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On My Love

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“We’re almost there, Yurio,” Viktor is saying into his phone. Yuuri can hear the teasing smile on his face as he adds, “Yelling at me isn’t going to make the car go faster!”

Yuuri can hear Yuri’s voice escalate from Viktor’s cellphone, and he and Viktor chuckle at the same time.

“We wouldn’t miss it for the world, you know that! Mikaela will do wonderfully. You’ve trained her well, Yurio, and her senior debut will be as lovely as yours was.”

As Viktor happily chatters away, Yuuri smiles to himself, running a thumb over Viktor’s wedding band as they hold hands in the back of the cab. He glances out the cab window, the world dark except for quick flashes of passing streetlights. Swirls of fluttering snow fall from the night skies of St. Petersburg as they ride to the event venue, where Yuri Plisetsky’s young protege will be performing in the senior division for the first time.

Their longtime friend, underneath his usual brusque demeanor, has been worried sick. Not over Mikaela’s competence—no, she is a brilliant skater, a brilliance that Yuri has done all he can to help cultivate—but simply for the fact that she is his first student, and he wants to do well by her.

Of course, his fear is natural but unfounded. He and Mikaela have worked so hard. Viktor is repeating it into the phone using his calm coaching voice, tempered by years of coaching experience after his official retirement.

Years. Yuuri sighs to himself. Has it already been so long? It’s been ages since he’s skated competitively—even longer for Viktor, who helped Yuuri win a number of other competitions after officially retiring to coaching after Yuuri’s first Grand Prix win.

Even now, he remembers the music flowing through him, the choreography he and Viktor made together as he danced over the ice, the gold medal heavy around his neck and Viktor’s congratulatory kiss that made him feel so very light.

The years have been good to them. He thinks of their younger selves—of Viktor, standing naked in his family’s onsen and declaring himself Yuuri’s coach, and himself, red and sputtering and overwhelmed in the presence of his idol.

He grins to himself at the memory. Neither of them had had any idea of what was in store for them.

Instinctively, Yuuri feels Viktor’s eyes on him. He doesn’t bother hiding his nostalgic smile as he glances over, and there’s a glittering mischievousness in Viktor’s gaze as he lifts Yuuri’s hands to press a kiss to his knuckles.

“Yes, Yurio, I’m still listening.” He returns to his conversation, but not before tossing a wink at his husband. Yuuri huffs a soft laugh before turning his head back towards the window.

The brightness of oncoming headlights blinds him.

Viktor!” he cries out, pulling a shocked Viktor to his chest and shielding him just as a sickening, metallic crunch hits the passenger side of the car.

Viktor’s phone flies out of his hand, glass shattering and metal screeching around them, and Yuuri feels sharp pain explode from behind him before everything goes dark.

He snaps awake with a pounding migraine behind his eyes and a scream caught in his throat. With a gasp, Yuuri presses a hand against the side of his head and waits for the world to stop spinning.

What… what the hell was that? A dream?

A nightmare, more like. It must have been, since he’s in bed and the room is still mostly dark. Still trying to shake off his dizzy spell, Yuuri turns over to see if he’s accidentally woken up Viktor only to smack into a wall that should not have been there.

He stares gobsmacked at the wall for a long moment before his blood runs cold. This isn’t his bed or his home. Where is he? And where is Viktor?

A thought comes to him. If… if that crash was real, shouldn’t he be in a hospital? In the dark, he doesn’t recognize the room he’s in, but it doesn’t look like a hospital room. Yuuri had been knocked out quickly, but he’d definitely felt pain right before he’d blacked out. But at the moment, other than the migraine, he feels fine physically. Maybe better, somehow.

A sharp spike of fear ripples through him. What about Viktor? Is he alright? Yuuri remembers grabbing and holding him tightly to his chest as the car hit, and his heart rate accelerates as he realizes he has no idea what has become of his husband.

Panicked, he opens his mouth to yell for Viktor—for anyone to tell him where his husband is—when he is interrupted by the sound of knocking on the door.

“Yuuri?” a muffled voice calls from outside. It sounds vaguely familiar, but Yuuri can’t place who it belongs to. “Are you awake? Can I come in?”

Yuuri hesitates for a moment before calling back, “Yes,” and immediately balking at the sound of his own voice.

He doesn’t sound like this. The voice that has come out of his mouth belongs to a youth, not a middle-aged man well into his fifties as Yuuri is. He hasn’t sounded like this since he was a young man himself.

The door creaks open, and the light is flicked on.

“Hey, I heard you yelling from my room. Are you alright?” a concerned Phichit Chulanont asks from the doorway, looking much, much younger than he had been the last time Yuuri had seen him.

That, added to the fact that the last time they’d spoken, Yuuri had been in Russia and Phichit had been at home in Thailand, miles upon miles away.

Yuuri gapes. Maybe he still is dreaming.

“I… A nightmare, I think,” he answers faintly before another wave of pain throbs behind his eyes. Wincing, he curls up on his side and adds, “And a bad migraine.”

Phichit gives an empathetic wince himself. “Ouch. Should I tell Ciao Ciao that you’re not up for practice today?”

Ciao Ciao… It takes a moment for him to remember that it’s Phichit’s old nickname for their coach, Celestino Cialdini, back when they were in university. Of course.

Yuuri hasn’t spoken to him in ages. The last he’d heard was that Celestino had retired somewhere in California. They hadn’t really kept in touch, something Yuuri feels a bit guilty about.

“Um… Yeah. I’m not feeling that great right now,” Yuuri slowly agrees. “Thank you, Phichit.”

“No problem. I’m about to head out to the rink. You need anything? I can pick it up on the way back.”

“No, it’s alright. I’ll be fine.” Phichit turns to leave, but after a moment of hesitation Yuuri calls him back. “Phichit?”

Phichit sticks his head back in the doorway. “Yeah?”

“This might sound weird, but… What’s the date today?”

“September 20th.”

It’s supposed to be November. Yuuri remembers the snow falling in St. Petersburg, Viktor’s hand clasped in his own. Mikaela’s senior debut is on November 15th, he recalls Yuri Plisetsky growling over the phone. You both better be there.

We will, Yuuri remembers replying.

But maybe he did miss it, after all. Did Viktor miss it, too?

He doesn’t know. Yuuri can’t tell what is real anymore—his memories, or what he is facing now. His mind is racing.

Breath coming a bit faster, he asks, “What year is it?”

Phichit frowns, replying, “2015. That dream must have shook you up pretty badly if you can’t remember the year. You sure you’ll be okay alone?”

“I’m… I’m just a bit confused right now. I just need to sort myself out,” Yuuri responds, trying not to outwardly react to hearing that he’s somehow decades back in the past. He hides his trembling hands beneath the covers. “Go on, I’ll be fine.”

Phichit still looks hesitant to leave him, but he takes a look at the time on his phone and grimaces. “Ah, I’m gonna be late if I don’t go now. My phone’s on if you need me, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks.” They haven’t seen each other face-to-face in a long time, but Yuuri quietly thinks that it’s nice to be reminded that Phichit has been a good friend to him since the beginning. “See you later.”

“See ya!”

Yuuri waits until he hears the hallway door open and click shut before he slowly rises from bed to sit upright and takes a look around the room. His face is pale as he finally recognizes his university dorm room, vague memories dulled with time steadily becoming sharper as he takes in a space he hasn’t seen in what feels like forever.

He glances over to the nightstand and sees a familiar pair of blue glasses. Hand trembling, he reaches out to pick them up and stares at them.

It’s like unearthing a relic of the past. As he got older and changed prescriptions, the only time he’d seen this particular pair had been in the photographs of his golden days—young and strong, actively competing, traveling across the world with Viktor at his side. It feels nostalgic and even a little foreboding to have them in his hands again.

Phichit—somehow once again his roommate and rinkmate—told him that today is September 20, 2015. If Yuuri remembers correctly, Phichit should be 19 this year. God, so young.

This gives Yuuri pause. Quickly calculating his own age, he realizes that he’s only 22.

It’s impossible. He has to be dreaming. It’s the only explanation for this, yet everything around him seems so real.

Yuuri fights through another headache pang as he shakily puts on the blue glasses and heaves himself up from bed. He moves hesitantly towards the closet door, where he remembers having a full-length mirror on the inside.

This won’t prove that this is real, he tells himself as he pulls the closet door open. He can’t help but stare at himself, bewildered.

Yuuri looks as he did in his old pictures. Young and unwrinkled, his face full and his body at peak physical condition for competitive figure skating. He turns in the mirror to see himself at different angles, gaping at his own reflection. It’s definitely him, and yet not. He feels like a memory come to life, a ghost standing in the body of his past self.

“How?” he whispers, and his reflection perfectly mirrors the movement of his lips.

With half a thought, Yuuri pinches himself hard, and the pain certainly feels real. He watches his skin redden with a chill in his veins. He then stumbles over to his desk and pulls out the chair, dropping heavily into it. Homework is scattered across the desk, and Yuuri glances at a paper before grimacing, having no memory of the topic being discussed. He hasn’t been in school for a long time.

Rubbing at his temple, Yuuri notices a duffel bag on the floor. He pulls it closer and unzips it, revealing a pair of black ice skates, still relatively new. He holds them in his hands, and the weight is grounding.

If this is real… If this is real, either everything he remembers—Viktor, his first GPF, Viktor coming to Hasetsu, training and winning and losing, his entire life, his life with Viktor

Either all that was just a dream, or… Or, somehow, Yuuri really has ended up in the past.

He hunches over, holding the skates desperately against his chest. There are tears in his eyes.

It was real. It has to have been. Yuuri remembers the progression of his life clearly, knows it down to his bones that he’d been awake through each moment. He lived through all those years himself, had woken up and gone to sleep every day, had lived and aged alongside the people he loves, and he knows that it could not have been just a dream.

He thinks of his Viktor, good and gentle and beloved. If he doubts anything else, he can never doubt that what he had with Viktor was real. Even when he looks down at his ring finger and sees it empty.

Head ducked and young again, Yuuri cries in his dorm room, clutching helplessly at his skates.

Because, he thinks, if he really did die in that car crash and end up here with no way back…

He’s left everyone behind—his friends, his family. He’s left Viktor behind.

Yuuri thinks of his husband, weathered and weary, left alone to pick up the pieces. He can’t stand it.

Too soon, he mourns, tears hot as they spill from his eyes. Too soon.

He hadn’t even been able to say goodbye.

Skaters pack up around Celestino Cialdini as the ice skating rink begins the motions of closing up for the night. Plucking out his cell, he quickly calls Yuuri Katsuki’s number. It takes a while for Yuuri to answer his phone, but Celestino wastes no time in filling him in with the latest GPF update.

“Yuuri!” Celestino exclaims into his cell. “You qualified for the Grand Prix Finals!”

There’s a long moment of silence.

… Ah.” Yuuri’s voice sounds tinny and subdued over the receiver. “That’s… good.

Any of Celestino’s other students would have been rightfully overjoyed and excited at the news, but Yuuri Katsuki has always been a little different. He’s so quiet and shies away from attention, having a tendency to crumble under pressure, but he truly is a phenomenal skater. Celestino has tried to encourage him to come out of his shell a bit more, but in all the time he’s worked with Yuuri, the boy remains reluctant to open up.

His self-doubt is to the point of crippling, but nothing Celestino has done so far has been able to help.

He wonders sometimes if he’s the right coach for him. But, for now, all they can do is try.

“I heard from Phichit that you’re feeling under the weather today,” he mentions. He remembers Phichit’s worried look and frowns. “You alright?”

… I took a nap,” Yuuri responds. His voice sounds a little off, but Celestino writes it off on his student feeling unwell. “I think that helped a bit. The headache is wearing off.

“Good, good.” Celestino nods to himself. “Think you’ll be set to come back to the rink tomorrow? Now that you’re a GPF contestant, we have to start working right away. We gotta get to nailing down those jumps.”

Yes, I’ll be there,” Yuuri confirms. There’s a pause before he adds, “Coach?

“Hm?”

I want to change my program. Both of them, actually.

Celestino blinks, shocked. They’d discussed possibly changing Yuuri’s free skate program before, if he was able to make it into the GPF, but this?

“Both of them?” he asks. “Are you sure about this? You had your short program down pretty solidly, aside from the jumps.”

I know what I want to do for both the short program and the free skate,” Yuuri tells him with notable conviction, and Celestino is downright shocked. He’s never heard Yuuri speak with so much confidence in his own decisions. “It might take a while for me to get the free skate music, but I can get the song for the short program easily. I’ll show you what I have planned tomorrow morning.

Bewildered, Celestino can only say, “Well, if you’re sure. Rest up, and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.”

Right. See you then.

He hangs up, and Celestino lets out a long exhale.

What the hell was that? On one hand, it was good to hear Yuuri finally make his own decisions about his skating, but on the other he hopes that Yuuri knows what he’d doing. The young skater is going to have to work even harder if he’s going to perfect two whole new programs in time for the GPF in December.

There was something in his voice, though. Maybe it was finally some budding confidence?

Celestino smiles to himself as he heads to the locker rooms to retrieve his belongings. He believes in Yuuri, believes that he can rise to the top.

It’s about time that Yuuri starts to believe in himself, too.

Following his breakdown, Yuuri lays down to go back to sleep. He feels exhausted and worn, painful thoughts of what he’s left behind stinging like a thorn in his side. He feels Viktor’s absence keenly, like a yawning expanse of cold emptiness at his back.

If this is real, he thinks to himself, closing his eyes. If this is real, I’ll wake up in this exact spot again, and then I’ll decide where to go from here. Just go to sleep.

He wakes in the late afternoon, staring up at the ceiling of the dorm room. He doesn’t feel rested at all. Tears slip from his eyes and sink into his pillow.

It’s real. He’s here to stay, whether he likes it or not.

Yuuri can’t bring himself to rise from bed. He has no business being back here at this moment in time, a young man again for whatever reason. He doesn’t understand it.

He likes the life he already had. He misses it already. It was good, and he was lucky. He has no regrets about it, other than it was cut shorter than he would have liked, but he would willingly go through it all again if he could.

Yuuri pauses on that thought. It suddenly occurs to him that here, now, he could. He can.

He slowly sits upright, bringing his hands up to examine them.

The physical aches and pains of growing older have left him ever since he woke up here the first time. While Yuuri did occasionally put on skates to go a few laps with Viktor, or to demonstrate to a student a particular set of footwork, neither of them had the physique to do anything more vigorous as time wore them down.

Yuuri has missed it, the feeling of skating competitively. He misses the exertion, the thrill of landing a jump, the execution of a flawless program. In order to avoid injury, he hasn’t done it in years.

His new—old?—body feels strong and spry, ready to get out on the ice at any moment. It’s possible now, he realizes, eyes widening. He can do it all again.

As the possibilities begin to unfold before him, his phone begins buzzing on his desk with an incoming call. It takes Yuuri some time to figure out the passcode, fumbling with barely-remembered combinations, but he manages to answer before the call is cut off.

Before he can even say hello, the voice of Celestino Cialdini exclaims, “Yuuri! You qualified for the Grand Prix Finals!

Yuuri’s heart feels like it’s stopped. The Grand Prix Finals. Of course. His first GPF had been in 2015. It had been disastrous, but it had also been the start of everything.

It can still be that. Yuuri can do it all again—better, even. He can do it better this time around, he knows it.

Viktor, he realizes, his chest tight. I can see Viktor again.

But… he won’t know me, will he? Unless he came back, too.

The thought is shocking, sobering. What will he do if Viktor ended up back in time with him? On one hand, they could be reunited, and yet…

On the other, it means that Viktor had died, and he can’t bear to think of it in any circumstance.

Out loud, he barely manages to get out, “Ah. That’s… good.”

Yuuri barely registers the rest of the conversation. Thoughts of Viktor distractedly fill his mind until Celestino mentions working on Yuuri’s programs for the GPF.

Yuuri suddenly realizes that he has absolutely no recollection of what those programs even were—not the choreography, not the jump sequences. He’s probably blocked them from memory, given how his performances had turned out.

He flounders internally for a moment before an idea sparks in his head.

“Coach?”

Hm?

“I want to change my program. Both of them, actually.”

Celestino is rightly surprised, given how out of character Yuuri must seem right now. Yuuri remembers his younger self being painfully timid and self-conscious, self-deprecating, and he would have never proposed such a thing himself. But that spark of an idea now ignites, and there’s a fire spreading in him that he hasn’t felt in ages.

I can do it better this time.

And, if he really did come back, too… Once he sees it, Viktor will know it’s me.

He’s taking a wild chance. Yuuri knows that. But he feels like this is the right thing to do.

The next morning, Yuuri meets Celestino at the skating rink and hands him a handwritten summary of his short program plans. His coach reads it over, and his jaw drops.

“Yuuri,” he begins, watching Yuuri do his stretches in shock. “Do you have the stamina to put all your jumps in the second half? And a quadruple salchow! It’s ambitious as hell, I’ll give you that, but I haven’t even seen you land one in practice yet.”

“I can do it,” Yuuri easily replies, and he watches Celestino’s brows raise at his assured tone.

He pauses, realizing that at this point he probably hasn’t gotten a grasp on such a difficult jump yet. In his own timeline, he’s done that jump so many times that it eventually turned into second nature. Viktor made sure of that.

Ducking his head sheepishly, Yuuri then amends, “Maybe I can’t land one just yet, but I’ll start with easier jumps and then work my way up to the quad salchow. I can build endurance that way, too.”

Celestino is staring at him like he doesn’t know what to make of him, and Yuuri can’t help but smile a little. If he were in Celestino’s place, he wouldn’t know what to make of this new Yuuri, either.

He repeats with determination, “I can do it, Coach.”

Celestino just looks at him for a moment before sighing and clapping him on the back.

“You can,” he readily agrees. “Now lace up so you can show me your ideas for this new short program. On Love: Eros, huh? Not a song I thought you would pick, but you seem to be surprising me a lot today.”

Yuuri just smiles at that, sitting down to put on his skates. Surprising, indeed.

In any case, there's a lot of work to be done. Now that he's here, Yuuri is going to give it his all.

Chapter Text

Yuuri has been different since the GPF qualification announcement. No, Phichit thinks, that’s not quite right. Yuuri has been different since that nightmare he’d had a few days ago.

He remembers being startled into nearly dropping his phone after hearing Yuuri cry out from the other room—he’d sounded like he was in pain. Alarmed, Phichit had rushed over and knocked on Yuuri’s door. He could hear his friend gasping on the other side.

When he’d opened the door and met Yuuri’s eyes, Yuuri looked like he’d seen a ghost.

They’ve been roommates for two years now, and never has Yuuri ever looked at him like that. Phichit still can’t explain it.

Yuuri had been noticeably shaken, and Phichit still feels guilty for leaving his friend alone even though he’d insisted that he’d be fine. Yuuri had obviously not been fine: pale, quivering, and looking ill. And he hadn’t remembered what year it was! If there was any indication that something was definitely off, it was that.

He’d looked better after Phichit returned from practice that night, at least. He had been quiet during dinner—not exactly withdrawn, but somehow contemplative.

Phichit gave him his congratulations on getting into the GPF, and Yuuri had thanked him with a smile. Phichit hoped he felt better after such a rough start to the day.

Lately, though, Yuuri has begun looking more… confident. The days pass, and Phichit watches with wonder as Yuuri walks with his shoulders back and chin up, where before he has always had a self-conscious tendency to curl up on himself. There’s a certain aura around him, an assured vibe that he hasn’t possessed before. It is certainly a noticeable change, and Phichit thinks it suits him.

Like Yuuri is finally coming into his own. It’s good.

“You’ve been acting odd lately,” Phichit comments as they walk towards the skating rink for practice. Yuuri glances at him with a questioning look, and Phichit raises his hands. “Not in a bad way! It’s just… you’ve been different.”

“I feel different,” Yuuri confirms, turning away to look forward. His voice is soft as he says, “I can’t explain it, but… something in me has changed. But, I feel better about myself. More positive.”

“I’d noticed,” Phichit says with an encouraging smile. “You’ve been doing really great these past few practice sessions. You don’t even seem nervous anymore when people watch you.”

Normally, it always looks like a struggle for Yuuri to collect himself when he’s skating in front of other people. His face ends up pinched, and his movements suffer from the distraction until the rink empties of most everybody.

Now, though, Yuuri has been skating as if he doesn’t even notice others on the ice, beyond avoiding collisions. Their other rinkmates stop and stare: they’ve never quite seen Yuuri skate so freely. From what everyone has seen do far, his short program looks incredible—fast, intricate footwork, tight spins, and increasingly advanced jumps.

From just looking at the unfinished product, the short program seems to convey that Yuuri is finally about to reach his potential without anything holding him back. Honestly, it makes Phichit want to step up his game, too.

When Phichit had asked Celestino about it, the coach had replied musingly, “It’s definitely not a performance I would have expected him to plan out, let alone perform himself, but at this rate… I believe he can pull it off. If anything, he’s certainly going to surprise people at the GPF.”

It’s apparent that Yuuri Katsuki is good. Very good. He’s serious competition, and as everyone eagerly watches him practice his short program day after day, it quickly becomes clear that he’s going to give the other GPF contestants a run for their money.

Maybe even Viktor Nikiforov. But lately, Yuuri tends to clam up and go quiet whenever the famous skater’s name is mentioned, so Phichit doesn’t tell him so.

Yuuri, so changed and yet so naturally himself, smiles back at him. He says, “Thanks. Yeah, it was a problem. I’m working on feeling more comfortable performing with an audience.”

“I’m glad. It looks like you’ve gotten good at it,” Phichit tells him. “Good timing, too—this might be just what you need to win at the Grand Prix!”

The older skater grins at that. “Yeah, maybe. Although I wouldn’t count on it. There’s a lot of competition this year.”

“Determination and belief, Yuuri! Confidence!” he exclaims, pumping a fist into the air, and Yuuri laughs. “In any case, I’ll cheer you on!”

Yuuri clasps his shoulder and squeezes. His expression is soft and maybe even a little vulnerable, and Phichit silently wonders about it.

“For real—thanks, Phichit. That means a lot.”

They share a smile before continuing their walk in silence. As their destination looms ahead, Yuuri speaks again.

“Say, Phichit,” he says. “Do you know anyone who composes music? There’s a song in my head that I want to use for my free skate, but I need help to make it a real piece.”

“Huh.” Phichit thinks for a moment before snapping his fingers. “Ah! I have a friend, Malisha, in the music department! She might be able to help you out. Want me to shoot her an email?”

“Yes! Yes, that would be great,” Yuuri sighs. He looks suddenly relieved, and Phichit has had no idea that finding his free program music has been weighing on Yuuri so heavily. “You’re a lifesaver.”

Phichit blinks, but he’s happy to support his friend however he is able. “Always glad to help!”

Yuuri adjusts to once again being a young twenty-something with surprising ease. The actual college aspect takes some getting used to—he’s had to take time to get caught up with whatever he’d been learning in class before, which eats up much of his free time off the skating rink. Embarrassingly, he’s gotten lost on campus trying to find his classrooms more than once, and he now tends to have a copy of the campus map loaded on his phone whenever he ventures out.

Still, the sights are familiar. The university atmosphere is nostalgic, even though he’d been too immersed in skating the first time around to really root himself in it. Yuuri remembers the nearby cafe and the wobbly stool by the window he would people-watch from. He sits in student desks and gets back into the habit of running his fingers over the various carvings people have made over the years. He gets back into the routine of completing regular assignments.

Yuuri has to keep himself from laughing out loud when he sees the spot in the courtyard where he vividly remembers a squirrel once stealing his sandwich. He has no idea if it has or hasn’t already happened in this timeline, and he steers clear of it just in case.

There’s music he’s completely forgotten existed, and he finds himself going through Phichit’s many playlists of hit tracks to hear songs he hasn’t heard since… Well, since he was this age the first time around.

It really does help him feel younger. He goes jogging in the early mornings, usually joined by Phichit, the both of them armed with earbuds and music players of choice.

Surprisingly, some of their rinkmates often join them, too. Before, outside of Phichit and a few other students, Yuuri had mostly kept to himself. Now, he finds himself talking to his peers in and out of the rink much more than he remembers.

Maybe he’s more approachable now? Yuuri’s not entirely sure, but he doesn’t mind. There are times that someone asks if he can teach them a spin or a jump or some footwork, and Yuuri easily falls back into his more recent experiences of coaching. Most of his rinkmates are younger than him and are eager to improve, and helping them brings back fond memories.

“Uncle Yuuri, teach me to skate!” He can feel the memory of his niece, small and bright-eyed, insistently tugging on his sleeve. “I saw those videos of you and Uncle Vicchan, and it was so pretty. I want to do it, too!”

He remembers holding her little hands as she first stepped onto the ice. Wobbling and slipping and grinning ear-to-ear, she loved it at once.

Yuuki had been planning on participating in her fifth Worlds in the spring. He was supposed to have gone with her, as her coach since childhood. And Viktor, the unofficial second coach and adoring uncle, would have insisted on coming along as well.

That’s how it had always gone. In awakening here, Yuuri realizes that he’s missed that, too.

“Yuuri?”

The voice of his current faux student snaps Yuuri out of his sudden melancholy. To his knowledge, Mari hasn’t even met Yuuki’s father yet. He won’t worry about that now.

I hope you’re doing well without me.

“Here,” he says with softened eyes as he repositions his rinkmate’s posture. “You’re shifting too much of your weight on this side too early. Try this instead.”

After a few back-and-forth emails, Yuuri meets with Malisha at one of the studios in the music building. He’s never actually been here. As Malisha opens the door, Yuuri gazes around at the various musical instruments spread all around the room with open curiosity.

In his first life, they’d conversed mainly online and met in person very few times. Well, twice to be exact—once for Malisha to hand him the finished CD, and the second for Yuuri to sheepishly try to hand it back after not using it.

That had been embarrassing. Now, Yuuri comes to her with a song already in mind, and he hopes that he can be more helpful this time around.

“So,” Malisha says, sitting down at the piano bench. “You said you needed a song brought to life?”

“Um, yes.” He watches as she rummages through her bag and pulls out a pencil and multiple music sheets, each staff blank. “I want to use it as the music for my free skate program.”

“I’ve heard from Phichit that there’s usually some kind of theme for those programs. What’s yours, if you don’t mind me asking? It seems important if we’re going to try and evoke a certain mood with the music.”

“Ah. Yeah, that would be important,” he agrees, although he glances away with a slight flush to his cheeks. “My theme for this season’s performances is ‘love.’”

“I see.” This makes her smile as she jots down a note along the side of one page. “So, what kind of love are we talking about here? Do you mean eros, agape, philia, storge—that sort of thing?”

“… I suppose the one I’m thinking of falls the most under agape,” Yuuri eventually responds.

Although Yuri Plisetsky had received the matching Agape song to his Eros, Yuuri’s free skate theme really had been his own version of agape. It was a song about him and Viktor, capturing the stages of their relationship—the before, during, and after of their meeting and all it encapsulated. It’s what Yuuri wants to communicate through his performance now, those feelings that grew between them as they steadily grew from strangers to beloved.

Performing it felt like being filled with bright, warm light. He remembers the joy on Viktor’s face at the China Cup, the first time Yuuri had tried his coach’s signature quadruple flip. He thinks of the delighted, wondrous gleam in those blue eyes, and the following kiss that made his heart fill to bursting with warmth.

I wanted to surprise you.

Yuuri wants to capture that feeling, hold it close forever. He wants to show it to the world.

“I want to describe a story where two lost people meet,” he says. His voice is soft and far away. “It’s not perfect, and mistakes are made along the way, but it helps them grow. They help each other become better versions of themselves.”

Malisha doesn’t interrupt him. She writes in the margins of the sheets in quick jots as he speaks, seemingly trying to capture everything he says.

“It’s a quiet, natural affection that tumbles into something deeper and lasting. It takes time and patience and communication, and it lasts. A lucky, open kind of love that inspires devotion for a lifetime—it’s that kind of love that I want to show when I skate.”

He falls silent, contemplative. Malisha steadily finishes her notes and sits upright, straightening the papers.

That kind of love,” she echoes with a little smile, tapping her pencil against her chin thoughtfully. “Poignant, gentle, passionate. Open and joyous. Lasting. A true love in stages… I see. You’ve given me some good material to work with, Yuuri.”

A true love. It makes Yuuri blush even though he’s been married for many years. He’s a sentimental man.

Yes, he thinks, smiling to himself. They can call it that.

“Thank you for doing this,” he says to her. “I know it’s not the most coherent request you could’ve gotten.”

“But that’s the fun part about making a new composition from scratch. You never quite know what you’re going to get until it’s done,” Malisha says with a grin. “Although, in your case… You said you already had a melody, didn’t you?”

“Um… In general. Not written down or anything.”

Her grin widens. “Can you sing?”

“… What? Oh. Uh, okay.”

It takes a rather embarrassing amount of demonstrative humming and pitch corrections, but over the course of the afternoon they manage to piece together a skeleton of a piano melody. Malisha wipes the eraser shavings from the music sheets and raises them to face level, shifting through them one by one with a critical eye.

“This will do for a rough draft,” she mutters to herself, propping the papers up against the piano’s sheet stand. She presses a few keys on the piano and nods before glancing at him, instructing, “Tell me if this is what you’re thinking of, okay?”

“Alright.”

Her fingers begin to dance across the keys. Yuuri closes his eyes and is transported to another life, one where his stumbling footsteps were joined by another bumbling pair, and they danced together until they gracefully moved as one.

He imagines himself on the ice. He can feel the way his arms will be placed, how his feet will move underneath him, the twists and turns his body will make as he performs.

Yuuri remembers it perfectly—as if it were only minutes, not years, since the last time he’d skated to this melody.

The final note draws out, and Yuuri ducks his head for a moment. Behind his eyelids, he sees Viktor reaching for him.

When he looks back up at Malisha, he’s smiling.

“Yes,” Yuuri tells her with glimmering eyes. “That’s the song.”

While Malisha works on composing the harmonies, she gives Yuuri a CD of the piano melody to practice his program to in the meantime.

“I don’t know where you heard it, or how you got it in your head,” Malisha says, handing him the recording, “but it’s a lovely song with a lovely message. I’ll do my best to give it justice.”

“Thank you,” he replies whole-heartedly. He knows that she will.

The next morning, Yuuri begins working on his free skate program.

November is soon ending, and the countdown to the Grand Prix Finals draws ever nearer.

It’s Yuuri’s birthday today—the 29th. It’s odd without Viktor, or their family. There’s a hollowness in his chest when he wakes up alone, staring up at the ceiling without the presence of his husband beside him.

It’s one of the more difficult adjustments Yuuri’s had to make since coming back to this time: sleeping alone. The bed is too small, the sheets bereft of familiar scents, the bed itself angled in the wrong position than what he’s used to. He often pictures their shared bedroom with the longing for home tugging insistently in his chest.

When Yuuri thinks about it, he wants it to feel trite and inconsequential. He’s slept without Viktor plenty of times, in hotels and friends’ guest rooms whenever they absolutely had to be apart.

But, at the time, there was always the promise of a reunion. He’s spent more of his life with Viktor than without, spent more nights knowing he’d soon see him again than not. The sense of permanence looming over him now is something more difficult to shake off.

Laying in his too-small dorm bed, Yuuri stares at the date lit up on his phone and counts the days until the GPF. It’s not long now.

Viktor, his mind whispers. I’ll meet you again soon.

Phichit has class today, so Yuuri won’t see him until later this evening. While Yuuri doesn’t have class himself, Celestino had pulled him aside the previous day and gave him today off.

“Rest. Relax,” he’d said. “Don’t overwork yourself. Your programs are in great shape. You deserve a break, Yuuri.”

Honestly, Yuuri would rather keep practicing. It keeps his mind from thinking about the past.

It’s been… good, here. Better than Yuuri anticipated. But he misses the people he left behind fiercely.

Just then, his phone starts buzzing. Swiping the screen to answer, he says, “Hello?”

“Yuuri-kun!” He hears both his parents’ voices on the other end. “Happy birthday!”

There’s another voice that sounds like it’s passing by the phone: “Happy birthday, kiddo.”

He smiles to himself, his eyes softening. How timely.

“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Hi, Nee-chan!” he greets, raising his voice at the end for his sister who is likely moving around the room. “What time even is it there?”

“Early enough for it to still be your birthday!” his mother tells him brightly. “Katsudon was our dinner special today, in your honor.”

Yuuri groans, turning over in bed. He’s missed his mother’s cooking. “Nooo, don’t tell me! Now I’m going to be thinking about it!”

He hears them laughing on the other end. Then, his father asks, “So, how is your skating going? Your next competition starts on the sixth of next month, isn’t it?”

“Yup,” Yuuri confirms. “It’s been going well, actually. I have my programs down for the most part. Will you all be watching the competition broadcast from over there?”

“We always do, sweetheart!” his mother reassures. “Minako-senpai will be here to cheer you on, as usual. Yuuko-chan and Takeshi-kun will be bringing the girls over. Oh, Yuuri, have you seen any recent photos of them? They’re so big now!”

“I have,” he responds with a chuckle. “They’ve grown up a lot since the last time I was home.”

Just this past week, Phichit had managed to convince Yuuri to finally get an Instagram, and one of Yuuri’s first acts was to follow the Nishigori triplets’ joint account. Their posts are currently composed of various selfies, family pictures, and figure skating content—nothing too surprising.

Although, it’s still a bit of a shock to see the triplets so little again. He’d seen them grow into adults with lives of their own, and it’s hard at times to reconcile his most recent memories of them with the tiny six-year-olds he sees in the online photos.

It’s so strange, and yet nostalgic. Yuuri gets to see them grow up a second time. Yuuko and Takeshi would have loved to see that.

He sighs wistfully, “It really has been a long time, hasn’t it?”

“Coming up on five years, now,” his father replies. “Do you think you’ll be able to visit soon, Yuuri?”

“I hope so. That would be nice,” Yuuri says. After a pause, remembering how things had gone before, he adds, “I think I’ll come home once I’ve graduated. If I don’t end up going to Worlds, that is. But, ah, that’ll probably be the case.”

He went to his first World Championships with Viktor, and all others after it. It feels odd thinking about going without him now. He’s not even quite sure what his official technical elements score is at the present—it may not even be high enough for him to qualify.

But that’s a decision for another time. He’ll decide once the GPF is over and his scores are rewritten with new personal bests.

Because there’s no doubt about that. There definitely will be new personal bests—Yuuri’s current discipline ensures it.

In any case, he does miss Hasetsu a lot. He hasn’t seen his family and friends there since waking in the past, and he wants to see them in person very much.

“If I don’t go to Worlds, I’ll be home sometime in March,” Yuuri tells them. “It’ll be great to see you all… I’ve missed you guys.”

“Oh, we’ve missed you, too, Yuu-chan!” his mother gushes. “Yu-topia just isn’t the same without the littlest of our family!”

“Mom...” Now Yuuri really feels younger.

“Isn’t that right, Mari-chan?”

“It’s definitely been quieter these past few years,” his sister teases from somewhere further away from the phone speakers. Still, he can hear the smirk in her voice.

“Ha ha, very funny. Miss you, Nee-chan.”

Then their mother adds in, “Vicchan has missed you, too! He’s curled up around here somewhere. A nap before bedtime, can you believe it?”

For a split second, Yuuri thinks she’s talking about Viktor, and his heart stutters in his chest. Then, he suddenly remembers.

His dog. Vicchan. Vicchan is still alive.

It’s been ages. He’d nearly forgotten about his poor poodle, and Yuuri feels terrible for it.

“H-how’s he doing, by the way?” he asks, trying to hide the shakiness of his voice.

“Oh, you know him! Fast asleep one moment, wildly chasing seagulls the next,” his mother says fondly. “He still sleeps in your room, Yuuri! Usually curled up in a little ball on your bed. I don’t have the heart to tell him to get down—he always looks so sad!”

Yuuri guiltily bites his lip. He murmurs, “No, it’s alright. He can sleep there if he wants. I usually let him do that, anyway.”

“I’ll be sure to have fresh sheets for you when you come home, dear.”

He smiles at that. “Thanks, Mom. Send me pictures if Vicchan does something cute?”

“As always!”

The conversation steadily continues, eventually veering into what Yuuri has planned for his birthday. The answer to which being the usual—nothing much. He and Phichit will probably just end up hanging around the dorm.

As the chatting winds down, his father says, “Well, it’s getting late on our end. Get some rest, alright, son? We’ll be sure to watch your competition next week!”

“We’ll be cheering you on! Have a happy birthday, Yuu-chan!”

“Thanks,” Yuuri says with a smile on his lips. “I’ll talk to you all again sometime soon.”

“Bye!”

After he hangs up, Yuuri stares down at his phone screen. Checking in with his family feels like a bubble of light in his chest, yet the rest of him is still caught up on Vicchan.

Before, his dog had died right before the GPF. After five years away, Yuuri hadn’t been able to see him one last time, and he’d been heartbroken. Poor Vicchan had been hit by a car, which Yuuri finds a morbid amount of irony in, considering his current situation.

It’s been a long, long time since he’s seen his childhood dog. He remembers himself as a little boy, holding the tiny, wriggling puppy in his arms with a delighted sparkle in his eyes. He remembers carefully petting soft brown curls and thinking, I’ll love you forever!

After all this time, Yuuri still finds himself wiping away a few tears.

Here, Vicchan is still alive. Yuuri doesn’t know for how long.

He can’t do anything directly. He’s on an entirely different continent, but…

That doesn’t mean he can’t try, right?

The evening after Yuuri’s birthday, Mari receives a call from her little brother. Or, rather, the private landline in the kitchen starts ringing, and Mari is the one who picks up.

Seeing the caller ID, Mari casually greets, “Hey, squirt.”

“Hey.” Yuuri’s voice sounds a bit odd. “Hey, uh, do you have a moment right now?”

“Sure. The dinner orders won’t come in for a little while,” she says, glancing at the clock. “Isn’t it really early in Detroit right now? What’re you doing up?”

“Ah… That’s kind of why I called. Or, er, related to what I wanted to ask you.”

These past few years, Yuuri usually only calls about every other week to check in with them. Deviations from his usual pattern—especially calling the day right after a family call—tend to mean that something is wrong. It’s happened before, usually right before big competitions.

As is the case now, she suspects. She’s heard that this Grand Prix Finals thing is a big deal in the skating business. Mari pulls out one of the kitchen chairs and buckles down for what she thinks will end up being one of their many sibling heart-to-hearts.

“Shoot.”

There’s a pause, then Yuuri asks, “Can you… Can you keep an eye on Vicchan for a while?”

If there’s anything Mari’s expecting, it’s not that. “What do you mean?”

“Like… Make sure he doesn’t run into the road or something?” He sounds distressed. “I don’t know.”

“Okaaaay,” she says slowly. “Mind telling me what’s up? Pre-competition nerves?”

“Maybe a little,” he admits. Her brother is silent for a long moment before he quietly says, “… I had a dream that Vicchan got hit by a car and died. It sounds stupid, I know, but I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Shit.” Not a nice dream, there. Mari raises an eyebrow. “You won’t let this get in the way of your performance, right?”

On the other end of the line, Yuuri is quiet. Mari sighs, taking that as a resounding it definitely will.

“Alright, alright,” she tells him. “I’ll look after him more carefully when we’re out walking, I promise. He’ll be fine. Concentrate on your stuff.”

“Thank you, Nee-chan.” Yuuri’s relief is audible through the phone. “I know it’s dumb. Sorry.”

“No, seriously, I get it,” Mari assures. She glances over to the kitchen mat, where Vicchan is happily napping with his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

Yuuri and Vicchan were inseparable, right up to when Yuuri left for college. In many ways, they grew up together. There had been many tears shed at the train station to the airport, with Yuuri bawling goodbye into his whining dog’s curly fur.

Mari gets it, she honestly does. She loves Vicchan, too. So do their parents and the Yu-topia regulars that constantly dote on him.

He’s a spoiled dog. But he’s certainly a happy one, and they wouldn’t change that for the world.

She says, “You really love that dog. He’s been with us for a long time. I know it’d mess you up if something happened to him, so I’ll look after him, alright?”

“… Yeah,” Yuuri murmurs. “I would’ve spent a long time worrying. Thanks.”

“It’s fine.” Mari glances back up at the clock at the wall. “Ah, it’s nearing time for the dinner rush. I’ll talk to you more some other time, kiddo.”

“Alright. Bye, Nee-chan.”

Swamped with finals and end-of-term projects, Malisha ends up emailing him the finished mp3 file of his free skate theme.

“So sorry that this is so late!!! Hope I didn’t mess up your practice schedule,” her email reads. “I hope you like it!! It was a super fun project!!”

Yuuri smiles at that. He’s been able to practice to the basic melody CD just fine, but it’s nice of her to consider him, too. He clicks around to raise the volume of his laptop speakers before double clicking the mp3 file.

As soon as the music begins, Yuuri finds himself standing as if his body is moving on its own, silently miming the choreography of his free program to the flow of the song.

His hands here, his feet there. Flying sit spin, quadruple salchow. Step sequence at this part. A flip goes here, a combination jump soon after.

Then that last jump. Yuuri’s heart soars in his chest as he imagines it, imagines himself airborne above the ice. He moves his feet as if anticipating a solid, clean landing.

Combination spin, and then…

The last notes play, and he has one hand poised before him, the other reaching out as he holds his ending pose for a long time. Breathing hard, Yuuri soon slumps forward and collapses into his desk chair.

Quietly, he rubs at his watering eyes with the heels of his palms.

The song is exactly as Yuuri remembers it, down to the last note and decrescendo. It was practically muscle memory guiding him just then—the familiar music brings forward a swell of memories and emotions that leave him choked for words.

I wasn’t sure if I would ever hear this song again, Yuuri thinks. He feels newly broken and newly remade, tender-hearted and exceedingly grateful. It’s a wish come true.

Yuuri breathes deeply, eyes closed. Once he’s composed himself, he promptly presses the reply button on the email.

“My practice schedule is fine, don’t worry,” he types out. “I just listened to the song, and it’s absolutely perfect. For real! Like it was taken right out of my head. Thank you so much.”

He hits send, and only a few seconds later, a reply appears in his inbox.

“Nice!!! I’m glad!! It doesn’t have a name yet though, so you think of one!”

She’s still letting him name it, and it’s still as generous as it was the first time around.

Yuuri leans back in his desk chair. His first instinct is to re-christen the song with its old name, Yuuri on Ice.

But, that’s not quite right, is it? The first time, he had asked Malisha to compose a song that described his skating career, and Yuuri on Ice had been the eventual product of that. He and Viktor had placed their own meaning on the song, turning it into something that did describe Yuuri’s career—while, in extension, describing his relationship with Viktor.

This time, he asked her to compose a song about love. And, despite Yuuri having an influence on the main melody alone, Malisha ended up producing the same complete song she had before.

It’s telling. Yuuri’s skating journey went hand-in-hand with love, didn’t it? There’s a reason why it was his theme, both then and now.

At that thought, he pauses. An idea forms in his head, and he smiles.

He writes back his title: “On My Love.”

Malisha’s reply is short. “That’s perfect. Good luck at your competition!!!”

It’s the final practice. Tomorrow, Yuuri and Celestino are flying out to Russia.

At the moment, Yuuri has just changed into his free skate costume to give it a full test run. His rinkmates are standing eagerly along the boards, both on the ice and off of it, waiting to see the final version of the free program.

“Again, no recordings!” Celestino yells across the rink from where he’s fiddling with the music player and speakers. “We’ve got a secret weapon here, people. Let’s keep it that way until the real thing is over and done with, alright?”

Yuuri can’t help but laugh a little at being called a secret weapon.

A few pouting faces glance at Celestino—Phichit among them. At the mouth of the rink, Yuuri removes his blade guards and says with a teasing smile, “You can gush about this all you want later, Phichit. It’s not even the actual competition yet.”

“No one outside the club is gonna know what your costumes look like until then!” his friend replies with a forlorn look at his powered-down phone. He gestures up and down at Yuuri and exclaims, “They’re so pretty! I super want to tweet about it right now.”

“I’m sorry for your struggle,” he responds with an unapologetic grin. “Will it make you feel better if I promise to let you take full-body photos of them later? Have them ready to post as soon as my final scores come out?”

“Yes!” Phichit’s eyes sparkle at the suggestion. “I am definitely going to take you up on that right after this, dude.”

Yuuri nods and then skates out into the rink. After a thumbs up from Celestino, the finished music—in another life called Yuuri on Ice, now dubbed On My Love—begins to play.

It’s like second nature. He glides over the ice, light and sure-footed, the music filling his ears and guiding his body as he moves.

Yuuri feels like a golden memory come to life. With each phase of the song, he feels Viktor’s hands leading him into the next step, the next spin, the next jump.

