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Winter Song

Chapter Text

They went out as a group after the competition and took over one of the private rooms at a local restaurant. The smell of spices in the air and the heat from the kitchen stoves had them all shedding their coats, scarves, and gloves. They sat down together to laugh and relive the excitement of the night.

Lost somewhere in the middle, Yuuri was quiet as he watched them all.

Victor had made him wear his medal, and whenever Yuuri tried to take it off or hide it, Victor only pulled it out again (with great ceremony) and readjusted it until it was prominently displayed on his chest.

My Yuuri will be having champagne,” Victor called to the waiter. “He’s celebrating tonight.”

At the far end of the table, Guang-Hong and Leo appeared deep in conversation while their coaches tried to make small talk without the benefit of a translator. Yakov was missing, but they’d convinced Georgi to come along. Christophe had his arm around him and was telling him in no uncertain terms that he was pathetic and needed to get over the girl already. Georgi wept openly into his napkin while Phichit snapped a few covert pictures with his phone.

The set of Yuuri’s mouth softened into a private smile as Victor squeezed his knee beneath the table. His hands were bare, free from the gloves he so often wore when they were together on the rink, and the heat of his palm burned straight through the denim of Yuuri’s jeans. He slipped his own hand beneath the table and found Victor’s. Hidden from sight, their fingers began to flirt and play. A secret conversation all their own that needed no words.

Yuuri was aware that at some point—a moment in time he couldn’t quite place—Victor had become his boyfriend.

There wasn’t a single instant when it happened. It was a slow awareness, as if Victor had silently been asking the question for months now, and Yuuri had been giving him the answer a little more with each passing day.

Even though they had never sat down and put an official label on their relationship, such things felt unnecessary when every meeting of their eyes was a confirmation of all they’d come to mean to each other. The nature of their relationship was simply understood, not just by them but by everyone else as well.

Yuuri shook his head in warning at Phichit, who was grinning like an idiot as he took a picture of his new favorite couple. Soon Yuuri was fighting a grin of his own, even as he begged his friend to stop.

After half a glass of champagne, exhaustion hit Yuuri hard. Not only was it the lack of sleep, but tonight’s performance and everything that preceded it had drained him, both physically and emotionally. He soon found himself nodding off. When Victor noticed, he slipped an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders.

Yuuri was too tired to feel self-conscious as he snuggled up to Victor. He dozed in and out of sleep, partially aware of the noisy restaurant but lulled by Victor’s warmth and the protective weight of his arm around him. He smelled like champagne and fresh winter ice.

Somewhere in the back of Yuuri’s sleep-addled mind, he heard Christophe say, “Victor, that’s what you get for keeping the poor boy awake all night, every night.”

(Which was an insinuation Yuuri didn’t understand until hours later when he was brushing his teeth in the hotel bathroom. Once he figured it out, he gasped with such dismay that he nearly swallowed his toothbrush.)

Victor only chuckled and called back across the table, “Just wait until you see my Yuuri skate when he’s had a proper night of sleep.”

All in all, it was a wonderful night, full of good-natured rivalry, laughter, and friendship. Their conversation carried on long into the night until one by one, people began to rise from the table and bid the group goodnight and good luck at the next competition.

At the feel of Victor’s lips brushing along his hairline, Yuuri stirred and opened his eyes.

“The restaurant is closing.” Victor held Yuuri’s glasses out. “Let’s get you back to the hotel.”

Yuuri nodded and took his glasses, wondering all the while when they’d been removed from his face. He thought he’d fallen asleep wearing them. His legs and body felt stiff as he rose from the table, and Victor watched with patient fondness as Yuuri struggled to get his head and arms through the correct holes in his windbreaker.

“Here, let me help you with that,” Victor said—then proceeded to ignore the fact that Yuuri’s arm was stuck in the sleeve. Victor just pulled the silver medal out from beneath Yuuri’s windbreaker so that it was again proudly displayed for everyone to see. “Perfect!”

While the remainder of the group gathered to say goodbye outside the front doors of the restaurant, Yuuri briefly excused himself to visit the wash room before they left. He splashed cold water onto his face in the hopes that it would help him stay awake for the walk back to the hotel.

He straightened and squinted at his reflection in the mirror, but even after he put his glasses on, he couldn’t decide if he looked different or not. He certainly felt changed.

He’d been kissed for the first time tonight. He had a boyfriend. Who was Victor Nikiforov, of all people.

The thought brought a soft (and frankly, amazed) smile to his face. He shut off the water and reached for a towel to dry his hands.

The smile, however, soon faded when he spotted the silver medal resting on his chest. Grumbling, he stuffed it back into the front of his windbreaker and joined the others outside the restaurant. The night manager locked the doors behind him.

Outside, the air was bitterly cold with little flakes of ice that melted when they landed on his cheeks. Hazy halos of light encircled the street lamps in the distance, and fog blurred everything beyond that. The temperature was dropping rapidly.

Phichit was waiting for him, standing a few paces away from where Victor and Celestino were having a conversation. Yuuri’s breath froze in the air before him as he hurried over to his friend.

“They’re talking about you,” Phichit said, nodding his head in the direction of their coaches. “Victor asked him for advice.”

Yuuri zipped up his windbreaker as high as it would go and lamented its failure to adequately hide his embarrassment from the world. He still felt bad about leaving Celestino’s mentorship, even though it had been the right thing to do. He had been a good coach and had always believed Yuuri was capable of more than he delivered. Celestino had been one of the more vocal supporters for Yuuri after tonight’s performance, proud of him even though he was the coach of another competitor. That had meant a lot.

But what was Celestino saying to Victor now? Uncomfortable that people were talking about him, Yuuri stuffed his hands into his pockets and kicked at the ground with the toe of his sneaker.

“How is Victor doing as a coach?” Phichit asked, keeping his voice low so no one else would hear. “We all know he’s a great skater, but things seemed tense for you today.”

“You’ve seen me like that before,” Yuuri said.

“I don’t know. It was different this time. I’ve seen you nervous, but when you got on the ice, you seemed more . . . centered. Your free skate really was amazing, Yuuri.”

Yuuri flushed. He never knew what to do with compliments, so he just said, “I’ll be sure to watch yours online soon, but I heard the cheering all the way down in the parking garage. You literally shook China.”

Phichit grinned and said, “Let’s both practice hard so we can win this thing together, okay?”

As they shook on it, Victor and Celestino both laughed and grasped hands as well. Not long after, the two pairs wished each other safe travels and parted ways. Victor hooked an arm around Yuuri’s neck and tugged him close for the walk back to the hotel.

“Are you cold?” Victor said. His gloved hand slid up and down the length of Yuuri’s arm. “We need to get you a warmer coat before Russia.”

“I’m . . . .” Yuuri trailed off and swallowed. “No. I’m not cold.”

Because really. What sane person could concentrate on being cold when Victor Nikiforov was touching them?

“Mmm, that’s too bad,” Victor all but purred in his ear. “Russians know many creative ways of keeping the body warm.”

His breath smelled not unpleasantly of alcohol, but miraculously, he wasn’t drunk. Only relaxed and devoid of inhibitions, which was nothing out of the ordinary. All the same, Yuuri felt dazed by Victor’s forwardness. He had always been a shameless flirt, but his words now carried weight. Once, Yuuri might have thought he was only teasing or trying to get a reaction out of him. Now he could only assume Victor might be serious.

“W-What did Celestino say to you?” Yuuri stammered. “Phichit-kun said you asked him for advice.”

Victor sighed and tilted his face up toward the sky, as if he liked the feel of the frigid breeze on his face. “I don’t mean this in a bad way, Yuuri, but sometimes I don’t know what to do with you. As your coach, I mean. And that’s my failing; not yours. I don’t ever want my inexperience to affect you or your skating. So yes, I asked Celestino for advice, but he only told me what I already knew. That you have the talent to change the sport of skating forever. It’s getting you to believe it that’s the problem.”

They walked half a block in silence while Yuuri pondered what Victor had said. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking. Celestino and Victor had both said similar things to Yuuri before, even though the words almost always fell on deaf ears.

But what stood out to him the most was that Victor was finally getting it. How many times had Yuuri tried to explain his mental struggles, only to have Victor wave his concerns away as if it was an easy problem to overcome?

Tonight, he had seen for himself it wasn’t that simple. It was one thing to know Yuuri had problems with anxiety and another to witness it attack him firsthand. Seeing Yuuri like that had wiped the smile right off Victor’s ever-smiling face, sobered him up, and brought out a protective side of him that was entirely unexpected.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Yuuri said. “For yelling at you and making everything so stressful. I don’t know why I get so nervous. I wish I could control it when it happens.”

Victor’s arm tightened around him. “Did it happen like that at the Grand Prix Final last year?”

Yuuri nodded.

“Do you know what triggers it? You were fine yesterday.”

“Well, last year, you triggered it. Well. You and Vicchan.”


“I’ve always looked up to you, and I was about to skate on the same ice as you for the first time. I didn’t want you to see me fail, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s like I have the power to bring my worst fears to life.”

Victor stopped dead in his tracks and turned Yuuri around to face him. Gentle but firm hands gripped his upper arms. “Look at me. You did not fail. Do you think your friends failed tonight? Guang-Hong or Leo? Their scores were almost the same as yours last year.”

Yuuri’s face burned. Of course he didn’t think that.

“Do you have any idea how talented you are?” Victor continued. “I watched you skate last year. I remembered you because of the way you moved your body with the music. You were nervous, but not even that could fully distract from your charm. You even made Yurio anxious. I wanted to take a picture with you and talk with you afterward because you sparked something in me I haven’t felt in a long time. You might call it a failure, but that’s not what I saw at all. Now look at the difference in you tonight. By my count, you missed just as many jumps as last year, but you were happy with your performance tonight. That is the difference between a failure and a win. It has nothing to do with your score.”

As Victor spoke, Yuuri found himself getting emotional again. He was not yet entirely healed after the nightmare of last year and dropped his gaze before tears could fill his eyes. He was exhausted, and Victor’s words were difficult to hear, even though every syllable was very much needed.


Gloved hands squeezed his arms. “What is it, my Yuuri?”

Yuuri shivered and closed his eyes when Victor called him his. “You’re the best coach I’ve ever had.”

He meant it. He’d had wiser ones, sure, but never anyone who loved and believed in him this much.

Victor drew in a slow breath, and when he released it, it became apparent he’d been holding himself tense. Then he smiled, and the sight of it warmed Yuuri up from within. “I’m trying,” Victor said. “No matter what, I promise I will always stand by you.” He said the words almost reverently, like they meant something more to him than what was just on the surface.

Their foreheads came together, and they lingered there for a long moment, simply enjoying the peace after such a stressful night. Victor’s scent and proximity washed over Yuuri’s weary mind and soothed away any remaining tension.

It wasn’t long before something else took its place, right around the time Victor placed a single hand on Yuuri’s hip.

He felt warm and strangely unsolidified in the base of his abdomen, and without thinking, he reached up and gripped the lapels of Victor’s coat. Their bodies moved closer to one another as if drawn there by gravity.

He didn’t know what he was asking for. It frightened him at the same time that it filled his chest with a hopeful unfurling like the wings of birds.

Victor tilted his head and nuzzled the side of Yuuri’s face, bathing his skin with the heat of his breath. Fingertips brushed his face, coaxing his chin just a bit higher, and then he felt the gentle pressure of Victor’s lips on his mouth.

It was a brief kiss. Just a brush of the lips, really, followed by the fluttering of eyelashes that parted to stare.

Victor was still silently asking questions with his actions. Is this okay? Do you want more?

The level of Yuuri’s chin dropped a degree, and he wet his lips. He was trembling inside.

“No?” Victor asked softly. His thumb stroked Yuuri’s cheekbone.

“We should get back to the hotel,” Yuuri said.

His voice sounded strange, even to his own ears. It wasn’t that he wanted this moment to end. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he had now shared his first two kisses with the rest of the world. Whatever was about to happen next . . . he wanted that all for himself.

And so he looked Victor directly in the eyes and said without an ounce of self-consciousness, “If we’re going to do this, I want to be alone with you. There are too many people out here.”

He let go of Victor’s coat, stepped out of his embrace, and began walking toward their hotel with renewed focus. He didn’t know what awaited him there, but he knew he was never going to be the same afterward.

Victor caught up with him a moment later, wearing a smug, self-satisfied smile he could barely contain. “Now wait just a second.” He reached out to catch Yuuri’s arm. “You and I still have a serious problem we need to work out before we take another step. I hope you know I’m very disappointed in you as my student right now.”

Yuuri turned and blinked at Victor in confusion. His censuring words didn’t match the mischievous grin on his face. “What . . . ?”

“Well, I just noticed you’re not wearing your medal where everyone can see it,” Victor said. “Really, Yuuri. I thought we talked about this.”

As he hooked a finger around the ribbon of Yuuri’s medal and tugged it out of his windbreaker, Victor waved at a trio of passersby on the other side of the street and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Hey, look at my Yuuri! He won a medal tonight!”

“Victor, stop.”


To be continued

Chapter Text

By the time they reached their destination, Yuuri was shivering all over.

It had nothing to do with the cold.

In the elevator, Victor backed him up slowly against the wall using nothing but the heat of his stare. As Yuuri bumped into the mirrored paneling behind him, Victor placed an ungloved hand beside his head. The elevator doors slid shut, sealing them in. It was the first time they’d been completely alone since the arena parking garage.

“What floor are we on again?” Victor murmured, his tone entirely too casual as he guided Yuuri’s chin upward. Their lips were only a breath apart.

Yuuri thought he might actually pass out. He squeezed his eyes shut for a second, unable to think. “Um.”

“Was it seven? Yes, seven.” Victor turned to pressed the button for the seventh floor, then returned his attention to more important matters.

“Our rooms are on the fifth floor,” Yuuri clarified.

Victor wasn’t listening. He leaned in closer, still supporting himself with one hand on the wall, not touching Yuuri anywhere else except for his face. Victor dragged the pad of his thumb across Yuuri’s lower lip and said, “Your lips are chapped again. Have you been biting them?”

It was a miracle Yuuri’s knees didn’t buckle. Would he ever get used to this? His cheek burned beneath Victor’s fingers. “I . . . uh . . . .”

His complete lack of composure seemed to amuse Victor. His mouth spread into a grin, pure affection written over every inch of his face. “Yuuri?”

“Hmm?” Yuuri all but squeaked in reply. Victor’s thumb was still tracing the perimeter of his lower lip, slowly driving him mad. He couldn’t figure out if he was annoyed or ecstatic about it.

“You look very sweet when you blush,” Victor said. “You’ll have to forgive me for trying to make you do it as often as possible. I’m quite selfish, you see.”

Yuuri released his breath in a rush. As if he didn’t know that already.

Why on earth had he confirmed his interest in taking things further with Victor? He was a bad enough flirt before. Now he was never going to stop. He knew damn well the effect he had on Yuuri.

But what Victor wasn’t always aware of was that Yuuri could play games, too.

Angling his hips slightly forward, Yuuri parted his lips and took Victor’s perfectly manicured thumb into his mouth.

Victor’s entire demeanor changed. He let out a soft pout of a gasp, and his mouth fell open as he marveled at the heat and wetness. Not only had Yuuri’s boldness surprised him, but the tables had been turned on Victor as well, effectively reversing their positions in this game of seduction.

Yuuri wasn’t finished.

He let his eyes go dark the way he did when he skated his Eros routine. He sucked, moving his head a little as he got into it, then let his tongue curl and slide all around Victor’s thumb.

Victor exhaled something indecipherable in Russian. He went from having his palm flat against the elevator wall to having to support himself with his forearm.

Yuuri smiled with his eyes, pleased with himself and with Victor’s reaction. He tasted amazing. Clean skin with just a hint of Yuuri’s peppermint chapstick. He placed a hand against Victor’s chest and gently pushed him back. As his arm fell away, Victor’s thumb dragged a lazy trail of saliva down Yuuri’s lower lip and chin.

The elevator doors had just opened on the seventh floor. Victor’s cheeks were bitten with color, and he panted as he watched Yuuri wipe his chin and press the 5 on the panel of buttons.

“I like making you blush, too,” Yuuri said when the doors closed them in again. He was remarkably calm for someone who was mentally screaming inside.

A few moments later, the elevator doors opened with a cheerful ding on the fifth floor, and Yuuri strolled out, leaving a thoroughly seduced Victor behind. Once Yuuri’s back was turned, his expression melted into complete horror and shock.

He could not believe he’d had the audacity to do that. To his skating coach, no less.

But the look on Victor’s face . . . .

Oh, that had been worth it.

They had a set of rooms next door to each other, and Yuuri very purposefully passed Victor’s up and went straight for his own. As Yuuri slid the card key into the lock, Victor loomed behind him, the weight of his presence undeniable. His hands found the curves of Yuuri’s waist.

“My Yuuri is full of surprises tonight.”

Yuuri tried to remain calm as he opened the door. It was dark inside, the temperature just a bit shy of comfortable. The heater rumbled overhead, but there was still a chill in the air. Through the window on the far side of the room, he could see that it had started to snow.

He took off his shoes, dropped the room key onto a table, and pulled his windbreaker over his head.

“Are you sure our rooms aren’t on the seventh floor?” Victor asked as he looked around. “I’ve never seen any of this stuff in my life.”

Which wasn’t true, but Yuuri doubted Victor would listen, even if he told him. He might have had more alcohol at the restaurant than Yuuri realized.

He drew in a deep breath and held it as he removed the silver medal from around his neck and put it on the table. His glasses joined it a moment later, and he ran his fingers back through his hair. He was nervous, but the darkness helped boost his confidence. Deep breaths. In and out. Just like before a performance.

“Hey. . . .” Victor’s lower lip had popped out into a pout. “You’re supposed to wear that to bed tonight. 48 hours with the medal, Yuuri. That’s my rule.”

Yuuri turned and placed his palm flat over Victor’s heart. As their eyes locked, his hand slid down a few inches.

Victor wisely chose that moment to stop talking.

Yuuri pushed him backwards, guiding him across the room until he fell into a sitting position onto the couch. Victor laughed at first, but his smile slowly faded into something more serious as Yuuri’s knees hit the cushions on either side of his thighs. He straddled Victor but didn’t lower his body down, choosing instead to tower over him as he coiled his coach’s tie slowly around one hand.

Yuuri had no idea where his confidence had come from, but Victor clearly didn’t mind not being the one in charge. Smiling in the dark, he tilted his head back until it rested against the cushion of the couch. He placed his hands low on Yuuri’s hips. “I’d say I’ve never seen this side of you before, but that’s not true, is it? You’re just not on the ice this time.”

Fingers tightened around Victor’s tie, and then Yuuri was kissing him.

It took him approximately 90 seconds to realize he loved it, but the 89 or so seconds that preceded that epiphany were clumsy and unfocused. He wasn’t sure where to put his hands or if he was doing the right thing with his nose or lips.

Victor was obviously the more experienced one here, but for the most part, he let Yuuri guide him and establish what he wanted. Victor happily met him there and smiled against Yuuri’s lips as he coaxed him to lower himself down until he was fully seated upon his lap.

When Yuuri opened his mouth against Victor’s and felt the soft heat of a tongue for the first time, everything changed. He moaned, released Victor’s tie, and practically melted into him.

All ten of his fingers slid into silvery blond hair, and his thighs tightened around Victor’s hips. Yuuri’s body started moving without him being aware of it. A gentle rocking motion that made Victor hum deep in his chest. His hand slid up the back of Yuuri’s t-shirt. Long, cool fingers explored his over-heated skin, making him shiver all over.

“Mmm,” Victor said between kisses. He wet his lips as if wanting to savor what he’d just tasted. “I think my Yuuri liked that.”

Yuuri responded by pulling his t-shirt off his body and tossing it behind him. Dazed by the change in him, Victor murmured a curse under his breath, only to have his mouth claimed yet again a second later.

It made Yuuri feel incredibly sexy to hear Victor talk like that. In all their months of living together, Yuuri had never heard him cuss. He was half-naked now, his back exposed to the chill of the room, but Victor was still fully dressed in his formal suit and overcoat.

This was a problem.

With growing impatience, Yuuri pushed both the overcoat and suit jacket off Victor’s shoulders, but the heavy layers of fabric didn’t make it all the way down his arms before Yuuri turned his attention to the buttons on the vest. Beneath that was Victor’s dress shirt and probably another undershirt, and then there was also his tie to consider. . .

And really. How many layers did a man who was already acclimated to a freezing climate even need?

The buttons of the vest were easy enough to navigate, but the knot of Victor’s tie refused to give way. Yuuri broke away from the kiss so that he could concentrate.

Victor chuckled as he watched Yuuri’s frustration compound upon itself. “Easy, baby. I’m not going anywhere.”

The endearment filled Yuuri’s head with white noise. Instantly, his heart was pounding.

How could Victor do that to him with a single word?

At last, he worked the tie’s knot free, and even just the sound of the length of silk sliding from Victor’s neck was so damn sexy that Yuuri suddenly found himself staring.

Victor was still half-dressed beneath him, with his clothes pushed part of the way down his arms and his hair all in a mess. He was easily the most beautiful thing Yuuri had ever seen in his life.

His hands slid down Victor’s chest, which was still concealed by his dress shirt. He was so warm and real and perfect. Yuuri had seen almost every inch of his body before, of course, but he had only dreamed about touching him like this. Victor’s build was solid and undeniably masculine, which was so in contrast with the delicate features of his face.

What was Yuuri supposed to do next? He had no idea.

Victor whispered his name in the dark and beckoned him closer, angling his head for another kiss.

It was about that time that Yuuri felt the press of Victor’s erection against his thigh.

Everything stopped as Yuuri went rigid.

His breath trembled out between them. If Victor couldn’t hear how hard his heart was pounding, Yuuri would be very surprised.

Victor’s eyes widened as he recognized the moment of panic for what it was. Leaning forward, he cupped Yuuri’s face with both hands and said, “Hey.” His voice was gentle. Patient. Not a hint of teasing to be found. “Don’t worry about that. My body is just reacting to yours, but we only do what you’re comfortable with. Nothing else. Okay?”

Victor wants to have sex with me, Yuuri realized.

Which was a stupid thought to have because of course he did. They were both adult men in their sexual prime, and Yuuri had just ripped off half their clothing. It was an understandable reaction that he didn’t fault Victor for.

Only now Yuuri was just . . . frozen. And he didn’t fully understand why.

His thoughts were a jumbled mess. Hopeless to sort through.

He was so tired.

“Yuuri.” Victor caressed his face, trying to get him to relax. “It’s okay if you want to stop or slow down. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m not uncomfortable,” Yuuri said, so quiet his voice was almost a whisper. “I just don’t know what I want.”

“That’s okay, too. You don’t have to decide that tonight. Come here.”

Yuuri let Victor pull him down into an embrace. He dropped his head onto Victor’s shoulder and hid his face there, embarrassed but also strangely excited. (Mostly embarrassed.)

When Victor hugged him tight against his chest, Yuuri squeezed him back in silent thanks for understanding and not making him say more, especially when he had no idea what to even think. Victor had his share of less-than-spectacular moments, but he could also be so incredibly attentive and sweet sometimes that it made Yuuri’s throat ache.

He snuggled closer and let his body relax, aware but no longer bothered by the feel of Victor’s erection between them. Yuuri trusted him to keep his word, and soon his breathing began to deepen and slow. He was falling asleep.

“If you ask me, I think what you want is a pillow,” Victor said as he rubbed Yuuri’s back. “I can feel how tired you are. Let’s get you in bed, okay?”

Yuuri made a pathetically weak growl of protest, which was muted against Victor’s neck.

Victor laughed. “Such disobedience to your coach. Come on. Up with you.”

Yuuri was so comfortable, he could have slept there all night, but Victor was insistent. Once he was finally on his feet, Yuuri stumbled toward the bathroom. He was half-blind with fatigue but paused long enough to say, “You’re not going back to your room, are you? You can sleep here.”

Victor had folded his coat and suit jacket over his arm, but upon hearing Yuuri’s invitation, he draped them over the chair instead. Pushing his bangs back out of his face, he smiled and said, “I thought you’d never ask.” His hands went to the buttons of his shirt. “Is it okay if I . . . ?”

Yuuri’s brow furrowed in disbelief.

Really? Now Victor was asking for permission to shed his clothes?

“Wear whatever you want,” Yuuri said. “I’m going to brush my teeth.”

Once inside the bathroom, he shut the door and leaned his back against it. A thousand different emotions echoed inside his mind, but he was too tired to listen to any of them. He opened his eyes, stood up straight, and reached for his toothbrush.

There was a soft knock on the door. “I’m going to run to my room for a second,” Victor said from the other side. “I’ll be right back.”

A moment later, the outside door of the hotel room opened and closed. Silence took over, and Yuuri knew he was alone.

As he brushed his teeth with lackluster attention to detail—just enough to get the job done so he could go to bed—he thought about everything that had happened that night. About the competition and what it had felt like to know he’d shocked Victor speechless with that last quadruple flip. About the weight of a Grand Prix medal against his chest while people in the audience cheered and waved the flag of his country. About feeling like he finally fit in while sitting at the same dinner table as his peers.

And just as he was about to rinse his mouth with water, he finally worked out the meaning of Christophe’s lewd comment at dinner earlier—implying in front of God and everyone that the reason Yuuri was so exhausted was because Victor had been giving it to him good every night.

Yuuri then spent the next few moments of his life trying not to die as he choked on toothpaste.

When he finally recovered, he placed his toothbrush on the counter and stared at himself in the mirror.

Had all of that with Victor really just happened? The kiss on the ice . . . the encounter in the elevator . . . the couch.

Did he look different yet? Yuuri lifted his chin and squinted at his reflection. He did a little.

His hair was a mess, and his lips were red and full from Victor’s kisses. Yuuri let his hands slide down the length of his bare chest, across the soft belly, the subtle muscles of his abdomen, and to the light sprinkling of hair that dipped beneath the waistband of his jeans.

Could he have done it?

Could he have slid the belt out of the loops of Victor’s pants and gotten down on his knees?

He wondered what it would be like to take a man into his mouth. Would he like the taste? Would he be any good at it?

Yuuri exhaled slowly as he let himself imagine it.

For months now, he had been trying to tap into his Eros and express his sexuality. He knew it was there and that it was stronger than even Victor probably suspected. Despite his earlier hesitation, Yuuri did want to have sex, and he knew without a doubt his first time was going to be with Victor. But he also recognized he wasn’t ready for that to happen yet and thought he might finally understand why.

He wanted to take his time with this.

His relationship with Victor had unfolded slowly over the span of months, and it had resided for years within Yuuri’s imagination before that. They’d been touching each other with their eyes long before he’d felt Victor’s tongue fill his mouth. All of it felt like a dance, and Yuuri wasn’t ready for the music to crash into its climax yet.

Outside, he heard the front door open and close again. Victor had returned from his own room and was probably getting into bed.

Yuuri blushed as he wondered what he would be wearing, but somehow he already knew Victor wouldn’t be naked. No, he was going to wait for Yuuri to make that move first.

His mouth softened into a shy smile. Calmly, he stripped out of his jeans until he was left in nothing but his black boxer briefs. Stifling a yawn against the back of his hand, he shut off the bathroom light and went to join his boyfriend in bed.


To be continued.

Chapter Text

Yuuri awoke to the buzz of a text message.

It wasn’t for him. Victor shifted in the bed beside him and reached to grab his phone from the night stand, where it had been plugged in and charging all night. Soon, he settled back down against the pillow and hugged Yuuri a little closer with the gentle pressure of one hand while he unlocked his phone with the other.

They were snuggled up together in the narrow hotel bed with Victor on his back and Yuuri partially on top of him. His left hip rested on the mattress, and their legs were intertwined. He could hear Victor’s heartbeat beneath his ear, steady as a metronome.

Outside their little cocoon of warmth, the room was chilly and hushed in a way that only a winter morning could be. The window on the far side of the room was iced over and glowing with sunshine.

“Did I wake you?” Victor said, his tone distracted as he typed out a text message in Russian. After he hit Send, he went in search of another app.

Yuuri dragged his mouth against Victor’s t-shirt before lifting his head to blink at the window. The brightness told him the sun had been up for a while. “What time is it?”

“Late.” Victor was scrolling through his Instagram feed now. “But you deserved to sleep in. We should be at the airport in about three hours.”

Yuuri dropped his head back down and was rewarded with the feel of Victor’s arm tightening around his waist. God, he was comfortable. Three hours wasn’t nearly enough time to savor the feeling of waking up with Victor. Yuuri could barely wrap his mind around the fact that he wasn’t dreaming.

Shyly, he glanced up at Victor’s face and was able to study him without drawing attention to himself. The arctic blue eyes and straight, slender nose. The brow he unconsciously held tense when he was thinking. The gentle fall of his hair onto his cheek.

He looked softer in the morning light. Hazy and radiant.

And Yuuri let himself imagine it.

Rolling onto his back. The phone dropping to the carpet, forgotten. Victor getting up on his hands and knees, wearing that sweet, dorky grin as he crawled on top of him. Feeling hands on his body that were not his own.

Yuuri had to mindfully slow down his breathing.

He was getting ahead of himself again. His behavior last night was more than a little embarrassing, but he was also pleased with where it had taken them. They’d broken through some important barriers. The problem facing him now was that he didn’t know what he was supposed to do on the other side. It was all he could do not to tip-toe back in the opposite direction.

However, the uncertainty was short-lived. Everything that was happening with Victor at that moment felt incredibly natural. It was as if nothing that significant had changed between them. Just a shift in awareness. Victor wasn’t acting any differently than he normally did, even though just a few hours ago, his student had straddled him and unleashed months of sexual tension on his neck tie.

It made Yuuri’s embarrassment feel like not such a big deal. Like he was overthinking something that was really quite simple.

Victor chuckled at his phone and said, “Look at this. Greetings from home.”

Yuuri squinted at the blurry picture on the phone before he had to reach out, take Victor’s wrist, and physically bring it closer to his face. Nearsightedness was such a pain. Makkachin smiled at him from the screen of the phone. His poodle curls were extra fluffy and decorated with a variety of multicolored bows, and the triplets were posed in the picture with him, looking far too pleased with their handiwork.

Yuuri found himself smiling as well. Not only because he loved that dog . . . but also because Victor had just called Hasetsu home.

“Have they posted the videos from last night?” Yuuri propped himself up on one elbow and reached for his glasses. “I promised Phichit-kun I’d watch his performance.”

Once the right video was located, they sat up against the headboard of the bed and cuddled close together to watch. Victor had Yuuri encircled within his arms with the phone held in front of them.

“We’re watching yours next,” Victor said. “I want to review some things with you.”

They often did this kind of analysis. (Though never in bed together. That was a first.) Victor made Yuuri watch many skating performances—most often his own so that Yuuri gained an awareness of what he was feeling on the ice versus how it looked to the audience. It wasn’t unusual for Victor to have a camera aimed at him in practice.

They did this as well—studying other performers. It was important to understand the competition, even if the skater in question was one of Yuuri’s closest friends.

When Phichit’s performance ended to thunderous applause, Victor asked, “How did that make you feel?”

“Wow,” Yuuri breathed, a word he’d said more than once while the video was still playing. “He’s been working hard.”

“Clearly. Quite a different skater than last year. But then so are you.”

Yuuri bit his lower lip as he pondered what he’d just watched. He’d never felt jealous of Phichit—or even that intimidated. He wanted the best for his friend and hadn’t minded forfeiting gold to him. (Just this once, at least. That wasn’t going to happen again.) But after watching that video, his mind felt unusually clear. For once, insecurity was not clouding his thoughts.

“I can beat him,” Yuuri realized.

Victor grinned. “Exactly what I was thinking. Yes, you can. And more importantly, you will. Now then.” He scrolled down until he found Yuuri’s video and opened it up. “The main course.”

Victor made him watch it three times, and apparently he didn’t go any easier on his boyfriends than he did an ordinary student. He pointed out every flaw and made a plan for addressing them in practice when they got back to Japan. There were still a few weeks before they had to be in Russia, and Yuuri had a feeling they were going to be intense. His feet ached just thinking about it.

But he was excited. Terrified, ready to erupt into flames, but happy. If he could perform that badly and still earn a silver medal, what would happen if he found his footing?

“There.” Victor pointed at the screen. “What were you thinking at that moment? With that little smirk on your face. . . .”

Victor no baka.

Yuuri blanched at the memory. He couldn’t exactly say he’d spent the first half of his performance internally grumbling about Victor’s inexperience as a coach. “Um.”

“And that!” Victor lamented. “You always look so unhappy during this part. What I wouldn’t give for a transcript of what goes on inside your head.”

The feedback on the performance wasn’t all bad.

Three times in a row, Victor got quiet in the middle as he watched Yuuri lift his hands and soar across the ice like he was the wind embodied in a person. “Beautiful,” he murmured, so spellbound that Yuuri wondered if Victor remembered he wasn’t alone in the room.

More than once, the video flashed to Victor’s face as he watched from the sidelines of the rink, revealing how shocked he’d been, particularly after the unplanned quad flip at the end. Seeing that pleased Yuuri far more than anything he saw himself do on the ice. It was like he’d sent a secret message that had been understood. Yuuri had learned to communicate with Victor just through his skating.

The video ended with him skating off the ice, smiling and opening his arms in Victor’s direction. Yuuri knew what happened next, of course. However, it suddenly dawned on him that he wasn’t the only one, especially when he read the first comment under the video.

It said: Why cut off the video before the kiss??? smh #VICTUURI #LGBTQA #PRIDE

“Oh.” Yuuri sat up ramrod straight and turned around in bed so that he was facing Victor. “Oh, no.”

He was aware that there had been an entire arena of witnesses around them but hadn’t yet considered the cameras. Their kiss had been broadcasted worldwide.

And good grief. Did he and Victor seriously have their own hashtag?

“What’s wrong?” Victor said, lowering his phone.

“My family . . . they were watching last night. Everyone was. They saw you and I . . . .” Yuuri was unwilling to say the word out loud, so he just demonstrated by smashing his hands together in what was meant to represent their first kiss. “On television. My sister is going to kill me. Wait. No. Actually, she’s going to kill you.”

Victor ran his hands back through his hair as he laughed. “Why?”

“Because I’m not supposed to have a boyfriend before she does!”

Victor’s grin softened into something sweeter. His eyes twinkled with pure affection. “Boyfriend, huh?”

Yuuri’s insides liquefied. It was all he could do not to dive under the bed and hide. But the relationship label was out there now, and he wasn’t going to take it back. Besides, Victor couldn’t actually be serious. What did he think they were? Roommates? Study buddies? No, he had to be teasing.

“What am I going to say to my mother?”

“Oh, Yuuri.” Victor was laughing again. “I got that particular lecture from her weeks ago. I don’t think she’s going to be surprised.”

It took a few minutes, but eventually Victor was able to calm Yuuri down. It didn’t particularly bother him that people knew he was with Victor. (The more selfish part of his mind actually enjoyed that quite a bit.) But what he didn’t like was the feeling that others might generalize or label a relationship they didn’t understand.

Victor wasn’t just his boyfriend. Their relationship wasn’t only comprised of that kiss. Yuuri didn’t even possess the right vocabulary to describe what they were to each other. How could he expect others to understand?

More than anything, he didn’t want the intrusion into their private space.

“People will talk,” Victor said. “And then they’ll get over it. You have an incredible amount of support in this world, Yuuri. Believe in your friends and family. You have no lack of love around you.” As his smile widened, he winked. “Trust me on that.”

The words made Yuuri flush with pleasure. Victor was clearly including himself in the group that loved him. Yuuri knew that already. Victor had never said those three words all in a row—I love you—but he told Yuuri as much with his everyday actions. The sentiment was ingrained in how he spoke and looked at him. All the same, it made Yuuri feel incredibly happy to hear it alluded to out loud.

“I’m going to go take a shower and pack,” Victor said.

Yuuri fidgeted as he nodded. He had many things to do as well before they departed from China, but he didn’t like that Victor was leaving him, even if it was just for a short time.

“One more thing before I go,” Victor said. “Two, actually. First, I haven’t given you a proper good morning yet.”

He crawled forward on the bed until his lips were level with Yuuri’s. There was a momentary pause—enough time for a smile and the reassurance that Yuuri had no protests—and then Victor kissed him. One of his hands went to Yuuri’s face while he supported himself on the bed with the other.

If Yuuri had thought it was warm beneath the covers with Victor, it was nothing compared to the heat of his mouth. The feeling spread down to his belly and beyond.

Unlike the kisses Yuuri had given him last night on the couch, Victor had initiated this one. He took charge, and it felt good. Leisurely but confident. It started off slow, with his thumb stroking Yuuri’s cheekbone ever so gently. Then Victor allowed his hunger to show. He opened his mouth and let Yuuri feel his tongue, silently encouraging him to do the same.

Yuuri let out a little gasp against Victor’s lips as arousal stirred deep in his abdomen. Like warm honey spilling out.

It lasted only a minute or so before Victor began to withdraw. Before he did, he kissed Yuuri’s lower lip and did the same to his upper. Then he drew back with a smile and said, “Hmm. . .” as if he couldn’t decide which he liked better.

Half-drunk with sensation, Yuuri watched as Victor got up from the bed. He was dressed in a long-sleeved t-shirt and pajama pants. Yuuri didn’t think he’d ever seen him wear so much to bed—even the robes at the onsen didn’t cover that much skin—and he could only assume Victor had chosen that particular outfit to make Yuuri feel more comfortable. It was an unnecessary gesture but still pleased him greatly.

Yuuri felt safe. Respected. It was yet another example of Victor saying I love you with his actions. If anything, it made Yuuri even more comfortable with the idea of Victor taking off his clothes. There was nothing to fear or be intimidated by.

“Second . . .” Victor picked up the silver medal from where it had spent the night on the table. Leaning down, he placed the medal in the direct center of Yuuri’s chest and put his hand over it. “I wanted to tell you that I’m very proud of you. Your hard work paid off, and the whole skating world is talking about it. I can’t wait to see what you do next, Yuuri.”

Victor gave him a final lingering kiss before he left for his own room.

Yuuri barely registered it. He was trembling inside from the unexpected praise.

Once he was alone, Yuuri threw himself back onto the bed and looked at his silver Grand Prix medal. He traced the engraved lettering with one finger, a smile tugging at one side of his mouth.

“Just wait,” he whispered.

Because he was nowhere close to being done.

To be continued

Chapter Text


(Hasetsu – Ice Castle)

With practiced movements that required little thought, Yuuri tightened the laces of his skates and tied them into double knots. Before he stepped onto the ice, he lifted both arms into the air for a stretch—deep breaths in and out—until he felt the burn in his core. Perfect.

At first, his body resisted the earliness of the hour but slowly began to awaken and respond to his movements. Outside the sun was only just rising, and for once, he had gotten out of bed at a decent hour. Tomorrow they would be on a plane bound for Russia, and Yuuri was determined to return home with another medal.

If he didn’t, he might lose more than just a place at the Grand Prix Final.

He shut his eyes. But rather than letting the idea of losing Victor fill him with fear, Yuuri instead chose to focus on it. He allowed it to fuel his determination, and when he opened his eyes, he discovered a smug smile had formed on his face.

Russia was going to despise him. He couldn’t wait.

He dropped his arms and removed his sweatshirt. Today, he wanted to feel the wind on his skin.

There was nothing like the refreshing chill of the rink in the morning, when the ice had just been resurfaced. It was unflawed, perfect. The cold kissed the tip of Yuuri’s nose with a hint of redness.

His body felt good. His head, clear. There was no one there but him, and he could let his mind fall into perfect focus. He took to the ice and did a few laps to warm up his muscles. He knew this rink well. Knew its shape and the thickness of the ice beneath his feet. Once he felt the familiar burn in his thighs, he pumped his legs and crouched down until the ache began to feel good.

The room started to spin around him. Excitement grew, and he found his smile stretching into a grin.

He loved this. Loved it.

Sometimes he forgot how much.

He didn’t notice Victor watching from the sidelines, one gloved hand buried in the pocket of his jacket, the other holding a cup of hot tea close to his lips. The smell of jasmine surrounded him with its subtle perfume, but that wasn’t what he had stopped to savor.

Yuuri was dancing.

The rink was silent except for the sound of his skates, but music could be heard in his movements. Drums beat in the pace of his feet on the ice. A soaring melody echoed in the stretch of his arms. Cymbals crashed with the whip of his hair. There was such joy to it. This was exactly why Victor was here as his coach.

When Yuuri spotted Victor, he brightened and skated over. Once upon a time, he might have tripped and slammed face-first into the wall.

“Someone’s up early,” Victor called when he was close.

Yuuri was breathless and pink-cheeked when he reached the barrier of the rink. “Last day of practice. I want to make it count.”

“You look good out there. Confident. What were you thinking about?”

“Do I really have to say it?” Yuuri reached across the barrier, caught hold of Victor’s scarf, and pulled until his insistence was rewarded with a warm good morning kiss. It tasted like jasmine.

Afterward, Victor was a little flushed himself. “Ready to skate for me?”

Yuuri pushed away from the barrier with a smile.

He was so in love, he felt like he was flying.

The last few weeks had been a blur of grueling hours on the ice. Victor had worked Yuuri harder than he ever had before. His muscles ached. His feet would probably never forgive him. But at the end of each day, there was a reward.

He and Victor had gone on a date every night since returning from China.

They dined out together and talked long after their plates had been cleared away and the waiters began giving them dirty looks. They saw almost every movie at the local theater, and when they weren’t making out in the dark, Yuuri whispered dialogue translations into Victor’s ear.

Sometimes if they still weren’t ready to end the night, they’d brave the cold for a wintertime walk along the coastline. The beach had become a special place to them. It was where they’d made their first real connection.

The entire town of Hasetsu knew the two of them were smitten with each other. So did a good part of the world. There were fansites on the internet dedicated to their relationship—as well as many upset Victor Nikiforov fans.

At night, Yuuri pretended like he was going to sleep in his own room, hoping to evade his family’s attention, but he later tiptoed into Victor’s instead. (As if his family didn’t know where he actually spent the night.) They slept together in Victor’s bed, which made more sense since it was the largest.

Yuuri had quickly mastered the art of kissing, which was no surprise because they’d certainly done enough of it since China.

The only thing that stopped them each night was when Yuuri eventually passed out from exhaustion from the demanding hours of practice on the ice. His entire body hurt, and Victor would kiss him all over, whispering apologies as he went. Afterward, he would rub Yuuri’s aching muscles until he was drooling into the pillow.

Though their make-out sessions had become increasingly steamy, their hands had not yet ventured below the waist. But oh, it was all Yuuri could think about. He wanted to take things further, yet they never seemed to get there. Victor had been incredibly sweet for taking things so slow with him . . . but Yuuri was starting to wonder why he always had to push.

That night after practice, Victor took Yuuri out for dinner and told him to make sure he ate enough. “You get hungry before competitions for a reason. We need to feed that stamina for Russia.” His eyes sparkled in the soft lighting. “And for later tonight.”

Yuuri was so pleased, he had to hide his face behind the menu.

Makkachin greeted them at home, and Victor spent a full ten minutes doting over him after a long day apart. He rolled around on the ground with his beloved dog—squishing his cheeks, molding his fur into funny shapes, and talking utter gibberish to him through puckered lips.

Yuuri was so relieved not to be the most embarrassing person in the room for once.

As he put away their coats, he noticed the place was unusually quiet. He remembered then that his parents and sister had mentioned they were having dinner with some family friends. (Part of him was convinced his mother had arranged it that way on purpose. To give the two of them some privacy.)

“That’s right. I forgot no one would be here tonight.”

Victor blinked up at him. He was still on his back with Makkachin doing an excited puppy dance all around him. “You mean, we’re all alone in your house for the first time in two weeks? Not that I’m counting.”

“For a few hours, at least.” Yuuri blushed. “Want to come to my room? I haven’t packed yet.”

He led the way with his arm stretched out behind him, fingers entangled with Victor’s. This was something different. He had been inside Yuuri’s room before, but those occasions were as rare as they were brief. Few were granted the opportunity to cross the threshold into Yuuri’s sanctuary. This was indeed an act of trust.

While Yuuri hauled his suitcase out of the closet, Victor threw himself onto the bed and buried his nose in the pillow. Makkachin draped himself across his master’s legs with all the floppy grace of someone who thought they weighed only a single pound, though in reality weighed much, much more.

“Let’s sleep here tonight,” Victor said.

Yuuri pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. “You don’t mind the smaller bed?”

“Why would I mind? It smells like you.” Victor rolled onto his back and looked around, acquainting himself with the unfamiliar space. “Though why are your walls so bare? You need some pictures or decorations or something to liven it up.”

After dumping an armful of clothing into his suitcase, Yuuri calmly bent down, reached beneath his bed, and emerged with a poster of Victor. By the time Yuuri found a thumbtack in his desk drawer and pinned the poster to the wall, Victor had burst into laughter.

“Much improved! Did you have that on the wall before I came to Japan? No wonder you wouldn’t let me in here.”

“I told you I looked up to you.”

“I didn’t think you meant literally. Now I need one of you for my bedroom. I’m going to order it right now.” Victor fished his phone out of his back pocket and started typing away.

“Do you need to pack, too?”

“Unlike my procrastinating student, I did most of that last night. I can finish up in the morning before we leave.”

They quieted while Yuuri went about his room, gathering the personal items he wanted to bring to Russia. After a quick visit to the bathroom, he had his toiletries together, and then there was nothing left to do but zip up the suitcase.

It was time for bed.

He straightened and stared at Victor for a long moment before he spoke. “Can I ask you something?”

“Give me one more second, and then you will have my undivided attention. Because we all know how much you like that.” Victor tapped his phone screen a few more times. “There. My Yuuri poster arrives in the mail in a week.” He shut off the screen and set the phone aside. “What is it, my little katsudon? You know you can ask me anything.”

Yuuri wasn’t certain he had the courage to immediately start with the question. He needed to work up to it first. “It’s just . . . ever since China, you haven’t been completely yourself with me when we’re alone.”

The statement inspired Victor’s eyebrows to pull together in the middle. He propped himself up on one elbow and said, “What do you mean? I thought we’ve been having a great time.”

“We have. You’ve been wonderful. Honestly, I’ve never had so much fun in my life. What I mean is that when I get in bed with you, you change. It’s like you leave part of yourself behind or you’re holding back from me. I just want to understand why.”

Victor sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. The long silence told Yuuri his suspicions were right.

“Is it something I’m doing wro—”

“No, Yuuri,” Victor said. “You’re perfect. It’s just that you said something once that stuck with me.” He sat up as he spoke, and Makkachin leapt to the ground and trotted out of the room, likely in search of food. “It was that story about the girl who hugged you, and how you pushed her away because you felt like she was overstepping your boundaries. After you told me that, I tried to be more cautious and let you initiate things. Though let’s be honest. I wasn’t always successful. Sometimes I couldn’t help myself.” He winked—but then his voice became softer. “I just don’t want to scare you off, Yuuri. It took me a long time to get here with you. I’m trying to do this right.”

The explanation helped to unravel the knot of insecurity inside Yuuri’s heart. “You’re not going to scare me off. If I don’t like something, I promise I’ll ask you to stop. Will you trust me to do that? I trust you.”

Victor blinked and pressed his lips together. A silent understanding passed between the two of them.

“You don’t need to hold yourself back with me anymore,” Yuuri said. “I know what I want.”

With a soft chuckle, Victor hung his head for a brief moment and allowed his hair to fall into his face. Then he smiled and said, “Okay.”

He pushed back his bangs when he looked up, fixed Yuuri in place with a penetrating stare, and everything changed. When he got up from the bed, Yuuri’s room suddenly felt much smaller. Victor’s entire demeanor had shifted. His head was tilted slightly forward, and his winter blue eyes could have melted rock into magma.

“Take off your shirt,” he said quietly.

Yuuri’s jaw almost hit the floor, followed by the rest of his body. What had he done?

The slightest of smiles touched Victor’s calm. He was amused by whatever he saw in Yuuri’s expression. “Please,” he added.

Though Yuuri was aware that he had greatly underestimated the power of the full Victor bedroom experience, he also knew he had asked for this. More than that, he wanted it. No way was he going to back down now.

Though he was starting to tremble, Yuuri’s movements were steady as he stripped his t-shirt off and let it fall to the ground. The look he leveled back at Victor had an insolent dare written all over it.

Your move.

How in the world had he gotten here anyway? Standing shirtless in his bedroom in front of his idol . . . .

Victor eyed him up and down as he approached. “Yuuri.”

The silk of his voice made the name sound somehow explicit. Yuuri succumbed to a full body shiver just from the textured sound of it. God. Victor hadn’t even touched him yet.

He drew close enough that Yuuri could feel the heat from his body on the bare skin of his chest. Victor leaned in, stared down at him through the silvery fall of his hair, and said, “Do you have any idea how you make me feel when you skate? Do you know what it’s like to watch from the sidelines while you seduce me through your dance? With your pink tongue flicking out and your half-lidded eyes. Little minx.”

The last word in and of itself was almost enough to evaporate Yuuri into steam. He was surprised his glasses didn’t fog up. Somehow he stood his ground. “Yes,” he said, looking Victor straight in the eyes. “I know exactly what that’s like.”

Did you think I was joking when I said I wanted this?

You’re not afraid to finish what you started months ago, are you?

Victor’s eyes widened. A grin played fleetingly at his lips. His playful side was emerging. “Oh, Yuuri. I adore you.”

His hands went to Yuuri’s face but cupped his cheeks for only a second, just until their lips came together. Then fingertips skated down the length of Yuuri’s arms until Victor’s hands came to rest at his waist. He pulled their bodies flush, and immediately, Yuuri felt the difference in him. Victor was hungry tonight.

And all Yuuri could think was: Finally.

Because Victor wasn’t holding back anymore. There was no waiting for guidance or permission. This was how he had probably wanted to kiss him all along, and it was wonderful.

It also had a devastating effect on Yuuri’s motor functions. By the time Victor’s tongue got involved, Yuuri wasn’t even sure he still had legs anymore because they certainly weren’t holding him up. Victor had an ironclad grasp around Yuuri’s middle. He picked him up an inch off the ground and carried him a few steps. Yuuri’s toes grazed the floor before he was deposited into a sitting position on the desk.

His belongings scattered. His butt pressed keys on his laptop, and he could care less. Victor guided Yuuri’s thighs apart and moved his body between them, eyes glittering with a smile. Yuuri tugged at Victor’s t-shirt until he finally took the hint and pulled it over his head.

As they kissed, Yuuri touched him. Ran his hands over the strong, masculine shoulders. Down his muscled chest. Thumbs grazing hardening nipples. Victor’s stomach felt like fire beneath Yuuri’s palms.

“Yuuri,” Victor whispered, clearly enjoying the feel of hands on his body.

If there was one thing Yuuri had figured out in the last two weeks, it was that Victor loved being touched. All it took was the sweep of a hand anywhere on his body—the small of his back, over his knee, even a simple caress of his face—and he would melt into boneless adoration.

He liked what Yuuri was doing to him so much that it wasn’t long before the laptop began to beep and whine in protest from the movement of their bodies on its keys. They both snickered against each other’s mouths and silently agreed to continue on the bed.

Yuuri set his glasses safely aside. Normally he slept in pajamas or sweats if it was cold enough, but tonight he got into bed shirtless, wearing only his jeans. Victor did the same. As Yuuri’s head hit the pillow, he felt only a slight twinge of nervousness as his boyfriend crawled on top of him wearing his trademark Victor Nikiforov smile. The same one that could be seen on the poster just over his head.

They were both breathless and smiling. Even laughing as Victor playfully dipped his head down for a kiss. All of it was so much better than Yuuri had imagined it could be.

But then the kisses began to lengthen and deepen, and Victor’s hips moved down into place between Yuuri’s thighs. As they settled into that position, Yuuri found himself growing tense, even though the light touch of Victor’s fingers on his face weren’t asking for anything he wasn’t willing to give.

But in this position, he could feel Victor’s arousal between them—and Yuuri would be lying if he said it didn’t intimidate him a little.

It wasn’t that he felt uncomfortable. The last thing he wanted was for Victor to stop, but Yuuri also didn’t want to give him the wrong impression. They’d never talked about sex before. Not directly.

Victor sensed the slight stiffness in the body beneath him and pulled away from the kiss. Though he didn’t say anything, his eyes sent the message clearly enough. Are you okay? He rubbed the tip of his nose against Yuuri’s.

“I don’t want to have sex tonight,” Yuuri said. “But . . . we can do other things.”

“Okay,” Victor said. As simple as that.

Armed with that promise, Yuuri relaxed completely. His fingers tangled into Victor’s hair and brought him in for another kiss. Yuuri’s thighs fell further apart, allowing Victor closer access than ever before. The rub of their jeans together sent a shock of pleasure through him.

Yuuri was getting hard as well. How could he not with Victor trailing lazy, wet kisses across his jawline and down to his ear? By the time Victor began exploring the wonders of his neck, Yuuri felt like he was coming apart. He could never think straight when Victor kissed him there.

Yuuri thrust his hips upward, needing more friction, unconsciously seeking it out. His hands touched Victor’s back and put pressure on his waist to encourage him to come closer, but when that didn’t accomplish what Yuuri was after, he cupped Victor’s ass instead. He squeezed and released methodically until Victor caught on and began to move at the rhythm Yuuri established.

Encouraged by the sounds coming from beneath him, Victor soon set his own pace. His erection rubbed against Yuuri, and it felt good. The movements were unmistakable. They were making love to each other through their clothing.

Victor was still kissing his neck, humming with pleasure between every thrust. Yuuri blinked up at the ceiling and wondered how different this was from actual sex.

Of course, there was no penetration happening, but sex was supposed to be more than that. It was a connection between two people. Trust given with their minds and bodies. The release of pressure and an exchange of pleasure. Wasn’t that what was happening? Of course, if sex was defined as a joining of two individuals into one, then they had already been making love to each other for months.

Could it really feel better than this?

When Victor tightened his arms around Yuuri and moaned his name into his neck, he knew Victor was in the midst of a climax. Though Yuuri hadn’t yet attained his own release, a deep satisfaction washed over him at the realization that his body had been able to do that to another person.

Yuuri had made him lose control like that. It was his name Victor had spoken. It made him want to do it all over again.

Victor was breathing hard, his body slightly trembling. The small of his back was damp with just a hint of sweat. When he gathered his wits, he pressed a kiss to Yuuri’s neck and then did the same to his mouth. When they parted, he cradled Yuuri’s face and moved his thumb across his lower lip.

“I needed that,” Victor whispered. He rolled off Yuuri and onto his side on the bed. Their legs were still tangled together.

Almost reverently, Yuuri reached up to stroke Victor’s face. His pale eyelashes fanned his flushed cheeks. He’d never seen anything more beautiful. “I did, too.”

Which was perhaps a silly thing to say, but it made perfect sense to Yuuri. He hadn’t understood before then that sex wasn’t just about his own release. Seeing and hearing the other person overcome by pure sensation was amazing.

Victor nipped at Yuuri’s fingers without opening his eyes. “But you didn’t come, did you? I still need to see to you.”

The last sentence made Yuuri’s breathing falter.

It wasn’t nervousness exactly. More the realization that this was actually going to happen. Like he was being carried up a mountain of a rollercoaster and was nearing the first drop. He had no idea what to expect when he fell.

Yuuri turned his body onto its side so that he was facing Victor on the bed. “Have you ever . . . ? With a man, I mean.”

It was difficult to get the question out. Yuuri was new at this, but he was also curious. Sex wasn’t something he’d ever felt comfortable asking another person about, and Googling could only do so much before his computer started accumulating viruses and spyware.

“Sure, I have.” Victor opened his eyes and gazed back at him, looking more relaxed than he’d ever been.

“What does it feel like?”

“Well, that depends on if you’re on bottom or top. Both feel good. Different. When you’re the one being penetrated, you have to have a lot of trust. If you can relax, there’s nothing quite like it. It feels amazing. When you’re on top, you have to be more patient because it’s not about you. It’s easier to climax, but you can’t just take what you want. You could hurt your partner that way.”

Yuuri toyed with a loose string on the blanket beneath them. “I figured it always hurt.”

“No, that’s not true at all. It can if your lover isn’t paying attention. That’s why trust and communication are important.” Victor smiled. “It’s good we’re talking about this.”

“What do you like better?”

Victor ran his hand back through his hair as he thought about it. “I like both quite a bit, but if I had to choose just one, I’d say I prefer being on top. I like being the one to guide the other, though sometimes I need that role reversed. What do you think you would prefer? What feels more natural to you?”

Yuuri could feel his heartbeat in his cock, which was still enclosed within his jeans. He was so aroused from the mental images, it was difficult to concentrate on anything else. The idea that Victor could fill him up from behind, then later offer to let Yuuri do the same to him was such a turn on, he couldn’t help but drop a hand to his jeans and palm himself.

“Both,” Yuuri whispered, never more sure of anything in his life.

“Mmm.” Victor’s eyes slid from Yuuri’s face down to where he was touching himself through his jeans. “I like that answer.” His fingertips brushed the top of Yuuri’s hand. “Will you let me touch you?”

Yuuri didn’t know how to respond to that.

Inexperience was still holding him back, but he knew he wanted something. Even though he hadn’t answered the question, Victor didn’t push him or ask it again. He only moved a bit closer and leaned in for a kiss, all the while caressing the back of Yuuri’s hand.

Just the simple knowledge that Victor’s hand was also down there had Yuuri fumbling with his zipper. He was tense as he reached inside.

“Do you want me to turn out the lights?” Victor asked.

“No. I want you to kiss me.”

This response pleased Victor greatly, and as Yuuri took himself in hand and began to work his fist in strokes, he tried to relax as his boyfriend licked kisses into his mouth. Victor’s hand was still folded over Yuuri’s—not touching anything vital but still sharing in the moment with him.

“That’s it, baby.” Victor whispered the words against the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. “Touch yourself for me. You are so sexy. . . .”

As their joined hands worked between them, Victor praised every stroke and gasp. He whispered little endearments in Russian or accented Japanese, and Yuuri mentally rode the rise and fall of Victor’s voice.

It took Yuuri longer than expected to come. This was new territory for him, and even though Victor was doing everything right, it still was a while before Yuuri could fully relax and let an orgasm build while another person was watching him.

When it finally happened, he bit down on his lower lip and kept silent, afraid of what he might say if he truly let go. Warmth spilled over their joined hands, and Victor was so delighted, he could barely stop smiling against Yuuri’s lips long enough to kiss him properly.

“There’s that legendary Katsuki stamina,” Victor said, making Yuuri blush all over again. “Feel better?”

Yuuri licked his lips and nodded. He was going to sleep well tonight.

Eventually they settled into quiet kisses and nuzzles, with Victor’s fingers tracing little circles in the wetness on Yuuri’s stomach. He was a sticky mess, but he felt incredible. Warm and relaxed down to his toes.

“I love you,” Victor said, so soft the words felt like another kiss.

Yuuri’s ink black lashes fluttered apart to gaze at him. Reaching out with his clean hand, he touched the velvet of Victor’s mouth—because it had just said something beautiful. “I know. You’ve been telling me that for a while now. In ways other than words.”

Victor chuckled and kissed the pad of Yuuri’s thumb. “I suppose I have. And I guess that means you love me, too.”

Yuuri’s expression melted into pure devotion.


To be continued

Chapter Text


They left for the airport ahead of schedule, knowing they had a long day of travel ahead of them, but their timeliness turned out to be for nothing. Their flight was delayed because of a technical issue, and they were trapped in the airport terminal while they waited for an update on when they would be able to board the plane.

They passed the time by sitting together on the floor near an electrical outlet where their phones were charging. Huddled together beneath the warmth of a single coat, they watched a movie on Victor’s phone and held hands where no one could see.

They were in their own little world. People milled all around them, rushing to catch a flight or locate a loved one in the crowd. Old pop classics crackled on the speakers overhead. Yuuri barely noticed any of it. His vision stopped only a few inches from his face.

“What are you thinking about?” Victor’s fingers tightened around his. “You’re barely watching.”

Yuuri blinked and came back down to earth. Victor was right. He hadn’t been paying attention to the movie but had instead been staring off into space, distracted by his own thoughts.

Namely, by the memories of everything that had happened in his bedroom last night.

The creak of the mattress beneath him. The warm weight of another body. Victor whispering against the wet place he’d left on the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. The drag of denim on denim, getting him hard.

That was what Yuuri was thinking about.

His posture turned inward as he struggled with how to put that into words. Victor asked the most awkward questions sometimes.

“If you’re worried about getting to Moscow on time, relax,” Victor said. “We dedicated a full day to travel for a reason. Why don’t you try to get some rest?”

Victor’s lips skimming down his neck, mouthing at his pulse. The thrust of his hips. The pleasant burn in Yuuri’s thighs as they strained further apart. Victor’s breath starting to go ragged as he lost control.

Yuuri swallowed. It was getting really hot under Victor’s coat. He pushed it off his shoulders. “I, um . . . don’t think I can sleep.”

“How about a walk, then?” Victor gestured up ahead, where a row of brightly lit shops lined the terminal corridors. “It will get your mind off tomorrow’s performance.”

Victor panting. Shaking. Coming undone with pleasure. Moaning Yuuri’s name when it happened.


The first few shops carried mostly high-end clothing that Yuuri’s eyes passed over without really seeing. Victor, on the other hand, dove in headfirst. It wasn’t long before his arms were full of potential purchases. As if they hadn’t brought enough luggage already . . . .

“Want to come into the dressing room with me?” Victor asked, wearing a megawatt grin as he leaned much too far into Yuuri’s personal space.

Yuuri stared at him, disbelief painted over every inch of his expression. He was so aroused just from his earlier thoughts, it was a miracle the button of his jeans hadn’t popped off and taken someone’s eye out. The last thing he needed was a dressing room and Victor shimmying in and out of designer clothing in front of him.

Yuuri readjusted the sweatshirt he had tied around his waist and said, “I’m going to the convenience store next door.”

His tone was a bit gruffer than he intended, but Victor either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He’d spotted a display case of sunglasses, and Yuuri took advantage of the opportunity to make his escape.

For the next ten minutes, he paced the aisles of the convenience store and tried to think about anything other than having sex with Victor. It wasn’t like he could do anything about it in the middle of an airport, and they were about to get on a plane for hours. The last time he checked, joining the Mile High Club was still illegal. It was going to be a long flight.

But then they would be at the hotel in Moscow. Alone.

Yuuri blew out a breath, pushed his bangs out of his face, and focused on the little boxes lining the shelves in front of him. He felt very young standing there. Like a boy instead of a man.

Just do it. Everyone buys them. It’s normal.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he grabbed a travel-size box of condoms, a bottle of water he wasn’t thirsty for, and a magazine he had no intention of reading.

He set it all down in front of the store clerk and fixed her with a look of determination that said: Yeah, that’s right. I just did that. I’m an adult, and those are condoms. For SEX. You wanna make something of it? Actually . . . you know what? I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Please don’t judge me. Please don’t call my mom or. . . .

The old woman yawned and rang up his purchase with no reaction to the contents whatsoever.

It was all Yuuri could do not to bury his face in his hands and burst into tears of relief.

It was about that time that Victor, armed with several shopping bags, snuck up behind Yuuri and proceeded to scare him half to death. When he saw what Yuuri was in the process of purchasing, Victor proclaimed for the world to hear, “Oh, good! I packed some, too, but you can never have enough.”

Then Victor proceeded to ask the clerk if they carried lubricant—having to resort to hand gestures because of the language barrier—and Yuuri wanted to DIE.

Later, after they had boarded the plane and were already in the air, Yuuri’s face was still burning. The humiliation had practically sunburned him.

Victor dozed in the seat beside him with his head nestled on Yuuri’s shoulder. They were sharing a blanket, and their joined hands rested beneath it on Victor’s thigh. Anyone who happened to glance their way would probably guess that they were together. It wasn’t blatant, but if you looked close enough, it was there for the viewing. To Yuuri’s surprise . . . no one seemed to care. In fact, nobody paid them any attention whatsoever.

He still wasn’t used to this—being in a confirmed relationship. Being in any relationship, actually. He didn’t always know how to act.

It wasn’t like he and Victor normally broadcasted their intimacy when they were together—not even when they were out in public on a date. They didn’t hold hands where people could see, nor did they kiss unless they were certain no one was looking. Even their hugs were reserved for the moments before or after Yuuri was on the ice for a competition, and a hug between a student and a coach wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

They weren’t hiding anything. It was more that they had both been raised with the cultural belief that such things were meant to be private, so it felt natural to do so.

The televised kiss in China was an exception to the rule, something born from the emotions of the moment more than any conscious decision to share their relationship with others. And that was still a matter of controversy on the internet. Victor’s arm had been in the way in the video. Some fans were convinced it was a kiss, while others said they had only embraced. Yuuri could only hope the question wasn’t going to come up in Moscow.

“Victor . . . are you awake?”

Victor’s head shifted on Yuuri’s shoulder as he snuggled a bit closer. “Mm-hmm.”

“Will we have to censor ourselves in Moscow?”

At first, a sleepy chuckle was Victor’s only response. There was the slightest hint of ire in it, like Yuuri had poked at an old wound. “It’s probably not a good idea for us to be too friendly in front of the cameras. But in Russia, no one’s going to ask you anything that personal in an interview. Private matters are meant to stay private.” Victor paused, then added, “Does that bother you?”

“I don’t know. I feel like it should, but I guess it’s no different than how we act in Hasetsu.” Yuuri sighed. “And probably the only question anyone’s going to be asking us is when you’re returning to the ice.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure they understand who tomorrow’s performance is about.”

An uncomfortable tightness gripped Yuuri’s chest. It wasn’t the first time he’d subtly brought this subject up, hoping Victor would refute the idea outright and assure Yuuri he was his forever. But Victor had never done that. The answer was always vague and open-ended.

“I’m glad you’re here with me,” Yuuri said—because he didn’t have the courage to voice what he really wanted. This was close enough.

“Me, too,” Victor said. “Now let me sleep. With all the condoms you stuffed in your carryon, I need to rest up while I can.”

As Yuuri buried his face in his hand and began to contemplate the logistics of a jump out of the window, Victor’s whole body shook with barely suppressed laughter. It wasn’t the last time he tried to make Yuuri blush during the flight.

By the time they reached Moscow and made it to their hotel, the sun had set behind the cloudy western horizon. Victor spotted the reporters inside and slipped the bellman some cash to go take care of checking them into their room.

“Make sure they changed the reservation to one room instead of two,” Victor said. “And take the bags up as well, please.”

Meanwhile, Yuuri stood by and casually inspected his cuticles. Nothing to see here.

Once the bellman returned with the room keys, Yuuri and Victor decided to split up. Yuuri was to enter the hotel through a side door, while Victor volunteered to go in through the main entrance and deal with the press. Yuuri was fine with this plan. He didn’t really want to hear all the pleading for Victor’s return to skating anyway.

“But why are you wearing sunglasses?” Yuuri asked before they parted ways. “It’s dark outside . . . and you’re going inside.”

Victor paused and shrugged, as if the question made little sense to him. “I don’t know. Because I’m Victor Nikiforov?”

While he was sneaking up to their room, Yuuri encountered several fellow competitors and almost managed to evade them all—that is, until Yuri Plisetsky joined him in the elevator. Though Yuuri was genuinely pleased to see him, their brief conversation was awkward and strained. Yurio hadn’t even said goodbye to him or his family before he’d left Japan all those months ago, but at least he’d kept in touch with Yuko.

“Have a good night,” Yuuri said as Yurio was getting off the elevator on the eighth floor.

“Have fun crying in the bathroom after the competition,” Yurio called over his shoulder. “Pig.”

Despite the undeserved hostility after a long day of travel, Yuuri found himself in a good mood as the elevator ascended to the ninth floor. He felt unusually calm about tomorrow’s performance. Comfortable in his own skin in a way he hadn’t been in a long time, even more than in China. Like after 23 years of living, something inside of him had finally settled into place.

Maybe 24 would be his lucky number.

When he entered the hotel room, he found the bellman had already brought up their things. There were two full size beds, one of which was going to go to waste. Yuuri put their bags on the bed on the furthest side of the room, leaving the one in the middle clear for them to sleep in. Then he undressed, unpacked a few items, and went into the bathroom for a much-needed shower.

Fifteen minutes later, he emerged in a cloud of steam wearing nothing but a towel. The room was still empty. Victor hadn’t returned. As Yuuri sorted through his things in search of his phone charger and something to wear to bed, he came across the box of condoms he’d bought at the airport. He stared at them for a second before stuffing them back down into the bag.

Not tonight, he thought. He was too tired and knew Victor would be as well. But it was nice to know they were there, just in case.

The hour wasn’t all that late, but the time zone change had Yuuri bleary-eyed and yawning. It was time for bed, with or without Victor.

Yuuri couldn’t say why he chose to do what he did next. Perhaps it was because the room was so warm or maybe just a testament to the level of comfort he’d developed with Victor. To be honest, Yuuri didn’t give it much thought at all when he let the towel unravel from his hips and fall away. After giving his hair a good scrub to help it dry, he brought the towel to the bathroom, then climbed into bed naked. There, he fell promptly to sleep beneath the warmth of a feather duvet.

Some time later, he stirred when the mattress dipped down from the weight of another body.

The room was now dark—the lights that Yuuri had left on had been extinguished—and Victor’s arms slid around him from behind. His skin was slightly damp, and he smelled good, like clean soap and his ridiculously expensive shampoo. He dropped a kiss onto Yuuri’s bare shoulder before pressing his face there.

Yuuri fell back asleep within seconds.

It was a healing kind of slumber—deep and dreamless—and when he opened his eyes again, he saw sunlight dancing on the ceiling. He was on his back with Victor snuggled up beside him, an arm wrapped around Yuuri’s waist.

Victor looked younger when he was asleep, with his fingers curled in relaxation and his brow free from tension. The set of his mouth was soft and kissable. When Yuuri turned his body toward him and reached out to stroke his face, those vivid blue eyes cracked open and froze the breath in Yuuri’s lungs. Victor was beyond beautiful. Never more than now with the Russian sunlight in his hair.

Victor turned his face into Yuuri’s hand so that he could press a kiss to his palm. Afterward, he put his own hand over Yuuri’s, held it to his cheek, and smiled. Their fingers interlaced.

“Touch me,” Yuuri whispered.

The next hour was spent together in bed being completely lazy and indulgent. Their movements were unhurried. Like they hadn’t fully woken up yet and joined the world, nor did they care to. Victor’s nightclothes were soon tossed outside of the covers and forgotten.

Skin against skin for the very first time, Yuuri found himself trembling as Victor took him in hand.

It was different . . . being touched by someone other than himself. He thought he would be more sensitive to it and come too quickly, but he found the opposite to be true. He was almost too tense at first to feel anything except clinical detachment until he heard the quiet rumble of Victor’s voice in his ear.

“Stop thinking. Clear your mind, just like you do before a jump, and let it happen.”

Yuuri closed his eyes and pushed every thought away except for the feel of Victor’s hand. It wasn’t long before the heat began to pool inside him and tighten the muscles of his abdomen. His breathing became labored—first held for a few seconds too long before he released it all in a rush. “Victor . . . .”

How many times had he said that name in his mind when he was doing this to himself?

“Mmm,” Victor said, delighted to hear his name spoken in that pleading tone. “Maybe later tonight, I’ll take you into my mouth and see what else you have to say.”

Yuuri let out a gasp and absolutely lost it.

After Victor coaxed him through the pinnacle and descent of his climax, Yuuri could only lay there for a minute in a complete daze. His ears were ringing from the intensity. He stared at the ceiling without actually seeing it while Victor chuckled and dried off his hand. Happily annoyed by this, Yuuri sat up and made Victor lie on his back with his head on the pillow.

The mood shifted when Yuuri pushed Victor’s thighs apart and moved between them. Victor’s eyes widened a degree, as if he hadn’t expected such boldness, but then he softened. There wasn’t the slightest bit of tension in his body as his legs folded around Yuuri. They kissed—open-mouthed and wet—with Yuuri supporting his weight on his forearms and Victor’s fingers coming to explore the fine black hairs on the back of his neck.

And Yuuri was finally able to picture it in a way that he sometimes struggled to—what it would be like to penetrate Victor from this position.

It was easy to imagine how it might be the other way around, with Victor on top of him, but this was equally as arousing to Yuuri. The body beneath him was completely open and willing. Even though he was already spent and getting soft, Yuuri thrust his hips a few times just to let Victor feel everything he wanted.

What do you think you would prefer? What feels more natural to you?


Victor’s mouth spread into a breathless smile. Then his eyes drifted shut, and one of his arms fell back onto the pillow above his head.

Yuuri licked his fingers and dropped his hand to Victor’s cock.

Sometime later, when they were both wrung out and lying on their backs with pleasure humming low in their bellies, Victor reached out blindly to grasp his hand.

“Yuuri,” he said, quiet as a sigh. “We’re in my home country.”

Not fully understanding where Victor was going with that statement, Yuuri turned his head on the pillow to look at him.

Victor gazed back with a whisper of concern in his eyes. “You’re going to hear my name shouted from the audience tonight,” he explained. “Make them shut up, okay?”

“What else did you think I came here to do?” Yuuri said. “Visit the Kremlin?”

Victor’s mouth split into a grin seconds before he gave in to a laugh.

The attitude of Yuuri’s performance changed yet again that night, starting with the kiss he blew at his lover.

Russia stopped shouting Victor’s name at that precise moment.

As Yuuri skated, he felt Victor’s eyes and hands all over him. His scent was in his nose. His lips still tingled from their morning kisses. Yuuri felt playful, and his Eros routine was not so frantic and possessive. Instead, it took on a fluid self-assurance that needed no explanation. He belonged on that ice and delivered that message straight to Russia with every twist and turn.

Much of the performance was a blur of feeling with little attention given to the actual technicalities. He’d done these movements a thousand times or more. He could do them in his sleep. He didn’t even remember landing his jumps until he wrapped his arms around his body in the final pose and thought to himself, What just happened?

The audience was on their feet, screaming his name.

Yuuri’s name. Not Victor’s.

And in the middle of it, Victor met his eyes with a look that said, Well done.

Because that was exactly what he’d asked for.

But of course, things were going too smoothly. Yuuri was too happy and maybe Victor was as well, so the universe had to knock them down a rung.

As Yuuri headed back to the hotel that night, it felt like he’d left part of himself at the arena. He was so sullen and quiet during the ride that the driver had to get his attention when they arrived in front of the lobby.

I can’t just leave you here, Yuuri. This is everything we've been working towards for months.

Victor, you have to go back. You’ll regret it if you don’t. I can do this on my own.

Counting out foreign currency that made little sense to him, Yuuri paid the driver and got out of the car. He wavered on his feet for a moment when he spotted the reporters congregating near the doors of the hotel. No doubt they were hoping to catch Victor returning with his star pupil, but they were out of luck on both counts.

Yuuri found another entrance and took the stairs. He needed to run. Needed to feel the burn in his thighs so he could ignore the ache in his throat.

Victor, if you think I care more about a competition than you, you’ve got it wrong.

But it’s almost your birthday.

Yuuri emerged from the stairwell on the ninth floor completely out of breath but a good deal calmer, having burned off the excess energy that had been driving him mad in the car.

He was dripping with sweat as he slid the card key into the door. Inside, he dropped his belongings on the floor and went straight to the shower. He turned on the water as hot as it would go and put his hand under the stream to wait for it to heat up.

Poor Makkachin, Yuuri thought. He must be so scared without Victor.

Sending him back to Japan had been the right thing to do. Yuuri knew that and didn’t regret his decision even a little, nor was he angry that Victor had reluctantly given in and left him in Russia alone.

Yuuri had made it to the Grand Prix Finals on his own before. He knew he could do it again, just like he knew he wasn’t fighting alone anymore. The love of his family, friends, and Victor was still here, surrounding him even now . . . though that wasn’t going to make the bed feel any less empty tonight.

More than anything, he just wanted Makkachin to be okay.

The shower still hadn’t heated up. With an impatient sigh, Yuuri stripped off his clothing and stepped under the stream of tepid water, hoping it would numb his thoughts.

All it did was make him cold.

To be continued

Chapter Text

“How’s the mutt, anyway?” As they strolled along the sidewalk together, Yurio kicked an icy branch out of his path and watched it skitter away. “Isn’t that why Victor ditched you here alone?”

Yuuri hugged the paper bag of pirozhki to his chest and stared straight ahead, where the lights of the Star Hotel could be seen a few blocks away. The Rostelecom Cup was over, and he had qualified for the Grand Prix Final, just as he had sought out to do. Soon it would be time to pack his bags and go home . . . yet Yuuri found he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

A pang of guilt nudged his heart when he thought about Victor. He’d called no less than a dozen times throughout the day, and Yuuri hadn’t answered once. He had, however, listened to the voicemails and responded by text message.

I’m so glad Makkachin is okay. I miss you, too. Talk to you soon.

“Makkachin had a rough night,” Yuuri replied, “but they expect him to make a full recovery with some—”

“Listen,” Yurio said, cutting in. “We’ve only got a few weeks left until the Grand Prix Final. I’m going to beat you there so badly, your eyeballs are going to be bruised just from witnessing it. But if you’re not standing just below me on that podium, I’m going to beat the rest of you up, too. JJ ranks third or lower. Behind us. Got it, katsudon?”

