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a single vowel in this metallic silence

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this word is not enough but it will
have to do. It's a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.

Variations on the Word Love
Margaret Atwood




Somewhere, distantly, Victor knows that there’s music playing, the closing banquet festivities now in full swing, judging by the crowds of people milling about the buffet table and the edges of the dance floor. Bright pops of color swirl down from the ceiling, turning heads purple, blue, yellow. Yuri’s glasses flicker with reflected light, obscuring his dark eyes, as he leans in to listen to Phichit’s excited whispers, cheeks flushed with warmth. 

His tongue darts out, just a touch, to wet his lower lip. 

Victor looks away, blindly reaching out for his flute of champagne on the table. 

“Here,” comes the gravelly voice and a glass of straight whisky. “I think you'd like this better, Vitya.” 

Victor instinctively turns towards the familiar, lilting Russian, shoving his hair back from his eyes. “Yakov,” he says, mustering up a smile. “What a surprise to see you here. Usually you head straight back to the hotel after the medals ceremony.” 

Yakov settles into the empty seat beside him with a grunt, its former occupant busy doing erotic splits on the dance floor. “Usually you're the life of the party,” Yakov says, sliding the glass over to Victor, raising his own whisky to his mouth. “Not the one sitting gloomily at a table.” 

Victor accepts it with a little shrug, knocking back the drink in one go. It burns with a welcome, distracting heat as the whisky settles into the pit of his stomach, radiating a heady warmth. “I'm not gloomy,” Victor protests with a lightness he doesn't quite feel. “I'm merely er-- projecting a coach-ly demeanour.” 

Yakov gives him a deeply unimpressed look. 

“Hm, maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say,” Victor admits as he turns his head away. Automatically, his eyes settle back on Yuri’s glowing face, his gentle smile, the black comma of his slender back curving over Phichit’s chair. You don't need to say anything! Just stand by me. 

“You always, always did what you wanted, no matter what I said, no matter the consequences.” Yakov raises a heavily calloused hand, instantly flagging one of the circulating waiters. He snags two flutes of champagne and sets them down on the table. 

“It feels so different, this side of the boards,” Victor says, quiet. Yuri’s hair is now colored in shades of blue, like shadows passing over the seashore in Hasetsu. “I thought that who I was…. that what I had was enough.” 

Yakov laughs and the rough, familiar sound settles somewhere deep in the hollow of Victor’s chest, filling an emptiness he didn't even realize existed. “You're still so young, Vitya.” He slides a flute over to Victor, still nursing his own whisky. 

“Coaching is more than knowing the technical skills. Really, it’s all in here.” Yakov taps a fist against his chest. “That was always your problem, even when you skated. You were all mind, no heart. You were a genius on the ice, but you always held some part of yourself back. You never gave all of yourself to the performance.” 

Victor can feel the beginnings of a headache throb in his temples as Yakov brings up the same, tired old argument up again. He drinks deeply from his second flute of champagne. “Yakov, please, let's not--” 

Yakov cuts a hand through the air with a fierce intensity. “Victor, listen to me! Yesterday and today, you showed more real emotion than you ever had before, both on and off the ice. Not those silly smiles you put on for the rest of the world. Real joy, affection, and yes, even fear and anxiety.” 

Across the room, Yuri throws his head back, the sound of his laughter obscured by the thrumming bass beat. 

“You've changed, Vitya.” 

There's a sudden weight on Victor’s shoulder and he starts, Yakov’s wrinkled forehead and bushy brows suddenly filling up his vision. 

“I take it back,” Yakov grumbles. “You haven't changed at all, judging by the way you're mooning after that boy and ignoring me as usual.” 

“I'm listening!” 

Yakov’s wrinkled face cracks a thin smile. “Ha! Very well. I won’t bother you any longer.” 

Victor shoots him an injured look. “I did invite you to come and get hotpot with us before, you know.” 

Yakov makes a disagreeable noise. “And go drinking with you the night before a competition? I’m too old for that nonsense. Besides...” He jerks a head over to the other side of the room, where Yuri is still laughing. “I know you want to go whisk that boy away back to the hotel.” 

