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and I feel life (for the very first time)

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The ice is cold all around him, his breath coming out in white puffs, but Victor feels warm and bright as he holds on to his mother’s hand and lets her lead him into the middle of the skating rink. He feels the slightest hints of anxiety when he gets too reckless and almost slips, but his mother’s grip on him is firm. “Don’t let go.” Victor tells his mother as they skate further and further away from the sides. If he falls, he won’t have anything to help him stand back up. “Mama, don’t let go.”

“I won’t, Victor.” She smiles down at him, giving his tiny hand a reassuring squeeze. Any fear he has leaves him immediately. “Why would I ever let go of my solnyshko?”

They skate in circles—well, his mother skates in circles, beautiful and graceful as she slides on the ice, and Victor holds on to her hand as best as he can, his wide eyes taking in the sight with all the wonder and awe of a 6 year-old. His mother’s long silver hair frames her face like a delicate curtain, and under the light of the rink, she looks like an angel.

“Amazing, Mama,” Victor breathes out, and his mother laughs at his joy. “This is amazing.”

“If I let go now, do you think you can keep skating on your own?”

Her gentle question brings him back to reality. Victor chews on his lip, suddenly nervous at the idea of skating without any support. He remembers his near slip earlier. “I might fall.” He finally says, his grip on his mother tightening for a moment.

“Give it a try.” She smiles, and her brown eyes are fond as they meet his. She squeezes his hand again. “For me, Victor?”

“Okay.” Victor gives a hesitant nod and his mother’s smile brightens. She waits for him patiently until Victor himself slowly lets go of her hand. Victor bites his lip and nervously does a slow drag of his feet, one after the other. The blade of his skate makes a scratching noise, and Victor wobbles dangerously. His mother comes to his side in an instant but Victor gets his balance back and shakes his head.

He tries again, sliding his feet against the ice until he’s stumbling less, and the movement is smooth just like when he skated with his mother earlier. Little by little, Victor gains confidence. His feet move faster, his posture certain as he skates away from his mom, and cold air hits his face as he skates in circles on his own.

“Mama!” Victor giggles, blue eyes wide with delight. The way his feet glide across the ice smoothly is marvelous. “I’m skating! Look, Mama, I’m skating!”

“You’re doing wonderful, Victor!” His mother laughs, a gentle melodious sound, and Victor glances up to look at her across the rink. Her brown eyes are looking at Victor with pride.  He grins and feels bold enough to try a little spin, whirling on his feet. Everything blurs around him for a minute and dizziness hits him, but Victor laughs breathlessly as he comes to a stop.

“Brilliant, solnyshko!” His mother calls from where she’s watching him. Her eyes are sparkling with happiness. “Simply brilliant!”

The ice is cold around him yet Victor is nothing but warm on the inside as he twirls and glides and spins on the ice like he’s been doing it for years, and he dances to the sound of his mother’s applause.

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Victor enrolls in a figure skating class the very next month and wins the competition their coach held at the very end of it. His tiny hands clutch at the shiny medal they give him. Victor marvels at the weight of it around his neck, and the happiness inside of him makes him feel lighter than ever.

“Did you watch, Mama?” He asks later in the car, bouncing excitedly on his seat. “Did you see me skate?” His mother looks at him through the rear view mirror and grins.

“Of course! Your number one fan will always be there to watch you. I’m so proud of you, Victor.”

The endearment has him smiling wide. “I’m going to keep winning medals, Mama.” He declares proudly, and his mother chuckles in the driver’s seat. “I’m going to win all of the medals for you!”

“For me?” His mom gasps in feigned surprise, but her eyes are touched at the statement. “All for me, solnyshko? That’s so sweet.”

Later, when they get home, Victor takes off the medal and slips it over his mother’s head. Her silver hair makes a curtain around both of them as she presses a kiss on his forehead. “My little sun,” his mom murmurs tenderly, stroking his hair, “moyo solnyshko.” Victor grins the biggest grin. It doesn’t matter if he only has one fan at the moment—his mother is the only fan that matters to him.

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At ten, Victor competes in his first international figure skating competition and wins silver.

At twelve, he has two silver medals, three gold medals, and a trophy that his mother displays in the living room.

At thirteen, his mother teasingly jokes that their living room has no more space left for his trophies. Victor shakes his head at his mom and slips his newest medal over her head. “I’m so proud of you, solnyshko,” His mom says, just like many times before, and Victor preens at the praise. He thinks he’ll never tire of hearing it.

His mother is there at every competition, and when the world cheers for him, Victor drowns them all out in favor of listening to his mother’s applause and the sound of his feet gliding across the rink.

At fifteen, he gets his third consecutive gold medal in the Grand Prix Final Junior Division. The figure skating world calls him a “genius”. Yakov talks his ear off about making his senior debut soon. Victor sighs and ignores his coach, in favor of turning to where his mother is standing in the midst of the crowd and giving her the brightest smile he can manage.

To celebrate his victory, his mother buys him a poodle puppy once they go back home, and for the first time, Victor is excited about something other than skating.

She worries about him relentlessly now—“There are a lot of nice girls throwing themselves at you, Victor. You have to make good choices.” “Yes, but mom—“ “A lot of nice boys, too!” “Mom.”—but Victor reminds her of his promise to win all the medals for her and until then, he has no other priorities.

“Oh, solnyshko,” his mother sighs heavily and the endearment slips. Victor smiles. “You’re very sweet to me, but you have to mind yourself, too.”

“I do, Mama.” He says, and kisses her cheek. He’s grown taller than her now. “I just mind you more.”

At sixteen, Victor is at the peak of his skating career and the whole world knows his name. The reporters flash their cameras on his face, callous and insensitive of the way Victor is almost half-blind, tells him to look pretty and smile, and asks him questions that has no relation whatsoever to skating. Suddenly, everyone wants to know everything about Victor Nikiforov, wants his picture and his signature and his handshakes. Yakov tells him to tolerate it, at the very least. His mother reminds him to be himself.

 

At seventeen, Victor’s mother dies in a car crash.

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They say it was an accident. The road was slippery with ice, the snow storm heavy enough that there was almost zero visibility. They say the driver of the truck had done his best to avoid colliding with all the other cars—colliding with his mother, apparently, was the lesser evil.

They say he’s fortunate to not have been in the car with her.

Victor swallows back down all the screams building up in him. There are cameras flashing violently at his face as the press tries to get a statement out of him, and thank god Yakov is right there by his side, his coach’s face grim and his hand on Victor’s shoulder strong, otherwise Victor fears he might just collapse completely.

“Victor, how are you feeling right now—”

“The boy is grieving.” Yakov snaps at the reporter, and Victor feels so grateful of the older man that his lower lip trembles. He’s exhausted, the skin around his eyes rubbed red from crying, and Victor chooses to duck his head low and let Yakov speak for him.

