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i see quiet nights poured over ice

Chapter Text

“Commemorative photo? Sure.” Viktor says it in a way he makes sure sounds a lot more like I would love to, because he’s looking at those bright red cheeks and those big mooning eyes and something in his chest starts stirring, an undeniable want.  

He smiles, kindly, knows his own nose is pink with cold. It’s freezing in the building but even colder outside—snow is twisting, falling in uneven bursts through the glass windows. The man who looks barely older than a boy has the strangest look on his face—like he’s horrified, like he wants the ground to swallow him up whole, which isn’t a look Viktor is used to seeing on people who meet him. Let alone when he’s offering something of this extent. He’s offering his arm around shoulders, side-against-side, head tilted to his best angle and smile, smile, smile. He almost never refuses, but he also never initiates. It’s an honor he bestows on next to no one. But he’s making an exception, because it’s not every day that one of the competitors also appears to be one of his (many, many—millions, really—) fans.

He knows who this boy is, of course. He makes a point to know all of his rivals before a big competition like this. It’s Katsuki—the other Yuuri, the one his Yuri was throwing a minor fit over earlier. There can only be one, he had snarled. Viktor had smiled in that fond way that’s as patronizing as it is infuriating, ruffling the pale hair and ignoring the ensuing snap of teeth, like that foul mouth wanted nothing more than to bite the gentle hand on his head. Katsuki Yuuri. Twenty-three years old, Japanese, a good skater but one that struggled with nerves. On a stage as grand as this, nerves are a necessary evil, and for some people—for people like Viktor, they were what was needed to lay it all out on the ice. For others, like Yuuri, they were the greatest burden. It’s a pity, because with a face as cute as that…

Well, he could go far. Endorsement deals, modeling, guest appearances. His cheeks are a bit soft but that’s what Viktor finds endearing. He’s the opposite of his own sharp, narrow features; a flatter nose, fuller lips, and dark, dark hair. His eyes are young and engaging even as they are mortified (Of what? His failure?) and Viktor finds himself appraising in a way not wholly appropriate.

It only takes a moment. His hand is extended in invitation, and he sees that Yuuri wants, viscerally, to take it—but he doesn’t. He doesn’t say a word. He turns away, dragging his suitcase behind him.

The disappointment Viktor feels is disproportional. His stomach sinks, his lips parting on a sigh. He watches the boy go, knowing—he doesn’t know how, or why—knowing that this isn’t the last time they will see each other. He’s going to make sure of it. He’s going to make those eyes go big and round again. Next time—

Yuuri won’t refuse.

 

---

 

He sees the video because everyone has seen the video.

He watches it a total of four times.

The first time, he can barely see anything, because he’s watching from his manager’s phone and the hand holding it in front of his nose is never the steadiest after the umpteenth cup of coffee that day.

The second time is at home, on his couch, a big fluffy mass of poodle bunched against his legs. He forces himself to watch with clinical detachment. He follows the movements carefully, each graceful arc of arms, each jump and step and spin, each movement beautiful. There’s minor things, suggestions Viktor can think of, but for the most part he’s scraping for criticism, because he can see the hours and sweat that were poured into this program, because he’s poured just as much. This is the program that won him his fifth crown. And if he has any say about it, it’s the program that won him his last crown.

(He’s seeing his own movements in the body of Katsuki Yuuri, and he knows a win when he sees one.)

The third time is when he lets himself feel it. He lets the emotion crawl from his chest to his throat, because those cheeks are fatter than the last time but Yuuri is still so handsome. His eyes are serious with focus; his face a mask of careful, soft emotion. He can see himself in the video, but more importantly he sees Yuuri. He sees what this man can do, truly, when he’s unaware of the thousands of eyes upon him. And Yuuri is magical. Yuuri can go far—further than endorsements, further than what just a cute face can take him. He can go all the way. If he has the right motivation, the right practice, the right mentor—

Viktor’s eyes widen, breath catching.

(The fourth time, he watches right before he goes to sleep that night. Because he’s never been so sure of a decision in his life, and his ticket to Japan is already printed out and lying on his nightstand.)

 

---

 

Snow in April isn’t a surprise to him, because he’s Russian, and St. Petersburg isn’t a stranger to late springs. The onsen is quaint, steam endlessly billowing, and the hot water is first a sharp, near-painful sting before it dissolves into muscle-deep pleasure. He allows himself to relax, eyes closed, knowing it’s a matter of time. He can hear the distant crashes and indistinct yelps, unable to keep his lips from twitching upwards. Yuri will be so angry with him. He doesn’t care.

Their second meeting is better, because he orchestrates it to be. He makes sure that this time, Yuuri can’t turn away. Viktor beams, gestures huge and sweeping, and he’s so, so pleased when those eyes first rake over his body before reaching his face. It’s underhanded, it’s shameful, and Viktor isn’t proud of his ulterior motives. But he has more than one goal here. He wants his tongue to learn, intimately, the inside of Yuuri’s mouth. He wants to discover his taste and see what color those fat cheeks turn when they light up with delight instead of embarrassment.

He’s a despicable man, but what he offers is the truth. I’ll make you a winner, he says. And he knows—

This is one thing that Yuuri can’t refuse.

Chapter Text

Oh, Yuuri, Viktor thinks, a little desperately, don’t make that face. When you blush like that you look like a virgin.

Then, as more a jumble of indistinct images than coherent thought, Is he?

His fingers press, gently, just below Yuuri’s chin, lifting his face up. Has he ever been touched before? He can feel the full-body tremors, nerves and tension, tight as a bow-string. Has anyone else ever seen his face like this?

(He knows exactly, exactly what he’s doing, and has no desire to stop.)

Viktor can’t remember the last time he used this voice on someone. Pitched low, tempting as the sweetest of serpents. It’s meant to be used in small spaces, bare skin against sheets. Dark and warm. Intimate. He trails his touch down, down…ah, Yuuri’s hands are soft. The tips of his fingers are cold, like his blood struggles to reach these far-off places. Viktor wonders, absently, if Yuuri is ever warm outside of the hot spring waters. Even during the summer months, he spends his days floating about on ice. Viktor knows what it’s like, and he wants nothing more than to warm Yuuri from the inside out.

Big-framed glasses magnify eyes that are already enormous. His mouth is open, shocked, too polite or too starstruck to pull away—perhaps Viktor is crossing some sort of cultural boundary, here. But he leans in close, smile tender, voice cooing. I want to know everything about you. It’s cruel to tease, but he can’t help himself. 

(After all, he’s not as wholesome a man as people would like to believe.)

He torments, and pokes where he shouldn’t, questions prying. But the need to understand is sincere. If he’s to commit his life, his every waking moment to this boy—

It only makes sense that they get to know each other.

The fabric is loose across his chest, skin pale and smooth. His questions stay (mostly) on-topic, a few of his natural curiosities getting the better of him. Even now, with Yuuri’s face so close to his own, he can’t help but wonder. Can’t help but fantasize. It’s easy, to forget reality for a moment. It’s easy to pretend, as if make-believe, that he has only but to lean forward…

I want to be his first. Am I too late?

“—let’s build some trust in our relationship,” he hears himself purr, heart thumping unevenly. He sees Yuuri’s pupils dilate; big and black, his breathing shallow. The next thing Viktor knows Yuuri’s back is smacking into the wall across the hall, face red as a beet. He’s stuttering out excuses—tired, need to brush my teeth, send Mari to set up the futon—and booking it down the hallway, a distant door slamming behind him.

“Ah, I scared him away.” Viktor smiles down at the sound of paws attempting to dig through tatami mats. “I guess it’s just you and me now, darling.”

I want to be the first.

 

---

 

“What a cute little pig,” Viktor sighs. The sound of Yuuri following his sister upstairs is slowly fading away, and he rests his chin in the palm of his hand, expression dreamy.

“Shut up.”

He smiles at the sourness, at the face that’s nearly shoved fully into the bowl. “You love me. You should listen to what I have to say, kitten.”

Yuri springs upright, rice flying from his mouth. “I love your choreography. I don’t wanna hear you being all gross about that fat lard.”

“When he falls for me, as he inevitably will,” Viktor thoughtfully taps a finger against pursed lips. “I want us to live in a house like that castle on the hill.”

Yuri takes a particularly brutal bite of cutlet, teeth ripping into it. “Stop fucking around.”

“I’m serious.”

“You’re already twenty-seven, I shouldn’t be having to tell you this stuff. You should know it by now.”

Viktor’s glad that Yuuri’s mother (kind, plump) left soon after her son to clean up the kitchen. Yuri’s normal manner of speaking is an outdoor-voice at best, and a perpetual roar when he really gets worked up.

“Know what?”

“That there’s a difference,” Yuri spits, “between wanting to stick your dick in something and wanting to live in that fantasy romance bullshit.”

He’s only fifteen, but Viktor learned long ago that Yuri’s tongue was about as gentle as sandpaper, each word grating against those without thick skin. It’s never bothered Viktor—personally, he always found it cute, like a kitten fluffing itself up to look bigger—but he knows grown men who’ve had to hide tears after a savage lashing by Yuri Plisetsky.  

“Ah, but love and lust are two sides of the same coin, aren’t they? I think I heard that somewhere.”

“I’m not talking about this anymore.” Yuri sets his empty bowl down on the table with a noise loud enough for Viktor to look to the china with alarm, searching for cracks. Thankfully, there are none. “I’ll listen to you all you want about your nasty crush if you come back to Russia with me.”

“Ah, but Yurio,” his lip curls at the nickname, and Viktor hides away his private smile, “long-distance is only romantic in the movies. How can I woo Yuuri when there’s all that space between us?”

“You already have,” Yuri points out with an eye roll. “He looks at you like the sun shines out of your prissy ass. Why don’t you just jack off a couple of times like a normal person and drop it.”

“He idolizes me,” Viktor hums. “He doesn’t know me.” A pause. “But I want him to.”

Yuri groans, mashing his face into the low table like he wants to melt down into it. “What do you see in him? He smells like pork and failure.”

Viktor wonders how long it’s going to take for Yuri to see what he sees—passion and beauty, pride and determination and thinly veiled confidence. An unfurling star covered in bits of bone and flesh.

(Not very long, he concludes. It’s only a matter of time.)

“I wonder what I’d have to do in order for him to smell like me.”

Yuri tries to slink underneath the table. “I’m gonna hurl.”  

 

 ---

 

He wants to say that it’s one-hundred percent entirely for their own growth and development; to pry them away from their comfort zones like a crowbar set onto a sea-rock coated in shellfish. But he has to admit more than half of the decision was for his own entertainment. He wants to see them squirm, and struggle, and he’s going to laugh until they either hate him or join him.

Eros and Agape. It wasn’t on a whim that he decided to go with these arrangements. From what (regrettably little) he knows about Yuuri, and what he’s learned about Yurio over the years, it was a simple matter of picking the polar opposite.

Yurio—his adorable, feisty tiger —for once being forced to keep himself quiet and graceful and serene on the ice. Made to play up what childlike innocence that remains; lie to the world that I’m pure, I’m naïve, I’ve never felt love before but oh how I wish to. And while he’s still a child and by all means he’s innocent as the driven snow, with a temper like that it’s easy to forget.

Viktor doesn’t doubt he’ll be able to do it. He has full, unwavering faith - it’s just that the journey itself is bound to be absolutely hilarious, and he looks forward to it with relish.  

And Yuuri. That eternal blush, set to trembling from a couple fingers pressed under his chin. What will he be like, when he’s working to convey physical love? How will he control his body, his expression? Will his eyes go soft and molten, arms beckoning? How will Viktor keep himself restrained to the side of the rink then? A part of him considers offering his body, for research purposes only, of course—

“I want to eat pork cutlet bowls with you, Viktor.”

The bottom drops out of his stomach, and he finds himself distinctly thinking, I was supposed to be the only serpent here. But there’s Katsuki Yuuri, dangling this ripe fruit right in front of his face, not even realizing that it’s forbidden. Not knowing quite how much Viktor enjoys breaking rules. How much he yearns to break this one in particular.

“That’s exactly what I like,” he says, grinning like he’s three years old again and it’s his first time on the ice. Excited and happier than he’s been in a long, long time.

(After all, the one thing Viktor enjoys more than breaking rules are surprises.)

Chapter Text

One of these days, his thumb presses into the plush of Yuuri’s lower lip (soft, damp, warm—) you’re going to cross a line, and he’s going to hate you for it.

He can’t quell the urge, though. The one to swallow Yuuri whole.  Take him in and never let go.

Your true eros—“Can you show me what it is soon?”

He’s trying, desperately, to keep his breathing even, to keep the knowledge of his craving a private affair. He feels hot, feverish. Just barely keeping himself in check. Toeing the line between flirting and something else entirely. He wants to slip his thumb between Yuuri’s full lips and trace over his teeth. He wants to press him into the low edge of the rink and give him something to be wide-eyed about. Oh, how he wants.

But there is a little something called professionalism, and there is the small matter of potentially ruining what could very well be something he can’t afford to lose. So he watches as Yuuri does the work for the both of them—chest rising and falling with the labored quality of his breaths, his whole frame quaking. It’s adorable. It’s innocent. And in its own way, it’s unbearably erotic—

“Hey, Viktor! Aren’t you teaching me first?!”

That noisy, shrill little brat. It’s on purpose, he knows it is. Interrupting just when it was getting good - Yurio is going to be on the receiving end of some stern words later. 

It takes all that he has to tear himself away as if it means nothing, as if he hadn’t just been teetering dangerously on the edge of unsavory. He’s a performer, and his responding smile gives nothing away.

“Think long and hard about what eros is to you.”

He leaves behind himself a man who looks like he’s just seen a ghost, and he wills the distant ringing to leave his ears.

Someday, it’s going to be me.

 

---

 

The best part about these Japanese hot springs is that it’s completely acceptable to be as naked as he wants whenever he wants, as long it’s under the pretense of taking a bath. There are public baths in Russia, of course—he just never had a reason to make use of them. This reason being there was never an incredibly cute and flustered young man that he wanted to spirit away, and ostentatious flaunting of his phenomenal abdominal muscles is one way to accomplish this, he’s sure of it.

Maybe.

He flexes a bit as he lowers himself into the water, keeping his eyes cast downwards, letting silver lashes fan across his cheeks. He’s giving permission to look—permission for sneaky glances. In his peripheral, he keeps count as Yuuri takes one peek, then two, then three…

He glances up with a smile, just in time to see Yuuri whip his face in the other direction. Viktor’s stomach flutters, and he happily sets about for a long, restful soak.

But peace can only be a far-off dream, because it takes less than two minutes for Yurio to start splashing and throwing half-hearted insults around like handfuls of confetti, and only a bit longer for Yuuri to begin nodding off in the bath. Admittedly, the training has been a bit brutal lately—smitten or not, Viktor takes no prisoners when it comes to coaching. He works Yuuri to the bone; works him until his legs are new and fawn-like, until the thought of another run-through leaves him nauseous. To pile on top of that the exercise regime that got him back down to his Grand Prix Final weight, well…

It’s understandable, and Viktor might feel a little, tiny bit guilty. He watches as Yuuri’s chin slowly submerges below the water, and then his mouth, and then is just curving under his nose when Viktor gently touches his shoulder.

“It’s time for sleepy piglets to go to bed.”

Yuuri makes a soft noise of surprise, straightening up, his heat-flushed cheeks growing redder. Viktor wants to bite them. “Ah, I’m sorry. We haven’t even eaten dinner yet—"

“I think you could stand to skip this time,” Yurio remarks snidely. Viktor shoots him a glare, and he huffs irritably.  

Yuuri struggles to stand up on softened legs, and Viktor has to firmly remind himself that while Yuuri might be naked, too, it doesn’t mean he’s allowed to look where he pleases.

“No, no, we should eat.”

Which is what ultimately leads to Yuuri declaring his undying lust for katsudon. His revelation is followed closely by a very, very long pause, in which Viktor tries to smother the disappointment of being beaten by a bowl of rice and fried meat.

He drinks away his pain that night.

 

 ---

 

“I’m going to scream.”

Anyone can see that Yurio is getting frustrated, and Viktor grins, because if he’s honest with himself he kind of enjoys it when Yurio gets like this. “But you scream all the time, Yurio.”

“I’m going to scream louder.”

“That sounds like a threat if I’ve ever heard one.” And then, in a commanding tone of voice, “Again.”

And he does, but his movements are lacking any and all passion or feeling. They’re beautiful, yes, but that’s because everything Yurio does is beautiful. It’s all wrong—the fluid movements are marred by the twisted scowl on his face, the wired concentration giving himself away. He’s thinking too hard about this—thinking about it like a stubborn hurdle that must be conquered.

The inside of the arena is chilled enough that the air in front of Yurio’s mouth fogs like the hot breath of a racehorse as he pants. He sucks his teeth, kicking at the ice with his skate. “Why. Can’t. I. Get. This.”

Viktor glides a smooth circle around him, taunting. “Are you admitting weakness?”

Never.”

He cuts sharply to a stop, facing Yurio with an expression he knows is annoying and smug. “Why don’t you ask Yuuri? I’m willing to bet Makkachin that he’d love to help you.”

“Yeah, cause I’m really gonna ask the guy who wants to fuck a bowl of rice.”

Viktor makes a small, pained sound. “Please don’t remind me.”

Yurio smirks. “Why? You jealous?”

“We’re talking about you here, Yurio.”

“I’m kind of having fun, though. Doesn’t it bother you? He’d sell you out for a candy bar.”

“I wonder why you’re incapable of expressing unconditional love,” Viktor muses, putting emphasis on incapable and watching Yurio grind his teeth. He smiles.

“Well, maybe a waterfall would help?”  

 

---

 

The hug blindsides him.

Because it was supposed to have been a challenge. No, that wasn’t quite the right word for it—but it was something that, in the very least, he thought he would have to work for. Something he would need to earn. Cross a few physical boundaries, worm his way closer, and closer, until he’s so deep under Yuuri’s skin there’s not a chance between heaven or hell he’s ever leaving.

But now he’s had the rug swept out from under him, and all he can do is keep his face as blank as possible, lest anyone notice the absolute turmoil of his insides. Call upon every ounce of acting skill he possesses all in order to keep his cool. Because here’s this man who Viktor was convinced would never initiate a handshake, let alone this. He can feel the heat of Yuuri’s burning ear pressed to his cheek, and he can smell the gel that’s slicking his hair back. Sweet and slightly floral. Probably Minako-sensei’s.

He hadn’t anticipated this—those lines he drew himself being broken so easily.

(Maybe he doesn’t have to worry about crossing lines. Maybe he never did.)

How can he interpret this? A student thanking their teacher? The gratitude of a friend? An attempt to soothe nerves through human touch? He doesn’t want to hope—not yet. He doesn’t want to think that there’s anything written between the lines here. Yuuri is a simple man, and he wouldn’t be able to pull off double nuances this well.  

He tells himself not to overthink anything, but the words are still echoing around his head, his brain repeating them over and over and not knowing what to do about it.

 …so please watch me. Promise.

His mouth moves before his head catches up. “Of course. I love pork cutlet bowls,” he hears himself breathe, as if in a dream, acutely aware that he might as well have confessed a lot more than his mutual adoration of Yuuri’s favorite food.

There’s a pregnant moment, in which his body feels inclined to duck in for a chaste peck to Yuuri’s cheek, for good luck. But then the announcer is introducing the next skater and Yuuri pulls away with shaking arms and a deep exhale. He leaves without a backwards glance, his mind already on his program, his eros, and Viktor leans against the wall of the rink, nestling his chin in his hand to watch. His legs feel weak.

(He’s had one thousand and one lovers but not one of them has left him so utterly reeling.

It was a hug, he reminds himself. It was only a hug.

Except it wasn’t ‘only’ anything. Not with him.)

As soon as the music starts and Yuuri starts moving (seducing, a siren begging Viktor to join him on the ice) a smile curves up the edges of Viktor’s mouth, his whole body feeling rather hazy. Right away, he can tell that this program is going to be a personal hell for him. Forced to watch but not being allowed to touch. This is going to be revenge—revenge for all the days before this, all the little caresses and candied words. It’s what Viktor deserves, he knows. It might not be intended as such, but it will be a stone’s-throw away from divine retribution.

Yuuri tosses his head, uncharacteristically devious eyes flashing immediately to Viktor, hot and bright and confident, and that goddamned smile—

Come to bed with me, Viktor. I want you.

A low whistle, because there’s saliva gathering under his tongue and his fingers are balled so tightly his knuckles burn white. He can do little else as this torture further unfolds in front of him.

“How frustrating,” Viktor says to himself, his eyes not leaving the ice for an instant, as there is quite literally nothing in the universe that could make him look away right now. His pants could be on fire and he wouldn’t bat an eyelash. “He must love pork cutlet bowls more than I realized.”

But he remembers that smile, the thick charcoal lashes lowered and promising, and he swallows around the dryness of his throat. “Though it’s very easy to believe that this is for me.”

It’s easy to believe that someday has arrived much sooner than he expected.

Chapter Text

“Just try to remember something, like when you were adored by a lover.”

Huh?”

Yuuri has only treated him to one of these expressions a handful of times—the angry one, the frustrated one. The one that only rears its ugly head when he’s too exhausted or too caught up in his own thoughts, and for a split moment he forgets who he’s speaking to. Irrationally, Viktor cherishes these moments. These moments where they’re just two people, two human beings each no better than the other. He gets to see Yuuri how everyone else gets to see him, and for that single heartbeat he sees incredulity, an ‘are you stupid?’ written across that kind face, and the unpleasant parts of Viktor squirm with delight.

The downside to this, obviously, is that to make it happen he has to be a bit of an ass. Whittle away with a knife-edge right where it’s tender, and he discovered pretty early on that one of Yuuri’s sore spots involved his love life, or lack thereof.  

Yuuri’s already stumbling over his own tongue in a flurry of apologies, hands waving and cheeks pink in his embarrassment. But Viktor isn’t quite done, and he smiles gently. “Oh, right. You’ve never had a lover.”

His voice is light enough to conceal his deliberate cruelty, and while Yuuri’s inexperience certainly doesn’t bother Viktor himself (after all, he has personal interest in changing that fact) he sees what it does to Yuuri—he sees how he goes flat and his eyes turn sad and his whole body just…wilts.

And it’s not worth it. It’s not worth that temporary satisfaction— like a quick, dirty fuck with the wrong person. He’s pushed a little too much, and now…

Now he feels bad. Really and truly terrible. Because he’s a selfish bastard and because now Yuuri is avoiding him, and he waited for half an hour at Ice Castle Hasetsu before busting Yuuri’s bedroom door down with the intent of vengeance.

But that melts upon seeing Yuuri sitting on his bed, blanket pulled up over his head like a sad little cape. He looks at Viktor standing in the doorway with an expression as horrified as if he’d just murdered Makkachin. Viktor's angry—irritated that Yuuri blew him off, extraordinarily pissed at himself because it’s his fault in the first place. He wants to be someone that Yuuri can confide in, but that’s never going to happen if he keeps teasing, keeps on poking at his purity like it’s something to be ashamed of but it’s not and it never will, but Viktor can’t very well say that without bringing up the sensitive topic all over again.

“Let’s go to the ocean.”