“I guess I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“You think? You tell Victor he’s going too easy on you. Tell him to knock it off and get serious. He always does this. He gets too confident and doesn’t prepare because he’s always been the best.” Yurio buried his hands in his jacket pockets and hung his head. A small rock went flying ahead of them, kicked by his foot. “He hasn’t had to fight like us.”

Yuuri remembered the lecture he’d received from Yakov after his Free Skate. He’d said Victor had never practiced for a missed jump either. “You really think he’s going easy on me?”

“Huh? Look, I’m sending you my daily training schedule. If you don’t mimic it, you’re an idiot. You need to rehearse at least three variations of your Free Skate. Choose which to use based on current standings and how tired you are. You need at least one that pushes you beyond your limits. You’ve seriously never heard this before?”

“Um.” Victor often switched up the jumps on Yuuri but had never driven this kind of regimented planning into him. Not even Celestino had pushed for three variations. That was crazy.

“Your coach sucks,” Yurio said. “Are you going to answer that or what?”

Yuuri’s phone was ringing again, the vibrations loud enough to hear, even with the nearby swoosh of traffic on the snowy street beside them. He slid one hand into his coat pocket and declined the call without looking to see who it was.

“There’s my grandpa,” Yurio said. Sure enough, a ratty old car had pulled up about a block ahead of them. “I gotta run. You tell Victor what I said, katsudon. He forgets things and doesn’t plan ahead. That means you have to do it for him. Push him to push you.”

The very idea made Yuuri dizzy. For the last month, Victor had been working him so hard, Yuuri lived with near constant blisters on his feet. But if he was serious about winning gold, it would be unwise to ignore Yurio’s advice. Especially when it had also come from Yakov, someone Victor held in the highest regard. “Thanks for the birthday present. Tell your grandpa his katsudon is just as amazing as my mom’s.”

“Right?” Yurio waved and skipped off with a grin.

The flight back to Japan was dead silent except for the ever-present hum of the engines. As Yuuri gazed out of the window at the lights of passing cities below, he was all too aware of the empty seat beside him. If Victor really did return to Russia after the Grand Prix Final, that empty seat would become a normal occurrence.

In placing fourth at the Rostelecom Cup, Yuuri hadn’t earned a medal. And of course, because his brain liked to kick him when he was down, that meant Victor’s words from the last competition in China wouldn’t stop echoing in his mind.

If you mess up this Free Skate and miss the podium, I’ll take responsibility by resigning as your coach.

It was stupid. There wasn’t any point to worrying about such things. Yuuri knew that in his heart. When Victor had said that, he had only been trying to snap Yuuri out of a moment of panic. He hadn’t meant it seriously and most likely didn’t intend to resign as Yuuri’s coach now, even though he had messed up his Free Skate badly enough to miss the podium.

Still, the fear remained. Because sooner or later, it was going to happen. Victor couldn’t be his coach forever. Not when Yuuri was already planning to retire.

And what would happen to them then?

He honestly didn’t have any idea. Victor didn’t often talk about what he wanted. Not about anything serious, at least. He had never once answered any question about whether or not he intended to return to the ice one day. He sometimes spoke about Russia in a wistful tone. It was obvious he missed it. If Victor returned to skating, it was likely to be under Yakov’s tutelage. That meant he would leave Japan.

Yuuri hated the idea. He wanted Victor to stay by his side forever . . . but he also knew how selfish that was. Victor must have hopes and dreams of his own. He also had another home, and Yuuri couldn’t honestly say he loved him if he ignored all of that.

Whatever happened, he knew he had to make the weeks before the Grand Prix Final count. They might very well be the last ones he spent with Victor. Once Yuuri retired, it would never be like this again, with hours of Victor’s devoted attention on the ice. Living with each other. Sharing every meal, as well as a bed.

When the lights flickered on in the cabin of the plane and the pilot’s voice came over the speakers to announce their descent, Yuuri realized he had been staring out of the window for hours. It probably would have been smarter to get some sleep while he could. It was dark outside, the hour well after midnight, and Yuuri’s trip still wasn’t over. After they landed in Fukuoka, there was still a long train ride home to Hasetsu, and he doubted he would be able to sleep then either. But that was okay. He still had a lot of thinking to do.

Soon the wheels of the plane were touching down on the runway, and it was time to gather his things and inch along the aisle toward the door. Yuuri kept his head down, lost in his thoughts, barely noticing anything or anyone around him. Other people were the last thing on his mind.

But when he finally made it off the plane and turned the corner into the airport terminal, the familiar sound of a dog barking pulled him out of his head. He looked up and saw Makkachin standing with his paws against the glass window in front of him.

Yuuri stopped breathing. He searched until he found another face in the crowd. The one he wanted to see more than any other in the entire world.

Then he started running.

As Victor and Yuuri walked together to the baggage claim area with Makkachin happily trotting beside them, they found it almost impossible to stop hugging each other. A single day apart was a day too long.

Victor had his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, lips pressed to his hair, while Yuuri hugged Victor around his middle. They walked like that, perfectly in step, not giving a damn who might be bothered by the public display of intimacy. The last time they’d been in this airport, they were much more private, but Yuuri now found he didn’t care what other people thought. He had his Victor back, and the rest of the world was just going to have to deal with it.

While they waited for the bags to arrive, they stood in an embrace with Yuuri’s head tucked beneath Victor’s chin. There was nothing else like this. Victor’s warmth. His scent and presence. Yuuri was finally home, and it had nothing to do with being in Japan.


He shivered and hugged Victor tighter. No one but him could say his name like that.

“Why wouldn’t you answer my calls?”

After a hesitant pause, Yuuri said, “I texted you back.”

“That’s not the same as hearing your voice.” Victor dragged his lips along Yuuri’s hairline. “Were you angry I wasn’t there?”

“No. That wasn’t your fault, and I’m so relieved Makkachin is okay.”

But even as the words were coming out of his mouth, it occurred to Yuuri how tired Victor sounded, and it didn’t take much guessing to figure out why. Not with Makkachin there, miraculously alive, no doubt because Victor had been at his side every waking hour to take care of him.

Yuuri wasn’t the only one who had gone through something taxing on his own.

“I guess you probably needed someone to talk to through all of that,” Yuuri said. He pulled away from the embrace and looked up at Victor so that he would know Yuuri meant what he was about to say. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. It’s just . . . I had so much going on in my head, and you know it takes me a while to sort through it all. And when I finally figured it out, what I wanted to say to you wasn’t meant for a phone conversation. But I still should have picked up. I’m really sorry.”

Victor gave a slight nod, enough to let Yuuri know he understood and wasn’t upset. “I’m here now. What did you want to talk about?”

Yuuri held his gaze for a beat before looking away. While he adjusted the shoulder strap of his backpack, he said, “Not here. Have you seen the luggage yet?” He turned toward the baggage carrousel, which was sparsely littered with suitcases. Most of the bags had already been claimed, and only a few stragglers remained.

“Oh, was I supposed to be watching?” Victor slipped his hands into the pockets of his coat with a sweet but tired smile. “Sorry. I was a little distracted, but there’s no rush. I had the train tickets moved to tomorrow and got us a room nearby for the night. Does that sound okay?”

It was more than okay. Yuuri didn’t want to be in Hasetsu yet, where his family would pounce on him with a million questions. He wanted to be alone with Victor. Grateful for the opportunity, Yuuri returned the smile and nodded.

Once they located the luggage, they walked hand in hand through the snow toward the hotel, which was only a short distance from the airport. Again Yuuri became aware that they were broadcasting their relationship publicly in a way they never had before. Something had shifted between them when Yuuri stepped off that plane and into Victor’s arms. It wasn’t an easy thing to put into words.

“There wasn’t much available for a last-minute booking,” Victor explained when they arrived at the door of their hotel room. He slid the key into the lock. “It’s a little small but comfortable enough. And there just might be a surprise inside.”

Puzzled by that last statement, Yuuri lingered in the doorway even after Victor went inside, set the bags down in the darkness, and turned on the lamp beside the bed. Makkachin brushed against Yuuri’s legs as he scampered ahead of him through the door.

Yuuri drew in a shaky breath. His throat was suddenly aching with emotion—because there was a hand-drawn sign hanging on the wall that read, in colorful letters, Happy Birthday, Yuri!!!

It had been made with construction paper and crayons, and it had tiny little handprints all over it, no doubt decorated by Yuko’s triplets. As Yuuri stepped inside the room, he accidentally kicked a balloon out of his path. There were about a dozen of them on the ground, scattered here and there. Victor must have snuck them on the train deflated, then blown them up when he got here.

That wasn’t all. There was a blanket on the ground in front of the bed, close to the frosty window, spread out like it was meant for a picnic. There, Yuuri saw a present waiting for him, all wrapped up in golden paper and nestled in a bed of silver confetti. Beside it was a bouquet of crimson roses that filled the room with a fresh fragrance. Makkachin was doing little circles on the blanket before settling down beside the presents to wait for someone to join him.

After removing his coat and scarf, Victor took Yuuri’s hand and guided him over to the blanket. “Sit here. There aren’t any chairs, so I had to make do.”

The room was indeed small, with little more than a bed and a bathroom, but Yuuri had never seen anything more perfect. He shed off his own coat and scarf as well, and as he sat down next to Makkachin, Victor went about the room lighting little tealight candles that had been placed here and there. He turned off the lamp when he was done, and the room darkened into a soft, flickering glow.

Everything looked golden in this light, including Victor. His features were warm and gilded as he pulled out a cupcake from a small bag. Yuuri immediately recognized it as his mom’s baking. There was a candle in the middle of it, and as Victor brought the flame of the lighter to the wick, he said, “It got a little smooshed on the train. Don’t tell your mother.”

Yuuri released his breath in a half-laugh, half-something else. He wasn’t crying, but he was close.

Victor carried the cupcake over, shielding the flame from the breeze with his hand, and kneeled on the ground in front of Yuuri. Then he started to sing Happy Birthday in softly accented Japanese, and Yuuri was soon getting so emotional, he had to press the back of his hand to his mouth to help him hold it in. Victor’s Japanese rendition of the song wasn’t without flaws, but Yuuri loved every mispronunciation and misplaced emphasis on certain syllables.

“How was that?” Victor said when he was done. “Takeshi taught me last week. I’ve been practicing.”

That explained why he’d called Yuuri “little piggy” in the song instead of his actual name. Yuuri dropped his hand away from his mouth, revealing his smile. “Perfect.”

“Go ahead.” Victor held the cupcake out. “Make a wish.”

Even though he tried to maintain it, Yuuri’s smile soon became strained. His eyes were shining with tears—because there was only one thing he wanted.

“Hey,” Victor said with a wink. “You already have that. Make another one. But don’t tell me what it is, or it won’t come true.”

Makkachin began to sniff and lick his chops, his attention fixed on the cupcake.

“Don’t even think about it,” Victor told him. “Haven’t you gotten into enough trouble already?”

Yuuri laughed, and as he held the dog safely back, he leaned forward and blew out the candle.

He knew it was probably a wasted wish. Like Victor said, Yuuri already had what he wanted. It was kneeling right in front of him, holding out a birthday cake. But that didn’t mean this would last forever. That was what Yuuri wished for: more time.

They sampled a little icing off each other’s fingers before setting the cupcake aside for later, securely out of reach where Makkachin couldn’t get to it.

After Yuuri licked the remaining sweetness from his finger, he said, “Twenty-three started off as a pretty rough year . . . but it turned out to be the best one yet. Thanks to you.”

“Let’s make your twenty-fourth year even better than the last,” Victor said. “Starting with something gold and shiny, hmm?”

Yuuri stilled and looked up at him. Victor had been kneeling in front of him this entire time, but it wasn’t until that moment that his stance made Yuuri think of something else. Especially after their conversation at the airport.

Even Victor seemed to realize what he’d said and how it must have sounded. He laughed at himself and said, “Well, I just walked right into that one, didn’t I? What I meant is. . . .”

“I know what you meant,” Yuuri said, laughing as well. “I want to win gold at the Grand Prix Final, too.”

“And you’re going to.” Grinning, Victor picked up the present from the blanket and held it out for Yuuri to take. “Open it. It’s not a ring, but it is something I’ve been working on for weeks. Everyone at home pitched in and helped me put it together.”

Again, Victor had referred to Hasetsu as home. Yuuri would never get tired of that. Happiness resounded in his heart as he carefully opened up the golden paper. Inside was a large book, professionally bound and obviously expensive, with gold-leaf writing and a picture of Yuuri in his Free Skate outfit on the front. The title of the book was: Yuri on Ice.

Yuuri looked up at Victor, questions in his eyes.

“Open it,” Victor said again.

The first few pages held pictures of Yuuri as a boy, one of them from the first day he’d ever put on a pair of skates. As he flipped through the pages, he realized that someone had dug up the photographic history of his entire skating career, and Victor had put it all in this book.

Tears filled Yuuri’s eyes—because this book represented exactly what his Free Skate was about. Yuri on Ice was his story. Victor had put that title on the front on purpose.

Alongside the pictures of him as a boy was a letter from Yuko with colorful commentary scribbled into the margins by Takeshi and the triplets. Yuko had written about how they used to skate together as kids and listed out all his local accomplishments. Her handwriting had been scanned in professionally into dark gold ink. Whoever had constructed this book had done a beautiful job. It was a work of art.

“Do you like it?” Victor asked.

As Yuuri met his eyes, he was practically beaming with happiness. “I love it.”

Next was a letter from Minako-sensei beside a picture of her and Yuuri posing with his first trophy. There were photos of him in dance class—an awkward teenager, a little on the heavy side but still light on his feet—followed by letters from his family. There were even ones from Phichit and Coach Celestino, who had written things about Yuuri he felt he barely deserved.

He turned the page and saw a picture of himself and Victor at the Hot Springs on Ice face-off, right after he’d beaten Yurio to the prize. Yuuri laughed at how stiff and wide-eyed he looked as he stood on the podium alongside Victor. That night had fulfilled a goal he’d had for years. He’d asked his idol Victor Nikoforov to watch him skate at a competition, and he had said yes. Yuuri would never forget how that felt.

The photos that followed were all from this year. Of long practices at the Ice Castle and the competitions leading up to the Grand Prix Final. There was a letter from newscaster Morooka, who had followed his career for some time now, and another from Minami, which proclaimed in boldface letters that they would skate against each other again one day. But mostly, those last few pages were filled with Yuuri and his coach, who was an ever-present fixture in his life at that point.

This book might have been about Yuuri’s skating career, but as he saw his own body language change in every picture with Victor, he realized it was also a chronicling of him falling in love.

Near the end, there was a letter from Victor with his famous signature scribbled at the bottom. Yuuri had just started to read when Victor reached out to turn the page.

“Why don’t you save that one for when you’re alone?” Victor suggested with a wink. “Preferably after the Final.”

There was only one page left in the book, and it was plain except for the words Grand Prix Final written in gold at the top. Beneath it was a place for a picture . . . and the sight of that blank space drove a lump into Yuuri’s throat.

It was suddenly difficult to talk. The book felt heavy in his hands.

He’d had all of this wonderful support throughout his career—people who had cheered him on for more than a decade—and he had almost let them down in Moscow.

“What if I hadn’t made it to the Final?” Yuuri whispered. He almost couldn’t make his lips form the words. “Were you going to rip this page out?”

He didn’t understand. This book had required a great deal of thought and planning. Victor had designed this page and ordered it from a professional printer long before he knew what would happen in Moscow.

Victor chuckled softly. “You were always going to make it, Yuuri. I knew that before I even stepped foot in Japan all those months ago.”

Yuuri squeezed his eyes shut. How?

Oh, no. It was coming. Everything he’d pushed down in Russia. All the reasons he hadn’t picked up the phone when Victor had called. It would have only made Yuuri more vulnerable to this.

Not here. Not now.

“Yuuri.” Victor’s hands closed around his where they gripped the book. “What just happened? Are you crying?”

Yuuri shook his head, even as he turned his face away and swiped at the tear that had streaked down his cheek. “No?” And then he let out a breathy laugh because who was he kidding? He was definitely crying.

Victor watched him, eyes wide, his thumb stroking the top of the hand Yuuri hadn’t pulled away to wipe his face. He said nothing, instead choosing to wait.

It only took Yuuri a few more seconds, but he was able to get a handle on himself and stuff everything down again. He gave his face a final swipe, hung his head, and placed his hand back within Victor’s.

“Gomen nasai,” he whispered.

It wasn’t often he spoke to Victor in Japanese, but sometimes the English language just didn’t cut it. There was a subtlety there in Yuuri’s apology that couldn’t be expressed another way.

“For what?” Victor said. “Crying?”

Yuuri shook his head again. “I messed up.”

It was the same thing he’d said to his mom on the phone after he’d failed at the last Grand Prix Final, only he couldn’t hang up this call. This was exactly why he hadn’t picked up the phone in Moscow. He knew once he heard the safety of Victor’s voice, this was all going to come out, and then he’d be crying alone in the bathroom again. Yuuri had tried so hard to be strong.

Victor was still watching him without speaking, his brow held tense. He wasn’t following Yuuri’s meaning.

“My Free Skate,” Yuuri clarified. “I couldn’t do it. I wanted to prove to everyone I could . . . without you there.” He trailed off and wished he could reverse time and take back everything that had just come out of his mouth. God, he felt stupid.

“But you did do it without me,” Victor said.

Yuuri turned his eyes up at Victor and waited for him to say more. At that moment, he didn’t need his boyfriend or best friend, even though Victor was both to him. Yuuri needed his coach to remind him what he was fighting for—the person who understood exactly how hard he had worked for this and what it would mean if he failed.

“Can I show you something?” Victor said instead.

He came to sit beside Yuuri on the blanket and put his arm around him. Makkachin rested his chin on Yuuri’s thigh while Victor held his phone out in front of them so they could both see the screen.

Yuuri soon found himself tensing up. He had a good idea what Victor was about to make him watch, and he did not want to see the video of his Free Skate from Moscow. He was going to have to watch it eventually. Victor always made him do analysis on his performances, but did it have to be tonight, when he was still feeling so raw?

But to his surprise, that wasn’t what Victor showed him.

Instead, he pulled up the viral video the triplets had posted to the internet months ago—the one that had gotten Victor’s attention in the first place. Yuuri stared down at himself on the screen, not knowing what to think. He was heavier back then and looked frumpy in his sweats, but that wasn’t the distracting part. This younger Yuuri looked sad.

Yuuri barely recognized himself. This wasn’t what he felt like at all—even now, so soon after crying. “I don’t understand.”

“Watch,” Victor said. “This part right here. Can’t you hear it?”

In the video, Yuuri had drawn close to the camera. “Hear what?”

“The music.”

Yuuri frowned. There was no audio on the video. Yuuri had skated Victor’s routine in silence, and the only sound that could be heard was the slap of his skates on the ice.

“Do you remember the reason I wanted to be your coach?” Victor said. “Because of this. You skate like your body is creating music. You made me hear what wasn’t there.”

“But there’s nothing. I don’t hear anything.”

“Could you hear it in your head when you were skating?”

Yuuri tried to remember. He had always skated Victor’s routine without music. He didn’t need it because he’d watched videos of the performance so many times in order to learn the movements, he’d committed the orchestration to memory as well. “Yes.”

Victor started to hum softly, and the familiar melody sparked something within Yuuri. It took him back. Drew him deeper into what he was watching and reminded him of what he’d felt that night. Suddenly, he was able to hear the lyrics. The pleading tenor. The swell of wind instruments and strings. On the video, Yuuri smiled, arms outstretched, and implored the viewer to join him.

Victor’s lips spread into an adoring smile. “Now if anyone says they can’t hear that, I don’t believe them. You did this on your own, Yuuri. Without me. Without the help of any coach actually, which is something I can’t even boast myself. If you’re wondering how I knew you would make it to the Grand Prix Final, this is the reason. You already knew how to pick yourself up and keep fighting alone. Now I want you to watch something else.”

He pulled up the video of Yuuri’s Free Skate from the Rostelecom Cup, and Yuuri started squirming immediately.

Listen,” Victor said, a mild reproach in his tone. He started the video before Yuuri could protest and muted the sound as if to contradict his own command.

Yuuri’s posture slumped. He really didn’t need to watch this. He remembered all too well exactly how he had felt on that ice. Already defeated before he had even begun.

But to his surprise, when the Yuuri on the video lifted his face in the first pose, that defeat was not written all over it. As he began to skate to the music, he looked a bit downcast but not nearly as much as in the video of last spring. This Yuuri was more refined and mature. His posture was straight, and even when he missed his jumps, the panic he had felt didn’t show in his expression. He kept going.

“Tell me what you were thinking here,” Victor said.

“I was worried about missing the combo at the beginning. I was trying to figure out how to add another one later. That’s why I did a combo at the end instead of the quad flip. I knew I needed the points.”

“So in other words, you were still fighting. You weren’t giving up.”

Yuuri hesitated before he replied. “Yes.”

Victor’s arm tightened around Yuuri’s shoulders, pulling him a little closer. Their heads rested together as the video stretched into the second half. This was always the strongest part of Yuuri’s performance—the step sequence. As they watched, both of them quiet and engrossed, Victor said, “You realize I’m playing this without sound, don’t you?”

Yuuri blinked. He had noticed at the beginning, but then he’d forgotten. He could still hear the music in his head, clear as day.

“Told you so,” Victor said with a flash of a grin. By the video ended, he was beaming, pleased with what he had just seen for reasons Yuuri couldn’t figure out. “Well? How did that make you feel?”

Besides awkward and self-conscious?

Yuuri rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess I’ve improved since last spring. That was more polished than the first video.”

“Yes. And what else?”

“I don’t know. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

“But what did you feel?”

Yuuri let out a sigh. Victor wasn’t going to let this go until he gave an honest answer. Well, if he really wanted to know how mentally weak Yuuri was, then he was about to find out.

“I felt like I was missing half of myself,” Yuuri said, “and I hated it. But I could still hear your voice in my head, and I didn’t want other people to think I was going to let everything you taught me go to waste. That’s why I didn’t give up and kept fighting to the end.”

Victor turned his phone off and set it aside on the blanket. “Yuuri, what I’m trying to show you is just that. You already know how to fight by yourself. You’ve been doing that for most of your career, but that can only take you so far. I think this entire year has been about something different. Something more difficult, which is learning how to let others fight alongside you. Everyone in that book, for example. Including me.”

Yuuri didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure what Victor was going to say next, but he knew he needed to hear it.

“In Moscow, you proved again that you can do it alone,” Victor continued. “You got the job done. Did you crumble to pieces because I wasn’t there with you? No. You were poised and calm, far more than you were in China when I was actually there. Yes, there is still room to improve, but that’s what life is. That’s why we keep working. But I disagree when you say half of yourself was missing during your Free Skate. You are still a whole person without me, Yuuri, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t stronger together. That’s what love is.”

Silence fell between them.

It was a lot to think about, and Yuuri wasn’t sure he fully understood yet. But he knew it was probably the most important thing anyone had ever said to him.

He reached out and took Victor’s hand into his own. “You’re getting better at the crying thing.”

Victor smiled, eyes glittering in the candlelight. “Yeah, well . . . I’m still not convinced just kissing you is a bad idea either.”

Even Yuuri had to laugh at that. And it felt good to allow himself to smile and let all the disappointment he’d felt in Russia fall away. There was a tug at his hand and that was all it took to get Yuuri up on his knees and wrapping his arms around Victor’s neck for a hug. Disturbed by their movements, Makkachin let out a quiet woof and went to lay down on the other side of the blanket.

Yuuri hugged Victor for a long time. He hadn’t gotten this at the end of his Free Skate, and he’d needed it badly. No one else could make him feel like this.

“Well done, Yuuri,” Victor said. “I’m proud of you for fighting. Let’s do it together next time, okay?”

Yuuri squeezed him tighter. “Hai.”

“But you know. . .” Victor’s tone suddenly sounded a bit put out. It was the voice he reserved for his post-competition lectures. “I still haven’t gotten a kiss yet. Really, Yuuri. I came all this way. Brought you cake and everything. And not even one little peck or—”

Yuuri drew back, put his hands on Victor’s face, and guided it up so he could stare down at him. Leaning in, he kissed Victor on the mouth several times—slow and sweet—each one lingering a bit longer than the last.

“That’s better,” Victor grumbled between kisses. “But feel free to keep making it up to me.”

Yuuri closed his eyes and kissed him again, letting him feel a flick of tongue this time. When they parted, he said, “Thank you. For all of this. For my book and for coming tonight.”

For coming to Japan in the first place.

“You’re welcome, Yuuri. Happy birthday.”

Victor tipped his chin up, silently asking for another kiss, and Yuuri met it without hesitation.

They both needed this and took their time savoring it. Victor’s hands came to rest on Yuuri’s waist and brought a flood of warmth with them. Yuuri was soon feeling a quiet stirring of desire. He drew back from the kiss and stroked Victor’s face with both hands. He looked unusually vulnerable tonight. His hair was a mess, and his outfit seemed like an afterthought. Victor didn’t look like his normal self at all.

“You look so tired,” Yuuri said. “Have you slept at all since you left Russia?”

A rueful smile. “A little. You?”

“A little.” Yuuri returned the smile briefly but then it fell away. His mouth felt suddenly dry. He kissed Victor again—slower this time—and the stirring of desire grew stronger within him. “Do you want to stop?”

Victor’s eyes were dark in the dimly lit room. “I’m never too tired for this. I missed you, Yuuri. I can sleep later.”

Yuuri sank down fully onto his lap and opened his mouth up to Victor’s kisses. Their tongues met in a mutual dance. They touched each other—Yuuri’s fingers exploring the contours of Victor’s jawline while Victor was busy committing the curves of Yuuri’s waist and hips to memory.

There was something different about this kiss. Something that made them pause from time to time and search each other’s eyes. Maybe it was because of how tired they both were. But they were completely in each other’s space, their mouths and bodies relaxed. Breathing the same air. One kiss blurring seamlessly into the next.

Yuuri’s palm slid down onto Victor’s chest and came to rest over his heart. He pulled away, and as he met Victor’s eyes, Yuuri felt absolutely calm for the first time. Gone was the fluttering nervousness that so often accompanied these trysts. He felt centered. Aware of several things. The beat of Victor’s heart beneath his palm, quicker than normal. The rise and fall of his eyelashes as he blinked up at Yuuri in the candlelight. The feel of hands on his hips. Strong. Fortifying.

Could Victor feel it, too—that something had changed?

This time when they kissed, Yuuri’s body began to move. His hips rocked back and forth, an almost imperceptible motion—though judging from the little gasp of pleasure Victor released, he perceived it just fine.

It was that sound that made up Yuuri’s mind. He wanted to hear Victor make it again.

Yuuri pulled himself free from Victor’s grasp and got to his feet, then offered his hand to soothe the look of uncertainty away from Victor’s face. He brought Victor to the bed and guided him to sit down on the edge to wait while Yuuri went to his luggage to retrieve a few items.

He could feel Victor watching him, eyes wide and a little vulnerable. He didn’t understand what Yuuri was doing.

Once he found what he was looking for, Yuuri straightened and returned to where Victor was sitting. Yuuri stood tall before him and dropped two condoms onto the comforter beside Victor’s thigh. A small bottle of lubricant joined them a second later.

Victor looked up at him, his expression indecipherable.

“What do you want, Victor?” Yuuri asked in a quiet voice. “You’ve never told me that.”

Or anything else.

About Russia. His career. What he really wanted out of his relationship with Yuuri. Victor was either keeping it all to himself, or he hadn’t even given it much thought.

“I want you to have no regrets,” Victor said.

“No,” Yuuri said. “What do you want? I’m not the only one that matters here.”

Victor stared at him for another long moment—and then he smiled, sweeter than Yuuri had ever seen.

His arms went around Yuuri’s middle, and Victor pressed his face there against the softness of his belly. Yuuri shivered when he felt the heat of Victor’s breath seep through the fabric of his shirt. Neither of them said anything for some time. Yuuri ran his fingers through fine, silvery hair and waited.

In time, Victor’s hands moved to slide Yuuri’s shirt up a few inches, and then his mouth was touching bare skin. Lips scorching hot with just a hint of tongue between them. Yuuri’s mouth fell open. Just like that, his legs began to shake.

Victor moved again, this time to dip his tongue into the groove of Yuuri’s belly button.

Yuuri’s head fell back, eyes closing. It was by far the most sensuous thing he’d ever felt in his life.

Victor got to his feet and straightened until he was at his full height. Yuuri looked up at him, never more aware that Victor was a larger person than him. Taller. Heavier with muscle and broader in the shoulders. But instead of feeling intimidated by these things, Yuuri felt protected by them. The way Victor was looking at him made Yuuri want to melt into his arms.

“What I want is your trust,” Victor said. “With your mind, heart, and body. Without that, we’re both going to regret this.”

“But . . . I do trust you. More than anyone.”

It was true. Yuuri had never let anyone else this close.

“That doesn’t mean it’s your full trust,” Victor said.

Yuuri lowered his chin as he thought about it. It made sense. As much as he already did trust Victor, it wasn’t absolute. There was a limit to it. Yuuri didn’t trust Victor not to break his heart and leave him behind after his retirement. But what would happen if he let go of that fear and allowed himself to freefall? Even if just for a little while.

It would crush you.

If Yuuri gave away his full trust and Victor left him anyway, it would devastate him. That was why Yuuri was still holding him at arm’s length. But wasn’t that going to happen anyway if Victor left? If Yuuri was already going to be in pain, did it matter how deep it ran?

Just do it. You already know the worst thing that could happen. Being with him now is worth it.

Yuuri’s body relaxed within Victor’s hands. “Okay.” He looked up, brown eyes meeting blue. “I’ll trust you.”

Victor smiled, the sight of it more tender than any kiss. “Okay.”

They took it slow, with featherlight kisses that felt like the first few days of their relationship and gradually deepened into something new.

It wasn’t perfect. There were a few stumbles and jitters as their fingers worked at buttons and pushed clothing aside. Moments when Yuuri had to remind himself to trust. But once he had the heat of Victor’s skin sliding beneath his hands, he felt comforted. More sure of himself. Reminded of what he wanted.

Soon they were on the bed, clean sheets beneath them, the top blanket cast aside. The little tealights had started to burn out all around the room, leaving them in darkness except for the moonlight coming through the frosty window.

Stripped of clothing as well as many other burdens he’d been carrying for too long in his heart, Yuuri let out a slow breath as Victor’s fingers penetrated him for the first time.

Both of them were naked and hard, the tip of Yuuri’s penis wet with saliva. He was on his back, an open bottle of lubricant on the mattress beside him, and Victor was on his knees. He braced himself with a single hand and watched Yuuri’s face carefully for discomfort.

Yuuri had his hand pressed over Victor’s heart, and he was putting pressure on it, silently asking him to take it slow. But as the fingers moved inside of him, Yuuri’s mind began to fall prey to the rhythm. The outward push of his hand lessened, and Victor was able to lean in and kiss him.

“That’s it, baby,” Victor whispered. “This should never hurt.” He kissed Yuuri’s cheek. The corner of his mouth. The tip of his nose. “Do you like the way it feels?”

Yuuri wet his lips and nodded. He was panting now.

Though he wasn’t fully in the moment yet, he wasn’t lying. He did like the way it felt. The push and pull created a friction he hadn’t even known he needed.

Victor changed the angle of his fingers, and Yuuri felt something altogether different. A warm rush of pleasure that made a new wetness bead at the tip of his cock. When he let out a cry, Victor smiled and sat back on his heels. With one hand still busy between Yuuri’s legs, he used his other to reach for something else.

Yuuri stopped him, grabbing Victor’s wrist with both hands. “T-too much.”

Victor chuckled quietly but complied by letting go of Yuuri’s cock. “All right. We’ll worry about that later.”

Yuuri let out a barely audible whimper as the fingers slipped out of him. Trembling all over, he pushed his hair out of his face and watched Victor tear open one of the foil condom wrappers. After he rolled it onto himself, he looked down at Yuuri through the fall of his bangs.

And all Yuuri could think was, Oh, my God.

Because he wasn’t dreaming. This was actually about to happen.

“Switch places with me.” Victor put his hands on Yuuri’s thighs and squeezed. Two of his fingers felt hotter and wetter than the others. “I think you’ll feel more in control that way.”

They rearranged themselves, Victor doing most of the guiding and Yuuri following his lead. They ended up with Victor sitting with his back propped against the headboard and Yuuri straddling his lap. He wasn’t sure if he liked this. He felt more exposed in this position, and it wasn’t how he had imagined his first time would be—with Victor over him, his hands cradling the back of Yuuri’s head as he thrust into him.

Victor’s fingers had found him again—three this time instead of two—and the feel of them in this position was different. Not as deep, though he was now opened wider. And Victor was right. Yuuri did have more control this way. He could rise up onto his knees when the sensation got to be too much, and he could also quicken the pace when he wanted more.

“Kiss me,” Victor said.

And that made it much easier to concentrate on the slowly building rhythm. Victor pulled Yuuri close—one hand on the small of his back and the other doing unspeakable things—and their lips didn’t part again for a long time. Yuuri was finally getting into it. His knees slid on the sheets, spreading wider. As he began to move, his cock moved as well, rubbing against the hard muscles of Victor’s stomach.

Oh. He liked that.

“Does it hurt at all?” Victor asked.

“No. It’s good.”

“Let’s give it a try, then. We’ll stop if you don’t like it.”

Victor used even more lubricant on himself, even though Yuuri already felt slick and open, and soon he was lined up. But though Victor thrust his hips upward, applying pressure to Yuuri’s entrance, it was up to Yuuri to lower himself down. Victor helped him, one hand on Yuuri’s hip, long fingers wrapped all the way around to his ass, the other grasping his own cock to keep it from popping out of place.

Bit by bit, Yuuri pushed himself down against the building pressure.

“That’s right,” Victor said. “Let me in.”

And then it happened. Yuuri felt himself open up . . . felt the unmistakable fullness that followed. There was a pinch as his muscles protested and stretched, but that lasted only a second before he was taking in the head of Victor’s cock.

Yuuri froze there for a good half minute, trying to acquaint himself with the feel of real penetration. Victor watched him, gently rocking his hips upward, not going too deep yet. Just the rub of the tip inside to create a little friction. Soon, Yuuri’s breathing began to slow and deepen. Coaxed by Victor’s hands and the sweetness of his voice, saying things that were felt more than heard, Yuuri lowered himself down until Victor was fully within him. A moan escaped his lips and disturbed the quiet of the room.

When Yuuri opened his eyes, he knew his expression was as naked as his body . . . and some of the things Victor had said to him earlier began to make more sense. This was why he had asked for Yuuri’s trust. It was why he had held back before now and only let Victor in so far. As their bodies joined into one and pure sensation ripped away his ability to think straight, Yuuri felt exposed in a way he’d never been before.

He was unable to hide a single thing he was feeling inside. Not his pleasure nor his nervousness. All of his insecurities and deepest desires were written there for Victor to see—and Yuuri had never let another person see that much before.

This wasn’t just about the penetration of his physical body. It was about his heart, too. About letting Victor in. Letting go and trusting him with everything Yuuri felt he had to hide. His perceived failures. His need for this physical release. His imperfect body and inexperience. The fear of somehow losing the person he loved most.

Victor took it all in with a quiet shhh meant to soothe. Then he said, “Yuuri, you’re beautiful.”

Something inside of him broke.

It needed to. It had been there too long.

Yuuri pushed every bad thought out of his mind and concentrated on the physical. On the sound of his lover’s voice, the warmth of hands on his body, the push and pull of a cock inside him. Victor was nuzzling the side of his face as they moved their bodies together, but Yuuri turned his head to offer his mouth instead. His sexuality had begun to manifest itself in a way he’d never let it before. He drifted along the waves of sensation and tapped into a rhythm that was pure instinct. Music only the two of them could hear.

He barely noticed that Victor was coming to pieces beneath him until he heard a breathless laugh and opened his eyes. “I’m not going to last long like this,” Victor said, smiling up at him, cheeks flushed. “You always were the one with the stamina.”

“Can we lie on the bed, then?” Yuuri’s voice was calmer than he expected. Gentle and loving—because he saw that Victor’s heart was exposed to him, too, along with a few insecurities he hadn’t expected to be entrusted with. “I want you on top of me.”

One of Victor’s arms slid around his waist, while the other hand came to cushion the back of Yuuri’s head. Victor lowered him down onto the mattress, still inside of him. Yuuri gasped when the angle changed and allowed Victor to sink deeper. It felt amazing. So did the feel of having a body on top of him. Yuuri wrapped his legs around Victor and pulled him in for a kiss that never seemed to end. Victor’s hips began to move in earnest.

There in that tiny hotel room, they made love for the first time. It seemed to go on for long while before Victor’s pace faltered and slowed. All the same, he sounded a little embarrassed when he whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m trying to make it last.”

“It’s okay,” Yuuri said. “I want you to do it.”

Victor let out a gasp of relief and thrust into him hard and fast. By the fifth stroke, he was coming, and he kept moving even as the waves carried his mind away.

Yuuri watched in amazement as Victor’s face transformed. The tension and release. The color burning high on his cheeks. Yuuri had never seen this part before. Victor’s face had always been hidden from him the two other times he had achieved an orgasm in his presence, and it was beyond beautiful to see him exposed like that. Yuuri’s favorite part, by far.

When it was over, Victor tried to keep his weight from crushing the body beneath him but soon found his knees and arms too shaky to offer reliable support. He sat back on his heels and pushed his hair out of his face, looking pleasantly exhausted, like he was about to embark on the best night of sleep in his life. He removed the condom and discarded it in the small wastebasket near the bed.

Once he got his breathing under control, he dropped a kiss on Yuuri’s knee and smiled down at him rather mischievously.

“What?” Yuuri asked, his self-consciousness flooding back. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Well.” Victor kissed Yuuri’s leg a bit further down this time. On the petal-soft skin of his inner thigh. “It’s just that I noticed earlier that you got two condoms out . . . and we’ve only used one.” His smile widened as his fingers spread out over both of Yuuri’s knees, guiding them apart. “Just wondering if you noticed that, too.”

Yuuri blushed hard, then impossibly harder when he felt Victor’s breath tickle his belly. “I didn’t . . . you don’t have to—”

And then he stopped talking because Victor was licking up the length of Yuuri’s cock where it rested on his stomach.

“Mmm. Yum.”

Victor took Yuuri fully into his mouth then, gripped him at the base, and began to move his head.

Yuuri found himself gaping at the ceiling in absolute shock. Victor had done this to him once before—briefly when he was helping Yuuri out of his clothes, just a wicked swirl of his tongue followed by a quick suck—but the wet heat of his mouth was no less astonishing than the first time.

There was nothing for Yuuri to do but press the heels of his hands to his eyelids and feel.

By the time Victor pulled back and gave the tip a kiss, Yuuri was seeing lights zigzag and explode before his closed eyes. His pulse thrummed in his ears. He’d never been so hard in his life. Surely Victor could taste it.

The sound of foil tearing open roused his attention. He pulled his hands away from his eyes just in time to greet Victor’s smoldering stare as he rolled a condom onto Yuuri’s length. Victor smiled, reached for the lubricant, and then used it on himself. He didn’t need as much preparation as Yuuri had. Just a quick stretch and a little slickness spread around.

There was a pause after Victor straddled him—long enough for Yuuri to voice any protests he might have. He could tell Victor was listening for it, staring hard into his eyes for any sign of a No. Of course, he wouldn’t do this without consent. Yuuri knew that, just as he knew he wasn’t going to refuse him. He wanted this moment badly, even though he could scarcely believe it was real.

He nodded once, silently giving the go ahead, and only then did Victor proceed.

“It’s been a while,” he said, pressing his palm flat against Yuuri’s lower abdomen. “Go easy on me, okay?”

Then it was happening. Yuuri understood the mechanics of it but was completely unprepared for the reality, particularly the relative ease at which Victor was able to sink down onto him. It took less than ten seconds from tip to root. Once he was fully seated, Victor placed both hands on Yuuri’s chest and began to ride. His own cock was half-hard and bobbing before him, already spent but still alert.

Yuuri could only stare up at him in mute amazement—not only because of the unfamiliar feel of a warm body clenching around him but also because of the sight of Victor himself. He looked absolutely comfortable and free. Like having Yuuri fill him up was a joy. Something he’d been craving, too. Yuuri wondered if it could be like that for him as well.

Victor’s eyes had drifted shut while he opened himself up on Yuuri’s cock. His fingers trailed down Yuuri’s abdomen to the soft curls at the join of his thighs. “I bet you want to get on top of me, don’t you?” Victor was already wearing a knowing smile when he opened his eyes to see what the response would be.

Yuuri nodded, slow but sure. That was exactly what he wanted.

They switched positions, this time with Yuuri doing the guiding. Soon Victor’s head was on the pillow, and Yuuri had pulled the comforter over them. They snuggled together in the warmth, with Victor’s thighs tightening around Yuuri’s hips, and they kissed until their lips ached.

Yuuri took him that way . . . and savored every sigh and gasp that rose up from his lover.

Victor was perfectly soft and open beneath him, every bit as beautiful as any woman. Feminine and masculine all at once. Yuuri had once thought it might feel awkward or unnatural to take charge like this—especially with Victor, who was so strong and confident—but it wasn’t at all. Yuuri’s body already knew how to make love. He just had to let it happen.

When Yuuri spilled inside of him, Victor’s fingers were on his face, and he was whispering something melodic in Russian. Yuuri had no idea what it was, but the way Victor said it made the meaning clear enough. His thrusts slowing, Yuuri settled down on top of Victor and kissed his forehead with all the tenderness in his heart. “I love you, too,” he whispered back in Japanese.

Later, after they’d cleaned up and were preparing for bed, Yuuri found himself distracted by his reflection in the bathroom mirror while he rinsed his toothbrush. He angled his chin up. Turned his face to one side, then the other.

Did he look different this time?

Because he’d actually done it. He’d lost his virginity twice that night. Once with Victor inside of him and again inside of Victor. Wasn’t that kind of thing supposed to change a person forever?

But no. He found his reflection in the mirror looked remarkably the same. His hair might be a bit messier than usual and that was definitely a hickey on his neck . . . but he was still the same Yuuri.

“Everything okay?” Victor said as he entered the bathroom with his own toothbrush in hand.

Yuuri nodded and dried his mouth with a towel before he responded. “It’s stupid, but I was just wondering if I looked any different than before.” He laughed at himself a little, embarrassed but trusting Victor enough to know he wouldn’t make fun of him. “But that’s ridiculous. Of course, I don’t. I’m still the same person I was before.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Victor came up behind him and kissed Yuuri’s bare shoulder before resting his chin on it. Arms encircled his waist as two sets of eyes focused on the reflection in front of them. “I see two people in the mirror now.”

Yuuri felt something click into place inside of him. A little lock he hadn’t even been aware of until now.

He was done. This was it. This was what he wanted forever.

Placing his hands over Victors arms, Yuuri nuzzled his head and said, “Oh.”

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Yuuri didn’t flinch when he hit the ice for the fourteenth time in a row. He expected it when it happened and wasn’t shocked when his feet came down at the wrong angle and slid out from beneath him. Then came the crash and the cold and the wetness of the ice dampening the fabric of his sweatpants even more than they already were. If nothing else, at least he was consistent in his failures.

He rolled and was back up on his feet in less than a second, a look of determination on his face.

Shake it off. Try again.

He gave himself half a minute to rest, enough time to allow the aching in his bruised left thigh to relent to a more tolerable level, and then it was time for attempt fifteen of the quadruple flip—the jump he could launch just fine but couldn’t seem to land with any reliability. It was to be the final jump in his Free Skate at the Grand Prix Final, and he and Victor were leaving for Barcelona tomorrow. It was now or never.

The Ice Castle skating rink was dark. Yuuri hadn’t bothered to turn on more than a few lights, just enough to see the barriers so he could avoid a collision. It was close to three in the morning, but Yuko had long entrusted Yuuri with a key for nights when he couldn’t sleep. Nights just like this one. He could rest on the plane tomorrow. Now was the time to work.

Just as he was picking up speed to attempt the jump again, Yuuri heard the doors of the skating rink open and close. Without looking, he knew who it was. It didn’t stop him from rounding the edge of the rink and launching into another quad flip.

After he fell for the fifteenth time and rolled to his feet, he met Victor’s eyes briefly and kept skating.

Shake it off. Try again.

But even as Yuuri turned his back on Victor, his heart had started to pound.

Victor was little more than a silhouette in the darkness. Hands in his coat pockets. Quiet footsteps around the perimeter of the rink. Only he could bring such a presence into a room with barely a sound. He was like a shadow spilling out over the ground.

It was only a matter of time before Yuuri’s eyes were drawn back in his direction. Even now, after becoming intimately involved with him, Yuuri still couldn’t help but stare at his boyfriend sometimes. Victor had stepped into a pool of light. His expression was neutral . . . if a little flirtatious.

Yuuri soon gave up the idea of attempting another jump. He was too distracted now to have any hope of landing it. Butterflies had exploded into flight in his stomach.

Victor came to a stop at the barrier. “Couldn’t sleep?”

God, that voice. The texture of it rubbed Yuuri all over.

But what was he doing here? It was late, and this wasn’t the first time Yuuri had snuck out of bed when anxious thoughts refused to let him sleep. Victor’s question was rhetorical. He knew where Yuuri went in the middle of the night and why. And all things considered, Victor was usually good about giving Yuuri space when he needed it. So what had changed his mind tonight? Was he unable to sleep, too?

Curious, Yuuri skated over to him. It was probably smart to take a break anyway, or he was going to hurt himself. He was breathing hard but felt pretty good, given the lateness of the hour and the level of exertion he’d just put his body through.

“What number was that jump?” Victor said. “Nine million and one—or nine million and two?”

When Yuuri stopped just short of the barrier, he was wearing a little smirk. There weren’t many things he was truly proud of, but this was one of them. “Fifteen.”

Victor whistled and looked away.

His expression was difficult to interpret. He looked neither happy nor unhappy. There was a certain amount of tension in the way he held himself, but it didn’t make Yuuri think a lecture was forthcoming, even though he probably deserved one for not getting a decent night’s sleep before they left for an important competition. Yuuri wasn’t sure what Victor was thinking, and it made him feel off-balance.

“I can land it,” Yuuri said. “I just need a little more time to work it out.”

When Victor returned his gaze in Yuuri’s direction, his blue eyes looked almost black. “I believe you,” he said in a soft voice. “Come here.”

He put his gloved hands on the barrier and leaned down to offer a kiss that was immediately accepted. The warmth of it made Yuuri realize he was cold in his t-shirt and damp sweatpants. He grabbed hold of Victor’s scarf and held him there, and that heated him right up. Yuuri didn’t let go until he was practically toasty, and by then, they were both smiling against each other’s lips.

“You couldn’t sleep either, huh?” Yuuri said. He flushed with pleasure when Victor pressed a kiss to his forehead. This whole time, Yuuri had needed to be touched and hadn’t even known it. He felt completely recharged and ready to try again.

“I just wanted to check on you, but it looks like you’ve got things well under control.” Victor kissed him, this time on the temple. He inhaled deeply, drawing Yuuri’s scent into his lungs and holding it there for a long moment before he released it. His voice was a gentle rumble in Yuuri’s ear. “Don’t stay up too late, okay? The bed gets cold without you.”

And then the warmth was gone. The scarf slid free from Yuuri’s fingers as Victor straightened and turned back toward the doors with the intention of leaving.

Yuuri blinked at Victor’s back, already missing him even though he had only taken a few steps. He’d walked all this way by himself in the middle of the night. Was he really going to turn around and go back home alone?


I need your help. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

Victor turned and waited, hands buried in his pockets. He looked tired and maybe a little lonely, but his eyes were still kind. He’d come here with no intention of asking Yuuri for anything, despite whatever Victor might want himself.

“Will you stay?” Yuuri asked. “If you don’t mind, I mean.”

It was beyond rare for Yuuri to invite another person into his private time like this, but he’d never experienced anything like this relationship before. He knew he was an introvert that needed a certain amount of alone time to feel settled and recharged, and Victor respected that, even though he didn’t always understand it. The fact that he was about to leave Yuuri here to skate by himself was evidence of that.

But what Yuuri had come to discover was that time with Victor still counted toward that alone time. Even though Yuuri was with another person, he didn’t feel drained like he did with other people. It was strange, and he didn’t fully understand it. But it was like spending time with Victor was the same thing as spending time with only himself. That was how deep he was in Yuuri’s heart now.

Victor smiled, took his hands out of his pockets, and walked over to where the barrier opened up to the actual rink. There, he sat down on the step, one knee hugged to his chest, the other foot resting on the ice.

This left Yuuri a bit wide-eyed. He wondered why Victor had chosen to sit. Normally, he was either on the ice as well or standing at the barrier. Victor always took an active role in what was happening. To have him instead sitting down made Yuuri feel like he had a supportive boyfriend watching him instead of a professional figure skating coach. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, especially this close to the Grand Prix Final.

He tried the quad flip three more times. The third was the worst attempt by far, and afterward, he was left with a throbbing wrist and badly shaken nerves. He looked to Victor for his normal technical critique but found his coach just watching him in silence, one finger pressed to his lips as he often did when he was concentrating.

It wasn’t long before Yuuri couldn’t take it anymore. He skated over to where Victor was sitting and put his hand on the barrier to balance himself while he leaned down to adjust his left skate. “Why do you think I can’t land it? Be honest with me.”

I shouldn’t have to ask you this. You’re my coach.

Victor didn’t respond at first. When his finger finally fell away from his lips, he said, “Why do you think you can’t?” His tone was the one he reserved for his more private moments with Yuuri. Not the animated voice he used during practice.

That was not the response Yuuri wanted to hear. He tried not to feel irritated but was too tired to put much effort into it. “This is your signature move. You know what I’m doing wrong, so just tell me what it is so I can work on it. You can’t start going easy on me this close to the end.”

This had been a point of contention between them ever since Moscow. Yuuri had sat Victor down and told him under no circumstances was he to treat him differently now that they were in a relationship. He explained the feedback he’d received from both Yakov and Yurio and said that he needed to step it up. Yuuri hated the idea that Victor might be withholding valuable feedback from him because he cared too much about Yuuri to criticize him.

Still, there was a part of Yuuri that knew he was being unfair—and maybe even assessing Victor’s motives incorrectly. After all, he cared about winning just as much as Yuuri did.

“Yuuri,” Victor said. “The reason I’m not lecturing you right now is because you’re already lecturing yourself. If you were being smug and overly-confident, I’d be in your face giving you an earful like Yakov has to do with Yurio. But what good would that do you? A coach’s job is to provide a different point of view than the student’s. It serves no purpose to reinforce one that already exists.”

Yuuri visibly deflated. He hadn’t thought about it that way.

The way Victor was sitting so casually made one thing very evident: he was calm. This was beyond confidence. He had perfect faith in Yuuri and wasn’t concerned about whatever was going to happen at the Final, nor did he seem particularly bothered after witnessing the repeated failure of a vital technical component in Yuuri’s Free Skate program.

Victor’s attitude was everything Yuuri’s wasn’t . . . and maybe that was a good thing.

“Would you like to listen to what your coach has to say?” There was a touch of ice in Victor’s words, even though he was still smiling. “There is a first time for everything.”

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri said. “I’m just frustrated. And yes, I want to know your opinion. What am I doing wrong?”

“You’re preoccupied,” Victor said with a shrug. “Something’s been on your mind since Moscow. Once you figure out what it is, you’ll figure out the jump as well. I’m not worried. But that is the reason I asked you why you think you can’t land it. You’re the only one who can answer that question.”

Victor wasn’t wrong. Yuuri had been preoccupied, though not always in a bad way.

Certainly there was the anxiety leading up to a competition that he had embarrassed himself at last year. But even worse than that was the knowledge that his time with Victor would likely be coming to an end soon.

Things had been good between them since Moscow. More than good. Their relationship had deepened so much that it was almost enough to drive away Yuuri’s fears that this was temporary. And it wasn’t all physical or romantic. Somewhere along the way, they had become companions. They still went on frequent dates and had trouble keeping their hands off each other behind closed doors, but the intimacy stretched beyond those moments. Every word and glance possessed a deep understanding of the other person.

The sex was good, too, if infrequent. More like the icing on a very solid foundation of cake. It was rare that they found themselves truly alone these days, so while they’d done plenty of messing around, they’d only taken things further once since coming home. In Yuuri’s bed, back at the house. It had been quick and not as satisfying as the times before—but only because there were people downstairs, and Yuuri couldn’t seem to relax.

Before that, they’d made love again in the hotel room at the Fukuoka airport the morning after their first time, and that was good. Even better than the prior night. Yuuri thought about it often. Waking up to the feel of Victor’s mouth on his neck. Kissing for what felt like hours before attending to other pleasures. Yuuri on top. Victor on top. Tangled sheets, lazy wet kisses, asses grinding out a sinful rhythm Yuuri probably wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about for years. It had been a blur of perfection. Every second of it, wonderful.

But then they’d come home to Hasetsu . . . and they weren’t alone anymore.

Almost as soon as they walked in the door, they’d celebrated Yuuri’s birthday a second time with his family and friends in attendance. Everyone was aware of his romantic relationship with Victor, but Yuuri still felt shy about it. All eyes were on the two of them when he blew out the candles on his second birthday cake, and he’d be lying if he said that didn’t bother him a little. He wasn’t ashamed of anything. But just because he’d allowed Victor this deep inside of his heart didn’t mean everyone else had the right to invade.

After his first night home, things had gotten strange. Not with Victor, who was just as sweet and devoted as he ever was. But Yuuri felt a pressure in his head. He was unsettled. Anxious. Searching for something he had no name for. He didn’t find it in Victor’s arms at night, in his mother’s cooking, or even in long sessions of skating that would have normally helped clear his troubled thoughts.

He knew a lot of it had to do with the idea that Victor would not always be around. The Grand Prix Final was coming up fast, and it didn’t just represent the competition they’d both been working so hard to win. Regardless of the outcome—be it a gold medal or last place—it would mean the dissolution of their professional relationship. Maybe even their personal one.

“Are you nervous about Barcelona?” Victor said, drawing Yuuri out of his thoughts.

Yuuri shrugged. “It’s part of it.”

“Yuuri.” Victor’s tone held a gentle reprimand. He wasn’t satisfied with a partial answer.

With a sigh, Yuuri leaned his weight against the barrier and wondered if he had the courage to just say it. He didn’t know why he had such trouble getting the words out. Maybe it was because he didn’t want Victor to think he owed Yuuri something when he had already given so much of himself and his time.

“I’ve been thinking about us,” Yuuri said.

Which was a partial truth. Good enough for now.

What he was actually thinking about was what was going to happen to them after he announced his retirement. He had already made the decision in his heart that the Grand Prix Final was the end of the line, but it wasn’t the right time to say it out loud. Not when he was about to depart for his last competition.

“You say ‘us’ like we’re a bad thing to think about,” Victor said. His eyebrows were pinched together in the middle. He wasn’t understanding the disparity between Yuuri’s words and his demeanor.

“One day, you won’t be my coach anymore,” Yuuri said.

There were a million questions he wanted to list after that. What will you do then? Will you return to skating? To Russia? Do you regret coming to Hasetsu to watch me fail over and over again?

“True,” Victor said slowly. “One day.”

There was a long pause, wherein Yuuri said nothing, and it gave Victor time to guess.

“So when you say you’re thinking about us,” Victor said, “what you mean is you’re worried about what will happen to us when I’m no longer your coach?” Another pause—and as the seconds ticked by, Victor’s expression became more and more incredulous as his suspicions were confirmed by the silence. “Yuuri, the way I feel about you is not going to magically disappear the day you retire.”

Yuuri had to take several steadying breaths before speaking. Though he knew it wasn’t true, his mind often told him the opposite of what Victor was saying. Namely, that he was only drawn to Yuuri because of the skating and nothing else. And once that was gone . . . well. “People have flings all the time. It’s not uncommon for two individuals working closely together to get involved and then split when the job is done. It happens.”

“I realize you don’t have much experience with relationships, but believe me. This isn’t a fling.”

“We’ve never actually said what it is.”

“Well, I’m in love with you,” Victor said, his tone flat. “Does that help?”

Yuuri pressed his lips together and dropped his gaze. It hadn’t been his intention for this to turn into an argument. He didn’t know why he was being so insecure. Every sign Victor had ever given him pointed in one direction, yet Yuuri couldn’t help but fear the other.

Maybe it was because this wasn’t just about insecurity . . . but about doing what was right.

Victor sighed and pushed his bangs out of his face. When he dropped his hand and began to speak again, his voice had lost the edge of irritation. “Remember when you came home from Moscow, and I asked for your trust in that hotel room? That wasn’t just meant for what happens between us in bed. I want you to trust that wherever you are, that’s where I want to be.”

It was a better answer than Yuuri could have hoped for. Victor had just laid out something that was much more long term than they had ever established.

But the very thought of Victor’s talent wasting away also made Yuuri feel incredibly selfish. This had bothered him ever since he’d returned from Russia. A little worse every day. In terms of both of their professional skating careers, Victor’s answer benefited Yuuri alone, and this relationship wasn’t just about him.

It made Yuuri sad to think Victor’s hiatus might become something more permanent. This was the man who had inspired Yuuri to master the ice in the first place. The man he’d wanted to compete against. Victor Nikiforov was the most decorated male figure skater in the world, yet he was sitting there on the sidelines watching Yuuri fall on his face every day. He was a waste of Victor’s talent, but to let him go might mean Yuuri had to give up far more than just his coach.

Yuuri knew what he had to do, yet he still couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud. He opened his mouth—and meant to at least tell Victor that he should consider his own career before saying something so bold—but the words died on his tongue.

Victor was watching him with the same puzzled expression as at the beginning of their conversation. “Why does that make you look so unhappy? I just told you I want to be with you.” He was using his disgruntled, borderline-haughty tone now. His feelings were hurt.

“I want to be with you, too,” Yuuri assured him.

Though not at the expense of your career. I’ll give up my own first.

But before that, I’ll win a gold medal to make it count. I’ll do this the right way. For both of us.

Victor’s expression shifted into something more tender. When he held out a hand, Yuuri extended his own in kind. He was wearing his black practice gloves to protect his skin from the ice. Victor peeled it off and brought Yuuri’s bare hand to his mouth. Victor kissed it several times and then held it there, eyes closed. His thumb was rubbing Yuuri’s ring finger.

“It’s a commitment you need, then,” Victor said, his lips moving against Yuuri’s skin. “The last thing you should be worrying about right now is us.”

The words materialized from Yuuri’s memory before he knew what was happening.

It’s almost like a marriage proposal.

He drew in a slow breath and held it. Victor wasn’t down on his knees, but he was close. He was still sitting at the edge of the ice with Yuuri standing tall in front of him.

After pressing a final kiss to Yuuri’s hand, Victor smiled up at him. There was a glimmer of mischievousness in his eyes, like he was planning something. “Good to know.”

When Yuuri released the breath he was holding, a good deal of the tension in his shoulders had vanished. His heart had started to ache terribly, but he returned the smile and squeezed Victor’s hand.

Yuuri loved him so much.

And because of that, he knew what he had to say to Victor in Barcelona would be easier. He would find the strength to do the right thing out of love, comforted with the knowledge that he was obviously loved in return. Yuuri decided then that he shouldn’t be looking at this milestone as a negative thing. As long as he kept his mind on this, he would be able to tell Victor when the time was right.

Maybe when they were both retired, they could make a real commitment. It was good Victor hadn’t asked for one now.

“Why don’t you try that jump again?” Victor suggested. “Maybe you’ll feel a little lighter on your feet this time.”

Under Victor’s supportive gaze, Yuuri pulled back on his practice glove and did a quick warm up lap around the rink to help him gain some momentum.

“Can you hear the music in your head?” Victor called to him. “Get your mind in the right place.”

Before now, Yuuri’s thoughts had been focused on the technicality of the jump. Not the performance itself.

As the soft piano music filled his mind, Yuuri began to move to the familiar choreography that immediately preceded the jump. He tried to clear his thoughts of anything except the melody and was almost successful. He wasn’t worried anymore about Victor leaving him when this was all said and done. That might very well happen, but it was time he learned to be at peace with it.

The moment for the jump was on him before he even realized it. He launched himself off the ice—and nearly landed the quadruple flip.

It wasn’t perfect. His feet didn’t connect with the ice like they should, and he had to put a hand down to keep the rest of his body from crashing into it.

But he didn’t fall. That was huge.

Scarcely able to believe what had just happened, Yuuri looked to his coach for an assessment.

Victor had a finger pressed to his lips once more. He was smiling behind it. “Again.”

Yuuri did it two more times, again taking time to go through the choreography of his Free Skate beforehand. The second attempt was the best because his confidence had received a significant boost, but his hand still came down on the ice. Still, it was a noteworthy improvement. He was so happy by attempt number three that he didn’t even care when the sight of Victor grinning at him distracted him so much that he missed the jump completely and fell.

They were both laughing as Yuuri slid and came to a stop just in front of Victor. Yuuri got up on his knees and grinned while he clapped off ice shavings from his gloves. Even though his body was sore from too many falls, he felt so much better about Barcelona.

“You’re going to be fine, Yuuri,” Victor said. “You already know what to do.”

Yuuri got to his feet and skated around a bit to shake off the feeling of that last fall. “Want to call it a night soon? It’s getting late.”

“Whenever you’re ready. I’m in no rush.” Victor’s chin had come to rest in one of his palms, and he had a dreamy look in his half-lidded eyes. “Just enjoying the view.”

Yuuri blushed and straightened his posture. He liked it when Victor watched him skate like this. It made him feel beautiful in a way that nothing else did. He was going to miss this. . . .

He was aware that he was showing off. Doing turns with a little too much attention paid to the tilt of his hips. He kept his eyes on Victor the entire time, wondering if he could guess what was on his mind.

They hadn’t had sex in days and not for lack of trying. Between his family and the other patrons of the onsen, it was just difficult to find alone time. And when they weren’t at home, they were either on a date in public or here at the Ice Castle in the daytime with other people in the vicinity.

But you’re alone with him now, aren’t you?

The thought almost made Yuuri trip over his own feet. He looked at Victor again and felt a tug in his lower abdomen. His heart had started to pound again. “We haven’t been completely by ourselves in a while.”

Victor chuckled. “Tell me about it. I love your family, but there are times when I wish we had our own place.”

That was a pleasant thought. Yuuri let himself imagine what it would be like to share an apartment with Victor—with their own furniture and a bed large enough for them both. Most importantly, there would be a lock on the door to ensure absolute privacy while they did anything and everything they wanted to each other.

“Have you ever thought about doing it in here?” Yuuri asked, choosing his words very carefully. He could scarcely believe he’d had the boldness to voice them at all, but it was so much easier to feel confident here in the dark with Victor’s eyes on him. Yuuri could let his shyness fall away and take up another role with far more ease.

And why not now? This might be the last time they were on this rink together.

“Doing what exactly?” The inflection in the words implied Victor already knew the answer. He just wanted to hear Yuuri say it.

“Having sex with me. Here. At the Ice Castle.”

“You mean, after watching you methodically seduce me on that rink for months? With those eyes and those hips and everything in between?” Victor laughed again, quietly melodic. “What haven’t I thought about?”

Yuuri came to a stop just in front of where Victor was sitting and gazed down at him, looming tall and self-assured. “Do you want me to show you what I think about?”

Victor let his hand fall away from his face. He was breathing hard now, too.

After Yuuri put the guards on the blades of his skates, he stepped off the ice and helped Victor to his feet. With his skates still on and adding to Yuuri’s height, they came nose to nose with one another. Victor leaned in for a kiss, but Yuuri only smiled and put a hand on his chest. He guided Victor over until his back was pushed up against the barrier of the rink.

Yuuri hadn’t been lying when he’d said he often thought about this. He’d just never had the courage to do anything about it. Even now, he wondered if he could actually do it.

Victor’s eyes were wide as he watched Yuuri get down on both knees, the toes of his skates resting on the ground. He put his hands on Victor’s thighs and slid them upward. Yuuri was still wearing his black practice gloves, and somehow they made the moment even sexier. Yuuri palmed Victor through the fabric of his slacks and worked at the zipper with his other hand.

Victor wasn’t fully hard yet, but he was excited, his lower belly working for every breath from where it peeked out from beneath his sweater. When his cock sprang free, Yuuri mouthed at it before taking Victor in hand.

Yuuri had never gone down on Victor before—or anyone else for that matter—but he’d lost count of the times he’d fantasized about it. Though he had no idea what he was doing, he let his imagination guide him. Victor tensed up at the first feeling of hot breath on his skin. He was getting harder by the second, coming to life in Yuuri’s hand.

Stop thinking. Just do it.

When Yuuri closed his eyes and put his mouth to the tip, Victor whispered something in Russian and leaned his full weight back against the barrier. Yuuri focused on the head, giving it a little suck and then drawing back to think about the taste. It didn’t taste like much of anything, actually. Just skin, which Yuuri hadn’t expected. He decided he liked it and put it back in his mouth, drawing Victor in deeper this time.

Yuuri did everything he thought he might like to feel himself . . . things Victor had done to him more than once. Yuuri had been paying attention whenever Victor had gone down on him, taking in both the feel of it along with a book of mental notes on how he could reciprocate. He moved his head, hollowed out his cheeks, and made sure the underside of Victor’s cock received plenty of attention from his tongue.

Soon there was a new taste in Yuuri’s mouth. Victor’s excitement was mounting.

His hands were caressing Yuuri’s face now—tenderly, without attempting to guide or pressure him to go deeper. Victor was also still wearing his gloves, and the feel and smell of the buttery leather was doing the most delightful things to Yuuri’s head. If he had known how much he would love this, he’d have done it a long time ago.

Victor’s thigh was tense and trembling beneath the pressure of Yuuri’s hand. His breathing was ragged as he whispered, “I’m close. Yuuri . . . you should. . . .”

Yuuri responded to this by taking him deeper. Victor always got embarrassed or apologetic when he was close to coming, as if Yuuri expected him to be some kind of sex god who could last for hours or something ridiculous like that. But no, he loved that he had this kind of effect on Victor. He found an incredible amount of satisfaction in making him lose control.

When Victor came in his mouth, Yuuri swallowed without giving it much thought. The taste had been on his tongue for a while now, and this was just a warm flood of more. It wasn’t unpleasant and the gasps of pleasure rising up from Victor made every second more than worth it. Yuuri had discovered a new favorite past time. This was fun.

Soon he was turning his eyes up, his tongue barely teasing the slit of Victor’s overly-sensitive cock.

Victor was a mess. Breathless and flushed. The collar of his coat askew. Hair pushed in the wrong direction. He was still stroking Yuuri’s face as he calmed down, his expression a mixture of adulation and something else that made the temperature in the room tick steadily upward.

His gloved thumb pushed into Yuuri’s mouth.

“Stand up,” Victor said, his voice dark with want.

It was Yuuri’s turn to feel that pang of nervousness and excitement—because he had no idea what was about to happen.

Victor helped him to his feet and immediately had both hands down the back of Yuuri’s sweatpants, squeezing and kneading bare flesh as their lips crashed together. This was not a gentle kiss. Victor had never once been rough with him, but there was a power behind his seduction that he had never fully unleashed before now. Yuuri loved it. Standing up a little straighter, he wrapped his arms around Victor’s neck and met every kiss with equal passion.

He felt a chill on his backside when Victor pushed his sweatpants down. Then Yuuri was left standing, still facing the barrier, while Victor moved downward. He first kissed Yuuri’s neck, then dipped lower to mouth at his nipple where it pressed hard against the cotton t-shirt. Victor went lower still, and Yuuri’s sweatpants were soon around his ankles. Victor took his time licking a slow path up the underside of Yuuri’s cock. The sweet pink of his tongue was in stark contrast with the pure sexual heat of his stare.

Yuuri put both hands on the barrier and prayed his knees wouldn’t give out.

Victor was every bit as talented at blowjobs as he was at quadruple flips, but that wasn’t what he did. Instead, he worked the foreskin of Yuuri’s cock back and forth with firm strokes of his hand and said, “You know, as good as this tastes. . . .” He paused long enough to kiss the tip, a whisper of tongue teasing the slit. “. . . I bet it feels even better. Do you have stuff in your bag?”

He did. Yuuri had started carrying condoms and lubricant around with him ever since that night at the Fukuoka airport. He didn’t trust himself to speak, so he just nodded dumbly in response to the question. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton.

Victor smirked, one eyebrow arched higher than the other. “Do you want to use it? Because I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I have my own fantasy about you and me in this place.”

Yuuri’s breathing slowed. “Tell me.”

Not long after, Yuuri had Victor bent forward over the barrier of the rink . . . just like he’d asked to be. He was slicked up and ready, Yuuri’s fingers already moving inside of him, but soon it was time for something else. Victor moaned and tensed up when he felt the pressure of Yuuri’s cock at his entrance.

Yuuri took it slow, rocking his hips ever so slightly until Victor began to open up. “That’s it,” Yuuri whispered as he nudged a little further inside. Gentle and patient, fully aware of the power he’d been entrusted with and unwilling to do anything with it except make his lover feel safe. “Let me in, baby.”

The endearment had an immediate impact on Victor. He exhaled a shaky breath that had little to do with the sex. It was the first time Yuuri had called him anything other than his name.

Victor completely gave in to him at that moment and relaxed against the barrier with his head resting in the cushion of his folded arms. His smile turned blissful, and he breathed an affirmation as Yuuri filled him up and began to move.

To be continued


Chapter Text

Only a few short hours after their return from the late-night “practice session” at the Ice Castle, it was time to leave for the airport. But unlike the trip to Moscow, Victor and Yuuri weren’t alone for this flight. They instead found themselves accompanied by Mari and Minako, who were quite possibly more excited about the Grand Prix Final than anyone Victor had ever met. They had a giant suitcase dedicated to flags, signs, and gifts for the competitors.

Though he was glad there would be extra support there for Yuuri—especially after what had happened at the Rostelecom Cup—Victor was also about to pull his hair out if he didn’t get some quality alone time with his boyfriend.

At least there would be separate hotel rooms. With locks.

Their flight was in the process of boarding, and the four of them stood together in the long line leading up to the gate. The women looked well-rested and were chatting in Japanese about something Victor couldn’t keep up with. Both of them spoke English well enough to make small talk with him but not nearly as well as Yuuri, who’d had the benefit of living abroad for a time in Detroit.

Victor suppressed a sigh. He was bored, but Yuuri wasn’t in any condition to help translate or make conversation himself. He was so tired from staying up late that he could barely keep his eyes open. More than once, Victor had to guide him forward when the line moved.

“Did he sleep at all last night?” Minako asked in English.

Sleep? Victor tried to remember.

But all that came to mind was the memory of Yuuri down on his knees on the Ice Castle floor, wearing his skates of all things while he used his tongue in a way Victor had only dreamed about. And better still was what happened afterward, when Yuuri had bent Victor over the barrier of the skating rink in what was easily the best bottoming experience of his life. He could still feel it this morning—the ghost of Yuuri’s cock, moving inside him. It was a pleasant sensation that ran up the inward curve of Victor’s lower back. He had never had a lover be so attentive and assertive at the same time. Normally it was one or the other instead of both combined.

And with his skates on, Yuuri had been at just the right angle to . . . well.

Victor offered Minako a bright, innocent smile. “I don’t recall.”

The line moved again, and Victor put his hand on the small of Yuuri’s back to guide him forward.

There was a married couple in line just ahead of them, and the man also had a hand placed on his wife’s lower back. His wedding ring glinted golden in the light. As Victor stared at it, he felt the beat of his own heart quite clearly. Together, he and Yuuri took another step forward and stopped again, like an old-fashioned wedding procession.

Victor caught Mari’s eye and saw her attention drop pointedly to the hand he still had on Yuuri’s back. It was an intimate way to touch a person, evidence that they were involved in a romantic relationship instead of a platonic one. He knew public displays of affection were mostly frowned upon in Japan, but they were about to board an airplane headed to Spain, where such things were more acceptable. Victor was very much looking forward to this vacation.

He lifted an eyebrow in Mari’s direction, not unfriendly but also not backing down. Something to say?

Mari lifted her eyebrows right back and looked away.

On the plane, Victor and Yuuri had a pair of seats by themselves with the women located a few rows ahead of them. Yuuri fell immediately to sleep on Victor’s shoulder. Their fingers were interlocked, their joined hands resting in plain sight where anyone could see the declaration of their relationship. Victor passed the time by napping off and on and watching the in-flight movie, but more often than not, he found his attention drawn to his boyfriend.

Yuuri was beyond adorable when he was sleepy. He was the type who had little ability to control his body once exhaustion took him past a certain point. He talked and moved without any comprehension of what he was doing. The spot of drool slowly expanding across Victor’s favorite sweater was evidence of how much he adored the person who was responsible for it.

His glasses were in danger of getting bent, so Victor very carefully removed them and set them aside where they’d be safe. Yuuri cuddled closer and rubbed his bare face against Victor’s shoulder before falling asleep again.

It was the kind of moment Victor wasn’t always certain what to do with.

Bittersweet, like an overly-generous gift he wasn’t convinced he deserved. It made him think about wasted years and happier ones that were hopefully to come. Yuuri often looked embarrassed with his inexperience, but what he didn’t seem to realize was that Victor was new to this as well. He’d never been in love before nor had he ever felt this alive. It was an exciting but frightening experience. Victor had never given anyone this much power to hurt him before.

More than once, his lips turned upward while he watched his boyfriend sleep. Yuuri was very handsome. Ink black lashes shining in the morning light. Full lips that were always a bit chapped from being bitten and worried between his teeth. A strong jawline, brows that could look so timid one moment and intimidating the next, and dark eyes that made Victor sit up and pay attention whenever they glanced his way.

Victor was going to marry this man.

When the stewardess came by, she beamed at their joined hands (clearly a supporter) and asked if they wanted a beverage.

“Babe,” Victor said to Yuuri with a gentle nudge. “What do you want to drink?”

Yuuri groaned but didn’t move.

“Water for him,” Victor said to the woman. “Champagne for me.”

“Celebrating anything in particular?” she asked.

Victor returned her smile. “Not yet—but soon.”

An hour later, he was on his second glass of champagne and scrolling through websites on his phone. Thankfully, the plane had Wi-Fi, and he’d been able to locate a list of shops near the Barcelona hotel they’d be staying at. There were a few jewelry stores nearby, and one of them was open later than the others. Maybe he would be able to sneak off tonight or early in the morning while Yuuri was asleep.

There was a brief moment of turbulence, the intensity of which made Yuuri jolt awake beside him. Hoping to keep his plans a secret, Victor closed the internet browser on his phone and squeezed his boyfriend’s hand to reassure him all was well. Once the plane leveled out, Yuuri settled back down with a yawn but didn’t close his eyes.

“Are you thirsty?” Victor pressed a kiss to the top of Yuuri’s head. “I got you some water.”

“Mmm thirsty,” Yuuri mumbled, barely coherent. “Is there any water?”

Victor grinned down at him, so in love that his heart ached from the pressure of it.

Soon Yuuri was sitting up straight in his seat, blinking at a steady pace while he took sips of water. The look on his face indicated he had no recollection of boarding the plane or taking off. “How long until we land?”

“Not for another few hours,” Victor said. “I’d go back to sleep if I were you. I want you to get plenty of rest before the competition.”

So I can sneak off and buy you something to wear during it.

When would be the best time to propose? Assuming he could have the ring in his pocket tomorrow, maybe he should do it the morning of the Short Program to give Yuuri enough time to work through the emotions of it before his performance that night. But then again, he wasn’t a morning person and might very well snooze through the proposal. Victor supposed the timing would depend on when he would be able to get his hands on a ring. All he knew was that he wanted Yuuri to have it before the start of the Grand Prix Final to eliminate any worry about their future.

“Excited?” Victor asked. “Just a few more days until you have a medal around your neck.”

And something else on your finger.

“I’m not sure if ‘excited’ is the right word.” Yuuri set his water down on the tray table and glanced at the window like he was tempted to make a leap from it.

Victor laughed softly and touched Yuuri’s face to encourage him to redirect his attention back where it belonged. Victor caressed his cheek for a moment before leaning in, unable to resist. They exchanged a warm kiss—the lazy, lingering kind one gave a lover first thing in the morning—and then parted to rest their heads back against the seats and stare at one another.

Yuuri’s eyes were shining, and while he didn’t look embarrassed, he did seem surprised. They’d probably kissed hundreds of times by now, but only two of them had been in front of other people. Both of those public kisses had taken place weeks ago in China. Here in an airplane, it wasn’t like they had a crowd staring at them, but they were definitely not alone.

Though he appeared somewhat unsure of himself, Yuuri closed his eyes and lifted his chin a bit higher, silently granting his permission to continue. Victor smiled, snuggled closer, and took him up on the offer.

They made out for a good ten minutes. Perhaps other people noticed, though maybe they didn’t. Victor had no idea and didn’t care. At that moment, his whole world was the feel of Yuuri’s hand resting on his chest and the sweet offering of his kisses. Victor’s own hand had slid between Yuuri’s thighs, a thumb rubbing at the seam of his jeans a mere inch away from his cock.