The song plays out, and the last jump is fast approaching. It’s a quadruple toeloop—that’s what he and Viktor had planned the first time, what he’s written down for Celestino now. It’s what he’s been practicing all this time in front of his rinkmates.

Ever since the China Cup so long ago, Yuuri never went back to doing a quad toeloop in that slot for official competitions.

He decides that he’s going to continue that tradition in this timeline, too. And, he figures, he should do it in practice at least once.

He might be rusty.

Yuuri steels himself. He angles his body just so, preparing for the number of rotations, and the toeloop turns into a quadruple flip in a heartbeat.

He thinks of Viktor, breathless and wide-eyed. He readies himself for the landing.

Yuuri’s blades make a sharp sound against the ice as he lands without a stumble, his body reliably holding up as he glides gracefully across the rink. Around him, his rinkmates go absolutely wild.

Startled out of his headspace by the sudden screaming, Yuuri narrowly avoids tripping on his own feet and skids to a stop before the program can end, whipping his head around to look at them.

“Yuuri!”

“That was a quadruple flip!”

“Isn’t that Viktor Nikiforov’s signature move?! He nailed it!”

“Yuuri!” Like quicksilver, a beaming Phichit speedily glides towards him and tackles him into a hug. “That was amazing! Why didn’t you tell me you were gonna do that, I could have convinced Ciao Ciao to record it!”

“I, uh.” Yuuri blinks but hugs him back. “That wasn’t actually a planned part of the program. Sorry.”

“Dude, don’t be! You just stuck a quadruple flip! And that was your last jump, too, right? No one’s ever done that! Even if it wasn’t recorded, everyone saw it.”

Yuuri glances around them and sure enough, their rinkmates are staring at him with something like awe in their eyes. This certainly hadn’t happened the first time around. Yuuri rubs the back of his neck, flushing slightly.

“Yuuri!”

Everyone flinches at Celestino’s echoing, commanding tone. Yuuri sheepishly glances over to the other side of the rink and is met with his coach’s cool stare. Celestino shoos away the nearby skaters to give them a clear space to talk and pointedly beckons him over.

“Ooh,” Phichit says with a wince. “I hope he’s not gonna chew you out for that. For real, dude, that was really cool.”

“Thanks. I’ll, uh, see you later?”

“I’ll pick what’s left of you off the ice,” he assures sympathetically.

Yuuri punches him lightly in the shoulder before making his way to the boards, where their coach is waiting. “You’re a real friend, man.”

“Anytime!” Phichit’s fading voice calls after him, snickering.

Yuuri’s smile quickly fades as he nears Celestino. The man looks rather intimidating right now. Yuuri can’t help but swallow down a nervous gulp.

As he reaches the boards, Yuuri starts, “Coach—”

Celestino interrupts him with, “Have you ever done a quad flip before?”

He blinks, wide-eyed and caught. “I, uh—”

“The truth, Yuuri.”

Yuuri winces at that. Guiltily, he admits, “Yes, I’ve done it before.”

“Have you been practicing in secret or something? I swear…” Celestino shakes his head and sighs heavily. He fixes him with a serious look before continuing, “Yuuri, we practice together for a reason! Doing a jump like that is dangerous in itself, adding on to the fact that you’re exhausted by the end of the program. But practicing by yourself? You could have injured yourself badly, and no one would have been around to help you!”

Although he hasn’t actually been practicing in secret, Yuuri still feels guilty. His coach is right, honestly—for all Celestino knows, Yuuri has been practicing secretly. Still, Yuuri knows he could have hurt himself doing that jump, and he should have at least given him a warning beforehand.

Yuuri himself has admonished his own students for practicing risky routines by themselves. He really feels like the 23-year-old that he’s supposed to be, at the moment.

“It was stupid and dangerous.”

“I’m sorry, Coach.”

“You’re not going to practice that alone again.”

“I won’t, Coach.”

“Good.” The stern look slowly falls away, and Celestino sighs again, this time more wearily. “That newly found confidence of yours may have brought out a bit of hard-headedness in you, Yuuri. But… it’s done you more good than bad. I can see the results for myself.”

Yuuri looks at him, unsure about the changed tone. “Celestino?”

“… Despite everything, that was a beautiful quadruple flip, Yuuri,” his coach congratulates him. There’s a bright gleam of pride in his eyes. “Not even Viktor Nikiforov can put a quad flip at the end of his program and land it perfectly like you just did. That was a work of art.”

Yuuri gapes at him for a moment before his face flushes. He’s still not quite used to receiving praise from him.

“T-thank you,” he responds with a quick bow of his head. “I plan to do it at the GPF, too, if that’s okay.”

“More than okay! You’re going to blow everyone out of the water with a finale like that,” Celestino says. “… Although you should have checked with me first. And originally practiced it with me present.”

“I’m sorry, Coach.”

Celestino reaches out and ruffles his hair. “You’re forgiven. You made that jump perfect without injuries, and while that doesn’t make it okay, I’m just glad that you’re alright.”

Yuuri swallows around the lump in his throat. Celestino has been good to him. He doesn’t think he fully appreciated it the first time around.

His coach looks at him for a long moment before saying, “This was all you, Yuuri. You put in the time and the determination, and it’s paid off. Whatever it was—some groundbreaking realization, or a change in your thought process—it worked. I had very little to do with it.”

“You believed in me,” Yuuri tells him heartfully. “I don’t think I say it enough, but thank you for that. All I can ask for is your support.”

“Honestly, it seems like a bit of moral support is all I have to offer,” Celestino sighs, but claps him on the shoulder with a wistful smile. “But if that’s what you need, I’m here for you.”

Yuuri smiles back. “I appreciate it, Coach.”

“Your programs are showstoppers, and the world is going to see how hard you’ve worked for this,” he tells him. “If anyone else thinks they’re gonna get gold at the GPF this year, they’ve got another thing coming when you step onto the ice.”

“Vicchan!” Mari calls into the house, whistling. “Walk time!”

She only has to wait for a moment before she hears the sound of doggie nails rapidly clicking against the floor, and Vicchan comes barreling around a corner to crash headfirst into her legs. She clicks her tongue at him, and he just gazes up at her with adoring eyes and wagging tail.

“You’re silly,” Mari says to him as she clips on his retractable leash. “A silly dog!”

Vicchan wiggles excitedly and paws at the front door. Checking that she has her keys and her phone, Mari pulls it open.

Vicchan quickly squeezes past her, only to be thwarted from moving only a few feet away due to the leash. He turns his head back at her with what Mari swears is a betrayed look.

“Sorry, bud,” she says as she falls into step with him. “Yuuri’s orders.”

She doesn’t normally use the leash, but Yuuri’s request of looking after Vicchan still rings in her mind. It can’t hurt to be careful.

They make it to the park by the beach without incident. It’s empty, and the road behind them is clear except for a crumpled potato chip bag, a few chips laying haphazardly on the asphalt.

Mari sits down at a playground swing and unclips Vicchan’s leash.

“Don’t go wandering off, okay?” she orders. “Stay nearby.”

Vicchan yips at her before scampering off to sniff at the grass and tree roots. Mari idly rocks in the swing and checks her phone.

A text from Yuuri yesterday reminds her that he and his coach are going to Russia today: in a few hours from now, it’ll be morning in Detroit, and her baby brother is going to head off to his biggest competition yet.

From the recent calls he’s made home, Yuuri doesn’t even sound that worried about being in the limelight again. It’s rather unlike him—her brother has always been a skittish kid—but his apparent confidence is reassuring.

Mari doesn’t know all that much about figure skating, but just from what she’s seen, she knows that her brother is good. There’s so much potential in him. It’s about time that he recognizes it himself.

The cawing of seagulls brings her out of her thoughts, and Mari looks up to see them flying overhead. She hears Vicchan barking behind her, and she turns around in the swing to see him eying a pair of seagulls pecking at the chips lying in the road. He breaks out into a run.

There’s a loud, incoming whir, and a car screeches around the corner.

Mari sees the car coming before Vicchan does. It’s coming fast, too fast.

Her heart stops in her chest as she shoots up.

“Vicchan!” she cries out.

The gulls take off.

Vicchan looks back at her, stopping in his tracks right at the edge of the sidewalk. The car is a blur as it flies by, not even slowing down. Vicchan lets out a scared yelp and flops onto his belly, whimpering in distress.

“Shit,” Mari curses as she runs over. She quickly scoops the frightened dog into her arms. “Vicchan! What the hell! Don’t run off like that!”

Vicchan whines, fluffy ears lowered.

“You could’ve been hurt,” she scolds him. “Yuuri specifically called me to stop you from doing things like this! What if I hadn’t called you back, huh? What would’ve happened then?”

Looking properly admonished, the poodle licks her cheek as an apology. Mari tuts, but pats him on his curly head.

“Well, you’re okay, so everything’s fine now. Just don’t do it again.” Mari holds him close, scratching him behind the ear. His tail wags.

She lets out a relieved sigh. Shit, Vicchan could have actually died!

Baby brother, you’re a tried-and-true prophet, Mari thinks to herself. A damn soothsayer.

“Let’s go home, buddy. Let’s not tell Yuuri about this, huh?”

Vicchan snuggles safely in her arms. His snuffling wet nose is cold against her neck.

“Skates?”

“Yes.”

“Costumes?”

“Ready.”

“All that other stuff?” Celestino’s voice is teasing.

Yuuri laughs. “Yes, Coach. All that other stuff. The rest of my clothes and a toothbrush totally aren’t as important.”

“In terms of the ability to be replaced on short notice, my student, you’ll find that my logic is sound!”

Yuuri thinks on that and then shrugs. “True enough.”

It’s very difficult to quickly replace competition-grade ice skates and commissioned figure skating costumes, after all. Yuuri’s lost his luggage before an important competition once upon a time, and he’d rather not repeat the experience.

Phichit had gladly helped him pack his outfits to best reduce wrinkling. Right before he’d left the dorm to meet up with Celestino, his friend and several of their rinkmates had braved the early morning to see him off.

“Good luck, Yuuri! We’ll be cheering you on from here!”

“Get on that podium!”

“I have your costumes ready to post!” Phichit had called after him, waving enthusiastically. “Knock ‘em dead! And think of the retweets!”

Yuuri smiles to himself at the memory. He hasn’t posted much on his Instagram, and as usual he leaves most of the social media to Phichit, who’s always happy to fill in the spaces.

Their cab pulls up to the curb, and Yuuri straightens from where he has been leaning against his bags.

“Time to go!” Celestino cheerfully announces. “Need a hand there, Yuuri?”

“Ah, thanks!”

Together, they manhandle the luggage into the trunk and miraculously make it fit. Celestino is talking to the driver through the passenger side window, and Yuuri opens the back right door to get in.

As soon as his eyes land on the seat, Yuuri abruptly finds himself freezing in place.

He blinks, and on the backs of his eyelids flash blinding headlights, crushing metal, and shattering glass. His breath suddenly comes faster, and he can’t move except for a slight tremble.

Objectively, he knows that these things happen, that there is always danger whenever one rides in a car, that trauma can stick with someone for a long, long time.

These things happen.

But it happened to him, directly and personally, and he died. Yuuri remembers the shock of pain lancing up his spine, the way his vision suddenly went black and sightless, and he gives a violent shudder.

He hasn’t had to ride in a car since he woke up here. Not until now.

“Yuuri?” Celestino’s voice sounds so far away. “Hey, Yuuri, are you alright?”

Yuuri’s arms are wrapped tightly around himself. Eyes squeezed shut, he slowly shakes his head.

There’s some murmuring he can’t make out, but they soon turn legible again: “Take a moment. Breathe as I do, okay?”

He listens desperately to his coach’s steady demonstrative breathing. It’s difficult, but slowly and surely, his breath begins to even out. As the racing of his heart finally slows, Yuuri doesn’t drop his arms, but his posture is no longer so tightly high-strung. He’s able to open his eyes again and sees Celestino close enough to be within arm’s reach, but not touching him.

“Hey. Alright?”

Yuuri breathes in, breathes out. “… For the most part.”

“Are you okay to leave? We can afford to stay put for a little while longer if you need to.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “No, no, I’m fine.” He takes another long breath before repeating, “I’ll be fine. We can go now. Just… I’ll sit on the other side.”

Celestino looks at him for a moment, but he doesn’t question Yuuri as he moves for the other passenger door. He simply says, “Go for it.”

They both get in and buckle up. As Celestino leans forward to talk to the cab driver again, Yuuri blinks rapidly to clear his vision. His fingers loosen their death grip on his jacket sleeves.

Sitting in Viktor’s seat helps.

As the car pulls out of the university parking lot and onto the street, Yuuri keeps his eyes on his lap and avoids looking out the window, even though he does want to see the Detroit cityscape he’s rarely ever ventured into.

One day, he might be able to stomach it—be able to sit in his usual seat, look out the window, and not think of what happened.

But today is not that day.

“Hey,” Celestino says quietly, just between the two of them. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Yuuri’s not sure if he’ll ever be able to tell anyone the full truth. He does appreciate his coach’s concern, though.

“Not really, Coach,” he murmurs back. “But thank you.”

In his peripheral vision, he sees Celestino nod.

“It’s early still. Get some sleep,” he tells him. “We’ve got a while before we get to the airport.”

Yuuri nods and leans back against the headrest, closing his eyes. He listens to the hum of the car, the barely-there sound of the radio, the light clicking noises of Celestino’s unmuted phone as he taps out text messages.

He thinks of Viktor’s laughter, a wedding ring warm against skin, a familiar hand curled around his own.

See you soon, Yuuri’s thoughts whisper before he quietly nods off in the back seat of the cab.

Chapter Text

It’s snowing in Sochi.

Yuuri’s breath comes out as visible wisps in the chilled air as he gazes up at the Grand Prix Finals event venue. The smooth glass paneling of the Iceberg Skating Palace gleams imposingly in the sunlight with alternating shades of blue, the curvature of the building sweeping upward like the swell of an ocean wave.

This is it—this is where things will change for real. As he and Celestino enter the venue, Yuuri nervously fiddles with the lanyard of his participant pass as he glances around at the crowds of people milling around them.

He doesn’t see anyone he recognizes just yet, and he’s not sure if he feels relieved or nauseous.

A bit of both is a safe bet. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to arrive so early.

“Ah.” Celestino makes an interested noise as they stop in front of a widescreen displaying the current events. “You were right, Yuuri. The junior events are still going. Was there anyone you wanted to watch in particular?”

Yuuri doesn’t answer right away, adjusting his glasses as he looks up at the screen.

At the hotel, Yuuri had told Celestino that he’d wanted to come early to watch the junior skaters perform. Celestino had obliged and accompanied him, even though the senior events wouldn’t be starting for a few more hours yet.

“A lot of those kids will be making their way into the senior division soon,” his coach had said contemplatively, rubbing his chin. “It’s a good idea to scope out the competition beforehand. Good thinking, Yuuri.”

Yuuri supposes that it’s true enough. He gazes up at the event schedule and quietly sorts through the names on the screen, recognizing a few names here and there of skaters he’s competed against during his own career.

After going toe-to-toe with them on the same rink in another life, it’s strange to realize that at this point, these skaters are currently too young to even be in the same division as him.

They have so much ahead of them to look forward to. The thought makes a soft smile appear on his lips.

His eyes move steadily down the list, and they abruptly stop on Yuri Plisetsky.

Ah. There he is!

Yuuri’s sharp intake of breath must have been audible, as Celestino leans forward to get a closer look at the name Yuuri’s staring at and nods with a slight frown.

“Yuri Plisetsky,” his coach acknowledges. “He’s been dominating the Junior Worlds for the past two years, now. He’s definitely one to watch out for, especially since I’ve heard that he’s likely to make his senior debut soon.”

Yuri hasn’t even had his senior debut yet. Yuuri lets out a long, bewildered exhale.

He thinks of the Yuri he knew, older and ornery and dear, gently clasping hands with his first protege as he helped her put together her senior debut program. Young and fragile, the teenager had sniffled after another failed quad, looking up at her coach with teary, trusting eyes.

“Mikaela,” Yuri had said with a determined fire in his gaze. His tone left no room for doubt. “You will get this. I’ve seen what you can do, and I know you can do it. I’ll help you get there—I promise.”

She’d reached out and hugged him, and Yuri had allowed it.

“If it were anyone else, Yurio might have punched them,” he remembers Viktor whisper to him with a smile from where they watched along the boards. “Mikaela is so gentle, and Yurio so brusque… It’s a learning curve for both of them, isn’t it?”

Yuuri remembers watching Mikaela pull away from the embrace with resolve in her expression, as if that determined fire blazing in her coach had transferred itself to her.

Pleased, Viktor had hummed, “They make a good match. I’m happy for them.”

Yuuri never did get to see the finished product of their hard work.

It must have been beautiful.

“I’d like to watch his performance,” Yuuri tells Celestino, his voice soft. “He’s a promising skater.”

His coach nods in agreement. “Sure. We’d better hurry, though—it looks like his free skate is up next.”

They promptly make their way to one of the viewer lounges reserved for the men’s senior division. As it turns out, he and Celestino are not the only ones with the mind to arrive early, as there are a few people already present.

Yuuri’s attention has already turned towards one of the many overhead television screens. He moves towards it with wide eyes and stands there, staring at the young Yuri Plisetsky who has just taken to the ice. The cheering of the crowd is mute in his ears.

The first thing that pops into his head is that Yuri is so… small. Before, Yuuri had only been able to watch as the younger skater shot up to be taller than him in what felt like the blink of an eye. He’d filled out as an adult, too. The Yuri Plisetsky that he sees on the screen now is downright tiny in comparison, willowy and slender, and Yuuri stares in silent shock.

How old is he now? Only fifteen, if Yuuri remembers right.

No, fourteen. It’s not even his senior debut yet. God, he’s so young.

The free skate program begins, and he is immediately startled by Yuri’s movements, his choreography. In technical terms, he’s leaning on the side of clinical perfection, but that’s exactly what has Yuuri surprised—it’s so clinical, devoid of the passion and fluid, expressive grace of his older self.

Yuuri may have grown too used to watching the performances of the Yuri he knew, the Yuri he’d seen grow into a champion in his own right. Refined and blazing and bolstered by experience, Yuri Plisetsky had taken the rink by storm.

He’d gone through so much to get to the point that he did. Watching a much younger Yuri’s GPF program now, Yuuri is filled with pride.

Keep doing your best, Yuri, he thinks with a small smile. You’re amazing, and you’re only going to get better from here!

“The kid’s good,” Celestino murmurs next to him, arms crossed. “Still needs some polishing, but he looks ready to move up.”

“Hm. The step sequence could use some more work,” a musing voice says from behind them in Russian.

Yuuri understands the words—he knows that voice. It’s a bit different from the one he’s grown used to, but he knows it even better than his own.

Yuuri’s heart leaps in his chest, and he spins around to see an achingly familiar face staring pensively up at the screen.

He looks different—fuller in the face, unwrinkled, hair styled in a way he hasn’t seen in a long time.

But Yuuri would know him anywhere.

“Viktor!”

Viktor Nikiforov is startled out of watching the ending of Yuri’s performance by the sound of someone calling his name. He blinks, and he’s suddenly faced with a bespectacled young man with tousled dark hair, staring up at him with wide eyes and a flushed face.

Viktor blinks again before flashing him a winning smile.

“Hello!” he greets brightly. He winks and offers, “A commemorative photo?”

The young man just stares as him and doesn’t say anything for a long time. Viktor watches in confusion as the shining look in his eyes fades into a tepid, neutral expression.

Eventually, the man shortly replies, “Sure,” before digging out his phone from a jacket pocket.

Still perplexed by the sudden change in demeanor, Viktor simply stands next to him and smiles photogenically as he takes a quick selfie of the two of them. He watches curiously as the man steps back and taps at his phone screen a few times with an emotionless smile.

“My friends are going to be really jealous,” he says, his voice strangely flat. “Thanks.”

Viktor likes making his fans happy, but this one doesn’t seem very happy at all. He finds that he’s not very good at comforting people. He’s not even sure why he looks upset.

All Viktor can do is give him another bright smile and say, “Anytime!”

The young man just looks at him again, his gaze searching and desperate, and Viktor sees a flash of something like despair in his eyes.

The man presses a hand to his mouth with a muffled, “Excuse me,” before suddenly leaving the lounge room.

“Ah! Yuuri!”

Another man with a long ponytail goes chasing after him. Viktor stands in place and stares at the slamming door, bewildered.

He has no idea what has just happened. Was it something he said?

He finds Yuuri crying in the restroom. Luckily, no one else is there, and Celestino clearly hears Yuuri’s muffled sobs coming from one of the stalls.

His heart clenches at the sound. He hasn’t seen Yuuri cry like this in a long time.

Usually, it’s the stress and anxiety of performing that get the best of him. But his student has been so assured lately, so brightly confident that it seemed like nothing could bring him down.

To see it crushed in barely a few minutes is heartbreaking. Underneath that newly found confidence is still a glass heart, it seems.

A wave of protectiveness surges through him, and he resists the urge to stomp back to the lounge and wring Nikiforov’s neck, world champion several-times-over or not.

Celestino had been right there as the two skaters briefly talked. Barely anything had been said, but something, something made Yuuri crumble where he stood, made that wondrous brightness around him wither to a dim void.

He doesn’t know what set Yuuri off, but he’s got a good feeling that Nikiforov has something to do with it. He didn’t even recognize Yuuri as a fellow competitor, after all.

Celestino feels insulted on his student’s behalf. How hurtful it must be to finally be on a level field with your longtime idol and not even be acknowledged.

It’s the only reason he can come up with to explain Yuuri’s reaction. But, at the same time, it seems to run much deeper than that.

For now, Celestino takes deep breaths to calm himself. Yuuri needs him now more than retribution on his behalf.

The coach moves towards the stall his student has barricaded himself in, making his approaching footsteps audible against the tile. Leaning his shoulder against the door, he knocks briefly against it with his knuckles.

“Yuuri?” he calls. “Yuuri, talk to me.”

“C-Celestino.” Yuuri’s voice is trembling from behind the door. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, hey. It’s fine. There’s nothing to apologize to me for,” he reassures gently. “What’s wrong?”

Yuuri doesn’t say anything for a long while. Celestino can only listen to him cry, and he feels helpless.

“Was it Nikiforov?” he prompts, frowning. “Did he say something to you?”

No! No,” Yuuri replies at last, sounding pained. “Viktor didn’t do anything wrong! He was… himself. I just… He wasn’t what I was expecting.”

A pause.

“I… I don’t know what I was expecting, when we met face-to-face. I should have known better than to get my hopes up.”

It sounds like confirmation of his earlier theory. Celestino tells him, “People like that rarely ever are how we expect them to be in real life. He should have known you were a fellow competitor and acknowledged you properly. That’s his own fault, not yours.”

Yuuri is quiet. He can hear him shakily breathing.

Celestino knocks his forehead against the door, continuing, “You’ve worked so hard to get here, Yuuri. You deserve to be here. Don’t let him ruin this.”

After a moment, he hears Yuuri give a wet laugh. “He can be kind of stupid, can’t he?”

Celestino smiles a little at that. “Looks and gold medals aren’t everything.”

Another long pause goes by.

Yuuri then gives a shuddering sigh, whispering, “I’m sorry. You always come to comfort me when I get like this… I know it must be frustrating.”

“I’m your coach, Yuuri. It’s my job to look after you. That, and as your friend and mentor, I want you to be happy and successful in the things you do.” He pauses to let that sink in. “As I said, there’s nothing to apologize for.”

After a few seconds of silence, Celestino hears the stall door unlatch, and he steps back. The door opens, revealing a disheveled Yuuri with fresh tear marks on his cheeks. His eyes are rimmed with red behind his glasses, and his barely-there smile looks strained.

“Thanks, Coach.” His voice wavers slightly, but he plows on, “I… I’ll be ready to focus on skating by the time seniors start. B-but I don’t think I’m done yet. I still have a lot on my mind.”

His student looks like he’s about to break down again at any moment. Celestino wishes fervently that he could do more for him, but from the pinched look on his face, he can sense that Yuuri wants some time to himself.

“Do you need a moment alone?”

Yuuri nods slowly. “Yes… I’ll be out in a little bit.”

Celestino reaches out and briefly squeezes his shoulder, grounding.

“I’ll be just outside if you need me.”

Viktor doesn’t remember. Viktor doesn’t know him.

Viktor lived.

Yuuri splashes water against his face just as new tears fall from his eyes. He latches onto that single thought with both hands, holds onto it as tightly as he can, clamps down on it with a singular focus. He doesn’t want to think about what it means for him just yet.

Viktor lived. That’s what matters. His husband lived, he’s okay, he’s safe.

A part of him is filled with relief. His Viktor survived and can keep on living, just as he was always meant to.

Yuuri died too early, too soon. Too suddenly. Viktor should live a long, fruitful, happy life. He deserves that. Yuuri wants nothing more than that.

He can keep going without Yuuri, even when the thought of it tears at him like a visceral stab to his heart. He can’t help but picture Viktor alone in their home, silent and empty-eyed with grief, and he forcefully wills the image away.

He thinks of him smiling instead, and Yuuri is the one grieving. Viktor has Yuuki, he has Yuri and Mikaela, he has the Katsukis, the Nishigoris, and all their friends. Viktor won’t be alone—he can get past the loss of his husband and keep on living.

Yuuri, weeping and lost, prays for it. He has to believe in it. He hopes and prays with every fiber of his being that Viktor will be able to find happiness without him.

Please, Vitya, wherever you are, he pleads silently through a choked sob. Promise me that you won’t let this crush you.

I am only one of so many who love you. Keep going.

Keep going.

Yuuri bows his head over the sink, shakily gripping the edge to keep himself from collapsing to the floor. His fingers tighten desperately against the white porcelain. He feels weak, broken, undone.

He thinks of the Viktor Nikiforov he’s just met—that look of a stranger’s impassive gaze, that default, pretty smile with none of his Viktor’s affectionate and familiar warmth behind it.

It hurts. It hurts more than he can say, and Yuuri can’t help the swell of grief that swallows him up whole.

He feels so alone in this world, this time and place where no one else remembers what he does.

What he told Celestino is true: it’s not Viktor’s fault. This Viktor Nikiforov, now nothing more than a familiar stranger, is an innocent in all this. He doesn’t know Yuuri, has no obligation or reason to comfort him. He can’t be aware of the fact that his mere existence—still a blessing and a joy, despite everything—is causing Yuuri such pain.

He’s… he’s just a younger version of the man Yuuri loves. A younger, unknowing version who doesn’t know him, has never loved him, has no inkling of those precious memories that they’d gathered together for so many years.

It’s heartbreaking. Terrifying, in the face of the unknown. They can never get back what they had, can never recover exactly what they were, because things have already changed.

Yuuri has changed. He’s not the same person he was the first time around. He’s the only factor that’s different now.

Has he damned himself? He wants to believe that the changes he’s making are good, that they will lead to good things.

But, without Viktor… for what reason does he do this?

He chose his programs for the GPF because they belonged to both of them. Now, with the other half forever missing, he doesn’t know what to do. He feels lost, unmoored.

Where does he go from here, now that he faces the future alone?

Yuuri’s thoughts go frighteningly quiet. He squeezes his eyes shut and leans more heavily against the sink, his heart lodged in his throat and tears hot in his eyes.

When he opens them again, he catches sight of himself in the mirror and sees a boy ripping apart at the seams, lost and abandoned. His reflection looks so young, so scared.

Is that really him? Is this what people see then they look at him?

He barely recognizes himself.

Yuuri closes his eyes again, letting out a long, shuddering breath. What would Viktor say if he saw him now, standing alone as he falls apart piece by piece?

“Do you stand alone, Yuuri? Do you truly believe that?” he imagines his husband’s voice asking, ever kind. His invisible Viktor echoes his own words back at him: “I am only one of many who love you.”

Yuuri ducks his head as a sob escapes from his lips. He hears the truth in those words. When his thoughts turn dark, he always forgets the rest of the world so easily.

No, he acknowledges. No, he’s not alone. Not even here, left without the man he loves, in this place where time has rewound itself and only he remembers the ending.

Yuuri thinks of the people who are supporting him now—he thinks of his family and friends cheering him on in Hasetsu. He thinks of Celestino, who is standing outside of the restroom at this very moment and probably scaring off anyone from coming in. He thinks of Phichit, of his classmates, of the young skaters who look up to him with stars in their eyes.

He carries their hopes with him, too. Because they believe in him, and he can never betray that.

But, beyond it all, there is a simple reason to continue on, with or without Viktor by his side.

Yuuri remembers himself as a small child, skates on his feet for the first time. He fell in love with skating on his own. No competitions, no glory, no idols.

Just a boy on the ice, and a new dream blooming in his heart.

In the silence of his mind, Viktor’s voice rings out: “Why do you skate, my darling?”

His first instinct is to reply, I skate for you, Viktor, but he knows that’s not right. He knows the real answer, has always known it since the very beginning.

Yuuri hears his own voice respond clearly, full of conviction.

“Because I love it.”

Viktor’s sweet laugh is soft and fond, filling him with tender warmth.

“Good answer!”

Yuuri wipes away his tears, a trembling smile on his lips. Isn’t that answer enough?

So much has happened, and he’s nearly lost sight of why he’s dedicated his life to this sport in the first place. When it comes to skating, nothing has changed. He skates because he wants to, because he loves it.

He skates for his own sake.

“Keep going, Yuuri,” Viktor’s voice whispers to him. “Keep going, and don’t look back.”

Silently, he vows: I will. I promise.

Just… Let me remember you one last time, Vitya. Let me dedicate these next hours to you.

After that... then I’ll let go.

Yuuri breathes in deeply before leaning down to wash his face again. With paper towels pressed against his face, he hears the restroom door open.

“Yuuri?” Celestino’s voice echoes through the room. “We’ve got an hour until the senior warmup period starts. How are you feeling?”

Yuuri doesn’t respond right away, instead glancing at the mirror again. The young man reflected back at him is looks calm, serene. His eyes are dry and have regained that familiar determined edge that Viktor always loved.

Yuuri sees himself looking back at him. Not the young, anxious novice he used to be; not the shining, seasoned champion he once was.

He sees himself as he is now—a competitor ready to show the world what he’s got.

It doesn’t have to be the same. He’s different, and things will be different as a result. The future will play out as it will, and he has no idea where it will go from here.

But that’s okay.

Yuuri smiles, and his reflection smiles back.

“I’ve pulled myself together, Coach,” he says, balling up the paper towels and throwing them away. “Crying always did help me feel better.”

He sees a familiar face and smiles, commenting, “That was a very pretty quad toeloop you did during practice, Yuuri.”

Yuuri Katsuki glances up from where he’s stretching against a wall. His coach is visible out in the hallway, talking on his phone.

Yuuri’s cheeks flush slightly at the compliment, and the sight is as absolutely adorable as it usually is.

“Oh! Chris!” he greets, standing upright to face him properly. “Thank you.”

Christophe Giacometti winks at him, saying, “It’s been a while! I have to say, it’s great to see a fresh face at the GPF—congrats on that, by the way.”

Yuuri rubs at the back of his neck with a light laugh. “I’m glad I made it this far. I’m pretty sure I barely scraped by for the qualification points.”

If Christophe remembers correctly, that statement is true. Yuuri had placed just high enough at his qualifier events, at the NHK Trophy and at Skate America, to get into the GPF. He’s heard people muttering about it, some nonsense talk about Yuuri not being good enough for this competition.

They’ve known each other since they were both in juniors, competed against each other time and time again. Yes, from what he’s seen, Yuuri does get nervous easily and tends to flub his jumps as a result, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to be here.

He’s been getting better. Chris can see that easily—that jump he’d performed flawlessly during the warmup is certainly no joke.

Yuuri has potential, and the fact that he did qualify just confirms it.

“So,” Chris drawls as he leans casually against the wall, his hip cocked just so. “You drew first. Nervous?”

The younger skater makes a discontented sound, not even batting a single eyelash at Chris’ pose.

He pouts. He usually can make Yuuri blush so easily.

“I hate going first,” Yuuri sighs. “My first GPF, and I’m the opening act. At least it’ll be out of the way, and I won’t be sweating out of my skin the entire time.”

“I’ll be sure to cheer you on!” he assures him before his gaze turns into a teasing leer. “Speaking of sweating out of your skin—”

“I walked right into that one.”

Chris huffs. “So sassy now, Yuuri! Where’s my shy boy gone?”

“My short program doesn’t call for shy, Chris,” Yuuri tells him, fiddling with his lanyard. “I have to get into a different mindset.”

“Ooh!” He makes an interested noise, leaning closer. “Are you finally doing a sexy program? I’d love to see that.”

“Yeah. Hopefully it’ll surprise people.”

Chris just nods, but the words take a moment to actually sink in. He then gapes at him, saying, “Wait, what? Really?”

Yuuri grins. “There’s one person surprised.”

“Wow.” Chris blinks in shock before grinning back. “I wish you the best of luck with that! Let me tell you, Yuuri, from experience… It’s a heady power to hold over the audience. Make them fall over their own feet for you, hit them with that look that says you can look, but you can’t touch.”

He twists his body to do the enticing ending pose for one of his own programs as a demonstration. He graces Yuuri with a flirty wink and a teasing smirk, but the other skater just smiles at him.

“I see,” he says innocently, and Chris gets the feeling that Yuuri is just messing with him.

He pouts again. “C’mon, Yuuri! I’m trying to help you, here.”

Yuuri laughs out loud this time, covering his mouth with his hand. “I know. Sorry.”

“You don’t sound very sorry!”

The younger skater is schooling his expression into something more apologetic when there’s suddenly a smattering of Russian conversation entering the lounge room. He watches Yuuri’s face suddenly pale as Viktor Nikiforov appears, deep in conversation with his coach. The young Yuri Plisetsky trails in behind them, the hood of his jacket up and a scowl on his face.

As they pass by, Chris notices that Yuuri has actually inched behind him, hiding himself from view. Chris, thinking that he’s just being shy in the legendary skater’s presence, is about to call out to get Viktor’s attention for him when he feels Yuuri tug insistently at his jacket.

He glances back at him and is surprised to see the notably uncomfortable look on Yuuri’s face as he quickly shakes his head.

Chris doesn’t quite understand, but he waits until the Russian group moves out into the hallway and is out of earshot before turning fully to Yuuri.

“Viktor’s not that bad, you know,” he reassures him. “He won’t bite your head off if you say hello. He loves the attention.”

“It’s not that,” Yuuri replies, shifting in place with an uneasy look. “I already talked to him, anyway.”

Chris pauses at that before frowning. “Was that why you looked so uncomfortable earlier? Did he say something mean to you? ‘Cause I can go over there and chew him out for being an asshole.”

“No, no, he didn’t!” Yuuri replies, waving his hands placatingly. His expression is distressed. “I… It was nothing, really. I got a selfie with him. It was embarrassing, and I’d rather not talk to him right now.”

The younger skater then shrugs but smiles at him a little.

“I appreciate the offer, though. I imagine not all that many people would walk right up to Viktor Nikiforov just to scold him.”

“The guy can be a bit dense sometimes. Don’t want him to get too cocky, you know?” Chris smiles back before fixing Yuuri with an expectant look. “So, what’s this about a selfie? Was it a cute one?”

Yuuri flushes and retrieves his phone, tapping around on the screen before handing it to him.

Chris looks, and it’s an Instagram post. The picture is mostly of a charmingly smiling Viktor, really. Yuuri’s hair and the corner of his glasses are visible to the side, as well as his selfie arm, but his face is completely out of the frame.

The first comment belongs to phichit+chu: DUDE OMG!!!, accompanied by a smattering of other excited comments and likes.

Yuuri, no one can see your adorable face!” Chris admonishes. “You can barely call this a selfie if you’re not even in it!”

Yuuri just shrugs again. “I got the important part.”

Chris gasps, affronted. He throws his arms around Yuuri and hugs him tightly, exclaiming, “Yuuri Katsuki, how can you say that?! You are very important! Here, let’s take another selfie right now, so your followers can see you properly!”

“O-oh. Okay.”

Chris nuzzles right up against him and snaps a couple of photos of them with Yuuri’s phone. He then scrolls through the bunch and awws to himself.

“See, look at how sweet you are!” he says, handing the phone back on a particularly choice picture. Yuuri has a very cute smile in it, and the angle of Chris’ face is quite flattering. He tells him decisively, “They’ll love it.”

Yuuri takes his phone back shyly, looking down at the screen with a smile as he goes to post the photo. “Thanks, Chris.”

“Wait, I want to take a few, too!” Chris pats himself down for his phone before fishing it out from his back pocket triumphantly. As he opens the app, he pauses and then says, “Hey, wait a minute… How long have you had an Instagram account?! Are you even following me?”

The younger skater looks at him with big eyes. “Oh, uh…”

His jaw drops with faux offense, gasping, “Yuuri, after all this time we’ve known each other…!”

“Sorry, sorry, I’m on it!”

As he says it, Yuuri is grinning as he searches for Chris’ account. Chris finds himself smiling, too.

He’s still not sure of what exactly happened between Yuuri and Viktor Nikiforov, but he knows he doesn’t like that panicked look he’d seen on Yuuri’s face.

Chris would rather see his friend smile, and if he can provide a momentary, light-hearted distraction before Yuuri has to go out and perform for the world, he’ll gladly do so again.

Yuuri removes his jacket, handing it to Celestino. His coach folds it over his arm and checks over Yuuri’s outfit one more time.

“Looks good from here. No rips or tears that I can see,” he says. “Does it feel alright?”

Yuuri stretches some, making sure he has full range of movement.

He confirms, “It’s fine.”

His short program costume, sleek and skin-tight, bears just the slightest resemblance to the one he wore in his first life. If someone were to do a side-by-side comparison of it versus Viktor’s old costume, they may be able to notice the similarities in the cut of the cloth and the placement of the see-through mesh.

However, instead of being a solid black, a rich red gradient spreads along his torso, the shades reminiscent of dark, wine-colored roses to vibrantly scarlet carnations. Under the light, his chest, shoulders, and arms glitter with gold, like bright golden sparks crackling from a blazing fire.

It’s romantic, passionate, and seductive—exactly what his Eros performance entails.

From a few feet away, Chris lets out a low whistle. When Yuuri glances over, he mouths, “Nice!”

Yuuri laughs and waves at him as he’s ushered away by his coach to change into his own costume. Chris winks at him as a goodbye.

Celestino touches his shoulder to get his attention again. He asks, “Ready, Yuuri?”

He breathes in, breathes out. He nods. “Yeah.”

As they make the walk down one of the halls to the arena, Celestino says to him, “You have my full permission to up the difficulty of your jumps while you’re out there, if you feel confident enough to do so.”

Yuuri looks at him, surprised. “Coach?”

“The program elements I submitted for the commentators to look at is the same as the one you gave me the first time,” he murmurs conspiratorially. “You’ve done much more difficult maneuvers since then—and done them easily. Both you and I know that you can up the ante.”

Yuuri smiles at that. “And give the judges a little surprise as a result?”

“You bet,” his coach responds, grinning. “I’ve calculated your score many times from practices at the home rink, and you consistently average over 100 points. If you up the difficulty just a bit...”

“… Then there’s a real chance for me getting and staying in first place for the short program. And a chance for the podium,” Yuuri finishes. He nods, chuckling. “I’ve got you, Coach. I’ll do what I can.”

Just as they’re about to enter the arena, Celestino stops him and gives him a long look.

“You’ve come such a long way, Yuuri,” he tells him. “Just a little while ago, you would have been terrified to even be here. But look at you now. You’re going out there with your head held high, like it’s nothing.”

“Just another day in figure skating,” Yuuri says with a little smile.

Not just another day,” Celestino disagrees. “It’s your day, Yuuri. You’re going to show everyone what you’re made of. I know it, you know it. Anyone who doubts you is going to have their words thrown right back in their face.”

He holds Yuuri by the shoulders, giving them a grounding squeeze. There’s a glimmer in his eyes.

“You’ve come so far, and it’s the final stretch. I want to tell you right now—I’m proud of you. No matter what happens tonight, I’ve never been so proud of you.”

Yuuri feels the tears coming fast, and he throws himself forward to hug his coach.

He whispers into Celestino’s jacket, “Thank you for believing in me.”

Just then, they can both hear the audience’s cheering crescendo in volume. The opening ceremony must be ending soon, and Yuuri is the first to go of both groups.

“Alright,” Celestino announces, patting him on the back as he releases him. “It’s showtime.”

Yuuri nods determinedly, and they step into the arena together.

Bright lights immediately wash over him, as does the roar of the crowd. The cameras quickly turn to them, and Yuuri waves back with a smile. There are event organizers and reporters running around everywhere, the flashes of photo bulbs leave dark spots in his eyes, and the skaters placed in his group glare at him as he passes by.

He understands why his past self had been so terrified. For someone experiencing this for the first time, it can definitely be overwhelming.

They make their way to the mouth of the rink, where Yuuri removes his blade guards.

He gazes over the ice. It’s smooth and unmarred, newly resurfaced just for him.

It’s his first competition in over twenty years. There’s an itch under his skin, an eager thrill trickling down his spine that’s ready to finally go through it all again.

A nearby event organizer signals to them that they’re ready to begin. Celestino gives him one last clap on the shoulder and steps back.

One more time, Yuuri thinks. One more performance each for both Eros and On My Love, and he promises to let go.

One more time, and he’ll let himself look towards the future instead of what he left behind.

“First is Yuuri Katsuki, 23, representing Japan in his first Grand Prix Finals,” the loudspeakers boom overhead. “His short program will be to the song, ‘On Love: Eros.’”

Yuuri takes to the ice, skating to the center of the rink. Silently, he pictures Viktor standing at the boards, watching him—his Viktor, older and grayed and so very beautiful, still able to make an older Yuuri feel like he’s the most sublime creature in the world.

He takes a deep breath and gets into his starting position. He thinks of yearning, seduction, the dance he and Viktor played to so long ago, and his eyes hood over as the music begins.

Keep your eyes on me. Don’t look away.

One more time.

“Oh, dear. I think I’ve made a fool of myself.”

Yuri Plisetsky glaces up from his phone at Viktor, who is looking up at the overhead television screen displaying the start of the senior GPF short programs. The camera is on a Japanese man in a red and black outfit who is removing his blade guards. The name on the screen reads, “Yuuri Katsuki.”

Yuri scowls. He’s the only Yuri around here. He already has the urge to crush this nobody like an ant under his boot.

“Viktor,” Yakov rumbles from beside him, arms crossed. “What have you done now?”

“We took a picture together earlier!” Viktor says, pointing up at the man on the screen. “I didn’t know he was a competitor. Oh, no wonder he looked upset…!”

“You didn’t even look up your competition beforehand? How careless, Vitya.”

Viktor actually looks distressed. Yuri snorts, continuing to scroll through his Twitter feed for posts about his own performance.

“Your fault, idiot,” he adds in his two cents.

As per usual, though, Viktor doesn’t even react to the insults and looks back up at the screen.

“First is Yuuri Katsuki, 23, representing Japan in his first Grand Prix Finals. His short program will be to the song, ‘On Love: Eros.’”

Viktor makes a small, surprised noise. “Oh! I was looking at that song myself, for next season.”

“Were you?” Yakov sounds interested. Yuri glances up again at that.

“Yes,” Viktor replies, watching as Katsuki skates out to the center of the rink, waving at the audience before getting into position. “It was nothing too concrete, though. I wonder what he’ll do with it?”

“He must not have had much time to prepare this,” their coach notes. “This was not his short program for the qualifier competitions...”

The music starts, rapid guitar strums sounding from the speakers. Immediately, Katsuki’s movements are noticeably fluid and precise, and everyone’s backs go a little straighter in response.

Unexpectedly, Katsuki looks directly into the camera and blows a flirty kiss.

Viktor honest-to-God giggles. Yuri lets out a disgusted groan.

“Do not,” he warns, but the older skater just waves him off with a delighted smile.

Katsuki immediately goes into a complicated step sequence, his movements quick and elegant as he moves in time with the music. The ice gleams as he dances across it, raising his arms for a single, on-beat clap before soon moving into a fast and tight camel spin.

Viktor is staring intently, his mouth slightly open with both his hands pressed flat together against his lips. Yakov is leaning forward in his chair, taking in the competition with a critical eye.

“He’s good,” their coach mutters, and even Yuri sits up straight at that.

Yakov is not the kind of mentor to hand out compliments easily. For him to say such a thing, after just a step sequence and a spin…

Yuri grimaces and puts his phone down. Most of the tweets are saying the same old stuff, anyway.

One of the commentators says, “Yuuri Katsuki has planned all his jumps for the second half of the program.”

“Ambitious, too,” Yakov remarks as Katsuki kicks into the air and lands a flying sit spin. “He must be aiming for the top with this performance.”

Yuri glances at Viktor, but the famous skater says nothing in response. He’s staring at the screen with big eyes, standing completely still as he watches. His hands are still pressed together like a prayer.

