He watches the video. Watches it again. Plays with Makkachin’s ears. He books a flight to Japan before he can change his mind.
It’s the surprising thing to do, at the very least. He hasn’t been surprising in a while.
He finds Yuuri’s weak spots right away, of course. Yuuri is an open book. It’s easy: prod at his weight, tease him sexually. Viktor is good at two things: skating and cracking people open. He’s here to do more of the latter than the former. Yuuri is going to show him what he’s been missing; he’s going to show Viktor how to be as raw and true as Yuuri was in that video. And then Viktor is going to come back-one last time, he thinks, a little hysterical-and by God he will surprise them all.
Yuuri dances like a puppet on a string. Viktor’s not sure he’s met anyone easier to manipulate, besides maybe Yuri, his temper a quick trigger point. What’s unsettling is that Yuuri hands the strings to Viktor willingly, happily. It’s obvious how much he adores Viktor-he performed that routine flawlessly, during the off season; Viktor’s not an idiot. Still.
Yuuri hugs him tight before he dances Eros, trembling. Viktor holds him close, and thinks, I could ruin you, and you’d beg for it. He tells Yuuri what he needs to hear, and surprises himself by how much he means it.
Yuuri is beautiful, of course. Whether he’d be able to dance better than Yuri, whether he would land the jumps-that was all in question, but Viktor didn’t make a habit of lying to himself. Yuuri is beautiful, and in his hesitant confidence, in his shaking legs, in the way he leans on Viktor to stay standing-in that, he is radiant.
Viktor doesn’t envy him.
He wonders how long the earnestness will stay.
It is a peculiar feeling to be the second-most important person in a room. Viktor chafes at the lack of attention just as he savors the moments he’s able to steal outside the bar, cool air hitting him with a pleasant sting. Yuuri has been lost in a sea of people for hours now, and it’s approaching midnight. Viktor decides the moment is over, and goes back inside, expertly weaving through people to find Yuuri.
The relief in Yuuri’s eyes at the sight of him stings more than the air outside. Viktor almost recoils, but plasters on his smile just in time, and says, mild, “Time for Cinderella to come home from the ball.”
Yuuri’s nose scrunches a little in confusion-he’s obviously drunk-but he follows Viktor, making hurried goodbyes. Viktor wonders if he should warn Yuuri about alcohol and about showing his emotions so plainly, but then he thinks about how he learned those lessons. He purses his lips. Some things have to be learned the hard way.
He still lets Yuuri lean into him the entire way back. Yuuri clutches at his jacket. Viktor swallows.
“Why do you trust me so much?”
“What did you say, Viktor?” he slurs.
Viktor sighs a little.
Letting him get this close is probably a mistake, because Viktor’s not sure what his end goal is, yet. But it’s not like Viktor hasn’t walked happily into bad choices before. And Yuuri is almost warm enough at his side to make him forget the crisp, chilled air.
A few days turns into a week, turns into two, and the more patient he is the more Yuuri opens up under his fingers, a fern beginning to unfurl. He normally wouldn’t be able to stand it, the waiting, but every touch, every glance-the first time Yuuri lets him hold his hand and pull him to the rink, the first time Yuuri doesn’t blush when he sits close enough to knock shoulders-they are all victories.
He supposes it’s similar enough to skating. Coaxing the beauty out of the music, a series of steps. Coaxing Yuuri out of his shell. But the steps have always come easily. The music is composed to tell the story he writes on the ice. Yuuri doesn’t follow the same steps as the boys who have come before him-not at all, not even the man who Viktor thought of as a quadruple salchow-hard to land. There are no steps for this. He’s composing the music as they go along.
Viktor’s been bored for a long time. There’s only so much you can do when you’re the best in the world. You can reinvent yourself, or you can wait for someone younger and prettier to take your title by force. Some of his peers probably think this is retiring, or running away, but Viktor hasn’t decided anything yet. He needs time. He needs to think about whether he’s getting inspiration or crowning a successor.
The strangest part of all of it is Viktor stops faking his smiles. Viktor’s been content most of his life to lose himself in skating, and he wouldn’t stay anywhere that made him unhappy, one of the many reasons for Yakov’s grey hair. But Yakov probably expected him back by now. Viktor expected himself back by now. But there’s something sweet and guileless about this tiny Japanese town. And Yuuri.
Viktor can snap and demand as much as he wants, and Yuuri takes it all, does an extra lap or jump on top of it. He never rolls his eyes or says Viktor’s being unfair, even when he is.