Victor could feel Yuuri’s inner thigh trembling and knew he would be stopped soon.

It was tempting to palm him through his jeans or maybe scrape his nails across the denim to get him nice and excited, but the airplane wasn’t the right place for the kind of seduction Victor had in mind. This was the same atmosphere that had held them back in Hasetsu. Yuuri would never fully relax with other people around, and that wasn’t the kind of sex Victor was interested in. No, the next time they made love, they were going to be alone in bed with a locked door between them and the rest of the world.

A disgruntled father chose that moment to walk down the middle aisle with a screaming toddler in his arms, and Victor and Yuuri immediately broke apart.

Adjusting his seatbelt, Victor blew out a breath of frustration. If only they were at the hotel now, where they could strip off their clothing and slide under the sheets. “I can’t wait to finally be alone with you.”

Yuuri licked his lips and blinked up at him from where he was again resting his head against Victor’s shoulder. “Whatever happens . . . do not let my sister and Minako-sensei get a room next door to us.”

Victor’s lips parted in horror. He hadn’t thought about that. What if the walls weren’t soundproof? “Good thinking, Yuuri.”

Mari and Minako ended up on an entirely separate floor at the Barcelona hotel, even though Victor had to sacrifice a king size bed to make it happen. Having to push two beds together to make a bigger one was a small price to pay for privacy.

When they got to their room, Victor encouraged his still bleary-eyed boyfriend to take another nap to help him get over the jetlag. The sleep Yuuri had gotten on the plane wasn’t very restful, and he needed to be in top shape for the competition.

Besides, Victor had a rather important errand to take care of by himself.

He hit the streets of Barcelona just after sunset and visited three shops before he found a ring he liked. Bright gold, of course. Platinum and white gold didn’t carry the message he was looking for nor did they catch the eye the same way. Thankfully they had a good inventory on hand for the holidays, and the right size was in stock. He’d found that information out from Yuuri’s mother earlier that morning after a nerve-racking conversation over tea.

“How long does engraving take?” Victor asked the store associate.

“About a day,” she said. “We could have it ready tomorrow afternoon.”

“Perfect,” Victor said and filled out the form with the phrase he wanted.

Tomorrow night, then. Perhaps he could propose at dinner or in the privacy of their hotel room, then make love to Yuuri until morning. That sounded like bliss and would surely afford Yuuri the security he needed to relax and do his best without any unnecessary worries burdening his mind.

With that mission taken care of, Victor could finally unwind.

Barcelona was beautiful at night—a glowing metropolis of twinkling lights, architectural wonders, and centuries of history. Though it was dark out, the streets were still filled with people doing their holiday shopping or heading off to share a meal with friends or family. It was a lively scene that brought a smile to Victor’s face, but though there was an endless supply of things to do, he found his path leading him back to the hotel. None of it held any appeal without a certain someone there to enjoy it with him.

He had never been very good at being on his own but had done exactly that out of necessity for far too many years. Now that he had someone to share his life with, he didn’t like wasting any time alone.

But once he reached the hotel room, Victor discovered Yuuri had fallen into a deep sleep. He looked exhausted, so much so that Victor didn’t have the heart to wake him even though he was feeling lonely. It was disappointing, but they still had days ahead of them in Barcelona. There would be plenty of time to make a connection.

He wasn’t tired enough to join Yuuri in bed yet, so he decided to change into his swim trunks and do a few laps in the rooftop pool to pass the time. He hid the ring receipt and grabbed a towel. But before he left, he pulled the blanket higher over Yuuri, made sure his glasses were nearby so he’d find them when he woke up, and dropped a kiss on his cheek.

When Victor stood up and stared down at the man he loved, he felt a bit shaky inside.

Not that he was having second thoughts about his decision to make such a huge commitment. That felt right. The reality of it, however, was a lot to process.

Their last conversation at the Ice Castle might have been the catalyst for the purchase of a ring, but Victor had long held the assumption that Yuuri was one day going to be his husband. Even before they’d shared their first kiss, he couldn’t have said why, but he had always just known they would end up together. He had underestimated the amount of time and patience it would take to get this far, and they still had work to do on building the level of trust between them. But why wait to make a commitment to Yuuri when Victor had already made it in his heart?

Still, once he put that ring on Yuuri’s hand, things were going to change. The pathway set before him was about to become clearer, and in some ways, that was a frightening thought. It was going to mean the end of some things but also bring about new beginnings.

There was a lot to think about—but after more than twenty years of putting his personal life behind his professional one, maybe it was time to get started.

“Don’t you miss it at all, Victor?” Christophe swam over to the side of the pool and rested one hand on the concrete while he wiped water from his face with the other. “If it’s strange for me to see you here as a coach instead of a competitor, it must be outright surreal for you.”

Victor made a noncommittal sound in his throat and didn’t look up from his phone. He was seated on a poolside chaise lounge with his legs stretched out in front of him. Goosebumps covered his body from the cold, but he ignored that, too—the same way he had Christophe’s questions.

He didn’t mind that his old friend had come to join him at the pool, even after Christophe hinted that he’d only come because he knew Victor would be here. They’d known each other for many years, and it was nice to have some company while Yuuri rested. But Victor also didn’t want to have this conversation, especially now when he was facing important decisions.

Still, Christophe wasn’t wrong. Being here with a pair of suits instead of a pair of skates was surreal, and the feeling would no doubt get worse the minute he stepped into that arena as Yuuri’s coach. Victor had dominated the Grand Prix Final for half a decade. His five-year winning streak was going to be broken in a matter of days, and there was nothing he could do to defend it.

Christophe pushed himself out of the water and once he was on his feet, walked over to where Victor was lounging, trailing droplets of water in his wake. “Don’t misunderstand me. I see Yuuri’s potential just as much as you do, but why does your career have to come second to his? He can find another coach, and you can compete together. Then everyone’s happy, including me.”

If there was anything Victor wanted to hear less than another request for his return to skating, it was a suggestion that Yuuri should find a new coach. No. That was not going to happen. Yuuri had asked Victor to take care of him until he retired, and that was exactly what he was prepared to do.

“Are you telling me this for your sake or for mine?” Victor asked.

“Both.” With a dramatic sigh, Christophe threw himself into the chair next to Victor’s. “It’s not the same without you on the ice. It’s you I want to compete against.”

“Well, you are in a way. Against my choreography and coaching.”

“Do you really love him more than you love skating?”

Victor laughed. “I don’t know what to tell you, Chris. I can’t imagine one without the other anymore.”

“Then figure out a way to have your career and Yuuri. But get back on the ice, Victor. Even Yuuri must want to see that. Don’t you remember the way he looked at you at last year’s banquet? Not to mention how he copied your routine.”

As Victor fell silent, he finally lowered his phone and gazed at the rippling water of the pool instead.

He did remember. When he’d first met Yuuri, he’d received little more than mixed signals. Victor would catch him staring but was given a cold shoulder when he tried to introduce himself. Only after Yuuri had drunk himself into a near stupor did he march over to Victor, give him an unexpected hug, and look up at him like he was his hero. And that wasn’t the last mixed signal he would ever get from Katsuki Yuuri. It had taken Victor a long time to understand exactly how much he had influenced Yuuri’s skating career.

But would Yuuri really want to see Victor back on the ice as a competitor? He was the one who had asked Victor to step down and be his coach instead, after all. Yuuri had also asked him to remain as his coach until he retired, and he had only just turned twenty-four. His retirement could be years from now.

“You’re not going to answer any of my questions, are you?” Christophe said, truly sulking now. “Then at the very least, tell me once and for all if your relationship with Yuuri is open or not. And don’t you dare crush all my hopes and dreams in a single night, Nikiforov.”

Victor couldn’t help but laugh again. “No, it’s not open.”

“Because I don’t mind being a third wheel.”

“No, Chris.”

“I have excellent references. I could even bring a friend.”

“We are not going to have a threesome with you.”

Christophe pinched the bridge of his nose. “Victor, you wound me.”

Victor’s laughter faded into a grin of amusement. He knew Christophe was only joking. He had a partner of his own, and this was just his way of prodding for more information about the nature of Victor’s relationship with Yuuri. Christophe wanted to know how serious they were and to see what Victor was willing to defend.

“You look happy and sad at the same time,” Christophe said after a stretch of companionable silence. “Admit it. You miss the ice.”

It was Victor’s turn to sigh. He couldn’t ignore every allegation aimed at him. “Not the ice that I left, no. I lost my inspiration, Chris, and you wouldn’t have wanted to compete against me like that.”

“Hmm. I suppose not. But does that mean you’ve found your inspiration again? Through a lover, perhaps?”

A wistful smile that bordered on a smirk formed on Victor’s lips. That was all the answer he needed to give.

Christophe muttered a curse under his breath, but he was smiling now, too—because while they had been each other’s rivals for the better part of a decade, they were also friends. Of course, he would be happy for Victor. “My jealousy burns with the fire of a thousand suns,” Christophe declared. “Come on, my love-struck friend. Let’s go downstairs and find your playboy. It’s freezing out here.”

Victor brightened, cheered by the suggestion, and immediately reached for his towel.

Finally, Yuuri was awake.

Well, not really. But Victor made damn sure he woke up with a little help from Christophe. They were both soaking wet, and all it took was a flying leap into bed with a certain sleeping beauty to get him conscious and moving again. Who needed a kiss from a fairytale prince when you had a half-naked, half-frozen Christophe Giacometti threatening to cuddle with you? He was a very effective alarm clock with emphasis on the word alarm.

Unfortunately, Yuuri was so horrified by this that not only did he fight his way out of two sets of arms, he then proceeded to lock himself in the bathroom.

“Yuuri,” Christophe said as he knocked at the door. “Would you describe your relationship with Victor as open? Because word has it you’re a source of profound inspiration.”

C-Chris,” Yuuri sputtered from the other side of the door.

Victor could practically hear how hard Yuuri was blushing. It was tempting to laugh, but Victor knew if this went on much longer, he could very well end up sleeping on the floor tonight or in another room entirely. (It wouldn’t be the first time.) He’d learned the hard way that Yuuri did not like being put in this kind of situation, and that meant the time had come for Christophe to return to his own room.

Besides, Victor was more than ready to enjoy some much-needed privacy with his soon-to-be-fiancé.

“All right, Chris,” Victor said as he guided his friend in the direction of the front door. “I think he’s awake now. Thank you for your help bringing him back into the land of the living.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Christophe muttered, dragging his feet every step of the way. “At least text me pictures of everything I miss.”

Once he was gone, Victor bolted the door and leaned his weight against it for a few seconds, simply savoring the novelty of being alone for once.

A chill ran up his bare legs and caused the rest of his body to jolt with a sudden shiver. He might be Russian, but perhaps it hadn’t been the smartest idea to go swimming in December. A bath would be just the thing to warm him up . . . and maybe he could even convince Yuuri to join him.

Victor knocked softly at the bathroom door and said, “You can come out now. He’s gone.”

It took a minute, but the door eventually cracked open a hair. Yuuri peeked through the tiny gap to determine the truth for himself. “Is the front door locked?”


Yuuri opened the bathroom door the rest of the way and glared up at Victor. His black hair was a mess, and his t-shirt was damp in places from where he’d been sandwiched between two very wet men. “That was mean.”

“Well, so was leaving me all by myself on our first night in Barcelona.”

“You were the one who told me to take a nap!”

“What, and you choose now to start listening to your coach’s advice? That’s convenient.” In less than a second, Victor’s stern look of disapproval shifted into the most hopeful of grins. “Hey . . . want to take a bath with me?”

The abrupt change in both mood and subject matter threw Yuuri off balance. He ran his fingers back through his tangled hair and said, “Are you being serious, or was that a joke? I can never tell with you.”

“Yuuri . . . this is the first time in weeks that we’ve been alone. And just look at me. I’m freezing and lonely and pathetic, and you’re being a terrible boyfriend right now.”

Yuuri rolled his eyes heavenward before sparing the bathtub a glance. “Will we even fit in there together?”

“To be honest, it’s more fun if we have to work at it.” Victor’s smile tightened as he leaned into Yuuri’s personal space. “Why are you still wearing clothes?”

While the tub filled up, Victor located the travel-size bottle of bubble bath he kept in his toiletry bag and added a generous amount of the pink liquid to the steaming water. The smell of roses permeated the room, and Victor drew in a deep breath, feeling warmer already.

The bathtub was a reasonable size. They wouldn’t be able to stretch out their legs, but it was deep enough for a good soak. Certainly no Japanese onsen, but with a little imagination, they’d fit just fine. What luck that Victor was a choreographer.

Standing beside him, Yuuri had already stripped out of his t-shirt and was eyeing the frothy water like he wasn’t certain what to make of it. Having grown up with an onsen at his disposal, it was likely he’d never taken a real bubble bath before. They didn’t even have a tub at the Katsuki residence. Well, he was in for a treat.

Victor placed a hand on Yuuri’s bare shoulder to help him balance while he took off his swim trunks, which brought about a yelp of surprise. “Victor,” Yuuri said, eyes wide. “You really are cold. Are you okay?” Without waiting for a response, he threw his arms around Victor’s neck and hugged him close, offering the heat of his own body to help ward off the chill.

To say Victor was surprised by this gesture was an understatement. It took him a second to respond and return the hug, but then he was gratefully soaking up the warmth along with the feel of hands rubbing his arms, shoulders, and back in an attempt to heat them up. Love swelled up inside of him, especially when he felt Yuuri start to shiver from the cold himself.

Victor nuzzled his face into the side of Yuuri’s neck before leaving a kiss there. “Okay, fine. I take back what I said about you being a terrible boyfriend.”

“Get in the bathtub, please.”

The temperature of the water was almost too hot to tolerate, but that didn’t stop Victor from stepping in and lowering himself down. He sat back and extended a hand in invitation. Yuuri’s teeth chattered while he kicked off his sweatpants and set his glasses on the counter by the sink. He then accepted Victor’s outstretched hand and followed him into the tub. They arranged themselves with Yuuri seated between Victor’s legs, his narrow back resting against a much broader chest.

And oh, it felt good. The higher the level of water and bubbles climbed up their bodies, the more their shivering was quelled. Victor held his boyfriend from behind, while Yuuri’s hands came to rest flat on Victor’s thighs where they surrounded him on either side. Soon, they were so at ease that they almost forgot to turn the water off before it got high enough to spill over the edge and onto the bathroom tile.

Once the faucet was shut off, the bathroom became quiet save for the droplets of water that dripped from Victor’s arms whenever he moved them. He had the scent of Yuuri’s hair in his nose, along with the fragrance of rose petals, and the combination of the two had Victor in the mood to explore. He ran his soapy hands down Yuuri’s chest, dragging his thumbs across the hard points of his nipples before circling around again. Yuuri let out a gasp that sounded more than a little frustrated, and Victor pressed a kiss to his cheek to soothe him.

“There’s something I want to talk to you about,” he said as he rolled Yuuri’s nipples between his fingers. “Something very important.”

Yuuri was having trouble sitting still, and the water lapped dangerously close to the edge of the tub whenever his shifting became too restless. “Now?”

“Mm-hmm.” Victor closed a hand around Yuuri’s throat and ever so carefully, guided his head back until it was resting against Victor’s shoulder. It would be easier to kiss that way.

As if reading Victor’s mind, Yuuri turned his head to offer up his mouth for the claiming. Victor gave him a thorough seeing to before saying anything more.

While they kissed, his hand was still covering the vulnerable expanse of Yuuri’s throat, his pulse quickening beneath the spread of fingers. It wasn’t meant as a threatening gesture. In letting himself be held in such a way, Yuuri was demonstrating the depth of his trust, and Victor was doing his part to earn it. He would never hurt Yuuri, nor would he let his hand linger there if he detected even a hint of discomfort or intimidation. Yuuri knew he was safe.

When their lips finally parted, it was because he had broken away with a sharp intake of air. Victor was still toying with Yuuri’s nipple, trying to see what he liked.

“Victor. . .”

“Shhh. I want you to listen to me. Can you do that?”

Yuuri made a sound in his throat that could have meant anything. The bathwater lapped at the edge of the tub, the ripples driven by the uneven panting of his stomach. Victor moved his hand down beneath the surface of the bubbles to spread over Yuuri’s abdomen, dipping low enough that his fingertips encountered a soft patch of curls.

“I want a nickname,” Victor said. “I’m very disappointed that I don’t have one already.”

Yuuri let out a breathy laugh of disbelief, even as he was tightening his ass and straining his hips forward to help Victor find something more interesting to touch. “That’s what you want to talk about?”

Victor could feel Yuuri’s words vibrate against the fingers still enclosing his throat. He could also feel Yuuri’s cock brushing the back of his other hand, but he chose to ignore that for now. “It is. I need to hear some suggestions. Sweetheart? Baby? I’m easier to please than you might think. What about Vitya?”

Trapped somewhere between amusement and impatience, Yuuri tried to smile but got distracted by the feel of fingers sliding through his pubic hair. “I can’t call you that. You’re my coach, and I’m already informal enough with you.”

“Do you mean to tell me you’ve spent the better part of the last month with your tongue in my mouth, yet you can’t bring yourself to use that tongue to call me something other than my first name?” Victor reached to cup Yuuri’s balls in his palm, fondling them gently while still neglecting his cock. The tip of it peeked outside of the water, flushed with arousal and resting upward against the slope of his stomach. “You weren’t this shy when you called me ‘baby’ last night. Come on. I want a nickname.”

Yuuri’s blush had traveled from his cheeks all the way down to the center of his chest. He blinked up at Victor and brought a hand to rest on his face. “Vicchan,” he whispered.

The softness of Yuuri’s voice warmed the endearment into something every bit as sweet as it was comforting. Victor knew it was the name Yuuri had once called his beloved pet, and his mother also called Victor that. It wasn’t unique, but it felt right somehow, like it had always belonged to him even before he knew it. The sound of it made Victor think of Hasetsu and family and most importantly . . . Yuuri.

Victor smiled, eyes shining with emotion as he said, “And what do you want to be called?” When his hand closed around Yuuri’s cock, they both shifted in the tub—Yuuri’s pelvis straining upward and Victor tightening his hold to keep him still. His hand began to move, further disturbing the bathwater. “Do you like it when I call you ‘baby’?”

A faint whimper rose up from Yuuri, the timbre of it indicating he liked that endearment very much.

“What else?” Victor said. “Do you want a special name, too? I expect an answer, my little katsudon.”

“I don’t care, just as long as you call me yours. Oh . . . that feels good.”

Yuuri’s eyelashes fluttered, and his body began to tense up, hips rocking in time with Victor’s strokes. Water sloshed over the edge of the tub and onto the ground. This went on for several minutes, with Victor trying to kiss him, and Yuuri doing a poor job of noticing. He was losing his grip on his control a little more every second.

Much sooner than expected, he whispered, “I’m close.”

The pace of Victor’s hand slowed.

Yuuri must be awfully pent up if he was this close to coming after just a few minutes. Victor had meant to make this last longer, perhaps continuing on the bed in the other room, but upon seeing how distressed Yuuri became at the prospect of slowing down, he changed his mind. Yuuri was in obvious need of this release, not seeming to care that this was only a hand-job instead of proper sex. His thighs were shaking between Victor’s, trying and failing to spread further apart.

Setting a faster tempo than before, he worked Yuuri’s cock close to the head where it was most sensitive. It wouldn’t be long now. “Say it,” Victor ordered.

“Vicchan. . .” Yuuri’s mouth stretched into a perfect O as he spilled, the ropes of semen falling onto his soapy stomach.

Enraptured by both sight and sound, Victor coaxed Yuuri through it with near-reverent dedication. As satisfying as it was to see the man he loved so completely undone by his touch, it was hearing the endearment that got Victor’s heart pounding. He’d wanted so badly to feel special to Yuuri.

Victor didn’t let go until the brush of a hand signaled him to stop. He released Yuuri’s cock and instead dragged fingers through the mix of semen and bubbles on his skin. “Feel better?”

Once his breathing slowed, Yuuri only hummed in response—eyes closed, limbs boneless, looking like he could fall asleep any second. Victor took his time washing Yuuri’s body, first cleaning off his stomach before sliding a hand low between his legs. There, Victor rubbed at Yuuri’s entrance to see if he was in the mood. Victor had been fully aroused for some time now—surely Yuuri could feel it against his back—and he wasn’t going to be satisfied with a hand-job. Not after the experience of having Yuuri writhe against him like that.

Together they soaked in the steaming water for a long while, kissing and teasing each other with their fingers, until Victor’s impatience got the best of him. “Will you let me take you on the bed?”

A lazy smile played at Yuuri’s lips before he nodded.

It took some effort to get Yuuri steady on his feet again. They rinsed the fragrant bubbles off their bodies and stepped out of the tub onto the tile floor, which was puddled with water that had spilled over the side. They helped each other dry off, neither of them doing a particularly thorough job, before they dropped the towel onto the ground to soak up the mess. Yuuri looked happy but barely awake when Victor sent him off into the bedroom ahead of him.

Making a beeline for the bed, Yuuri dropped into it with his face buried in the pillow. Tiny droplets of water peppered his body, which was naked and uncovered. His skin was flushed pink from the heat of the bath, and after Victor retrieved what he was looking for in his luggage, he found himself staring as he approached the bed.

Yuuri’s ass was a thing of beauty. Pert and well-shaped, a bit of extra cushion to soften the appearance of the powerful muscles beneath. When Victor’s hands and knees hit the bed, he bent down to kiss the small of Yuuri’s back. There was a light sprinkling of dark hair there at the base of his spine, and Victor inhaled deeply while he nuzzled him there.

“Are you sure you’re not too tired for this?” he asked.

Yuuri turned his face to the side so that his cheek was resting on the pillow. “I want it, too.”

Thank goodness for that. Victor set aside the lubricant and condom he’d retrieved from his luggage and put his hands on Yuuri’s ass, kneading and spreading the cheeks apart so that he could get a good look. It was something he hadn’t managed thus far during their prior sexual encounters, and he was surprised Yuuri didn’t protest, either unaware of Victor’s gaze or comfortable with it.

He gave Yuuri’s ass, upper thighs, and back a good massage to help him unwind even more, paying particular attention to the spread of those cheeks. Victor’s cock pulsed as he stared down at the tight pink pucker between them, and he wondered how Yuuri would react if he licked him there. It was as good a time as any to try, especially after a bath.

Pushing Yuuri’s bottom further apart, Victor leaned in and let his tongue lather over the clean skin. He expected it when Yuuri drew in a sharp breath and tensed up. “Victor.”

Victor knew better than to push, but he also kept his hands where they were so Yuuri couldn’t wriggle away. “Did that not feel good?”

It had certainly felt like something because Yuuri couldn’t seem to find the words to answer the question. But he also wasn’t saying no or asking Victor to do something else. Slowly, allowing adequate time for a protest, Victor mouthed a series of kisses up the rise of Yuuri’s left cheek, then descended in between. There, he licked a deliberate trail along Yuuri’s perineum until he again found that sweet little pucker.

Victor took it slow, lapping with the warm flat of his tongue rather than tickling or probing with the tip. Now wasn’t the time to be adventurous. Not when Yuuri was on the brink of rolling over and pushing Victor away.

Yuuri trembled beneath him, still mentally fighting the sensation, though not shying away from it. It seemed he was willing to try out a new experience, and that was all Victor could ask for. He couldn’t force Yuuri to be comfortable with the idea of rimming.

But to Victor surprise, the longer it went on, the more Yuuri got into it. He never did ask Victor to stop and instead closed his eyes and actually seemed to enjoy the feel of a tongue on his sensitive skin. Soon he was nice and wet—almost ready. Victor reached for the lubricant, poured some directly onto Yuuri’s entrance, and then worked it deep with his fingers.

Victor’s eyes widened when he realized how easy it was. Before now, it had always taken a considerable amount of patience to get Yuuri to a place where penetration wouldn’t hurt him, but tonight Victor’s fingers slipped in with ease. Most importantly, Yuuri’s peaceful smile told him how welcome they were.

It wasn’t long before Victor deemed his lover ready and withdrew his fingers to instead reach for the condom. After rolling it on and moving into position, Victor pressed the tip of his cock between those gorgeous cheeks. He gazed down at where their bodies were joining together and found his lips stretching apart in amazement as he sank inside, needing only a single stroke to fill him up. Yuuri let out a happy sigh and snuggled down into his pillow.

Victor had to pause to collect himself. It had never been like this before. While sex with Yuuri was always pleasurable, it was also something Victor hadn’t been able to fully enjoy because of how focused he was on Yuuri’s comfort level. But the peace now written all over his body assured Victor he could devote his energy to other matters.

The feeling of being inside Yuuri was unreal. He was deliciously tight, but the drag in and out was effortless. Victor slid his arms around Yuuri and lowered his body down until he was lying completely on top of him. They made love that way with the scent of roses rising up from their skin. Victor’s hips moved in shallow, circular thrusts, unwilling to sacrifice more than an inch of heat before plunging back inside.

Every time they did this, it got better. They were getting comfortable as lovers. Learning each other’s bodies and preferences. Finding their rhythm and style. And it seemed they’d finally attained a level of trust Victor had been seeking to establish from the beginning. Still, he knew there was more to be had. Other places they could take each other. Cravings to be satisfied.

To put a name to one of them . . . he wanted to fuck Yuuri into the mattress so hard, they would both feel it the next day.

Hunger burned within him. Victor mouthed at the back of Yuuri’s neck . . . and almost let him have it.

But no. It was incredibly rare that Yuuri was able to achieve this kind of mental state—so at peace that he might have already fallen asleep— and Victor didn’t want to take that away from him. Tonight, they could take it slow.

But tomorrow? Well. That remained to be seen.

Victor dragged his smile across Yuuri’s shoulder. It made him wonder if Yuuri had any idea how much they hadn’t tried yet—or that Victor was still holding back?

He didn’t attempt to last long. Yuuri was already satisfied, so Victor focused on his own pleasure. All the same, he made sure to be sweet, murmuring praise into Yuuri’s ear as he worked into him from behind—but soon his pace was quickening with the need to come.

As the slow build of pleasure began to strip away his ability to think, he tried to remember the nickname Yuuri had asked Victor to call him. It took a minute before he recalled that Yuuri had said the endearment didn’t matter, so long as Victor called him his.

“My Yuuri,” Victor whispered just before he came.

Every pulse of semen was a new relief, but as good as it felt, the orgasm only took the edge off a far deeper need that remained unsated.

Breathing hard, Victor opened his eyes and tried not to feel disappointed that he was wearing a condom instead of spilling into Yuuri directly. The condom was a gesture of respect, something Yuuri had established early on as something he wanted in place during sex. There was no other option than to honor the request . . . but that didn’t stop Victor from longing to have that barrier removed.

After he withdrew, he rubbed the pad of his thumb across Yuuri’s entrance and imagined what the wetness would look like as it trickled out. Would Yuuri ever be comfortable with that? Would he want to come inside of Victor in return? Because he was just as greedy to feel that wetness running down the inside of his own thighs. . .

Victor discarded the condom and returned his attention to his lover. He was up on his hands and knees again but dipped his head down to kiss the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. “I bought you a ring today,” Victor murmured in Russian. “I wish I had it here with me. I’d slide it on your finger right now.”

Yuuri smiled. Even though he didn’t understand a single syllable, he could tell the words meant something he would like. He rolled over onto his back and opened up his arms and thighs to Victor, who paused only long enough to switch off the lights before lowering himself down for a kiss.

To be continued

Chapter Text

The next day, Yuuri was in a peculiar mood.

His smiles seemed genuine, and if anything, conversation with him came easier than it normally did. Still, Victor sensed something simmering beneath the surface, like Yuuri wasn’t saying a fraction of what he was thinking. That was nothing new, but it seemed particularly pronounced that day.

When they left the arena after Yuuri’s morning practice session, he wanted to go sightseeing of all things. Stranger still, he was enthusiastic about it. “I want to remember this weekend with you,” he said. “Let’s make the most of it.”

And so they’d had a lovely day together exploring the beauty of Barcelona, discovering new tastes and smells, and indulging in a bit of shopping.

The shopping puzzled Victor most of all. Yuuri hated it. Though he didn’t complain, he looked at each storefront like it held some new kind of torture behind its doors. One would never know he was a professional athlete because he dropped into every bench and chair he could find, as if maneuvering a fitting room was more difficult than doing fifteen quadruple flips in a row.

Well, at least Victor’s stamina outshone his student’s in one thing.

But even though Yuuri dragged his feet whenever Victor pointed out a new shop, he was the one who declined any suggestion that they stop and call it a day. That was the part that had Victor puzzled.

After the sun set, he began to get nervous about the engagement ring. He knew he had to get to the jewelry store before it closed and didn’t know how to tell Yuuri that without ruining the surprise. The hints Victor dropped that he was getting tired and wanted to go back either weren’t heard or taken seriously.

Yuuri wasn’t acting like himself either. He seemed unusually distracted, so much so that he lost track of one of their shopping bags. (Victor had been looking forward to those nuts.) It was as if Yuuri was searching for something he wouldn’t name. He scanned store windows in silence and looked more and more troubled as time went on.

It wasn’t until later that Victor understood why.

He had led them through the Christmas Market on purpose because the jewelry store was nearby. It would be tricky to pull off, but he was thinking that perhaps he could send Yuuri off on his own for a few minutes while he snuck inside to get the ring.

But then Yuuri caught sight of the store, blushed harder than Victor had ever seen, and marched straight up to the window. He then announced his intention to go inside.

At long last, Yuuri had found what he was looking for, and Victor was left to watch in stunned silence while his boyfriend inspected the very same display case of jewelry that he himself had purchased a ring at the prior evening.

Even then, Victor wasn’t completely certain what was happening because Yuuri wasn’t explaining himself. Victor’s body felt full of slow-moving lightning, like he’d received a bright, hot shock that was taking its time as it traveled through his limbs to his fingers and toes.

The sales associate was also the same woman who had helped Victor, and when he realized she remembered him, he lifted a finger to his lips and pleaded with her silently not to say a word.

All on his own, Yuuri chose the same ring for Victor that he had chosen for Yuuri.

Really, it was the nicest one there. Yuuri kept saying it was for good luck, and though Victor didn’t understand much about Japanese charms, he knew they were an important part of their culture. The ring was made of gold, which held obvious meaning to Yuuri, especially here in Barcelona the day before the Grand Prix Final.

But it was also a wedding ring. It said so on the receipt.

After their conversation about making a commitment and all those jokes about marriage proposals, Yuuri understood the implications of what he was buying. He wouldn’t be blushing so deeply if he didn’t.

One thing was certain. He was a man on a mission, and he marched out of the store with unflinching determination, likely clothing himself in boldness to conceal how nervous he was. Victor lingered behind just long enough for the sales associate to hand him a little jewelry box containing the ring he’d had engraved. He thanked her with a somewhat dazed smile and slipped it into his coat pocket.

Was this actually happening? It didn’t seem real.

Even though he’d come armed tonight with plenty to say, Victor was left speechless. He’d been fully prepared to have to convince Yuuri that this was the right decision for them. Victor had also prepared himself for outright rejection because . . . well, because it was Yuuri. Endearingly timid Yuuri, who was so private and guarded that he ran from things he wasn’t sure about.

While he had been the one to bring up the subject of a commitment with Victor, proposing marriage was still a huge step to take only a year after meeting someone. And it wasn’t like they had started dating immediately after they’d danced at the Grand Prix Final banquet last year.

So to have Yuuri be the one who decided to take this step first?

Victor couldn’t believe it. It was the one thing he hadn’t prepared himself for, and it completely disarmed him.

He was quiet and shaking a bit inside as Yuuri led them to a nearby cathedral, drawn by the singing of a choir outside its golden gates. Together they ascended the steps until they were standing separated from everyone else. There, Yuuri took Victor’s right hand within his own and placed a ring of gold on it.

Victor listened carefully to what Yuuri was trying to tell him about what it represented.

Good luck. A thank you to Victor. Nothing about marriage.

Of course, Yuuri wouldn’t ask anything for himself. He might want it—the way his eyes were shining made that more than apparent—but instead of asking Victor to stay with him forever, Yuuri had instead given him a selfless gesture of love and thanks. He requested nothing in return except that Victor tell him something for good luck.

That was why the second ring was important. Victor was so happy he had it.

It was an equal exchange. A gift given and returned in kind.

An actual marriage proposal stated in words would have felt out of place because they weren’t asking each other for anything. It wasn’t a request for the other person to make a commitment or stay with them forever. It wasn’t a question at all but instead a gift of themselves. It was like saying “I do” instead of “Will you?”

When Victor took the ring out of his pocket and slipped it onto his love’s finger, Yuuri went still with surprise, not even blinking as he stared down at his own hand. His brows were drawn together in the middle, eyes wide with some nameless emotion. But when he lowered his hand and looked up to meet Victor’s gaze, Yuuri’s surprise melted into joy. He looked happy in a way Victor had always hoped he’d get to witness.

That hopeful smile revealed Yuuri had understood. Victor had gifted himself to him . . . and had accepted Yuuri’s gift in turn.

There at the foot of the cathedral, they stepped into each other’s arms—pausing just long enough for Victor to run his thumb thoughtfully across Yuuri’s lower lip—and sealed their engagement with a kiss.

Yuuri looked good in gold. It suited him.

Victor leaned back against the elevator wall, hands in his coat pockets, and wore a little smirk as he stared across the small space at his fiancé. Yuuri adjusted his hold on their many shopping bags and gazed timidly back.

They were alone in the hotel elevator, having just left Phichit down in the lobby and Christophe on the third floor. Victor and Yuuri had been engaged now for almost three hours and had even publicly announced it while out at dinner with their friends and fellow competitors. (Also Yuuri’s sister, whom Victor had avoided looking at for the rest of the evening. That was going to be an interesting conversation later on.)

The news was out. It was official. Victor Nikiforov was engaged to Katsuki Yuuri.

Yet somehow an even bigger bombshell had overshadowed what was no doubt soon to become a veritable scandal in the competitive figure skating world.

“So what you’re telling me,” Victor said, “is that you have no recollection of orchestrating a dance-off and asking me to be your coach if you won?”

Yuuri let his head fall back against the wall with a thud. “Can we please talk about something else?”

“Because you won, Yuuri. I have the pictures to prove it.”


Victor wasn’t sure if he felt like laughing or like he’d been punched in the stomach.

That night had changed his life. Yuuri had swept Victor off his feet and taught him more about life and laughter than twenty-seven years of living combined. How could he not remember that? That’s when this whole thing had started.

Did . . . that mean he also didn’t remember what happened after the banquet?

Celestino had been busy making amends with sponsors, so Victor had volunteered to take Yuuri back to his room. Actually, Christophe had been the first to volunteer, which was exactly why Victor had stepped in and gotten Yuuri out of there.

Not that Christophe was the type of person to take advantage of someone who couldn’t give consent—and besides, his partner was there at the banquet as well—but Victor had felt a surge of protectiveness that wasn’t entirely like him. He didn’t trust anyone with Yuuri except himself.

They never did make it into his room. Yuuri couldn’t find his key, so he and Victor had sat together on the floor outside and talked until Celestino could catch up with them. The fun part of being drunk had worn off, and Yuuri wasn’t doing well. He had cried. About his performance. About his dog. About embarrassing himself. He’d told Victor people kept assuming he was going to announce his retirement, and he didn’t know what to do.

Victor hadn’t known what to do either, especially about the crying. (Pat him on the back? Hug him? He couldn’t exactly kiss him in such a condition.) But when the subject of retirement had come up, he’d gotten mad. He’d told Yuuri in no uncertain terms that he had to keep going. He was too young, and Victor wanted to see him at the World Championship. And afterwards, maybe they could go dancing again and talk about the coaching thing.

Because after that, Victor had told Yuuri he was also struggling with the idea of retirement. He wasn’t convinced it was the right time to step down, but nothing felt new anymore. Motivation and inspiration had conspired together to abandon him at the same time.

Victor was burned out . . . and he’d never told that to anyone before.

Yuuri had gotten mad at the idea of retirement, too. He had told Victor that he couldn’t give up either and that he also wanted to see him at the World Championship. And then Celestino had come with a spare key, and they’d had to say a quick goodnight.

Before they parted, Yuuri had given Victor a fake cell phone number.

No one had ever given Victor Nikiforov a fake number before.

That was right around the time he began putting together what would become the Eros choreography in his head. He was a little pissed. (And also maybe a little in love.)

Yuuri never did make it to the World Championship. Victor had felt very lost about what to do after he descended from the podium. Already, people were hounding him about his next move, and he was so tired of having to reinvent himself again and again just to keep his audience interested.

He’d watched videos of Yuuri’s performances from Nationals and had found them confusing. Did he want to keep skating or not? It was like he’d given up. That had pissed Victor off, too.

But then he saw the video of Yuuri performing to Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare, and he infused in it all the passion Victor felt like he was lacking. And that had really pissed him off.

Where had this Yuuri been at the Grand Prix Finals? At Nationals? Why hadn’t he made it to the Four Continents or World Championship? He clearly had the talent needed to win.

Was the problem his coach? Did he not feel supported at competitions?

Whatever the case was, Victor had taken the video as a message that Yuuri wasn’t ready to give up, and of course, that message was meant directly for Victor because it was his routine. He’d poured his heart into creating it, and the lyrics alone were incredibly personal.

Maybe the fake phone number had been an honest mistake? Yuuri had been drunk, after all.

So Victor had packed his bags and booked a flight to Japan without realizing the person who had invited him there had no recollection of doing so. Yuuri must have thought Victor was crazy, showing up out of the blue like that.

Except it was now Yuuri who was saying, “I’m so embarrassed,” to Victor instead of the other way around.

“I don’t know why,” Victor said, his tone soft with amazement. “I fell for you hard that night.”

Yuuri’s anxious expression relaxed into the tiniest of smiles.

Victor smiled back, amused and so in love that his heart was literally aching. What a mess. But it had all ended up okay. They’d both found their inspiration to keep fighting in each other, and they were going to prove it at the Grand Prix Final exactly a year after they’d met. “Big day tomorrow. Everything we’ve been working for.”

Yuuri blew out a breath, grateful for the change in subject. “Yeah.”

“You should probably get some sleep.” Victor nodded slowly to emphasize his point. “That would be the responsible thing to do.”

“I . . . guess.”

“And as your coach, I should encourage responsibility.”

Yuuri gave him a look that said he wasn’t sure if Victor was serious or not. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

“Of course, I’m joking.” Victor punched the button for their floor repeatedly to encourage the elevator to move faster. “But just remember who tried to be the responsible one here.”

Sleep? No, no, no.

They’d built up quite a bit of sexual tension throughout the day. First at the morning practice, where Yuuri had made eyes at him while doing his little Eros-inspired twists and turns on the ice. It had reminded Victor of that final late-night practice session at the Ice Castle, which he would probably never be able to get over for the rest of his life. It was all he could do not to drag Yuuri beneath the stands of the arena and get down on his knees for him.

Then there was the shopping trip, where Victor had gotten his revenge by forcing Yuuri into every dressing room in sight just to make him blush. He’d tried on a dozen pairs of jeans that were all a bit too snug and demanded that Yuuri give a very honest and detailed opinion about the fit.

And of course, then had come the engagement. The kiss they’d shared afterward had gone straight to Victor’s head. It was perfect. Sweet and romantic . . . but also sexy as hell. Yuuri’s smaller body fit so well against Victor’s, and his mouth was hot and delicious. The cool weight of gold on his finger made the moment even better.

At dinner, Victor had thought about little else other than sex. The alcohol he consumed didn’t help. He was far from drunk, but the few drinks he did indulge in made his body warm and relaxed. And everything Yuuri did made the need for sex so much worse. The way he held his cup. The press of his lips on the rim. How he fiddled with his ring so that it caught the light, then turned his eyes up at his fiancé with a smile beautiful enough to make Victor fall in love all over again.

So no. They were not going to be sleeping anytime soon.

After they left the elevator and came to the door of their hotel room, unlocking the damn thing proved to be something of a challenge.

Yuuri dropped the card key two times, which really wasn’t his fault. Victor had molded the front of his body against his fiancé’s back and was licking kisses up the side of his neck while his fingers worked at coat buttons. The door opened on the third try, and they stumbled into the dark room with their shopping bags before dumping it all on the floor. The door slammed shut behind them.

They didn’t make it any further for some time.

Yuuri’s arms had gone around Victor’s neck, and the second their lips touched, the rush to the bed was forgotten. Victor stooped down, slid his hands just under Yuuri’s bottom, and picked him up. They’d practiced enough pair skating lifts that the movements came to them easily. They were perfectly in sync as Yuuri’s legs wrapped around him. Victor turned and pressed Yuuri’s back against the door.

Victor let him feel it there—how badly he wanted this. Yuuri was trying to get them undressed, his fingers pulling at their scarves, but he lost focus when Victor started to move his hips. Yuuri’s mouth fell open, and his head craned backwards, exposing his throat. Victor claimed it, first opening his mouth against the very base of Yuuri’s throat before working a trail of kisses up to his chin.

“My Yuuri,” he whispered against the wet skin. “Do you want to fuck me tonight?”

Yuuri let out an unfocused moan, his voice cracking in the middle.

It wasn’t often that Victor cursed, but when the occasion was right, there was nothing quite like the shock of a good expletive. That one word was all it took to refine the already sexually-charged mood into something impossibly hotter.

“Or I could take you right here,” Victor said, smiling as the pressure of his mouth forced Yuuri’s chin ever higher. “Up against the door.”

Yuuri laughed breathlessly, then moaned again at the feel of Victor thrusting against him through their clothing. “How will we get undressed?”

Victor growled, but he supposed Yuuri had a point. They were still fully dressed and hadn’t even made it out of their coats yet. It would take ripping fabric and possibly a miracle to get the job done here without an awkward scramble. That wasn’t what Victor had in mind. He wanted to take his time with this.

“Fine. The bed, then.” He lowered Yuuri to the ground and kissed the tip of his nose. “But I expect a show.”

Whenever Yuuri was excited about something, his eyes sparkled. He wore a loveable, slightly bashful expression as he removed his coat and tossed away his scarf, but there was nothing hesitant about his movements. He was flushed with expectation.

Finally, he had gotten to a place where this felt natural. There was no overthinking or second-guessing his actions. Last night, he’d given himself to Victor in a way he never had before. And it wasn’t just his body—but also his mind. The way Yuuri had smiled so peacefully as Victor took him had been the gift of perfect trust they’d been missing from the beginning.

Victor was glad he’d been patient and waited to push their sexual encounters further. With this level of trust in place, the sex was going to be more than good. This allowed him the freedom to take them even further than before and know that Yuuri would feel safe and excited about it.

They shed as much clothing as possible in those first few moments by the door, but soon Yuuri grew impatient and wrapped his arms around Victor’s neck again. With their bare chests pressed together, they opened their mouths up to each other and let their tongues loose.

The warm honey of Yuuri’s mouth did more to Victor’s head than an entire night of drinking. He was already so hard, his pants were uncomfortable, but it was Yuuri’s zipper that he went for. Victor made quick work of it and pushed the garment down so that he could fill his hands with Yuuri’s ass. Victor loved the way it clenched and moved, but if he didn’t get his cock inside of Yuuri soon, he was probably going to come just from touching him.

After Yuuri stepped out of his pants, Victor guided them in the direction of the bed. It was like a slow dance across the room. Victor leading, Yuuri walking backwards, toes dragging on the floor while they kissed.

Victor had intended to take charge tonight, at least at first. He’d imagined Yuuri might be feeling a little nervous about tomorrow and want Victor to do most of the guiding . . . but that wasn’t what happened. It was Yuuri who started pushing back against Victor’s lead. Soon Yuuri’s kisses were more pressing, and Victor found himself submitting to them.

Yes, he thought. He loved it when Yuuri took charge. So many times in the past, his kisses had felt like questions. Is this okay? Am I doing it right?

Tonight, Yuuri’s kisses said, Get on the bed.

By the time they crossed the room, Yuuri had reversed their positions. It was Victor who was pushed down onto the bed first. He laid back, his upper body still propped up on his elbows, while Yuuri undid his belt buckle and pulled the strip of leather free from the loops of Victor’s pants.

Victor swallowed, a bit stunned and more than a little turned on. He had asked for a show after all.

But then Yuuri got distracted. He muttered something under his breath about condoms and wandered off half-naked in search of their bags. Letting the belt fall to the floor, he dropped to one knee to dig into the contents of his carryon.

“That was a very rude place to stop,” Victor said.

“Sorry. One second.” A few moments later, Yuuri stood with a box of condoms in his hand.

It was tempting to sigh, but Victor suppressed it just in time.

He hated wearing them but didn’t want Yuuri to feel guilty or pressured to stop using protection if that was what he needed to feel safe here. Victor had already told him he’d been tested and was clean. This wasn’t a one-night stand. They were in a committed relationship, so what exactly was Yuuri trying to protect himself from?

“Yuuri,” Victor said, striving to keep his tone mild. “I’ll wear whatever you want me to if it makes you feel safer, but I hope you realize now that this isn’t a fling.”

Yuuri had started to walk back to the bed, but at Victor’s words, he hesitated. “You . . . don’t want to wear a condom?” He sounded surprised, like the idea hadn’t occurred to him.

“It doesn’t matter what I want. I’ll wear it every time if that’s what you want. But I’m comfortable if you are. We are engaged to be married, after all.”

The statement hung in the air between them.

Victor had chosen those exact words on purpose. Engaged. Married.

He’d said them earlier at dinner, too, simply because there was a whisper of doubt in the back of his mind that Yuuri hadn’t understood what that ring on his finger meant. But even at the restaurant, Victor had wondered if Yuuri thought he was joking. Certainly the rings could serve as a good luck charm, and Victor had decided to give Yuuri a ring now instead of waiting so that he wouldn’t worry about their future during his performance.

But they were engaged. Victor was planning to marry him, and he wanted to make that clear.

And if Yuuri was thinking something different, he needed to make that clear, too.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Victor said. “This isn’t temporary.”

Yuuri still didn’t say anything. His eyes were huge and round in the dark. It wasn’t the first time Victor had wished he could read Yuuri’s mind. What could he be thinking about to make him hesitate for so long?

Victor began to feel the first real stirring of doubt when Yuuri let the condoms fall back into his bag. His eyes had gone unfocused, like he wasn’t actually looking at Victor at all but was instead staring at something in his thoughts.

“We’re engaged,” Yuuri repeated, as if needing to say it out loud to make it feel real.

The side of Victor’s mouth tugged upward into a hesitant smile—but that widened into something more hopeful when Yuuri finally came back to earth and returned the smile with that innocent, wide-eyed sweetness that made Victor’s heart start aching again.

Had Yuuri really not understood he was in this for life? Victor didn’t even have a life before him.

“Come here, baby,” he said. “I’ve been waiting to touch you all day.”

Yuuri paused only long enough to take off his glasses and socks, and then he stepped out of his boxer briefs so that he was fully naked when he approached the bed. His cock was half-hard and heavy between his legs. The shadows of the room cut across his body when he moved, and the sight of those brown eyes heating up in the dark stole Victor’s breath away. It was like watching someone’s personality change between footsteps.

He sat up on the edge of the bed and tried not to look too excited when Yuuri came to loom over him.

His hands went to Victor’s face, and the feel of a golden ring on his skin sent a shiver of pleasure through him. (Did Yuuri even realize his ring was engraved? Victor rather liked the idea that he didn’t. It would be a special message for him to discover later.)

“You know. . .” He leaned forward to drop a kiss onto Yuuri’s stomach—but that was only a distraction while he wrapped his fingers around his cock. “I can’t stop thinking about what happened at the Ice Castle that night before we left.”

Yuuri sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth. One of his hands dropped to Victor’s shoulder to steady himself.

A smile glinted in Victor’s eyes. While he would never complain about a little role reversal, it was good to remind Yuuri from time to time that he wasn’t the only one who knew how to seduce. “That felt so good . . . having you that deep. Soon we’re going to be having arguments about who gets to bottom first.”

Yuuri was getting harder and starting to pant as Victor’s hand worked between them. “I thought you said you prefer being on top.”

“Yeah, well. . .” Victor laughed quietly. “You’ve made me see the light. Now that you’ve had a taste of both, what do you like best?”

“Everything. You.”

His voice was not as bold or sultry as Victor expected, but Yuuri wasn’t timid either. Tonight, he was somewhere in between. Soft and sweet and unbelievably sexy at the same time. There was no false confidence there to bolster his nerves. No character role to slip into in order to make his actions feel more natural. The person who stood before him was simply Yuuri. Like he finally felt comfortable coming to Victor just as himself.

“We’re good together, aren’t we?” Victor lifted his chin to request a kiss.

Yuuri met it without hesitation and kissed him several times before answering. “The best.”

With a smile, Victor bowed down to kiss the very tip of Yuuri’s cock . . . and just like that, the time for conversation came to an end.

God, Victor loved this. Yuuri’s cock was gorgeous and uncut, and it was so satisfying to see him getting hard enough that the head was emerging on its own. Victor ran his tongue all over it, then pulled the foreskin back and took him in deep—all the way to the back of his throat. Victor hummed, knowing how good the vibrations would feel, and turned his eyes up to see the reaction.

Yuuri’s mouth had fallen open. Better than that, his knees came close to buckling, and he almost toppled down into the bed. Victor had to help him remain standing, one arm wrapped around his upper thighs, just below his bottom, while he gave him a very thorough seeing-to with his mouth.

After all, Yuuri had left the condoms in his carryon, and that deserved a reward.

Victor sucked him off good—moving his head back and forth, focusing this tongue on the most sensitive places until Yuuri was red-faced and gasping—but he still wanted more. Pulling away, Victor said, “Move your hips for me, baby. Don’t be shy.”

Yuuri blinked down at him. “What?”

The hesitation was unsurprising. Victor had gone down on Yuuri several times now, but it was always one-sided with just a passive reaction. That was what last night’s sex had been like as well: passive. Considering how new Yuuri was to these experiences, it was understandable that he was still holding back while he let himself get used to things. But his inexperience was turning into competence very quickly, and it was time for him to leave some of that timidity behind.

“Come on. Fuck into me.” Victor smiled rather wickedly as he tongued at the join of Yuuri’s head to the shaft. “You know you want to.”

The naughty word must have helped inspired the right mental image because Yuuri’s fingers slid into the silk of Victor’s hair, and his hips began to rock. Holding Victor’s head still, Yuuri fucked his mouth for the first time.

There was something very freeing about being claimed like that. Victor closed his eyes, relaxed his throat, and concentrated on the slide of that beautiful cock between his lips. It was true that he did enjoy being on top, but he also craved this—letting his partner find pleasure through use of his body, feeling desired and adored and filled up, being worshiped with every gasp and stroke. It felt and tasted good, too.

And Yuuri did it just right. This wasn’t just about fucking. There was no grab for power here. The hands on Victor’s face might be firm, but they also belonged to a person who loved him. They were kind. He felt treasured, like he was the only person in the world capable of bringing Yuuri that kind of pleasure.

But even though Victor had specifically asked for this, Yuuri had still surprised him by going through with it. What else would he be willing to try tonight?

Yuuri never pushed too deep—not surprising, because that just wasn’t the type of person he was—but claiming Victor’s mouth in such a way had a significant effect on him anyway. “Vicchan. . .” He barely got the endearment out before his legs went wobbly, and he collapsed down on top of him.

Victor’s arms were ready to catch him. Together, they fell back onto the bed and rolled onto their sides. Yuuri was just a bit too high, which required Victor to inch upward to meet him. With a knowing smirk, he pushed Yuuri’s bangs out of his face and said, “Too much?”

Pausing just long enough to catch his breath, Yuuri opened his eyes and fixed Victor in place with a look that could have melted sand into glass. He rolled into a sitting position, pushed Victor onto his back, and a breath later, had him straddled.

Yuuri pinned Victor’s arms to the mattress and said, “Not even close.”

Well, then.

Apparently tonight was going to be a rehearsal for tomorrow’s short program. Yuuri’s Eros was about to set the room on fire, and Victor could not have been more pleased that he was going to be engulfed in the flames.

Yuuri began to move, rubbing his naked body against Victor’s partially-clothed one. He was still wearing his pants, though the top button had come undone and the zipper was slowly easing downward. Victor gasped at the unexpected sensations and let his head fall back onto the mattress. Then there was nothing to do but feel the weight of Yuuri’s body rubbing against his arousal.

If there was one thing Yuuri knew, it was how to dance. He could move his hips in ways that evaded the average man. There was often something feminine about him. Though he was still very much a man, another side of him emerged when he let it. A fluidity that eased one way before flooding back to the other.

Victor was in heaven.

When Yuuri released his hands, his arms didn’t move from where they were on the mattress. Victor just laid there and basked in the feeling of Yuuri moving down his body, first encouraging his chin higher before claiming Victor’s throat with his mouth. He craved this. Needed it. Having his neck kissed and licked. The gentle scrape of teeth. The push and pull of fingers on his nipples.

When Yuuri moved down even further to close his mouth over a nipple, Victor’s hips lifted off the mattress. With a warm, gentle hand, Yuuri fondled Victor’s pec like a breast while he suckled and teased the other . . . and Victor was about to come unglued. He hadn’t even had his cock touched yet.

He had always known this kind of confidence and sexuality was simmering inside of Yuuri. The way he danced made it plain to see there was a treasure beneath that timid shell. Victor adored the shy part of him, too—loved making him blush and encouraging that sweet smile to emerge—but this was a thing of rare beauty.

This was the Yuuri that only came out for Victor.

There was another slide downward and then Yuuri was easing Victor’s zipper apart and burying his nose in his neatly trimmed pubic hair. The feel of hot breath spilling across his skin had Victor cursing in Russian because he’d forgotten all the English he knew.

Yuuri let out a soft moan as if nothing brought him more pleasure than pulling Victor’s cock out and giving it a good suck. The sounds he made . . . the look on his face . . . it was all unbelievable. As Yuuri went down on Victor, he looked like he was drawing a cool drink of water down into a parched throat. Victor could see and hear how much his lover enjoyed it, and that multiplied his own pleasure a hundredfold.

But it was too good. Too hot. The twist and turn of Yuuri’s tongue too clever.

Victor lasted less than a minute before he was pushing against Yuuri’s shoulders. If he didn’t stop, Victor was going to come in his mouth—just like he had at the Ice Castle, oh God—and he wasn’t anywhere near ready for this to end.

Yuuri sat up on his knees, wiped his chin, and gazed down at his handiwork. Victor panted beneath him—nipples hard and wet, his cock pink-purple at the tip and glistening with saliva. His entire body tingled and smarted with love-bites.

“Roll over,” Yuuri ordered quietly.

Victor felt a pang of nervousness as he did as he was told. Which one of them exactly was the inexperienced person in this relationship? Because it certainly didn’t feel like him tonight.

And then his eyes opened wide with shock because Yuuri had hoisted Victor’s hips into the air. He was up on his knees now with his arms and face down on the mattress. Though Victor was still wearing his pants, Yuuri slid them slowly down, revealing Victor’s ass inch by inch before the garment was pushed to his knees.

“Shhh,” Yuuri said, his palm rubbing circles on Victor’s lower back. “Just relax.”

Relax? Where was the fun in that?

Victor rather liked this rougher side of Yuuri. Just because he wasn’t boneless and drooling beneath him didn’t mean he wasn’t enjoying himself. The rising tension was part of the fun before the release.

But the hand on his lower back was difficult to resist. The warm pressure of it was soothing, and soon Victor was all but purring into the sheets. He couldn’t see Yuuri from this position, which made his other senses hyperaware. Like the feel of Yuuri’s cock nudging the back of his thighs. The cool absence of his hand when it fell away from Victor’s back. The sound of the lubricant bottle popping open.

They’d left it on the table by the bed last night, and thank goodness for that. Victor didn’t think he’d be able to handle being left by himself on the bed again.

This was the kind of moment that would always require patience and focus, regardless of how heated things had become between them, and Yuuri didn’t rush it. His slicked-up fingers first teased Victor’s entrance, taking time to spread a generous amount of wetness around, before putting gentle but firm pressure where it counted.

Victor’s fingers tightened around the sheets, and he cursed in French.

He still couldn’t remember any English. What country were they in again? He had no idea.

Because then Yuuri’s fingers were opening him up, and until that moment, Victor hadn’t realized how badly he’d needed something to clench around. He was wound up tight tonight, far more than usual, and it took Yuuri a little more time than normal to get three fingers working inside.

Yuuri,” Victor whined into the sheets.

“Shhh,” Yuuri said again, still gentle. “Almost there.”

He waited until every thrust inside of Victor was easier than the last. There was another moment of whining when the fingers left him, but Yuuri made it up to Victor a moment later when his cock replaced them.

And oh. Yes.

Victor closed his eyes, even as his mouth opened wide.

Yes, this was exactly what he needed. Not an orgasm—but to be penetrated. Opened up around Yuuri’s cock.

The head was swallowed right up, but he had to push and rock his hips to make room for the rest. Victor was not making this easy on him tonight, simply because his need for it had made him tighten up. But though the friction was almost too much at first, the stretch and burn began to feel good.

By the time Yuuri had worked all the way inside him, Victor had finally relaxed into it. Only then did Yuuri begin to move in earnest, and Victor sighed happily into the sheets as he was jostled back and forth.

Now this was a vacation.

Yuuri gave him a proper fuck. Hands on Victor’s hips, holding him still. Skin slapping against skin. It wasn’t gentle nor was it too rough. It was that sweet spot in the middle where it rubbed just right. His cock was thicker than Victor’s own with a very pleasing length. Without a condom on, Victor could feel the heat and glide of it so much better.

He let Yuuri know how much he approved of what he was doing with a stream of praises. “Yes, baby . . . that’s just what I like. . . you feel so good when you . . . oh . . . fuck.”

As Victor’s knees spread further apart on the mattress, he could only hope he was speaking the right language. But really, who cared? The sounds he was making were easy enough to understand.

And Yuuri wasn’t exactly quiet himself, which was a bit of a surprise. He wasn’t loud by any means, but every now and then, a little sound or phrase in Japanese spilled from his lips. He had always been quiet during sex, preferring to stifle his moans against Victor’s shoulder rather than let them fly free. Tonight, it seemed he was having difficulty holding it in.

Well, that was interesting. Victor wondered what it would take to hear more.

It was around that time that he started thrusting backwards . . . meeting Yuuri’s strokes . . . making them strike harder.

But just as Yuuri’s labored breathing truly began to shift into something that had tone and clarity, he stopped moving with a broken gasp. His hands were a little sweaty where they gripped Victor’s hips. “I-I think I need to put a condom on.”

Victor blinked. Like hell he was going to put a condom on.

He sensed the problem. Yuuri’s thighs were shaking against his own. It was the first time he was experiencing sex without that thin barrier of latex between them and probably hadn’t realized how much more intense the feeling could get. “Too sensitive?”

There was no answer at first until Victor wiggled his butt, and Yuuri let out a yelp of dismay. He pulled completely out of Victor and had to sit back on his heels and put his face in his hands until he calmed down.

Victor smiled as he turned to look at him, understanding all too well how his lover felt. He took advantage of the brief pause by removing his pants fully. After casting them onto the floor, he said, “I think it’s time you learned the best part about switching. We can last longer if we take turns.”

When Yuuri’s hands fell away from his face, he looked relieved to see Victor looming over him, ready to take over. Yuuri was trembling with exertion, but when Victor touched him, he let himself go soft and lifted his face up for a kiss.

Victor didn’t give it to him immediately. Drawing closer, he slid one arm around Yuuri’s lower back, tangled the fingers of the other hand into thick, black hair, and carefully lowered him down to the bed.

There, Victor kissed him.

And as much as he loved having his lover on top of him, he also needed to feel this. The way Yuuri’s tender little mouth opened up to him. The way his thighs spread to allow Victor to move between them. They hadn’t kissed nearly enough tonight.

This was the part of being on top that Victor enjoyed. It wasn’t so much about who was doing the penetrating. The part he liked was knowing he could make this good for Yuuri—that he could guide him through a pleasurable experience and keep him protected from anything that would make him uncomfortable. Victor found great satisfaction in giving his partner the kindness and respect he would want to receive himself.

He kissed Yuuri for a very long time, filling his mouth up with his tongue and letting his fingers comb through that silken black hair again and again. Victor’s weight was fully on top of him, but Yuuri didn’t seem to mind. His legs had gone around Victor’s middle so that no matter which way he rolled, Yuuri came with him.

Victor’s ass felt incredible—well-tended and used in the very best of ways—but it was time to return the favor. He broke away from the kiss just long enough to stretch his fingers toward the bottle of lubricant. When Yuuri let out an impatient whine, Victor laughed and said, “Patience, my little katsudon.”

He took his time getting Yuuri nice and loose with the help of three well-lubricated fingers, but even that didn’t quell the little sounds and looks of frustration. Yuuri’s brow was pinched in the middle, and he was drawing in every breath deep into his stomach, like he did during a challenging workout. His cock was as hard as ever where it rested on his stomach. “Please . . . I need it now.”

It was the first time Yuuri had pleaded with him during sex. A smile spread Victor’s mouth wide before he leaned down to kiss the wet pout of Yuuri’s lower lip. “All right. You’ve waited long enough.”

Victor hoisted one of Yuuri’s legs over his shoulder and moved into position. But when he pressed the tip of his cock to Yuuri’s entrance and worked it open with gentle thrusts, not even that soothed his frustration. Victor silenced Yuuri with his kisses, but this did little to suppress the sounds that rose up from him as Victor moved deeper inside.

It was an easy slide—nice and smooth. Victor had been so focused on Yuuri that the feel of being fully inside him caught him off guard. God, he was tight. No wonder Yuuri had wanted a condom.

Victor gave it to him slow for several very enjoyable minutes, murmuring endearments and praises with every thrust, loving the way his ring caught the city light from the window and shone even in the darkness. But soon it became apparent that Yuuri wasn’t going to be satisfied with gentle love-making tonight. He looked frustrated, and he kept matching Victor’s downward movements with upward strokes in an attempt to speed things up.

Well, if he wanted to lead, all he had to do was ask. Victor knew better than to hold Yuuri back when he wanted to dance.

Victor hugged him to his chest and pulled them both up into a sitting position with Yuuri straddling his lap. Victor’s cock had slipped out of place while they resituated themselves, and Yuuri looked almost mad about it. He gripped Victor’s shaft by the base and sank back down on top of it, letting out a sigh of relief as it spread him apart.

Yuuri’s own cock was nudging Victor’s stomach—hot as fire and leaving a smear of pre-come wherever it touched. The change in position left Yuuri free to take what he wanted. He put his hands on Victor’s shoulders, closed his eyes . . . and started to bounce.

Mouth open. Back arched. Chest pushed out. Lost in another world.

Victor stared at him, absolutely awestruck by the way he was moving.

Yuuri had a beautiful sexuality—innocent still but truly starting to blossom now. The visual display alone was much more detrimental to Victor’s control than the sex itself.

The prior times they had made love had been wonderful but were nothing compared to the freedom of this. Their first time was understandably reserved. Victor had done most of the guiding and was happy to do what he could to make that experience a positive one for Yuuri. The next morning had been better, with Yuuri more familiar with what to expect and not as tense. They began to get into a groove at that point, but they were still learning each other’s bodies and what they liked.

In Hasetsu, they’d managed to have sex only twice. Once snuggling in bed in the early hours of the morning, the only time Yuuri could be convinced that no one in the house was awake except them. Victor had hugged Yuuri’s body against his own and made love to him from behind. Lying on their sides in the narrow bed, they had coupled that way, snuggled up together with Yuuri’s cock in his hand and Victor moving in slow thrusts. It hadn’t felt bad by any stretch of the imagination, but Yuuri hadn’t been able to relax. Victor didn’t ever want sex to be an uncomfortable thing for them, so he’d made it a quickie and apologized after.

Even though Yuuri had assured him he’d wanted it too, Victor hadn’t tried it again, but was glad when Yuuri initiated the encounter at the Ice Castle a few days later. Not only did it help get them to find that comfortable place again, but having Yuuri bend him over that barrier had long been a fantasy.

And as wonderful as last night was, Yuuri hadn’t really been an active participant. He’d simply let Victor do what he wanted with his body, but that wasn’t anywhere near as satisfying as this.

This was good.

Yuuri opened his eyes to gaze down at Victor, and he smiled breathlessly before hugging him close for a kiss.

He truly belonged to Victor now . . . and he seemed to know it. It wasn’t confidence fueling Yuuri’s movements tonight. It was security. He had a ring on his finger, the solid foundation of a future together beneath him, and he finally felt free to just be himself. It was the sexiest thing Victor had ever seen.

But then Yuuri started making those little sounds again, and Victor changed his mind.

No, that was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen—the way Yuuri’s mouth went lax before a moan escaped him.

Victor started cursing in French again. Or maybe it was English. Possibly Japanese. He couldn’t think straight anymore because Yuuri was fucking himself hard now on Victor’s cock.

There was an edge of desperation to it. It was apparent that Yuuri had some pent-up energy or frustration or something that he needed to work out. He was obviously in need of a good pounding and was still not in the right position to get the job done himself. Though he might have demanded the leading role, Victor knew what he really needed and took pity on him.

Ignoring the dirty look Yuuri gave him when he was interrupted, Victor lowered him back down to the mattress again but this time, stayed up on his knees. Victor put his hands on Yuuri’s hips to keep him still, and proceeded to thrust into him with steady, decisive strokes—hard enough that the bed began to move beneath them.

Yuuri forgot his frustration—and absolutely lost it.

He tried biting the back of his hand to keep quiet, but it didn’t work. The sounds came out anyway. Victor had never heard anything like it—somewhere between a moan and a sob. Something had released inside of Yuuri. A lever or valve, and all of the pressure was rushing out of him.

Victor wasn’t exactly quiet himself. This was precisely the way he’d wanted to fuck Yuuri into the mattress last night, and it was even better than he’d hoped for because Yuuri was loving it.

But now Victor was the one getting overstimulated. He could feel the orgasm already building in the base of his abdomen and let out a gasp of frustration. He didn’t want to stop but also wasn’t ready for it to end.

“I’m close,” Yuuri panted beneath him. “Vicchan, please.”

Victor’s eyes blinked open in surprise.

Really? Yuuri was going to come just from being penetrated?

At once, Victor stopped what he was doing and pulled out, ignoring the cry of protest that came as a result. No way was he going to miss having Yuuri come inside of him for the first time without a condom on. If there was one thing Victor was going to be selfish about tonight, it was that.

Yuuri was so distressed by the loss of contact that he was trembling. “Why did you . . . ?”

Victor shushed him gently. “Settle down, baby. I’m going to make you feel so good. Just a little while longer.”

Yuuri’s arms were limp at his sides, and his legs looked useless. There was no way he was going to be able to get up on his knees again and take the lead, so Victor straddled him instead. After a bit of maneuvering, he lowered himself down onto Yuuri’s cock.

It was thick and hard as a rock. Victor could practically feel Yuuri’s pulse beating inside him through it, and the shock of sinking down onto its length stole his breath away for a moment. No wonder Yuuri was complaining at the loss of this. There was nothing quite like it. Victor had been joking earlier, but now it seemed like they really were going to start having arguments about who got to be on bottom.

“I’m not going to last,” Yuuri whimpered beneath him.

Victor put his hands flat on the bed to support himself while he leaned down to offer a reassuring kiss. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“But I wanted to come with you inside me.” Color burned high and bright on Yuuri’s cheeks, but his vision had gone unfocused. His eyes were half-lidded like his mind was already floating away again, lost to the pleasure.

“Next time. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

Still, he felt a bit guilty for robbing Yuuri of something he really wanted, so Victor rolled them onto their sides. He might not be able to give Yuuri his cock, but he still had hands. Victor reached an arm around Yuuri’s body and managed to get a few fingers in deep enough to give him a good stretch. Thank goodness he had long arms. “Is that better?”

Yes.” Yuuri began to move, faster with each second—thrusting his cock forward into Victor’s ass and fucking himself back against the fingers. It took less than thirty seconds before Yuuri was coming with such intensity that he was shouting.

It was really quite amazing, the way he broke.

The powerful waves washed Yuuri far out to sea. Victor held him through it, watching his face carefully while he drifted. The aftermath burned slow and long, and Yuuri was left shaking afterward, his temples damp with sweat. Victor soothed him with kisses until he calmed, all the while aware that something warm had spilled inside of him.

Victor smiled. Perhaps it had been greedy of him to demand this, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret it when Yuuri’s cock slipped out of him and left a kiss of wetness on Victor’s entrance.

The condoms had been a nice warmup to get Yuuri comfortable with sex.

This was so much better.

Victor pushed Yuuri’s hair away from his sweaty forehead. “Well, that was very nice. Do you want me to come inside you, too?”

Yuuri gave a drunken nod. Victor’s fingers were still moving inside him, and Yuuri was breathing and sighing in time with every thrust. He needed help rolling over but got up onto his knees without being prompted. He put his head down on the mattress and said, “Will you please do it hard? Don’t hold back. I promise I’ll tell you if it’s too much.”

Would he?

Victor found his own legs were a bit wobbly as he took position behind his fiancé. A trickle of come ran down his inner thigh when he put his hands on Yuuri’s hips. Again, his engagement ring glimmered golden in the darkness.

Victor had never taken him in this position before—with Yuuri’s ass poised high in the air, practically begging to be fucked—but he’d wanted to from the beginning. It would have been too tempting to pound into him with all his strength, and Victor had been trying so hard to take his time and let Yuuri warm up to this.

Did he really understand what he was asking for?

Victor hoped so. Not only was Yuuri’s trust important here, but for this to work, Victor had to trust Yuuri, too—that he was telling the truth that he would say something if it got to be too much for him to take. Without trusting his partner, Victor would never truly be able to let go. They were both taking a leap of faith here.

He slid inside in one, easy stroke, and that was all it took before his vision went white. He gripped Yuuri by the hips and gave him what he’d asked for—hard enough that the bedframe started banging into the wall.

And good lord, the sounds Yuuri made.

Even after he’d already come, he was still begging for it. His spent cock was leaking all over the sheets, and his knees kept sliding further apart on the mattress until Victor hauled him back up again and held him in place.

The switching helped him last longer than he expected. He’d been close to climaxing twice now, and the build came slower this time, even though the pace kept quickening.

This enabled him to give Yuuri a very thorough pounding, and the longer it went on, the more they both let go. Every time Yuuri said the word Yes, Victor gained confidence that his lover wanted this just as much as he did. He hadn’t even been aware of how much he’d been holding back until it all came slipping through his fingers.

Letting out a cry, Victor hauled Yuuri back up for the fourth time and slammed into him hard. It wasn’t going to be long now. Not with Yuuri making those sounds. . . not when he was begging for it. . .

Victor tilted his head back, breathed his fiancé’s name, and lost his mind.

The orgasm pulled from deep inside him and pulsed out in wave after wave. He was left with a feeling like he was floating and falling at the same time. When he finally became aware of his surroundings again, he was shaken, senses muted, and he had to steady himself by holding onto Yuuri.

Once the ringing in his ears dimmed, Victor withdrew and watched his semen trickle out of his lover. And just like that, he changed his mind yet again.

Because that was the sexiest thing Victor had ever seen.

Yuuri turned his head on the mattress, licked his lips, and smiled. “Mmm. . .”

Victor tried and failed to form words. It took him a few attempts, but when he finally caught his breath, he said, “Good?” Even though the word Yes had been spoken in this room more than a dozen times in the last few minutes, there was still a part of him that needed confirmation.

Great,” Yuuri said.

After Victor dropped down beside him on the bed, Yuuri rolled onto his back. Their legs were entangled, their vision hazy. They had pushed the two twin beds together yesterday to make a bigger one, but the movements from the sex had moved them slightly apart. Victor was aware that a chasm had opened up beneath him, and they could very well fall through the crack between the beds at any second. He was too far gone to do anything about it.

“Wow,” Victor said.

“Yeah,” Yuuri replied. “Wow.”

Together, they panted and stared at the ceiling.

“That’s it,” Victor said in Russian. “That’s the only word I can remember. I think I just forgot how to speak English. What am I even saying now?”

What language was he speaking? Had Yuuri just miraculously taught him Japanese? Victor didn’t even know what continent he was on anymore.

Yuuri nodded without comprehending a word his fiancé said. “Wow.”

To be continued

Chapter Text

The Barcelona sun glittered like a diamond between Victor’s outstretched fingers.

It was early morning, the hour just after sunrise, and the air was chilly and smelled of briny seawater. It was a comforting smell—refreshing and nostalgic—but another familiar scent radiated up from the blue peacoat Victor had borrowed from his fiancé. Yuuri’s scent. Clean and warm. Wearing his coat was like being wrapped up in his arms. However, Victor had chosen to walk alone that morning. His lover’s scent was all that accompanied him.

Well. That and the feel of him.

Victor’s body ached all over, inside and out, as only the best kind of sex could do to a person. It was a pleasant ache that could be felt anew with every breath, step, and sigh. Last night’s lovemaking would not be easy to forget. He could feel the ghost of Yuuri’s mouth on his skin. See his sweet, bright-eyed smile in his mind. Hear the impassioned sounds he’d made echoed in the breeze.

A smile shone in Victor’s eyes for a moment but didn’t touch his lips.

His heart felt strange in his chest, like it wasn’t properly seated and was beating out of time. He had a lot on his mind that morning.

Although the beauty of Spain was every bit as breathtaking as the last time he had competed here, the sound of waves crashing and seagulls calling to each other had carried his mind thousands of miles away. He was thinking about Hasetsu. About Yuuri. Victor’s engagement ring shone bright on the hand he had stretched out in front of him.

He loved his ring. Yuuri had given it to him, and Victor would wear it every day for the rest of his life. But in making a solid commitment about their future together, he had given up some things . . . and that was going to take time to process.

The problem wasn’t Yuuri. Victor could not be happier with their relationship. They were so good together, and the bliss of last night only proved that more. Every time Victor thought about how far they’d come and how deep their connection now ran, he got so happy and excited that he wanted to start running. The future no doubt had more surprises in store.

No, the problem wasn’t his Yuuri. It was what to do about everything else.

From the very beginning, when Victor first made the decision to travel to Japan to become a coach, he had planned to return to competitive skating after the Grand Prix Final. He’d set out on this journey with the intention of regaining his motivation to keep going by helping to motivate someone else. Yuuri, who had also lost his way. It was a win-win situation for them both, and it had worked. Yuuri was thriving . . . and so was Victor.

He missed the ice. Missed skating and competing with his peers. It excited him again, and he often found himself distracted by ideas for new routines or choreography, just like when he was younger. It would be the perfect time to announce his intention to return and devote himself to preparing for the World Championship in the spring.

But Victor also wasn’t ready to stop being Yuuri’s coach.

He had hidden this struggle ever since the Rostelecom Cup. Being separated from Yuuri during a competition had not been a positive experience for either of them. Even knowing Yakov was there to support him hadn’t helped. No one knew Yuuri like Victor did. The idea of another coach someday taking Yuuri on as a student did not sit well with Victor at all.

And that . . . complicated matters.

He had already been having doubts for a while—he hadn’t expected to find someone so important to him in Japan—but when he’d left Yuuri behind at the Rostelecom Cup by himself, it had been a wake-up call. If that was what it was going to be like if they split up professionally, then Victor wasn’t interested. It had forced him to come to a decision.

While waiting for Yuuri’s flight to arrive at the Fukuoka airport, Victor had made up his mind to stay on as a coach and again delay his return to skating. He’d spent that time thinking of ways he could better help Yuuri prepare for the Grand Prix Final and beyond. When Yuuri had stepped off that plane and formally requested that Victor take care of him until his retirement, there was nothing to do but smile in response. Because of course, he would.

It had been a relief to hear Yuuri wanted their professional relationship to continue just as much as Victor did. But considering Yuuri’s age, that meant they still had years to go as coach and student . . . and Victor wasn’t getting any younger. In making that promise, his own return to skating was pushed far into the future. Too far. Victor would be in no shape to compete if he waited years to make his comeback. Retirement seemed like the only sensible option.

He’d been quietly grieving for his career ever since that night.

It hadn’t been too distracting in Hasetsu, but here in Barcelona, the ache in his heart bothered him a good deal. It was going to be so strange not competing at the Grand Prix Final tonight. He’d dominated this competition for half a decade. Mentoring Yuuri had been one of the most fulfilling experiences of Victor’s life—it was an honor to be here as his coach—but he would be lying if he said the loss of his skating career wasn’t a blow.

This was why he had left Yuuri sleeping in the hotel room earlier that morning and decided to go on this walk by himself. Victor didn’t want Yuuri to see him struggling with the weight of his choices. This needed to be done in private.

All the same, the problem bothered Victor enough that his mind searched for solutions. He would be Yuuri’s coach. That much was set in stone and not up for debate. But Victor couldn’t help but wonder if there was a way he could do that and keep skating at the same time.

How would it even work?

If he did decide to compete again, he would want to return to Russia to train under Yakov, who was the only coach he considered an option. Would Yuuri be willing to come with him? That was a lot to ask someone for, but maybe he would like the idea. He had lived abroad before, after all, and seemed to enjoy their international travels.

Assuming Yuuri would be willing to relocate, Victor could coach him when Yakov was busy with his other students. It would be a demanding task but not impossible. And he was Victor Nikiforov, after all. He met challenging situations with a smile and a wink. If hard work would ensure Yuuri’s training didn’t suffer for the sake of his own, then that was exactly what Victor was prepared to do.