The program soon lapses into the second half, where Katsuki will soon begin his lineup of planned jumps. Yuri frowns and settles in to watch, idly hoping that he’ll fall on his ass once or twice.

“And here Katsuki moves from a spread eagle into… a triple axel!”

He jumps shockingly high and lands solidly. The audience cheers their approval.

“Nice height!”

“Up next is a quadruple salchow… Katsuki has had trouble landing this one in past competitions...”

The skater glides in a graceful arc before taking off, spinning tightly in the air like a whirl of flame. Yuri quickly counts the rotations: one, two, three, four—

“He nailed it!”

After a clean landing, Katsuki swiftly moves into more choreography, his movements fast, sweeping, and refined. He sails across the rink with one knee bent, eyes closed with his face tilted towards the ceiling. Violins sing throughout the arena.

“Here comes a combination: quadruple toeloop, followed by a triple toeloop.”

Katsuki rises upright to prepare for the jump combination, and Yuri breathes in sharply as he notices Katsuki’s legs crossing just before he lifts off the ice.

That’s not the setup for a toeloop—

“What— He’s changed it to a quadruple loop! And—”

He jumps again into the triple toeloop, and lands just as neatly as before.

“He’s landed the combination with an unplanned jump of much higher difficulty—a Rittberger! Unbelievable!”

Yuri is halfway out of his seat with wide, disbelieving eyes. Yakov is already standing with fists clenched at his sides, staring at the screen in a similar state of disbelief.

Meanwhile, Viktor’s jaw has dropped wide open, and his expression is one of thrilled exhilaration. He looks like he’s about to vibrate out of his own skin.

“Marvelous,” he whispers.

The music swells, violins singing with accelerating intensity. Katsuki goes into one last combination: another camel spin that elegantly transitions into a sit spin.

He breaks it cleanly, moving in a sinuous dance, until he ends in perfect sync with the music. The cry of violins cuts off in crescendo, and Katsuki’s ending pose has his arms looped before him as if around the neck of an invisible lover.

His head is tilted back like he’s about to receive a kiss. The glitter of his fiery costume sparkles gold in the light.

The arena is silent for a split second as if in complete shock. Then, the stands erupt with roaring, boisterous applause.

The commentators seem just as floored. One manages to quickly recover and exclaims, “What an astounding performance! This short program may have the highest technical difficulty in history, and he’s completed it perfectly!”

What the fuck.

“What the fuck,” Yuri finds himself repeating aloud, blinking incredulously at the screen.

“Beautiful!” Viktor bursts, throwing his arms out into the air before clapping madly. “Amazing! Wonderful! Absolute perfection!”

Hopping in place, he spins in an excited circle, and Yuri doesn’t know how he’s doing it without falling over.

“Did you two see that?!” Viktor exclaims, pointing at the screen where a breathless Katsuki is currently bowing and waving to the crowd. “That was…! I can hardly describe it in words!”

Yuri just stares at him. He can’t remember the last time he’s seen Viktor so excited about something.

He’s been so… lackluster, lately. If anything about Viktor Nikiforov can be described as lackluster. Now, though, he looks newly energized with a bright gleam in his expression.

“Katsuki is incredibly skilled, suddenly,” Yakov muses. “His performances prior to the GPF left something to be desired. This kind of improvement, within this time frame is… unbelievable.”

“That was the essence of Eros!” Viktor babbles on, as if their coach had not spoken at all. “Exactly what I imagined, and more! That was incredibly sexy.”

“Don’t ever fucking say that in my presence again,” Yuri demands, gagging. “Disgusting.”

Viktor only laughs before spinning around towards the television again, watching Katsuki leave the rink with a bright spark in his blue eyes.

Yuri hears him murmur to himself, “What a turn of events…! Just where have you been all this time, Yuuri Katsuki?”

Yuri rolls his eyes and glares at the image of the rival skater on the screen. Begrudgingly, Yuri silently admits that he will have to work even harder if he’s going to one day grind this other Yuuri into dust.

At least he’s not a complete waste of space. Yuri absolutely refuses to share his name with a loser.

“Oh my goodness, was that really my little boy? What a performance!” Hiroko exclaims with a soft laugh. She pats her husband’s hand and says, “Our Yuuri sure has grown, hasn’t he, dear?”

“It’s been quite a while since he’s been home. He seems much more sure of himself now,” Toshiya agrees, nodding. “Maybe America was just what he needed.”

Yuuko is listening with half an ear as their party—composed of the Katsuki family, Minako-sensei, and Yuuko’s own husband and daughters—cheer for Yuuri on the television as he bows and waves to the boisterous crowd after completing his GPF short program.

And what a program that was! Yuuko is still blushing a little herself. In all the years she’s known Yuuri, she’s never seen a hint of what that short program brought out in him—something sultry and teasing, urging the entire world to turn its eyes to him and keep them there.

He used to be so withdrawn, so self-conscious! But that timid boy was nowhere to be seen as he danced across the ice, enthralling the viewer with each playful glance and beckoning gesture.

His jumps were perfect, too. Yuuko had been breathless, fearful yet exhilarated, as she watched her childhood friend leap from the ice and successfully land each jump without fail.

It was flawless. The crowd roared. She’s never seen Yuuri skate like that before.

“Wow,” Takeshi says beside her. Her husband grins, nudging her arm. “Little Yuuri-kun really has grown up, huh? He really owned it out there.”

“He really did,” Yuuko agrees. “He’s… changed, hasn’t he? Since the last time we saw him?”

That was years ago. Yuuri had looked so small then, suitcase in hand, about to leave home for the first time to pursue figure skating in a foreign country so far away. He’d looked scared, eyes large and watery behind his glasses, and Yuuko had given him the biggest hug she could.

I believe in you. We all do. We’re all behind you, so do your best, alright?

Yuuri had nodded, his smile tight and unsure, and Yuuko finds herself tearing up.

“He’s so confident now!” she exclaims tearfully, the image on the television of Yuuri and his coach sitting in the kiss and cry blurring. “I’m so happy for him!”

“Ah! Yuuko!”

As Takeshi fishes out a handkerchief for her to wipe her eyes, their triplets loudly gasp from their front row seats in front of the television.

“Mom! Dad!” Axel cries out. “They’re about to announce Yuuri’s scores!”

The entire room goes silent as they all watch Yuuri nervously shift beside his coach. Then, the score pops up on the screen.

“116.84! An incredible new personal best for Yuuri Katsuki!” the commentator exclaims, and the Yu-topia crowd goes wild. On the television, Yuuri breathes a sigh of relief before his coach grabs him in an elated hug.

“A triple digit short program score?” Yuuko gasps over the boisterous cheering. “He’s never hit over 100 before this!”

Yes! Yuuri-kun, you were amazing!” Minako-sensei yells, dancing with the overjoyed and bouncing triplets with her handmade Yuuri flag waving behind her. Vicchan barks excitedly, running circles around them.

“That’s good, yes?” Toshiya asks to the group at large.

Very good,” Takeshi confirms, grinning. “Even though he went first, Yuuri-kun definitely has a chance to keep first place in the short program with a score like that. Here’s hoping he can keep it going for the free skate!”

Mari, seated beside her parents, pours him a drink and passes it across the table. They both knock one back in Yuuri’s honor.

Then, Yuuri’s mother asks, “Do you think he could win this time? That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?”

Everyone turns to look at her. Yuuko blinks and considers the question. Yuuri only very rarely got first place, and it was usually at smaller competitions. His nerves usually would get the best of him at increasingly larger gatherings, and this was the largest competition of his to date. As much as no one wanted to say it, based on Yuuri’s past records, it’s unlikely.

But that’s based on what Yuuri was like before. They all have seen a new Yuuri tonight—strong, assured, smiling when before he would have shied away.

Yuuko has seen a change in him, and she has a feeling in her heart of hearts that he can really do it.

“If he nails the free skate and manages to get enough points, then maybe,” Takeshi responds to Hiroko’s question. “But he also has to get past the competition. Nikiforov is there, too, and he’s won four years in a row.”

Yuuri’s beloved Viktor Nikiforov, Yuuko muses. She wonders how Yuuri is faring, being so close to his longtime personal idol and even competing against him for the first time. How nerve-wracking.

She remembers their youth, of herself skating alongside a very tiny Yuuri to Viktor Nikiforov’s programs. She remembers his excited smile, the wondrous sparkle in his eyes every time he stepped out onto the ice.

Look, Yuuko-chan! I can do it, too!

Yuuko looks at the current Yuuri on the screen, cheerily waving at the camera with a slight flush to his cheeks.

Yuuko abruptly stands up, pumping a fist into the air. She yells, “He can do it! I believe in him!”

Takeshi says behind her, “Uh, Nikiforov and those other guys are still gonna be a problem—”

“I believe in him!” Yuuko repeats determinedly, her voice unwavering.

“Yeah, Mom’s right!” Lutz exclaims as she and her sisters tackle their father. “Believe in Yuuri, Dad!”

“I do, I do!” he insists with a laugh, wrangling with them. “As I said, he’s got a chance!”

“Dad!”

There’s now a brief intermission for the sweepers to clear the ice of flowers and gifts. The network they’re watching pulls up the profiles of the remaining competitors and begins to commentate on their past achievements.

Yuuko catches a glimpse of the photo for Viktor Nikiforov, looking as pristine and refined as always. He is a cool beauty, his serene smile betraying no nerves or inner thoughts.

Vicchan pads over and paws at her leg. She leans down and scratches him behind the ear.

“Here’s hoping Yuuri-kun can overcome your namesake, Vicchan,” she whispers conspiratorially to him, and the poodle licks her hand as a reply.

In the end, Yuuri actually manages to stay in first place for the short programs. He spends dinner with Christophe, his coach, and Celestino in a daze, thinking back to the ending scoreboard that had him placed at the top, with the name Viktor Nikiforov right beneath his. Viktor had been about only two points short of matching his score.

It’s unprecedented, to the point of almost unfathomable. Viktor has gone practically unchallenged for years, and suddenly this GPF first-timer has appeared to shake up the competition. Yuuri and Celestino actually had to strategize their exit from the building in order to avoid being mobbed by reporters. That had been a surprisingly exhilarating experience—kind of like being a teenager sneaking out of the house at midnight.

But that’s not counting the anxiety of trying to avoid accidentally running into Viktor again. Yuuri hasn’t spoken to him since the commemorative photo incident, and he would rather keep it that way until the competition is over.

He doesn’t want to think about what he will do with this current Viktor just yet—what he may say to him the next time they meet, or where they may go from here.

He is only a stranger to the Viktor Nikiforov of this time. There is no need to rush anything.

There is still one last performance Yuuri must pour his heart and soul into, and it’s in honor of the man he left behind—the Viktor he married, the man he has loved for many years.

After this, once the GPF is over… Then he’ll think about his next step.

Safely outside in the chilly night air, a few texts back-and-forth with Chris have them meeting up for dinner at a nearby restaurant with their respective coaches. Chris, a self-proclaimed slow starter, had placed fourth beneath Jean Jacques Leroy.

“I’ll catch up with the free skate,” he says over a plate of stroganov, his tone unworried. He points his fork at Yuuri and winks, saying, “I can’t let you and Viktor have all the fun, now, can I?”

Yuuri smiles back, but he’s just glad that his friend is not upset with him for placing higher than him for the first time. Chris seems to simply be happy that he has another person, a friend at that, to compete against.

After wrapping up dinner and parting ways for the night, Yuuri and Celestino head back to the hotel. Yuuri flops onto his bed with a tired but satisfied sigh just as Celestino’s phone starts buzzing with an incoming call.

“FaceTime from Phichit and the gang!” his coach announces brightly, sitting down at the edge of Yuuri’s bed so Yuuri will also be visible in the camera shot. Celestino swipes the screen to pick up the call.

“Congratulations, Yuuri!” Phichit and several of their rinkmates chorus with big smiles.

Phichit seems to have taken charge of the group, being the one holding the phone to include everyone in the frame. The background behind them seems to be one of the dorm common rooms, with various young skaters sprawled here and there and waving at them.

Celestino chuckles and waves back, and Yuuri sits upright to get closer to the camera, a happy grin on his face. It’s good to see them.

“Hey, guys!” he greets. “Thank you!”

“We watched the livestream from here. We had to get an overhead projector from the RA, and it took a while to connect it to the laptop, but we made it work!” Phichit informs them before he starts grinning himself. “Gotta say, Yuuri, that was one spicy short program!”

Some of their peers imitate fanning themselves or dramatically fainting across each other’s laps, and Yuuri gives an embarrassed laugh, his face flushed.

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“I’ll bet it did!” Phichit teases with waggling eyebrows, and Yuuri sticks his tongue out at him.

“Have you all been behaving while we’ve been gone? Rogers hasn’t mentioned anything, so I’m assuming that my dear students haven’t burned down the rink yet,” Celestino says with a joking stern look, referencing the substitute coach in charge of the skating club for the weekend.

Many of them give fond sighs as they all again chorus together, “Yes, Coach.”

“The ice will still be as solid as you left it, Coach, don’t worry.”

He nods approvingly. “Good, good. Keep it up!”

“Yuuri, I didn’t know you could do a quadruple loop!” one of the younger girls pipes up with sparkling eyes, bringing the attention back to him. “It was amazing! Was everyone else there as surprised as we were?”

“Oh, uh, thanks! Um, yeah, I’d say so?”

“Our Yuuri is causing quite a stir here in Sochi,” Celestino proudly says, clapping him on the back with his free hand. “They didn’t know what hit ‘em! He even placed higher than Giacometti and Nikiforov, and it’s got all the news people buzzing.”

This causes a new stir of excited murmurs and questions.

“Are you and Christophe friends, Yuuri?” another rinkmate asks with obvious interest. “I saw your Instagram posts—and his, too! Did you guys go out to eat?”

“We just got back from dinner at a restaurant downtown,” he replies. “We see a lot of each other ever since juniors, so yeah.”

“That’s so cool!”

Someone else jumps in with, “What about Viktor Nikiforov?! You posted a selfie with him!”

“Yuuri, you were hardly in the picture!” another interjects with a pout.

Yuuri blushes and idly plays with his jacket zipper, responding, “Ah, sorry,” to the second comment. To the first, he says, “I just ran into him accidentally. He was… nice.”

“I’m so jealous!”

“Have you talked to him at all since?”

“No, not really,” he replies with a shrug. “We’ve both been busy. And he was put in the second group, anyway, so I didn’t see him in person after my short program.”

“Aw!”

“Have you gotten his autograph?!”

“Alright, guys, enough with the shakedown,” Celestino interjects, steering the conversation away from Viktor. “It’s getting late here, and Yuuri still has to show off his free skate tomorrow.”

Back on track, the group has no hesitation in giving him their well-wishes.

“Good luck, Yuuri!”

“Get some good sleep!”

“Do your best!”

“You’re gonna own it out there, Yuuri,” Phichit says with a reassuring smile. “We’ll be right there with you in spirit! Bring us home a gold, alright?”

Yuuri smiles back, his gaze soft with fondness for his friends. He laughs, “I’ll see what I can do about that. Goodnight, guys.”

“Goodnight, Yuuri!”

“Bye, Yuuri, Coach!”

“See you! Good luck!”

They all wave at the camera one last time, and Phichit gives him one last thumbs-up before the call is ended.

“Rambunctious bunch,” Celestino says with a sigh, fondly shaking his head. He glances back at Yuuri, who has already flopped back onto his bed. “Tired?”

Yuuri nods. “Yeah.”

“I don’t blame you—it’s been an exciting day. Better get ready for bed, then,” his coach says as he stands up, going over to his suitcase. “You’ve got a big day tomorrow, Yuuri. You should get some rest while you can.”

Although Celestino isn’t looking at him, Yuuri nods again, quietly studying the white ceiling above him. He glances over to the window, where the curtains are still drawn back. He can see swirls of snow drifting through the winter wind, lit by the yellow glow of streetlamps.

“Right,” he says aloud, getting up to rummage through his own suitcase.

It’s not over yet. The free skate programs are tomorrow, and Yuuri has made a promise.

One more program—one last dance for the man he loves.

Yuuri stares at the fluttering snow, and in the glass of the windowpane, he catches a glimpse of his own reflection.

This is him, now. There will be no running away, no turning back after this.

Tomorrow, no matter what happens, he’ll put everything he has into this last program.

Chapter Text

There are seagulls crying overhead.

Yuuri sits along the seawall, looking out over the beach and the blue ocean beyond it. The Hasetsu summer sun is hot against the concrete, but he takes refuge in the shade cast by their house. Makkachin is sleeping on the patio behind him, a fan whirring cool air in the old poodle’s direction as he naps.

Down by the shoreline are two figures playing in the shallow water. Yuuri can see Viktor’s distinctive silver head bounce around as he gives comically exaggerated chase to their little niece, whose peals of laughter are still audible from where Yuuri is watching them with a smile.

They’ve got babysitting duty today. Mari has been in the process of having multiple rooms in Yu-topia remodeled, their retired parents helping with directing the workers, and she would rather have her young daughter out of the house while the bulk of the construction is going on.

Not that Yuuri or Viktor mind, of course. Yuuki is sweet girl and is at that age where she’s a ball of energy if she’s not asleep, and it’s always nice to have her over for a visit whenever they’re home in Hasetsu.

Her excitable energy is a suitable compliment to Viktor’s, really. His husband has been practically vibrating to go out and do something, his cabin fever acting up tenfold now that it’s off-season in the ice skating world, and neither of them have coaching contracts to fulfill at the moment.

They’re not home as often as either of them would like. Depending on the mentee, coaching takes them all over the world. So, they take family time when they can get it.

Yuuri has been considering taking up his niece as a student, if she wants to pursue figure skating herself. But that’s ultimately her decision.

They’d picked up Yuuki from Yu-topia a few hours ago. Viktor had immediately scooped her up like a football and carried her down to the beach, the little girl giggling under his arm. Yuuri and Makkachin had followed at a more sedate pace, Yuuri laughing after them while keeping an eye on their aging dog.

“We’re not as young as we used to be, huh, Makkachin?” Yuuri says softly over his shoulder, and the sleeping poodle snores in reply. Yuuri grins to himself, turning back towards the beach.

Suddenly, he’s got his arms full with his giggling niece, still covered in sand from head to toe. Her dark hair is tangled from a potent combination of seawater, wet sand, and ocean wind, and Yuuri immediately sets to grooming it with his fingers.

“Uncle Yuuri,” Yuuki gushes from where she has her arms wrapped around his middle, “Uncle Vicchan said we can get ice cream! Can we?”

“You should at least wash up first, Yuuki-chan,” he tells her, picking out bits of seaweed from her bird’s nest of hair. “And change into something dry. Where’s your bag?”

“I’ve got it.” Viktor appears, pushing back his wet hair and holding the day bag Mari had packed for Yuuki earlier. He looks at the two of them before chuckling, “Oh, solnyshko, you’ve covered your Uncle Yuuri in sand!”

“Oh!” Yuuki blinks in realization and releases him with a contrite, little frown. “Sorry, Uncle Yuuri.”

“It’s alright. It’ll come off,” Yuuri reassures her, still trying to untangle her hair. His niece stands incredibly patiently as he does this, even with the promise of frozen treats on her mind, and Yuuri smiles at that. He asks, “Is there anything you’d like to do after getting ice cream?”

“Skating?” she asks immediately. Her eyes are big and sparkling.

It’s an expression remarkably like Viktor’s own puppy-eyed look. Yuuri knows it very well, after all. He has a suspicion that Viktor has been grooming her as a successor for his signature “melt Yuuri’s heart” expression.

He knowingly glances at Viktor, and his husband simply winks at him with a grin.

He knows exactly what he’s doing. Yuuri sighs with fond exasperation as he stands up and helps his niece climb up onto the seawall. Viktor stands behind her in case she stumbles, and then climbs up himself once she’s safely by Yuuri’s side.

“We can do that,” Yuuri says in response to Yuuki’s request, and she lets out a happy gasp. “But wash up first, alright? And we need to wake up Makkachin so he can come along, too.”

Yuuki lights up at the mention of their dog. Like her uncles and the rest of their family, she’s also grown to be an avid lover of poodles. They’ve received quite a few mentions from Mari that her daughter has been begging for a poodle of her own.

Yuuri and Viktor have been looking into it with Mari’s blessing—Yuuki has no idea, of course.

For the time being, their niece has been lavishing her affections on dear Makkachin. Although aged, their dog loves the attention to bits.

Yuuki eagerly asks, “Can I do it?”

Viktor touches her shoulder and says, “Try not to get sand on him, solnyshko. And gently, okay? He’s an old man.”

Yuuki nods in all seriousness, quickly brushing her hands together to get the sand off. Yuuri and Viktor both watch as she goes over to the poodle and carefully pets him awake, murmuring to him in her little voice.

Makkachin’s head soon lifts at the administrations, and he nuzzles against her hands with a happy whine. They can see his fluffy tail wagging.

“Ah, I can’t wait to see the look on her face when her birthday comes,” Viktor sneakily whispers to Yuuri. “She’s going to be so surprised!”

Yuuri softly laughs, “You do love your surprises.”

“Well, the best gifts are often the ones you were least expecting!”

His husband grins at him, brilliant in the bright sunlight. In a brief moment to themselves, he leans down for a quick kiss, and Yuuri’s eyes fall shut with a smile.

When he opens them again, it’s to the blurred sight of the hotel room ceiling. Morning light seeps through the curtains, and there’s fresh snow falling outside.

It takes him a moment to remember where he is—when he is.

After it all comes rushing back, Yuuri slowly sits up and wipes the tears from his eyes, sighing softly as the summertime memory recedes quietly back into his heart.

Today’s the day. He puts on his glasses and gets out of bed.

“That’ll definitely make Giacometti happy,” Celestino murmurs beside him as they watch a scowling JJ Leroy leave the kiss and cry with his parents-slash-coaches at his heels.

JJ’s score came out to be a total of 288.59, placing him below Chris’ score of 301.46.

Yuuri peers over to where Chris and his coach are standing further along the boards, and sure enough, Chris is beaming at the scoreboard that currently has him placed first. He looks quite lively despite still being worn out from his free skate.

He notices Yuuri looking at him and winks coyly. Yuuri gives him an encouraging thumbs-up.

No matter what happens from here on out, Chris is guaranteed a spot on the podium. His friend can afford to relax now.

Yuuri, however, is faced with a different dilemma. He and Viktor are the last competitors remaining.

Because Yuuri ranked first in the short programs, he will be the last to go today. This also means that Viktor will be performing his free skate program right before him—he is literally the next to go, once the sweepers have cleared the ice.

Yuuri is not sure how he will handle seeing Stay Close To Me in person after all these years.

It was the performance that brought them together the first time. Yuuri can still hear the words singing in his heart, a yearning call that never fails to fill him with wistful nostalgia.

The memory of skating to that song in Ice Castle Hasetsu feels almost visceral. He still remembers the weight of uncertainty for the future, the lightness of his feet as he traced Viktor’s steps, Yuuko’s open joy as she cheered him on.

He remembers when that fateful video had been uploaded online—how Viktor had seen it and dropped everything, just to come to him. Just to come and be with Yuuri.

Viktor had found him because of Stay Close To Me.

Yuuri ducks his head, trying to control the heat building behind his eyes.

It won’t happen this time, will it? The circumstances are so different now, and—

He forces that line of thought to come to a screeching halt. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, calming the pounding of his rabbit heart before it gets out of hand.

No, not now. Don’t think about that yet. There’s still something you have to do.

One more dance, remember?

Just then, the current Viktor arrives in the arena with Yakov close behind. Viktor is wearing that lovely, prince-like outfit of purples and magentas that Yuuri only remembers from old photographs, and he’s like a beautiful memory come to life before him. Yuuri can only stare after him with slightly parted lips as he and Yakov head to the entrance of the rink.

Yes, Yuuri thinks with a quiet yearning growing in his chest. I remember.

The announcer introduces over the speakers, “Next is Viktor Nikiforov, 26, representing Russia. His free skate program will be to the song, ‘Stay Close To Me.’”

The crowds are going absolutely wild for the legendary figure skater. He sees Viktor waving cheerily as he hands his blade guards to Yakov and skates out into the rink. He has the home-field advantage, and many of his countrymen present tonight are cheering for their national hero.

Viktor gets into his starting position. The arena goes silent.

Yuuri’s heart is pounding in his ears, but he suddenly can’t hear it anymore when the music starts and Viktor begins.

Yuuri has heard the song so many times, and he holds it close to his heart still. There is something tugging inside him as he silently mouths the words, watching Viktor skate under the shining arena lights.

He hears him out there on the ice. Sento una voce che piange lontano—I hear a voice crying far away.

Viktor could have chosen any song, but it was this one that spoke to him. Looking back on it now, it feels like a premonition, a prophecy, a map of their lives written in the stars.

He watches as Viktor gracefully jumps into his first quad.

A commentator exclaims, “A quadruple lutz!”

He watches, and it feels like magic, like floating weightlessly in the air. Like Viktor is calling out for him so very invitingly, and Yuuri wants to do nothing more than call back. Does Viktor know what he’s doing to him?

He doesn’t, Yuuri knows he doesn’t, and yet…

“Next is his signature move—a quadruple flip!”

Viktor sails through the air in tight rotations and lands the quad flip perfectly, not a hair out of place. The audience roars.

“Coming out strong,” Yuuri hears Celestino mutter contemplatively beside him.

He barely registers it, only nodding faintly in response. He stares as Viktor performs another flawless jump and swiftly transitions into a camel spin.

Yuuri remembers practicing those movements himself, over and over again, trying to cope with one of the darkest moments of his life.

He has to force himself to keep still. His fingers tighten against the railing of the boards as the program continues—a flying sit spin and a step sequence, both elegant and beautiful.

Viktor then jumps again, his blades shining like a blurred gleam in the light.

“A quadruple salchow!”

Yuuri just barely whispers the familiar words under his breath as Viktor lands and continues to skate: “Se potessi vederti, dalla speranza nascerà l’eternità.”

If I could see you, from hope will be born eternity.

He thinks of his husband, separated from him by time and space. He remembers the way his eyes would crinkle at the corners when he grinned, the lines that formed on his face from laughing so much, that sweet heart-shape his mouth would always form whenever he smiled.

Yuuri sees a younger Viktor Nikiforov on the ice and feels that hard tugging in his chest once more.

It would be nice, Yuuri thinks as he reaches up to wipe away his tears, to fall in love with you all over again.

Viktor completes a triple jump combination, and Yuuri echoes the words to the song as they fill the arena.

“Stammi vicino...”

“Hm? You know the lyrics, Yuuri?” Celestino asks curiously, hearing him. “I didn’t know you were interested in Italian.”

Yuuri blinks at him before shrugging a little, just a hint of a smile on his face.

“I like this song,” he responds simply.

They both watch as Viktor goes into his choreographic sequence, his every movement elegant, precise, and polished to perfection. It’s really no wonder he’s been the men’s world champion of figure skating for so long—it’s a title befitting to his incredible skills. There’s no one else in the world who can do what he does.

Yuuri remembers himself standing at the boards the first time around, filled with the greatest awe. Even though he’d completely flubbed his own performance, just watching Viktor skating in front of him—at the very peak of his career, in person like Yuuri had always dreamed of—had left him absolutely breathless.

Without knowing Viktor at all, just seeing him skate gave him hope at his lowest.

Knowing Viktor’s mannerisms now, though… For all his ethereal beauty and technical perfection, Viktor’s expressions seem oddly blank. He hadn’t noticed it the first time around, when he knew Viktor as his idol and nothing else. To a stranger’s gaze, Viktor is skating as he always does—with impressive refinement and skill.

But has anyone noticed?

Yuuri doesn’t know. It doesn’t sit right with him.

A commentator’s voice breaks Yuuri from his thoughts: “A triple lutz!”

Viktor nails the landing, and his next jump comes swiftly.

“Triple flip!”

He lands that one, too. The orchestral music crescendos as he moves into his last jump—a combination.

“A quadruple toeloop, followed by a triple toeloop!”

He lands precisely with enough rotations for both, and the crowds’ cheering escalates as the other announcer yells out, “He’s landed all his quads! And now his last combination—!”

Viktor is a blur as he moves into a camel spin, into a sit spin, into a scratch spin, and then—

Stay Close To Me ends, the singer’s reverberating voice finishing loud and strong. Viktor stands on the ice, feet spaced apart in a confident stance with his arms folded together before him like an embrace. His head is back, face tilted towards the ceiling.

The audience erupts with applause. Many rise to give him a standing ovation, throwing an abundance of flowers and gifts onto the ice in praise, and Yuuri watches as Viktor breaks his ending pose to laugh and wave as they cheer his name.

“Viktor! Viktor! Viktor!”

“Another incredible performance by Viktor Nikiforov!” the commentator exclaims. “Just as expected from the living legend himself!”

Yuuri can’t see Viktor’s face as he picks up a few gifts from the ice to take back with him to the kiss and cry. He wonders if Viktor is satisfied with that description—he knows the man Viktor had been in another life.

He wonders if he’s happy. Wishfully, Yuuri hopes so.

He watches as Viktor reaches the mouth of the rink to meet with Yakov. He leans down to replace his blade guards, bundles of flowers tucked under one arm.

As he rises again, he happens to look up in Yuuri’s direction. Their eyes meet.

Almost on instinct, Yuuri finds himself warmly smiling at him. Wide-eyed, Viktor blinks before smiling back, giving him a little wave.

And… wait, is that a blush?

Before Yuuri can tell for sure, Viktor has already turned towards Yakov as his coach says something, and they both head to the kiss and cry. Yuuri can only stare after them, wondering if he’s just seeing things.

“That’s going to be one hell of an act to follow,” Celestino says from beside him, “but I know you can do it, Yuuri.”

Yuuri hums his agreement. Viktor is currently at the top of his game, but unlike last time, so is Yuuri.

He doesn’t know what will happen if he manages to place above Viktor tonight, what it will mean for the two of them in this current time and place.

But he has the hopes of his loved ones behind him. And for them and the memory of his husband, Yuuri will put everything he has into making this last free skate the best it’s ever been.

The best it ever will be.

As the sweepers clear the ice and Viktor’s scores are calculated, Yuuri removes his jacket and hands it to his coach.

“Alright, there, Yuuri?” Celestino asks.

“Yeah,” he replies as he does some last stretches and checks his costume over.

At first glance, his free skate outfit is simple, more understated than the one for his short program. Black slacks and black skates, with a tuxedo jacket as the main focus—a solid gold with black shawl lapels, his shoulders and chest sparkling with glitter that shines white and pale yellow in the light.

If one were to look more closely, the entirety of the jacket’s golden cloth is stitched with a subtle lace pattern. The first time Yuuri saw it, it reminded him of weddings.

He had thought it appropriate for his free skate program.

The sweepers have finished up, and the entire arena has gone quiet to hear Viktor’s score. Yuuri turns towards the kiss and cry, where Viktor and his coach are awaiting the verdict.

The loudspeakers overhead announce, “221.12—his total score is 335.76! Nikiforov is now in the lead!”

The audience cheers their approval loudly and boisterously. Yakov gives a sharp nod with arms crossed over his chest, while Viktor grins and makes heart shapes with his hands at the multitude of flashing cameras pointed at him.

“… Christ, what a score,” Celestino murmurs under his breath. Yuuri makes a quiet sound of agreement.

On the widescreen above the stands, they watch Viktor’s name bump up to first place, beating Chris’ score by over 34 whole points. There’s definitely a noticeable disparity. Yuuri glances over to where Chris and his coach are standing, and he sees the dissatisfied frown on his friend’s face as he stares up at the screen.

Celestino then places his hand on Yuuri’s shoulder and asks in an uplifting tone, “So, how about it, Yuuri? It’s about time someone changes things up around here. Think you can overthrow the king himself?”

Yuuri is silent for a moment before sighing, looking back at his coach with a smile.

He says with a laugh, “We won’t know unless I try, right?”

Together, they make their way to the entrance to the rink, and his coach is grinning.

“That’s the spirit,” he says as he takes Yuuri’s blade guards from him. Celestino claps him on the back one more time before exclaiming, “Go get ‘em, Yuuri!”

Yuuri gives him a determined nod before taking to the ice. There are cheers for him sounding from the crowd, and he waves gratefully back.

As well as his fans, there are people who are believing in him right now—his coach, his friends, his family. He can do this for them.

The announcer says, “The last free skate program is Yuuri Katsuki of Japan. His program is to the original composition, ‘On My Love.’”

Yuuri stops in the center of the rink and gets into his starting position. He closes his eyes, and he pictures his Viktor, his husband, here with him on the ice.

I’ll do this for you, too.

Viktor’s presence, even though only imagined, is familiar and comforting. Yuuri thinks of all the memories they have shared together, remembers him in the sharpest clarity that he can muster, fills himself with all the love he has ever felt for him...

And he’s finally ready. It’s time.

One last dance for the love of his life.

“Viktor,” Yuuri thinks over the pounding of his heart, the crowd going silent as the music begins. “I’ll show the world what you meant to me.”

A gentle cascade of piano notes fills the arena. Standing at the boards alone—where Yakov has returned to the lounge to chaperone young Yura—Viktor watches as Yuuri Katsuki lifts his hands before him, face tilted back and expression yearning like he’s making a wish to the heavens.

Gazing curiously at this enigma of a competitor, he idly wonders what Katsuki’s wish might be, watching as he begins his free skate program with such a wistful look on his face.

After that breathtaking short program yesterday, Viktor finds himself so very fascinated by him. Katsuki is clearly skilled as well as refined, and Viktor wonders why he’s only appearing at the GPF now.

And the way that he’d looked at him after Viktor had finished his own free skate, when their eyes had met for that brief moment…

As much as he would like to, he doesn’t have time to think on it. Katsuki’s first jump comes quickly: he curves across the ice and lifts off.

A commentator says, “Quadruple toeloop—”

Katsuki just barely touches the ice before lifting off again.

“—And a double toeloop!”

He lands perfectly. Enthusiastic applause rains down from the stands.

“A solid landing for this first combination! In all, Yuuri Katsuki has three quads of two different types planned.”

Viktor’s brows furrow as he watches him jump into a flying sit spin, his form solid as he spins low and precise. For a skater of Katsuki’s apparent caliber, Viktor would have expected four quads.

It’s early, yet. Maybe he still has a trick up his sleeve.

After what Viktor’s already seen, he has an anticipatory feeling that this may be the case. He leans forward against the boards to watch more closely.

Katsuki sweeps his right leg out before jumping again in a whirl of gold.

“Quadruple salchow!”

He lands again without a stumble, smoothly transitioning into a camel spin to the fluttering of piano notes and violins. The audience cheers in response.

Viktor nods to himself, staring intently with one hand resting against his cheek, fingers tapping against his lips thoughtfully. Two of three quads, both perfect so far, and this is just the beginning.

Christophe Giacometti wanders over to stand beside him, letting out a low whistle.

“He’s good, isn’t he?” the other skater remarks with a grin. “Yuuri’s improved quite a lot since the last time we competed against each other.”

Chris is evidently familiar with Katsuki. Viktor idly considers asking him about that at a later date.

Outwardly, Viktor silently nods again in acknowledgment, absorbed in the performance.

Just then, they both see Katsuki’s legs cross before once more lifting off from the ice. Viktor inhales sharply, his lips parting at the height and elegant form of the jump.

“A quadruple loop instead of the planned triple loop!” the other commentator exclaims as Katsuki successfully nails another landing. The cheering gets louder. “A surprise callback to his short program!”

“Another one,” Chris breathes. “Yuuri, you’re not playing around, are you?”

Not playing around at all, it seems. Katsuki had stunned everyone with his sudden quadruple loop yesterday, Viktor included. It looks like he’s not planning to back down now, choosing to up the ante from the very beginning.

Three out of three quads, all in the first half, Viktor thinks, frowning musingly behind his hand. But he added in that quad loop just now, so there must be one planned quad left to go.

He must be getting tired by now, and there’s still the entire second half.

Just what is it that you have planned? There must be something…

The music slows for the choreographic sequence, poignant notes echoing through the arena. Katsuki glides across the rink, arms wide open like he’s meeting a warm, spring breeze. There’s something in his face that catches Viktor’s attention like a flicker of light in the dark.

As he performs his choreography with refined, sweeping motions, Katsuki is smiling so very gently. He tilts his head to the side, his neck forming a graceful arc, and looks up at the ceiling with glimmering eyes. There is something so soft, so fond in his expression that Viktor can’t help but be drawn in.

“It’s like he’s become an entirely different person out there,” Chris notes quietly to himself, but Viktor hears him and can’t help but wonder.

Were you not always like this, Yuuri Katsuki? What changed that has you skating so beautifully now?

Viktor doesn’t tend to connect very well with his competitors—he knows that it’s a fault of his. There are a few exceptions like his friend Christophe, as well as a fondness for young, grumpy Yura, but…

Viktor keeps his distance and doesn’t usually make any lasting connections. He forgets things if he is not reminded, and it takes time for him to match a new face with a new name. He lets people walk out of his life so easily, because his entire life has been his career.

But with the man who is skating out on the ice right now…

He hopes that this will be a different story.

“And here’s the start of the second half—a triple axel!”

Katsuki jumps—and his feet land on the ice with no hesitation at all, gliding into his next move with breathtaking ease. There’s a determined edge in his eyes, balanced with a gentle vulnerability that draws everyone’s gaze to him.

Viktor’s own gaze is on him, too, and he can hardly look away as Katsuki jumps again.

“And a triple flip!”

Katsuki lands, and his arms reach out before him entreatingly, like he’s begging Viktor to keep watching. Viktor does so eagerly.

The music is getting faster. The violins swell in volume, and piano keys fly in tandem.

“Here comes a jump combination!”

Viktor looks on with bated breath as Katsuki jumps three times—a triple axel, a single loop, a triple salchow.

It’s perfect. His eyes quickly dart to follow the skater as he immediately positions himself for another combination.

He jumps.

“Triple lutz—”

He touches the ice and jumps yet again.

“And a triple toeloop! He’s nailed both jump combinations without breaking a sweat, incredible!”

Viktor’s jaw has dropped behind his hand. The audience is roaring in his ears.

“How is he not tired yet?!” Chris exclaims with wide eyes. “It’s almost over, and he doesn’t look winded at all!”

Chris is right: Katsuki does not look tired in the least.

As he goes into a rapid step sequence, the music growing in a heart-pounding crescendo around them, his movements are still sharp, his arms and legs without the slightest tremble…

Yet his face looks so at peace. Like he’s in his own world—safe, untroubled, and…

Happy.

Viktor has never seen anything like it before. It’s pure and genuine and so very beautiful, and it squeezes his heart in a vice grip. His hands are shaking, and he balls them into fists to try and control it.

He thinks he understands, now—that emotion that Katsuki is pouring into every step, spin, and jump.

Viktor sees it in every move and gesture, and he is exhilarated.

The commentator says, “Katsuki has planned a quadruple toeloop for this final jump. Here he goes…!”

And here’s the last quad. Viktor’s breath is caught in his throat as he notices Katsuki take off from the inside edge of his left foot.

He knows that setup very well—it’s the same one for Viktor’s own signature move, after all.

But he’s never dared doing it as his last jump.

Viktor’s eyes go wide, gasping with both shock and awed delight. The lights overhead hit Katsuki mid-air, and he shines of gold.

“It’s a quadruple flip!”

They had danced the steps to this program at their wedding, slower and improvised for two. Viktor had managed to sneak the song into their playlist and then laughed at the surprised look on Yuuri’s face as the familiar theme began to play overhead.

Entwining their hands together, Viktor had murmured, “May I have this dance?”

They had been on solid ground, but Yuuri had never felt so weightless—like a white cloud drifting in the sky, lit against the warmth of the sun. His heart had felt full to bursting, his entire being filled with joy. Viktor’s arms around him were gentle, as if he were holding the greatest treasure in the world.

Yuuri had felt so precious, so loved—like he was made of pure, warm light.

He feels that light pouring out of him now, skates on his feet and airborne above the ice.

Yuuri opens his eyes, and the image of their wedding reception disappears. It’s replaced by the GPF skating rink, and the ice is rapidly approaching beneath him.

He steels himself, and—

Yuuri lands the quadruple flip without faltering, sturdy and strong. The uproar of cheering from the stands is mute in his ears.

Yuuri moves into the combination spin. He imagines Viktor’s hand in his own, his husband giving him one last twirl in their dance. The piano notes are slowing, and it’s nearing the end.

He doesn’t feel the tired strain of his body at all—just the pulse of his own heartbeat, the sound of his own breathing.

One more dance, he wants to say, but he knows that this is it.

This is the last time they will dance together.

Yuuri feels Viktor guiding him as he finishes the spin with tears in his eyes. He then slowly lifts his arms—one before him, and the other reaching out into the distance.

Across his outstretched arm, he doesn’t see the television camera he’s pointing to. He sees his husband standing there on the ice with him, holding his outstretched hand so tenderly in his own.

It’s his Viktor, as he last saw him: bundled up in heavy winter clothes, older and as bright as a star, a well-loved ring on his finger that matched his own.

Yuuri watches as Viktor leans down and kisses the back of his open hand. He feels the curve of his smile against his knuckles.

The tears spill over. His vision blurs.

Yuuri thinks, I’ll never forget you.

Viktor straightens and steps away, gently releasing Yuuri’s hand with one last caress.

His husband smiles, soft and fond. His familiar, sparkling eyes are full of love.

“Am I not right here with you always?”

The last note of On My Love rings in Yuuri’s ears, and the song ends. He closes his eyes for just a moment, and when he opens them, Viktor is gone.

The audience is cheering. Flowers and gifts come raining down from the stands, and they’re all a blur in Yuuri’s vision. He breaks his ending pose and smiles, waving and bowing to the accolades even as tears fall from his eyes.

He’s off the ice only moments later. Celestino meets him at the mouth of the rink with his arms opened wide, and Yuuri falls into the embrace with his heart in his throat.

He soon finds himself in the kiss and cry, anxiously bouncing his leg. Still out of breath, he tries to breathe deeply and wrings his hands together.

“You were amazing, Yuuri,” Celestino murmurs from where he’s sitting beside him, one arm laid comfortingly around Yuuri’s shoulders. “You’ll get a medal for sure.”

Yuuri nods but doesn’t say anything.

In his periphery, he sees the heavy television cameras turning towards them, and Celestino squeezes him a bit tighter.

This is it. Yuuri inhales sharply as the announcer’s voice booms over the loudspeakers.

“222.07 points! His total score is 338.91! Yuuri Katsuki has taken first place!”

A roaring din of exclamations and cheering bursts from the stands as Yuuri’s lips part with a gasp. He vaguely registers Celestino throwing both arms around him, his coach’s joyous yelling barely audible over the crowd’s uproar.

“You did it, Yuuri! You did it!”

“Yuuri Katsuki, in his first Grand Prix Final, has taken first place with over a three point difference! A stunning upset, dethroning four-time GPF champion Viktor Nikiforov!”

Yuuri’s eyes are impossibly wide. He whips his head towards the widescreen displaying the scoreboard.

First place is listed Yuuri Katsuki. Beneath his name, bumped down to second place, is Viktor Nikiforov.

The scoreboard switches to the camera, showing the wild crowds, the other competitors and their coaches with shocked expressions, and finally Viktor Nikiforov himself—still wearing his princely program outfit and looking just as stunned as everyone else.

Yuuri curls in on himself, covering his face with his hands as the tears return at full force. Celestino claps him on the back as he guides Yuuri to stand, leading him out of the kiss and cry and towards the cheering crowds. Yuuri can see the bright flashes of cameras behind his eyelids.

He turns his face up towards the ceiling, gazing up at the overhead lights as if they were the sun. Tears slip from the corners of his eyes and trail down his cheeks.

Yuuri has fulfilled his promise.

Goodbye, his inner voice weeps over the roar of the crowd, a secret whispered into the dark for no one else to hear.

Goodbye, Vitya. My Vitenka. I love you.

Yuuri takes a deep breath, closes his eyes… and lets go.

If there was anything Chris was expecting, it isn’t this.

Don’t get him wrong—he’s actually quite pleased with this outcome. Absolutely no one here could have predicted what would happen tonight, and isn’t that delightful in itself?

Currently, Chris is sitting on Yuuri’s left at the interview table, the spot of the bronze medal winner during the post-competition press conference. He’s already answered his share of questions and can now kick back and relax. On Yuuri’s right is Viktor Nikiforov, the silver medal winner—and isn’t that a shock—who is currently the one being interviewed.

The three of them had been in the same positions right before this, out on the ice and still wearing their free skate costumes. They had posed for the cameras with their winning medals hung around their necks: Chris on the left, Viktor on the right, and Yuuri front and center.

If anyone asked Chris before all this, “Do you think you will get a spot on the podium?” his answer would have been a definite yes.