“Yuuri,” he says, dragging out the vowels like he’s rolling a candy on his tongue.
“You can tell me when I’m being too harsh.”
Yuuri shifts. “The more work I do now, the better my performance will be. You wouldn’t work me to the point of injury.”
“I wouldn’t,” he agrees. In his worst moods, he’s not that cruel.
“Then I’ll keep working my hardest,” Yuuri says, and launches into another lap around the rink.
Yuuri’s avoiding him.
His chest prickles uncomfortably. This is his game. Yuuri’s supposed to be begging for him still, and here he is, hiding in his room. Viktor follows him like an overly-cheerful ghost, patient smile plastered on his face. It’s not wholly fake. Viktor is intrigued by this, something he didn’t expect. Not so intrigued he wants it to continue.
He drags Yuuri to the beach, and they watch the waves. It’s strangely companionable, and Viktor starts talking about St. Petersburg before he means to. Yuuri listens quietly, and Viktor is seized with how much he suddenly misses home. He hadn’t expected to be gone this long.
He teases Yuuri, almost on autopilot, and his barbs are light. Most of the fun had gone out of embarrassing him when Viktor realized the way to win wasn’t going to be that simple. And then he talks about Viktor staying who he is, and acts like he trusts Viktor with everything he has-
“That’s how I’ll show my love.”
It comes out more earnest than he intends it. Viktor doesn’t think about it. He doesn't want to lie to himself.
The next day Yuuri climbs into his bed because he can’t wait for Viktor to listen to his new music, and that’s when Viktor knows he has lost: when he blinks awake to Yuuri practically straddling him with nothing but excitement on his face, he’s lost, he’s lost. Viktor takes the headphones, a little dazed. He wonders how he could have ever thought there was winning by manipulation with Yuuri Katsuki. Viktor’s been on a pedestal too long. He forgot about people like Yuuri. Yuuri is soft and warm above him, and Viktor realizes he’s staring.
He smiles and gives a thumbs up. He looks into Yuuri’s pretty brown eyes.
He’s lost. He is lost.
Viktor turns 28 on a clear Christmas day, only a few weeks after he comes to coach Yuuri. He doesn’t try to hide how touched he is that there’s a little chocolate cake next to the Christmas cake. It says “Happy Birthday Viktor” in shaky English and Viktor wonders if Yuuri wrote it himself. He thinks, 28, and has to stifle a bout of hysterical laughter. He can feel it in his knees, in his ankles, but the date makes it real, and he has to sit down. Makkachin paws at his chest and whines. Viktor bats him off and rubs behind his ears.
Yuuri walks in a few minutes later, yawning. He smiles when he sees Viktor. Viktor doesn’t deserve it.
“Happy Birthday, Viktor,” he says, and Viktor tries to smile. He’s lost the trick of smiling when he doesn’t want to. Yuuri’s brow furrows, just a bit, then he pets Makkachin and walks through the room to the kitchen.
Viktor stands up and follows him, off-balance. He leans on the counter, brushing arms with Yuuri. Yuuri just raises an eyebrow and looks for breakfast.
Viktor stands there a moment longer, then calls Makkachin to go for a run.
He smiles blandly through the celebrations. Yuuri’s parents are as genuine as Yuuri himself, so sweet it almost hurts, so for their sake he says the right things, then excuses himself early. He can feel Yuuri’s eyes on his back, but he can’t bring himself to care.
Viktor makes it all the way to his room before he collapses on the floor.
Twenty-eight. Twenty-eight. He’s going to miss this season, and then-
He can’t imagine-there’s nothing left for him in Russia, without skating-there’s nothing left at all without skating. He can’t catch his breath. All he has are enemies and disciples and fair-weather fans waiting for him, and his body is breaking down, day by day.
Viktor clutches at his shoulders and sobs. Worthless. What’s the point of him if he can’t compete? Who will care about a washed-up genius, a has-been-he’ll be alone-
There’s a knock on the door.
He rubs at his face.
“Are you okay?” Yuuri asks, and starts pushing the door open. He jumps a little when he sees Viktor.
Viktor just keeps rubbing at his eyes.
Yuuri kneels down and takes his hands.
“Are you-are you alright?”
“Am I?” he asks, and the whole thing is so embarrassing that he starts crying again, and once he’s started, he can’t stop, not even with Yuuri watching.