But what about competitions? Would any overlap, requiring Yuuri to be there without a coach? And when (not if) both he and Yuuri made it to the World Championship, would Victor be able to properly support Yuuri as a coach and prepare himself to take the ice as a competitor at the same time?

What if Yuuri simply didn’t like the idea? Yakov would no doubt have a few things to say about it.

It was a complicated problem that would require more thought. Victor wasn’t yet confident that it would work, but even if he could find a feasible solution, this was not the place to talk to Yuuri about it. He needed to focus on the immediate task in front of him and shouldn’t be worrying about anything except his upcoming performance. If Victor wanted to keep skating, then this was his problem to solve.

Except that his thoughts on the matter were rudely interrupted.

Victor’s eyes went wide—because someone had snuck up behind him and kicked him hard in the back.

Then six more kicks followed in quick succession.

Ah. Yurio.

Even before Victor turned to look, he knew exactly who it was. He’d seen Yurio’s face last night at the restaurant after Christophe had pointed out the engagement rings. Phichit had jumped to a hasty conclusion that required clarification—no, they weren’t married, but they were engaged—but that did not seem to appease Yurio in the slightest.

He was a smart kid. Very observant of others. He knew the implications of those rings, even though everyone else at the table hadn’t yet made the mental leap that marriage meant Victor was likely going to retire from skating for good. It was a stretch to think he could be Yuuri’s coach, competitor, and husband at the same time. Out of the two of them, Victor was the more logical choice to retire because he was several years older and had already taken a step back.

And Yurio hated people who retired.

He was a fearsome fighter and took it as a personal affront when others weren’t willing to fight, too. It didn’t matter which one of them stepped down. If Victor or Yuuri both weren’t on the ice with him, Yurio was going to be pissed off about it.

He’d been hyperaware of Victor’s attachment to Yuuri from the beginning because he viewed it as a threat. He wasn’t jealous of the romance, and his anger had little to do with disliking Yuuri as a person. No, it was Victor that Yurio was upset with because he was the one who chose to step down. Leaving skating was the ultimate sin in his mind.

If he had really wanted Victor to be his coach, Yurio could have requested to train under him in Japan alongside Yuuri. But no, Yurio had wanted Victor back in Russia from the beginning because Yuuri wasn’t there for him to get attached to. Then there was the added bonus of luring Victor back under Yakov’s tutelage . . . and back on the ice.

Yuri Plisetsky was a very, very smart kid.

“Victor Nikiforov is dead,” Yurio proclaimed, venom dripping from every word.

He was also a bit of a brat.

Victor turned slowly and fixed him in place with a quiet look of warning. The Ice Tiger of Russia would do well to remember who put Russian figure skating on the map.

Because Victor Nikiforov was most assuredly not dead.

Not until he said he was.

Yuuri woke to an empty hotel room.

He sensed he was alone even before his eyelashes fluttered and parted to look around. There was a stillness in the air that told him Victor was gone.

Dust motes floated overhead, set aglow by the morning light streaming in through the large, uncovered windows. The angle of the sun suggested it was still early enough that he should just shut his eyes again and burrow back down under the covers. But without Victor there, he felt unsettled. Yuuri turned his head to gaze at the empty bed beside him.

He was aware of parts of his body that normally went unnoticed. There was an ache in his thigh muscles and lower abdomen . . . as well as deeper inside. The memory of what inspired that ache was enough to make him forget how to blink for a few seconds.

Will you please do it hard? Don’t hold back. I promise I’ll tell you if it’s too much.

Yuuri let out a whimper.

Had that really happened last night, or had he just dreamed up Victor pounding into him from behind with such power that Yuuri’s ass still felt heated and spanked pink? He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to feel his pulse in his nether regions if it was just a dream. But even as he blushed over the memories—each one making him burn a little hotter than the last—he also found himself fighting a smile.

As if sex with Victor wasn’t already amazing enough, last night had been mind-blowing. Cathartic. A release of both pressure and inhibition. He hadn’t even known it was possible to come that hard. . .

Nor had he previously understood the true meaning of embarrassment until Victor called down to the hotel staff afterward and cheerfully asked them to bring up a set of clean sheets because theirs were now too soiled to sleep on. Oh, and could they bring an extra set just in case they decided to have another round? Muchas gracias, Hotel Prince!

Sex without condoms was more complicated than Yuuri had realized.

Victor certainly seemed to like it, but Yuuri was . . . undecided. He still felt wet inside, even though they’d showered before going to bed. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. Just different. Something he needed to wrap his mind around.

Having Victor come inside him had been incredibly intimate. Even the sex itself—bare flesh against flesh—had been so much more personal than anything they’d experienced before. It wasn’t the physicality of it that bothered Yuuri. It was the emotional impact. He hadn’t realized until Victor suggested they stop using condoms how much he liked that little barrier of safety between them.

This wasn’t about the condom itself but what it represented. Protection. Just that tiny bit of emotional space separating them.

Yuuri might be comfortable with the physical side of sex now, having learned to trust Victor fully with his body, but sometimes the mental connection got a little intense. He wondered if Victor had noticed that Yuuri kept avoiding his eyes last night? Probably not. Either they hadn’t been facing each other, or Yuuri had his eyes closed.

Nothing was wrong. He’d loved every second of it and would do it again in a heartbeat. But ever since he’d first lost his virginity to Victor, Yuuri had remembered that frightening moment of vulnerability he’d experienced when he’d been penetrated for the first time. Victor had been so sweet to him, coaxing him through the panic with both words and touch, but Yuuri still hadn’t liked feeling exposed like that.

This was the part of sex he wasn’t fully comfortable with yet. Having everything exposed for someone else to see and scrutinize. Even Victor, whom he trusted more than anyone. Only a few times last night did Yuuri let that deep emotional connection start to take hold, but when it got too intense, he went in for a kiss before he truly began to fall into the depths of Victor’s eyes.

What was wrong with him? Sex shouldn’t be this complicated. Other people probably didn’t have this problem.

This was the first barrier in their sexual relationship Yuuri wasn’t sure he was going to be able to get past. The absence of condoms, he could live with. But when Victor wanted him to open his eyes and stare. . . ?

Yuuri blew out a breath to get his bangs out of his face.

Where was Victor anyway?

The room held little touches of his presence here and there, like the scent of his shampoo on the pillow. The clothes he’d changed into after last night’s shower were neatly folded and placed atop his suitcase. Victor’s black overcoat was still there by the door, but Yuuri’s smaller blue coat wasn’t. Had he grabbed the wrong one?

It wasn’t the first time Victor had disappeared without a word. Yuuri understood the importance of alone time better than anyone and would never begrudge him that, but he also didn’t like that he had to rely on Instagram to tell him where his boyfriend was.

He started to reach for his phone, but when his ring caught the morning light and winked at him, he forgot what he was doing. He found himself just staring at it instead.

Because he’d remembered that Victor wasn’t his boyfriend anymore. He was Yuuri’s fiancé.


Oh. Wow.

He placed a hand over his mouth as emotion overwhelmed him. His fingers were cold against his overheated face, and his heart felt ready to beat out of his chest. He wasn’t sure if it was panic or excitement was making it difficult to breathe, but it was probably both.

He’d felt just like this the night Victor had slept under the same roof as him for the first time, all those months ago in Hasetsu. It had taken Yuuri several hours of tossing and turning to work through the surprise and panic and come to the realization that his heart was pounding because he was happy.

Surely he was happy now . . . right?

Most likely, yes. But apparently his brain wanted him to have a proper freak-out session first before he would be allowed to enjoy anything. Maybe it was good Victor wasn’t around to see him getting this out of his system.

Drawing in a shaky breath, Yuuri rolled onto his back and held his hand out in front of him so that he could see the golden ring. Without his glasses on, he had to squint to make out the details, but even in his mind, the idea of married life was something hazy and indistinct.

It wasn’t that the thought of spending forever with Victor was unwelcome in anyway. Yuuri loved him so much, he couldn’t think straight sometimes. It was just . . . a lot to take in. Especially when he’d feared their future held something else.

Even now, wearing an engagement ring, there was still a stubborn part of his brain that was whispering in his ear: You need to let him go. You’re holding him back.

When he had bought Victor’s ring, Yuuri truly had meant it as a token of good luck and a way of expressing his thanks. It was a gift. Not a request. He knew the Grand Prix Final would be a crossroads for them, and Victor would return to Russia once Yuuri announced his retirement. He’d tried so hard to be at peace with that—because even though his heart was breaking, it was the right thing to do.

But who was he kidding? Yuuri had known exactly what that ring implied. The words had been on his lips when he’d slid it onto Victor’s finger.

After the Grand Prix Final, please stay with me forever. Don’t leave me behind when you go.

But Yuuri never did say it. He truly had let Victor go in his heart and could only hope he’d want Yuuri to come with him.

He hadn’t expected the second ring.

There was a sudden fluttering high in his chest, and a hopeful smile spread across Yuuri’s face before he knew what was happening.

There it was. The flood of joy coming to drown out the anxiety.

Because he was engaged.

To Victor Nikiforov.

Yuuri let his hand fall back to the bed, closed his eyes, and imagined what it would be like to be married. He had never dared assume he’d be asked to come to Russia . . . but if he was, he supposed they’d live in Saint Petersburg because that was where Victor’s coach was. He’d want to be near Yakov to train under him.

Victor had an apartment there, and Yuuri even knew what it looked like because it had been featured in magazines before. It had modern furnishings and very much suited Victor’s sophisticated style. Even with the industrial fixtures, there was something beautifully ethereal about the place, like it was a sliver of frozen time. Yuuri pictured them both there—laughing and preparing meals in the kitchen, bathing together in the clawfoot bathtub, making love in the bedroom with sunlight all around them.

And that could be his life forever. A beautiful thought. Like stepping into a photograph.

The only price was his retirement.

Yuuri opened his eyes and stared straight ahead at the blurry ceiling.

It was an unexpectedly painful thought. He’d made the decision to retire months ago, but sometimes when he thought about it, sadness weighed heavily in his heart, so much that it hurt to breathe. The date in question had always seemed far away, but it was upon him now. He was going to miss this. Even as difficult as it was and how often he was rewarded with nothing but failure, Yuuri had dedicated his life to skating. Not only that, but it was a special bond he shared with Victor.

Come to think of it, would they even have anything in common after Yuuri announced his . . . ?

He blew out another breath and squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to banish the unwelcome thought.

His brain liked to do that. Chip away at his dreams with doubt.

Just because he was retiring didn’t mean he had to give Victor up. In fact, it would make it easier to stay with him. But it still made Yuuri sad to know this was his final competition. He wanted to keep doing this with Victor forever, but he’d already made up his mind. Victor wouldn’t feel like he was free to make his own decision about returning to the ice competitively if Yuuri wanted to keep skating as well.

Stepping down was the right thing to do. Victor had given him enough. It was Yuuri’s turn.

They really needed to talk about this. It was time. He’d put it off long enough. But first, there was the small matter of winning the Grand Prix Final to deal with.

Piece of cake.

Yuuri couldn’t help but laugh at the impossible hole he’d dug himself into. It wasn’t like he’d declared on national television that he’d win the Grand Prix Final or anything. And he certainly hadn’t promised his family, friends, and coach over and over again that he would be the one standing victorious at the top of that podium. And last night at dinner, Victor had in no way implied that they would only get married after Yuuri won a gold medal.

No. Not a bit of pressure riding on him tonight.

With a groan, Yuuri rolled onto his stomach and buried his face in the pillow.

By the time Victor returned to the hotel grounds, there was no small amount of guilt troubling his heart.

Yurio had done what he could to rile him up. He’d said awful things he probably didn’t mean just to get a reaction . . . and it had worked.

Victor normally had a good handle on his temper. He might get angry from time to time, but he prided himself on responding with a cool head. Cheerfully, if he could manage it. But not today. Not with Yurio. Victor had grabbed his chin and was barely able to keep his hand from shaking while Yurio continued to run his mouth off.

Victor hadn’t hurt him, but he certainly shouldn’t have put a hand on him at all. He was an adult in the company of a teenager and should have set a better example with his own behavior. He would have to find Yurio later and apologize.

And then Victor needed to get a better handle on his emotions, or it was going to happen again.

What was wrong with him today anyway? He never acted like this. Perhaps the retirement thing was bothering him more than he realized.

When he neared the doors of the hotel lobby, a familiar face caught his eye. It was Yuuri’s sister, Mari. She was wearing sunglasses and leaning against a column outside of the hotel near a cigarette bin. She had one lit and held between her fingers, and she raised it in greeting when she spotted Victor.

At once, he put on a bright smile and lifted a hand in her direction. “Hi!”

It was a planned meeting. Mari had texted him while he was out on his walk and asked to talk to him alone. Hearing from her wasn’t a surprise. When their engagement had been announced last night, he’d seen the pointed gaze aimed in his direction. Yuuri was Mari’s little brother, her one and only sibling, and she was the sole Katsuki family representative here in Spain. It was natural for her to have questions for her brother’s fiancé.

Victor liked Mari. She was a hard worker, dedicated to her family, and supportive of Yuuri. As much as Victor loved and respected Yuuri’s parents, he knew where the real strength in their family was found. Mari was the cornerstone.

The problem was that he and Mari had never been able to converse easily. Her English wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t as fluent as Yuuri or Minako, who’d both traveled internationally for their careers. Meanwhile, Mari was working long hours at home to keep the family onsen afloat and hadn’t had as much time to work on her foreign language skills. That didn’t mean she wasn’t smart as a whip.

They spoke on a regular basis in broken English and in the simple Japanese phrases Victor had learned. They could wish each other good morning and make small talk, but beyond that, their conversations never had much depth.

As Victor approached, he saw that Mari wore a cautiously neutral expression. She wasn’t hostile by any means, but he could tell what was coming. She stabbed out her cigarette in the bin, grabbed one of two styrofoam cups of coffee from the ledge of the column, and held it out to him.

He thanked her for it in Japanese, and when he took a sip, he found she’d remembered exactly how he liked it. No milk but a generous spoonful of sugar. It was a promising start to what could very well be an awkward conversation. She’d extended politeness to him before anything else.

“Look,” Mari said in English.

She held out her phone, and Victor saw a Japanese/English translation website on the screen. He nodded, indicating he understood she meant to use it to help them talk.

She typed something into the phone and showed it to Victor. The translation wasn’t perfect, but he was able to get the gist of what she was asking him. Did you speak with my parents before you asked my brother to marry you?

“Yes,” Victor said. He set the coffee back on the ledge and typed into the translator, I received their blessing the morning we left for Barcelona.

Perhaps it was overly optimistic to call it a blessing. Yuuri’s mother had been very pleased, but Victor wasn’t convinced his father completely understood. He’d just patted Victor on the shoulder with his usual smile, wished him safe travels, and wandered off into the kitchen in search of breakfast. He could only hope Yuuri’s mother had cleared up any confusion.

Mari processed this information and looked relieved. “They did not say,” she replied in accented English. “Yuuri is my otouto.” She put her hand to her heart. “Only one.”

Another nod from Victor. “I know. You love him.”

“I love him,” Mari confirmed. The words were a little heated, as if she wanted to do the talking, and it was time for Victor to listen.

He smiled and hoped his silence would urge her to continue. It pleased him that Yuuri had family who cared about him this much.

“Yuuri is my otouto,” she said again. “You know what this means?”

“He’s your brother.”

Little brother,” she corrected. “You are little brother, too.”

Victor’s brows drew together in the middle. Her English made perfect sense, but he wasn’t following her meaning.

Mari huffed out a sigh, typed something into the translator, and then held the results out for him to read. If you marry my brother, you will become my brother through marriage. I will be your sister. Idiot.

Victor started to laugh . . . but his smile instead turned hopeful. This wasn’t the direction he’d thought this conversation was going. As if Yuuri himself wasn’t already treasure enough, Mari was trying to tell Victor he was also gaining a new family. Somehow that hadn’t sunk in yet. He looked up at Mari, expression soft. “Hai. I understand.”

“You love Yuuri?” she asked.

“I do, Mari. I love him very much.”

Her expression softened as well, but then she shook her head. The message she typed into the translator said: I’ve never seen my brother this happy before. You may call me sister now.

Another unexpected gift. Victor wondered if she realized how much having a family meant to him. “Mari-Neechan?” he guessed. That was what Yuuri called her.

Mari scowled, one of her eyebrows inching higher than the other. “Neesan. I’m bigger.”

Victor laughed. Yuuri didn’t use that formal of an honorific with his older sister, but Victor supposed it was fair that he was on probation pending further review. He bowed in respect to her. “Mari-Neesan.”

She looked pleased by this, but a hint of sadness shone in her eyes when she said, “Will you go to Russia?”

It wasn’t the complete question she wanted to ask, but it was easy enough to guess the rest. She was asking if Victor meant to take Yuuri to Russia to live with him after they were married. Victor held out his hand for her phone. Into the translator, he typed: I don’t know what will happen. We haven’t talked about any future plans yet. The competition has been our focus.

After she read his message, Mari sighed and typed a response. Be careful. My brother is near-sighted. Don’t be surprised if he already has plans you don’t know about.

Victor puzzled over the words before nodding to show he understood . . . even though he really didn’t. That was an odd thing to say. Had the translator gotten it right?

“Talk to Yuuri,” she said.

“After the Grand Prix Final,” Victor promised. “I will.”

Mari smiled and handed him his coffee again. She then grabbed her own cup, which had been resting beside Victor’s on the ledge, and held it up for a toast. After he touched the styrofoam rim of his cup to hers, they leaned against the column—brother and sister by agreement if not yet officially by marriage—and sipped their coffee together.

Yuuri was only just contemplating getting out of bed when he heard someone unlocking the hotel room door. Sitting up, he reached for his glasses and put them on in time to see Victor entering the room, a cup of coffee in one hand and a bottle of water held within the crook of the same arm.

“Oh, good,” Victor said as the door shut behind him. “I was hoping you’d be awake.”

Even with windblown hair and the wrong coat on, he still looked perfect, like he’d just walked off a Paris runway. He appeared to be in a very good mood and was smiling all over—from the wide spread of his mouth to his sparkling blue eyes. Even his posture was welcoming.

It was almost enough to pull Yuuri’s mood in a more positive direction as well. He always felt better when Victor was there. He had a way of making problems seem laughably simple—though he didn’t always understand an attitude change alone didn’t make those problems miraculously disappear.

“Vicchan.” Yuuri smiled and found himself blushing a little as he recalled all the things they’d done to each other last night. “You’re wearing my coat.”

When he heard his nickname, Victor’s eyes lit up even more than they already were. He really did seem to like being called that. It somehow felt far more intimate spoken here in a domestic setting than it was when Yuuri said it during sex. He would have to call Victor that more often.

“Well, it smells like my fiancé, you see,” Victor said. “My coat doesn’t, so the choice was obvious.”

Yuuri’s smile stretched wider. The sweetness of Victor’s words and the sight of a golden ring shining on his hand were almost enough to quell the tight bundle of nerves in Yuuri’s stomach . . . but not quite. His anxiety over the looming Grand Prix Final performance was still winning out.

As Victor unwound his olive-green scarf from his neck, he walked around to Yuuri’s side of the bed near the window. There, Victor tossed the scarf aside and held out the bottle of water he’d brought from downstairs, which was gratefully accepted. He then leaned down for a kiss.

Yuuri put a hand on Victor’s cheek and let his eyes drift shut. Even though the tip of his nose was pink and cold from the outside air, Victor’s mouth was so warm. His kiss tasted pleasantly of coffee and sugar.

After they parted, Victor said, “Good morning, my love.” He looked hazy and beautiful with the morning light streaming in through the window behind him. It was hard to believe he was real. “I heard the seagulls before the sun rose and couldn’t resist a walk. I would have woken you, but I figured you needed your rest.”

Yuuri’s blush deepened, both from the heat of the kiss and his fiancé’s words. Two words in particular. He liked the way they sounded, softened by the melodic timbre of Victor’s voice. They hummed in Yuuri’s mind in a very pleasing way. After he drank a few sips of water to wet his throat, he found he couldn’t help but confess exactly how much he’d like being called that. “That’s . . . a nice nickname.”

“What . . . ‘my love’?” With a gentle laugh, Victor placed his coffee cup on the window ledge and sat down beside Yuuri on the bed. “Funny you should say that. Do me a favor, and take off your ring.”

Yuuri frowned as he screwed the cap back onto the bottle of water and set it aside. He didn’t want to take his ring off. Ever.

“There’s something engraved on the inside,” Victor explained. “I was going to let you find it on your own, but this is better. Trust me.”

Oh. Now curious, Yuuri removed his ring and peered down at the inner rim, turning it in his fingers until he found the lettering. There, written in beautiful cursive English, were the words: On my love.

The connotation was immediately understood. It was the theme Yuuri had chosen for his skating season, one he’d shared with Victor many months ago when they were just beginning to open up to each other. And now to have those same words engraved on an engagement ring, it held another layer of meaning. Victor had put a ring on his love.

“I think that’s a very fitting endearment for you.” Victor took the ring from Yuuri and slid it back onto his finger where it belonged. Afterward, he brought Yuuri’s hand to his lips and held it there for a long kiss. “Perfect, actually.”

Yuuri suddenly had trouble sitting still. Throat aching with emotion, he got up on his knees in the bed and was hugging Victor before he could stop himself. He didn’t say anything at first. Just shut his eyes and squeezed. There were too many feelings welling up inside him to deal with all at once. Love. Gratitude. Anxiety. Dread.

Please help me, Victor. I need your strength today.

“Thank you,” Yuuri whispered because he didn’t trust himself to say anything else.

“Mmm.” Victor’s palm worked slowly up the length of Yuuri’s back. “You’re welcome, my love.”

“But I didn’t get your ring engraved.”

“Later. Much later. Actually, I’m afraid you’re going to have to knock me unconscious to get this ring off my finger. I’m rather attached to it now.”

Yuuri hugged Victor even tighter and rubbed his mouth against the solid strength of his shoulder. The hotel room was getting brighter. They were going to have to get out of bed soon and dress for the morning practice session at the arena, but all Yuuri wanted to do was hide here in the safety of his fiancé’s arms until tomorrow.

And it made him feel disappointed in himself.

An entire year had gone by since his abysmal failure at the last Grand Prix Final. Yuuri would have hoped his mental weakness would be a thing of the past by now—or at least quieted by the knowledge that he had so much love and support around him. But apparently an engagement ring from Victor Nikiforov was not a miracle cure for Yuuri’s anxiety. If he wanted to overcome this and face today with dignity, he was going to have to learn to silence his mind on his own.

“Is everything all right?” Victor asked quietly. His palm was now rubbing little circles in the center of Yuuri’s back. “Your heart is beating so fast.”

Yuuri allowed himself only another second to savor the comfort of Victor’s embrace before he drew back and let his arms fall away. “Don’t take this the wrong way . . . because I appreciate your support at competitions so much. But today at the arena, can you let me stand on my own? I want you there at my side like you always are, but I just . . . after last year, I need to. . .”

Victor’s eyes had narrowed while he listened to Yuuri’s struggle to find the right words. All of them sounded too harsh in his mind, and it wasn’t like he was trying to reprimand Victor for being so supportive of him.

“You don’t want me to coddle you,” Victor guessed.

Yuuri drew in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. A nod.

“I understand. I never liked that either.” Victor placed his hand on top of Yuuri’s. “You know all you have to do is hug me if you need help.”

The words inspired a smile from Yuuri that was surprisingly genuine, considering how nervous he felt. It was tempting to throw his arms back around Victor’s neck and ask for help right then and there, but Yuuri disciplined the urge. Instead, he lifted his chin and said, “I’m going to win tonight. I’m going to place first in the Short Program rankings.”

The Grand Prix Final is my last chance. There won’t be another.

“Just what I like to hear.” Victor squeezed Yuuri’s hand again—but then leaned in with a hint of steel glinting in his arctic blue eyes. “Now say it like you mean it.”

Yuuri blinked in surprise before realizing Victor was right. The words were lacking conviction. There was a part of Yuuri that still didn’t believe beating J.J. was possible, but he couldn’t let even a hint of doubt weigh him down today or he really was going to lose.

Determination hardened Yuuri’s expression, and when he spoke again, the words were so full of confidence that they were quiet. After all, there was no need to shout something that was simply a fact. “That gold medal is mine.”

A smile tugged at one corner of Victor’s mouth. He was pleased with whatever he saw in Yuuri’s face. “Now that’s much better.”

To be continued.

Chapter Text

After retreating to the public restroom beneath the stands of the Barcelona arena, Yuuri was relieved to find it was empty. He turned on the hot water at the sink and extended his hands with the intention of washing them.

But then he stopped himself . . . and stared down at his empty palms instead.

He was wearing his black Short Program costume, with its fingerless gloves that were attached to the long sleeves. He’d have to remove half his costume if he wanted to wash his hands. Stupid. Where was his head at?

Robbed of that distraction, he pressed his lips together and tried his best to stay calm. His hands hadn’t been dirty to begin with. That wasn’t the real reason why he had come here following his Short Program. He’d stayed by the rink just long enough to watch Phichit perform, and in doing so, he was able to see one of his closest friends achieve a life-long dream. But after that, Yuuri hadn’t waited to hear the score. He’d needed to get out of there so that he could collect himself.

What he really wanted to do was turn around, march straight into one of the stalls, and break down into tears.

But he didn’t. Instead, he shut the water faucet off and turned his eyes up to glare at his reflection.

To say he was disappointed in himself was an understatement. He couldn’t believe his performance was already over. The whole thing had been a blur. Though he’d felt focused when he began, his score was low enough to reveal putting his hand on the ice during his quadruple flip wasn’t the only problem. Yuuri must have lost PCS points, and now that he thought about it, it made sense why. He hadn’t been thinking about Eros at all while he’d skated. He was thinking about his score, and the judges had not been impressed.

Not once in the entire Grand Prix Series had Yuuri’s Short Program score fallen into the double digits the way it did tonight. Unless everyone who was to skate after him made mistakes in their programs as well, he was not going to place high in the rankings.

Yuuri decided then that no, he didn’t want to hide in a bathroom stall and cry. What he actually wanted to do was throw up. He felt like he’d been punched in the stomach so hard that he was still mentally on his knees.

But there was nothing to be done about it now. He’d made the decision to take a risk and had to live with the consequences. He could either let this crater him like last year, or he could hold his head high and keep fighting until the end. Even though it felt like he’d been knocked down before he’d barely begun, the Grand Prix Final wasn’t over. The other scores hadn’t come in yet. Yuuri still had a chance to win.

He managed to soften his expression into something that might resemble a smile to someone who didn’t know him very well. “I’ll go for gold with my Free Skate,” he told his reflection—a practice speech for the reporters.

It was almost convincing. Not bad at all.

Outside in the main hall of the arena, there was a swell of applause from the audience, loud enough to let Yuuri know exactly who was taking the ice. He turned on his heels and left the restroom at once. He’d meant to wish Yurio good luck before he started his Short Program but hadn’t made it in time.

Reporters cornered Yuuri almost immediately and delayed him even longer, but at least he was prepared with a statement. His smile was firmly in place as he told them exactly what he’d recited to the mirror. However, his composure slipped when he realized Victor was nowhere in sight. He’d said he would wait for Yuuri while he went to the restroom, but yet again, Victor had disappeared without a word.

It made Yuuri feel anxious, and even though he couldn’t put his finger on the exact reason why, his insecurity was happy to volunteer a few unhelpful ideas.

Why would Victor want to wait for you when you just let him down? He probably regrets becoming your coach. All those wasted months he could have devoted to winning the Grand Prix Final himself. If you fail here, you’ll embarrass him just as much as you’ve embarrassed yourself.

Lies. All of it. Yuuri knew Victor loved and supported him no matter what, but not even that could keep the unwelcome thoughts at bay. He was just going to have to make the decision not to let them affect him.

Yuuri could hear the Agape music ending, so he excused himself from the crowd of reporters and rushed toward the stairwell that led up to the stands. He pulled his glasses from the pocket of his jacket and slipped them on so that he would be able to see what was happening down on the ice.

But as he jogged up the stairs, he spotted a familiar figure at the top. It was Victor—standing tall and alone at the summit. The sight of him there made Yuuri feel so much better. Victor hadn’t gone that far after all, and it was understandable that he would be tempted to come here and watch Yurio perform.

Yuuri smiled as he called out to him . . . but it faded a breath later.

For the last eight months, he had spent nearly every single day in the company of Victor Nikiforov. Yuuri knew his many moods and expressions and could tell the difference between the countless variations of his smiles. He was able to interpret Victor’s laughter, not just by the sound, but also through observing the body language that accompanied it. Yuuri knew when Victor wasn’t as happy as he wanted other people to think and that he often concealed what was actually going on in his mind. The cheerful smile he presented to the world wasn’t always a mask, but when it was, Yuuri had learned to pay attention.

He might not always be successful at interpreting his fiancé’s moods—playful one moment and contemplative the next—but he knew Victor well enough to notice when there was a shift.

Not once had Yuuri ever seen Victor like this. It was like looking at a stranger.

Victor was utterly still as the arena around him screamed the name of Russia’s new rising star. The applause was deafening. Until that moment, Yuuri had never noticed how often Victor was in motion. Always smiling or laughing or finding ways to join in whatever was happening around him, even if it was just with his eyes. There was an alertness to his body language. An engagement of his mind in the present.

Yuuri wasn’t certain what he was seeing now. Victor looked strangely . . . passive. Absent. Like he’d stopped walking in the middle of a crowd, but the crowd hadn’t stopped for him.

Though Yuuri couldn’t see his fiancé’s face, it was obvious something was wrong. He was about to say his name again, but then the announcement came over the speakers that Yurio had just shattered Victor’s world record.

And that was . . . unexpected.

A fifteen-year-old breaking a record in his senior debut? Victor’s record? Yuuri reeled from this new blow, not only because of how thoroughly he’d been knocked out of first place, but because of the implications for Victor. Yuuri climbed a few more steps so that he was closer to where his fiancé was standing, but he couldn’t bring himself to reach out and touch him.

What was Victor thinking about right now? Was he proud of Yurio?

Was he disappointed in Yuuri?

By that point, he couldn’t even hear the arena’s thunderous applause anymore. It had been drowned out by his own hateful insecurity.

Of course, he’s disappointed in you. You’re a waste of Victor’s time and talent. If he had taken on Yurio as a student instead of you, he would be celebrated as a coach right now. Instead, he’s been shamed by you. He can’t even defend his world record here at the Grand Prix Final because of you.

The thought was enough to make Yuuri want to turn around and go straight back to the public restroom. And maybe this time, he really was going to throw up. But no. He needed to see this. He needed to take ownership of this defeat and find courage from it, if nothing else.

Courage to step it up at his Free Skate . . . and to finally tell Victor about his retirement.

It was time. Yuuri gazed up at his fiancé and decided right then and there that he never wanted to see Victor look that left behind again. His heart and conscience couldn’t handle it. They would talk tonight and put the matter to rest, and then Victor would feel free to return to the ice as a competitor in defense of his legacy.

The decision to end things brought with it a welcome flood of relief. There was a small part of Yuuri that was still hanging on to what had been the happiest skating season of his life, but this was the right thing to do. He smiled softly up at the man he loved—because as much as this moment hurt, it was going to be okay. He would make sure of it.

I’ve got your back, Victor. I promise I won’t let this be the end for you.

The night of the Grand Prix Final Short Program passed in a whirlwind of applause and sequins. Victor lingered in the arena well after the event was over, talking and laughing with the competitors, coaches, and even occasionally the press. The crowds in the stands had dispersed, and those left behind congregated near the ice.

It had been a good night overall. Conversation came easily to everyone after the excitement of the competition, what with its many unexpected twists. A broken world record and the fall of King J.J.

Though his mood was quite positive, Victor wasn’t entirely at ease. He was keenly aware of the absence of someone at his side. It was like a blind spot in his vision he couldn’t help but be distracted by.

A conversation between the coaches on the fairness of tonight’s scoring was getting a bit heated. There was a huge debate on why J.J. had scored as high as he did after barely landing any jumps. Victor understood why, even though he didn’t volunteer the information to the group, and he was glad when he felt a hand touch his arm.

Happy to have an excuse to engage in a different conversation, he turned his head to acknowledge Phichit Chulanont, who smiled up at him a bit shyly but addressed Victor with confidence.

“Do you know where Yuuri is?” Phichit said. “A group of us are going out. I wanted to invite you both, but he’s not answering his phone.”

Victor smiled warmly in response to this, even though it was the nineteenth time he’d been asked that question in the last hour. “He went back to the hotel earlier. He said he wanted to shower, so that might be why he missed your call.”

“Uh oh,” Phichit said. “That’s never a good sign. Is he okay?”

Of course, this was Yuuri’s best friend. Phichit would understand his moods and quirks, perhaps better than Victor did at times. It was then that he dropped the polite pretense and turned his whole body in Phichit’s direction so that no one else would overhear their conversation.

“I think so,” Victor said quietly. “He seemed to need a little space, which is why I let him go alone, but I’ll go check on him soon.”

“How long as he been by himself?”

“Just over an hour.”

“Hmm. He might be ready. If he looks you in the eye when you get back to the room, he’s fine. But if he just stares at his phone or pretends to be asleep, back off and give him more time. But you probably knew that already, huh?”

Victor chuckled and slipped his hands into the pockets of his coat. “It seems you and I speak the same language, Phichit Chulanont. The ability to read Yuuri’s mood is an art-form I’m still learning to master.”

“I don’t know why he’s upset. He got a great score, but with Yuuri, it’s always first place or nothing.”

The statement sent a pang of regret into Victor’s heart. Had he made a mistake in driving Yuuri so hard toward a gold medal? No, he didn’t think so. Yuuri was goal-oriented and needed something like that to inspire him to fight. He was fully capable of winning gold, so it had been the right decision to set his goal high. But Victor did need to make sure Yuuri understood that even though he was in fourth place, he had still done incredibly well.

Every single person who had spoken to Victor in the last hour couldn’t seem to stop talking about how much Yuuri had changed since the last Grand Prix Final. Everyone was excited to see what he would do next, and that was exactly the kind of response Victor had worked so hard to generate with his own performances when he was a competitor. Did Yuuri have any idea how difficult it was to inspire that reaction in others?

(And the compliments to Victor as a first-year coach weren’t half bad either. He rather liked that part.)

He and Yuuri definitely needed to talk about his performance, though maybe not right away. When Victor got back to the hotel, perhaps they could order some room service and have a quiet night together. Yuuri needed to relax and let go of some of the pressure he’d been holding. Once he had the right attitude in place, Victor would be there to help get him in the fighting spirit again.

“Any other advice for the concerned fiancé?” Victor asked. “I’ll take all the help I can get.”

“Honestly?” Phichit said. “I should be the one asking you for advice. You’re really good with him, Victor. After what happened to Yuuri last year, he wouldn’t talk to his friends for months, but he started opening up again when you came into his life. So whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up. You seem to be able to pull him out of his shell when he won’t listen to anyone else.”

Hearing this pleased Victor greatly. (Even though the last part wasn’t true. Yuuri didn’t listen to Victor either. He didn’t listen to anyone.) “He’s been good for me as well, so it goes both ways. I should probably head back to the hotel to see how he’s doing. We’ll text you if he’s in the mood to go out, but knowing Yuuri. . .”

“I’m not holding my breath,” Phichit said with a laugh. “But if you don’t mind . . . before you go? I was going to ask you and Yuuri both earlier but. . .”

“Commemorative photo?” Victor guessed.

Phichit grinned and pulled out his selfie stick.

Victor excused himself from the larger group not long after that, gathered together his things, and left the arena. During the short walk back to the hotel, he found himself in a peculiar mood. His head and heart were having a disagreement, and he wasn’t certain which one to listen to.

The competition tonight had been interesting to watch. Victor had assumed it would be surreal to stand on the sidelines as a coach instead of a skater, but he found himself enjoying the Grand Prix Final far more than expected. Watching the other competitors had sparked something inside of him, and he felt charmed by their performances. Yuuri had been helping him regain his motivation for months now, but tonight made it apparent just how ready Victor was.

And then, of course, there was the matter of a broken world record.

That had been a shock, to be sure. He was proud of Yurio and could certainly see how far he’d pushed himself. His score had been well-deserved, but witnessing that performance had also reignited something within Victor. It wasn’t just his desire to keep skating that had returned. He was ready to compete. He wanted to be out there, fighting to set the mark higher and higher. It was an exchange of inspiration for all of them. Every skater on the ice tonight had their eyes on the others, looking to see how far they would have to push themselves to come out on top.

Victor missed that. Badly.

Only he didn’t know how to tell Yuuri.

That conversation would have to happen another time. Tonight, Victor needed to focus on his fiancé and make sure he was okay. He had no idea what to expect when he got to the hotel.

Yuuri had surprised him earlier. He’d made it clear before the competition that he didn’t want to be coddled, so Victor had made it a point to be supportive but also not in his face. That had been difficult at times, particularly after Yuuri’s performance. He’d had a near meltdown while still on the ice but had calmed into a quiet storm by the time he reached the sidelines. Victor had stood, ready for Yuuri to hug him with a silent request for help, but he had just squeezed Victor’s hand and walked straight past him.

Victor hadn’t been able to resist keeping his arm around him until his score came in. But once he saw that Yuuri accepted it with a look of determination instead of heartbreak, Victor knew he would be okay and backed off. He was so proud of Yuuri for staying strong, even though he was disappointed.

What a positive change from last year—a victory in and of itself—and it was only going to keep getting better. Yuuri’s potential was like a hidden diamond, the enormity of which kept being revealed as the stone around it was chipped away.

Just thinking about that bright future elevated Victor’s mood considerably by the time he reached the hotel room. A quick glance inside revealed Yuuri kneeling in front of his suitcase, searching for something. He was dressed in a pair of black sweatpants, and had a towel around his bare shoulders. His hair was freshly washed and falling down into his face.

“Hey,” Victor said. He pulled the card-key out of the lock and let the heavy door fall shut behind him.

Yuuri looked up and smiled—but then his gaze shifted quickly away. “Hey.”

Victor considered Phichit’s advice and recognized that Yuuri wasn’t ready to talk yet. But he had met Victor’s eyes briefly and even offered a smile, both of which were good signs. A little extra time and space, and then he might open up.

“I could use a shower myself.” Victor dropped his coat and Makkachin-shaped tissue box onto the bed, walked over to where Yuuri was kneeling, and bent to kiss the top of his head. “Afterward, let’s order dinner in and maybe watch a movie. How does that sound?”

Yuuri already had what he was looking for in his lap—a sweatshirt to wear to bed and his cell phone charger—but he kept digging around in his suitcase, probably so that he wouldn’t have to look at Victor again. “After you’re out of the shower, let’s talk.”

“Everything okay?”

Yuuri smiled again, so sweetly that Victor was almost convinced it was genuine. “Yeah, everything’s fine. There’s just something I wanted to tell you. But go shower first, and then we can order dinner. Relaxing tonight sounds great.”

After gathering together a few personal items, Victor excused himself to the bathroom. If there was one thing he excelled at (besides setting world records), it was wasting time preening in the shower. This was going to be a long one, not because he wanted to pamper himself but to allow Yuuri the chance to get in a better headspace. Victor wasn’t stupid. In spite of the smiles and relative openness to conversation, Yuuri wasn’t okay, but if he needed to pretend he was for now, Victor wasn’t going to push. He could only hope the hotel’s hot water heaters were ready for him.

By the time he was done, the bathroom was hazy with perfumed steam. Normally showers left him mentally refreshed and alert, but tonight Victor felt troubled. His good mood remained, but it was difficult to keep his distance when his love wasn’t doing well. He pulled on a robe but didn’t bother drying his hair before he felt compelled to glance into the bedroom.

Yuuri was fully dressed now and sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the window with his back to the room. The lights of the city glittered golden before him. “I found the room service menu,” Yuuri called without looking, having heard the shower shut off. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Victor relaxed. “Be right out.”

He grabbed a towel for his hair and draped it over his neck to keep his robe from getting too wet. Upon entering the bedroom, he saw that Yuuri was scrolling through his social media accounts on his phone. Another good sign that he was ready to let the world back in. Victor smiled, proud of him, and felt much more at ease as he sat on the window ledge across from Yuuri.

Victor’s hair was still dripping wet, so he brought the towel to his head and started drying the ends. He wondered what Yuuri needed from him. Perhaps it would be best just to listen for now.

“Apparently Minako-sensei’s drinking with Celestino at a bar,” Yuuri said, still looking down at his phone.

“Wow,” Victor said with a laugh. “Best to keep our distance.” He lowered the towel and looked up. Though his eyes were sparkling with affection for his fiancé, his voice was a little hesitant as he said, “By the way, Yuuri—what did you want to talk to me about?”

Yuuri finally met his eyes then and even tried for a smile that never quite came to the surface. “Right.”

And then his hands were clenching into fists, so hard that the fingers gripping his phone turned white.

There was a long pause where Victor felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

“After the Final,” Yuuri said, “let’s end this.”

Victor blinked.

He waited for something more. Context. Clarification. Anything, really.

What was Yuuri talking about? End what? Victor must have heard wrong. Yuuri couldn’t be breaking up with him. That would be ridiculous. That would be . . .

“Eh?” Victor said softly.

“You’ve done more than enough for me, Victor,” Yuuri said, his voice steadier now, like he’d finally latched onto his confidence. “Thanks to you, I was able to give everything I had to my last season.”

The words were like a double slap to the face. Victor’s first thought was that Yes, Yuuri really was breaking up with him—and oh, God, what had he done? Had he pushed things too far, too fast? Had he not supported Yuuri enough? Had the ring been a mistake?

But then Yuuri mentioned his last season and . . . what the hell was he talking about? Last season of what? He couldn’t be thinking about . . .



And just like that, Victor’s throat was on fire. His line of vision lowered and started to blur.

Yuuri bowed to him, bending at the waist and holding the position while he spoke. “Thank you for everything, Victor. Thank you for being my coach.”

A deep, long-lasting bow such as this one was meant to be a gesture of respect and gratitude, but Victor felt like it conveyed neither. The speech seemed practiced. Well-prepared. Like Yuuri had been planning to deliver it all night.

So this was what Mari had been trying to warn him about.

“Victor?” Yuuri sounded surprised.

“Damn,” Victor said. He felt dazed. More than a little betrayed. He’d thought they were much closer than this. “I didn’t expect Katsuki Yuuri to be such a selfish human being.”

“Right,” Yuuri said—and there was a bit of an edge to his tone. “I made a selfish decision on my own. I’m retiring.”

Victor couldn’t begin to understand the touch of sarcasm in Yuuri’s words. (Did he not realize he was being selfish? How could he not see that?) But then the last two words distracted Victor from what he was about to say, and his throat started aching even worse than before.

Because Yuuri had finally said it—that he was retiring.

God, that hurt to hear. All that talent, both natural and hard-earned, down the drain. And not just Yuuri’s hard work . . . but Victor’s as well. He’d put his own career on hold to help Yuuri get his back on track. So what exactly had they been fighting for this entire time?

Something warm trickled down Victor’s cheeks and dripped from his chin onto the floor. The edges of his vision were blurred and shimmering in the light.

Oh . . . he was crying.

Tentatively, Yuuri reached out and swept Victor’s bangs to the side to reveal his face.

And suddenly Victor was angry. He wasn’t even allowed to hug Yuuri when he was upset, but apparently now Victor was expected to be comfortable with his emotions put on display. “Yuuri, what are you doing?”

“I’m just surprised to see you cry.” The response was tenderly spoken—because somehow Yuuri hadn’t come to the realization yet that they were fighting. Perhaps he needed it spelled out to him.

“I’m mad, okay?” Victor swept Yuuri’s hand away from his face.

Yuuri backpedaled and quickly got defensive. “You’re the one who said it was only until the Grand Prix Final.”

Victor was so confused. Just a few short weeks ago, Yuuri had asked him to stay on as his coach. Had he forgotten that Victor had agreed? “I thought you still needed my help.”

Did Yuuri have any idea what Victor had given up after that conversation at the airport? He’d spent weeks grieving for the loss of his career. To have Yuuri completely change his mind, saying now that he was the one stepping down . . . Victor’s head was spinning.

“Aren’t you going to make a comeback?” The level of Yuuri’s eyes dropped. “You don’t have to worry about me—”

And that was all it took for Victor to completely lose his composure. He was so tired of people putting pressure on him about his comeback, and now for the first time, Yuuri was joining their ranks. Yuuri—who was the only reason Victor had any inspiration to keep skating at all. Yuuri—who was now quitting.

All the emotion Victor had been stuffing down for many years swelled up at once, and suddenly he was struggling to keep himself from yelling. “How can you tell me to return to the ice after saying you’re retiring?” When Yuuri wouldn’t acknowledge him with his eyes, Victor stood and put his hand on his shoulder, pushing back on it to make him look. “Is that why you’re doing this? You’re quitting so that I’ll go back?”

Yuuri’s eyes were huge in the face of Victor’s anger. “Not the whole reason, no. Why would I want to keep skating without you?”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Yuuri. I’m right here, and I’ve already made the commitment to stay on as your coach long-term. You know that.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why would I want to keep skating without you on the ice with me? It’s the same thing you just asked me. You told me from the beginning this was just a break for you, and now suddenly you’re talking like it’s not. I saw your face today, Victor. You and I both know you’re not satisfied staying on the sidelines forever. You want to keep skating.”

It wasn’t something Victor could deny, but he did feel regretful that Yuuri had sensed that inner struggle and felt pressured by it. Victor should have hidden it better. “Then we figure out a way to both keep skating. Why are you just giving up?”

Yuuri exhaled and put his face in his hands. “I don’t know how to explain it to you. It’s complicated. There isn’t a simple reason I can give.”

Victor’s anger softened. Seeing someone he loved looking so dejected was heartbreaking. “Is it because of your performance tonight? Yuuri, you put your hand on the ice. Once. But there were so many things you did right. You can’t let a simple mistake like that—”

“I made the decision to retire months ago,” Yuuri said, cutting in. His hands fell away from his face, and he looked up with an expression that was set into stone. “It has nothing to do with tonight.”

This was an entirely new blow. “You’ve known for . . . months?” Victor took a step back. “How many months exactly? One . . . maybe two?”

“I decided last spring,” Yuuri said. “After I won the Onsen on Ice competition, I knew it was my last season.”

Just when Victor thought this conversation couldn’t hurt any worse.

He hung his head and swiped at his cheeks. The tears were still pouring out of him, apparently intent on drowning their creator. “I see,” he said in a quiet voice. “So you kept this information to yourself for eight months until tonight so that you could fire me on the spot.”

“I’m not . . .” Yuuri’s mouth fell open. He looked absolutely appalled by Victor’s choice in wording. “It’s not like that.”

Victor started laughing—because something new had occurred to him. “Oh. I get it now. When you asked me to take care of you until retirement, you already knew the date was just a few weeks away. Wow. . .”

He was really struggling to hold back the crying now, having to press his fingers to his lips in an attempt to keep it in. The tears streamed down his face anyway, but he kept quiet. He could save himself that much dignity, at least.

Yuuri looked like he was about to cry as well. He’d gotten to his feet and reached for Victor’s hand, and it took a great deal of restraint not to rip it away.

“Victor, please,” Yuuri said, his hand warm as it squeezed Victor’s. “I honestly don’t understand why you’re this upset. Please explain it to me so that I can apologize.”

How could he not understand? Victor had to pull the fingers away from his mouth to speak, so he pinched the bridge of his nose instead, hoping to hold in the emotion that way. “Because I thought we had decided to fight as a team. I didn’t understand that my partner had already given up and planned to let me fight alone. You’re too young, Yuuri. You’re so young.”

“So are you. And you’re not fighting alone. I’m still right here.” Yuuri tried to put his hands on Victor’s face, but they were batted away. “Do you . . . not want me?” His eyes were brimming with tears now. He looked very small standing there. Frightened. “You’re not breaking up with me, are you?”

That pissed Victor off all over again.

He ran his fingers back through his wet, tangled hair and had to take several deep breaths before he could respond without yelling. “Yuuri,” he said. “The fact that you would even ask me that shows how completely we are not on the same page. No. We are not breaking up. Unless that was also part of what you wanted to end tonight?”

He knew he shouldn’t have said it and felt a stab of regret the second it came out of his mouth.

The words found their mark, and the tears finally came spilling down onto Yuuri’s cheeks. “Of course, it wasn’t.”

And oh, Victor felt like shit after that. He hadn’t meant to make Yuuri cry. Victor wouldn’t hurt him for anything in the world, yet that was exactly what he’d been doing from the moment this argument began. He was too emotional to control his temper right now.

“I’m sorry.” Even though it was still difficult to look at him, Victor stepped forward and squeezed Yuuri’s arm. “I shouldn’t have said that. No, we aren’t breaking up. But I need to . . . leave for a little while. I’m upset, and I don’t want to risk saying anything else I don’t mean.”

He pulled Yuuri in for what he hoped was a reassuring hug, but both of their bodies were stiff and resistant to it. He let go and turned away soon after. Victor then grabbed a change of clothes and brought them to the bathroom to get dressed, barely looking at what he was pulling on. He combed his fingers through his wet hair but wanted to get out of there so badly that he didn’t bother with a brush.

As he was reaching for his coat and slipping into his shoes at the door, he heard a timid voice behind him.


“I’ll be back later,” Victor said without turning around. “Don’t wait up.”

Then he left.

Though he wasn’t crying anymore, his throat kept aching throughout the elevator ride downstairs to the lobby. He felt incredibly guilty for just walking away like that. Yuuri was upset, and Victor had turned his back on him.

By the time he stepped outside, his conscience got the best of him. He stopped in his tracks, pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, and sent Yuuri a text message. I’m sorry I yelled. I love you, Yuri. I just need to clear my head.

An incoming response window popped up on Victor’s phone almost immediately, so he stood there and waited until the message came across.

I’m sorry too. I messed up.

The words made the ache in Victor’s throat worsen. Oh, Yuuri. He honestly had no idea of the impact his actions had on other people. Victor wanted to hug him and shake him at the same time. He pressed his lips together as he typed out a response. Will you do me one favor? Don’t make a final decision until after your performance.

Yuuri took a little longer to reply to this message, but it eventually appeared. OK. But will you promise me the same thing?

Victor exhaled sharply through his nose. He didn’t even know why the subject of his competitive career kept coming up. That wasn’t what tonight’s argument had been about. Why is it so important to you that I keep skating?

Yuuri’s answer: Because it’s important to you, and you’re important to me.

Victor’s thumbs hesitated over the keyboard of his phone. He wasn’t sure what to say in response to that. Yuuri’s reasoning was so different from everyone else who had ever put pressure on Victor to make a decision. All he ever heard was that he was throwing away his talent and letting people down. But Yuuri had just stated the truth. Skating was important to Victor, and Yuuri was trying to acknowledge that. He’d gone about it all wrong earlier, but his heart was in the right place. At least about this.

As Victor sent another message, tears were stinging his eyes again. He felt even guiltier now for yelling at Yuuri. OK. I promise to think about it.

He started walking without a destination in mind, but just as he was putting his phone in his pocket, he heard it chime.

There was a new text from Yuuri. Why is it important to you that I keep skating?

Victor kept walking as he stared down at the message.

It was a valid question. Why was this hitting him so hard? It wasn’t like he was losing Yuuri forever. Their relationship would survive this, but at that moment, Victor literally felt like someone had ripped half his heart from his chest and left him with a gaping hole. Perhaps it was because he had already been emotional about other things when Yuuri had delivered a difficult message . . . but the idea that the Grand Prix Final Free Skate would be the last time Victor would ever see his Yuuri on the ice made him want to start crying all over again. It was incredibly important to him that Yuuri keep skating.

He supposed he had already explained the reasons “why” to Yuuri before. Weeks ago, in writing. Yuuri just hadn’t realized it yet.

Victor’s response to him was: Did you bring the book I gave you for your birthday like you said you would? Read the letter I wrote to you near the end. That’s why it’s important.

Minako was the first to spot Victor when he walked through the door of the bar. The look on his face must have revealed exactly how distressed he was because she stepped away from Celestino and Mari mid-conversation and marched straight towards him.

“What’s wrong?” Minako said. “Did something happen? Where’s Yuuri?”

Victor blinked a few times before responding. The bar was distractingly loud. He’d come here specifically to find Minako, having discovered the location of the bar from the post on Instagram, but now that he’d found her, he wasn’t sure where to start.

Victor,” Minako said. “You’re freaking me out.”

“Sorry.” Victor squeezed his eyes shut for a second. His head was pounding. “Yuuri’s at the hotel. He’s fine, but he might need someone to talk to. Do you think you could . . . ?”

Her eyebrow arched upward. “Why? What happened?”

Mari appeared at Victor’s shoulder, and she said something in Japanese that sounded like a question.

“She wants to know if her idiot brother broke up with you,” Minako said. “Did he? You look like you’ve been crying.”

Oh, Victor had been dumped all right. Maybe not romantically, but it hurt just as much.

“Yuuri’s retiring,” Victor said, his tone flat. “The Grand Prix Final is his last competition.” He deflated after he said it, and Mari reached out to put a hand on his arm. She looked concerned for him, but that was wasted energy. All Victor wanted was for one of them to go to check on Yuuri.

Minako rolled her eyes and muttered, “Oh, Yuuri. I’m going to kill that boy.”

“Nani?” Mari said to Minako. After the situation was explained to her in Japanese, it was Mari’s turn to roll her eyes. Then she grumbled something colorful with Yuuri’s name featured in the middle, which must have been rather humorous because Minako started snickering and nodding.

“Everything all right?” Celestino asked. He’d left their drinks at the bar and come up behind the ladies.

“Yuuri’s just being Yuuri,” Minako explained. “I’ll go talk to him. Was he really that upset after his performance?”

Victor narrowed his eyes, trying to make sense out of everything Yuuri had told him. “I honestly don’t know. He was so calm when he told me he was retiring. How could he have been that calm?”

Retiring?” Celestino sighed. “That boy. I swear. . .”

Victor looked at Minako, eyes pleading. “I said some things I shouldn’t have. I yelled at him and then left him by himself.”

“Victor,” Minako said. “There’s not a single person standing here who hasn’t yelled at Yuuri. We all love him very much, but that child is infuriating. Sit down, have a drink, and welcome to the family.”

Celestino laughed and patted Victor on the back in a father-like gesture. “Try not to worry. Knowing Yuuri, he probably didn’t absorb a word you said. When he makes up his mind about something, it’s like talking to a brick wall. If only he could focus that tenacity into his performance. He wouldn’t be able to stand up straight for all the gold medals around his neck.”

“Now isn’t that the truth?” Minako grumbled. “Wish me luck talking to the brick wall.”

She went to grab her purse, but before she left, she waved to Phichit, who was sitting across the room at a table with Christophe and his coach, Josef. Phichit got up, left some money on the table, and grabbed his coat with the intention of following Minako. When his eyes met Victor’s, it became obvious Phichit had guessed something had happened between him and Yuuri.

Victor felt a little dazed when he saw so many familiar faces around him. Telling Yuuri’s inner circle about his retirement was one thing, but this was how rumors got started with the larger group. Who knew how many reporters or figure skating enthusiasts were in this room?

Christophe started to get up from the table as well, a look of concern on his face for his friend, but Victor just offered him a strained smile, shook his head, and turned away. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, except for maybe Mari. He supposed Celestino’s past as Yuuri’s coach might be helpful as well. But as far as everyone else went, Yuuri hadn’t made his final decision yet, so there was no point in making something like that public knowledge. Let them assume he and Victor had a lover’s spat. That was much better than rumors of his retirement getting out.

Mari and Celestino guided Victor to the counter of the bar, each with a hand on his shoulder, and made him sit down.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at him,” Victor told Mari when she settled onto the barstool next to his. His eyes were welling up with tears again.

She nodded and squeezed his forearm. He wasn’t certain if she understood what he was saying, but she must have read the look on his face, clear as day. He put his hand on top of hers and squeezed back, stupidly grateful to have family and friends there in Barcelona with them.

There was still hope. Maybe Minako and Phichit could talk some sense into Yuuri . . . and maybe Celestino and Mari could talk some sense into Victor.

“Shots?” Mari said, a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Or they could do shots.

“This man definitely needs a drink,” Celestino agreed. He raised a hand in the bartender’s direction to signal his desire to place an order.

But Victor just slumped down in his seat. He didn’t want alcohol. He didn’t want anything except to wake up and discover this entire day had been nothing but a bad dream.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

For most of his life, Yuuri had dedicated a good deal of time to the pursuit of solitude. He liked being alone. Liked the way his mind and body relaxed when there was no one else’s energy buzzing in the room. It was always easiest when there was nobody there to look at him or expect him to talk.

But all that began to change when Victor Nikiforov came into his life.

Now, when Victor was gone, Yuuri didn’t find the same satisfaction in being alone. His mind and body couldn’t relax, and he missed that buzzing energy. Missed being looked at and talked to. It was like half his heart had gone missing, leaving him hollow and restless. While he didn’t need Victor constantly around him, Yuuri did need to know he was there. That he was okay.

Alone in the Barcelona hotel room, Yuuri sat on the floor with his back to the bed and stared unhappily down at the book in his hands. His suitcase was open in front of him, the once neatly packed contents disturbed from his search for the book. It was the one Victor had given him for his birthday. Yuuri ran his palm down the beautiful cover, with its golden letters that spelled out his name, and tried to muster the courage to open it.

He had no idea what had just happened with Victor, nor did Yuuri fully understand what he had done wrong. His true intentions were completely different than the accusations leveled at him during their argument, and he hadn’t been articulate enough to properly defend himself. But the fact remained that he had hurt someone he loved very much, and that was something he couldn’t easily brush aside.

Victor had cried.

Yuuri’s mind kept replaying the sparkling descent of every tear. Someone like Victor should never be that sad. He was such a happy, optimistic person that when he was upset, it was clear he was truly hurting. Somewhere along the way, Yuuri had made a significant miscalculation, and there was a part of him that wanted to run and hide from the shame of it. He didn’t know how to handle failure like other people did, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’d pushed someone away simply because facing them again was too mortifying.

If Victor hadn’t texted him after their fight, Yuuri’s mental state would not be as calm and collected as it was now. Their text message conversation had cleared the air between them a little. He’d been allowed to apologize, and Victor had done the same. Still, things weren’t completely mended.

Yuuri wasn’t certain what to do. They’d never fought like this before.

He opened the cover of the book and flipped to the last few pages—past the letters from his friends and family and the many pictures documenting his years on the ice. There, beside a photo taken of Victor and Yuuri after the podium ceremony at the Cup of China, was a letter he hadn’t read yet.

When Victor had given him this book for his birthday, he’d asked that Yuuri save this page until after the Grand Prix Final. He’d brought it on this trip for that very reason and had assumed he’d be allowed to see it after he knew his ranking in the Final. Tonight, Victor had directed him to it earlier than expected, and Yuuri felt both curious and hesitant.

He knew it was not going to be a romantic letter. This book was about his skating career, as seen through the eyes of others, and his idol and mentor had taken the time to contribute. The letter was going to be written from the point of view of his coach—not his fiancé—and Yuuri wondered if Victor had any idea just how much that meant to him.

Victor Nikiforov, the actual flesh and blood living legend, had put pen to paper and written to Yuuri about his skating.

Part of him didn’t want to know what it said. He worried it was a consolation prize—that Victor had always known he wasn’t going to win and had prepared a soft cushion for Yuuri to land on when he failed. The other part of him feared Victor had poured his heart out into a congratulatory letter about Yuuri’s gold medal win at the Grand Prix Final. If he placed second or lower, the book would be ruined. It would be a lie, and he’d probably never want to look at it again.

He didn’t want to read Victor’s letter.

Yuuri just wanted him home. He needed to hear his voice and talk to him.

But Victor had asked him to do this. This letter was probably the closest thing Yuuri was going to get to a conversation for the immediate future. With an aching heart and a lump wedged high in his throat, his eyes focused in on the page filled from top to bottom with Victor’s careful handwriting and began to read.

Dear Yuri,

I have a confession to make. I have no idea how to be a competitive figure skating coach, but you probably figured that out before I did. When I came to Japan, it was with the intention of mentoring a promising talent, but after the privilege of experiencing a skating season at your side, I’ve come to realize I had our roles backwards. You’re the one who ended up teaching me.

What I learned from you is how to ice skate.

(Stop laughing. It isn’t funny.)

(Okay, it’s a little funny. I am being serious, though.)

I had it all wrong. I thought skating was a formula. A strategy to win gold. I became something I wasn’t in order to manufacture an outcome, but what you taught me was the importance of being true to who I am. You’ve never settled for anything less, in fact. (Quite the demanding coach.) You challenged me to be genuine, which is exactly what my skating was lacking. Me.

That’s what I see when you skate. You, Yuri. Your heart. I can hear the music in your head and feel the scrape of the ice beneath your feet. (How do you do that?) I want to learn more from you. Your skating is a true inspiration to me, and I’d like to thank you for being my teacher. You have not only become my best friend, but you’ve helped me gain new strength I once thought could only be found on my own.

If there’s one thing I’d like to teach you in return, it’s that you will never find satisfaction in a gold medal. The real reward is in the journey. Look around you. Look through the pages of this book and be proud of the impact you’ve had on others’ lives. I hope the riches you find here bring you a well-deserved smile. Congratulations on an incredible journey this season, Yuri.

I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Your biggest fan*,
Victor Nikiforov

*Kenjirou Minami and the citizens of Hasetsu have submitted formal complaints against the accuracy of this statement. While they have made convincing arguments that they are in fact your biggest fans, all they actually are is wrong.

Yuuri kept staring at the letter long after he finished reading it. His finger came to trace the curves and flourishes adorning that famous autograph.

Victor Nikiforov.

It was hard to believe his signature was real. The three words printed above it were even more implausible. One year ago, Yuuri didn’t think his idol would ever know his name, and now here was evidence that he had somehow inspired him.

Yuuri struggled to wrap his mind around it. He’d asked Victor why it was important to him that Yuuri keep skating, but even now, with the answer literally beneath his fingertips, it was difficult to grasp. He read the letter twice more, then quietly closed the book.

Whether he came in first or last at the Grand Prix Final, Victor had prepared for him the perfect message that he was already rich in gold. The whole book was made of it. The lettering was gold. The names of those he loved. Their words to him. Even his own name on the front.

Victor was a better coach than he gave himself credit for.

But like he said in the letter, it was important to be true to one’s self, and Victor Nikiforov was not meant to be relegated to the sidelines. Not yet, anyway. He belonged on the ice. Yuuri smiled as he hugged his birthday present to his chest, encouraged by the letter in a way its author probably hadn’t intended. He felt so hopeful that he might one day see his hero skate again. That was the greatest gift Victor could have given him. He was right. Yuuri had already won.

It made him wonder though. . .

If it was true his skating had somehow become an inspiration to Victor, was this the kind of excitement Yuuri had robbed him of by announcing his retirement?

Doubt chipped away at his resolve. Though he knew deep down he wasn’t going to change his mind about his retirement, he did wonder if there was a way he could make this transition easier on Victor. Yuuri wanted to show his appreciation for all he’d done—because it wasn’t just Victor who had found inspiration in Yuuri, as he had explained so beautifully in his letter. Victor had inspired Yuuri first, and he needed to tell him that in a letter of his own.

A gold medal would be a nice gift to him, but Yuuri wanted to give Victor something more personal. A message not written in words but instead demonstrated through Yuuri’s skating. After all, that seemed to be the way they communicated best. Maybe it would be enough to keep Victor motivated for years to come . . . to know what he’d accomplished in Yuuri and to see a reflection of himself in someone he’d inspired.

For the next half hour, he found himself lost in thought, chewing absently on his thumbnail while he stared off into space. There was music building in his mind. In his imagination, a young man with long silver hair danced in the shadows, impossible to catch but daring Yuuri to try.

A knock sounded at the door of the hotel room.

Yuuri blinked and looked up, his hand falling away from his lips. His pulse began to pick up speed . . . because his immediate thought was that Victor had returned from wherever he’d gone. But that was unlikely. He’d taken a key and wouldn’t need to knock, but who else would be here so late?

Katsuki Yuuri,” a familiar voice called from the other side of the door. “I know you’re in there.”

Then the door began to rattle on its hinges.

Yuuri couldn’t help but smile. Minako-sensei had a way of knowing whenever he needed a friend, usually even before he realized it himself. He’d lost count of how many anxiety-filled nights he’d spent practicing under her watchful eye.

He got to his feet and placed the book carefully on the bed. When he opened the door, he was surprised to find she wasn’t the only one who had come to see him. “Phichit-kun.”

Phichit stood just behind Minako’s right shoulder, and he looked up from his cell phone when he heard his name. “Surprise! Hey, I think you’re in trouble. You might want to shut the door really quick and lock it.”

“You’re definitely in trouble.” Minako stuck her foot inside the room so that Yuuri couldn’t close the door, even if he wanted to. “What’s this I hear about you retiring?”

Oh, no. Victor must have found her.

Yuuri went rigid. He hadn’t been prepared to deliver this news to anyone except his coach tonight, but he supposed he should have been. Unsure of what to say, he stepped aside to let them both enter the room.

“Whoa.” Phichit stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the arrangement of the hotel furniture. “Did you and Victor push the beds together?”

Minako lifted an unamused eyebrow in Yuuri’s direction, and he could practically feel the sweat droplets accumulating on his forehead. Thank goodness he’d hidden the lubricant in the nightstand drawer this morning so the cleaning staff wouldn’t see it.

“Yuuri,” Minako said. “Talk to me.”

“Yeah, talk to us,” Phichit said. “First off, explain how you two don’t fall between the crack of the beds when you—”

“I mean, talk about your retirement,” Minako said. “What’s going on?”

Yuuri rubbed the back of his neck, uncertain which topic made him more uncomfortable. His sex life or the fact that he had neglected to tell anyone about his fast-approaching retirement date before now. Victor had certainly not reacted well to the news. Who else was going to be angry with him? “There’s nothing to say yet. I promised Victor I wouldn’t make a final decision until after my Free Skate.”

Minako-sensei narrowed her eyes as she studied his body language. “But you’ve already made up your mind.”

Yuuri’s gaze fell to the floor, but he knew it was no use. It was near impossible to hide anything from her. She picked up on everything and wasn’t afraid to call it out.

“Oh, is this your birthday book?” Phichit had spotted the book on the bed, and he sat down and picked it up to look at. “I’ve been wanting to see this. Victor told everyone about it months ago when he was looking for letters and pictures, and it was so hard to keep it a secret.”

“Can you at least tell me where this is coming from?” Minako pressed, unwilling to let the subject change. “I haven’t heard an explanation yet.”

Yuuri sighed as he watched his friend flip through the pages of his book. That was much easier than looking his old sensei in the eyes and knowing he’d let her down. “It’s complicated.”

“If that’s all you said to Victor, it’s no wonder he’s so upset.”

Guilt drove the lump in Yuuri’s throat even deeper. “He . . . was still upset when you talked to him?”

“Oh, yeah,” Phichit said. “You really wrecked him. I never thought I’d see the day Victor Nikiforov appeared in public without brushing his hair. Thank goodness I got some good pictures, or no one would ever believe me.”

Yuuri buried his face in his hands. “I didn’t think he’d react like that. I still don’t completely understand why he’s so upset, even after he explained it.”

“Really?” Phichit looked up from the book with a grin. “Yuuri, you’re so funny.”

“Why does that not surprise me?” Minako was massaging her temple like she had a sudden headache. “Have you tried looking at this from Victor’s point of view? He put his extremely time-sensitive career on hold for you, left his home, and came to a foreign country to be your coach. He’s invested countless hours in your training. So have I, if you remember. And now you’re just throwing it all away without giving a real reason. Of course, he’s upset, and he’s not the only one.”

Oh. Yuuri hadn’t thought about it from Victor’s perspective. Not like that, anyway. “I don’t know what to do to make it right.”

“Don’t retire?” Phichit volunteered helpfully.

“Then Victor won’t go back to skating,” Yuuri said. “Not unless I fire him, and I don’t want another coach.”

That got Phichit’s attention. He lowered the book and said, “Wait . . . Victor’s coming back? Since when?”

Minako reared around and jabbed a finger at Phichit’s face three times as she said, “No. Social. Media. I mean it, Chulanont. Anything said in this room is not to be shared with the public.”

Phichit deflated, his dark eyes wide and haunted as if seeing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip through his fingers. “But. . .”

“Is that why you’re retiring?” Minako asked Yuuri. “So that Victor will step down as your coach and make a comeback?”

“It’s complicated,” Yuuri said for the second time. “That’s one of the reasons, yes. But there are others . . . and I can’t . . . I don’t want to talk about them.”

The last part of his response came out in a defensive rush—because there were other reasons. Deeply personal reasons he didn’t even like to think about, much less share with others. Just lightly touching upon the subject now made the anxiety start to rise up inside of him. He couldn’t handle that right now. Not when he was already feeling so raw and exposed.

“You’re only twenty-four,” Minako said. “Victor started winning gold medals when he was about your age. You have years ahead of you.”

“I’m not Victor.”

“And why can’t you be? A fifteen-year-old kid that you beat in a competition last spring just broke Victor’s Short Program record. There’s no reason that couldn’t have been you. You just have to choose not to give up.”

Silence fell between the three of them. Yuuri still couldn’t look at Minako, but he’d certainly heard what she’d said. Especially that last part . . . about Victor. That was exactly what he had been thinking about before she and Phichit had arrived.

“I haven’t given up,” Yuuri said, his voice quiet but resolved. It wasn’t a lie. He had no intention of backing down from his goal now. That Grand Prix Final gold medal belonged to him.

“Wow, Yuuri.” Phichit was looking down at the book again, his attention captured by one page in particular. “This letter Victor wrote you is incredible. It’s like a dream come true for you.”

Frowning, Minako held her hand out for the book, and Yuuri flushed when Phichit passed it over to her. It was a dream come true, and it embarrassed Yuuri to have his heart and desires on display like that. Still . . . it wasn’t just his hard work that had won him that letter from his idol. Minako had worked tirelessly for it as well. She deserved to read it.

“Wow,” Minako said after she was done. “The reigning five-time world champion . . . inspired and taught by our Yuuri. You should have a copy of this framed.” She looked up at him, her palm coming to rest on Victor’s words. “You know, you’ve always had trouble recognizing your own talent and the impact it has on other people. Do you understand Victor’s trying to thank you for being the one who inspired him to keep skating? If he ends his break and goes back, it’s because of you.”

Yuuri blushed harder. He had caught that but was still struggling to understand it.

“I know what it means to you to have him on the ice again, and that’s probably influenced your decision to retire,” Minako said. “But Yuuri, this letter means Victor is looking at you the same way. That’s why he’s upset. He wants you to keep going because he’s inspired by you. Have you even considered finding a way that you can both keep skating?”

There was a long pause before Yuuri replied. He hadn’t thought about it because it hurt too much. “I’d have to get another coach.”

“Celestino would probably take you back,” Phichit said.

Tears welled up in Yuuri’s eyes. Going back to Celestino would mean he would be parted from Victor, who would no doubt return to Russia to train. That was not an arrangement Yuuri found acceptable at all. He and Victor had barely been able to handle a day apart at the Rostelecom Cup. Training in different countries would mean they’d be apart for months (if not years) with only the occasional visit.

Minako read Yuuri’s thoughts as clearly as if they were voiced out loud. “Have you ever thought about asking Yakov Feltsman to be your coach? If he took you on as a student, you could go to Russia with Victor.”

Phichit snorted with laughter, and even Yuuri found himself smiling because the idea was so ridiculous. “That’s unlikely. He’s committed to the Russian team. Japan is the enemy.”

Everyone is the enemy,” Phichit added. “Even Yakov’s own students fall under that category because their weaknesses are what stand between him and another medal for Russia. And besides, Yuuri is the reason Victor left in the first place. Yakov is probably not a fan.”

“Then explain to him you’re the reason Victor’s returning to Russia at all,” Minako said. “You give up too easily. If you really want Victor back on the ice, then you need to be willing to fight to get him there. You might have to give up some things. Either it’s your pride with Yakov or your proximity to Victor. Even if Yakov refuses you, consider that Victor is going to be twenty-eight this month. At best, he only has a few years of skating ahead of him. I understand you don’t want to be separated from your fiancé, but even if you have to be apart for a year or two, you have your whole lives ahead of you to grow old together. You both have to take advantage of this small window of time because it will be gone before you know it. If Victor loves you, he’ll understand that and wait for you.”

Every word she said would have made perfect sense if this was the only reason Yuuri had his mind set on retirement. But this was just a small piece, and he didn’t want to get into the rest of it. All he said in response was, “I’ll think about it.”

“Don’t just think about it, Yuuri,” Minako said. “Envision what you want—a perfect future where you’re both happy—and fight to make it happen. Even if it costs you something. Because I can’t imagine that a world where you’ve retired at twenty-four will satisfy you. How are you going to feel when Victor and all your friends move on without you? What will it feel like watching Victor lace up his skates and leave you behind on the sidelines?”

“Spoiler alert,” Phichit whispered. “It’s going to suck.”

Yuuri heard them both but didn’t let their words touch his heart. Neither of them fully understood where his head was at, nor could they when he hadn’t told them anything that would put the situation into perspective. He kept his mouth shut but nodded to confirm he understood the consequences of the path he’d chosen. None of it would change his mind . . . but he understood.

“Do I need to lecture you now on not giving up on that gold medal?” Minako’s attention shifted from Yuuri to Phichit. “That goes for both of you.”

“No lecture needed here,” Phichit said. “The Free Skate is where it counts. Besides, I’m not retiring, so it’s not like this is my last chance to win.”

“I’m not giving up either,” Yuuri said. “But there is something I need to do before my performance.” He looked at Minako, his expression beseeching. “Will you help me? I want to change the jump composition of my Free Skate.”

Phichit’s ever-present smile dimmed. “Yuuri, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“No, I’ve already made up my mind,” Yuuri said. “I’m doing it. After the Rostelecom Cup, Yakov asked me why I hadn’t practiced for a missed jump. Then Yurio suggested I prepare variations of the jump composition so I could choose between them at the last minute. I already have some variations practiced, but I need to figure out the points. I’m not sure if it will be enough.”

“Enough for what?” Minako asked.

Yuuri fiddled with his engagement ring. “Victor said something to me last night—to show him the kind of skating I liked best. At first, I didn’t know what that might mean for me, but I think I figured it out. His skating is always what inspired me. I’ve been trying to catch up with him for more than half my life, and the skating I’ve always loved best is when I’ve let him be my direct inspiration. So I want to do what he did. I want my Free Skate to have the same difficulty as his, which means I need another quad.”

Minako had the beginnings of a smile shining in her eyes. “A quadruple toe loop? In place of the triple flip.”

Yuuri nodded. “But that means I’ll have to move the triple flip—”

“—in place of the triple loop,” Minako said. “Yes, that makes sense.”

“Four quads?” Phichit said with an impressed laugh. “That’s badass. And hey—if you fall on your face, maybe it will make you want to try again next year, and you’ll change your mind about retiring. I’m all for it.”

“I don’t know how, but I need to find a way to practice tonight.” Yuuri’s eyes pleaded with his sensei, who might as well be a second mother to him for all the times she’d been there to support him. “Will you help me?”

“Grab your skates and a calculator,” Minako said. “I’m going to make some calls and find us a rink. Let’s make this happen.”

Not far from the hotel, Victor sat on a bench and stared out at the sea ahead of him. He could see the white froth of breaking waves on the beach below, but beyond that was only darkness. Clouds had hidden the moon and stars, so not even the line between the sky and water was visible tonight. The horizon was gone.

How fitting for his mood. He had no idea now what his future held, and it was like being blind to what was right in front of him. All the same, there was comfort to be found in the sound of the waves rolling in. A familiar song. One that whispered of home. He breathed in the fresh salty air and found himself toying with his engagement ring.

Mari stood a few paces off, one arm wrapped around her middle and a cigarette held before her lips. The ember at the tip glowed red-orange in the dark. Like Victor, she seemed content to quietly watch the water, even though it had to be after midnight by now.

They’d only been here for a short time—twenty minutes or so—having left the bar when Celestino called it a night. After several solid hours of drinking, he’d gone back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow, but Victor had dragged his feet. Mari had followed him here to this bench near the beach without saying a word and had gone through two cigarettes while she waited for him to work through whatever it was that was preventing him from taking another step. It was just like her to be a strong pillar of support without drawing attention to herself. That was simply the kind of person Mari was.

Victor wasn’t certain why he wasn’t ready yet. He’d felt much better at the bar, especially after a little alcohol. While he wasn’t anywhere near drunk, what he had consumed had taken the edge off his mood. Mari and Celestino even had him smiling at times while they tried to lift his spirits.

Celestino had regaled him with war stories of trying to calm Yuuri down before performances, some of which hit so close to home, Victor couldn’t help but laugh. Celestino then reenacted the conversation he’d had with Yuuri when he was dumped as a coach, and it was eerily familiar. Particularly the lack of a good reason.