The suggestion comes out of nowhere—or maybe it doesn’t, all he knows is he heard the gulls crying on his walk back to the inn and while it doesn’t necessarily make him homesick, it’s something he’s sure he wants Yuuri to share with him. His ocean, his beach, his gulls. All a part of his home, the place that grew him. And while it’s been several months since his arrival, Viktor hasn’t forgotten his very first request—

I want to know everything about you.

 

---

 

(It’s on the beach that Viktor realizes he may be in deeper than he ever intended to go.)

The day is overcast, but bits of sun are valiantly struggling through the cloud cover. A lone fishing boat chugs its way across the gray water, and the air smells like salt and fish. The birds above them are noisy, but nostalgic. They’re black-tailed gulls, Yuuri tells him. Quietly. The wind is cold and the sky is gray but it’s something he’s used to.

They sit together, close but not so close that Viktor risks upsetting him further. Instead, Makkachin sits between them like a buffer. She’s a bright spot of warmth pressed against him, and he splays his hand across her side—feeling her heart beating, drawing comfort from her breaths. He tangles his fingers into her curls and tries not to let Yuuri’s curt answers bother him.

At first, Viktor just talks. He talks about himself because he’s good at that, and there’s no way he can mess it up. It’s empty talk—nothing of substance, just useless memories and sentimentalities. But he knows Yuuri is listening, even though he’s looking straight ahead, his eyes tired and mouth hidden against his knees. He stares out at the water of the harbor, at the distant prominences of land that create this safe haven. He listens, quietly, even though he’s hurt. Even though this wicked man’s hurt him, he cares what Viktor has to say.

(The guilt is even stronger with Yuuri by his side, because what kind of monster would dare ruffle a single one of this beautiful boy’s feathers?)

And when Yuuri finally opens up, Viktor listens closely. He looks, from the corner of his eye, as Yuuri keeps his mouth pressed to his folded knees as he speaks, soft and muffled. The story is set in a far-off country, and it involves a girl, a hug, and a rejection of comfort. At first, Viktor has trouble placing the significance. He has trouble listening with an open mind, because something about this story is rubbing him the wrong way. It’s a feeling that grows inside him—something ugly, and cold, and bitter. It makes him feel indescribably hideous, and Makkachin must sense the change because she turns to rest her chin on his bended knee.

“I didn’t want her to think I was feeling unsettled.”

A few things come together for Viktor at once. The first is that he finally understands what Yuuri’s been trying to tell him—that nothing, nothing in the whole world, scares him more than his own weakness.

The second is that jealousy feels like acid in the back of his throat, and that Viktor is more of a liar than even he could have ever predicted. His promise to bring Yuuri greatness—that is true. But his intentions that got them to this point in time are not. Because this hasn’t been about being Yuuri’s coach, and it hasn’t been about chasing his virtue. It hasn’t been, not for a long time.

(It’s here on the beach, the cold and wet of the sand soaking through the seat of his pants, that Viktor realizes he may be in deeper than he ever intended to go.)

I wish I meant more to you.

He breathes out, taking some of his own chill with it. Viktor is aging, and while he might not have to worry about investing in a hairpiece quite yet it doesn’t change the fact that his career is hanging on by a thread. With each moment he feels invisible crow’s feet web at the corners of his eyes; he feels his healthy joints grow stiff and the youthful glow leave his skin. With each moment someone younger is working to overtake him.

I wish I was more than just someone you admire. I want to inspire you. I want to be someone who gives you courage.

It amazes him how quickly this happened. It’s a whirlwind; the start he can pinpoint to a single encounter. A handsome young man with blushing cheeks and doe-like eyes, denying an offer and turning his back on the one person he shouldn’t have been able to say ‘no’ to.

It had been a little spark of interest that Viktor held close and kindled, nurtured, day by day and week by week. Along the way he had forgotten about it entirely, and the next time he looked it was out of control and burning up his insides. Heart on fire, lungs charred, each of his breaths filled with smoke and soul sworn away (no longer his own).

But instead of saying any of this, instead of pouring his heart of out his mouth, he looks out at the water and forces all of it down.

“What do you want me to be to you?”

Because whatever Yuuri wants, that’s what he’ll be. Because it breaks his heart that Yuuri worries himself weak and inadequate, when those who love him see him as anything but. Because he’s more than a virgin, and he’s more than a pupil, and he’s more than a shy boy from an island country in the Pacific. Viktor sees him as someone beautiful and worthy of anyone and anything—

I would be anything for you. Anything at all.

You, Katsuki Yuuri, have given me purpose.

“That’s the way I show my love.”

Chapter Text

He might have to rethink the hairpiece after all.

Yuuri has better stamina than him. He’s made peace with it—he’s younger, and hasn’t touched a pork cutlet bowl in weeks. And while Viktor has not been scrimping on his exercise regime in the slightest, he’s also not the one preparing for a full season. He can live with that.

It hurts, but he can live with it. He has five trophies that tell him he’s the best, the best in the world, but it doesn’t mean much now that he’s grooming this man to take that status from him. And honestly, he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t regret anything. He would do it all over again—pack his bags, kiss Yakov’s cheek, leave his home country without a backward glance. He would do it all in a heartbeat.

(It’s easy to tell himself the reason why is simple—he believes Yuuri has what it takes, and the rest of the world deserves to see him at his most breathtaking.

He knows it’s not the only reason, and he’s still working to come to terms with that fact.)

He bends over to clear his skates of ice, and something touches his head, right where he parts his hair. Gentle, just a small tap. But it stays there (one second, two seconds, three…) and that’s when Viktor realizes that it’s Yuuri, that Yuuri is touching him with a gloved finger—and what should have been a moment of joy is overshadowed by horrified realization, his stomach turning into lead—

“Is it really getting that thin?”

His first thought is that the fanclubs dedicated to his hair are going to riot. As if everyone wasn’t already upset enough that he won’t be participating directly in this year’s season, now he’ll have to explain why he’s walking around like a premature cueball. Sure, he’d noticed a few more hairs collecting in the drain recently, but he hadn’t been concerned. The stress of coaching was just making his follicles looser, that's all. He’d been convinced it was unnoticeable. 

Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me? Why hadn’t Yurio leapt at the opportunity to bring shame to the man who broke the sanctity of a promise? Why did it have to be Yuuri of all people to point it out?

I’m balding.

Momentarily, Viktor loses his will to live. He loses motivation to keep his legs under him, to keep balance on his skates. Ah, the ice feels good pressed to his cheek. He should just die here, his favorite place in the world, Yuuri’s shrill apologizes like music in his ears.

“I can’t recover from this,” he gasps, knowing these are his last words.

Yuuri’s yelling at him to Get up, I’m sorry, your hair is fine! It’s pretty! I just wanted to touch it! But the damage has already been done.

He didn't think twenty-seven was all that old, but he supposes it's never too late for a life-ruining shift in perspective. 

 

---

 

Even though it’s Yurio who calls, it’s Viktor who leaps first into the conversation.

“I’m still hot even though I’m almost thirty, right?”

There’s a long moment of silence, interspersed by static, and for a second Viktor thinks the call might have been dropped.

“What the fuck.”

Viktor hangs his head off the edge of his bed, Makkachin’s chin settled comfortably across his stomach. “Just—do I look old?”

Yurio’s voice is a little dim, thanks to the ocean and hundreds of miles between them, but Viktor can hear him with perfect clarity as he hisses, “I better be fuckin’ dreaming right now because this isn’t funny.”

He’s never battled with insecurity before, ever, but he hates the way he feels when he remembers the feeling of Yuuri’s touch on his head, the embarrassment that flooded through him like hot sludge. Is this how Yuuri feels when Viktor teases him? It’s…a lot less fun than he imagined.

Viktor groans, throwing an arm over his eyes. Yuuri’s off on one of his runs through town and had insisted on being left alone—it seems he has a lot on his mind. This had left Viktor alone at the inn, the rest of Yuuri’s family too busy running the business to keep him company.  He could go watch TV and drink with the others, but as much as he loves being fawned over, he’s just not in the mood.

He thinks of the other day, at the beach. He thinks about how his heart hasn’t beat in a regular rhythm since. He thinks about how his eyes have wandered, but never for long. How it feels like there’s an invisible fishhook embedded somewhere around his bellybutton, the line attached to the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. Drawing him in. “I like him,” he whispers, a part of him hoping the words get lost over the line.  

He has no such luck, and Yurio snorts. “I know. We’ve established this and I think it’s disgusting.”

Viktor reaches down, his fingers running around the curve of Makkachin’s ear. “No, I mean. I really, really like him.”

“Did I fuckin’ stutter? I know.”

Viktor makes a high noise in his throat, on the cusp of a whine. “Yurio.”

There’s another long pause, but this time Viktor can hear the breathing on the other end, the sound of Yurio opening and closing his mouth several times, like he’s struggling to find the words. “You mean you didn’t realize?” he eventually says, a little incredulous but more mocking than anything. “You legitimately thought you were just in this for his ass?” A laugh that sounds more like a bark. “Jesus Christ.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Viktor admits.

Yurio's tone suggests he’s grasping at barely-constrained patience. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know how I should…woo him.”

A disbelieving chuff. “What year do you think this is? No one says 'woo' anymore.” And then, “How do you usually do it?”

Viktor hums. “Usually it doesn’t take this much persuasion.”

“By persuasion do you mean invading his personal space all hours of the goddamn day?”

“I…”

Yurio cuts him off before he can really ponder this (is that what he does? Is he invading personal space? But it was Yuuri who had hugged him—) “Anyways, I didn’t call you to ask about your pathetic love life.”

Viktor exhales, promising himself he’ll think about it some more later. “And here I thought you’d missed me.”

Another ugly snort. “As if.”

“So why did you call me?”

“I can’t find my favorite jacket. The one with the leopard print. I think I might have left it at fatty’s inn.”

“Yurio, half the clothing you own consists of leopard print.”

He can hear him bristle over the phone. “Yeah, well, this one’s even cooler than the others! Black leather! Fake fur around the hood!”

Something that ostentatious wouldn’t have gone unnoticed in this quaint place for more than a few minutes. He shakes his head, even though Yurio can’t see it. “I can safely say I haven’t seen it around.”

Under his breath: “Useless.”

Viktor cocks a brow. “Excuse me?”

“You’re no good for this, you’re no good for promises—just what the hell are you good at? Besides being a jackass, I mean.”

Viktor can’t help but laugh. “Nothing comes to mind.”

“I’m going to win the Grand Prix Final. Tell that to your precious Yuuri. And I’m gonna do it without you holding my hand the whole damn time.”

Viktor smiles, because though his words are sharp, Viktor’s always been rather partial when it came to such blatant challenges. “You sound awfully confident.”

His voice has gone a little quiet. “I’ve been…trying something different lately.” He clears his throat. “So you better get ready, because the next time you see me, you’re going to regret passing me up.” There’s a booming sound in the background, a woman’s voice, and Yurio gasps audibly. “Shit, she’s back—"

Viktor sits up, Makkachin huffing at the disturbance. He cradles the phone between his cheek and shoulder, turning to look out the window. Yuuri’s running back in through the gates, his face bright red, huffing and puffing. Viktor feels something in his chest go soft.  “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

 ---

 

Yuuri had told him that his theme was going to be “love”.

It feels a little like a direct attack—a little like Yuuri’s been probing at Viktor’s brain without his permission. But it’s not like Viktor can deny him this; something so profoundly Yuuri, a theme so perfect it flows from his very pores.

They’re working themselves to death, Yuuri’s feet turning black and blue. Viktor has lavender crescents under his eyes and he wouldn’t trade these days for anything. Yuuri’s song—it’s Yuuri’s story. It’s an intricate weaving of his career, his relationships, those who helped him along the way. At one point, Viktor has to choreograph his own arrival—he has to see himself from Yuuri’s point of view. It’s a shot in the dark, and an unhealthy amount of wishful thinking, but it’s a segment that he pours himself into. He tries to incorporate his own passion, his own admiration, his own revelations. By the end, it’s a program about love, and it feels as much about Yuuri as it does Viktor himself.

And seeing Yuuri skate in person is so much different than how he sees it in his mind, as he’s putting together scraps of ideas into something cohesive. Yuuri skates like he always does, and what Viktor told him before is true—that his body moves like he’s creating music. When the music swells, Yuuri seems to expand, his presence so large, so all-consuming, that it fills the room. He’s magical, and Viktor is entirely under his spell. And it doesn’t look like it will be breaking any time soon.

(He sees Yuuri looking at him sometimes with a furrow between his eyebrows, lips chapped as he bites them. He’s worried, and Viktor can’t fathom why.

After all, there’s not a god, not in this life or the next, that could keep them apart. )

Chapter Text

When Yuuri gets nervous, he shuts down.

Don’t talk to me, don’t touch me, don’t look at me. That’s the vibe Viktor gets. It’s more than the quiet that comes with intense focus. It’s like any sort of human contact before events like these are enough to make Yuuri nauseous. And that just won’t do—Viktor won’t stand for that. These competitions are meant to be fun. Not to mention that this is a regional competition, and no matter how Yuuri insists he performs poorly at all levels, Viktor knows that he has enough talent in his little toe to blow these kids out of the water.

He remembers the face-off at Ice Castle Hasetsu—the smell of hair gel in his nose, Yuuri’s warmth pressed all along his front. The feeling of his shivery breath hot and damp against the side of Viktor’s neck. Regardless of how it had taken its toll on Viktor, that hug had been for comfort. It had been a form of reassurance. Viktor doesn’t know if it was something spur of the moment or a flash of uncharacteristic impulse—what matters is that after that hug, Yuuri went out onto the ice and Viktor hasn’t been the same since.

Yuuri’s drinking from his water bottle, avoiding all eye contact and looking generally pale. What happened to my lovely rosy cheeks? Viktor frowns, sour. He wants them back.

“Yuuri, turn around.”

The root of his motivations are ultimately self-serving, but Viktor has a hunch, and he doesn’t think Yuuri will hate him for this.

“Eh?”

“Just turn around, okay?”  It’s a little more demanding than he was aiming for, but it does the trick—Yuuri, though bewildered, listens. He turns around so that the small of his back is level with the wall.  Viktor takes a deep inhale (why, why, why is he suddenly nervous?) and leans forward, arms spread.

Immediately, the frantic shuttering of cameras. He fears that his heart can be felt between his bones and skin and clothes. Though he can’t see from where he is, Viktor can tell that those cheeks have turned ruddy, if the choked noises are any indication. Briefly, Viktor brushes his nose along the nape of Yuuri’s neck—sweat, and flowers. Delicious.

“Seduce me with all you have.”

Yuuri could most likely flop around like a fish on the ice for four minutes straight and Viktor would be aroused, but that isn’t the point. He’s saying that if Yuuri tries—if he lets himself go, if he unleashes that sexy little vixen Viktor remembers so hungrily, then the audience, the judges, the world—

They’re going to melt, and they won’t be able to forget.

 

---

 

About two seconds into Yuuri’s second public performance of his eros, and Viktor is strongly regretting wearing pants with such an unforgiving cut. He squirms, face warming.

Because no one told him how much worse it was going to be.

The yearning he feels in his chest (and it’s growing, day by day) only makes the hunger in his gut a thousand, a million, infinitely times worse. Even though Yuuri’s skating is rushed and haphazard, even though the coach part of Viktor is ready to ream into him when he finishes, he can’t help but be stirred.

That’s the difficult part of being enamored, he supposes.

 

 ---

 

Though he hadn’t originally pegged Yuuri as being someone prideful, he can only watch him ignore the Kenjirou boy for so long before he has to come to some sort of conclusion. Kenjirou has been following him like a puppy, eyes round and worshipful. He looks like he’s gonna jizz his pants, says the voice in Viktor’s head that sounds an awful lot like Yurio. Viktor can’t help but agree—the look on his face is nostalgic and reminiscent of a Yuuri from not so long ago.

Come on, little pig. Isn’t he ringing any bells?

“I’m disappointed in you.”

He’s lying, because Viktor may as well be the poster child for pettiness, but he has a pretty good grasp on what makes Yuuri tick. He knows what gets him motivated, and he can’t stand how he’s making himself unhappy like this. Guilt-tripping, while immature, has proven time and time again to be the most effective.

He slaps the blade covers onto the wall and steps away, finding a good spot on the bleachers to watch. He only has to wait a maximum of two minutes before he hears a loud voice, clear even from across the arena. “Minami-kun, good luck!

In the middle of the rink, Kenjirou glows, vibrating with a happy full-body wiggle.

See?  Viktor leans against the bleacher behind him, settling in to watch Minami Kenjirou skate. He sets the tissue box in his lap, a poor substitute for his most treasured girl. You feel much better now, don’t you, darling?

 

 ---

 

Kenjirou is a brightly dyed ball of energy in a tiny little package, and his performance is explosive. He enthralls the crowd, and Viktor is not exempt from this. He oozes enthusiasm; the human equivalent of a spoonful of cinnamon. It’s impossible to fight a smile when he skates—his joy is palpable, and contagious, and by the time the last note of the music fades and Kenjirou’s waving both arms enthusiastically over his head, Viktor is grinning from ear to ear.

Yuuri is long gone. Viktor suspects more nerves—perhaps he’s gone to hide somewhere by himself and calm himself down, focus his mind. His last performance, while memorable in more than one way for Viktor, was decent. The crowd and judges liked it enough, and it’s evident that if his coming free skate is as good then he’ll breeze through to the Cup of China with no problems. But he can do so much better. What could he be lacking? Motivation? No, he has that in spades. Encouragement? Viktor thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of being that gentle nudge when Yuuri needs it, in addition to the presences of Minako-sensei and Nishigori. But it never hurts to have a bit more of a boost, especially from those who look up you.

Viktor gets up as Kenjirou comes off the ice, setting his tissue box to the side and smoothing out his pants and suit jacket. Kenjirou’s face is red and shining with sweat, hairline soaked with it. Even though his breathing is labored he chatters to his coach like his life depends on it, every other word interjected by a sharp gasp for air. Viktor sets a hand on his shoulder, palm open against damp fabric.

“Cheer for him extra-loud, okay?”

Kenjirou whirls. “Viktor Nikiforov,” he breathes. His eyes are glassy as he looks up (up, up, up…) at Viktor, but not in the same awestruck way he looks at Yuuri. It’s almost a kind of fear, like he’s not sure if they’re allowed to exchange conversation like this. Viktor is enjoying that expression immensely.

“I know Yuuri will be glad if you cheer for him,” Viktor continues, crossing his arms, glancing up to share a smile with Kenjirou’s coach—she blushes, turning around to give the two of them privacy.

At the sound of his idol’s name Kenjirou snaps out of whatever daze he’d been caught in, because immediately he’s grasping at Viktor’s sleeve, differences forgotten. “Really!?” his voice has gone even more shrill, on the edge of a full-blown squeak, “I mean, it made me so happy, like really really happy when he cheered me on, but I kind of feel like maybe he’d find it annoying if I—”

Viktor catches his hand, resisting the urge to pat at that red tuft at the top of his head. “He won’t say it, but it means a lot to him. He thinks you’re cool.”

Kenjirou short-circuits. “He…what…?”

“Yuuri told me. He thinks you have a lot of talent. And this is just my opinion, but someone with as much spunk as you is the best kind of skater.”

His face is redder than the moment he stepped off the ice. He looks like he might faint. “Really?”

Viktor squeezes his hand, dropping it only to ruffle his hair. “Passion is the most beautiful thing in this world, Kenjirou. Don’t let yours fizzle out.”

But Kenjirou’s already stopped listening, turning away to hold his face between his hands. “Yuuri-kun thinks I’m cool. Oh my god. Yuuri-kun thinks I’m cool.”

He would get in trouble for fibbing—Yuuri would be angry that Viktor spoke on his behalf. Though he can’t bring himself to regret it, because he watches Yuuri slap Kenjirou on the back, aggressive in his praise, and he sees the way the boy’s eyes light up like he’s never seen a better day in his entire life.

 

 

 

(Barely suppressing a tremor, he looks into lovely brown eyes, their gaze restless and already looking beyond Viktor’s shoulder. He dips his finger into the creamy balm and smears it across dry lips—you’ve done this before Viktor, you’ve done this a dozen times, so why does it matter now? Why are you so nervous?

He doesn’t let himself linger, though his mouth yearns to chase after where his fingertips touched.)

 

 

 

Viktor crosses his arms, eyes narrowing. He never realized how frustrating it was, from this perspective. He had never been able to sympathize with Yakov, back when he’d receive instructions that were so easy to disregard. He had always seen it as being artistic—his own interpretations were more important, weren't they? After all, he was the one who was telling the story. It was his skates on the ice. Once he started moving, those movements were his own.

So he sends out a little apology, wherever Yakov is, because he’s finally getting a taste of his own medicine, he wants to bash his forehead against the wall. Yuuri is ignoring everything Viktor told him—he’s doing all the jumps (all of them, good lord) in what feels like a very blatant, very righteous middle finger in Viktor’s direction.

So much for lowering the difficulty.

It’s sloppy and impatient, and he gets too tired too soon, but it’s beautiful just the same, which is a sentiment that seems to be shared by everyone. There’s something else that’s different—where are the nerves? Where are the hesitations? He’s skating like he wants to be seen. Like he wouldn’t rather be somewhere else. Like he’s enjoying this. There’s a dream-like quality, ethereal, and even though he can’t seem to nail his jumps it’s bewitching all the same. Viktor can’t tear his eyes away, but that’s nothing new.

He has you wrapped around his finger, old man.

Viktor breathes out, body sagging with defeat. “I know.”

As the music ends and the thunderous applause breaks out Yuuri looks over at him, smile weak and bashful. Like he’s expecting another scolding. And god, does Viktor want to. Because Yuuri’s got blood smeared under his nose and his face is sure to bruise, all because he’s stubborn as a mule and Viktor adores him for it.

So he frowns, holding out his arms. An invitation. He shouldn’t be condoning this rebellious behavior (Yakov never did, that’s for sure) but he can’t find it in himself to be angry. Not when Yuuri had finished his program to the tears (and other fluids) of Kenjirou—not when he’s left the audience so thoroughly breathless.

I’m so proud of you.

Yuuri races towards him, calling his name, flecks of blood dripping onto the ice. There are tears pooling in his eyes, and Viktor’s heart feels like it’s about to crawl out of his throat.

How could I be anything other than proud of you?

He sidesteps at the last moment, because he doesn’t think he can handle another hug at this moment (he’d never let Yuuri go). But later, he allows himself this—to snuggle his face to the side of Yuuri’s cheek (so soft, even now, it’s soft with fat and warm) and lets himself pretend, just for a moment. That he doesn't have to let go. 

 

---

 

Viktor is the first person I’ve ever wanted to hold onto.

Viktor remembers, viscerally, the first time he ever fell on the ice. His grandparents had owned a house in the countryside an hour outside of Moscow, and during the winters they’d take day trips together, to eat and play outside in the snow. On the property was a large pond that would consistently freeze over, year after year. Once the snow was pushed to the side the ice underneath was unpolished and rough, but Viktor had only just discovered the thrill of skating, and wasn’t about to be stopped by anything. His mother had led him around the edges at first, holding both his arms above his head. She had  only let go at his insistence, and he’d wobbled towards the center before slipping, falling flat on his back, the breath whooshing out of him. He remembers not even being able to cry because he didn’t have the air to do so; he remembers looking up at the gray sky, fresh snowflakes falling on his flushed cheeks.