“The Nikiforov family is in mourning at the moment.” Victor hears distantly as Yakov steers him away, leading him towards the exit. The door opens and the chill of the air outside hits Victor’s face like a cruel slap. His mother isn’t there to hug him warm anymore. “Your concern and condolences are appreciated but right now, my student wishes that you respect his privacy. Good day.”

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They bury his mom on a Sunday morning.

“If I let go now, do you think you can keep skating on your own?”

“I might fall.”

“Give it a try. For me, Victor?”

As he stares at empty air and listens to the priest bless his mother’s coffin, Victor doesn’t know why he’s suddenly remembering their conversation from the first time he ever skated. But he does remember the warmth of her palm and the firmness of her grip as she held his hand, and the way she smiled at him in reassurance.

“Why would I ever let go of my solnyshko?”

Victor remembers how terrified he was of falling and not being able to stand back up again.

“Don’t let go,” he whispers, low enough that no one can hear him. Tears start welling up in his tired blue eyes. Victor hangs his head, and long silver strands fall around him like a curtain, hiding him from the rest of the world. He can still feel soft lips pressing themselves on his forehead. “Mama, don’t let go.”

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When he gets home from the funeral, Victor cuts his hair.

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The day of the competition set five months after his mother’s death, Yakov fusses over him unnecessarily.

“Have you done your stretches well, Victor?” His usually gruff coach looks uncomfortable at the amount of care he’s showing, but the concern behind his words is genuine. “Do you need anything? Do your new skates feel alright—“

“I’ll be fine, Yakov.” Victor cuts off the old man and flashes him a smile. It’s the same smile he gives the reporters whenever they shove their microphones up at his face. It’s the same smile he’s taught himself to give after his mother had gone without warning and everyone thought it was their business to ask how he was dealing with it all. It’s the only smile he knows how to wear now. “You’ve trained me well in the previous months. I’m as prepared as I can be.”

And partially, Victor still tells the truth.

He is nothing less than flawless and ethereal on ice as he has always been. His performance has everyone captivated, and Victor executes his quadruple flip with the same precision and grace as before. His triple toe loop is brilliant. And the quadruple lutz, he lands perfectly. The crowd goes wild and the people scream his name.

It should feel amazing.

But instead, the ice is cold all around him and Victor feels no warmth.

Crystal blue eyes fall shut as he drowns out the roar of the audience and listens to the sound of his skates sliding through the ice. Victor concentrates hard enough that he catches a vaguely familiar sound. The ghost of his mother’s voice—I’m so proud of you, solnyshko—rings in his mind.

The world watches on as Victor dances, not to the music, but to the echo of his mother’s proud applause, and as he spins on the rink, too fast for anyone to see, Victor cries.

He wins gold again.

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“Oi, Victor.”

Victor looks up at the call and smiles at the scowling boy standing in front of him. Yuri Plisetsky, a skater twelve years his junior, has grown attached to him ever since Victor commented on his performance that one time. 

“Yuri,” he greets in a light tone, “you were wonderful today.” Victor is pleased to see that the praise makes the boy’s frown soften. He’s an only child, so he doesn’t really know how it feels to have any siblings, but if he had a younger brother, maybe it will feel somewhat like his relationship with Yuri. Victor pats the space next to him and asks, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I was hoping to get a more useful feedback.” Yuri jumps to sit on the ledge of the rink next to Victor and glances at him. “Yakov tells me to improve my step sequence but doesn’t really say anything about my jumps.”

“You do need to improve your step sequence,” Victor says.

Yuri gives a dull grunt that shows that he acknowledges the comment but isn’t really interested with it.

Victor shakes his head and smiles. Stubborn boy.

“Your lutz is clean.” Yuri’s eyes light up with interest at his words. Victor continues, “But your landing with the quadruple Salchow is shaky. Try adjusting the distribution of your weight on your feet.”

Yuri gives a determined nod, satisfied. Victor waits for him to jump to his feet and try out his suggestion, but Yuri stays glued to his side, content to watch the other skaters practice their jumps.

…Well, content doesn’t really describe the troubled expression Yuri has on his face.

“Is there anything else you want to ask?” Victor prods gently and watches Yuri struggle with his words, the younger boy’s face scrunching up as he attempts to formulate his question.

“When you,” Yuri begins and then pauses, frowning. He makes a vague gesture with his hand. “On ice,” Yuri tries again, “when you’re on ice, you’re amazing.”

Victor blinks dumbly. Was that a compliment? “Thank you, Yuri.” He says anyway.

“I’m not done.” Yuri scowls deeply at him. “You’re amazing when you perform,” The boy reiterates and then the look of conflict dawns to him again. “So why do you always seem sad whenever you skate?”

Oh. Victor smiles, mask falling into place. He feels the chill of the rink seeping into his skin as he feigns cluelessness and tells Yuri, “I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the feeling that comes with performing. I don’t really think about what expression I have when I skate.” He grins at the boy. “Do you think about it, Yuri?”

“Huh.” Yuri frowns. “I guess I don’t, either.”

Yuri leaves his side to go back to practice, signaling the end of their conversation. Victor hums and turns his head to watch the skaters sliding on the ice. His mother’s praise echoes in the back of his mind, and Victor pretends it doesn’t haunt him.

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Victor gains a reputation among the skating community as he soars through the ranks and makes himself comfortable at the top. The people around him slowly demonize his single-minded focus on success. They call him selfish. A charming narcissist. A playboy. He flirts a lot but never commits, quick to steal hearts but never gives anything in return.

Through it all, Victor smiles so brilliantly, his jaw aches. He plays the part. He remembers his promise to his mother and tells himself he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation.

Victor doesn’t owe it to anyone to justify himself.

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Camera flashes go off consecutively, threatening to blind him, and the reporters as merciless as ever, but Victor is hardly fazed by anything now. Mama, Victor thinks with a melancholic smile, I’ve kept my promise. I’ve won all the medals for you. He’s 27 years-old, with five consecutive gold medals in the Grand Prix Finals Senior Division under his belt, and everyone is waiting for him to retire.

They’re practically spreading rumors about it by themselves already.

“What do you have in mind for the next season?” A reporter asks him during the press conference and Victor shoots them a smile, trying to buy himself some time. I don’t know, he wants to say. To be honest, after winning gold once more, Victor feels lost more than anything. What does one do after finally fulfilling a longtime promise?

“I’m still thinking about my next course of action,” Victor tells the reporters, opting for a safe answer. “I’ll talk it over with my coach.”

“Victor Nikiforov, you’re still a bachelor, aren’t you?” Someone from the back pipes in, loud enough to be scandalous. Victor isn’t surprised about that either; the press can be rude when they want to be. “Any plans on settling down any time soon?”

