills his lips, deflating a bit.

“Hmph. That was nice,” Yakov says.

“Yeah, well, I tried. It would help if they all compared notes beforehand so they didn’t ask the same three questions.”

Yakov snorts. “There’s only one left that we need to talk to. I can handle them, you go get a drink,” he gestures at Viktor’s mostly-full champagne glass.

Mustering as much gratitude as he can, Viktor thanks Yakov and then deposits the champagne glass on a nearby tray. Not that he doesn’t like champagne, it just reminds him of working the crowd at a banquet.

For a good reason.

He makes his way towards the bartender. If he’s going to try and enjoy this a bit, he’s going to need something else.

“I’ll take a Moscow Mule, please.”

“Coming right up, sir.”

Viktor twiddles his thumbs as he waits. His eyes pass over the food area, then snap back.

Right there! Yuuri’s standing across the room from Viktor, idly picking up and eating finger foods while talking with Otabek Altin. He’s smiling at the Kazakh skater, though Viktor has a hard time imagining the stone-faced man saying anything funny or endearing. Yuuri’s hair is devastatingly messy, and Viktor bites his lip absently. How does he manage to get such a care-free look?

Viktor’s only ever been satisfied with about two of his own hair styles in his life, and he pretty much permanently removed one option years ago.

“Your Mule, sir.”

The words catch Viktor off guard, and he sputters. “Oh, uh, thank you.”

He swiftly grabs the drink and takes a deep sip as he walks away.

The spiciness of the ginger hits him right away, and he suppresses a cough. It does give him a kick of energy. Just what he needs after the snooze and schmoozefest.

 

~

 

“Enjoying yourself, Yuuri?”

Yuuri nearly spits out the champagne on reflex, but manages to swallow the rest of the glass down without embarrassing himself.

“Yes, thank you, Ciao Ciao.”

Was that his fifth or sixth glass of champagne? He had meant to switch over to something less…bubbly a few glasses back, but now it seems rude to not keep up with the champagne.

How will the rest of the undrunk bottles feel if Yuuri doesn’t get to them eventually? That would just be mean. And Yuuri Katsuki is not a mean person.

“You missed my signal to come talk with a few sponsors earlier.”

“No, I didn’t miss it.” The words fly out of Yuuri’s mouth before he has a chance to think.

“Good to know you aren’t going blind, then. I ironed things out with them—”

Yuuri smoothly grabs a new flute of champagne from a passing waiter.

“—but you should probably slow down,” Celestino finishes, narrowing his eyes and pulling the champagne from Yuuri’s grasp.

“Why?” Yuuri asks lamely.

“Because…well, because you shouldn’t get drunk here!” Celestino declares, voice rife with exasperation.

“Psh. Is there a better place to get drunk?” Yuuri’s eyes light up, “Oh! Oh! Can you take me there?”

Celestino tilts his head at Yuuri. Or maybe Yuuri is tilting his own head. Accidentally. His coach opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again and just stares at Yuuri.

Yuuri takes that to mean the conversation is over, so he sets off to find a new glass of champagne after he lost his most recent one. He must have set it down somewhere…

He’s wandering around the banquet hall when someone spins him around, and oh god it’s Viktor Nikiforov, looking absolutely incredible.

“Yuuri!” Viktor draws his name out, still not quite right, but the sound stirs something deep in him. “It’s so good to see you again, congratulations on yesterday and today!”

Yuuri’s suddenly not sure if he’s had too much, or not enough alcohol.

“Hey Viktor! Thank you for…” Yuuri debates spilling everything, but decides he’s definitely not drunk enough for that conversation. “…the compliments.”

Viktor smiles, dazzling Yuuri. “Of course! I was wondering if you wanted to dance? With me?”

“Mmmm.”

Yuuri’s still staring at Viktor’s gleaming smile when he feels a tug at his wrist. He’s confused by the contact, but doesn’t stop when Viktor pulls him towards the center of the room.

There are a number of other people here, swaying and stepping to the sound of a lilting violin

Oh.

They are going to dance.

Panic sets in, and seems to burn off a bit of the haze of alcohol. Viktor steps closer to Yuuri, placing a hand on his waist.

Years and years of training and practice kick in. His body responds automatically at Viktor’s touch, stepping in closer and clasping Viktor’s open hand.

Abruptly, he realizes two things.

Yuuri is a dancer. He lives, breathes, and dreams about ballet, about dancing, from a lifetime both on and off the ice. Not only can he do this, but he can also do it well.

Second, Viktor’s hand is warm and so, so soft. And he smells of freshly squeezed oranges.

Okay, so maybe three things.

Yuuri relaxes, and Viktor elegantly conducts them as they ebb and flow around the room for a few minutes, stepping softly in time together with all the grace of two professional skaters. Yuuri doesn’t say anything at first, afraid to shatter the quiet moment. The same trepidation seems reflected in Viktor’s deep blue eyes. The same blue eyes that Yuuri sought just before his Free Skate. They continue in silence, except for the music filtering in.

It’s easy to dance with him, natural to twirl at a flick from Viktor’s wrist, to slide into a dip at a tilt of his head. Yuuri hardly notices as they start to separate, each of them dancing on their own for a moment, before gliding back together.

Yuuri takes the lead this time, placing his hand on Viktor’s waist and guiding him through a dance that feels a bit like a jig. Yuuri feels his body protest the movement as they continue, but he doesn’t stop.

Yuuri wants to work up the courage to say thank you to Viktor again. For that night at the rink, for watching him yesterday.

But it’s too much, and he turns his head to wistfully look over at the bar. Maybe if he had another drink…

Viktor must notice, because he’s smiling at Yuuri when he turns back.

“Bored already?”

Yuuri’s cheeks heat at being called out. “Well that’s hardly fair, how am I supposed to answer that?”

Viktor’s smile twitches, and he guides them away from the center of the room. “How about we put a pause on stealing all the attention on the dance floor in favor of a refresh?”

Yuuri looks around, stymied to see that the dance floor has largely emptied out except for them. Had people just been watching them? That…also hardly seems fair. Even if it had been two talented men. The space is meant for everyone to be able to dance, not just watch.

He’ll have to try and fix that later.

Viktor steers Yuuri towards the bartender, who is currently shooing away an irritated-looking J.J. LeRoy.

“Hell-o again! I’ll take another Mule,” Viktor says, almost singsong. He looks at Yuuri, “And what will it be for you?” His accent warps the ‘w’, turning it to a ‘v’ sound that Yuuri finds enchanting.

“Just champagne for me, thanks.”

“Nothing stronger?” Viktor teases.

The bartender hands Yuuri a crystalline flute of champagne, which he immediately chugs. He delicately places the glass on the countertop.

“Another, please.”

Viktor’s eyes widen, which Yuuri finds deliciously distracting, so he doesn’t instantly drain the new champagne. The bartender hands Viktor a drink that fizzes when he moves it, and then the two of them make their way to a standing table.

Curiosity gets the better of Yuuri, and he leans in to peer at Viktor’s drink. He inhales and gets a whiff of something spicy with ginger, powerful enough to make him lean back out and scrunch his nose to stop from sneezing. Viktor laughs, then takes a sip of the drink. He screws up his eyes as he swallows.

Yuuri laughs this time. “It’s not just me, then.”

“The first sip is always the hardest,” Viktor says sagely.

“Isn’t that true for like every alcohol?” Yuuri giggles.

“Only the best and the worst kinds.”

“And yours is?”

Viktor grins slyly, “The best, of course.”

“Champagne really is the worst, then.”

Viktor smiles in response, but then quiets for a minute, looking thoughtful. Yuuri resists the temptation to lean in close and flick him on the forehead like he would with Phichit. The alcohol really must be setting in if he’s ready to start treating everyone like his roommate.

Just as Yuuri starts to wonder if he should stop staring and maybe do something, Viktor swallows thickly and straightens up.

“Do…do you remember the other night, you said didn’t have your inspiration anymore?” Yuuri’s pulse quickens. “I—I think I know what you mean by that. It’s how I was feeling before—” Viktor grimaces, trailing off. “Like there’s no reason to continue, except to repeat the past. And that can only go so far for motivation.”

Yuuri downs the glass of champagne. Somehow, his plan for the banquet had not involved discussing his reason for retirement with his source of inspiration, who is confessing…something…to him. This has to be some alcohol-induced hallucination.

But that’s where he finds himself as he sets down the glass, blue eyes flitting to and fro across his face.

“You…felt isolated? Unmotivated?” Yuuri asks, unbelieving.

Viktor nods solemnly.

“That’s…” unreasonable, doubtful, impossible. “Like me.” He is like Viktor. Viktor is like him.

“I wanted to surprise audiences, but it felt like there was nothing left for me to do. Like all I could ever do back then was more of the same, and that could only be worse,” Viktor says bitterly.

Yuuri finds himself nodding in agreement, “There’s no reason continue if you don’t have the inspiration.”

“And I couldn’t find mine. Nothing from Chris, from Cao, from Yakov, from music, or even the audience.” Viktor looks down and pulls at his hair, “I just couldn’t find it anywhere.”

“You…took inspiration from Chris?”

Viktor releases his hair, “From all sorts of places and skaters. Wherever I could find it. We have to. As we all improve and change, we have to learn and borrow from each other.”

Like me, Yuuri thinks.

Viktor takes a hefty sip from his drink, eyes briefly squeezing again. He reaches out, alabaster fingers clasping his own. “Yuuri, what was your inspiration?”

“It was you,” Yuuri whispers without hesitation.

Viktor squeezes his hand tightly, and he inhales sharply. “I’m so glad I was. Thank you for telling me,” he whispers back.

Viktor lets go of Yuuri’s hand, and he notices the absence of warmth immediately. Leaning back, Viktor nods slowly.

“I think I understand better now. Why you want to—” he stops, and starts again. “I stand by what I said, I will respect your decision.”

Yuuri wants to reach back out, to grab Viktor’s hand again. To squeeze it back, to say he gets it. That he appreciates it. That he can’t really think straight right now.

Instead, they stare at each other and nod.

Viktor swipes a strand of hair out of his face, then starts to chug his drink, taking a few large gulps to finish it off. Yuuri recoils in surprise as Viktor scrunches up his face again.

Then, Yuuri smiles widely. He stalks over to a waiter, grabbing two flutes of champagne as politely as his inebriated self can manage. He marches back over to Viktor, setting both glasses down.

Viktor reaches for one, but Yuuri holds up a finger. Quickly, Yuuri slams back one of the glasses, then picks up the other. He turns back to Viktor.

“Let’s go.”

Yuuri tugs Viktor along behind him, striding towards the dance floor with purpose.

Until he sees Yuri Plisetsky across the room, leaning against a paneled wall and looking grouchy. Then he has a brilliant idea. He doesn’t let go of Viktor as he crosses the dancefloor towards Plisetsky.

 

~

 

Yuuri’s night flies by in an incredible, alcohol-fueled, dance-crazy haze. Someone finally puts an end to the stuffy classical music, and Yuuri gets more people out on the floor. When something livelier, comes on, it’s the perfect backdrop. He loosens his tie and unbuttons the top of his shirt.

He may not have the chance to beat Plisetsky on the ice next year, but Yuuri can still kick his ass on the dancefloor.

In between dances, Yuuri continues to work through the remaining champagne bottles, so none can feel left out.

He remembers dancing with some of the other competitors. Cao Bin, Otabek? It’s entirely possible he suckers Michele Crispino into dancing with him. Or it could be a fever dream.

It doesn’t matter to him, really. They’re all incredible at it, and Yuuri relishes each moment no matter who it is with.

Of course, he makes Viktor dance with him again. And again.

Yuuri moves with no inhibitions when they do, body and arms swinging in time with the bass, leaning close to Viktor, close enough to see the sweat dot his forehead as they continue, to inhale the citrus smell that clings to Viktor’s jacket

He remembers people cheering multiple times, but he’s not certain why.

And then, at some point, Christophe fucking Giacometti finds part of the room with a pole, and Yuuri can’t resist joining in as Chris strips off his shirt to climb it and put on a show.

There’s more laughing, cameras flashing, and Yuuri doesn’t stop grinning. It’s exactly the kind of evening he wanted to have, drunk and goofing around with friends.

Not competitors.

But friends.

The kind of evening he won’t remember, but will never forget.

 

 

Yuuri wakes with a splitting headache, and roiling nausea. He sits up slowly, but abandons that and leaps off the bed, just managing to make it to the bathroom in time to vacate whatever’s left in his stomach.

Good god why did he torture himself with so much champagne. It’s not even as if he likes the damn stuff. He doesn’t know whether to be grateful or upset that he didn’t switch to some other form of poison, like Viktor did.

Snatches of the evening come crashing back to him, but he isn’t bothered as much as he probably should be by the many blank spots. He’s probably lucky to have any recollection of things at all, given the circumstances.

He slowly meanders back to his bed after filling a cup of water, sliding back under the covers. He takes a small sip of the water, praying for his stomach to hold. He lets out a sigh of relief when it does.

Thankfully, Yuuri and Celestino’s flight isn’t until the afternoon, so he can take a much-deserved lazy morning.

He reaches for his phone, intending to text Phichit, but he jolts to a stop when he spots a new contact in his phone.

VN.

Viktor Nikiforov

And, it’s all there. Viktor’s phone number, his email address, and a picture of an absurdly cute poodle that take a moment to place as Makkachin.

Yuuri has no memory of how it got there.

But, clearly, someone had to put it there. Someone who knows Viktor’s contact information, which is decidedly not Yuuri.

Someone who wants it there.

 

~

 

Viktor wakes up to his phone buzzing with an alert. He pinches his eyes in confusion. He had definitely turned off his alarm last night, to avoid exactly this kind of situation.

Grumbling, he pulls his phone up to his face to inspect the offending notification.

 

Yuuri Katsuki:

Good morning Viktor ^̮^

 

Suddenly, Viktor doesn’t mind anymore.

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 17: Calling For Help

 

 

VN:

Did you land safely yet??

YK:

Yes, Viktor. I’m fine. It’s only been like 10 hours.

VN:

yes, but I was worried!

I got back to Saint Petersburg hours ago.

what else could I do but worry until I heard back from you?

YK:

I don’t know, maybe go say hi to your dog?

VN:

I did! Makka and I are very happy to see each other again!

Look, here’s proof.

 

Sure enough, Viktor sends Yuuri an entirely adorable selfie with Makkachin as he waits in the baggage claim, Celestino talking on the phone beside him. Yuuri has no idea who his coach talking with, since they landed in Detroit well after midnight. No reasonable person is up this late on the phone after travelling all day. Yuuri wishes he wasn’t awake, but cheap, late flights don’t afford him that luxury.

At least there’s practically nobody else in the terminal with them, outside of the other fatigued passengers.

 

YK:

Okay, that’s adorable.

But shouldn’t you be helping Yuri at practice anyway? Aren’t the Russian nationals like two weeks away?

VN:

Well, yes. Aren’t the Japanese nationals at the same time?

We’re on break right now.

 

Yuuri sighs, and Celestino spares a glance at him before turning back to his phone conversation. He still doesn’t really want to think about his future yet. It had been surprisingly easy to just ride the high of winning, of the banquet, as they spent a day travelling home; texting with Viktor at nearly every stop along the way.

Tomorrow is a day off so he can adjust back to Detroit. He should really take the time to tell Phichit…what he’s planning.

Because the day after that, he’s going to have to tell Celestino if he doesn’t plan to compete in Nationals.

He shakes his head to clear out the heavy thoughts; he should really just be thinking about getting to sleep in his own bed.

But when did it become an “if” he doesn’t want to compete?

YK:

Our luggage is arriving, and then I’m going to sleep for 12-16 hours.

So good luck with practice (ᵔᴥᵔ)

 

Yuuri turns to look at the baggage claim again, still waiting for it to start. It has to soon, right? They are basically the only flight in the airport, it can’t take that long to retrieve their bags.

He sighs again, closing his eyes in defeat as he waits for the telltale buzzing alarm that signals the arrival of their luggage.

 

*

 

Viktor reluctantly locks his phone. Yuuri hadn’t responded to his comment about Japanese Nationals. Not that Viktor had expected him to, but he had hoped for at least something about Yuuri’s plans.

The last thing he wanted to do was flip open his laptop one morning to the news that Yuuri Katsuki has retired.

Which, granted, is a bit ironic from the man who didn’t tell his own friends when he had to retire. But, whatever’s going on with Yuuri and him feels different.

Yes, like a friendship, but they both already shared deeply personal things with each other. And that doesn’t necessarily mean instantaneous friendship, but their connection goes beyond that. At least, Viktor thinks it does. And he’s pretty confident Yuuri feels it, too.

Enough to keep texting Viktor, at minimum.

Viktor turns back towards the ice, his breath puffing out in front of him. There had been no day off for the Russian skaters, what with Nationals less than two weeks away. Viktor had woken up bright and early to arrive on time.

Though he had to admit, there was something nice about returning to the familiarity of their rink, about the regularity of his morning routine.

Georgi glides past Viktor, his face furrowed in concentration as he jumps. Viktor has noticed a few times today just how hard his friend has been working. Viktor would ask him about it, but he doesn’t want to interrupt Georgi’s flow.

That had been a pet peeve of his when he competed. Instead, he removes his guards and steps out on the ice, making his way towards Yura.

Truthfully, there isn’t much he feels the need to practice with the younger skater, but they both know that Yakov will yell at them until he is purple in the face if they stand around and do nothing.

“Alright Yura, lets run through it again. And no Quads this time! You shouldn’t even be practicing them in these routines!”

Yuri rolls his eyes in response, but starts up as soon as Viktor hits play on the music.

 


 

Yuuri just about keeps his promise, sleeping until the early afternoon. He spends a bit of time after that cleaning up his room and taking a slow, relaxing shower. Then, he dips his toes into the social media pond.

He shouldn’t be surprised at the continued congratulations and engagement on his gold medal photo, but it still leaves him woozy as he reads the comments. Especially the comments about his body, or his lazy smile, or morning hair. People fixate on the strangest things, and it makes him a little uncomfortable.

But he can’t deny how good it felt when he took the photo, how it feels even now to see constant affirmation of his own success.

There’s a jingle of keys, and then Phichit walks in through the door, breathing heavily and still wearing his practice gear.

“Missed you at the rink today. Ciao Ciao made me work twice as hard for all the time you were in Barcelona.”

Phichit sighs heavily, setting down his skate bag and then turning to see Yuuri.

Yuuri’s heart skips as he considers what he needs to do. He tries to keep his face neutral, but he must not be entirely successful.

“What is it, Yuuri?”

“It’s…uh, nothing,” Yuuri says, “How are you feeling about Four Continents?”

“Four Continents is like…two months away still,” Phichit says, tilting his head. “Hey—wait. You’re changing the subject. C’mon, Yuuri.”

Yuuri shrinks a bit, drooping. “It’s…hard to talk about.”

“Well, have you told anyone else, whatever ‘it’ is?” Phichit asks, flopping onto the couch next to Yuuri. He smells of sweat, but they’re both accustomed to it after living together for so long.

“Yes?” Yuuri says, preparing himself for Phichit to be upset that it isn’t him.

“Really?” Phichit replies, looking genuinely curious. “Who?”

“Viktor,” Yuuri says shyly.

Phichit’s mouth opens in an ‘O’. “So, uh, do you want to tell me?”

“Yes, but—” Yuuri growls in frustration. “I don’t think you’re going to like it. And that makes it harder.”

Phichit looks Yuuri over, but doesn’t respond. His roommate is immensely impatient about many things, but rarely when it comes to Yuuri, for which he is incredibly grateful.

“Okay,” Yuuri says, more for himself than anything else. “I think I’m going to retire.”

Phichit’s face blanches, and he inhales deeply.

“I—Yuuri, are you serious? Please tell me you’re messing with me.”

In a way, Yuuri’s almost glad he seems disappointed. It makes it easier to feel badly about it himself.

“No, I’m not joking. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I…wanted to win before I decided anything final, but now…” Yuuri trails off.

“Why?” Phichit asks, looking up at him as water wavers in his eyes. “Why now?”

Yuuri hears the implication—why not earlier? “Because I wanted to close out my routines, to complete things. And there’s no reason to push myself to continue if I don’t feel motivated any more.”

The first part is certainly true, he had wanted to find closure with Viktor’s retirement through his own skating. And he has, to a large extent. But the second part—it had once been true, but…

Viktor and Yuri have both shown him an inkling of what it could be like if he continues.

It doesn’t feel like enough, though. He’s been set on this path from just about when he decided to return to skating.

“I…I wish you wouldn’t,” Phichit says softly. “But, you’re my best friend. I’m not—” Phichit’s voice cracks, “I can’t resent you for doing what you think is best. Even if it hurts.”

Phichit sniffles, and Yuuri scoots closer to him, looping an arm around him. He scrunches his nose at the ripe odor of being closer to a still-sweaty Phichit, but still holds him.

“I guess you don’t have to worry about Nationals now,” Phichit says with mock laugh.

“I guess not. But I do have to tell Ciao Ciao. And he’s not going to be thrilled.”

“Probably not,” Phichit agrees.

Yuuri stands up slowly, pulling Phichit along with him. “Alright, why don’t you go shower. I’ll order some food and pick a movie, okay?”

Phichit nods a few times, “Deal. Guess you can’t handle me like this,” he says with a smirk.

“You don’t exactly smell like fresh linens,” Yuuri says over his shoulder.

“Uh-huh, like you smell any better after practice.”

Yuuri’s grim façade falters, and he cracks a small smile to himself as he meanders into the kitchen. He’s not going to forget the image of Phichit crying anytime soon, but at least they can still share this companionship.

 


 

YK:

I told Phichit.

 

Viktor blinks his bleary eyes and reads the sentence on his phone again. A cloud shifts, and the early sun casts a glare on the screen. Viktor huffs in annoyance, hunching over to block it out.

There’s really not any doubt about what Yuuri means.

VN:

How did it go?

Viktor locks his phone, not expecting a quick response given the time differential. He showers quickly and makes a quick breakfast before taking Makkachin on a walk around his neighborhood.

Viktor had opted for an apartment not too far from some of the main thoroughfares in Saint Petersburg and close to the Neva, which thankfully means that the sidewalks are usually kept clear of lingering snow without being constantly overflowing with people. And while Makkachin can’t talk (strictly speaking), Viktor has to imagine that his dog would express appreciation for the clear sidewalks as well.

It’s still bitterly cold, and Viktor is shivering when he gets back indoors. Makkachin, on the other hand, looks ready for round two.

“Sorry Makka! That’s all you’re gonna get for now. I have to get to the rink, but when I get back—” Viktor is interrupted by Makkachin tackling his legs, sweeping them out from under him.

He lands with an “oof,” but quickly recovers and starts petting the poodle.

“I know, I know. Winter isn’t much fun for you.”

Makkachin whines at him, pawing at his thigh. Viktor smushes Makka’s face lovingly, then stands up and pulls out his phone.

To his surprise, he has a new text.

 

YK:

It wasn’t easy, but he took it pretty well.

He said almost the same thing as you.

VN:

that you shouldn’t retire?

YK:

Yeah. But that he can’t hate me for it either.

 

He should be happy that Yuuri told someone else, that he is no longer the lone confidant. But it’s hard, knowing that Yuuri has taken another step towards his retirement. Viktor clenches his teeth and shakes his head.

 

He’d really thought he was past feeling any resentment over Yuuri’s impending retirement, especially after the events of the banquet. Yet he can’t ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.

Viktor leans over and strokes Makkachin’s head, exhaling.

 

VN:

oh Yuuri, I don’t think anyone could ever hate you.