“Sorry,” Viktor gasps. He takes his hands back and crams his fists into his eyes, trying to stop crying. It’s the first time he’s apologized in years.
Yuuri takes his hands and firmly sets them in his lap, blotting at his eyes with a towel produced out of nowhere.
Viktor wants to pull his hands free, but Yuuri’s gripping them tight. It reminds him of when he used to sneak away from a practice and cry, just for a few minutes, trying to press the tears back. Nobody sat with him back then and held his hands. He hiccups and then sobs again. He hasn’t lost his cool like this in front of another person in years. He usually finds Makkachin when he’s this bad.
Yuuri’s still staring at him, alarmed, and he wants to smile at him and tell him that this isn’t too uncommon, he just needs to get it out of his system, but he can’t speak. He shakes his head, back and forth, and can’t seem to stop.
Yuuri slides his hands up Viktor’s arms and pulls him into a hug.
Viktor shudders and gives up, leaning into Yuuri and trying his best to bury his face in Yuuri’s shoulder. He tries to calm himself down with deep breaths, but the moment he tries to pull away he breaks down again and falls back into Yuuri.
Yuuri shushes him, still a little shocked, and rubs his back.
It’s quiet for a few minutes, and then Viktor is only sniffling. He keeps his forehead on Yuuri’s shoulder, more out of exhaustion than anything. Yuuri runs a hand over Viktor’s hair and then begins to wrestle him upright.
“Come on, Viktor,” he says, and Viktor tries to be helpful, but he feels hungover, wrung dry. Yuuri stumbles as he tries to help Viktor up. Viktor manages to collapse on the bed and panics when Yuuri draws away.
“Stay?” he asks, clutching at Yuuri’s sleeve. Yuuri gives him an unreadable look and acquiesces slowly, climbing into the bed with him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks, and Viktor shakes his head.
“Okay. In the morning, then?”
Viktor curls closer and nods against Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri’s warm. It takes less time than he expects to fall asleep.
When Viktor wakes up, Yuuri’s looking down at him, that same furrow in his brow. He doesn’t startle when he sees Viktor’s awake, and Viktor has a sudden rush of fondness. Yuuri’s brave.
Yuuri raises a hand like he’s going to stroke Viktor’s hair, then drops it. Viktor sighs.
“You scared me last night,” Yuuri says, quiet.
“Would you believe I’m not perfect?” Viktor asks, light. His smile drops, and he says, “You’re a better person than me.” He laces his fingers through Yuuri’s. Viktor is too tired for any more games.
“I’m getting-I’m old, and I don’t know what I’ll do when I can’t skate anymore. I haven’t ever done anything else.”
Yuuri is quiet. He’s looking at their hands.
“I’m getting old too,” he says. He looks up and meets Viktor’s eyes. “If you need to leave-”
Viktor leans in slow and kisses the rest of the sentence away. He leans back just enough to whisper, “You’re too good to me, darling.” Yuuri’s eyes are dark on his, and when Viktor leans back in, Yuuri comes forward to meet him.
“And you’re too hard on yourself,” Yuuri says, leaning back in.
Viktor lets himself be kissed once, twice before pulling back.
“When I came here I had no intention of staying,” he says. He closes his eyes. “I was only here to get my inspiration and leave. I teased you. I manipulated you. I thought you were naïve.”
Yuuri touches his face. Viktor opens his eyes.
“And now?” he asks, quiet.
“I’ll never be,” Viktor says, stumbling, “I’ll never be, you. I’ll never be good.”
Yuuri swallows. “What makes you think you aren’t?”
“I mean,” Yuuri says, “you haven’t worked me past my limits-you said you wouldn’t. You’re patient. You’re nice to my parents. You’ve let me open up, and never once laughed at me for it. You stayed true to your word.”
“But I almost didn’t,” Viktor says, chest tight.
“But you did.”
Viktor swallows. “You’re letting me off too easy.”
“Maybe,” Yuuri agrees. “Make it up to me.”
“Yes,” Viktor says, just as his chest constricts again.
“Stay,” Yuuri says.
It’s early. They have time to get to the rink later. Viktor uses every second he’s given to learn Yuuri’s lips, the little noises he makes, the tiny shifts of his body.
Later, the most surprising thing of all to Viktor will be that he fell first. That he fell at all. That he stayed.
Then he’ll see Yuuri, and every time he’ll think, darling, loving you was the least surprising thing of all.