This is a similar feeling of I can’t breathe, why can’t I breathe, because he has Makkachin gathered on his lap and Minako-sensei pushed up against his left side, and Katsuki Yuuri is shouting at him through the television.

“I don’t really have a name for that emotion, but I’ve decided to call it ‘love’.”

He focuses on that hideous tie, because if he allows himself to think of anything else he’ll surely float up to the ceiling, and then how will they get him down? Yuuri’s smiling, waving at the camera like he hadn’t single-handedly just ruined Viktor’s entire life. Does he realize? Can he even comprehend?

Does he understand that the words that are coming out of his mouth have a weight unlike Viktor’s ever felt, a sweet agony pressed against his chest?

Chapter Text

He’s not entirely sure where his underwear went, but Yuuri must have somehow gotten his pants back on, and his jacket is covering a good expanse of his bare chest. So he’s more or less decent, even though there’s a weird amount of chafing now that he’s going commando.

“I overdid it,” Viktor breathes. There’s a grunt of agreement to his right, and he looks down, curiously—Yuuri’s holding him up, pink-faced, working on getting them both up the the stairs to the hotel entrance. The doorman opens the door for them, and Yuuri pants out a 'thank you' before he's squeezing them through and making quick work of stumbling across the lobby. The world is a dizzy swirl of color and lights, and Viktor can only go along for the ride.

“Next time,”—grunt— “you get only one,”—wheeze—“glass of wine. One.”

Viktor can’t help but laugh, bubbly and loud. “But Mother—"

“Viktor,” Yuuri whines, pulling them both into the elevator. “The Cup starts tomorrow, and if you have a hangover it’s going to be difficult for both of us.”

Viktor looks up at the elevator ceiling, smelling vodka even though he’s fairly sure he didn’t spill anything on his clothes. He thinks alcohol might be oozing from his pores.  “Am I—" hiccup "—unpl...pleasant when I’m hungover?”

“Very.”

“Hmm.”

He ponders this information as the elevator reaches their floor, and he allows Yuuri to steer him down the hallway like a ragdoll. Everything seems to mesh together; it feels like he might be sinking into Yuuri’s body a little. It feels like maybe he doesn’t have a body at all. It’s strange, and he contemplates the weight of his tongue in his mouth as he watches Yuuri fumble with the keycard, slipping it through the lock and waiting for the soft beep.

Yuuri shoves him, gently, towards the open door. “Just—go to sleep, Guang-hong set the alarm on your phone so you’ll wake up in time. I’ll see you in the morning.” The way he speaks—slurred, but like there’s no longer a distance between them—it’s. Well. Very nice. Familiar. Warm. Viktor feels himself lolling, and he rests his head against the doorframe, looking down at Yuuri through the curtain of his fringe.

“Come, Yuuri. Sleep with me. The bed is plenty big enough.”

He's heard it so many times at this point that he barely stutters, though his cheeks darken, as they always do. “They, um. Gave each of us our own rooms. It would be r-rude not to use mine.”

“I’ve never heard something so ridiculous in my entire life,” Viktor groans. “Why should we sleep in separate rooms? Do you…” he pauses, wets his lips, “hate me that much?” Manipulative bastard. 

Yuuri’s eyes are big behind his glasses. His face is red with alcohol too, but not so much that he’s sagging against the doorway like Viktor is. “No. No…I—of course I don’t hate you.”

“Then sleep with me.”

There’s—there’s nothing coy about what he’s just said. There isn’t anything flirtatious, or cute, or attractive. Desperate. On his knees, lips pressed to Yuuri’s shoes, desperate. He feels his mouth open on an empty noise of denial, and he shakes his head, hair getting in his eyes.

“No, no, I didn’t—"

“Okay.”

There it is again—that pain in his chest, too much feeling and not having a space to keep it all. He feels like he might vomit. “What?”

Yuuri is looking up at him, strangely. Calculating. His cheeks are delectably colored, glasses a bit foggy at the edges. He doesn’t look nearly as nervous or frantic as Viktor would have expected—did he misunderstand? Was Viktor missing something here? What if Viktor throws up on Yuuri’s shoes?

There’s a hand at his elbow, tugging him inside. “Come on, Viktor.”

He follows, hyper-focused on the light touch, and he blinks as the dark room is lit up in warm, dusky tones. Hands push down on his shoulders, and he obediently sits—the plush mattress of the bed envelopes him, and he sways, the temptation to flop onto his back nearly too strong to resist.

But Yuuri is still here, still looking at him oddly, so he fights the haze, watching as his pupil turns to move about the room. Yuuri fishes under one of the counters for a glass, and then there’s the sound of the running tap. A moment later and Viktor is presented with a glassful of chilled water, droplets condensing on the sides, and Viktor is made aware of how dry and foul his mouth tastes. “Drink the whole thing,” Yuuri commands, voice soft.

Viktor shakes his head, regretting it instantly as his vision tilts and his stomach roils. “I’ll get sick.”

Yuuri holds it to lips, gently. Encouraging. “Just try. Drink as much as you can.”

Tipping his chin up, Viktor holds Yuuri’s eyes as he swallows one, two, three big mouthfuls. But he’s already pushing the boundaries of what he can take, and he pulls away with a pained gasp. “I feel terrible.”

The glass is set on the bedside table for him to finish later. “You’ll thank me in the morning, I promise. This always helps Minako-sensei when she has a little too much.”

Viktor groans. “I’m your coach. I’m s…supposed to be taking care of you.”

“I don’t mind. After everything you’ve done for me, well…” his smile is soft, and makes Viktor feel even sicker. “It’s fine.”

“Yuuri.”

“What is it?”

Viktor swallows, his tongue too big for his mouth. “Would you lie down next to me?”

Yuuri hesitates, looking over his shoulder. He’s a bit unsteady on his feet, and he shuffles, looking anywhere but the man on the bed. “I really should be—"

“Please.”

So, so, so pathetic. So disgusting, to beg like this to someone who won’t say no (not to this). He feels like a criminal as Yuuri rounds the bed, only pausing for a fraction of a second at the edge before crawling on his hands and knees, up to where he can rest his head. He lies down, and the mattress dips. Viktor rolls on his side, carefully keeping his hands to himself, and just looks. Yuuri looks back at him, caught in the headlights. His dark hair feathers out against the white of the pillowcase in beautiful contrast.

“I don’t understand you,” Yuuri whispers. It looks like there’s a million and one things buzzing around his head, and he grapples with each of them.

“I’m sorry.”

There’s something inherently cowardly about liquid courage, Viktor knows. A part of him knows that, deep down—that anything he says now can only be taken with a grain of salt. That it will be written off as a flirty man trying to wiggle his way somewhere hot and wet. But, still—

“This probably doesn’t mean much coming from a man like me, but…” his hand, like it’s a sentient being all of its own, reaches, a finger brushing down one smooth cheek. “I’d just like to tell you I find you in...incomparably beautiful.”

Yuuri freezes.

“Oh.”

Those eyes—it’s always been the eyes, with him. So expressive, so damnably easy to read. It’s too much.

“Ah, when you look at me like that,” his eyes flutter closed. “I can’t think.”

Yuuri takes the hand from his face, fingers hot and trembling. “Viktor, you’re scaring me. You’re drunk, you can’t—"

He laughs, squeezing the hand that clutches his own, his other hand rising to rub at his bleary eyes. “Drunk, sober, sleeping, awake, every moment of every day, goddamn it, Yuuri,”

And then, because he might as well: “You haven’t let my mind be at peace for months.”

Yuuri looks like he doesn’t want to believe what he’s hearing. “W…w-what are you—"

“My dearest, dearest Yuuri,” Viktor breathes, the edges of his vision turning black, plucking the last nail for his coffin from between bared teeth, “it’s plain to see that I’m in love with you.”

 

---

 

He remembers eating a lot of shrimp, having a competitive drinking contest with Celestino, and chattering with Yuuri’s Thai friend, Phichit—his memory, however, goes blank somewhere around when he started to shimmy out of his pants.

The next thing he remembers is waking up at four in the morning to throw up before returning to bed. His alarm wakes up him up at six-thirty, and he groggily lies there for another twenty minutes before getting up to shower and do his best to cover up the evidence of last night. His skin has quite a bit more pallor than usual, and there’s an unattractive blueness underneath his eyes. He looks half-dead, but with a little bit of concealer no one will be the wiser.

Then it’s simply a matter of collecting Yuuri from his own room, eating breakfast, and leaving for the arena. It all goes smoothly, and Yuuri is able to meet up with his rivals and play around before the first group of the men’s short program begins.

Except…he’s acting strange.

Viktor’s already had a private talk with Chris, threatening to snap his wrist should his hand ever wander again, but Yuuri’s odd behavior doesn’t seem to be anything related to inappropriate, grabbing fingers. He’s warming up, jogging up and down the hallway, breathing shallow and eyes distant. It reminds Viktor of a tiger, pacing in front of iron bars, just waiting to be let out. Something about it is dangerous, and Viktor keeps a proper amount of space between them.

Chris’s eyebrows pull together with worry. “Viktor, is he alright?” he whispers. Like maybe the pressure’s finally gone to Yuuri’s head and he’s snapped, doomed for a repeat of his past disappointments.  

Viktor presses a finger to his lips, “Shh. I’ve never seen Yuuri like this before.”

“He seems so…” Chris struggles for the right word, “different. Than from how he was last year.”

Viktor doesn’t dare look away. “Of course he’s different,” he says. Yuuri reaches the end of the hallway and begins backtracking. Still, Viktor watches. “You’ll be amazed by the man he’s become.”

 

 ---

 

He covers Yuuri’s hand with his own, thinking about how his parents would hold hands whenever they could—reading books in the sitting room, when they went on walks down the country road, when they’d watch Viktor dominate from the stands. He thinks about how painfully domestic the simple touch is, and promptly destroys the thought before it can do any damage.

“You can fight with your own personal charm.”

Yuuri doesn’t need to be anything else but himself as he skates. He doesn’t need to pretend to be sexy, to be desirable—he’s already there.

The way you are now is plenty good enough.

“You can envision it just fine, can’t you?”

Viktor’s fingers stroke, the smallest bit, without even thinking about it. A twitch. He swallows, wanting more than that, but not knowing how to ask.

Then fingers are intertwining with his own, sure and strong, and Yuuri is leaning towards him, too quickly for Viktor to react. Their foreheads collide in a slightly jarring thump, and suddenly he’s face-to-face with a man-eating beast, utterly helpless between those teeth.

His breath hitches.

“Don’t ever take your eyes off me,” Yuuri says, low enough to be a growl. He’s so close that Viktor can feel his breath against his lips, their noses sliding together. So close, so close, not close enough, never close enough—

Please, Yuuri. Please.

He pulls away, and Viktor stares—those lovely doe eyes are dark, dark as pitch and just as impossible to escape from. 

You aren’t leaving my sight, they say.

I’m not letting you get away from me, they promise.

You’re mine.

“I’m yours,” Viktor murmurs, watching Yuuri glide away towards the center of the rink. “Of course I’m yours.”

I’m not going anywhere.

 

---

 

Yuuri is magnificent. The longer Viktor watches the faster he falls. The passion, the confidence—it’s absolutely tangible, heavy in the air like perfume. He’s exuding power. He’s not a pork cutlet bowl and he’s not a wolfish woman set loose—he’s Yuuri. He’s himself, and he’s perfect. Perfect.

When he nails his quadruple Salchow Viktor has to clutch onto the edges of the rink, restraining himself from vaulting over the wall onto the ice, because when was the last time he was this excited by skating? Ever since he met Yuuri, it’s been one surprise after another. Yuuri took something old and shapeless, molded it into something brilliant and new, and the most amazing thing is—

It makes Viktor want to skate, too.

“What’s gotten into you,” Viktor says, biting onto a giddy sort of smile. “What happened to make you so brave?”

The last spin is made—Yuuri envelops himself in his own arms, lashes downcast, sweat dripping from the ends of his hair. It’s the same way he ends his program every time, but it’s never ended quite like this before.

Viktor’s forehead is still throbbing. Something sharp and hot burns at the edges of his eyes. The noise of the crowd is deafening. He pumps his fists towards the sky, his head thrown back, and yells.

Yes.

 

 ---

 

They sit together on the bench in front of the results screen, pressed so close that Viktor can feel the heat of exertion radiating from Yuuri’s body in waves. “Yuuri, did that feel good?” he asks, feeling euphoric—high, like he’s the one buzzing with adrenaline, like he’s the only that just pulled off a perfect program. The highest technical difficulty in history.

Yuuri wipes at sweat above his lip, still working to catch his breath. “Well, I was hoping everyone would feel good watching me.”

And then the scores are announced, and Viktor nearly jumps out of his seat.

106.84

106.84

Viktor wraps his arms around Yuuri, possessive. He ducks his head in close, smiling helplessly, and when he speaks he can hear the desire, the quiet reverence. A soft prayer in a house of worship. “Of course they’d feel good after watching a performance like that,” he breathes, lips so close to the curve of Yuuri’s ear. “You’re the best student.”

You’re amazing, beautiful, phenomenal—

I’ve never felt so strongly about someone before.

Then, in a rush of emotion so great he nearly chokes on it,

I love you.

Yuuri tilts his head, just enough to look back at him, and—oh.

He knows.

Chapter Text

He knows, he knows, he knows—

It’s a mantra, chiming in his head like bells at sunrise. It resonates through him, vibrations all the way to the marrow of his bones. Yet as much as he’d like to properly obsess over this (How? How could he have known? Was it that obvious?) Viktor doesn’t have the luxury of agonizing over his own teenaged drama. Because all it took was one night—one night of Yuuri holing himself up in his own room for him to revert back to this: limbs shaky, hair limp and unkempt, skin ghostly.

It’s those damn nerves again. I’d thought we’d gotten past this, my love.

Viktor strips him, throws him on the bed and ignores how from an outside perspective this would be misunderstood as something else entirely. He spreads his full dead weight on top of Yuuri, pinning him down so that he doesn’t have the choice to get up, to pace the room or torture himself with unnecessary, jittery movements. Like a stone set on top of frantically fluttering pages, he keeps Yuuri still, forcing him in the very least to rest.

For Viktor’s part, he pretends to sleep. A part of him is utterly terrified that he’ll never have an opportunity like this again, because it could only be a matter of time before Yuuri drops the bomb on him. He might be holding it out, certainly in order to keep their relationship from fully unraveling on such an important day. But, soon—

I’d like to keep this professional.

No, no, he’s too polite for something like that. It would probably be more something like:

You know how much I look up to you, but...

Yuuri’s drifted. He might not be deeply asleep, but when Viktor takes a peek under the eyemask his lids are closed, which is good enough. So Viktor buries his face in the crook of Yuuri’s neck, inhaling, trying to memorize his scent for the day it’s no longer there. Stale sweat, because he still hasn’t bathed. But underneath that—cherry blossoms, a floral sweetness. Laundry detergent and the remnants of day’s-old shampoo. He places a palm over Yuuri’s chest—feeling the rise and fall, treasuring each golden breath.

His phone is an ominous presence on the nightstand; in several hours, the alarm will ring, and Viktor will have to move. He’ll have to throw Yuuri into the bathtub, run the water until it’s hot enough to sting. Fetch the makeup and costume from his own room and set up their workstation. Dry Yuuri’s hair, comb through any tangles. Pull the zipper up starting from the small of his back and try not to pay too close attention to the unmarked skin of his bare shoulders. Carefully control his own breathing, keeping the emotion from his face. This isn’t about him. This is about Yuuri. This is Yuuri’s day, and nothing is going to ruin it.

Viktor sighs, nestling his cheek closer, allowing himself the enormous pleasure of simply being so close. Yuuri cares about him, that much is for certain. Viktor would go so far as to assume that Yuuri likes him. He wants Viktor to stay—as a coach, and as a friend.

But there’s no telling how he feels now, knowing just how deeply Viktor’s affections run.

 

 

---

 

Don’t listen!”

He’s closed the space between them in a heartbeat, hands coming down on either side of Yuuri’s head, covering his ears. But the damage has been done—Yuuri’s eyes are rounded with terror, sweat beading at his hairline, and Viktor barely suppresses a frustrated growl.

Why are you so nervous?

It’s like he wants to psych himself out. There had been no reason to take out the earplugs; if he wanted to avoid a full-blown panic attack, then why make the situation more stressful for himself? It just doesn’t make sense, and as much as Viktor wants to just shake yesterday’s confidence back into Yuuri, he realizes that might not be the most helpful option for a number of reasons.

How can I motivate him? What can I do?

“V-Viktor?” Yuuri won’t meet his eyes, looking vastly uncomfortable to be this close (he knows) and he holds onto Viktor’s wrists, gently pulling them away from his ears. “It’s almost time. We need to get back.”

He turns, shuffling across the cold concrete of the garage, footsteps quiet but echoing. Viktor watches him, and thinks about his childhood, of growing up in a training arena far from home. He'd not been entirely without difficulties as an athlete; after all, he was only human. Most notably was when he was thirteen, when he kept slipping up on his triple axel. Over-rotating or generally failing to keep himself vertical—it was something he grappled with for weeks, which was endlessly frustrating as it never took him that long to perfect something. He was a bona fide genius, and he wasn’t used to struggling.

At that time, his first poodle had been a beautiful dog named Yuliya, her fur the color of warm butterscotch. Though his parents lived in the countryside outside Yaroslavl, in order to train with Yakov he lived in a dorm in St. Petersburg. He had been allowed to keep Yuliya so long as he made sure she was kept clean, and that there was no evidence of her left on the condition of the room. It was a privilege, Yakov made sure to tell him. And privileges could be revoked.

It had been a cold morning in January, and Viktor had already working on his program for the Junior Worlds. But it was just that damn triple axel—why couldn’t he get it? Why couldn’t he keep his feet underneath him? Yakov had watched from the side, barking criticisms and directions, the frown never leaving his face. Viktor had paused at the edge, to drink from his water bottle and catch his breath.

“How has Yuliya been lately?” Yakov had asked, expression more severe than usual, especially for such an innocent question.

“Yulichka?” Viktor had perked up immediately, smiling at the thought of her. “She’s been wonderful! I gave her a bath on Thursday and—"

“If you mess up this landing again,” interrupted Yakov, “I’m taking her away. She’ll be sleeping on the streets tonight, you understand?”

And so Viktor had landed the triple axel, and then the time after that, and the time after. Having the looming threat of taking away his best friend was enough to provide him the laser focus that was required to succeed. 

Maybe that’s what Yuuri needs. Maybe he needs an ultimatum—something strong enough to scare the nerves right out of him. Maybe Yuuri needs his own Yuliya.

Or maybe he already does.

Skaters’ hearts are as fragile as glass.

He looks at Yuuri’s back, the defeated hunch, the dragging footsteps.

Let’s try shattering his into pieces.

“If you mess up this free skate and miss the podium,” Viktor says, Yuuri turning to look back at him, “I’ll take responsibility by resigning as your coach.”

He has to work not to flinch at the coldness of his own words, but he manages keeps his face cool, voice dispassionate. Though there’s a very, very long quiet moment in which Viktor is convinced he accidentally spoke in Russian, because Yuuri looks like he didn’t comprehend a word of it. Mouth slack, eyes dull, body so still it looks like he’s not even breathing.

And then he starts to cry.

Twin rivers spilling over to meet at his chin, tears dripping to skid across his jacket and down to the floor. His breathing hitches, a splotchy redness immediately spreading across his cheeks and throat.

I made him cry.

In this moment—for the first time in his twenty-seven years of life on this earth, this moment marks the very first time Viktor Nikiforov has ever truly hated himself. He feels all the blood leave his face. There’s a sour metallic taste in his mouth, and a hollow ringing screams deep in his ears. All he can do it stare, horrified.

I made Yuuri cry.

“Why would you say something like that, like you’re trying to test me?” Yuuri’s voice is a warbling mess, chin trembling. There’s accusation there, and anger, but more than that there’s hurt and Viktor can’t stand it.

The self-loathing is making his brain blur around the edges, and he approaches Yuuri’s trembling figure with hands raised, as if to show he means no harm. “Uh, sorry, Yuuri. I wasn’t being serious—“

He’s shaking his head and the tears aren’t slowing, streaking down his cheeks in great ugly drops. “I’m used to being blamed for my own failures! But this time, I’m anxious because my mistakes would reflect on you, too!”

This…this is about me?

Viktor flounders, flabbergasted and utterly useless.

Yuuri continues, building momentum, his voice choked with tears. “I’ve been wondering if you secretly want to quit!”

How, Viktor thinks, how in the world could you possibly think that.

“Of course I don’t.”

I know!”

He knows he knows he knows—

Viktor has no idea what to do. He thought he was good with people. He thought he was good at reading emotions, at figuring them out. But Yuuri is sobbing in front of him because of his own cruel words, and he’s coming up short. This isn’t something he can run away from; if he doesn’t fix it now, it won’t remedy on its own.

How can he properly apologize? How can he assure Yuuri that this is one promise he intends to keep? His eyes keep drifting to the tremble of Yuuri’s lower lip, red and shining after being bitten so many times.  

“Should I just kiss you or something?” Half of him means it as poorly timed joke, the other a sincere offer—anything, he’d do anything to make things right again.

“No!” Yuuri yells, and Viktor’s stomach plummets at the rejection before Yuuri continues, “Just have more faith than I do that I’ll win! You don’t have to say anything! Just stand by me!”

Viktor’s eyes widen.

Stay close to me.

“You know I’ll stay with you,” he murmurs, hands reaching helplessly. He wants to hold, to soothe, to caress, but Yuuri keeps the distance between them like Viktor’s touch would scorch.

“You told me,” he chokes, voice cracking on a hiccup.

Viktor freezes. There’s a distinct change in Yuuri’s voice—a hesitation, a different emotion there than there was before. “What…what did I tell you?”

“You told me,” Yuuri warbles, and Viktor’s stomach sinks further, “that you can’t stop thinking about me. You said that you’re….you’re…” he swallows, struggling to spit it out, “that you’re in love with me. You said that.”

His chest is burning. “When?”

“The other night. You were d-drunk. I didn’t know—I didn’t know whether I should take you seriously. You couldn't r...remember a thing.”

There’s a huge lump of something at the back of Viktor’s throat, making his voice weak and rasping. “I meant it.”

Yuuri glares at him, lashes wet. “So are you going to take it back now? To motivate me?”

The nausea he felt the other day comes back ten-fold, and it takes a herculean effort not to double over from the agony of it. “No, no, Yuuri—"

“You can’t use yourself like a weapon, Viktor. You can’t threaten to take yourself away from me. That’s not going to make things better.”

“You know I didn’t mean it.” He can’t think of a way to explain that he only wanted to help, that he didn’t take the time to think before he spoke.

“It doesn’t change the fact that it scares me. Even when you’re joking, you can’t say things like that—"

“What can I do,” Viktor implores, palms open. Begging. What can I do to make it up to you?

“I just…I want you to be there for me when I need you. That’s all.”

He doesn’t want me to leave. Even now, he wants me to stay.

“You don’t even have to ask. Of course I’ll be there, solnishko.