Victor hesitates, following the direction of Yakov’s motion. Yuri and Phichit are now joined by Guang-hong and Leo, white flashes exploding on their phones as they all pose for selfies. “I want to give him some space. He’s enjoying himself.” 

Yakov raises an eyebrow. “I’m surprised. Are you showing some self-restraint for once?” 

“You said I changed.” Victor presses his tongue against his teeth, one finger tracing the rim of the glass still in his hands. “Today was...difficult.” He looks up at Yakov. “I can’t remember the last time I felt powerless before, so inadequate. And yet…”

He thinks back to the moment when Yuri slipped into that last jump, the press of Yuri’s soft lips against his own, their breath mingling for an eternity, and his heart sings in remembered echo. 

“Hold onto that feeling,” Yakov says. “And you may even become a decent coach, Vitya.” He squeezes tight, his hand gripping Victor’s shoulder, before falling away. “Now go on and get your boy, Victor. He’s had a long day.” 

Yakov rises up from his seat, lifts his glass of whisky in farewell, and fades into the crowd. 

Victor looks down blankly at his now-empty flute and decides to listen to Yakov, for once in his life. He pushes his chair back with a violent screech as he stands up, his head spinning pleasantly. The banquet hall has faded into a pleasing softness, muffled under a blanket of booze, except for Yuri’s face, the only point of clarity in the confusing sea of blurring faces. 

He casually side-steps dancing couples and wrinkly-faced ISU officials, batting away phones pointed in his direction and reporters inching in for one more sound bite. Victor cuts straight through the dance floor, barely even noticing the subtle ways people shift out of his path, the cacophonous ripple of white flashes as phones light up like fireworks in his wake. 

“...oh, this filter looks good! Tag me in the picture, Phichit, but no silly hashtags, please--” 

Victor snakes an arm around Yuri’s shoulders, pulling him in a sloppy hug. 

“Ah-- Victor!” 

Victor breathes in deeply, his lungs filling with the smell of sweat and pine aftershave and Yuri’s shampoo; his ribs ache with a painful tenderness at the comfortingly familiar scents. 

“I’m sorry for interrupting,” Victor murmurs into the crook of Yuri’s neck, his lips grazing soft skin. “But I really, really missed you.” 

He can feel the way Yuri’s skin heats up. “I was gone for just a few minutes,” Yuri laughs, the vibrations sending shivers down Victor’s spine. 

“It felt like forever,” Victor says, and the joke falls flat because it sounds too real. Victor swallows, suddenly grateful that Yuri cannot see his face. 

Yuri’s shoulders soften and relax. “I see,” he says, his voice low. “Victor, I think I’d like to go back to the hotel.” 

There’s a sudden shift in movement and now they are standing face to face, Yuri reaching up to wrap his own arms around Victor’s neck. Yuri’s eyes are even bigger than usual, still red and a little swollen around the corners, lashes stark against his pale skin. 

Victor’s not sure whether the thrumming echoing in his head is from the music or his thudding heart, but he can’t bring himself to care. His universe has narrowed down to a single point of existence, caught helplessly in the intoxicating pull of Katsuki Yuri’s eyes. 

There’s a puff of warm breath against Victor’s lips, the only warning he gets before Yuri’s mouth presses gently against his own. 

“Huh, that’s strange,” Yuri says when he pulls away, as Victor dazedly tries to pull some semblance of coherency together. 

“Strange?” Victor repeats back thickly, his entire being utterly focused on Yuri’s red-bitten lips, slightly swollen and glossy. 

“Kissing you still feels like a surprise,” Yuri says thoughtfully. “Even when I do it.” 

“Oh,” Victor says. “That’s-- that’s not bad, is it?” He raises one fingertip to his own mouth. 

“No, not bad." Yuri smiles up at him, soft and brilliant and perfect and Victor rediscovers the meaning of love with every breath Yuri takes. “I think I rather like it.”