If anyone asked him if he would win gold, he would have thought of Viktor Nikiforov and replied, “Well, I can damn sure try.”

Now, as luck would have it, Viktor isn’t the only one he has to watch out for. He glances at Yuuri out of the corner of his eye—Yuuri Katsuki, this year’s GPF gold medalist.

What a title! Chris had no idea Yuuri had it in him. Well, maybe he did suspect it some after seeing that short program… But for Yuuri to be the one to at last break Viktor’s chokehold on the coveted first place spot?

Chris has to admit, he’s a bit jealous. He’s always wanted to do that himself.

It can’t be helped now, though. And, truly, Yuuri deserves his gold. Chris saw those incredible programs with his own two eyes, and he finds himself left in bewildered awe at just how much his friend has improved since the last time they’d competed together.

It isn’t even that long ago—only a few months’ difference. Yuuri has practically been reborn as a whole new skater in that brief time. He has no idea how he did it, but whatever it is, it definitely worked out for the better.

Chris feels determination settle in his gut and silently promises to himself that he will up his game several times over for next season, if he wants to meet Viktor and Yuuri at their level and surpass them both.

Chris begins paying attention again as Viktor is wrapping up his grilling session. After the famous skater gives some non-committal answers about his future plans, the interviewers’ attention soon turns to Yuuri.

The first reporter asks the most obvious question: “How do you feel about your victory tonight?”

“Um.” Yuuri reaches up to rub the back of his neck with an embarrassed laugh. “Surprised is probably the best way to put it!”

The room laughs with him—no one can say that they weren’t surprised. Chris leans forward a bit, and he catches a glimpse of Viktor sporting a small smile as well.

“I’m honored, really, I am,” Yuuri says, his voice earnest. “This really is a dream come true.”

As he says it, he sits up a little straighter in his chair, his eyes big behind those blue glasses. Yuuri comes off as so sweet and genuine, and as cameras flash around them, Chris won’t be surprised if hordes of new Yuuri Katsuki fan clubs begin popping up everywhere like daisies.

His friend better steel himself for the floods of new Instagram followers he’s going to get… if they haven’t found him already, that is.

More standard questions go by—ones inquiring about Yuuri’s training methods, his coach, his college skating club, past competitions, et cetera.

One interviewer asks a question in Japanese. Interestingly, whatever it is, it makes Yuuri blush.

He replies briefly in his native language, his voice a soft murmur into the mic, until he shyly ends with, “Next question, please.”

Now Chris is incredibly curious. He can tell everyone else is, too. But he figures he’ll see what that was all about either online or in a magazine somewhere soon enough, so he won’t bother pestering Yuuri about it. The poor boy looks embarrassed enough.

Chris figures can do his fair share of embarrassing him some other time.

Someone else asks the usual question of, “What are your plans for the future?”

Yuuri simply responds with, “Finishing college is my first priority. In terms of skating, I’ll have to talk that over with my coach.”

So, going to Worlds is still up in the air. Chris takes note of that.

There’s one last question. “Any advice for young skaters dreaming of becoming GPF champions themselves?”

Yuuri is quiet for a moment before looking directly into the camera with a softened gaze, saying, “Do it because you want to. And don’t be afraid of getting help from the people who care about you. You don’t have to be alone as you move forward.”

It sounds ominously like a lesson learned the hard way. Chris glances to his right, and he catches Yuuri with a sad smile on his face, eyes averted to the table.

Just after the interview, Chris checks Twitter and immediately finds out what that Japanese interviewer had asked Yuuri, thanks to speedy fan translations.

“Your theme for these programs was ‘love.’ Were you imagining anyone in particular?”

Yuuri had replied, “I was picturing my ideal partner.”

Before they leave, Yuuri and Celestino take a few more pictures around Iceberg Skating Palace for posterity. Yuuri poses with his gold medal in each one, and his coach sometimes joins in.

As Celestino fires off a few of the photos to the skating club on his phone, Yuuri ducks his head to remove the medal from around his neck. For a moment, he just lets it sit in the palm of his hand, and its weight is both heavy and foreboding.

It’s his, now. In another life, it was Viktor’s. Yuuri can’t give it back, can’t undo what has already been done. He’s changed events that he once considered hard facts of his own past, and now he has to live with whatever comes next as a result.

The only way he can move is forward. Yuuri stares at at the medal for a few seconds more, heart tight in his chest, before pressing a quick kiss to the shining gold surface. He then bends down to pack it away into his bag, safely resting between the folds of his short program and free skate costumes.

It’s over, now. Yuuri made a promise, and he’s seen it through. Now, it’s his future in this new timeline that he needs to focus on.

He thinks to himself: Moving on, huh...?

Yuuri zips the bag shut with an air of finality, letting out a long exhale as he stands upright again.

It’s easier said than done. But he knows he has to.

“Alright! Ready, Yuuri?” Celestino asks, still grinning as he sends off one last text. “Your rinkmates are completely freaking out right now, by the way. And Phichit has your costumes posted!”

Yuuri can’t help but smile back. His coach, at least, has been completely been over the moon with Yuuri’s victory tonight, and it doesn’t seem like his bright mood is going to let up anytime soon. In addition, Yuuri’s rinkmates seem to be going wild at their GPF-watching party, and he hopes that Phichit is getting the retweets he wanted.

Their happiness allows Yuuri to feel good about winning the gold, too. He’s made his coach proud, as well as his peers and friends, and his loved ones in Hasetsu.

He can still hear Minako-sensei’s elated screaming from when he’d called home just after the interview. She had been quickly replaced with a happily crying Yuuko and the excited exclamations of her family, followed by Yuuri’s parents and sister congratulating him with elated laughter and obvious pride.

“You did so well, Yuu-chan,” his mother had said. He could hear the tearful smile in her voice. “We’re all so proud of you!”

The memory makes the weight on his shoulders so much lighter, so much more bearable.

No matter what happens now… At least Yuuri can take comfort in the knowledge that he doesn’t face the future alone.

“I’m ready, Coach,” he says in response.

Yuuri wheels his costume luggage behind him as he falls into step with Celestino. They make their way back to the lobby of the building, where there are still a number of people looming about.

“Katsuki-san!”

Both Yuuri and his coach glance over, and the voice is coming from Hisashi Morooka.

“Fantastic skating tonight, just fantastic!” the announcer says cheerfully as he passes by, shooting Yuuri an enthusiastic finger gun. “I knew you had it in you! Congratulations!”

“Ah, thank you!” Yuuri replies with a smile, waving at him. Morooka waves back with a grin before exiting the building.

He feels Celestino pat him on the shoulder before his coach says, “See, Yuuri? There are so many people proud of you tonight. You might not be on home turf, but you can still feel just how much people have been believing in you, right?”

Yuuri nods, still smiling. He says softly, “Yeah… I’m glad. I couldn’t have done this without everyone’s support. Coach, thank you again… for all you’ve done for me.”

Celestino ruffles his hair with a fond chuckle, assuring him, “I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, Yuuri. I can promise you that.”

Yuuri is about to open his mouth to say something else when he hears his name being called from behind him.

“Yuuri! Yuuri Katsuki!”

He turns around, and his eyes widen when he sees Viktor Nikiforov quickly making his way towards him, waving with one hand. Some ways behind the famous skater are Yakov and Yuri Plisetsky, who both look quite taken aback by Viktor’s sudden departure from their group.

Yuuri can’t help but stare, mouth open.

In another life, Yuuri had walked away from Viktor without a second glance, humiliated and empty.

Now, it’s Viktor who is approaching him, and Yuuri can’t bring himself to look away.

“U-um, hello. Sorry about yesterday,” Yuuri’s voice is embarrassingly small as Viktor stops in front of him and Celestino. “Viktor Nikiforov. It’s an honor.”

“Please, no need! You did score higher than me, after all,” he laughs, waving away the compliment.

Viktor is smiling at him, but it’s not the smile Yuuri knows so well—it’s the photo shoot kind, pretty yet superficial, and Yuuri still isn’t used to seeing it directed at him.

His stomach gives an unpleasant drop, and his anxiety begins bubbling up like miasma.

Viktor continues, “I’m glad I caught you before you left! Do you have time to talk for a bit?”

Yuuri is terrified. Perhaps it shows on his face, since he senses Celestino moving forward to give him some excuse for a hasty retreat, but he quickly reaches out to hold his coach back.

“Y-yeah, sure,” he replies, attempting to school his unease into neutrality. “Celestino, wait for me?”

Celestino is frowning, evidently not pleased with Yuuri’s discomfort in Viktor’s presence, but he responds, “I’ll be here.”

If you need me goes unsaid, but Yuuri appreciates it all the same. He may take his coach up on that offer if his impending conversation with Viktor goes south.

“Just over here,” Viktor says, leading them towards an empty nook against a wall, “out of the way of the people walking through.”

Yuuri follows demurely, shoulders hunched. A part of him is overjoyed just from being in Viktor’s presence again, while all the rest of him is despairing.

This Viktor doesn’t know you, his mind whispers. Who knows what he thinks of you.

Things are different now, you made sure of that. You stole his victory, and he won’t look at you the same. You left behind what you had with him when you died, and you can’t ever get it back—

“I wanted to apologize for yesterday, I really should have—oh! Yuuri, why are you crying...?”

Viktor’s voice jolts him from the dark downturn of his thoughts, and Yuuri hasn’t even noticed that they’d stopped walking. He looks up at Viktor standing before him, and the other man is gazing at him with concern.

To Yuuri’s horror, he feels tears roll down his cheeks. Viktor blinks in surprise.

“… You won gold today. Usually, that’s a cause for celebration,” Viktor muses, frowning. “But I can tell that those aren’t happy tears.”

“I—I’m sorry!” Yuuri quickly bows—anything to keep him from looking directly at Viktor. Squeezing his eyes shut, he says, “You’ve been doing this for far longer than I have, and I just… I’ve admired you for forever, and I… I broke your streak, I’m so sorry.”

There’s a moment of silence. Then, to his surprise, Viktor just laughs.

“You are a very considerate person, Yuuri Katsuki,” he chuckles. “I’m very flattered that you would take my feelings into account. I know quite a few people who would have flaunted their win in my face, if the opportunity came!”

His smile has genuine fondness behind it, and it sends a flutter through Yuuri’s body to the tips of his toes.

It’s this smile that he’s missed so much.

“But, in complete honesty, there’s really no need for apologies!” Viktor continues earnestly. “Really, I should be the one apologizing to you! I really should have known that you were a fellow competitor in the first place. And look where that’s got me, right?”

He laughs a little again before his expression turns contrite.

“I didn’t give you the respect you were due. I’m very sorry, Yuuri.”

Yuuri is speechless for a moment. He opens his mouth a few times before finally settling on, “Um, it’s alright.”

Viktor’s eyes fill with warmth as Yuuri says it. At that inexplicable look, Yuuri once more finds himself at a loss for words.

Luckily, Viktor continues, “Your victory is well deserved! I would’ve handed the gold to you myself if I were on the judges panel. You were a star on the ice tonight.”

Yuuri’s heart swells. His admiration of Viktor has always been present, although it’s been tempered through time and familiarity. Still, to hear that sort of praise from him has always been something special.

Now, even when he’s a complete stranger to Viktor, yet he still feels the need to compliment him like this…

Yuuri quickly scrubs his eyes with a jacket sleeve, overwhelmed.

“… Thank you so much,” he murmurs, head bowed. He’s sure that his face is quite red by now. “That really means a lot, coming from you.”

Then Viktor enthusiastically hits him with, “That performance was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Technical perfection aside, you were channeling such strong emotions, everyone in the room could feel it. It was enchanting. Invigorating, enthralling!”

There’s a lit fire in those blue eyes, and he is looking at Yuuri with eager anticipation.

Then he asks, “I could guess from the song titles alone, but… your theme for your programs was love, wasn’t it?”

Surprised, Yuuri blinks owlishly at him before his blush deepens.

Because of the sudden change of his programs between the qualifiers and the GPF, not all that many people had been aware of Yuuri’s new theme for this season—only a few news outlets in Japan that had contacted him for interviews had the information updated. He supposes that it’ll become more widespread knowledge now, since the GPF is over and that interviewer earlier had directly asked him about it.

Here, though, talking about it with Viktor now…

… Well. He wasn’t exactly expecting this situation. Viktor always does manage to surprise him.

Eyes averted and face aflame, Yuuri murmurs, “Ah… Yes, it was.”

Viktor snaps his fingers, exclaiming, “So I was right! It was gentle and passionate at once, all genuine, felt in your heart of hearts…!”

He sighs before bestowing Yuuri with a kind smile.

“What a beautiful love you shared with us, Yuuri.”

Yuuri can’t bear to look him in the eye. He could never outright tell him, “Actually, it was for a future version of you that I married, Viktor.”

Instead, he manages to stutter out, “Th-Thank you. Again.”

Suddenly, Viktor inquires, “After the banquet tomorrow, will you be in the city for a few days?”

Taken aback at the abrupt shift, Yuuri responds, “Uh, no, I’m going back to America. My flight is the morning after.”

Viktor pouts, but then whips out his phone and starts pulling up various apps. He asks, “Are you on Facebook? I want to add you to my friends!”

Yuuri replies a bit louder than he intends to, “I don’t have a Facebook!”

“Twitter? Instagram?”

“I got an Instagram a few weeks ago. I haven’t really used it much.”

“Ah, you should if we’re going to chat some more!” Before Yuuri can fully process that, Viktor bulldozes on, “Follow me, and I’ll follow you!”

“… I already am. Following you, that is.”

Viktor lets out a little, surprised gasp of happiness before tapping rapidly at his phone keyboard. He makes a triumphant noise before turning the screen towards Yuuri.

He asks, “Is this one you?”

Yuuri looks at the mostly empty profile Viktor has pulled up. Sure enough, he sees the picture of katsudon that he had set as his icon, as well as the most recent selfies he’d posted while hanging out with Chris and some posts he’d liked from Phichit and their rinkmates.

A little embarrassed, he murmurs, “Yes, that’s me.”

“Followed!” Viktor sing-songs, pressing the follow button decidedly. “Now we can message each other whenever!”

Yuuri just stares at him for a moment, bewildered because this certainly hadn’t happened last time.

Then, he says softly, “… I’d like that.”

Viktor grins at him, and it’s dazzling. He then glances over his shoulder and sighs, “Yakov is looking rather grumpy. I should probably get going. Let’s keep in touch, yes?”

“I… Yes, of course.”

He touches Yuuri’s arm as a goodbye. It’s brief and feather-light, but it sends sparks flying up his arm and directly to his brain, leaving him a little light-headed.

Viktor leans in, murmuring, “You’ve given me a lot to think about. Congratulations on your win tonight, Yuuri.”

And then he’s gone, exiting the building with a mildly annoyed Yakov and a much more agitated Yuri Plisetsky in tow, leaving Yuuri standing alone by the wall. Soon, he’s joined by Celestino.

“Alright there?” he asks.

Yuuri nods slowly, still somewhat dazed. “He just wanted to say his congratulations. He wasn’t angry.”

“Good,” his coach says, clapping him on the shoulder. “You deserve that gold. You were absolutely incredible out there.”

Yuuri smiles, turning towards him to say, “Thanks, Celestino.”

“As I said, well-deserved! Now, let’s get back to the hotel. We’ve got a club call waiting for us—and I’m sure everyone will be eager to give their congrats.”

Oh, man. Yuuri imagines their next FaceTime call with the skating club back in Detroit and laughs.

“Well, I appreciate their enthusiasm,” he says, grinning as they leave the venue.

The snow is a light flutter outside. As they walk, Yuuri glances up and watches it fall from the night sky of Sochi, pale against the evening shadows.

He barely feels the chill. He thinks back on his conversation with this timeline’s Viktor Nikiforov and feels something like hope blooming in his heart.

That night, Viktor lays sleepless in his hotel bed, staring up at slowly rotating ceiling fan. His mind steadily refuses to allow him rest.

He can’t stop thinking about what had transpired only hours before. The events of tonight replay over and over in his head, and he lays an arm over his eyes with a slow exhale.

For the first time in years… Viktor has lost.

No, he doesn’t see it as a failure, not truly: he came in second place. It’s an honorable ranking and something to be proud of. But after four consecutive gold medals at both the GPF and the World Championships, among other notable achievements, with his scores usually so high above the rest that he’s been seen as practically untouchable…

Well. Viktor can see why some people may consider it a loss—someone considered a living legend, placing below a first-time GPF competitor.

He thought Yakov might yell at him for that. But when Viktor returned to him and Yura, his coach seemed to be just as shocked as everyone else, still rendered completely speechless that Viktor had been bumped down to second place at the very last minute of the competition.

Not even little Yura made fun of him afterward, a fact that was shocking in itself. The teenager had just grimaced and sharply proclaimed that he’ll be the one to place higher than both Viktor and Yuuri Katsuki at his senior debut next season.

At the moment, Viktor has turned off his phone for tonight—too many unsolicited calls. The skating world has been shaken to its foundations, and everyone wants to know how Viktor Nikiforov himself feels about it.

With all the practice he’s gotten over the years, Viktor had managed to dodge the question during the post-competition interviews. But he’s not sure if he’ll be able to keep his true feelings about tonight under wraps forever.

In all honesty… This may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

He thinks of Yuuri Katsuki, and his pulse jumps just a bit faster.

Yuuri—and Viktor’s glad that Yuuri doesn’t seem to mind being called by his first name—is, in the simplest description he can put into words, unprecedented. Incredible. Brilliant.

Surprising.

And Viktor likes surprises very much. They keep things fresh and new, prevent everything from stagnating like they have been for the past few years. Even at the top of the skating world, he’s felt caught in a mindless rut, like he’s been rolling a boulder uphill over and over again only for it to roll back down to the base, right back where he started.

Be the best. Make the best, most difficult programs. Make it better, more difficult next year. And even better for the year after that.

Rinse and repeat. Viktor does as is expected of him, even when he’s fruitlessly trying to keep his shine from going dull.

It only grows duller by the year. He skates, he wins, he smiles, and nothing changes.

But tonight, everything has changed. All because of Yuuri Katsuki.

Viktor thinks back to sitting beside him during the interviews, as well as seeking him out afterward in hopes of striking up a conversation. Viktor knows he could have simply waited until the banquet to approach him, but something in him just wanted to speak to Yuuri face-to-face, as soon as possible.

In person, Yuuri is… quieter, more shy than Viktor would have assumed after watching him skate. Both of Yuuri’s programs exuded confidence and sensuality, albeit in different ways, but Yuuri seemed to have trouble even making eye contact with him when they spoke.

One part of Viktor finds the contradictions confusing, but the other part finds it sweet. In any case, Yuuri Katsuki seems to be a kind and considerate person, as well as an impressive figure skater able to kick Viktor off of his pedestal at the peak of his career. And Viktor has never been so glad to be booted off the first place spot as he is tonight.

He finds himself repeating aloud his words from yesterday, after seeing Yuuri’s sultry short program.

He whispers into the silence of the hotel room, “… What a turn of events.”

Viktor thinks back to Yuuri’s free skate—particularly, that jump at the very end. Everyone in the arena had been shaken to the core, eyes wide and jaws dropped, as Yuuri performed a feat no one has ever successfully done before: a quadruple flip as the last jump to a free skate program.

Not even Viktor himself can do it, and the quad flip is his known specialty. What stamina Yuuri must have, to execute such a jump after a program like his! At least no one can say that Yuuri cheated his way to the gold, because everyone had witnessed his skill with their own eyes.

Viktor had been incredibly impressed. He still is, and likely will continue to be. He knows that Yuuri admires him—he’d told Viktor himself. And before, when their eyes had met after Viktor’s own free skate, Yuuri had given him such a lovely smile that Viktor had immediately felt his face burn red with flattered surprise.

Yuuri is a handsome man, and Viktor couldn’t help it.

… Is it arrogant of him to hope that the quad flip may have been dedicated to him?

It probably is. Viktor lets his arms flop to his sides and feels like kicking himself just for thinking of it. It’s purely just coincidence that it was Viktor’s signature jump that Yuuri decided to place at the end of his beautiful free skate program, hero worship or not.

He knows this because the feelings behind that free skate had gone far beyond anything as banal as plain hero worship.

Poignant and longing, Yuuri’s every movement sang of a story—a story that quickly became clear to be about falling in love. Or, as the tale went on, it became about being in love.

If Viktor re-imagines the performance, he can picture a second figure out on the ice with Yuuri, a sweetheart dancing their reply to his yearning call. He can see how this invisible lover pushed him, lifted him up, each step and gesture an expression of how they brought out his joy and pain and adoration all at once.

“Are you watching?” Yuuri’s shining eyes seemed to say. “My love, this is for you.”

When the music wound down to its final, gentle piano notes, Yuuri’s ending pose looked like he was reaching out to someone, reaching for that beloved person across the great distance between them. It was as heartbreaking as the forlorn expression on Yuuri’s face to look towards the end of the ice and see no one reaching back for him.

Tears had fallen even as he smiled for the audience, the cameras, and the whole world… and even Viktor could tell that they were real.

Viktor had been completely transfixed. He’s still just as transfixed, replaying the performance in his head as he stares up at the white ceiling. Yuuri’s emotions blend into his own, and it’s as if he’s the one who has fallen in love.

Viktor reaches up and is surprised to find tears in his own eyes. He hasn’t felt so moved in ages.

There is something about Yuuri that is… sublime. Captivating. Exactly the thing Viktor knows in his heart that he is missing in himself, and it is as if his very soul is yearning to know exactly what it is that Yuuri possesses that inspires him to skate the way he does.

Viktor thinks of how he breathlessly watched from the sidelines, his heart pounding in his chest. After that performance, he had stared at Yuuri standing there in the center of the rink, graceful and radiant as flowers rained down from the stands.

In the light pouring down overhead, he shone of gold. He looked like an angel.

Something slumbering within Viktor feels as if it is awakening. He feels like he is on the cusp of something huge, hanging on a precipice, a new revelation just within reach—and Yuuri Katsuki is the key to realizing it.

That feeling rises within him, and Viktor lets it flow through him as he lets out a slow exhale.

He then turns onto his side with a sigh, tugging the comforter higher over his shoulders.

Hopefully he’ll be able to talk to Yuuri again at the banquet tomorrow. Viktor would like that very much.

He closes his eyes and tries to sleep, images from tonight still flitting through his head.

The next day, Yuuri and Celestino return to the hotel after the GPF gala to prepare for the evening banquet. It doesn’t occur to Yuuri until he’s changed into his suit that there’s something he’s forgetting. Something important.

It’s bothering him up until he and Celestino are walking to the banquet hall, and the doors are already within sight. When he remembers exactly what it is, Yuuri buries his burning face into his hands with a groan.

His coach notices and asks him what’s wrong, and Yuuri can’t even give him an answer.

Yuuri has gone to many GPF banquets in his time, first for himself and then later for the students he’d coached, his niece being among them. Those times, he’d gone calmly, dignified, and with his head held high.

But it suddenly occurs to Yuuri that this is supposed to be his first GPF banquet. And maybe that’s why it’s taken him so long to remember, because it was at this GPF banquet that he’d gotten absolutely smashed on champagne, done all sorts of questionable things with photographic evidence, and ended up forgetting it completely.

Up until his and Viktor’s engagement, that is. And what a revelation that had been for the both of them.

He carefully schools his expression into something more presentable for Celestino’s sake as they enter the banquet hall. He looks around for any familiar faces. It doesn’t seem like Chris is here yet—the Swiss skater usually opting for being fashionably late to events like these—but Yuuri spots the Crispino twins with Mila Babicheva standing off to the side, as well as JJ Leroy happily entertaining a gathering of fans.

He catches sight of pale blond hair and sees Yuri Plisetsky skulking by one of the buffet tables across the room, picking at a plate of hors d’oeuvres with a scowl. His coach is standing with him and is saying something, but the young skater doesn’t seem to be listening too closely at the moment.

And if Yuri and Yakov are here, then…

As he and Celestino draw up next to a table serving drinks, Yuuri finally gets the right view to see Viktor standing with a group of chatting sponsors. He seems to be quietly nursing a half-full champagne flute with a listless smile, usually speaking only when directly addressed.

He looks… incredibly bored. Gloomy, even. He shows just enough interest and smiles just enough to be outwardly polite. Yuuri watches as Viktor answers an inquiry with a quip and charming smile and makes the group laugh.

Yuuri can tell it’s superficial, even if they don’t really know each other at the moment. Yuuri knew him once, and it’s enough to tell that this Viktor isn’t having a good time.

He frowns at that. Before, remembering their first GPF banquet together had always put a smile on his husband’s face.

Since Yuuri remembered none of it, Viktor had told him exactly what had happened that night, much to Yuuri’s embarrassment. He recalls the nostalgic, teasing grin on Viktor’s face as he gave him a detailed play-by-play of drunken Yuuri’s antics: the dancing, the stripping, the incidental seduction of the legendary figure skater himself that led to Viktor flying out to Hasetsu—all of it.

Viktor had never forgotten, not even the smallest detail.

He thinks of his husband’s laugh, that affectionate look in his eyes that softened as he confided, “It was one of the greatest nights of my life. After that… I knew I had to see you again.”

That night is supposed to be tonight. Yuuri isn’t the same person he was back then, but something in him sees this current Viktor Nikiforov wilting like a flower and screams at himself to do something to fix it.

Just then, Viktor turns slightly and notices him staring. Yuuri watches Viktor’s lips part slightly in surprise before his politely neutral expression brightens into a happy smile. He waves, and Yuuri waves back from where he is across the room.

Briefly, Yuuri glances behind himself at the drinks table, and the neat rows of champagne bubble cheerily in the light. He doesn’t know if he can perfectly recreate the events of his past life, but…

He can certainly try. For Viktor’s sake.

If it means Viktor can have this treasured memory again, if he can have so much fun tonight that he remembers it for the rest of his life, then...

A little embarrassment on Yuuri’s part—okay, maybe a lot of embarrassment—is nevertheless a small price to pay.

Oh, God, he’s really doing this, isn’t he?

He glances over and sees that Viktor has broken off from his conversation group and is deftly weaving through the crowd towards him. He’s making steady progress, and his expression is an expectant and intent one.

Yuuri sees that hopeful look on his face and nods to himself. Yeah, he’s doing this.

… But maybe he won’t drink so much this time that he’ll black out and forget everything again. He prays that tipsy Yuuri will have some semblance of control, although that’s probably just wishful thinking.

Yuuri takes a deep, steeling breath before picking up a champagne flute and downing it in one go. He picks up another and downs that one, too.

Celestino is staring at him, bewildered. “Uh, Yuuri, what are you doing?”

“Just getting some liquid courage,” he explains shortly before knocking back a third. The alcohol burns low in his stomach.

“For… what, exactly?”

Yuuri gestures over his shoulder, and Celestino looks. They both see a flustered Viktor Nikiforov trying to dodge multiple people trying to get his attention as he makes his way over. He keeps worriedly glancing at Yuuri like he’s going to disappear at any moment.

“Oh,” Celestino says. “Are you… okay with him, then?”

Yuuri nods as he snatches up another glass and starts walking over to where Viktor has been roped into speaking with someone. Over his shoulder, he calls back, “Perfectly! Don’t worry about me, Coach.”

“Well, alright?” Celestino still sounds confused, but he responds, “Knock yourself out, then!”

Yuuri almost snorts into his champagne—because that’s very close to the plan, here.

He approaches Viktor, who is still trying to disengage from the overeager well-wisher. He visibly perks up when he sees Yuuri slide up next to him.

“Viktor!” Yuuri says cheerily, looping his right arm around Viktor’s left. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”

Viktor flushes a little, glancing down at their linked arms for a moment before saying to his conversation partner with a quick smile, “Ah, I’m being summoned elsewhere! It was lovely talking with you!”

The guy gapes at them. “Wha—”

They quickly bustle away together, arms still linked, and Yuuri hears Viktor giggling beside him.

Trying to keep his voice low, he says with a snicker, “My thanks for the rescue, Yuuri!”

A grinning Yuuri replies, “No problem. You looked bored to tears.”

As they draw up next to an empty space between the wall and one of the drink tables, Viktor adjusts his already-perfect necktie with a distracted air, fidgeting slightly.

He then shakes his head and sighs, “It’s not that I’m ungrateful for these people who have been supporting me, it’s just… It happens every year, like clockwork.”

“Hm. I can only imagine,” Yuuri says, frowning.

“Things have been the same for a long time,” he replies distantly. He then shoots a little smile in Yuuri’s direction as he adds on, “I’m glad you competed this year, Yuuri. You’ve made things… so much more interesting.”

Yuuri can see that he’s not saying everything, but he doesn’t call him out on it. Instead, he says, “Well, then, I’m happy you’re having a better time than in past years, Viktor.”

Viktor gives him such a grateful look that he’s almost taken aback. It takes him a moment, but then Yuuri realizes something significant.

Viktor is still at that point in his life right now—that point in which his career has consumed his entire life until there’s little else left. Just skating and competing, with a scarce few interpersonal relationships to speak of.

Yuuri, at least, has his family and friends to fall back on whenever he needs to take a step back from his career, both in his past life and in this current one. But Viktor…

Right now, this Viktor is still alone.

“There were always other skaters. People from my own country who I saw often,” he remembers his husband telling him one night, “but I didn’t connect with them very well.”

Viktor had his head in Yuuri’s lap, looking up at him with glassy eyes as Yuuri comfortingly ran his fingers through his hair.

“And back then, Yurio was only a child—I couldn’t burden him with my problems. There was Yakov, who I’ve known for so many years, but at the same time… I always felt like I could only ever tell him so much.”

He’d turned and caught Yuuri’s hand in his own, pressing a kiss to his knuckles.

“You gave me something new. I’m so glad I met you, Yuuri.”

Now, Yuuri feels protectiveness swell within him, thinking of that forlorn look in the eyes of the man he loved.

Once upon a time, he managed to make Viktor Nikiforov have an unexpectedly great night at a GPF banquet, and Viktor remembered it even when Yuuri didn’t. Yuuri had caused a bright spark in a lonely, stagnating life, and Viktor had never forgotten.

At this thought, potent determination rises within him.

Yuuri can do it again. He wants Viktor to have fun tonight, more than anything.

Yuuri turns to him and suddenly says, “Hey, do you want to dance with me?”

Viktor owlishly blinks at him, his blue eyes comically large.

“Here? Now?” he asks a little breathlessly. “But you can barely hear the music...”

Yuuri raises an eyebrow at him before knocking back his current champagne flute and setting the empty glass aside. He picks up another and gestures to Viktor with it.

He smirks and says, “Does it matter?”

Viktor stares at him just a moment longer before a delighted grin spreads across his face. Arms still linked, he eagerly tugs him towards the dance floor, while everyone else is staring at them in confusion.

Viktor turns to look at him, and there’s a twinkling gleam of excitement in his eyes. He looks happy.

And to Yuuri, that’s reward enough. He finishes his champagne with excitement of his own igniting within him.

Hours later, in the very early hours of the morning when it’s still dark out, Yuuri wakes up with the worst hangover he’s had in ages. He groans, raising his hands to massage his pounding temples. From the other side of the room, he can hear Celestino snoring.

Oh, good. They made it back to the hotel alright. Yuuri has no idea how—he’s pretty sure he recalls seeing his coach passed out at some point during the party—but he’s just glad that they’re both accounted for.

He tries rising from bed, but a hard dizzy spell sends him sprawling back.

Well, okay. Guess he’s staying right here, then.

Yuuri grasps around on the sheets for his missing glasses, but his hand finds his phone instead. He grabs it and brings it to his face, wincing at the bright light when he powers it on.

Yuuri… actually does remember some of the night. Some of it. His head pounds as he wracks through his fuzzy memories and recalls dancing with a laughing Viktor as everyone in the room looked on with shocked expressions. At some point, Chris had found them and joined in on the fun, and… maybe Yurio did, too…?

Curious, Yuuri opens his Photos app to see if his drunken self took any pictures and finds several new photos loaded at the bottom.

Oh, boy. He mentally girds himself for what he may find.

Yuuri looks at the most recent ones first, and… Well, it looks like he and Chris did indeed end up stripping again. How, exactly, he has no idea—his inebriated personality seems to be on a completely different wavelength than his sober one, no matter what his age may be.

Yuuri can’t recall even the tiniest bit of it, and he frankly doesn’t know whether to feel gratefully relieved or cheated out of remembering what looked like a fun time.

In whatever case, he’ll send them to Chris later at a more reasonable time of day. He has a feeling his friend would appreciate them.

Yuuri pauses for a moment to wonder just who had his phone at the time to take these pictures, but regardless, he continues flipping through the Moments reel.

The next picture is a selfie of a flushed Viktor in mid-laugh, with Yuuri and Chris half-dressed and rowdy in the background. Well, that answers that question—although it makes Yuuri’s face heat up at the thought.

Going backwards through the photos, he comes across stills of himself and Yuri engaged in their dance-off, and he grins to himself. He doesn’t remember much of this, either, but he’s rather glad that this happened again, especially since he hasn’t gotten to speak with the young skater one-on-one in this timeline yet.

Although Yurio looks like his usual ornery self in all the photos, Yuuri hopes he had a good time.

He sees Viktor in the background, enthusiastically cheering them on. He then finds a winking selfie of Chris, and Yuuri vaguely recalls tossing his phone to him at some point—

—When he and Viktor were in the middle of dancing. Heart racing, Yuuri swipes through the next photos and is faced with multiple pictures of them laughing as they dance together.

He remembers this part—remembers it with surprising clarity. He feels his heart pounding as he recalls how they whirled around each other without a care in the world, eyes locked as they improvised a dance for two. Yuuri remembers Viktor’s grin, his elated laughter in Yuuri’s ear whenever they drew near to each other, the weight of him in his arms as Yuuri dipped him…

And he vividly remembers that shining, marvelous sparkle in Viktor’s eyes as he looked up at Yuuri, hair falling back and beautifully mussed, with breathless wonder written all over his flushed expression.

Yuuri feels rather breathless himself as he stares at the photos. How could he forget something like this the first time around? It seems too precious, too important.

He suddenly realizes why it feels that way.

It’s their first dance.

Yuuri had performed his last dance for his husband just yesterday. And now, he’s also relived their first one—a memory that he’ll hold in his heart forever, as his Viktor did before him.

He hopes that this current Viktor will remember it, too. He wants him to have that bright spark again, that renewal of joy in life.

This is still Viktor, after all. Yuuri’s seen it in his smile, in his laugh, in his eyes.

And Yuuri will always wish him happiness, in any time or place, missing memories or not.

Blinking away the sudden tears in his eyes, a curious thought comes to him, and Yuuri opens up his contacts list. He scrolls down towards the bottom and freezes when he sees it.

Under the V section, there’s a new contact: Viktor <3

At some point, Viktor had entered his phone number into Yuuri’s cell and saved it. Yuuri doesn’t know when. A new wave of emotion hits him, and he lets out a quiet, sniffling laugh.

Following each other on Instagram just wasn’t enough, huh?

He’s glad. It looks right to see Viktor’s name in his phone again, complete with the little heart.

Before Yuuri can reconsider his own actions, he presses the speech bubble beside the phone symbol, and a brand new text message screen pulls up. Yuuri looks through his recent photos and comes to a quick decision, attaching the photo of himself dipping Viktor, both of them laughing and carefree.

With the picture, he types out, “Thank you for the wonderful night. I had fun!”

Yuuri hesitates for just a moment before adding a “<3” onto the end of the text.

He presses send. To his surprise, there’s an almost immediate response.

Viktor has sent another photo back. Yuuri remembers him taking this one—he’d only just begun feeling a bit buzzed from the champagne.

Viktor is looking into the camera with a dazzling smile, and Yuuri’s suit jacket has already come off. With a red flush spreading across his cheeks, Yuuri is leaning his head on Viktor’s shoulder and looking up at the camera through his eyelashes, smiling shyly.

Underneath the picture is Viktor’s reply: “me too!!! we should do that again sometime :))))”

And then his phone buzzes again with another text.

“<3<3<3”

At the sight, Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut as he lets out a shuddering breath. His fingers are trembling against the phone screen.

Yuuri presses the phone tightly to his chest, just above the beating of his heart, and quietly allows himself to dream of something new.

Chapter Text

After a tiring series of international connecting flights, they’re back in Detroit without any major mishaps.

They return to the university, and Celestino urges Yuuri to accompany him to the skating rink. Thankful to be out of the stifling cab at last, Yuuri goes along with his coach’s request without much thought, rolling his suitcase along behind him as Celestino opens the front doors to the darkened building and holds it open for him.

Yuuri walks in first, and he’s suddenly blinded by the lights being flipped on.

A loud chorus of voices exclaims, “Congratulations, Yuuri!”

Yuuri blinks bewilderedly as he takes in the sight of his applauding rinkmates all excitedly standing before him, a grinning Phichit front-and-center with his phone aloft and recording.

The lobby around them is decorated for what is clearly a surprise party, colorful streamers thrown all over the place and folding tables brought in to host an eclectic mix of snacks and drinks. Balloons blown to various sizes fill the space, some having already escaped their strings and are currently hugging the ceiling.

Yuuri turns his head back towards Celestino, who is closing the doors behind him with a sheepish smile as Yuuri lightly accuses, “You knew about this, didn’t you, Coach?”

Celestino shrugs and chuckles, “I did my part—getting you to the rink as soon as possible! And here I thought I was being too obvious!”

His coach then hurries and joins the group of students who give him welcomes of his own, and then they all turn to look at Yuuri with bright eyes.

Yuuri is filled with overwhelming fondness for all the people here, who cared enough to want to surprise him with a party upon his return. He can’t help but laugh, leaving his luggage where it is as he runs forward to tackle a cackling Phichit into a hug, quickly followed by their friends.

“Thank you guys so much,” he says, tears prickling his eyes even as he’s grinning. “This is a great welcome back!”

He then hears a familiar voice say, “Yuuri!”

Yuuri blinks, and the next person in front of him is a waving Malisha. He laughs and hugs her too, and she returns it with a wide smile.

“Malisha, hey!” Yuuri exclaims, pleasantly surprised. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here! Did your finals go well?”

She snorts into his shoulder and says, “Ha, as well as they could’ve gone!” They pull away, and she puts a hand on her hip as she goes on, “Anyway, Phichit let me know about the club’s GPF-watching party, so I came over to catch your free skate when it was your turn. I don’t know much about figure skating myself, but it looked amazing!”

Yuuri ducks his head for a moment before looking back at her with a smile, replying, “Well, um, I’m glad you liked it! I couldn’t have done it without you, after all. Thank you again.”

“No problem!” She then laughs, “Now I can add onto my resume that one of my compositions was used by a GPF gold medalist! Pretty good, right?”

“I’d still say you did more for me,” Yuuri says with an embarrassed shrug, “but I’m glad you got something out of it, at least.”

Malisha punches him lightly on the upper arm and tells him, “Aw, come off it! I would’ve been glad to help even if you didn’t get first place. You did great either way.”

Yuuri can’t help but smile, quietly regretting that he didn’t get to know her the first time around. She’s a kind person and has been a good friend to him in the short time they’ve known each other, and he is grateful.

“Thank you,” he repeats gratefully. “This was only possible because of you.”

“And now we both get to enjoy it!” Malisha replies with a grin. She glances over her shoulder and says, “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go raid the food table. I am seriously running low on snacks and candy ever since finals wrapped up. Oh, and I see that Phichit is making his way back here with his camera!”

Yuuri looks, and she’s right: Phichit is making a beeline towards them, phone still held aloft with an excited grin on his face.

Yuuri laughs and tells Malisha, “Go for it. And, for the record… I’m glad you came. It means a lot.”

She brightly salutes him, saying, “Anytime! Congratulations again, Yuuri!” before slipping away towards the aforementioned snack tables.

Phichit quickly pops into the newly-vacated space, pointing his phone at Yuuri and greeting, “Hello, Mister First-Place-Winner! And how are we doing today?”

“Good, Phichit,” Yuuri responds with a laugh. He eyes him knowingly before adding, “By any chance, were you the one who arranged this surprise party? And even roped Coach into it?”

His friend sniffs, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about! Anyway, we need to do one last scene for your welcome back video—I’m posting it on Instagram later!”

He gets the attention of the closest nearby rinkmates, and a chain reaction of nudging and quick shushes soon turns everyone’s attention to them. Yuuri sheepishly waves, and they wave back with glowing enthusiasm.

Phichit then raises his phone higher and yells, “Our champion returns victorious! Show us the gold, Yuuri!”

Oh, so that’s why Celestino told him to put his medal on while they were still in the cab…! Yuuri had thought it was an odd request, but went along with it without suspicion.

Now, he reaches into the neckline of his jacket and pulls out his gold medal, the strap hanging proudly around his neck, and the whole club erupts into a cheering din of approval as it glints in the light.

“Congrats!”

“You were amazing!”

“We knew you could do it!”

Phichit laughs and lowers his phone, ending his video recording as he throws his other arm around Yuuri’s shoulders.

“There was a ton of screaming during your programs. I don’t think that was emphasized enough the last time we talked,” he says, still grinning widely. “Have you taken a look online at all?”

“I’m almost afraid to,” Yuuri chuckles as he removes his medal and lets his excited rinkmates pass it around for a closer look. “Why, is it that bad?”

“More like fantastic,” Phichit responds. “Every figure skating community online is totally blowing up with Yuuri Katsuki this, Yuuri Katsuki that—you know you broke Viktor Nikiforov’s records for both short program and free skate scores, right? You’re a phenomenon, my man.”

Yuuri flushes. He’d heard about the records, but he hasn’t really been online since the GPF ended to witness the aftermath for himself.

He replies sheepishly, “Oh, well… I’m flattered?”

And—the post with your costumes has definitely been making its rounds online, too,” his friend informs him. He then waggles his eyebrows and adds, “I’ve saved a few of the more… shall we say, admiring comments to read out to you later.”

“Oh my God,” Yuuri says, hiding a snicker behind his hand. “Okay, are any of those bad?”

Very bad,” Phichit confirms with a grin, and Yuuri laughs out loud.

Before putting any real thought into it, he mentions, “Ha, I can only imagine what the comments on the banquet photos are like, then!”

At that, Phichit stares at him blankly. He slowly asks, “… What are you talking about? The banquet looked pretty tame to me.”

Yuuri’s mouth drops open before quickly snapping shut again in realization.

Oh. Oh. There’s probably a reason why no one ever mentioned that particular GPF banquet to him in his past life. Whether the photos never leaked because of some mutual media blackout agreement or for whatever other reason, Yuuri never found out.

If there’s anyone who could have dug up those photos, it’s Phichit. And since he hasn’t seen them, then that means all anyone has been posting are pictures from the more innocent start of the night.

Yuuri isn’t going to be the one to break the silent agreement now—even if he’s already begun sweating.

Floundering for a second, Yuuri cups a hand to his ear and rambles out, “Oh, is that Coach I hear calling for me? Gotta go!”

He quickly begins speed walking away, and Phichit squawks.

“He’s totally not! Yuuri, what banquet photos?! Did something happen?!” his friend calls after him desperately. “Yuuri, tell meeeee!”

Phichit maintains a tenacious interest many things—skating, social media, and peers’ gossip being among them. This situation covers all three, and at this rate, Yuuri knows that he won’t be able to avoid him for long.

He quickly tries to think of a place where they can speak privately before coming across one of the darkened hallways. He ducks into an empty locker room and trusts Phichit to follow.

His friend appears in the doorway only a moment later, promptly closing the door behind him with an expectant look on his face.

“Alright, no one came after me!” he resolutely tells him. “Spill!”

Pulling out his phone, Yuuri sits down at one of the benches and secretively gestures him over. Phichit hastens forward and immediately snatches up Yuuri’s phone as soon as it’s offered to him.

He looks down at the screen, and it’s his turn for his mouth to drop open. Yuuri watches his thumb rapidly swipe through through photo reel.

“Holy shit,” he whispers, and Yuuri simply nods in agreement.

“Yeah.”

He stops on a photo and guffaws. In a high voice, he asks, “Is that you and Christophe Giacometti—dude, how drunk were you?!”

Very is the answer to that.”

“I can tell,” Phichit says under his breath, eyes wide. “Where did that pole even—?”

Yuuri quickly cuts him off with, “I have no idea.”

“Holy shit,” he repeats, a mischievous grin spreading across his face. “Yuuri, you are absolutely wild.”

“So I’ve heard,” Yuuri replies with a sigh, recalling Chris’ enthusiastic teasing via text once he’d sent the older skater the banquet photos while waiting to board at the airport.

Chris had gleefully sent quite a few in return. Yuuri had to reposition himself to sit with his back to a wall to make sure no one could catch a glimpse of his phone screen. He’s got a particular feeling that Chris will never, ever let him live this down.