“You better be,” Yuuri sniffs. He looks away, pulling his sleeve over his hand to wipe under his nose.

Viktor sighs, running a hand through his hair. “By now, you know me better than anyone. You know how imperfect I am.”

“I know you’re not perfect,” Yuuri grumbles, blinking and using the same sleeve to dry under his red-rimmed eyes. “I don’t want you to be.”

“But you do? Want me?”

A wet laugh. “You’re an idiot, Viktor.”

“I’m sorry.”

But it’s not a denial, and Viktor keeps that close to his chest as they leave for the rink.

 

---

 

Awe takes the place of guilt, warm and soothing in his stomach. As soon as the sweeping gestures begin, a whisper of a smile on those pretty curved lips, Viktor resigns himself to his default state whenever Yuuri skates—a husk of a man, so far beyond the spectrum of infatuated that he almost feels sorry for himself. Almost.

Yuuri's beauty is otherworldly, and the sick feeling inside Viktor evaporates, like watching him is the purest of medicines. Even when he makes mistakes, even as his palms hit the ice after his triple axel, he keeps an aura of calm around him. He’s relaxed, frighteningly so, which means that Viktor is completely unprepared for—

A quadruple flip.

His falls, but the rotations were all there. It’s the second half of the program, and Yuuri is exhausted. He’s barely slept and his eyes are still red from the crying jag not fifteen minutes ago. But he just did a quad flip, Viktor’s signature jump.  

And Viktor is floored.

He can’t seem to catch his breath, the air clamped down tight in his windpipe.

That was for me.  

Like the finger pressed to the part of his hair and the gentle pat afterwards, this jump feels something like forgiveness, if only a little bit. It says ‘I’m still thinking about you’, or, ‘Even now, I want to impress you’. Even when he has the entire audience in the palm of his hand, Yuuri is greedy. Viktor's eyes on him aren't enough - he always wants more, always clawing for the last bits of Viktor that aren't already his. 

The last of the piano notes fade. Yuuri is gasping for breath like a fish out of water, arms frozen in that final beckoning gesture. The crowd screams for him, and once again that damned wall is in the way. Viktor buries his face in his hands, struggling to keep his composure. But it’s useless—he knows it is. This was the last straw.

I can’t take this anymore.

And he starts running.

He can hear it when Yuuri moves to meet him—the sharp cut of his skates on the ice. Viktor has to dodge around cameramen and arena staff, the air cold enough to make this throat burn. But his eyes refuse to stray—the background blurs out but for the one figure that’s approaching him (the only figure that matters).

“I did great, didn’t I?” He’s beaming, proud of his own success, and Viktor still can’t express how he feels in words. He thinks about surprises, the never-ending stream of pleasant surprises. He thinks about how once upon a time, Yuuri was just another one of his non-threatening rivals. He was just a tiny man on his phone screen, pouring himself into a program with more heart than Viktor ever could.

And now he’s here, and he’s real, and he’s more than Viktor could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams. He has his arms spread, like he’s anticipating a hug. And if that’s what he wants, Viktor will be happy to give it to him, except—

It won’t be enough.

This time, it’s not good enough. The affection, the admiration, the love he feels is overwhelming, bubbling inside his chest and aching to be let out.

So when Yuuri slows right in front of him, this time, Viktor doesn’t side-step. He goes to meet him. He steps out onto the ice, already reaching, and Yuuri’s eyes widen with surprise. Good. Viktor cups the back of his head, tenderly; wraps an arm around his shoulders, guiding his face forward. And he closes his eyes.

Yuuri tastes sweet, and like salt. He tastes like cold winter air and more delicious than anything Viktor can think of. It’s a kiss that doesn’t last as long as he’d like (after all, there are other things they have to worry about in this world they live in) but it communicates how he feels better than he could with words. The ache in his chest blossoms, satisfying and torturous at the same time, and it’s all he can do to keep his legs from giving out.

I adore you.

I will stay beside you, I promise.

(Forever, if that’s what you want.)

But they’re falling, Viktor’s weight unbalancing Yuuri enough that his skates slip out from under him. Viktor tucks Yuuri’s head into his shoulder to cushion it when his back hits the ice, the both of them landing with an ungraceful flop. There’s a brief moment of concern, but when Viktor pulls back Yuuri doesn’t seem to be hurt. He’s staring, dumbfounded, cheeks beautifully pink, and Viktor finds himself grinning like a fool.

“That was the only thing I could think of to surprise you more than you’ve surprised me.”

And like a warm patch of sun on the frost of an early morning, Yuuri melts. He smiles, the hands on Viktor’s back smoothing over his jacket. "Is that so?”

“You were wonderful, my darling. Absolutely lovely.”

(He doesn’t care that he’s giving himself away, because he sees no point in hiding it anymore.)

Yuuri leans up, cupping a hand around his mouth and Viktor’s ear, so that his lips can’t be read by greedy eyes. “For the record, it’s mutual.”

And the thing is—Yuuri is looking back at him. His eyes are molten, smile soft and incredibly fond, and Viktor believes him. He can feel his cheeks glowing with heat, pleasantly warm.

“How mean, Yuuri. Keeping it to yourself until now," Viktor says, fit to bursting with joy.   

A hand pushes Viktor’s fringe out of his eyes, gently. Lovingly. “How about I make it up to you?”

 

---

 

Kissing has never been so painful.

Because it feels, a little bit, like he’s dying. His heart is pounding so violently that it quakes his bones, his lungs constricting each time Yuuri’s tongue touches his lips, his teeth. They’re settled in Viktor’s hotel room, Yuuri still wearing his tracksuit over his costume, sitting in Viktor’s lap and mercilessly attacking his mouth. For a virgin, he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about not knowing what he’s doing. It could be the leftover buzz of the performance, of earning silver—it could do with how he knows Viktor wouldn’t criticize his technique in this moment even if he were facing gunpoint.

So he kisses like it’s going to be their last, hand stroking the side of Viktor’s neck, the other on his chest, over his heart. Viktor has a fistful of Yuuri’s hair, soft between his fingers. His other hand is splayed possessively across the small of his back, bringing him as close as he’ll go. He remembers a time when this was all he wanted—purely wanting the feeling of Yuuri’s weight on his thighs, lusting for the taste of his mouth.

(Now, though, he wants all of him. Every last bit. He wants this personal spot of sunshine, more delightful than anyone Viktor’s ever met before.)

He sighs, blissful, when Yuuri traces delicate fingers behind his ear. “I’ve loved you since I was very small, Viktor,” he murmurs against Viktor’s lips, soft. “Maybe not in the way that I do now, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve wanted you for a long time.”

“You inspired me,” Viktor replies simply, “when I had nothing left. You gave me back my passion for skating. You astound me, my love. Every day, without fail.”

“That’s something we have in common, then.” Yuuri laughs. He pulls away to just look, and his eyes are shining, smile bright enough to light up this dim room. He presses a hand to the side of Viktor’s face, thumb smoothing over one cheekbone. His lips soon after follow the path he’s drawn in his touch.

“Never stop surprising me, Viktor.”

Chapter Text

He’s on an actual cloud, and there’s nothing in the world that could bring him down.

He honestly didn’t think this level of happiness was achievable. It feels unreal—he floats around with a permanent, dreamy smile on his face. The past few weeks have been a glorious blur, time passing too quickly with not enough quiet moments to sit back and take it all in. But when those moments do arise—when Viktor lies in bed at night at the inn (some of those nights are spent with a sleeping Yuuri at his side) he’s able to reflect. He’s able to bask in this glow, close his eyes and think about how lucky he is.

Everything looks beautiful to him. When the time comes to once again pack his bags and fly back to his home country, he’s amazed by what he sees. The gray Russian skies, the dirty snow pushed to the side of the road, the street food and cold, frigid air—these sights and smells are familiar and comforting, but they’re under a new light. It’s his first time back in Russia with Yuuri by his side, and it’s a completely different world. A more enchanting one; one touched by more than just a little magic.

That first evening, they have dinner in the hotel restaurant, Viktor’s foot trailing up and down Yuuri’s calf the whole time. He’s impatient, and hungry even after they finish their meal. It almost scares him, how full his heart is. He’s never, ever felt like this before—all those times he thought he knew what it was like to feel love for another person, he had no idea just how much more it could be. Yuuri sits across from him, hair messy after a long plane ride, and he’s so adorable that Viktor doesn’t think he can take it. This person—this sweet, endearing, gorgeous man chose Viktor.

I'm lucky. I'm so goddamn lucky. 

He squeezes Yuuri’s hand on top of the table, something in his eyes giving away his desperation, because Yuuri calls for the check, his face flushed. Then the two of them are bee-lining for the elevators, the heat of anticipation shooting up and down Viktor’s spine, making his legs feel unsteady. But he holds Yuuri’s hand on the way up, because he’d never pass up an opportunity to do so—he loves the simple touch, the feeling of their fingers twined together. It’s a pleasure he never thought he’d come to adore this way, but that’s the thing about loving Yuuri—it involves a lot of firsts.

Finally, they get into the room (just one, this time—big enough for two) but before Viktor can do what he's been dying to do all evening, he’s tackled. He gasps, thrown onto the bed with a dead weight sitting on his chest, pinning him down. He stares up, stunned, at Yuuri, who looks embarrassed but determined.

“Oh my.”

“I ran into Yurio in the elevator earlier,” Yuuri says, eyes flickering up and away. Viktor’s hands settle at his hips. “He’s—"

“Feistier than usual?”

Yuuri laughs, a bit breathlessly. “Well, I don’t know about that. I just think that he might—" he lets out a soft noise when Viktor’s fingers squeeze over his thighs, and in turn he presses his hands into Viktor’s chest, “—feel a little left out.”

“What do you mean?”

“He left Hasetsu right after the competition between us without saying a word. It just seems kind of lonely.”

Viktor takes one of Yuuri’s hands, turning it palm-up, settling kisses into the soft skin of his inner wrist. “He has family here, in Moscow.”

Yuuri’s voice is shivery, pupils dilating behind his glasses. “He’s just entered the senior division and I doubt he’s made any friends yet, Viktor.”

That has Viktor pause—he hadn’t really thought about it that way, since Yurio never acts like having friends is something that genuinely concerns him. But he’s a surly teenager, and a person—of course he cares. He probably cares a lot. He’s under a tremendous amount of stress, surely, with the weight of his own expectations set upon his growing shoulders. Viktor remembers what that feels like, and he doesn't miss it in the least. 

He sighs, leaving a peck at Yuuri’s pulse point just to feel it jump. “Then let’s be sure to support him as much as we can.”

He knows he's said the right thing when Yuuri smiles, big and a little dopey. "Okay," he agrees. "Yeah." 

So, so, so cute. 

“Ah, Yuuri. You’re so thoughtful.” In one movement, Viktor flips them, Yuuri on his back and Viktor hovering over him. Yuuri squeaks, mouth parting. His hips are directly underneath Viktor’s parted legs, squirming into the sheets. Viktor licks his lips, slipping Yuuri’s glasses up and off, leaning over briefly to set them on the nightstand.

“Viktor—"

Viktor leans down and nuzzles Yuuri’s cheeks, kissing them, the tip of his nose, his forehead…“I love you, I love you so much—"

Yuuri blushes. “How many times are you going to say that?” he mumbles, looking a bit shy.

“Until you tell me to stop," Viktor growls, his smile private, though he allows his teeth to scrape gently down Yuuri's cheek. 

His voice has gone appropriately horrified. “That won’t happen!”

Viktor grins. “Then you’d better get used to it.”

He kisses his way down to Yuuri’s jaw, under his ear, taking the time to nibble on the lobe. Yuuri’s breath hitches, but he finds the air to reply, in a quiet voice that speaks volumes, “…I love you, too.”

Viktor smiles, hand sliding underneath Yuuri’s shirt. He arches into it, despite the self-conscious twist of his mouth.

“That’s what I like to hear.”

 

---

 

They find Yurio during breakfast, debating between a pastry with raspberry crème and some sort of pancake drenched in chocolate. He’s wearing his usual get-up—cheetah print pants, hair up in a half-ponytail, and a huge black parka to block out the cold.

Viktor doesn’t really mean to sneak, but if he’s too loud he’s afraid that Yurio will spook and escape. So their approach is silent, lithely slinking between people and tables, two well-meaning wolves stalking the lone deer grazing in the meadow clearing. By the time he finally notices them, he’d have to vault over the buffet table to get away. Instead he scowls, eyebrows drawing severely over narrowed, sharp eyes.

“Shit.”

Viktor hooks an arm around Yuuri’s neck, bringing him in close and pressing him to his side. The two of them beam, exuding the perfect picture of friendliness. “Yurio! We missed you!” they chorus.

Yurio looks between them, a dawning expression of utter horror making his eyes widen comically. “Oh, god. It happened.”

Viktor inches closer, aiming for a proper hug, and Yurio’s lip curls like there’s a cockroach crawling up his shoe. “No, no, no, go away—"

“We didn’t get to have a proper reunion yesterday in the lobby, with all those reporters bothering us—"

Yurio backs away, reaching to snatch a pastry from the table, biting into it blindly. He speaks with his mouth full. “Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me in public. If anyone asks, I don’t know you.”

“But Yurio, it’s common knowledge that I choreographed your program.”

Yurio cups a hand around his mouth to bellow across the room, crumbs flying. “Lilia! Yakov! I’m being harassed—!“

“Oh, hush, kitten. Let’s not make a scene.”

Yuuri raises his hands, placating, his smile kind. The metaphorical fur bristling along Yurio’s back doesn’t relax in the slightest. “Would you like to eat breakfast with us? So that we can catch up a little?”

“I would quite literally rather die. Fuck off.”

Viktor smirks. “Angry kitten.”

Stop calling me kitten—!” He cuts himself off with a deep breath through his nose, briefly closing his eyes before he levels the two of them with a fearsome glare. “If you embarrass me, you’re dead. You hear me? Dead.”

Yuuri frowns. “Why would we embarrass you? We’re rooting for you!”

“Stop patronizing me, I’m not a baby. And I’m going to win, fatso. Get ready.”

“That’s the spirit!” Viktor smiles.

With one last disgusted nose wrinkle, Yurio turns to swipe an additional breakfast pastry and an orange off of the table before stalking his way out of the room, bypassing his coaches completely.

Yuuri sighs, watching him go. “That could have gone better.”

Viktor drapes an arm across his shoulders, giving them a squeeze. He turns to place a kiss into his dark hair. “What matters is that we tried. And I think it means a lot to him, though he’d never say so.” And then, “Let’s eat something, shall we?”

 

---

 

They cheer Viktor’s name, but he’s not the one they need to be watching.

He waves, and smiles, because he’s been doing this the majority of his life and pleasing a crowd is ingrained in his bones. There’s a tug on his necktie, and he’s swung around, met immediately with the heat of Yuuri’s breath on his mouth, the tilt of his head to bare a stretch of neck. From this close Viktor can see the caked-on concealer that hides the large purple bruising, the marks of teeth and lips that Viktor doesn’t regret in the least, especially when he remembers the sounds—

“The performance has already begun, Viktor,” Yuuri purrs, lids lowered. It’s a reminder—don’t you dare look away from me.

“You’re right,” Viktor breathes back. The hair on his arms stand on end, and his eyes briefly flutter closed, stomach churning, as the fist around his necktie tightens.

“I’ll show my love to the whole of Russia.”

I’ll show them that you’re mine, and that I’m not about to share. I’m not giving you back.

Then he’s pulling away, giving one last tug, one last smoldering glance from underneath his lashes. This is part of the act—this is his eros, part of the show, another thing to get the whispers started from behind hands. But Yuuri can’t create out of thin air what isn’t already there. The back of Viktor’s neck burns, and he tries to rub it away.

“I would expect nothing less.”  

 

 ---

 

He gets onto his knees. He imagines it something like pulling the lace garter from underneath a wedding gown with his teeth. It’s intimate, borderline obscene, and he presses his lips to the side of Yuuri’s skate. He thinks about later, the two of him in his room, his mouth traveling up, brushing against the skin of bare thighs…

Look at him, Viktor thinks, look at the man I kneel before.

Remember his name.

“Yurio! Davai!”

Oh, right. They’re supposed to be encouraging.

Viktor twists, wide smile breaking through. Yurio—he looks angelic. Pissed, and embarrassed out of his mind, but angelic. His hair’s grown enough that it brushes his shoulders, and there’s something glittering spread across his cheeks to match his costume, but more than that it’s his expression. Like he has confidence in his agape, like he’s grown exponentially in the few months since they’d last seen each other. There’s a thirst for victory, and another soft emotion—sadness? But why?

“We should take him out for ice cream later,” Viktor whispers, frowning. Even from where he is, he can see Yurio’s clenched jaw, knows that he’s most likely grinding his teeth. Just by looking at him, Viktor knows that he’s made phenomenal progress—so then why does he seem so angry? Where has his tender inspiration gone off to?

“We should,” Yuuri agrees easily. His brows are pulled together with worry, and he looks like he has half a mind to shout again, to call out another last-minute 'good luck!' But then the ethereal voice begins to sing, Yurio's hands pressed together as if in prayer. They’re pulled away for interviews, and Viktor is left wondering—

What can we do to help?

 

 ---

 

Viktor wants to amend his previous declaration. There is something in the world that could bring him down, and it comes in the form of a phone call. Makkachin—that silly, silly dog—seems to have not taken his previous warning to heart, and has gotten herself into quite a pickle. He doesn’t even want to know how many steamed buns she must have eaten for the lot of them to get stuck in her throat. What he does want to know—what are the doctors doing to keep her comfortable? What are they doing to make her better? Is there a way that he can split himself in two, so that one of them can be there at her side, the other here to support the person he holds most dear?

“Viktor, you need to go back to Japan!” There’s a certain amount of determination in Yuuri’s eyes, a familiar stubbornness, and Viktor can see an argument on the near horizon. He wants to agree. He remembers the pain of seeing Yulichka’s x-rays, the cancer having spread through her lungs. Talking out the best course of action with the doctor, making the hardest decision of his life—the one that would effectively ease Yulichka out of her misery. And now, Makkachin

“I’ll face the free skate tomorrow on my own!”

But he can’t, can’t, can’t leave Yuuri alone, not now that he’s come so far.

“I can’t,” Viktor voices aloud, a ball of emotion clogging his throat, a distant stinging beginning in his eyes. He doesn’t want to lose her. He doesn’t want to lose his best friend. But what if, because of his absence, Yuuri goes through another one of his episodes and no one is there to help him through it—

Yuuri wraps his hands around Viktor’s arms, bull-headed, his voice pleading. “She needs you, she’ll pull through if you’re there—"

Viktor shakes his head, feeling a headache coming on. “Yuuri, she’s going to be fine, I trust Mari—"

“But you have to go back!” His words have gone a little shrill, and Viktor would have to be a fool not to understand why—he’s seen the shrine, the little set-up in one of the inn’s back rooms. He knows that Yuuri has been through the same pain he has. He knows what it’s like, to lose something so irreplaceable.

It’s tempting, up until he remembers—tears, a voice echoing in the cavernous parking garage. 'Just stand by me!'

I made a promise.

“Like I said, I can’t.”  Viktor presses a hand to his forehead, the ache beginning to throb behind his eyes, and he battles with the majority of himself that just wants to break down and cry right where he stands. He feels weak, like his entire body's gone brittle. He can't see the exit - he can't see a way out, a way where no one has to be left behind. 

It’s then that he sees a familiar figure in his peripheral, and an insane, selfish, desperate idea forms in his mind. No one is going to like it. Hell, he doesn’t like it. Yuuri is a human that thrives on emotional closeness, on encouragement and love. Yakov is not that coach, and will never be that coach. But he’s a wealth of golden advice and years and years of experience, and it’s a few steps better than leaving Yuuri to flounder on his own.

He settles his hands on Yakov’s shoulders, making his eyes go big and round, though from experience he knows they never work. It’s worth a shot, because the next words out of his mouth, as piteous as he can make them, are: “Can you be Yuuri’s coach tomorrow, for just one day?”

Chapter Text

“How are you, my darling, idiot girl?” Viktor croons. Her belly is bloated and she lets out a whine with each breath, but she’s breathing. They’re going to keep her for another night, just to make sure everything comes along smoothly, but it looks like she’s in the clear. She’s going to live.  

“Thank god,” Viktor breathes. He presses his forehead to her shoulder, inhaling her distinctly doggy smell, mixed with the smell of antibacterial scrub and regurgitated pork. He sits on the floor of the clinic in front of her open kennel, mindful of the catheter attached to her leg and the bag of fluids leading to it. It’s nearing closing time—they’ll have to leave soon, entrusting her to the watchful eyes of the doctors, but he’s intent on staying for as long as they’ll let him. He can feel each of her heart beats; with each one, he feels a little bit more at peace, his fatigue creeping up on him now that he no longer has to worry for her safety.  

At the sound of a quiet sigh he pulls his head away from Makkachin’s shoulder, letting his palm rest there instead. Mari leans against the wall a few feet away, shadows under her eyes.  She has her arms crossed over her chest, and the sag of her body and tilt of her head make her exhaustion clear. Viktor opens his mouth, ready to let his gratitude be known, but she speaks up before he can let out the first syllable.

“You mean a lot to him, you know.”

He blinks, brows furrowed slightly. “Hmm?”

Mari reaches to run fingers through her hair, which is ratty and, judging by the disgusted curl of her lip, unwashed. “For a long time. You know how kids pick somebody they wanna admire and kinda just fixate on them? For me, it was Elvis. Don’t ask me why, I guess rock n’ roll just spoke to my soul.” Here, she laughs, and she drops her hand down to her side. She looks at him, her eyes hauntingly familiar. “But that’s who you were, for Yuuri. He totally idolized you.”

Ah.

Viktor looks down, mouth turned up into a little forced smile. Even now—even now, with the indents of his teeth embedded into the tender parts of Yuuri’s flesh, he can’t help but wonder. How much of that worship remains? How much of him sees this relationship as little more than a dream come true, the man from the television now before his very eyes? He doesn’t like doubting, and it’s something he’ll never voice aloud—but he’s human. He worries.  “I know.”

Mari clicks her tongue, and Viktor’s eyes dart back up at the sound. She looks frustrated, scowling at the wall like she’s having trouble stringing her train of thought into words. “But it’s beyond that. I don’t think you’ll ever really know how happy you made him, when you showed up.”

“What?”

She sighs again, fingers twitching for the cigarettes she’s not allowed to smoke inside the hospital. “He was going through a real tough spot. He hardly left his room. Losing last year—it really hit him hard. For a while I was sure he was just gonna call it quits.” She fixes her eyes on him then, completely sincere. “Thank you, Viktor. You sacrificed a lot to come coach him.”

A disproportionate feeling of happy embarrassment washes over him, and he ducks his head. “Mari, please. The pleasure has been mine.”

Which is an understatement if he’s ever heard one, but there are some things he’d rather keep to himself. He doesn’t feel regret over a career that was already ending; its life having naturally progressed and reached its end. Not to say that he doesn’t miss it—because he does. He loves skating. That is an undeniable truth. It is as much a part of him as his name, or the color of his eyes, or the faint freckles that show up on his shoulders during the summer months. But there had come a point, standing on the podium with his fifth medal pressed to his lips, that he realized—this is all I have. That the only warmth in his life came in the form of a self-destructive poodle and the occasional insult thrown at him by a fifteen-year-old boy. That he spent the majority of his nights alone in a cold, sterile apartment—that on the occasion he shared the bed with another warm body, there was never a heat in his chest to mimic the flush of his skin.