“Yuuri never explains himself,” Celestino had said. “He just makes up his mind and acts. But if I had to guess, he was already on the brink of retiring last year. That boy has never been the same since those falls he took at the Sochi Grand Prix, and let’s not even talk about what happened at Nationals.”

When Mari had looked at Victor with questions in her eyes, he’d used the phone translator to explain what Celestino had said. She typed back: He’s right. You didn’t know Yuuri before last year but he’s different now. He might have decided to retire before this season even began.

Yuuri had said himself that he’d chosen the date of his retirement months ago, but Celestino and Mari’s words now cast a new dimension on that decision.

Was it possible the events of last year had such a profound and lasting effect on him that he still carried the weight of it all? If he had already been on the brink of quitting, perhaps he had always viewed this season as him giving it one last try before he closed the book on his career. When they’d argued, Victor had accused him of giving up, but maybe that wasn’t entirely fair if it was true that Yuuri had held on a full year longer than he’d wanted to.

But why hadn’t he just told Victor that from the beginning? This entire time, he’d thought he was preparing Yuuri for future seasons. Not prepping him for his final battle.

Victor knew there were strong emotions tied to what happened last year but hadn’t considered how deep the hurt might run. Whenever the subject came up, Yuuri would only discuss the technical details around his breakdown. Namely, what happened on the ice. The closest he got to revealing what had happened in his head was calling himself mentally weak, which wasn’t true at all.

At the time, it had seemed like a good idea to let the past fade from memory. Victor had thought to help Yuuri build happier memories this season and in turn, heal the wounds from last year. In fact, he’d thought they were already healed. If they weren’t, it was news to him.

This was what preoccupied Victor’s thoughts now as he stared out at the darkened sea. There was so much about Yuuri he still didn’t understand, and it frustrated him to be held at arm’s length like this.

As close as they’d become, Victor was beginning to realize there was still an emotional barrier between them. He wondered if it was even possible to break through it. Maybe with enough time and attention . . . but time was the one thing they didn’t have. Yuuri meant to retire after his Free Skate, and what could Victor do to change his mind before then if he wouldn’t even talk about the root of the problem?

“Like Hasetsu,” Mari said, the volume of her words diminished by the strong breeze coming in off the water. She took a drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke to the side, where it was immediately carried away.

“Hai,” Victor said softly, understanding that she’d made the same connection he and Yurio had earlier. “This place reminds me of home, too.”

The sound of his cell phone buzzing cut through the roar of the waves. His first thought was that it might be Yuuri, and Victor immediately fished his phone out of his pocket and looked at the screen to see the ID of the caller. He frowned at the name he saw there. Not Yuuri at all—but rather someone else who hadn’t proactively reached out to him in a very long time.

And it was good to see that number popping up on his phone. A sharp, vivid relief. So many times in the last year, Victor had wished he could call that number and talk to someone with decades of experience under his belt. Someone who was practically a father to him.

He accepted the call, brought the phone to his ear, and said, “Yakov?”

There was a grunt on the other end of the line, which was as close as his old coach came to offering a greeting. “What’s this I hear about Yuuri retiring?”

Victor closed his eyes, inwardly cringing. The gossip was getting around already. “Who told you that?”

“Who cares? Is it true or not?”

For a long moment, there was nothing to be heard over the line except for the sound of the sea breeze overloading the speakers. Victor didn’t know what to say, so he let a sigh serve as confirmation. “I don’t know what to do. How do I make him change his mind? It’s a mistake. You’ve seen him skate. You know it’s a mistake.”

Yakov grumbled something under his breath. “That boy has to make his own decision. You can beg and scream all you want, but at the end of the day, this is a lesson he’s going to have to learn the hard way.”

“So I just have to sit back and watch him give up his future? All that potential. All that hard work. Down the drain. Wasted.”

“Vitya, what do you think we’ve all been watching you do since you left Russia?”


Victor opened his eyes as yet another perspective on the situation joined all the others and shifted his viewpoint again. Yakov’s words were like a punch to the gut. Eight months ago, Victor had done the same thing to Yakov that Yuuri had done to Victor. He’d packed his bags and walked away from his career without warning, leaving his coach begging and pleading with him not to give up his future. No wonder Yakov had been so angry with him this year.

“I guess I owe you an apology,” Victor said. “I didn’t understand how that must have felt until now.”

“Well, congratulations. Now you know what it’s like to be the coach of a willful brat. When you’re ready to beg me to take you back, you let me know.”

“Please try not to let the rumor spread any further. He hasn’t made a final decision yet.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Vitya.”

Yakov hung up.

Victor lowered the phone and brought his other hand to attempt to massage some of the tension away from his forehead. “My coach,” he said, explaining to Mari who had called.

“Yakov Feltsman,” she said to show she understood. “Very angry man.”

Her description of him brought a much-needed smile to Victor’s face. “Hai.”

Mari drew her own phone out of her coat pocket and typed up a message for Victor on the Japanese/English translator. When she held it out to him, it read: What will you do when my brother retires? Will you go back to Russia to skate?

“I don’t know.” Victor shrugged after he said it to help her understand his meaning.

Her response: Seeing you skate would make him happy. You’ve been his idol since he was a child.

She was likely telling him this to help him see something positive in his murky future, but Victor only hung his head. More and more, everything seemed to be pushing him in one direction: toward the end of his hiatus and his return to skating. The thought would have appealed to him only a few short hours ago. Only now, he couldn’t remember why he’d wanted to go back. Without Yuuri there, what was the point? Maybe they should retire together.

Mari was frowning down at her phone like she wasn’t happy with the last translation it had provided. She knew enough English to recognize when her messages weren’t clear. “How do you say in English? ‘Happy’ is not right word. More like. . .”

She put one hand to her chest and extended her other arm in Victor’s direction to demonstrate whatever emotion she was trying to convey. There was a heartfelt but bittersweet look on her face, and her brow was held tense, even though she was smiling.

“Inspire?” Victor guessed.

He held his hand out for her phone and input the word into the translator for her. She beamed down at the results. “Yes. You inspire Yuuri.”

Victor mulled over this for a few moments before he typed another message for her. If I started skating again, do you think he would be inspired enough to keep going?

Mari’s smile faded. She wrote her response with her lips pressed into a careful line. My brother doesn’t speak unless he’s sure.

She didn’t want to give him false hope, then. Victor let his gaze slide away from her phone and instead focused on the nonexistent horizon. He could feel that awful sadness descending on him again.

“You love him.” Mari stabbed out her cigarette and came to sit beside him on the bench. “You told me.” She was referring to their conversation from earlier that morning, when she’d confronted him about the engagement.

“I do love him,” Victor said. “Very much.”

She held out her phone, which had a new message on the brightly lit screen that drew his attention away from the darkness. He has always been like this. If you don’t accept the bad along with the good then you don’t love all of him.

Mari was right, of course. Victor nodded and tried for a smile. Though his heart was still aching, he knew this was just a minor bump in the road during a far greater journey that would last the remainder of their lives. It was one argument—one bad night that had been preceded by some of the best months of his life—and Yuuri was so much more important to him than a pair of ice skates.

Suddenly Victor missed him so much, it hurt to breathe.

Mari showed him another message. Why don’t you go back and try to sleep? He won’t be there.

No, he wouldn’t.

Yuuri was a night-owl and wasn’t the type to stay in bed when he felt anxious or upset. He would have left the hotel room by now and gone to find something active to do to keep his mind busy. When Victor returned to their room, it was going to be empty—which come to think of it, was probably the reason he hadn’t wanted to go back to begin with. Because he knew his love wouldn’t be there waiting for him.

But it was late, and Mari wasn’t going to leave him here alone. That wasn’t fair to her. Besides, he didn’t want her walking by herself at this hour anyway. It was time to go back.

Victor got to his feet and extended his arm politely in the direction of the hotel as if to say: after you. “Mari-Neesan,” he said—just because he wanted to. He hadn’t had the chance to address her as his sister in conversation yet and thought she might like it. After all, she’d certainly demonstrated to him tonight that she considered him family. That meant a lot to him.

She did seem to like being called that. Returning his smile, she playfully nudged him forward toward the path that led back to the hotel. “Neechan,” she corrected as they fell into step together.

As predicted, Victor was greeted by nothing except an empty hotel room.

He’d said goodnight to Mari on the elevator, but because it was so late, he had held the door open and kept a watch on her until he was sure she’d made it safely inside her room. Once he was alone, any semblance of a good mood had quickly abandoned him. Victor could barely keep his chin up by the time he made it to his own room.

Yuuri wasn’t there.

Of course, he wasn’t. He was Yuuri.

It made Victor a little angry, to be honest. It was after midnight, and they had a public practice session at the arena first thing in the morning. If Yuuri wasn’t in bed at a decent hour, he was going to be exhausted and unable to perform to the best of his ability. The last thing he needed was a bad practice impacting his nerves before his Free Skate. Not that he would listen if Victor told him that.

With his teeth clenched together behind closed lips, he removed his coat and dropped it onto the foot of the bed. There beside it, laying on top of the covers, was the book he’d given Yuuri for his twenty-fourth birthday. So he had remembered to bring it along.

Had he read the letter? Did it have any impact on his decision at all?

It had taken Victor months to compose. He’d rewritten that letter many times because their relationship on and off the ice kept morphing and changing into something else.

While he had always been captivated by Katsuki Yuuri, the first draft of Victor’s letter to him was far less personal than the last because he honestly didn’t know him that well. In time, their relationship deepened, and the contents of the letter became more heartfelt and grateful as he began to understand how profoundly his time with Yuuri had influenced him. Victor felt forever changed, and he hoped some of that had been captured in his words to Yuuri.

Closing his eyes, Victor ran his fingers back through his tangled hair.

This trip was not turning out at all the way he’d expected, and he wondered what to do next. He supposed he could try to get some sleep but already knew he wouldn’t be able to turn his mind off. Not when he didn’t know where his Yuuri was. At the very least, Victor needed to know he was safe.

He retrieved his phone from the pocket of his coat and typed a hasty text message: Please come back. I’m sorry. I miss you. But then his thumb hovered over the Send button without pressing it.

After a solid minute of staring at that message, he tapped at the backspace key until it was gone. Deleted. Then he pulled up a text message window for Minako instead. To her, he said: Is he okay? I’m back at the room now and just need to know he’s safe.

He sent it off and waited, not knowing why he hadn’t just texted Yuuri directly. If Victor truly wanted their fight to be over and done with, this was not the right way to go about it. He knew that, but there was still a stubborn part of his heart that was angry Yuuri wasn’t here. Why couldn’t he just shake this off and move on? It didn’t have to be like this. If Victor hadn’t gotten so upset to begin with, they could be cuddled together in bed right now, watching a movie or having a calm, honest discussion about why Yuuri was so determined to retire.

A response from Minako soon popped up on his phone. He’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll stay with him until he’s ready to come back but it might be a few hours.

With an exasperated sigh, Victor tossed the phone onto the bed and covered his eyes with the heels of his hands. Okay. Fine. So Yuuri was safe. Nothing to worry about. He was with Minako, and everything was just fine.

So why then did Victor suddenly feel like crying again?

He really shouldn’t have yelled at Yuuri.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

The changing numbers on the elevator panel marked Yuuri’s ascent to the floor of their hotel room. He readjusted the strap of his bag on his shoulder and stared straight ahead. His body felt tired but energized at the same time, as it always did after a good practice. Though his muscles were in need of a few solid hours of rest, his mind was alert despite the earliness of the hour.

He felt good. Calm. Focused.

It wasn’t dawn yet, but it was close. The Barcelona sky had only just begun to lighten with the approach of morning, but the sun had not made an appearance. The air outside was cold and hushed, like the city was holding its breath before the birth of the new day.

He’d been gone all night, in part because it had taken forever to find a place to practice. They hadn’t been able to get into the arena, but Minako had made use of some connections forged during her dancing days. After a good deal of name dropping, they’d eventually found a local figure skating enthusiast. Not only was the man a fan of Yuuri, but he also happened to work at a local rink. Once Minako offered him a special guest pass to the Final, along with a personal Meet and Greet with Victor Nikiforov (which was going to be loads of fun to explain), they had a rink all to themselves for the night.

It had been a fruitful practice. The alterations he’d made to his jump composition felt natural, like they should have been that way all along. While the quad flip at the end was still difficult enough that Yuuri’s legs went wobbly with exhaustion afterward, it was as if everything that preceded that jump served to properly warm up his body and mind to nail the landing.

Even though he’d flubbed a few jumps in practice, he felt unusually calm about the whole thing. It was only Friday morning, and he still had a full day to rest before his performance on Saturday night. There was plenty of time to get nervous between now and then, but at least for the present, his anxiety did not seem particularly interested in tormenting him.

At least . . . not about his upcoming performance.

He still had to face Victor, and that made him plenty anxious.

Minako had told him about Victor’s text message, so Yuuri knew he’d be in the room. Probably sleeping. Maybe he could just sneak into bed, cuddle up next to him, and fall asleep as well? That way, they could wake up hugging each other and let that set the tone for the day. More than anything, Yuuri did not want their fight to continue another second. Whatever it took to make things better, he was willing to do it.

In between last night’s marathon of phone calls, Minako had talked to him about a failed relationship from her past. Specifically, how lack of communication and emotional distance had ruined something that could have been good. This was Yuuri’s first relationship, and if he wanted to preserve it, he was going to have to learn not to think of himself as a one-man show anymore. He was part of a team now, and Victor was his partner. Not only that, but he was a damn good partner to have. Supportive and dedicated. Optimistic and kind.

“No relationship is perfect,” Minako had told him. “You’re both going to mess up at times, but you have to decide to work at it instead of giving up. Don’t shut Victor out, Yuuri. He’s one of the good ones, and you don’t want to know what it feels like to wake up and realize that’s gone.”

Yuuri had gotten very quiet after that. He knew what he needed to do . . . but that didn’t mean he had any idea where to start.

When the elevator doors opened, he stepped out into the hallway with his cardkey clenched tight in his hand. Though he was a little nervous about what awaited him on the other side of the door, he was calm as he unlocked it. If there was to be a confrontation, it wouldn’t happen yet. He expected to find Victor asleep, but when Yuuri pushed the door open and squinted into the darkness, he instead saw that their twin beds were empty. They hadn’t even been slept in.

Victor’s coat was there, cast onto the foot of the bed closest to the door, and Yuuri’s birthday book lay beside it. It was opened to a two-page spread of pictures that documented their hard months of practice last summer. The season they’d fallen in love.

The hotel room was dark save for the muted glow coming through the enormous window on the far wall. The endless sky was beginning to brighten and change colors. Yuuri blinked and looked up, his attention drawn by a silhouette.

Victor was perched there on the sill of the window, sideways with his legs extended in front of him. His left shoulder, knee, and head rested against the glass, and though he was still dressed in the clothes he’d hastily put on after their argument, his feet were bare. With half-lidded eyes, he gazed at the city lights, which sparkled all around him like diamonds.

The sky in the distance was dusty purple, painting Victor in soft, somber tones. He looked very young . . . and so beautiful that for the span of several heartbeats, Yuuri found himself unable to do anything but stare.

“Hi.” Yuuri’s bag slipped off his shoulder, and he lowered it to the ground. The door closed behind him.

It took him a second, but Victor eventually turned his head to acknowledge the greeting.

He wasn’t smiling.

It wasn’t exactly an open invitation to strike up a conversation, but Yuuri didn’t care. His heart couldn’t take this anymore, so he walked right up to the window, put a hand on Victor’s shoulder, and said, “I’m sorry.”

There was no response. Tenderly, Yuuri brought his fingers to tuck a few strands of silver hair behind Victor’s ear before he moved to stroke the warm skin of his face. But all that did was inspire Victor to look away again.

Oh, God. He was still angry with him.

A feeling of dread settled heavy in Yuuri’s gut. While he knew not everything had been magically fixed after their exchange of apologies last night, he hadn’t realized it was this bad. Had something else happened to upset him?

“We have practice in two hours,” Victor said, his voice dangerously smooth. “I assume you’re not going?”

“I . . . don’t really need to, no.”

“I see. So you’re just giving up, then? Is that what we came all this way to do?”

Victor’s tone was obviously meant to rub him the wrong way, but Yuuri resisted the temptation to get defensive. He was determined not to let this turn into a fight. “It’s not like that. Minako-sensei found me a rink last night, and I practiced for a few hours. So don’t worry. I feel good about tomorrow night’s performance. And besides . . . how many times have you told me not all practice happens on the ice?”

His fingers still stroked Victor’s hair and skin, following the fall of silken strands around the curve of his ear and down to his neck. Yuuri hoped to comfort him the way he hadn’t been allowed to last night. “I’m sorry,” he said again, quieter this time. Almost a whisper.

Victor closed his eyes. His jaw tightened, teeth clenching.

And then something seemed to break inside him. He exhaled in a rush and turned on the window sill so that he was facing the room. By the time his feet came to rest on the ground beside Yuuri’s, they had melted into each other.

What a relief it was to hold him . . . and be held in return. “Vicchan,” Yuuri whispered. Eyelids shut, trembling.

They hugged like months had passed since their last meeting. Victor’s arms were wrapped around Yuuri’s middle, face pressed to his chest, a little hitch in every breath. Yuuri cradled Victor’s head against his body, fingers combing through fine silver hair again and again, working out the tangles, smoothing them into place.

Victor’s hair smelled like the ocean with the slightest hint of cigarette smoke. (Where had he been last night?) But beneath that was a scent that was unmistakably him. Warm and vibrant. The same scent that clung to his clothes and pillow. It made Yuuri’s head buzz and left him feeling a little drunk. His body ached with the sudden need to have Victor’s scent all over him.

Yuuri rubbed his mouth against Victor’s hair and left a kiss there, but that only took the edge off his need. Drawing back, Yuuri put his hands on Victor’s face, guided it upward, and kissed him full on the mouth.

Victor didn’t resist . . . but he also didn’t kiss him back. The set of his lips was soft but chaste, even when Yuuri stepped closer and pressed in between Victor’s thighs. Arctic blue eyes opened between kisses, and Yuuri knew then that even though Victor wasn’t pushing him away, he was still holding on to some hurt. There was not an inch of space to be found between their physical bodies, yet a great chasm existed between their minds.

After another kiss barely got any reaction at all, Yuuri withdrew slightly, and his thumbs came to stroke Victor’s cheekbones. “Please don’t be angry with me. I don’t want to fight anymore. I just want to make things right.”

He could feel the tension in Victor’s face—the way his muscles tightened between the spread of gentle fingers. However, his voice was calm when he spoke. “I’m not angry with you, Yuuri. I’m sad. You’ve had eight months to work through the emotions of this, and I’ve had less than twelve hours. Can I just be sad for a while?”

“I didn’t. . .” Yuuri trailed off and closed in on himself. He really had messed up by not sharing his plans with Victor earlier but didn’t know what to say or do to fix it. He couldn’t exactly reverse time. “It’s just hard seeing you like this.”

Victor’s gaze sharpened to a point. “Well, then don’t look.”

The words sent a chill through Yuuri.

But that only made him more determined to melt the ice between them. He moved in again, hands still on Victor’s face, and brought their foreheads together. It took a little coaxing and a great deal of courage and patience, but bit by bit, the tension in Victor’s body began to release. It diminished until nothing remained except weariness. Victor gave up and stopped resisting, and everything about his body language signaled that he didn’t want to fight anymore either.

Encouraged by this, Yuuri moved in again to kiss him—the press of his mouth, gentle and loving—and this time, Victor responded.

It was uncoordinated at first, like they were learning how to kiss each other all over again. But as they remembered how much better this felt than being separated, things began to heat up. Their lips opened up against each other’s, and then came the soft push of Victor’s tongue in his mouth. Hot and delicious. Just a tease of it at first. Then the slow slide that made Yuuri feel weak in the knees.

He let out a moan, and his hips again angled forward into Victor’s body. He needed this badly. Needed the distance between them gone. He was emotionally exhausted and wanted all that rawness inside soothed with sweetness.

Yuuri had never meant to hurt Victor. He loved him so much.

They started to kiss in earnest, each flick of tongue dipping a little deeper, lingering a bit longer. One of Victor’s arms hugged him around his waist, while his other hand slipped inside Yuuri’s sweatshirt and found the patch of velvety skin on the small of his back.

Yuuri shivered even though his body had been set on fire from the heat of those kisses. But as good as it felt, it still wasn’t enough. He wanted Victor to claim him. Wanted him to stand up, push Yuuri back on the bed, and get on top of him. But that wasn’t what happened.

Instead Victor pulled back from their kisses and looked up at him with those frozen blue eyes. His gaze wasn’t unkind by any means, but it lacked familiarity. Even now, with Yuuri’s lips wet and pulsing from Victor’s kisses, there was a distinct emotional distance between them. It frightened Yuuri—that something so precious to him could have vanished like that. Victor had always been so open with him. He’d always been right there. Available. And now he wasn’t.

“You must be tired,” Victor said. “If you’re not going to the arena to practice, you should probably get some rest.”

It felt like a dismissal. An excuse to end this and go to bed, where they didn’t have to have a real conversation. But there was no way Yuuri was going to be able to sleep, knowing things weren’t resolved. He wasn’t ready to let go yet. His thumb moved across Victor’s chin, then got more daring on the way back and dragged across his wet lower lip. “I need to shower first. You could join me if you want. I’d like that.”

“Mmm.” A noncommittal response.

There was only so far Yuuri could push when he didn’t feel wanted. The level of his chin dropped, and his hands fell away from Victor’s face and came to rest on his shoulders instead. “Do you still need space? I can back off if you want to be alone.”

Victor drew in a slow breath, and for a few moments, it seemed like he was going to answer that question with a definitive Yes. “No,” he said eventually. He shook his head once. “No, I miss you.”

Hope stirred in Yuuri’s heart.

A hesitant smile pulled at his lips, and it widened when Victor stood and went in for a hug. Yuuri didn’t hesitate for a second. His arms went around him at once. Finally, he thought. A chance to rebuild their connection and hopefully make it stronger than before. Yuuri knew he needed to work on being more open, but he couldn’t do that if the door was shut in his face. “I miss you, too,” he whispered.

Victor’s palm put pressure on the small of Yuuri’s back, holding his body there against his so effortlessly. “I’m here. And I’m sorry. I know I’m not handling this very well. This is very . . . frustrating to me. But I promise I’m not going anywhere. Just give me some time to work through it, okay?”

It was Victor who initiated what happened next. He pulled back a little, one hand coming to guide Yuuri’s face up, and then Victor moved in to kiss him. It was very warm and sweet. The kind of kiss that carried a message. Butterfly wings stirred and beat inside of Yuuri, and he leaned in, yearning to deepen the connection.

The hunger awoke something in him. With the decision to allow Victor inside, Yuuri had torn down the wall of defense he’d always kept between them. That emotional barrier was gone now, leaving him exposed and vulnerable, but he’d expected that much and prepared for it. But what he hadn’t anticipated was how much more vivid everything would become when he stopped hiding from it. The closeness. The warmth. The taste. Victor’s kiss wasn’t particularly passionate—more quiet and affectionate—yet Yuuri felt profoundly shaken by it. Everything was intensified.

Though his eyes were closed, he was aware that the room had gotten brighter. Outside, the sun had finally risen, and daylight had fallen upon them. He opened his eyes and almost gasped when he realized how real Victor was.

It was like Yuuri had been mentally averting his gaze this entire time because he was too afraid of being seen in turn. He did it when they talked. When they kissed. When they had sex. Though he’d learned to be at ease with the physical aspects of those encounters, he’d never mentally engaged before. It was like realizing he hadn’t been paying attention or allowing those moments to truly touch his mind. Only now, he was finally seeing what was right in front of him, and his senses were hyper-stimulated by that new awareness.

Victor Nikiforov was kissing him.

He had Yuuri held against his hard, lean body, and every inch of him was a new discovery. The pout of his lower lip that was so good to suck. The press and retreat of his stomach when he breathed. The dig of his shirt buttons into Yuuri’s chest. This might be his idol, but Victor Nikiforov was made of flesh and blood. He was a real person, and Yuuri felt like he was seeing and tasting him for the very first time.

Victor pulled back from the kiss and opened his eyes, which were a shock of color against his pale complexion. Aqua blue with flecks of green, amber, and sky. The color of ancient ice. The morning light suited him and warmed the frost of his features with soft pink hues. Had he always had a dimple beneath the right corner of his mouth? Had his eyelashes always been that long and thick? Yuuri brushed Victor’s hair out of his eyes and drank in the sight of him like he was studying a living statue.

The increased attention did not escape Victor’s notice. He frowned and said, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. Just thinking about how beautiful you are.”

The old Yuuri would have never admitted something like that out loud, but he’d already decided to be more vocal with his private thoughts. He needed to tell Victor these things so that there was never a question about how Yuuri felt about him. He had kept far too much to himself.

Surprised registered in Victor’s expression. Flattered and caught off guard by the compliment, he flushed a little and smiled—and became impossibly more beautiful in the process. His hands came to rest on either side of Yuuri’s waist as he said, “Is that invitation to join you in the shower still open?”

Desire pulsed deep inside—right where Victor was touching him.

Yuuri nodded. Yes, the idea of being naked with Victor in a tight space was very appealing. He wanted sex. Wanted it so badly, he had to remind himself to keep breathing.

“I’ll get the water going so it has time to heat up,” Victor said. “Take your time.” He kissed Yuuri’s forehead, squeezed his waist with both hands, and then left him standing there alone.

Still overwhelmed and enraptured by the realness of what had just happened, Yuuri stared at the window in front of him for several seconds before he remembered himself and snapped out of it. He turned in time to see Victor pulling off his shirt and letting it fall to the floor on the way to the bathroom. It wasn’t like him not to care about his personal items like that. Though their argument was over, Victor still wasn’t acting like himself. He was as sweet as he ever was, but he looked defeated. Like he’d had the wind knocked out of him.

Yuuri walked over, picked up Victor’s shirt, and brought it to his nose. Like his hair, it smelled like the sea. He must have spent some time outside last night. Yuuri folded it neatly and placed it on top of Victor’s things, then stripped his own sweatshirt off. Looking down at himself, Yuuri sighed when he saw the obvious tent in his pants. Surely Victor had felt his arousal. There was no way he could have missed it.

Was he in the mood for sex, too?

Yuuri pushed his sweatpants down and stepped out of them, then kicked off his underwear as well. With his back to the bathroom, facing away where Victor couldn’t see him, Yuuri couldn’t help but touch himself. It didn’t help. The hand on his cock might as well have been made of air for all the satisfaction it brought him.

He wanted Victor’s hand there. The burn of his mouth on the head. The clench of his body around its length.

The lust was intense enough to render Yuuri a bit stupid, like half his brain cells had perished when all the blood went rushing to his cock. Barely aware of what he was doing, he went straight to the nightstand drawer and retrieved the lubricant. It was very possible he was going to be turned away, and that was fine. He would figure out a way to work out his frustration on his own.

But if Victor was interested in a little makeup sex? Yuuri was going to be all over him.

He slicked himself up inside good, then dropped the lube on the bed and walked toward the bathroom, his cock alert and bobbing with every step. Victor had turned on the shower and was unzipping his pants while he waited for it to heat up. Yuuri had trouble breathing as he watched Victor’s pants droop and catch on his narrow hips.

He had a gorgeous body, and Yuuri’s new hyper-awareness helped him savor the details. The muscles of his back and the trim waistline. The broad, masculine shoulders that extended so far past Yuuri’s own. The strong arms that could lift him into the air with ease while he balanced himself on nothing but a pair of ice skate blades.

Setting his glasses aside on the counter, Yuuri came up behind Victor and kissed the light sprinkling of freckles he’d never noticed on the crown of his shoulder. Victor turned to acknowledge him only briefly, then pushed his pants and underwear down and stepped into the shower. Yuuri followed him in, still staring at his lover’s naked body like he’d never seen it before.

The curtain fell into place behind him, enclosing them both inside. Steam began to fill the space between them, but even then, the details were incredibly sharp. Not even the absence of his glasses took away from that.

Victor put his face right into the water and combed his wet hair back with his fingers. The sight of water running all over him had Yuuri moving closer. His arousal nudged Victor from behind. He had to know what Yuuri wanted. There was nothing to do now except wait to see if he wanted it, too.

Victor stepped back from the water and reached for the shampoo. “Get your hair wet, and I’ll wash it for you.”

He always had liked playing with Yuuri’s hair—brushing it, running his fingers through it when they cuddled, whatever he could get away with. Yuuri did as he asked and stepped under the warm stream, wetting his hair thoroughly before turning back around. As he wiped water from his eyes and face, Victor moved closer and brought his hands to Yuuri’s hair to begin working in the shampoo.

It was an unexpectedly tender moment. A simple, everyday routine turned into a chance to connect and take care of each other. As Victor’s fingers moved in his hair, Yuuri blinked up at him, feeling far more sexually innocent than he actually was. He was aware now that Victor was aroused as well. Their cocks bumped and rubbed together between them, a flirtatious little dance.

And for some reason, it made Yuuri feel like they’d never touched each other before. Perhaps it was because of his new awareness in Victor’s presence, but everything was incredibly vivid and new.

When Victor was satisfied with the cleanliness of Yuuri’s hair, he guided him back under the water to rinse out the shampoo. It was Victor’s preferred brand, and Yuuri couldn’t remember the last time he smelled so strongly of anything before. But he liked it. Liked having Victor’s scent on him and knowing he’d carry it around for a while.

“Can I wash your hair, too?” Yuuri said.

A slight smile surfaced in Victor’s eyes. “I’d like that, though I haven’t finished with yours yet.” He picked up another bottle that looked similar to the shampoo.

Yuuri made a face. “What is that stuff?”

“You don’t use conditioner?”

“No . . . ? I thought it was for girls.”

“Oh, Yuuri.” Victor poured some of the cream into his palm and brought it to the ends of Yuuri’s hair. After he worked it in, he had to stop Yuuri from immediately trying to wash it out. “Not yet. Wait three minutes, and then you can rinse.”

“What does it need three minutes to do? This is weird. I’m uncomfortable.”

The smile had moved from Victor’s eyes down to his lips . . . and that had Yuuri smiling as well, even though he had disgusting, slimy conditioner dripping from the ends of his hair. He would endure a lot worse than this to cheer him up. “See? You can’t be angry with someone who’s this clueless about life.” Yuuri smiled sheepishly. “Hand me the shampoo?”

The exchange might have been one of the more pointless conversations they’d ever had, but it had done an excellent job of melting the remaining ice between them. There was still a hint of sadness in Victor’s expression, but he was also fighting a smile as Yuuri washed his hair.

They stood much closer to each other than what was necessary to get the job done, and their stomachs (and other things) touched while he worked. Yuuri wanted badly to be kissed and looked up in expectation more than once, but Victor only gazed down at him with that slight smile playing at his lips. His hands never strayed from where they rested on Yuuri’s waist.

After several very enjoyable minutes of closeness, Victor said, “It’s probably a good idea to rinse your hair soon.”

“Oh. I forgot.” Yuuri had gotten a little carried away with what he was doing. Washing someone else’s hair was kind of sexy. He ducked under the water quickly and rinsed the conditioner out. And afterward, he was a little baffled by how different his hair felt. Strangely slippery. Why was this a desirable effect? He felt like he needed to wash it again.

Victor rinsed his own hair out while Yuuri stepped back to watch. He couldn’t help it. Victor’s body was slightly angled to one side, and Yuuri could see the tip of his cock peeking out.

It was gorgeous, of course. Beautifully shaped with just the slightest upward curve when he was hard. Yuuri had touched him there many times and even licked its length all over . . . but had he ever allowed himself to simply appreciate how perfect it was? He’d always been too shy to focus on the details.

The tip of Victor’s cock was dusty pink, and the skin of the shaft was only slightly darker than his alabaster stomach and thighs. It was longer than Yuuri’s—long enough to make his spine tingle when Victor was inside him. The stretch was perfect, too, and that upward curve was sinful, the way it rubbed him in all the right places.

Unlike Yuuri, Victor was circumcised, which wasn’t as common of a practice in Russia as it was in other countries. It made him wonder why Victor’s parents had made that choice for him, but he’d never had the courage to ask. Yuuri liked the way it looked, though. The head was always proudly displayed, whereas Yuuri’s stayed tucked away until Victor got him worked up. He liked being able to explore the differences in their bodies.

When Victor turned away from the water to reach for the conditioner, Yuuri noticed something new. At some point, Victor had shaved off almost all his pubic hair. He was smooth there except for a tiny patch of neatly-trimmed silver at the base of his cock. Yuuri’s own arousal pulsed at the sight of it.

Victor must have noticed the direction of his gaze because he said, “What do you think I was doing in the shower so long last night?”

“I like it.” Yuuri’s cheeks felt very hot, and there was no small amount of lust darkening his eyes. He was jealous of the hands in Victor’s hair. Of the water that got to run down the full length of him.

When Victor was done with the conditioner, he reached for the liquid body soap he’d brought along on the trip. He poured the pink liquid directly into his hand, and the smell of frozen rose petals soon filled the small space. Victor rubbed his hands together to distribute the soap evenly and then brought them to Yuuri’s shoulders.

Yuuri stared up at Victor while he soaped up his body. He took his time, making sure not to miss an inch—from the vulnerable dip at the base of his throat down to the points of his nipples and then to the softness of his belly. He didn’t go any further, but the suds kept journeying south from there. Down his abdomen and thighs.

More than a little turned on, Yuuri reached for the soap and poured some in his hand as well. They lathered each other up in companionable silence—Yuuri’s thumbs lingering far longer than necessary at Victor’s light pink nipples, Victor reaching around to clean Yuuri’s back. Their bellies were soon pressed together, both their cocks pinned between them, while soap suds slid lazy trails down their bodies.

“Kiss me?” Yuuri said, breathless with want.

He was surprised it wasn’t already happening, to be honest. Victor didn’t normally hold back like this. Not since that night in Yuuri’s bedroom when they’d been physically intimate for the first time.

Victor wore a slightly pained expression. “I shouldn’t be touching you when I’m upset . . . though that’s not easy when you look at me like that.”

Was that why he was hesitating? Because they’d fought?

He was being so sweet and attentive that Yuuri hadn’t even realized he was still upset. But now that he looked closer, he could see it just beneath the surface of Victor’s calm. The tension and hurt. He wasn’t doing well and was trying his best to keep it pushed down so that it wouldn’t affect Yuuri.

“You would never hurt me,” Yuuri said. “But I hurt you, didn’t I?”

Victor didn’t respond. He tried to turn his face away but was stopped when Yuuri put a hand to his cheek.

“I’m sorry, Vicchan,” he said. “I love you.”

The words had an immediate effect on Victor. He blinked and finally met Yuuri’s gaze.

He’d never told Victor that he loved him before. Not in English, at least.

Victor had said once that he knew Yuuri loved him, and though he hadn’t denied it, it wasn’t the same as voicing the sentiment out loud. He’d told Victor that he loved him in Japanese before. Perhaps he’d understood . . . but then again, maybe he hadn’t. Yuuri wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been able to say it out loud before now, but he knew Victor needed to hear it.

“You don’t have to keep apologizing, Yuuri,” Victor said. “Once was enough. But you could say that other thing again if you wanted to.”

A hopeful smile warmed Yuuri’s face and heart. “I love you.”

It made Victor emotional enough that he hung his head.

Yuuri pressed a kiss to the corner of his fiancé’s mouth. As much as he wanted to be intimate with him, he had no intention of pressuring Victor for sex if he truly wasn’t in the right mindset. Yuuri was prepared to back off, but to his surprise, Victor turned his face and caught his lips in a kiss.

Lightning ricocheted all through Yuuri’s body and mind. Pure emotion came pouring out of them both and fueled their movements. Fingers tangled in hair. Mouths worked hungrily together. It took less than five seconds for all the mounting sexual tension to flare up and explode into white hot flames inside of them.

“Victor,” Yuuri whispered between kisses. “I want you.” No reason to shy away from it now.

“God, you’re hard.” Victor’s hand moved between them to grip both their cocks together in his fist. The soap made the slide a little too easy. “I could bring us off like this.”

Yuuri bit down on his lower lip. Oh, it felt good to finally have Victor touching him there. He knew just how Yuuri liked it, too—always putting the most pressure and squeeze on the last inch or two near the head. And to have Victor’s cock there against his? Yuuri made the mistake of looking down at what Victor was doing and saw the tips of both cocks, disappearing and reappearing beneath the slide of Victor’s hand. Yuuri whimpered and said, “Please. I want you inside me. I need it.”

“Not here. Yuuri, soap makes for poor lubricant, and I’m not going to hurt you. Do you want me to use my mouth?”

So frustrated that he’d gone beyond the ability to form words, Yuuri guided Victor’s hand behind him and between the trembling cheeks of his ass. He helped Victor ease a few fingers in and went very still as they penetrated him. Yuuri leaned heavily against Victor, his vision going hazy at the feel of it.

Victor let out a quiet gasp when his fingers sunk into the tight wetness. He hadn’t expected to find Yuuri already slicked up for him. “Fuck. . .”

And just like that, he was picking Yuuri up. His feet left the floor of the shower, and almost by instinct, his thighs parted and went around Victor’s middle. Yuuri felt the cool wall of the shower behind his back. Victor had pressed Yuuri’s body there to help him balance. Strong hands gripped the bottoms of Yuuri’s thighs to support the rest of his weight, and Yuuri did what he could to help. Arms around Victor’s neck. Legs tight around his hips.

Victor mouthed at Yuuri’s neck, his hunger apparent in the marks he left behind. He left what must have been a shameless hickey at the base of his throat where Yuuri’s pulse was beating and started in on another at the join of his neck to his shoulder. When Yuuri felt the nudge and press of a cock at his entrance, his panting began to race out of control.

“Yuuri?” Victor said, his voice strangled.

He was asking for consent, though for the life of him, Yuuri couldn’t figure out why Victor felt he hadn’t received it already.

“Fuck me,” Yuuri said, greedy for it.

Victor didn’t hesitate. He pressed in and was swallowed right up. It happened so fast that Yuuri went rigid with surprise. His mouth formed a perfect O, and his toes curled. While the stretch happened quickly, it didn’t hurt. The burn felt good. Necessary. His lips relaxed into a breathless smile of relief.

Yuuri liked sex.

He liked it very much.

After that initial moment of penetration, Victor paused just long enough to steady his own legs beneath him before he started to fuck Yuuri open against the wall. Victor wasn’t fully inside him yet. Just the head so far, and the movements made the most obscenely sticky sounds. The head of Victor’s cock was the thickest part, and the tight ring of muscles at Yuuri’s entrance was the most sensitive.

It was the sweetest torment, that shallow fuck. Yuuri was quickly overstimulated and loved every second of it.

Victor pulled all the way out, the tip of his nose coming to rub sweetly against Yuuri’s, before he pushed his cock in again as brusquely as before. Just to make Yuuri feel that delicious moment of penetration all over again. Victor worked his cock in a little deeper every few thrusts, and once he was fully seated, he started a slow grind against him.

Yuuri leaned his head back against the shower wall and moaned.

“Do you like that, my love?” Victor asked. “Is this what you wanted?”

“Hnnggg. . .” As if the sex wasn’t already enough to render Yuuri incoherent. Now Victor had to go and call him that.

Yuuri’s senses were on overload. Like before, he was so much more aware of everything that was happening. The push and pull of a cock inside him, rubbing every nerve-ending, stretching him apart and sliding so deep, he could feel it in his mind. But it wasn’t just the sex he was attuned to. He was hyperaware of Victor’s reaction to it as well. Of the little gasps between every stroke. The way his hands worked desperately at Yuuri’s body. The way Victor made love to him with his eyes and lips and hands and cock like his entire focus was on Yuuri’s pleasure instead of his own.

How was it possible sex could be this much more intense, just from opening his mind up to it?

“Look at me while I fuck you,” Victor said. “I want to watch you come. I promised you last time, didn’t I? That I would make you come like this.”

Victor had promised. Yuuri had wanted so badly to come with a cock inside of him, but that hadn’t happened. Victor had said he would make it up to him.

Already Yuuri was close to coming. The underside of his cock was rubbing against a hard, soapy stomach, and the tip of it was purple with the need to come. His balls were held tight against his body, already straining.

“Look at me,” Victor said again, sweeter this time. “I want to see you.”

Yuuri mentally resisted the request for the second time. It wasn’t an easy thing to do—to look another person in the eyes during such an intimate moment. He knew if he did, Victor was going to see everything, right down to the heart of him.

But Yuuri had already promised himself he would be more open, and even though every brain cell in his head fought against him hard, he did as Victor asked and locked eyes with him.

Nothing happened at first except Victor smiling so sweetly that Yuuri couldn’t help but smile back. But then it started—the slow descent into those beautiful blue eyes—and Yuuri was soon lost to it. He trembled inside, all too aware that it wasn’t just his physical body being penetrated anymore. He’d granted Victor entryway into his mind, which was simultaneously Yuuri’s safe-place and his torment.

Almost immediately, the sex felt different. Victor’s eyes turned Yuuri to hot liquid inside, and the push of his cock felt impossibly more intimate. It was like losing his virginity all over again. Victor was inside him—mind, body, heart—touching places no one else was allowed.

And . . . it actually wasn’t as frightening as Yuuri feared it would be. Like the act of sex itself, he just needed to get used to it. The first time was the hardest, but then he realized his mind had made a bigger deal of it than was necessary. He hugged Victor closer and kissed him, far more at ease with this, even after that deep connection remained when he closed his eyes.

The connection ran both ways, however, and while Yuuri had seen how much Victor really loved him, he also saw how sad he still was. It made Yuuri’s heart ache terribly. He caressed Victor’s face while they kissed, suddenly feeling overwhelmed with love and every other emotion under the sun. He didn’t know what to do with it all except pass some of it on. “I love you,” Yuuri whispered between kisses.

Victor gave it to him deliciously slow, hips rocking in circles, drawing nearly the entire way out before dipping back into him again. Yuuri felt intoxicated from it. He’d never been this worked up before, and the build wasn’t just in his physical body. His mind needed the emotional release as well.

“Vicchan . . . make me come.”

A sly smile spread across Victor’s mouth, and then his fingers tightened on Yuuri’s thighs. The strokes started hitting harder. “Touch yourself for me.”

“I don’t need to. I’m close.”

“I am, too. But don’t worry, baby. I won’t let go until you do. Do you want me to come inside you?”


“Look down at what I’m doing to your body.”

Yuuri did as Victor asked and looked. The underside of his cock was sliding up and down Victor’s soapy stomach. Add that to the gorgeously curved cock hitting all the good places inside, and that was all the stimulation Yuuri needed to get off. But then he saw Victor’s shaft and the way it disappeared into him over and over. . . and then there was the beautiful dip of his abdomen that moved with every breath and the wet lips at his ear, whispering his name . . . and oh, God. He was going to come.

Victor seemed to sense it and changed his pace. He pounded into Yuuri hard enough to make wet slapping sounds, and by the time a dozen or so of those relentless strokes worked in and out of him, Yuuri was straining against him. Mouth open. Back arching away from the shower wall. Hot spurts of semen struck high on his stomach and dripped slowly down again.

The orgasm was different than any he’d had before. It was the presence of Victor’s cock inside him that did it, and it felt like nothing else. Yuuri bore down on it, pulsing around its thickness and length, and he kept coming and coming and. . .

It was so intense that at first, he didn’t realize that Victor had also locked up. It wasn’t until Yuuri began to descend into the afterglow that he realized Victor was gripping him tight and smothering his cries into his shoulder. Yuuri felt warm inside. He smiled, knowing Victor had come in him and left his wetness there. The gravity of Yuuri’s orgasm—clenching around Victor’s cock like that, milking and squeezing it—must have pulled his lover right along with him.

“My baby,” Victor whispered, lips warm at his ear.

Yuuri shivered and hugged him. They’d never been this in sync before, and it was deeply satisfying.

They stayed there like that, with Victor’s softening cock still moving back and forth inside him until it finally slipped out. A hot spill of semen followed, and Yuuri almost wished it hadn’t. Sex without condoms did have a certain appeal. He liked knowing Victor had found so much pleasure in his body that he’d left the evidence of his satisfaction behind. No wonder Victor had wanted Yuuri to come inside him their first time without condoms. It was a very intimate thing to do and have done in return.

“Good?” Victor asked him.

“Perfect.” Yuuri grinned and cupped Victor’s face between both hands. “You still have conditioner in your hair, by the way. You should probably think about rinsing that out.”

“In a minute,” Victor said, going in for another kiss. “I’m busy.”

Some time later, after they were done with their shower, Victor went alone into the bedroom.

Yuuri was still finishing up, rinsing out his toothbrush with a towel wrapped around his waist. Victor didn’t bother searching for anything to wear to bed. Dead tired, he pulled back the covers and crawled into bed naked.

His freshly-washed hair fell into his eyes as he gazed at the window. He was quiet and trying desperately to fight the sadness rising up inside him. The makeup sex had helped quite a bit to elevate his mood, as had Yuuri’s sweetness and willingness to admit he’d made a mistake. Victor wasn’t angry with him anymore. A promise to do better in the future was all he could ask for.

But while things might be mended in their personal relationship, Victor was still incredibly unhappy about what was going to happen tomorrow night, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Yuuri had apologized for keeping an important decision about his career to himself, but that didn’t mean he had changed his mind about going through with his retirement. It left Victor feeling more than a little frustrated. But he also knew he was overly tired after an emotional and sleepless night, and that weariness was making him particularly vulnerable to the sadness. He needed to rest, and maybe tomorrow things would look brighter.

Yuuri shut off the bathroom light and came into the bedroom, which was bright with cheerful morning sunshine. He went over to let down the window shade so they could get some sleep. When the room was dark and comfortable, Yuuri turned and said, “Are you naked under there? I could be naked, too.”

Victor tried and failed to muster the energy to respond. Yuuri normally preferred to sleep in clothes, but he hadn’t put anything on yet. His cock was still thick from his earlier arousal, though soft and spent between his legs. His towel-dried hair fell into his eyes in a very attractive way.

Instead of getting into his own bed, Yuuri smiled softly in response to Victor’s silence and walked back around to the other side. Still naked, with skin that smelled like rose petals kissed with fresh ice, Yuuri slid under the covers and spooned Victor from behind. Though he welcomed the smooth heat of his lover’s body, there was still a part of his heart that was disappointed enough to resist him.

Yuuri rubbed his mouth against the fine hairs on the back of Victor’s neck before leaving a kiss there. “I did a lot of thinking last night.” His hand snuck beneath the covers to find the bare skin of Victor’s waist. “About our future. About everything we could do together.”

Soothed by the feel of lips on his skin, Victor laced his fingers between Yuuri’s but didn’t say anything. Victor didn’t want to think about the future right now—not when the idea of Yuuri’s retirement still made his throat ache.

“It cheered me up last night and helped get me through practice until I could see you again,” Yuuri said. “Do you want to hear? It might help cheer you up, too.”

That sounded nice. Victor squeezed Yuuri’s fingers as an affirmation.

“I thought about us living together in Russia,” Yuuri said. “At your apartment in Saint Petersburg. If you wanted me there, I mean.”

Victor’s eyes closed, and his teeth came together behind the tense set of his lips. Once he had a better handle on his temper, he said in a flat tone, “If?”

He didn’t want this to turn into another fight, but Yuuri needed to understand and accept what that ring on his finger meant. How could he think Victor wouldn’t want him there?

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri said. “I just didn’t want to invite myself, I guess. Yes, we’re engaged, but it’s still your apartment. You might want to live separately before we get married. Vicchan, I know I need to work on communicating better with you, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now by telling you what I want for our future. But I need you to tell me things, too. You always put my needs ahead of yours. I don’t think you realize how much you don’t say.”

Victor opened his eyes again. Though his mind resisted the criticism at first, he had to admit Yuuri had a point. Victor had barely shared anything that he was struggling with for the past few weeks—and yes, it was because he’d put Yuuri’s needs first. Maybe they both needed to work on being more honest. No time like the present to start.

“I don’t want to live separately,” Victor said. “If we go to Russia, we can move into my apartment, but if we stay in Japan, I think we should get our own place. Not that I don’t love your family but. . .”

“We definitely need our own apartment,” Yuuri said. “Not a hotel room or a cramped bed upstairs at my parents’ house. We could have a place that would be ours together. That’s what I was imagining last night. Us waking up in the same bed every morning. Our bed. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Yuuri might be onto something here. Imagining a happy future together was a much-needed distraction. “It does,” Victor said. “Though let’s be honest. We both know you never wake up in the morning. You wouldn’t get out of bed until at least noon.”

He could feel Yuuri’s smile spread across his back. It must have pleased him that Victor was willing to play along. “You could always wake me up.” Yuuri snuggled closer, fingertips coming to tease Victor’s stomach. “With your mouth.”

Victor captured the wandering hand within his own. “You still wouldn’t get out of bed, but at least then, it would be my fault for keeping you there.” His lips curled into a smile. “With my mouth.”

“We could make breakfast afterwards. Except we’d probably end up arguing like we always do about whether it’s actually considered breakfast or lunch. And I would say it’s breakfast because it’s our first meal of the day, but you’d say it’s lunch because we stayed in bed too late.”

“And I would win the argument because I’d be right.”

“No, I would win because I’d start kissing you every time you tried to make a point.”

Victor’s smile stretched wider. “You’d stand a better chance of winning if you wore a little apron for me. With nothing underneath.”

“But then we’d never get around to eating our breakfast.”

“I think you mean lunch.”

“Because we’d end up having sex on the kitchen counter.”

“Mmm. Or against the wall. I liked taking you that way in the shower. . .” Victor squeezed Yuuri’s hand. “Tell me more. This is helping.”

“Well . . . if we live in Russia, we could get dressed for the day and go for a run together. Or you could take me around the city and show me all the places you’ve told me stories about. Makkachin will be there with us, and he’ll be so excited to see and smell everything he’s missed.”

“There’s a river that runs through the city.” Victor’s voice was wistful as he spoke of it. “Makkachin loves barking at all the boats to get people to wave at him. There’s so much I could show you. Museums. Cathedrals. Palaces.”

“I’d like to see the rink where you skate.”

A whisper of tension returned to Victor’s body. That was a dangerous topic. He didn’t want to think about skating right now, not unless Yuuri was planning to tell him he’d changed his mind about retiring.

“I get excited just thinking about it,” Yuuri continued. “Vicchan . . . I know you have to make your own decision about whether or not you go back. I’ll be there to support you either way, but I do hope you skate again. I would love to see it. I want you to show me everything you talked about in the letter you gave me for my birthday. Thank you so much for writing that. I don’t even know what to say or how to explain what it meant to me. But thank you. I’ll keep it forever.”

“All I did was write the truth. I hope you skate again, too, Yuuri. It makes me sad to think about tomorrow night being the last time.”

Yuuri hugged Victor from behind, trying his best to comfort him. There was a long pause where neither of them said anything.

After peppering a good many kisses onto the back of Victor’s neck and shoulder, Yuuri said, “On the way home after our day in Saint Petersburg, we could hold hands and maybe stop to buy some supplies for dinner at the market.”

Victor squeezed his eyes shut. Why did this have to be so difficult? “What would we make?”

“Something different every night. We could take turns coming up with recipes. And while we’re cooking, you’d start arguing with me because I’d be calling it ‘dinner’ the entire time. And even though you’d also call it dinner because of what time we’d be sitting down to eat, you’d ask me why I didn’t insist on calling it lunch because it would only be our second meal of the day. Which, according to you, would invalidate my earlier argument that our lunch should actually be considered breakfast because I’d basically be breaking my own rules.”

“At least you’re willing to admit the flaws in your logic,” Victor muttered.

“I’d try to distract you from the world’s most pointless argument by feeding you bites of food to keep your mouth busy.”

“Well, that’s not very creative of you. I can think of far better ways you could keep my mouth busy.”

Yuuri laughed. “And after dinner, we could take our time cleaning everything up and making our apartment nice again. Then we could put on some music and dance. I’m pretty good at dancing, you know.”

“Oh, trust me. I know.”

“Minako-sensei trained me in a little bit of everything. Ballet. Ballroom. I can even swing dance. We could put on a playlist filled with all kinds of different music and have so much fun together. Maybe end the night with a slow dance.”

Victor exhaled slowly. Out of everything Yuuri had talked about so far, the image of dancing with him had the most impact on Victor. He rolled onto his back so that he could look Yuuri in the eyes. Victor stroked his cheek with the back of his fingers and whispered, “I’d like that.”

Yuuri smiled, turned his face into Victor’s hand to kiss it, and then snuggled closer. Victor’s arms folded around him. “And after we dance for hours,” Yuuri said, “we’d probably need to wash up before we go to bed. We could take a shower together.”

“Or a bubble bath. I have a big clawfoot tub at my apartment. Plenty of room for two. I could sit at one end and you at the other, and we could drink champagne and flirt until your cheeks burn.”

“I probably won’t be able to stay at the other end of the tub. I’d want to be in your lap.”

“Mmm, I’d have no objection to that. Though we’d get the bathroom floor all wet, wouldn’t we? Whatever would we do after that?”

Color had risen to stain Yuuri’s cheeks, but he didn’t shy away from the question. “We could dry off and go into the bedroom . . . and then I could do another kind of dance in your lap.”

It was so rare to hear him talk like that. While Yuuri’s sexuality was quite powerful, he was still a very private person. It didn’t escape Victor’s notice that opening up in such a way meant Yuuri was sharing a part of himself that was incredibly personal. It also meant he was trying to let Victor in, and that meant the world to him.

A soft smile played at Yuuri’s lips as he said, “And then after we make love, we’ll fall asleep in each other’s arms. Just like we are now. And when we wake up, we’ll start all over again the next day. We’ll make meals together and sleep together and get in stupid arguments because that’s what married people do. And we’ll go ice skating in the winter and to the beach in the summer, and we’ll have an entire family of poodles with us at all times. And we’ll be married and happy, and you won’t be sad anymore because we’ll be together.”

Victor lifted his hand up, and Yuuri slid his fingers in between. “That’s a nice dream,” Victor whispered. His eyes were wet.

“It doesn’t have to be a dream.” Yuuri’s smile was beautiful enough to paint, but it began to fade the longer he looked at Victor. “You’re still so sad. What can I do to make this easier? I never meant to make you unhappy.”

“I just wish I understood. I wish you would trust me enough to tell me why.”


Yuuri’s gaze had moved from Victor’s face to their joined hands. “I know I owe you an explanation. It’s just hard for me.”

“Why? It’s only me here.”

“Because you’re asking me to drudge up things that I pushed down for a good reason, and I don’t know how to explain a lot of it. That means we’re probably going to get into another fight because you won’t understand. You’re going to get angry with me again.”

“No, I won’t,” Victor said, his voice gentle. “I’m sorry I lost my temper with you last night, and I promise that won’t happen again. Baby, please just talk to me. Tell me about the day you decided to retire. It happened last spring, didn’t it? Why then?”

“Because I had won the Onsen on Ice faceoff. You were just confirmed as my coach, and I was happy about it. That’s when I decided.”

Victor tried to keep his expression neutral. What Yuuri was saying didn’t make any sense. Why would he decide to step down after something good happened to him?

“I guess I saw it as ending my career on a high note,” Yuuri said. “It was a goal. I wanted to give this last season my all so I could feel better about where I left things when I stepped down. Before you showed up . . . it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t in a good place mentally. I struggled for months to find a reason to keep going.”

“Did it start at the Sochi Grand Prix Final?”

There was another long stretch of silence.

Yuuri wouldn’t look at him anymore. It took him a long time to come up with an answer—until finally, in a small voice choked with emotion, he said, “No?”

And that one word was almost enough to make Victor tell Yuuri that he didn’t have to say anymore—because he was about to cry, which meant whatever reason he was going to give for his retirement was a very painful one. Victor couldn’t handle it when Yuuri cried. He had no idea what to do to fix it.

“I was already struggling,” Yuuri said. “But when I failed at Sochi . . .” The emotion hit him hard at this point. He pulled his hand free from Victor’s so that he could cover his face with it. “It did something to me.”

Victor stared at him, lips parted in dismay. How had he never realized how deeply this was still affecting Yuuri?

Once he got started, the words kept spilling out of Yuuri, right along with the tears. “Everything fell apart. I had worked so hard. You have no idea how hard I’ve been pushing all these years. Trying to catch up. Trying to be good enough. And it’s never been enough. I embarrassed myself, and everyone saw it. You saw it. And my dog was dead, and I couldn’t get to him in time to say goodbye. And I had neglected him for five years by not going home. Five years that I could have gone to see him, but he just waited and waited and I never came so he just gave up and left me. And then something inside me just broke, and I gave up, too.”

Yuuri started crying harder than ever . . . . and Victor was absolutely frozen.

But then Yuuri did something he’d never done before and leaned in to receive comfort. Relieved to have a directive, Victor gathered him up into his arms at once. While he knew Yuuri needed to get this poison out of his heart and have someone listen to him, that didn’t mean it was an easy thing to witness. Victor felt every word on a personal level, like it was happening to him at the same time that Yuuri was telling the story.

“Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?” Yuuri laughed and wiped his face. “I’m retiring because my dog died. None of this is rational. It just hurts. That’s why I can’t talk about it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yuuri,” Victor said. “It’s making sense.”

Yuuri sighed and relaxed as gentle fingers ran through his hair. Pressing his damp cheek against Victor’s chest, he closed his eyes. “I kept trying to pick myself up, you know? I stuffed everything down so I could keep going, but it just kept getting worse and worse. First the Short Program, and then I failed at my Free Skate. And then Nationals was the biggest nightmare of all. I was just numb by then. I went back to finish school, but I couldn’t talk to anyone. I just hid in my room and stuffed my face with junk food and tried to stop thinking.”

Here Yuuri paused and smiled, even though he was still crying. “I started mimicking your Free Skate around that time. I used to copy you when I was a kid—with Yuuko at the Ice Castle. You were the one who made me love skating in the first place, so that’s why I did it. I thought you could help me find that again.”

“You were still fighting,” Victor said.

“I was trying. When you came to Japan, you gave me the boost I needed to give this last season everything I had instead of letting what happened last year beat me. That’s what I was trying to tell you last night before we fought. Thank you. You helped me end my career at my peak instead of at my lowest. Except now I feel like I’ve let you down, and I hate that.”

Victor was struggling not to cry now as well—not because Yuuri was crying but because it all felt so final. “It’s not like that. I just didn’t understand, and now I do. Thank you for explaining it.”

“I don’t believe you.” Yuuri pulled back from the embrace and looked up at him. “You’re more upset now than you were before.”

“Well, it feels more absolute now that I know the reason. And I’m sad, Yuuri. Because you’re my baby, and you’re sad.”

“But that’s just it. I’m not sad. I’ve never been so happy. Having you as my coach this season, falling in love with you, getting to the top six at the Grand Prix Finals again and not embarrassing myself. I never expected any of that. I’m good, Victor. I’m not unhappy at all.”

“You know, in some ways,” Victor said, “I feel like I’m listening to myself talk. I almost retired after last season, too. I’ve never told anyone this before, but I was depressed. And I don’t mean that I was sad. I mean I was in an actual depression, and it’s something I didn’t even realize was happening until I looked back on that time of my life. Like you, I had lost the will to fight. And if you want to talk about reasons that don’t make any rational sense, take a look at mine. I was on top of the world professionally, but I didn’t understand why. I kept sinking lower and lower, and everyone just kept on applauding. I was so unhappy when we met, Yuuri.”

“I never would have guessed,” Yuuri said. “At least, not before I got to know you. You’re good at smiling when your heart’s not really in it.”

Victor smiled, if only to be ironic. “Watching you pull yourself up and find strength in those around you was so inspiring to me. That’s what I tried to tell you in that letter and why I’m explaining all of this now. We lifted each other up from a very dark place. I’m so proud of you for not quitting last year, Yuuri, but how much further could you go? What else could we do if we keep fighting together? A dream we build together is so much bigger than what we can imagine on our own. If you step down now, I truly think you’re going to regret it.”

Yuuri got quiet again. It was the kind of silence that felt uncertain, like he wasn’t fully understanding what Victor was trying to tell him. “I won’t regret it because I’m going to win tomorrow. That’s what I set out to do.”

Mari had been right when she’d described her brother as nearsighted. It didn’t have anything to do with his glasses prescription. He couldn’t seem to imagine his own career past the Grand Prix Final.

“And if you don’t win tomorrow?” Victor said. “What happens then?”

“That’s not an option.”

“Yuuri, look at me. You and I both know you’re fully capable of winning that gold medal, but what if you don’t? You’re setting yourself up for another crash, just like last year.”

Yuuri held Victor’s gaze for a few seconds longer but ultimately had to look away. “I promised you last night I would think about it.”

“But you’re not thinking about it, are you? You’ve made up your mind.” With a frustrated sigh, Victor rolled onto his back—because he couldn’t look at Yuuri anymore either. He wasn’t getting anywhere. This was pointless, like trying to speak into a void.

“Vicchan?” Yuuri had propped himself up on his elbow and was frowning down at him.

“I’m tired, Yuuri. Can we please just go to sleep?”

Were he not bleary-eyed with exhaustion himself, Yuuri might have put up more of a fuss. Instead, he gave in and cuddled up next to Victor with his head resting on his chest. “Think about us dancing together in our apartment. It will help.”

As Victor’s arms went around his love, he closed his eyes and let himself imagine they were dancing. Somewhere in the future. He didn’t know what city they would be in, nor what they would be doing with their lives when they got there. But they looked happy in Victor’s dream—smiling and laughing between dips and spins—and that was enough to make him feel happier, too. If only while the dream lasted.

With a little smile on his lips, Victor fell asleep with his face and fingers buried in Yuuri’s hair.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

When Yuuri’s eyelashes fluttered and opened, he felt somehow younger than he did when he’d fallen asleep. Long lines of sunlight and shadow stretched across the ceiling overhead, and there were fingers in his hair, doing the most wonderful things to his scalp. Yuuri wet his lips and turned his attention toward the window, where the brightness of the sun behind the shade revealed the hour to be well into the afternoon. He and Victor had slept the morning away.

“Hi,’ Yuuri said to the man lying in bed next to him, a little shy as fingertips grazed down the side of his face.

Victor’s back was to the window, and the vivid blue of his eyes was muted by shadow. “Are you okay?” he asked, his Russian accent thick, as it often was when he’d just woken up. His expression revealed he was calm but worried.

The question puzzled Yuuri at first. (Did he not look okay? He felt fine.) But then he remembered the conversation they’d had before falling asleep earlier that morning. Not only had he cried, but he’d told Victor things never before shared with anyone else. No wonder Victor looked concerned, though there wasn’t any real reason to be. Talking about everything that had happened last year had been a necessary release of pressure. All of it was in the past, and Yuuri was already in a much better place mentally than he was a year ago, even before he’d shared anything with Victor. But there was still that closely-guarded hurt in his heart. Yuuri had carried that with him for a long time.

While talking about it hadn’t completely healed the hurt, what it had done was put it into perspective. Yuuri had verbally identified a major roadblock in his mind, and in doing so, he could now look at it objectively. He wasn’t retiring because last year defeated him. It was because it hadn’t. He was going to bow out of competitive skating with pride instead of shame, and that realization made it so much easier to breathe. He had accomplished something huge this year by making it to the top six at the Grand Prix Finals.

No . . . actually his current standing was fourth. In the world. And by tomorrow night, he was going to make sure that number climbed even higher.

Yuuri’s heart felt much lighter since he’d opened up and cried. His mind, less burdened. There was an unfamiliar clarity to his thoughts, as if for once in his life, he might be capable of calm, rational thought instead of having to fight against the persuasion of his anxiety and emotions.

“I’m a little embarrassed, I guess,” Yuuri admitted. “But yeah—I’m okay. Better than I was, actually. I think talking about it helped.”

Victor’s fingers again moved down Yuuri’s face, gentle as rainfall and very warm. “Come here, love.”

Yuuri snuggled closer at once, one hand low on Victor’s hip, thumb pressing into the hollow place beside the bone. When they’d fallen asleep, there had still been a small amount of tension between them, but it was gone now. Yuuri left a kiss on Victor’s collarbone, buried his face in the crook of his neck, and let his body completely relax.

It was a wonderful place to nap. Victor smelled amazing—like soap and his own natural masculine scent, and the mix of the two made Yuuri feel lazy and drunk. They were naked beneath the covers with their bare legs intertwined. Yuuri might have fallen asleep again if not for Victor’s fingers coming to trace the downward slope of his spine, leaving little tingles of electricity behind.

Yuuri’s breath shivered out. That felt nice. . .

He again touched his lips to Victor’s skin and inhaled. “You smell good,” he whispered before dragging his mouth up Victor’s neck, nudging his chin a little higher in the process.

Victor allowed his head to fall back to give Yuuri room to do what he wanted. He kissed him there on the vulnerable expanse of his throat, opening his mouth, letting his tongue come out to taste him. Victor tensed slightly and let out a gasp, and the sound of it did something primal to Yuuri’s head. He swallowed, his pulse beginning to pick up speed.

Gently, he pushed on Victor’s shoulder and guided him until he was lying face up on the bed. Yuuri moved partially over him and pressed one of his thighs between Victor’s. Though Yuuri was still half-asleep, his body was very interested in getting as close as possible to the man beneath him. Victor’s skin was scorching hot.

Yuuri kissed and nipped at his throat, mouthing a leisurely trail to Victor’s ear. There, he flicked his tongue inside.

Victor’s heels dug into the mattress. “Yuuri. . .” His hands put pressure on Yuuri’s waist, encouraging him to rest more of his weight on top of him.

Taking his time, Yuuri dropped little kisses here and there on Victor’s face. One on his hairline near his ear. Another on his cheekbone. There wasn’t any need to rush things. Nowhere they had to be. Today, they could rest and enjoy their day off any way they pleased. While it wasn’t necessarily sex that Yuuri was after to fill the time, he sensed Victor needed to be loved on.

For some reason that Yuuri couldn’t seem to wrap his mind around, Victor was more upset about Yuuri’s impending retirement than he was. And for all he knew, Victor might also be struggling with his own plans for the future. Whatever the case was, he obviously needed comfort, and Yuuri was more than happy to provide it.

Victor was so good at taking care of Yuuri, but this wasn’t a one-sided relationship. He was here to take care of Victor, too.

Propping himself up on one elbow, Yuuri cupped his fiancé’s face in his hand and kissed him on the lips. Sweet and undemanding. Victor submitted to him beautifully, the set of his mouth relaxed and open to receiving whatever Yuuri wanted to give. The wet heat of that mouth lit a fire within Yuuri. He moved his body fully over Victor’s and slid one hand up his strong, muscular thigh to encourage it to hook around him. Victor’s other thigh rose up between Yuuri’s legs and nudged against his ass. Yuuri hummed deep in his chest as he rubbed himself back against it.

They kissed for a long time, both of them finding a great deal of enjoyment in that simple pleasure. It reminded Yuuri of those first few weeks after the Cup of China, when being kissed by Victor was still so new. They would sneak off whenever they could, find a quiet corner, and make out for what felt like hours until their lips were left red and full. Yuuri remembered wondering if everyone he encountered knew what he’d been up to, just by looking at the state of his mouth.

Kissing excited him still. He ran his hand down Victor’s body, from the beautiful taper of his chin to the strong neck and prominent collarbone. His heart beat a steady tempo beneath the press of Yuuri’s palm and quickened when he moved to roll a light pink nipple between two fingers. Victor broke away from the kiss with a gasp, and Yuuri pinched a little harder, all the while watching Victor’s reaction carefully to make sure no pain mixed in with the pleasure. After a bit of sweet torment, Yuuri dipped his head down to soothe Victor’s nipple with his mouth and was welcomed by the feel of ten fingers sliding into his hair.

Yuuri licked and suckled Victor’s nipple until it rose to a hard point, then drew back to admire it—all wet and glistening with his saliva, the soft pink now bruised to the color of a rose. Yuuri pressed a tender kiss against the firm muscle of Victor’s breast and glanced up to meet his gaze. “Can I?”

Victor smiled, languid and flirtatious, and shifted beneath Yuuri just for the sake of increasing the friction. “Can you what?”

Yuuri blushed. It was easier to talk dirty at night when the bedroom was dark. Here in the afternoon sunshine, there was nowhere to hide.

“Whatever it is, the answer is yes,” Victor said. He dragged his foot down Yuuri’s calf muscle. “You don’t have to ask for permission.”

“You always ask for mine, even though you don’t have to.”

“Well, that’s just because I like hearing you say yes.” Victor’s hands slid down Yuuri’s back until they came to rest on his ass. “It’s sexy as hell.”

It was Yuuri’s turn to gasp. Victor had fucked him in the shower earlier that morning, and though he was always careful never to hurt Yuuri, that didn’t mean he couldn’t still feel the memory of that encounter.  Just thinking about how hard he’d come with the long curve of Victor’s cock inside him made his own start to lengthen and thicken. The warm thigh rubbing between his legs only got him hotter. Victor’s leg hair was baby-soft as it tickled Yuuri’s perineum and sac.

“Maybe I like hearing you say yes, too,” Yuuri said.

“I’m yours, then. Anything you want is yours to take.”

Victor was right. Hearing someone offer their consent like that was incredibly sexy. “Well,” Yuuri said. “I was thinking more about ‘giving’ rather than ‘taking.’ I hope that’s okay, too.”

Victor’s answering smile was so pure and sweet that love fluttered high in Yuuri’s heart, driving an ache into his throat. He was so enamored that he couldn’t help but go in for another kiss, just to taste the perfection of that smile. It was such a relief to see Victor happy again. As they exchanged lazy, indulgent kisses, Yuuri lowered more of his weight down and was welcomed by the parting of Victor’s thighs. Yuuri rocked his hips gently to make it apparent that he was aroused. Both of them were, the dry heat of their cocks sliding between their bellies.

There was only so much of that Yuuri could take before his mouth started watering. With little warning, he moved himself down Victor’s body, dragging his lips along the way, hot breath spilling out over the muscles of his stomach. The sheets and blanket fell away, forgotten as Yuuri wrapped his fingers around Victor’s cock and put his tongue to the join of the head to the shaft.

Victor was so excited by this that his ass lifted off the bed. Yuuri closed his lips around the head, gave it a nice little suck, followed by a swirl of tongue. Both of them moaned at the same time. Yuuri wasn’t even touching himself, but going down on Victor just did something to him. It turned on some switch inside Yuuri’s mind that made him want to lick and suck. He could taste a little precum and happily swallowed it down, then tongued at the slit to encourage more to seep out.

Victor’s fingers twisted in his hair, his stomach working hard for every breath. Yuuri relaxed his throat, pushed down, and hummed with pleasure when his nose came to rest against Victor’s smoothly shaven skin. His scent was especially strong there. He smelled like a man. Like heat and sex.

The humming must have felt good because Victor was having trouble keeping it together. One of his hands had left Yuuri’s hair to grasp at the bed’s headboard for support. “Fuck . . . fuck . . .”

Yuuri lifted off Victor’s cock, lapping his tongue up the underside and wrapping his fingers around the hot, wet shaft as it left his mouth. He bobbed his head, giving the tip an intense suck before he pulled back entirely to give Victor a second to catch his breath. A glistening strand of saliva connected the tip of Victor’s cock to Yuuri’s lower lip. Pumping his hand up and down the shaft a few times, he looked up at Victor and smiled. Yuuri was having fun.

He treated Victor to a very thorough blowjob—and treated himself in the process. Yuuri could only convince himself to stop when it became clear from the trembling of Victor’s thighs that he was teetering on the edge of an orgasm. Yuuri wanted this to last, so he released Victor’s cock and let it fall, slick and heavy, onto his stomach.

When Victor tried to touch himself to finish the job, Yuuri gently guided his hand away and pinned it to the mattress. “Not yet,” he said, his mouth now peppering kisses on Victor’s quivering inner thigh. “I’m not done.”

“I’ve created a monster,” Victor lamented.

God, it was sexy to see him undone like that—unable to control his breathing, all the layers of his cool confidence peeled back. Yuuri’s mouth had stripped him bare.

He wanted to take Victor even further but knew he shouldn’t touch his cock. If Yuuri did so much as place his tongue on the tip, it was all going to come spilling out. As tempting as it would be to swallow everything down, Yuuri instead licked at Victor’s sac, chasing his balls around with his lips before sucking one into his mouth. Victor’s body immediately tensed up, but he seemed to like what Yuuri was doing. The fingers in his hair held him in place.

Needing more room to work, Yuuri put both hands on the backs of Victor’s thighs and folded them up against his stomach. Victor was now bent in half beneath him, his thighs pinned to his belly, feet aloft and lower back lifted off the bed. Yuuri got up on his knees and stared down at his own erection, which was pointing in the direction of Victor’s ass.

Lost in the moment, Yuuri didn’t give it much thought when he went in to lick Victor a bit lower than before. Yuuri paused just before he did it though. There was a small moment of uncertainty. Rimming was not at the top of his list of desirable sex acts, but he remembered what it had felt like when Victor had done it to him the other night.

It was odd at first. The idea that Victor would want to do such a thing to Yuuri at all had astonished him. But once he’d allowed himself to relax, the feeling of a tongue lathering wetness over all those nerve-endings was actually quite nice. Yuuri remembered the way it had made every muscle in his body turn to mush and how tranquil he’d been during the sex that had followed. Victor’s cock had never had an easier time working into him. It had been such a comfortable experience that Yuuri had felt like he’d been pampered with a massage.

It would be nice if he could make Victor feel that way in return. . .

Willing to try it once, Yuuri closed his eyes and lapped the flat of his tongue over Victor’s entrance.

The reaction was instantaneous. Victor tensed up for a second, but then it was suddenly like he was falling from a great height. “Oh,” he breathed softly as gravity took him. Every ounce of tension drained out of the pale thighs pinned beneath Yuuri’s hands.

Wow, Yuuri thought. Victor was always so focused on Yuuri’s pleasure during sex. Only a few times had Victor allowed himself to lose his mind over his own pleasure, and this was one of them. And all Yuuri had done was give him a little lick. . .

It wasn’t an unpleasant experience at all. Like so many other things, his mind had made a bigger deal of the concept than it probably should have. Victor’s skin was clean, and the tight pucker of his entrance was just as gorgeous as every other part of his body. Shaven clean. The skin, pink and perfect. Yuuri found he enjoyed licking and kissing him there, knowing he was making his lover feel good and helping him find some relief from all the stress of the last day.

Victor melted. His arms fell boneless to the pillow, and his face went smooth. He looked like an angel, lying there so serenely with his hair shining silver-gold in the afternoon sunlight. “Yuuri,” he whispered as he drifted. “Yuuri, what are you doing?”

“Enjoying my day off.” Yuuri turned his eyes up, lips wet. “How about you?”

“Oh, my God. . .”

It went on and on like that—slow, wet licks everywhere—until Yuuri was satisfied that Victor was both relaxed and worked up at the same time. Yuuri sat back on his heels and wiped his mouth, pleased with what he saw before him. Victor’s eyes were half-lidded, and though he didn’t seem capable of lifting his arms up, he was flushed and panting with exertion. The thickness of his arousal was rather impressive, and while it would have felt very nice to sink down on top of it, Yuuri instead took his own cock in hand and rubbed the head against all the slick he’d left between Victor’s legs.

“Yes,” Victor said, the word practically a sigh of relief. His thighs fell open. “I want it.”

Yuuri smiled and leaned over to grab the lube off the foot of the other bed where he’d left it earlier that morning before their shower. He slicked himself up first, using a generous amount so that Victor wouldn’t feel even a hint of discomfort. Yuuri would gladly sacrifice a bit of friction to make sure Victor stayed exactly as relaxed and blissed out as he was now.

He used the excess lube on Victor, again pressing one of his thighs to his stomach to help him open up. Yuuri rubbed at the sweet little pucker for a while before introducing a finger. Victor bit down on his lower lip. He still had one foot resting on the mattress, and it shifted restlessly.

“Too much?” Yuuri asked, the words a bit staggered. The heat of Victor’s body had taken his breath away. God, he was tight. Yuuri had been neglecting his own arousal while he tended to his partner’s, but the throbbing ache between his legs was now impossible to ignore.

“Not enough,” Victor said. “I want your cock in me.”

Hearing such sinful talk from someone who looked like an angel made it difficult to think. Yuuri had to squeeze his eyes shut for a second to clear his head from the fog of lust that came over him. He withdrew just long enough to get a bit more lube before going in again, this time with two fingers. The cool slick warmed quickly as he worked it into Victor’s body. He was almost ready.

But suddenly Yuuri was gasping, his lower back arching inward—because Victor had reached down to wrap his long fingers around Yuuri’s cock.

“Stop teasing me, please,” Victor said in a voice like silk. “Or else I’ll start teasing you back.”

Was that supposed to be a threat? If so, Yuuri wished Victor would threaten him more often . . . because that was hot.

Two could play that game. “You want me to fuck you?” Yuuri’s tone was mischievous, coy. He was asking for trouble and was happier than he probably should have been when it found him.

“Yuuri,” Victor purred, eyes glinting dangerously as his fingers worked up and down his lover. Everything about his body language indicated this was Yuuri’s final warning.

A thrill of excitement shot through him. He gripped Victor’s hips and pulled his entire body closer. It was satisfying to see the way his blue eyes went wide as his head left the pillow and his back went sliding down the sheets. Yuuri leaned up to grab the pillow. Then he pinned one of Victor’s legs to his stomach again and stuffed the pillow beneath him so that he was angled higher. Easier for Yuuri to fuck.