The reporters are all expectant eyes and ears on him as the question sinks in. Victor releases a quiet sigh and then allows his lips to spread in a practiced smile, his blue eyes closing halfway in a manner he knows makes him look dangerously irresistible yet charming at the same time. “Why,” He drawls out, his low voice turning syrupy, “is that an invitation?”

The crowd explodes with hysteria and the camera flashes turn almost violent once again. They don’t seem to realize that Victor hasn’t answered their questions at all.

Victor throws in a wink for good measure, and lets the media have a field day.

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Just as they were about to leave the venue, Victor sees him.

Dark hair, wide brown eyes, and the fair complexion of a snowflake—Victor remembers his name as Yuuri-something. The Japanese representative, he recalls. His junior, Yuri, has some not-so-nice words to say about the other boy concerning their similar-sounding names. Personally, Victor can’t understand why. Yuuri-something seems harmless enough, if not a little out of place with his chubbier figure in the midst of all the slim skaters. He looks like an alright guy, and there’s something about his brown eyes that just makes Victor remember warmth—

But that’s not the point. The point is, Victor sees him staring and realizes he’s a fan, and like a good champion his coach groomed him up to be, Victor gives a friendly smile and says, “A commemorative photo? Sure.”

Victor regrets saying it as soon as he does. The brown eyes turn sad, almost disappointed, and it pulls on Victor’s heartstrings. In his life, the only brown eyes he ever saw were his mother’s and they always reflected happiness. The smile on Victor’s face falls. Yuuri turns away from him, swiftly making his way to the exit, and Victor feels an irrational urge to run after him despite not having a decent reason to do so.

He watches instead as Yuuri retreats in the distance, and wonders if he’ll ever see those brown eyes again.

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He does.

Victor does see the same brown eyes again, in the most unexpected way, and he feels conflicted as he presses the play button on his phone and the YouTube video starts. Makkachin squirms between his legs and whines contentedly as Victor lets a hand scratch his dog’s ear.

Katsuki Yuuri—that’s his name—skated Victor’s choreography.

At first, Victor analyzes his performance the way any proud figure skater would. He watches Yuuri execute the quads and the twirls and the step sequence with a critical eye, sensitive even to the tiniest of errors.

Nothing.

Victor is almost incredulous to discover that Yuuri performs his choreography almost as well as he did, given the fact that he came in last during the Grand Prix Final competition. Is this really the same person? While he may not have much of a presence in person, Yuuri is a marvelous sight on ice. Wearing all black, he seems to flow in the midst of the white expanse like ink brushing smoothly across a canvas.

The video closes up on Yuuri’s face just then, and Victor feels air leave him in a rush.

By god, but Yuuri is just beautiful.

Long lashes fan out across his cheeks as he skates with his eyes closed and Victor can see the sheer relief in his expression as he dances on the ice, the movement of his arms fluid as if he’s performing to a song only he can hear. But instead of grief, Victor sees Yuuri’s mouth turned up into a gentle smile. Instead of pain, when Yuuri opens his eyes, happiness makes them twinkle like stars. He looks like an angel.

Warmth fills Victor, blooming inside his chest and spreading throughout his body. Amazing, he thinks. Victor hasn’t felt this warm since his mother last watched him perform.

Victor watches the video again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Until finally, his phone flashes a “Low Battery” warning and Victor doesn’t feel as lost anymore.

He knows what he wants to do.

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“Yuuri~”, Victor singsongs as he stands up from the hot bath and extends a hand to the dark-haired boy, rivulets of water traveling down the hard planes of his body, “Starting today, I’ll be your coach.” He plasters on his most charming grin, his blue eyes fluttering with intention. It’s so over the top but Victor knows this method works. It’s never failed to entrance others before. “I’ll make you win the Grand Prix Final.” Victor winks, and the surprise in Yuuri’s face is adorable.

“W-Wha—“, Yuuri chokes out, as a deep red flush starts its descent down to his neck, “W-WHAT?!”

Instead of swooning, like Victor expected, Yuuri gives out a strangled dying noise and bolts out of the hot springs before Victor can say anything else.

Victor blinks slowly.

Well. That could have gone better.

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Yuuri is jumpy around him, hysterical and nervous in that cute way that makes Victor want to tease him even more. He calls him “kobuta-chan” in good humor and holds his hand as he asks Yuuri whether he has someone he likes. It’s endearing how deeply Yuuri flushes under his attention.

What’s not as endearing is the way Yuuri keeps on running away from him as if he’s horrendous-looking, putting a safe distance between them. If Yuuri won’t allow Victor to watch him up-close, how else can Victor know him better?

Victor can see the wonder in Yuuri’s eyes, though. Despite his initial terror when Victor talks to him, Yuuri keeps on glancing at him whenever he thinks Victor isn’t paying attention, his dark gaze wide and bright with awe and Victor feels warmth curling comfortably inside his chest.

He catches Yuuri’s lingering stare during one of their morning runs, disbelieving and hopeful on him. Victor looks away before Yuuri can realize that he’s been discovered or else, he’s bound to explode into red again. As much as Victor loves seeing him flustered, he likes Yuuri’s silent appreciation even more. Victor smiles, fragile and just a tad bit pained.

It’s the first time Victor smiles again just for the sake of smiling, not for anyone else’s viewing pleasure. He muses that he’s a little out of practice.

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Before his performance in the showdown between him and Yurio (as Victor so fondly teased the younger boy—really, his junior was so easy to rile up sometimes), Yuuri hugs Victor.

“U-Um,” Yuuri stutters in front of him, as nervous as ever with his hands shaking by his sides, but for the first time since Victor has taken over as his skating coach, Yuuri actually has the guts to meet his eyes, “I’m going to be the tastiest pork cutlet bowl ever, so please watch me!”

It’s not the resolute declaration or the food metaphor that takes Victor aback. Rather, it’s the sure manner Yuuri moves into Victor’s personal space the way he was too nervous to initiate before. Victor is so stunned he takes a reflexive step back, just before Yuuri cages him with his strong arms in the tenderest embrace ever.

Victor feels warm all over.

Yuuri’s head is snuggled up against the crook of Victor’s neck, and he’s close enough that soft strands of his dark hair tickle Victor’s cheek. “Promise!” Yuuri demands, and Victor is too weak to say anything except yes.

“Of course,” Victor finds himself answering without hesitation, right into Yuuri’s ear. His carefree, charming façade is nowhere to be found, and Victor is glad Yuuri has managed to strip him of his mask. He takes an extra step and tells Yuuri, “I love pork cutlet bowls.”

It’s a silly thing between them but Victor hopes it’s enough to express just how much he’s grown fond of Yuuri.

Yuuri lets him go with an embarrassed but determined flush on his face and steps into the rink with so much confidence, Victor barely recognizes him as that self-conscious snowflake he met all those months ago. The transformation is incredible.