He loved being Viktor Nikiforov, the living legend. The man that brought gold, and fame, and pride to his country. He mourns the loss, because it was all he had ever known. He grieves for the death of his old self almost like he had lost a dear friend. But he doesn’t want to go back to that. There will never be a time he can see his life before as superior to his life after. He’s given up a lot, but he’s gained even more.

I don’t want us to end. My god, I never want this to end.

“Yuuri helped me realize the other things life has to offer,” he eventually says, though it’s only the tip of the iceburg. He feels a little dizzy, a little like he’s stood up too quickly even though he’s still seated firmly on the floor.

I want to keep him. How do I ask to keep him?

Mari grins, a little half-quirk of her mouth. “Such a charmer. It’s no wonder he’s fallen for you.”

“It’s not just him,” he admits, tongue loose like he’d just spent a night on the town.

Her smile grows, and grows, until her cheeks bunch and the family resemblance is uncanny. “I know.”

 

 ---

 

He’s bouncing his leg anxiously, one hand scratching behind Makkachin’s ear (assuring himself that she’s still here, that she’s not going anywhere anytime soon—), his other keeping a strangle hold on his phone. He has the jitters, ninety-nine percent of which can be blamed on the fact that he’s survived the past forty-eight hours on nothing but black coffee and a handful of biscotti he’d bought at the airport café.

He hadn’t seen Yuuri’s free skate as it happened, but not for lack of trying. It’s difficult enough finding live-streams that actually work when he has solid internet connection—but when he’s spending every available moment traveling from the airport, to the veterinary clinic, to the inn, and back again, well. It’s damn near impossible. So he had watched the recorded video the moment he returned to Yu-topia for the night, sat on his bed, the mattress uncomfortably cold and spacious. Minako-sensei had texted him updates as they were happening throughout the day, but it’s different seeing it with his own eyes. It made his stomach sink like a stone, watching Yuuri advance to the finals but only by the skin of his teeth. That, mixed with the knowledge that Makkachin was lying alone in an unfamiliar kennel all by herself, made for a very sleepless night.

Now, Viktor grapples with the guilt, knowing that if Yuuri had been in his best form, he wouldn’t have had to scrape through by a hairs-width. He must have been thinking too much again. He must have struggled, trying to keep his traitorous thoughts in line, but in the end…

I wasn’t there for him when he needed me.

He glances up when Makkachin lets out a yelp, and she darts away from his side like a bullet. Either someone’s just walked past them eating a hotdog, or—

Yuuri.

Makkachin’s got her paws propped up on the window, her tail a wagging blur. She’s leaving noseprints and smudges across the glass, and a part of Viktor feels bad about that. But then his eyes meet another’s—dark, dark brown, wide, staring at Viktor from behind familiar frames. The longing Viktor sees there is a physical ache. It twists his stomach, magnetic, and his feet start moving before he realizes it, lurching out of his seat before he makes the conscious decision to move. “Yuuri,” he breathes, feet picking up speed, never breaking that eye contact. Makkachin makes a joyous noise, bounding to keep up with him. “Yuuri.

His footsteps pound across the terminal, and a part of him prays that nothing stands in his way, because he can’t bring himself to turn and check. A flimsy piece of glass—that’s all that separates them. It’s only been a few days. But his throat burns and it’s not just because he’s started to pant.

Yuuri keeps up with him. He yanks his mask down away from his nose and mouth, his lips parted as he breathes, the desperation carved into his features as if their separation has lasted years.  Viktor can only imagine how the past few days have been for him. How the pressure must have mounted, how he had no outlet—how he had Yakov and Yurio but ultimately no one to soothe him, no one to hold close as comfort, no one to calm the rabbit-kicking of his heart with a you can do it, I believe in you, I know you can.

Like all those times before, Viktor opens his arms in invitation. Except this is the first one that’s been a reunion. It’s not to make up for his absence. It’s the first offer that stems from a very simple and plain desire—I missed you. I missed you so much.

Come here, sweetheart. I’m here.

Yuuri stumbles in his haste, tripping over his feet for a heartbeat before he’s falling into Viktor’s chest, wrapping arms around waist. He lets out a gasp, one that Viktor mirrors, because this—it’s relief. It feels like the first pure breath of air he’s taken in days. It’s an indescribable comfort, one that has his arms trembling as he wraps them around Yuuri’s shoulders, bringing him in so, so, so tight, the idea of letting him go unbearable.

I missed you. I—

“I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do as your coach,” he blurts, unthinking. It’s not grand romantic poetry, not the sweet nothings he had planned to purr into Yuuri’s ear upon their embrace. But he can’t get it out of his head. He thinks about the day before, sitting on the floor and looking up at Mari, realizing that he doesn’t want anything to change. Wondering how he could best explain that to Yuuri without scaring him away.

“Me, too,” Yuuri mumbles, and there’s a brief flash of surprise before he pushes Viktor away—no, why, I wanted you to be closer—but he allows it to happen, because Yuuri has that face on: the stubborn one, the one that snaps in place whenever he’s determined to see something through. Viktor rocks back on his heels, forcing his body from careening forward and bringing them together once more.

“Please take care of me, until I retire.”

Immediately, he feels winded. A part of him wonders if somehow Yuuri’s gained some sort of clairvoyance in the past two days in order for him to read Viktor so exactly—is he just saying this for my benefit? But his eyes are clear, and earnest. He means what he’s saying. Be mine, he’s asking. Be my coach, be my friend, be my lover. Even after all this is over, stay by me.

Viktor’s soul sings. Of course, of course, of course. He takes Yuuri’s wrist, bringing his hand to his lips. He finds that fourth finger, briefly envisioning it wrapped in a band of gold. He presses his lips there in a chaste peck. “It’s almost like a marriage proposal,” he grins, voice gone tender and smitten as a schoolboy, and immediately his whole body lights up—now there’s an idea. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

In that case— “I wish you’d never retire,” he admits, and Yuuri’s breath catches. Because he could not have said it more plainly—

I want us to stay together forever.

 

Chapter Text

It had belonged to your dear grandfather, Igor, says the note. I know you will take good care of it.

Viktor carefully folds the piece of paper, tucking it into a drawer of his bedside table. Distantly, he can hear Yuuri scrambling in his room, the triplets loudly directing him in his packing for Barcelona. He’ll be preoccupied for at least another hour—Viktor sees it as the perfect opportunity to slip away quietly. So he shrugs on the fluffiest coat he owns, wraps a woolen scarf around his neck, and he sets out into the cold.  

I’ve been neglecting myself for over twenty years, he thinks, vaguely, boots crunching in the snow as he steps past the inn’s gate. It’s about time that I change that.

Hasetsu, over these eight months (has it really only been eight?) has become an important place to him. It’s the first town he’s lived in that has made him feel so warm. As he walks along the road, he’s greeted by the older folk tending to their yards or their shopfronts. Children call out his name as he passes by a playground. It's just so friendly; its a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, and he feels their warmth down to his bones. He takes the roundabout route into the heart of town, so that he can walk along his favorite road edging the bay—he looks out, breathing in the salt air, looking out at the familiar birds coasting on the updrafts. Just eight months ago, he hadn’t known this little seaside place even existed.

It’s funny. He closes his eyes, taking in a deep, cold breath through his nose. It’s begun to snow, the flakes melting on the warmth of his upturned face. How life has a way of surprising me.

The town center isn’t the bustling flurry of life that he had encountered in the Russian metropolises, or any of the other cities worldwide that he had traveled. The only difference to the rest of Hasetsu is that there is a higher density of izakaya, along with a small department store and the town hall. The street lamps are hung with red velvet ribbons, a few of the naked trees strung with holiday lights. He bypasses all of the bars, still empty this early in the day. Instead he veers into a quaint little shop tucked next to a tailor’s and a confectionery that specializes in traditional Japanese treats. He opens the door, the bell above the eaves jingling. There’s the sound of distant rummaging, and he calls out a greeting. “Good morning, Mr. Yamato!”

“Viktor!” says the man who pokes his head out of the backroom, smile wide and blinding. “Welcome! Come to take another look?”

“Actually, this time I have a question for you,” Viktor smiles, dusting the fresh powder off his jacket.

Mr. Yamato steps across the room to stand behind the counter, leaning his forearms into it and looking up at Viktor from behind horn-rimmed glasses. “Of course! What can I help you with?”

Viktor digs around in his pocket before he pulls out a simple velvet box—he pulls back the lid, presenting it to Mr. Yamato. “I was wondering if you’d be able to resize this for me.”

Mr. Yamato makes a soft cooing noise, and he reaches forward to take the box with delicate fingers. He tilts it this way and that, looking at it from different angles. “What a lovely wedding band!” he exclaims. “Looks to be around…eighteen karats? And on the older side.”

Viktor nods, watching the light catch on the band in ripples of gold. “It is. It belonged to my late grandfather on my mother’s side. He married my grandmother in 1941, in Moscow.”

There’s a grin in his voice. “There must be so much history here.”

“Yes,” Viktor hums. His glances up, curious. “What do you think?”

There’s a fresh gleam in Mr. Yamato’s eyes, and he nods excitedly. “I think, absolutely! A little polish and we’ll have the shine right back, too. I could even engrave the inside for you, if that’s something you’d be interested in.”

Viktor smiles. “That sounds perfect.”

Mr. Yamato claps his hands, rubbing them together like a mad scientist. “Excellent. Wait right here, let me go fetch my forms and then we can get started.” He glances over his shoulder on his way to the backroom, an impish, teasing smile curving up his mouth. “Oh, I wonder who this could be for?”

“Sorry, Mr. Yamato,” Viktor trails his index finger gently over the smooth surface of the ring, “but that’s a surprise.”

 

---

 

Viktor positions the viewfinder, tongue poking out of his mouth as he struggles to focus the frame with his trembling hands—sure, the pool is heated, but he doesn’t trust himself in the water with his phone. And he can’t take the pictures of Chris that way, regardless. So he endures as the frigid December air prickles at his skin, patches of gooseflesh spreading across every available inch.

He watches as Chris pulls himself out of the pool, dripping all over the concrete along the edges. He’s arching his back and looking up at Viktor with sultry eyes, and Viktor has to bite his lip in order to hold back a laugh. But he has other things on his mind, and his thoughts keep deviating back to his hotel room, where a small velvet box is currently burning a hole through his luggage.

“Okay, now, I’m gonna crawl towards you on all-fours,” Chris is saying, arranging his limbs for maximum sex appeal, “I’m aiming for this innocent sex-kitten look, like, imagine that you’ve had a long day at work and you’ve just come home and then I’m there, soaking wet and wearing nothing but stockings—"

“I’m proposing to Yuuri.”

Chris’ head snaps up so sharply Viktor is mildly surprised he doesn’t hear a crack. “What?”

His palms have begun to sweat, because announcing his plan has suddenly made it all the more real. This is reality. He’s really going to do this. “I have a ring. I’m going to ask him to marry me.”

“Viktor,” Chris wheezes, his eyes enormous, only becoming bigger as he comes closer. “Oh lord, Viktor. Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Viktor swallows. “I’m serious.”

“That’s…that’s amazing! Does he know?”

“I’ve joked about it, before. I don’t think he took me seriously. But.” He gestures helplessly. “I really love him.”

“Well, sure, Viktor, anyone with eyes can see that,” Chris breathes. His face has gone all soft and dreamy, and he settles himself in the deck chair next to Viktor’s, huddling under the scant material of his towel for warmth. He reaches for the bottle of wine again, pouring a glass for the both of them. “When are you going to ask him?”

His throat is deathly dry, and he tries to wet his lips with a useless tongue. Chris passes him his glass, and he downs a quick mouthful. “I can’t decide when a good time would be,” he admits, setting his phone beside him on the chair. “I don’t want to stress him out before the finals. But I don’t think I can wait until afterwards.”

Chris hums, taking a sip of wine and swishing it around his mouth before swallowing. “How about,” he begins, eyes gleaming, “you bring the ring with you, wherever you go. That way, you can always keep an eye on it. But you can also be on the lookout for the right mood.”

Viktor cocks a brow. “The right mood?”

Chris huffs impatiently. “Yes, a mood—when the two of you are nice and cozy, maybe, and the angels come fluttering down strumming harps and singing ballads of love—"

“Chris,” Viktor interrupts with a laugh, only slightly hysterical.

Chris looks at him. His smile is sympathetic, and he clasps a freezing hand on Viktor’s shoulder, giving him a little shake. “You’ll know it, when it’s time. That’s all I’m saying. You’ll know.”

“You think so?”

It’s instances like this can Viktor can more clearly see the boy he used to imagine running through the Swiss Alps, genuine and looking at him like he’s never admired someone more. “Sure do. You’re Viktor Nikiforov. You can do anything.”

 

---

 

He'd just having so much fun, that he forgets to watch for a mood.

It’s hard to focus, when he’s romping around Barcelona like the collegiate backpacker he never got to be. They’re in full-on tourist mode, visiting each and every building that looks like it might have something special about it, going inside every bakery with a line going out the door, because that means it must be good, right? Viktor shops for clothes—and not just for himself, because he can admit that he has plenty. But if he sees a pair of nice shoes, or a button-up or a pair of slacks that look like they might be in Yuuri’s size, well. He doesn’t let himself second-guess. Meanwhile, Yuuri picks up souvenirs for everyone back home—nicknacks and postcards for the triplets; t-shirts and a bottle of Spanish cava for their parents. For his own parents, he picks up packages of turrón and specialty nuts. He’s distracted, which is exactly what Viktor had been aiming for—the idea is to nip his nerves in the bud, before they have time to grow and fester. Hopefully, by the end of the evening he won’t even have the energy to be anxious.

But it only works for so long, because now there is a mood (a very obvious one), and it’s not what Viktor had been waiting for. And all because of the measly bag of nuts—honestly, who cares? They can buy nuts anywhere. Why Yuuri is getting so frazzled is beyond him. It’s frustrating—that after this entire day, of Viktor trying so hard to keep his anxiety at bay, what eventually comes and bites him in the ass is a bag of nuts.

“Let’s head back. You’re tired, right?” Maybe sleeping at this point would just be the best option, since apparently shopping the day away wasn’t the greatest method for building mental fortitude.

“You don’t have to say it like that!” Yuuri snaps, and Viktor startles—in what way was what he said offensive? Wasn’t it just common sense? The shop would be closed by now; there’s no use crying over spilt milk!

“Well, I’m tired,” Viktor replies, trying not to snap right back.

“Are you really? Because it’s not like you’re going to be skating tomorrow,” Yuuri says, sharply. He’s being needlessly difficult, and Viktor’s frustration mounts.

“Which I’m sure you’re very disappointed about, right? Since I’ve been spending almost a year to coach you?” He bites on his tongue contritely immediately after, closing his eyes before he can see what has become of Yuuri’s expression. It’s gone quiet, save for the bustle of people and the frosty wind buffeting Viktor’s hair around his ears.

“I didn’t mean that,” he amends then, quietly. He opens his eyes to find Yuuri staring at the ground, his face having lost its anger, an emotion that Viktor can’t name in its wake. He braces himself.

“Let’s walk around a little bit more before we head back,” Yuuri eventually says, blinking and looking up. He doesn’t appear angry, or upset, which isn’t what Viktor had been expecting but he accepts it gratefully.

“Ah—sure.”

They begin walking again, but this time they don’t hold hands, and their shoulders are far enough apart that they don’t brush. It’s a quiet walk, and Viktor busies himself by buying some hot wine. The steam warms his icy nose, and he takes sips as they go, people-watching and looking at all the new sights. He’s been to Barcelona before but he had never taken the time to explore the city—he’d been lots of places, actually, and hadn’t bothered much with sightseeing. He’s come to understand, over the years, that it’s not where he is in the world that makes it exciting.

(It’s who he’s with.)

They stumble upon the city Christmas market, and without needing to communicate the two of them meander into it. Lights are strung up in all different colors, like fireflies made out of a church’s stained glass. The atmosphere is festive, and before long all remnants of the angry burn in Viktor’s chest melts; everything is just so beautiful. Hes lucky to be here. He’s lucky to be here with Yuuri. Their argument feels like a lifetime ago, and he finds his footsteps veering, a subtle shift that brings them closer together until their shoulders knock.

It seems to be a sentiment shared, because after long minutes of not speaking, Yuuri looks up at him with a soft smile. “Viktor, your birthday is on Christmas Day, right?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes.”

He tilts his head. “What would you like for your gift?”

“In Russia, we don’t celebrate before the actual birthday,” he says, a tad regretfully. “We don’t really celebrate Christmas, either,” he adds as an afterthought.

Yuuri visibly deflates. “I see.”

Viktor offers his steaming cup as a consolation. “Do you want some hot wine, too?”

“Ah, I try not to drink before a competition.”

He wants to point out their night spent before the Cup of China, because from what little he remembers there are bits and pieces that contradict this statement, of Yuuri taking sips from a strong-smelling glass. This, however, is followed immediately after by flashes—skin and sweat, flushed cheeks and booming laughter. An entirely different night he won’t soon forget.

“Oh. Right.”

He watches then, closely, because they aren’t just walking around in aimless circles. Yuuri’s eyes—they’re sparkling. Not to say that they aren’t usually glittering in some form or another (because they are—bright even in their darkness, their depth easy for Viktor to drown himself in—) but this is a particular sparkle that Viktor knows very well. He’s on the look-out for something. It’s what Viktor saw when he was hunting for just the right souvenirs, like a bloodhound with his nose close to the ground, following some invisible trail only he can detect.

He apparently finds what he’s searching for in a jeweler’s, and Viktor can only watch in bewildered silence as Yuuri talks intensely with the employee behind the glass counter. It reminds him of himself, thousands of miles away in Hasetsu, conspiring with Mr. Yamato. But their purposes are fundamentally different, Viktor knows. His purpose had been to ask for Yuuri’s hand (if he ever gathers the bravery for it) and Yuuri’s purpose is—well, he doesn’t actually know. A present for his sister, maybe? He only gets to see a flash of gold before the shopkeeper tucks whatever it is in a box, and Yuuri hunches himself over the receipt, keeping it from view. There’s an odd feeling about this whole exchange, because Yuuri can barely meet his eyes, making an embarrassed squeak each time they do. His entire face is red, and the color only intensifies once they leave the shop.

He’s going to suggest maybe sitting down somewhere, as Yuuri’s coloring is truly getting worrisome (Viktor had no idea his face could be this red, which is saying something) but Yuuri grabs his wrist, incessantly tugging. Viktor allows himself to be swept away—this is a whirlwind he has no intention of stopping. He doesn’t know where they’re going, and he has a feeling Yuuri doesn’t know either. But the sparkle hasn’t left his eyes regardless of the hue of his cheeks, and his head turns in a constant, broad sweep, searching, searching, fingers wrapped tight around Viktor’s wrist, the skin of his palm cold and clammy.

There’s a soft intake of breath, Yuuri’s eyes growing wide, and Viktor follows his gaze—

A church.

There’s a full-body shock when he realizes that it’s time. He can hear Chris’ voice, like some kind of lustful inner voice of reason—you’ll know, when it’s time. And he does. He’s being pulled up ancient stone steps, the statues of saints and wise men staring solemnly down at them. It’s time. There are angels singing, and while the light of heaven isn’t shining down on Yuuri it might as well—he’s glowing, face pinker than the winter air should allow, more beautiful than Viktor can ever remember.

I need to ask him now.

Yuuri’s finally stopped in front of the lovely cast iron, though his hold on Viktor hasn’t released; he’s simply shifted his grip to instead hold his hand, and there’s an unmistakable tremor—Viktor doesn’t know which of them is causing it. It doesn’t matter. He takes a deep breath, calling forth all the courage he can muster. “Yuu—“

“Viktor,” Yuuri interrupts, in a voice gone a little high. “Can you give me your hand?”

A part of him wants to protest—no, wait, I need to ask while I still have the nerve—but he can’t. Not when Yuuri is looking at him with those eyes, so round and frightened—why? Has he predicted Viktor’s intentions? Does he plan to reject them? The panic inside him builds. Don’t deny me before I have the chance to ask!

“Ah…alright,” he replies, more than a little petrified. He can only watch as Yuuri slides Viktor’s glove off, gently. Then, even with the tremor in his hands all the more obvious, he slides a golden band up the forth finger of Viktor’s right hand.

Oh.

The church bells ring, deep and echoing through the crisp night. The carolers continue their enchanting song, oblivious to the scene happening behind them. Viktor is glad that at that moment, no one is paying attention to them—no one sees his face but Yuuri. No one else can see how the absolute astonishment makes his jaw go slack; no one can see the arrested breath in his chest, struggling for air.

I don’t believe it. It can’t be…

He’s eyes snap up at Yuuri’s intake of breath, his heart beating so hard he can feel it in his fingertips. "Thank you for everything up until n-now,” Yuuri stutters, sounding so unsure of himself. Viktor’s eyes flick back down to his own hand, afraid that if he looks away too long the illusion may break. He’s toeing the line between reality and the most beautiful fantasy he’s ever had.  “I…I couldn’t think of something better.”  

Please let this not be a dream. Oh, please, let this not be a dream.

“But…um, but I’ll try my best from tomorrow on, so…” he swallows, seeming to build something up within himself as well. “So tell me something for good luck.”

The feeling that envelops Viktor then crashes down with debilitating force, and he lets out a soft noise, one he couldn’t have held in if he tried. It’s a joy so raw, so pure and all-consuming that he nearly sways on his feet, watching as the flush on Yuuri’s face becomes impossibly darker. Because this isn’t a dream. It couldn’t be—his simple imagination could never be so clever, so inventive, as to perfectly capture the exact color of Yuuri’s eyes, the winter dryness of his lips. This is real, and Yuuri has just given him a ring. At this moment, he doesn’t care what it means. All that matters is that he needs to answer.

Something for good luck, huh? I think I can do better than that.

Viktor reaches into his pocket, fingers trembling, and finds the warmed piece of gold at the bottom, wrapped in a handkerchief. He takes Yuuri’s icy hand in his own, unable to stop smiling, can’t think of a single reason of why he’d want to. “Sure,” he murmurs, feeling more like a champion than he ever did with a medal around his neck. He focuses on the shivery intake of Yuuri’s breathing, wanting so badly to just pull him in and hold him close. But what he has to say takes precedence, so he soothes himself with the promise of later.

“Tomorrow,” he says, cradling Yuuri’s hand like it’s something precious, watching himself push the ring (his promise, his oath, the physical manifestation of his utter devotion) onto Yuuri’s finger, “show me the skating you can honestly say you liked best.”

It’s not the proposal he had imagined, but the actual question can be saved—for now, though, he had to tell Yuuri what he needed to hear. That’s the only shortcut to a gold medal that I know. And it’s worth it, because what he gets in return—a responding smile, big and genuine and happy, is enough to clench down around his strangled heart.

“Okay!”

When they walk back down the crowded street, Viktor feels more than a little delirious. They press themselves closely together, nearly cheek-to-cheek, sharing their warmth. The ring is a treasured weight on his finger.