After that, he didn’t waste any more time. He lined himself up and led with his hips as he pushed in.

It was effortless, like sinking down into warm honey. Victor had never been this wet before, and Yuuri let out a sound of amazement when he bottomed out.

“Oh, that’s good. . .” Victor said. “Don’t be too gentle. I want to feel it.”

Thanks to the pillow, Victor’s ass was angled high enough that Yuuri could release his leg. Instead, he put both hands on Victor’s waist and rocked into him—a slower pace at first until Yuuri realized how much Victor truly seemed to want a good pounding. By the time the little pinch of tension between Victor’s eyebrows smoothed into relief, Yuuri was fucking him hard enough that their bodies clapped together with each decisive stroke.

Victor was not anywhere close to quiet. He let out a near constant stream of little pouts and gasps that were only silenced for a few brief seconds whenever Yuuri quickened the pace. Then, once Victor wrapped his mind around how good it felt, the sounds just kept getting louder. “Baby . . . oh, fuck. You feel so good. Yuuri.” Victor reached out to run his palm down Yuuri’s chest and stomach, eyes hazy, like he approved of everything he saw.

Yuuri was having a bit of trouble holding it together himself. Not only was Victor saying his name in the most unthinkable tone, but the way he was spread out beneath him was obscene—with his sultry eyes and hair all a mess. One of his nipples was hard and wet, the other untouched, and his cock was leaking all over his stomach.

It was impossible to resist. Yuuri slowed down, bent at the waist, and took Victor’s cock in hand. Angled upward, it was long enough that Yuuri was able to get his mouth around the very tip and give it a suck, all the while still rocking gently into Victor. Shallow thrusts were all he could manage in that position. It was difficult to maintain. His neck ached and stomach muscles burned, but it was worth it.

Victor’s back arched off the mattress. “Who taught you these things?”

His cock slipped out of Yuuri’s mouth and fell back onto his stomach. Licking his lips, Yuuri shrugged. “I just wanted to see if it was possible. Think you can thrust into me?”

Victor gaped at him like he couldn’t even begin to make sense of the question. Wearing an amused smirk, Yuuri dipped his head down again and licked the tip of Victor’s cock. Victor put his hands over his eyes and started speaking Russian, which Yuuri took as encouragement. It hurt a little and made it almost impossible to breathe, but he stretched himself down as far as possible until the head of Victor’s cock was back in his mouth.

Encouraged by Yuuri’s hands, Victor’s hips began to rock. He fucked himself forward into Yuuri’s mouth and simultaneously onto his cock, and about ten seconds of that was all either one of them could handle. Out of oxygen, Yuuri sat up with a gasp and was so pleased by their accomplishment that he started laughing.

Victor wasn’t laughing at all. He looked like someone had just shown him a glimpse of heaven.

Who knew it was possible to fuck and blow someone at the same time? The only way it could get any better was if there was a second Victor fucking Yuuri from behind. That was his idea of heaven. Two Victors at once.

Yuuri whimpered, getting over-stimulated by his own imagination. He had to pull out and sit back on his heels to catch his breath. “Sorry. I think I liked that a little too much.”

“Oh, you are going to get it,” Victor vowed. “Just you wait. Revenge is going to be sweet.”

“Sounds fun.” Yuuri grinned and dropped a kiss on Victor’s knee. “But that’ll have to wait until later. I’m not done with you yet.”

Leaning forward, he put his palms on the mattress and lowered himself down to kiss Victor on the mouth. The moment their tongues met, Yuuri moaned and forgot what he was planning to do. How could he have gone so long without kissing him? There was just too much of Victor to enjoy. Yuuri wanted all of him at once.

It was at Victor’s insistence that things heated up again. Slipping a hand between their bodies, he found Yuuri’s cock, and together they guided it back into place. Still kissing, Yuuri worked his tongue into Victor at the same time that he filled him up somewhere else. Victor’s legs wrapped around him, and his arms completed the trap. Not that he wanted to, but Yuuri couldn’t have gotten up if he tried. They were completely tangled up with each other.

When one of Victor’s hands came to squeeze his ass, Yuuri’s eyes opened, his interest kindled. “Can you put your fingers in me like you did the other night? I like feeling full when I come.”

Victor’s stomach shook with laughter. “Mmm, we need to get you some toys, then. A nice Victor-sized plug to keep you happy while you fuck me.”

Yuuri stopped moving, and his face turned bright red. “T-toys?” The very idea was so dirty, he couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. But he was also a little turned on. . .

“I wouldn’t mind a Yuuri-sized one myself.” Victor leaned up far enough to give Yuuri’s ass a playful slap—just hard enough to make it jiggle and leave him with a pleasant sting.

Yuuri’s eyes went wide. Oh. Oh, he liked that. It hadn’t hurt at all.

“Do that again,” he said

Victor laughed. “So demanding. Which is it, my little katsudon? Do you want another slap or my fingers inside you?”

“You have two hands,” Yuuri reminded him. “I thought you were supposed to be some kind of hotshot choreographer. Do I have to think of everything myself?”

More laughter from Victor—and it was so good to hear. They were having fun, their fight long forgotten. Victor presented Yuuri with his two longest fingers—the index and middle—and they were obediently accepted into his mouth. Yuuri ran his tongue all over them, eyes locked with Victor’s, but he honestly didn’t try to get them very wet. He wanted to feel a little burn.

Victor smiled breathlessly up at him, as if he found what he was witnessing amazing. “God, you’re gorgeous.” He slapped Yuuri’s ass again, which elicited a gasp of surprise, and then his palm was rubbing circles over the same place, soothing the skin he’d just punished. “Do you like that, sweetheart? Tell me if it’s too hard. Would never want to hurt you.”

“Do it again,” Yuuri begged, his thighs beginning to shake. His hips were moving again, his cock working in and out of Victor, but it was almost too much stimulation. He wasn’t going to last much longer. Not with the way Victor’s ass was squeezing him, so hot and tight.

Victor hadn’t forgotten Yuuri’s other demand. He brought his slicked-up fingers between Yuuri’s cheeks and rubbed at his entrance. It was a bit of a stretch to get them in but well worth the effort. Yuuri let out a broken cry when he was penetrated. While fingers weren’t nearly as good as Victor’s cock, they gave him something to clench around. Yuuri fucked into Victor and whispered, “I’m close  . . . oh, God. . .”

“Come inside me, baby.” Victor squeezed Yuuri’s ass with his free hand and then gave the round cheek another slap. “Get me all wet.”

That was far more stimulation than Yuuri could handle. He cried out again, an unintelligible mixture of Japanese and English with Victor’s name lost somewhere in the middle. Yuuri’s knees slid apart on the sheets, barely able to support his weight as he spilled everything he had into Victor. It was the kind of orgasm that pulled from somewhere deeper than expected. Yuuri could feel his hole clenching around Victor’s fingers, desperate to latch onto something thick and hard.

After he descended, Yuuri was left boneless and spent with his cheek resting against Victor’s chest. Yuuri panted, ears ringing, only vaguely aware that Victor was rubbing his back and talking to him in soft, melodic Russian. Yuuri sighed and snuggled closer to the sound. He could listen to that voice for hours. . .

“We definitely need to get you a plug,” Victor said in English. “My arms hurt.”

As his pulse slowed, Yuuri found himself wondering what a toy would feel like. Surely not as good as Victor. . .

He could feel Victor’s cock now, trapped between their stomachs, and realized how selfish he was being. “Do you want to come inside me, too?” Yuuri murmured, almost too wrung out to speak. “Whatever you want, I’ll do it.”

He meant it. Yuuri trusted Victor completely. Whatever he asked for next, Yuuri knew it would be pleasurable for him as well. There was nowhere he’d ever be safer.

Victor nuzzled the side of Yuuri’s face and said, “Will you finish me off with your mouth? I like the sounds you make when you go down on me.”


Without hesitation, Yuuri got up on his hands and knees. He moved downward and kissed the valley between Victor’s stomach muscles. Yuuri really was drunk now—with pleasure, with his lover’s scent, with the desire to suck and swallow. He lapped at the wetness Victor’s cock had left smeared across his abdomen, then chased the head around with his mouth until he was able to latch on.

Yuuri didn’t use his hands. He just closed his eyes, hollowed out his cheeks, and started to move.

“Mmm. That’s it, love.” Victor’s hands were warm and gentle on Yuuri’s face. “You like doing that, don’t you?”

Yuuri could only moan in affirmation because he wasn’t willing to release Victor long enough to speak. He bobbed his head, increasing the pace.

“Fuck.” Victor’s head fell back onto the mattress. It wasn’t long before his stomach muscles started to tighten, but no matter how worked up he got, the fingers that slid into Yuuri’s hair never pulled or caused him any pain. “Can I come in your mouth?”


Yuuri moaned again and sucked harder, letting the rub of his tongue on the underside of Victor’s cock serve as his reply. Oh, it tasted good. . .

Victor’s breathing soon went ragged, evidence that he was fast losing control. “Look at me, Yuuri. I want to see you.”

Yuuri opened his eyes obediently, and that was what finally pushed Victor over the edge. His heels dug into the mattress when he came, but he never shut his eyes. They stared each other down while Yuuri swallowed everything Victor gave him.

All in all, not a bad way to wake up after a fight.

Afterward, they were quiet. They snuggled together, side by side, and drifted on the edge of sleep once more. Yuuri marveled at the feel of Victor’s fingers skating patterns along his back and realized he could have this every day for the rest of his life. How in the world had he gotten so lucky? What had he done to find himself so blessed? He felt he scarcely deserved it.

“I love you,” Yuuri said.

Victor’s arms gathered him closer in response, and they licked kisses into each other’s mouths until Yuuri was left without a shadow of a doubt that he was loved and desired in return. Only then did Victor pull back, meet Yuuri’s eyes, and drag a thumb across his wet lower lip. “I love you, too,” he said.

Never again did Yuuri feel insecure about Victor’s love for him. The final whisper of doubt had disintegrated into nothing, and when he closed his eyes, his mind was perfectly at peace.

They slept.

(The next day)

Victor couldn’t get his damn necktie knotted properly.

With a sigh, he undid his last failed effort and tried again, frowning at his reflection in the bathroom mirror all the while. He was dressed in a pair of black slacks, a leather belt, and a crisp white shirt for tonight’s event, but his tie could not be convinced to behave. He didn’t have time for this. They were due to check in at the arena within the hour.

“Here,” Yuuri said. “Let me help.”

Four simple words, softly spoken.

Victor’s hands fell away from his tie, and he pressed his lips into a neutral line while he allowed Yuuri to take over. He was also dressed for tonight’s performance, but his hair wasn’t fixed yet. His bangs fell soft and clean onto his forehead as he came to stand in front of Victor. Dark brown eyes with just a hint of mahogany flickered up at him before he set to work on fixing the necktie.

It had been like that between them since the public practice at the arena that morning. They weren’t fighting, but things weren’t exactly simple either. The closer they got to Yuuri’s last time on the ice, the more Victor struggled to maintain his composure.

Yesterday had been much easier.

After they’d made love and taken a lazy nap in the afternoon sunshine, they’d woken up and realized they were starving. They had food delivered to the room and ate together in bed with love-bites still red and smarting all over their bodies. Neither one of them had felt much like talking, so they’d turned on the television so that they wouldn’t have to. Yuuri had napped again with his head on Victor’s lap, enjoying the feel of fingers that ran endlessly through his hair.

After a marathon of reality television reruns, Yuuri had stirred and turned his face to press an open-mouth kiss to Victor’s leg. Not long after that, they’d gone at it again—with the television on in the background, the hum of the hotel’s heater overhead, and Yuuri grinding himself backwards against Victor’s lap.

Not only was the sex mind-blowing, but it provided a much-needed release for them both. They switched so often that it felt like neither one of them was ever on top or bottom. It all blurred together, like they were making love to each other at the same time. Victor noticed a shift in Yuuri that day. He was more present in the moment. Less distracted and closed in on himself. He met Victor’s eyes often and smiled so beautifully in between kisses that his heart couldn’t help but swell up with love. Yuuri was turning out to be quite a passionate lover. There were still moments of adorable bashfulness here and there, but he wasn’t afraid anymore to voice what he wanted.

They’d spent the whole day like that—napping, room service, and sex.

They cuddled and loved on each other to help soothe any remaining hurt between them, and at the end of it all, both of them were happy and at peace, if a little wrung out. The room smelled of sex. Victor’s body felt well-loved, and Yuuri looked centered and rested, which was exactly what he needed to be before his performance.

But then the next day had dawned, and their time of solace came to an end. Victor had held it together well enough on their day off, but by Saturday morning, he was starting to struggle again. At his insistence, Yuuri had gone to practice that morning at the arena, and he’d been unusually calm during his warmups. Victor wasn’t sure what to make of it. Either Yuuri had given up hope that he was going to win, or he was so confident that he almost looked disinterested.

They had both stayed far away from the topic of Yuuri’s retirement during their day off, but Victor made the mistake of bringing it up again after practice. That’s when things got awkward again. Yuuri had listened quietly to everything Victor said but hadn’t offered any reply—and that was beyond frustrating. Victor had found a few errands to keep himself away from the hotel room that day, while Yuuri took the time to rest before his evening performance.

Victor had only returned in time to put on his suit, and even though he loved the man who was fiddling with his necktie more than anything else in the world, he found he could barely look at him. Yuuri was making a huge mistake, and Victor couldn’t do anything to stop him.

“Will you watch me closely tonight?” Yuuri asked as he pulled the silk of Victor’s necktie through the knot. “This performance is meant for you and no one else.”

Victor finally allowed his eyes to lower and focus on his fiancé, who had a noticeable hickey adorning his throat. There was another beneath his right ear. He would have to cover those up with makeup before they left, or the press would have a field day. “Have I ever taken my eyes off you when you’re on the ice?”

Giving the necktie one final adjustment, Yuuri’s palm smoothed its length down Victor’s chest. “You’re barely looking at me now.”

Victor’s gaze slid away again, this time to his own reflection in the mirror. He loosened his tie just a hair but was begrudgingly pleased with the way it looked. It would seem Yuuri was better at tying other people’s neckties than he was his own. “Turn around. I’ll fix your hair.”

He didn’t say it unkindly, but it was a dismissal of Yuuri’s attempt to connect with him. After all, he hadn’t heard anything Victor had been saying to him for two days. Why should he acknowledge what Yuuri was saying now?

Yuuri did as instructed and turned toward the bathroom mirror. Neither of them said anything while Victor picked up a comb from the counter and brought it to Yuuri’s hair. This had been their tradition for months, ever since his final fitting for his Free Skate costume back in Japan, when Victor had fixed Yuuri’s hair to help him picture how he would look on the ice. Ever since then, the only time Victor hadn’t done Yuuri’s hair for a performance was when they were in different countries during the Rostelecom Cup.

He loved doing this—feeling Yuuri’s body so close to his and the freshly-washed hair slipping cool and clean through his fingers. Even before they were in a confirmed relationship, these moments had always felt incredibly intimate. Tonight was no different, and Victor soon found himself struggling worse than before.

This was the last time he was going to get to do this. He would never again put on a suit as Yuuri’s coach nor help him get ready for a competition. He hated this—but only because he loved it so much.

Victor took his time and did it right, using a bit of gel to slick Yuuri’s hair perfectly back into place. A few strands refused to stay put, but all that did was make him look more endearing. After he was done, Victor made Yuuri face him and guided his chin up. All that was left to do was dab a little concealer on the marks Victor had left on Yuuri’s neck. Those were for his eyes only and no one else’s business.

“Vicchan, when do you want to get married?” Yuuri asked.

Victor shut the container of concealer and set it aside, aware that Yuuri was trying to cheer him up with the promise of happier things to come. “I already told you. After you win a gold medal.”

One side of Yuuri’s mouth pulled upward into an incredulous smile. He sensed that Victor was joking with him. “Guess I better make tonight count, then.”

“Guess you better. Unless you want to fly back to Japan by yourself, that is.” Victor dusted a little translucent powder onto Yuuri’s neck to set the concealer in place and leaned back to inspect his work. Yuuri looked stunning. Lean and soft at the same time. Fearsome and lovely, with his ink black hair and eyes that could evaporate a heart of ice into steam.

Yuuri was still fighting a smile and seemed destined to lose the battle. He stepped a bit closer—close enough that he couldn’t be ignored—and placed a hand on Victor’s chest. “Are you going to resign as my coach if I miss the podium, like you said you would in China?”

“Oh, yes. And I’ll step down as your fiancé, too. Didn’t you know I’m only sticking around as long as you make me look good?”

Yuuri’s smile didn’t falter, but it did acquire a tinge of regret. “It sounds so ridiculous when you say it like that.”

“That’s because it is ridiculous. But just so we’re clear. . .” Victor touched Yuuri’s chin to encourage him to meet his eyes and kept his hand there while he spoke. “We’ll get married when we’re ready. I was only joking about the gold medal. Don’t you know half the things I say are only to get a reaction out of you?” His hand moved to cradle the side of Yuuri’s face, his engagement ring glinting in the light. “I love you, my little katsudon.”

“I know you do,” Yuuri said, “but that doesn’t mean you’re not disappointed in me.”

Victor shook his head. “No. That’s your fear putting words in my mouth again, trying to make me into someone I’m not. I couldn’t be prouder. You know that, just like you knew in your heart I didn’t want to quit all those weeks ago in China. If I’m sad tonight, it’s because I love this. Being your coach. Traveling the world with you. Watching you perform. If you see that I’m frustrated, it’s because I feel like you’re not hearing me. Yuuri, you’ve chosen a path for yourself that made sense a year ago, but things are different now. All I want is for you to step back, look at where you are in your life now, and reconsider the choices in front of you. Can you do that for me?”

Yuuri still looked confused, but he nodded without hesitation. Victor might have felt more comforted if he thought Yuuri understood him. While he recognized that Yuuri wasn’t trying to hurt his feelings on purpose . . . it still hurt.

“Ignore me tonight,” Victor said. “Let me work through this on my own. You have a job to do, and when it’s done, you and I are going to walk out of that arena hand in hand. No matter what, okay?”

Another nod. “Okay,” Yuuri said.

“We should leave soon so you have plenty of time to warm up. You look beautiful, Yuuri. I know you can win tonight.” Victor gave him a warm kiss on the forehead but pulled back before he got too emotional.

Squeezing Yuuri’s shoulder, Victor moved past him into the bedroom to gather together the rest of the things they would need for the competition. Tissue box, room key, their badges, his black vest, matching suit jacket, and beige trench coat. No gloves tonight. He wanted their engagement rings on display, just like last time.

“Do you have everything you need?” Victor asked. He looked up and found Yuuri watching him, his bag with his skates already in hand.

“I don’t know yet,” Yuuri said softly. “Maybe. I need to think about it.”

He shouldered his bag and turned, leaving the hotel room without explaining what he meant.

To be continued

Chapter Text

Ever since Yuuri had woken up and realized the day of his final competition had dawned, he kept expecting his anxiety to wake up alongside him and ruin everything. He felt unusually centered. It was strange to step foot inside the arena where he was soon to perform and have only a manageable amount of nervousness churning in his stomach.

Nostalgia caused him to take in details he so often failed to notice, like his name listed on the Grand Prix banners and the familiar smell of ice in the air. Yuuri was going to miss this. Eight long months of preparation had led up to this moment, and more than a decade of competitions and practices had preceded that. It was hard to believe it was all going to be over in a matter of hours.

“Katsuki-kun,” called a reporter. “Do you have a moment for a . . . ?”

Pretending he hadn’t heard, Yuuri ducked his head down and kept walking. Different levels of competitions had been going on since the afternoon, and the place was already packed with fans and reporters. He could hear the din of voices already in the arena, where the Ladies’ Free Skate was underway. The noise made it easier to slip away from the press without seeming too rude, but soon it became apparent that his coach had not been as lucky.

As Yuuri slowed and glanced over his shoulder, a tiny ache took up residence inside his heart.

Victor had been lagging behind since they’d left the hotel, each footstep seeming heavier than the last, but this time, he’d stopped entirely. A reporter had managed to capture his attention, and Victor was too nice of a person to refuse. He struggled to smile for the camera, but after a wave and a quick statement, he managed to slip away. The manufactured smile dissipated within seconds.

The ache in Yuuri’s heart burrowed deeper. It hurt to see Victor looking so dejected, but there was nothing that could be done about it now. He had asked Yuuri to allow him to process the emotions of this on his own. Yuuri understood all too well how he felt. He was sad, too, this being their last competition together. But like Victor told him earlier—Yuuri had a job to do, and he needed to concentrate on that alone. At least, for now. After tonight, they could start to heal and move on.

Eventually, Victor caught up with Yuuri, but neither of them acknowledged the other as they fell into step. After they showed their credentials and got Yuuri officially checked in, they found an empty stretch of hallway where he could start going through his warm ups. Victor leaned against a nearby wall and watched over Yuuri like a hawk, making sure no one disturbed him. More than once, a daring reporter appeared at the end of the hallway, and Victor left immediately to deal with them.

Yuuri tried not to pay attention to any of it and instead focused on breathing through his nose while he stretched. All the same, Victor’s mood wasn’t easy to ignore. But if the last forty-eight hours had taught Yuuri anything, it was that there wasn’t any reason to feel insecure about something so fleeting.

A mood was temporary. Victor’s love for him was not.

Yuuri could feel it all over, inside and out. The ghosts of Victor’s hands on his body. The whispered confessions of love. That final kiss bestowed upon Yuuri’s forehead, which had left him feeling grounded and secure. Despite Victor’s current silence, he had made sure Yuuri understood their relationship would not be affected by anything that happened in this arena tonight.

And it wasn’t just Victor’s love that Yuuri sensed all around him. Back in Hasetsu, his family and friends were gathering to watch the Final live on television. His sister and sensei were probably already in the arena audience, ready to cheer him on. Phichit and the Nishigori family had been texting him encouraging messages all day.

Though Yuuri felt he had done absolutely nothing to deserve such love from the people in his life, he knew he was stronger for it. Maybe it was because he understood now that even if he failed, the only person he’d be letting down was himself. That just made him want to win gold even more. The pressure was still there—but unlike past performances, it was driven by something else.

An hour came and went in the blink of an eye. Yuuri finished his warm ups and was running through his choreography when he heard the opening announcement for the Men’s Free Skate come over the loud speakers. It was almost time to lace up his skates. JJ would be taking the ice soon. Yuuri would perform third tonight, right after Phichit.

The roar of applause from the arena was so loud that Yuuri could feel it vibrate the ground beneath his feet. He stopped breathing and froze in place until the feeling subsided. It wasn’t a moment of panic exactly but more a realization that this was It. This was really about to happen.

Victor stepped forward and extended his hand to Yuuri, who blinked down at the pair of earplugs resting in his coach’s palm. Of course. Victor didn’t want the cheering for the other performers to rattle Yuuri’s nerves. He’d worn them before every competition since his panic attack in China.

“I’m okay,” Yuuri said. “I’ll put them in if I start to get too nervous.”

Victor lifted a skeptical eyebrow—which, to be fair, was warranted because Yuuri was nervous. Apparently, Victor could tell.

“I just want to remember tonight,” Yuuri explained. “Not shut it out.”

Pressing his lips together, Victor slipped the earplugs into his pocket without further commentary. He crossed his arms over his chest and stayed close while Yuuri sat down to lace up his skates.

JJ’s music was playing now, and Yuuri looked up with a smile when he heard the audience’s reaction to him. For once, the sound of the crowd cheering for another competitor didn’t make him feel insecure. He wanted them all to do their best tonight. For JJ to redeem himself and for fifteen-year-old Yurio to blow everyone’s mind with his startling talent. He wanted Phichit to step off that ice having fulfilled a lifelong dream, for Otabek’s quiet power to speak for itself, and for Christophe to find his inspiration again. Yuuri knew their journeys would continue for years after he retired . . . and hopefully Victor’s would as well.

Two days ago, Victor had watched the other competitors with rapt attention. He’d been charmed and inspired by what he’d seen in their Short Programs. Would tonight give him the motivation he needed to join them next year?

Yuuri’s gaze shifted in Victor’s direction, curious what he was thinking, and his smile soon faded away.

His coach wasn’t exactly glaring at him, but it wasn’t a look of warmth either. If he had to guess, he’d say Victor was displeased that Yuuri looked so happy. After all, this was their last competition together before they ended their professional relationship. Victor probably expected Yuuri to be just as sad about that as he was. Add to that Victor’s belief that Yuuri hadn’t heard anything he’d said for the last two days, and it made sense that seeing him smile had rubbed Victor the wrong way.

Only he had it all wrong. Yuuri had listened to what Victor had said about reconsidering his retirement. He was just choosing not to think about it until after his performance. One thing at a time.

If he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to retire. He wanted to do this forever with Victor as his coach, but it just wasn’t worth it to sacrifice Victor’s competitive career for his own. If Yuuri wanted to keep skating, he was going to have to find a new coach and possibly live apart from Victor for a time. Either that, or Yuuri would have to get down on his hands and knees and beg Yakov to consider taking him on. The problem was that Yuuri didn’t want anyone except Victor.

It was far simpler to just retire—but did that mean it was the right thing to do? Yuuri wasn’t prepared to decide one way or another, especially when he didn’t know what Victor was going to decide for himself. After the Final was over, then Yuuri would see how he felt.

“Ready?” Victor turned to leave without waiting for a response.

Yuuri blew out a breath, finished double-knotting the lace of his skate, and followed after him.

He caught up with Victor beneath the arena stands, near the heavy curtains that led out to the main hall. It was dark there—dark enough that they didn’t have to look at each other—but Yuuri could feel Victor’s presence nearby. Having him so close calmed Yuuri at the same time that it made his throat ache.

This was really it. Their last moments together as student and coach. Sure, there was the gala exhibition tomorrow night, but Victor would be wearing a pair of skates then. Not a suit.

As JJ’s score was announced to deafening applause, Yuuri forced himself to focus and work through his choreography again. He hadn’t heard the exact score, but judging from the sound of the cheering, JJ had indeed redeemed himself and done quite well. Yuuri’s performance was going to have to be flawless if he wanted to be at the top of that podium.

Soon Phichit’s music came over the speakers, and whatever he was doing on the ice, the crowd was loving it. Yuuri couldn’t help but smile again, even as the applause made his heart lurch with nervousness. He couldn’t wait to watch his friend’s performance later online.

As the minutes ticked by and Phichit’s music thundered to its conclusion, things began to feel surreal—like time was moving faster in the world around him than it was in his own head.

It was time to go.

Yuuri stepped forward first, followed by his coach, and together they drew back the heavy curtain leading out to the brightly lit main hall. Nostalgia hit him hard again. The familiar chill in the air. The energy of a pumped-up crowd. The nervousness creeping up his throat.

There was an attendant standing by to direct Yuuri to the entrance of the rink, which was still being cleaned from all the bouquets of flowers and stuffed hamsters that had been thrown by the audience after Phichit’s performance. Yuuri took off his jacket and skate guards, handed everything to his coach, and stepped out onto the ice without looking back.

His heart beat a strong, accelerating rhythm as he skated over to the place where Victor normally stood beside the barrier—always in the direct center where Yuuri would know to look for him. There was still a minute or two for him to catch his breath while the judges tabulated Phichit’s score. Yuuri put his hands on the barrier, bowed his head, and willed his pulse to slow down.

Soon Victor came to stand in front of him with his arms folded over his chest, and there was an awkward moment of silence that Yuuri knew wouldn’t last. No matter what Victor might be feeling, there was no way he was going to let Yuuri go out there without a word of encouragement.

True to form, Victor got a handle on whatever emotions he was dealing with and leaned closer with a smile that might have convinced someone who didn’t know him very well. “Don’t worry,” he said, his voice gentler than before. He placed his hand on top of Yuuri’s where it rested on the barrier. “You can win gold. Believe in yourself.”

Yuuri didn’t bother looking up. It wasn’t the worst thing a coach could have said, but the words didn’t make any impact on him. They felt empty. Lacking something. Lacking Victor.

He sounded like a greeting card. Not like himself at all.

His Victor didn’t always say the right things or waste time with niceties when a blunt truth would suffice. He was too young. Too inexperienced. Endearingly clueless one moment and shockingly intuitive the next. He sulked when he didn’t get his way, and sometimes he was so rude that Yuuri was left wondering if he should laugh or be offended.

His Victor was also the kindest, most giving person he’d ever met. Unexpectedly complex and imperfect beneath the charming exterior. And Yuuri loved him for it. There was no one else he wanted to share this moment with but him.

“Hey, Victor,” Yuuri said, turning his hand around to hold his fiancé’s in return. “I told you before that I wanted you to stay who you were, right? Don’t suddenly start trying to sound like a coach now. I want to smile for my last time on the ice.”

Victor drew back, obviously surprised by the dismissal of his speech, but Yuuri paid him no mind. Instead, he kept his head bowed in concentration. All around them, the audience began to cheer because Phichit’s scores had just come in. Yuuri squeezed Victor’s hand and tried to stay calm.

“Yuuri, listen to me,” Victor said, drawing much closer this time.

Yuuri opened his eyes and waited. They had only seconds left, so if Victor wanted to say something, he had better hurry.

“I debated whether I should tell you this now,” Victor said, “but I took a break after becoming the five-time world champion to coach you. So how is it possible you still haven’t won a gold medal?”

Yuuri looked up and was absolutely bewildered to find Victor glaring at him.

Why would he . . . say something like that? And now of all times, when Yuuri was seconds away from the last performance of his career.

But Victor’s stern expression slowly melted into a smile. A real smile, adoring and sweet with just a hint of classic Nikiforov mischief. His expression didn’t match his words at all. “How much longer are you going to stay in warm up mode?” He wrapped his arms around Yuuri and added in a petulant voice, “I really want to kiss that gold medal.”

Yuuri wanted to burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it.

What an awful thing to say. But at the same time, somehow it was exactly what he needed to hear.

It was just like back at the hotel, when Victor had voiced Yuuri’s raw fears about their relationship because of how ridiculous they sounded when spoken out loud. Victor hadn’t meant what he was saying then, nor did he mean it now. This time, he was exposing Yuuri’s fears about what he thought his coach expected from him tonight, and in doing so, prompting Yuuri to realize that wasn’t what Victor was expecting at all. It was so far from the truth that it was almost comical—because he was proud of Yuuri no matter what was about to happen during this performance. Victor loved being his coach, and win or lose, no medal was going to change that.

It was his backwards way taking some of the pressure off—and it was such a Victor thing to do that it worked. Any remaining tension between them fizzled away into nothing.

Yuuri’s expression melted from confusion into a genuine smile, and he leaned forward into Victor’s embrace at once. But when Yuuri pressed his face into the familiar comfort of Victor’s shoulder—so solid and warm and his—the emotion overcame them both at the same time. As Yuuri’s body shook with silent tears, he felt Victor’s doing the same. They clung to each other until the very last second when his name was announced over the speakers.

“Don’t take your eyes off me,” Yuuri said, his lips close to Victor’s ear. “This performance is for you.”

“I couldn’t look away if I tried,” Victor said.

How in the world could so much have changed in a year?

When Yuuri left Victor behind and skated out to his starting position on the ice, he felt like they were still hand in hand. Victor was still there with him—not only in Yuuri’s mind and heart but in every movement he made. He could only hope that Victor could see himself in Yuuri’s skating because he was the reason he was standing there in front of those judges. Victor had ignited the spark of inspiration in Yuuri when he was just a boy and had fought to keep that flame burning bright until this very moment.

Yuuri knew he sometimes had a flawed way of thinking. He wasn’t a genius, and more often than not, his insecurity got the best of him. He was nothing special. A run-of-the-mill talent whose greatest weakness was his own mind. But he knew he was loved. Maybe it was time he learned to love himself as well and make peace with the rest of it.

When the music started, Yuuri opened his eyes and lifted his hands to his heart, ready to show the world everything Victor Nikiforov had taught him.

“Salud!” Victor said for the fifth time that evening as he lifted his fifth glass of champagne. Moments before, he had drained the last few drops from the bottle and topped off Yuuri’s glass as well. “Yuuri, toast with me. You’ve barely drank anything!”

Yuuri lifted his own glass of champagne, with its golden bubbles dancing their way to the surface, but took only a tiny sip before setting it right back down again on the table. His cheeks felt hot, not from the small amount of alcohol he’d indulged in but because Victor was making a scene in the middle of a nice restaurant. There was a white tablecloth, fancy silverware, candles, and everything.

Across the table, Yakov Feltsman sat glaring at both of them, so pissed off that his face had turned a remarkable shade of purple. There was a little vein pulsing near his right temple that made Yuuri legitimately worried about the older man’s health. Also seated at the table was the rest of the Russian team, Yuri Plisetsky and Mila Babicheva, both of whom had stood on the Grand Prix Final podium earlier tonight during the awards ceremony.

“Do you want me to cut up your chicken for you?” Mila cooed at Yurio, batting her eyelashes rather sarcastically. “Or do you think you’re old enough now to hold a knife by yourself?”

“Shut up, hag,” Yurio said and continued biting pieces off the whole breast of chicken he had stabbed with his fork. His knife sat on the crisp white tablecloth, untouched. “I can do it myself.”

Mila sniggered into her wine glass, her cheeks rosy from a combination of good food and laughter. Her plate of seafood paella sat half-eaten in front of her. Though Yuuri didn’t know her very well, he’d observed that her relationship with Yurio was very much like that of a teasing older sister. Yuuri felt like he’d unintentionally landed in the middle of a family dinner, with Yakov yelling at his three kids. The only person missing was Georgi.

“All of you shut up,” Yakov barked. “Vitya. Are you even listening to me?”

Yuuri’s eyes widened at the volume, and he took a hasty sip of champagne to make himself look less conspicuous. Yakov wasn’t shouting exactly, but his voice could certainly fill a room. Especially a nice room filled with nice people speaking at what was a nice, socially acceptable level. Every time Yakov spoke, it was like his jaw came unhinged to allow for maximum amplification.

“Hi!” Victor called to their waitress, who had passed by on the way to another table. “Could we get another bottle of champagne, please?”

Vitya!” Yakov roared.

“We’re celebrating tonight,” Victor explained to the waitress, completely ignoring the man who was about to lunge across the table and strangle him. “My Yuuri here won a medal at the Grand Prix Final! See?”

“Please don’t,” Yuuri begged. “Please, please. . .” But it was too late. Victor was already tugging the silver medal out of Yuuri’s jacket where it had been carefully hidden away when his coach wasn’t looking. “Victor.”

“Isn’t it shiny?” Victor proclaimed, his smile never faltering even as Yuuri smacked his hands away. “He broke a world record tonight!”

“Yes, you told me,” the waitress said, her smile slightly strained. “Three times now.”

“Oy, katsudon,” Yurio muttered around a mouthful of chicken. “Can’t you control him?”

“I think it’s sweet,” Mila said with a wistful smile. “Why shouldn’t Victor be proud?”

Cheeks burning hotter than before, Yuuri stuffed his silver medal back down into his jacket and wished very much that he could crawl beneath the table and hide. Half the restaurant was shooting odd glances in their direction, and the other half was barely resisting. Probably the only reason they hadn’t been asked to quiet down or leave was because Victor was an international celebrity. Maybe a second bottle of champagne wasn’t a bad idea after all. Yuuri lifted his glass to his lips and tipped it back.

Still addressing the waitress, Victor pointed at Mila. “And Mila over there also won a medal, and Yurio did as well. He took first place at just fifteen years old! Isn’t that amazing?”

“Guess which skater at this table didn’t win anything?” Yakov muttered.

Yuuri sputtered and nearly choked on his champagne, but Victor just laughed Yakov’s jab off like it was the funniest thing in the world. “Oh, well! I guess I’ll just have to content myself with being the choreographer of the two current world-record-holding performances.”

While Yakov’s complexion darkened into an even more alarming shade of purple, Yurio rolled his eyes so hard that it looked painful. “You might want to escape while you have the chance,” Mila suggested to the waitress. The young woman nodded gratefully and hurried off.

As embarrassed as Yuuri was that his coach had basically forced him to wear his silver medal out in public, he couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Victor’s carefree laughter. Not only was it a joy to see him happy and full of life again, but Yuuri couldn’t remember the last time he felt so excited about the future.

The whole night had been a blur. Though he’d executed a near flawless Free Skate performance, complete with four successfully landed quads that earned him a world record score, it hadn’t been enough to prevent Yuri Plisetsky from taking gold. Yuuri had stood just beneath him on the podium in second place with JJ coming in third. It was the exact lineup that Yurio had demanded when they’d talked after the Rostelecom Cup, only he didn’t seem very pleased with his gold medal win. He’d glared during the entire awards ceremony, perhaps angry that Yuuri’s Free Skate score had beaten his own or maybe even with the rumors of his retirement.

Yuuri would be lying if he said he wasn’t disappointed that it was a silver medal hidden beneath his jacket instead of gold. It was bittersweet to have broken such a long-standing record that had previously belonged to none other than Victor Nikiforov . . . and then to still fall short of first place. But while Yuuri hated losing, that wasn’t the reason he’d changed his mind about his retirement and decided to keep skating.

After his performance was over and he could finally breathe and think with a level head, he’d done as Victor asked and taken a step back to reconsider the decisions he’d made. Many voices were in Yuuri’s thoughts as the competition continued around him. Conversations he’d had with Victor. Advice he’d received from Minako-sensei.

It was an emotional time for him, particularly after Victor confirmed that he’d made the decision to end his hiatus and return to competitive skating. Yuuri had felt absolute joy upon hearing the news. It was like sunlight pouring into his mind, filling him with hope. But then he’d lost track of Victor soon after that and couldn’t find him. It had made Yuuri feel so unexpectedly left behind that tears stung his eyes, even when he had so much to feel happy about.

He’d watched Yurio’s performance by himself, and it had intimidated him just as much as it inspired him. How was it possible for someone so young to have so much confidence and drive? When Yurio landed an unexpected fourth quad, it hit Yuuri that he’d lost the gold medal. It wasn’t sadness that washed over him at that moment but rather the realization of how hard Yurio had worked. He’d thrown his entire being at his goal, and though Yuuri had fought to achieve his own dreams, he couldn’t help but feel like he could do better next time.

Only there wasn’t going to be a next time. Not unless he gave some things up.

As Yurio’s performance ended, Yuuri had turned and found Victor standing there, watching over him from behind. It was a mirror of how Yuuri had watched Victor during Yurio’s Short Program two days earlier. Yuuri could tell his coach was looking to see if he was going to be okay. They both knew who was going to wear that gold medal, even before the judges had finished tabulating Yurio’s score.

“This doesn’t have to be the end, you know,” Victor had said before opening his arms up for a hug.

Yuuri didn’t make his final decision until he was standing on the podium with the cool weight of a silver medal resting on his chest. While he was pleased with his performance, he realized he hadn’t found the satisfaction he wanted yet. He was going to stand at the top of that podium one day and wasn’t going to stop until it happened. Why should he let his failure last year dictate his future?

He had stepped down from that podium with absolute dread in his heart because he’d made the decision to find Yakov Feltsman and beg him to be his coach next season. That was the only way Yuuri could stay in the same location as Victor and keep skating. Only Victor had a different suggestion, one Yuuri hadn’t even considered as a possibility. After the award ceremony, as the arena emptied all around them, Yuuri and Victor had talked for a long time about what they wanted to do next. Together, they agreed they would move to Russia. There, Victor would train under Yakov, and Yuuri would continue his training under Victor.

It was a terrible plan, alarmingly lacking in details, but neither of them cared. They were too happy to care. They would be together, both doing what they loved, and the rest would work itself out.

Now several hours later, surrounded by his new rink-mates at a celebratory dinner, Yuuri knew he’d made the right decision. It was going to require an incredible amount of work, particularly on Victor’s part since he would be doing double-duty, and Yakov had a legitimate right to be furious about the unexpected turn of events. But when Yuuri’s mind was made up, it would take much more than someone’s opinion to dissuade him. If he had to sacrifice anything to help make this easier on Victor, Yuuri would do it without question. It was worth it.

“I don’t know what you’re so happy about,” Yakov said. “This is career suicide. For both of you. Have you even looked at the competition schedules yet? There are less than two weeks before Nationals. I hope you have something in mind and don’t embarrass us all.”

“Yakov, you worry too much!” Victor said, laughing. “I’ve had a rink practically to myself for the last eight months. I haven’t been as idle as you seem to think.”

Yuuri sat up a little straighter, hoping for more details. Even Yurio stopped chewing and listened.

Victor worked on choreography all the time. Though he’d shown Yuuri a few things every now and then just to see what he thought, Victor never said what anything was for. His head was always swimming with ideas, and he often went to the Ice Castle on his own to skate. He’d even worked with Minako a few times to get exposed to styles of dancing that were unfamiliar to him.

“You haven’t had me at a rink to coach you,” Yakov said. “Someone has to bring you back down to earth. I want you at practice immediately, starting tomorrow morning and every day after that. And what does that do for Yuuri’s preparation for his own Nationals, huh? You do realize Russian Nationals are in Russia, and Yuuri has to compete in Japan, don’t you? Have you thought about how unfair this is to him?”

Victor’s infectious smile dimmed a degree, and Yuuri promptly felt the need to speak up, even though he’d barely said a word during the entire dinner. “I’m not worried about Nationals. I’m already number one in my country, and I just broke a world record. I think I can handle myself.”

Four sets of Russian eyes turned to stare at Yuuri at the same time, which was normally the kind of thing that might have inspired him to shriek in horror and run away. Instead, he stood his ground and looked Yakov straight in the eyes. This was too important for him to be anything less than clear.

“The next step is getting Victor ready to make his comeback,” Yuuri said. “There’s nothing I want more than for him to succeed, so whatever I have to do or sacrifice to make that happen, consider it done. I’m committed to making this work.”

Yakov blinked at him, surprised by the outburst from someone he likely viewed as a weakling. Beside him, Yurio’s chicken breast fell off his fork and landed on his plate with a wet splat, sending rice, sauce, and vegetables spilling across the table. No one noticed.

“Yuuri,” Victor said, his voice soft with amazement.

Yuuri turned toward Victor, and they shared in a mutual smile, which fortified their resolve impossibly more. In full view of everyone, they clasped hands, both of them deaf to the grumbles of disapproval from Yakov. None of that mattered. Whatever challenges rose up to meet them, they were going to overcome them together.

“We can do this,” Victor said, addressing Yakov even though he was still gazing lovingly at his fiancé. “Just wait and see. It’s going to be amazing.”

“You’re all idiots,” Yurio muttered. He was leaning against the table now, crumpled begrudgingly beneath the weight of Mila, who had draped her arms around him as she beamed at the happy couple. Yurio flicked a grain of rice at Victor’s head, and it bounced off his ear. “Can I order dessert before these two make me puke?”

A cold, misty breeze swept over Yuuri, blowing his hair back and whistling past his ears. He shivered and smiled. The familiar scent of salt water made it easy to pretend he was back home in Hasetsu, standing on the beach at night. But when he opened his eyes, he instead saw the Mediterranean Sea stretched out endlessly before him—and his drunk fiancé wading in the water with his pants rolled up to his knees and fancy shoes in hand. He must be freezing.

“You’re crazy!” Yuuri called to him across the beach.

“I’m Russian!” Victor yelled back.

Yuuri shook his head and laughed. Dinner had ended almost an hour ago, but they’d taken their time walking back to the hotel. Victor had dragged Yuuri to the beach, insisting the thing he wanted most in the world at that moment was to wade in the Mediterranean Sea.

In December. Wearing his designer suit.

Needless to say, Victor had consumed a little too much alcohol at dinner.

At the restaurant, Yuuri had pitched in to help Victor with the second bottle of champagne so that he wouldn’t go too overboard. Yuuri drank three glasses in total, which had left him feeling tipsy and prone to laughter—but definitely not drunk enough to let a crazy Russian drag him into a large body of water when it was this cold outside. Yuuri’s teeth were chattering just from watching him play around in the shallow waves.

“I can’t feel my toes anymore!” Victor said as if that was something to be proud of.

“Would you please come back? Yakov’s going to kill us both if you can’t skate in the morning.”

Victor reluctantly did as he was asked, leaving wet footprints behind him in the sand. His unbuttoned black vest and necktie flapped in the breeze, and though his hair was a wind-blown mess, he still looked like he’d just walked off the cover of a magazine. Yuuri found himself blushing as he stared, distracted by how gorgeous Victor looked with moonlight shining in his hair.

“I wish Makkachin was here,” Victor said as he approached. “He would love this place. Let’s go get him and bring him back.”

Yuuri offered Victor his overcoat and suit jacket, which he’d been holding to keep them dry. “You want us to fly to Japan, ride the train to Hasetsu, pick Makkachin up, and bring him all the way back to Spain? Tonight?”

“Mm-hmm.” Victor didn’t accept the proffered coat but instead threw his arms around Yuuri for warmth. “Don’t you miss him? I miss him.”

Yuuri grinned, even as Victor’s weight caused him to stagger back and almost fall. His fiancé was rather amorous when under the influence of alcohol, but at least he hadn’t started stripping out of his pants yet. “Why don’t you put your coat back on?”

“I’d rather put you on.” Victor hummed with pleasure as he buried his face in Yuuri’s neck. “Mmm . . . warm.”

Victor’s nose felt like ice where it rubbed against Yuuri’s neck. He was about to say something about it and again try to coax Victor back into his overcoat, but didn’t have the chance to respond. Having found his second wind, Victor unexpectedly put his hands beneath Yuuri’s arms and hoisted him into the air.

Victor,” Yuuri said, laughing. “What are you doing?”

Victor laughed as well. He swung Yuuri around once before setting him back down again, then grinned as he pulled him further down the beach. Victor’s overcoat, suit jacket, and shoes had all fallen to the ground, forgotten. “Yakov wants me to practice with him in the morning. We could go through our lifts for the exhibition now in case we don’t have time.”

“While you’re drunk?” Yuuri couldn’t stop laughing and almost crumpled to the sand when Victor tried to pick him up a second time. He’d grabbed Yuuri a little too high and had tickled him.

“What’s wrong?” Victor tried again, this time wrapping his arms beneath Yuuri’s bottom and lifting him up that way. His feet dangled beneath him, his stomach pressed to Victor’s chest. Winter blue eyes sparkled up at him, filled with equal parts mischief and adoration. “Scared I’m going to drop you?”

Unable to resist, Yuuri put his hands on Victor’s face and kissed him once before drawing back with a grin. Victor had dropped him during their pair skating practices. Many times. “I might be having some nervous flashbacks, but I guess sand is softer to land on than ice.”

“If I recall,” Victor said, lowering Yuuri to the ground and extending his hand, “you always found a way to land on top of me, and I was the one who hit the ice.”

“I’m pretty sure you kept making us fall on purpose because you liked it, so I’m not sure what you’re complaining about.” Yuuri accepted Victor’s hand and was immediately drawn in. It was a familiar movement—some of the choreography from their exhibition routine, which they’d been planning as a surprise for weeks. Yuuri played along and let Victor lead him down the beach in that familiar dance.

“True,” Victor said, breathless as they swept across the sand. “But I wasn’t the only one who liked it. Admit it.”

Yuuri purposefully knocked them over and fell down on top of Victor. They laughed at first until they realized the suggestive position they’d landed in, with Victor on his back and Yuuri straddled on top of him. Their smiles faded from their lips then, though not their eyes. Both of them were panting, lost in the moment, their lips parted and inching closer. Yuuri moved in, but when Victor’s eyes closed in anticipation of the kiss, he received nothing but a quick peck on the cold tip of his nose.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Yuuri said before he wriggled out of Victor’s arms.

Yuuri heard a growl behind him and immediately started running. Victor caught his hand, and there was a brief, playful struggle before he let Yuuri escape and took up chase. “At least put your shoes back on!” Yuuri begged, still laughing. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”

Victor looked ridiculous, still barefoot with one pant leg rolled up. The other had come unraveled during their chase. There was sand now in Yuuri’s own shoes and probably in a few other places, too. He didn’t care. This was the most fun he’d had in a long time, and seeing how the last eight months of his life were the happiest he’d ever known, that was saying something. He spun around, prepared to be tackled, but Victor instead tripped on an uneven patch of ground and staggered forward into Yuuri. They went down again, giggling like lovesick idiots as they hit the sand.

“We’re going to get arrested,” Yuuri said, even as he grabbed hold of Victor’s necktie to make sure he couldn’t get back up. There were people passing on the sidewalk nearby, and the bright moonlight would make it easy to spot a pair of lovers on the empty beach. All the same, that didn’t stop Yuuri from pulling Victor closer until their lips came together again.

They took the time to savor this kiss. Victor melted down on top of him and worked his tongue into Yuuri’s mouth. The sand was cold beneath his head and back, but the heat of Victor’s kiss soon had Yuuri flushing all over. When Victor’s hands began to wander into territory that was more appropriate to explore in the bedroom, Yuuri broke away from the kiss with a breathless laugh. “Okay,” he said, pushing against Victor’s chest. “We really are going to get arrested if we don’t stop.”

“Live a little.” Sitting up, Victor hooked a finger around the ribbon of Yuuri’s medal and tugged it out of its hiding place beneath his jacket. “You worked hard for this. You should be as proud of yourself as I am of you.”

“Even though it’s not gold?” Yuuri teased. He got to his feet and dusted the sand off his skin and clothes. After Victor did the same, Yuuri grabbed his necktie again and pulled him down the beach in the direction of his fallen coat and shoes. It was time to retrieve their belongings, go back to the hotel, and tuck his inebriated fiancé into bed before someone really did call the police.

“Hey,” Victor said as he trailed obediently behind. “Just because I don’t want to kiss your medal doesn’t mean I won’t make out with the person wearing it.”

Yuuri smirked and kept marching forward, tie in hand. “You know, I don’t see a gold medal around your neck either, or even a silver one. Why should I kiss you?”

“Out of pity, of course. My five-year winning streak was just broken by a bratty fifteen-year-old. I hope you realize I’m going to need lots of sex to take my mind off this devastating blow to my ego.”

“Fair enough. Come on.”

When they reached Victor’s discarded belongings, he didn’t bother putting anything back on. He just draped his suit jacket and coat over an arm before picking up his shoes to carry. “I’m going to win that world record back, you know,” Victor said, the words slightly slurred. “Both of them.”

Yuuri shrugged. “That’s fine. Yurio and I will just have to keep setting new ones.”

Though Victor laughed at first, his smile soon softened into something so adoring that Yuuri’s heart fluttered in response. “I can’t wait to see it. I’m really happy, Yuuri. I think we both made the right decision.”

“I’m happy, too,” Yuuri said, barely able to contain his smile. “It feels right.”

“Shall we go back and celebrate? We could order more champagne up to the room.”

“Yakov’s going to murder us tomorrow morning, isn’t he?”

“Probably. Let’s make sure we deserve it.”

Stepping forward, Victor reached out and picked up Yuuri again, this time throwing him over his shoulder like he was another one of his possessions that he needed to carry back to the hotel. Ignoring Yuuri’s laughing protests, Victor cupped a hand to his mouth and shouted at the top of his lungs at the people passing nearby. “Hey, look at my Yuuri! He won a medal tonight!”

“Victor, stop.”


To be continued

Chapter Text

Although the awards ceremony had already taken place Saturday night, a public practice was scheduled at the arena the following morning to allow those performing at the gala exhibition to run through their routines. The annual banquet would immediately follow, thus ushering in the conclusion of the Grand Prix Final event.

Yuuri entered the arena by himself with his skates in hand, arriving fifteen minutes later than he’d promised his coach. He was moving slow this morning, his head still bleary from last night’s celebration. Though he hadn’t consumed nearly as much alcohol as Victor, Yuuri was tired after a stressful week spent worrying about the competition and his future career path. It was nice to be able to relax for once.

As a recipient of a medal, he would be among those who would perform tonight, but his routine would not be judged. Tonight’s exhibition was about entertaining and having fun. As Yuuri sat down to put on his skates, he could sense a shift in the overall mood of those around him. Most of the competitors and their coaches looked relaxed and were standing around, talking and laughing instead of focusing on their warm ups. Some skaters hadn’t even bothered showing up. Almost no one was on the ice, practicing in earnest.

There was, however, one notable exception.

Yakov Feltsman was not a happy man this morning.

Yuuri’s eyes widened when he heard the legendary coach’s flaming rant, spoken in Russian, reverberating off the rafters high overhead. He was yelling at Victor, who was already on the ice and demonstrating some of the choreography he’d been working on for his comeback at Nationals. He had arrived to practice more than two hours ago at the insistence of Yakov.

Yuri Plisetsky was on the ice as well, one of the only people taking this morning’s practice seriously, and he scowled at Victor as he passed behind him. When he spotted his tardy student, Victor lifted a hand overhead and waved hello to Yuuri, who smiled and waved back. The smile was one-sided, however. Victor had already turned his attention back to what sounded like the rant of the century.

After Yuuri finished lacing up his right skate and moved on to the left, he found himself frowning as he watched his fiancé skate in small circles in front of Yakov. Victor was staring down at the ice as if seeing straight through it, his mind a million miles away.

What was wrong? It wasn’t like him to take criticism from Yakov so seriously, which made Yuuri wonder if something else was bothering Victor. He was no doubt still hungover after last night, but Yuuri didn’t think that was the problem either.

Phichit dropped into the seat next to Yuuri, who was so distracted by his fiancé that he hadn’t noticed his friend’s approach. “So it’s true? Victor’s really coming back?”

Phichit wasn’t dressed to join the others on the ice, which made sense because he wouldn’t be performing tonight, having placed last in the senior men’s division. He must have come to this morning’s practice just for the sake of being social—or more likely, to get fresh gossip on Victor Nikiforov’s return to competitive skating.

Yuuri double-knotted his lace and adjusted the fabric of his pants over the skate. “Don’t say anything until he announces it publicly, but he’s going to Nationals.”

“But. . .” Phichit looked absolutely bewildered. “Isn’t that like ten days away? Does Victor even have a program put together?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s why Yakov’s screaming.”

“But if Victor’s coming back, who’s going to be your coach going forward?”


“Wait . . . does that mean you’re not skating at Nationals?”

“No, I’ll be there.”

Even with his questions answered, Phichit didn’t look any less confused. “Sorry. I still don’t get it. Doesn’t that mean Victor would have to be in two places at once? The competition dates overlap, don’t they?”

“They do.” Yuuri stood and stretched his arms overhead until he felt a pleasant burn in his core. Though he was sore from all the fun he’d had with Victor last night, he couldn’t bring himself to regret a second of it. “Honestly, I’m not sure if Victor gets it yet either, but he looked so happy about everything that I didn’t want to point out that his Nationals and mine take place on the same days.”

“In different countries,” Phichit added, his dark eyes huge. “Are you okay with that?”

“I am.” Lowering his arms, Yuuri smiled and again found his gaze drawn to the living legend on the ice. “Just look at him out there.”

It was impossible to look at anything else, really. Even after eight solid months of seeing Victor skate on a daily basis, Yuuri was still entranced by the way his idol moved. There wasn’t another person on the planet that could match him. Powerful and graceful at the same time—and so unspeakably beautiful that he hardly seemed real. He looked striking this morning in his fitted, cranberry-colored t-shirt, black pants, and gloves. Yuuri felt a pulse of longing just from seeing him glide along on those famous golden-blade skates. He would never get tired of seeing Victor perform.

Yakov had finally stopped yelling and allowed Victor to again show him what he’d been working on. There was no music, but he didn’t seem to need it. Yuuri could feel the beat in Victor’s movements. In the flick of his wrists and the rise and fall of his feet on the ice. What music was he planning to perform to? What would his theme be? Curiosity had Yuuri’s heart thumping with excitement. He felt like a teenager again, desperate for news about his idol’s next season.

After Victor launched and landed a perfect quadruple loop, just about everyone in the arena was staring at him. Even Yurio had stopped what he was doing to watch, and he somehow managed to look pissed off and impressed at the same time.

“Wow,” Phichit said. “I’ve never seen him skate in person before. What is Yakov even complaining about? That was incredible.”

“He’s probably angry that Victor’s hungover,” Yuuri said. “We had a little too much fun last night, which is why I’m so late to practice. I should probably get out there.”

“Are you flying home tomorrow? Let’s make sure we hang out before we leave.”

They agreed to have breakfast together the next morning before Yuuri’s early afternoon flight to Japan. After a few more stretches, Yuuri left Phichit behind and walked to the entrance of the rink. But before he could remove his skate guards and step onto the ice, he spotted Victor heading his way. The troubled look on his face made Yuuri stop what he was doing and wait for him. In the background, he could now hear Yakov fussing at Yurio.

When he was close enough to be heard, Victor said, “Can we talk?” He grabbed his guards from the barrier and leaned down to slide them onto the blades of his skates.

The question made Yuuri’s stomach twist with anxiousness. While Victor didn’t sound angry, there was a distinct note of stress in his voice. It wasn’t like him to waste a practice session, particularly this one. He and Victor would be performing a routine together tonight, and while they wouldn’t be scored by judges, pair skating was still something outside both their comfort zones. They could use a little practice time to run through the choreography and lifts, and as fun as it was, playing around together on the beach last night didn’t count.

“Everything okay?” Yuuri said. “Sorry I’m so late.”

When Victor didn’t respond, it became apparent that the answer was: No. Everything wasn’t okay. But his touch was gentle as he took Yuuri’s hand into his own and guided him over to the stands. There, they pulled back the heavy curtains that separated the main hall from the backstage area where the skaters waited before they performed. It was the same place they’d stood together last night before Yuuri’s Free Skate. Victor wanted privacy for this conversation.

The curtain fell back into place, enclosing them in shadow. Yuuri gazed warily up at Victor and said, “Did something happen? You look upset.”

“No, I’m fine. I just. . .” Victor sighed and looked away. He hadn’t let go of Yuuri’s hand yet and gave it a squeeze before he continued. “I didn’t realize that our National competitions overlap each other.”

Once Yuuri’s brain processed that information, the tension immediately leaked out of his shoulders. Was that all that was wrong? Victor had scared him.

“Yakov gave me an earful about it this morning,” Victor continued. “Russia competes on almost the exact same days as Japan. There’s no way I can be in both places at once.”

“I know.”

Victor finally focused his attention on Yuuri, and he stared at him in confusion for a few seconds before stammering out a response. “You . . . know?”

“I looked at the competition schedules last night after Yakov brought it up at dinner. You’re right. The dates completely overlap each other.”

Victor continued to stare at him, his expression revealing he couldn’t figure out why Yuuri wasn’t more upset by this news. “But that means I won’t be there with you in Japan.”

“I know. It’s okay. We’ll make it work.”

“No, Yuuri—it’s not okay. I made a commitment to be your coach, and I need to be with you at competitions. I’ll have to make my comeback next season. Or . . . I don’t know.” Victor pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezing shut. “Rethink things altogether.”

If nothing else, that upset Yuuri—especially today of all days, when he had just seen Victor skating on an arena rink for the first time in almost a year. “No,” Yuuri said, his tone leaving no room for argument. “We already decided last night. You’re going back to Russia, and after Nationals, I’m going to come join you. We’ll continue training in Saint Petersburg.”

“But. . .” Victor trailed off and gaped at him, his pupils round and huge in the darkness. “That is not how I thought the next few weeks would work. I thought we’d be together when we moved to Russia. I was planning to fly home with you tomorrow and help pack up our things. And we need to start training for your Nationals.”

“Where does that leave room for you to train with Yakov?” Yuuri said, gentler this time. “If you come to Japan with me, you’ll barely have any time with your coach. It makes the most sense for you to go straight to Russia.”

He felt bad for Victor, who had spent last night drunk, woke up with a hangover, and jumped straight into an early morning practice with Yakov, who had probably shoved the conflicting competition schedules right in his face. Victor clearly hadn’t been able to stop and devote any time to thinking through the logistics like Yuuri had.

“You sound just like Yakov,” Victor said. “He already booked me a flight back to Russia tomorrow morning. I don’t know if I can do this, Yuuri. It’s all moving too fast.”

It wasn’t often that Victor voiced his insecurities. Stepping closer, Yuuri squeezed his fiancé’s hand and looked up at his handsome face. Victor’s brow was pinched in the middle, and his lips were held tense, as if to keep them from trembling. Yuuri understood all too well why Victor was upset. He didn’t want to skate at Nationals by himself either, and it wasn’t just the absence of a coach that bothered him. Victor was his best friend and partner—the person he loved most in the entire world—and they hadn’t spent more than a few hours apart since the Rostelecom Cup. The idea that he’d be on a flight to Russia in the next 24 hours without Yuuri made it a little difficult to breathe.

But while Yuuri was going to miss him like crazy, he also knew if he didn’t step up and face this separation with confidence instead of fear, then Victor was not going to feel free to resume his own career. That wasn’t fair to him, especially knowing how excited he’d been about it last night.

Yuuri was going to have to be the strong one here.

“If you’re worried about me, don’t be,” he said, smiling even though it hurt a little. “I’ve already asked Minako-sensei and Nishigori to come support me at Nationals, and they’re both really excited about it. I won’t be there by myself. And don’t worry about my practices either. Nishigori said the triplets volunteered to send you daily videos. You can give me notes back, and I’ll follow whatever training schedule you set for me.”

Victor didn’t offer a response right away. While he still looked dissatisfied with the proposal, he seemed to be thinking it through now instead of closing his mind off to the possibilities. “But you struggled at Nationals last year, even more than at the Sochi Grand Prix. You need your—”

“What I need is for you to trust me,” Yuuri said, keeping his tone gentle, even as he cut Victor off. “This isn’t last year. I’m currently the number two figure skater in the world, and you’re worried about a domestic competition?”

The words hung in the air between them.

It wasn’t until Yuuri cracked a smile that Victor’s resolve truly began to crumble. His eyes sparkled with equal parts amazement and adoration, and he reached out to caress Yuuri’s cheek with his gloved hand. “Do you have any idea how sexy you are when you talk like that? I think I’m in love.”

Yuuri’s smile widened. “Just so you know, I loved seeing you skate out there. It made me so happy. I don’t even know how to explain how happy it made me. Victor, please let me do this for you. For us.”

Though Victor still didn’t look pleased with the choices before him, he was wavering now. “You’ll come to me after Nationals? You’ll bring Makkachin?”

“Of course, I will. I planned to look into flights to Saint Petersburg after practice today. And yes, Makkachin’s coming with me. I can start packing up our stuff when I get to Japan and ship it over to you.”

“We’re going to be apart on my birthday, aren’t we?” Victor’s voice was so soft, it was barely audible.

The question made Yuuri’s smile waver, and he had to fight to maintain it. He covered Victor’s hand with his own and held it to his face. It was true. Victor’s birthday would take place right in the middle of Nationals. It hurt to see him mentally struggling to get past all the roadblocks that had kept Yuuri from sleeping last night.

“I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Yuuri said, “but don’t worry. I’ve already got something special planned. I’ll have a present for you on the 25th, and I’ll be in Saint Petersburg just a few days after that. If you don’t mind, we can celebrate in person then.” Victor was silent for so long that Yuuri felt compelled to wrap his arms around his neck and comfort him with a hug. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“I don’t care about my birthday,” Victor said, his face pressed into the side of Yuuri’s neck. “I care about not having you. Why aren’t you more upset about this?”

Because I’m trying to be strong for you, Yuuri thought. “Because I’m thinking about everything positive we have to gain. It’s going to be hard, but being apart for two weeks is easier than one of us giving up our career, right?”

“Two weeks?” Victor squeezed Yuuri so tight that it was difficult to draw in breath. “God, I hate this.”

They would actually be apart a little longer than two weeks before they saw each other again after the end of Nationals, but now didn’t seem like the right time to point that out. Yuuri closed his eyes and let himself enjoy his fiancé’s embrace. He wanted to savor every moment with Victor while he still had the chance. “I know. I hate it, too. But we can do this. A few weeks apart is nothing compared to all the years we have ahead of us. I’m yours forever.”

Sometime later, when they finally emerged from behind the curtain, Victor’s face was blotchy with emotion, and Yuuri could feel his pulse beating in his lips from the many kisses they’d shared in the dark. The intimacy had gotten his pulse racing. They walked back to the rink together and took turns steadying the other person while they removed their skate guards.

Yuuri hadn’t warmed up yet, but they were running short on time. He stepped onto the ice first and extended his hand to his fiancé. “May I have this dance?” he said, trying his best to cheer Victor up.

It worked. The thin line of his mouth spread into the sweetest of smiles, and after he set his guards on the barrier, he accepted Yuuri’s hand and let himself be escorted onto the ice. “You’re going to sprain something if you don’t take more time to warm up,” Victor warned, though he didn’t look too concerned as he eyed Yuuri up and down rather flirtatiously.

“There you go, trying to sound like a coach again,” Yuuri teased. “Come on. Skate with me.”

After a quick glance to make sure he wouldn’t get in the way of anyone else currently on the ice, Yuuri pushed ahead, lifted his arms, and performed some of the movements from tonight’s exhibition routine. It was a familiar dance to them both, the choreography a mirror of Victor’s Free Skate from last season. It seemed fitting that they should skate this together now. Eight months ago, seeing Yuuri perform his routine was in part what drew Victor to Japan in the first place. It was as if this had always been their dance, even when they were skating it alone.

Only now, it was a duet.

Victor stayed back at first and watched with openly adoring eyes, but when Yuuri stopped and turned to offer his hand, his fiancé skated over to join him. Lost in music that only they could hear, Victor and Yuuri began to skate in time with one another, their blades lifting and touching down on the ice in near perfect synchronicity. Both had eyes only for each other and remained unaware that they’d captured the attention of almost everyone in the vicinity.

It was a dance they’d worked on in secret, devoting hours of practice to the surprise. Minako was the only person who knew any concrete details about it, though the Nishigori family might also suspect, having walked in on some of the rehearsals. While Victor had some limited experience with lifts, Yuuri did not. Minako had worked with them in her studio, teaching Yuuri how to position his body to help Victor instead of hindering him, before they moved their pair skating practices to the Ice Castle.

All their preparation had paid off. From behind, Victor placed both hands on Yuuri’s waist, and after a carefully timed push off, lifted him into the air. He closed his eyes for a second, the cool breeze on his skin giving him the feeling that he was flying, before Victor set him back down again. Aided by his partner, Yuuri had performed a half rotation in air, taking off facing forward and landing with his chest to Victor’s. Safe within the circle of his arms, Yuuri gripped Victor’s shoulder and allowed his upper body to be lowered into a romantic dip.

The movements were deceptively tricky and required a considerable amount of trust to be established between the two of them. Good thing they now had trust built up in spades. Mind, body, and heart. That and their knowledge of each other’s bodies made the dance look effortless.

“What the hell are you two doing?” Yurio called out when he skated past the pair. “Stop messing around. It’s embarrassing.”

“Did you hear something, my love?” Victor asked. Together they soared and spun across the ice—ducking beneath each other’s arms, switching places, both taking turns and leading their partner.

Yuuri stretched out a hand to stroke Victor’s smiling face, unable to resist touching something so lovely. “Not a thing.”

After practice, they weren’t able to spend much time together.

Yakov was serious when he’d told Victor that they were going to devote every available moment they had to preparing for Nationals. With the days they’d lose to traveling back to Saint Petersburg and then to the competition itself, Victor’s coach was understandably adamant about taking advantage of what little time they had. That meant when Yuuri returned to the hotel room, Victor did not join him.

Since the arena was unavailable for most of the day, Yakov had reserved Victor a local rink to practice at, the same one Minako had found for Yuuri the other night when he wanted to adjust the jump composition of his Free Skate. To convince the rink employee to let him skate after hours, Minako had promised him a Meet and Greet with Victor Nikiforov, who had never agreed to such a thing but had willingly met with the guy last night after Yuuri’s performance. Once Yakov caught wind of this, he’d demanded the rink employee’s phone number and had called up his manager so that he could work something out for the next day.

Yuuri was disappointed that he couldn’t spend his last day in Barcelona with Victor, but he kept himself busy so that he didn’t have time to feel sad. There were competition schedules to review and a flight to Saint Petersburg to book. He researched the rules for bringing a dog of Makkachin’s size and weight on an international flight and then called his mother to see if she’d request the most recent vaccination records from the veterinarian that had treated Makkachin after his accident. He also contacted the airline to move Victor’s return flight to Japan to a date in the future. He wouldn’t need it for some time, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t use that ticket later when they wanted to visit Yuuri’s family.

Somewhere in the middle of all this planning, Yuuri began to feel very much like Victor’s husband. It was nice to be able to take care of personal business for his partner like this.

After that was done, Yuuri spent some time purchasing items on the internet for Victor’s birthday surprise and then met his sister downstairs for lunch at the hotel restaurant. When he told her about his plans to move into Victor’s apartment in Saint Petersburg, Mari didn’t appear the least bit surprised.

“Just don’t forget about all of us in Hatsetsu,” she said, speaking to him in their native tongue. “Last time, I didn’t see you for five years.”

That made Yuuri feel rather guilty as he poked at his lunch with a fork. Though he and Mari had been very close during their childhood, he’d lost touch with his older sister during his college years. And it wasn’t just her. Yuuri had shut out everyone at home, too embarrassed to face them until he felt he had made something of himself that matched their hopes for his future. “I won’t let that happen, and neither would Victor. You, mom, and dad have become his family, too. He was really upset about not being able to come home with us and say goodbye to everyone.”

“Hmm. I suppose I approve of your fiancé,” Mari said with a twinkle in her eye. “He really loves you, Yuuri. I’ve seen it for myself, and that’s the only reason I’m willing to let him steal you away from us again. Because I know he makes you happy and that he’ll take good care of you—but also because I think Victor needs someone to take care of him, too.” She laughed a little. “I still can’t believe my sweet baby brother snagged Victor fucking Nikiforov. You better invite me to the wedding, you little turd, or so help me. No eloping allowed.”

The rest of the afternoon passed by quickly, each minute spent chipping away at Yuuri’s “To Do” list. Though he felt Victor’s absence like a hole cut into his heart, he distracted himself by laying out their costumes for the exhibition, as well as their suits for the banquet. Victor’s dress shirt needed a bit of ironing, which Yuuri took care of for him. They would have to vacate their hotel room tomorrow morning, so he also began to gather together their things so that they would be easy to pack.

Soon it was time to leave for the arena, and Victor still hadn’t returned to their room. However, he had texted Yuuri quite a bit during the day to keep him up to speed with what he was doing. Yakov had apparently ripped Victor’s Short Program choreography to shreds, and they had spent several hours rebuilding it to make it much stronger than before. Victor sounded dazed but excited in his texts, and that made it much easier for Yuuri to fight off any loneliness that threatened to creep into his thoughts.

He left for the arena by himself, carrying both of their costumes, ISU credentials, and other personal belongings they’d need before their performance. In the dressing rooms, he kept mostly to himself since there were few familiar faces around, although several people he wasn’t well acquainted with asked him if Victor was going to perform tonight. Rumors had already started to circulate.

Yuuri did his best to evade these questions until the Russian team finally arrived more than an hour behind schedule. A sour-faced Lilia led the way, followed by Mila and Yurio, who both looked annoyed that they were running late. They went immediately to get into their costumes.

Yakov swept into the room next and fixed Yuuri with a glower as he passed. This might have unsettled him more had Victor not appeared a moment later, looking a bit tired but just as gorgeous as he ever did. He met Yuuri’s eyes and smiled, his face lighting up at once. Victor must have been able to get into the arena without his credentials, which Yuuri was wearing around his neck along with his own, but with a face as famous as that, it wasn’t surprising.

After a shy greeting—because everyone in the entire room seemed to be watching them—Yuuri handed Victor his credentials, the garment bag that contained his exhibition costume, as well as a toiletry bag he’d requested so that he could make himself look presentable before their performance. (As if he didn’t already look perfect.) The exhibition would start in less than ten minutes, so there was little time for Victor to stop and chat. Thankfully, he was already warmed up, having spent much of the day at practice.

“What’s in the garment bag, Victor?” someone called, a voice Yuuri didn’t recognize. “That doesn’t look like a three-piece suit in there.”

Victor just laughed and waved before excusing himself to get dressed.

Yet again, Yuuri had been left on his own. Seeing Victor so briefly was like catching a glimpse of radiant sunshine before losing it behind rainclouds. It was bittersweet, but Yuuri knew that in order to get what he wanted, he had to first give some things up. If that meant sacrificing time with Victor over the next few weeks, then Yuuri was just going to have to make up his mind to smile through it.

He went by himself to watch the start of the gala. The arena was much darker than it was the night before, the lighting set for a show rather than a competition. The energy of the crowd and performers soon had his pulse quickening, and yet again, he was left with the feeling that he’d made the right choice about not retiring. Why should he give this up yet? He loved it—and loved that Victor would continue to be a part of it even more.

Victor found him eventually, joining Yuuri in the shadows where no one could see them. Alone at last.

Yuuri sensed his fiancé’s presence before he saw him and wasn’t startled when two arms encircled his waist. Letting out a sigh of relief, he leaned back against Victor and let himself be enveloped in his warmth. On the ice, JJ was in the midst of a raucous performance set to his own music, but Yuuri barely noticed, too distracted by the soft brush of Victor’s lips on his neck. He dragged the zipper of Yuuri’s team jacket south, slowly revealing the costume beneath.

It was patterned after Victor’s Free Skate costume from last year, only Yuuri’s was a deep, vivid blue instead of pink. They both wore black shirts underneath instead of the white one Victor favored last year, and the hardware on both costumes was silver instead of gold. Even with the subtle alterations, Victor’s fans would immediately recognize what they were wearing.

There in the dark, warm fingers slipped inside the opening of Yuuri’s shirt to explore the bare skin of his chest. “You look like a prince,” Victor murmured in his ear.

He certainly made Yuuri feel like one. Special. Set apart from everyone else.

“What does that make you?” Yuuri asked.

“Damn lucky,” Victor said. “That’s what.”

The audience’s cheering had reached its zenith. JJ’s performance was in its final moments, and soon it would be the senior male silver medalist’s turn to perform. When Yuuri turned around in his fiancé’s arms, he saw that Victor was dressed in his Russian team jacket to hide his costume until the last possible second. He must have had it with him at practice today.

Immediately, Yuuri’s heart skipped a beat. God, Victor looked gorgeous in that jacket. How was it possible to crush on someone this hard after all this time?

“Are you ready to scandalize the entire figure skating world, my love?” Victor said, his smile flashing in the dark. “We’re about to make history.”

“Just another day at the office,” Yuuri said with a shrug.

Victor chuckled at first but then quieted, his smile gradually cooling until it melted away. There was something hesitant about the way he held Yuuri’s waist between the spread of his hands.

“Yuuri,” Victor said, soft with vulnerability. “I think I’m a little nervous. It’s been a long time since I’ve performed in front of an audience. Not since Worlds. . .”

Yuuri’s eyes widened a degree.

Was he serious? Out of everything Victor could have said at that moment, this was perhaps the least expected. But Yuuri supposed at the end of the day, even living legends were only human.

“Just find me on the ice, and let me lead you,” Yuuri said, sliding his hand inside Victor’s jacket to place it flat over his racing heart. “You’re not fighting alone anymore, okay?”

After a somewhat bashful smile returned to warm his expression, Victor nodded and said, “Thank you, Yuuri. And thank you for supporting me through this transition. I wouldn’t be able to do it without you. But I want you to remember that even when we’re miles apart, you’re not alone either. I am always fighting with you.”

Yuuri slid his hand up Victor’s chest and then hooked an arm around his neck. Balancing on their skates, they folded each other up in a crushing embrace and did not let go, oblivious to the world around them. They stood, breathing in each other’s scent, swaying ever so slightly to music no one else could hear, until it was time to go make history.

With the final Grand Prix performance of the season now behind him, Yuuri soon found himself faced with a new kind of horror.

If there was anything he was dreading more about this trip than the competition itself, it was without a doubt the annual ISU banquet. Yet here he was. In a stuffy room filled with stuffy people with nothing to do but gossip, drink, and make Yuuri feel self-conscious. No wonder he’d sought refuge in a bottle of champagne last year.

The gathering was held in one of the banquet halls on the first floor of their hotel, and the décor was quite different than last year. Warmer and more inviting, with wood paneled walls and a softly lit chandelier overhead that glittered with hundreds of crystals. Though the room was reasonably comfortable in size, it was an intimate space to share with so many guests.

Yuuri’s memories of the banquet in Sochi were still fuzzy, but he was certain he had embarrassed himself thoroughly enough that he didn’t want to see any of these people ever again. He’d begged Victor not to make him go, only to be answered with a tearful response of: “But the banquet is where our love story began.”

Victor could be unbearably dramatic at times.

And so it was that Yuuri found himself lost in a crowd of strangers that all seemed to know who he was even though he had no recollection of meeting them. Everyone had something to say to him—about his medal, Victor’s comeback, the pair skating at the exhibition, the broken world record, and he lost count of how many times the subject of pole-dancing came up.

His face hurt from smiling, and his palms were sweaty. He was, however, still wearing his pants, so all in all, it was a vast improvement over last year.

God, he wished he was drunk.