The music starts and hits a crescendo, and Yuri absolutely kills on ice. His step sequence is electric and dazzling, limbs sharp and liquid at the same time, and he spins like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Yuuri dances like he’s drowning out the crowd, like there’s only him and the music and the ice beneath his feet, like it’s a private performance for Victor alone. Yuuri dances with a smile on his face, looking so happy that Victor is amazed at how gorgeous he is.

Magnificent, Victor wants to say, proud and if he’s going to be honest, a little breathless. Stunning. Wonderful. Amazing.

Brilliant, Yuuri, Victor wants to shout as the audience screams their applause all around him, simply brilliant.

When Victor goes for a congratulatory hug for Yuuri’s win, the first thing Yuuri does is to pull back from him and say, “So you’ll coach me? You’re staying, right, Victor? You’re staying.”

Victor huffs out a short laugh. Yuuri is heaving with effort, the pink flush high on his cheeks. Adrenaline is probably still coursing through his veins from the performance and he may not realize it just yet, but he just made Victor’s decision for him.

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Later that evening, Victor dials Yuri’s number on his phone.

“Hi, Yurio.”

“Stop calling me that!”

Victor laughs at the aggravated protest. He shakes his head, chuckling, and asks Yuri, “Why did you leave so suddenly? You didn’t even say goodbye.”

“My performance was disappointing.” Comes Yuri’s reply. “Besides, both of us knew you were going to pick Pork Cutlet Bowl anyway. I was wasting my time there.” He sounds genuinely upset that Victor can’t help but contradict him.

“Your performance was one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Victor says sincerely, “Your jumps were absolutely flawless. Your quadruple Salchow has improved greatly. You captivated the audience—“

“That’s not the point of the showdown, is it?” Yuri shoots back, cutting him off. “I didn’t deliver Agape as best as I could. I know I could’ve done better.”

Victor sighs. Such a stubborn boy. “You could have,” He finally relents. Yuri tries to hide a sniff through the phone and fails. “And you will,” Victor adds in what he hopes is an encouraging tone, “You’ll be better, Yuri.”

Yuri’s huff of breath makes the phone explode in static. “You’re happier there,” Yuri says out of the blue, startling Victor.

“I—Yes. No.” Victor hesitates, and then says, “I don’t understand, Yuri.”

Yuri snorts. Their conversation dies down for a moment.

“Tell fatty I said good luck,” Yuri finally says after a while, and Victor chuckles. “That doesn’t mean I won’t crush him in the ice next time we meet again.”

“I’ll pass on the message. And, Yuri—“ Victor allows himself a small smile, still just a little painful. He’s getting better at it. “—you’re improving so fast. I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah, well,” Yuri grumbles. If Victor doesn’t know him better, he’d think his junior actually sounds embarrassed. “You still broke your promise. I won’t forgive you for that, you bastard.”

“Call me soon,” Victor says with another laugh. “Or else, I might miss Russia too much.”

“Yeah, yeah. Bye, you old man.”

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On the ice, Victor turns out to be an unforgiving, merciless coach as he half-expected himself to be.

His training regimens are harsh and strict, he pushes Yuuri to his limit, and has no qualms on calling out Yuuri’s less than stellar performance during their practices. “Sloppy!” Victor tuts without missing a beat, his gaze narrowed in on Yuuri’s sliding figure on the rink. “Your form is terrible, Yuuri. Again!”

Where he’s been skating for hours on the rink, Yuuri grits his teeth, wipes away the sweat from his forehead, and nods. “Yes!”

What Victor doesn’t expect at all is for Yuuri to be just as determined to match his standards. For someone so mousy-looking and shy at first, Yuuri turns out to be a relentless student, using Victor’s critical input to fuel his own motivation to improve.

Yuuri cuts through the ice once more, smooth and sharp, building up his momentum as he attempts another quadruple Salchow. Victor holds his breath.

The ice chips underneath the blades of his feet when Yuuri lands, shaky but visibly more stable than the last time he tried to do the jump. Yuuri lets out a pleasantly relieved chuckle and looks to where Victor is standing, grinning proudly as if to say Look at me, Victor.

Victor does.

He looks at him and can’t seem to tear his gaze away from Yuuri’s mussed up dark hair and breathless smile, his face painted with a pink flush of effort. With a grin, Victor claps his hands, let goes of his bated breath, and says, “Good, Yuuri! You’re getting better. Again!”

When Victor demands a step above his limit, Yuuri takes him a mile further. It’s exhilarating. Seeing Yuuri’s passion for skating only makes Victor all the more relieved for his snap decision to fly to Japan and coach Yuuri.

To leave it all behind and start again.

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Off the ice, Victor’s relationship with Yuuri is another issue altogether.

Now that Victor has officially decided to stay in Japan to be Yuuri’s coach, he finds his downtime occupied with trying out all the new things and exploring the sights the foreign country can offer, dragging Yuuri by the hand with him. The two of them visit the waterfalls Yuuri and Yuri meditated under during Yuri’s stay, and then the temple, and then they venture the inside of Hasetsu Castle, after Victor’s persistent pleading of wanting to know what ninja houses looked like.

(Once inside, Victor even tries to sneak around like a ninja—Yuuri is incredulous enough at the display to call him a dork.)

They go to the beach, Yuuri showing Victor where he and his older sister Mari used to collect pretty shells to make a shell necklace, and then to the fish market nearby, where Victor takes a selfie with a funny-looking fish until a vendor scolds the two of them for taking pictures without buying anything. Yuuri ends up buying the fish and tells Victor his mother will make sashimi out of it.

In the weekends, Yuuri tours him around the neighborhood he grew up in, shows him the local park, and leads Victor to Minako’s dance studio. They also go to the bazaar downtown so Victor can buy souvenirs. Victor buys two shirts, one sweatshirt that has a dog print for himself, and another shirt that says “Ice Ice Baby” for Yuuri.

Yuuri turns beet red and is adamant about refusing to wear it but keeps it nonetheless.

One night, Yuuri approaches him with a shyer than usual expression and sits next to him as Victor patiently brushes through Makkachin’s thick fur. He gives the younger man a brief glance, his ice blue eyes soft, and smiles before turning back to his poodle. An all-too familiar blush taints Yuuri’s cheeks. “Yuuri,” Victor prompts after a minute of silence and turns to give him his full attention, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I was wondering,” Yuuri begins hopefully, worrying his lower lip in a very distracting way that makes Victor want to soothe it with his thumb, “if you’re busy doing anything tonight?”

Victors hums in consideration, looking down shortly at his dog. “My plans were limited to combing away Makkachin’s tangles, so I guess I’m free for the rest of the night.”

“Oh, good!” Yuuri says in pleasant surprise, eyes lighting up. “Do you want to go out with me?”