(Surreptitiously, he pinches the back of his thigh, reveling in the answering sting.)

 

---

 

They have the two twin beds pushed together, both of them warm and malleable after a hot soak in the bathtub. But Viktor still has the group dinner on his mind—still slightly reeling from it all, from the sudden shift in perspective. From the denial that left him a little bit heartbroken.

Yuuri lies curled up on the far mattress, hair wet against the pillow. Viktor remembers a time when he’d have to beg for Yuuri to lie next to him; now, it’s simply a matter of settling down on the other mattress, distributing the blankets so he doesn’t hog them all (as he is, apparently, wont to do). They look at each other like this, quietly, the bedside lamp a soft orange wash. It makes a miniscule fire reflect in the dark of Yuuri’s irises. Viktor wouldn’t mind letting himself be burned by them.

“You forgot everything?” he asks, for what seems like the hundredth time that evening. He keeps his voice hushed, like they’re swapping secrets.

Yuuri covers his face with his hands, the lingering embarrassment keeping his cheeks a permanent rosy shade. “Yes, apparently.”

“But how could you forget something like that?”

“You’re one to talk,” Yuuri mumbles, though without any real bite.

“Touché,” Viktor laughs.

Yuuri rolls over onto his back, letting his limbs splay. One of his arms ends up across Viktor’s chest. He tilts his head, looking at Viktor with a hint of accusation. “If it was so important why didn’t you ever mention it before now?”

Viktor shrugs with a smile. “Oh, I don’t consider it very important.”

Yuuri frowns, pressing his hands into the bed and sitting up, looking down at Viktor with his mouth twisted in confusion. “But…but you were so surprised—"

Viktor nods. “Yes, well, I hadn’t realized you completely blacked out. I always figured you were just too embarrassed to bring it up.”

There’s still an unanswered question, hanging thickly in the air and in the shrewd narrowing of Yuuri’s eyes. Viktor inches closer, reaching to wrap long fingers around Yuuri’s wrist. “I don’t consider it very important because I suppose I never considered that our first meeting, nor the second.”

Yuuri’s eyebrows pinch together. “It wasn’t our first meeting?”

“I asked you if you wanted a photograph.”

“You remember that?”

“You don’t?”

“Well, of course I do, but it just seems so insignificant—"

“To someone like me?” Viktor’s tone dares him to disagree.

Yuuri shakes his head, refusing to let the conversation be swayed. “Why don’t you consider that our second meeting?”

“Because, as our delightful Yurio had so kindly pointed out to me that night, ‘this dude’s shitfaced,’” Viktor mimics in a high, petulant voice. Yuuri’s cheeks go scarlet again, and Viktor runs a finger down one of them, smiling at the heat that radiates. “I met the Yuuri who would beg his idol to become his coach. I figured out within the first fifteen minutes of arriving at your inn that I probably would never meet him again. At least, not for a long time.” He grins, hand still encircling Yuuri’s wrist even as Yuuri slips down to lay his head on the pillow again, his expression dazed. “We danced the night away, my dear. But you left your glass slipper on the steps. I had no idea who you actually were—but I wanted to. I wanted to meet you. ”

Yes, he had wanted to meet Yuuri—the shy virgin, the untouched conquest. He had wanted to suck the breath from between his giving lips and in return, grant him the guidance that would take his talent that much further. The constant badgering of those first few weeks come back to him, then—so desperate to understand the boy that had stolen his attention, thirsting for the body that had pressed up against him that night; not knowing that what lied beneath the surface was much more potent. That Viktor would soon become drunk on the man, addictive even when he had no intention of being so.

Yuuri rears his head back, eyes flickering away. Ashamed. “But you’re right, I’m nothing like the person you met—"

“Wrong.”

“Wh-what? I would never p-pole dance o-or—"

He’s trying to evade again, and Viktor won’t let him—he grabs Yuuri’s chin, forcing their eyes to meet. “You’re telling me you can’t be sexy? Or bright or confident or beautiful?” Viktor slips his thumb between Yuuri’s slack lower lip, like he once had, except this time it’s not to tease, but to prove a point. “You know that’s not true. You’ve shown me. You’ve shown everyone.”  There’s disbelief and insecurity looking back at him, brows pulled low over skittish eyes, and Viktor wants nothing more than to smooth it away.

“That’s what I saw that night, and that’s what gave me the push to come to Japan. To see if that’s who you really were. And it is.” He smiles, leaning forward to press their foreheads together. “But you’re also shy, and funny, and sarcastic, and stubborn as a mule. And I adore you. I love you more than I ever thought possible.”

He removes his thumb, sliding it to the corner of Yuuri’s mouth, making just enough room for his own to press there gently. When he pulls away Yuuri chases after him, eyes half-closed. His smile turns a little sad, remembering how their dinner ended.

“But, enough about a party you don’t even remember.” He suddenly becomes overly aware of the weight on his right hand. “What I really want to talk about is this.”

Yuuri’s eyes flutter open, charcoal lashes smudges of ink. He looks down where Viktor gestures. “The ring?”

“You told everyone that it was to say ‘thank you,’” Viktor twists the ring around his finger, the metal glittering in the dim light. “You were also asking what I wanted for my birthday.” He looks up through his own lashes, trying not to let his lips turn down at the edges, though he doesn’t think he does a very good job. “Did I misunderstand? Are we not on the same page?”

Yuuri gapes at him, mouth opening and closing several times before he manages to speak. “But…I really do want to thank you.”

“And I appreciate that. Truly. And I want to thank you as well. It’s just that…” He takes Yuuri’s hand, the same hand he had grasped earlier that night, and slips off the gold band. He holds it up to the light, his eyes tracing the engraving on the inside. “What did you think this meant, coming from me?”

Yuuri stares at him. “You said it was for good luck.”

“Not…not just for good luck,” Viktor sighs, closing his eyes briefly. “It’s alright if it’s not what you want. I promise I won’t be angry. But this—“ he slips it back up Yuuri’s finger, and then presses his grandfather’s ring against his lips, “—was my proposal.”

Yuuri looks away, legs squirming against the sheets. “You said that we’d get married, once I won a gold medal.”

“I did.”

He bites his lip, eyes swimming with worry. Viktor sets a soothing hand on his bare leg. “What if I don’t win? What if it never happens?”

“I thought you told me,” Viktor murmurs, fingers trailing up Yuuri’s thigh, “that it was my job to believe in you, when you can’t believe in yourself.”

Yuuri doesn’t reply, and Viktor continues. “Then let me tell you,” he says, voice growing louder, “that I believe—with complete and utter faith—that you’re going to win. And when you have that medal around your neck,” he draws a finger in a telling loop across Yuuri’s collarbones, “I’m going to get down on one knee in front of the whole world.”

Yuuri grasps onto the loose fabric covering Viktor’s chest, eyes big and wondrous. “Viktor.”

He smiles, covering the hands with his own. “It’s up to you whether you say yes or not.”

Yuuri leans forward, burying his face in Viktor’s chest and shaking his head. “You’re an idiot, idiot, idiot—"

Viktor cards his fingers through Yuuri’s damp hair, ducking his chin to place a kiss there. “Hmm? Why?”

“I didn’t give you the ring as just a ‘thank you’. You know that, there’s no way I’d say no—"

“I just didn’t want you to forget that you have a choice.”

Well, I choose you!”

Viktor’s breath catches, heart ripping sweetly. “Whatever happens,” he breathes, “we are going to live very long and happy lives together, my dear.”

“Viktor,” Yuuri whispers, hands reaching up, cupping his face. His thumbs smooth underneath Viktor’s eyes. “You’re crying.”

“Am I?” Though he knows he is, can tell the moment he speaks and his voice cracks. His vision wavers, and he blinks furiously as Yuuri’s face goes blurry and wet.

“Are they happy tears?” his voice is soft, and Viktor closes his eyes when he leans forward to drag his lips across Viktor’s cheeks, catching the drops with a sigh.

“Of course they are, my love,” Viktor smiles against the lips that find his own. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a happier man.”

 

 

---

 

Yurio’s his friend.

But there are instances where things go too far.

He’s just a kid, Viktor, says the voice of reason in the back of his head, he’s a child, he’s a brat but you need to be the bigger person here.

He thinks this even as his hand is trembling, fingers digging into Yurio’s cheeks. He tries to focus on his breathing—in, out, in. Think about all the things you love about Yurio. Think about how ashamed you’ll be later if you lose your temper.

“Viktor NIkiforov is dead,” Yurio had spat, and it’s nothing Viktor doesn’t already know—he’s the one who pulled the trigger in the first place. The taunts at Yuuri’s expense don’t bother him either, because he knows for a fact they aren’t true. He had once believed that someday Yurio would come to see Yuuri the way he does—as an unfurling star. And he does. Viktor has seen the admiration, thinly concealed beneath a characteristic layer of hostility.

But what gets him to snap—what turns out to be the last straw isn’t something he could have predicted.

“Just go away already, you geezer.”

He’d already made peace with the end of his career. He’d acknowledged that his time in the spotlight had been passed on to someone else; someone he’d seen the potential of, the greatness that is lying in wait.

But that doesn’t mean that the idea of being forgotten utterly terrifies him.

His back is throbbing where he’d been repeatedly kicked. Yurio’s chin is in his palm, face pulled until he’s forced to stand in his tiptoes. Viktor stares into those startlingly green eyes—

“The ring you got from that pig is garbage,” Yurio mumbles, voice slightly distorted as he can’t freely move his mouth. “I’ll win just to prove how incompetent its owner is.”

Viktor knows that Yurio’s intentions weren’t to stab at his insecurities. It’s a cry for attention. It’s why couldn’t you have picked me? It’s you don’t understand how much I want this. A little boy trying to get a rise out of him, for nothing more than his own reassurance.

“Let me go!” Yurio slaps Viktor’s hand away, and Viktor turns back to look out at the ocean, trying to calm the rage and fear that leaves a sticky ball in the back of his throat. There’s a dog running along the shore, bounding in excited circles around its owner, and he thinks absently that Makkachin would have enjoyed it here. Seagulls are wheeling overhead, cries loud and nostalgic.

If I’d stayed in Russia as a competitor, Yurio wouldn’t have been this motivated to fight.

And neither would I.

It’s a good thing that he chose to retire. For everyone. Even if, by some change of heart, he longs for the ice again—it doesn’t matter. This choice has been the best one of his life. And everyone has grown all the better for it.

Yes, you miss it. But you don’t miss the loneliness, do you?

Once upon a time, he would have seen these seagulls and been homesick for St. Petersburg. Now all he can think about is the quiet calm of Hasetsu, of walking down the street and being greeting by the older folk and the children, of walking along the edge of the water with Yuuri, Makkachin chasing the foamy lap of the waves.

“This place reminds me of Hasetsu’s ocean.” 

The words don’t fall from his own mouth even as he thinks them. Yurio is glaring over his shoulder, a slightly regretful twist to his mouth. Viktor smiles, because this is as close to an apology he’s ever going to get. He turns to look back out at the water.

“I thought that, too.”

Chapter Text

 

 

One year ago

Sochi, Russia 

 

 

He really doesn’t like these sorts of parties.

Stuffy, with his tie fastened all the way up to his throat. He’d loosen it but then Yakov will yell at him (even though he’s won gold, again, because apparently even that isn’t a good enough reason anymore) and he hasn’t had enough to drink for that yet. The music is quiet, just some simple strings playing over the sound system. You’d think that they’d be able to afford a live band of some sort, but apparently the budget went toward the hors d’oeuvres, because there looks to be enough bruschetta and chicken liver pâté to feed a small country. To put simply, it’s boring, but he’s obligated to be here—to schmooze and dazzle people with his award- winning smile, to socialize and pretend like he doesn’t have anywhere else he’d rather be (he can think of quite a few places, most of them involving his pants around his ankles and tugging his hand through someone’s hair.)

But those are thoughts he needs to save for later, when a filthy fantasy is the only thing that will keep him awake through the endless, mind-numbing toasts made throughout the night.  

“Viktor, go get me some champagne,” says the voice at his side, accompanied by plucks at his sleeve. He doesn’t need to look to know who it is.

“Yuri, you’re fourteen.”

There’s an annoyed huff, and he glances down only to be leveled with a poisonous look, one that cheers him up considerably.

“It’s not like it’s illegal.”

“Perhaps,” Viktor sighs, resting a hand forlornly against his cheek. “But it still wouldn’t feel right.”

Yuri rolls his eyes. “I’m not buying that. You’re telling me you didn’t get wasted at these shitshows when you were my age?”

“I was actually thirteen my first time,” Viktor corrects.

“Then get me a fucking drink!”

He laughs, itching to ruffle Yuri’s hair, but refrains as he quite likes his fingers where they are, thank you. “Hmm, I wouldn’t want your family to blame me if something happened.”

“My grandpa lets me drink when I’m with him. It’s fine,” Yuri insists.

“So what you’re saying is you see me as family?”

No, gross, I—ugh, forget it. I’ll just find someone else, then.” He starts to look around in search of the sucker that’s going to hand alcohol to a minor, and Viktor takes the opportunity to guzzle the last of his own champagne, quickly swapping the empty glass for one sparkling with fresh bubbles. A few more should smooth out his edges; give the world a nice fuzzy glow that will make the rest of the evening a breeze to float through.

“Yuri!” says a loud, booming voice, and Viktor’s head automatically swivels, reacting to a name that’s not his own but familiar enough to grab his attention. But the man the voice belongs to has instead slung his arm around someone else’s shoulders. Ah, so not this Yuri then. It’s the doe-eyed beauty from the day before—

“What’s wrong, Yuuri? You look so glum!” The man—Celestino, if Viktor’s not mistaken—all but yells. There is a certain glumness, a tangible gloom that hovers like a sad little cloud around Yuuri’s head. His back his hunched and his lovely dark eyes are downcast. “Have you had anything to drink?”

The answer is too quiet to hear, but Celestino is shaking Yuuri’s shoulders with a bit too much aggressive enthusiasm, which is telling enough.

Viktor purses his lips, trying not to smile. “There he is.”

“Who?”

“Katsuki.”

Who?”

Viktor sighs. “Yuri, you really ought to be learning the names of your rivals. Your senior debut is soon.”

Yuri takes a moment to peer beyond Viktor’s shoulder, searching. His expression darkens. “Oh, you mean the other Yuuri. The one who doesn’t matter.” He rolls his eyes. “He got last place, didn’t he? He’s a pathetic sore loser. He’s not even worth talking about.”  The way he says it is odd, like he takes the loss personally—like maybe he has a lot more to say on the subject than he’s letting on. A sore loser, though? Not worth talking about?

I don’t know about that, Viktor thinks, watching the dejected slump of Yuuri’s shoulders as he slinks through the partygoers. It seems like he’s trying to melt himself into the background, to make himself seem as small as possible. The server doesn’t even notice him as he plucks a flute of champagne from the tray. He downs it in several gulps, as easy as if it were water, and then immediately reaches for another.

Huh. Interesting.

It becomes a game, of sorts. Something to make the time go faster, something to focus on when he becomes trapped by starstruck endorsers. A mental tally that, to his amusement, grows, and grows, and grows. He counts the glasses that are lined up haphazardly on the far table, watching as Yuuri’s limbs become looser and looser, as a rosy glow begins to climb up his neck. He watches as the footsteps grow stumbling and the hips sway a little too much to the stagnant music, as the necktie comes off and held limply at his side.

And god, it’s so funny. Viktor has never been so entertained at one of these banquets before. For the next hour he must keep a hand glued over his mouth, to hide his laughs and the smile that stretches a bit too wide. But he cannot hide his eyes, and he knows what his eyes must look like. Scanning those hips, the gentle slope of his sweaty neck, the lips that have become red and fat from constant worrying of teeth—those lips must have gone numb a while ago. How hard would they have to be bitten for the sensation to be felt? How would it feel to have them wrapped so perfectly around—

(Somewhere during the night his faceless dirty fantasies had evolved into something very specific.)

I need to speak with him.

But what about that timid little mouse? What about the mortification from the night before? Yuuri is attempting to dance with complete strangers, and then with himself when there aren’t any takers, but that could all change if Viktor approaches him. And as much as Viktor wants (that tight little ass in his lap, those teeth on his neck and that labored breath in his ear), he doesn’t want to be the reason Yuuri’s night is ruined.

“What to do, what to do.” He taps his fingers against his crossed forearm, blatantly staring. Yuuri is speaking passionately to the DJ now, his arms gesticulating wildly, a personal bottle of champagne clutched in one hand.

And then the music changes.

Screaming guitars and shrill vocals, a wild drum beat that has Viktor letting out a laugh before he can keep it in. He watches as Yuuri lets loose a full body shimmy, head thrown back. His face is relieved, like the whole night he had been waiting for a song like this to come along and lose himself in. He smiles up at the ceiling, eyes hazy.  And then he turns, and points.

“You!”

It’s clear, even over the shriek of this new music, who Yuuri has singled out in this perplexed room. Viktor almost feels sorry for Yuri—his face is more sour than usual, as he still has yet to weasel a glass of alcohol out of anyone. He blinks, face screwing up into something utterly disgusted.

Yuuri, to Viktor’s utter delight, is not swayed.

“Dance with me! Dance battle! Right now!”

Yuri looks around himself desperately, as if hoping to find someone willing to save him. Everyone in his proximity avoids eye-contact. “What the hell? No.” He inches away, towards the double doors leading out to the lobby. An obvious escape, one that couldn’t be missed even by someone wildly intoxicated.

“Oh, I see. You’re scared,” Yuuri grins, eyes gone narrow and devious and Viktor frantically tries to keep control of whatever’s going on inside his pants. “Scared you’ll lose to an idiot?”

The way he says it is taunting, layered, like there’s something between them that Viktor can’t quite piece together. But it works—his words have Yuri freeze, jaw dropping with indignation. And then a fire is lit in those emerald eyes, and in a flash he’s dragging his challenger over to an empty section of the dancefloor. Yuuri allows himself to be thrown around like a ragdoll, smiling dopily all the while.

“You’re gonna eat those words, fucker.”

 

---

 

Viktor is, to put it mildly, having a hay day. Never in his wildest dreams did he think such amazing blackmail material of Yuri would fall so easily into his lap. His phone is out, and he alternates between photographs and extra-criminalizing video.  The two of them are seriously going for it—all reservations left at the door, and Yuri hasn’t had a lick of alcohol the entire night. He dances with a fury, his face twisted with his passionate rage. In contrast, Yuuri laughs as he dances—laughs, and laughs, and laughs—but he didn’t make it to the Grand Prix Finals by mistake, this Viktor can see immediately. His body moves like he’s creating this song, movements as fluid and powerful as a ballet dancer. There’s strength there, evident in the muscles that strain against the fabric of his slacks, the flash of abs that treat Viktor when his shirt rides up, again and again. He balances on his hands perfectly, legs kicked up into the air, and Yuri’s eyes flare with the heat of competition.

“Oh, my god. Yes.” There’s a pink blur as Mila shoots passed.  “Fucking finally.”  Her face is almost the same color as her dress, more than a few glasses having found their way to her lips. She holds her phone in one hand, the other cupped around her mouth as she hollers. “Kick his ass, blondie!”

“Shut up!” Yuri bellows, leaping through the air in an admittedly beautiful jump. Viktor notices the cracks in his anger that give away how he genuinely feelshow every now and then he can’t keep back an exhilarated smile. He’s having the time of his life, but would sooner shave his head rather than admit it.

“I think I know exactly what this needs.”

Viktor blinks, tilting his head at the man standing in delighted awe beside him.

“Chris.”

“This boy can move,” Chris breathes. He has a calculating, dangerous twinkle in his eye as he begins unbuttoning his shirt from the collar, working his way down. “I have an idea.”

“Those are never good, coming from you.” Viktor turns back in time to see Yuuri unbuckle his belt and hurl it into the crowd of horrified bystanders. Someone screams. Viktor laughs so hard he wheezes.

“Trust me, Viktor.” Chris grins, licking his lips. “You’ll thank me for this later.”

 

---

 

“Where did he find a stripper pole?”

He doesn’t expect an answer, as no one in the room is paying enough attention to him to respond. He himself can only watch in a blissful state of not-quite-consciousness, because he’s seeing his best friend pour a bottle of champagne across the naked chest of his current wet dream, as they both intertwine themselves around a pole meant for exotic dancers. It’s unreal. It’s a hallucination. It has to be. Yuuri is wearing nothing but his hideous blue tie and the tightest pair of boxer briefs Viktor’s ever seen; he’s glistening, wet with sparkling wine and sweat, his strong muscles moving smoothly beneath the skin. He is an absolute vision, and as Viktor watches, the fabric of his boxers becomes soaked in champagne. Subsequently, Viktor chokes on the wave of saliva that floods his mouth.

“This dude’s shitfaced.” Yuri is panting beside him, reaching to mop under his bangs with the back of his shirt sleeve. He looks up at Viktor, his cheeks red with exertion, his eyes downright sparkling. “You saw, right? The dance battle?”

“Of course I did.” His voice sounds strangled to his own ears, and he closes his eyes briefly in a futile attempt to collect himself.

“Who won?”

Viktor blinks at him. “Excuse me?”

The dance battle! Who won? Me or him?”

“I don’t think there really was—"

Yuri growls. “Oh, come on, you’re biased, you so obviously have the hots for him—"

“Why hello, Mr. Nikiforov.”

Viktor’s stomach flips, and Yuri stares up at him with wide, alarmed eyes. There are hands—warm, damp—creeping up his arm, smoothing over his shoulders. One of them finds his jaw, turning his face with a gentle pressure. He looks down.

“You’re next,” Katsuki Yuuri breathes. “I’ve been saving the best for last.”

He’s fetched his discarded white button-up, doing a sloppy job of the buttons. His slacks are back around his hips but the zipper is undone and without the belt they sag, showing more than a few inches of boxer briefs. He smells strongly of the sickly sweet champagne, and on anyone else it would be repulsive.

Viktor wants to lick it off, one drop at a time.

He wets his lips, summoning forth his best attempt at an innocent smile. “Next for what?”

The hands travel back down his arms, only to take hold of both his own hands, and they tug him forward. He follows helplessly, watching those lips turn up in an alluring smile. “Dance with me, pretty boy.”

Viktor laughs breathlessly, bewildered and so turned on it leaves him a little light-headed. “How could I possibly say no?”

But the thing about dancing with Katsuki Yuuri is that as much Viktor would love to just get down and dirty right away, to drag this body close and let his hands roam freely, that fantasy gets thrown to the side pretty quickly. Because dancing with him turns out to be more-or-less a full-contact sport. Viktor has to be alert at all times, because within the first ten seconds Yuuri takes a running leap, and Viktor has to catch him in his arms to avoid being flattened like a pancake. Yuuri throws his whole body into every motion, his expression mimicking whatever tone he chooses to set. He must take great delight in stripping, as his pants are gone again before Viktor can blink, his tie wrapped around his head, the tail-end flapping in the ensuing whirlwind. He twirls through the air and he caresses Viktor’s face, only to flit away a moment later. He’s a tease, and he’s a demon. But he’s fun—oh, is he fun.