YK:

Thanks, I guess? Tell that to Michele Crispino

I think I knew the same about Phichit, but it’s easy to forget.

 

Viktor leans up against the walls and crosses his legs, Makkachin draping his paws over Viktor’s ankle. He doesn’t have much time before he needs to leave, but he also doesn’t want to stop the conversation.

 

VN:

what are you doing up this late anyway?

YK:

Phichit and I had a movie marathon together.

But he fell asleep a little bit ago, judging by the light snoring next to me.

VN:

so what were you watching?

YK:

I honestly couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it.

It’s got a Daniel Craig look alike in it, so maybe that narrows it down a bit?

But beyond that, I have no clue.

 

Laughter slips from Viktor, and he bites his lip.

VN:

good thing I’m not here to quiz you on it, then

I’ve got to go to practice now, or Yuri will probably actually kill me

please get some good sleep!

YK:

Well we wouldn’t want that, would we?

And thanks, I’m going to need it. I still have to tell Celestino tomorrow ಠ╭╮ಠ

 

Viktor locks his phone and gives Makkachin one last affectionate rub before heaving his skate bag over his shoulder.

Even with the cold weather, Viktor often walks to the rink. But since he’s running late, he fiddles in his pocket and pulls out his keyring, absently toying with it in his hand as he takes the elevator to the garage. Taking his car is definitely faster, and it also has the added benefit of keeping him warm.

Viktor’s not the biggest fan of driving, but at least he has his own parking space both here and at the rink. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have a car otherwise. Just having to park his car on the street for the first week of moving in was enough of a nightmare to convince him of that.

He unlocks the car with the push of a button, and quickly turns up the seat heater before gunning it out into Saint Petersburg traffic.

 


 

Yuuri sleeps restlessly that night, tossing and turning as he grapples with countless rehashings of confessing his retirement to Celestino.

He wakes cold and clammy before his alarm goes off, and lays in bed, staring aimlessly at the posters on his wall. Even after dreaming about it all night, he still isn’t sure how he is going to tell Celestino. The “easiest” option is to just march into his coach’s office, close his eyes, spout off the news, then march out.

But there’s no way Yuuri could ever do that, he has way too many emotions tied to skating and Celestino to do something so unceremonious. Far more likely is a lengthy conversation where Celestino tries to reason with Yuuri. Like Viktor initially did. Like Phichit wanted to.

He could play hooky for the day; pretend to be sick or just avoid the rink. Phichit probably wouldn’t sell him out.

Yet that also sits poorly with him. It would be unfair to delay any longer if he’s withdrawing from Nationals, not to mention how heavily it would weigh on Yuuri the rest of the day. He already feels queasy, it’s hard to imagine how bad it could get if he does nothing.

Deciding he might as well embrace the fact that he is awake this early, Yuuri ambles into the kitchen and puts some water on to boil for tea. Then, he checks the fridge, rooting around to see if Phichit bought groceries while Yuuri was away. He’s rewarded with eggs and turkey bacon (Phichit refuses to buy regular bacon, despite Yuuri’s requests). He waits to start cooking breakfast until he has a mug of steaming tea in hand.

By the time he pats down the bacon to remove the grease, Phichit slips into the kitchen and takes a seat at the rickety table.

“Good morning, Yuuri,” comes his cheerful greeting.

“Morning.”

“You’re up early.”

“Didn’t sleep well, and despite what people may say, laying in bed is not nearly as restful. Might as well do something useful.”

Yuuri brings over two plates piled with eggs, bacon, and fresh berries as Phichit makes himself a cup of coffee.

Phichit looks him over as he settles into his seat again, “It’ll work out, Yuuri.”

“I know,” Yuuri mumbles into his plate.

Yuuri’s not sure if he appreciates Phichit respecting Yuuri’s reticence or not, though. He simultaneously doesn’t want to talk about it, but also wants to figure out how to do it. Yuuri’s stomach tightens as he eats, but he feels a small surge of pride that he manages to clean his plate despite his discomfort.

In the end, they eat mostly in silence, other than to plan when they will leave for the rink. Phichit suggests an earlier time than usual, which Yuuri accepts without protest. Sitting around in the apartment, waiting for hours on end sounds like an absolutely miserable experience.

Better to go and get it through with.

 

*

 

Yuuri doesn’t feel any better after arriving at the rink. Trudging through snow to get to even more ice isn’t a great pick-me-up. Nor does he miraculously come up with a better idea than walking to Celestino’s office while Phichit warms up.

It feels like he has actual weights on his shoulder as he trudges up the stairs to Celestino’s office overlooking the ice, slowing him down as his thoughts race. He barely has to knock before a voice booms from within.

“Yuuri! Come on in!”

Yuuri exhales and inhales one more time before pushing open the door. The room looks much the same it did when Yuuri was last in it—save for one addition. Yuuri’s heart twinges painfully when he sees it.

There’s already a framed photo of Yuuri and Celestino at the Kiss & Cry from the GPF, front and center on his desk. How on Earth did Celestino find time to not only print a professional photo, but also have it framed nicely?

“Good to see you, Yuuri! Feeling any better after all that travel? I even slept late yesterday,” Celestino laughs merrily. “What do you want to work on before Nationals?”

“Uh,” Yuuri starts, trying to find the words. His jaw hangs open as he fumbles, trying to summon the strength to say it.

To tell Celestino that it’s time, that he’s going to retire. Through the window, Yuuri spies Phichit marking a jump in his routine. Celestino stares at him, expression growing more confused as the seconds tick by.

“Yuuri…?”

It’s too much.

Yuuri bolts out the door, taking the stairs three steps at a time as he runs. His jacket catches on a door handle as he goes, and he nearly rips through the pocket in his haste to free it. He doesn’t stop to think until he’s outside again, frigid December air biting at his throat and filling his lungs as he gasps.

He leans up against the wall of the rink, hot tears streaking across his face as he sobs, mingling with snowflakes lazily drifting down. He can’t just leave Celestino like that! He needs to go back!

Yuuri tries to muster the strength, to slow his breathing. He calms down enough to stop his crying, but as soon as he takes a step towards the door he falters again. Overwhelming emotion slams into him, twisting in his gut as he thinks about what it means to tell Celestino that he’s done. The finality of it, the pleading he knows will follow. The people he will be letting down; Celestino, Phichit, Viktor, Yuri, and…

Yuuri takes a deep breath again.

He should talk with Phichit, if nothing else. Maybe, if he asks for help…

Yuuri takes another step forward, closer to the door. His legs wobble precariously, but he doesn’t immediately lean back against the concrete wall again. He pushes forward again, halfway to the door—when he realizes that Phichit is out on the ice, practicing.

Yuuri has no right to interrupt that. Phichit is trying his hardest to be the best skater he can for Four Continents, and Yuuri can’t burden him with problems like that. It isn’t fair.

Leaning back against the rough wall, Yuuri’s strength is sapped away by the chilly wind, clawing at his clothes and face.

He just…wants to talk to someone, someone who knows. To try and figure this out. He’s always struggled on his own, and it’s taken him this long to figure out that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Desperation takes hold of him, and Yuuri pulls out his phone. His fingers are numb as he presses the call button. He doesn’t expect an answer, really. But when there’s a click after the third ring, he inhales sharply.

“Hello? Yuuri? Are you alright?!”

“Viktor!”

 

*

 

Viktor is brushing his teeth before bed when his phone rings. He’s instantly alert, dropping his toothbrush on the counter and spitting out what’s left. Nobody ever calls him this late.

He sprints across his bathroom and snaps his phone up from the bed, startling Makkachin in the process. Yuuri Katsuki’s information flashes across the screen, and Viktor recoils.

He recovers quickly, trying to calm his racing heart. “Hello? Yuuri? Are you alright?”

“Viktor!”

“Is something wrong?” Viktor asks, waiting a moment. “Yuuri?”

“I’m sorry—I. I didn’t expect you to pick up.”

There is a scuffle of noise, like the phone is being moved away. “Wait! Yuuri! What’s going on?”

A muffled sigh, followed by another burst of noise. “Okay.” There’s another pause, but Viktor waits patiently this time, hands twisting in Makkachin’s fur for reassurance. “You know how I’m supposed to tell Celestino today,” Yuuri gulps, “tell him that I’m retiring.”

Viktor nods, then remembers Yuuri can’t see him. “Yes, you mentioned it.”

“Well,” Yuuri starts, voice growing stronger. “I kinda just went to tell him, but panicked and ran out of his office instead. I just…couldn’t…” Yuuri chokes out. “And now I’m outside, sitting in the snow.”

Yuuri quiets again, almost a whisper in Viktor’s ear. “Talking to you.”

Viktor almost wants to laugh at his imagination of the scene, of Yuuri huddling up against a building, battered by snow; but he senses the vulnerability in Yuuri’s voice and holds it back.

“Hey,” Viktor says, in his warmest voice. “It’s going to be okay. You will figure this out.”

“That’s just it though. I thought I had it figured out.”

Viktor furrows his brows, “What do you mean?”

“I was going to tell him. I just didn’t know how. I thought—” Yuuri swallows. “I thought that if nothing else, I could stand in front of him and force the words out. But I couldn’t. Because…because…”

Viktor waits again, wanting to give space for Yuuri.

“Because maybe I’m not sure anymore.”

Viktor’s heart skips a beat, mouth opening and closing without any noise coming out.

“Viktor?”

“Y—you aren’t sure you want to retire anymore?” Viktor forces out, the words unbelievably heavy.

“I guess so,” Yuuri sighs. “I haven’t really let myself think about it seriously, it was like a foregone conclusion.”

“What…” Viktor pauses, “What changed? I mean—” Viktor pitches his voice up, “I’m excited! I just—you seemed so determined.” That night, Viktor had to accept that Yuuri was going to stop, and he is still grappling with it.

But to hear all that might change…

It’s thrilling, but it feels like a fundamental piece of the puzzle has just changed shapes, no longer fitting into the rough hole it once occupied.

“You, Yuri, Chris,” Yuuri starts, “All of you have given me a glimpse of what it’s like to skate when you aren’t happy. And what it might be like to continue if I am happy. I think that’s part of what I’ve been missing. That I’m happy when I’m competing.”

Yuuri pauses, then speaks again, voice a bit goofy. “Well, happy, and stressed, and nervous, and a bunch of other things too.” Viktor laughs into the phone at the rambling addition, some of his tension ebbing away. “But it seems to be working out for me, and I kind of don’t want to quit.”

“That’s okay.” Viktor sets his voice, and tries again. “No, that’s great. You’re nearly unstoppable right now, and I want to see you continue. But only if you want to.”

There’s a small squeak on the other end of the line, followed by, “Nearly?”

Viktor laughs again, Makkachin sitting up at the sound. “Yuri might have something to say about it.”

“I think he already did.”

“What—?”

“Oh, uh, it’s nothing.” Yuuri cuts him off before he finishes, “I just get that sense.”

Viktor exhales happily, letting himself revel for a moment in the knowledge that Yuuri probably isn’t retiring yet. “So, do you go tell Celestino now?”

“Probably,” Yuuri agrees. “I at least owe him an explanation for panicking his office.” Yuuri pauses, and Viktor absently runs his hands through Makka’s curls, the dogs warm presence a balm. “It’s…going to be strange.”

“In what way?”

“I’ve made this monumental decision, changing my plan for the last year, going against what I promised myself when I started skating again,” Yuuri laughs quietly. “And nobody but you and Phichit will know the difference unless I tell them.”

“It’s like…the world stopped, shifted, and then started again, but you’re the only one to know,” Viktor says, voicing his own feelings.

“Yeah. Well, and you and Phichit,” Yuuri adds. “And maybe Celestino, if I can muster the courage.”

Viktor murmurs in agreement.

“Viktor, I really—thank you for talking with me. I didn’t expect you to pick up; I know it’s late.”

It may be well past midnight at this point, but Viktor would do it again in a heartbeat. “Yuuri, you’re my friend. There’s very little I wouldn’t do for you.”

“I—thanks,” Yuuri says again, choking over the words.

“Of course,” Viktor whispers back.

There are a couple seconds of silence, dead air, before they both start talking simultaneously.

“Well I don’t want to keep you awake—”

“I hope practice goes well—”

Viktor stops and smiles. “Let me know how it goes.”

“Alright,” Yuuri agrees. “Get some sleep.”

Viktor sets the phone down, and tries to fall asleep.

Tries.

And when sleep doesn’t come, he instead imagines all of the incredible things Yuuri might be able do on the ice now; things that Viktor did and didn’t do.

 

*

 

Celestino is surprisingly unfazed when Yuuri confesses his earlier intention to retire. The words still feel strange and mushy as they come out, that he intends to keep skating.

“I almost figured you would do something crazy like that,” Celestino had said with a shake of his head. “I’m glad you’ve worked it out though. Now, shoo! Get to practicing while I finish this paperwork for you.”

When Yuuri steps out onto the ice, Phichit approaches him, positively buzzing with questions, like:

“Why’re you out here Yuuri?”

“How’d it go with Celestino?”

“You’re gonna keep skating!?” followed by an enthusiastic spin and fist pump.

And then quieter, more curious, “You talked to Viktor about it?”

Yuuri fills him in on all of the details; his panic-driven call to Viktor followed by almost immediately hanging up. The admission of what he had realized days ago at the Grand Prix Finals but buried away, that he really doesn’t want to stop skating. Viktor’s levelheaded, insistent support through it all.

Phichit appropriately oohs and ahhs through it, dramatizing it in exactly the way that Yuuri knew he would. Yuuri does pick up on the slight twinge in Phichit’s expression when he mentions not wanting to bother Phichit while he was practicing.

“Does…does it bother you?” Yuuri asks thoughtlessly, immediately slapping a hand over his mouth in horror.

Phichit giggles at the reaction, “Not really—I’m not always going to be around. I think it’s good that there is someone else you can talk with about these kinds of things. Though it does feel a bit weird to be sharing you.”

Yuuri elbows Phichit in his bony side, who reaches out for the rink guardrail to stabilize himself. “Heyyy! I mean it,” Phichit says, his expression sobering. “Yuuri…you tend to have a hard time…talking with people, so I’m glad there’s someone new you can open with.” Phichit skates out of reach before adding, “It doesn’t hurt that he’s an incredibly handsome Russian skater either.”

Unable to elbow his friend again, Yuuri settles for rolling his eyes at Phichit instead. “Former skater, technically.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. Based on what you told me, it sounds like his coaching involves a great deal of skating anyway.”

Yuuri throws himself into practicing after that, savoring the red-hot burn of his muscles as he continually pushes them. It feels good to be back on the ice again, even if it has only been a few days.

He runs through his programs, doggedly ignoring Phichit’s wolf whistles throughout. Yuuri works up a few small variations of his programs with slightly less difficulty for Nationals. There’s no reason he should push himself to go all-out at the smaller competition; better he save it for Four Continents and Worlds.

When Celestino emerges from his office later mid-way through Yuuri putting together one of the variations, he claps excitedly.

“Oh, brilliant Yuuri! You’re already working on simplifying it for Nationals. I was just about to come ask you to start on that. Run it through from the top for me.”

Groaning without any real bite, Yuuri resets himself and begins anew, a small smile prickling his face.

 


 

Despite his and Yura’s more relaxed approach to preparing for Russian Nationals, it’s clear that not everyone at the rink shares their calmer mindset. Yakov, intentionally or not, has whipped many of his skaters into a frenzy, all but demanding they finish first in their respective categories.

Yuri himself seems utterly uninterested in stressing about Nationals, wagging his head and telling Viktor, “if nobody could even come close at the Grand Prix Finals, I’m not sweating about Nationals, that would just be pathetic.”

Yuri’s attitude remains a curious exception, though. Many of the other younger skaters shy away from Yakov as he prowls around the ice. Some seek out Viktor for help during his and Yuri’s plenitude of breaks, asking him to watch as they practice for a few minutes without the harsh scrutiny of Yakov’s steely eyes to unnerve them. Viktor does what he can to help them, and at the end of each day he tries to strike up a friendly conversation in the locker room with whoever seems to be having a particularly rough go of it.

Still, tensions build throughout the week. On Thursday, Viktor sees Mila snap back at Yakov after a particularly rough run through of her programs. In Viktor’s opinion, it’s not even that bad. She’s just trying too hard, overcommitting at a few key turns, and Yakov’s constant insistence to “do it better” doesn’t exactly seem to be helping.

If nothing else, Viktor does go home tired enough to fall asleep easily, unlike the night after talking with Yuuri. They keep texting, Viktor eager to hear about Yuuri’s return to practicing, though it does take a bit to pry details out of him. Like Yura, Yuuri seems uninterested in Japanese Nationals, but he keeps talking about how excited he is to continue competing.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition, though Viktor supposes he understands. Nationals seems small compared to the likes of the Grand Prix Finals, or the promise of Four Continents and Worlds. But Yuuri seems keen even beyond that, eyes set on something out of Viktor’s view.

And it’s intoxicating, infectious. Like the first sip of a warm cappuccino on a bitter-cold Saint Petersburg morning.

He wants to know more, wants to be part of it. But he also doesn’t want to push, press Yuuri too hard. Not when he opened up so recently, trusting Viktor again with something so vulnerable. So he does his best to remain content with their daily conversations and check-ins, hearing about Yuuri’s (and by extension, Phichit’s) skating shenanigans.

By Friday, Yuuri starts having Phichit record a few of his jumps and then shares the video with Viktor for feedback. It’s thrilling, to be included like that. Like he’s passed some test he didn’t even know he was participating in. He stays honest with his feedback, even when it isn’t the most flattering. Yuuri expresses profuse gratitude no matter what Viktor has to say, so it’s hard to tell how he’s really feeling.

He wants Yuuri to be the best he can, and feeding him sweet lies about the quality of his Quad Salchow isn’t going to help him improve in any meaningful way.

Although, it is a bit tempting to see where flattery might get him.

As the week draws to a close, Viktor notes again that Georgi has been exceedingly quiet and hard-working, not once griping about the long practices or coming in on Saturday. Viktor has watched his routines a few times, and there’s been a dramatic improvement from before the GPF.

Georgi’s emoting much more in his choreography, and there’s a slight difference in his jumps that Viktor might attribute to confidence, or just relentless practice.

When they retire to the locker room after Saturday’s practice, Viktor sits next to his counterpart as he unbinds his skates. He’s so incredibly used to Georgi taking the initiative, it’s a shock when the man continues staring into space after Viktor settles in. Viktor almost pokes him, but retracts his finger.

“Feeling tired?”

Georgi glances up at Viktor, noticing him for the first time. He smiles, without much heart. “Definitely, I’m turning off my alarm and sleeping in tomorrow as late as I can.”

“Sometimes, it feels like that’s all a day off can be good for,” Viktor agrees.

“Ah, but there’s so much you can do when there isn’t a major competition looming,” Georgi says wistfully. “Museums, restaurants, parks, travelling. Just getting to explore a bit outside skating, you know.”

“Yeah…” Viktor sighs, his imagination nearly wandering off. “Are you eager to get Nationals over?”

“It’s not that exactly,” Georgi waffles, “But this week has been hard.”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” Viktor says suddenly. “Let’s get lunch tomorrow, my treat.”

“Viktor, you don’t need to—”

“I want to, Georgi. Oh, Dinner maybe? That way you can sleep in,” Viktor amends. “I feel like it’s been ages since we’ve had a chance to spend any time together outside of the rink,” Viktor lightly elbows his friend. Georgi seems to think about it for a few seconds, but Viktor holds his gaze.

“Alright, alright. At least let me pick the place, then.”

“Deal!” Viktor smiles widely, then turns his full attention to untangling the knot he’s managed to create. Georgi huffs in amusement, before turning to unlace his own skates.

 


 

The following evening, Viktor meets Georgi in the Palace Square by the Hermitage at his request. After confirming that Georgi got to sleep in, they start walking; past the Alexandrovskaya Column and along the Moika River. Uncertain where he’s being guided, Viktor simply enjoys the cold-crisp air, the enticing scents of coffee and food, and the friendly banter as they walk. There are a surprising number of people out and about, and every ground-level store seems to be open, glowing with illumination and heat despite the harsh darkness of winter.

It’s easy to fall into a pattern with Georgi, who happily starts talking about his favorite memories of Petersburg as they walk. They pass by the Japanese Consulate, which Viktor notes with some interest, before continuing along a couple more blocks.

Viktor would have kept walking along the winding river, warm conversation abating the chilly evening, but Georgi tugs Viktor’s arm, and they pivot into a Georgian restaurant Viktor hasn’t noticed before.

It’s tucked in a bit of a corner, but it’s shining with light like anywhere else. Warm heat envelops Viktor as soon as he steps inside, and he quickly sheds his tan overcoat. An older woman with gray strands flitting through brown hair shepherds them to a tiny table, smushed in the corner. Faint strains of music seem to waft through the maroon walls, with no source of origin. They’re offered menus, but Georgi refuses them, glancing at Viktor with a twinkle in his eye.

“I’ve been here quite a bit; trust me.”

Viktor spreads his arms, more than willing to oblige.

Georgi orders right away, Viktor vaguely recognizing some of the words. He’s never been much of a cook, but he does love eating. He does not get long to think about it before they are each brought a generous glass of red wine.

Viktor swirls it around absently before taking a sip, finding it surprisingly light and flavorful.

“Neat place,” Viktor offers.

“Yes, it was recommended to me years ago, and I’ve been coming ever since. It’s one of the best kept secrets, I think.”

Viktor raises an eyebrow, “Setting a high bar there, aren’t you?”

Georgi leans back in his seat, chair scraping against the wall for a second. “I’m not worried.”

Viktor can’t help laughing at the haughty expression on his friend’s face. They each take another sip of wine, looking around. Viktor tries to identify where the lovely music is coming from, but with no success.

“So, how were the Finals?” Georgi asks.

Viktor glances at him in surprise at the question. “Good!” Viktor squeezes out, voice betraying him. Georgi continues staring at him and Viktor falters. “Truthfully, it was…complicated.”

“That sounds more like it,” Georgi says. “How so?”

Viktor shrugs, not entirely sure he wants to get into it. “It was fun, for sure. Being there as a coach. But…” he trails off.

“But…?” Georgi prods him.

“But stressful too, not just because I was coaching. Yakov was high-strung, as usual,” Georgi nods, as if that clears everything up. “It’s hard not to feel good, though, with Yuri doing so well,” Viktor finishes.

“Can’t say I know the feeling,” Georgi sighs.

Viktor’s eyes snap to Georgi’s hanging head. “Oi, you’re working your ass off now!” Georgi looks up in confusion. “Yeah, I see you at the rink. And I watched your program, it looks great.”

“Maybe. It took missing the Grand Prix Finals to get me here, though.”

“Georgi,” Viktor says, voice patient. “You’re probably the most prepared for Nationals out of anyone at the rink right now.”

A small smile tugs at the corner of Georgi’s mouth, “Thanks. It’s…easy to focus on the negatives sometimes. Anya’s been telling me not to ‘get lost in my sorrows’ at least three times a week now.”

“Anya?” Viktor asks, suspicion dawning on him.

“My girlfriend,” Georgi says.

“I’d heard something about that, but it never seems to go well when I just assume something about people I know,” Viktor explains.

“Didn’t you used to—”

“Yes, yes, I was an ass,” Viktor says dismissively. “Tell me about Anya?”

Georgi’s smile widens, eyes lifting too. “Anya’s wonderful! She’s an ice dancer,” Georgi says with some pride. “We first met at a competition over the summer in France, and then when we both returned to Petersburg, we went on our first date.”