Phichit then pauses and makes a long aww sound, which makes Yuuri glance at him with a questioning look. His friend turns the screen towards him, and Yuuri sees the photo that Viktor had sent—the one with both of them smiling at the camera, with Yuuri’s head resting on Viktor’s shoulder. He’d forgotten that he’d saved that to his photo reel soon after receiving it.

Phichit is grinning knowingly, and Yuuri flushes.

“Getting cozy with Viktor Nikiforov, hm? Those photos of you two dancing were very nice, too,” Phichit thoughtfully hums, rubbing at his chin with his free hand. “I see, I see… Well done, Yuuri!”

Practically everyone in the skating club knows of his crush on Viktor Nikiforov—none more than Phichit. Of course, it’s much more complicated than a crush, but the fact still stands. Yuuri still has posters of Viktor hanging up in his dorm room; he hasn’t bothered taking them down, and as his roommate, Phichit sees them practically every day.

Yuuri buries his burning face into his hands and mumbles, “Okay, but I’m not posting any of them, Phichit.”

“A shame… but I understand. I’ll keep the secret safe, promise,” he sighs forlornly. He then pats Yuuri’s shoulder and says with a teasing lilt, “Thanks for showing me these, dude. My life has already been enriched with the knowledge that these photos exist somewhere out there.”

Yuuri elbows him lightly in the side, and Phichit snickers before looking down at the phone again.

“But, man, I wish I’d been there!” he says longingly, swiping through the pictures one more time. “It looks like you guys had a great time.”

Yuuri can’t help but smile, agreeing, “I don’t remember most of it, but it was a good time. It would have been even better with you there.”

Phichit looks heartened at that. Yuuri nudges him in the side again, grinning.

He says, “Hey, make it into the GPF next season, and you’ll be able to take as many banquet photos as you want!”

Phichit’s eyes sparkle at the suggestion. “My friend, you are completely right…! All the reason to work harder from here on out, huh?”

Before, Yuuri remembers that Phichit had indeed qualified for the GPF for this next season, and he has confidence in his friend that he’ll be able to do it again.

“You can do it. I believe in you,” he tells him. “It’s in Barcelona next year, isn’t it? If we’re both competing, we can go sightseeing together. It’ll be fun.”

Phichit just looks at him for a moment, eyes soft, before squaring his shoulders with a resolute nod.

“Thank you, Yuuri. I’ll look forward to that.”

Yuuri watches him and realizes that Barcelona had been his friend’s first GPF. Right now, this current Phichit Chulanont is riding on hope, belief, and determination rather than on experience. Yuuri promises himself to look after his friend and support him as best he is able.

Phichit has been supporting him this entire time, after all—not only here, but in the life they’d lived before. Yuuri wants to give it back tenfold.

Suddenly, the moment is broken when Yuuri’s phone buzzes with a new text. Phichit, being the one holding the phone, glances down and sees it first.

“Nice icebreaker,” he lightly comments, opening the text chat for Yuuri and almost handing it off to him.

Phichit then blinks before his eyes go comically wide, giving the text a disbelieving double-take.

He pivots his entire body towards Yuuri and exclaims, “You have Viktor Nikiforov’s number?!”

Heart suddenly pounding in his chest, Yuuri snatches the phone from him and looks. Sure enough, it was Viktor who texted him.

It reads, “yuuri do u like dogs???”

“Oh my God,” Phichit says as he peeps over Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri’s blush swiftly returns, and he resolutely ignores him as he texts back.

“Yes, I do!”

Viktor sends him a photo. It’s of Makkachin chasing after a squeaky toy shaped like a bone, tongue lolling happily from his mouth. The background looks very familiar, but Yuuri needs a few seconds to recognize it as the living room of Viktor’s apartment in St. Petersburg.

In Yuuri’s past life, he can barely recall the last time either of them had been there. Viktor had packed up that apartment in favor of living with Yuuri in Hasetsu soon after Yuuri had retired from competitive figure skating.

It’s been a long time. If they were ever in the St. Petersburg area when visiting Russia, they usually stayed with Yurio, ever since he grew old enough to get his own place.

Before Yuuri can fall further into his memories, another text comes through that reads, “this is my baby makkachin!!! isnt he the cutest :D”

“Oh my God,” Phichit repeats, sounding both incredibly amused and very bewildered all at once. “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? Figure skating living legend, Viktor Nikiforov, texting you about his dog?”

Yuuri continues ignoring him and replies to Viktor with, “He’s very cute! Poodles are adorable!”

“a fellow poodle lover!!!!! ur amazing yuuri <3 <3 <3”

“Ooookay, I see where this is going. I’ll give you two some privacy,” Phichit announces as he stands up from the bench, patting Yuuri’s shoulder again before making his way to the door. “Don’t stay in here too long, Yuuri! The man of the hour needs to show his face at his own party again, sooner or later!”

“Um.” Yuuri has the phone screen cradled close to his chest, face flushed. “Good talk?”

“Good talk,” Phichit confirms before sending him a knowing wink. “And you have a good talk with Mister Nikiforov there, alright? I better be invited to the wedding!”

Yuuri gapes at him before letting out an embarrassed protest of, “Phichit!”

He can feel his blush grow ever darker. His friend has no idea how accurate that little bit of teasing actually is: he’d been Yuuri’s best man when he and Viktor had gotten married, after all.

Phichit laughs as he slips out the door, “Kidding—but not really! I’ll be able to hold everyone off for a little bit, but not for long, alright?”

“Of course. Thanks,” Yuuri replies softly, and Phichit gives him an enthusiastically supportive thumbs-up before closing the door behind him.

Now alone in the locker room, Yuuri looks back down at the lit screen of his phone. This is the first time that Viktor has contacted him since their first text conversation after the banquet, and he finds himself floored.

Before… after the GPF, he hadn’t seen or communicated with Viktor at all until he’d suddenly appeared at Hasetsu. That was in April—at the moment, it’s still December. If things go the way they did before, changes notwithstanding, that’s supposed to happen months from now.

But… here in this new timeline, they follow each other on Instagram. They’ve talked face-to-face, danced together. They have each other’s phone numbers. And now Viktor has made the first move in maintaining their connection, opting to talk about his beloved Makkachin as neutral territory.

Pets are a good conversation starter; Yuuri knows it would have worked on him, even if he didn’t already know Viktor before. He rereads Viktor’s last text, looks at that sweet picture of Makkachin he sent, and smiles to himself.

A nice icebreaker, indeed.

“I have a poodle, too,” he texts back, his heart light in his chest. “His name is Vicchan.”

Out on the St. Petersburg home rink, Viktor has been spending more time on his phone than actually practicing his routines for Worlds.

His coach, Yakov Feltsman, considers yelling at him to put his phone away. But as the skater idly glides by on the ice while rapidly texting, phone cradled in both hands and oblivious to everything else around him, something in his expression makes Yakov pause.

Ever since the Sochi GPF, Viktor has been noticeably… different.

Brighter. Happier, even.

It’s not exactly the reaction Yakov thought Viktor would have after being shunted to second place so suddenly. When Viktor was younger, he worked his way to the top with a determined, competitive drive to be the best in the world. He mellowed after his numerous victories turned him into a legend, but Yakov would have assumed that his recent loss would have at least stung a little.

But it doesn’t look like Viktor has felt the sting at all. Actually, it seems like he’s been hit by a different sort of feeling that has nothing to do with defeat.

Lately, he skates distractedly, but he smiles more. His phone is never far from his hand, and he’s constantly checking it, even while out on the ice. His face noticeably lights up when the one he’s been communicating with sends a reply.

Yakov knows exactly who it is—as does everyone else at the home rink. Viktor isn’t exactly subtle about it.

“Ugh.”

Leaning against the boards next to him as he takes a quick breather from practice, Yuri Plisetsky lets out a disgusted noise as Viktor glides by again, quietly laughing to himself as he types out another text.

“Hey, old man—are you actually going to start skating, or what?” the teenager yells out.

Drifting towards the other side of the rink, Viktor doesn’t seem to hear—or, more likely, he’s deliberately ignoring him.

“Aw, leave him alone, Yura! It’s cute that he has a crush,” Mila Babicheva says lightly as she glides over to them. She turns to Yakov and asks about her practice run, “Was that alright, Coach?”

Yakov nods but informs her, “A little wobbly on the triple lutz landing.”

“Shoot,” Mila sighs before shaking her head determinedly. “I thought I had that… I’ll go again.”

Before she moves to go through her short program another time, Yuri yells to Viktor again, “Either stop texting Katsuki, or get your ass off the ice!”

Viktor skates over to them but continues to not acknowledge the barbs being thrown, instead happily announcing, “Yuuri had a photoshoot the other day, and he has new posters coming out soon! Milochka, I need your opinion—which one should I get?”

“Ooh!” Mila makes an interested sound as she takes a curious look at Viktor’s phone screen, where there’s a list of poster thumbnails and a button at the bottom that says preorder. She sighs, “Oh, they’re all good—it’s hard to decide!”

“Isn’t it?! Hm… Maybe I should just buy all of them?” Viktor muses aloud, and Mila laughs.

“I’m sure your Yuuri will appreciate that!”

He grins and presses the preorder button, saying, “Okay, I’m doing it!”

Yuri has long since given up on the two of them and has started doing compulsory figures in the background, his scowl visible even from the boards.

Meanwhile, Yakov finds himself sighing heavily at Viktor’s antics. As nice as it is to see his student’s improved mood as of late, he has work to do if he wants to place above Katsuki at Worlds in the spring.

During the GPF interviews, Yakov had been able to approach Katsuki’s coach, Celestino Cialdini, to inquire about his thoughts on Katsuki’s sudden improvement. The Japanese skater had grown incredibly skilled and refined within an astoundingly short span of time, and Yakov had wanted to scout out the reason for it.

Was it something Cialdini did—a new training regimen, perhaps? Would it work for anyone else?

Unfortunately, Cialdini had been largely unhelpful on that front, simply replying, “I didn’t have much to do with it. Yuuri did a great deal of it on his own, with his own determination and willpower.”

The closest thing to an answer that Yakov had managed to pry out of him was that Katsuki had undergone “a change in mindset,” which tells him barely anything at all. It makes him wonder if Cialdini actually knows the answer himself.

Either way, despite whatever it was that ultimately lead to that spike in ability, Yuuri Katsuki is now a very legitimate threat to Viktor’s career. He’s already broken the famous skater’s current program records and can certainly do more damage if they do nothing but watch.

Katsuki is a dark horse, a sudden storm on the horizon, an unknown obstacle to overcome…

No matter how much Viktor is enamored with him.

Yakov had been there during the banquet, although he’d eventually had to escort out a protesting Yuri once things took a less child-friendly turn. He can’t recall the last time he’d seen Viktor look so carefree, smile so wide, or laugh with abandon like he had when he’d danced with Katsuki.

Much later, when Viktor had checked back with him after the party, there were stars sparkling in his eyes. Every one of his worries and pressures looked as if they’d evaporated into thin air, and a much lighter-hearted Viktor Nikiforov had been born.

Yakov had watched him head off to his own room for the night, clothes disheveled and hair mussed, happily humming what sounded like the song to his own free skate program. There had been a visible pep in his walk as he ambled down the hotel hallway without a care in the world.

Viktor has carried this mood with him all the way back home. It glows around him like the feeling of warm light—Yakov notices it even now, as he watches Viktor and Mila giggle as they sort through poster samples of Katsuki together. Viktor is smiling in a way he hasn’t ever done until recently: soft, yearning, and hopeful.

To Yakov’s knowledge, this is the first time his student has ever had feelings towards anyone in this way. Before, Viktor had always placed skating first and never looked at potential suitors twice.

Now, Viktor skates, but it’s with Yuuri Katsuki on his mind.

Yakov doesn’t know Katsuki personally: he only knows that he is a skilled figure skater capable of tearing down Viktor’s titles if he tries. He knows what he can infer from Katsuki’s skating—that he is an athlete dedicated to the sport and is willing to work to surpass the best of the best.

He also knows random tidbits that Viktor babbles at him and at anyone nearby who cares to listen, although Yakov takes those with a grain of salt.

“He has a poodle named Vicchan! Isn’t that a cute name? See, look, here’s a picture, he looks just like Makkachin!”

“Yuuri is graduating in spring next year. From a university that speaks a foreign language, wow!”

“Yuuri’s favorite color is blue. Hey, my eyes are blue—do you think he likes my eyes?”

“He’s sooo handsome! You know, he sends me selfies sometimes! Do you want to see them?”

It’s only been a little over a week since the GPF, and Yakov feels like he’s precariously balancing on the edge of not knowing enough about Katsuki, versus knowing far too much via Viktor.

Either way, Viktor is new to this, and Yakov can’t help but feel protective of him. His student may not be a child anymore, but his lacking experience in life outside of figure skating has him at a disadvantage.

With Viktor so smitten with him already… Katsuki better not be playing with his emotions. Yakov has never spoken to him face-to-face and will refrain from judgment in the meantime, but Yakov does not ever want to see Viktor with a broken heart. He’ll hunt down Katsuki himself, if it comes down to it.

Yakov sighs again. Things would have been much easier if Viktor had seen Katsuki as another rival, or even an arch-nemesis. There’s not much he can do now besides try to corral Viktor into actually doing his practices, in preparation for when the two skaters will face off against each other again.

“Vitya,” Yakov says aloud. “Put your phone away, it’s time for practice.”

“Alright, alright,” Viktor replies distractedly, tapping at his phone a few more times before placing it next to Yakov on the flat railing of the boards. He then stretches his arms a bit and asks, “Can we do Stay Close To Me first?”

They had been planning on working on his short program today. Yakov folds him arms together and inquires, “Any particular reason?”

Viktor grins and begins skating out towards the center of the rink, gracefully dodging a speeding Yuri as he does so.

He merrily calls back in reply, “I’m feeling inspired, is all!”

Yakov hasn’t heard that particular phrase in a long time. Beside him, Mila grins and explains, “It’s Yuuri Katsuki’s favorite program of Vitya’s. Or so he says, anyway.”

The coach turns to stare at her with what he means to be a deadpan look, but the teenager lets out a tiny “Eep!” and quickly retreats to join Yuri on the other side of the rink.

Yakov sighs for a third time. He expects that he’ll be doing a lot of that from now on.

He turns his attention back to Viktor and says, “Alright, Vitya. From the top.”

Celestino has been meaning to speak with Yuuri about his remaining competitions for the season, but Yuuri beats him to the punch.

As he sits at the bleachers and watches his students skate in the rink below, Yuuri comes to sit next to him and suddenly says, “Coach, I’m done for this season.”

Celestino thinks for a moment that he hasn’t heard him correctly, but the words ring clear in his ears. That doesn’t make the announcement any less shocking, though.

“I… Yuuri, you just won gold at the GPF,” he replies, aware of just how confused and lost his voice sounds. “What about All-Japan? Worlds? Don’t you want to keep the ball rolling?”

Yuuri doesn’t answer him immediately, quietly sitting beside him with his head ducked and gaze averted. Eventually, he looks back at Celestino, and his expression is both resolute and oddly… sad.

“I gave Sochi everything I had,” he tells him, wringing his hands together as he speaks. “I… I know if I participate in the rest of this season’s competitions, my heart won’t be in it like it was at the GPF. Everyone… my competitors, the audience, and you, too, Coach… You all deserve better than a half-hearted performance from me.”

Celestino stares at him, carefully turning that over in his head. Sensing that there’s more to what Yuuri is saying, he asks, “Is there something that’s keeping you from performing at your best? I know what you said at the interviews… Is school stressing you out?”

Yuuri shakes his head. He glances out over the rink, and there’s a faraway look in his eyes as he says, “I feel like I already know what I’m capable of on the ice.”

It’s definitely not what he was expecting him to say. Trying to read between the lines, Celestino mulls on that before asking, “Do you believe you’ve peaked in ability? Yuuri, I’ve seen you skate—the GPF isn’t the limit of what you can do. You can do even better, rise even higher.”

“I know that,” Yuuri agrees, and the easy understanding throws Celestino off. The next thing throws him off even more: “Is it strange to say that I’m more interested in what everyone else can do?”

What everyone else can do? Celestino doesn’t comprehend what he means by that until he follows Yuuri’s line of sight down to the skating rink, where he’s silently watching his rinkmates do their practices. They’re young and green, but commitment and determination have already taken root in each of them.

They’re a part of the next generation of figure skaters—when the current heroes and legends grow old and step down, the torch will be passed to them one day. Celestino believes in them, and it seems so does Yuuri.

And then, Celestino understands.

“Yuuri...” he says softly, still trying to wrap his mind around it while carefully broaching the subject. “Are you talking about retiring?”

Yuuri continues watching the skaters glide around the rink before turning back to meet his gaze. He replies, “I’m not competing for the rest of this season. But after that? Honestly… I don’t know. I could retire, I might not… Both options are something I can see myself doing.”

Celestino finds himself speechless for a moment. “But... you’ve only just started. Would you really be satisfied with one GPF win?”

“Yeah. I could be,” he responds with full sincerity. There’s a wistfully amused smile on his face as he adds, “It does sound weird to say it out loud. But for now, though… I’ll finish up school. Go home. Spend time with my family before next season comes. And then I’ll decide for sure.”

Celestino just looks at him for a long time. There are times like these where he feels like he hardly knows Yuuri at all, despite being his coach ever since he came to Detroit years ago.

At one point, he simply thought of his student as shy, anxious, and a bit reclusive. But ever since those short months before the GPF, there’s been a new side to Yuuri that has been flourishing. Celestino sees it and admires it, and yet there’s another facet he can’t quite pin down.

Yuuri is confident, competitive, and determined on the ice; he’s become the kind of skater who practices to perfection and accepts nothing less of himself. He gladly assists his rinkmates when they seek him out, takes the time to walk them through each step. He’s kind and helpful and considerate. He’s a young man who loves his friends and loves to skate.

But there are also times where Celestino looks at him and sees someone much older looking back. Sometimes he catches a strange, aged quality to Yuuri’s gaze, an experienced reflection in his eyes that knows the world around him and knows himself in turn.

I know that I’m capable of—that’s what Yuuri had said. And maybe he actually does.

I’m more interested in what everyone else can do.

He sounds like a veteran of the sport, someone who has won several titles over the years and is ready to pass them to someone else. Like a seasoned champion who is ready to move on.

It’s not in a conceited way, either. That look in Yuuri’s eyes is like that of an old soul, like he’s already come to terms with stepping down, even though he’s only just stepped up. Celestino can’t quite wrap his head around how Yuuri can be satisfied with only one GPF gold medal, but somehow, he genuinely is.

Right now, Yuuri seems so… well-adjusted. Shockingly so. He’s only 23 and already thinking about settling down—not because he feels like it’s the only option, but because he’s satisfied with what he has already done and accomplished. Because he’s ready for something new, is prepared for the next stage in his life like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

If Yuuri were currently dating someone, Celestino would have been expecting the next words out of his mouth to be something along the lines of, “I’m going to ask so-and-so to marry me,” and the coach has no idea how he would have handled that.

As it is, he already feels like he’s gotten the wind knocked out of him. He thinks of how he himself was at Yuuri’s age and may just have the wind knocked out of him a second time from the glaring differences alone.

There is something so inexplicably experienced about Yuuri, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still so young. He’s like a fledgling bird, ready to fly to his next destination in life, wherever the winds may take him. He has so much ahead of him, so much he can still do.

They’ve already come this far together. If Yuuri doesn’t want to compete anymore this season, that’s fine. But Celestino hopes that he won’t retire for good, even if he feels like he’s ready.

He wants to see Yuuri rise to the top and set the bar even higher. He looks at his student and sees a young man who can do the impossible, turn the world completely on its head, inspire everyone around him, and still stay the kind, gentle person he is when it’s done.

After all, he’s done it already.

Yuuri is the sort of person history should remember. His story shouldn’t end now, when it’s only just begun.

“There’s still time before you decide for sure, isn’t there?” Celestino asks aloud, his tone coming out a bit desperate. “You can still be convinced to not retire, right?”

Yuuri laughs a little but agrees, “It’s just a thought.”

“A serious one, though,” he states with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes. It’s possible, but again, it’s just a thought at the moment,” Yuuri reaffirms. He ducks his head as he adds softly, “I’m sorry for springing this on you, Coach. I only meant to tell you that I wasn’t competing for the rest of the season, but this ended up coming out, too. It was probably a shock to hear.”

“Well, yeah. It was. After that win, I didn’t think… Well, I didn’t think you would be satisfied with stopping there. It’s a bit of a curveball you’ve just thrown me,” Celestino tells him. He then gives a slight shrug, saying, “But no hard feelings, of course. I was the one who asked you about it. I won’t take your decision personally, promise.”

And he doesn’t. This is a crossroads they were always going to arrive at, even if they never spoke a word about retirement. His coaching contract with Yuuri ends once he’s graduated, and even if Yuuri ultimately decides to stay in competitive figure skating, Celestino may not even be his coach anymore.

The thought does sting a bit. Beyond their professional relationship, they’re still friends, and they’ve been through a lot together. Celestino would miss him.

But if it turns out someone else can bring out the best in Yuuri, then who is he to complain?

He sighs quietly at that before asking aloud, “So you’ll be going back to Hasetsu after graduation, then?”

Yuuri nods. “That’s another reason. I’ve… missed home a lot.”

Even when they were in Japan for competitions, Yuuri had never gotten the chance to stop by Hasetsu for even a quick visit. Celestino remembers Yuuri when he first came to the skating club all those years ago—just a boy, shy and meek, still getting a grasp on English while clearly struggling with bouts of homesickness.

It got better when Phichit arrived, the two becoming fast friends and a stable support for each other. But home is another place that can’t be substituted for that easily, and Yuuri has been separated from it for a long time.

“You’ve been away for ages. I get it, I really do,” Celestino reassures him. “… It’s probably about time you went home, anyway. Your family must miss you.”

Yuuri nods again, blinking rapidly as he glances down at his hands. “Yeah.”

Celestino watches him grow quiet and spots the glimmer of tears in his eyes. He raises his arm out to him, saying, “Aw, bring it in, champ.”

Yuuri laughs and scoots closer with a slight sniffle, letting his coach bring him into a one-armed hug. He leans into his side and murmurs, “You’ve been good to me, Celestino. I know I don’t make sense sometimes, and that I can be difficult, but… Thank you for being patient with me.”

Arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, Celestino gently knocks their heads together and says, “Every moment was worth it. No matter what you end up doing in the future, don’t be a stranger, alright? My door is always open for you.”

His student’s voice is full of grateful sincerity as he responds, “I appreciate that.”

A comfortable silence settles around them as they watch the young skaters practice down in the rink. One of them falls after a failed jump, and another immediately stops to help them up. They go back to skating together, sharing a smile.

The sight spurs Celestino to mention, “You’d make a good coach, you know. When you do retire someday.”

Yuuri leans back to give him a surprised look. “What makes you say that?”

Celestino huffs a laugh and says, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you showing the kids the ropes—and that you’re good at it!”

He pauses for a second before a different thought crosses his mind.

“Ha, maybe I shouldn’t say that. Then you’ll end up being competition for me instead of other skaters!”

Yuuri laughs a bit himself, replying offhandedly, “I dunno, actually. I could see my rink in Hasetsu being the home rink for a skater or two. One day, maybe.”

After another stretch of silence, his student speaks again.

“Actually, there’s still one more thing I want to do. Maybe… I could do it here, before I leave. Can you and the club keep a secret, Coach?”

Celestino’s curiosity is certainly piqued. “Well, we managed to keep your GPF programs under wraps without any problems. What is it?”

Yuuri grins and stands, saying, “Let me get my skates on, and I’ll show you.”

He sounds the same as when he announced that he wanted to change his programs. Celestino nods and stands up from the bleachers as well, following his student down to the rink.

If it’s anything like before, whatever Yuuri’s got planned ought to be good.

Yuuri Katsuki hadn’t been at the All-Japan Championships yesterday, and Minami Kenjirou can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by it. He had been looking forward to competing against his personal idol for the first time, but when the competitors gathered together for the performance order drawing, Yuuri had been nowhere in sight.

Maybe he’s just taking a break after the Grand Prix Finals in Sochi? And he’s in college right now, so he’s probably busy, too.

Minami hopes that’s the case. He wants to see Yuuri out on the ice once more, amaze the world with his brilliant skating again soon. Minami has looked up to him for so long, ever since he first started skating himself.

Yuuri Katsuki is the top male figure skater from Japan—he’s their ace, the pride of their country. He’s worked so hard to get where he is now, struggled and yet continued to persevere through every trial. Minami admires him with all his heart and wants to follow in his footsteps.

He had eagerly stayed up to the very early hours of the morning to watch Yuuri’s performances at this year’s GPF. Sitting upright in his bed in the darkness of his room, a fluffy blanket wrapped around him and tightly hugging a pillow with both arms, Minami had stared down at his bright laptop screen with bated breath as Yuuri skated out into the rink to begin his short program.

Minami had immediately noticed that Yuuri was breaking his usual pattern of wearing blue or black. Red was certainly a different look for him, but he was definitely making it work. Minami had made a mental note to later go online to look for any better quality pictures of this particular outfit.

Because... wow. Could he get a poster of this?

And if that wasn’t enough, then the music began. To the sound of romantic guitar strums, Yuuri had suddenly turned and looked directly into the camera. Smirking flirtatiously, he blew a kiss.

Minami had screamed incoherently into his pillow, face lighting up bright red.

He’d been in that particular state for the entire program, paralyzed with stunned delight as he watched his longtime hero stick every jump with breathtaking ease, captivate the whole world with a side of him that no one had ever seen before.

It had been much the same for the free skate program the next day. Sparkling gold under the arena lights, Yuuri danced a gorgeous, moving performance that everyone felt echo in their hearts. And as an extra bonus, he landed a quadruple flip at the end of his program like no one had ever done before.

Minami had to stand up and walk a few calming laps around his room, overwhelmed and still sobbing into his pillow after it was over.

Yuuri had been the underdog at that competition: he was a first-time GPF competitor, and there had been plenty of doubters who thought he wouldn’t even make it onto the podium.

But Yuuri proved them wrong. And he didn’t just make the podium—he scored above all the rest, placed above the legendary Viktor Nikiforov himself. He even broke Nikiforov’s program records while he did it, for good measure.

Minami had been bawling right along with a crying Yuuri as the commentators announced that he’d won gold. Minami immediately called Kanako-sensei with the good news, as well as his rinkmates—his coach and friends, of course, also being awake to cheer on their country’s representative. There had been much excited screaming and even more tears, so much so that Minami’s concerned parents had come in to check on him.

When the livestream was over, he had sat on his bed and stared off into the distance, remaining both astonished and completely dazzled by what he had just seen.

Yuuri had shown the world what he was capable of. It made Minami feel like running out to the rink, throw on his skates, and start practicing his quads as soon as possible. He felt inspired, electrified, ardently eager to get back on the ice himself.

He brought that passion with him to All-Japan, let it fuel him during his own performances. He’d wanted to show Yuuri what he was capable of, too.

But now, he supposes that he’ll have to wait another time for that. He’d managed to place first, too, and he wonders what kind of performance Yuuri would have given if he’d been there to see it.

Minami sighs, flopping down onto his bed and typing his passcode into his phone. He then opens Instagram to see if Yuuri has posted anything new, although it’s unlikely. Yuuri doesn’t post very often, and when he does, it’s usually a photo of whatever food he’s made that day.

Not that Minami doesn’t appreciate those! Yuuri seems like he can cook really well, and it’s another nice tidbit of information to know about him. Minami is certain that he’s a man of many talents.

Minami goes to Yuuri’s profile, and to his surprise, it looks like there’s actually a new selfie! He eagerly taps on it, and the picture enlarges. Then, his mouth drops open as the voice in his head immediately begins screeching in astonished excitement.

Yuuri is grinning at the camera—oh, he’s really pretty, isn’t he—and is pointing to the laptop screen in front of him. On the screen is a livestream video, where Minami sees an image of himself on the podium, beaming at the camera while holding his first place certificate with both hands.

The text with the post reads, “Congratulations to Kenjirou Minami-san for first place at the All-Japan Figure Skating Championships! Keep doing your best! :)”

Minami rereads it several times before letting out an actual screech, scrambling out of his bed and bolting out the door of his bedroom.

Mom, Dad! Nii-san! Look at this, look at this!” he cries out, waving his phone in the air as he stumbles down the hallway. “Katsuki-senpai congratulated me! Me!”

He’s definitely not disappointed anymore, that’s for sure. He’s going to screenshot this, save it forever! Maybe even print it out and frame it! And tell everyone he knows—with Kanako-sensei and his rinkmates being the first on his list after he tells his family!

Minami laughs triumphantly and pumps a fist into the air, feeling like his entire year has just been made.

Someday, he’s going to face his idol on the ice. Until then, he’s going to absolutely cherish this little bit of recognition from him.

It’s the first time his hero has ever acknowledged him, and Minami is going to remember it.

The weeks seem to fly by, and to Viktor, the beginning of March feels like it arrives so suddenly.

Has it already been so long since the GPF? Currently, Viktor is reclining on his living room couch, Makkachin sprawled out along his torso and napping sweetly as Viktor scrolls through his past text conversations with Yuuri.

He comes across a certain text that had been sent to him towards the end of December, carefully timed so that he would see it on the morning of the 25th when he first woke up.

“Happy birthday, Viktor! Hope you have fun today! And here’s to many more!”

A string of party popper emojis follow, capped off by an emoji of a single glass of wine. Viktor’s heart had skipped a beat when he’d first received the message, instantly shedding off his morning grogginess to send back a long line of hearts and exclamation points.

Now, he smiles at it with soft eyes. He’s noticed that Yuuri doesn’t use many emojis, except for special occasions.

He’s very happy that his birthday has fallen into that category. He checks online for Yuuri’s birthday and carefully commits it to memory.

Viktor scrolls down more, seeing other texts they’ve sent each other: an exchange of happy New Years messages with accompanying photos of their respective New Years parties, a back-and-forth of Viktor seeking Yuuri’s opinion on fashion while he’d been out clothes shopping one day, congratulations on Viktor’s wins at Russian Nationals and at the European Championships.

Yuuri frequently updates him on the shenanigans of his college skating club, and Viktor gladly replies in turn with the antics of Yuri, Mila, and Georgi at his own home rink.

He’s already been scolded by Yakov more than once for being on his phone so much when he’s supposed to be practicing. But, of course, Viktor remains happily undeterred.

Viktor even has a new album on his phone for the selfies Yuuri has been sending him, simply doing everyday things or doing silly poses and faces that make Viktor snort with laughter. Viktor has quickly noticed that he doesn’t actually post these on Instagram, and he hoards them covetously like a dragon with its cache of treasures.

They’re brief glimpses into Yuuri’s life, intimate moments fixed in time that have been gifted to Viktor alone. In that way, they’re certainly treasures.

Yuuri always seems to make time for him, too. Viktor finds that he can send even the shortest of messages, and Yuuri will never fail to acknowledge him: even a petulant “im bored,” will be answered with something like, “What’s up?”

The time difference between their respective locations can be frustrating, but they’ve still been able to maintain regular contact despite that.

It’s… nice to have someone to talk to, even about the most inconsequential of things. Usually, when Viktor talks to the people he knows, it tends to be related to skating in some shape or form.

But with Yuuri, he can talk about anything that comes to mind. Of course, with the both of them being professional figure skaters, skating does come up from time to time, but it’s not usually the main concern when they’re having a conversation.

It’s refreshing to be able to slip away from his career for a short while and just be Viktor to someone. Not a figure skating legend, not a competitor. Just himself.

And Viktor is so very glad for it.

Over these past months that they’ve been in communication—in a wide range of methods that encompass texting, messaging on Instagram, phone calls, and FaceTime sessions—he can confidently say that he’s gotten to know Yuuri better.

And he can also say with certainty that he likes him. He likes him a lot.

Yuuri is… incredibly lovely. Not just in the face, either, although Viktor certainly enjoys looking at him. He’s sweet and kind and can make Viktor smile even when they’re so many miles apart, and Viktor has never met a person quite like him.

He doesn’t bother trying to deny his attraction. Yuuri is magnetic, and Viktor finds himself drawn to him with just the compelling force of Yuuri’s personality, the now familiar sound of his voice, the warmth of his disarming smile. Just the thought of him makes his heart pick up its pace, makes him feel filled to the brim with yearning.

He’s never felt this way about anyone before, and it both scares and excites him. It’s something new in his life: it’s fresh and unexplored, incredible and exhilarating, and something within him is tugging his heart ever so insistently towards Yuuri.

Although they’ve only known each other for a short while, Viktor already holds him dear. Yuuri is rare, a one-of-a-kind person that Viktor feels blessed to have met and befriended, and he hopes with everything he is that Yuuri likes him, too.

He really, really wants to see him in person again soon. After that GPF banquet, well… Maybe they could dance together like they had before.

That night feels seared into his memory like a hot brand. He remembers Yuuri’s arms around him, confident and strong, and he quietly yearns all the more.

Viktor thinks about how their next meeting may go and idly wonders if Yuuri likes hugs. Viktor isn’t normally very tactile with his friends, but he would very much like to hug Yuuri the next time he sees him, if he’s allowed to.

Among other things. But he’s getting ahead of himself, and he mentally shushes the things he’s been daydreaming about recently to quiet them down.

Just then, his phone buzzes with a soft ding sound. It’s a text from Yura.

It simply says, “worlds roster is up.”

Viktor almost jerks himself upright, but a tiny whine of complaint from Makkachin makes him lean back again. He coos soothingly at his sleepy dog as he sends back a quick thanks, and he then opens up the browser on his phone to go the Worlds website.

He promptly locates the link to this year’s roster of competitors, and he scrolls eagerly to the men’s senior division with anticipatory intent—only for something in his stomach to drop when the name he’s looking for is glaringly missing.

Yuuri Katsuki is not going to Worlds.

Viktor stares at his phone screen in stunned confusion when there’s another buzz for an incoming text. This time, it’s from Christophe.

“did u see yuuri isn’t on the worlds list?? heard anything from him bc i haven’t”

Viktor texts back with a frown, “nothing about this. ill call him”

Chris then sends, “ok lemme know if he’s alright”

From the GPF interviews and their previous conversations that strayed into Yuuri’s education, Viktor remembers that Yuuri may be occupied with school, and that may be the reason he’s opted out of Worlds this season. But he would rather hear Yuuri confirm it himself… just in case his missing name is actually a mistake like Viktor hopes it is.

He’s going through his contacts to get to Yuuri’s name when Chris texts again.

“heyyyyy u never told me u got yuuri’s number!!!! viktor u sly dog ;D”

He doesn’t reply to that and instead presses the call button on Yuuri’s contact page. He brings the phone to his ear and waits, taking a quick glance at the clock on the wall and hoping that Yuuri will pick up. It should be morning in Detroit, and he’s usually awake by now.

Viktor hears a click, and his heart seems to automatically beat faster at the innocuous sound.

“Hello? Viktor?”

He immediately perks up and greets, “Yuuri! Hi!”

It’s good to hear his voice, even if Viktor isn’t calling for their usual conversations. He then remembers why he’s calling, and his voice turns more subdued as he speaks again.

“So, ah… the roster for Worlds just came out. I didn’t see your name on it.”

“Oh. Um, yeah. That’s correct. I’m not going to Worlds this season.”

“… Oh. Okay.”

Viktor blinks up at the ceiling, his other hand buried helplessly in Makkachin’s fur, feeling at a loss for words.

He’s been thinking all this time that he would be seeing Yuuri again in person at the World Championships next month. He’s looked forward to their next meeting with heady longing, but it seems that he’ll have to wait even longer now.

He feels… heartbroken. Maybe that’s too strong a word for something so inconsequential—they’ll surely meet up again eventually, and he feels rather juvenile for being so upset in the first place. But the realization still sits heavily in the pit of his stomach.

“Viktor?” Yuuri’s apologetic voice recaptures his attention. “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you sooner.”

Viktor finds himself replying, “It’s alright. I’m sure you have other things that need your attention.”

“My attention is yours whenever you need it. I hope you know that.”

Yuuri always seems to know what to say to make his heavy heart much lighter. He murmurs, “I do now.”

Yuuri’s gentle reassurance allows him to gather the courage to say something else. When Viktor is trying to express something he has difficulty putting into words, he’s found that the best way to talk to Yuuri is to just plainly say what’s on his mind.

He explains, “I was just... hoping to seeing you again. The next time we competed against each other.”

Yuuri is silent for a few seconds, and Viktor’s heart is racing. He then hears him reply, “Oh. I feel terrible. I should’ve realized you might have been looking forward to that. I’m sorry.”

Dismayed—he doesn’t want Yuuri to feel bad about it!—Viktor repeats in a louder voice, “It’s alright!”

Makkachin raises his head at the increase in volume, and Viktor pets him anxiously, not sure if he’s trying to reassure his dog or himself.

“So, um…!” He scrambles for something else to talk about. “What will you be doing in the meantime, then? You’re graduating soon, aren’t you?”

“Mm-hm,” Yuuri confirms, and Viktor can picture him nodding in his mind’s eye. “Things have been pretty hectic lately, because the ceremony’s this Friday. And after that, I should be home by Sunday.”

“Hasetsu, right?” Viktor hopes he’s pronouncing it correctly.

Even if he’s completely fumbled it, Yuuri doesn’t tell him. He replies instead, “Yeah. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home—five years, now. Even when competitions took me back to Japan, there was never time for a visit.”

Viktor frowns, cuddling Makkachin closer to him. The poodle snuffles happily into his neck, and Viktor pets his fluffy head as he listens.

“Everyone at home has been waiting for me,” Yuuri says in a quiet voice. “I’ve been neglecting this part of my life for too long, and… it’s time for me to take a break to see them again.”

The words ring in his ears. Of course Yuuri misses his family, of course he would want to go back to them.

Even if it means not competing at Worlds, and not seeing Viktor again until next season.

Melancholy only manages to settle on him for barely a moment before Yuuri’s next words chase it away like a brittle leaf on the wind.

“You know… you should come to Hasetsu sometime. For a visit,” Yuuri tells him. His voice is hesitantly soft in its offer, yet completely genuine. “In the off-season, of course. When you’re not busy.”

At the suggestion, Viktor’s mouth drops open. He then lets out a surprised, “… Oh!”

He wasn’t expecting to be offered this—an open invitation to visit Yuuri’s hometown. He’s rather glad that this is a phone conversation and not a FaceTime call, because he can feel his face rapidly flushing red.

With a longing smile on his lips, Viktor breathily replies, “That does sound nice.”

As if Viktor needs further convincing, Yuuri goes on, “I could show you around… I mean, Hasetsu is kind of small, but there’s lots of tourist spots to see.”

He hums, imagining the two of them walking side-by-side down quaint, small-town streets. He thinks of Yuuri cheerfully pointing out places of interest and sharing parts of his home’s history with him, and he can’t help but wonder if Yuuri would let him hold his hand as they walk together.

“Makkachin would come with us, of course,” he says aloud, thinking of his dog bounding along happily beside them. He then adds another, smaller poodle into the image and tells Yuuri, “And Vicchan, too! They would have fun playing together, wouldn’t they?”

Yuuri makes an odd noise that Viktor can’t quite identify, something like a strained cough, but he puts it out of mind when he hears him softly reply, “I’m sure they would make great friends.”

There aren’t any other dogs at Viktor’s apartment complex. He’s sure that Makkachin gets lonely whenever he’s away for competitions, sitting alone in the apartment and always waiting so patiently for him to return.

He leans down to press an apologetic kiss to the top of Makkachin’s curly head and finds the idea of his and Yuuri’s dogs becoming friends so very sweet.

Yuuri then speaks again, saying, “And, um, you could stay at my family’s inn when you come! We all live there, so you and I can meet up really easily.”

This isn’t just an invitation to Yuuri’s hometown—it’s an invitation to stay in Yuuri’s actual home, where he actually lives. His house is apparently an inn, but it still feels like an incredibly intimate thing to be offered.

Heart racing, Viktor is about to reply with something like that sounds lovely, Yuuri, I’d absolutely love to, when Yuuri adds another unexpected tidbit of information.

“My family runs the only hot springs resort in town. Have you ever taken a bath in a hot spring, Viktor?”

Viktor’s innocent thoughts then take a prompt nosedive into more dangerous territory—or hotter water, in this case. The image of the two of them sharing a hot springs bath instantly pops into his head, and he almost audibly chokes into the speaker.

Imagining it is a distressingly easy thing to do, since he already knows what Yuuri looks like without a good majority of his clothes on. His imagination happily fills in the rest.

With one hand pressed helplessly against his burning face, Viktor barely manages to get out, “I have before, but… I’m sure it won’t compare!”

Yuuri chuckles, “Flatterer. In any case, I think you would like it—and I’m not just saying that as advertisement. It’s very relaxing!”

Yuuri laughs in warm tones that only feed the stream of incoherent fawning going on in Viktor’s head right now.

Oblivious, Yuuri continues, “There’s a lot of food I think you would like, too. You really have to try my mother’s katsudon!”

He sounds very enthusiastic about this katsudon dish. With his mind clawing its way out of the gutter now that they’re transitioning to a different topic, Viktor is able to ask in a steady voice, “I’ve never heard of that, what is it?”

“Um… fried pork cutlet and eggs on rice? Sorry, I’m not good at describing it. I can only say that it’s my favorite,” Yuuri tells him sheepishly. “It’s my icon on Instagram right now, if you want a picture.”

Oh, so that’s what that food was! Viktor’s been curious about Yuuri’s Instagram icon for the longest time, but he never quite got around to asking about it.

“Well, if it’s your favorite, then it must be good!” Viktor responds, fondness rising within him. “I can’t wait to try it!”

Yuuri lets out a quiet, embarrassed laugh, but Viktor can still hear the smile in his voice. It makes him smile, too.

He thinks that they’re going to keep talking about food and starts brainstorming about some Russian dishes to bring up, but then Yuuri suddenly asks, “Viktor, can you get on Skype?”

He blinks, responding, “Sure. What for?”

“I can’t use my phone for this, but I have my laptop here in front of me. I want to show you something… but, um, it’s not katsudon or food-related or anything.”

Viktor chuckles at that. Internally, he has no idea what Yuuri wants to show him, but he’s certainly interested.

“That’s okay, we can talk about katsudon another time. I’ll go to my app—be right back, then!”

“Okay.”

He ends the call and quickly pulls up his Skype app, pressing the video call button on Yuuri’s name. He picks up almost immediately, and Viktor is treated to the charming image of Yuuri smiling at him, wearing a form-fitting black athletic shirt and adjusting his glasses. His tousled dark hair falls a bit into his eyes as he shyly ducks his head at Viktor’s roaming gaze.

As per usual, he looks very good.

“Hi,” Viktor says, grinning.

Yuuri flushes a little, his smile widening, and he’s adorable. “Hey, again.”

“Makkachin is here, too,” he informs him, tilting his phone slightly downward to reveal the fuzzy, brown head of his poodle, who once more perks up at the sound of his name. “Look, Makkachin, it’s Yuuri! Say hi to Yuuri!”

Viktor brings the camera to Makkachin’s face, and he can hear Yuuri brightly greet, “Hi, Makkachin! How are you? You’re looking very cute today!”

The dog’s tail begins wagging at Yuuri’s voice as he recognizes him, and he starts making tiny, happy whining noises. Yuuri laughs, and the sound makes Viktor feel as light as a feather.

“So what was it that you wanted to show me?” he asks, turning the camera back to himself. He only then notices the background behind Yuuri: an expanse of shining white floors, and the curved wall of rink boards. He adds curiously, “Are you at a skating rink? Practicing?”

“Um, yeah. This is my college club’s rink.”

Yuuri’s laptop must be placed on a table high enough to see over the boards, because Viktor can see a good majority of the rink from where the camera is positioned. The ice itself is empty except for Yuuri, but Viktor can spot a few young skaters loitering along the boards.

They’re looking right in their direction. He’s not sure how big Yuuri has the Skype video screen, but he waves at them, and they wave back before quickly scampering out of view of the camera.

“Oh,” he says. “Your rinkmates are nice! But I think I might have scared them?”

“They’re nice people,” Yuuri easily agrees with a smile, looking over his shoulder at them. Viktor is silently admiring his profile and the curve of his neck as Yuuri calls, “You guys can be in the camera shot if you want to! Viktor doesn’t mind.”

There’s a muffled response that Viktor can’t make out. He watches Yuuri shrug before turning back to him.

“I’m not sure they’re over the fact that we talk on a regular basis,” Yuuri explains with a grin. “You’re pretty famous, in case you weren’t already aware.”

“I should be the one saying that to you, Mister Gold-Medal-Winner,” Viktor teases back. “And my own rinkmates are in a similar situation—although I think Yura might ambush me in my sleep if I mention you in his presence one more time. Not like that’s going to stop me, of course.”

Yuuri blushes, and Viktor admires how the color spreads across his face. It’s unbearably lovely.