But, no. Yuuri was on his absolute best behavior, taking only the rarest and most conservative sips from a glass of red wine and trying very hard not to spill a drop of it on his new suit. Victor had purchased it for him as a present a few days earlier during their Barcelona shopping spree. Yuuri had to admit that it fit him rather nicely, even though they hadn’t had time to get it tailored to Victor’s liking, but he was worried he would somehow mess it up. Or worse, lose track of it altogether if he drank too much. . .

While the banquet was relatively close to Yuuri’s personal idea of hell, he had to admit that it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. He actually knew a few people this year.

He took the time to congratulate JJ on his triumph at the Free Skate and even posed for a selfie with him. His fiancée, Isabella, was complimentary of Yuuri’s exhibition performance with Victor. She seemed to like how supportive Yuuri was of JJ, who did not have many friends amongst his fellow skaters. Yuuri knew all too well how that felt and couldn’t help but empathize.

After Yuuri parted ways with the happy couple, he found Yurio over by the table of hors d’oeuvres. Together, they bonded over their craving for Grandpa Plisetsky’s katsudon piroshkies, which they both would have gladly traded their medals for at that moment. Yurio introduced Yuuri to Otabek, whom he’d met before at dinner the night before their Short Program but hadn’t spoken more than a few words to.

The two of them tried to explain katsudon to Otabek, who eventually just shrugged and said, “If it’s that good, why don’t we find a Japanese restaurant after the banquet so I can try it?”’

Yurio looked a bit too delighted to provide the answer. “Because little piggy here can’t eat any unless he wins a gold medal.”

“But you won gold.” Otabek’s dark eyes fixed Yurio in place, unsmiling yet not unkind. “You could be a charitable winner, order the katsudon yourself, and share it with your friend.”

Yuuri’s eyebrows ascended as he watched Yurio’s cheeks first flush pink, then deepen into an impressive shade of red. It wasn’t often the fifteen-year-old was at a loss for words, particularly after someone had told him point-blank what to do. What was that all about?

Before Yuuri could weigh in on the conversation, Christophe approached the trio and threw an arm around his shoulders. “Yuuri,” he purred, making his name sound obscene in the process. “Have you ever given much thought to polyamory? I’d like you to meet someone dear to my heart.”

Which was Christophe’s way of introducing Yuuri to his partner, a handsome man around the same age who watched his promiscuous Swiss with patient affection. The three of them engaged in small talk while Otabek and Yurio turned in to have a quiet conversation between just the two of them.

“Where’s Victor this evening?” Christophe asked. “I expected you two to be glued at the hip, yet yours remain conspicuously unoccupied. Not that I’m complaining about the available real estate.”

“Um.” Yuuri took a hasty sip of wine. “Well. Victor is, uh. . .”

As it turned out, he didn’t have to explain any further because Victor’s boisterous laughter could be heard clear across the room.

“Drunk?” Christophe guessed with a green-eyed wink.

“Drunk,” Yuuri confirmed.

Unlike him, Victor had come to the banquet with absolutely no intention of behaving himself. Having officially announced his return to competitive skating, followed by a widely-lauded pair skating performance alongside his fiancé, Victor was on Cloud 9 and showed little sign of descending. When they had first arrived, he’d consumed glass after glass of champagne as he ushered Yuuri around the room, introducing him to acquaintances and sponsors. It wasn’t until Phichit and Victor started bonding over pictures of a scruffy-haired Yuuri during his college years that he became desperate to make an escape.

“Let him have his fun,” Christophe said. “He seems happy. I think we all are, now that he’s found his way back to the ice where he belongs.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Yuuri said and lifted his glass.

After a pleasant conversation with Christophe and his partner, who was a skater himself, Yuuri became distracted when he spotted a scowling face off to his left. His stomach twisted into a knot as he realized Yakov Feltsman was headed in his direction.

“Yuuri,” the older man said, his voice gruff but milder than expected. “A word?”

Excusing himself from the group, Yuuri followed Yakov to a quieter part of the room. From his new vantage point, he could see Victor better—red-cheeked, tie loosened, and having the time of his life as he thumbed through the images on Phichit’s phone. Ugh. Exactly how many pictures from college did he have?

Following Yuuri’s gaze, Yakov said, “I think we both know Victor’s not doing as well as he appears to be.”

Yuuri pressed his lips together and nodded. “He’s upset about going back to Russia tomorrow.” It was probably why Victor was drinking so heavily in the first place. While not the most ideal way of dealing with something upsetting, at least he was a good-tempered drunk.

“You understand my problem, then,” Yakov said.

Yuuri tensed in anticipation of whatever was coming next. He was prepared to have Yakov keep challenging Victor’s decision to coach Yuuri but had hoped he would keep these conversations between the three of them instead of cornering Yuuri alone. “P-problem?”

“Vitya needs to be packed and down at the hotel lobby by seven tomorrow morning. I need your help making sure he gets there and doesn’t try to change his mind about leaving. He doesn’t pay attention to a damn word I say, but he does seem to listen to you.”

“He . . . he does?” That was news to Yuuri.

“Last night, you told me you want him to succeed,” Yakov said. “For that to happen, he’s going to need a push in the right direction. Are you going to help me get him to the airport on time or not?”

Yuuri still had his eyes on Victor, who was now drinking straight from a bottle of champagne and squinting at the crowd like he was looking for someone. “He’ll be there. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Who will coach you at Nationals?”

“I have someone at home in mind.”

“An amateur, then.”

“Yes, but I’ll have plenty of support in my home country. I feel good about my chances.”

“Hmph.” Yakov pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it to Yuuri. Tapping it twice, he said, “This has my e-mail address. Victor said you’ll be sending him recordings of your practices. Send them to me as well, and I’ll give you notes back. If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to them.”

Astonished by the offer, Yuuri gaped at the business card and then up at the man himself.

“You help my Vitya,” Yakov said, “and I’ll help you. Understand?”

The words themselves made sense, but Yuuri still struggled to wrap his mind around them. Yakov Feltsman was a genius. A legend among coaches. Passing up a critique from him would be like refusing free coaching lessons from a master. But more importantly, Yakov was offering to take some of the pressure off Victor while he prepared for his own competition, and there was no way Yuuri was going to refuse that.

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Though . . . I hope you know I would help Victor anyway. Like I told you last night—I’m committed to making this work. I want to see him succeed just as much as you do.”

Something glinted in Yakov’s eyes that might have been approval. “When you get home, you can start by fixing that mess of a quadruple flip. What was that crap? My grandmother can skate better, and she’s dead. You’re too hungry for it, and it makes you hunch over during your take off. How can you expect to fly when you position yourself like a worthless sack of potatoes?”

“Y-yes, sir,” Yuuri stammered, feeling his temperature rise beneath the collar of his shirt. “I’ll work on that.”

“Yuuuuuri!” Out of nowhere, Victor came flying at him and nearly tackled Yuuri to the ground with a hug. It was all he could do to keep his wine from spilling everywhere. “Oh, my sweetheart,” Victor gushed as he snuggled his fiancé, a bottle of champagne still clenched in one hand. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. You were so cute in those pictures from college. I’ve never seen a sexier Freshman Fifteen on anyone.”

Yakov was still eyeing Yuuri like he wasn’t convinced yet if he was an enemy or ally. “Seven o’clock tomorrow morning. Sharp.”

Yuuri readjusted his grip on Victor to make sure he didn’t fall and said, “He’ll be there.”

After Yakov wandered off in search of a drink, Victor whispered loudly in Yuuri’s ear, “He’s so grumpy. All day long . . . nothing but grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. What was that all about anyway?”

“Nothing really.” Yuuri had set his wine down on a nearby table and was trying his best to pry the bottle of champagne out of Victor’s fingers. “He told me what time you need to leave tomorrow morning. He also offered to watch the videos of my practices for Nationals and give me feedback, which is a pretty generous offer, I think.”

“Really? Yuuri . . . that’s quite the compliment. Yakov doesn’t offer his time to just anyone. You must have impressed him.”

Yuuri felt the knot of anxiousness in his stomach release. He’d been worried Victor might not like that someone else had offered to help with his coaching duties, but he didn’t look even a little upset. Yuuri supposed Victor viewed them all as one big happy family now. “More likely, he wants to make things easier on you. He said I hunch over before my quad flips, and that’s why I have trouble on the landing.”

“Oh. . .” Victor blinked several times as he considered this bit of information. “You know, that’s good advice. He’s probably said that to me a million times, but I guess I forgot.”

Finally, Yuuri got the champagne out of Victor’s iron-clad grip, placed it on a table out of reach, and pulled his fiancé in the opposite direction. A group of ISU officials captured their attention not long after that, and Victor launched into a surprisingly coherent discussion with them about his plans for next season. While he looked more than happy to talk with the group, Yuuri knew Victor’s genuine smiles well enough by now to spot a fake one. It wasn’t surprising when he kept the conversation short and whisked Yuuri away the first chance he got.

“I’ve been looking forward to tonight the entire weekend,” Victor said when they were out of earshot, “but now I just want to be alone with you. Is that bad? I’ve missed you all day.”

Being alone with Victor sounded like heaven to Yuuri. “Want to go somewhere private?”

They ended up in an empty ballroom adjacent to the one where the banquet was being held. The room was dark, but large windows lit up the space well enough to see. Outside, the moon shone bright, painting oblong rectangular shadows of the window panes onto the floor.

There were circular tables set up all around the room for another event that had ended earlier that night but had not yet been fully cleaned up. There were spectacular vases of white flowers at the center of every table with little crystals dripping from the stems. At the far end of the room was a grand piano, and the nearby empty space and barren microphone stands revealed a full band had performed there earlier that day.

“Looks like it’s set up for a wedding reception,” Yuuri said as they stepped onto the dance floor, fingers intertwined. With the sound of the banquet next door carrying over into the ballroom, it was easy to imagine the ghosts of the wedding guests were still here, standing all around them. Laughing, drinking, celebrating the joining of two souls into one.

Victor tugged on Yuuri’s hand, prompting him to stop and turn to face him. When he saw those gorgeous blue eyes smoldering in the dark, Yuuri felt his stomach drop to the floor. Victor still possessed the power to disarm Yuuri with a single glance.

His pulse was racing as Victor pulled him close and put his arms around Yuuri’s waist. After his own arms went around Victor’s neck, they began to move together in a slow dance. “Imagine if it was for our wedding,” Victor said, his breath pleasantly scented with champagne. “This could be our first dance.”

Yuuri flushed. While he had no problems imagining himself married to Victor, Yuuri had never given much thought to an actual wedding—not even after his sister had made mention of it at lunch earlier that day. Standing there in that empty ballroom in the middle of someone’s picture perfect dream made the idea of their own wedding day seem much more tangible.

Victor took Yuuri’s hand within his own and spun him around once before pulling him back into his arms. This time, they fell into a more traditional ballroom dancing position with Victor’s hand on Yuuri’s waist and their opposite hands clasped, arms extended. Even as they smiled at each other and fell into a simple dance, Yuuri could sense that his partner was tired.

Victor’s eyes were half-lidded, his silvery eyelashes difficult to hold up. Not only was he exhausted after a long day of practice and a performance that night, but Victor was clearly struggling under the weight of his emotions as well. There was something bittersweet about the way he smiled down at Yuuri.

“Do you want a big wedding or a small one?” Yuuri asked. Wedding planning wasn’t something he was personally excited about. Yuuri just wanted to be married and wouldn’t mind skipping the ceremony entirely, but he sensed Victor did not feel the same. He would want a wedding, so perhaps imagining the event would cheer him up.

“I definitely want our friends and family there,” Victor said. “And Makkachin wearing a little tuxedo with our rings attached to his collar. But I don’t think I want it in a room like this. It’s lovely . . . but it doesn’t feel quite like ‘us,’ you know?”

Yuuri agreed. It felt like they were dancing at someone else’s wedding instead of their own. “What if we got married at the beach? That feels more like ‘us.’”

Victor brightened, charmed by the idea. “In Hasetsu?”

“We’ll have to wait until it’s warmer.”

“I want flowers. A ridiculous amount of them. So many, our guests can smell them even before they see everything. And I want rose petals for them to toss at us before we leave for our honeymoon.”

Yuuri smiled. It wasn’t so much the idea of a wedding that made him happy—but rather seeing Victor so animated as he talked about it. “Where will we go?” Yuuri asked, encouraging him to continue.

“Some secluded tropical island where we spend the entire honeymoon naked.”

“Hmm. Whatever will we do to pass the time without our clothes?”

With a grin, Victor spun him around a second time, and when they came back together, he insisted Yuuri take the lead. “I like talking about our future together,” Victor said, “but it always feels so far away. I want it all now.”

Yuuri tightened his arm around Victor’s waist, pulling their bodies closer together. He could sense what Victor wasn’t saying—that he was getting sad again about going back to Russia alone.

“I don’t suppose we could elope tonight, could we?” Victor continued. He let out a soft laugh, and the sound of it made Yuuri’s heart ache.

“One more dance?” he suggested.

Victor leaned down to rest his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. They quieted and closed their eyes, savoring every breath and heartbeat as they swayed together in the moonlight.

After leaving the banquet, they went out for a late dinner with Yurio and Otabek. Japanese food, like Otabek had suggested. Even though the katsudon on the menu was nowhere near the quality of what they could get at home, they had a good time and laughed and talked until the restaurant closed its doors for the night.

When they were alone again, Victor and Yuuri went in search of caffeine and finally located a coffee shop open late. Two doppio espressos later, they had a much easier time keeping their eyes open. Though they were both tired after a long day, neither was willing to waste a second of their remaining hours together with sleep. They could rest on the plane tomorrow.

They took their time walking back to the hotel. The surge of caffeine had sobered Victor right up, and Yuuri was pleased to see that his fiancé’s mood remained elevated without the alcohol in his system. Victor’s laughs and smiles came easy, as if he too understood that even though their impending split would be difficult, the future held much happiness for them both.

In the elevator, they lost themselves in a kiss.

Gentle, warm, achingly familiar yet just as thrilling as their first.

Once they reached the quiet of their room, they undressed one another—flirting with their eyes and the occasional tease of a kiss as they undid buttons and slipped their hands inside. They left a trail of discarded clothes behind on their way to the bed.

Yuuri was rather fond of this hotel room. While he hadn’t entered it a virgin by any means, his sex life with Victor had certainly matured within these four walls. Their time here had been their first true taste of living alone together, which gave them the freedom to be more physical and vocal with each other. Remembering just how vocal they’d been seared Yuuri’s cheeks with a blush.

God, the things they had done in this room. . .

They took it slow tonight, favoring romance over roughness for their last hours together. Victor moved on top of Yuuri and kissed him breathless, all the while caressing his face like he wanted to commit the feel of it to memory.

Yuuri loved feeling Victor’s hips wedged between his thighs. He loved hooking his ankles and trapping him there. He loved the long drag of Victor’s cock in and out of him and the way his tight, muscled ass pumped beneath Yuuri’s lower legs. He loved the taste of Victor’s tongue and the way his mouth spread into a beautiful smile, even while they were still kissing.

Whoever said the missionary position was boring must not have done it with someone they were madly in love with. Yuuri pitied them—because it didn’t get any better than this.

For their second round, Victor requested something a little more vigorous. Yuuri took him hard, pinning Victor face-down to the bed with his arms twisted behind his back, a necktie wrapped around his wrists.

Victor loved it. He came to pieces right there under Yuuri’s careful watch. This wasn’t about hurting or dominating his lover. There was absolute relief on Victor’s face as he gave up control to someone he trusted without question. It was a much-needed release of pressure, and all the steam trapped inside came rushing out at once, leaving him boneless and pleading for more.

Yuuri spanked Victor’s ass until it glowed pink and radiated warmth, and afterward, Victor lay on the bed in a daze, smiling like an idiot while his lover’s come trickled down the cleft of his cheeks. He looked absolutely debauched with the necktie unraveling from his wrists, leaving faint stripes of red skin behind.

Yuuri was a little jealous.

“My turn?” he asked, hoping Victor wasn’t ready to stop.

They made love for hours—taking turns and making out like teenagers between sessions. After they were wrung out, they snuggled together beneath the sheets and talked. Victor somehow convinced Yuuri to let him take a picture of him naked.

“For those lonely nights in Saint Petersburg,” he explained with a sultry wink.

Yuuri’s heart was in his throat as he allowed his fiancé to snap a photo with his phone. It felt dangerous but exciting, something he normally wouldn’t have agreed to were he not so caught up in the moment.

Victor kept it reasonably discreet. Yuuri was naked beneath the sheets with nothing important on display except for his bare chest and one long leg—but the outline of his ass was visible. There were love bites all over his neck and shoulders, and his lips were swollen and red from Victor’s kisses. Anyone who saw that picture would know exactly what Victor had done to Yuuri moments before it was taken.

Victor was quite pleased with the image. “Well, I know what I’m going to be staring at for the next two weeks. . .”

“Do I get one of you?” Yuuri asked, his fingers inching up Victor’s bare thigh.

After a rather indecent photo session that Victor was more than happy to participate in, the lateness of the hour began to catch up to him. His eyelids drooped, and his breathing eventually slowed as he drifted off to sleep.

Yuuri stroked his lover’s hair and smiled as he watched him. He didn’t think he could fall asleep yet himself, and there wasn’t much point to it anyway. It was close to four in the morning, and Victor had to be packed and downstairs in three hours. Yuuri was worried if he let himself fall asleep now that he wouldn’t wake up on time.

Besides . . . it was kind of nice to watch Victor sleep.

Yuuri pressed his face to Victor’s shoulder, closed his eyes, and mentally said his goodbyes right then and there. In just a few hours, he was going to have to turn his emotions off and be strong for Victor’s sake, but tonight, he could let himself feel it for just a little while.

“I miss you already,” Yuuri whispered, tears stinging his eyes.

Two hours later, Yuuri kissed Victor awake and handed him a cup of coffee before he could start complaining.

As Victor sipped his drink and struggled to keep his eyes open, Yuuri continued to move about the room, collecting any personal item he saw and carrying it over to their suitcases. Everything was now packed except for a pair of clothes for them both and a few items in the bathroom that they would need to get ready.

It took some convincing to coax Victor out of bed and into the shower, but he eventually complied. When he emerged twenty minutes later with a towel wrapped around his waist, he looked much more awake but wasn’t the least bit happy about it. He barely said a word and sat down on the bed to sulk instead of getting dressed.

Yuuri handed Victor his clothes but couldn’t convince him to put them on until he bribed him with a promise to call the airline and see if there were any first-class seats available.

As Yuuri brought the wet towel back to the bathroom, he had his phone held to his ear with his shoulder. “Yes, that’s right. The ticket is for my fiancé. Do you need his flight number? One second . . . let me find it.” He rushed back into the bedroom and grabbed the printout with Victor’s flight information off the nightstand. “Okay, I have it right here.”

Though Victor’s sulking continued, he did look slightly appeased when he heard Yuuri refer to him as his fiancé. The first-class ticket was secured not long after Yuuri spelled out Victor’s name, and the person on the phone recognized it. A few minutes later, Yuuri hung up with a triumphant smile. Normally, he hated dealing with people on the phone, but if a seat in first-class would cheer Victor up, then it was worth it.

“All right,” Yuuri said. “You’re all set. Did you get everything out of the bathroom, like your shampoo and soap from the shower?”

Victor hugged a pillow to his chest. “It’s like you want me to go.”

Yakov was right. It was going to be a feat to get Victor downstairs.

“I want you to make your flight,” Yuuri said. “Because if you don’t, you’re going to be stuck in Barcelona by yourself. Don’t forget that I’m flying out today, too.”

When Victor buried his face in the pillow instead of responding, Yuuri left a kiss on the crown of his head and went into the bathroom to check for missed belongings. Sure enough, Victor’s things were still everywhere. It was like he’d spread them out on purpose so that he could drag his feet as long as possible this morning. Yuuri packed everything up into Victor’s toiletry bag and brought it to his suitcase.

“Do you have your skates?” Yuuri asked.

“Yakov took them last night,” Victor said, his voice muffled into the pillow. “Said he didn’t trust me not to sabotage my own comeback. But I wouldn’t do that.”

Yuuri almost pointed out that Victor was engaged in a bit of self-sabotage at that very moment. If he missed his flight and had to wait hours for another one, that could result in a day or more of lost practice time for Nationals.


Victor looked up, sadness written in his eyes.

“It’s time to go downstairs,” Yuuri said gently.

They went down together, hand in hand, with Yuuri wheeling the suitcase, and Victor’s eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. He wasn’t wearing them because of the sun. His mouth was pulled into a downward slope.

It was 6:59 in the morning, and Yuuri had kept his promise to Yakov with only seconds to spare. They found the Russian team already loading their luggage up into a large, eight-passenger taxi van parked at the front of the hotel. Lilia and Yakov were arguing about something, but both quieted when they spotted Victor and Yuuri’s approach. Yakov looked impressed.

A bleary-eyed Mila was already in the van, bundled in a puffy coat with a Styrofoam cup held close to her lips, letting the steam waft up to her nose. Yurio stood off to the side with his hands crammed into his jacket pockets, and he glared at the morning like he was pissed off that it had come so soon. Yuuri knew just how he felt.

The driver of the van took Victor’s suitcase from Yuuri and loaded it into the back with the others. Even with his face hidden by the sunglasses, Victor looked absolutely miserable as he watched it go.

“Hey.” Yuuri squeezed Victor’s hand. “I’m going to be in Russia with you before you know it. This is nothing. We’re going to blink, and it will be over.”

“It doesn’t feel like nothing,” Victor whispered. A lone tear streaked down his face, and he quickly wiped it away.

Yuuri’s lips parted in surprise.

It was the second time in the span of a few days that he’d seen Victor cry, and it drove an ache deep into Yuuri’s throat. He released Victor’s hand and wrapped his arms around him for a hug instead. Behind them, Lilia was getting settled in the van, and Yakov was directing Yurio to get moving as well. Yuuri met Yakov’s eyes and gave him a little nod to let him know he understood it was time to go.

“I don’t like this,” Victor said, hugging Yuuri tighter. “I can’t just leave you here in Spain by yourself.”

“But I’m not by myself. My sister and Minako-sensei are still here, and they’ll be on the same flight with me home. You don’t need to worry. I’m taken care of.”

“Fine. Then who’s going to take care of me?”

“All the people in the van behind you. They love you, Vitya.”

When Victor drew in a sharp breath and held it for a second, Yuuri couldn’t help but smile. He’d never called Victor that nickname before, and he seemed to like it. Yuuri would have to use it more often.

“Vitya,” Yakov said. “Finish your goodbyes and get in the van before we miss our flight. That goes for you, too, Yuri.”

“You both realize you’re giving the paparazzi a show, right?” Yurio muttered as he passed.

Yuuri blinked and looked around, then spotted two men with cameras standing at the opposite end of the driveway. Yurio was right. Those weren’t the usual variety of reporters often found at these types of events. Those were people who wanted to take and sell pictures of Victor Nikiforov to any magazine or gossip site that would buy them.

Victor pulled back from the embrace and blew out a breath, looking like he would rather walk over hot coals than go to the airport. “Better smile for the cameras, then,” he said—and then leaned in to give Yuuri a long goodbye kiss.

And oh, did the paparazzi take advantage of that moment.

Though Yuuri was aware that picture after picture was being taken of them, he made the decision to close his eyes and concentrate only on the sweetness of Victor’s kiss.

Who cared if the world knew about them? The more courageous part of Yuuri was glad any public doubt would be wiped away the second those photos hit the internet. Victor Nikiforov had just told the world in no uncertain terms that his heart belonged to Katsuki Yuuri. Why on earth would he complain about that?

When they parted, Yuuri tried his best to smile. “I love you. See you soon, okay?”

Victor swiped at another tear. “Love you, too.” The words were choked with emotion, and it was all he managed to say before Yakov put a hand on his shoulder and encouraged him to get into the van.

“Don’t worry, Yuuri,” Mila called from inside. “We’ll take good care of him for you.”

“Thanks,” Yuuri said, blinking away tears of his own.

Yurio was still standing outside the open door of the van, gaping at Victor like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Turning his attention to Yuuri, he said, “What did you do to him?”

“I have no idea,” Yuuri said truthfully. “Bye, Yurio. Have a good flight—and congratulations on your win.”

“Ja ne,” Yurio said. “Don’t fuck up Nationals. Someone has to help me kick this geezer’s ass at Worlds.”

On his way back upstairs, Yuuri realized he’d left his cell phone behind in the hotel room. A few minutes later, he found it on the nightstand and grinned down at the screen when he saw he had already received one missed call and six texts from Victor.

Is it too soon to call?

Am I being a stalker boyfriend?

I can’t help it. You’re my favorite and I miss you.

Why aren’t you texting me back? Did you die or get kidnapped?

BTW how do you feel about phone sex?

Call your stalker boyfriend please. He misses you and has an overactive imagination.

Yuuri laughed as his phone started ringing in his hand. It was Victor, of course. Instantly, the sadness lifted away from Yuuri’s mind—because while they were physically apart, that didn’t mean they couldn’t talk to each other.

Answering the call, he lifted the phone to his ear and said, “You’re not my stalker boyfriend anymore, remember? We got engaged. That makes you my stalker fiancé now.”

“Then be nice and text me back once in a while,” Victor said.

“You’ve been gone for five minutes!”

“Exactly! That’s like an eternity in stalker time.”

While Yuuri prepared his own bag for his flight home, he and Victor chatted about the most mundane things. About the drive to the airport and what his taxi driver was saying about the famous landmarks they passed. About the game Mila had just showed Victor on her phone and how the sound of it made Yakov’s face turn the funniest shade of purple. About Yuuri’s plans to have breakfast with Phichit and what he might order at the restaurant. About whether they preferred espresso to plain brewed coffee.

Meaningless chatter about nothing at all, really.

It was like Victor was still right there in the hotel room with Yuuri, sitting on the bed and keeping him company while he packed.

And it was wonderful not to be alone.

To be continued

Chapter Text

The first time Yuuri became aware that something in his world had shifted, he was walking through the Fukuoka airport with his sister and Minako, having just landed back home in Japan. A trio of teenagers recognized Yuuri and asked to take a picture with him. Their excitement over meeting an ordinary figure skater baffled Yuuri at first, but at the insistence of his sensei, he faked a smile, posed for a picture or two, and assumed it was just a random incident.

“Looks like Japan is proud of its silver medalist,” Minako said. “Have you ever been recognized like that before?”

“Not outside of a competition.” Yuuri readjusted his grip on his backpack and turned his attention to a nearby sign, which directed the way to baggage claim. “The locals in Hasetsu don’t count.”

“Um,” Mari said. She was lagging a few steps behind the others, distracted by whatever she was reading on her phone. “You might want to see this.”

She held up her phone to show her brother, and after reading the latest headline on her newsfeed app, Yuuri skidded to a halt right there in the middle of the crowded airport corridor and snatched the device out of her hand.

Looking back, he probably should have known the paparazzi picture of Victor kissing him goodbye in Barcelona might make waves in the press. It had happened to Victor and Yuuri before, after all, but no one had gotten a good picture of their kiss in China. Many still doubted the truth of what happened and claimed they had only hugged that day on the ice.

Victor Nikiforov was a well-known athlete, his striking good looks and habit of breaking world records contributing to his international fame, even when ice skating itself drew only a fraction of the public’s attention when compared to other sports. Like many celebrities, speculation about Victor’s love life sometimes found its way into gossip magazines, but this was different. There was nothing to speculate about. The pictures of Victor and Yuuri locking lips in Barcelona proved their relationship was real beyond a shadow of a doubt. And the confirmation of a same-sex romance between athletes (coach and student, no less, and one of them a living legend in the sport) wasn’t just a minor blurb buried on a few gossip sites. It was a major headline in the news.

While they waited for their luggage at baggage claim, Yuuri finally gave Mari back her phone and pulled his own out of his backpack. After sparing a weary glance at the thousands of new notifications on his Instagram app, he went straight for Victor’s contact information and dialed his phone number. Victor had landed in Saint Petersburg hours ago while Yuuri was still in the air. Surely he was aware of what was happening online.

“So,” Victor said in greeting, “on a scale of one to ten, how angry are you that I kissed you in front of the paparazzi?”

Yuuri stuffed a finger in his opposite ear so that he could hear his fiancé’s voice better and took a few steps away from his sister and Minako so that they wouldn’t eavesdrop on his phone conversation. “I’m still processing. I’ll let you know the score when I’m done.”

A light chuckle came over the line. “Deep breaths. I was overwhelmed myself when I first came into the public eye, but you get used to the celebrity thing.”

“I’m not a celebrity, Victor. That’s you.”

“I think you’re underestimating how interesting you are. The spotlight might have found you because of me, but I can promise you that’s not why it will stay there. The world loves a comeback story, and that’s exactly what you did at the Grand Prix Final. Add a bit of romance with a fellow athlete and a hotly-debated political topic like same-sex marriage, and you have the makings of a headline. Yuuri, I hate to tell you this, but you might have just become an overnight sensation. They wrote the nicest article about your Free Skate on BBC News.”

“Ten,” Yuuri said without hesitation.


“You asked me how angry I am. That’s your answer.”

Victor just laughed.

It really wasn’t funny.

The buzz over the paparazzi pictures died down after a week or so. No, Yuuri wasn’t a celebrity—not anywhere close to Victor’s level of fame—but he did find himself getting recognized more often. There was a considerable uptick in traffic at the onsen as well, which delighted his parents and stressed out his sister until she discovered they now had the budget to hire some additional help. And that wasn’t the only thing that changed with respect to the Katsuki family’s fortunes. More than once, Yuuri was offered a considerable amount of money for an exclusive interview about his life and career.

Victor was right about one thing. People were interested in learning who Katsuki Yuuri was.

Yuuri had earned a bit of prize money by placing second at the Grand Prix Final, as well as his rankings at the competitions in China and Russia. Not exactly enough to live on, but it was something. One or two sponsors had dropped him after the paparazzi pictures came out, but that didn’t matter in the long run because a dozen more were in talks to sign him on for next season. Then there was the athleticwear company who wanted Yuuri to endorse them, and the check he’d been paid for an interview with a reporter that Morooka Hisashi had put him in contact with.

For the first time in his life, Yuuri had a bit of money in his pockets and the prospect of more headed his way in the near future. He used some of it to pay off Victor’s ring as well as his own plane ticket to Russia. Then he gave his parents and sister some money. It felt good to contribute to Yu-topia in a way he’d never been able to before. They’d supported him for so many years, trying to keep both the family business and Yuuri’s skating career afloat at the same time, and it made him happy to give them something in return.

At home in Hasetsu, Yuuri stayed far away from internet news websites and poured himself into tasks instead. That way, he stayed distracted and didn’t feel Victor’s absence as keenly. Of course, he missed him—so much that it hurt to breathe whenever he thought about it—but keeping his mind and body active helped him make it through their two-week separation.

The first task was packing up everything in Victor’s room, which took several days, partially because of the ridiculous amount of stuff his fiancé owned but also because Makkachin kept getting in the way.

Victor’s dog was excited. Makkachin must have remembered what the moving boxes meant the first time he’d seen them, and Yuuri had the strangest feeling the dog knew exactly what they meant this time around—that he and Yuuri were going to travel to Saint Petersburg soon to live with Victor.

Every time Makkachin saw a freshly-taped moving box or one of his owner’s personal belongings disappear inside, he would run around the room in circles of excitement with his tongue hanging out. He was like a puppy again, bright-eyed and energetic. The only time he acted his age was when he saw another member of Yuuri’s family. Makkachin seemed to sense their growing sadness over Yuuri’s departure. It puzzled the dog, like he hadn’t yet realized that only he and Yuuri would be getting on the airplane bound for Russia, and everyone else would stay behind in Japan.

After three tedious days of packing, Victor’s bedroom was reduced to a mountain of moving boxes and tape. The time had come for Yuuri to pack up his own belongings that he would bring with him. After cramming all his clothing into his largest suitcase and some personal items into two medium-size boxes, he pronounced the job finished. It took him less than an hour, and if Yuuri didn’t know Victor was high maintenance before, he certainly knew it now.

All that was left to do was have everything shipped to Saint Petersburg. Good thing Victor was paying for his own shipping fees, or Yuuri would have to declare personal bankruptcy. No amount of sponsorships could finance that.

Time passed slowly but surely. Yuuri spent his mornings sleeping in, his afternoons working out or practicing at the Ice Castle, his evenings with his family, and his nights talking to Victor on the phone. There was a six-hour time zone difference between Saint Petersburg and Hasetsu, and when Victor was just getting home in the evening after a long day of practice, Yuuri was already entering night owl mode. It was a good thing he liked to stay up late because he sometimes talked to Victor until three or four in the morning.

Though they were thousands of miles apart, their relationship grew even stronger during their two-week separation. They weren’t distracted by each other physically, for one. They couldn’t kiss or touch, nor spend an evening beneath the sheets. Instead, they talked.

They discussed everything and nothing. Random stories that popped into their minds or a recap of the mundane tasks of the day. Sometimes the conversation got serious, like when Victor told Yuuri the real reason he’d cut his hair when he was a teenager and about all the pressure he’d felt during those formative years. Sometimes they were satisfied to just sit with their phones held to their ears while they watched a movie together online. It was nice to know the other person was there, even if they really weren’t.

Nishigori and Minako took Yuuri’s request to act as his coaches very seriously. They attended daily practices with him at the Ice Castle and had him working hard from the very first day. Though their feedback was sometimes amateur, they were studious about working him through any critique given by Victor or Yakov.

The triplets dutifully recorded videos of Yuuri’s practices, trimmed them down to just the highlights, and then emailed the file to his coach. Or rather, coaches. Yuuri had somehow found himself with two.

Yakov’s feedback on Yuuri’s quadruple flip proved to be invaluable. Once he became more mindful of his posture on the takeoff, his rate of nailing the landing improved considerably. While he still had much work to do before he felt fully comfortable with the jump, Yuuri had already seen the value in Yakov’s guidance and wondered what else he could learn from him.

Yakov’s attitude toward Yuuri changed once he realized that he actually listened to him. Perhaps he was so used to yelling at his other students that Yakov had forgotten what it was like to teach someone who took his feedback seriously the first time it was given. Or maybe he was more relaxed now that Victor was back on the ice where he belonged, thanks in part to Yuuri’s encouragement. Either way, Yakov was warming up to him in a way he didn’t expect, and Yuuri didn’t feel so intimidated now when he talked to the older man. Yakov Feltsman was a softie beneath all that verbal aggression, and he cared deeply about those he coached.

Victor typically watched Yuuri’s practice videos while they were on the phone together at night or early in the morning before his own practice began. He would give Yuuri notes and things to focus on for the day. It wasn’t an ideal arrangement long term, but for the two weeks before Nationals, it worked just fine. Yuuri felt good about where his programs were at but knew that he still had some serious work to do if he had any hope of standing on that podium at the World Championship with Victor and Yurio.

He wanted that more than anything—for the three of them to compete and win medals together. Yuuri would be lying if he said he didn’t daydream about standing at the top of the podium, with Victor Nikiforov and Yuri Plisetsky looking up from second and third place at the new world champion.

Perhaps it was a farfetched dream, but what did he have to lose by aiming high? Victor believed in him—and for the first time in his life, Yuuri thought he might believe in himself as well. Yurio had taught him that even a fifteen-year-old could stand at the top of the world if he fought hard enough to make his dreams a reality.

Late one night, Yuuri asked Victor, “Why won’t you tell me anything about what you’re planning for the Russian Championship?”

Even though they were now competitors in the same division, Yuuri couldn’t help but be excited about Victor’s return to the ice. His favorite skater in the world would soon make his comeback, and like the rest of Victor’s fans, Yuuri was dying for a sneak-peak. A hint about the music. A picture of his costumes. Something.

“Because I want it to be a surprise,” Victor said. It wasn’t the first time he’d sidestepped questions on the subject.

“I’m your fiancé. I sleep with you, and I don’t even get a hint?”

Victor laughed. “All right, I’ll let you ask three questions, but I reserve the right to be vague with my responses.”

“Did you have the music commissioned?” Yuuri had been curious about that since Victor had announced his intention to return so quickly at Nationals. He very rarely used music he hadn’t commissioned, but had there been time for that?

“My Short Program music, yes,” Victor said. “I had it commissioned a few years ago but never used it. It’s one of my favorites, though. It came out exactly the way I wanted.”

“Why haven’t you used it before now?”

“You’ll understand when you hear it. It’s different than what I would normally choose for a competition. Very simple and stripped down. I didn’t think it was grandiose enough to satisfy the audience—at least, not with what they’d come to expect from me.”

“Did you change your mind about what they might think?”

“Not really, no,” Victor said. “I’ve just decided that I’m not skating for my audience anymore. I’m doing this for myself, and this is the music I want to skate to. It’s something fresh and new, and I like it.”

A smile softened the set of Yuuri’s mouth. He loved hearing Victor talk like that. He seemed so much happier now than he was when Yuuri first met him. “That sounds perfect. What about your Free Skate music? Did you commission that?”

Yuuri. . .” Victor said, feigning crossness. “You’ve already asked three questions. Now you’re just getting greedy.”

“Please? I’m so curious. You know I’ve always looked up to you.”

Victor chuckled. He sounded flattered, just like he always did when Yuuri let him have a glimpse of his inner fanboy. “Well . . . you’ll probably recognize the music for my Free Skate when you hear it. It’s a remake of an old classic, and if you listen to the lyrics, you might hear a message aimed at a certain someone. Someone I love very much.”

Yuuri could feel his cheeks getting warm. “Makkachin?”

More laughter. “No, Yuuri. My Free Skate is dedicated to my beautiful fiancé, who reminded me why I love skating and encouraged me to get back on the ice. But my Short Program. . .” Victor’s smile could be heard in his voice. “That’s all for me.”

Soon the time came to leave Hasetsu behind and depart for the Japan Figure Skating Championship in Sapporo.

A few nights from now, after his final performance, Yuuri would fly straight to Russia without returning home first. That meant saying goodbye to his family now since their duties at the onsen over the holiday weekend prevented them from going to see his performance. Mari was trying to talk their parents into taking some time off to see Yuuri at the Four Continents, but he had to qualify for the competition first. Because of that uncertainty, he had no idea when he was going to see his family again, and the idea made him unexpectedly emotional.

Yuuri hadn’t hugged his parents or sister when he’d returned home after spending five long years away, which wasn’t unusual for them. They’d never had that kind of relationship, preferring to express their love in other ways—through their actions, like a steaming bowl of katsudon after a stressful day or unwavering support of Yuuri’s skating or travels abroad. All of those things said “I love you” even when the words remained unspoken.

Yuuri didn’t hug his family this time either, but what he did do was bow low and thank them for all they had done and given to him throughout the years. Their kindness and patience with him was something he’d never be able to repay. Their love had surrounded him his entire life, even when he wasn’t aware of it, and he wouldn’t be leaving for this new adventure at all if not for their support.

“Skate well,” Toshiya said. “Be happy.”

“And send Vicchan our good wishes,” Hiroko said, tucking a sack of treats into Yuuri’s backpack before giving him a pat on the cheek. “You tell him he always has family here. He is our son now, just as you are.”

“And tell that idiot if he keeps you away for another five years, he’s going to have me to deal with,” Mari added. She stood behind her parents, fingers stroking Makkachin’s head where it rested against her thigh. Her face was splotchy with emotion. “I’m going to miss you, kid.”

“It won’t be five years.” Yuuri looked at them each in turn, hoping his smile would convey all he felt in his heart. “We’ll come visit soon. I promise.”

“Promise again,” Mari whispered.

Sapporo was located in the northern island of Hokkaido and was a place that received a considerable amount of snowfall each year.

It drifted down from the sky at a steady pace that Christmas Eve, which was the day before Yuuri was set to compete. After his morning practice at the arena, he spent the remainder of his day off in his toasty hotel room with Makkachin, bundled up with a blanket in a cozy chair by the window, where he sipped tea and watched the clouds sprinkle the city with powdery, white snow.

Because he’d had to find a pet-friendly hotel, he wasn’t staying at the same place as many of his fellow competitors. That meant the press was not hounding him every time he showed his face in the lobby downstairs, asking him questions about his relationship with Victor or his thoughts about competing against his own coach. No one had figured out yet where Yuuri was staying, and it was pure bliss.

Last year at this same competition, Yuuri had performed even worse than he did at the Sochi Grand Prix Final, but he didn’t feel particularly nervous about this weekend. At least, not for himself. Instead, he found himself thinking about how Victor was doing in Russia.

Yuuri might have Christmas Eve off, but Victor and Yurio didn’t. They were both scheduled to perform their Short Programs in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and it was all Yuuri could think about. He might not be nervous for himself, but Victor’s comeback meant a great deal to him and not just because he was a fan.

There were many naysayers around the world doubting that the living legend would be able to return as strong as he was when he left, and Yuuri wanted Victor to prove them all wrong. But more than that, he wanted Victor to feel good about the choices he’d made this year. He wanted the time spent in Japan to have benefited Victor just as much as it did Yuuri. Today was a pivotal moment in Victor’s career—one that could alter his legacy—and Yuuri wished he could be there in person to support his fiancé.

The Russian Championship was not being broadcast on any channel that the hotel would receive, but later that afternoon, Nishigori came to Yuuri’s room and hooked up his laptop to the television so that they could watch a live-feed on the internet. Yuuri had his own laptop ready. (And his phone. And Nishigori’s phone.) Just in case something failed. Not that he was anxious about missing Victor’s performance or anything.

Seconds before the Senior Men’s Division was to start, Minako arrived at Yuuri’s hotel room with two glasses and several bottles of sake. “Has it started yet? They took forever at the bar.”

“We haven’t even eaten dinner, and you’re already drinking?” Nishigori said.

“This surprises you?” Minako settled down beside Makkachin in front of the television. “I brought two glasses. One for my fellow coach, but none for Yuuri. No alcohol before a competition.”

“Shhh,” Yuuri said from where he sat on the edge of the bed. He could care less about drinking right now. “They’re about to announce Yurio.”

The three of them quieted as the competition began. Their live-feed featured a Russian commentator, and though there were no subtitles available, they didn’t need them to understand the crowd’s excitement as Yurio took to the ice for his Short Program. Yuuri chewed his thumbnail during the entire performance. While the fifteen-year-old did not skate as flawlessly as he did in Barcelona, it was still a jaw-dropping sight every time he lifted his arms into the air during a jump.

“I hope that boy still maintains that perfect balance after his body starts changing,” Minako muttered, already pouring her second glass of sake. “It would be a shame if he peaked at fifteen and started to struggle when he gets lankier. It’s happened before.”

“Yurio’s a fighter,” Yuuri said. “He’ll work hard to adapt.”

When the scores came in, Yurio looked pissed off even though he’d done quite well. Though it wasn’t another world record, a score of 108.95 was enough to keep twenty-seven-year old Georgi Popovich from claiming first place when he skated ten minutes later.

“That has to hurt,” Nishigori said after Georgi’s performance. “To have a kid outscore you when you have that many years of experience. That guy’s probably been skating longer than Yurio’s been alive. I wonder if he’s going to keep Victor out of first place, too.”

Every time someone said Victor’s name, Makkachin’s tail started wagging, and he looked between all three human faces in the room for more information about his beloved owner, whom he hadn’t seen for close to three weeks now. Not since Victor left for Barcelona. When the commentator said Victor’s name twice and the camera flashed to where he was warming up alongside Yakov, Minako drew Makkachin’s attention to the television and said, “Look who it is!” He promptly jumped to his feet and started barking like mad.

Yuuri barely noticed. His eyes were on the television screen, and his heart was starting to pound. Was Victor as nervous as he was?

The two competitors who were scheduled to skate between Georgi and Victor delayed Yuuri from finding out the answer. The wait was agonizing—almost as bad as the last two weeks spent apart from his fiancé. Yuuri kept silent, only half-listening to the conversation between Minako and Nishigori, and counted the seconds until Russia’s national hero would make his comeback.

At long last, it was time. On the television, Russia lost its collective mind when Victor Nikiforov took the ice. The cheering almost overloaded the speakers, and the commentator had to yell to be heard. Even though Yuuri’s insides were all knotted with nervousness, he suddenly found himself smiling.

He hadn’t felt like this in years—not since before he started becoming frustrated with his own inability to catch up with his idol. He remembered seeing Victor skate to Stammi Vicino for the first time and then having to leave his Detroit apartment afterward and walk it off. He’d gone around the block several times, just trying to absorb what he’d seen. Yuuri remembered yelling “How does he do that?” at a passing car before deciding he would just have to dissect and mimic the choreography to figure out the answer for himself.

Victor Nikiforov was about to perform a new routine for the first time in more than a year, and it didn’t matter that Yuuri was engaged to the man. He was still Victor’s number one fan.

With a charismatic smile and wave, Victor took his place in the center of the ice, closed his eyes, and waited with his fingertips grazing his chest for the music to start. The camera focused in on him and allowed those watching the live-feed to get a good look at his outfit.

Victor had chosen dark pants that stood out against the white ice all around him, which would draw attention to his footwork. However, the top was made of delicate layers of sheer fabric, a gradient of turquoise that lightened almost to pale grey by the time it reached his shoulders. The turquoise matched his eyes and flattered his complexion. The top was embroidered with sequined white flower blossoms and branches that wrapped around his body and down onto his thighs. It reminded Yuuri of a Van Gogh painting of almond blossoms he’d learned about in school.

Victor looked like springtime breaking through after a long winter. There was a length of sheer fabric at the base of his neck, not enough to get in his way when he skated or get tangled up with his legs, but when he moved, the silvery length blew out behind him and glittered in the light.

It looks like his old hair before he cut it off, Yuuri realized—right before his inner fanboy started freaking out.

Victor smiled as the music started.

Everyone smiled. It wasn’t something that could be helped.

The music was beautiful, surprisingly tender and stripped down to almost nothing, just like Victor had described. There were only a few instruments—a soft piano and guitar duet repeating a hypnotic pattern, and a male singing a soaring falsetto melody on top. It was the sound of joy and sadness all mixed into one. The sound of laughter and holding one’s breath. It sounded like Victor—but the Victor that Yuuri had come to know and love through their shared time together rather than the disingenuous showman he exhibited to the world.

This was Victor the human being, and he was lovely.

Though his style was just as refined and perfect as it ever was, there was something different about it. He looked happy. There was a freedom to the movements that Yuuri hadn’t even realized was missing before. Victor laid his soul bare in his performance, and the beauty of it almost distracted the viewer away from realizing how unbelievably difficult the choreography was, full of wicked twists and turns and almost impossible entrances into equally impossible jumps.

Yuuri’s mouth fell open as he watched and stayed that way until the end. But when Victor landed a shaky quadruple flip in the last few seconds of his performance, Yuuri almost laughed out loud. How many times had people said Yuuri had done something Victor Nikiforov couldn’t by performing that difficult of a jump at the end of his program? Well, Victor had just offered a response to that and had almost nailed it.

When the performance ended, Yuuri jumped to his feet on the bed at the same time as Victor’s audience. “Oh, my God,” he said, feeling absolutely devastated and inspired all at the same time. It was how Victor always made him feel when he skated, like he could never hope to catch up but still couldn’t wait to try.

“You know, Victor’s not half bad for a pre-geriatric,” Nishigori said, eyeing Yuuri with a smirk.

“Passable, I guess,” Minako agreed. “Though Japan’s Ace doesn’t seem all that impressed. Right, Yuuri?”

They were both teasing him. Their smiles revealed they knew exactly how well Victor had done, and they were just as happy about it as Yuuri was.

“Did you see that?” Yuuri was so excited that he was practically jumping up and down on the bed. “Oh, my God.”

Victor’s score came in at 115.43, which put Russia’s National Treasure soundly in first place. And while it hadn’t beat his personal best or reclaimed the world record set by Yuri Plisetsky in Barcelona, what was particularly frightening about this score was that this was technically the start of Victor’s season after an eight-month hiatus.

Victor Nikiforov was back and was only just getting warmed up.

Later, when Yuuri was alone in his room, he logged into his Instagram account for the first time in two weeks and posted a screencap of Victor’s performance. Yuuri captioned it with a single word and logged off with a smile.

The post read: Legend.

The next morning, Yuuri was still smiling when he woke up to the sound of a Skype call coming in on his laptop. He rolled onto his side, pulled his laptop over to him from where he’d left it on the nightstand, and smiled even bigger when he accepted the call. “Happy birthday,” he said as his fiancé’s face appeared on the screen.

It was darker where Victor was. Bright sunlight was already streaming into Yuuri’s hotel room and sparkling on the surface of yesterday’s snowfall, but the sun had not yet risen in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Victor was two time zones closer to Japan than he was in Saint Petersburg, but there was still a four-hour time difference between their locations. Victor had to wake up extra early to make time for this call before both he and Yuuri had to prepare for their competitions that day.

“Merry Christmas!” Victor sang in reply. “Even though you celebrate it on the wrong day.” Like Yuuri, Victor was still in bed, bare-chested with a blanket over his shoulders. He’d run his fingers through his silver hair but hadn’t yet brushed it. Though they’d stayed up late last night discussing Victor’s Short Program, he looked well-rested and happy. “You haven’t opened your present yet, right?”

Yuuri glanced at the table on the other side of his room, which held a small mailing box that had been given to him the day before. It was from Victor and delivered by Nishigori, who had insisted on downloading some kind of app on Yuuri’s phone and entering in a code before handing the package over to him. Though Yuuri had opened the app several times, he still couldn’t figure out what it was for. All it said was his device was paired to his phone successfully and to enjoy himself—which was a bit ominous, to tell the truth. But since it was something Victor asked for, Yuuri left the app on his phone and didn’t look it up on the internet. Victor had asked him not to so that the surprise wouldn’t be ruined.

“You didn’t have to get me a Christmas present,” Yuuri said. “Today is your day.”

“Oh, trust me,” Victor said with a laugh. “That present is just as much for me as it is for you. Call me later tonight before you go to bed, and we’ll open it together.”

“Did you get your birthday present?”

“Yes! Can I open it now?”

Yuuri reached for his glasses and slid them onto his face while he sat up in bed. He wanted to see Victor’s reaction. “Yes, but remember that this is only part of your gift. I’m bringing the rest of it with me when I come to Saint Petersburg. But that big box I sent to your hotel room has presents from everyone in Hasetsu. The triplets sent you something, and so did the Nishigoris and Minako-sensei. Then there’s a present from my parents, and something from Mari, too. The big gift wrapped in silver is from me.”

The next ten minutes were spent watching Victor tear into his many birthday presents with all the glee of a young child. He was not the type to be careful with wrapping paper and ripped it to shreds, cast it behind him, and placed the bows on his head and shoulders. His smile was utterly contagious, and Yuuri found himself laughing as he watched.

Victor delighted in the handmade book of drawings of Hasetsu sent by the triplets, which they’d bound themselves with a length of yarn, as well as the selection of Japanese candy they’d saved up their allowance to purchase for him. The Nishigoris sent Victor a framed poster from the Onsen on Ice Exhibition, which featured Victor, Yuuri, and Yurio on the front. Minako sent programs from a few of Yuuri’s childhood dance recitals, which contained pictures of him as a young boy. Victor gushed over every single one of them until Yuuri begged him to stop.

Yuuri’s parents sent a six-month supply of Victor’s favorite tea, which was a mixture Hiroko made special for him every day during his stay in Hasetsu, and a beautiful Japanese tea set to drink it with. She also wrote him a letter that had Victor’s eyes shining with tears as he read it. Yuuri knew what it said because he’d helped his mother with the English translation, even though she insisted on handwriting every letter herself.

“She says the tea set has been in the family for years,” Victor said. “And that’s why she’s giving it to me—because I’m family now, too. Yuuri, I’m going to cry.”

Mari sent a handwritten letter as well, but she had refused Yuuri’s offer to help her with the translation. Instead, she’d written the whole thing in her own language except for four English words carefully printed at the top: Figure it out, Champ.  Her present to Victor was a Japanese For Dummies textbook, which had him laughing so hard that he was close to tears again. “Oh, Mari-Neechan . . . I miss you.”

Yuuri’s eyes widened. “Don’t let Mari hear you call her that.” While he liked hearing his fiancé refer to Mari as his sister, especially with such an affectionate honorific attached, that was something she would not take kindly to. While she and Victor had a good relationship, that was crossing a line.

“No, it’s fine,” Victor said. “She asked me to start calling her that when we were in Barcelona.”

Yuuri blinked three times before responding. “She did? Wow. She must really like you. In fact, she might like you more than she likes me.”

“Is this last gift from you?” Victor held up a large, flat present wrapped in muted silver paper and a glittery bow. While the present itself was from Yuuri, Yuuko had taken pity on him and volunteered to wrap it. He was grateful because there was no way he could have made it look that nice on his own.

“That’s the one,” Yuuri confirmed. “But it’s, um . . . it’s not much. Nowhere near as thoughtful or expensive as the birthday book you gave me. I don’t even want to know how much you spent on that.”

“Is this a book, too?” Victor guessed as he ran his palm over the flat surface.

“Kind of. I didn’t want to give you something that you could just get on your own at a store, so I got you something more personal. I hope you like it.”

Unlike the other gifts, Victor opened this one with reverence. He smiled at the little frills in the wrapping and carefully peeled the tape away from the paper. By the time he revealed what was inside, Yuuri’s face was bright red with embarrassment.

Yuuri.” Victor’s face was transformed. He’d sat up straighter in bed and was now thumbing through the book of photos that Yuuri had made for him. “Are these all pictures of my Makkachin?”

Victor had once told Yuuri one of the reasons he’d wanted to take time off this year was because he felt like Makkachin was nearing the end of his life. Victor wanted to spend quality time with his beloved pet and give him all the love and attention he deserved. Victor loved that dog, who had been his only companion for many lonely years. He had thousands of pictures of Makkachin on his phone . . . but not these. In a digital age, there was something special about having tangible pictures of a loved one that you could hold in your hand.

“Where did you find these?” Victor said, his voice getting louder as his excitement grew. “I’ve never seen them before.”

“Yakov and Yurio helped me with some of the pictures,” Yuuri said. “And then I had a bunch we took in Hasetsu, like that day on the beach last summer. Nishigori does some photography on the side, so he helped me put together the black and white ones that look more professional.”

“Oh, my gosh,” Victor said. “Who put Makkachin in a suit? Oh, and there’s another one with him in a kimono. Look at how handsome my puppy is! Yuuri, I’m going to show this to every single person I meet today.”

A smile pulled at the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. It had been a nightmare to track down outfits that would fit Makkachin and then convince the dog to sit still long enough while Nishigori got some good shots of him. Seeing Victor’s face made it all worth it. “Do you like it?”

“It’s perfect. I’m going to keep this forever. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Happy birthday, Vitya.”

Victor glanced up at the webcam with a grin, his blue eyes sparkling in the computer light. “You know, that’s the second time you’ve called me that. I thought I was your Vicchan?”

“You are,” Yuuri said. “But in Russia, you’re my Vitya. Or would you rather I call you Vitenka?”

It was Victor’s turn to blush. “Yuuri.”

“Did you see the envelope in the back of the book?” Yuuri said. “This still isn’t your entire gift from me, but there’s something else for you to have today.”

Victor flipped to the back cover and pulled out a long envelope, which contained details about the spa treatment Yuuri had purchased for him. Victor had always liked being pampered, but he also had a thing for being touched. A need, really. A week ago, right before Yuuri had put Victor’s present in the mail, Victor had confessed that whenever he went for long periods of time without being touched by another person, even just a hug from a friend, he would get tension headaches. He’d been getting headaches daily since returning to Saint Petersburg alone without Yuuri or Makkachin there to keep him company. Yuuri hoped a relaxing massage and some ridiculously overpriced pampering might help alleviate some of the tension in Victor’s body.

“What’s this?” Victor said as he inspected the envelope.

“Just a pamphlet of information,” Yuuri said. “The real present happens later. You told me you were getting those headaches, so I arranged for you to have a massage today. A full spa treatment, actually. I thought it might help you relax before your performance. And don’t worry. I already worked the schedule out with Yakov. He’s got everything figured out for you.”

Victor was speechless. His lips had parted, and he blinked up at the webcam wearing a look of astonishment.

“Is that okay?” Yuuri asked, suddenly unsure. Maybe it had been too bold to assume Victor would be okay with something unexpected being scheduled for the same day as his Free Skate.

“No one’s ever put this much thought into a gift for me before,” Victor said quietly. “This is really all for me?”

There was something sad about the way he said it. Something that made Yuuri’s heart hurt. Hadn’t he ever had someone spoil him on his birthday before? “Of course, it is. I just wish I could give more—or be there in person to wish you a happy birthday face to face. But I’ll be there in a few days, and we can celebrate then.”

“How did you know I needed some pampering today?” Victor said.

“I just knew.”

“I miss being touched by you, Yuuri. I miss having you next to me in bed at night.”

“I know. I miss you, too. But hopefully this will help you feel better until I can be there with you.”

“Do you have any idea how much I love you?” There were fresh tears in Victor’s eyes as he said it. He held that envelope in his hands like it meant far more to him than just a bit of pampering. If he had bought it himself, it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much as having Yuuri take care of him. “I don’t know what I did to deserve someone like you, but I’m so thankful to have you in my life.”

Yuuri smiled. His fingers stretched to stroke Victor’s cheek on the screen of his laptop. “I know exactly how you feel.”

Yuuri’s Short Program went well that day.

“Skate like sexy bowl of pork product, da?” Nishigori told him in the world’s worst impression of a Russian accent. This was apparently his perception of the kind of pep talk Victor might give Yuuri before he took the ice.

“Close enough,” Yuuri said with a nod, then skated off to his starting position.

It was a strange feeling to be preoccupied with something other than himself on the day of a competition. He was admittedly a little nervous, particularly when he sensed the cameras on him and heard the mounting excitement of thousands of people in the audience. Victor might not be there in person, but Yuuri still felt his coach’s eyes on him and knew he was watching all the way from Russia through one of those camera lenses.

Armed with that mental image, Yuuri flashed his engagement ring at the audience, stared right into a camera, and silently demanded his fiancé look at no one else.

It wasn’t a perfect performance. His spins were not as tight or energetic as he would have liked, but his quadruple flip at the end made up for it. After he nailed the landing, threw off his imaginary lover, and embraced a new one, the roar of the audience told him in no uncertain terms that he’d made them proud. The performance earned him a score of 112.86, which beat Yurio’s score but not Victor’s. It put Yuuri in first place in Japan by a large margin.

Newscaster Morooka found Yuuri after his performance and asked how he’d felt out on the ice without Victor there to support him. Yuuri responded by gushing for several minutes about how thrilled he was that his coach had competed in Russia and how much inspiration he’d found after watching Victor’s Short Program the night before. It wasn’t like Yuuri to speak so freely with the press, even someone as familiar to him as Morooka, but this was a subject he was passionate about.

“Your scores weren’t that far apart,” Morooka observed. “Do you think you can beat your own coach at the World Championship?”

Yuuri had been asked this question several times before. It always put him in an awkward position, like the world wanted to pit them against each other. “It would be an honor to stand on the same podium with him,” Yuuri said. Looking straight into the camera, he added, “Victor, if you’re watching out there, happy birthday from Japan. I’ll be cheering you on tonight.”

Several hours later—after escaping the horde of reporters and figure skating otaku, who were suddenly much more interested in Yuuri after those now infamous paparazzi pictures—the time came to tune into the live-feed of Victor and Yurio’s Free Skate in Russia. Minako and Nishigori again joined Yuuri in his hotel room, this time with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was a Christmas tradition in Japan.

Yurio pulled out a solid performance but again fell short of beating his personal best. He looked frustrated at the Kiss and Cry as he hugged a stuffed cat and sank down into his chair, and Yuuri’s heart went out to him. He knew exactly how Yurio felt. They were both going to have to push even harder than before if they wanted to keep up with Victor.

Since he’d finished the Short Program in first placed, Victor took the ice last for his Free Skate. Thousands of miles away in a hotel room, Yuuri pulled Makkachin close and stared at the television screen. Though Nishigori and Minako had done plenty of chatting throughout the other competitors’ performances, Yuuri hadn’t joined in very often. He felt humbled by the knowledge that Victor had dedicated his Free Skate to him, something he didn’t mention to anyone else.

Would other people guess that the performance held a message for Yuuri? He pressed his lips together, hugged Makkachin to his side, and waited to find out.

This time, when Victor took the ice, the entire arena began to chant his name over and over. Yuuri remembered hearing something similar when he was at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, only he’d felt like he had to make his claim over Victor known. This time he felt proud to share him.

Victor looked quite different than he did yesterday. Perhaps he was relaxed after his massage, but he looked happy and comfortable in his own skin as he skated to the center of the ice. If his Short Program was a celebration of Victor’s more whimsical, beautiful side—a memory of the joyful child he still held inside of himself—then today’s Free Skate was about the sophistication and refinement of the man he’d become. His outfit was a play on a suit, though altered to be comfortable to skate in. He wore fitted black pants that showed off his long legs, a well-tailored vest with a striped pattern in alternating shades of muted gold and gray, and a dusty peach-colored tie. Beneath the vest, the sleeves of the light cream dress shirt were rolled up to the elbows.

“Did he get dressed up to celebrate his own birthday?” Nishigori said.

“Add a jacket to that suit, and he’d look like a groom at a wedding,” Minako observed.

Yuuri stared at Victor on the television screen for a moment and then flushed bright red. Minako was right. There was something about the suit Victor had chosen that made him look like he’d just slipped his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves for a last dance at his own wedding reception. On his right hand, Victor’s engagement ring glittered golden in the light, a bold declaration for everyone to see. His eyes were relaxed when they settled on a camera, the smile on his lips soft, like it was meant for one person only instead of the thousands of people around him.

As the opening chords played, Yuuri found himself holding his breath and fighting tears at the same time. He recognized the song immediately, even though it was a rendition he’d never heard before, but it wasn’t until he heard the familiar melody that Yuuri’s whole world fell away except for Victor. The lyrics in particular pulled him right through that television screen, carried him thousands of miles to the west, and landed him right there on the ice with Victor.

Wise men say only fools rush in,
But I can’t help falling in love with you.

As Yuuri watched the most earnest and heartfelt performance of Victor Nikoforov’s esteemed career, he didn’t feel like a fanboy anymore. That was his best friend out there—the person who knew and accepted him for who he was, self-esteem issues, anxiety attacks, and all—and he was dancing to a love song just for Yuuri. Tears overflowed from his eyes and dripped from his chin, but Yuuri didn’t wipe them away. He didn’t even notice them. He just sat there, absolutely entranced, and smiled as he watched.

There was something quiet and humble about the music, and Victor’s head was bowed in reverence. He had never proposed to Yuuri in words. Their engagement was formed out of a mutual understanding that they couldn’t bear to be apart. But watching Victor’s movements during that performance, the way he dipped down to one knee as he flew gracefully across the ice, it felt like he was actually saying the words this time. They had always communicated best through their skating, and Yuuri could hear Victor’s question to him loud and clear. Victor was telling Yuuri who he had given his heart to. He was asking Yuuri to marry him.

And Yuuri wasn’t the only person to figure this message out. Nishigori and Minako had apparently made the connection as well because they were both weeping openly.

He’s skating for our Yuuri,” Nishigori blubbered, tears streaming down his scrunched-up face.

I know,” Minako bawled in reply, then blew her nose on a KFC napkin.

Yuuri was oblivious. As the performance neared its conclusion, he put a hand over his heart and silently answered the question the love of his life had just asked him. Yes. Of course, I will.

“Hi,” Victor said when he called a few hours later.

Yuuri had been on his way back to the bedroom after brushing his teeth, but his footsteps faltered for a brief moment. Just the sound of Victor’s voice on the phone made him blush. “Hi,” Yuuri said, his tone a bit shy. “Or I guess I should say congratulations.”

Victor had won the Russian Championship. While that victory didn’t surprise Yuuri, it wasn’t until he rewatched Victor’s Free Skate several times online that he realized the historical importance of that performance. While he’d been busy crying over the emotional impact of Victor’s personal message to him, Yuuri hadn’t been counting how many quads his fiancé had executed. He’d seen Victor underrotate and stumble on one of them, but it didn’t register with Yuuri exactly what he’d seen until later.

“You did a quadruple loop,” Yuuri said.

“Well,” Victor said. “I almost did. I didn’t get enough rotations in. I was getting tired there at the end, but I feel good about the rest. What did you think?”

What did he . . . think?

Yuuri had no idea how to put his feelings into words. The quad loop was a jump Victor had only ever attempted before in Exhibitions when he wasn’t being scored. Yuuri had seen Victor land them before but not in the middle of a technically demanding Free Skate, and certainly not when there were already four other quads in his program.

“You did five quads,” Yuuri said.


In the same program.

A Toe Loop, Salchow, Lutz, Flip and Loop. All that was missing was the mythical Axel, which was actually four and a half revolutions and a thing that only existed in dreams. It didn’t matter that Victor had underrotated one of his jumps. He still had the rest of the season ahead of him to work on perfecting it.

“I almost did five quads,” Victor said, correcting him again. “Not quite.”

“No,” Yuuri said as he sat on the bed with a leg folded beneath him. He eyed the open dog crate under the hotel room window, where Makkachin was curled up asleep with a warm blanket. “Don’t discount what you did. Victor, that performance was amazing. Your whole Free Skate . . . and your Short Program . . . I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know how you do it, but you always manage to surprise me.”

“Likewise,” Victor said. “Did you happen to hear a special message aimed at my fiancé in the lyrics of the song?”

Yuuri’s blush deepened. “Oh, I heard it all right. I think everyone did.”

Victor laughed. “Good. I wanted them to.”

There was something about the way Victor was talking tonight—something in the texture of his voice and quiet laugh—that made Yuuri feel it all over. Perhaps it was his imagination, but it felt like Victor was flirting with him through every syllable.

“I miss you, baby,” Victor said.

And Yuuri had to close his eyes and take a second to regroup.

Was he really so sex-starved after two weeks that just the sound of Victor’s voice was enough to turn him on? He was 99.9% sure Victor was talking that way on purpose, but that didn’t make Yuuri feel any less embarrassed by how quickly his body responded to it. “I miss you, too.” Yuuri gripped the sheets of the bed and wished he was touching a warm body instead. There was a hollow ache of want in his chest. “I wish you were here in bed with me.”

“I like the sound of that. What would you do to me?”

Yuuri gulped. This wouldn’t be the first time Victor had tried to turn their phone conversations to the subject of sex. In Hasetsu, the paper-thin walls at Yuuri’s house ensured he avoided such talk like the plague. But he wasn’t in Hasetsu right now, and his family couldn’t overhear this conversation. Neither would Nishigori or Minako, whose rooms were on another floor at the hotel.

“I. . .” That was all Yuuri got out before he shut his mouth again and panicked.

How was it possible to feel this inexperienced when he and Victor had gone at it so many times in Barcelona?

“Yuuri. . .” Victor said, his voice low and teasing. “Why don’t you go get the Christmas present I sent you? Bring the whole box to the bed with you.”

Since that morning, Yuuri already had the nagging suspicion that his fiancé had sent him something naughty in the mail, but now he was convinced. He groaned and covered his eyes with a hand. “You sent me sex toys, didn’t you?”

“Merry Christmas,” Victor said. “Or should I say, happy birthday to me?”

Yuuri was no stranger to blushing. Even during the early days of his friendship with Victor, he’d spent a good deal of his time blistered with a sunburn of embarrassment, and it had only gotten worse when their relationship first turned sexual. But the contents of the box in front of him, which he opened one-handed with his cell phone held to his ear with the help of his shoulder and his other hand still clamped over his eyes, topped it all.

“Oh,” Yuuri said when he peeked through his fingers at his present. “Oh, you are in trouble.”

This was it. The pinnacle of embarrassment in the form of a box full of multi-colored, dick-shaped plastic. He’d reached the summit. There was nowhere else to go but down, probably straight to hell because today was Christmas, which many viewed as a religious holiday. And what was Yuuri doing on baby Jesus’s birthday? Staring at a big box full of multi-colored, dick-shaped plastic. That’s what.

There, nestled in a bed of pink tissue paper, was a collection of sex toys. Several sizes of dildos, vibrators, and plugs, as well as some accoutrements like a bottle of lubricant, toy cleaner, and a length of black silk that was either meant to be a blindfold or something to tie a lover’s hands up with.

“Victor,” Yuuri said, striving to remain calm.

“Yuuri,” Victor purred back. “You should use the purple one first. And don’t worry. I took everything out of the packaging for you and washed the toys myself. I even kissed the tips, so be sure not to wash anything again until after the first use.”

Victor,” Yuuri gasped, no longer anywhere near calm. “I can’t . . . how could I . . .”

“It’s still my birthday, you know. As much as I’d love to hear you sing to me, listening to you come over the phone would be so much better.”

Yuuri couldn’t speak for a full ten seconds. “You’re serious.”

“It’s been a long two weeks. I’m a little pent up, I’m afraid.”

“I am, too—but there’s nothing I can do about it. A toy isn’t going to make me feel as good as . . . as . . .”

“Well, you do have hands, baby. And speaking from experience, I can tell you that they’re very talented hands. In fact, I’m a little jealous they’re with you, and I’m left with nothing but my own.” Victor let out a little gasp that was somewhere in the middle of frustration and pleasure.

Yuuri stilled. Was Victor touching himself?

The idea of phone sex was not something he had ever seriously entertained. Whenever Victor brought it up in the past, Yuuri had always laughed it off as a joke and changed the subject. But again, just the sound of Victor’s voice was doing things to him tonight. He could feel it in his mind, evoking images in his imagination that had him running a hand slowly down his own thigh and wishing it was Victor touching him instead.

“It’s not the same when you’re not here,” Yuuri said.

“Turn out the lights. If it’s dark, we can pretend we’re in the same room together.”

Yuuri did as he was told and leaned over to click off the lamp beside the bed, which cast the room into darkness save for the city lights twinkling through the window.

“Did you turn them off?”


“Good. Do you see the headphones in the box? Plug them into your phone and put them in your ears.”

Yuuri frowned. “Why?”

“To free up your hands, of course. And so you can hear me all around you.”

Oh. After digging around briefly in the box, Yuuri found a pair of brand new earbuds. He unraveled the cord, put the buds in his ears, then plugged the end of the cable into his phone. Near his mouth was a microphone that could be used during phone calls. “Can you hear me?”

“Much better. You sound like you’re in the same room as me now.”

Victor’s voice was louder through the headphones—all deep and rumbly with that gorgeous accent shaping every word—and Yuuri’s eyes drifted shut for just a second as he fell under its spell. It really did sound like Victor was right there.

“What are you wearing?” Victor said.

Yuuri couldn’t help but laugh. Nervousness twisted in his stomach, but it wasn’t a bad sensation. It was the same way he felt after his first kiss, when all he could think about was how much he wanted a second one. “A t-shirt and pajama pants with pictures of puppies on them. I can’t do this, Victor. I’m not any good at talking sexy.”

“Well, that’s not true. Just the sound of your voice already has me hard. Do you want to know what I’m wearing?”

Yuuri’s breath shivered out. He didn’t answer the question, nor did he have to. Victor kept talking to him.

“When I got back to my room, I took off all my clothes and got in the shower. The hot water felt so good running down my body. But afterward, I couldn’t find a thing to wear, so I just didn’t bother.”

Yuuri’s cock twitched. Without thinking, he palmed himself through his pants and gave it a squeeze. He lowered himself down onto the pillow and closed his eyes.

“There was no point to putting on clothes. The shower was so steamy that my body was overheated anyway. Then I started thinking about you, Yuuri—about your sweet little oven of a mouth sucking me off—and that got me even hotter. So I had to go get some ice cubes to cool me back down before I called you.”

The sound of sucking came over the headphones. The click of an ice cube between teeth. Yuuri squeezed himself again, his thumb stroking up his length as it began to harden. He had no clue why the idea of ice cubes was suddenly so damn sexy, but Yuuri could almost feel Victor’s ice-chilled breath trickling over his skin.

“Mmm,” Victor said, his mouth full. There was a sucking sound again as he pulled the ice cube from his mouth. “That tastes good . . . but I’m still so hot, Yuuri. Maybe if I run this ice cube down my stomach. . .”

Yuuri blew out a breath. There was a part of him that still felt like he couldn’t do this. He was just not the kind of person who could go there until he was so deep in the moment, his physical needs overcame his mental timidity. But Victor’s words had already gotten him so hard, Yuuri was almost to that place.

He was alone in this hotel room. No one would know if he touched himself a little. . .

He slipped his hand down past the waistband of his pajama pants and sighed at the feel of fingers on his cock. He imagined Victor lying in bed, the window shades drawn, horizontal lines of shadow cutting across his naked body as he dragged a wet piece of ice down the center line of his stomach. Melted water droplets slipped down well-developed muscles into the valleys between.

Victor let out a quiet moan as he sucked the water off his fingers. “Mmm, now I’m all wet, and I’ve got goosebumps all over. That ice got me so sensitive . . . especially my nipples.”

Yuuri couldn’t help it. His hand moved up his shirt, dragging the material upward until his fingertips grazed his own nipple. The pink nub began to tighten and rise to a point.

“Are you touching yourself, baby?”

Yuuri licked his lips. “Yes.”

“Can I see? Take your pants off.”

Victor couldn’t actually see him. Yuuri was only talking to him on the phone with no video feed, but it was surprisingly easy to imagine the heat of his eyes on him anyway. Yuuri made a show of it, letting his sexuality come flooding out as he lifted his hips into the air and pushed his pants and boxer briefs down to his knees. He kicked them off and lowered his ass back down to the cool sheets. The air was pleasantly cold on the bare skin of his legs. He was still wearing a t-shirt, which was bunched halfway up his chest, but nothing else.

“Are you hard, Yuuri?”


Yuuri twisted his nipple until he felt it in his toes. The cotton of his t-shirt rubbed against the other. “Yes.”

“Mmm, I can hear it in your voice. Why don’t you look in that box I sent you? I bet there’s something slippery in there that would feel so good if you rub it in the right place.”

Yuuri could not believe he was actually doing this—but he did it anyway. Blindly, he reached inside the box, which was still beside him on the bed. The unmistakable size and shape of everything he felt inside made his pulse quicken, but after a bit more searching, he found the bottle of lube.

“I don’t have any lube here,” Victor said. “I forgot to bring some with me. But I do still have some ice cubes. Oh. Oh, that feels good. . .”

Yuuri’s eyes flew open.


He popped open the cap and silently thanked Victor for having the foresight to take care of the safety seal because he did not have the mental fortitude to deal with that kind of frustration right now. As he squeezed out a little lube onto his fingers, it did not escape his attention that Victor had planned this. Every moment. A handsfree phone call. Pre-washed sex toys, all the packaging removed so that the mood wouldn’t be broken.

Exactly what else had he planned?

He slicked up his cock to the sound of his lover pleasuring himself, and God, he wished it was Victor’s hand there instead of his own. Yuuri gave himself several full-length strokes before concentrating his efforts closer to the head. The lube felt incredible. It let him slide in his own hand without too much friction getting him worked up too soon.

He let out another soft moan, his self-consciousness draining away a little more with each passing second. This was a mostly one-sided conversation, after all. The least he could do was let Victor know he was getting off on it.

“Yuuri,” Victor said—and it was so obvious that he was still playing with the ice. “Do you remember how much you liked it when I put my fingers in you while you fucked me?”

Yuuri caught his lower lip between his teeth. He let his cock rest upward on his stomach while his slicked-up fingers went between his legs to tease his entrance.

“I’ve never seen anything sexier than you coming with me inside you,” Victor said. “Do you remember, Yuuri? The way you clenched and pulsed all around me?”

Yuuri pushed two fingers inside of himself up to his first knuckle. It burned a little because of the lack of preparation, but he didn’t care. The friction was a relief.

“God, the things that came out of your mouth. It made me feel so good, baby, knowing you wanted to be filled up with me.”

“Yeah?” Yuuri said, gasping for breath now. “You liked that?” How was it possible to be this turned on when he was all by himself with his own fingers? He’d never felt like this when he’d masturbated alone.

“Do you remember when I made you come in the shower without even touching your cock? You get turned on when I fuck you, don’t you?”


“I love it, too. You’re so good to me, baby, letting me have it both ways when we’re in bed. Will you look in the box again for me? I bought you something special. I promise it’s going to make you feel so good.”

Oh, what the hell? Yuuri sat up in the bed and pulled the box closer. He shivered a little as he swept the pink tissue paper to the side to reveal the many sex toys hidden beneath. His legs were covered in goosebumps from the chill in the room, and his nipples were harder than ever as they rubbed against his t-shirt.

“The purple one, Yuuri. That’s the one you want.”

“What do you want me to do?” Yuuri asked as he pulled the toy free from the tissue paper and held it up to inspect in the faint city light shining into the room from the window. His voice was surprisingly calm for someone who had no idea what he was doing.

The purple toy was about the same length as Yuuri’s hand and had a bit of a curve to it. It seemed to be a cross between a dildo and a plug, and it was made of a soft material. There was a knot at the end and a flared base to make sure it didn’t go too far inside.

Victor let out a breathy laugh, the sound of it all full of smoke and sex. “Do you really need me to tell you?”

“No,” Yuuri said, looking up into the darkness, imagining Victor right in front of him. “I just want to hear you say it.”