“Here?” Viktor asks, curiosity getting the better of him.

Georgi shakes his head, “No, but we have eaten here together. We went to an Italian place for the first night,” Georgi sighs contentedly, smile going a bit loopy. “There’s little I wouldn’t do for her.”

Viktor resists the temptation to roll his eyes at Georgi’s melodrama, instead taking another sip of wine.

“Well, I’m glad you’ve found each other,” Viktor manages after setting his glass down.

“Me too,” Georgi echoes. “She’s the one who has pushed me to work harder in skating. She wants me to win gold at Nationals.”

“Sounds like a good reason to go all out,” Viktor says with a shrug.

“Yes, but she’s also reignited my own passion!” Georgi whispers over the table conspiratorially.

Viktor smiles helplessly at that. How can he not be happy for his friend?

It’s evident in the way that Georgi’s expression lifts each time he talks about Anya how much she matters to him. Especially if she’s helping him through the hellish attention from a determined Yakov this past week. And no matter how sappy Georgi might be, Viktor won’t fault his friend for it.

Or, so he promises himself.

Their food arrives, the older woman setting down a steaming plate of dumpling-looking things, and what Viktor recognizes as a kind of khachapuri, bread baked into a circle with space left in the center to be filled in. As best Viktor can tell, there seems to be a cheese filling with an egg on top. It smells absolutely heavenly, the rich aroma of unseen spices wafting up. It can’t be the healthiest, but it looks delicious.

“Yakov would hate us if he saw all of this,” Viktor says.

“Definitely,” Georgi concurs. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Viktor bobs his head quickly, reaching for a dumpling. It’s too big to be eaten all at once, so he carefully takes a bite using a fork.

Heat floods his mouth, nearly scalding. He adjusts quickly though, and the last chill of winter is banished from his mind as he closes his eyes, focusing on the fascinating flavors.

Vkusno!” Viktor declares, after swallowing.

Georgi laughs after finishing his own bite. “The khinkali here are to die for,” he says before finishing off the dumpling.

He turns his attention to the khachapuri, tearing off a chunk of the bread and dunking it in the cheese and egg before unceremoniously putting it in his mouth. It’s heavy and filling, but tasty; warming Viktor from his cheeks down to his toes. Across from him, Georgi is similarly indisposed, tearing away at the bread happily.

Viktor could get used to this; good food with a good friend. He turns back to his own food, scooping up another khinkali.

 


 

Nationals go swimmingly the next week for Yuuri; he claims a comfortable first place finish without having to pull out the quad flip. Viktor harangues him about it briefly, but doesn’t have much of a chance to say more than that before getting pulled away for the Russian Nationals. Which is just as well, as it takes care of any potential awkwardness around Viktor’s birthday. Yuuri sends him a sincere, if brief, message the day of, but Viktor seems fairly occupied by Yuri’s competition.

Very little happens outside of the competition, despite being back in Japan. Minako decides to attend (because she must have nothing better to do, Yuuri reasons). They have dinner together each night, which helps soothe whatever small nerves Yuuri feels for the competition.

He’s still mostly unfamiliar with the other Japanese skaters, and keeps to himself while they are in the hotel. The only curious moment comes when he turns a corner at the rink after practicing and comes face-to-face with bright-eyed boy with a strand of red hair shooting through blond.

“Oh, uh, hi Yuuri!” The boy says, a curious mix of excitement and nervousness tinging his voice. “My name’s Kenjirou Minami, you’re a huge fan of mine!” A look of panic crosses his face, “Wait, no! I mean—I mean, I’m a huge fan of yours.”

The boy’s—Minami’s—dread transfers to Yuuri for a second, and his pulse quickens. But he runs the words through his head again, and chuckles softly. “Hello Minami, it’s nice to meet you too.”

“You’re not…mad?” Minami asks, eyes widening.

A smile tugs at Yuuri’s cheeks, and he shakes his head. “Not at all. It’s not every day I get to meet a fan who is also a skater,” Yuuri says, nodding to the bag on Minami’s shoulder emblazoned with the Japanese flag.

Minami positively quivers with excitement, words tumbling out. “I’ve always admired your skating, and I’m so happy you came back!” A voice down the hallway calls out, and Minami waves in the same direction. “I can’t stay long because I’m practicing next, but…wouldyoupleasesignthisforme?”

Yuuri stares, dumbstruck. “Pardon?”

“Would you please sign this for me? Please?” Minami offers up a sharpie and a small poster of Yuuri he’s somehow produced from thin air.

Yuuri looks around again, baffled, before taking the sharpie and signing.

Minami squeals with joy, tucking the poster back into his bag (so that’s where it came from), before quickly squeezing Yuuri’s hand. “Alright, I’ve got to go but thank you so much Yuuri! I can’t wait to skate on the same ice as you tomorrow! Watch for me!”

Minami bolts off down the hallway at a startling speed.

“I will!” Yuuri calls after him.

He continues walking, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the encounter. Yet, he’s still left with a smile on his face as he enters the locker room.

The next day, Yuuri does watch for Minami; enjoying the funky and upbeat routine the younger skater performs. He claps after the routine, cheering Minami on. In response, Minami seems to break out in tears, which nearly terrifies Yuuri, but Minami thanks him profusely afterwards.

Yuuri remains shockingly sober throughout the banquet dinner this time, in stark contrast to his last banquet just a few weeks ago. He spends ample time talking with sponsors alongside Celestino, trying to make up for his previous absence despite how boring it is to move from business conversation to business conversation. Celestino finally caves in and sends him off for a drink after a while, confident that together they have at least secured one additional sponsorship.

Yuuri’s only in Nagano for all of four days before turning around and hopping on a flight back to Detroit. He jokes with Celestino that they spent as much time travelling as they did staying in Japan.

When he’s back in his apartment, he promptly watches through most of the Russian Nationals footage, paying close attention to Yuri Plisetsky’s gold-medal winning routines. He texts Viktor with a running commentary, because, why not?

Viktor doesn’t seem to mind the frequent texts, often responding to Yuuri’s quips and commentary about some of the skaters with some his own. When Yuuri finishes watching Yuri Plisetsky’s routines, he’s quick to text Viktor.

YK:

You must be doing something right, Yuri was incredible for both programs.

Nobody else even came close.

VN:

if I told him you said that, he would probably ascend into the stratosphere.

and then agree with you.

YK:

Well, he’s not wrong.

I mean, those damn spins. How is he so flexible?

VN:

no, but he’s fucking annoying about it and uses to avoid practice.

YK:

Don’t you also use it as an excuse to avoid practice?

VN:

yes, but that’s not the point here, Yuuri.

the point is that Yuri has an inflated ego, and you aren’t helping.

 

Yuuri spends a minute cackling at that before responding.

 

YK:

You could just give him my contact info directly

Then I could tell him exactly what I think

Cut out the middle man

VN:

yeah, but then he would literally never practice and just text you

and he’s got a Juniors tournament coming up before Worlds that he really should do a little more prep for

besides, its my job to text you

YK:

So make him practice, then?

VN:

its not that easy

 

Yuuri rolls his eyes. Poor, poor Viktor.

Still jetlagged from travelling, it’s way later than he should reasonably be up, and he should at least try giving sleep a go. He sends off a last message before climbing into bed and plugging in his phone.

YK:

Sounds like a coaching problem.

Good thing you know a professional coach. I’m sure Yakov will give you a discount if you ask nicely.

 


 

Everyone returns from Russian Nationals in a good mood, fresh off first place finishes and filled with enthusiasm for the New Year. Viktor is particularly happy for Georgi, who seems to glow with excitement after edging out a Moscow skater for gold this time. Viktor was able to celebrate his birthday with his friends this year, too. They all took him out for a lovely dinner on the last night they were in Sochi, even if it was a few days after the day.

Yakov deigned to give them all few days off over the New Year, provided they take part in an interview just before the short vacation for publicity. Claiming that “Viktor could handle it,” Yakov disappears early on their last day, leaving Viktor to supervise the gold medal winners.

A smartly dressed man with a pen tucked behind his ear and burly fellow with an extravagant-looking camera arrive in the afternoon, and Viktor abandons his coaching post at the rink to welcome them. The well-dressed man flashes his network credentials as Viktor walks over, introducing himself as Adrian. They make mostly boring conversation about the Nationals as the photographer—Sasha, the reporter tells him, takes various shots of Mila, Georgi, and Yuri as they finish their practicing.

Despite the innocuous small talk, Viktor finds himself oddly on guard around Adrian. Maybe it’s the way his eyes seem to drift away from the rink and towards Viktor as they wait, or the odd sorts of questions he begins to slip into their conversation about Viktor’s skating history. It’s not like he hasn’t dealt with plenty of slimy press before, but it feels particularly strange when he’s not even the one to be interviewed. Still, Viktor knows better than to be rude to the press, and he does his best to politely redirect the conversation whenever possible.

Eventually, everyone gets off the ice, and Viktor takes a step back to let each of them talk for themselves. He only has to elbow Yuri into speaking once, which he considers an improvement. Adrian asks lots of questions about Nationals, competing against other Russian skaters. Yuri’s disinterest in his countrymen seems particularly fascinating to the man, and he prods at Yura repeatedly until the younger skater bluntly states “there’s nobody in Russia even close to me, my attention is on the rest of the world.”

Viktor smirks at the words, quite used to hearing something similar, but amused at the shock on Adrian’s face. The questions start to slow after an hour, and Sasha starts grabbing and rearranging the three skaters for cover photos. Viktor even gets looped into a few, standing with his arms crossed as the three skaters pose in front of him.

After that, Viktor lingers back as Sasha finishes up. As he leans against the guardrails of the ice, Adrian approaches him, and Viktor once again feels something uncomfortable tingle up his spine.

“So, what’s it like from the other side?” he asks nonchalantly.

“It’s both exactly like what I expected, and nothing like what I expected.”

Adrian laughs, the sound high and tinny. “It seems to suit you, whatever the case. You know, I heard something interesting about the Grand Prix Finals.” A thousand possibilities flit through Viktor’s mind. Hadn’t everyone agreed not to share or post anything? People had certainly been drunk, but nobody had even seemed to consider lying that night.

Still, Viktor managers to keep from reacting as his body floods with adrenaline. “Oh?”

Adrian turns to look at Viktor, the network badge pinned to his shoulder almost glinting. “I heard that you danced with a certain male skater. Yuuri Katsuki?” He smiles slyly, “Is that right?”

Denying it crosses his mind for barely a second. There might be consequences, but he’s not going to let the rumor mill run rampant with speculation. Better to try and nip it in the bud.

“Yes, that’s right. We did share a dance,” Viktor says, voice tight.

“Was that all?”

This time, Viktor can’t stop his eyes from narrowing. “I don’t follow.”

“Hmm, interesting. Well, I’d best be off,” Adrian says, pushing up off the rink guard. “Sasha! Let’s go!”

Sasha turns towards Viktor and Adrian, clicking the camera one more time before departing. The two of them disappear out the door, but Viktor’s heart doesn’t stop thumping.

Mila walks towards Viktor, “What was that about?”

Dragging his eyes away from the door, Viktor turns to Mila, “I’m not entirely sure.”

Despite his retirement, he’s still famous and beloved across the country. People have always taken an…unhealthy interest in Viktor’s personal life. Over the years, he’s managed to minimize that exposure, centering it on himself and his skating. Somewhat selfishly, perhaps at first, but then out of necessity. Curiosity in his family and his past waned as he won championships.

He thought that in retirement, people might lose interest altogether. Yet this particular topic doesn’t seem to fade, no matter how much he ignores or deflects it. It doesn’t help that he often gets added to ridiculous “eligible bachelor” lists that fans around the world seem to gobble up.

But that—Adrian—felt different. He has a suspicion why.

This is Russia, after all.

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 18: Four Compliments

 

The New Year passes quite nicely for Viktor, he spends ample time with some of his friends for a rowdy New Year’s Eve celebration, filled with an absurd amount of music, dancing, laughing, and drinking. Thankfully, Viktor doesn’t have to play host and enjoys most of the evening thoroughly toasted. It’s a good way for them to commemorate his and Georgi’s birthdays again, too. So often they feel like an afterthought, and it’s nice to have this time together. He has a vague recollection of sharing a toast of champagne with Yura, but there are several fuzzy patches in his memory, clouding the events into a hazy evening of fun celebration.

While the morning of New Year’s Day is spent miserable in bed, Viktor enjoys a quieter dinner with Yakov and (a mostly) tolerant Lilia; as is their tradition.

From the time Viktor had started skating, Yakov has welcomed him into their New Year’s traditions. Each year, Viktor closes his eyes and vividly recalls how nervous he was the first year they spent together. How utterly isolated he had felt, with no real family to run to, adrift in the cold and unforgiving Saint Petersburg winter.

And how Lilia had swept him up in a bone-crushing hug and shoveled a dozen different delicious delicacies down his throat, as she has continued to do almost every year since. Now, he can remember that feeling, that loneliness; but it’s been supplanted by pleasant memories of aimless bickering over dinner, the clean, harsh bite of Yakov’s favorite vodka, and the warm, smokey scent of the fireplace, crackling with enticing heat.

Lilia left a bit earlier than normal, but not inappropriately so, considering the ongoing divorce. Viktor spends as little time as possible trying to talk about or understand Yakov and Lilia’s relationship while there, which seems to match their own approach. So, it’s just him and Yakov sitting in front of the fire this year, swirling chilly vodka around in wide glasses slick with condensation, talking into the wee hours of the morning.

They talk about Viktor’s retirement and his coaching; about his skating career and Yakov’s coaching; about Yuri’s promising future; and even about Yuuri Katsuki for a little bit before Viktor’s cheeks turn rosy and he clams up until Yakov changes the subject.

Still, it all leaves Viktor in a rather pleasant mood as they round the corner into 2015.

Well, except for one thing that keeps tugging at his mind at quiet little moments; when he is washing the dishes or folding his clothes.

What was it that Adrian had been fishing for?

Viktor knows, or suspects he knows, the answer.

Adrian had been trying to imply that Viktor and Yuuri might be together, to get a rise out of Viktor and bait him. It’s not totally new, a reporter trying to manipulate him for a slick headline. Yet, something unfamiliar but rather pleasant squirms around his insides at the thought of Yuuri and him...

More pressing, though, is that it’s clear that the media trying to find some big news piece about Russia’ former champion. And the news that Russia’s skating hero and heartthrob, Viktor Nikiforov, is gay would certainly cause a big stir.

Not that Viktor would necessarily even label himself as such.

As much as Viktor loves representing Russia, he quietly despises some of the archaic views his countrymen have adopted. Maybe it’s because he travels the world regularly, or maybe because his chosen art demands honest and open expression, but Viktor has always been openminded. He’s run into gay and lesbian couples throughout the years. He spent chunks of his teenage years idolizing David Bowie for his uncompromising true representation of himself. It was something he tried to emulate through costumes, presentation, and performance. As much as Russia’s restrictive outlook would let him, at least.

He’s flirted with the line a number of times, but nobody has ever called him on it outright. At least not in a public way. And he hasn’t challenged the status quo directly, either. It never felt like the right time, or a safe choice for his career. It helps that’s always been single, seen as available.

It’s just…relationships always seemed like a concept for someone else, someone who wasn’t constantly caught in a competitive and creative cycle that left precious little time and energy. Not to mention, Viktor would not have made a good partner back then. He can see that now, how he had often become obsessive and razor-focused on his work, ignoring those around him when it became convenient.

Sure, there had been a few discrete occasions with men or women through the years, but it was nearly always mechanical, detached. Clinical.

Meet, exchange pleasantries, get down to business, and move on afterwards. It was a formula that worked when he needed to find an outlet, when he wanted a release.

None of this had ever made into the news, of course. A deliberate effort on the part of Viktor and Yakov. Viktor had shied away from questions about his relationship status, deflecting back towards his career and work. In time, it was simply helpful for him to be seen as a perpetual bachelor. It became an appeal, to many. One that Viktor was content to leave alone.

And the idea that Russian media caught wind of something as simple as a dance together and is now “investigating” him is outrageous, infuriating.

Viktor, like any public persona, has seen his fair share of critical articles and pieces from enterprising “journalists,” who oftentimes twist a comment or event into something farcical. And each time, Viktor had been just as furious that people would do an about-face on his image and criticize him over something so simple. It tended to be Yakov who would talk him down from reacting volatilely, from lashing out on Twitter or confronting a reporter in response. As harsh as the older man could be during practice, he has become something of a media expert through the years. And at some point, Yakov had started to genuinely care about Viktor beyond his capabilities as a skater. Even if he hadn’t recognized it at the time.

But this time, it’s not really the idea of public perception that bothers Viktor. No, it’s the blatant digging at something so insignificant as a rumor about a goddamn dance. Friends dance together all the time! While at a private banquet, no less!

And that’s what he and Yuuri are, even after such a short time. You don’t just go through tumultuous life events together like the GPF without growing closer. Or something like that, Viktor tells himself.

Viktor returns to practice following the New Year, feeling mostly rested; but also slightly suspicious. He keeps a close eye on the news, toggling on alerts for his phone. It buzzes much more frequently than usual, driving Yura crazy. It only takes a few days for Yuri to let Viktor know exactly how he feels.

“I don’t care even if it’s Katsuki texting you that much, turn that shit off or I’m gonna kill you!”

Viktor almost smirks in response, but he’s likely to wind up bleeding out on the ice if he does. Death by Yuri Plisetsky’s skates.

“Don’t worry, it’s not,” Viktor says airily.

“Mute it or it’ll hit you in the face,” Yuri grumbles.

There’s been nothing in the news yet, so Viktor does turn down the notification sounds. If they were going to publish something, they would either do it right away, or wait in the hope of getting more information. Which they are not getting from him. So, they’ll likely keep laying in wait.

It’s not exactly comforting to know that there might be a hit piece brewing about you, so Viktor finds Yakov in his office after practice on Friday and tells him about the photoshoot and Adrian.

“You should have told me sooner,” Yakov says gruffly.

Viktor shrugs, noncommittal. He probably should have, but he’s not going to admit that. Better that they both enjoyed the holidays as much as possible. “I’m telling you now. There hasn’t been anything this week; I’ve been checking.”

Yakov grunts in response, getting up and walking to the cabinet behind Viktor. He returns with two clear glasses and that damn dusty bottle of vodka. He pours them each a few fingers, and Viktor accepts the glass with as neutral a face as he can muster.

“Is it true?” Yakov asks, at the same time as Viktor takes a swig of vodka. He coughs as the liquid burns down his throat, the acrid taste and question both leaving him flustered.

Viktor tries to speak, but it comes out mangled as another cough overtakes him.

“You know I don’t care that you like men; we’ve been through this before,” Yakov offers. “Plenty of skaters do.”

Viktor finally stops coughing. “I know, Yakov. And I appreciate it just as much now as I did back then. It’s more that…”

Yakov squints at him, and Viktor foolishly takes another sip of vodka to avoid staring back. At least he doesn’t descend into a coughing fit this time.

“You like him.”

“Well, yes, he’s my friend.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

At this point, it’s probably inadvisable to take yet another drink or he’ll run the risk of finishing it entirely too quickly. But it’s sorely tempting to do it anyway.

Viktor takes a breath, “Maybe.”

Yakov stares at him quietly. Viktor watches as his former coach lifts the glass to his face to drink and fidgets uncomfortably.

“I never thought I’d ever be interested in a relationship. With anyone,” Viktor adds.

He really hadn’t put much thought into what it would be like to want something more…permanent, because it never occurred to him that he might have that chance.

“I’d be happy for you, if you were,” Yakov says quietly.

“We’re friends,” Viktor says without conviction.

Yakov sighs abruptly, taking another pull of vodka. Viktor does the same.

“Why is it that these conversations are always here,” Viktor blurts out, gesturing with his nearly-empty glass.

“Because important conversations always warrant good vodka.”

“Really? ‘Good vodka,’” Viktor intones.

Yakov stares blankly, as if daring him to continue.

“Well, I’ll put out some feelers. See if I can figure out what’s being talked about,” Yakov says to break the silence.

“I don’t really care if people know, it’s the fact that they are searching for something that isn’t even there that gets under my skin,” Viktor spits out. “Those bastards.”

Yakov cocks an eyebrow at him. Few things irritate him like aggressive press; and he’s normally good at bottling those feelings. Viktor closes his eyes and takes a deep breath to calm himself.

“Thank you, Yakov.”

“You tell me if anything happens.”

“I’m sure you’re going to watch the news just the same as I am,” Viktor responds.

Yakov glares at him, “Again, that’s not what I meant.”

Viktor slams the rest of the vodka back, the surgical stench filling his nostrils as he tips the glass. He carefully places it on Yakov’s desk, then stands with a wobble. He moves to leave, but looks back as he closes the door, only to see Yakov raise an eyebrow at him.

 


 

The New Year comes and goes for Yuuri without much fanfare; a very different experience from his last New Years’ experience surrounded by family. It’s rather shocking when his sister calls and reminds him that it was just a year ago he had decided to start skating again, and commanding him to “look at how far you’ve come.”

Much as he loathes agreeing with his indignant sister sometimes, Yuuri has to admit she’s right. He’s managed to get back turn his body back into skate-ready form, create his own program, win qualifying tournaments with said programs, and then win the Grand Prix Finals, and become friends with Viktor Nikiforov in the process. If a time-traveller had visited Yuuri last New Year’s Eve and told him to expect even two or three of those things, he would have promptly dunked his head in the onsen for being too drunk.

But here he is now, a year later. Yuuri Katsuki, Grand Prix Champion.

Instead of a big party, he and Phichit have a modest celebration together during their few days off, commemorating each of their successes over the past year with a singular bottle of champagne split between the two of them (Yuuri can’t even finish his half without memories of the GPF banquet overtaking him).

At least neither of them have to travel over the holiday, Yuuri already back in Detroit from Nationals and Phichit waiting until Four Continents. That’s been the case before for Yuuri in years past, and it’s a miserable experience to be shuttled around the world at the start of a New Year.

They return to practice and fall into a tiring, but gratifying pattern. Yuuri wakes most mornings excited to get to the rink and continue improving his routines alongside Phichit. They watch each other practice, offering occasional feedback interspersed with Celestino’s directions. Yuuri keeps asking Phichit to take short videos of segments from his skates, which he then shares with Viktor to seek out advice or feedback.

Yuuri offers to do the same for Phichit, confident that Viktor would be willing to assist, but Phichit politely turns him down each time. Eventually, Yuuri stops asking. Viktor is quite enthusiastic about reviewing Yuuri’s footage, though. He is honest in a way that borders on harsh when he finds a mistake, but then provides a useful tip or suggestion to try and help remedy the issue. And he does it all with his characteristic positivity, whether by text or call.

Yuuri’s favorite is when they do it over Skype or Facetime, and he can see Viktor’s little smiles as they work.

It reminds him a bit of Celestino’s coaching style, but more direct (and sometimes, with more helpful advice). Yuuri wonders if Viktor gets his brief style from Yakov Feltsman, or from working with Yuri Plisetsky. Or both.

It’s not a stretch for him to imagine either of them being impatient, particularly given Yuuri’s own experience with Plisetsky.

Of course, talking with Viktor isn’t limited to Yuuri’s skating. While they usually start with skating feedback most days, Yuuri finds that their conversations often wander off; sometimes about Viktor coaching Yuri Plisetsky, sometimes about recent competitions, sometimes about nothing important at all. It becomes easy and comfortable, talking just the two of them.

Yuuri would never in a million years have guessed he would wind up in this place, where he has his idol, Viktor Nikiforov’s, contact information in his phone and the two of them communicate daily.