“A-anyway. About all this,” Yuuri says, waving his arm behind him. He raises his head and looks directly into the laptop camera, directly at Viktor, as he says, “I’ve been practicing something for you. Will you watch me?”

Viktor stares at him for a moment, the words zipping through his head at a mile a minute, before he gasps in delighted realization.

“Yuuri!” he exclaims, incredibly flattered and deeply touched. “Are you going to skate for me?! Of course I’ll watch!”

Yuuri smiles shyly, before his expression transforms into a determined look that takes Viktor’s breath away. He hears some clicking of Yuuri selecting something on the laptop screen before he nods, once more briefly locking eyes with a helplessly enamored Viktor.

Without breaking his gaze from the camera, Yuuri skates backwards to the middle of the rink.

He gets into a shockingly familiar starting pose, and Viktor feels like his heart is going to fly right out of his chest when he hears the speakers begin to play Stay Close To Me.

“Orsù finisca presto questo calice di vino,” Yuuri sings with abandon, pulling a giggling Viktor along by the hand as they stumble down the hotel hallway. “Inizio a prepararmi. Adesso fa’ silenzio!”

His pitch is way off, but for being incredibly drunk, his pronunciation is startlingly good. As is his center of balance.

In fact, it seems like he’s trying to continue their dance from the banquet they’ve just left, and Viktor is in no hurry to convince him to stop. Chris is making much better progress than them; he’s since turned the corner and disappeared from sight, and he’s probably already made it to the elevators even with Yuuri’s half-conscious coach hanging onto him like deadweight.

Chris had gotten his clothes back on without difficulty, remaining totally sober by the end of the party. Meanwhile, Viktor had to carefully coax a very inebriated Yuuri back into his abandoned suit, although he couldn’t help but laugh the entire time.

At the moment, Yuuri is still barely presentable for being in public: he’s got his shoes, slacks, and dress shirt back on, but the shirt is haphazardly buttoned in several wrong places and his slacks zipper is mostly undone. His tie hangs limply around his neck, and his completely ignored suit jacket is tossed over Viktor’s shoulder.

Viktor himself is rumpled but beaming. Of all the ways tonight could have turned out, he had never seen this coming. It’s been ridiculous, inappropriate on many levels, and impossibly, amazingly fun.

All thanks to Yuuri.

“So you know my free skate song that well?” Viktor teases, a potent mix of flattery and delight bubbling inside him as Yuuri spins him in an easy circle. “Do you sing it often, Yuuri?”

“All the time. S’my favorite,” he replies, grinning as Viktor blushes at the casual admission. He leans forward and asks, “Do you wanna keep dancing? We can dance it together, too. See, watch!”

He wraps an arm around Viktor’s waist, and Viktor’s eyes go wide as Yuuri begins leading him in a new yet familiar dance.

Yuuri continues to sing, bringing their faces close as they turn and slowly spin together as if they were out on the ice.

“Stammi vicino...”

Stay close to me.

It’s the steps to Viktor’s free skate, but modified for two. It feels impossibly like it’s already been choreographed, Yuuri leading with confidence and Viktor following his every move with breathless awe, a quiet reverence. They step together, their feet moving in tandem, and he can easily visualize what it would look like if they had been skating instead.

Has Yuuri been thinking of him all this time? Did he choreograph a pair skate routine on his own, just to one day perform it with Viktor?

A duet version of Stay Close To Me does exist. Viktor’s listened to it, and it’s entirely possible that Yuuri may have heard to it, too.

He plays the song in his head, and it matches perfectly with their dance.

Viktor doesn’t know what to do with this realization. It all feels so unreal, like this man dancing with him is just a mirage of an oasis, a beautiful dream that will disappear when the clock strikes midnight.

But he’s real—so blessedly, wonderfully real. Yuuri dips him back, and his arms are strong around Viktor’s body. Butterflies flutter wildly in his ribcage.

Yuuri’s voice is soft as he brings him back up again.

“Non te ne andare...” he sings, briefly touching Viktor’s face. Viktor can’t help but lean into the warmth of his palm, and he forces himself to keep looking at Yuuri even as his eyes begin to burn with tears.

Don’t go.

“Ho paura di perderti...”

I’m afraid of losing you.

Yuuri leads him into more steps, and Viktor is awestruck to see that it’s exactly like his free skate. But now, instead of dancing alone, it’s a story meant for two.

“Le tue mani, le tue gambe... Le mie mani, le mie gambe...”

Your hands, your legs. My hands, my legs.

Viktor echoes Yuuri as they perform the choreography in sync, and Yuuri echoes him in return. Their eyes are on each other the whole time, a steady connection formed between their locked gazes, and Viktor wonders if it’s possible that even their hearts are beating as one.

“I battiti del cuore si fondono tra loro...”

The heartbeats are fusing together.

He feels like crying, because he’s never felt this way before. He leans forward and buries his face into Yuuri’s shoulder—breathes him in, moves with him as they dance together so very closely, turning in slow and sweeping circles like only the two of them exist in the whole world.

“Partiamo insieme,” Yuuri sings softly now, a whisper in Viktor’s ear. “Ora sono pronto.”

Let’s leave together. Now I’m ready.

And here, in this moment between them and them alone, Viktor leans back to gaze searchingly into Yuuri’s eyes and feels the beginnings of love stirring in his chest.

He doesn’t know Yuuri, not really. Not yet. But he can’t help but think that he could so easily love him for real, one day.

He’s already falling, hard and fast like a star burning across the sky.

Later, when they’ve finally made it to Yuuri’s hotel room, Viktor tries depositing Yuuri onto his bed with limited success.

“Nooooo,” he whines, throwing his arms around Viktor’s neck as he’s guided onto the bed. “Don’t go!”

Viktor laughs and happily indulges him, sitting on the edge of the mattress and leaning down to cuddle Yuuri close. He presses his nose into Yuuri’s neck and sighs—he doesn’t know the next time they’ll get to do this, so he treasures it while he can.

Eventually, Yuuri loosens his grip on him, and Viktor reluctantly pulls away. He brushes a hand through Yuuri’s dark hair, gazing down at him with a soft smile, and Yuuri looks up at him with shining eyes.

Then, Yuuri whispers, “Are you happy, Vitya?”

The first thing that hits Viktor is the nickname—it hits him abruptly and viscerally, like an arrow through the heart. He’s heard it from so many people in so many situations, but the way Yuuri says it is different. It’s softer and more intimate, sweeter and filled with affection.

Viktor doesn’t feel like he’s done all that much to warrant it, but he loves the sound of Vitya coming from Yuuri’s lips at once.

And then there’s the question itself.

Are you happy?

Viktor can’t remember the last time someone asked him that. The years have flown by, a superficial smile plastered on his face all the while, and no one has ever pulled him aside to ask if he was really, truly happy.

Until now. Tears prick hotly in his eyes, and he ducks his head as they roll down his cheeks.

He feels cherished, appreciated. Loved by someone he barely knows, but it feels like the whole world has just been handed to him.

“Yes,” he replies through the lump in his throat. “I’m very happy, Yuuri.”

Yuuri smiles at him, and it’s like walking into the warmth of the sun after years of cold darkness. He reaches up to wipe away Viktor’s tears, and his touch is gentle and kind.

“I’m glad,” he murmurs with slightly slurred words. “You should always be happy.”

At that, Viktor throws himself forward to hug him close again, grateful joy seeping into every part of him. He feels Yuuri press a kiss to his hair as he hugs him back, and more tears come to Viktor’s eyes.

“I… I put my number in your phone earlier. At the banquet, when I was taking pictures for you,” he confesses quietly. “I-I hope we can keep talking. And see each other again, soon.”

“Me, too,” Yuuri dreamily responds, and Viktor’s heart is singing.

Viktor leaves soon after, reluctantly closing the door behind him and leaving behind a dozing Yuuri with his equally passed-out coach. He leans back against the door, brushing a hand against the side of his head where Yuuri had kissed him.

His face is burning red, and a helpless grin is on his lips.

He’s… really happy right now. He’s almost forgotten what happiness like this feels like, but Yuuri is the one who has reminded him.

Breathing hard, Yuuri breaks the ending pose to Stay Close To Me and waves with a wide smile at his rinkmates and coach, who are all sitting at the bleachers and cheering uproariously. Phichit, the one in charge of commemorating the occasion by recording it with Yuuri’s phone, gives him a signature thumbs-up with his free hand.

Yuuri then skates back over to his laptop, heart beating loudly in his chest as he anticipates Viktor’s reaction.

With this impromptu performance of Stay Close To Me, he’s made things very different from how they had gone the first time around. It’s a month early, and he hasn’t even gone home yet. The recording isn’t going to be posted online this time: it won’t go viral, and Viktor won’t stumble across it by chance like he had before.

He doesn’t need to. This time, they’ve already become fast friends; this time, Yuuri had wanted to show it to him directly.

Stay Close To Me is so important to him—to them. Although Viktor won’t be aware of just how important it is, is oblivious to the underlying meaning and all the precious memories that come with it, Yuuri still wanted to perform it for him.

It’s a new beginning. It doesn’t have to be the same, and Viktor deserves to know that Yuuri cherishes him dearly, as a friend if nothing else—Yuuri can learn to be satisfied with that. This is the way he’s chosen to show it.

Yuuri makes it back to the edge of the boards where his laptop has been placed, and the smile that’s on his face falls when he catches sight of Viktor.

He’s crying.

Yuuri gapes at his laptop screen before worriedly blurting out, “What—Viktor! What’s wrong?!”

In the Skype window, Viktor has his eyes screwed shut, tears falling like clear pearls as he makes quiet gasps into his hand, which he has pressed tightly against his mouth. Makkachin is whining, trying to lick at his face to comfort him, but Viktor doesn’t stop.

“Viktor?” Yuuri tries again, pulling the laptop to him as if it would bring them physically closer together. He quickly lowers the volume of the speakers so that only he can hear before pleading, “Viktor, talk to me?”

“… Why do you have to be so far away?” Viktor murmurs, looking up at Yuuri with teary eyes. “I want to be where you are right now, Yuuri.”

“Oh,” Yuuri breathes. His gaze softens as Viktor looks at him with such hopeful longing, and his heart is tugging insistently in his chest. Gently, he says, “I want to see you, too. Listen… remember what we talked about earlier? Come to Hasetsu, and we’ll hang out all you want, okay? Every day, for as long as you’re there.”

Viktor pauses before asking, “… Promise?”

“Promise.”

There’s nothing Yuuri would like more. He imagines those early days in Hasetsu and holds those memories tightly, quietly tucking them close to his heart—unseen, but treasured so very fondly.

They can make new memories. Yuuri knows already that he will hold them just as dear.

Viktor nods slowly, scrubbing a forearm across his eyes to dry them. He gives Yuuri a tiny smile before responding, “… Alright. I’ll hold you to that, so don’t forget when I come over, okay?”

“Okay,” Yuuri agrees, smiling back. His voice takes on a more hesitant tone as he asks, “So… what did you think about the skating? Did… did you not like it?”

Viktor gasps like he’s affronted by the very suggestion.

“I loved it! I absolutely loved it, Yuuri!” he insists with big eyes. Makkachin barks as if in agreement, and Viktor goes on, “You always skate so beautifully, like you make music with your body! You were absolutely divine.”

Yuuri blushes at the praise. “Thank you.”

Viktor’s voice is softer as he says, “I suppose I did get a bit overwhelmed… I’m honored that you would learn my entire routine, just for me.”

He sounds a little uncertain on that last part, so Yuuri gently affirms, “Just for you.”

Viktor beams at him. His eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles, and it’s such a familiar and beloved sight that it sends a sharp, yearning pang through Yuuri like a strike of lightning.

He very much wants to be by Viktor’s side right now, too.

“How long have you been practicing that?” Viktor asks curiously.

“Ah...” Yuuri rubs the back of his neck. “About a week before your birthday? I would’ve skated this for you as a birthday present, but… I wanted to make sure it was perfect.”

“It was,” he responds with a sparkle in those blue eyes. “Either way… it’s a wonderful gift, Yuuri. Thank you.”

Yuuri lets out a breath of relief, and Viktor smiles at him.

“I’m glad you liked it,” Yuuri tells him, smiling back.

A few days later, he’s on the train to Hasetsu, one hand resting on his luggage to keep it from rolling away with each bump of the train car. His stop is only a few minutes away.

It’s not long now. Yuuri is almost home.

His departure from Detroit had been both a hopeful and poignant one. He’d stopped by the skating rink to say goodbye to everyone at once, and many tearful embraces had been exchanged. None of them had known if this would be the last time they would see Yuuri in person.

Yuuri admits to having shed quite a few tears himself. Over these past months, he’s watched these young skaters grow so much, and he’s proud of them.

“I’m going to keep practicing what you showed me,” he’d heard more than once, from multiple rinkmates. “I’m going to keep getting better from here on out.”

He’d replied with a sincere, “I know you can do it.”

Celestino and Phichit had come with him to the airport to see him off. Sitting between them during the cab ride over made his trauma so much more bearable, and he spent most of the ride bantering with the two of them one last time, his thoughts far away from crashes and pain.

They said their goodbyes at the airport terminal.

“If you don’t come back to Detroit, let’s meet again on the rink, alright? And if not that, then you come to Bangkok… or I can come to Hasetsu!” Phichit sniffed, seemingly holding back tears. “In any case, we better meet up again, okay? You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Yuuri!”

Yuuri had replied with a fond smile, “Like I’d ever want to get rid of you,” and at that, Phichit’s dam had finally broken. His friend started bawling as he threw his arms around him in a tight hug.

“I’m going to spam you with so many messages! So many, Yuuri!”

Yuuri had laughed into his shoulder, “I’ll be waiting for them!”

Once Phichit had released him, Yuuri turned to give his coach a hug, too.

Thinking of everything they’ve been through together, he’d told him with full gratefulness, “Thank you so much. For everything.”

Celestino had given him a tight squeeze and his usual pat on the back, responding, “It was my pleasure. Get some rest and come back stronger than ever, no matter what you end up doing, alright?”

Yuuri hardly remembers what it was like saying goodbye to them the first time he’d done it, and maybe that tells him everything. He’s sure that parting from them this time was much harder.

“Hasetsu Station,” the train speakers announce overhead, and Yuuri gets up and rolls his suitcase over to the doors.

When he’s finally on the platform, he looks around and is startled by the differences between his memories and what he sees now.

Before Yuuri’s jump through time, the station had been renovated some years ago with modern amenities—although he supposes that they could be considered futuristic amenities, now. He had often frequented the station with Viktor, as well as their current students who had made Ice Castle Hasetsu their home rink, in order to get to the airport. They traveled frequently, so Hasetsu Station had been a familiar sight.

Although he objectively knows that the station is currently up-to-date, it feels strangely old to Yuuri as he goes down the escalator. Like many things he’s encountered in this timeline, he figures that he’ll get used to it eventually.

At the bottom of the escalator, he abruptly comes face-to-face with a wall plastered with several posters. They all feature himself posing against vibrant cherry blossoms, with Hasetsu Castle visible in the background.

“We’re Rooting For You!! Hasetsu Native Figure Skater—Katsuki Yuuri”

Yuuri flushes hotly, tugging his face mask higher over his nose as he deftly pivots away. He instead walks over to the ticket barrier, hastily feeding his ticket into the machine.

He’d forgotten about those posters—he finds them a bit embarrassing. He’s happy that everyone in his hometown has been so supportive, though.

Yuuri gets through the turnstile without any problems, and he makes his way to the front entrance of the station with his suitcase rolling along behind him.

When the doors come into view and the wide entranceway of the building opens before him, Yuuri spots a familiar figure standing off to the side, holding a banner with his name written in bold pink letters. The woman catches sight of him quickly.

“Yuuri!” Minako exclaims, excitedly waving around her banner with both hands. “Welcome home!”

“Minako-sensei!” he calls back as he approaches, waving at her with a smile.

Yuuri almost hadn’t recognized her—she looks so young. But he barely has any time to ponder this before he notices the brown poodle at her feet, who comes barreling at him at full speed and manages to knock him over in his excitement.

On the floor, Yuuri laughs as the dog happily whines and licks at his face, until Yuuri suddenly freezes in realization.

This poodle is too big to be Vicchan.

“… Makkachin?” he breathes out, wide-eyed, and Makkachin enthusiastically wags his tail at the sound of his name.

Jaw dropped, Yuuri looks up, and his heart stops in his chest when he sees Viktor Nikiforov walking over to kneel next to him. Grinning widely, he offers him his hand.

Winking, Viktor says, “Surprise!”

Chapter Text

It’s Tuesday morning, and Mari is out walking Vicchan.

Her baby brother will be arriving this Sunday. Ever since Yuuri called them towards the end of last year and confirmed that he’ll be coming back to Hasetsu after graduation, Yu-topia Akatsuki has been aglow with a hopeful, happy mood. Their parents are overjoyed, having been noticeably in bright spirits as they go about their daily business with the knowledge that their youngest child is finally coming home. They’ve already told all their regular patrons that Yuuri will be returning soon, and by now the entire town probably knows.

Mari herself has certainly been looking forward to seeing Yuuri again. Her little brother had only been a teenager when he left for America, and it’s really strange to remember that he’s already in his twenties now.

Over the years, she’s seen him on television whenever he had a broadcasted competition, but watching him grow up from afar is very different than seeing him grow up in front of her. She still remembers looking after him when he was just a baby, playing with him when he was a child, and then watching him leave home as a gangly, awkward teen. That boy she knew is an adult now, and it’s going to be weird to see just how different he is in person after all this time.

But from what Mari’s seen, he’s grown up well—now more sure of himself, more well-adjusted, more comfortable in his own skin. From Yuuri’s recent calls, he seems calm and happy, even if he’s opted out of competing in the rest of the figure skating season to come home instead.

That had been a surprise for everyone to hear. With Yuuri’s brilliant success at the GPF, they all thought that he would want to finish the season. But, as it turns out, they get to see him a whole month early.

It’ll be good to have Yuuri around again. His absence has been felt keenly as a missing spot at the dinner table, the absent sound of his familiar footsteps against the floor. It took some time to get used to not seeing him around the house or not hearing his voice every day. Yu-topia just hasn’t been the same without him.

Mari has missed her brother. He’s been out in the great big world, fulfilling his dreams, and all of them in Hasetsu have settled for watching him flourish from afar.

But now, after five long years, Yuuri is finally coming home. She keeps that thought in her head and smiles.

As they walk over the bridge in the direction of Yu-topia, Mari looks down at Vicchan and reminds him, “Yuuri is coming home soon, Vicchan! Aren’t you excited?”

Trotting alongside her, the poodle looks up at her and pants happily, tongue lolling from his mouth.

She grins and says, “You’re happy, aren’t you, bud? Yes, you are!” and Vicchan lets out a tiny yip in reply, his tail wagging more rapidly at the upturn of her voice.

Fortunately, these past months have been quiet on the “please look after Vicchan” front. Nothing as dramatic as that car incident at the park has happened since then, and Mari is incredibly glad for it.

She’s been keeping him on the leash now; she doesn’t want him running off again. Thankfully, Vicchan has remained safe and sound, and he’ll be his happy, perky self when greeting Yuuri upon his arrival.

Knowing Yuuri, though, he’ll probably start crying the moment he sees their dog again—he’s sentimental like that. Maybe she should record it for posterity?

Mari lets out a huff of laughter at the thought. That’ll be some good material to embarrass him with further down the road. Maybe she’ll break it out during his wedding or something.

As she and Vicchan make it to the crest of the bridge, Mari hears someone yelling from behind them. She can’t make out what they’re saying at first and ignores it, but as the unfamiliar voice gets closer, the word they’re repeating becomes more clear.

Inexplicably, she hears someone calling out her dog’s name: “Vicchan!”

Mari and Vicchan turn at the same time, and Mari gasps in surprise as Vicchan starts yipping, eagerly greeting the big brown poodle that suddenly comes bounding up to them. Her eyes are wide as the new dog, a much larger-sized poodle than she’s used to, bounces around them excitedly before sniffing at Vicchan, who curiously sniffs right back.

She glances up in the direction that the mysterious dog came from, and she can’t help but stare at the man she sees jogging towards them—presumably the owner, who is tugging along a heavy-looking suitcase and a sizable carry-on bag.

Mari recognizes him instantly, but she can’t quite believe it. She shakes her head, blinks, and looks again.

Nope, he’s still there. Viktor Nikiforov, famous figure skater and her brother’s longtime personal idol, is still cheerfully waving at her as he makes his way up the incline of the bridge.

“Hello! Sorry about Makkachin—he saw Vicchan and got excited!” he calls out in English. “Are you Mari Katsuki?”

Tentatively, she raises her free hand to wave back, replying in turn, “Yeah, that’s me!”

A part of Mari is glad she’s gotten plenty of practice with English from talking to foreigners who stay at Yu-topia, but every other part of her is much more concerned with the more pressing issue at hand.

Namely, how the hell does Viktor freaking Nikiforov know her name—know her dog’s name? And why is he even here in Hasetsu in the first place?

Her first thought is that Yuuri must be responsible somehow, but she honestly has no idea.

He hasn’t mentioned talking to Viktor Nikiforov in the times he’s called home. Do they know each other? Mari would’ve thought that Yuuri would immediately gush about it to them, if that were true, but she’s not that sure anymore.

While Mari is internally freaking out, Viktor has reached the top of the bridge and comes to a stop in front of her. Vicchan and Makkachin—the name does sound familiar, now that Mari thinks about it—seem to be getting along and are sitting nicely together with matching doggy smiles, watching Viktor pant from the exertion of carrying all his luggage with him. Glancing down at them for a second, Mari notices that Makkachin is actually a slightly lighter shade of brown than Vicchan.

Her attention is drawn back to Viktor as he leans one hand on his suitcase and breathlessly laughs, “Inclines are terrible!”

Even out of breath and a bit frazzled-looking, he’s still quite handsome. If not for the current disarray of his hair from a combination of running and the wind, he would’ve looked like he just stepped off a runway for trendy airport fashion. Even his matching luggage looks fancy.

Mari’s only ever seen this man on television, in magazines, or in whatever other format Yuuri has enthusiastically shown her ever since discovering Viktor Nikiforov as a child. She’s seen his face plastered on the walls of her brother’s room for years, heard his name said with starstruck awe for even longer.

She never would have thought that she would one day be talking to him in person, on a bridge in her very own hometown as she’s walking the family dog.

But, famous or not, none of that changes the fact that he’s technically a stranger who has suddenly approached her.

“… Right,” Mari says slowly, eyeing him. “And you know both my name and my dog’s name because…?”

“Oh!” Viktor blinks at her before enthusiastically responding, “Yuuri told me! And he sends me pictures of Vicchan sometimes. See, look!”

Mari is still bewilderedly mulling over the apparent fact that her brother has been in contact with his childhood hero as she looks at the photos Viktor is showing her on his phone. And, yup, that’s definitely Vicchan. Other than the familiar sight of the dog himself, she recognizes the distinct interior of Yu-topia in the background.

Mari clearly remembers her mother taking these photos to send to Yuuri. And, somehow, these pictures of the Katsuki family dog have found their way to Viktor Nikiforov.

It’s… a strange thought.

“Weird,” she says musingly as Viktor puts his phone back into his coat pocket. “He hasn’t mentioned you at all.”

If Mari has ever seen the precise moment a man’s heart breaks, this is it. Viktor’s smile falls instantly, and his expression turns into a mournful, lost look.

“… He hasn’t?” he murmurs, sounding genuinely sad.

Shocked, Mari stares at him with wide eyes.

Oh shit, she thinks, internally scrambling for a way to fix this. Yuuri won’t ever forgive her if she incidentally runs off his idol when he’s suddenly appeared in their hometown for whatever reason, with Yuuri himself only a few days from returning.

Plus, Viktor seems genuinely heartbroken at the comment that Yuuri hasn’t mentioned him at all to her, and she can’t help but wonder at both of those things—that he is close enough to her brother to feel honestly morose over this, as well as Yuuri’s silence about it all.

But Mari sets that aside for later. Right now, there’s another matter at hand to deal with.

“But, uh, then again, he doesn’t call home all that often!” she hastily assures Viktor. “And, really, we’ve only been talking about things we were gonna do when he got home, so it just might not have come up!”

Viktor is still frowning, so she decides to lay down her best cards. With what little evidence she’s gathered so far, they may actually work.

“Look, Yuuri adores you,” she tells him frankly. “He’s looked up to you since he was a little kid, and there was literally a time no one could get him to shut up about you. I’m sure he has a reason for not saying anything, but believe me when I say this… He likes you, a lot, and I doubt that’ll stop anytime soon.”

Surprisingly, Viktor actually blushes a little at that, glancing away for a moment with a tiny smile forming on his lips.

Watching closely as the rosy hue spreads across his face, Mari has a sudden, dawning realization.

Could it be possible… that Viktor Nikiforov has a crush on her baby brother?

Internally reeling at the prospect, Mari does some rapid guesswork. Yuuri had soundly defeated him at the GPF in Sochi, knocked him off the first place spot and broke his standing records to boot. Maybe after that, Viktor had been impressed with him, and they somehow got to talking over these past few months.

And now, without warning, Viktor Nikiforov has appeared in Hasetsu—Yuuri’s known hometown—just days before Yuuri’s own arrival. And if he’s specifically here to see Yuuri, then…

It’s completely, utterly possible. Mari is filled with surprised glee.

Little Yuu-chan, just what have you been up to?! Snagging yourself your celebrity crush and not telling me anything...!

Before she gets ahead of herself, Mari decides to test the waters directly.

“Sooo, you came here to see Yuuri, then?”

Looking more cheered, the brightness has returned to Viktor’s expression as he replies with a shy grin, “Ah, yes! He invited me before, but he’s actually expecting me to come in April. I wanted to surprise him by already being here when he arrives!”

Jackpot! And even better, Yuuri inviting him over personally? Viktor clearly going out of his way to make a surprise visit when the figure skating season isn’t even over yet?

A crush is definitely confirmed.

She silently congratulates her brother on his catch with an internal, Well done, Yuuri!

Out loud, she offers, “Do you already have a place to stay? If Yuuri hasn’t told you already, our family runs an inn and hot spring. Vicchan and I were just heading home—you’re welcome to tag along.”

“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you!” Viktor responds with a wide smile. “We got a bit lost looking for it! Luckily, Makkachin caught sight of Vicchan, and—”

As if suddenly receiving a reminder from his own words, Viktor then lets out a gasp and quickly goes to his knees in front of Vicchan, who clambers onto his lap with a wagging tail. Viktor is beaming as he lifts the dog into his arms.

“I know I’ve already seen pictures, but—oh my goodness, look at you! You’re so tiny!” he exclaims, cuddling the mini poodle to his chest. He coos to him, “You are so cute! So very, very cute! How are you this tiny and adorable?!”

Vicchan lavishes in the attention, squirming happily in his arms and licking at his grinning face. Makkachin paws at Viktor for some attention too, whining softly, and Viktor laughs and indulges him.

“Look, Makkachin!” he says as he hugs his dog with one arm, cradling Vicchan with the other. “You finally have a new friend!”

Mari quickly takes out her phone and snaps a photo of the famous figure skater cuddling two fluffy poodles, because it’s pretty damn cute. She’s about to send it to Yuuri when she pauses.

She asks, “So... Yuuri has no idea that you’re here?”

Viktor blinks up at her and then nods. With visible reluctance, he releases Makkachin and puts Vicchan back down on the sidewalk before standing up again.

“We talked about me coming over for a visit once Worlds was over,” he replies, taking up the handle of his suitcase as he falls into step with her. The two poodles trot alongside them as they make their way across the rest of the bridge. “But, ah… I really wanted to see him as soon as I could. So here I am!”

Mari awws internally. Trust Yuuri to snag a man just as sentimental as he is.

“Are you okay with the whole Worlds thing, though?” she asks curiously. “Like, your coach was okay with you coming here before the competition?”

Viktor smiles sheepishly at her, and her mouth parts slightly in realization.

“… Your coach doesn’t know.”

“I left him a message! A text message. Before the plane took off,” he says with a little shrug. “But it’s okay, it’ll be fine! Yakov knows that I have my programs together, and I’m still going to practice here. Yuuri said that there’s a rink nearby?”

Viktor doesn’t sound all that worried, so Mari figures he knows what he’s doing.

“Ice Castle Hasetsu, yeah,” she confirms. “Some family friends run it. I can give you their number—Yuuko is the most fluent in English, so she’ll probably be the one helping you out.”

“Wonderful! Thank you,” he replies, smiling dazzlingly. Mari blinks at the sight and understands why her brother has collected so many posters and photos of this guy.

Because… damn. She mentally congratulates Yuuri again on his catch.

As they reach the end of the bridge and step onto the street leading towards Yu-topia, Mari mentions, “Once we get back, I’ll let my parents know that you’re here. I’m sure they’ll be super interested in meeting the guy Yuuri has been fawning over for so long.”

Viktor glances away for a moment before bashfully asking, “… Has he really?”

“His room is covered in posters of you,” Mari divulges with a snort, and Viktor makes a choked noise. Grinning, she tells him, “I can totally show you, if you want.”

He does look incredibly tempted by the offer, but he shakes his head.

“I’ll see it if Yuuri invites me into his room, when he gets here,” he responds resolutely.

Ha, what a gentleman. Mari laughs, “Suit yourself!”

Over the tops of the trees, the roof of Yu-topia soon becomes visible. As they walk, Mari glances at Viktor from the corner of her eye, watching him look around the area with interest and occasionally smiling down at the dogs chasing after each other down the sidewalk.

After hearing about him for so many years, Viktor Nikiforov seems like an alright guy so far, but she’ll be keeping an eye on him for her brother’s sake. Viktor’s crush on him is obvious and pretty cute, but there’s still many pieces missing in the overall puzzle. Hopefully, Yuuri will be able to shed more light on this unexpected situation when he gets here, if Mari or their parents don’t squeeze it out of Viktor themselves.

But either way, she’s sure it’ll be fine, for however long Viktor will be staying with them. After all, how much trouble can a world-famous figure skater get into, in a small town like Hasetsu?

Viktor admits that his decision may have been a little… impulsive.

Immediately after bidding his farewells to Yuuri after their Skype call, Viktor had swiftly retrieved his laptop and searched for airplane tickets to Japan, as well as a train route that could take him straight to Hasetsu.

After watching Yuuri skate to Stay Close To Me, a special performance gifted specifically to Viktor…

A whole month would have felt like an eternity. He couldn’t bring himself to stay away, to wait for their reunion any longer. He wanted to see Yuuri as soon as possible.

A part of him considered the World Championships as he dug out his luggage and quickly packed a few weeks’ worth of things for himself and Makkachin. His dog had followed him around the apartment, tail wagging with excitement at Viktor’s sudden burst of activity as he hurried from room to room, being sure to grab his program outfits along the way.

Yuuri told him once that his hometown has a skating rink within walking distance from his home. Viktor should be able to practice there, even without Yakov there to coach him.

In fact, he and Yuuri could practice together!

Folding up his free skate costume with new purpose, Viktor had looked down at his dog and brightly proclaimed, “We’re going on an early vacation, Makkachin!” and the poodle barked enthusiastically in reply.

As he packed, Viktor had thought of he and Yuuri dancing together, of Yuuri singing the words to Stay Close To Me as he led him with experienced steps. He thought of Yuuri skating his free skate program at his college home rink, how he must have been secretly practicing it all this time just to surprise Viktor with it.

He’d told him, “Just for you.”

The words echo in Viktor’s head. It feels like Yuuri is reaching out to him, calling for him.

Helplessly pulled in by the force of his gravity, all Viktor can do is answer.

With plane tickets bought and his flight scheduled for the following evening, he barely slept at all. The next morning, despite all his tossing and turning, he rose from bed feeling even more motivated than before.

More than anything, he wanted to see Yuuri, and so he would.

Viktor endured that day’s practice distractedly, rifling through travel plans in his head as he skated. Luckily, the fact that he’d been notably distracted for the past few months seemed to work in his favor—he didn’t think anyone noticed anything especially out of the ordinary.

Once practice was over, he’d been able to leave the rink without his coach or rinkmates asking after him, and he’d stepped outside with a renewed sense of freedom.

He’d felt giddy. He knew he probably shouldn’t be doing this…

But then he’d imagined Yuuri’s smile, how he might hold him in his arms again, Yuuri’s voice singing in his ears... and Viktor thought that it was about time to pursue something that made him happy for a change.

No one contacted him in the hours following practice, and Viktor took the opportunity to make his grand escape: he returned home, grabbed his dog and his luggage, and hailed a cab to take him to the airport with everyone being none the wiser.

Before the plane took off, he thought to at least leave a note for Yakov via text. His coach might order a nationwide manhunt otherwise—not that he would find Viktor in Russia, anyway.

Viktor had typed out, “hey!!! im gonna be out of the country for a while, dont worry about me!!! see u at worlds :D” and then hit send.

He immediately set his phone to airplane mode and tucked it away into his jacket pocket. He’d rather not get yelled at, after all.

And ever since Viktor’s arrived in Japan, Yakov definitely has called him—several times, in fact. So have Yuri, Mila, and Georgi, the three of them probably being prompted by their coach to see if they could get into contact with him. There’s a sizable number of voicemails building up in Viktor’s inbox, a good majority of them from his coach, and he definitely doesn’t open those.

Among the texts he’s received is a pointed “you’re in deep shit” from Yuri, as well as a more illuminating message from Mila: “wherever you are vitya… you should probably just stay there if you want to stay alive!!”

It only adds to his certainty that it’ll be a good idea to let Yakov cool down for a while.

He would turn his phone off completely to keep it from ringing every few hours, but Yuuri is still sending him texts from time to time, and Viktor can’t not answer.

He does keep the fact that he’s already arrived in Hasetsu secret, though. He hopes that Yuuri will be happily surprised to see him, when he does come.

In the meantime, Viktor luckily comes across Mari Katsuki and little Vicchan when he and Makkachin get lost trying to find Yu-topia. Or, more accurately, Makkachin spots Vicchan and excitedly goes barreling off before Viktor can even blink. Mari seems bewildered when Viktor greets her but still offers to guide him to the Katsuki family’s inn, which he gratefully accepts.

Before this, he hadn’t known what Yuuri’s older sister looks like. But upon meeting her in person, Mari feels instantly familiar to him: Viktor’s already seen the shape of her face and the curve of her smile on Yuuri.

A part of him curiously wonders if Yuuri’s hair would be fluffy like Mari’s, if he were to grow it out.

Viktor’s conversation with her is rather illuminating, too. He’s not sure why Yuuri hasn’t said a word about him to his family and feels rather downtrodden at the fact, but Mari reassures him that it’s not ill-intent.

He doesn’t think so, either, and trusts that Yuuri has his reasons. But it’s nice to hear it from someone else, from a member of Yuuri’s own family.

On a lighter note, Viktor also discovers that Yuuri has posters of him in his room, and Viktor is probably more pleased than he should be. He’s brought his own posters of Yuuri with him—at least, the ones that haven’t already found a place on the walls of his own bedroom in St. Petersburg—and he plans to put them up as soon as possible.

He very much wants a copy of that poster he’d seen at Hasetsu Station, the one with the pretty cherry blossoms and the even prettier Yuuri posing in the center. He makes it a personal goal to find a place in this town where he can get a print for himself.

But he digresses, because Yu-topia Akatsuki soon looms ahead.

Scrunching his brows together as he turns the name of the resort over in his head, Viktor asks aloud, “… Did your parents name the resort after Yuuri?”

Mari laughs and responds, “Sure did, when he went international. They thought it might bring in more guests.”

Viktor doesn’t really know any Japanese, but he still thinks it’s a cute pun. If anything, the name is a stamp of confirmation that pretty much says Yuuri’s House, and he’s certainly happy to be here.

After they go through the entrance of the building, Mari goes to retrieve her parents. Toshiya and Hiroko Katsuki are eager to meet him, and they usher him further into the front room with welcoming smiles. A nervous Viktor is filled with relief—both because they seem to like him right away, and because they both turn out to be familiar with English.

Without Yuuri present to mediate, Viktor had been completely rolling the dice on both of those variables. But he’s glad that things seem to be going quite well in his favor!

“Oh, you’re even more handsome in person!” Hiroko gushes when Mari introduces him. “Yuuri has been so smitten with you ever since he was a little boy! I’m sure he’ll be so excited to see you here when he comes home!”

Viktor blushes at that. It’s reassuring to hear that from Yuuri’s mother, too.

As they’re hashing out the details of his stay at the inn, Toshiya asks him hospitably, “Do you have a nickname we can call you, Viktor? We’d call you Vi-chan, but we’ve already got our own little Vicchan right here! It might get confusing for the poor boy.”

Circling around their legs, Vicchan pauses to look up at them curiously when he hears his name. Makkachin, who has been following close behind, accidentally bumps into the smaller poodle when he stops moving, and both dogs jump a little in surprise.

Viktor chuckles and replies, “Vitya is fine!”

“Vitya-chan, then!” Hiroko heartily exclaims, clapping her hands together. “We’re very glad to have you! Mari-chan, would you show him where his room will be?”

Due to space concerns, it turns out that they’ve situated Viktor in a banquet room turned bedroom, which Viktor finds no small amount of humor in. His new lodgings are actually in the exact same hallway as Yuuri’s room, and Mari grins when she points out that Yuuri’s door is right next to his.

Viktor is amazed by his luck and considers the possibilities—it’ll be like a sleepover every night! With the dogs milling around him, he unpacks his things and thinks of late night conversations, whispered words, and maybe even sleeping in the same bed if Yuuri is willing… And his face heats up so much that he can almost feel steam coming out of his ears.

It’s much the same when Viktor tries out the outdoor hot spring bath. He’s alone, but his imagination quickly runs wild with what it may be like when Yuuri is finally here with him.

Next to him. And very much naked.

He swiftly splashes some water over his head to dispel the image, because as lovely as the thought is, it’s also absolute torture.

Hair dripping, Viktor settles back against the rocks with a grounding exhale. The scenery of the hot spring around him is calmly pleasant, earthy and warmly lit by the yellow glow of lanterns, and he resists the urge to take any photos.

He’s already been informed that photography isn’t allowed in this part of the inn. He can’t upload anything to his Instagram anyway, if he doesn’t want Yakov storming over to drag him back to Russia before Yuuri can even arrive.

Viktor sinks down into the steaming water until just his face is exposed to the cool air, looking up at the purpling evening sky with his gut bubbling with yearning anticipation.

Despite everything, he’s here. It was impulsive of him, yes, he can admit that much. Inadvisable? Maybe, if his coach has anything to say about it.

But is it worth it?

He has a feeling that it certainly will be. He hopes so, very much.

Viktor closes his eyes and listens to the muted sounds of the water flowing around him. Yuuri was right: this is relaxing. He has to force himself to get out before he can fall asleep in the bath.

That first night, he has dinner with the Katsuki family, who all prod him for stories about how he and Yuuri met. As he tucks into some delicious homemade food—not even able to recall the last time he had something homemade that wasn’t a health smoothie—Viktor gladly obliges.

He tells them how they ran into each other in the lounge room during Yura’s performance and took a selfie together… But he leaves out the part right after where Yuuri fled from the room without a second glance. He can still picture that desolate expression on his face and still feels terribly guilty, even though Yuuri’s already forgiven him.

Currently, Viktor has moved on to explaining their second meeting: “He skated so beautifully at the GPF, I’d never seen anything like it before! After the post-competition interviews, I absolutely had to talk to him, so I searched the venue up and down for where he and his coach went! I found them in the lobby.”

“Oh, that did Yuuri say when you came up to him?” Hiroko asks, delightfully enthralled.

Mari smirks and says, “I bet he apologized for placing higher than you.”

“He did, actually,” Viktor confirms, and Mari laughs with a nod.

“Yeah, that sounds like him.”

“Of course, I insisted that he deserved to win, because he did!” Viktor says. He looks at Yuuri’s parents and brightly tells them, “Your son is a very talented and kind man! He even performed my free skate routine as a surprise gift for me, you know, and it was amazing!”

Mari has her eyebrows raised as her smiling father says, “Did he really? That must have been something special.”

“It was,” Viktor agrees dreamily. He takes a bite of his dinner and swallows before sighing, “I hope Yuuri has a recording of it somewhere. I’d really like to watch it again!”

“Hey, Vitya-chan,” Mari mentions slyly, leaning forward across the table. “Did something happen at the GPF banquet? Yuuri was telling me about it a while back, but then got all evasive, so… care to shed some light on that?”

“Oh! Well...”

With a slight flush to his cheeks, he proceeds to tell them about how Yuuri had been the life of the party those months ago. He carefully says nothing about the stripping part, because he figures that it definitely falls under the category of things he shouldn’t be telling Yuuri’s family without his permission.

Viktor doesn’t have any pictures of that part of the night on his phone, so he feels safe in opening his GPF photo album and letting the Katsukis look through it. Yuuri’s parents coo over their son being so outgoing and lively, while Mari cackles at her brother’s drunken antics.

“Ah, it seems that Yuuri takes after me after one too many drinks! Lots of dancing—and singing, too, I bet,” Toshiya chuckles, and Viktor’s mouth drops open before he lets out a delighted laugh.

“Wow! Being a fun drunk is a Katsuki family trait, I never knew!” he giggles, slightly muffled by the hand he has splayed over his mouth. His expression softens as he adds on with a sigh, “I was expecting that banquet to be the same as it’s been every year... But then, Yuuri was there, and it was wonderful! I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, even if I tried.”

Mari is resting her chin in her hand, smiling to herself, as Hiroko stops on a photo and awws. She picks up the phone and shows it to Viktor, saying, “Vitya-chan, could I get a copy of this one where you and Yuuri are dancing together? It’s so sweet!”

He looks, and it’s the photo with both of them laughing as Yuuri dips him back. The one Yuuri had texted him after the banquet.

He remembers that early morning so very vividly. In the dark of his hotel room, Viktor had been laying sleeplessly in bed, heart still fluttering wildly in his chest as he struggled to recover from the aftermath of all the feelings that had been newly awoken in him.

He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to recover. He’d never been so full of bliss, and if it was with Yuuri, he felt like he could have kept dancing forever.

Viktor had then been jolted even more wide awake by the sudden buzz of his phone.

He might have died of happiness when he saw the text was from Yuuri—a text saying that he’d had an amazing night, too. Viktor had clutched the phone to his chest and rolled around on his bed excitedly, because it was proof that Yuuri wanted to keep talking to him. That he wanted to know him.

It was the beginning of something new, an unexpected chapter in Viktor’s life that he’d never even thought would begin. But it’s one that he wants nothing more than to continue.

Right now, he’s smiling at Yuuri’s mother, sitting with Yuuri’s family in their home as they eat dinner together, and it certainly feels like the start of something new.

Something different… Something good.

“Of course!” Viktor replies agreeably. “Should I text it to you?”

“Yes, that’s fine! I’ll print it out myself. I got this cute photo frame the other day, and I think that this picture would be perfect for it…!”

As she’s closing up the rink for the evening, Yuuko hears her phone ringing on the counter. She quickly slots the pair of rental skates she’s holding into their proper place on the rack before hurrying over to pick the phone up.

She doesn’t recognize the number, so she assumes that it’s a customer. She swipes the screen and answers in her usual Japanese, “Ice Castle Hasetsu, Nishigori Yuuko speaking. How can I help you?”

Surprisingly, the voice on the other end of the line replies in English, “Ah, hello! I’m calling to set up a reservation?”

Yuuko blinks. While they do get tourists from time to time, usually locals ever give the skating rink a call. Weirdly enough, the man’s voice does sound vaguely familiar, but she can’t quite place where she’s heard it before.

In any case, she readily switches gears from Japanese to English and says, “Sure! What day?”

“Several days, actually. Is it possible to reserve the rink for the rest of the month?”

Yuuko is shocked, because it’s certainly not a request she’s heard before.

“I… every day?”

“Yes! Until the World Figure Skating Championships, at the beginning of April,” the voice agrees. “… Well, maybe I shouldn’t rent for the entire day, so other people can skate, too. Would mornings and afternoons be alright?”

As unusual as the request is, it’s not undoable. Yuuko has the rink’s schedule planner open on the counter and is looking over it, and there aren’t any other reservations that would create a time conflict.

Still… until Worlds? Just who is this person? Are they actually a competitor?

Curious, she gets out a pencil and starts filling in parts of the planner, responding, “Yes, we can do that. And whose name is this reservation under?”

“Viktor Nikiforov.”

At first, she doesn’t think she’s heard correctly. But the name is unmistakable.

That voice… it does sound rather like Viktor, now that Yuuko thinks about it. She’s watched enough of his interviews that she’s at least familiar with it.

But the one and only Viktor Nikiforov? The living legend himself, here in Hasetsu, wanting to rent out their small town skating rink until Worlds?