Victor’s eyebrows jump at the direct question. Now that’s something he didn’t expect to hear. Not this soon, at least.

It takes exactly a split-second for Yuuri’s eyes to widen at the implication of his words and he protests in panic, shaking his head violently. His words trip over one another in his haste to clarify. “N-No, no, no, wait! That’s not—t-that isn’t what I meant! I-I would never—well, n-not never but—I’m not asking you to go out with me! Well, I am, but not—that’s not what I was trying to—“

Victor giggles before he can stop himself. He doesn’t mean to. But watching Yuuri explain is like watching a train wreck—a very adorable train wreck—unfold.

At Victor’s laugh, Yuuri seems to pause long enough to gather his wits. A furious blush goes all the way down to his neck as Yuuri croaks out, “Food stalls.”

“What about food stalls?” Victor prods with a grin.

“I wanted to ask if you wanted to go outside with me to see the night market,” Yuuri finally says, looking wildly relieved to be able to speak in full sentences again. “There are a lot of stalls there that sell street food, and I know how much you like to try new—“

Victor gasps at ‘street food’. “Like takoyaki?” He asks eagerly, sitting up in an instant. Victor has always wondered what that tastes like. Makkachin barks in protest at being jostled and stands to settle down away from his excitable owner. “And ramen?”

“Yes,” Yuuri chuckles, “like takoyaki and ramen. Do you want to go?”

“Yes!” He stands up and pulls the younger man to his feet, Yuuri laughing at his childlike impatience. Victor makes a beeline for his closet. “Let’s go now!”

“I’ll go change,” Yuuri informs him with a bright smile. “Let’s meet outside in ten minutes.”

“Make it five!” Victor says, already shrugging off the thin robe he’s wearing, and Yuuri almost gets a mini-heart attack at the sight of Victor’s broad back as he closes the door behind him as fast as he can.

It turns out to be one of the best nights Victor’s ever had in a while.

He tells Yuuri not to worry about his diet, just for tonight. He can jog extra miles tomorrow morning but tonight, the two of them will try out every food from every stall. Yuuri indulges his whims with a defeated sigh, and then proceeds to lead Victor through the maze of wooden stalls. Victor tries to take everything in, mesmerized by the wonderful scents of cooking food in the air, his ears filled with animated chatters and the sizzling of the grills, his eyes blinking widely at the bright store signs and the lanterns that are hung everywhere.

They get ramen.

And yakisoba.

And grilled squid and chocolate-filled cakes shaped like a fish and some crepes, and something that tastes like pancake with red bean filling.

And takoyaki!

Vkusno!” Victor praises with a delighted groan around a bite of savory octopus ball, closing his eyes at the taste. “This is amazing! I can eat this forever.”

“Maybe not forever,” Yuuri says with a laugh and reminds him to slow down before he gives himself a stomachache, grinning lightly all the while like this is one of the rare times he’s loosened up, too.

Before they go back home, Victor wheedles Yuuri into splitting a bottle of sake with him. They sit next to each other on a booth as Victor pours his fourth cup and pours Yuuri’s second. The night is warmer compared to the previous nights, but the air outside is refreshingly crisp. Sipping at his sake, Victor can feel the breeze cool his face, already heating up from the drink. He glances at Yuuri and smiles at how relaxed the younger man is next to him, looking so enchanting in the low light of the store.

“Yuuri.”

“Yes?” Yuuri turns at the call of his name, smiling gently, and Victor’s breath catches in his throat. Yuuri doesn’t know how beautiful he is, does he?

“Tell me about your family,” Victor says.

He half-expects Yuuri to blush again and stutter out a refusal. Instead, Yuuri looks up, gives a considering hum, and then starts with, “My mom used to be a kindergarten teacher.” Victor blinks, surprised, and then unconsciously leans closer as Yuuri tells him all about his early life and the people that surrounded him.

He tells Victor how his parents met, how his father owned the family inn and how his mother’s wonderful cooking saved the business from falling apart. He tells Victor how Mari was so overprotective of him for a short while because he used to be bullied by the neighborhood kids when he started figure skating. He tells the story of how Minako groomed him up to be her little protégé and how she was the one who encouraged him to skate. A little embarrassed, Yuuri talks about the time him and Yuko watched Victor’s performance in the Grand Prix Final Junior Division, the one with him having long hair, and how it took some fierce convincing before Yuuri’s mom can discourage him from growing out his hair, too.

Victor laughs at the story, a low rumble of mirth that comes from his stomach. It sounds so different from the laughter he does in front of the camera and the press and the audience, the one that’s high and charismatic and hurts his throat.

By the time the sake bottle is empty, Victor’s head feels light from the alcohol and his shoulders are free of any tension, for once. “Your family sounds like lovely people,” Victor tells Yuuri with all the sincerity he can muster up, “I am really glad to see you have their support.”

Victor hears a snort of laughter. When he turns to look, Yuuri is smiling at him as if he’s trying not to burst out laughing and Victor is confused. He might be a little tipsy, but he’s pretty sure his words don’t deserve that kind of reaction.

“What? What did I say?” He asks, and Yuuri grins even wider.

Victor narrows his eyes suspiciously and leans in to look at Yuuri better. Yuuri scoots back, flustered, but the smile on his face doesn’t drop for even a second. “Are you drunk?” Victor asks.

“No,” Yuuri says with the barest hints of a snicker in his voice, “but you might be, Victor. Your accent is pretty thick right now.”

“Oh.” Victor blinks dumbly. Ohhh.

“It’s funny?” He asks next, deliberately laying on his Russian accent even thicker, and Yuuri just breaks, clutching at his stomach and bowing his head as he laughs, carefree and unrestrained. Despite being laughed at, Victor smiles at the sight of Yuuri shaking with amusement.

“It’s something else.” Yuuri finally gasps out, out of breath from laughing. He grins at Victor and sighs, shaking his head a little. “You’re something else, Victor.”

“You’re something else,” Victor shoots back for a lack of better response. His eyes feel heavy as Victor allows himself to simply collapse all the way against Yuuri, his silver head falling on Yuuri’s shoulder. Blue eyes close shut as Victor murmurs again, “You’re something else, Yuuri.”

The way Yuuri shuffles closer to accommodate Victor’s weight, shifting so his shoulder can fit Victor comfortably only proves Victor right. Yuuri doesn’t try to do anything else the way other people are inclined to do if they are in the same situation with Victor Nikiforov. He doesn’t try to put a hand around Victor in a smooth move, doesn’t try to make it something it’s not. Though Victor is pretty sure Yuuri is blushing again, Yuuri doesn’t try to push him off either. Yuuri just…lets him be.

Victor doesn’t know how to vocalize how grateful he is for that.

When they go back to the inn, Victor falls to his futon without changing out of his clothes. His bed feels like a cloud. He sleeps soundly, without any dreams bothering him.