For years, when Yuuri returned to his apartment from practicing, he would look up at the posters of Viktor on his walls and hope to one day be a good enough skater to even meet the man. Now, he walks into his room and sees pictures of the man he speaks with every day. His…friend? Yuuri’s not exactly sure how to describe it, and his heart flutters nervously when he does. So, he stops trying to think about it too much and instead just falls into the habit of it. Yuuri grows accustomed to being able to turn to Viktor to unwind after a hard day of practicing; when Viktor is getting ready for sleep. To Viktor, checking in with him as he wakes up during a break in Viktor’s practice. They learn each other’s schedules, the time difference.

Well, it takes a few tries. And the occasional mis-timed call or text while one of them is sleeping, or in the middle of practice.

Yuuri pointedly remembers being woken up around 3 a.m. on a cold, mid-January morning by an overexcited Viktor sharing news about one of his younger students landing their first Triple Axel.

For a minute, Yuuri had just sleepily held the phone up to his ear and let Viktor babble away. But finally, he interjected “Congratulations, Viktor. To you and Natalia. But if I don’t go back to sleep now, Phichit will have to drag me out of bed by my ears. And that’s not fun for either of us,” he mumbles.

Viktor had laughed, and it was almost tempting enough for Yuuri to push through his bleary haze and respond again. “Okay, fair enough. Sorry I woke you, sleeping beauty.”

Yuuri grumbled again and hung up, but fell back asleep with a soft smile on his face.

 

 

At the end of January, as the European Championship approaches, Celestino starts pushing Yuuri and Phichit even harder in practice. Longer practices, more critical review. Celestino begins nipping at the both of them for being on their phones so much, far more than normal. Yuuri does his best to ignore it, to stuff down his irritation.

Why break the comfortable pattern and routine they’ve all adapted to? It’s not even like he or Phichit are competing in Euros; and they have an extra week and half after that until Four Continents. And Phichit doesn’t hesitate to make that same opinion known, loudly complaining in the Phichit way. Yuuri doesn’t say much himself, keeping his thoughts secondary to the work as best he can.

Still, it gets to be pretty grueling, wiping them both out day after day. They don’t have energy to do much besides limp home after practice and zombie-shuffle through the motions of dinner. Yuuri tries to keep up with Viktor as best he can. Celestino’s fanatic practice and scheduling seems to reach new heights in the week leading up to the Euros, but Yuuri musters the energy for a full conversation a few days before the competition.

It’s difficult for Yuuri to focus, though, fatigue tugging at his eyes and slowing his thoughts as Viktor’s voice drips through his phone speaker.

“—towards the end of the day. But she wouldn’t listen! And that started a whole new argument with Yakov,” Viktor says, pausing. “Yuuri? Are you still there?”

Yuuri shakes his head, trying to find the thread of conversation. Something about…Mila? He rubs his forehead, still throbbing slightly from a fall in practice. “Sorry Viktor, I zoned out.”

“Don’t worry about; just a little of the usual Mila drama.”

“Something you must be totally unfamiliar with,” Yuuri quips.

“Absolutely, I am never dramatic,” Viktor says without any hesitation or sarcasm. “You sound pretty tired,”

Yuuri’s tempted to interpret that as more of ‘you almost feel asleep during my story, what the hell kind of friend does that,’ but he’s learned that Viktor often means what he says. He doesn’t hide behind a turn of phrase or false platitudes. Based on what Yuuri’s seen, it’s sort of like his coaching style.

“Yeah. Celestino’s working us ragged,” Yuuri says, stretching his arms up over his head and stifling a yawn. “It’s been like this for a week almost and Four Continents is still weeks away. I think Phichit might be ready to murder him,” Yuuri confesses.

“As long as you’re not implicated. But, I—I had a bad habit of overworking myself when I skated, with or without Yakov’s direction,” Viktor says. “I don’t think I realized at the time how tiring it was. Or how much I was missing along the way. All I could see was what cup or tournament was next, never stopping or pausing until I was already burnt out without even knowing it.”

Yuuri frowns, “That’s…difficult. You’re saying I should practice less?”

“No! Well, yes,” Viktor sighs. “What I’m saying is that there’s a balance, one that I only learned about recently and probably haven’t even mastered quite yet. I imagine, from a coaching perspective, Celestino just wants you to be prepared. It’s your debut as the defending champion, after all. And as much as he probably wants you, personally, to succeed, it’s also a reflection on him.”

“That…makes sense,” Yuuri says dumbly.

Celestino wants them to be in top form. He might be going a bit overboard right now, but Yuuri shouldn’t really resent him for that, whether it’s for selfish reasons or otherwise. This is all to help them prepare for the next competition; where Phichit will have the chance to really make a name for himself, and Yuuri will defend his freshly minted gold medal.

Yuuri should try to reframe his thinking; adjust his attitude if he wants to keep his position at the top. It’s a completely foreign landscape for him, like another planet entirely. He’s entirely used to continuously trying to fight his way up the ladder.

“I guess I just don’t want you to fall into the same trap I did,” Viktor replies. “I certainly didn’t find that balance when I was skating, but maybe you can at least start trying.”

“Are you sure you’ve only been coaching for, like, a year? That seems…well, like some actual good advice,” Yuuri says. “Though it may be a bit hard to follow.”

“And here I am hoping nobody will notice I’m saying the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes, I feel lucky Yura hasn’t chucked me onto the streets for impersonating a coach.”

“He would do it too, I bet.”

“Probably. The fiery little cat,” Viktor agrees, affection coloring his voice. “Alright, well I should be going. And you should get to bed, soon,” Viktor says, in his brooking-no-argument voice.

Yuuri’s cheeks heat a bit as a fantasy flits through his mind, but he quells the thought as a yawn overpowers him. “Goodnight, Viktor,” Yuuri pauses, gathering courage. “and…I’m certain that you’re a good coach, even if Yuri forgets to mention it occasionally. You’ve already helped me more times than I can count.”

“I—” There’s a pause, and a click, before Viktor resumes talking. “Thanks, Yuuri. That means…so much, I—I can’t put it into words. Sleep well.”

 


 

After talking with Yakov, Viktor stays alert for any possible publication or rumor-mongering, but nothing appears online or in print. Just the usual fluff that Viktor hardly ever pays any attention to, drivel about which celebrity was seen with who at such-and-such’s party. Anything about a celebrity involved in something same-sex would undoubtedly be at the top of the news cycle in Russia, so Viktor doesn’t have to dig too deep.

A couple of days after their conversation, it occurs to Viktor that he might want to explain the situation to Yuuri. He spends quite a bit of time bouncing the idea around in his head.

On one hand, he doesn’t want Yuuri to get caught off guard with a rumor about the two of them. He’s part of the involved party and it seems only fair to include him in the conversation. But to bring it up would be to admit that someone is interested in spreading the rumor of the two of them together. Which would inevitably bring about a conversation about the two of them. About the relationship between them. Which Viktor is not, absolutely not, prepared to have.

In part, because he’s not entirely sure what he wants. Or where they stand. The idea of a capital ‘R’ Relationship, though no longer an impossibility in Viktor’s mind, hasn’t quite settled in yet. It occupies a jagged, raw, new space; like a freshly dug flowerbed.

Plus, it’s a burden to know Adrian is out there. Each morning, Viktor wakes up and steels himself to see his own face splashed across some tabloid with outlandishly large colored text peddling salacious rumors. He doesn’t want Yuuri to have to experience that stress, that moment of absolute dread as he checks his phone after waking up.

No, better to just wait things out and talk with Yuuri about it if the situation goes critical. And after a few more days with no news breaking, Viktor starts worry less. It gets a bit easier to talk with Yuuri again, even as practice ramps up for the two of them.

Yakov invites Viktor to come along for the European Championship, to help as an assistant coach for Georgi. Viktor doubts there’s much he will be able to do, but he accepts the offer graciously anyway. He half suspects that Yakov does it so that Viktor can get used to the coaching staff side of Euros for next year. The other half suspects Yakov wants to keep Viktor distracted.

Whatever the case, Viktor starts spending a bit less time with Yura during practice and a bit more with Georgi.

Yura doesn’t seem to mind this too much, as it simply amounts to less direct supervision while he works. He runs his programs a few times, and then simply skates. Viktor thinks he might be using the time to practice quads, something both he and Yakov have made off-limits.

But there’s not much he can do about it when he’s working alongside Georgi, who takes his practice very seriously. Georgi constantly pauses and seeks out commentary from Yakov and Viktor. It’s quite satisfying to be asked regularly, particularly with Yakov around as well. Although, Yakov does disappear frequently to work with Mila and others; leaving Viktor and Georgi on their own.

It’s a very different coaching experience altogether. Georgi talks back much less than Viktor’s other pupil, but he doesn’t have the flexibility or technical skill that Yuri does. On the other hand, his presentation is innately levels above the younger skater. Georgi connects to his selected music naturally, in a way that had taken Viktor months of slow, grindy work when helping Yuri. Viktor spends far less time explaining the process of capturing the feeling of a particular movement, and much more talking about the mechanics of the action. The angle of a jump, the order of a step sequence, foot placement and the like. It isn’t more or less enjoyable for Viktor, just…different. Like flexing a new muscle. Challenging, refreshing.

Accordingly, it takes a bit of time before the two of them attain a degree of familiarity and comfort with each other as mentor and student. But they come together quickly, much more quickly than it had taken Viktor with Yura.

 

 

Particularly once they arrive at the European Championship.

It turns out, Georgi needs emotional support, not unlike Yuri. The key difference is, Georgi actively seeks it out. From Viktor, from Anya, even from grim-faced Yakov. Viktor quickly becomes grateful that there are three potential outlets for Georgi, as the mere thought of being the sole pillar of support for him makes Viktor pale even further than his normal complexion.

In some ways, it’s the antithesis of Yuri. Even if it’s the exact same problem, the solution is quite different. Where with Yuri, Viktor’s solid presence and occasional voice was sufficient, Georgi needs a bit…more.

At one point, Georgi starts raving about how his costume doesn’t convey the emotion of his music. Viktor patiently listens through it, letting Georgi vent his frustration about “garish sparkles,” and “outlandish eye shadow.” Then, Viktor continually reassures him that it will be just fine, and walks through the reasons Georgi himself had laid out when picking the costume months ago.

By the end, Viktor believes he understands why Yakov brought him along. It wasn’t to get him used to the coaching side of the Euros (which was not very different), or to keep him distracted. Though that may turn out to be a secondary effect.

Rather, it’s to show Viktor that people—skaters—can behave bizarrely and need vastly different kinds of coaching support at competitions.

Georgi was a pleasure in practice, the perfect student. Yet at the competition, he needs regular reassurance, and falls slightly short of his best.

The inverse is true of Yura—Viktor struggles through practice with him much of the time, but gets by during competitions with little more than simply being present while Yura pushes himself to new heights.

All in all, it proves to be a fascinating learning experience, if not an emotionally draining one as well. But as they return from the competition, there’s still nothing in the news about Viktor and Yuuri. It’s all occupied by Euros, and upon returning home it’s Georgi’s close second place finish from a missed jump that becomes the hot topic.

And as the bleakness of January slides into the ever-so-slightly brighter days of February, the conversation with Adrian starts to feel less and less portentous.

 


 

katsudon-yk:

Congrats on gold, Chris! You’re the champ ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ

 

christophe-gc:

Yuuri that’s sosweet. Thanss

 

katusdon-yk:

Uhh Chris…are you alright?

 

christophe-gc:

off course i am! were just celebrting after the banket with some drunks

you have to commemoriate these ocassions as they happen Yuuri

letthis be a lesson for you

katusdon-yk:

Aha, I see. I’ll keep that in mind for my next first place finish

 

christophe-gc:

good thing that 4 compliments is so soon then

you can win gold and then get drink

viktor says you have to take picture iif you do an send it to us

i actually agree wit the looser it was too fun at that last ban quet

 

katusdon-yk:

You’re with Viktor now!! Wait, is he drinking with you?!

 

christophe-gc:

duh who else am i gonna get drunk with. see

[image attached: Chris and Viktor’s faces are smushed together, skin overlapping with skin, both flushed pink and in various states of disarray, shirts unbuttoned at the top. They are smiling with megawatt grins. Chris is holding up his gold medal, while Viktor holds up a shot glass]

i bet we could find michele crispino here somewhere and drag him into it too

 

katusdon-yk:

Oh god, no, don’t do that. He hates me

Besides, should you both be drinking that much??

 

christophe-gc:

or hes crushing on you and in denial

and your one to talk, mr bottomless champagne

viktor says youure not allowed to cast aspersions on others anymore whatever that means

 

katsudon-yk:

no no no no no, that’s not possible

 

christophe-gc:

i have it on good authoritity that hes like 4 layers deep in the closet

 

katusdon-yk:

Chris, why are you such a gossip? And more importantly, why are you telling me these things?!

 

christophe-gc:

what else do u do when yuor drunk with other skaters///

okay scratch that because you actually dance isntead

and with me no less

okay you may have a point i might need to stop drikning

 

katusdon-yk:

You do that, Chris. And I’m going to pretend you wished me luck at Four Continents, and now leave to go practice.

 

christophe-gc:

good luck at 4 constellations from viktor and i!

 

katsudon-yk:

Oh, so now autocorrect kicks in?

 


 

Arriving in Seoul for Four Continents is an understated affair for Yuuri; even while travelling with what feels like an entourage. Phichit’s presence and regular laughter buoys his mood across the full day of travel, and appears to stave off some of Celestino’s growing intensity. Yuuri is able to enjoy being at a major figure skating event alongside his best friend and competitor, and it feels like a brand new experience. In part, because it sort of is. The two of them simply haven’t had almost any overlap in their competitions since Phichit’s Senior debut. As much as Phichit would like to attribute that to some ISU conspiracy, Yuuri’s more confident it’s just bad luck.

As they ride in a car from the airport to their hotel, drained from consecutive flights and airport shuttles, Phichit rolls down the window. Cool air floods in, and Yuuri has time to inhale a single crisp breath before Phichit sticks his head out the window and starts screaming as they streak through the neon-bright lights of Seoul.

“WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!”

Celestino whips his head back to stare, mouth frozen open in what Yuuri imagines has to be shock. His expression seems to sharpen as Yuuri rolls down his own window and sticks his head out, shouting. The passing lights bleed together as he gazes out into the night, wind licking at his face and howling in his ears.

“Wooooohoooo!”

It’s not as loud as Phichit’s, but still.

Freedom and adrenaline jolt through Yuuri, mingling with a touch of embarrassment that is squashed out as Phichit ducks back into the car, laughing madly and clapping Yuuri on the shoulder.

“Yuuri, that was fucking awesome!”

“Okay, that was pretty great—” Yuuri starts.

“Could you two not do something incredibly foolish without asking me first,” Celestino says, exasperated.

Phichit looks at Yuuri, a knowing gleam in his eye. “But where’s the fun in that? Live a little, Ciao Ciao!”

Celestino affixes Phichit with a flat, unamused stare.

“Okay, okay,” Phichit says, leaning back in his seat and rolling up the window. “We’re here to win. Right.”

As soon Celestino turns back around and starts apologizing to their cab driver, Phichit waggles his eyebrows at Yuuri and they snicker quietly.

 

 

Celestino remains more severe and tense during their practice the next day, pushing Phichit to run his Quad Loop segment a half dozen times in quick succession after Phichit stumbled once. Yuuri’s stomach squirms uncomfortably as he watches Celestino lecture Phichit with a stern face. It’s not the first time he’s seen Celestino like this, but it feels different.

His coach had been just as terse during Yuuri’s own practice, but hadn’t stopped him in quite the same way. Perhaps it was because Yuuri’s program run throughs were stronger, but Yuuri doesn’t personally buy into that. Whatever the case, it is upsetting to watch Phichit try to keep his face neutral as Celestino continues. It takes a minute or two of chewing his lip while watching for Yuuri to realize this is the first time he’s felt nervous—actually nervous, and uncomfortable—about Four Continents.

He exhales a soft little “oh,” in bewilderment. Three years ago at this time, he would been having a panic attack about his routines and would have run from practice to find some staggering amount of food to wolf down instead. Celestino would have found him and slowly, softly worked him back into a manageable state of mind, but ultimately, Yuuri would fall victim to his own mind.

But to find himself here now, in almost the reverse situation, is more than bizarre. It’s unsettling, for an entirely different reason. Celestino has always been Yuuri’s wingman at competitions, and seeing him like this hurts. He doesn’t know what he can do, though.

Even with his own progress, Yuuri cowers at the thought of trying to speak to his coach about the tension.

At the very least, when Celestino finishes and Phichit gets off the ice, Yuuri wraps his friend in a tight hug. He may not often give hugs, but Yuuri tries to make the few that he does all the more meaningful. As Phichit shudders against him, Yuuri rubs his hands in a slow, circular rhythm along Phichit’s back.

“Hey, you’re gonna be great no matter what,” Yuuri says, the sound muffled by speaking into Phichit’s jacket.

“Isn’t that…” Phichit sniffles, and squeezing Yuuri hard. “Isn’t that my line?” Phichit pulls back and offers a lopsided smile as he wipes at his eyes.

Yuuri returns the smile with one of his own. “I guess I’m not just learning more about skating in Detroit.”

“I’d hope not jackass, you went to college there,” Phichit says, voice thick with emotion.

Yuuri snorts, and pulls his friend towards the locker rooms.

 

 

Then, Yuuri does the only other thing he can.

He skates.

He skates later that night, pointedly ignoring his routines; instead resorting to some of Viktor’s classics. He texts Viktor, too, hoping he might have some insight about Celestino’s sudden change. Though they text back and forth for a bit, Viktor doesn’t have any new revelations beyond what he had mentioned weeks earlier: Yuuri and Phichit’s performances are a reflection of Celestino as a coach.

Yuuri still doesn’t quite get it.

Viktor tells him to talk to Celestino, to explain his concerns. But something about that makes Yuuri deeply uncomfortable. Maybe because Celestino’s an authority figure, and that intimidates Yuuri. Or because he’s a tad bit scary like this.

What Viktor says might be true, but it’s always been true. Even when Yuuri was at his absolute abysmal worst, or when Phichit was clawing his way out of obscurity as a Thai skater. What’s different now? They’ve made it, they both have shown they are capable. Surely that means to the rest of the skating world, Celestino’s a good coach. Yuuri skates on it for a while longer, but ultimately lands at the same conclusion as before.

He can’t confront Celestino—that could just make things worse, make Yuuri psyche himself out. All he can do is focus on himself. And his friend.

 


 

Yuuri skates his Short Program the next day, thinking about how good it feels to be out on the ice. Not thinking about his coach, ringed in shadows, looming at the edge of the rink. Once he steps out past Celestino, it’s much easier to slip into the space of thinking about how he can push himself, strive to keep his position at the top, about letting his body feel the music. About showing Viktor how excited he is to still be competing, no longer fretting about his undecided future.

Even with other competitors still to come, when Yuuri jumps to the top of the scoreboard afterwards, he expects to feel surprised. But instead of surprise, he feels a surge of pride and something deeper, a flicker of pleasure for rising to the occasion. Celestino’s gaunt expression seems to relax a bit after they leave the Kiss and Cry.

Phichit congratulates Yuuri with a cheer, but it feels a bit lackluster. Phichit still hasn’t skated, so Yuuri hurries over and clasps Phichit’s hands, staring at him.

“Thank you! When you get out there, I want you to pretend it’s just you and. Like practice—filming like normal so we can look at it later. You’ll finish your program and then rush over to me so you can show me some silly meme video you just remembered instead of practicing; and then Celestino will sigh in frustration but we’ll watch it anyway. Okay?”

Phichit stares back at him with bewildered eyes. “Yuuri, that’s the most specific scenario I’ve ever been told to imagine. But…” Phichit looks away. “Thanks. I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all I want to see,” Yuuri says sincerely, as Celestino approaches.

“Yuuri, you should go change. Phichit, you’re up after Seung Gil.”

“Sure thing,” Yuuri says as he ducks away. He catches Phichit’s eye and raises his eyebrows  before looping back around to the rink barrier so he can watch instead.

 

 

Phichit relaxes tremendously once the music starts, much like Yuuri had. Phichit finds him there after he finishes his short program, and they high five.

“That was fucking fantastic Phichit!”

Phichit starts skating away backwards, winking once at Yuuri, “I know.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes and huffs with laughter, happy to see Phichit back to his normal level of dramatic flair.

Yuuri clings to that feeling of relief mixed with excitement, those little moments of levity as the competition continues. When the atmosphere threatens to overwhelm him, when reporters keep pestering him or he catches a snide remark about his sudden improvement in skating, Yuuri retreats back to feeling of sticking his head out the window as they arrived, or Phichit winking at him after his SP.

Yuuri’s free skate isn’t the best that it’s ever been, but it is enough to keep him in first place when all is said and done. And for Yuuri, that’s good enough right now.

To Yuuri’s pleasant surprise, Phichit just narrowly edges out Cao Bin to make the podium in third place. Otabek Altin scores quite a bit ahead of Phichit, but still a little way off Yuuri’s score.

Standing on the podium, cacophonous noise and cameras flashing all around them, Yuuri still isn’t quite as overwhelmed as he was at the Grand Prix Final. He just has to look down two steps to see his best friend look back up at him with an incandescent smile to feel like something is profoundly right.

Otabek’s stiff demeanor even cracks for a few seconds when Yuuri pulls both him and Phichit up onto the top platform of the podium. His mouth opens in an unexpected ‘o’ as Yuuri tugs at his elbow, and then a timid smile crosses the Kazakh skater’s face.

The three of them wave enthusiastically as the cameras continue to flash, Phichit slowly roping his arm around Yuuri’s shoulder to pull him closer.

Some five minutes later, as his legs start to ache from standing on the podium’s slight incline, it clicks for Yuuri—he won Four Continents. His win at the GPF wasn’t a fluke. He proved that he can win again; even slightly distracted as he was.

What settles after, though, is an exciting, bubbling feeling. How much further can he go? If Yuuri can still medal—win—with what felt like a lackluster performance, what can he do at his peak?

Yuuri once heard a phrase that seemed silly at the time—unhelpful and subjective. But it makes a bit more sense to him now.

What is his Everest? What heights can he reach?

Suddenly, he wants nothing more than to shoo away the insipid reporters, the screaming fans. To disappear and call Viktor to review his performances, to pick Viktor’s brain about how he can improve.

But unfortunately, Yuuri has a plethora of interviews to navigate, with Celestino shuffling him and Phichit from one outlet to another to give slight variations of the same responses each time.

Yes, it feels good to win. Yes, winning with his best friend here is fantastic. No, he doesn’t think that was his best. It was an honor to compete with so many talented competitors, but no, Yuuri doesn’t think he’s leagues ahead.

It drags on and on and on.

But finally, when Yuuri gets to withdraw to his room, the first thing he does after showering is facetime Viktor, laptop at his side with his programs pulled up.

 


 

Yuuri allows himself to have four glasses of champagne at the banquet this time. Hopefully enough to keep himself from experiencing each and every mundane conversation without it being enough to make him want to have a dance off with Phichit.

He walks from sponsor to sponsor, his gold medal thunking against his chest as he crosses the room each time. Phichit had somehow talked him into wearing the medal instead of a tie, claiming he would do the same.

But naturally, Phichit had shown up with trendy patterned tie and no medal, taken one look at Yuuri’s suit and gold medal and guffawed while taking pictures. He hopes that they won’t be on Instagram when he checks later or people might think he has an ego, but he’s under no delusions when it comes to Phichit and social media. They’re probably already up with thousands of likes and comments at this point.