As amazing as that would be, she finds it pretty hard to believe.

Frowning, Yuuko asks, “This isn’t a prank, is it?”

“No, not at all!” the man claiming to be Viktor assures her. “It really is me, promise! I’ll come over first thing tomorrow morning to start practicing, so I can prove it then!”

“… Well, alright,” she says, still skeptical as she nevertheless writes down the name into the planner. “Here’s the time slots we have...”

After going over the reservation schedule and payment details, they exchange goodbyes, and Yuuko hangs up the phone in bewildered disbelief. She stows the planner away and immediately goes to find Takeshi, who is brooming the area around the rink with their triplets bouncing after him.

After explaining the situation, the girls are visibly vibrating with excitement at the thought of the renowned figure skater coming here in person to practice, while her husband is probably more skeptical than Yuuko herself is.

“Well, he paid already, at least,” Takeshi says with a shrug. “I doubt it’s actually Viktor, but whoever it is, he’s got the reservation either way.”

Yuuko replies, “I guess we’ll see for sure tomorrow,” and her husband nods in agreement. They finish up their closing routine, lock up the rink, and head home with their daughters in tow.

The next morning, they put up a notification on the board outside to let people know that the rink will be reserved until later in the afternoon.

Ice Castle Hasetsu has been open for only a few minutes, and the entire Nishigori family is currently situated behind the counter. The triplets insist on being present in case it really turns out to be Viktor who made the reservation, and Yuuko and Takeshi acquiesce with bemused smiles.

Just then, the doors open for the first customer of the day. They all turn to welcome them, and their jaws collectively drop at the sight of the distinctively silver-haired man waving at them from the doorway.

“Hi!” the beaming visage of the actual, real-life Viktor Nikiforov greets as he swings his backpack off his shoulder. “As promised, here I am!”

They all stare at each other for a few seconds of dead silence before it’s broken by a flurry of activity.

“It really is you!” the triplets shriek in unison as they somehow vault over the counter and crowd around a chuckling Viktor with big, awestruck eyes.

Tugging at the hem of his jacket, Axel asks, “What are you doing in Hasetsu, Viktor?!”

Loop butts in with, “Are you practicing here for Worlds?”

Lutz says, “Where’s your coach?”

“A-ah, so sorry about my daughters, they’re big fans!” Yuuko stammers before hissing to her children in Japanese, “Girls, don’t bother him!”

They’re already enthusiastically showing him their Viktor-themed phone cases as they whine, “But Mom…!”

“It’s alright! I love meeting fans,” Viktor reassures her with a sunny smile before turning back to the triplets. “And speaking of, may I have these lovely ladies’ names?”

The children’s expressions light up with exuberance as they each introduce themselves.

“I’m Axel!”

“Lutz!”

“And I’m Loop!”

Together, they say in practiced unison, “We’re six years old!”

Charmed, Viktor claps his hands together and gasps, “Matching skating names, that’s so cute! And do you three like figure skating?”

“Yeah! We always keep up with the latest skating news!” Lutz answers on behalf of her sisters. Pointing to Yuuko and Takeshi at the counter, she adds, “And Mom and Dad teach us when they can!”

“Really? That’s lovely!”

He smiles at them, and Yuuko finds herself still struggling with the shock of actually having the one and only Viktor Nikiforov here at her family’s skating rink, despite all odds.

“Ah… I’m Yuuko Nishigori! And this is my husband, Takeshi,” she introduces as she gestures to Takeshi, who gives Viktor a stunned wave.

“Great to meet you all! Thank you for setting up the reservations, I really did need a place to practice as soon as possible!” Viktor replies with genuine enthusiasm as he trots up to the counter.

“Of course,” Yuuko responds. Though, a part of her can’t help but stare, thinking that Viktor is much more... animated than she’s imagined.

Viktor has always seemed so cool and calm on television, his head held high and expressions always schooled into dignified confidence. Throughout all these years of watching him compete from afar, Viktor has always looked so… untouchable. Like he’s on a pedestal so high above everyone else that just being in his presence always seemed like an impossible goal.

Now, though… he’s dressed down in plain clothes meant for skating practice, standing in their small town skating rink and chatting amiably with Yuuko and her family. His expression is openly friendly, and he looks far more approachable now than Yuuko has ever seen him in media.

It allows her to finally blurt out the question that they’re all wondering.

“So, um, what brings you to Hasetsu, Viktor?”

Without missing a beat, Viktor cheerfully replies, “I’m here to visit Yuuri! Don’t tell him I’m here, though—it’s a surprise!”

Yuuko’s eyes widen, and she hears Takeshi make a choked noise as their daughters gasp gleefully.

Loop intently asks, “Are you and Yuuri friends?!”

Axel adds, “More than friends?”

Lutz interjects with a grin, “Do you like-like him?”

“Girls!” Yuuko exclaims before turning apologetically to Viktor. “I’m so sorry, you don’t have to answer any of that!”

Viktor just laughs, “It’s alright, I don’t mind!”

Turning back to the eager triplets, he gives them a wink.

“We’re certainly friends,” he easily responds. “And I like Yuuri very, very much!”

Their eyes absolutely light up at that tidbit of information, and they start bombarding him with even more questions while Viktor graciously endures the grilling. The girls are tenacious in keeping up with the latest news and SNS in the figure skating world, and discovering a connection between the legendary Viktor Nikiforov and their own Uncle Yuuri is probably the juiciest piece of gossip they’ve heard in a long time. Viktor’s enthusiastic responses seem to only be fanning the flames.

“… Is it just me, or are we missing something here?” Takeshi whispers to Yuuko, who nods faintly.

They haven’t directly spoken to Yuuri recently—they usually pass messages back-and-forth through the Katsuki family, and she hasn’t heard anything about this from them. In fact, she hasn’t heard any news related to both Yuuri and Viktor since the GPF back in December.

But since Viktor is actually here in Hasetsu, here in person despite just how impossible it sounds…

That has to count for something, right?

Eventually, they’re able to wrangle their excited daughters away from Viktor and finally lead him to the rink, where he retrieves his custom skates from his backpack. Those distinctive golden blades shine in the overhead lights as he laces up and quickly takes to the ice.

He’s allowed them to watch, if they would like, but to of course keep it secret—at least, until Yuuri arrives. Takeshi has already returned to the counter to mind the lobby; meanwhile, Yuuko makes her daughters put their phones away, but their dejected faces soon melt into starstruck awe as they watch Viktor skate.

Standing at the boards, Yuuko feels rather starstruck herself. How many times had she and Yuuri practiced Viktor’s programs on this very rink when they were younger? How many times had they found strength watching this skating prodigy rise through the ranks until he reached the very top? Following Viktor’s career had been a fixture in their lives, a source of hope and inspiration as they grew up.

And now, somehow, after all these years... their childhood hero is skating on their rink himself.

Viktor jumps into one of his signature quadruple flips and lands it with effortless grace, and the triplets cheer with enthusiasm. He glances over at them and smiles before transitioning into another section of the routine.

This man, Viktor Nikiforov, who means so much to so many people all around the world, who is both a familiar face and yet a stranger…

Yuuko can’t help but silently think, “Yuuri, how did you get him here?”

Sometime later, when Viktor retreats back to the benches for a break, Yuuko finds out a bit more about his visit to Hasetsu with the help of her ever-inquisitive daughters. According to Viktor, he and Yuuri have been in contact since the Sochi GPF, and he originally planned to come in April but decided to arrive early as a surprise. He’s currently being hosted by the Katsuki family at Yu-topia Akatsuki, and he’s brought along his dog, Makkachin, to play with Vicchan.

He enthusiastically shows them a picture he’d taken the night before of the two poodles cuddled together on Viktor’s futon. Yuuko laughs, because Makkachin’s size makes Vicchan look like a little puppy.

At the thought, she mentions, “You know, when we were little, Yuuri got Vicchan when he saw that you had a poodle. I remember how happy he was when he brought him over to meet us for the first time.”

Viktor’s eyes widen at that. “I… really? I thought he just liked poodles!”

“Did he not tell you?” Her smile widens as she divulges, “Vicchan is short for Viktor.”

He stares at her for a few moments in complete silence before echoing, “… He named his poodle after me?”

The words are said in a happy murmur, and his eyes are elatedly sparkling at the revelation. His mouth breaks into a wide grin before he buries his blushing face into his hands.

“That’s just too cute. It’s not fair,” they hear his muffled voice bemoan, and Yuuko and her daughters exchange a knowing look.

Yuuri has a lot of explaining to do when he gets here, that’s for sure. Somehow, the tables seem to have turned on who exactly is pining after who, and Yuuko is very interested in hearing how it became that way.

Suddenly, Viktor stands from the bench and begins making his way back to the mouth of the rink. Leaving his blade guards on the board railing, he announces, “Alright, back to practicing! I want my skating to be in top form when Yuuri gets here!”

Axel asks, “Are you gonna try and impress him?”

He laughs and skates out onto the ice once again, calling back, “I sure hope so!”

The children giggle and settle in to watch. Lutz stage-whispers to her sisters, “Time for a new operation?” and they all nod in pleased agreement.

Leaving her daughters to their benign scheming, Yuuko smiles quietly to herself, her eyes following Viktor as he moves in familiar steps.

Yesterday, she had no idea who exactly would be coming through the skating rink doors. Today, where the unexpected has suddenly become reality, has certainly turned out to be a different case.

That being said… she’s sure that this next month will turn out to be very interesting.

Viktor has already been in Hasetsu for a few days, and it’s been... great, actually. Better than he imagined, without Yuuri present to act as a buffer to this new place and culture. Yuuri’s family has been so lovely to him, so kind and welcoming even though he’s suddenly dropped in without warning.

After returning from skating practice, he often chats with Mari when she’s not busy, and she’s only too happy to share stories about hers and Yuuri’s childhood years—especially the embarrassing stories about Yuuri, and they make him snort with laughter every time.

He tries to help Yuuri’s parents around the house if he can, but they tend to urge him to sit down and relax instead. Although, when Viktor once offhandedly mentions that he usually orders food for his meals, Toshiya takes him under his wing to teach him some cooking.

Viktor doesn’t do very well and is a bit disheartened at his first attempts, but Toshiya takes it in stride.

“Practice is all it takes,” he reassures kindly as they do dishes together. “I’m sure you know that very well already. You’ll get better with more experience.”

Viktor hears the wisdom in those words and nods in agreement. It’ll be nice to make his own food sometimes.

And if he keeps practicing, maybe he’ll be able to cook something for Yuuri someday. He finds himself smiling down at the plate he’s drying.

Other times, Viktor is able to give Mari a break by being the one to take the dogs out for their morning and evening walks. As he strolls down Hasetsu sidewalks with Makkachin and Vicchan chasing after each other, he imagines Yuuri beside him, and only then is the picture complete.

At night, when he settles in to sleep, Vicchan has taken to wandering in from Yuuri’s room and curling up with him and Makkachin. Viktor is honestly delighted and cuddles the little poodle whenever he can—because his very own mini-me likes him!

He’s still completely tickled by the fact that he’s Vicchan’s namesake. It certainly explains the nickname situation… but Viktor wouldn’t have minded being called Vicchan himself, because he thinks it’s adorable.

“That’s okay,” he whispers to the dogs secretively. “Maybe Yuuri will call me Vitya more often.”

He hasn’t since their moment in Yuuri’s hotel room after the GPF, and Viktor is very eager to hear it again.

Meanwhile, at Ice Castle Hasetsu, he puts his all into practicing before Yuuri’s arrival. It’s a little odd without Yakov standing at the boards to provide feedback, but it helps that the Nishigori family has been so welcoming to him. As the days pass, he learns that Yuuko and Takeshi are not only family friends to the Katsukis, but are Yuuri’s childhood friends and former rinkmates.

Since they have figure skating backgrounds, Viktor cheerfully asks them to point out any imperfections they may see as he practices, and they both sputter at the suggestion. While Viktor is being genuine, they don’t tell him any criticisms about his skating—Viktor’s own reputation probably being the reason they hold back.

Placed again on a pedestal as he has been for years, Viktor finds himself on his own in the rink, though he certainly doesn’t blame them for it.

He hasn’t really ever practiced without a coach before. Yakov may say that Viktor does everything independently—or, closer to his coach’s own words, impulsively and selfishly—but Viktor does value his guidance.

For now, Viktor figures that he’ll just have to manage. There’s no way he’s going back to Russia now, anyway, not when he’s soon about to spend a whole month with Yuuri before Worlds.

In sharing how he’s become friends with Yuuri ever since Sochi, Yuuko and Takeshi steadily reveal another side of Yuuri that is a bit different from the one that Viktor has gotten to know.

“He always used to come here to practice by himself,” Yuuko tells him. “His anxiety was usually at its worst when people were watching him.”

“Yuuri-kun has had a rough time in competitions because of it,” Takeshi explains. He then shares a look with his wife and adds, “But from what we saw at the GPF, I’d say he’s learned to handle it pretty well, huh?”

With a soft expression, Yuuko says, “He’s really blossomed into his own. Yuuri didn’t hold anything back, and… I’d never seen him skate like that before.”

And ever since that conversation, Viktor has been turning it over in his head. He’s gone back to watch Yuuri’s past performances himself, and he can see what the Nishigoris mean: while clearly skilled, that past Yuuri had been lacking the confidence that he now skates with so easily. He’d enthralled everyone at the GPF, and from what Yuuri’s told him, he consistently practices alongside his rinkmates in Detroit. Performing with an audience doesn’t seem to be a problem for him anymore.

Now that he thinks about it, though… Viktor reconsiders past conversations and can see hints of that boy Yuuko and Takeshi grew up with. Off the ice, when he and Yuuri talk, there have been moments when Yuuri is startlingly self-deprecating, moments where he somehow thinks very little of himself.

Whenever it’s happened, Viktor can only reassure him otherwise. Even with the distance between them, Yuuri has helped him so much; it pains Viktor to think that Yuuri could feel that way about himself, because Viktor thinks the world of him.

It makes him think about what else he doesn’t know.

When he gladly chats about Yuuri’s GPF programs time and again with Yuuko, another thought that he’s been fighting down soon bubbles back to the surface of his mind.

Yuuko once mentions, “The free skate program had been so romantic! I wonder if he was actually skating it for someone?”

And after hearing it out loud, with those words ringing in his ears… Viktor can’t help but wonder, too.

Soon after Sochi, inserted as casually as possible into their conversation, he’d asked Yuuri over FaceTime if he was seeing anyone. Viktor is still relieved that a blushing Yuuri had replied with a resounding no.

He’d put it out of mind after that, too distracted by the idea that he might actually have a chance to think more of it.

But now, Viktor can’t help the creeping shade of doubt that whispers in the back of his thoughts. After spending time with Yuuri’s family and friends, he’s realizing that he really hasn’t known him for very long at all. He takes up just a tiny fragment of his life, a recent addition that he prays isn’t only temporary.

While he knows that Yuuri does care for him, he’s unsure if it’s in the same way he cares for Yuuri.

Is this thing between them friendship alone? He adores what they have now, holds it close and cherishes it, but…

The butterflies that flutter in his chest whenever he thinks of him sit low in his stomach, their wings disproportionately heavy and completely still with building dread.

That free skate program, the one he’s shed inspired tears over, the one with the song called On My Love… While it was so very beautiful, the feelings conveyed through Yuuri’s skating had been completely heartfelt.

It seemed to suggest that Yuuri had been in love once. The emotions behind it looked so real, so tangible, and Viktor himself had been able to see how genuine it really was. In interviews, Yuuri had officially stated that he’d simply been imagining a lover as inspiration for his routine, but Viktor finds himself still unsure, still restless.

What if he was only just saying that? He doesn’t want to doubt him, but it could be something personal he doesn’t want to publicly comment on. From his own experiences, Viktor understands the need for privacy from the media very well.

He recalls how Yuuri had reached out at the end, tears falling from his eyes as he gazed across the empty ice, and can’t comprehend how emotions like that could have been born from imagination alone.

If Yuuri has been in love before, then… is he still in love now? Is there even any room in his heart for Viktor? Has all this been for nothing—Viktor’s ever-growing feelings, his flitting daydreams and sleepless nights, how he’s thrown all caution to the wind to come here so suddenly?

He doesn’t know. He thinks of Yuuri in someone else’s arms and can’t stand it. Viktor knows he has no say over who Yuuri does and doesn’t love, but the thought hurts all the same.

But then the image changes, and then he’s the person holding Yuuri, the one who makes him laugh, the one who makes him happy. The one Yuuri reaches for across the ice, who will make him smile instead of cry.

Viktor wants to be that person, wants it in a way he’s never wanted anything else before. Something inside is vehemently insisting that Yuuri is worth every moment, and that Viktor shouldn’t give up before anything’s even happened yet.

Yuuri is the reason he’s here, after all. And Viktor has never been a quitter.

He keeps practicing his skating with renewed determination. Skating is a language they both speak, after all, and perhaps he’ll be able to make his feelings clear on the ice.

That evening, when he returns to Yu-topia, he comes across Yuuri’s mother struggling to retrieve some dishes from a high cabinet and offers to help her. He puts his backpack down near the doorway, and Makkachin and Vicchan come over to sniff at it.

Soon, he’s standing on a step stool as he reaches into the top shelf, and Viktor pauses.

“Mama Katsuki,” he begins a little hesitantly as he hands her a platter, “Yuuri isn’t… dating anyone, is he?”

Hiroko smiles at him before turning to set the platter on a nearby table. She replies, “Not that I’ve heard of. He had something like a puppy crush on Yuuko-chan when they were little, but nothing ever came of it.”

It’s a little surprising to hear, but maybe it shouldn’t be. They’re childhood friends, and they surely have history together. But Yuuko Nishigori is kind and very much happily married, and Viktor is relieved that he doesn’t have to worry about that.

Hiroko then tells him, “Yuuri has always been a shy boy—he’s never dated anyone.”

“Oh,” Viktor breathes, hope rising within him. “Too busy with skating?”

“Among other things,” she says with a sigh. “Yuu-chan has always had a hard time believing in himself, and he’s tended to shy away from that kind of attention.”

He frowns, because it further affirms the things Yuuko and Takeshi have told him. He thinks of Yuuri and wants to hold him close, wishing that they could have met sooner to spare him that loneliness. He deserves to know just how special he is, how loved he is by the people around him.

And by Viktor, too.

Surprisingly, as if she’s pulled the thought right from his head, Hiroko adds, “It’s a shame, because Yuuri deserves to have someone who can treat him right.”

She then fixes him with a meaningful look, and Viktor can feel his cheeks burn red. He immediately understands what she’s trying to tell him, and he’s filled with relieved happiness that he has the approval of Yuuri’s own mother.

Somehow, she sees him as worthy of Yuuri—or, at least, worthy enough to give him a chance with her son. And, to Viktor, it feels like the greatest honor to be given.

He looks back at her and nods, the I’ll do my best unspoken but lingering between them. He can see how Yuuri has inherited her warm eyes, the shape of her kind face, the curve of her knowing smile.

When Viktor finishes getting all the plates down from the cabinet, he places the last few onto the table as Hiroko reaches over to comfortingly pat the back of his hand.

“No need to worry, Vitya-chan,” she tells him gently. “It’ll turn out alright.”

He ducks his head and murmurs, “… Thank you,” and she happily hums in reply.

Hiroko then takes a stack of plates and carries them over to the dining room, calling back to him, “Feel free to call my husband and I Papa and Mama—I have a good feeling that you’ll be with us for a long time!”

Viktor stares at her retreating back as he processes the words. Struck silent, he finds his eyes prickling with sudden tears.

He feels… shocked. Overwhelmed. Grateful.

In terms of family, all he has is Makkachin. Even without Yuuri here, his mother welcomes Viktor into the Katsuki household so easily, accepts him readily as one of her own even though he’s only been here for a few days.

He came here for Yuuri in the first place, expecting little else. But it seems, without even asking, he’s been given yet another gift.

Viktor glances down and sees Makkachin and Vicchan curled up together beneath the table, looking up at him with dark, soulful eyes. He can’t help but laugh a little, because even they look like family already.

He’s been hoping that everything will be okay, has thrown himself into believing it because it’s all he has...

But maybe it really will be.

Viktor scrubs a sleeve across his eyes before taking another stack of plates and following Hiroko to the dining room.

“Mama,” he tries out, and it feels right. “Where should I put these?”

Friday evening, Minako Okukawa heads over to Yu-topia Akatsuki for news about Yuuri’s graduation.

After five years, the kid is finally coming home. The ballet instructor has already managed to pry out Yuuri’s travel itinerary from him the last time they talked, and she has a banner ready to go to for when she’ll intercept her former student at the train station on Sunday.

Has it really been five years already? Time really does fly by…

As she’s done so many times before, Minako opens the front door to Yu-topia and comes right in, exchanging amiable greetings with Toshiya at the counter as she toes off her shoes and sets them aside. She then hears the clicking of dog nails on the floor and glances up to see Vicchan coming up to her to say hello.

“Hey, cutie!” she greets with a smile, leaning down to scratch behind his fluffy ears.

Unexpectedly, there’s another set of clicking, and she looks up again to see another, much bigger poodle curiously wandering up to her.

Huh, that’s weird, she thinks as she obligingly offers her hand for an investigative sniff. Besides the obvious similarities to Vicchan, the new dog looks oddly familiar, but she’s sure that she’s never met this poodle before.

Minako pets the dog anyway, and its tail wags happily as it leans into her palm.

She turns her head towards the counter again and asks Toshiya, “Since when did you guys get another dog?”

He chuckles and responds, “Oh, he belongs to one of our guests! A friend of Yuuri’s who’s visiting for a while.”

A friend of Yuuri’s? Minako raises an eyebrow, because this is certainly news to her. The only people who come to mind are Phichit Chulanont and possibly Christophe Giacometti, but she’s positive that neither of the male figure skaters own poodles.

(Minako knows because she follows them on Instagram. What can she say, she’s not afraid to admit that she’s a groupie!)

She’s about to ask for clarification when Hiroko enters from the door to the dining room and notices her standing there.

“Oh, Minako-senpai!” she greets cordially. “Welcome, welcome! We’re just setting up for a scheduled dinner party—Oboro-san from down the street has some family over from overseas, and they’ll be over in an hour or so.”

“Oh, should I come back later?”

“It’s no trouble! Just need to finish setting out the plates.”

With a departing wave to Toshiya, Minako follows her back into the dining room, and the dogs trail in behind them. Hiroko urges her to sit and then hands Minako her phone with the photos app pulled up before going back to bustling around the room.

She explains proudly, “Yuu-chan sent pictures of his graduation ceremony earlier! Go on and look!”

Starting with the most recent pictures, Minako swipes through the photos and smiles at the sight of her former student all gussied up in Western graduation robes, holding his diploma and smiling at the camera. There are multiple photos of him posing with his college friends; she recognizes Phichit Chulanont and well as Coach Celestino Cialdini in most of them.

From looking through the photos, it seems like Yuuri’s opened up much more since he left home. It’s nice to see him making these connections when he was so withdrawn before.

She thinks of a little boy switching his ballet shoes for ice skates and smiles from the nostalgia. That boy is older now, grown into an adult that they’re all proud of, and she’s again left with the thought that the years really have flown by.

Minako swipes the screen again to go to the next picture, and she blinks at it.

Then, she nearly chokes on air when what she’s seeing actually registers. It’s definitely not a part of the graduation photo set, that much is for sure.

Impossibly, it’s a picture of Yuuri dipping back fellow figure skater and living legend Viktor Nikiforov mid-dance, the both of them laughing with a crowd of shocked faces looking on in the background.

She stares at it, mouth dropped open. Okay, when the hell did this happen?!

“Hiroko!” she exclaims, shooting to her feet to show her friend the picture on the phone screen. “Where did you get this picture?!”

Hiroko looks up from where she’s arranging a set of plates on one of the tables and laughs, “Oh, Vitya-chan was showing me his photos from the GPF banquet last year, and he sent that one to me! Aren’t they adorable?”

“… Vitya-chan?” she echoes under her breath, eyes wide because she’s heard that nickname before.

But there’s absolutely no way. No, it can’t be.

As Minako struggles to think of alternate explanations, they’re interrupted when someone else comes through the doorway of the dining room carrying a stack of plates with both hands. Minako glances up and almost screams out loud.

“Here are the last ones!” the one-and-only Viktor Nikiforov announces, walking over to the last table and setting the plates down. “Anything else, Mama?”

Minako chokes again. What the hell is happening—why is Viktor Nikiforov, world-renowned figure skater, here at Yu-topia?! Wearing the onsen guest robes? Calling Hiroko Mama?!

Her jaw is dropped as she watches Hiroko pat him on the arm and switch to English to reply, “It’s alright, dear, I’ll take it from here. Oh, but let me introduce you—this is Minako Okukawa, Yuuri’s ballet teacher!”

Minako is still speechlessly gaping as Viktor turns to her with a stunning smile worthy of a movie star.

He offers his hand and greets, “Hello, it’s wonderful to meet you! I’m Viktor Nikiforov.”

I know! she wants to blurt out, but thankfully doesn’t. Instead, Minako finds herself nodding faintly, reaching out to gives his hand a wobbly shake.

Bewildered, she briefly glances at the dogs and locks onto the larger poodle, who is sitting loyally at Viktor’s feet.

Makkachin, she suddenly realizes, because she follows Viktor Nikiforov on Instagram, too. Now she knows why the poodle looked so familiar to her before.

And she’s still very much in disbelief, wondering if she’s actually asleep and just dreaming all of this.

When Minako turns back, Viktor is still smiling his unfairly handsome smile as he amicably goes on, “Yuuri tells me that you’re the one who introduced him to skating, so I suppose I should thank you for being the reason we were able to meet!”

“… Ah,” Minako says eloquently before shaking herself free of her shock—because there’s a story here, and Yuuri has totally been holding out on her! She eyes Viktor with great interest and asks, “… Now that you mention it, how did that happen, exactly?”

His eyes practically light up at the question. Hiroko laughs and pushes him down to sit at the table across from Minako before returning to work. The famous figure skater looks very much at home here in the Katsuki onsen, as unbelievable as it seems, and he’s grinning as he leans forward.

“Well, since you asked...”

Almost two days later, Minako is still coming to terms with the fact that this isn’t a dream at all.

Because now it’s Sunday, and every time Viktor Nikiforov opens his mouth, all he talks about is Yuuri. Minako has been regaled with what happened at the GPF last December and more, and she’s been internally bemoaning her regret that it just had to be the Sochi GPF she wasn’t able to go to, when she’s been attending Yuuri’s competitions for years.

It just had to be that one, the competition where Yuuri absolutely killed it on the ice and took home the gold, the one where the gorgeous and talented Viktor Nikiforov took notice of him and apparently fell head over heels.

Because there’s no other way to describe it, really. For all that Minako has known him for a handful of hours, Viktor seems very much smitten with Hiroko’s boy.

The Katsuki family seems well aware and even accepting of the fact, and Minako trusts their judgment. Because of this, she allows herself to grow excited at the prospect of Yuuri managing to snag the man of his dreams.

She knows her former student has been crushing on the older skater ever since he’d first laid eyes on him. A childhood celebrity crush that actually has the chance to become something more? She feels that congratulations are certainly in order, even if extrapolating from what Viktor’s told her so far, they’re not quite dating yet.

Standing with Viktor and his dog near the exit doors of Hasetsu Station, the three of them awaiting Yuuri’s imminent arrival, Minako has the sense that’ll change soon enough.

Glancing over at him, she sees Viktor rocking on the heels of his feet, repeatedly peeking over the heads of newcomers heading their way. She can’t help but smile, because he looks like a schoolboy eagerly waiting for his crush after class.

She remembers how Toshiya would wait to walk Hiroko home after school when they were teenagers, and thinks it’s an apt comparison.

As the time for Yuuri’s train to arrive draws nearer, Viktor visibly grows a bit more jittery, wringing his hands and anxiously straightening his already-impeccable clothes. Minako didn’t think he would actually get nervous, but Viktor isn’t really anything like she was expecting.

Maybe he maintains that cool, aloof, princely personality for photo shoots and interviews, but it’s nice to see that Viktor Nikiforov is as human as anyone else.

After pacing a little, Viktor blurts out, “Would you like coffee? I’m getting coffee!”

Minako laughs and replies, “I’m fine, thanks. But do you need caffeine in your system right now?”

“Kinda,” he admits, glancing at his watch before striding off towards the cafe. Over his shoulder, he calls, “Behave for Sensei, Makkachin!”

The poodle lets out an agreeable boof, and Viktor disappears from sight. Unfurling her Katsuki Yuuri banner with both hands, Minako is very much amused that Viktor has taken to calling her Sensei by proxy of Yuuri and the rest of the Katsuki family.

She glances down at Makkachin and comments, “Does he do this often?”

The dog doesn’t reply beyond looking up at her with his tongue sticking a little bit from his mouth. She takes that as a fondly long-suffering, “Only when Yuuri is involved.”

Minako turns back to scanning the people walking through the arched entranceway with a small smile. As surreal as she finds this situation at times, she thinks that Viktor and Yuuri would make a damn cute couple, if they do end up getting together.

The media would have a field day. Many admirers’ hearts would be broken all around the world. Social media would spontaneously combust.

Minako totally wants to see it happen—for both the delightful chaos that would ensue, and for the happiness it could bring.

The Katsukis are already fond of Viktor, and he gets on well with them, too. Viktor likes Yuuri, and Yuuri likes Viktor.

As far as Minako is concerned, it’s a win-win situation all around. And now, all they need is the man of the hour.

She doesn’t wait long. As if summoned, she soon spots a bespectacled young man sporting a familiar beanie and blue scarf, rolling along the same suitcase he’d left home with all those years ago. They meet eyes, and Minako’s smile stretches into a wide grin when he pivots to head towards her.

“Yuuri!” she calls out, waving her banner enthusiastically. “Welcome home!”

“Minako-sensei!” she hears him call back, waving at her in reply.

Beside her, Makkachin lets out a bark, and the poodle goes barreling across the room to jump on him. With an audible oof, Yuuri goes down laughing, petting the excitedly wriggling dog in his lap with a wide grin.

Minako is sporting a similar grin when Viktor reappears at her side. He quickly puts down a tray of takeaway coffee cups on a nearby ledge, his eyes wide.

“Oh! He’s here!” Viktor gasps, quickly smoothing down his hair. He turns to her and desperately asks, “How do I look? Presentable?”

She reaches over to push him forward, laughing, “Trust me, you don’t need to worry about that. Go on, go get him!”

Viktor is almost skipping as he makes his way over to where Makkachin is busy licking Yuuri’s face. With her banner rolled back up under one arm, Minako follows at a more sedate pace. When she gets close enough, she can see that Yuuri’s expression has turned into a bewildered stare at the dog sprawled in his lap.

She hears him let out a baffled whisper of, “Makkachin?” And she can pinpoint the exact moment he catches sight of Viktor coming over to kneel beside him, his jaw dropping as he watches Viktor offer a hand to help him up.

“Surprise!” Viktor says with a wink.

Yuuri stares at him for a long moment, eyes wide and saying nothing at all. As the silence drags on, Viktor nervously fidgets a little, and Makkachin makes a snuffling noise.

But then Yuuri sits up and throws his arms around a startled Viktor, exclaiming with a brilliant grin, “Viktor, what are you doing here?! I thought you were coming in April!”

Minako watches as Viktor practically melts into the embrace, his previously tense shoulders slumping with visible relief. He happily wraps his arms around Yuuri’s waist, and the two skaters inadvertently squish poor Makkachin between them.

“I couldn’t wait until after Worlds!” Viktor replies with a little pout, leaning back just enough to let his dog wriggle free. He immediately goes back to hugging Yuuri, elaborating, “It was so far away, and I wanted to see you! I figured that it would be fine as long as I didn’t neglect my training, and as long as you were happy to see me.”

Then, he slightly pulls away again to meet Yuuri’s eyes, chin tucked to his chest and looking at him through his eyelashes.

More shy, he asks, “Are you happy to see me?”

Yuuri’s warm gaze is openly fond as he responds, “Of course I am,” and any doubt in Minako’s mind that this may have been a one-sided thing is swiftly erased.

She’s never seen Yuuri look at anyone that way before.

Viktor is absolutely beaming as he helps him up. Despite having just been unceremoniously sandwiched, Makkachin seems to have forgiven them and is looking between the two with a rapidly wagging tail. Minako takes in the scene they make with a thoughtful look.

Viktor releases Yuuri with visible regret, but he purposefully turns him towards her, announcing, “I got coffee—come on over when you’re ready to leave!”

He bounds away with Makkachin at his heels, clearly giving them a moment to themselves for their own reunion. Minako watches him go with amusement, because Viktor Nikiforov apparently doesn’t have a subtle bone in his body.

Putting that out of mind for now, she turns back to Yuuri and just examines him for a moment. He’s taller than she remembers, wider in the shoulders and noticeably older, suddenly an adult where a part of her was expecting to see her best friend’s little boy.

She’s seen him in person occasionally, of course, whenever she flies out to cheer him on at competitions. But every time Minako sees him, it seems like he always grows up a little more.

This time is no different… Except, in a way, it actually is.

Physical differences aside, there’s something truly different about Yuuri, but it’s a good something. She watches him, and there’s a certain strength to his posture, an ease to his smile that he’s never quite managed to pull off before.

It’s that, more than anything, that tells her how much Yuuri has changed in these past years he’s been away from home.

Ah, she thinks. They do grow up fast, don’t they?

Smiling wistfully, Minako steps forward to maybe ruffle his hair as a welcoming gesture, but then Yuuri surprises her when he reaches out to hug her, too.

“It’s good to see you, Minako-sensei,” he says as she blinks down at him.

Minako’s surprised because she hasn’t known Yuuri to be much of a hugger—she’d considered his reunion embrace with Viktor an exception, for obvious reasons—but she just chalks it up to being another thing that’s changed about him during his time overseas.

She returns his hug with a wide smile, going ahead and ruffling his hair for good measure.

“Good to have you back, Yuuri,” she genially replies. “We’ve all missed you very much. Hasetsu just isn’t the same without you running back and forth between Yu-topia and Ice Castle every day.”

He lets out a soft laugh. “I’m sure I’ll be back to that routine soon enough… I’ve missed you guys, too. It’s a little… surreal, to be back.” He ducks his head as they part, rubbing the back of his neck with a tiny smile. “But I’m glad to be home. Everything’s been alright here?”

“Same old, same old. Not very many kids wanting to learn ballet, though, but that’s been a pattern for the past few years,” she responds with a shrug. “Other than that, not all that much has changed. No serious illnesses or anything, either, or you would’ve already heard about it.”

“Um… Anything about Vicchan?”

Minako pauses at that, thinking of the little poodle who is currently back at the onsen, hoarded away by Mari because she wants to film Yuuri’s reunion with him in person.

With a curious tilt of the head, Minako responds, “Same as ever, the last time I saw him. Why, was he sick?”

“Ah, no. Just wondering,” he murmurs, letting out a relieved sigh. “… I’m glad everyone is alright.”

Yuuri takes up the handle of his suitcase, and they both head towards the doors, where a coffee-bearing Viktor has been waiting for them with Makkachin at his feet.

Viktor is all but vibrating in place, his twinkling eyes fixed on Yuuri like he’s the best thing he’s ever seen. And when Minako sneakily glances at the young man beside her, Yuuri is looking back at Viktor with that same warm expression she’d spotted before.

They’ve only been reunited for a few minutes, but these two already have matching stars in their eyes whenever they look at each other.

It’s incredibly, almost disgustingly sweet. Who knew that when Yuuri returned home, he would be bringing back a man to meet his family.

Or, more accurately, the man brought himself and is already well on his way to becoming a fixture at the Katsuki household. It makes the situation even more ridiculously endearing than before.

Wanting to tease him a bit, Minako nudges Yuuri in the side and leans over to slyly ask, “You know, speaking of changes… Exactly when were you going to tell me that you and Viktor Nikiforov are dating?”

Yuuri gapes at her before his face goes cherry red. She’s expecting him to deny it outright, but instead he glances away shyly and replies, “Viktor and I… haven’t really talked about that?”

She grins at him, delighted. “I’m not hearing a no!”

Yuuri is still blushing and Minako is still internally cackling when they reach Viktor, who falls into step with them along with Makkachin. He looks at them curiously but doesn’t ask about what they were talking about, instead happily plying Yuuri with, “Yuuri, Hasetsu is just as lovely as you described it! I tried out the hot springs like you said, and it was amazing!”

“I-I’m glad you’ve been enjoying yourself,” Yuuri, still unbalanced by Minako’s teasing, stammers as they leave the train station and make their way down the sidewalk. He peers at him through his glasses and asks a little nervously, “… Um, how long have you been here, again? I thought you were still in Russia when we talked last Sunday.”

“I was! I arrived here on Tuesday, so… five days? Six, counting today.”

Yuuri gapes at him as Minako adds with friendly exasperation, “I didn’t even know he was in Hasetsu until Friday! Your mom didn’t tell me anything until I came over for your graduation pictures. I got one hell of a surprise when Viktor Nikiforov—you know, the famous figure skater—suddenly showed up in the Yu-topia dining room!”

From where he’s walking on Yuuri’s other side, Viktor laughs with a non-apologetic, “Sorry!” and Minako rolls her eyes at him. She barely catches Yuuri glancing between them with a soft look on his face.

When their gazes meet, Yuuri gives her a little smile, and Minako smiles back with a small nod. He then turns back to Viktor and asks him in a softer voice, “Have you been alright here? You’re staying at Yu-topia, aren’t you? I didn’t know you were coming so soon, I didn’t get to tell my family to expect you.”

“They were surprised, but they’ve been absolutely wonderful!” Viktor reassures with sincere fondness. “Makkachin and I had a warm welcome. Your parents have been very kind, and chatting with Mari is always a delight. They all made us feel at home right away!”

Sporting a growing smile, Yuuri sighs with audible relief, “That’s… great to hear.”

Viktor hooks his arm around Yuuri’s and brightly adds, “Minako-sensei, too! And Yuuko and Takeshi and their daughters, down at the skating rink!”

“Ah… So you’ve met the Nishigoris already. How are they?”

“A combo of happy and tired, as young parents are! And the little ones are very cute, and very proactive for their age—they had me signing their phone cases before I even realized I had a marker in my hand!”

“Ha, yeah, they’re like that. I’m glad you all have been getting along.”

The without me here goes unsaid, but the sentiment is genuine. Yuuri even looks a little wistful as he says it.

“Oh, since you’ve been down to the rink, does that mean you’ve been practicing for Worlds there?” After a moment of realization, he then tacks on with slight alarm, “Wait, did you bring Yakov? Or Yuri?”

“What, Yura? No, I didn’t.” Viktor looks confused at the mention of the Russian Yuri, but his voice is tentative as he responds, “As for Yakov, ah, that’s also a no… He’s still in St. Petersburg, coaching the others…”

Yuuri pauses for a second, seemingly thinking that over. He then eyes Viktor with suspicion born of familiarity.

“Viktor… Did you not tell anyone you were going?”

“I did!” Viktor pouts but glances away sheepishly. “… Right before the plane took off. I sent Yakov a text.”

Yuuri sighs like he was anticipating that response. “Have you talked to him at all since then?”

“… No?”

“Viktor...”

“It’s alright now, though! Now that you’re here, you can help me! Have any coaching experience, Yuuri?”

“A bit. But really, you should keep your coach more informed, he’s probably been worried...”

Minako looks on with wonder as they converse. They talk like they’ve known each other for years, when in reality it’s only been a few months. She’s known Yuuri since he was born, but she’s never seen him so at ease like this with someone outside the circle of his family and childhood friends, enough to be able to fondly scold them without wincing or shying away.

And she takes distinct note of the fact that Yuuri hasn’t taken his arm back. While one hand is occupied with rolling along his luggage, his other arm is still linked with Viktor’s. The two of them are walking very close, almost plastered together side-by-side, and neither of them make any indication of pulling apart any time soon.

Minako can’t help but marvel at it. Actually seeing them together, there’s a certainty that there’s something between them. Something tangible, something honest and real and bursting with potential if given enough time.

And they’ve got time—a month until Worlds, and maybe even more beyond that.

She looks at the two of them and has a feeling that in the weeks to come, Yuuri and Viktor are going to become a package deal, where you can’t get one without the other following close behind.

No matter what Yuuri says, they look like an item already, anyway. With them only recently reunited, Minako thinks that someone would need to invest in a crowbar to pry them apart.

And even then, they’d probably just come right back together. She’d bet money on the fact.

He can see that Mari has her phone out and isn’t bothering to hide her snickering, but Yuuri ignores her. Because after exchanging greetings with his parents, his smiling mother has just handed him Vicchan, and Yuuri is suddenly holding his childhood dog for the first time in years and years.

Vicchan is excitedly squirming in his arms, recognizing Yuuri instantly and barely able to contain his joy. He’s licking at his face and letting out happy, whining noises, curls of brown fur warm even through the material of Yuuri’s jacket and wiggling so much that he’s afraid that he might drop him.

But he doesn’t. Yuuri hugs his dog close, secure and safe and alive, Vicchan’s little body an old but achingly familiar weight in his arms. He buries his nose into soft brown curls and lets himself cry.

He’s shed plenty of tears over Vicchan throughout the years. But his regret at never seeing him one last time is a wound that never did quite heal.

I’ll do better this time, he silently vows, kissing the top of his head.

Perhaps sensing his emotions, Vicchan continues whining and licks at the tears that fall, and Yuuri finds himself smiling. His dog has missed him, too—and in its own way, it feels like forgiveness.

“You reunite with Mom, Dad, and me, and Vicchan’s the one you cry over?” Mari teases, and Yuuri manages to collect himself enough to roll his eyes at her.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” he retorts without any real heat, reaching up to scrub a sleeve over his eyes while cradling his dog with the other. “Vicchan can’t exactly talk on the phone with me, so it’s different.”

“I’d make you two an online video hit—College Student Reunites With His Dog After Five Years—but I think I’ll save this for a rainy day,” she says, ending her recording and tucking her phone back into an apron pocket with a smirk.

“Sure, whatever,” he responds, and it’s easy to fall back into old patterns with his older sister.

Even when he looks at her and finds it so odd to see Mari at nearly the same age as her daughter had been, the last time he’d seen Yuuki. Looking at Mari now, young and not yet the owner of Yu-topia, the similarities between mother and (future) daughter are uncanny.

Yuuri turns to look at his parents, both of them still sporting the owner’s blue outer robes over employee reds, both not nearly as gray-haired as the elderly retired couple he so distinctly remembers.

Ever since Yuuri returned to this time, he’s of course kept in contact with his family. But seeing them in person is very different from phone calls, harder to reconcile with the realization that three decades’ worth of experiences and memories just haven’t happened yet. Or, with all that’s already changed, maybe never will.

That familiar sinking feeling has just a moment to fester before his mother reaches out to cup his cheek, brushing his bangs out of the way of his eyes with her fingers.

“Look how tall you are now, Yuu-chan!” she exclaims, looking a little teary-eyed herself as she gives him a warm smile. “You’ve grown quite a lot, haven’t you? It’s so good to finally have you home!”

“I’m happy to be back,” he murmurs with a slight flush to his face, because no matter how old Yuuri gets, his mother has always seen him as her little boy. That, at least, remains a constant in both lives, and he takes comfort in the thought that nothing he might do will ever change that.

“You’ve worked so hard these past years! Celestino-sensei has been taking care of you, right?”

“I, uh, yeah, of course he has.”

His father comes forward with a chuckle, patting Yuuri on the shoulder as he adds, “Speaking of, we heard from Vitya-chan that you two had quite the time at that GPF party last year! We never did get to see how you reacted to alcohol before you left, ha ha!”

Yuuri gapes at him and whirls around to look at an innocently smiling Viktor standing beside Minako near the doorway. “You told them about that?” he groans, clutching Vicchan to his chest.

Viktor meets his eyes with a reassuring gaze that says not all of it, and Yuuri lets out a breath of relief. Out loud, Viktor brightly replies, “You were the heart of the party, Yuuri! Everyone had so much fun because of you, why wouldn’t I tell them so?”

He’s told Yuuri this before, that he did have fun that night, and Yuuri is… very glad, because that was all he could ask for.

His mother gets his attention again by saying, “Now, I’m sure you must be tired, so why don’t you put your things away and take a soak in the onsen? And there’s fresh sheets for your bed, as promised!”

All at once, Yuuri feels the strain of traveling all day, and his shoulders sag a little as he nods in agreement. “That sounds good, I’ll do that. Thanks, Mom.”

He’s about to put Vicchan down so he can grab the handle of his suitcase, but his mother interjects, “Vitya-chan, why don’t you go and help him? We’ll have dinner ready by the time you’re both done!”