.

.

.

They touch a lot.

A brush of their fingers when offering a bowl, a hand on Yuuri’s shoulder when Victor stands to get up, their knees touching as Yuuri sits cross-legged next to him, Yuuri playfully bumping shoulders when Victor pokes his cheek to make a point. Victor’s glad to see Yuuri slowly warming up to him, dropping his guard, unintentionally or not, long enough for Victor to be able to get close to him.

Victor understands why people may find Yuuri ordinary—to be honest, Victor did too, at first—but at a closer look, dear god, Yuuri is simply lovely. Victor can’t get enough of his smiles, his expressions honest and genuine, the way excitement makes his face brighten whenever he talks about skating or food, the way his eyes soften with something more than just admiration whenever they land on Victor, as if Victor is a dream come true for him.

If that’s the case with you, Yuuri, Victor thinks, with a slow smile growing on his face as he watches Yuuri stare at him almost absentmindedly from across the table while Minako chatters her heart out next to him, I wonder how I must look at you, then. A little like looking at sunlight, perhaps.

There’s a twinge deep inside of Victor, nostalgic and agonizing. Yuuri’s brown eyes blink tenderly at him, and Victor feels so warm he might cry. My little sun, he thinks, moyo solnyshko.

Victor can’t help it. He breaks out the dazzling grin, the practiced one, with the knowledge that Yuuri is still heavily affected by his flirtation attempts, and tells Yuuri out of the blue, “You’re adorable when you stare, Yuuri.”

The effect is immediate. Yuuri startles and chokes at the realization, turning into the most interesting shade of red as he looks away, looks at everything else aside from Victor. The second Yuuri’s gaze is off him, Victor feels the chill once more but at least this time he can breathe without wanting to tear up. “S-Sorry!” Yuuri stammers out the apology, cutting off his ballet teacher’s story. He looks like he wants the ground to swallow him up. “I didn’t realize I w-was—!“

Victor feels a little bad about the fact that he embarrassed Yuuri again just as the younger man was starting to feel comfortable around him but he figures it’ll take him a while, too, before he can feel comfortable with the things Yuuri is making him feel.

Victor shakes off the thought, and repeats with a sly grin, “Adorable.”

Yuuri squeaks in mortification.

Next to them, Minako lets out an exasperated groan and mutters under her breath, “Jesus, get a room already.”

.

.

.

As it turns out, being in Japan doesn’t lessen the ache in his heart as Victor steps onto the ice. The rink here is smaller than the one he practiced on back in Russia, quieter too. Aside from the owners of Ice Castle Hasetsu organizing the skates by the front, Victor finds himself alone. However, as he idly skates in circles until he gets to the center, Victor closes his eyes and lets the familiar coldness surrounding him to seep into his bones.

Being on ice feels just as lonely as before, no matter where he is.

Victor does what he does best.

He dances, the blades on his feet gliding through the ice so smoothly at every twist and every turn, his arms flowing around him along with the rhythm of his heartbeat. Victor hears his mother’s voice traveling through a memory, saying I’m so proud of you, solnyshko, and the crushing weight of sadness that drops inside Victor’s chest is something he’s well-acquainted with.

Victor does a spin, the chill biting sharp and merciless against his face as he whirls, and ignores the tears slipping past his eyelashes and making their way down his cheeks.

Victor spins and spins and spins, blurring out the rest of the world.

He dances for what seems like hours, and as his feet slides on the ice, he feels suspended in time.

Victor skates and dances and jumps until his legs are begging for a rest, until his feet are aching and his chest rises and deflates in a swift pattern, his lungs burning with effort. His face is wet, both from the tears from his eyes and the sweat beading at his hairline, and Victor brushes them all away with a swipe of his hand.

When he glances around distractedly, he finds Yuuri leaning against the wall of the rink, looking at him. Victor stares back for a minute, stunned. “Yuuri,” Victor says in greeting and the younger man gives a shy wave.

“Sorry for interrupting you,” Yuuri says almost sheepishly as Victor skates towards him, “Yu-chan called me. She said you’ve been here since early this afternoon and wanted me to inform you that it’s almost closing time.”

“Of course—Oh, thank you.” Victor takes the water bottle Yuuri offers him and tries not to drink too greedily. He hasn’t realized how dry his throat is until water flooded his mouth. “Did you enjoy watching me, Yuuri?”

“I—Yes.” Yuuri looks down at their feet for a second, embarrassed at being exposed. Victor smiles as Yuuri’s blush makes a familiar appearance on his face. “You skate brilliantly, Victor.”

Victor hums his acknowledgement at the praise.

“Are you okay?” Yuuri says next, and he pauses. Victor looks up, blue eyes guarded and his face neutral as he stares at Yuuri, takes in the concern in his expression and the worry in his brown eyes.

“I feel great,” Victor grins at Yuuri the way he would in front of a reporter. “But I’m touched at your thoughtfulness, Yuuri~”

Instead of blushing again, like he usually does at most things Victor says, Yuuri’s brows furrow down and his mouth presses into a thin line. He looks, Victor is almost afraid to note, somehow disappointed. “Okay,” Yuuri says, and drops the topic just like that. Ice wraps its claws around Victor’s heart and it hurts.

“Yuuri—“

Yuuri turns his back before Victor can continue and glances over his shoulder to give Victor a reassuring smile. Don’t worry about it, his smile seems to say, and Victor feels all the more terrible about pushing him away again. “Let’s go home, Victor.”

.

.

.

During their next free day, Yuuri takes a seat next to him and asks Victor suddenly, “Can you teach me how to speak Russian?”

Victor glances at Yuuri in surprise and Yuuri’s earnest brown eyes stare at him back.  “Oh?” Victor grins, enchanted at the request, and clarifies just to tease, “You want to learn Russkiy, Yuuri?”

“Yes.” Yuuri nods, flushing brightly at the low drop of Victor’s voice around the word. Victor is absolutely delighted to see him flustered again. “Please teach me.”

“Okay, then!” Victor bounces cheerfully in his seat as he shifts to face Yuuri. They spend their whole afternoon on an impromptu lesson of Russian, Victor introducing the common greetings in his language with a nostalgic kind of ease, his mouth moving around the familiar syllables expertly. He says the word, speaks the Russian equivalent twice, and then asks Yuuri to repeat after him.

Yuuri follows as best as he can, saying the foreign words and scrunching up his face in concentration as his tongue tries to adjust around the strange way the consonants blend with one another. Some words Yuuri accomplishes to pronounce well with minimum difficulty; others, Victor gets a good chuckle out of.

Victor teaches him how to say yes, no, hello, good morning, good afternoon, goodbye, please, and thank you in Russian. Cheekily, he also teaches Yuuri how to swear in Russian without Yuuri knowing it, and when Yuuri tentatively says, “trakhat’”, Victor laughs so hard that Yuuri panics.