Whatever the case, Yuuri tries to enjoy the evening at least a tiny bit after he finishes a round of schmoozing, indulging in his third glass of champagne as he loosely steps in time to the tinny classical music in the background.

Otabek finds him like that, and Yuuri has to try hard not to turn tomato red with embarrassment.

“Having fun this time?” Otabek asks, face blank.

“Oh, uh, yes?”

“It’s okay, you don’t need to lie. I’m messing with you,” Otabek says, relaxing a bit.

Yuuri exhales quietly, letting a bit of tension drain away.

“Congratulations again. At this rate, I might as well make that my greeting for you.”

Yuuri smiles softly and takes a sip of champagne before responding. “Well this time, I can also say congratulations to you. It seems like you’re hot on my tail.”

Otabek shakes his head slightly. “The scores might be closer, but I still have a lot of ground to cover. You’re capturing emotion that I can only pretend at.”

Yuuri tilts his head, taken aback by Otabek’s humbleness. “I—uh, thank you. But, you’re doing yourself a disservice like that. Your technical scores are incredible! And, I’m confident you’ll find what you’re missing with time.”

Otabek grunts, “You can practice and learn more difficult technical portions with time and sweat, but emotions and performance are something else entirely. They are more of a…lived experience.”

Yuuri opens his mouth to refute it, but comes up empty. He closes his mouth and frowns, struck by the wisdom despite Otabek’s young age. Unsure how to continue from there, Yuuri’s eyes dart around as he scrambles for a new topic of conversation.

“So, uh, what about you? Are you having fun?”

Otabek’s impassive face falters as he cocks an eyebrow and smiles. “This? Fun?” He shakes his head. “This is just the part of skating nobody talks about, because if they did, nobody would want to skate.”

“I—you’re not really wrong,” Yuuri admits. He’s always hated the behind-the-scenes dealing, the hypothetical conversations with sponsors.

“I’m glad I found you, though. I want to give you this,” Otabek says, rummaging through his suit before he pulls out a CD. “It’s one of my favorite sets I did from last fall at a club in Almaty, not too far from my rink. I’m practically a regular there,” he adds.

“Oh shit!” Yuuri says, surprised “That’s so cool! Wow, thanks. I’ll absolutely listen to it on the flight back.”

Otabek smiles at him for a moment, eyes crinkling and teeth showing. “Let me know what you think.”

“I still can’t believe you find time to dj on the side, that’s…just incredible.”

Otabek shrugs, smile slipping away. “It’s a way for me to have fun off the rink, you know. I think we all have our own method of staying sane. This is just mine.”

“Yeah…” Yuuri tries to think of the last time he did something for fun outside of skating, but draws a blank on anything particularly recent.

A tall woman starts crossing the dance floor straight towards the pair of them, interrupting Yuuri’s thoughts.

“Well, that’s my coach,” Otabek says, nodding. “I’m guessing I’m due for some sponsor or another. It was good to see you again, Yuuri.”

“You too,” he says as Otabek meets his coach halfway.

Yuuri finishes off his third glass of champagne, then turns to find the nearest water pitcher before he has to get back.

 


 

“So, Junior Worlds is next week.”

“Really, you don’t say,” Viktor teases.

“Viktor.” Yuuri sighs, the sound distorting slightly through facetime. Viktor smiles. It’s too easy to play with Yuuri, and seeing him get flustered is just too enjoyable. “I would like you to pass along my best wishes to Yuri.”

It’s Viktor’s turn to sigh, now. Playing messenger between the Yuris is definitively not one of his favorite things that come along with talking to Yuuri more. It’s a small price to pay to get to see Yuuri’s stunning face, to review footage and share ideas with him, but still.

“You know…you know you could tell him yourself.”

Yuuri blinks in confusion. “I don’t have his number.”

Viktor wants to laugh. Sometimes, Yuuri is so dense that it borders on adorable. As if there aren’t at least three ways that Viktor can think of to get in touch with someone when you don’t have their phone number. And that’s just off the top of his head.

“Yuuuuuri…” Viktor says plaintively, drawing it out. “Instagram? Twitter? Messenger? That’s not even counting VK.”

“VK?”

“Russian facebook,” Viktor waves him off. “It’s not important.”

“I mean…I guess I can reach out to him. But I don’t want to bother him, especially right before a competition.”

Oh. That’s what this is about.

“Yuuri—you wouldn’t be bothering him. In fact…he might actually really like it if you messaged him.”

“Really?” Yuuri’s brows furrow in uncertainty, Viktor almost gets distracted watching them dart upwards.

“Yes, really.” Really-really. Yura won’t admit it out loud, but his inner fanboy will be howling with excitement if Yuuri reaches out to him. And he’s too damn stubborn to reach out on his own, for whatever reason. Something Viktor is definitely, totally unacquainted with.

And while Viktor dislikes the idea of Yuuri talking to Yuri, it also might mean that he won’t have to play telephone for the two of them.

“I…well, okay then. Th-thanks, Viktor.”

“Of course,” Viktor purrs. “How about we look over that practice footage now. After all, your Worlds is less than a month away now.”

Yuuri quiets for a second and his face stills, but when he speaks, there’s a bright, burning fire in his eyes. “Alright, let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 19: Worlds Apart

 

It takes Yuuri nearly a week of mulling over his conversation with Viktor before he decides to message Yuri on his own. Ultimately, it’s watching the opening ceremony for Junior Worlds that pushes him to finally reach out. He knows from Viktor that the men’s portion won’t begin for a few more days, but seeing all the skaters together nudges something in Yuuri, so he whips out his phone to avoid delaying further.

Yuuri scrolls through a few different applications, unsure which to choose. Viktor had been right—there are almost too many ways to reach out that Yuuri now feels overwhelmed. He hastily taps on Instagram before decision paralysis sets in.

 

katsudon-yk:

Hi there, Yuri. I want to wish you good luck at Worlds! Take home that gold!

 

Yuuri doesn’t expect a response soon, given the ongoing ceremony, so he settles back into the couch alongside Phichit. They’d both been given a late start this morning to watch a bit, and are savoring the quiet, slow start after weeks of relentless training.

Yuuri’s half-watching, half-dozing when his phone buzzes, startling him.

 

yuri_plisetsky:

you think I need luck to win this shit?

this will be nothing

katsudon-yk:

That’s not what I meant!! I’m sure you will be great!

 

yuri_plisetsky:

you better watch so you know what you’re up against next year

katsudon-yk:

Of course I will be watching for you!

 

yuri_plisetsky:

good

viktor’s yelling at me to pay attention to whatever bullshit theyre doing now so bye

 

Viktor had mentioned how…abrasive…Yuri can be, but it somehow still manages to catch Yuuri off guard.

But in countless conversations with Viktor, Yuuri has also learned about the odd ways that Yuri shows his gratefulness. Yuuri’s not even sure Viktor recognizes how often he talks about coaching Yuri, and how much he has come to appreciate the little ways Yuri shows his affection or thankfulness. Like how Yuri will ask questions to demonstrate respect, or actually acknowledge that you are doing something for him at all if it’s important to him.

Yuuri feels a bit like he’s got the cheat sheet for interacting with Yuri Plisetsky, but he’s grateful nonetheless. Otherwise, he’d probably be panicking that Yuri had been so callous and offensive.

As he turns his attention back to the larger screen, Yuuri tries to picture Viktor scolding Yuri over phone usage, but it’s such a silly image that he can’t help but smile. Before locking his phone, Yuuri sends a text to Viktor, gently telling him not to be a hypocrite and to blame Yuuri for his pupil’s distraction instead.

Almost immediately, the “…” indicator appears next to Viktor’s name, and Yuuri snorts at the irony.

 

*

 

Viktor looks away from the ice as his phone buzzes, and he scans Yuuri’s message. His lips quirk up automatically as he does, and he taps out a response quickly. Finishing the message, Viktor cautiously looks around as he tucks his phone away. Catching the head movement, Yura elbows him in the side surreptitiously. Viktor rubs his side, but it doesn’t sting.

He has the decency to look sheepish and breath out a quiet “sorry,” before turning his attention back to the current skater.

They had both decided to come out and watch as the competition started, after arriving earlier than expected. Tallin, Estonia is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Saint Petersburg and across the Gulf from Helsinki. In many ways, it reminds Viktor of Saint Petersburg and Amsterdam. It somehow manages to capture a similar feeling of a storied past mixed with a modern city while close to the water. The blending of old, fable-like houses and streets with the new, glassy buildings. The fact that there don’t seem to be many skyscrapers helps, too. He’d visited the top of their hotel when they arrived and could see all around the city, just like in Petersburg.

Wandering around could only keep him busy for so long, though, so he and Yura found their way to arena for the first day of skating, flashing their badges as they entered the competitors’ section.

But the beginning of women’s short programs isn’t gripping him the way he had hoped it might.

Viktor sneaks a look at Yura beside him, who seems to be doing a better job of watching than he is.

In truth, Viktor suspects he will find himself bored somewhat regularly. Junior Worlds once seemed the pinnacle of competition to him, a decade or more ago. But now, it’s a stepping stone to bigger stages. If his student was a little more invested in it, that might help too.

Instead, Yura is firmly focused on simply using Worlds here as a vaulting mechanism, a way to catapult himself into Seniors on a hot streak. The ordeal now feels a bit perfunctory, hollow. Viktor sits quietly and watches anyway.

Yuuri finally messaged Yura, which is cause for some quiet celebration, at least. Viktor’s slowly picked up on the ways that Yuuri is nervous about talking with others, about new situations. It took Yuuri some time to get comfortable with calling Viktor regularly. And then when Viktor had wanted to start video chatting, Yuuri had chained together a series of flimsy excuses. It’s not quite the same as seeing him in person, but it’s better than nothing.

Viktor didn’t push Yuuri hard on it, but did encourage him where he could. Yuuri can be so ethereal in those moments, so vulnerable. Like a fleeting dream. Viktor can’t try to grasp at it too quickly or he might lose memory of it altogether. He’s the same way with Yuuri—slow, yawning pokes and prods.

Watching Yuuri slowly open up like a blooming flower has been an incredible experience, enough to make Viktor feel lucky to know him. Yuuri’s humility and shyness disguises an incredibly quick wit, warm kindness, and some of the best skating that Viktor’s ever seen. Each time they review footage together or talk through routines, it’s like a sneak peek at what Viktor knows will become the best in the world.

It’s frankly surprising that Yuuri hasn’t been more cagey about his skating. He started sharing his footage and began asking for Viktor’s help far quicker than Viktor would have expected, given his other experiences with Yuuri. But those are now some of his favorite times, sharing ideas and feedback between the two of them.

It’s one of the times that Viktor can feel the extra barriers between them slipping down. Barriers that Viktor wants to continue to strip away as they spend more time together.

Another elbow to his side disturbs Viktor from his thoughts, the sudden noise of thunderous applause flooding back in. He reflexively stands and begins clapping as well, eyes whipping around the arena to try and piece things together.

Beside him, Yura huffs in Viktor’s direction while applauding.

 


 

Yuuri wipes the sweat from his brow and thumbs up the volume on Otabek’s mix as he continues running. It’s finally warmed up enough that running outside doesn’t feel like he’s inhaling tiny, freezing knives each and every time he takes a breath.

It’s just fractionally warmer than that.

He’s still got on a sweatshirt to ward off the lingering chill, with his phone tucked neatly into his skin-tight shorts pocket and wireless earbuds in. Arms pumping and hair bouncing, he passes by what must be the fourth Starbucks of the morning. Through the floor-to-ceiling window, Yuuri can see a long line curving in brightly-lit interior. Most people start their mornings with a nice cup of coffee.

Yuuri gets a five mile run instead.

He didn’t really know what to expect from Otabek’s taste in music, but it wasn’t this. Even when he had mentioned primarily liking rock. It’s so at odds with the subdued and orchestral pieces he uses in his programs. Yuuri shakes his head in wonder as the percussive sound builds with singing and yelling. He redoubles his running pace. He’d imagined Otabek might like string instruments…just not the electronic guitar variety.

While not his typical kind of music, Yuuri does have to admit it packs a punch, edging him forward and encouraging him to go beyond his limits; a staple of the last few weeks as Worlds draws near. Anger and rebellion are powerful motivators. In fact, it reminds him a bit of Yuri Plisetsky’s free program. Yuuri makes a mental note to try and share it with him.

And at the same time, Yuuri feels like he’s getting to unwrap part of Otabek’s mysterious persona, just by listening to…Yuuri taps his phone and checks the artist again…Rise Against?

Yuuri shrugs internally, looking both ways as he dashes over a crosswalk. His legs are shouting at him in protest at the brief interruption. Once Yuuri gets going at a decent pace, it’s almost harder to stop than it is to continue. At least they are far enough away from the city that traffic isn’t overwhelming. He finds a rhythm in time with the music; he has to if he wants to make it another two miles.

Everyone might think he has innately good stamina, but it comes from an unswerving willingness to push himself in these tiny moments; when he’s already tired and wants nothing more than to join the line at Starbucks.

Yuuri had hoped that after he and Phichit both placed so well at Four Continents, Celestino might ease up on them. And while Celestino has mellowed significantly from his erratic, overbearing behavior at Four Continents, practice has still been vicious for them both on the ice and off (if marginally more manageable). It’s been a smorgasbord of long ballet sessions, weightlifting, and cardio mixed with hard repetitions of their programs. He can’t decide if he hates the weightlifting or the cardio more.

Still, even with practice returning back to slightly more bearable levels, Yuuri feels like something is off between him and Celestino.

Nothing’s discernibly changed in the way his coach operates; he is still pushing them both equally hard. He still wails at them to get off their phones during breaks, but laughs eagerly when Phichit shows him a funny video.

It shouldn’t matter.

But there’s something ever so slightly different. Like an unexpected key change from major to minor, a note scraping in silence.

When he sees Celestino laughing with Phichit, or leaning up against the railing, sometimes Yuuri’s mind snaps to a memory of a red-faced, muscle-tensed version of the man from their time in Seoul.

Even if it feels like something infinitesimally small, but irrevocable has changed.

It shouldn’t matter.

Celestino’s still his coach. Still one of the most accomplished coaches in the world. Still one of the few people who has supported Yuuri through star-reaching highs and radical, valley lows. With Celestino’s encouragement and belief, Yuuri’s ascended to the very top of the skating world. And if he can keep up his current pace, he might just finish the season there. He plans to.

So, it shouldn’t matter.

Then why does it feel like it does?

The wind rushes over him as he runs, sliding along his cheeks and pushing his glasses back against his nose. The music continues.

So does he.

Yuuri passes his fifth Starbucks a couple of minutes later as he continues running.

 


 

Maybe Yuuri really does bring good luck.

A few days after Yuuri reaches out to him, Yura skates his programs as flawlessly as Viktor has ever seen them, and with even less fuss than Viktor had expected. Viktor stands poised at the edge of the rink for both of Yura’s programs, watching closely. A solid presence.

A reminder of Yura’s goals.

Whether it’s the promise of Viktor’s presence, Yuuri’s watchful eyes, or something else entirely, Yura shatters Viktor’s last remaining Junior record. Yura collapses to his knees on the ice after the program, bathed in the bright white spotlight, body hunched over and forehead slick with sweat. The noise is deafening, overwhelming, a veritable tidal wave. But the grin on Viktor’s face matches Yura’s. They both know before it’s even been called.

Then, they are both surrounded by congratulations from all sides. Coaches come up to Viktor, wishing him the best. Junior skaters stumble up to Yura, hoping a stray ray of his skill might chance upon them. Viktor laps it up hungrily. It almost surprises him how much it affects him. How his body tingles with excitement, itches. The praise, the recognition, the promise of more to come.

Yura may be a talented skater, yes, but together they have pushed each other past uncomfortable boundaries, into uncharted territories. Into something better than before.

Yuri seems to enjoy it too, in his own way. He doesn’t snap at people as quickly. His shoulders lack their usual hunch and tension. If anything, he seems relaxed and comfortable with the attention in a way distinctly un-Yuri-like. He shakes hands and signs autographs, even for some of the outlandishly loud young ladies (Yuri’s Angels, he finds out later) who cling to him like the plague.

Yuuri texts them both during the gauntlet of post-win activities. After at least an hour, Viktor finally finds a moment to steal away from the wall of press, interviews, and fans for a few brief moments of freedom.

 

YK:

So how does it feel to be the coach of the reigning World Champion?

 

VN:

Junior World Champion, actually.

and pretty good, thank you.

scratch that, it feels fucking great

like the JPGF and Georgi’s silver weren’t a fluke

like I might actually have a future I can enjoy

like its real

YK:

Viktor…

You’re incredible. Don’t ever forget that.

 

VN:

Yuuri!!!!

that’s,,, so nice!

YK:

You deserve every single bit of it.

Especially a future you love

 

VN:

omg Yuuri <3

it makes me feel like there’s so much ahead still

and I haven’t felt like this in a while

and im so grateful you got to see it, too!

YK:

Me too.

I can’t wait to see what’s next 😊

 

VN:

that should be my line for you about Worlds!!

 

Viktor, unfortunately, is spotted at that point by a few zealous fans, and sucked back into the egregious victory lap. It’s annoying.

But not too much.

Especially with the knowledge that Yuuri thinks he’s incredible.

 


 

Years and years ago, when Yuuri would get home from practice exhausted, he would have Vicchan to comfort him, and Mari to tease him. His mother and father’s cooking awaited him at the dinner table, a balm on his sore body and tired spirit.

Then, when he moved to Detroit, he was alone. The silence after practice was deafening. It seeped into the cracks, warping his apartment from a home into a cage, closing in on him. He hated that year. He nearly gave up and moved home more times than he can count.

But then Phichit arrived, and the silence was banished forevermore. Anywhere Phichit lives will exist without knowing silence. At first, it was overwhelming to be around someone so talkative and boisterous. The antithesis of Yuuri, and of his prior apartment arrangement.

Slowly, as Yuuri and Phichit returned from practices together, he began to appreciate the difference. He became familiar with Phichit’s ambling chatter filling the apartment, widening the space and carving out a place of comfort. They would lay opposite each other on their lumpy couch, still breathing heavy after ruthless hours on the ice, not daring to move a muscle. Phichit’s presence and their intermittent conversations became a smooth blanket that Yuuri would wrap around himself each time he came home from another grueling practice.

Though they still congregate on the couch in the living room after some practices, Yuuri now spends just as much time talking with Viktor afterwards. It’s both exactly the same, and completely different.

Instead of a smooth blanket, talking with Viktor is more like…stepping into a cool river on hot day. The water laps around Yuuri, comforting and soothing, cool and relaxing. At times it rises and falls, quickens and slows. It’s unpredictable like that, but he wants to be there all the same. When he’s cozy and at peace, and when his blood is churning and he wishes Viktor were in the same room as him.

“Yuuri, guess what!” Viktor asks, rousing Yuuri from his fatigued musings.

Almost automatically, a smile slips onto Yuuri’s face at the teasing tone. Even when he is this exhausted from practice, feet aching and bruised, Viktor somehow always manages to elicit a grin from him.

Yuuri leans back against the headboard behind him, adjusting his feet propped up on pillows. It takes most of his remaining energy, but he doubts he could fall asleep while talking with Viktor. Especially knowing the other man is watching him, electrifying his tired nerves.

“You’re finally ready to admit your crippling addiction to high-end clothing?” Yuuri offers, adjusting the laptop screen.

“What?! No, I have no such problem!” Viktor says, leaning close to the camera and looking affronted, pleading for a brief second. His comment is undermined by the very visible Tom Ford logo on his shirt, but Yuuri lets it slide because he can’t possibly come up with a timely response staring into Viktor’s glimmering blue eyes so close. “I must have been helpful at Euros, because Georgi asked for me to come to Worlds! Or Yakov doesn’t want to handle Georgi alone.”

Viktor shrugs and continues, “I suppose it doesn’t matter which; the important part is I’m going to be in Shanghai!”

Yuuri’s insides liquefy momentarily.

Viktor’s going to be at Worlds.

It had not occurred to Yuuri that he might run into Viktor again this season. He’d just assumed they would continue talking, like this. This is nice, comfortable. Familiar, at this point.

But seeing Viktor at Worlds will be…

“Amazing,” Yuuri whispers.

“Right!? I’ll get to see you.”

A shiver runs through Yuuri, from his shoulder blades, down to his sore toes.

The desire that washes through him is nearly overpowering, and just as much a surprise. Yuuri wants it. Badly. A chance to skate for Viktor, to show him all the little things Viktor has helped him with.

With a start, Yuuri realizes he has been quiet for a while, staring intensely at the laptop camera, but not seeing. Yuuri’s eyes sweep over the screen, probing. Viktor is staring back just as deeply.

“I’m so glad you’ll be there,” Yuuri says.

“Me too.”

It feels inadequate, miniscule. Like an extra drop of water in the rushing river. There’s so much more he wishes he could say, the words buzzing in his throat.

Does Viktor know? How much it means, he means?

“You better watch me,” Yuuri says, suddenly fierce. It’s the only way he knows how to convey it. They only way he can hope to.

Viktor’s gaze intensifies, if that’s even possible. His eyes roam over Yuuri, prompting another white-hot shiver to run through him. Then, he nods.

“I’ll see you next week, then.”

Yuuri’s lips twitch up.

 


 

“Whew,” Phichit lets out a long sigh, hefting a suitcase onto his bed.

Yuuri sighs in agreement, falling on top of his own bed. He feels sticky and gross from a full day of travel, his shirt clinging to him from sweat despite the cooler weather that welcomed them to Shanghai. He should really get up and take a shower, rinse off the detritus of two flights. But laying on his bed doesn’t require motion.

Yuuri sighs again.

Phichit seems to agree, collapsing on his bed perpendicular to the suitcase.

At least Yuuri’s penchant for staying awake on flights is helpful, now. They arrived late at night, and Yuuri just has actually fall asleep. Celestino, on the other hand, had slept on their longer flight and now has to navigate a horrendous sleep schedule just days before Worlds begins. At least he’s in a completely different room of the hotel than Yuuri and Phichit. Spared from the great snore once more.

Speaking of Celestino, though…

“Hey Phichit,”

“Hey, Yuuri.”

Yuuri rolls over crisp sheets to look across the room at Phichit, finding bright brown eyes and a big smile looking back at him. The sight drags a tired laugh from Yuuri, and he props himself up with one elbow.

“Have you noticed Ciao Ciao being…off lately?”

Phichit tilts his head, inspecting a fingernail. “Can you be a bit more specific?”

Yuuri sighs. Maybe he’s just imagining it all. “I don’t know—harsher? Cruel? Like in Korea, when he was really wound up.”

“Hmm, he was really stressed out,” Phichit says, turning back to face Yuuri. “It was different from he usually is, yeah.”

Yuuri murmurs his agreement.

“But since we got back to Detroit, he’s been back to his usual bossy, hopelessly out of touch self. You know, on Wednesday he told me I might want to download ‘the application Vine,’” Phichit pauses dramatically. “Me, Yuuri. He told me to download Vine. Hah! As if I’m the one who doesn’t know about it.”

Yuuri folds his arms over his chest, leaning back into the bed.

“Yuuri?”

“Hmm?”

“What’s on your mind? What makes you ask about Ciao Ciao now?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” Yuuri says quickly. Too quickly. He winces internally.

“Yuuri,” Phichit says, half-question, half-statement. It’s the same tone of voice Phichit has used countless times to let Yuuri know that he hasn’t bought it. He’s heard it during practice, in the gym, on the couch, in the kitchen. He can’t avoid it, even if he wants to.