And Viktor can’t help but smile. He can’t help but laugh, from his belly, loud and echoing and bubbling. Has he ever had this much fun? Has he ever been so attracted to someone before? Even as Yuuri jumps and runs, it is interspersed by stumbling, by tripping over his own feet and uncontrollable giggles. When he starts running into tables, his coach (clutching his stomach in a fit of hysterical laughter) passes him a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. The rate of full-body collisions lessens then, but his improved eyesight only seems to encourage him further, and he begins a series of flawless cartwheels across the dancefloor.

Who is the real Katsuki Yuuri? Is it the dejected, shy boy from the evening before, or is it this exuberant, larger-than-life vixen that could enchant even the most stoic of men? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Viktor doesn’t care which is real. He doesn’t care, so long as he ends up with what he’s been thirsting for.

“You’re one hell of a dancer,” he calls over the music, allowing Yuuri to swing him around in circle. The room spins around him in a blur of light and color, the only constant the face beaming back at him.

“Oh, thank you!” Yuuri laughs. “I’ll tell her you think so.”

Her? Viktor’s smile falters, just barely. Was Yuuri already taken, then? Were all his hopes doomed from the very start? There was only one way to know for certain. He leans forward, hands slipping around to the small of Yuuri’s back, preventing him from fluttering away. He leans in close; close enough for his breath to warm the shell of Yuuri’s ear. “What else are you good at?” he purrs, letting his lips brush the skin. He feels immense satisfaction at the full-body shiver he receives in return. So easy.  

“Not skating, that’s for sure,” Yuuri mumbles bitterly, and it’s a slap to Viktor’s face, utterly blindsiding him. He rears back, mouth slack with disbelief—Yuuri was being insecure about his skating, now of all times? Viktor Nikiforov (Russia’s ultimate bachelor) was flirting with him (throwing himself at his feet), and he chooses to focus on self-deprecation?

But then arms wind around Viktor’s waist, a horribly warm body pressing against his front. The glazed eyes that look up at him have lit up behind slightly fogged glasses, his smile dreamy, and Viktor’s heart crawls up his throat, a steady thump thump thump. He remembers the desire to make this man’s eyes go big and round, never imagining that he’d be the one reduced to this mooning, salivating mess.

The next words out of Yuuri’s mouth are unintelligible—at least, to Viktor they are, because they are spoken in what he can only assume is very excited Japanese. Yuuri’s hips roll as he speaks, as if he has no control over the motion in his enthusiasm. His pelvis grinds into Viktor’s groin, and Viktor bites his lip to hold back a moan. “I’m sorry, what?” he grits out, only half-aware of Yuri making choked, horrified sounds from somewhere behind him.

“My family—" Yuuri manages to babble, before he switches back to his native tongue. Viktor struggles to pick out words, like he’s fine-tuning a radio that’s hell-bent on senseless static. “—come visit! Promise that you’ll come!”

Come where? What’s he talking about? Viktor stands there vacantly, hands now kept limp at his sides—and he must work to keep them limp, as the monster within him longs to reach out with claws and never let go. His eyes meet black, pupil so dilated they block out the dark chocolate underneath. The face that looks up at him is flushed beyond belief, eyes so starstruck that they belong in another galaxy. “If I win this dance battle—“  Another switch.

Ah, he’s driving me insane.

Viktor stares, not understanding, but wanting to—so desperately. He needs more than just gibberish to arrange this puzzle in front of him, yet all he’s getting are blank pieces that refuse to fit together.

But then the next words, he does understand. They are spoken in flawless English, and Viktor doesn’t know if these words are spoken earnestly. All he knows is that the moment he understands, a jolt rushes down his spine like an electric shock.

Be my coach, Viktor!”  Yuuri wails, barreling himself face-first into Viktor’s chest. His hips continue to roll, but Viktor doesn’t pay them any mind. Because here’s his opportunity. It’s landed so perfectly into his lap, like Yuuri had gift-wrapped himself in pretty red ribbons. It’s not explicit consent—nothing much has been offered yet. But it will—oh, it will. Viktor is sure of it.

He lets out a little gust of air, too caught up in an event that hasn’t happened yet. His face feels unbearably hot, and he’s sure the blood pooling in his cheeks can be seen clear through the skin. Who is this man? Who is this personal succubus sent to torment him? How much of him has been glazed over by the glasses lined up on the far table? There are so many questions, so many things that Viktor wants to learn for himself. The most of important of them all: will a sober Yuuri refuse him, as he had the night before?

I suppose, Viktor thinks, licking his lips and struggling to hide his fangs, there’s only one way to find out.

Chapter Text

Yuuri’s been in the shower for forty-six minutes, and Viktor has needed to pee for the last thirty.

He has no issue with sharing the bathroom. He’s never been embarrassed of his body or its natural functions, and isn’t about to start now. But the door is locked from the inside, so he’s forced to sit on the edge of the hotel bed as still as possible, lest he disturb his bladder and cause unnecessary agony.

Fifty-three minutes.

“Yuuri?” Viktor calls, wincing. “Are you going to be out soon?”

“Maybe,” comes the call back, muffled. The voice wavers, even over the sound of the running water, and Viktor closes his eyes. The hot water must be soothing for a nervous stomach. He’s set on a quad flip, after all, for his short program. They had agreed to it in Hasetsu; it was the only way to get his point count high enough in order to reach the top of the leaderboard. They agreed that Yuuri should try, even if his success rate isn’t the highest, and he obviously isn’t one who handles nerves very well in the first place. It’s understandable that he wants to stand under the scalding hot water to melt a bit of that away. It’s just—

Viktor really needs to pee.

“Well, hurry!” he calls back, a little desperately. He could go down to the bathroom in the lobby, but he’d already changed into his pajamas and he doesn’t need to be cornered by paparazzi while wearing flannel pants covered in teddy bears. He then spots their twin golden rings, set on the edge of the bedside table, and an idea comes to mind. “I have something here that I think will help you!”

He’s not lying, he tells himself, squeezing his legs together. It’s a genuine, heartfelt desire that he wants to share with the one he loves. He’s not just saying this so that he can use the toilet.

The relief he feels when he hears the water shut off a minute later is staggering, and he stands to wait in front of the door, feeling a bit like a predator waiting to ambush prey. When it opens, revealing a massive cloud of steam, Viktor slips passed Yuuri’s blurred figure without even waiting for him to get out of the way. “One moment, I need to use the restroom!”

Yuuri’s voice is bewildered. “Viktor, did you lie to me?”

“No, no, of course not! But nature calls rather urgently.”

Yuuri is…pouting, when he’s finished, which shouldn’t make Viktor happy, but he’s already made peace with the fact that he’s the kind of person who finds enjoyment in provoking mild tantrums. He smiles, with just the right amount of remorse, and joins Yuuri to sit down cross-legged on the king-sized bed.

“Are you angry with me?” he asks, reaching over to slip their rings off the table.

“I will be,” Yuuri mutters, “if you don’t actually have anything to show me.”

That has Viktor laugh, and he’s silently glad that he hadn’t made up some empty promise to coax Yuuri out of the restroom. He pushes his ring (the one that Yuuri gave him, with shaking hands and cheeks stained red, I’m never going to forget that moment, am I—) up his own finger, before offering the other out to Yuuri, who takes the warmed metal with slight confusion.

“I think you should wear your ring when you skate tomorrow,” Viktor murmurs, admiring how right it looks as the gold slides up Yuuri’s slim finger to nestle comfortably below his first knuckle.

Yuuri furrows his brows. “Why?”

Viktor lifts his hand to his own mouth, his eyes locking with Yuuri’s. “When I kiss this ring,” his lips brush against it, as tenderly as if it were kissing the warm and pliant mouth in front of him, “it’s a kiss for you. It means that even though I’m watching you from behind the rink, I’m out there skating with you. We’re performing the program together, just like we do in Hasetsu.” He smiles. “And are you ever nervous when you skate next to me?”

Yuuri stares at him for a moment, looking slightly dazed, before he shakes his head. “Not in a long time.” His voice is soft, and his cheeks have gone pink again. It drives Viktor mad, but he swallows down the urge to pin Yuuri to the bed—later, later, you have all the time in the world to…

He grins instead, innocently. “See? It’ll have the same effect as imagining the audience in their underwear.”

“But it’s not the audience I’m scared of,” Yuuri mutters, his cheeks coloring darker.

Ah, I can’t take it.

The next thing he knows he’s got Yuuri on his back underneath him, a fistful of dark hair in one hand, pulling Yuuri’s head back until his chin tilts up with a soft gasp.

“Whatever you’re scared of,” Viktor whispers into the soft skin of his throat, “I’ll be with you through it all.”

 

---

 

“I’m off!”

From spending months in a Japanese household, it’s what Viktor has learned to say when he leaves the inn, to go do errands or take a walk along the bay. He’s learned that it’s what you say when you’re leaving home. It’s Yuuri’s way of telling him: I’m leaving, but I’ll come back soon.

(The home he’s built himself in Viktor’s heart.)

Viktor kisses his ring, a warm thrill going through him as he sees Yuuri do the same all the way in the middle of the rink. I’ll be waiting.

The familiar music begins, and so do the movements Viktor had choreographed all those months ago, when he had no idea the grave he was digging himself by doing so. Almost right away he presses his hand to his mouth, eyebrows drawn low over his eyes, because it’s like he can see the math going through Yuuri’s head, numbers and percentages whirring. No good, no good. It’s making Viktor uncharacteristically anxious, because Yuuri’s skating is never as good as it could be, when he’s focusing only on the score. Think of me, think only of me. I’m out there with you, remember? He has to force himself to relax. Yuuri doesn’t doubt his decisions anymore. And didn’t he promise to believe in Yuuri, to have the deepest faith, even when no one else does?

Despite the uneasy feeling in his gut, the program seems to be going well so far. Lacking a bit of his usual sweeping emotion, but the technical aspect is stunning. The energy in the air is contagious, and it has Viktor leaning forward, nearly short of breath.

I feel like my own heart is about to explode.

A beautifully executed quad jump combination, and Viktor pumps his fist.

“Yes!”

He sees everything, as if from Yuuri’s point of view. As if they’re the same person. In his mind, he’s coaching Yuuri up the hill to the climax, hoping that from across the ice he’ll be able to read his thoughts, if he thinks them loud enough.

Excitement courses through the body, down to the toes, and is released!

It feels as if Yuuri’s energy is his own, and he can feel his muscles twitching beneath the fabric of his suit, each of them vividly remembering the powerful movements. His fingers have curled, vice-like, into the edges of the rink, his focus intense. The quad flip is coming up, and he tenses for it as if he’s the one performing.  And he realizes, it’s because he is—when he kissed his ring, and when Yuuri kissed his in return, that was their promise that they were going into this program together. It’s why, when the energy reaches its peak, and Yuuri pushes himself into the air, Viktor is unable to stop himself from taking that leap as well. He’s practiced quads on dry ground many times before, to give himself an idea of what he’ll experience when it’s on the ice. They land at the same time, but even through the jar of his feet hitting the ground once more, he sees that his uneasy feeling from before has manifested into an imperfect landing. A hand, touching the ice. Viktor lets out a soft, barely-there sigh.

He’s going to be so disappointed in himself.

He can see it in his eyes the moment the program ends. That disappointment is rapidly spiraling, accumulating into something closely resembling despair, and his knees sink to the ice. He bows his head, body trembling with exertion and the will of holding back tears. The other night, in the heart of Barcelona under the watch of concrete saints, Viktor had told Yuuri to show him the skating that he liked best. And this…was not it. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Yuuri feels personally responsible for breaking that promise; like he’d somehow let everyone down.

It’s a feeling that Viktor had known all too well.

“I can only find new strength on my own.”

It’s what he used to think, before his life had been turned upside-down. Yuuri had given him so much more than a life he could be proud of. Feelings, emotions, experiences—he had given him an entire lifetime crammed into the span of six months. He had turned a cynical man into one bursting with joy and optimism. Most of all, he had shown him that life doesn’t have to be tackled alone.

This is only a minor setback. There’s no time to cry over what can’t be changed. He needs to scoop Yuuri up and help him put the pieces back together, because tomorrow, the free skate needs to be nothing less than spectacular.

I won’t let you struggle through this by yourself.

 

---

 

After Yurio’s rather rude greeting at the kiss and cry, Viktor goes off alone as Yuuri talks to interviewers. He’s found that his pupil does better at speaking when Viktor’s not standing over his shoulder; something about being put under pressure, or something else ridiculous. But he climbs the stairs to the upper levels to give Yuuri some space and some peace of mind, leaning against the railing to watch the program of his favorite spitfire kitten unfold.

And there’s a newfound quality to Yurio’s skating. A beautiful wistfulness, a serenity, a grace that goes beyond anything Viktor’s seen of him before. You could almost forget, looking at him like this, that this boy has a tongue that can eviscerate with words alone. He’s captivating, and Viktor is proud of how much he’s grown. It’s like he’s finally understood the meaning of agape—he’s finally understood a bit of what Viktor had only discovered for himself this past year. But something about this leaves a sick feeling to his stomach.

He rests his chin in his hand, and watches.  It’s haunting, somehow. Like watching the old video recordings of himself. Yurio’s wearing the hand-me-down costume, too, so if you squinted a bit and ignored that the long flowing silver has been exchanged for a short head of silky gold, you could almost mistake them for the same skater. Except—

Except they’re not. Yurio has something that Viktor doesn’t. That he never did. It’s not charisma, or talent. Youth? No, Viktor had never been like this, not even when he was blissfully seventeen and on top of the world.

Ambition.

The desire to win. The thirst for success. Viktor had always wanted to surprise people, and had fun doing it. It had ultimately been his goal, each time he laced up his skates. Winning was the secondary prize to what he really wanted.  He never had this burn. He had never had Yurio’s ferocious need to prove himself. It makes him feel proud, and it makes him feel sick, and it makes him feel something else. The barest flicker of what he’s tried so hard to stamp out.

It makes him want to get onto the ice, and prove that he’s still capable of surprises, too.

No, stop.

He briefly closes his eyes. He can’t accept that kind of thinking. He’s beyond his old life, now. And he’s never going back. He can’t—to give up Yuuri, well. It would be an unspeakable agony.  He won’t do it.

As the program winds down, that demon wearing the skin of an angel sprinkling his final spellwork across the ice, he thinks he hears his name called, distantly, as if through a tunnel. He has to pull himself out, away from that dangerous area of his mind where he considers, and tempts himself, with thoughts of things that just aren’t possible anymore.

He turns, with a smile already on his face, because he knows who it must be. The eyes that stare at him from behind those glasses hold some unnamed, desolate emotion. He can’t bring himself to acknowledge it.

“Let’s go find a seat.”

 

---

 

The same feeling comes back as he watches Chris, Yuuri beside him.

It’s not quite the same hopeless feeling as when he watched Yurio, but seeing Chris ignites the same competitive spirit. It reminds him of how fun skating was—is. It makes him grin, and it makes him itch.

I want to fight you, too.

And then, rushing to correct himself:  Do you really want to go back to that loneliness?

Because if he went back to skating, he’d be giving up on coaching Yuuri. They’d be rivals, he’d have to move back to Russia in order to compete for his home country. They’d never see each other. And then what would happen? Would their relationship fizzle out? He’s never done long-distance (or, long-term at all, really) and he’s not sure how good he’d be at it. He doesn’t think he’d be good at it. And he doesn’t want to lose this.

It’s not worth it, he tells himself, hands balled into fists on top of his thighs. His leg is bouncing, antsy. Nothing is ever worth going back to that.

 

---

 

It’s his turn to take a shower first. He lets the water get hot enough that it reminds him of home—it reminds him of the hot springs, in Hasetsu. Hot enough that his skin turns pink and it kind of feels like there’s steam condensing behind his eyes. It makes his head feel fluffy, but most importantly it makes him feel clean. This entire day has just felt like one dirty mess on top of another, Yuuri’s piled on top of Viktor’s own inner battles, and the relief he feels is like a breath of fresh air.

The robe he wraps around himself is incredibly soft, like clouds on his skin. In traps in the heat, and when he leaves the bathroom with a towel against his wet hair he’s in a considerably better mood. And by the looks of it, so is Yuuri. The indecisive, conflicted look on his face is gone, replaced by a soft smile.

“It looks like Minako-sensei and Celestino are together at a bar,” he says, surfing through his Instagram feed. Viktor fights off the ensuing shiver after imagining that trainwreck.

“Good thing we’re not getting anywhere near there,” Viktor laughs. And then, “You said you wanted to talk?” he asks lightly, closing his eyes and wiping a stray drop away from his cheek.  Yuuri had called out to him, almost like an afterthought, as he was entering the bathroom. Probably wanting Viktor’s last-minute opinion on how to improve his free skate, even though they’ve already been over it a thousand times.

Yuuri nods, smiling. “Right.” He takes a deep breath, the line of his shoulders tense. Viktor tilts his head, curious. And then, as Yuuri speaks, he’s dimly aware of his heart shattering.

“After the final, let’s end this.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you for everything, Viktor.”

Don’t do this.

“Thank you for being my coach.”

Don’t leave me behind.

There’s wetness spilling from his eyes, running in hot streaks down his cheeks and cascading below. He’s aware of it, numbly, and he stares down at his own feet. The slippers he’s wearing are soft, and a few minutes ago he had been perfectly content, swaddled in warmth. Now he can hear each individual beat of his breaking heart— thump, thump, thump —in his ears. It hurts. It’s breathtaking how badly this hurts.

“Damn,” he sighs, reining himself in, just barely keeping the words from leaving as a sob. “I didn’t expect Katsuki Yuuri to be such a selfish human being.”

I was supposed to be the only selfish one.

Which is an expectation that is selfish in and of itself, and it’s unfair, he knows that, but—

“Right. I made this selfish decision on my own. I’m retiring.”

At that, the tears start to tumble uncontrollably, and his breath hitches. Yuuri reaches for him, not to provide comfort, not to cradle his face and bring him close, whispering apologies— I’m sorry, Vitya. It was only a cruel joke. Please forgive me. Instead, he brushes Viktor’s fringe away from his left eye. He’s peering into his face with unmasked wonder, unrepentant, and a flicker of anger gives an edge to Viktor’s voice.

“What are you doing, Yuuri?”

Why are you doing this? What have I done wrong? What can I do to make you change your mind? They’re all questions he wants to ask, but none of them are reaching his tongue.

“Oh, I’m just surprised to see you cry,” Yuuri replies, casual, as if he were taking note of something inconsequential, like the weather or what he ate for breakfast. Because of this, goes unspoken. Because Yuuri has seen Viktor cry, but they had never been unhappy tears—never had they come with a face so carved with hurt and bewilderment. It makes Viktor angry. It makes him feel ashamed, and it makes him feel foolish, because he’s unable to keep the tears from flowing even as Yuuri’s eyes remain clear and dry.

You don’t care as much as I do. You never did.

He slaps Yuuri’s hand away. Don’t look at me.

I’m mad, okay?” he says sharply, the closest he’s ever gotten to raising his voice in a long time. Not even when Yurio was kicking him, spewing insults and snarling up into his face, did Viktor raise his voice.

Yuuri has the audacity to look taken aback, and his brows furrow. “You’re the one who said it was only until the Grand Prix Final!” he argues, and Viktor wants to laugh. He had said that, hadn’t he? But that was before he had fallen in love. That had been before he had pledged himself, body and soul, to this man in front of him.

“I thought you needed my help more,” Viktor lies, because had any of this ever truly been for Yuuri’s benefit? He had instructed, and done his best to drag Yuuri and his endless talent where he needed to be. But it had always come from a place of greed. At first, to get Yuuri underneath him in bed. Then, to spend more time with him. To earn more of his smiles, to work for easy conversations and late nights spent together at the rink. The only thing he had needed from Viktor was a swift kick in the rear to make his gift blossom. Like hell he had never needed help to be great, when he had already come so far on his own.

It had always been the other way around. I’m the one who needed you.

“Aren’t you going to make a comeback?” Yuuri asks then, tinged with desperation. It has Viktor pause, disbelief flashing across his face. So that’s it . Yuuri wants the return of his idol. He wants to go back to worshipping posters when he has the real man right in front of him. He’d rather watch Viktor skate on the television than skate with him on the home rink in Hasetsu. It makes Viktor’s mouth taste sour, and Yuuri rushes to continue, “You don’t have to worry about me—”

No, no, no, no—!

How can you tell me to return to the ice while saying you’re retiring?”

“It’s what you want!” Yuuri bursts out, suddenly. The calm mask he wore is cracked, and he stands from the bed, moving away. Putting space between them. The conflicted, hopeless expression from earlier is back. “I see the way you look at them! I can see how badly you want to get out there yourself! You miss it!”

“You think you’re doing this for my own good,” Viktor realizes, feeling very slightly mollified. It doesn’t stop him from laughing incredulously.  “I am twenty-seven years old, Yuuri. I do not need you to be making my choices for me.”

“Are you denying it, then?” Yuuri demands. Viktor swallows. “Look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t miss it. Don’t lie to me, Viktor.”

“I…miss it,” Viktor admits, the words like pulling individual teeth. “But—”

“But nothing,” Yuuri cuts him off, quick as a whip. “I won’t let you throw away your favorite thing in the world for my sake. I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

“Of all the ridiculous—!” Viktor cuts himself off, before his temper makes the situation worse. He takes a moment to breathe, gathering up his patience. “Skating is no longer my favorite thing in this world,” he amends then, quietly. Yuuri goes still. Viktor brings a hand up to his own face, fingertips wiping underneath his eyes, smearing away the tears. “You are asking me to give up my one great love for the affections of a mistress. They do not compare, and I would never give up one for the other. However, it—” Viktor closes his eyes, the pain welling up hot in his throat. He takes a deep breath, and tries again. “It would be different, if you felt otherwise. Tell me to leave you. Tell me again that you do not want me to coach you, and I will leave you alone. If that is what you want.”

His breath is quivering, and he clasps his hands tightly together in front of him, to keep them from shaking as well. When he looks up at Yuuri he is met by a reflection of what he imagines he wears on his own face. So much pain.

“Of course I don’t want to leave you,” Yuuri whispers, horrified. As if Viktor had no reason to be jumping to such a conclusion. As if he hadn’t said as much, just a moment ago. He shakes his head. “But I want you to be happy doing what you love. I don’t want to get in the way of that anymore.”

“Yuuri,” Viktor laughs. “How many times must I say this? I love you. I love you! I want to be with you!”  

“I love you too,” Yuuri says. His eyes are downcast. “Which is why I can’t live with this guilt anymore. I won’t make you choose.” The determined set to his mouth is back, the stubborn one, the one that Viktor adores and detests at the same time. “Think about it some more, because I’ve already made my decision. I’m retiring once I win gold. And after this free skate, I want you to tell me yours.”

 

---

 

 

Viktor sleeps in Chris’s room that night.

It’s essentially the equivalent of exiling himself to sleep on the living room couch, except he’s not the one who started the quarrel. He arrives with swollen, red eyes and his nose running profusely, and Chris mothers over him like a hen. He’s given a hug and a hot cup of peppermint tea, and then he’s tucked snuggly into the bed. Chris insists, even at Viktor’s adamant refusal, and calls room service to send up a cot for himself.