“What did I say?” Yuuri asks in mortification, and Victor shakes his head with an impish giggle. The scandalized look on Yuuri’s face has him biting his lip to keep from snickering. “Victor, what did you make me say?

Chert voz'mi,” Victor grins, barely holding back his amusement, “Ty ocharovatel'ny, Yuuri.”

“What does that mean?” Yuuri wails in utter confusion, and Victor completely loses it. He laughs even harder, laughs until his sides are aching, until Yuuri is reduced to muttering desperate Japanese under his breath about how he still doesn’t know what any of it means and how maybe he can ask Yurio about the words.

Once Victor calms down, they resume the lesson, and no matter how much Yuuri pleads, Victor refuses to tell him the meaning of the words with a playful grin.

“Teach me one last word,” Yuuri asks him as they were about to finish. It’s late in the afternoon and they’ve spent enough time in the park that Yuuri’s parents are already wondering where they were. Yuuri’s brown eyes shine golden in the rays of the sunset as he looks up at Victor that the word slips past Victor’s lips unconsciously.

Moyo solnyshko,” Victor breathes out in a moment of weakness, and he watches Yuuri try out the words in a whisper, heart beating in his throat.

Moyo solnyshko,” Yuuri repeats, blinking at Victor for guidance, and Victor nods his head, swallowing painfully. Yuuri says it again, “Moyo solnyshko”, oblivious of the way he’s squeezing Victor’s heart in the best and worst way until he’s breathless.

“Can you tell me what it means?” Yuuri asks.

Victor grins, lips stretching in a fragile smile, like glass, thin and at the edge of breaking. Yuuri’s gaze slowly turns worried. “My little sun,” Victor translates softly and tries to hide the low quiver in his voice. He looks ahead, blinking away the sting behind his eyes, and adds, “My mother used to call me that, before she passed away.”

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri exhales. Victor nods again and starts walking.

Yuuri doesn’t say anything after that, but he walks closer to Victor than usual, his arm brushing against Victor with every step. The heaviness inside Victor’s chest eases slowly, the lump in his throat fading with each contact of Yuuri’s warm skin against his.

They walk home in silence.

.

.

.

The day of his mother’s death anniversary, Victor cancels their scheduled practice and tells Yuuri to take it easy. He leaves before any of the Katsuki family members, including Yuuri himself, can ask where he’s going.

In the decade that she’s been gone, it’s the first time Victor won’t be able to pay respects to her grave. Though he knows it’s horrible of him, Victor is oddly relieved. As much as he wants to see his mother, every time Victor visits her grave, it feels as if the accident happened just yesterday and suddenly she’s gone again, leaving him behind without even a proper goodbye. It hurts too much to think about.

Victor roams around Hasetsu for the rest of the day, too occupied to really decide where he wants to go but familiar enough with the city that he doesn’t worry too much about the prospect of getting lost anymore. He goes to the park, then to the temple, and then takes a walk down the beach, never staying in one place for long. Victor knows Yuuri is bound to look for him soon, and he doesn’t want to be found just yet. He finds himself downtown and hits the closest bar that’s open, sitting himself in a dark corner and smiling politely as he rejects those that attempt to start something with him.

His phone vibrates violently inside his pocket as he swirls his vodka around the clear tumbler, ice clinking noisily against the glass. Victor takes a generous mouthful of the alcohol and then pulls out his phone. There are 10 missed calls and 5 text messages from Yuuri, 2 missed calls from Minako and a single text message from Yuri.

Victor opens Yuri’s message first, out of sheer curiosity. Since their last phone call months ago, Yuri hasn’t tried to call him again. Yuri’s text is short and blunt, but reading it is enough to make Victor’s empty gut wrench in both guilt and pain.

From: Yuri(o)
To: Me
Sent at 8:31 p.m.

I visited your mother’s grave today for you, you bastard. I thought you’d fly back to Russia for this. I guess not. I left white lilies. Yakov said you always bought those for her.

Take care of yourself, Victor.

His fingers are trembling as he sends out a reply.

To: Yuri(o)
From: Me
Sent at 8:36 p.m.

Thank you, Yuri. I will.

Victor turns his phone off after that, unable to bring himself to read Yuuri’s worried messages, and drowns himself in the bitter taste of vodka and grief. It burns a path down Victor’s throat and he feels colder than ever.

Victor drinks until he’s numb.

.

.

.

Victor doesn’t know how he manages to get to the ice rink.

He vaguely remembers paying for a taxi to take him there but he’s not entirely sure that’s what really happened. He remembers Yuko-san being there next to him, too, fussing over him worriedly, but when Victor glances around, the rink is empty aside from himself. Either way, as Victor successfully laces his skates on his fifth drunken attempt, he finds that he doesn’t care.

Stepping onto the ice, Victor feels the chill sinking into his skin, cruel but familiar, and he welcomes it. His feet drag slowly, roughly across the rink, lacking their usual grace. It feels terribly like the first time he ever skated, his balance off and his limbs uncoordinated.

Victor wobbles dangerously when the blade catches on the ice, and a hysterical chuckle bubbles out of him as he thinks, I might fall. I might fall and break myself.

As he makes random shapes across the rink, his skates scratching the cold surface, Victor recalls the way his mother held his tiny hand in hers as the two of them danced in circles. He remembers how beautiful she looked, twirling on the ice as he held on, skating like she was born for it. Victor remembers how warm everything used to be.

From a distant memory, his mother’s voice echoes in his head, “If I let go now, do you think you can keep skating on your own? Give it a try. For me, Victor?”

I tried, Mama, Victor’s face crumples as he does a spin, fast enough to blur his surroundings and hide the pathetic way his eyes squeeze shut as tears slide down his face, I tried for so long but I miss you too much. I don’t want to skate alone anymore.

Victor skates away, attempting one jump after the other despite his unfocused vision, in hopes that he can forget everything. Even in his predicament, Victor manages to land a triple toe loop and an unsteady quadruple Salchow.

Victor closes his eyes recklessly, and skates and jumps and twirls.

And he slips.

Victor slips and falls, tumbles down, down, down, until he hits the ice, hard and unexpected. His blue eyes snap open in shock. Everything is suddenly much colder, his bare hands flat against the white surface. A shaky breath rushes out of him as he tries to comprehend what just took place.

It’s the first time Victor fell on ice while skating alone, and he doesn’t know what to do.

Stand up, is the aborted thought that crosses his mind, after his fingers start to sting from the cold, stand up. Victor tries to stand, pushing himself up on trembling arms and on legs that feel like jelly only to crash back down. A wave of panic threatens to overwhelm him. He tries once more and slips again, and Victor realizes he’s unable to get away from the cold. Unable to get away from the loneliness that keeps haunting him no matter where he goes, even after he thought he left it all behind.