“He yelled at you, Phichit. At Four Continents,” Yuuri admits quietly. It’s been bothering him inside, but it feels odd to say out loud. The words are lumpy, misshapen.

“He did,” Phichit answers, with some trepidation. “Coaches sometimes yell at their students.”

“Celestino hasn’t. Not like that, at least.”

Phichit shrugs next to him, “Like you said earlier, he must have been uber-stressed about the competition. I bet if you asked Viktor, he would tell you his coach yelled at him, and they still seem to get along.”

“Viktor and Yakov are different, though. That’s hardly a fair comparison.”

Phichit shrugs in response, “I don’t see why not?”

“Yakov is the coach for champions of Russia. We’re—” Yuuri trails off.

“We’re just Four Continents medalists, and you’re the Ace of Japan coming off gold at the GPF,” Phichit says with a slightly smug grin.

“You cried, though,” Yuuri points out, moving past Phichit’s comments. “And he didn’t apologize or anything.”

“No, but I don’t make a habit of judging people on their worst moments.”

Phichit’s eyes widen as he realizes what he had said. “Yuuri, that’s not what I—”

“I know you didn’t mean it that way, Phich.”

“Still, I’m sorry,” Phichit says, gently touching Yuuri’s shoulder. “I hope it hasn’t been bothering you too much. Anyway, practice has been normal since.”

“You’re right, he’s been better,” Yuuri says. He might just be overthinking things. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d done so after more than a dozen hours of flying for a competition. Eager to leave the conversation behind at this point, Yuuri decides to change the topic. “I’m looking forward to seeing Viktor again.”

Phichit eyes him knowingly, as if to communicate he knows exactly what Yuuri is doing, but won’t stop him. Or to comment on Yuuri’s complicated thoughts about Viktor. He’d rather pretend it’s the first one.

“You like seeing him that much, huh.”

Yuuri gives Phichit a dumb stare, “Of course I do.”

“I meant, you like when he watches you skate,” Phichit says, raising an eyebrow.

Heat floods Yuuri’s cheeks.

He can’t deny it. He loves the feeling of Viktor’s eyes on him, inspecting every inch of his performance. It makes skating his routines all the more meaningful, too.

“He’s coaching Georgi Popovich, right?” Phichit asks.

“Yeah.”

“Might be harder for him to watch if he’s busy.”

Yuuri hadn’t really thought about that. Viktor’s a real coach, and takes his responsibilities seriously. Yuuri knows that, but it hadn’t really occurred what that might mean if they were at the same competition. He’ll be working with Georgi, primarily.

That won’t stop Yuuri from hoping to see Viktor on the sidelines. He sighs at the thought, an image of dancing across the ice with Viktor following him lodged in his mind.

Phichit leans over Yuuri again, smiling.

“Why don’t you shower first?” Phichit says, the big grin still on his face.

“Yeah. Thanks, Phichit.”

Yuuri forces his mind to clear out any lingering visions of Viktor, and wills his body across the room to their spotless, shining bathroom. If nothing else, at least winning more this season has enabled Celestino to spend a bit more on their hotels. A nice, hot shower with strong water pressure helps Yuuri relax, and he falls asleep soon after he returns to his bed.

 


 

Yuuri wakes the next morning as his alarm pulses, and he has to fight the temptation to roll over and ignore it. His body feels like it was left hanging somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and was then forced to ride battering waves the rest of the journey.

Thinking movement is better than nothing, he traipses over to the window and throws open the curtains. Weak light spills in, clouds a backdrop to the myriad of skyscrapers dotting the horizon. Phichit grumbles from his bed, sitting up slowly and shielding his eyes from the paltry light.

They say misery enjoys company, at least. Thankfully, it’s a practice day. Though Celestino will still expect them both downstairs soon enough.

“You shower?” Phichit mutters.

Yuuri catches his meaning despite the halting speech and shakes his head, “You can go.”

Phichit groans as he slides out of his bed, hair sticking up. Yuuri cracks a smile as he watches, then starts bumbling through his suitcase while Phichit’s in the bathroom. Yuuri manages to make himself presentable by the time Phichit emerges in a puff of steam, looking slightly more alive.

“I’ll meet you downstairs in a bit?”

“Mmkay,” Phichit responds. “Save some coffee, please.”

“Most definitely.”

Yuuri catches a ride down in the elevator, his ears popping from the quick descent. He exits into the wide-open lobby, gleaming chandeliers dangling from three floors up and over-the-top gold-flaked décor peppering the space. It’s modern, ostentatious, and everything Yuuri dislikes about expensive places. Flashy without being tasteful. He starts making his way through the morning crowd towards the dining room, eyes roaming over each cushion or sofa he passes by.

Growing up steeped in family tradition, it can be hard to immerse himself in the extravagant wealth of the world on the few occasions he’s had to. He thinks it might also be why he hates talking with sponsors so much.

“Yuuri!” someone shouts across the lobby.

Yuuri turns his head quickly, left, then right. He doesn’t see anyone he recognizes, and he hates being identified in public places, so he hunches his shoulders and redoubles his walking speed.

“Yuuri, wait!”

Yuuri turns around, eyebrows flicking down in annoyance.

Then, they widen in surprise as he sees a lanky figure with silver hair weaving towards him, and he stands there stunned, rooted to the spot. As always, Viktor looks immaculate. A well fitted navy blazer, terracotta colored pants, and an ivory shirt unbuttoned at the top. Yuuri only wishes he could look that good in the morning.

Viktor closes the gap between them and sweeps Yuuri up into a hug, brimming with excitement. It takes a second for Yuuri’s reflexes to catch up, but he brings his arms around Viktor’s solid body and relaxes into Viktor. Yuuri inhales deeply. Viktor smells like citrus, like a bright and early morning.

“You—you’re here!?” Yuuri stammers out, voice muffled against Viktor’s shoulder. Viktor takes a step back and smiles at Yuuri, briefly blinding him.

“We got in last night. You too?”

Yuuri nods, “Really, obscenely late.”

Viktor grimaces, “I hate arriving late after travelling. First off, you feel gross, ugh. And it always throws my internal clock off. Do I stay up, or go to sleep and fall behind schedule?” Viktor makes a small noise of frustration.

“Well, I made it down for breakfast on time, even if I feel like ass.”

“Always so eloquent in the early hours of the day, Yuuri,” Viktor teases, with a smile.

“Oh fuc—fun,” Yuuri catches himself before he can finish the thought, and just glares softly at Viktor.

Viktor’s grin seems to widen, and he shakes his head mischievously, his hair falling in front of his eyes.

He leans closer to Yuuri and whispers, “Nice save.”

Yuuri does not like mornings. Yuuri still feels exhausted from travelling. But this—this easy banter.

He could get used to having this in the mornings.

“Breakfast?” Yuuri says, tilting his voice up into a question. He probably shouldn’t, given that he’d already promised to get Phichit some coffee, but being near Viktor again is a form of caffeine in its own right.

“I—”

“Vitya! Let’s go! Georgi’s practice is in an hour.”

Yakov Feltsman ambles up, putting a hand on Viktor’s shoulder. The same shoulder Yuuri had leaned into minutes ago.

“Ach, sorry Yuuri,” Viktor says, looking crestfallen. “Coaching duty, and all that. Get us a table, Yakov?”

Yakov grunts out what must be a yes, as Yuuri watches him shuffle away towards the open dining hall.

“You said duty,” Yuuri says reflexively, spouting the first thing that comes to mind like he would with Phichit.

Viktor looks at Yuuri quizzically, then belts out a laugh that echoes around the airy lobby.

Yuuri’s ears feel red hot as he starts speaking in a rush, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I said that, I was on autopilot, I’m so sorr—”

Viktor puts a single finger on Yuuri’s lips, silencing him. If Yuuri was red before, he must be crimson by now. Viktor puts a light amount of pressure on it, just enough to keep Yuuri aware of its presence. Yuuri fights the temptation to open his mouth, to let his tongue dart out—

“I for one, can appreciate such base humor. Particularly when still waking up.”

Yuuri lets out a sigh of relief as Viktor removes his finger. His lips still tingle slightly, as if he’d just put on fresh mint balm. That’s normal, right?

“He called you Vitya?” Yuuri asks.

This time, a light flush blooms on Viktor’s face. “It’s a diminutive…a nickname, I guess? Lots of Russian names have them. Usually friends will use it.”

“Oh,” Yuuri says softly, staring at Viktor. Like with Vicchan.

Something is dancing in his stomach to an unknown rhythm, speeding up his heartrate and making his hands feel clammy with sweat. But the name is on the tip of his tongue. He wants—he tries to say it.

“Good luck,” comes out instead.

Viktor clears his throat, “Yeah, you too, Yuuri.”

Yuuri shivers slightly, like an unexpected breeze brushing against him. The sound of his name, the elongated vowels in Viktor’s husky voice. It just does something to him.

“See you soon, hopefully,” Yuuri says.

“Yes, I’d like that,” Viktor responds, and then walks into the dining room.

Yuuri lets out a breath he hadn’t even known he was holding. He leans up against one of the gilded marble pillars nearby, catching his breath. He slowly calms down as he counts each breath in and out.

“So, uh, you wanna talk about that?” Phichit says, tapping him lightly on the shoulder.

Yuuri sighs explosively, and tells him all about it over breakfast.

Phichit listens attentively as they eat, only speaking up after Yuuri finishes.

“How long has this been going on?”

“This?” Yuuri asks, not understanding.

“The flirting.”

Yuuri squeaks, and drops his fork on the plate. “It—it’s not flirting!”

“Let’s see,” Phichit says, counting off on his fingers. “You talk with him nearly every day, you forget to turn on your language and humor filter with him, he’s one of the only people you let touch you, you actually like when he does,” Phichit taps his fifth and final finger as he continues. “AND let’s not forget he’s your idol and you’ve gushed countless hours to me about how attractive you think he is.”

“That’s—he’s just a good friend. Like you!”

Phichit cocks an eyebrow at him. “And that’s why you haven’t mentioned the flirting to me yet.”

“That’s not fair, Phichit,” Yuuri whines.

“Look, tell yourself whatever you need to in order to win.”

Yuuri pouts, “Now you’re doing that thing where you think you’re right so you end the conversation.”

Phichit takes a slow bite of his eggs, eyes on Yuuri the whole time; daring him to continue.

Yuuri opens his mouth, ready to dive back in and assert that he does not, in fact, flirt with Viktor. Intentionally. And Viktor’s definitely not flirting with him.

Yuuri takes a deep breath.

Would he even know if Viktor was? Do friends usually touch each other’s lips to quiet them? Yuuri deflates, closing his mouth.

Phichit takes another bite of eggs. Yuuri can’t think about it too much right now, not when he’s right on the cusp of competing. He tries to push away all possible thoughts about Viktor and flirting away. Viktor flirting with him. Yuuri seducing Viktor—

Shit.

“It doesn’t matter, I’m going to win anyway,” Yuuri says finally.

“Bold looks good on you, Yuuri,” Phichit says appreciatively.

 


 

Viktor does not get to see Yuuri soon. Well, he gets to see Yuuri, but rarely gets to do more than wave or give a friendly greeting. The one downside of coaching at Worlds is…he’s coaching at Worlds.

Georgi isn’t overly demanding per say, but Viktor takes his role seriously and is present for all of Georgi’s practice sessions on and off the ice. He mingles with the other coaches quite a bit, talking about training methods, music selections, and the quirks of various skaters. More than once, Viktor is asked how he’s managed to work so well with Yuri Plisetsky. He laughs the first time he gets asked that, imagining how Yuri might respond if he were present.

But they never seem to believe him when he says he tries listening and being honest as his primary strategies.

He has the occasional smattering of down time, which he often uses to seek out skaters on break. Or, more accurately, one skater in particular.

He catches glimpses of Yuuri on the ice practicing, or in the skater’s lounge, but either Viktor is in the middle of something, or Yuuri’s heading somewhere soon. He desperately wants to spend more time with Yuuri, but he’s not willing to neglect Georgi to do it.

Viktor does get to chat with Chris a few times, and it’s nice to see his old friend in person. It also helps him realize how quickly things change—Viktor has only skated with a few of the favorite contenders this year. The new generation is already up and coming, gradually overtaking the skating legends of Viktor’s era.

It doesn’t fill Viktor up with melancholy as he would have expected, though. Rather, there’s a seed of excitement, waiting to grow and see what skaters like Otabek Altin can bring to the table.

 

The competition flys by; Viktor already accustomed to the spectacle of Worlds. The locations change, but the ceremonies and fluffed-up proceedings remain the same.

The short program passes in a haze of softly-worded reassurances as Georgi stresses about Anya giving him the cold shoulder. It feels like an absolute coinflip when Georgi skates like this—either his emotions will make his performance outstanding, or he will slip up on something and lose his place in the music entirely.

This time, thankfully, Georgi seems to land on the ‘artistic genius’ side of the coin, performing a heartrending rendition of his SP that leaves Viktor with a few tears in his eyes. When his scores come in, Georgi starts bawling again and smearing his eyeshadow, even as he moves into third place, just a few points behind Yuuri and J.J.

It’s at that point that a dreadful sinking feeling settles in Viktor’s lower stomach, when he realizes he’s missed Yuuri’s Short Program. As he shuffles Georgi towards the waiting press, his mind darts wildly. Should he text Yuuri to say he missed the program? Or just to wish him congratulations? He’d prefer to find him in person, but…

Viktor takes one look at Georgi, and another at the wall of flashing lights and bobbing microphones arrayed in front of them. He’s not going to have that luxury. So, just a text then? Or would that be rude considering he missed it? At the very least, he promises himself to do his best to be at Yuuri’s free skate.

It turns out he doesn’t even have to worry if he should text Yuuri anymore, as Yakov thrusts him forward to sit on the stage with Georgi as the onslaught of “what was different this time?” begins.

 


 

Yuuri knows Viktor isn’t watching when he starts his Short Program. He even does an extra short lap around the ice before his music begins just to search for silver hair. It proves a disappointing effort.

Yuuri knows he has little right to be upset about Viktor doing his job, being a good coach. But it bothers him. He wants Viktor’s eyes on him, and only him. It’s selfish. Irrational.

But it’s what he wants.

He skates his best anyways, knowing Viktor will watch it back later. And at the end of it, he’s proud of what he is able to accomplish. It’s not his best, but it’s also a far cry from his worst. It even puts him in second place for the time being. Yuuri coasts on that knowledge the rest of the day—if he can skate that without Viktor watching him, what else can he do?

So when Yuuri does his laps just before his Free Skate and doesn’t see Viktor again, his heart thuds painfully in his chest. He begins preparing for the fact that he’s going to have to try skate his heart out no matter what.

Then the music starts, and Yuuri takes one last desperate look around the rink to see if he can—there!

He spots just a flash of silver hair, swinging in motion as Viktor arrives at the edge of the rink, already fixated on Yuuri.

Yuuri relaxes, bursting with warmth so potent, it feels like he could melt straight through the ice.

Watch me, Viktor.

Yuuri doesn’t hold anything back, his mind automatically thinking of all the little adjustments he and Viktor have discussed together. All the tiny, miniscule details; the choreography that captures Viktor’s essence in competition.

His first jumps comes and goes effortlessly, Yuuri light as a feather and swift as the wind. As he lands, it strikes him—this is the last time that he will skate this program in competition. The last time he’ll be able to honor Viktor like this. The heat in Yuuri cools slightly, tinged with cold melancholy now.

Once, he had thought this would his last farewell to skating, and to Viktor. That it would be the step he needed to take before leaving skating, moving on with his life to—to something else.

It’s still that all that; a commemoration of Viktor’s prolific, iconic skating and a farewell to Yuuri’s skating. But like he realized at the GPF, it’s also the beginning of something entirely new—his friendship with Viktor, his freedom to skate without the ghosts of the past lingering.

Yuuri leaps into the air near the end of his program, sensing Viktor’s eyes on him as he lands the signature Quad Flip. It’s a bold statement for Yuuri.

That he has more to offer, now. That Viktor is—was the best, but Yuuri’s in a new place, breaking new ground.

Yuuri comes to rest at the center of the ice, chest heaving; arms extended and reaching out towards the future. Towards…who knows?

Yuuri smiles softly in the spotlight as he bows, both thrilled with his skating and sad for its conclusion.

Like with most of Yuuri’s performances, the sound of the audience crashes back in as the music fades out, clapping and cheering and screaming. Bouquets and plushies already litter the ice, and Yuuri does a tired lap to collect a few things before stepping off the ice.

Celestino claps him on the shoulder and grins widely at him, Phichit gives him an enthusiastic thumbs up. His eyes continue roaming as he is shuffled to the Kiss and Cry, until he finds Viktor again, standing still as the surface of a pond, eyes boring into Yuuri. Viktor’s lips quirk up into a smile, just for Yuuri. He can only nod in response, lacing his excitement and gratitude in the quick, subtle dip of his head. It’s all that he has time for before he’s guided to sit at the Kiss and Cry, and that’s followed by an eruption of noise as his score catapults him into first place with only J.J. left to skate.

And then, he faces interview after interview, and at some point they stop asking “do you think you will win?” and begin asking “how does it feel to win?”

For Yuuri, it’s all a blur, a foggy mass of interactions he’d rather bleach from his mind’s memory. He’d prefer to be with Phichit, with Minako, with Viktor. But like Viktor, he has responsibilities too.

His shoulders finally relax when he steps back out onto the ice and the gold medal is placed gently around his neck. To his side, J.J. looks slightly uncomfortable as he is given silver. On the other hand, Georgi looks ecstatic to be receiving bronze, smiling widely.

Yuuri later learns Chris had just missed the podium, owing to Georgi’s remarkable Short Program. Otabek follows Chris, and Phichit places seventh overall. It’s not the perfect podium Yuuri might want, but he’s still happy.

But in the moment, Yuuri thinks about none of that. He thinks how about a year ago, he wasn’t even sure he would compete again. And now, he’s won both the Grand Prix Final and World Championships. That this was his to be his farewell to Viktor. That now, his future includes Viktor.

Yuuri smiles, teeth showing, and waves at the sparkling cameras.

 


 

Viktor is laying on the bed in his hotel room, regretting how quickly Worlds has passed. When he’d told Yuuri he would be attending, he really thought they would be able to spend time together like they’ve been doing, just…face-to-face.

Sitting together, talking about their skating. Or just browsing the internet in a shared space. Enjoying each other’s presence. Viktor thinks he could spend countless hours just reading next to
Yuuri, looking up at him occasionally to study his beautiful face. And it would be all he needs to be content.

But they’re just hours away from the banquet at this point, and Viktor’s spent maybe a combined total of an hour or two with Yuuri; mostly from running into each other as they race around the hotel or arena. Viktor had watched Yuuri’s Free Skate, and each twist and turn on the ice felt like it was dripping with meaning, spilling over. He had wanted nothing more to run up and embrace him afterwards, to say I saw you. I watched you. I want you.

Perhaps Viktor had simply looked at things with rosy-tinted glasses, thinking they would have time to lounge together. His flight is booked for tomorrow, as impossible as it seems.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that of course they would both be busy at the World Championship of skating. Yuuri with practice and skating, Viktor with coaching. Viktor knows how much Yuuri wanted to win, too. From their first phone call after the GPF, to all the conversations afterwards where Yuuri asked for Viktor’s advice and help to improve his routines. He can’t be upset that Yuuri has been razor focused. He’s done the same thing in the past.

And he learned his lesson after neglecting Yura in the fall. He won’t put another of his students—or friends—through that again. He’ll put forth his best as a coach, no matter what.

That doesn’t stop him from wishing they had more time together.

Viktor sighs, running a hand through his hair. What if Yuuri isn’t leaving right away? Could he find a way?

The beginnings of an outrageous plan start forming in Viktor’s mind.

He pulls out his phone, lightning-quick. First, he messages Phichit Chulanont on Instagram.

 

v-nikiforov:

hi there Phichit, do you know when Yuuri’s leaving?

 

phichit+chu:

Viktor Nikiforov?!?

v-nikiforov:

yes, it’s me I promise I’m real

 

phichit+chu:

Okay///

I’ve heard a lot about you, but I had to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.

Yeah, he’s leaving he day after tomorrow to go home.

 

v-nikiforov:

oh good!

back to Detroit?

 

phichit+chu:

No, to Japan.

Why are you asking me?

 

v-nikiforov:

I want to do something with him after the competition and had to check first

 

phichit+chu:

Okay, but why?

 

v-nikiforov:

because he’s my friend?

 

phichit+chu:

Is that it?

 

v-nikiforov:

it’s complicated

but I really like Yuuri, and would never do anything to hurt him

and I want to do something fun since we hardly saw each other

 

phichit+chu:

It’s not like I was expecting you to sell his organs on the black market or anything

But I will hold you to that ̿̿ ̿̿ ̿̿ ̿'̿'\̵͇̿̿\з= ( ▀ ͜͞ʖ▀) =ε/̵͇̿̿/’̿’̿ ̿ ̿̿ ̿̿ ̿̿

What did you have in mind?

 

v-nikiforov:

0.0

do you know Shanghai at all? I have an idea but need help

 

phichit+chu:

No, but I know someone who does.

Hang on, I’ll check with Guang Hong and then give you his info if he’s okay with it

 

Viktor takes a slow, deep breath. Counts his inhale. Why was that so scary?

There’s no reason he should feel so tight right now, but he feels like he just finished skating an intense routine.

It’s more than he’s said about Yuuri to anyone before. At least, about his feelings; complex as they are. He doesn’t want to push Yuuri too hard—and certainly not to the detriment of their friendship. That’s more important than anything else between them.

Whatever else Viktor might want, whatever else might come…that’s icing on top of the cake.

He sets down his phone, centering himself. He breaths in again, filling his lungs to capacity, then lets it out.

Now, he needs to call his airline. He’s got a flight to reschedule.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When The World Stops…Chapter 20: Heartstrings

 

Yuuri sags against the elevator wall, the cool paneling a soothing presence against the back of his head. He closes his eyes as the familiar stomach-flipping sensation of rapid elevator ascent kicks in. There’s a dull ache behind his forehead, and he flinches as the elevator rattles slightly.

Phichit snickers across from him.

“What’s so funny?” Yuuri mumbles.

“Oh, nothing,” Phichit responds, voice lilting up conspicuously; like he knows something Yuuri doesn’t.

Yuuri opens his eyes and narrows them at Phichit, who is staring right back at him.

“You look tired, Yuuri.”

Yuuri closes his eyes and tries to relax again.

“I hate schmoozing,” Yuuri says, with the ragged voice of someone who just spent the last four hours answering the same boring questions.

“Oh come on, the banquets are fun!”

“Not when each and every sponsor present want to shake hands and talk business with ‘The New World Champion,’” Yuuri retorts.

“But the free fooood! And drinks!”

“Phichit, you can’t even drink yet.”

“I can in China!”

Yuuri sighs. He wishes he could have drank more. But he strictly limited himself to a single glass of champagne, and, when he got really desperate later, one weak screwdriver. He’d asked the bartender for it to be specially made and watched like a hawk as it was poured.

It was nothing like the GPF banquet, and somehow worse than the Four Continents banquet.

“And all the people to watch, ahh,” Phichit sighs dreamily.

“All the people,” Yuuri agrees wearily.

The elevator dings cheerily, and Yuuri shuffles off, following Phichit towards their room.

Phichit opens the door, and Yuuri walks in on autopilot, nearly tripping over the corner of Phichit’s bed as he walks by. His muscles voice their protest at the jarring motion, shrieking as Yuuri stumbles.