While he waits for Chris to take out his contacts in the bathroom, Viktor lies there staring blankly at the ceiling, and tries to mull through the avalanche that just fell on top of his head. Yuuri wants to retire. He wants Viktor to come back into competitive skating. He doesn’t want Viktor to be his coach anymore. Those are the facts. But what’s most important is this one simple thing—Yuuri doesn’t necessarily want to be apart from him. That was the one bit of silver-lining he gathered from their conversation that’s keeping Viktor from unraveling completely. Yuuri is doing what he thinks is best for Viktor’s own well-being. It’s not out of malice or apathy. He loves me. He wants what’s best for me. He just has no clue how to do that in a way that doesn’t leave Viktor a sad, tangled mess.

He blows out a breath from between pursed lips, brows furrowed to an extreme. Why can’t Yuuri see how hypocritical he’s being? He’s giving up skating, essentially to get Viktor to come back from retirement. He’s doing the exact same thing he thinks Viktor is doing for him—sacrificing the sport he loves out of the goodness of his own heart. A martyr. He doesn’t understand that it’s wholly the opposite; that in this case, Viktor has received far, far more than he has given. And though, yes, he has to beat away the yearning to return to the ice on a regular basis, that doesn’t mean he’d prefer it to returning to how he was before. Alone. And does he truly think that Viktor could go back after allowing Yuuri to sacrifice himself, with a clear conscience? Does he think that Viktor has no capacity for guilt? Selfish, selfish, selfish!

“What a scary face you’re making,” Chris says suddenly, his huge, owlish glasses now perched on his nose. His pajamas are nostalgically wholesome, long-sleeved and baby blue. He makes his way to his cot, sliding in and setting his glasses on the floor beside it. “Penny for your thoughts?”

“I don’t know how to make him see,” Viktor replies, feeling greatly annoyed, “that I would much rather stay with him, over coming back from retirement.”

“Have you ever thought,” Chris says after a slight pause, “that you could have both?”

Viktor turns his head to look at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Why can’t you be with Yuuri and skate competitively at the same time?” He’s trying desperately not to let his bias seep through, because Viktor knows how much Chris yearns for the old days, fighting for their spots on the podium together.

“I’ve thought about it,” Viktor admits. “But I don’t see a way how that would work. How could we compete for separate countries and stay together? Even if I’m not coaching him anymore, it’s not possible.”

“Yakov manages a large rink in St. Petersburg, yes?”

Viktor frowns. “He does…”

“Maybe,” Chris says hesitantly, “you could ask Yuuri to go with you. Yuuri could train with you in Russia, but return for the important Japanese competitions.”

“I could never ask that of him,” Viktor breathes. “His family is in Japan. All his friends. How could I possibly uproot him from—”

“Viktor,” Chris interrupts sharply, “weren’t you irritated just a moment ago that Yuuri was making decisions for you? He’s a grown man, too. He can make his own choices. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

To get to keep both his loves...it’s an idea that’s more than appealing. It would be almost too good to be true. But for it to happen, there is certainly one thing that must happen first—Yuuri must not choose retirement. And for that, he must not achieve his goal.

He must not win gold tomorrow , Viktor realizes with no small amount of anguish.

For Viktor’s dream to come true, Yuuri must not reach his.

 

---

 

“I wish you’d never retire.”

“Let’s win gold together at the Grand Prix Final.”

Those words feel slightly empty now, hollow and without meaning. Because Viktor’s wish has been ignored, and now he’s turning his back on that promise to win gold. They stand together inside the tunnel leading out into the arena, quiet and not speaking. Yuuri hasn’t smiled all morning. He’s nervous, because there probably won’t be an instance in which he isn’t before a competition, but it’s not debilitating. It helps that this time, he’s not only thinking in numbers. He’s thinking in outcomes. Particularly, one. Winning.

Which will give him the excuse he needs to retire, and ‘give Viktor his life back’. He thinks that it’s the only way to provide him the opportunity to make a return to skating. Stupid, simple Yuuri. Beautiful, kind Yuuri.

They receive a cue, and then the both of them step to the mouth of the tunnel, pushing away the curtains that block their way to the arena. There’s a moment of over-sensitization; the bright overhead lights gleaming off the ice blinds them, and the roar of the crowd only grows louder until it’s near-deafening. There’s entire sections of people rooting for Yuuri, and their cheers are the loudest. Viktor is fairly certain he hears the distant screeching of Minako-sensei and Mari, somewhere in the upper levels.  

Yuuri unzips his track suit and shimmies out of his sweatpants, passing them off to Viktor. He needs help taking off his blade covers, so Viktor kneels and allows him to use his head for balance. Then he smooths back his hair one final time before taking to the ice. He stretches his arms over his head, then braces them against the low wall, bowed, to stretch out his back. Viktor joins him, on the other side. This one little barrier feels like an insurmountable obstacle between them. He feels awkward, and slightly frantic, because what is he supposed to say? He wants to wish Yuuri well, to do the best he can, because despite it all he wants nothing more than for Yuuri’s happiness. He has come so far, and Viktor is so proud of him. But then how can he wish for Yuuri to win and not win at the same time? It’s abhorable. What a shameful man he is.

I want to see you smiling again.

“Don’t worry. You can win gold, Yuuri,” Viktor says, feeling like a liar. You can, but I don’t want you to. And then, I’m so sorry. He places a hand on top of Yuuri’s, hoping that the words he can’t say will flow from skin to skin. “Believe in yourself.”

“Hey, Viktor,” Yuuri replies, not looking up. “You said before that you wanted to stay true to yourself, right?”  

Viktor stares at him.

“Don’t suddenly start trying to sound like a coach now.”

He feels struck, but as he loosens his hand Yuuri presses his own forward, tightening his hold. “I want to smile for my last time on the ice.” His fingers are cold, clammy from nerves. He doesn’t let go. I don’t want to have any regrets. He’s truly planning for this to be his last time. For him, this is the end. And here Viktor is, his conniving mind trying to find a way to worm out of being a supportive coach. What was he doing? He’s supposed to have the most faith of anyone; to stand close to Yuuri when he needs it. There’s no time to be worrying about other things—that can come later. But for now, he needs to be Yuuri’s support. He needs to be a pillar of strength, because whatever else is going on in their lives at the moment, this is what Yuuri has trained for. This is what he’s been working towards for the past year, and his entire career. Viktor feels cowed, suddenly, at how he’s been acting.

“Yuuri, listen to me,” he murmurs, softly. “I debated whether I should tell you this now, but…”

He mind races, thinking on the spot of what would best motivate him. Threats didn’t take well in the past, he knows. Yuuri is sensitive, but he’s competitive. So then light the fire in him.

“I took a break after becoming the five-time world champion to coach you,” he says, sternly, “so how is it possible that you still haven’t won a single gold medal?”

Yuuri looks up then, his eyes wide, lips parted on a soft sound of surprise.

“How much longer are you going to stay in warm-up mode?” Viktor teases. He leans over the low wall, tucking his face into Yuuri’s neck. “I really want to kiss the gold medal.”

He wants to do no such thing, but he would say anything, do anything for this man. He’d go back to Russia alone and break his own heart if it meant it brought Yuuri happiness. And if happiness will come with a Grand Prix victory, well. He’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.

He pulls away, just slightly, their noses inches apart. His heart beats out of rhythm.

There it is , Viktor thinks, tenderly . There’s my beautiful smile.

Yuuri laughs in disbelief, shoulders shaking helplessly with it, and he buries his face into Viktor’s shoulder. “You can be such an ass,” he manages, breathless. Viktor holds him in turn, laughing as well.

“Takes one to know one.”

He presses a kiss into Yuuri’s hair, gelled and smelling of flowers. They only have a moment left together before the pivotal free skate, and he thinks of his late night conversation with Chris, not daring to give himself any hope where there isn’t any. But--

It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

“Yuuri, I’d like to ask you something,” he whispers, quickly. A bout of nervousness nearly overwhelms him, no less now than when he had been about to propose. What if he says no? How will he cope with rejection of that magnitude? But then he thinks of the frigid Russian winter nights, tucked under a down comforter with Yuuri curled around him, how much he craves that, and it gives him the courage to push forward.

Yuuri pulls away to look at him, head tilted curiously. “What is it?”

“Whatever happens today,” Viktor swallows, pulse like a jackhammer. “Win or lose. I’d like you to come back with me to Russia.”

His eyes are round as dinner plates. His mouth flaps, and he eloquently says, “Huh?”

“You want me to come back to skating, and I can’t bear to be apart from you. It’s a compromise”

He looks absolutely dumbfounded. “But…I’m retiring.”

There are obvious signals that Yuuri needs to begin soon, and he shouldn’t be rushing to have this conversation right now, but it’s also not something Viktor wants to pounce on him right after what is arguably the most important program of his life.

“That’s irrelevant. I am not asking you to continue skating, if that is not what you want. I am asking you to live with me in St. Petersburg, sweetheart. Whether I return or not...is not certain yet. I just know that I can’t leave you alone. The ring I gave you wasn’t just for show.”

Yuuri’s breathing is shallow, and he still hasn’t said anything. Viktor clears his throat, awkwardly.

“And I believe you said that you’re only retiring if you can win gold.”

That breaks Yuuri from his trance, and his eyes narrow. “Is that a challenge?”

Viktor grins. “Did it sound like one?”

They’re getting frantic cues that Yuuri needs to be starting, now. He blinks rapidly, coming back into himself, into this moment, and he squeezes Viktor’s hand. Once, twice. He’s already far away, in a private state of mind where nothing else matters but the ice under his skates. “I’ll decide after this is over,” he murmurs, in parting. And then he turns to glide away, their fingers sliding apart, the separation only temporary.

 

---

 

For the second time in two days, Viktor cries.

It’s not just because Yuuri has just successfully pulled off his signature move, and quite beautifully. The urge itself had been building throughout the program, culminating at that peak, until his eyes had spilled over and he had to cover his smiling mouth with his hand. It comes from an emotion that wells up from deep inside him, choking and blocking out anything else. It’s pride, it’s wonder, but above all - 

Love .

Long days and long nights, they had forgone sleep to perfect this program, this story, that, beyond all else, was about “love”. Yuuri had wanted that to be his theme, before either of them had truly understood its meaning. He had announced it on national television and at the time Viktor had taken it as little more than an oblivious jab at his dripping wet heart. Now, though, Viktor can see it for what it really is, and what it really means. To the both of them.

The soft keening sound he makes is lost under the thunderous applause, as he finally, finally understands.

Yuuri wants to continue skating with him.

He could not have said it any plainer with words. He could have written it on a piece of paper, folded it neatly, then stuck it into Viktor’s mouth, and Viktor would still understand his feelings less than he does in this moment. He understands that the gold medal itself actually means very little to Yuuri, and that winning it or not will not compromise his happiness. It’s obvious by the way he skates, how he’s performing this story the way it has played out through his own eyes. This had never been about the medal. It had been about the two of them. How could he have missed it? It had always been about the two of them.

Yuuri doesn’t want their time to end, but feels like he has no choice. He wants to win, not for himself, but for Viktor. To prove that their time spent together, the effort that Viktor put into coaching him, wasn’t put to waste. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Viktor, he’s saying, the ghost of Viktor’s movements in the sweep of his arms. Its sweetness is akin to a love letter, and Viktor hungrily reads each line, the desire to write his own growing with each passing second.

For the last time, the final notes of that lovely song tinker away, and his eyes meet another’s, across the ice.

 

---

 

“You’re coming back!?” Yakov roars. Multiple people in the hallway stop to glance over their shoulders curiously, and Viktor grins sheepishly, scratching at the back of his head. It had been a decision that became very clear once Yuuri beat his world record - having both his records broken by the two he had coached himself had been the tipping point. His competitive spirit had consumed him, and he’d privately started planning for his return. The back burners of his mind are already heated, thinking of potential choreography, the best way to make his comeback something the world will never forget. Though he’s keeping it a secret from Yuuri for now, of course, because he doesn’t want it to have any impact on the choices he still needs to make.

Though Yurio deserves to know, because at this moment, he’s the only one with a chance in hell of swaying him. He’s the last skater left, and with Yuuri currently in first, it’s up to Yurio to take his place at the top of the podium. Viktor never, not in a million years, thought he’d see the day that he wished so adamantly for his pupil to miss out on gold. But it was between that, and the unthinkable.

“Hey, does that mean the pork cutlet bowl is retiring?” The look on Yurio’s face is nothing short of devastated. His eyes are round, lips parted, what little color he has draining from his cheeks.

“That’s his decision,” Viktor replies lightly, covering up quite well the sickening twist of his stomach. “He said he’d decide after the Grand Prix Final was over.”

Yurio looks like he might cry. See, Viktor thinks, I knew you admired him just as much as I do.

He leans forward, wrapping his arms around Yurio and drawing him in tightly. He bows his head, hiding his face in Yurio’s shoulder. “I’m counting on you,” Viktor murmurs, too low to be overheard, his meaning clear. You’re the only one that can beat him, now. Yurio’s breath hitches, and then he barely, just barely, leans into the embrace.

“I’ll slaughter him,” he replies, just as low, voice sounding slightly wet. “I’ll crush Katsuki Yuuri.”

Viktor thinks it’s the first time he’s ever said Yuuri’s actual name, and not some colorful variation of “piggy”. It’s testament to his true feelings, and how seriously he’s taking this.

If Yuuri wins gold, he’ll retire for sure. He will have fulfilled his oath, and decide to end on the highest note possible. And it’s the very last thing Viktor wants. He doesn’t feel the same guilt he did before, wishing for something like this. After seeing Yuuri’s free skate, it became apparent to him that the gold medal is Yuuri’s goal in name only. As far as Viktor’s concerned, he’s already proven what he set out to. He’s proven himself more than worthy, to Viktor, and to the world.

One thing Viktor knows for certain, is that the world is not ready to say goodbye to Katsuki Yuuri.

And neither is he.

 

---

 

Yurio is brutal in his elegance. Even as he skates this beautiful program, his expression is twisted into something livid, and he radiates hostility directed at one person and one person alone. Viktor doesn’t know where Yuuri is watching this from, but he has no doubt that he understands this message, this challenge, thrown so harshly into his face. This is what you’d be missing out on, he’s screaming, How can you leave when I’m here? Face me! I challenge you!

“You don’t want to lose your motivation, do you?” Viktor says quietly to himself.

Because that’s who Yuuri has become to Yurio. A beacon, the high peak whom he yearns to touch, to surpass. He is what Viktor had been to Yuuri to all those years—an ideal, and a goal. Except it’s so much more than that. So much more personal, because Yuuri had never trained with Viktor before they competed in the same bracket. They had never truly battled it out. But the two Yuri’s—they had spent weeks training at the same rink, living in the same inn, and vying for the same coach. They had shared meals and Yurio had even given up a few, quickly-concealed smiles. He would never, ever say it, but Yuuri is someone he looks up to. Beyond the loss of his newfound rival, he would be losing a friend.

He’s almost as desperate to keep Yuuri from retiring as Viktor himself.

Which is why he’s pouring himself, each drop of blood and sweat, into his free skate. Not saving a single breath for later, he’s spilling it all out onto the ice. His teeth are gritted and his lips are curled, and he hurls his fury out like a tangible force. He is fire, brighter and more ferocious than any flame.

And then it’s over.

It’s over, and Yurio is spent, with nothing left. Viktor can see his chest heaving, as he looks up at the heavens. There’s nothing left, and there’s nothing left to hide behind. So when the tears come, he has no wall to keep them dammed. He falls to his knees, hands covering his face as he cries, and for once he looks like what he really is—a boy, just a boy, whose fears and joys are laid out plain for everyone to see.

And with the end of the program, Viktor can see what Yurio must have realized as his music ended. That he was good enough. That his efforts, his anger, weren’t in vain. He clawed his way, inch by inch, until he had tapped Yuuri’s shoulder as he passed him by.

He’s won gold.

 

---

 

“It’s not a gold medal, but…” Yuuri offers up the silver medal shyly, like he’s waiting to be chastised. His face is glowing, residual stars in his eyes from the ceremony, of accepting something so prestigious. Viktor is not going to scold him - he’s not that cruel. He is more proud than he could say, because in his eyes, Yuuri is worth a billion, trillion, infinite gold metals. But he is also walking on air for a reason he would rather die than admit. You lost. You can’t retire now, can you?

“I don’t feel like kissing it unless it’s gold,” Viktor replies rather cheerfully. The wound he grinds salt into is superficial (if it’s even there at all), so he doesn’t feel terrible about doing it. In fact, a mild thrill goes through him when Yuuri lets out a little, ‘wha?’ of astonishment, his eyes gone wide.

“Man, I really wanted to kiss Yuuri’s gold medal,” he continues, giddy. “I’m such a failure as a coach!” He presses forward until Yuuri’s backed into the rink wall. He leans over him, silver lashes lowered, eyes smoldering. “Yuuri, do you have any suggestions?” Briefly, his tongue glides over his bottom lip, before he murmurs in a breathy voice, “Something that would excite me?” He’s laying it on a little thick, he knows, but he just can’t help it. Yuuri is still so fun to tease, even if he’s not as innocent as when Viktor had first met him. His face still colors, a small choked sound coming from the back of his throat.

“What did you think just now?” Viktor purrs.

“Oh--uh--well--” He’s stumbling over his tongue, blushing as if he were still a virgin, and if that isn’t the cutest thing Viktor’s ever seen -

His thought is abruptly cut off when suddenly he’s being pushed back, and he’s caught off guard enough that he can’t brace himself for the weight against his shoulders. He falls backwards, Yuuri nearly tumbling on top of him, and it reminds him a time that still burns hot as a fresh memory  - tackling Yuuri onto the ice, kissing him with all the love he could muster, his exuberance enough to unbalance them both. Except this time, it’s Yuuri who gets carried away. He looks a bit surprised to find himself on the floor with Viktor sitting dumbstruck in front of him, but then he leans forward with exquisite, intense determination, and wraps Viktor into a fierce embrace.

“Viktor! Please stay with me in competitive figure skating for one more year! This time, I’ll win gold for sure!”

It’s more exciting than any dirty talk Viktor’s ever heard. A jolt of electricity shoots down to the tips of his toes, the hair all along his arms standing on end, and he feels like he may be melting on the spot. His eyes go gooey and soft, and with unabashed enthusiasm he replies: “Great! But keep going!”

Don’t stop now that I’m all riled up!

“Eh?”

Oh, Yuuri. Clueless, even after the things they’ve done together. Viktor laughs, reaching for the forgotten silver medal a few feet away. He loops the ribbon around Yuuri’s neck, fingers smoothing down his chest. “Even I’m worried about making a full comeback if I’m also staying on as your coach. In exchange, I’ll need you to you to become a five-time world champion, at least.”

He can see the moment that Yuuri processes this, and it’s a moment he’s going to remember the rest of his life. Yuuri sniffs, tears welling up in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. Beyond a doubt - these are happy tears.  “Okay,” he agrees, in a soft voice.

Viktor’s chest is pleasantly warm, swarming with a flock of butterflies. “And I’ll also need one more thing.”

Yuuri makes a low questioning sound.

“Come live with me.”

Yuuri stares at him blankly, much as he did the first time Viktor had asked. The butterflies feel like they are now climbing up his throat, putting a very slight strain to his expression.

“Yakov has many years of experience coaching, and you would learn far more from him than you ever did from me. After your performance today he would be glad to take you on, I am sure of it. Yurio would also be happy to have you there, though he would never say it. Oh, and I also have a nice apartment in the heart of St. Petersburg - “ A finger is pressed to his mouth, effectively silencing him, and then it is replaced with a tender kiss against his lips. Viktor’s heart sings.

“You don’t need to try and convince me,” Yuuri mumbles, dark eyes damp, lips quavering through a luminous  grin. “I want you to be my husband, Vitya. Of course I’d have come with you, whatever happened today.” He laughs, wiping the wetness from his face with the back of his wrist. “You seem to be under the delusion that it would be easy for me to be apart from you.” His eyes are soft, and he leans forward, his hands winding around Viktor’s neck. “Let me tell you—it wouldn’t. I love you, Vitya. I love you more than anything. Given the choice, I will always, always, choose to be with you.”

That’s all he needed to hear, before he peppers Yuuri’s face with kisses, laughing and knowing that from now on, they will be spending their lives the way they were meant to.

Together, blissfully and forever.

 


---

 

He’s skating to Stay Close to Me, and this time he’s not alone.

These quiet moments on the ice—this is what Viktor lives for. There’s music in his ears, sure. There’s cheering and the sound of his own breathing. But he doesn’t hear any of it. All he sees, all he hears, is the man who’s skating beside him.

And from the very beginning, Yuuri had said that this was about love.

Their dance is a push and pull, a perfect harmony, coming together in a gentle embrace. The touches are loving, and so is the hand that presses, briefly, against his cheek. He closes his eyes against it, his lips curved into a smile. To be with both of his loves like this again...is a feeling unlike anything he’s ever known. He doesn’t think he could put it into words, if he were pressed. It’s like the joy is too much for the small space of his chest, and this man is the one who will keep filling it to the brim, over and over.

(As long as Yuuri is by his side, he knows that his boundless joy will never end.)

He thinks about the engraving on the inside of his grandfather’s ring, the promises he’d laid into it with each kiss, each time he warmed the metal with the heat of his thumb, each time he woke in the middle of the night to see it glittering on Yuuri’s finger.

You are my life’s most wonderful surprise.

These are the words that press intimately into Yuuri’s skin. These are the words that will leave Viktor’s lips at their wedding, and the words he will say in the years to come. He thinks back to the night after their first kiss, of being stripped raw and open, each nerve on fire and the happiness so powerful it bordered on pain.

Never stop surprising me, Yuuri had said.

It’s a sentiment that Viktor shares, and it’s a vow he plans on keeping. Because he doesn’t have to be on his own anymore. He’s not going back to the way he was before. Skating is no longer his only friend, and his life is no longer a meaningless cycle of train, win, repeat. It’s glittering, full of friendship and fun and love. Yuuri wants to be surprised? Fine. Good. Viktor will give that to him.

For you, my love, I would give you the world.

 

---

 

“Where is he?” Yurio seethes, leaning against the railing. The ocean air buffets his hair, and he snarls, reaching for the elastic around his wrist to pull it up into a bun at the top of his head.

“He’s never been the most punctual. You know that.” Viktor smiles at him. “And give him some slack—he’s not familiar with this city.”

They’ve only been here a few days at most, and Yuuri can’t even read the street signs, let alone understand the language. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea to let him go off on his own this soon. But he was with Makkachin, which had to count for something.

“I found my way around Hasetsu just fine the first time I was there,” Yurio sniffs, and Viktor can vividly imagine his nose growing, and growing, and growing…

“Really? Because I remember chatting with Mr. Hagiwara the fisherman and—”

“Look! That’s him, isn’t it?”

There’s an exuberant bark, the sound partially muffled as a bus rumbles past, the wind a whistle through Viktor’s numbing ears. He turns, heart thundering with excitement, the breath caught in his throat.

His hair is due for a cut, a bit shaggy and grown past his ears, which are red in the cold. The frigid air becomes clouds that puff from his mouth as he runs towards them, Makkachin guiding the way. When he finally sees them waiting for him, he beams, his entire face lighting up.

And Viktor’s heart just about cartwheels in his chest. He can feel the joy that grows with each beat, making him feel bright and happy and alive.

He smiles.

“Yuuri!”