“Victor!”

Victor turns his head just in time to see Yuuri skating hastily towards him, skidding to a halt and falls to his knees next to Victor. He tries to blink away the blurriness at the edges of his vision, tries to see something else on Yuuri’s face aside from immense relief and barely-hidden worry.

“Are you okay?” Yuuri asks in a tone Victor has never heard from him before. He sounds terrified, maybe a little angry, his voice thin and trembling. “Are you hurt? Yu-chan told me you wanted to skate while drunk, and she couldn’t convince you otherwise.”

“Yuuri,” Victor says, speech slurred, “I feel cold.”

“That’s because you’re lying on ice,” Yuuri says, scolding just a bit, but his hands are careful and gentle as they support Victor into standing on his feet again. The world seems to rotate as Victor blinks and he staggers, crashing against Yuuri. “Be careful,” Yuuri tells him, adjusting to support his weight.

“Yuuri,” Victor says again, dropping his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. His heavy arms come up, wrapping around Yuuri. The younger man stops moving. “I feel cold.” Something in voice must sound different, because then Yuuri takes a deep breath, as if finally understanding.

“Okay,” Yuuri says hesitantly, softly. His hands come up to press against Victor’s back as some sort of a loose hug. “Do you want to get off the rink?”

Victor shakes his head, a tiny movement that sends his temples aching. “No,” Victor breathes. He sounds strained, and Yuuri holds him tighter. “I want to skate.”

“Okay,” Yuuri concedes, “Can I skate with you?”

Victor nods. “Please.”

Yuuri pushes himself backwards with a kick of his feet, sending them sliding on the ice slowly, and Victor holds on as best as he can. They skate in loops and circles, making patterns in the ice with their blades, and the rink is quiet save for their combined breathing and the sound of their skates cutting through the surface.

Like this, curled up against Yuuri while his hands are splayed wide over Victor’s back in a protective manner, Victor can breathe easily. The ice is still cold all around them but Victor’s fingertips are starting to warm as he plays with the short strands of dark hair by Yuuri’s nape.

“Do you still feel cold, Victor?” Yuuri’s question is a gentle whisper by his ear. His grip around Victor tightens for a moment as Yuuri spins them, round and round the ice, and the sight is amazing.

“No,” Victor answers. He feels so warm, warmer than he ever had felt before. The telltale sting behind his eyes return with a vengeance and no matter how hard he tries, Victor can’t blink them back. When he sniffs, Yuuri tenses around him and tries to pull away.

Victor panics. “Don’t,” he starts but the words build up in his throat and won’t allow themselves to be voiced out loud, choking him, don’t let go. Yuuri, please, don’t let go.

Yuuri pulls back just enough to see Victor’s face, and when he does, Victor gets the front seat to the sight of Yuuri’s heart breaking completely. “Oh, Victor,” Yuuri breathes out, as if saying oh, you poor thing, his expression pained and distraught as he brings a hand up to wipe away the tears sliding down Victor’s cheek. His touch is grounding and his brown eyes are tender at Victor, nothing at all like the ice Victor has known all his life.

And just like that, Victor breaks.

An ugly sob rips itself out of his throat, ridiculous and disgraceful, unfit for the crowds to hear and for the media to know about. This isn’t at all like the silent tears he taught himself how to hide during his performances. Victor can’t stop the noisy hiccups once they start and when he tries to hide his face behind his hands, Yuuri shushes him gently, stepping into his space to hold him close again.

“Yuuri,” Victor gasps wetly as he clutches at Yuuri’s waist, wanting nothing more than to be hidden away, “Yuuri—“

“It’s okay,” Yuuri tells him in his most soothing tone, and strokes his hair when Victor sobs again, “I’m here, Victor. I’m here. It’s okay.”

“Don’t let go,” Victor pleads. He shuts his blue eyes and buries his face on the crook of Yuuri’s neck, focusing on the warmth Yuuri radiates all around him. He’s not alone anymore. “Don’t let go, Yuuri.”

“Never.”

Victor falls.

But this time, Yuuri is here to help him stand back up again.

.

.

.

After two more weeks of training, Yuuri finally lands a perfectly smooth quadruple Salchow.

“Brilliant, Yuuri!” Victor calls from where he’s watching by the side, and in the middle of the rink, Yuuri laughs breathlessly, happiness making his dark eyes sparkle. “Again!”

After three more successful jumps and one last repeat of the routine Victor designed for him, practice comes to an end. Victor approaches Yuuri in the middle of the ice as he’s retying the laces of his skates, smiling down charmingly when Yuuri look up at him in question.

“Er, Victor?” Yuuri asks with a growing blush, chuckling to hide his nervousness. He stands up. “Is there something you wanted to say?”

“You were wonderful,” Victor praises sincerely, and his grin widens when Yuuri flushes deeper. “It seems like your hard work is paying off, solnyshko.”

“W-Well, that’s—I mean—“ Yuuri stutters out at the endearment, looking away. He takes a calming deep breath before looking back up at Victor with a nervous smile. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Victor. T-Thank you.”

“You seem uneasy today,” Victor comments, and Yuuri proves him right when he squeaks at the observation. He skates closer and leans down, until he’s close enough that their noses are touching, and he feels the heat radiating from Yuuri’s red face. Purely intentional, Victor lowers his eyelids until his lashes are fluttering halfway, his ice blue eyes staring at Yuuri with intense focus. “Why are you nervous, Yuuri?” Victor asks in a hushed murmur, watching with interest as Yuuri’s brown eyes drop down between them before flickering up to meet his gaze.

“Because of this,” Yuuri whispers back, and that’s all the warning Victor gets before Yuuri leans in to close the gap between them, his lips pressing up against Victor’s mouth so gently, Victor’s heart melts. His hands fall down to hold Yuuri by the hips and Victor groans lightly when he feels Yuuri’s fingers running through his hair.

Moyo solnyshko,” Victor sighs out when they break apart, a smile growing on his face. He has been waiting for that for so long. “How sneaky of you.”

“Oh my gooood,” Yuuri whisper-yells and pulls away, utterly red in the face just before he hides behind his hands, “I can’t believe I just did that.” He makes the dying whale noises Victor heard the first time they met in the onsen, and Victor laughs. “I can’t believe I kissed you.”

“Oh?” Victor grins wickedly as he pries Yuuri’s hands away from his face, and delights in the way Yuuri stares wide-eyed at him as if Victor will devour him whole. “Maybe this will help you believe.”

Victor tilts Yuuri’s chin up and kisses him, again and again and again, until Yuuri has a death grip on him and is practically surging up for more, until both of them are grinning and flushed, until Victor is warm all over.

The ice is cold around them, but Victor feels warm and bright, giddy with happiness.

And it’s okay.

Everything is okay.