Yuuri gives up on catching himself, instead angling his fall so that he crashes onto his bed. He lands with a muted thud, arms lolling at his sides.

“I’m going to sleep for sixteen years,” he says with an air of finality.

“That’s perfectly reasonable, but before you do—”

“Phichit…” Yuuri threatens, half-heartedly.

“So,” Phichit begins with a sweet voice. “What if I told you that Viktor reached out to me?”

“I would say that’s cool?” Yuuri says, his voice tiired. “I mean, congrats on talking to the best skater ever! But, like.” Yuuri affects a shrug, which really is just an awkward lift of his shoulders given his facedown, jellyfish-like position on the bed.

“Okay, first: just because you talk with him everyday now doesn’t mean it’s not a significant event for the rest of us.”

Yuuri sighs again, willing himself further into the bed. Phichit’s right, but Yuuri doesn’t particularly care right now.

“And second,” Phichit takes a big breath. “Viktor wants to go clubbing with you tomorrow.”

“He—WHAT?” Yuuri sits bolt upright.

 


 

“I can’t believe you’re going on a date with Viktor Nikiforov!” Phichit squeals as he carefully brushes eyeshadow on Yuuri’s face.

“It’s not a date, Phichit! You and I have gone clubbing together before!”

“Mhm.”

“So, it doesn’t have to be a date.”

“Sure,” Phichit says flippantly. “It doesn’t have to.”

Yuuri sighs, rising to the bait, “But?”

“But he reached out to me, and you don’t stop talking about him given the chance.”

“I don’t—”

Phichit clears his throat mockingly, and Yuuri quiets for a moment.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into going.”

“Even I’m surprised that you occasionally listen to your best friend’s advice,” Phichit says sardonically. “Especially when he’s playing matchmaker.”

Yuuri suppresses the urge to swat at Phichit, knowing that it will just result in more time spent fixing his “ensemble,” as Phichit put it.

As soon as they were both awake this morning, Phichit had scoured through Yuuri’s travel bags, comically flinging clothes throughout the room like a dog digging through sand. Yuuri had sat on Phichit’s bed and browsed social media, navigating a truly frightening amount of commentary about his showing at Worlds and his resurgence as the Ace of Japan. It had felt like an out-of-body experience, like reading about the deeds someone else had accomplished in a history book. But the continual usage of his name made it impossible to pretend that it was someone else. He had done those things, won Worlds. Conquered his nerves, skated his heart out.

It also made for a good distraction from Phichit’s ransacking of his belongings.

Eventually, Phichit had settled for one of Yuuri’s three dress shirts (the burgundy one he almost never wore) and Phichit’s largest pair jeans (which just barely fit on Yuuri, his thighs straining against the coarse fabric).

“Yuuri, it’s almost criminal that you don’t own a nice blazer.”

“I’ve only ever needed the one suit,” he’d said sheepishly.

“That hangs on you like a misshapen clothes hanger? Psh. Use some of that World Champion money when you get back and invest in some decent formal wear. If not for my sake, then for Viktor’s.”

“Phich—”

“I will not be accepting criticism at this time,” Phichit responded loftily, tossing the clothing at Yuuri.

Phichit has to be mistaken, it’s not a date. Viktor wouldn’t ask him out on a date. They’re just friends.

Right?

Even if, down in Yuuri’s most secret thoughts (which he only considers laying awake in bed or a dozen drinks in), he maybe wishes they could be more.

Between the amount of time they spend together, the skating advice they share, and Viktor’s lack of propriety about his state of clothing when videochatting, they practically already are more than friends.

But Viktor is his good friend, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize that with his complicated feelings. He certainly doesn’t want to be relegated to the role of pining fan, like so many others must have before him. After all, Viktor is Viktor Nikiforov, one of the top bachelors in Russia, if not the world. He could have anyone he wanted. Man, woman, or alien.

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but Yuuri doesn’t think that’s true. He doesn’t want something short and fleeting with Viktor, to be tossed away afterwards like the oily wrapper around a burger.

No, deep down he knows exactly how selfish he truly is.

He wants Viktor to himself.

“Done!” Phichit exclaims, pulling back from Yuuri’s face. He tilts Yuuri’s head towards the mirror. Yuuri’s eyes widen when he sees his reflection—his first thought is of last time Phichit did his makeup before they went clubbing in Detroit, but it’s different. It’s sophisticated, but grounded with a dusting of red eyeshadow and a touching up that seems to lighten his face along with matching red lipstick.

He pulls out his phone and finds the singular picture he took that evening, and looks between it and his reflection. He looks less mysterious now, but older…more mature, refined.

“Oh my god, I forgot you took a picture!” Phichit gasps, “Send it to me, please Yuuri!”

“Uh, yeah.” He sends it to Phichit, distracted by his reflection. “Thank you. For…for this.” Yuuri gestures vaguely.

“Anytime you need help seducing Viktor, let me know.”

“I—”

“Ah-bup-bup,” Phichit puts a finger in front of his lip, careful not to touch and smear anything. “Save it for him. You need to get down to the lobby!”

Yuuri stands up from his makeshift seat in the bathroom, grabbing his phone and wallet from his bedside table.

“I better not see you back before midnight!”

“Phichit, my flight’s tomorrow morning—”

“—And you can sleep when you get home. It’s the offseason, baby! Now go celebrate!”

Yuuri hesitates, then nods and turns towards the door.

“Wait!”

“What now, Phichit?” Yuuri says exasperatedly, one foot out the door.

Phichit runs up and tugs him back inside, spinning him around.

“I forgot!” Phichit hurriedly rolls up Yuuri’s sleeves a notch before unbuttoning his top two buttons and exposing his neck and the tip of his chest.

“Undo the third when you get there,” Phichit says joyfully.

 


 

Viktor fiddles with the extra button in his pocket, flipping it over endlessly as they wait for the elevator to arrive, the tight plastic circle rubbing into his fingertips. All around them is noise, vapid and voluminous. A matching pair with the gaudy interior of the skyscraper’s lobby. This building’s decoration rivals the 16th century European-chateau look of their own hotel.

But beside him, Yuuri is quiet. Stiff as a board.

He had been the whole time.

When they had met in the hotel lobby, Yuuri had brushed off Viktor’s stunned compliments for his appearance. (Quite unfair, in Viktor’s book, that Yuuri should have someone helping make him so beautiful. Especially his chocolate eyes, which drew Viktor in like a bottomless well, leaving him reliant on his own sheer force of will to look away).

Yuuri had stayed subdued when a fan had politely stopped them on the street as they waited for a taxi, gushing about how incredible Yuuri had been. Yuuri had thanked the man, and allowed a single taut picture to be taken.

But gone was the fiery, playful wit Viktor was accustomed to. That Viktor loved sparring with and teasing. In its place were nerves, the likes of which Viktor hasn’t seen in Yuuri since…since that shaky phone call, months ago.

Viktor tried on the ride over, too. Lots of questions and sharing. Like they usually do. The kind the Viktor has fallen hopelessly for. But Yuuri had given him brief, tight responses before zoning out.

What’s going on?

Why does Yuuri seem so uncomfortable so suddenly? Does he think this is more than a friendly outing or—

The elevator doors open with a chime, and Viktor steps on mechanically. Yuuri follows, leaning up against the side.

Viktor pushes the button for the 77th floor, and they begin to shoot upward.

Something about the movement seems to jar Yuuri, and he looks around, as if taking in his surroundings for the first time. His eyes alight on Viktor, expanding as if seeing him for the first time again. He looks down again, but opens his mouth.

“So, how did you find this place?”

“I asked Phichit if he knew Shanghai at all, but he didn’t. But he gave me one of his friends’ info, Guang Hong? And he recommended it. Though he hasn’t been himself, apparently.”

Yuuri looks up at the mention of Guang Hong, a faint smile nipping onto his face, “Phichit knows everybody,” he whispers softly.

The pressure builds in Viktor’s ears, and he swallows carefully to pop them.

“What was that?” Viktor asks, hoping to draw Yuuri into more of a conversation.

“Oh, nothing,” Yuuri says. “Did you have to buy tickets or pay a cover fee or something?”

“No, that’s the strange part. Guang Hong said they would let me in once they saw me,” Viktor shrugs unhurriedly. “We’ll see, I guess.”

The elevator chimes again, opening to the unmistakable thump of bass and music, barely restrained behind two doors in front of them across a somewhat dingy hallway. Two beefy men in suits stand on either side of the doors, wires dangling from visible earpieces.

If Viktor didn’t trust Phichit, who clearly trusts Guang Hong, he might start feeling nervous about now. Instead, he walks up to them, smiling widely.

“Hello!” he practically shouts, unsure if they can hear him that close to the music. They both eye him up and down. They nod at each other, and produce wristbands from somewhere inside their baggy suit jackets. They wrap the bands around his and Yuuri’s wrists with an air of detachment and competence that must come from nightly practice, clicking the plastic links into place in just a few seconds.

Then, they simultaneous push open the doors, and a wall of sound, light, and smell washes over all four of them.

 


 

Yuuri’s heart starts to beat faster as Viktor approaches the two intimidating men (who look like they came straight out of a Chinese mobster film), but they take a quick glance at him and nod.

Maybe they recognize Viktor. Or maybe, like Yuuri, they find his purple shirt so ravishing they just had to let him in. Or—wait.

Hadn’t Phichit once told Yuuri about clubbing in Asia, and how they sometimes let certain people in for free? Usually foreigners, too. Either because they’ll attract a larger crowd, or spend a lot of money?

He can’t remember for sure and doesn’t know himself. After all, Yuuri’s club-going activities have been strictly limited to Detroit. Or so he thinks—after a certain point of drinking, he’s not liable to remember anything, and who can say with some of his post-competition celebrations?

The doors open in front of him, and sound and light comes crashing out, grabbing Yuuri tightly and holding him spellbound. He reflexively claps his hands over his ears at the barrage of stimuli. The air is awash with the scent of sweaty bodies mixed with the pungent smell of disinfectant.

Taking a deep breath, he slowly lowers his hands and takes it in, stepping into the space.

Behind the doors is a surprisingly large room with a tall, airy roof and floor-to-ceiling windows all around. Modern fixtures and slabs hang from the dark rafters, interspersed with globes and lights to drip down and hover above the heads of clubgoers. The lights rotate colors, flashing sultry reds, dark blues, and deep yellows across a dancefloor in time with the music, illuminating countless shifting bodies with an otherworldly glow.

Though the dancefloor seems to be lit by the light fixtures, light filters in through the glass windows around the perimeter of the room and onto a number of fixed tables, fancy chairs, and leather-covered booths along two walls. Nearby skyscrapers and other city lights loom in the distance, revealing the skyline of Shanghai in front of the inky, late-evening sky. The other two walls are largely occupied by a gargantuan L-shaped bar, with bartenders darting around behind it, lit by mood lights on the wavy liquor shelves behind them.

Across the room, Yuuri spots another open doorway, leading out to a patio area overlooking the city.

Viktor and Yuuri walk down a few stairs, into the main section of the room. They pass by a gaggle of women sipping brightly-colored drinks in magnificent dresses that leave less to the imagination than Yuuri thought possible. Viktor tugs his arm past a cluster of wealthy-looking businessman playing cards in a corner booth, cigarette smoke thick in the air around them. Yuuri can feel eyes tracking them as they move, mapping their each and every step.

The overall impression on Yuuri is one of wealth and power, of elegance and excess.

And he feels tiny—insignificant—in his ill-fitting dress shirt. What is he doing here? Maybe Viktor belongs here, maybe.

But Yuuri? Definitely not.

“I’ll get us some drinks,” Viktor shouts into his ear. Yuuri bobs his head absently by way of response, and noses towards the open door to the patio.

Viktor shoots him a thumbs up, and disappears from his side. Yuuri watches him go, navigating the crowds of people effortlessly, politely shrugging off each little touch and glance along the way. Smiling his classic, picture-perfect smile. Yuuri quails in embarrassment at his inadequacy by comparison.

Yuuri finally looks away, and awkwardly bumps his way across the room to get outside, sliding up against warm bodies and recoiling immediately after, or limply pushing a wandering arm away.

When he steps out onto the patio past two more burly suited men, he sucks in a giant breath of fresh air. It’s pretty sparsely furnished, and cold. Maybe that’s why there’s so few people out here, he concludes. There’s a surprisingly strong rush of wind up this high, and Yuuri walks to the safety railing to look out at the sparkling city below him, letting the wind rush across his face and exposed arms.

It feels—good. Refreshing. The first thing that has, since arriving here.

Yuuri sighs heavily, letting out all the air he’d just inhaled. What is he doing here?

The music finally worms its way into his ear, though. And despite the overwhelming scene behind him and enveloping him, Yuuri smiles at the familiar sound of Rihanna.

There is something deeply reassuring about knowing that all the way across the world—across thousands and thousands of kilometers—people still listen to music, sometimes even the same music he does.

“No Moscow Mule this time,” Viktor tells him with some disappointment, nudging up against Yuuri and handing him a glass of sparkling liquid. “Figured I’d keep it simple with a vodka tonic this time,” He turns from Yuuri, and lets out a slow whistle. “Now that’s a view.”

Yuuri accepts the drink and takes a sip of the tart liquid, enjoying the bubbles against his tongue.

Lights sprawl out in front of them, gleaming on numerous buildings. Some seem so close Yuuri could reach out and touch them; others far enough away they seem tiny.

Far below, a city of miniscule ants. Scurrying to-and-fro, carrying about their lives. And here he is, up above it all. Standing next to Viktor Nikiforov.

Who wanted—wants—to take him clubbing, to dance with him. And Yuuri is hiding away. Is he afraid of embarrassing himself, or Viktor? Of having a good time? Of getting attached?

Well, it’s too late, he’s screwed on that account. He’s got it bad for Viktor. Really bad.

Yuuri’s light smile widens at the thought. It seems to have taken some perspective for him to accept it, to acknowledge his feelings.

“It really is,” he agrees. He takes a deep sip from the glass. There are fancy, engraved patterns dotting it, he notices dreamily.

The music swells, calling out to him from inside.

Your train of thought will be altered, so if you must falter be wise.

Okay. Okay, okay.

The bass emanating from the club thrums in his veins, empowering him. Yuuri downs his drink, and, brimming with confidence, pulls on Viktor’s arm before grabbing his hand.

“C’mon.”

 


 

Viktor hastily deposits his nearly-empty drink on a passing table, as Yuuri’s grip on his hand tightens. He follows, swept up by Yuuri like a voracious current of water. He’s not sure what exactly is happening, but some switch has been flipped.

And as long as he gets to hold Yuuri’s hand, he doesn’t mind.

There’s something deeply arousing about Yuuri when he takes charge like this, and Viktor’s fine with letting it run its course. He can only enjoy it while it lasts, and then wish for its return without ever pushing for it too much.

They pass a couple making out by a standing table, two women who gasp as they rocket past, and more affronted businessmen as Yuuri pushes beyond them. Inadvertently or not, Yuuri has drawn attention to them as they make a beeline for the dancefloor.

Viktor doesn’t mind (though some distant voice says he should be concerned)—he’s just surprised Yuuri would do something like this. A new song begins amid scattered cheers, and Yuuri seems to double his speed, moving as if his life depends on it.

They arrive, and there’s a bit of shuffling as people move around the dancefloor, some leaving towards the bar and others closer to the center. Viktor and Yuuri remain on the outer edge, the lights not quite reaching them.

Almost instantly, Yuuri starts moving in time with the music, effortlessly. It’s the same connection to music that Viktor first saw in his skating, what feels like years ago. Yuuri’s movements call to Viktor, like Yuuri is reaching out for someone. They always have.

Viktor slides a bit closer, but keeping some distance between them; always conscious of how close his body is to Yuuri.

They start dancing fast, to keep pace with the pounding bass; their limbs a blur, moving to choreography only they can see. Viktor starts breathing quicker, and he swaps places with Yuuri as they slide past each other in an elaborate quasi-spin.

Across from him, Yuuri moves fluidly; like a dream. His body dipped in shadow, lit by the occasional flash of red or blue, his hair not quite slicked back anymore, but a little wild in the scattered light.

It’s not the gritty, body-to-body dancing the usually happens in a club, and it gets noticed. A small group of people start to form around them, watching and dancing along beside them.

“I can’t believe they play JLo, too!” Yuuri shouts at him as they swap places again. Viktor can barely hear him over the rumble of the bass, of the blood in his veins.

“You know the song?”

“Of course! You don’t?”

Viktor shakes his head, just one of many songs he’s still yet to learn. Yuuri laughs, teeth flashing bone-white in a burst of light as he spins around Viktor again. A pang of desire hits Viktor square in the gut, butterflies prancing in his stomach.

Tonight we gon’ be it on the floor

Yuuri seems to take it to heart, and redoubles his dancing, a cheer going up around them as his hands start running up and down his body. Viktor mirrors him, hardly a half step behind. Sweat dots Viktor’s face and arms now, and he’d probably be ashamed by his pit stains if he could see them. But Viktor can see the exertion pulling at Yuuri too—somehow making him even more attractive, flushed red like his eyeshadow; stretching down his neck to his chest, left several buttons open.

More people start gathering around them, herding them closer to the center. Viktor doesn’t really notice, though; his attention fixed on Yuuri’s erotic movement. Something about all the eyes on the two of them bothers him again, like a fly buzzing around his head. He should be remembering something, something important.

But Viktor quickly quashes that down when somebody bumps up against him, pushing him even closer to Yuuri.

The music climaxes, thrumming in their ears. Somehow, Viktor’s hands end up around Yuuri’s waist.

Yuuri breaks Viktor’s hold quickly, putting his own hands on Viktor before dipping him with a flourish. Viktor pops out of it with a twirl and tries again, dipping Yuuri this time. They’re practically bouncing in time with the music, their feet only occasionally deigning to touch the ground as the flutter around each other. They share brief touches, almost always followed by a spin, twist, or dip.

If Viktor could see himself in third person, he would be surprised by how their dance rapidly switches back and forth from something akin to a choreographed skate routine to the base, needy undulating that clubs are famous for; how the colors of their shirts blur and meld together with movement; how they had been pushed to the center of the dancefloor with dozens watching them.

But his focus has slimmed to a pinprick, centered entirely on Yuuri Katsuki—so he sees none of that.

All he sees is the man he finds more interesting, more attractive, and kinder than anyone else. Who inspires him, who was brave enough to continue when he was at his lowest. Who has become his fast friend, his confidant, his partner in nearly all but name.

The song draws to a close, and Viktor and Yuuri are left face-to-face, chests heaving. Around them, people are cheering, pressing up against them; but he hardly notices.

They are so close together—he would just have to lean forward a bit, and then they would be kissing. Viktor’s heart speeds up as time slows down, gathering his resolve to—

Music interrupts the moment, leaving them both breathless and confused.

 


 

Had Viktor been about to kiss him? Had he been about to kiss Viktor?

Is this a date?

Question after question roils in Yuuri’s mind, uncertainty surrounding him like darkening clouds.

Yuuri takes a step back; or at least as much of one as he can (when did they get surrounded?) He’s about to shuffle through the crowd to get away, to get some air—when an enchanting voice starts singing, slower, less urgent than before.

He hesitates as he listens, and Viktor reaches out to him, clasping his hand and pulling lightly. Just a gentle tug. Like a question—does Yuuri want?

He pauses, searching himself. Caught between his fear of rejection, of losing Viktor, of what might follow. Of what it all means.

But underneath it all—yes. Yes, he does. He has, for a long time.

He steps closer, and Viktor pulls him again, harder this time. Then, they’re flush up against each other again, bodies swaying to the persistent rhythm and singing. Yuuri can see each individual bead of sweat on Viktor’s pink face, each strand of silvery hair sticking to his forehead or out at an odd angle, the pink spreading down to dot Viktor’s alabaster throat.

He’s possessed by an overwhelming urge to reach out, to touch. Some part of his brain short circuits, trying to process—but fails.

So he does anyway.

He runs his hands through Viktor’s hair, slowly, cautiously at first. But Viktor leans into it, tilting his head down as they move together, giving Yuuri better access.

And, oh. Oh-oh-oh.

It feels so soft and silky to his touch. Exactly like it had in every single one of Yuuri’s fantasies across a decade of desire.

Then, there’s nudge against his shoulder, a prickle of stubble followed by an odd wet sensation—which Yuuri belatedly realizes has to be Viktor, at his neck, as Yuuri cards through Viktor’s hair.

Viktor pauses, though, halting their movement. He leans back, looking at Yuuri, eyes asking once again—is this okay?

In response, Yuuri slides himself up against Viktor, moving them to the beat again. He runs his hands up Viktor’s side, marveling at the toned muscles beneath. Viktor lets out an involuntary groan, lost to the noise around them, to the music in their ears. Viktor’s hands make their way to Yuuri’s back, pulling him closer still, so that Yuuri is now nuzzling Viktor.

Viktor’s hands start wandering further down to his ass, and Yuuri—can’t believe it. Viktor Nikiforov is touching him.

He’s touching Viktor Nikiforov. He can feel the two of them, pressing up against each other.

Yuuri relaxes, letting whatever lingering pent-up stress was present out in a shaky breath against Viktor’s neck, inhaling Viktor's mesmerizing citrusy cologne.

Someone nearby dog whistles, but neither of them pay it any attention. The music pulses, unwavering, the only thing active in Yuuri’s mind.

Keep playin’ my heartstrings faster and faster

You can be just what I want, my true disaster

Their movement is slow and sensual, a far cry from the frenzied dancing just minutes ago. Just little steps, rocking together. Hands exploring each other, Viktor’s lips ghosting along Yuuri’s cheek, Yuuri’s lips on Viktor’s neck.

At some point, Yuuri leans back slightly—ever so slightly. He wants to look Viktor in those ocean-blue eyes, and finds them cloudy with desire. Viktor probably sees the same in him, right now.

But this—this is important.

Yuuri leans forward again, Viktor meeting him halfway as their lips touch. Tentative, at first. Uncertain. And then, Viktor’s tongue darting across his lips, asking.

Yuuri says yes again.

Chapter Text

When the World Stops Chapter 21: Through the Night

 

Yuuri gently nudges the hotel door open with his shoulder, wincing as it creaks sharply in the hushed quiet of the late night. He steals inside, hunched over and tiptoeing carefully despite the bouncy, rosy energy radiating through him. The alien-green glow of the digital alarm clock between beds shows 2:27 a.m., casting a weak, bleary light across the room.

The only other source of light is, of course, Phichit’s phone. Illuminating his face.

Phichit is smirking, which ordinarily would frighten Yuuri, but he’s too elated to really care right now. Yuuri sighs anyway in resignation, settling back onto the heels of his feet as his best friend leans over to flick on the lamp next to him. 

“You were right, Phichit,” Yuuri admits. 

“I know. Now tell me all about it." 

A smile creeps across Yuuri’s face and he blushes, almost skipping over to his bed, “We kissed.”

Phichit squeals, a high-pitched sound that makes Yuuri concerned for their neighbors briefly before Phichit is tackle-hugging him.

“Oh my god, I’m so happy for you!” He says in between squeezing the remaining life and energy out of Yuuri and leaning back to look at Yuuri’s chaotic appearance.

“Was it good?” Phichit asks as he finally lets go of Yuuri and returns to his own bed.

“Phichit…” Yuuri scolds, taking off his shoes. He exhales with relief as he frees his feet and the cool hotel air hits.

“Well, was it?!”

Yuuri sighs half-heartedly and looks up at his roommate shyly, a slight smile tugging at his lips. “Yes.”