“Yes, Mama!” Viktor chimes, jumping to action. He rolls Yuuri’s luggage over to the doorway, grinning. “C’mon, Yuuri!”

A smiling Hiroko shoos them out, and Yuuri goes without complaint, following Viktor through the house and towards his room, Vicchan in his arms and Makkachin at his heels.

He takes a moment to look at them, and seeing the two poodles together in the same place is... dreamlike. Makkachin and Vicchan had never been able to meet the first time around, but Yuuri always thought that they would’ve gotten along.

The two poodles were cornerstones in his and Viktor’s respective lives, friends that they grew up with from a young age. He and his husband did have other dogs after them and loved them wholeheartedly, but nothing could replace that formative, childhood connection with Vicchan and Makkachin.

And now they’re both here, together, in a new life with new opportunities.

Yuuri looks up and sees Viktor standing by his bedroom door with his luggage beside him, waiting for Yuuri with a cheerful eagerness in his smile.

It’s much like the two of them, he considers, not hesitating to smile back.

Another chance, in new circumstances.

“My room’s right there,” Viktor tells him as he approaches, gesturing to the door next to Yuuri’s on the perpendicular wall. He laughs, “I’m told it was originally a banquet room!”

It’s the same room Viktor had occupied in the past. It feels like an eternity ago, far away and yet so close with a young Viktor standing right beside him. He idly wonders if he even had the chance to fly in boxes and boxes of his belongings like he had done the first time around, since this time, Viktor had barely a day to decide to hop on a plane for a startlingly early visit.

“Was that before or after everyone heard about the GPF banquet?” Yuuri questions with a raised eyebrow.

“Before!” Viktor replies with a grin. “Mama has a picture of us from the party hanging up in the entrance room now, if you didn’t already see it.”

Something in his head finally clicks as he says faintly, “I’ll… have to check that out.”

He falters, because it’s only just registered that Viktor is already calling Yuuri’s mother Mama.

It didn’t seem odd the first time he’d heard him do it, barely a few minutes ago. Before, his husband had called Yuuri’s parents Mama and Papa for ages, and they’d considered him their son long before he and Yuuri had even gotten married.

It wasn’t an odd occurrence at all, because for Yuuri, it was completely normal.

Now, though… Viktor hasn’t even been here for a week. He’s apparently settled quite comfortably into life at Yu-topia, enough to already be so familiar with Yuuri’s parents. And maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising, since he’s sure that they’ve always been fond of him, but it took Viktor a great deal longer last time to get to this point.

But many things are different now, and perhaps this is just one more result of that. And it fills Yuuri with hopeful relief, too, because even without him present, his family is coming back together again.

With that thought in mind, Yuuri crouches to set Vicchan back down on the floor with Makkachin and then straightens, moving to grasp the handle of his own bedroom door.

“Thanks for helping with the luggage,” he says to Viktor as he opens the door for them both and reaches over to flip on the light. “You didn’t have to.”

Viktor eagerly follows him inside, pulling the suitcase along as he responds, “Oh, it’s no problem, I—”

He abruptly cuts himself off, and Yuuri glances over his shoulder at him with a questioning look. Viktor is staring right past him with large eyes and a grin rapidly widening in unadulterated delight.

“Oh, Yuuri!” he exclaims with a happy clap of his hands, turning in a full circle to drink in the sight of the entire room, eyes shining. “You do have a lot of posters of me!”

Mouth slowly parting in realization, Yuuri dares chancing a look around himself.

To his mortification, the walls of his old bedroom are still very much covered in an embarrassing excess of Viktor posters. Some aren’t even official posters, just online printouts or article photos cut lovingly from magazines and newspapers.

They’ve stepped directly into Yuuri’s childhood Viktor Nikiforov shrine, accumulated over years and years of starstruck fervor from a completely different time in Yuuri’s life, before he ever knew Viktor personally. The first time around, it had all been unceremoniously torn down when Viktor arrived and requested entrance into Yuuri’s room, and Viktor had been none the wiser.

Now, though… well. Yuuri didn’t get the chance to even try and stash it all someplace where it would never see the light of day again.

Honestly, he’d completely forgotten. He’s rather regretting his lack of foresight now.

“Please don’t look too deeply into this,” he moans, burying his burning face into both hands as Viktor unabashedly proceeds to examine each and every poster up close.

Yuuri can clearly hear the grin on his face as Viktor exclaims, “Oh, I remember this photo shoot! The photographer and I had a hard time agreeing on poses and expressions and such… Good results, though, don’t you think?”

Yuuri doesn’t reply, instead still hiding behind his hands and focusing on maybe willing himself out of existence for a little while.

After a few more minutes of contemplative hums where Viktor is presumably combing over every inch of the walls, Yuuri can feel him returning to stand in front of him. His presence is warm as he chuckles, “Don’t be embarrassed, Yuuri! I’m very flattered, you know!”

Unconvinced, Yuuri mutters into his palms, “Uh-huh.”

“No, really!” To his surprise, he feels himself folded into Viktor’s arms, with his cheek nuzzling the top of Yuuri’s head. He insists, “You’re so talented and wonderful, how could I not be flattered? Your sister told me about the posters, but I didn’t know it was like this! I’m really happy.”

A bit distracted by Viktor’s impromptu cuddling, Yuuri finally lifts his face from his hands but can’t find the strength to turn and meet Viktor’s eyes. Still embarrassed, he instead watches an investigative Makkachin sniff around the room, with Vicchan following close behind and wagging his tail.

He concedes, “Well, in that case, then… I’m glad. That you’re happy, I mean.”

Inexplicably, Viktor makes a noise that almost sounds like a squeak, and he squeezes him tighter. Yuuri lets him with a small laugh, thinking that maybe Viktor is a bit embarrassed, too.

“I… I brought some posters of you! From your last photo shoot! I wanted to show them to you, so uh… I’ll go get them!”

Viktor squeezes him one last time before quickly bolting from the room. Yuuri can hear the other bedroom door slam open, and the sound of rustling through odds and ends is audible even from Yuuri’s room.

He laughs to himself again, fondly smiling. Did Viktor have moments like this the last time around? He’s not sure, but it’s entirely possible, since he’d been so distracted with his own awe at Viktor’s very presence to even notice.

But he notices it now. He can’t help but think that this younger Viktor is very sweet, and affection fills him as Viktor soon returns with a surprising number of rolled-up poster tubes in his arms.

“I’m back!” he announces with a proud, beaming expression.

Yuuri smiles at him and gestures with a wave of his hand to the general vicinity of his room. Heading over to his suitcase, he says, “You can show them to me while I’m putting my stuff away. Sit anywhere you like.”

Viktor lights up even more at the invitation, and he immediately flops onto Yuuri’s bed with his armful. Vicchan hops up with him, quickly followed by Makkachin, and the three of them all look at Yuuri with big, sparkling eyes.

It’s an image Yuuri never thought he’d see. He ducks his head, warmth curling tight beneath his ribs, because it’s already more than he’s allowed himself to hope for.

“I’m glad you came, Viktor,” he says aloud.

Viktor blinks at him in surprise, but his expression softens at the admission. He replies, “Me, too.”

They share a long look between them before Yuuri ducks his head again, face red as he busies himself with laying his suitcase flat and unzipping it.

“So, um… That’s not the entire photo shoot collection, is it?”

He can hear Viktor proceeding to unroll the posters, brightly responding, “It’s not!”

Yuuri lets out a sigh of relief, because the thought of Viktor buying all of his recent posters is a bit too much for him to process at the moment. “Oh, good.”

Viktor then happily informs him, “I left the rest in Russia! As well as your older ones—which reminds me, Minako-sensei was kind enough to give me that one with Hasetsu Castle in the background! I didn’t see that one until I arrived at Hasetsu Station, and I thought I’d already found them all online!” He taps at his chin thoughtfully before asking, “Hey, do you know if there are any other hometown-exclusive ones that I’ve missed? I’ve got to get them while I’m here!”

Yuuri stares at him for a long time before hiding behind the open lid of his suitcase. He kind of feels like crawling in and closing it behind him, honestly.

“I, uh… I’m not sure? Which ones do you have right now?”

Sitting cross-legged on Yuuri’s bed, Viktor grins and proceeds to show him each poster and gushes over each one like he’s showing off a personal art gallery. Yuuri obliges him with an embarrassed flush to his cheeks as he moves around the room to put his things away.

But… still. Tucking some shirts into a dresser drawer, he finds a smile curling on his lips, quietly flattered and overwhelmingly fond.

Later, they’re eating dinner with the rest of the Katsuki family plus Minako-sensei. Yuuri is wrapped comfortably in one of the Yu-topia robes, his hair still damp from soaking in the onsen with Viktor. He glances over at him: Viktor is similarly clad in green robes, bantering amicably with Mari and Minako between bites of his food. He looks entirely at ease here, smiling and bright, as if he’s been here all along.

Which Yuuri supposes he has been. It’s still a bit mind-boggling, that right after Yuuri had skated to Stay Close To Me for him, Viktor had abruptly decided to pack up his things and fly right to Japan, damning the consequences.

Unlike last time, though, he did it before Yuuri even came home. Before Worlds, even.

He hopes that Yakov isn’t too upset, but he knows that it’s a rather futile hope. Knowing Viktor’s old coach, he’ll be holding this one over Viktor for a very, very long time.

In the meantime, since Viktor asked, Yuuri is happy to lend a hand on the rink. He has the sense that it’ll probably feel a bit odd, him coaching Viktor instead of the other way around. But unlike before, Viktor is preparing for Worlds, and if Yuuri can help him with it, it’ll show Yakov and everyone else that Viktor coming here wasn’t a waste of his time.

It’s not like Viktor is actually in need of his help—not like Yuuri had been. But, even so, it still feels like Yuuri has something to prove.

Viktor came here of his own volition, several weeks early just to spend time with Yuuri. He vows to make it worthwhile for him.

Just then, his phone buzzes with an incoming text. Yuuri plucks it from his robe pocket and sees that it’s from Phichit.

It reads, “yooooo u alive?? its been hours man”

Oops. He’d promised Phichit that he’d text as soon as he arrived in Hasetsu, but with his preoccupation with Viktor’s surprise visit, he’d completely forgotten.

Wincing guiltily, he texts back, “Hey, I made it home alright! Sorry about that, something happened.”

Phichit’s response comes swiftly.

“good!!! :D dont leave me hangin tho!! what was it???”

Yuuri glances up again at Viktor, looking completely comfortable among Yuuri’s family. It occurs to him that he does want to tell someone outside of Hasetsu about this—and if there’s anyone he would put his trust in, it’s Phichit.

He types out, “Viktor was waiting with my ballet teacher at the train station!! We’re eating dinner at my house atm”

He sends it. There’s a pause, and then: “dude r u for real rn????? pics pls”

“Selfie for Phichit—he just texted to see if I got home okay,” Yuuri informs everyone at the table, raising his phone to take a quick photo. His family smiles and waves agreeably, and Yuuri sees Viktor sporting a grin and a victory sign as the photo button is pressed.

Yuuri then sends the picture off to Phichit. The reply comes like a barrage, one message swiftly popping up after the other.

“DUUUUUUUDDDDEEEEEEEE

“omfg?? wait u didnt know about this did u, i stg yuuri

“nahhh u wouldve told me nvm

“but OMGGG??? so he just SHOWED UP lol

“he must really like you omg

“GET IT YUURI KATSUKI GET ITTTT <3”

Yuuri chokes, one hand shielding his face from his family’s curious stares. Already aware that Phichit is one of Yuuri’s closest friends, Viktor leans against him and asks with audible interest, “What did he say?”

Torn between laughing and crawling under the table, Yuuri manages to get out, “He’s just… surprised that you’re here, too, is all.”

Viktor just hums at that before fishing out his own phone, pulling up his camera app. He announces, “I want to take some pictures, too!”

Yuuri is able to send off, “Thanks for your support :P” before he’s drawn into multiple photos with his family by an enthusiastic Viktor. He doesn’t get to see Phichit’s response until much later.

“operation seduce vik nikiforov is a go!!!

“tho idk if u actually need the help…

“sounds like he’s already down if u know what i mean lmao ;0”

Evening falls into night, and as the hour grows later, dinner wraps up and everyone eventually disperses to get ready for bed. Minako-sensei leaves Yu-topia with an open invitation for Yuuri and Viktor to stop by her bar whenever.

“You have my full support on this,” Minako had pulled him aside to whisper covertly in Japanese, mindful of Viktor nearby. She’d winked and added, “And your parents’ and sister’s. Just saying!”

A blushing Yuuri just replied by telling her that they’d visit the bar sometime soon.

Currently, Yuuri leaves the restroom to find Vicchan waiting out in the hallway for him, looking up at him with adoring eyes.

“Hey, boy,” he murmurs with a smile, leaning down to pick him up. Once in Yuuri’s arms, Vicchan rests his chin on his shoulder with a huffing sound, curls of fur tickling his neck. Yuuri scratches behind his ear as he says softly, “Time to go to bed. It’s been a while since it’s been the two of us, huh?”

Vicchan makes a snuffling noise, and Yuuri runs a hand down his back with a sigh. He hasn’t slept with Vicchan next to him since he was just a kid, before he ever came to Detroit for the first time, and it feels like an eternity ago. The chance to do it again is a welcome one, an appreciative relief that he has more time to spend with his dog in this new life.

He’ll have to properly thank Mari sometime. Whatever happened in the other timeline clearly hasn’t happened here, and he’s sure that it’s because Mari has been looking after Vicchan while Yuuri couldn’t. He gave the warning, sure, but Mari was the one who followed up on it, and Yuuri is exceedingly grateful that Vicchan had still been here to greet him when he came home.

With his dog as a gentle weight in his arms, Yuuri heads to his bedroom. He reaches out with one hand towards the door handle, but then he hears the door to Viktor’s room slide open behind him. He turns in place to see Viktor poking his head out to look at him, his expression a little shy.

He opens his mouth to perhaps say something, but then instead steps out fully into the hallway with a pillow tucked under his arm. Makkachin comes out as well, approaching to snuffle a wet nose against Yuuri’s leg.

“Yuuri,” Viktor says, sounding a bit bashful. “Can we… sleep together?”

Yuuri stares at him for a moment, lips parted in surprise.

Viktor had asked this same question the first time, too, hadn’t he? It’s not as strong a declaration as Yuuri remembers—in fact, it’s not a declaration at all. Viktor is actually asking this time, with visible awareness that he might be denied.

It’s not an inherently sexual request, either. From past experience, Yuuri knows what Viktor looks like when he’s in the mood for a romp, and this isn’t it. And if it had been... Well.

With where they stand now, as cordial friends and just a whisper of potential towards becoming something more… Coupled with the ache in his chest whenever he looks at him, Yuuri isn’t sure if he would have indulged Viktor if he had simply been looking for some fun tonight.

He cares for him, yes, of course he does. But, the situation is still… complicated.

Maybe, one day. But not tonight.

At the moment, Viktor’s face is open, even a bit vulnerable, and he looks like he just wants to be close to him. Yuuri would be glad to indulge him that much.

He’s found himself missing the warmth of a familiar body beside him. It’d been hard sleeping in his own bed back in the Detroit dorm, but he endured it out of pure necessity. He’s not sure if it was harder before or after the GPF, before or after meeting the Viktor Nikiforov of this time.

You’re not with Viktor. He’s not here, and he’s not yours anymore. You have to get used to sleeping alone again.

Lonely thoughts have been following Yuuri ever since he woke up here. But now that he has the opportunity to be near to Viktor again, with Viktor requesting it himself, Yuuri is certainly going to take it.

If Yuuri remembers right, his reaction before had been to stutter out an adamant denial and quickly retreat into his room, slamming the door decidedly behind him.

That was a different time, another circumstance.

Now, Yuuri tests the waters, asking with an inquisitive look, “Any particular reason?”

Viktor looks a little surprised by the question. In the evening shadows, the slight flush of red to his face is barely visible, but it’s there all the same.

“I want to get to know you better,” Viktor explains, standing a little straighter and shedding some of his hesitance when there isn’t an outright no. There’s a slight pout on his lips as he says, “I want to know what you look like when you dream!”

A corner of Yuuri’s mouth turns up. He idly pets Vicchan’s head as he inquires, “Is that how you get to know all of your friends?”

Emboldened by that response, Viktor smiles back, coy. “Only the especially handsome ones who are very talented figure skaters and live in charming Japanese onsens.”

“Hm. I see.” Yuuri is fully smiling now. “Exactly how many friends fall under that category, I wonder?”

Viktor reverts back to his pout, whining, “Yuuuuuriiii.”

Yuuri laughs this time, opening his bedroom door all the way. Once, in their early days in Hasetsu, he’d barely been able to tease Viktor at all due to his own uneasy hesitance from just being in his presence, but now he’s having quite a bit of fun.

But he takes mercy on him and finally replies, “Well, if you really want to, I don’t mind. Come on in.”

Viktor lets out an elated gasp and eagerly follows Yuuri into his room, Makkachin at their heels. With the weariness of the day catching up to him, Yuuri removes his glasses and deposits Vicchan onto the bed, immediately sliding beneath the covers himself. As he’s been doing on instinct for so many years, unaffected by his displacement through time, he leaves a space for Viktor beside him.

Makkachin hops up instead. Chuckling, Yuuri guides the larger poodle onto his other side, where Vicchan barely takes up any room in the space next to the wall. He says with gentle amusement, “Makkachin, make room for your Papa!”

It takes a bit of maneuvering on Yuuri’s modestly sized mattress, but Makkachin soon finds a comfortable spot and hunkers down with Vicchan. Once the dogs are settled, Yuuri turns back to Viktor and catches him still standing by the bed, staring down at him with an indecipherable expression on his face.

“Viktor?” he asks.

Viktor jolts a little, startled out of whatever he’d been thinking about, and they stare at each other for a few seconds. Then, Viktor blurts out, “I left my phone in my room, be right back!”

Like a few hours before, he makes a quick escape from the room. When he doesn’t come back immediately like Yuuri’s expecting, Yuuri sinks down into the sheets with a sigh but leaves Viktor’s spot on the bed open.

He’s not sure of what’s going through Viktor’s head right now, but he’s welcome here. Yuuri hopes that he knows that. If he wants to come back, he will—or, leaving his spot open will let him know that he’s welcome to come back.

In the meantime, though, Yuuri lets his eyes fall shut and listens to the comforting sounds of Vicchan and Makkachin breathing, the two of them radiating warmth against his side. He really is tired now; he turns on his side towards the poodles, and his forehead touches Vicchan’s paw.

He’s not sure how much time goes by, but Viktor does eventually come back. Yuuri vaguely registers hearing the sound of a phone buzzing as it’s plugged in to charge, as well as some rustling. Finally, he feels the bed dip, and Viktor slides in behind him. He remains a respectful distance away, though, which must be difficult to maintain because of the width of the bed.

He whispers, “Yuuri? Are you still awake?”

Drowsy, Yuuri replies, “Yeah.”

“Is this okay?”

“Mm-hm.”

Silence settles over them. Even through he’s further way than Yuuri is accustomed to when in the same bed as Viktor, his presence is like a soothing balm, and Yuuri relaxes from the familiarity of it. It’s not quite the same, but it’s still nice. It still helps.

And the knowledge that Viktor is right here with him, safe and breathing, certainly helps, too. Yuuri drifts, at ease with the reassurance of Viktor at his back.

Just as Yuuri’s about to fall asleep, he hears Viktor shuffle slightly behind him.

“Yuuri,” he murmurs into the silent calm of the room. “Yuuri? Can I come closer?”

It takes a moment for the words to register. When they do, Yuuri languidly rolls over to face him, slowly blinking his eyes open.

In the quiet between them, he outright offers, “You want to cuddle?”

From the opposite pillow, Viktor looks surprised. Strands of pale hair fall across his face, but his blue eyes are visible in the dim light from the window, steadily gazing back at him.

He then says in a soft voice, “Only if it’s alright with you.”

Yuuri lets a small smile form on his lips. “Mm. I might kick you. And I tend to have cold feet.”

Viktor laughs with little huffs of breath. It’s unbearably cute and familiar, a pang of affection settling within him at the sound.

“You’ll have to try harder than that to get rid of me, Yuuri.”

Eyes falling closed again, Yuuri smiles and opens his arms invitingly. Viktor makes a happy noise and quickly scoots nearer, curling up to him like a cuddly limpet. Yuuri settles his arm around Viktor’s waist, which is notably bare.

He knows that Viktor likes to sleep naked when he can. He didn’t think that he would do it right now, but here they are.

He sleepily asks, “… When did you take off your shirt?”

“Ah. A little while ago,” Viktor admits, laughing again with a tinge of nervousness. It makes wisps of Yuuri’s hair flutter against the pillow. “Does it bother you?”

“Hm. No.”

“… Oh. Good.” He pauses, and then reassures, “I’m wearing sweatpants, if you couldn’t tell,” also brushing against Yuuri’s legs with his own under the blanket as evidence.

Yuuri hums his acknowledgment. Nudging closer, he tucks his head neatly beneath Viktor’s chin, resting his forehead against a warm, bare collarbone.

“This okay?” he asks quietly.

“Y-yeah.”

Underneath his cheek, Viktor’s heart is beating rather fast. It makes Yuuri smile, endeared by this young Viktor’s skittishness in holding him for the first time. He thinks again that he’s very sweet.

The calm quiet then returns, stretching between them like a soft blanket, the only sound being theirs and the dogs’ breathing. Eventually, Viktor’s heart rate slows into a more sedate rhythm, his body relaxing against Yuuri’s as he finally drifts off to sleep.

Despite his tiredness, Yuuri wills himself to stay awake for just a little while longer, letting himself slowly absorb the reassuring awareness that they’ve gotten this far. He’s since resigned himself to not asking anything of this Viktor, nothing he’s not yet comfortable with or unwilling to give. This Viktor isn’t his, and even if the strings of Yuuri’s heart are already pulling towards him with longing, even if with every moment in Viktor’s presence he’s falling like a passing comet caught by gravity…

He can’t be the one to start anything, because it wouldn’t be fair.

Yuuri has already loved him once. He could do it again so easily. He knows it when Viktor laughs, when he graces him with his warm smiles. When his eyes go soft, and he looks at Yuuri like he holds the world in his hands. It would be so easy.

But he doesn’t know if this Viktor would be willing to catch him if he falls again, so he places the choice ultimately with him. Even though the thought hurts, Yuuri would be content to remain as they are, if that’s what he chooses. He should be able to freely choose his own path, independent of Yuuri’s own desires.

Although, with Viktor sleeping so soundly next to him, warm and pliant and there completely by his own will…

There’s an echo of Viktor’s choice here in Yuuri’s bed, here in his house, here in Hasetsu. Because he’s here, and he chose to be here.

Just that little reminder gives him hope. It’s a gift Viktor has given to him time and again, and he tucks it close to the precious things he quietly carries within him.

Maybe, he thinks, nuzzling against Viktor’s chest. Maybe.

Yuuri listens to his slow breathing, heart beating right against his cheek, and he feels at peace.

He’s missed this. He falls asleep beside the man his heart is reaching out to once more, feeling like he’s finally come home.

The next morning, Yuuri is awoken by the sound of his bedroom door creaking open. With bleary eyes, he lifts his head a little to see who’s opened the door.

It’s Mari, who is sporting a wide, knowing grin as she lets the dogs out into the hallway. She whispers, “Nice going, little bro.”

Yuuri doesn’t comprehend what she means by that, but she points back to the bed meaningfully. He looks down at himself, and he suddenly realizes what it is.

Viktor has changed positions in the night and is now sprawled atop him, his face pressed into Yuuri’s neck as he continues to sleep, completely unaware. The fact that he’s shirtless is even more evident in the morning light pouring from the window, and since they’re both still underneath the blanket, Viktor may as well be naked from where Mari is standing.

“Uh,” Yuuri says. “He’s… wearing sweatpants?”

“Riiiiight,” she replies doubtfully, still grinning as she leans against the door frame.

From the sound of their voices, Viktor finally stirs. He shifts slowly over Yuuri, nuzzling into his neck.

“Mm. Morning, Yuuri…” he murmurs, voice still rough from sleep, lips brushing against his throat. “Are you talking to someone?”

“Hey, Vitya-chan.”

Viktor raises his head to look at Mari, who is watching them with undisguised amusement.

Not bothering to move off of Yuuri at all, Viktor blinks and greets, “Oh. Hi, Mari!”

“You two sleep well?”

“Oh, yes! Yuuri was nice enough to let Makkachin and I sleep here. It was very comfy!”

“Yeah, I’ll bet it was.”

Meanwhile, Yuuri flops back onto his pillow, groaning.

Snickering, Mari eventually takes pity on her younger brother and leaves them alone, and they get dressed to meet everyone for breakfast.

“So, are you still going down to Ice Castle this morning, Vitya-chan?” Yuuri’s father asks as they eat.

Viktor nods, replying, “Yes, I still need to practice. But, um...” He turns to look at Yuuri, eyes beseeching. “You’ll come with me, won’t you, Yuuri?”

Yuuri hadn’t been planning on anything different. “Yeah, of course.”

Viktor shoots him a sunny smile, and after breakfast, they gather up their respective skating gear and head out the door with Vicchan and Makkachin for a morning jog to Ice Castle Hasetsu.

As they keep pace with each other, Yuuri looks at Viktor, looks at their poodles, looks around them at the ever-familiar scenery of his hometown and is once again struck by the impossibility of it all, how unbelievably fortunate it is that they’re here again, together.

He’s traveled down these roads a hundred times and more with Viktor by his side. This time, though, is new—the first time they’re heading to Ice Castle together in this timeline—and the realization breathes into life a whole new slew of possibilities.

He breathes in the cool morning air. Beside him, Viktor laughs as the dogs bark at seagulls passing by overhead.

When they soon arrive at the skating rink, Yuuri is immediately besieged with greetings and welcoming hugs from the Nishigori family.

“Oh, Yuuri-kun, look at you!” Yuuko cries the moment they step through the front entrance, running forward to throw her arms around him with teary eyes. “All grown up! A GPF champion returned home!”

Yuuri laughs, expression soft as he hugs her back. “Good to see you, too, Yuuko-chan.”

“Me, too!” Takeshi wraps his arms around them both and hefts the two of them completely off the ground. “Welcome back, Yuuri-kun!”

“Ah! Uh, hey, Nishigori!”

Behind him, Viktor is chuckling with the dogs milling by his feet. Once Yuuri is set back down along with Yuuko, the triplets eagerly swarm around him, and he kneels down to hug them each individually.

“Hey, you three,” Yuuri says warmly. “You’ve certainly grown since the last time I saw you all in person!”

“We were babies back then,” Axel scoffs, even though she’s got a hand fisted in Yuuri’s shirt. “We’re big now, too!”

“And so you are,” he agrees with a smile.

Lutz pipes up, “So you’re not gonna be skating at Worlds, Yuuri?”

“That’s right.”

“Are you going to at least practice with Viktor, then? He didn’t bring his coach,” Loop informs him, tugging an amused Viktor forward by the hand. “And he talks about you aaaalllll the time!”

Yuuri raises an eyebrow, still smiling as he glances at Viktor. “Does he, now?”

“Yes!” all three say in emphatic unison.

“… Well, I can’t exactly say no to that,” he replies, and he and Viktor are quickly pushed together and ushered to the arena by the scheming triplets. Their parents follow close behind, hiding their smiles.

As they change into their skates, Viktor tells the group at large, “I’m allowing recordings today! If that’s alright with you, Yuuri.”

He shrugs, not minding one way or another. “Sure.”

The triplets cheer with evident enthusiasm, and they scramble to retrieve their phones. Meanwhile, Takeshi is already heading towards the sound booth, asking over his shoulder, “The usual audio, then, Viktor?”

“Yes, thank you!”

Once they’ve done some brief stretches, they’re ready to begin. Viktor has already removed his blade guards and is standing on the ice at the mouth of the rink. Thinking of what he knows of Viktor’s short program as well as his much more intimate knowledge of Stay Close To Me, Yuuri approaches him, internally preparing himself to skate alongside Viktor for the first time since they’ve met again.

But before Yuuri is about to remove his blade guards as well, Viktor puts a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Yuuri glances up questioningly.

“What is it?”

“Yuuri,” Viktor murmurs, squeezing his shoulder. “Before we start, can I show you something?”

He blinks in confusion but nods. “Sure.”

Viktor smiles knowingly and pushes himself backwards to the center of the rink. He then gestures over to Takeshi at the sound booth, who has his phone out and hooked up to the audio system. From where Yuuri is standing, it looks like there’s a video loaded up on the screen. Meanwhile, Yuuko and her daughters are watching Yuuri and Viktor with visible excitement, camera phones at the ready.

Over the loudspeakers above the rink, a voice rings out.

“The last free skate program is Yuuri Katsuki of Japan. His program is to the original composition, ‘On My Love.’”

“… Oh,” Yuuri whispers breathlessly when he realizes what’s about to happen.

Viktor smiles at him from across the ice, and with that familiar cascade of piano notes that fall like gentle rain—the notes that begin their song—Viktor’s face melts into a yearning warmth that Yuuri can’t look away from.

Transfixed, he watches as Viktor raises up his hands as if in supplication, face tilted up towards the ceiling, and the familiar choreography begins.

What strange turns life takes, Yuuri thinks, his eyes prickling with tears as he watches the beautiful man before him skate. This young, unknowing Viktor, skating for him the program that he once taught to Yuuri himself in another life, the dance they created together so long ago.

There’s that single, ringing piano note, and Viktor jumps.

And he easily lands the quad toeloop and double toeloop combination, moving into the next steps with breathtaking grace.

He’s been practicing this, Yuuri realizes with his heart in his throat. How long has he been practicing this?

The violins begin playing, gentle like a sigh. It’s at this part of the song that symbolizes Viktor’s arrival in Yuuri’s life, that snowy April evening a lifetime ago, but now…

Across the ice, the Viktor of this time jumps into a quadruple salchow. After he lands, he looks over at Yuuri, eyes shining, and suddenly it means something different.

Now, Viktor is skating their story, the one from this new life as he knows it. The violins sing, and their situations are reversed—now, it’s Yuuri who has so unexpectedly entered Viktor’s life and swept him away, leading them into a whole new story together.

Yuuri’s heart is beating in rapid staccato in his chest as he realizes it, this message that is being sung to him with every practiced step and elegant movement.

He presses a hand against his trembling lips, watching as Viktor pours his heart out on the ice for him like an ink droplet across water, colors spilling forth and curling around the both of them, vivid and bright with all that Viktor feels for him.

The music transitions into the choreographic sequence, slow and tender, laden with meaning. Viktor is ethereal as he glides across the rink, and his gaze is continually drawn back to the boards where Yuuri is standing.

Yuuri, his shining eyes whisper to him. This is for you.

It’s an odd feeling, like a lungful of air after a held breath, like an ocean of waves finally settling after a storm. Like the lives he has lived have at last come full circle with each other, finally at equilibrium.

Yuuri, skating to Stay Close to Me when they had both been lost and alone in their first life. And now Viktor, skating to On My Love when they have found their way to each other in their second one.

Yuuri curls his shaking hands to his chest, just above his heart, because he sees the choice Viktor is scrawling onto the ice. That answer to the unspoken question between them.

The music picks up again, gaining momentum as Viktor goes into the second half jumps—the triple flip; the triple axel, single loop, triple salchow combo; the triple lutz and the triple toeloop. He completes them all to perfection, refined and radiant under the lights overhead, moving with the building swell of violin and piano.

The end of the program is nearing. Then, Yuuri hears that echo of the announcer’s voice over the speakers.

“Katsuki has planned a quadruple toeloop for this final jump. Here he goes…!”

Yuuri didn’t do a quadruple toeloop back then. And when he sees Viktor lift off the ice on the inner edge of his left skate, it’s evident that he isn’t going to, either.

He watches, lips parted in awe, as Viktor makes the jump.

“It’s a quadruple flip!”

The sound of his blades hitting the ice echoes through the arena, and Viktor lands it.

“Yes!” Yuuri hears Yuuko cry out triumphantly, the triplets cheering and clapping in an uproar.

Yuuri doesn’t turn to look. He can’t. Because, right now, he only has eyes for Viktor.

Viktor spins on the gleaming ice as the violins trail away and only the piano remains. Then, his arms lift in that achingly familiar ending pose, one hand before him, and the other reaching out into the distance.

The last piano note reverberates across the rink, and this time, it’s Viktor reaching out towards Yuuri. Although he’s breathing heavily, Viktor is beaming, his eyes settled on him like they’re the only two people in the world.

Yuuri doesn’t hear the booming cheers playing from the recording, the Nishigori family applauding nearby. He blinks through his tears, and for just a moment, he sees Viktor in wedding formals, the familiar piano theme playing overhead.

Viktor reaches for him, ring gleaming on his finger, and he’s smiling.

“Viktor,” Yuuri says, his voice soft as he listens to the music. He laughs, “Is that my old free skate theme?”

His new husband pulls him forward, enveloping him in his arms. He kisses him and says,“It’s only appropriate, isn’t it? The theme today is ‘On My Love.’”

He folds their hands together, matching rings glinting in the light, side-by-side.

“May I have this dance?”

Both then and now, Yuuri’s heart fills to bursting with joy, and he can’t contain it anymore.

“Viktor!” he cries out, tearing off his blade guards and flying out onto the ice to throw his arms around him.

Viktor catches him around the middle, laughing as the momentum sends them sliding towards the other end of the rink. He spins them around, his laughter a treasured song in Yuuri’s ears, and it feels so right to be here with him on the ice again.

Something within him shifts, like a missing piece of himself has just quietly slid back into place, like trails of melted gold holding together pieces of shattered porcelain—not the same as if it never broke, but… mended.

And still beautiful.

Yuuri’s next words are muffled as he buries his face in Viktor’s shoulder. “Viktor, that was so amazing. I can hardly believe... I-I’m… Thank you so much…”

“You gave me a gift before, when you showed me Stay Close to Me,” Viktor murmurs into his hair, holding him tight. “I wanted to show you something that inspired me, too.”

Yuuri chokes on a sudden sob. Viktor pulls back, cupping his cheek with concern.

“Oh, Yuuri. I didn’t mean to make you cry!”

“Sorry, I… You’ve probably noticed that this happens a lot,” he laughs wetly, rubbing his eyes against the sleeve of his shirt. “It’s just… That song, that program, it really means a lot to me, and seeing you of all people perform it, it’s…”

He ducks his head with a quiet sniff.

“Sorry, I got a little overwhelmed. But I loved it, I really did.”

“I’m glad,” Viktor replies, his gaze soft. “Making you smile is a gift in itself.”

Yuuri flushes, but the corners of his mouth easily turn upward. Viktor makes a triumphant sound, running a thumb over Yuuri’s bottom lip.

“See?” he says, grinning. “Right there. And what a lovely sight it is.”

From the side of the rink, they both hear Yuuko call out, “Viktor, that was incredible!”

The two of them turn, and they see the Nishigori family gathered at the boards, enthusiastically waving at them. They untangle themselves from each other, but before Yuuri can move away completely, Viktor shoots another grin at him before offering him his hand.

Yuuri looks at the open palm with his heart full. He smiles back and takes it, and they skate over to the side of the rink together.

When they arrive, they can see that Yuuko is practically vibrating with glee. She continues, “You did it! You stuck the quad flip landing!”

“He’s been practicing your program nonstop ever since he got here, you know,” Takeshi unabashedly tells Yuuri, despite Viktor standing right next to him. He points a thumb at him and says, “He worked for a long time to get that quad flip at the end right. And it paid off, too!”

As Yuuri processes that, Viktor adds, “Yuuri showed me it was possible. Before, I’d hardly ever tried putting that jump at the end, but after seeing Yuuri do it so beautifully at the GPF...”

He turns to meet Yuuri’s eyes, and his gaze is brimming with blissful affection.

“I’m learning new things every day! It seems like I just needed the right motivation.”

Yuuri gazes back at him, and he sees the answer he’s been looking for. He squeezes Viktor’s hand, and he gets a squeeze in return. His heart is thudding in his chest as he comes to understand just what it is that Viktor is offering him.

Viktor still chose to come here, despite how different their history is, despite how different Yuuri is from the person he was when they first fell in love a lifetime ago. Viktor chose to skate to On My Love, to come to Hasetsu and meet his family and friends and skate Yuuri’s program with his heart laid bare between them.

He hears it, like a voice in the distance.

In this new time and place, Viktor is still calling for him, waiting for his response.

Isn’t it obvious? he thinks as he looks at this younger Viktor, who still wants him, who still wants to be with him despite everything.

Every path has always led back to you.

Yuuri pulls his hand away and instead reaches out to once more hug Viktor fully. Viktor goes with a delighted gasp, his eyes going big as he comprehends Yuuri’s silent answer.

He hugs him back tightly, laughing as he buries his face into Yuuri’s neck.

His muffled voice is soft as he whispers for Yuuri’s ears alone, “You make me very happy.”

And isn’t that all Yuuri could ever ask for?

“I could say the same to you,” he replies, and Viktor leans back to meet his gaze with bright, gleaming eyes.

Once again, they’re interrupted when the triplets announce in unison, “Posted!”

Yuuri and Viktor look over, and they see Yuuko gaping open-mouthed at her daughters. “Are you three using my YouTube account again?!”

“Look, look!” Loop says excitedly, waving her phone at them. “Now everyone can watch Viktor skate to Yuuri’s program!”

“He didn’t give you permission to post that! Take it down right now!”

“But Mooooom, the skating SNS is gonna love it….!”

“Uh,” Takeshi says as his wife loudly begins the battle against their willful children. “Sorry about that, Viktor, Yuuri. I get that this was a personal thing. Do you want the video deleted? It’s only a few minutes old, no one’s probably even seen it yet.”

Yuuri stares at him, startled because this is very different from what happened last time. The public reaction to his own video of skating to Stay Close To Me had been mixed, but Yuuri had solemnly sworn off of social media during the time it went viral, so he never really saw the full extent of what people thought of it.

He looks at Viktor, who is thoughtfully tapping a finger against his lips.

This time, it’s Viktor who is skating to Yuuri’s program, and Yuuri has no idea what will happen if they allow the video to stay online. It’s perhaps not as worrisome, though—Viktor is already famous and beloved all around the world, not at all in the lowly position Yuuri had been, and there’s safety in that.

For all of Yuuri’s knowledge of the future, it’s of a future that has already been altered by all the things that have changed in this timeline, and Yuuri can’t predict what will happen.

He’s brought out of his thoughts when Viktor asks him, “What do you think, Yuuri? It was meant as a gift for you.”

Yuuri considers it—considers this Viktor, who is already so dear, who is placing so much trust in him so early. All he has to offer him is his honest opinion.

“I don’t mind, personally,” he responds. “To be honest, it would probably make you look good. You can do a quad flip as the last jump in a free skate, now. I think you can afford to show off a bit, if you want.”

Viktor smiles at that. “And I can show off that it was because of you that I can do it.”

“You did that on your own. I only just got here yesterday, remember?”

“Yes, but you were with me the entire time, because I was skating to your song!”

Yuuri can feel his face heating up, because Viktor is absolutely, shamelessly relentless.

Viktor winks playfully at him and turns back to Takeshi, saying, “The video can stay up! I want the world to know how special Yuuri is to me!”

Yuuri is burning as Takeshi looks between them. “Wow. Okay, I see. You’re gonna be one of those couples, huh?”

Viktor wraps his arms around Yuuri’s neck and nuzzles him, replying, “He’s just shy!”

“Uh-huh.” His childhood friend is grinning, but he backs down at Yuuri’s pleading look. “Alright, I’ll give the girls the news. Be right back.”

He pushes off the boards and heads over to where his wife is still scolding the children about boundaries and verbal consent, leaving Yuuri and Viktor standing together on the ice.

Arms still around him, Viktor asks softly, “Is this okay, then, Yuuri?”

Yuuri smiles at that, leaning more heavily into him. He nods. “I won’t take it back if you won’t.”

“Good.” Viktor presses his nose into his hair and breathes. He can feel the smile on his lips. “Because there’s no chance of that ever happening!”

After one last squeeze, Viktor releases him and leads them back to the mouth of the rink.

“Just a quick break before going back to my programs for Worlds. Your free skate takes a lot out of me,” he explains with a huff of a laugh. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I fell over on the quad flip landing because I got too tired at the end! Your program was certainly tailored just for you, wasn’t it?”

Yuuri just looks at him, smiling softly.

“Yeah, it was.”

Only a few hours later, things are not quite as peaceful back in St. Petersburg.

“Is this what that scatterbrained nitwit has been doing?!” Yakov yells, waving his phone in the air.

From where they’re sprawled around the lobby of their home rink, Yuri Plisetsky and the rest of Yakov’s students can see that their coach has that new viral video playing on the screen—Viktor Nikiforov Skates to Yuuri Katsuki’s “On My Love.”

On his own phone, Yuri is silently rewatching the video with his earbuds in, examining Viktor’s skating with a critical eye. Of Yakov’s students, Mila had been the first to see the video online and then shared it with the rest of the group.

“Look at how cute this is! He went to go see Yuuri and skated his program for him!” she’d gushed, and Georgi had agreed, because of course Georgi “sap-for-all-things-disgustingly-mushy” Popovich would agree.

However, their coach doesn’t seem to think that this is cute at all.

Yakov had received a text from Viktor last Monday night saying that he was going to be out of the country. Of course, the idiot didn’t say where he was going, only that he would meet up with them again at Worlds. Their coach has been raging for past week trying to get into contact with him, but to no avail.

Viktor hasn’t replied to any of their messages, and there’s been absolutely no trace of his online presence—like he’s actually making an effort to keep himself scarce, and frankly, that’s a shocker by itself.

Everything’s been quiet on the Where The Hell Is Viktor Nikiforov front until that video popped up, telling everyone exactly where he’s been and what he’s been doing.

No wonder Yakov is pissed.

Their coach is still yelling as Yuri replays the jump at the end. Even if Viktor’s abrupt jaunt to Japan really is a waste of time like Yakov thinks it is, Yuri can still recognize the fact that Viktor is suddenly capable of doing something he hadn’t been able to do before—land a quad flip at the end of a free skate. To skate Yuuri Katsuki’s program takes a hell of a lot of endurance, and Viktor must have put in a lot of work to learn and successfully complete it without error.

He reaches the point in the video where the performance ends, and Yuuri Katsuki comes flying out from the boards to tackle Viktor into a hug. He stares at the image of Katsuki on the screen, considering.

If Viktor wants to screw around before Worlds and fuck up his career, it’s not like Yuri cares. Besides, Viktor’s status as the best figure skater in the world has already been usurped. Even without all the titles Viktor’s accumulated over the years, it’s now Yuuri Katsuki who he has to watch out for.

If he could beat Viktor once, he could do it again, and Yuri now has his sights set on a bigger enemy.

If Katsuki and Viktor are practicing together now, though… It’s entirely possible that Katsuki could be teaching Viktor his techniques, and vice-versa. That quad flip is evidence of that. The abilities of one of them alone are staggering enough, but with them actively helping each other?

Yuri curses under his breath. Viktor is, at least, his countryman, and there’s a vague sense of betrayal in the reminder that he’s abandoned them all before a major international competition to go mess around with his stupid boyfriend.

Who also happens to be a world-class figure skater himself. Dammit.

“Oh! Vitya’s updated his Instagram!”

Mila shows her phone screen to the room at large, and it’s a photo of a winking, chopsticks-wielding Viktor sitting at a low table with an impressive spread of food before him. Beside him is none other than a smiling Yuuri Katsuki, as well as a number of other people around the table, merrily waving at the camera. Makkachin and another, smaller poodle are visible in the background.

Yuri switches apps to Instagram, and he can read the accompanying text: “A warm welcome to Hasetsu with @katsuki_yuuri and family, courtesy of Yu-topia Akatsuki!!!” followed by several food emojis.

Another one appears. This time, Viktor is posing in a skating rink—and there’s Katsuki again, along with two other adults and some little kids.

“Practicing for Worlds at @Ice_Castle_Hasetsu with @katsuki_yuuri @sukeota3sisters!!!”

And suddenly, it’s like the floodgates have opened, and Viktor is rapid-fire posting what is probably a week’s worth of photos. And, for Viktor, that’s quite a lot.

Mila and Georgi immediately begin fawning over them all, quickly tapping out their comments on their respective phones. Meanwhile, Yakov proceeds to repeatedly call Viktor’s cell to leave several explosive voicemails, yelling about irresponsibility and carelessness as per usual, and the rest of the team has resigned itself to waiting out their coach’s temper yet again.

With a huff and a scowl, Yuri taps out his own message to Viktor and presses send.

“You’re fucking in for it now idiot”

And, for the first time since Viktor’s abrupt departure nearly a week ago, the prodigal skater actually answers. The response, however, is just as infuriating as the man himself.

“ill tell yuuri u said hi!!! ;))))”