Phichit squirms on his bed, making more indiscernible noises. Yuuri makes it all the way to the bathroom and has a makeup wipe in hand before he hears Phichit take a few deep breaths to collect himself. He’s seen Phichit do it enough times, he’s pretty confident he can remove his own makeup, tipsy and giddy as he might be.

“Soooooooo,” Phichit calls out. “Walk me through the evening. How was the club?!

“Loud,” Yuuri starts, then pauses when he sees the smears on his face. “Hot.” He tosses the wipe into the trash and steps back into the bedroom. “It--” 

Yuuri gulps, and begins again. “It was terrifying Phichit; I was nervous about Viktor after what you said about it being a date; and then we got there and it looked like a movie set and--”

“A movie set?” Phichit interrupts, getting another wipe and picking up where Yuuri left off, removing the smudgy mess left behind.

“Okay.” Yuuri says, trying to think of how to describe it. “Imagine the fancy bar in any Hollywood action movie. Or James Bond.”

“Like Casino Royale?” Phichit says, and Yuuri nods. “Oooookay.”

“It was like that, but real. And on the 77th floor of a skyscraper. With a balcony. And totally legal businessman smoking totally legal indoor cigarettes and totally legal guards in black suits at every door.”

“Wow…” Phichit says dreamily.

“And Viktor, just...staring at me the whole time with those piercing eyes.” Yuuri reaches out and clasps his friend’s arm. “Phichit, I panicked.”

“But, you--I saw--” Phichit cuts himself off and lets out a flabbergasted noise.

Yuuri takes a breath to continue, but stops. Phichit “saw”? What could--

“So how did you end up kissing then?” Phichit blurts out.

“We danced…” Yuuri trails off, and his eyes unfocus for a moment as he thinks about the heat, the overwhelming atmosphere; and how good it was to let it out by dancing. How his body felt slotting up against Viktor.

How Viktor’s body felt meshed up against him.

The deep sense of relief and the explosion of butterflies when they finally kissed, when he tasted Viktor’s tongue.

“And then? 

“We went outside.” Yuuri’s eyes swim back into focus, but he’s still looking past Phichit. “And we talked.”

 


 

At some point, the music slows, or maybe stops. Viktor’s not sure. He leans back and sees Yuuri looking ravished, hair wild and mussed, lips puffy and pink. It’s like coming up for a breath of fresh air when diving--necessary and refreshing, but an interruption from the main attraction.

And Yuuri makes for one hell of an attraction, gazing at Viktor and only Viktor, despite the press of bodies around them and flashing lights above them. He shivers from head to toe and takes another breath, sucking in the air desperately, quickly.

Viktor leans forward again, slowly. He keeps waiting for Yuuri to push him away, to let go. But Yuuri’s hands are still on his hips, his chest.  Viktor’s mouth is up against Yuuri’s ear, and he gives the outer shell a playful nip, a tease. 

“Come with me,” Viktor says, his voice husky.

He latches onto Yuuri’s wrist, a lifeline amid the sea of drifting dancers all around. Viktor squeezes by or ducks around a seemingly interminable number of them, his grip on Yuuri firm. They finally break free of the pack, the double doors out to the balcony in front of them. The chilly breeze wafts through the doors, and the overwhelming pulse of music dims slightly. Viktor closes his eyes for a moment, and he draws in another deep breath, his shoulders dropping slightly.

He can feel Yuuri take a similar breath beside him, connected by hands as they stare out over the glimmering city landscape, miles above it together.

Together.

“Did we really…” Yuuri starts, trailing off and looking away, eyes downcast.

Viktor gently places a finger under Yuuri’s chin, his heart still pounding relentlessly. Carefully, gently like when he has to give Makka medicine, Viktor tilts Yuuri’s face up so he can look into his dark eyes.

“Yes,” Viktor says definitively, triumphantly; a lion roaring in his chest. “And we can do it again. As much as you want.”

Yuuri pulls him down, and kisses him fiercely. Their mouths meet roughly, teeth clacking uncomfortably like they are both horny teenagers; new to this, before Yuuri’s tongue is in his mouth. Viktor moans, excitement zinging through his body as he brings his hands up to cup Yuuri’s face. 

Viktor breaks off after a bit, breath hitching as he inhales.

“I like you,” he says, “A lot.”

Yuuri smiles at him, and Viktor can’t help but lean in and kiss him on the nose, on the lips.

“I’ve liked you for so long,” Viktor says when they stop, smiling broadly.

“Not as long as I’ve liked you, I bet.”

“Oh really?” Viktor says, arching an eyebrow. “And how long has that been?”

“Ten years,” Yuuri says, wrapping his arms around Viktor and leaning slightly in the wind. “Give or take.”

“That long?”

“Give or take a decade,” Yuuri says mischievously. “But I had no way of knowing if you even...liked guys.” Something shifts in Yuuri’s face, his eyes focusing as the words start flowing. “For so long I chased after you, and could barely keep it together when we first met. I worried, like I always do. That you had no interest in me at all, that I was deluding myself that someone as amazing as you would even see me at all, let alone that way.” Yuuri opens his eyes again, “But then I got to know you.”

“And I thought the same about you,” Viktor huffs. “My only choice was to hope that we would stay friends, or that you would eventually see--shit,” Viktor’s voice catches, and he swallows thickly, hands tracing Yuuri's arms. “See how much I want you.”

Yuuri squeezes him in response, leaning closer still. Viktor tilts his own head to rest on Yuuri’s, and they simply sway slowly, overlooking Shanghai’s twinkling nightlife.

“Viktor,” Yuuri says after a few minutes. 

“Hmm?” He responds, nuzzling against Yuuri.

“What--What are we?”

Yuuri shakes slightly against him, and Viktor’s heart trembles.

He steps back slightly, taking Yuuri’s hands in his as they separate.

“Well,” Viktor says, voice wavering slightly, more than he’d like to admit. “I--I don’t want to speak for you. But...I’d like it very much if you would be my,” Viktor pauses, swallowing. “My boyfriend.”

Forget butterflies, Viktor must have eaten an entire flock of birds the way his stomach does somersaults as he waits, patient as he can only be for Yuuri.

Yuuri’s eyes blaze with light, shining in the inky night. “Yes,” he says softly. “I’d like that. To be boyfriends.”

It sounds so explicit the way he says it, so much more intriguing. Breathless, Viktor whispers, “Thank you, Yuuri.”

They stare again, as if reexamining each other using a new lens. Viktor drinks in the sight of Yuuri’s unbuttoned shirt, the dusting of red eye shadow, fluttering each time he blinks. Yuuri seems to do the same to him, at least until the wind whips up and Yuuri shivers, bracing against the cold air.

Viktor pulls Yuuri close, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend.

His boyfriend.

“Do you want to get out of the cold?” Viktor says, “And maybe dance some more?”

Yuuri smiles coyly in response, grabbing Viktor’s hand and tugging him inside for the second time that evening.

 


 

“So you went back in and danced the night away?” Phichit asks.

“Yeah,” Yuuri says absently.

“And neither of you checked your phones?”

“No, why would we?” Yuuri asks, mild irritation creeping into his voice.

“Welllllll,” Phichit says, voice sliding down. “You’re trending.”

Yuuri’s mouth clicks as he opens and closes it a few times.

“Pardon?”

“You’re trending. On like, every social media platform you’ve ever heard of. And probably a few you haven’t.”

“Huh?!?!” Yuuri screams, fumbling for his phone.

Phichit gets up and sits down next to him, leaning over so they can both see his Twitter feed.

Yuuri’s eyes flit across the screen, somehow fixating on the “#Victuuri, 17.6K tweets” on the trending list.

“Oh my fucking god,” Yuuri whispers. Morbidly, he taps onto the trend.

At the top is a video, a shaky, handheld-filmed, phone-camera quality video of him and Viktor. Dancing. 

It’s dripping with eroticism, with a base need that makes it look less like dancing and more like sex with clothes on. And then, they both lean in and kiss.

Yuuri has the surreal, out-of-body experience of watching his first kiss with his first boyfriend unfold in front of him. On Twitter.

And on Instagram, and Youtube, and Reddit, and--god--even Facebook

This--this can’t be happening.

“Yuuri? Your face is really white right now...Yuuri…?”

He stops breathing, mind burning through the scope of the situation. His vision blurs, and he falls backwards towards the bed until Phichit catches him.

“Yuuri! Please, c’mon! Drink this!”

Something cool and wet tingles at his lips, and he takes a sip of water automatically. Slowly, his body seems to recalibrate and his senses return.

Chest heaving, he sits up on his own, arms shaking slightly.

“Breathe in and count with me. 1, 2, 3, 4. And then out,” Phichit says. “And in again. And then back out.”

Slowly, Yuuri’s heart settles back down to a ‘reasonably elevated’ state, and he takes another sip of water. Once his breathing is a bit steadier, Phichit gently taps Yuuri’s arm.

“Hey. You should be heading to the airport soon, for your flight,” he fidgets slightly before continuing. “But, I kinda think you should reschedule it. You need to rest. It’s been a long day--”

“No, I can’t afford that.” Yuuri says, more confident than he feels. “It’s fine. I can go.”

“If--if you’re sure.”

Yuuri turns to look at Phichit, brows furrowed.

“I’m not gonna make you stay, Yuuri. It’s your choice,” Phichit holds up his hands.

“Yeah. I’m gonna go. I--I need to get home.”

Phichit purses his lips, “I packed your stuff while you were out. In case.”

Yuuri’s lip twitches. “Thanks Phichit. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

“Sleeping, like you probably should be,” he scolds. “But probably still the best skater in the world,” Phichit finishes cheerfully.

Phichit grabs Yuuri’s hands, eyes hardening. “But please keep me posted on your trip. Let me know when you get there. And--and about whatever’s going on with you and Viktor.”

“I will,” Yuuri nods.

Phichit exhales, and suddenly seems years older than even Yuuri. “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, Phich.”

“You could come visit over the summer?”

“Or you can come visit me?” Yuuri counters.

Phichit clicks his lips, “Well, I guess I’ll see you back in Detroit soon enough.”

“Thanks again, Phichit.”

Yuuri grabs his bags and opens the hotel door, heart still pounding and mind still racing.



*

 

Yuuri’s travels are obscured by the thick, hazy fog that seems to pervade everywhere he goes. 

His ride to the airport passes by in a blink, the city fading away behind him. It’s a bit like when he used to go for early morning runs in Detroit in the early Spring, when the dew and fog clung to the city with a vice-like grip. He would spend as much time running as he did swimming through the murky air those mornings. Except there’s no actual fog in the Shanghai airport, it’s just his life. As normal.

Or, as normal as being the subject of an international social media trend can be.

He knows there’s no way that everyone is staring at him as he stands in the hub of the airport, looking for his gate. There’s no way they are all imagining what he looks like, body tangled up with Viktor, glasses askew. There’s no way they are thinking about how he just outed himself in front of the entire world.

There’s no way.

But,

It feels like it.

He rushes into a clothing store after locating his gate, and hastily purchases an oversized, overpriced sweatshirt emblazoned with some brand name that he doesn’t care about. He stuffs in earbuds, and flips up the hoody, wrapping himself up in anonymity like a knight slipping on armor. He weaves back into the busy crowds, the pressing bodies jostling each other unconsciously, feeling slightly better about things.

Despite his consciousness telling him not to, once he’s settled near his gate, he can’t resist doomscrolling through the various social media channels. To his dismay, #Victuuri still seems to be trending, alongside newly surfaced footage of them dancing, before they had kissed. He skips the comments, knowing they will just make things worse. But he can’t help watching the new video, mortified but unable to stop as he and Viktor perform some elaborate, beautiful dance to the pounding club music. 

Twisting, twirling, hands flashing. It’s easy to see how they attracted attention. They look--good, Yuuri grudgingly has to admit. 

But that doesn’t stem the embarrassment he feels from being exposed to the entire world, that his feelings for Viktor were broadcast to millions of people. And so soon after they had just...started figuring things out, really. They’d hardly had a quiet moment together before it was blasted out to everyone.

The unfairness of it all roils in Yuuri’s stomach, stirring up a bitterness he thought he left behind in the wake of Viktor’s retirement.

He should tell them all how it shouldn’t matter! That what he and Viktor do, what they have between them shouldn’t be important to anyone else.

He should--

He should call Viktor. 

They should talk about this kind of thing, right? That’s what boyfriends would do, Yuuri thinks. Or he guesses at least, he’s woefully out of his depth when it comes to relationships.

Yuuri taps his phone. Nothing comes up.

Yuuri taps it again, brow furrowing. Nothing comes up, again.

He holds the power button, and a flashing empty battery pops up. A yawning abyss opens up in his stomach, and he inhales sharply enough to earn a few stares.

He--he forgot to charge his phone in all the mayhem. Fuck. Well, he can go buy a charger real quick--

“We are now boarding--” a voice blares over the loudspeakers, repeating in three different languages. 

Fuckity fuck, Yuuri thinks.

It’s going to be a long flight.

 


 

Viktor wakes with a start, his phone buzzing loudly next to his ear. He reflexively rolls his neck, stretching as he sits up and squinting against the morning light flooding his hotel room. He must have passed out almost immediately after getting back to his room.

In fact, he’s not even sure how he got back home last night. He’d been running on adrenaline and dreams throughout the evening, and at some point after kissing Yuuri, the the specific details of the night started to lose shape.

Wait--kissing Yuuri?

Something overwhelmingly warm blossoms in Viktor’s chest, spreading down to his toes and fingertips so that they buzz pleasantly. Yuuri likes him. Like likes him, maybe. Or, more than maybe. Yes? Yes-maybe?

His phone rings this time, genuinely rings, and Viktor can’t remember the last time someone other than Yakov has called him, so he braces himself as he answers.

“Good morning, Yakov.”

“Hey, when were you planning to tell me about you and Yuuri?” says a distinctly not-Yakov voice.

Viktor recoils in confusion, “Chris?”

“Yes, good morning sleeping beauty. Now please explain.”

“Umm, explain what exactly?” Viktor says, mind still trying to catch up.

Chris sighs loudly. “Why I’m finding out about you and Yuuri being together from Twitter first. I thought we were friends?!” A genuine note of hurt creeps into Chris’ voice at the end, and VIktor grimaces.

“Chris, I have no idea what you--oh SHIT.” Viktor clenches his jaw and lowers the phone for a second, swearing again in Russian. And then in French. It doesn’t make him feel any better.

 

“My, my, I wasn’t even aware you knew such vulgar language.”

“There’s video of us, isn’t there.” 

There’s a pause, Viktor breathless as he waits.

“You didn’t know,” Chris says. It’s not a question, but it’s not a statement either.

“No, I--” Viktor’s grip on the sheets tightens. “I forgot people might be watching us.”

“You...you forgot,” Chris says blankly. “In a club. You forgot there were other people.”

“Look, okay, I didn’t--I didn’t plan for this to happen, okay?” Viktor’s voice tears at the end. “I didn’t know what would happen.”

“I believe you,” Chris replies, sounding tired. “You might want to talk to him though. If I know Yuuri, he’s probably--”

“Freaking out,” Viktor finishes. “Listen Chris, I’m sorry you found out this way. I’m sorry everyone found out this way, it’s not--it’s not what I would have wanted,” Viktor sets his mouth and inhales deeply. “But it’s what happened, and now I’ll make the best of it.”

“Go save the world, then,” Chris sighs. Viktor hangs up, and rubs his palm across his face, twirling strands of silver hair along the way. 

He dials Yuuri’s number right away, but it goes to voicemail. Bile starts building his throat as he fires off a series of (increasingly desperate) texts. He fists a hand around the pearly white sheets of the bed as he waits, biting the bullet and checking Twitter for the damage. 

Viktor watches the video of them, of their dancing, both of them managing to balance the knife’s edge of elegant and needy. He watches as he and Yuuri kiss again, and he can’t help but run his fingers across his lips as he watches, heat coiling alongside building bile in his stomach. Try though he might, he can’t bring himself to regret their actions. The only thing he regrets is not remembering that every person around them had a phone and was capable of using it. He’d been too caught in the moment.

When no text response is forthcoming, Viktor tries calling Yuuri again--only to get nothing once more. If Viktor knows Yuuri--and he’d like to think he does, at least more than many--he’s probably freaking out about all of the attention. Viktor’s seen the little ways that Yuuri doesn’t handle attention well, the way he skates best when he thinks there’s only ever one or two people watching him.

Yuuri’s probably furious at him for exposing him to that kind of international scrutiny, especially for something so...intimate.

He lets loose one last, explosive “Blyat!” before springing into action, rushing to turn on the shower as he starts packing. Then, he dials his airline for the second time in two days.

 


*

 

Viktor has time to think about all the ways things have gone wrong. A lot of time. About 10 hours, in fact, from the moment he sprints out of the hotel; wheely bag in tow behind him and clattering dangerously against the stairs.

Enough time to go over, in excruciating detail, just how oblivious he had to have been last night not to consider that they were in public the entire time and just how foolish, stupid he had been. Not only had Yuuri looked stunning enough to capture anyone’s attention, but the two of them are internationally famous--foreign celebrities. Of fucking course people had snatched up the opportunity to spy on them.

Well, Viktor thinks as he swiftly moves through airport security, ‘spy’ might not be the right word for when people openly ogle and record videos of you and your--boyfriend, but evidently neither he nor Yuuri had the presence of mind to notice it. And, god, now everyone will know about the two of them. About the fact that he’s--ostensibly--gay. He feels strangely robbed of something important.

Even if he hasn’t been, really. Or even cares that people know now. That seems to matter much less than the far-reaching consequences it might have on his friends and--Yuuri. He’s not naive enough to imagine most of Russia will just accept that their hero, the renowned Ice Prince, was suddenly captured kissing another man. He’s going to have to face the music at some point.

Social media seems interestingly split about it right now. More people than Viktor had honestly expected seem to be speaking up in support of them, happy for them, or angry that others are using a private moment as vindication to attack the two of them. Especially for liking each other.

But just as Viktor had always known there would be, there are a lot of people outraged.

Furious that two of the most recent World Champions in men’s skating are kissing. Disgusted that they are doing it in public. Upset that years of following and speculating about their romantic interests are being put to rest. Or just angry, in general. That seems to be a common take.

His phone rings again as he sits at the gate, impatiently tapping his foot over and over again. He answers without looking, confident. 

“Yakov.”

“Viktor,” comes the calm and steely response. “What were you thinking?”

His heart skips a beat. It hurts more to hear than he thought it would. More than it would have if Yakov had yelled instead.

“It’s none of your business,” Viktor starts brusquely, suddenly feeling cornered.

“It is when one of my most promising new coaches makes global headlines by kissing the men’s World Champion,” Yakov says tiredly. “I’ve been putting out calls all day to Russian media, I was slightly ready for this at least.”

“You don’t need to do that,” Viktor says curtly. 

Yakov scoffs, “Sure, I’ll just do nothing. I’m sure you already filled in Yura, too?”

Shit.

“I can handle it. I--” Viktor’s voice falters. “I--”

His chest constricts, and suddenly Viktor finds himself wiping away the tears dribbling down his cheeks, sobbing wetly into the phone.

“Viktor…” Yakov says more softly.

Viktor, for his part, can’t do much but try and contain his mess. Tuck it away. The last thing he wants is to draw more attention and end up back in the news.

“Are you okay?” 

“No,” Viktor says, voice tearing. “No, I don’t think I am, Yakov.”

“Viktor. Listen to me,” Yakov commands. “It will all be alright. I’m going to help out where I can.”

Viktor takes a deep, fluttery breath.

“I wish it hadn’t happened like this--” Yakov starts.

“Me too,” Viktor chokes out.

“--But I’m happy for you.” 

Viktor leans over and sighs, strands of silver hair dangling out in front of him.

“You actually like him, don’t you?” Yakov says, somewhat grudgingly.

“Yes,” Viktor exhales. “But I can’t reach him; he’s not answering anything. And that’s the scariest part.”

“What are you doing, then?”

“Going after him.”

 


 

Yuuri arrives back in Hasetsu with no fanfare, no flashiness. Just a hoody pulled tight around his face, head pounding from a headache perpetually stuck up high behind his forehead. 

He slinks home in a cab, unwilling to purchase a charger at this point to communicate with his family or Minako for a pickup. Viktor probably already wants to break up with him by this point. Might as well wallow in his suffering, comfortably alone.

At some point during his long, miserable flight, it occurred to him that he hadn’t just out himself last night. He’d also outed Viktor.

Viktor Nikiforov, the hero of Russia. 

To the whole world. Which includes, coincidentally, his home country of Russia.

If that isn’t grounds for eternal condemnation, Yuuri doesn’t know what is.

Familiar landmarks fly by as they go, until the cab pulls up to Yu-topia Katsuki, which looks busier than normal to Yuuri’s unfamiliar eye. His legs feel like lead as he trudges through the brisk spring chill, lugging his two bags behind him. He slips in through the front door, forgoing the traditional shout of “I’m home!” in favor of squelching shoes and brooding misery.

But his mother must have a 6th sense for the front door, as she barrels around the corner and almost right into Yuuri, startling him.

“Yuuri!! You’re back!” she says, voice swelling as she pulls him into a tight hug.

 “Congratulations on winning. We’re so, so proud of you.”

Oh, right.

“Th-thanks mom,” he says.

“I cleared out a spot for the medal,” she says tentatively. “If you want to place it.”

And--of course his mother has already rearranged their little shrine to his awards and accolades to accommodate for his win, even if it was just a few days ago.

“It’s in my bag now, but I’ll put it there,” Yuuri says, voice cracking a bit as he sniffles and wipes away a tear.

She smiles softly in response, the warm grin that used to heal any injury and fix any problem when he was a kid.

“Mari’s cleaning the onsen and your father’s working on the dinner rush,” she explains as they head towards Yuuri’ room. “It’s been busier lately!”

“That’s good to hear, Mom.”

They get to his room, and he gently pushes open the door, only to be greeted by a bouncing fluffball.

“Ruff ruff!”

“Vicchan!” Yuuri exclaims, scooping him up as the dog eagerly licks at Yuuri’s nose and face. “St--stop,” he says, laughing at the tickling sensation. He gently pets the tiny poodle and sets him down. 

“You look tired, Yuuri. Get some rest,” his mother clucks, a gentle hand patting his cheek. “It’s so nice to have you back home.”

“It’s good to be back so soon again, mom,” he says, closing his eyes against her hand.

“And you can tell us all about that foreign boy when you’re feeling more rested.”

Yuuri’s eyes shoot open, and he gawks at his mother. “Moooom--”

“Your sister showed us that lovely video of you two. We can’t wait to hear more,” she says as she walks away. “Now get some rest.”

Yuuri collapses on his bed, absently plugging in his phone before passing out (from shame? embarrassment? fatigue?) as soon as Vicchan curls up next to him, a warm and reassuring presence amid Yuuri’s tumultuous thoughts.

 

*

 

Yuuri wakes slowly, groggily; sorely tempted to simply roll over again and resume his hibernation. But when he rolls over, he is confronted by his phone buzzing off and on, muted notifications zinging incessantly as overwhelming embarrassment crashes down on Yuuri. It jolts him awake quicker than any hot shower or steaming mug of sugar-laced coffee.

There’s a lot of them, too--he must have slept for a long time. The last thing he wants is to read through each notification, instead swiping past without looking. He lets out a deep breath, petting Vicchan and doing his best not to think about how much he’s fucked things up.

It’s a fruitless endeavor; Yuuri’s thoughts quickly turn to how foolish it was for him to try and be with Viktor and how it’s created innumerable problems for them both. He exhales sadly,