Another laugh, this one sultry enough to draw a bead of wetness to the tip of Yuuri’s cock. “Well, this is a very special toy, Yuuri. Do you want to find out why?”

“Tell me.” Closing his eyes, Yuuri brought the toy to his mouth for a taste. Victor had said he’d kissed the tip, after all. This was the closest he’d been to Victor’s mouth in weeks. After giving the tip another kiss, he licked its length, then put it in his mouth to give the knot at the end a suck. A frustrated moan soon rose up from his belly.

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. “. . . What are you doing, baby?”

“Sucking on it. Wishing I had you in my mouth instead.”

A smile curled Yuuri’s lips upward when he heard Victor’s breath hiss out. It was the same feeling he got when Victor’s jaw dropped open in the middle of his Eros routine. He liked turning Victor on. It made him feel powerful. He licked the length of the plug again and said, “I thought you were going to tell me what makes this toy special?”

“Well.” Victor swallowed, clearly having to take a moment to reorder his thoughts. “It’s probably better to show you. Can you get it wet for me? Use your tongue.”

Yuuri swirled his tongue over the tip and then put it in his mouth again. He let out another moan, wanting to kindle Victor’s pleasure with the sound of it. “Like that?”

“That’s good. But you’re so tight, honey, and I don’t want to hurt you. Can you put some lube on it, too?”

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Yuuri did as Victor asked. He took the lubricant and smeared a generous helping on the toy. The material was pliable but certainly hard enough to push inside. He wondered what it would feel like in his ass.

Yuuri was still up on his knees in the bed, sitting by the open box, and suddenly feeling a bit uncertain. He’d never played with a sex toy before. While he didn’t exactly need an instruction manual to know where this thing was supposed to go, he wasn’t sure what to do next. Should he lie down before putting it in? Was he supposed to fuck himself with it or leave it inside while he jacked himself off? “Victor. . .”

“I know it’s new, sweetheart, but just let me guide you. Where are you on the bed right now?”

“On my knees, sitting in the center.”

“That’s perfect. Can you try a few fingers first? It will help if you’re slick there, too.”

Yuuri brought the excess lubricant on his fingers behind his body and slipped a finger inside of himself. The slide was easier this time. First one finger working in and out before he added another.

“Are you tense at all?”


“Try the tip, then, and see how you like it.”

Yuuri took the toy in hand and brought it behind him. It felt a little foreign when he slipped it between his cheeks, but the pressure against his entrance felt deliciously familiar. “Ah,” he said, his tone still quiet but suddenly urgent. Readjusting his grip, he pushed a bit harder and the knotted tip of the toy slipped inside. His lips spread apart into a breathless smile. It certainly wasn’t Victor’s cock, but that knot on the end was going to feel good rubbing inside. He moved forward on the bed, now supporting his weight on his knees with one hand placed flat in front of him.

“Can you work it deeper, baby? Nice and slow.”

Whatever brand of lubricant Victor had purchased worked well with the toy. It was an effortless slide in and out, and it wasn’t long before Yuuri was really getting into it. He fucked himself with the toy, but couldn’t get it more than a few inches deep. Its wide base meant he was going to have to ease himself into it. “It’s bigger than I thought,” Yuuri said, still gasping.

“You like that, don’t you? Feeling full inside.”

He really did. It had been a long two weeks without sex.

“Can you put it all the way in? You still haven’t found out what makes this toy special yet.”

Yuuri laughed nervously. “Please tell me it can magically transform into you.” He pushed it deeper, biting down on his lip again as he was stretched apart. What it lacked in length, it certainly made up for in girth. His ass swallowed it up all the way to the flared base, at which point Yuuri let go of the toy.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Victor said, sounding amused. “You’re about to feel me there with you. Nishigori downloaded that app on your phone, right? Let’s see if this works.”

Yuuri opened his eyes. “What?”

It started deep within him, a quiet rumble low in his belly that sent a shock of pleasure straight to his cock. Then came a stronger pulse that drove the breath right out of Yuuri’s lungs and made him lean forward on his knees, both palms now flat to the mattress.

Unggg. . .” The sound rose up out of him without warning. He had no control over it. The toy was vibrating inside of him, wickedly slow pulses that played tricks on his body, giving him a moment of calm before it stole it right back. “Victor. Are you . . . are you controlling it?”

“You know, you can buy the most interesting things on the internet,” Victor said. “Turns out there are a lot of people in long distance relationships across the world.”

The vibrations intensified, and Yuuri was suddenly having trouble staying still. Somewhere in Russia, Victor was playing with an app on his phone, which was sending a message to the app on Yuuri’s phone, which was synced to the toy. Sitting up on his knees, he pulled helplessly at his t-shirt, dragging it down between his legs like some kind of shy schoolgirl. His knees slid apart on the mattress, his lower back bowed inward in the middle, and his mouth stretched wide.


“God, I wish I could see you right now. Now, Yuuri—listen to me, sweetheart. This is very important. Are you listening?”

Yuuri made a helpless sound. He couldn’t think about words right now. Not with the toy resetting the tempo of his heartbeat, forcing it to come into alignment with the one Victor chose for him.

“Settle down, baby.” The intensity of the vibrations lessened, giving Yuuri a chance to catch his breath.  “You’re doing so well. But I want you to do something for me. Close your eyes, and imagine I’m there with you on the bed.”

Yuuri’s mind was again falling prey to the sound of that voice. He closed his eyes and imagined Victor was in the room with him. When he ran his hands up his own stomach and chest, it was easy to believe it was Victor touching him. When he pinched his nipples through his t-shirt, he whispered Victor’s name like he was the person responsible for the delicious shiver that followed. Yuuri licked his thumb, dropped one hand to his cock, and spread the wetness at the tip all around the head.

“Can you feel me there with you? Can you feel my eyes on you?”

“Mmm . . . your hands.”

A low chuckle. “That’s good, baby. I love your sexy little body so much—the way you move your hips when you’re turned on. Where am I touching you?”

Yuuri could not believe Victor had talked him into this. “Down there.”

The vibrations inside of him changed their rhythm again—slower pulses, but stronger, deeper ones. Yuuri had to place one hand on the bed again to support himself. Every breath from his mouth was a gasp or pout now. His whole body was flushed, and he could feel heat rising from his skin.

“Do you want to fuck me, Yuuri?”

Yuuri’s cock ached so badly, he couldn’t remember if Victor was there or not. Yuuri didn’t even know where he was right now. “Yes.”

“I want you inside me bad, but I need you to do something for me first. Can you reach for a pillow for me, baby? Though maybe not one you plan to sleep on tonight. . .”


“Trust me. Get it and place it on the bed in front of you.”

Without looking, Yuuri reached behind himself and grabbed one of the two pillows at the head of the bed. He set it down on the mattress in front of him and said, “Okay.”

“Between your legs, Yuuri.”

He moved a little slower this time—because he had figured out where Victor was going with this. The voice on the phone had dropped to an even deeper rumble. Yuuri could feel it shake him inside just as much as the vibrator deep in his core. He straddled the pillow, his hands working at the softness.

“All week, I’ve been thinking about that last night we spent in Barcelona. Do you remember, Yuuri? When you held me down beneath you while you fucked me hard? God, I loved every second of it.”

Even before he was told, Yuuri knew what he was supposed to be doing with the pillow, but it was too soft. He folded it in half and tried again, finding it much firmer this time when he pushed himself against it. His palms squeezed the pillow like he was cupping Victor’s ass, spreading the cheeks, moving closer to get at just the right angle to thrust. . .

“You’ve got me so wet, Yuuri. Will you fuck me hard? I’ve been waiting so long.”

The human imagination was a powerful thing.

For those next few minutes, Yuuri could have sworn he was not alone in that bed. He felt Victor all around him. His breath on his neck. His lips a mere inch from his skin. He felt Victor buried to the hilt in his ass and giving it to him from behind. But Victor was also beneath him on the bed, begging Yuuri to fuck him harder.

Victor was in his head. His voice had somehow slipped inside Yuuri’s body and hypnotized him. And when Yuuri came inside of his lover, he felt Victor come inside of him at the same time. He was there, holding Yuuri and coaxing him through his climax with the sweetest words of encouragement and love.

Afterward, Yuuri was quiet.

He blinked up at the ceiling at a steady pace and ran his fingertips up and down his stomach while his heartrate slowed. The box of toys was now set aside, but Victor was still there with him in the bed, cuddling with him in the afterglow. His beautiful voice was gentle, the sound of it tugging Yuuri’s mind toward the pleasant haze of sleep.

“I should let you get some sleep, baby,” Victor said. “You have another performance tomorrow. Just two more days. Two days . . . and my Yuuri will be with me where he belongs.”

Weren’t they already together? As Yuuri’s eyelashes fluttered shut, he snuggled deeper into the covers. “Don’t go,” he said, the words so soft that he wondered if he’d dreamed them. “Stay with me while I fall asleep.”

Whether he heard Yuuri’s request or not, Victor didn’t leave him to fall asleep alone. Yuuri drifted away into his dreams, accompanied by the beautiful sound of his fiancé softly humming Christmas carols to him.

To be continued

Chapter Text

The morning of Yuuri’s Free Skate performance, he woke up with a pit in his stomach—an unwelcome mixture of loneliness, dread, and frustration.

He stayed in bed for a long time, uncomfortable within the tangle of sheets, and tried his best to pull it together. However, it wasn’t until Makkachin started whining to be taken outside for a walk that Yuuri forced himself to throw back the covers and get up. He got dressed without looking at the clothes he pulled on, grabbed Makkachin’s leash, and concentrated on keeping his breathing nice and slow while he attached it to the dog’s collar.

Was this really going to happen today?

Two weeks without Victor.

Two long weeks on his own, and Yuuri had been so proud of how well he’d done. Not only had he proven to himself during yesterday’s Short Program that he could score well without his coach there, but Yuuri had also proven to Victor that he could relax and focus on his comeback without having to worry about his coaching duties.

And it made Yuuri feel so frustrated to now find himself suddenly struggling at the eleventh hour.

He battled with his rising anxiety for much of the day, and the closer he got to his performance, the worse it became. He flubbed one too many jumps during his morning practice, the memories of which replayed over and over in his mind until he was reduced to a bundle of frayed nerves.

By the time evening rolled around, Yuuri could barely stand still for more than a few seconds at a time. Swells of emotion kept rising up inside of him with such intensity that he felt compelled to move to get away from his own feelings.

He was supposed to be doing his pre-competition warmups but instead chose to hide from everyone in an isolated corridor at the arena that he probably wasn’t supposed to be in. There, he did everything in his power to try to stay calm, which mostly consisted of silently yelling at himself.

Stop it, Yuuri told himself while he paced. You’re stronger than this.

Except apparently he wasn’t, nor had he been magically cured of his anxiety after breaking a world record. His brain did not seem to care what he was capable of on a good day.

Less than an hour before Yuuri was due to perform, Minako tracked him down and came marching through the hallway in his direction. She seemed determined to get in his face, the same way she used to when he was a jittery child before a dance recital.

There was little chance of escape, so Yuuri panicked and resorted to flat-out dishonesty instead. Lifting his hands in submission, he said, “I’m fine.”

Minako halted a few steps in front of him, and her shoe proceeded to tap an impatient rhythm on the linoleum floor.

Yuuri deflated at once. “Okay. I’m not fine.”

“Really?” Minako deadpanned. “I couldn’t tell.”

There was a reason he had asked his old sensei to help out as his coach these last few weeks in Victor’s absence. There were only a handful of people in the world who were well-acquainted with Yuuri’s anxiety issues, and Minako was one of them. But while he knew he didn’t have to hide this from her, it was difficult to put his feelings into words. They never seemed adequate enough to fully describe the intricate web of his thoughts.

“You could at least try to tone down the sarcasm,” Yuuri muttered.

“Why? You won’t listen to me either way.” She poked his shoulder twice. “What’s going on, kid? You don’t look so good.”

He raked his fingers back through his hair. He’d used too much gel when slicking it back, and it tangled and pulled between his fingers, probably making it look worse than it already did. It was never the same when he had to fix it instead of Victor. “I’m just . . . I’m frustrated.”

Minako’s expression softened. “With . . . ?”

Myself. I don’t understand why my brain always does this to me. I’m in first place after the Short Program. I’ve been calm about Nationals for weeks, and suddenly today, I’m not. Why is this happening now?”

With an irritated huff, he leaned back against the wall and rubbed at his temples, hoping to banish the tension. Minako didn’t reply right away and instead, crossed her arms over her chest and rested her shoulder against the wall next to him. It was close enough to offer her support but not enough to make him feel crowded.

“Because you’re on the home stretch,” she said eventually. “It’s always the most difficult to hang on right at the end when victory is in sight. And I think these last two weeks have been harder on you than you’ve let on. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Yuuri exhaled slowly and avoided her eyes.

“I think you’ve been more worried about Victor’s comeback than your own competition,” Minako said. “Now that he won Nationals, part of your reason for staying strong in the first place isn’t there anymore. Have you talked to Victor today?”

Yuuri touched the inner corners of his eyes, hoping to dispel the moisture gathering there. He shook his head once—sharp, dismissive. “I don’t want to talk to him.”

“Why not? Did you have a fight?”

Another shake. “No. That’s not it at all.”

“So then you’re hiding from him.”

Which was definitely closer to the truth.

Victor had been unreachable for a good part of the day because he’d been traveling back to St. Petersburg, and there was a part of Yuuri that was glad. It had prevented him from picking up the phone. But Victor’s plane had landed more than an hour ago, and he’d texted Yuuri several times to see if it was a good time to talk. There was really no excuse not to call Victor now.

“I wanted to prove to him that I could do this on my own,” Yuuri explained. “He doesn’t need to be worrying about me.”

Minako looked unimpressed. “Why not? That’s his job.”

“No, it’s n—”

“I promise you,” she said, cutting in. “It really is. Even if he wasn’t your coach, he’s still your fiancé, right? Wouldn’t you want Victor to call you if he was having a hard time?”

Guilt nudged at Yuuri’s heart. Since Victor’s return to St. Petersburg, he had reached out to Yuuri several times whenever he was struggling. Even living legends had bad days on the ice, and Victor had been trying to perfect two demanding routines in record time. His confidence had been rattled on multiple occasions, but whenever he’d confessed to Yuuri that he wasn’t sure if he could do it, Yuuri had been able to reassure him. Only now, he wasn’t allowing Victor to do the same for him.

“He would want you to call,” Minako pressed.

As if by fate, Yuuri’s cell phone started vibrating within the pocket of his team jacket. An incoming call. There wasn’t even a question about who was on the other end. When Yuuri closed his hand around his phone, he just knew. The tears in his eyes were suddenly threatening to spill over.

“Looks like I don’t have to,” Yuuri said, his throat tight with emotion.

Minako smirked and gave his shoulder a playful nudge. “Go talk to your Russian. I’ll come find you when it’s time to lace up.”

Yuuri kept his eyes on Minako’s retreating form as he lifted the phone to his ear. “Moshi moshi,” he mumbled into the receiver. He had little doubt he was going to start crying the second he heard Victor’s voice.

“Yuuri!” Victor sang in response. “I just made it back to my apartment. I’m so excited that you’re finally going to be here with me tomorrow!”

Yuuri swiped at a tear that had streaked down his cheek. “Me, too.” His throat was aching so badly that it was difficult to get the words out.

“Uh oh. Is everything okay? You sound upset.”

Yuuri didn’t know how to answer that, so he just drew in a shuddering breath and covered his eyes with one hand. It took all his hard-earned self-discipline not to break down right then and there.

“Sweetheart,” Victor said in his gentlest voice. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”

“Nothing. It’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid if you’re upset about it. Are you nervous?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” As Yuuri wiped away more tears, he was angry with himself for letting them fall in the first place. “I’m sorry. I’ve been trying so hard to keep it together all day. I wanted to be strong and prove to you I could do it.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to me. I already know you’re strong. I wouldn’t be in Russia right now if you weren’t.”

“If I’m so strong, then why can’t I stop crying?”

There was a brief pause, and Yuuri knew he had taken Victor by surprise with his words. “Yuuri,” Victor said, impossibly gentler than before. “It’s okay. Take a deep breath. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Yuuri rested his forehead against the wall and did as Victor suggested, but the breathing didn’t help slow the tears. They streamed down his cheeks and dripped from his chin onto the floor. “Why is this happening?”

“Well, let’s see,” Victor said. “You’ve been without a coach for the last two weeks before a major competition . . . and separated from your fiancé for the first time in almost a year. Not to mention the fact that you’re leaving your family in Japan behind later tonight and moving to an unfamiliar country. Cut yourself some slack. Your whole life is about to change. It makes sense that you’re emotional.”

Yuuri opened his eyes to blink at the floor. He hadn’t thought about it that way. He’d spent much of the last year reconnecting with his family and the country of his birth, and later tonight, he was going to get on a plane and leave it all behind for a new life. “I’m going to miss Hasetsu,” he said in a near whisper, not daring to say more for fear that he would start crying even harder.

“Of course, you are,” Victor said. “That’s your home, but I promise it will get easier. Did you know I cried myself to sleep my first night in Japan?”

“I . . . no. Did you really?”

“Well, I guess it was partially because you would barely talk to me, but it was also because it’s hard to feel completely at rest in someone else’s home. But the longer I stayed in Hasetsu, the more I began to think of it as my own home. St. Petersburg will hopefully feel like that for you soon, and if it doesn’t, then we don’t have to stay there. This isn’t goodbye forever, love. We can visit Japan as often as you like.”

Yuuri wiped his face again and found his tears had slowed to almost nothing. “We can?”

“Of course! Just last night, I was thinking about planning an event in Hasetsu after the season is done. Maybe another exhibition at the Ice Castle? Only this time, we could invite all our friends to skate with us. Yurio and Chris and Phichit and whoever else can come. That would drum up some business for Yu-topia as well. How does that sound?”

Yuuri could feel his sadness evaporating. Victor’s words were like sunshine flooding into his mind. “I love you,” he blurted out.

Victor dissolved into bright laughter. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”

“I mean it,” Yuuri said. “I love you so much.”

Victor hummed with affection, and the sound of it was just as calming as it was beautiful. “Mmm, you’re such a sweetheart. I love you too, Yuuri. And I’m missing you like crazy. Is it just me, or did everything get harder today? Maybe it’s because my own competition is done, and there’s nothing left to distract me. I guess I’m just not any good at being alone anymore.”

Yuuri sagged against the wall, relieved he wasn’t the only one feeling this way. “It definitely got harder.”

“Just one more push. Five minutes on the ice, and then you can come home to me. I’ve got the apartment all fixed up for you and Makkachin. Yurio keeps asking what time your flight arrives and pestering me not to be late picking you up. He and the others are coming over to my apartment right now. We’re going to watch the livefeed of your performance together.”

Yuuri’s heart lurched at the reminder that he still had to perform in a major competition in less than an hour. “It’s weird. I don’t want to leave Japan behind, but at the same time, I just want to be done with Nationals so I can get on the plane to Russia already.”

“Change is always bittersweet. Just try to relax, focus on the present moment, and enjoy yourself out there tonight. You’re going to be amazing, Yuuri. I have perfect faith in you.”

“I should probably go start my warmups. I’m behind schedule.”

“All right. But before you go, should I give you my usual motivational speech as your coach, or do you want me to make you laugh instead?”

The side of Yuuri’s mouth pulled upward. He still felt incredibly emotional, but Victor had a way of making him smile when he didn’t want to. “Make me laugh, please.”

“Well, then . . . you should know if you don’t step off that plane wearing a gold medal, we’re finished. It’s going to be a messy divorce, too. Of course, you can still live with me and train in St. Petersburg, but we’re going to split the apartment in half using masking tape. The bed. The refrigerator. The couch. Everything.”

“I think now might be a good time to remind you that I have your dog.”

Victor gasped. “That’s not fair! I demand joint custody.”

“Fine. We can co-parent. But if we’re going to split up, can we at least have a lot of angry hate sex?”

“God, yes. But only if it’s followed by sweet, make-up sex and then a wedding. I don’t like being divorced, Yuuri. I hope you’re happy with the way you’ve theoretically torn our beautiful relationship apart with your non-gold-medal-winning ways.”

“You know,” Yuuri said, “you have a really weird way of trying to cheer me up.”

“Mmm, but it worked, didn’t it?” Victor’s shit-eating grin was audible in his words.

Yuuri covered his face with one hand to hide his smile.

His performance came and went in a whirlwind of emotions.

Encouraged by his extremely vocal interim-coach, Minako, Yuuri went out to the rink early so that he could cheer for Minami Kenjirou, who was in second place after yesterday’s Short Program and therefore scheduled to skate just before Yuuri.

Though still inconsistent, Minami-kun’s Free Skate had improved considerably in the months since they’d last faced each other in competition, and he blew everyone away (including Yuuri) with his infectious charisma. But the most surprising moment came when he performed a quadruple toe loop, something he’d never successfully done before in a competition. He stumbled on the landing and had to put two hands down on the ice to steady himself, but it was a landing nonetheless. The triumphant smile he wore for the remainder of his performance revealed how thrilled he was about it.

Normally, the roar of approval from the audience was exactly the kind of thing that might have intimidated Yuuri. After all, just a year ago, Minami had beaten him soundly at this very same competition. But after the performance came to an end and he skated over to where Yuuri was preparing to enter the rink, Minami said with happy tears spilling down his cheeks, “Yuuri-kun . . . you saw me do my first quad in a competition.”

Once upon a time, Yuuri use to dream about his own idol witnessing him nail a performance. He still had no idea why Minami looked up to him, but Yuuri did know what it felt like to be the one looking up. “Congratulations,” he said with the biggest smile. “That was amazing.”

And for some unexplained reason, that brief conversation lifted his spirits more than anything.

That, combined with the sight of Japan’s flag waving all around the arena, had Yuuri feeling like today was more of a celebration than a competition. Though he was still a little nervous, his smile didn’t waver as he removed the guards from his skates, entered the rink, and skated over to where Minako and Nishigori were standing behind the barrier. There were still a few minutes left while they cleaned the ice and calculated Minami’s score.

It was a powerful moment, seeing all those people on their feet and feeling the thunder of their applause. Yuuri was humbled by the realization that they were cheering for him now. He could feel it—the way the cheering shifted from pride over Minami’s performance to excitement about Yuuri’s. These were the same people that had supported him from the beginning, even at his lowest. It was surprisingly effortless to smile and wave at them now.

“Yuuri,” Minako said, already crying openly. “I’m so proud of you.”

“I’ll skate my best,” Yuuri said to her and prayed he wasn’t lying. To Nishigori, he added, “No fake Russian accent this time?”

“In Soviet Russia,” Nishigori said in a voice that sounded nothing like Victor, “ice skates on you.”

Yuuri nodded as he considered this sage advice. “I don’t know what that means . . . but thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

After that, Yuuri didn’t remember much about his performance.

His mind went blank until there was nothing left except the dance, and he was able to close his eyes and express himself through the movements. He poured his own story into the twists and turns, and the entire time, he felt Victor there with him. Watching him. Smiling at him. He was inside Yuuri’s heart and winking at the audience with every golden flash of light on his engagement ring.

At the conclusion of his Free Skate, it was almost surprising to remember that Victor was not in his usual place by the barrier of the rink. All the same, Yuuri extended his arm to point to the place where his coach normally stood—to honor him in spirit, if nothing else.

But as he struggled to catch his breath after the demanding performance, Yuuri could have sworn he saw Victor’s face there on the sidelines. He blinked twice and narrowed his eyes into a squint to try to see better without his glasses on.

No, he decided at last. It wasn’t actually Victor standing there. It was Minako-sensei and Nishigori . . . only Minako had a giant cardboard cutout of Victor’s head held in front of her face and Nishigori was standing beside her, making kissing faces at Yuuri.

Yuuri couldn’t help it. As the audience tossed flowers and food-shaped pillows onto the ice all around him, he snorted once rather ungracefully before giving in to full-on laughter.

He was going to miss this place.

The flight to Russia was quiet and uneventful, albeit entirely too long.

Yuuri had two short layovers—the first after a flight from Sapporo to Tokyo, where he then boarded a late night international flight to Moscow. Absolutely exhausted, he slept almost the entire ten-hour journey and landed very early in the morning when the sky was still a dark, hazy purple. Stifling a yawn, Yuuri filed off the plane and followed the other passengers into the airport.

It took some time to get his passport stamped and the details of his temporary stay ironed out. Thankfully, his paperwork seemed to be in order, and he was soon granted entry to the airport terminal.

Unfortunately, his journey wasn’t over yet. He still had to catch another much shorter flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but he had a few hours to stretch his legs and grab some breakfast before boarding time.

He felt somewhat downcast and still a little weary, even though he’d slept quite well on the plane. Although he would be reunited with Victor later that morning, he wasn’t even comforted by that anymore. Time seemed to grate on. He was tired of being alone and missed his fiancé so much that he struggled to lift his gaze from the ground while he walked.

On his phone, he found a text from Victor, which he must have sent while Yuuri was still in the air: Good morning, beautiful. Call me as soon as you land in Moscow. Don’t worry about it being too early. I’m awake.

Yuuri frowned as he dialed Victor’s number. Was something wrong? It wasn’t even sunrise yet. Victor should still be asleep.

However, when he answered Yuuri’s call, not only did Victor sound perfectly awake, but it was obvious from the background noise that he was not at his apartment.

“Where are you?” Yuuri asked as he rode an escalator downstairs. “You sound like you’re in a tunnel.”

Victor laughed and said, “Not quite. Look down.”

“Look . . . where?” Yuuri’s gaze fell to his shoes.

More laughter. “No, Yuuri. Not that way. Face forward on the escalator and look down to the lower floor.”

“But what am I looking f—?”

Yuuri trailed off mid-sentence. His mouth had fallen open.

Because Victor was standing there at the bottom, phone in hand and wearing what had to be the most beautiful smile in the history of the universe. He looked tired—with circles under his eyes, lackluster hair, and casual clothing beneath his overcoat—but incredibly happy at the same time. Close to tears, even.

Yuuri was so surprised that he almost dropped his phone. “Victor. . .” he said and then started stumbling down the escalator steps to get to the bottom faster, pulling his face mask down as he went.

Victor lowered his phone and laughed as he waited. When the time came, he was ready to catch Yuuri up in his arms, and they hugged each other so fiercely that it hurt to breathe. Yuuri didn’t care. He needed Victor more than oxygen at that moment.

Neither of them could speak at first. They’d done plenty of talking for the last two weeks, saying I love you and I miss you countless times. Now was the time to reconnect physically. Yuuri pressed his face into Victor’s neck, took his beautifully familiar scent deep into his lungs, and held it there. It was wonderful.

“Finally,” Victor murmured in his ear.

“What are you doing here?” Yuuri said. “This is Moscow, right? Or did I get confused, and I’m already in St. Petersburg?”

“Moscow,” Victor said with a laugh. “I couldn’t stand waiting any longer, so I came to meet you. Are you surprised?”

“Happy.” Yuuri squeezed Victor tighter. “I’m happy.”

“Let me kiss you, then. It’s been too long since I’ve kissed your smile.”

They pulled back from the embrace only slightly, just far enough for Yuuri to put a hand on Victor’s face, and then they were kissing, their tongues flicking warm and soft into each other’s mouths. The sweetness of Victor’s kiss made Yuuri’s legs go wobbly. He was flushed all over and embarrassingly giddy by the time they parted.

“Wait.” Yuuri gave Victor one last peck on the lips before he slipped a hand into his coat pocket. “I have something for you.”

Yuuri pulled out a gleaming gold medal, which he’d won at Nationals the night before. Though he hadn’t broken his own world record, he had achieved a personal best with his combined score. Maybe this wasn’t a Grand Prix Final or World Championship medal, but it meant something huge to Yuuri. It was the first time in his life that he felt like he’d done a good job with his Short Program and Free Skate at the same competition.

He lifted the medal up between them and said, “I’ve been wanting to give you one of these for a long time.”

Victor’s eyes glittered at Yuuri as he dropped a kiss onto its golden surface. “And you did it all by yourself.”

“No, I didn’t,” Yuuri said—and he let the look in his eyes say the rest. Namely, how thankful he was for Victor’s support and guidance from the beginning. That gold medal was a team effort.

Victor held it up to the light to inspect the engraving. “You know what this means, don’t you? We can get married now.” He met Yuuri’s eyes, mischief gleaming in his own, but frowned when he saw Yuuri shaking his head. “Why not?”

“Well. . .” Yuuri said. “Because I haven’t proposed to you yet. Not officially, anyway. You know . . . with actual words . . . and, um. . .” He trailed off and looked elsewhere, suddenly blushing so hard that he felt the desire to find a nice, big snow bank to hide in and maybe die a little.

Victor was blushing as well, his blue eyes bright and far more awake than they had been a moment earlier. “Oh,” he said softly, surprise shaping the word into something hopeful.

“Oh,” Yuuri agreed—and said no more on the subject.

While they walked through the airport together, Victor told Yuuri that he hadn’t originally planned on coming to Moscow to meet him early. He’d scheduled this impromptu trip just yesterday, right after talking to Yuuri on the phone before his final performance.

“I just couldn’t stand it anymore,” Victor explained. “I would have flown all the way to Japan if I could have managed it, but none of the flights were timed right. There weren’t even any last-minute tickets available to Moscow, so I chartered a private plane.”

Yuuri tried and failed to wrap his head around this information. “You . . . huh? You what-ed a what?”

“I chartered a plane. As in, I rented one. With a pilot. What, you’ve never flown privately before?”

Yuuri just stared at him. Flying first class was an expense he couldn’t even fathom, and Victor was talking about having an entire plane all to himself.

“We’re flying back to St. Petersburg on the same plane, by the way,” Victor said. “I couldn’t get a seat on your flight, so you’re coming with me.”


“Don’t worry. All the details have been sorted out with the airline. They’re bringing your luggage to baggage claim now so we can take it with us.”

“But what about Makkachin?”

Victor’s dog had been too large to fly in the cabin with Yuuri, so he’d made the journey to Russia in a large crate in the cargo area instead. Yuuri had been worried about him the entire time, especially since he had already switched planes once in Tokyo. He had no way of knowing if Makkachin’s crate had made it safely onto the flight to Moscow.

“Do you really think I would forget about my puppy?” Victor said. “They’re bringing him to baggage claim, too.”

“But how did you get the airline to do all of this?”

“What do you mean, how?” Victor shrugged like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I’m Victor Nikiforov.”

Yuuri shot him a skeptical look. Victor was capable of a great many things, but possessing the patience needed to iron out travel details with airlines was not one of them.

“Okay, fine,” Victor said. “I have an incredibly persuasive travel agent whom I pay a good deal of money to indulge my last-minute whims. But I’m pretty sure there was some name-dropping in there somewhere.”

Which made much more sense.

They reunited with Makkachin at the baggage claim area, and Yuuri watched with a huge grin on his face as the oversized poodle launched himself gleefully at his master. There were lots of slobbery puppy kisses, barks of happiness, and laughter from everyone around them.

To show his thanks to the airport staff, Victor signed a few autographs and posed for pictures, and Yuuri was shocked to find his own autograph requested more than once. It was strange to realize that many of Victor’s fans now recognized who Yuuri was, too.

After the commotion was done, Victor led the way back through the airport so that they could board their private flight home. He wheeled Yuuri’s suitcase with one hand and held Makkachin’s leash with the other, while Yuuri lumbered behind with the dog crate. And even though his arms were burning from how cumbersome it was, Yuuri felt stupidly happy every time he looked ahead at his future husband.

This was not anywhere close to how he thought his first morning in Russia was going to go. How in the world had he gotten so lucky?

They boarded the private plane outdoors on the tarmac, where it was windy and bitterly cold. After a member of the crew took their luggage and Makkachin happily peed on every single wheel of the plane, they went up a series of steps into the cabin of the aircraft.

The plane was small, equipped to carry less than half a dozen people, but it was far more comfortable than the commercial nightmare that Yuuri had flown on last night. His fingers tangled with Victor’s as they went down the aisle together.

Most of the seats on the plane were positioned by themselves, but neither Victor nor Yuuri were willing to be separated even by a few feet. They took off their coats and settled down into the only pair of cushy, leather chairs that were side-by-side. There was a full table in front of them, which Makkachin settled beneath with his shoulders jammed between Victor’s legs. While the crew readied the plane for takeoff, Victor stroked his dog’s head and spoke to him in gentle, melodic Russian.

“It just occurred to me that Makkachin probably understands more Russian words than I do,” Yuuri said.

Victor grinned. “You’ll learn.”

“We’re really the only passengers on this plane? There’s no one else?”

“Aside from the crew, yes. We’re the only ones.”

He lifted a hand to get the attention of the flight attendant, who was a young man with light, curly hair and a star-struck gleam in his eyes. Clearly, he was a fan. Victor spoke to him in Russian, and a few minutes later, the young man was setting down two champagne flutes on the table in front of them. Then came a chilled bottle with a French label and a carafe of orange juice.

“Isn’t it a little early for champagne?” Yuuri said as he watched the attendant pour his drink. The man topped the bubbling liquid off with a touch of orange juice.

“It’s called a mimosa,” Victor corrected. “People drink them with breakfast all the time.” He held up his glass until Yuuri gave in and lifted his own. They clinked them and drank while the captain came over the speakers to announce the details of the flight.

After takeoff, the attendant served them breakfast. There was fresh coffee along with plates of buttery croissants, fruit, and a selection of dried meats and cheeses. Yuuri was a little embarrassed with all the fussing. He’d never felt more spoiled in his life and wasn’t sure what to think about it.

“Do I even want to know how much all of this cost?” he asked.

“Probably not,” Victor said. “But let’s just say it was cheaper than the cost to my sanity.” His hand closed over Yuuri’s and squeezed, his expression earnest as he said, “I needed this, Yuuri. I needed you here with me. I know I’m ridiculous sometimes but . . .”

“You don’t have to explain it to me. Believe me, I understand better than anyone. Thank you for coming to get me, Victor. This is really nice.”

Victor smiled and brought Yuuri’s hand to his mouth for a kiss, his lips touching the band of gold. “Today’s going to be a good day. I can feel it.”

The flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg was only about ninety-minutes long, the duration of which was spent eating breakfast, exchanging kisses between sips of mimosa, and chatting about each other’s gold-medal-winning performances. Yuuri kept getting distracted by how gorgeous Victor looked, sitting there wearing a beige Henley with the top button undone and freshly-trimmed hair grazing his cheekbone.

At some point, Makkachin began to feel left out and climbed fully into Victor’s lap. There, he was cradled like a giant baby while Yuuri laughed and fed him bites of cheese and salami.

Closer to landing, they quieted and indulged in a bit of snuggling. All three of them, dog included.

Victor was tired from waking up so early and dozed on Yuuri’s shoulder. Meanwhile, Yuuri gazed through the window and took turns running his fingers through Makkachin’s fur and over the back of Victor’s hand where it rested on Yuuri’s thigh. Victor’s skin was so warm. Yuuri had forgotten how amazing it felt just to touch him and have him close.

Outside, the morning sun was now shining bright, but beneath the belly of the plane were gray winter clouds. Yuuri wondered what they concealed. Although he’d been to Russia several times before for competitions, he had never visited St. Petersburg specifically and was curious about the city that would soon become his new home.

Soon, the plane broke through the clouds, and the city below was revealed. The landscape was flat, and even from this height, Yuuri could see that there was snow on the ground. Victor had warned him last night that a winter storm had just moved through and to make sure he had his coat with him on the plane. Yuuri smiled down at the river he saw twisting through the approaching city, which Victor had told him stories about. Far ahead in the distance was a large body of water.

When the wheels of the plane touched down on the runway at last, Victor stirred from his place on Yuuri’s shoulder and squeezed his leg. “Welcome home, baby,” he said.

Yuuri was smiling so hard that his cheeks hurt.

He received his next surprise in the parking garage of the St. Petersburg airport, and it came in the form of a sleek, dark gray sports car that looked like it belonged in a James Bond film. Yuuri gaped at it, barely comprehending what he was looking at or why Victor was loading his suitcase and backpack into the trunk.

Weren’t they going to take a taxi home? Or maybe a bus or the train or their own two feet? Surely there was a mistake.

“Now you see why I arranged for Makkachin’s crate to be delivered to my apartment separately.” Victor closed the trunk and walked over to where Yuuri was standing in front of the passenger door. “Not much fits in here, I’m afraid.”

After Victor opened the door, Makkachin jumped into the front and only got into the back after some coaxing from his master. Once the passenger seat was free, Victor straightened and smiled as he held the door open wider for Yuuri.

“This is really your car?” Yuuri said. “We’re not going to get arrested for taking it?”

Victor pushed a button on his keys, which prompted the car to start up all by itself. Though the engine emitted little more than a quiet growl, Yuuri yelped and almost leapt away from the vehicle altogether. Victor laughed and said, “Get in, baby. It’s freezing out here.”

“You didn’t drink too much champagne on the plane?”

“Nyet. I drank mostly coffee because I knew I was driving.”

Yuuri felt a little nervous when he slid into the passenger seat, though he wasn’t certain why. Probably because he’d never been in a car this nice before. There was a bouquet of exquisite pale lavender roses waiting for him inside, which had filled the small space with their fresh scent. The cold temperature outside had kept them well preserved in the car until they got there. Yuuri blushed as he set them on his lap, aware that Victor was waiting until he was fully settled before closing the passenger door. It felt strangely like they were on a first date.

“I didn’t realize you owned a car,” Yuuri explained after Victor got behind the wheel. “You always talk about taking public transportation or walking around town.”

“I don’t drive very often,” Victor admitted. He fiddled with the heat settings and held his fingers up to the vent until warm air began to pour out. “To be honest, I just brought the car out today to try to impress you. Is it working?”

Yuuri gazed down at the roses and said, “You don’t have to impress me.” But after Victor put the car in gear and placed his hand on Yuuri’s knee, he added in a soft voice, “I like the feeling of being alone with you, though.”

Smiling, Victor hummed deep in his chest and slid his hand between Yuuri’s thighs. “Exactly.”

Yuuri was not someone who had ever fantasized about having wealth or private planes or exotic cars, but there was something about sitting in that car with Victor’s thumb absently stroking his leg that made Yuuri feel like he had reached a level of adulthood he had not previously attained before. This car belonged to Victor, and that meant it was a private space for them to share.

Had they ever had that before?

Yuuri didn’t think so. Not even once.

In Japan, they were either in his parents’ home or at the Ice Castle, which they were only permitted to utilize for practices by the owners of the rink. When they traveled, they were in hotel rooms that didn’t belong to them or in a plane populated with other people. Being in Victor’s car was different because it was Victor’s. Yuuri felt welcomed by his lover’s familiar scent and relaxed into the leather seat the same way he might melt into Victor’s arms.

When they pulled out onto the snowy streets, Yuuri asked, “Are we going straight to your apartment?”

“You mean our apartment,” Victor clarified. “Actually, I thought I’d drive you around the city first to show you around a bit. Then we can go unpack your things at home and get you and Makkachin settled. But later this afternoon, everyone asked if I could bring you by the skating rink. I took the day off, but the others are practicing. Does that sound okay, or are you too tired after your flight?”

Yuuri’s eyes lit up. He’d been dreaming about visiting Victor’s home rink in St. Petersburg for years. “I’m too excited to be tired.”

“Good. Because after practice, the others are coming over to the apartment. Yurio had the idea of cooking a ‘welcome to Russia’ dinner for you.”

Yuuri didn’t mention that he already knew about the dinner. He’d been in contact with Yurio about it since it would play into the surprise he had planned for Victor’s belated birthday present.

“Sounds great.” Yuuri laced his fingers between Victor’s and drew their joined hands deeper between the warmth of his thighs. “You know, your accent has become more pronounced ever since you moved back to Russia.”

“Has it? I haven’t noticed.”

“It’s sexy.”

Victor glanced over at him, his expression surprised but pleased, and Yuuri could feel his own face heating up in response. He didn’t take back what he’d said, though. He was far too happy to feel self-conscious.

As promised, Victor took a scenic route through the city, and he pointed out various landmarks along the way so that Yuuri would understand what he was looking at. Not only was St. Petersburg much larger than he had realized, but it was incredibly beautiful. Like something out of a fairy tale, with palaces, cathedrals, and quaint little shops along the river.

“I just know you’re going to love it here,” Victor said, eyes sparkling.

“I already do. Oh.” Yuuri turned in his seat and leaned over Victor’s lap to point through the driver’s side window. “What’s that over there?”

Stepping onto the parquet-patterned floor of Victor’s apartment for the first time was like walking into a photograph. Yuuri paused at the threshold to look around while Victor shed his coat and dropped his keys onto a table next to an identical pair, both adorned with a silver snowflake charm on the keyring.

“I had a set of keys made for you,” Victor said while he hung up his coat. “They’re here by the door when you need them.”

“Thank you,” Yuuri said. He handed over the bouquet of roses Victor had given him, and they were set down as well.

Makkachin slid past their legs and went bounding into the apartment, tail wagging and collar jingling. He did two loops around the couch before going to inspect the kitchen and beyond. A moment later came the sound of joyful barking from a far room.

“He’s probably already knocking all the pillows off the bed,” Victor said with a laugh. “I don’t think he likes it when we snuggle with anything other than him.”

Yuuri had seen this apartment before, featured in at least one magazine article that he could remember, but it looked different in real life. A picture in a magazine couldn’t capture the slow, twirling dance of dust motes in the hazy sunlight by the floor-to-ceiling windows, the quiet hum of the refrigerator, or the scent of lavender and lemon on the freshly-cleaned kitchen countertops.

The walls were painted pure white, and a dozen Edison lightbulbs hung from the ceiling like falling stars. There was a faint hint of coffee in the air and a cup left by the sink that Yuuri knew Victor’s lips and fingers had touched early that morning before he left for the airport. A small stack of mail had been cast aside onto the counter to open at a later time. The high ceilings and quiet whish of cars on the snowy streets below gave the place an airy, relaxing feel.

Yuuri smiled softly to himself as he removed his shoes and lined them up neatly by the door. Though this place didn’t quite feel like “home” to him yet, it felt exactly like Victor. Sophisticated yet whimsical. Beautiful yet touchable. And for that reason, Yuuri was already madly in love with it.

When he straightened, he discovered Victor had come up behind him. He nuzzled the back of Yuuri’s head before leaving a kiss there in his hair. “So . . . what do you think?”

“You already know it’s perfect.” Yuuri placed his hands on top of the arms that had slipped around his middle. “You just want me to stroke your ego.”

Victor’s smile spread against Yuuri’s hair. “I mean, if you’d rather stroke something else, I’m sure I can come up with a few ideas. . .”

His hands guided Yuuri’s coat off his shoulders and down his arms before Victor spun him around with a grin. He cast Yuuri’s coat onto the couch and went in for a kiss. There was a brief, playful resistance before Yuuri gave in and let Victor pull his body fully against his. They kissed once—still teasing, eyes dancing with laughter.

Then Victor’s hunger seemed to get the better of him, and his smile dimmed to something more sensuous and focused. Yuuri wet his lips and felt a pang of nervousness—the good kind, like before the first thrilling drop of a rollercoaster. It was the kind of moment that made him feel like he was alive.

The next time Victor’s lips touched his, they didn’t retreat. Yuuri released a quiet moan and gave himself up fully to the kiss, caressing Victor’s face and neck to encourage him closer.

They took their time reacquainting themselves with the taste of each other, but it soon became apparent that Victor’s hunger wasn’t anywhere close to being sated. He leaned Yuuri backwards, his tongue sliding home, and went in for more and more and. . .

Yuuri eventually broke away with a breathless gasp, head spinning but still smiling at the feel of Victor kissing a wet path from the corner of his lips over to his ear. There was a hot flick of tongue inside that made Yuuri’s legs liquefy before Victor nipped hungrily at his ear lobe. Yuuri let out a helpless whimper and hung on for dear life.

“Victor.  . . my suitcase. It’s . . . oh, God, that feels good. It’s . . . still outside . . . in the hallway. And we didn’t. . .” Another gasp. Yuuri was up on his toes now, simultaneously craning away from Victor’s greedy mouth while pressing his lower body closer at the same time. “We didn’t close the front door,” he finished in a rush.

“Mmm.” Victor mouthed the wet skin of Yuuri’s neck. “I’m going to eat you up.”

He slid both hands up Yuuri’s shirt to feel the contours of his body. The muscular plains of his back that descended to a trim but still soft waistline. One of Victor’s hands then pushed down past Yuuri’s waistband to palm his bare ass.

Victor. The windows. People can see us.”

“So what? They should be so lucky.”

Yuuri laughed and said, “Okay, okay. Enough.” He pushed Victor off of him, his smile letting him know he wasn’t mad or uncomfortable.

It wasn’t easy to resist Victor at that moment. He was beyond gorgeous, with the morning light in his tousled hair and his lips wet and rosy from Yuuri’s kisses. Victor’s clothes were all askew, the dip in his unbuttoned Henley revealing the well-defined muscles of his chest. “Yuuriiiii. . .” he whined.

“Sorry, but it’s for your own good.” Yuuri straightened his own clothes and combed his fingers back through his hair. “You don’t want to spoil your birthday present, do you?”

Victor stilled, his interest piqued. “Present? I have a present? A present for me? What kind of present?”

“You’ll find out later tonight after dinner, but you’re going to have to be patient until then.”

Clearly devastated by the prospect of having to wait for something, Victor grabbed a pillow from the couch, sat down, and buried his face in it. He then proceeded to fake-cry into the pillow while Yuuri rolled his eyes and went to retrieve his suitcase.

It didn’t seem possible, but Victor’s bedroom was even nicer than the rest of the apartment. Bright, clean, and beautiful.

“It’s our bedroom,” Victor said more than once, correcting Yuuri every time he referred to it as belonging only to Victor. “Yours and mine together. Got it?”

“Got it . . . but it’s so nice in here, I’m kind of afraid to touch anything.”

The bed was enormous and washed in daylight from another set of floor-to-ceiling windows. The bedding was spotless white, and as Victor had predicted, Makkachin had knocked every single pillow onto the floor and was luxuriating in the feather duvet. Yuuri turned his attention upward, where he saw more lightbulbs dripping down from the ceiling, giving the room a lazy, romantic feel. He wondered what they would look like, all lit up at night.

“There’s a nice view of the city over here,” Victor said.

Yuuri went to stand with him in front of the huge windows. They were on the top floor of the seven-story apartment building, and the city stretched out for miles around them. There was a small market across the street and a snow-covered park a little ways beyond that. “It’s beautiful,” Yuuri said. “But won’t people be able to see us in bed together?”

“Don’t worry. The windows are treated on the outside. We can see out, but other people can’t see in.”

Yuuri relaxed. “Good.”

“I cleared out some space for you in the closet. I hope you don’t mind, but I already unpacked your things from the two boxes you mailed last week. When is the rest of your stuff coming from Japan?”

“That’s everything.”

Victor looked confused. “But you just have one suitcase with you.”

“Well, I only needed one.”

“Yuuri, my sock collection wouldn’t fit in that thing.”

“I think I’ll manage.”

There was a long table by the window, upon which were a few personal items like books and pictures. Yuuri smiled down at the bottle of Victor’s favorite fragrance that was displayed there and brought it to his nose to indulge in a sniff. The whole room smelled faintly of the same scent, with notes of driftwood and ocean salt.

One picture in particular caught his attention, and he picked it up from the table with care. It was housed in an ornate silver frame that didn’t have a single smudge or speck of dust on it. Pictured there was a willowy young woman with waist-length silver-blond hair, laughing and dipping bare toes into waves on a shoreline. She had the long legs of a dancer and lips that formed a heart when she smiled.

“Your mother?” Yuuri guessed. There was a lump in his throat.

“That’s her,” Victor confirmed.

It had taken Victor a long time to share the details of his family history with Yuuri. While he still didn’t know as much as he would like, he had the feeling he knew more than anyone else, except for perhaps Yakov. The woman looked exactly like Victor, particularly in his teenage years before he cut his hair.

“You weren’t kidding when you told me she was beautiful,” Yuuri said. “Wow. . .”

Victor took the picture from Yuuri and gazed lovingly down at it before placing it back on the table. “And this is my aunt and uncle.” He touched two smaller, simpler frames beside the clearly-prized picture of his mother. “And these are my cousins.”

Yuuri nodded but a different picture had already distracted him. He found himself holding his breath as he picked it up.

“Oh,” Victor said, a hint of amusement in his voice. “I’m just a kid in that one. Eight or nine years old. I can’t remember.”

The picture was of a young Victor with silver hair tumbling over his shoulders and a breathless smile lighting up his face. It was taken outdoors, where he was skating on what appeared to be a frozen lake. His eyes were the same color as the clear winter sky behind him.

Yuuri could have stared at that picture all day and not gotten bored. His whole heart felt like it was smiling, just from holding it.

“That was a fun day,” Victor said. “Yakov’s the one holding the camera. He had just become my coach, and he took me out to that lake to show me where he had learned to skate as a kid. He had more hair back then.” A grin. “Come to think of it, we both did.”

“This is mine,” Yuuri announced.

Victor’s eyebrows came together in the middle. “You . . . want to keep it?”

Yuuri’s head bobbed up and down. “Mine,” he said again, and hugged the picture to his chest just to make sure no one took it from him.

He placed it proudly on the nightstand next to his side of the bed, beside another framed picture that Victor had already put there for him. It was a picture of Yuuri and Victor taken just after their exhibition performance in Barcelona. They were dressed in their matching pair-skate outfits and posed with their arms around each other.

On the other side of the bed, Victor was busy placing something on his own nightstand: the gold medal that Yuuri had given him earlier that day. There beside it was a picture of Yuuri hugging Makkachin on the Hasetsu beach last summer.

“What about your gold medal from Nationals?” Yuuri asked. “Can I see?”

He followed Victor into his giant walk-in closet, which was bigger than Yuuri’s entire bedroom back in Hasetsu, and tried not to feel claustrophobic with the amount of clothing that surrounded him on every side. And really—who needed that many pairs of shoes? There were a few empty racks on one side, presumably to make room for Yuuri’s clothing, but it was far more space than he’d ever need.

“Is that . . . ?” Yuuri blanched and almost backed right out the same way he came in. “Why do you have a poster of me in your closet?”

It must have been the same poster Victor had ordered off the internet weeks ago that night when they were messing around in Yuuri’s bedroom. And there Yuuri was now. On Victor Nikiforov’s wall, posed like an idiot in a Short Program outfit from years ago.

Couldn’t Victor have chosen a poster where Yuuri’s stomach wasn’t sticking out so far?

“So I can kiss it every morning while I’m getting dressed, of course. See? Good morning, beautiful.” Victor dropped a kiss onto poster-Yuuri’s chubby cheek as he passed.

Yuuri followed him deeper into the closet but sidestepped the poster like it was surrounded by landmines. Victor went to a mirrored dresser at the back of the closet and slid open the top drawer, which was lined with velvet. Yuuri came up beside him and peered inside. It was full of medals of various sizes, each adorned with a colorful ribbon.

There was so much gold in that drawer that Yuuri’s mouth fell open.

Not only were there Grand Prix Final, World Championship, and Olympic medals in there, but this was presumably a treasure trove of every medal Victor Nikiforov had won in his entire skating career, from childhood all the way to this year’s Russian Championship. There were dozens upon dozens of them, piled up like a dragon’s treasure, many of them tarnished from years of inattention.

“Victor . . . why do you have these hidden away in the back of your closet? That’s . . . I’ve never even seen an Olympic medal in person before.”

“You know,” Victor said slowly, “I spent eight months in Hasetsu, and not once did I see a medal displayed that my Yuuri won. And I know you have a number of them. Where did you have those hidden away, I wonder?”

Yuuri could feel his face heating up. “In a box beneath my bed. I had to hide them from my mom.”

Victor smiled and said, “I should text her and tell her where they are.” From the top of the pile, he plucked out a gleaming gold medal that looked newer than the others. It was the one he’d won just a few days ago at Nationals, and he presented it to Yuuri. “I think these end up meaning more to the people who support us than they do to the person that won it.”

Yuuri placed both hands on top of Victor’s and brought it and the medal it held to his lips.

As Yuuri kissed the cool gold, Victor said, “Keep it. It’s yours.”


Stepping closer, Victor pressed a warm kiss to Yuuri’s forehead and smiled as he slipped his hand out from between Yuuri’s, leaving the gold medal behind. “I wouldn’t have won it if it weren’t for you. Don’t you know you’re the only reason I’m still skating?”

Too overcome with emotion to trust himself to speak, Yuuri clutched the medal to his chest and marched straight into Victor, silently demanding a hug.

After they left the closet, Yuuri went to his side of the bed and placed Victor’s medal on his nightstand, the ribbon carefully draped over the framed picture of Victor as a child. Yuuri stood up straight and beamed down at the arrangement. Perfect.

“Do you mind if I nap?” Behind him, Victor threw himself onto the bed beside Makkachin and snuggled into the fluffy duvet. “I got up hours before the sun rose to make it to Moscow on time.”

Yuuri retrieved a pillow from the floor and brought it over to tuck beneath Victor’s head. “Get some rest. I’m going to unpack.”

He spent half an hour or so hanging up his clothes in the closet, thinking all the while how ridiculous his stretched-out t-shirts looked on Victor’s fancy wooden hangers. But at least his new suit looked nice hanging there in its brand new home.

As Yuuri suspected, his belongings took up only a fraction of the space Victor had left for him, and soon the job was finished. Then there was nothing left to do but stuff his socks and underwear into an empty dresser drawer, shoot a glare at the poster on the opposite wall, and turn off the closet light.

After dropping his toiletries off in the master bathroom, he rolled his empty suitcase to the second bedroom, which was located at the front of the apartment. There was another bed there, along with a couch by a window that would make for a nice place to get lost in a book. Victor had told him he kept his own luggage in the spare closet, but what he hadn’t told Yuuri was that he also kept his summer wardrobe there on the racks. Apparently, stuffing this closet full of clothes was the only way Victor had managed to clear out some space for Yuuri in the master closet.

“My fiancé is a hoarder,” Yuuri muttered as he stared.

He very carefully added his own ratty suitcase to the closet, wary of letting it touch Victor’s monogrammed Louis Vuitton trunks or any of the other expensive luggage.

With that task complete, the next thing Yuuri did was return to the master bathroom for a much-needed shower. What he really wanted to do was join Victor for a nap, but he felt absolutely disgusting after a long night of travel. There was no way he was getting into that pristine, white bed smelling like this.

If their bedroom held a distinct note of romance in its décor, it was nothing compared to the master bathroom. Victor’s bathroom was just plain sexy.

Like the rest of the apartment, it had high ceilings with more naked lights dripping down from overhead. There was an enormous claw-foot tub, as well as a separate shower that was open to the rest of the room. Because of course Victor wouldn’t believe in having a curtain or even some fogged-up glass doors to give the person showering a bit of privacy. Nope, Victor liked to shower with eeeverything on display. And there were silver-framed mirrors on every wall, too. Just to make sure Yuuri didn’t miss the fact that he was on display.

He blushed as he stripped off his clothes and spent an embarrassing five minutes trying to figure out how to turn the hot water on in the shower. He wasn’t wearing his glasses and had never seen a shower with so many options that it required a row of buttons to operate it.

There were also multiple shower heads, which he didn’t notice at first until a rogue stream of water hit him in the back of the head. Blindsided, he let out a startled yelp, lost his footing, and barely saved himself from a slippery fall.

“What the hell?” he yelled at the rogue shower head, which was now attempting to beat him to death with pulses of hot water that were probably supposed to be therapeutic to an athlete with sore muscles. Or something.

“Yuuri?” Victor called from the bedroom, his voice thick with sleep. “Are you okay? What’s going on in there?”

“I’m fine!” Yuuri called back. “Everything’s fine. Just having a . . . a disagreement with your . . . stupid piece of . . . ow.” He fumbled with the knobs and when that didn’t do anything helpful, pushed a few buttons instead. “Hey, ow! Stop that!”

Without warning, Victor’s fancy shower decided to assault him with a refreshing blast of ice-cold water. Which, again, was probably meant to be therapeutic. Except it wasn’t.

Yuuri screamed.

Victor’s shoulders were still shaking with laughter by the time a grumpy, damp-haired Yuuri crawled into bed beside him. “It’s not funny,” he grumbled.

“Yuuri, you’re so cute,” Victor gushed as he snuggled up to him. “Mmm, and you smell nice, too.” He nuzzled Yuuri’s neck. “Though you smelled even better before you took a shower. Why’d you have to go and do that?”

“Gross. I smelled like the back of an airplane.”

“Are you cold? You’re shivering.”

“Gee, I wonder why?”

Though Victor had previously been napping on top of the covers, he pulled back the feather duvet so that they could snuggle together underneath where it was warm. Yuuri’s bad mood evaporated into blissful submission the second Victor hugged him from behind. The heat from his body leaked right into Yuuri’s, and his shivers were soon quelled into nothing but a sigh of contentment.

“That’s better,” Victor said, his hand sliding up Yuuri’s shirt to rest on his belly. “I bet you’re tired. Sleeping on a plane isn’t real rest. Do you think you could sleep a little now?”

Yuuri’s eyelashes fluttered shut. “Yes,” he said.

And that was the last thing he remembered for some time.

They ended up napping together for several hours with Makkachin draped across their legs and the heater humming quietly in the background. When Yuuri finally stirred and opened his eyes, he saw that the shadows in the room had changed. Outside, the winter clouds were clearing in the distance, allowing the afternoon sunlight to warm the city.

Yuuri closed his eyes again and snuggled closer, too comfortable to get up just yet.

Victor was on his back now, with Yuuri cuddled up on his chest. He slid one of his legs between Victor’s and squeezed his thighs together, hugging Victor’s between them. But not even that was enough contact. He pouted while his feet guided the bottom of Victor’s pants up a few inches until he could rub the pads of his toes against the soft leg hair on Victor’s calf.

“Your feet are cold,” Victor mumbled, half asleep.

“You’ll live.” Yuuri let out a happy sigh. This was by far the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept in in his life, no doubt due in part to the man he had trapped between his thighs.

“Yuuri. . .” Victor’s fingers moved from Yuuri’s back down to inch beneath the waistband of his sweatpants. “Can I put my dick inside you while we nap?” There was a brief pause before he added, “That sounded much more romantic in my head than it did spoken out loud. . .”

Yuuri smothered his laughter against Victor’s chest before leaving a kiss there over his heart. Again, he squeezed Victor’s thigh between his own before rocking his growing erection against him a few times. “No sex until later tonight.”

Which was not an easy thing to say. It would have felt so good to strip out of his clothes, lie back, and engage in some lazy afternoon sex with his future husband. But a little sexual frustration was just going to make his birthday surprise that much better.

Victor gripped Yuuri’s bare butt cheek with one hand and covered his face with the other hand. He pretended to cry into it while he said, “Why are you so mean to me?

“There, there.” Yuuri patted Victor’s perfectly dry cheek. “Can I make it up to you with some kisses? A pre-birthday-celebration makeout session with me is still allowed.”

Immediately, Victor flipped Yuuri over and pinned him, blushing and breathless, to the mattress. “Deal,” he said right before he pounced.

To be continued

Chapter Text

The two of them stayed in bed, indulging in each other longer than Yuuri probably should have allowed. After all, he did have a birthday celebration to get underway, but he hadn’t anticipated how distracted he might become by Victor’s hands.

Or his body . . . or his mouth.

Dear God, his mouth.

“Victor. . . ” Yuuri craned his head back to give Victor more room to work and let out a sigh of contentment at the feel of him. Warm and hard, cool and soft, and everything in between. “What time is it?”

Victor made a noncommittal sound and continued what he was doing.

He had Yuuri pinned to the center of the mattress, thighs spread and Victor’s beautiful fingers wrapped around his wrists, holding them down above either side of Yuuri’s head. Victor had him trapped, but it didn’t feel that way. Not at all. Yuuri knew Victor would do anything he wanted at that moment, if he were to ask. (Except maybe answer his question about the time, but Yuuri couldn’t fault him for that. He’d already forgotten why he’d asked.)

As Victor opened his mouth against Yuuri’s throat, his fingers moved gently against his wrists, caressing the delicate skin there. Yuuri’s thoughts blurred into pleasure. There wasn’t a hint of tension to be found in his body. Were Victor to let go of his wrists, Yuuri’s arms would still be left in place, unable (or perhaps unwilling) to move.

He licked his lips and whispered, “You could keep doing that . . . if you want.”

With a quiet chuckle that was felt more than heard, Victor dropped feather-light kisses on the underside of Yuuri’s jaw—warm at first, but then the wetness cooled on Yuuri’s skin, inspiring a delicious shiver to rocket up his body. He smiled and nuzzled against Victor, who had pressed his face into Yuuri’s neck.

For a long moment, they just rested there in the gentle pressure where their bodies were touching, with Victor’s breath tickling Yuuri’s skin and Yuuri’s thighs closing in ever so slightly against Victor’s hips. It was like they were hugging—like they were wrapped up tight in each other’s arms—even though physically they weren’t. The pads of Victor’s thumbs continued to trace circles on the insides of Yuuri’s wrists, whisper soft.

Outside their little cocoon of comfort, the world was still spinning, even though time had ceased to mean anything. The sound of city traffic hummed in the air, rising up from the streets below the apartment window, and as the sunlight peeked out from behind a cloud, it brightened the dark veil over Yuuri’s closed eyes. Though his inner-clock was not yet acclimated to this new country, something told him it was getting late.

He shifted and opened his eyes. There were goosebumps on his bare skin—everywhere except the places Victor was touching him—making him even less willing to get out of bed. Most of their clothing had been cast outside the covers. Yuuri was naked except for his underwear and socks, while Victor was wearing only his pants. Their bare stomachs moved in and out, their breaths synchronized in a near-perfect give-and-take.

Yuuri’s eyes slid to the mirror positioned on the wall to the left of the bed and took a moment to appreciate the gorgeous line of Victor’s body. His strong back dipped down into a trim waistline, but more distracting than that was the sight of Yuuri’s own body pinned willingly beneath all that beauty and perfection. If only he had more time to stare. “Weren’t we supposed to go to the rink this afternoon?” he asked, even though he really didn’t want to.

“Rink?” Victor’s response sounded very far away, drifting in the airy stillness overhead.

“We’re supposed to go meet Yurio and the others, remember? You told me earlier. They’re coming over for dinner.”


Victor definitely wasn’t listening.

With his well-kissed lips spreading into a grin, Yuuri freed one of his arms from the tenderness of Victor’s touch. “Vitya. . .” Yuuri murmured, his fingertips coming to tease the freshly-cut hair at the base of Victor’s head. It was cool to the touch and very soft, but the skin beneath was a blunt heat against the pads of Yuuri’s fingers. “It’s time to get up.”

Victor let out a sound of pure submission and all but collapsed on top of him. “Oh, my God. Yuuri, that feels so good. . .”

Though Yuuri’s eyes widened when he felt the full brunt of Victor’s weight on top of him, he didn’t protest or seek to get more comfortable. As Yuuri continued to pet him, Victor had gone boneless, and there was something so vulnerable about him in that moment that Yuuri felt a strumming against his heartstrings, followed by a nudge of guilt.

It wasn’t anything that could have been helped, but Victor had problems with tension and headaches whenever he went too long without being touched. Cuddling with Makkachin used to get him by during his bachelor years, but he hadn’t had his beloved dog or fiancé with him these last two lonely weeks in Russia. Then there was the added pressure of having to prepare for Nationals in such a short period of time. Victor’s shoulders, neck, and back were a mess of knots as a result. Even after the spa treatment and massage that Yuuri had gifted to Victor on Christmas Day, it was obvious that he was still holding on to some serious tension.

He pressed his face deeper into the side of Yuuri’s neck and said, “Please don’t stop.”

“Shhh, just relax.” Yuuri curled his fingers, gently scraping his nails against Victor’s scalp. “I’m not going anywhere.”

It was strange . . . but moments like these, when he was focused on taking care of Victor’s needs, made Yuuri feel even more loved and in love than he did at other times. More than when they kissed. More than when Victor smiled at him the way he didn’t smile at anyone else.

As he massaged the tension out of his lover’s body, Yuuri wondered why that was?

This whole year, Victor had been trying to teach Yuuri that he was surrounded by love, but this was somehow a deeper lesson than either one of them had expected to learn. If there was anything more powerful than finally accepting that he was worth being loved whether he was wearing a gold medal or not, it was coming to understand that another human being wanted to feel his love in return. More than that, Victor needed it. Seeing him so content to soak it in was the best feeling in the world, somehow even more satisfying than receiving love himself.

It filled Yuuri with amazement that Victor would open himself up like this with barely any prompting. For so long, he had kept his own needs quiet, choosing instead to focus on Yuuri’s alone. When had that changed? When had Victor felt comfortable enough to let it all balance out?

He had to, Yuuri realized. Victor wouldn’t have been able to keep skating if he didn’t let me support him the way he’s always supported me.

Yuuri pressed a kiss to Victor’s hair and said, “You’re really exhausted, aren’t you? I can feel how tired you are . . . how hard you’ve been working. . .”

Victor only hummed in response. His eyes were closed, his eyelashes resting long and lovely against his cheeks.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Yuuri nuzzled the top of Victor’s head between kisses. “No one else in the world could have won that gold medal the way you did.”

A brief tension pulled at Victor’s face. The corners of his mouth tugged downward, and his eyes were sad as they opened and stared into nothing. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yuuri, I was so scared I was going to fail.”

Victor was still scared. Yuuri could feel it in his body, and it wasn’t difficult to understand why. It was going to be near impossible for Victor to be a coach and competitor at the same time. Yuuri had lost a considerable amount of sleep over the uncertainty himself.

“If you were doing this alone, you’d probably be in some serious trouble.” Yuuri paused long enough to kiss the little knot of tension between Victor’s eyebrows. “Good thing you’re not fighting by yourself anymore.”

Victor shifted and looked up at him.

“I’m here now,” Yuuri continued. “And so is Yakov and Yurio and everyone else. We’re going to figure it out, okay? One step at a time.”

Victor’s eyes were a clear, bottomless blue as they searched his. “Even if I do fail and place last in every competition for the rest of my life, I don’t care anymore. Winning a gold medal has never felt as good as skating with you.”

Yuuri’s fingers trembled as they ran through Victor’s hair, combing it away from his face. The unexpected compliment had left him shaken inside. “What was it that you wrote in my birthday book letter?” Yuuri said. “‘The real reward is in the journey.’”

“Yakov used to say that to me all the time, but I think trying to teach you the same thing was what helped me understand it and put it into practice for myself. I think that’s why Yakov finally stopped giving me such a hard time about trying to skate and coach next season.”

“He sees that you’re inspired again.”

Victor gave a little nod and smiled to himself. Then, in the blink of an eye, it vanished. Frowning, he pushed himself up onto his elbows and said, “Hey, what time is it? I think we were supposed to be at the rink an hour or two ago.”

Yuuri resisted the urge to roll his eyes and instead pressed his lips into an amused smirk. “We should probably get up, but I can’t move if you don’t move first.”

A wicked gleam surfaced in Victor’s eyes. He rolled his hips, rubbing himself suggestively against Yuuri in the process. When Victor’s efforts were rewarded with a gasp of surprised pleasure from Yuuri, followed by a burning blush at how shamelessly his body had responded, Victor laughed and leaned in to kiss him.

Closing his eyes, Yuuri moaned softly at the feel of Victor’s tongue teasing the seam of his lips. But after only a few seconds of opening up to indulge in those sweet kisses, Yuuri turned his face away. “Victor,” he said, pouting.

“We’re already late,” Victor said, his hand coming to guide Yuuri’s face back again. “What does another hour or six really matter?”

Victor,” Yuuri said again. Or at least, he tried to. Victor was kissing him, so what Yuuri actually said was closer to “Mmffmmrr.”

A buzz sounded at the front door.

Makkachin—who had been napping at the foot of the bed—popped his head up and let out a woof to alert his master. Jumping to the floor, his collar jingled as he trotted into the living room, a cloud of dog hair sailing into the air behind him.

“That’s the security desk downstairs,” Victor said. “Wonder what they want? I’m not expecting any visitors.”

“Hmm, maybe there’s a delivery for you.” Yuuri tucked Victor’s long bangs behind his ear, where they stayed for only a second before falling back into his face. “A birthday present, maybe. I wonder who could have sent it?”

Victor shifted his attention back to Yuuri, suspicion drawing his brows together in the middle. Then his eyes lit up as realization washed over him. “A birthday present from you? A birthday present for me, from you?”

Yuuri laughed and shrugged, trying to look innocent . . . but not really trying that hard. Victor’s childlike excitement was far too adorable not to encourage.

With a grin that seemed to burst forth from within, Victor threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. He lifted both arms high overhead for a stretch and said, “Oh, I feel so much better! I haven’t felt this rested in weeks.”

Half-listening, Yuuri found himself distracted by Victor’s bare chest and stomach, every inch of it more capable of slackening Yuuri’s jaw than the last. Victor’s pants were barely resisting the pull of gravity by hanging on to the enticing jut of his hips.

Glasses. Yuuri really needed to put on his glasses.

He retrieved them off the nightstand and slid them onto his face, just in time to be blessed by the sight of Victor bending over to grab a discarded piece of clothing off the floor. “Hey,” Yuuri said, smiling shyly as he sat up in bed. “That’s my shirt.”

Victor had left his own shirt on the ground and had chosen Yuuri’s black t-shirt instead. “Is it?” With a sly wink, Victor pulled it on.

Yuuri’s already slackened jaw sagged ever lower. The t-shirt was too small for Victor. It hugged his broad shoulders, showed off his biceps and chest muscles, and gathered attractively on his well-developed stomach. Dazed, Yuuri turned his face up when Victor approached and leaned down to kiss him.

“Love you,” Victor said.

Yuuri tilted his chin up a bit higher, silently requesting a second kiss. “Love you,” he said after he received it. Then he was burying his face in a pillow to hide his blush while Victor went into the living room to see about his birthday present.

Good grief. That shirt had never looked that good on Yuuri.

“Would you like some tea, my love?” Victor called from the other room. “Or I could make some coffee if you’re still feeling jetlagged.”

Yuuri lowered the pillow and blew out a breath. “Tea, please,” he called back. “Be there in a minute.” Getting to his feet, he combed his bangs back and looked around on the floor for his sweatpants.

In the living room, he could hear Victor speaking in Russian and could only assume he was calling downstairs to the security desk through some kind of intercom system.

Hopefully it really was a delivery. About time, too. The side of Yuuri’s mouth tugged into a smile. He’d been working on his plans for Victor’s birthday for weeks and was pleased things were finally starting to happen.

Once Yuuri located his pants, he quickly pulled them on. His goosebumps were worse than ever. Though the heater was running, there were so many windows in the apartment that it was difficult to eliminate the feel of winter entirely. Yuuri liked it, though. It gave the place an airy feeling and made him want to snuggle up with Victor and take turns sipping from a steaming cup of tea.

Since Victor had stolen his t-shirt, Yuuri was left to find something else to wear. He grabbed Victor’s Henley off the floor and blushed while he considered it. Before he could second-guess himself, he pulled it on and smoothed it into place. It was too big for him, and he had to push up the sleeves so that they wouldn’t fall past his wrists. The V of the Henley drooped low on his chest, but once he buttoned it all the way up, he was more comfortable with the fit.

The scent that clung to the material made him feel a little drunk. It was like being wrapped up in Victor himself—in his scent and implausibly, even the lingering ghost of his warmth. Yuuri hadn’t realized how intimate it would be just to wear something that had been on Victor’s body not long ago. It made him feel warm and cozy, like Victor was hugging him.

Smiling softly, Yuuri put his own arms around himself and hugged the shirt back.

He found Victor in the kitchen, heating up some water in an electric kettle. “Are you dressed?” Victor asked. “The doorman is going to bring up a delivery soon. I guess it was delivered while we were napping. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Yuuri lied. When he was close enough, he went up on his toes so that he could kiss Victor’s cheek. “Is that the tea my mom sent you for your birthday?”

On the counter, Victor had laid out the antique tea set Hiroko had passed down to him, and he was in the process of doling out a carefully measured serving of the tea. “Mm-hmm. It’s my favorite.”

While he watched, Yuuri wrapped his arms around Victor’s waist and leaned against him. “How do you say tea in Russian?”


When Yuuri repeated the word, Victor hummed in approval. They went back and forth while the water came to a boil, with Victor teaching him other words—like teacup, spoon, and kettle—and then pausing to let Yuuri repeat the word in turn. Victor offered gentle correction when his pronunciation wasn’t quite right, but his tone became more teasing the longer the lesson went on.

“What?” Yuuri asked, getting self-conscious. “Are you laughing at me?”

“Not at all.” Victor dropped a kiss onto Yuuri’s bare shoulder where the shirt was sagging. “Just enjoying the sound of your accent in my mother tongue . . . almost as much as I love seeing you in my shirt.”

As Yuuri’s face started to warm, there was a knock at the front door. Victor grinned and branded a blazing hot kiss to the side of Yuuri’s neck before he went to answer it. “That hickey I left on your neck isn’t half-bad to look at either,” he called over his shoulder.

Yuuri clamped a hand over his neck and hissed, “They’re going to hear you.”

Laughing, Victor opened the front door and greeted the doorman, who passed over a large vase of flowers that had been delivered downstairs. Though Victor remembered to thank the man and give him a tip for his trouble, his smile had vanished, replaced instead with a look of hushed astonishment.

Yuuri smiled as he covertly watched Victor’s reaction from the kitchen. Victor often bought Yuuri flowers, using just about any excuse he could come up with to gift them to him. Competitions, his birthday, and sometimes even when they went out on a simple weeknight date after practice. Victor also had roses waiting in the car at the airport when he’d picked Yuuri up earlier that day.

While Yuuri enjoyed the flowers because they were a gift from someone he loved, a part of him had always wondered why Victor loved buying them so much.

It was Yuuri’s mother who had given him insight into the answer. “It’s one of Vicchan’s love languages,” Hiroko had told Yuuri one night back in Hasetsu. “You have your own way of giving affection, but if you want to show Victor a special gesture, consider speaking to him in his language. Buy him flowers, and see for yourself how happy it makes him.”

So that’s what Yuuri had done.

Letting the door close behind him, Victor carried over the large vase of soft blue and purple hydrangeas to the kitchen counter and set them beside the lavender roses he had brought Yuuri earlier that day. Yuuri didn’t know much about flowers—just that they were ridiculously overpriced—but even he was pleased by how nice these looked. Of course, this was just the first of many presents today, but Victor didn’t know that yet.

“Did you send these?” Victor asked, eyes flickering up at Yuuri, his expression still compromised by surprise.

“Is there a card?” Yuuri hinted.

Victor’s cheeks had gone rosy. The color of the flowers flattered his complexion, and Yuuri couldn’t help but admire Victor’s beauty as he plucked a small, white envelope from within the flower arrangement.

While Victor stared down at it, Yuuri came over to stand beside him. The little card inside the envelope didn’t specifically state that the flowers were from Yuuri, so he figured he’d clear up any confusion. “This isn’t your whole present,” Yuuri explained. “Just the beginning of your birthday celebration.”

Victor was still gazing at the envelope, even as his arm went around Yuuri’s waist to pull him closer. “But you already gave me a present. And my birthday was two days ago.”

“No, I’m pretty sure today is your birthday.” Yuuri smiled up at him, and when he finally caught Victor’s full attention, he winked. “At least, this year it is.”

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you, Yuuri. They’re beautiful.”

“So are you,” Yuuri said softly, his eyes scanning every lovely inch of his fiancé’s face.

Victor’s blush deepened. It always surprised Yuuri how much compliments like that seemed to have a deep impact on Victor, who had to know already that he was nice to look at. But it never failed, when Yuuri told Victor he was beautiful, it was like his opinion was the only one that mattered.

Yuuri leaned up to kiss Victor on the mouth, then tapped the envelope in his hands. “You’ll see more of these notes today, so keep an eye out for them. I’m going to go get dressed for the rink while the tea steeps, okay?”

After Yuuri slipped away, Victor called out after him. “You don’t have to take off my shirt, you know. I don’t mind if you wear it.”

Turning to face Victor mid-stride, Yuuri smiled but then spun back around to hurry into the bedroom without saying anything. He was pleased enough to feel the need to duck his head down to hide his blush.

The truth was, he didn’t think he had the mental fortitude to just stand there while Victor read the note that came with the flowers. It was stupid, really. The note barely said anything at all. Just a few words written inside that he’d wanted to tell Victor for a long time.

To my Victor – you inspire me.

That’s all it said. Hardly a sonnet or some grand gesture of love, but it was the truth.

Yuuri had a difficult time expressing how he felt, especially when it came to using words. It just didn’t come naturally to him to be outgoing with his affection. With Victor, the affection rose up out of Yuuri with surprising ease, but he still had to fight the urge to hide it. He was doing better, ever encouraged by Victor’s beautiful reactions to any gesture of love he received, and Yuuri had gained a considerable amount of confidence as a result.

But of course, this note was just the first of several. Yuuri had more to say to his fiancé. Victor would receive five separate envelopes from Yuuri today, each with a different message.

However, just because he’d had enough courage to write them did not mean Yuuri was the type of person who could just stand there while they were read. Already, he was inwardly cringing and worrying about what Victor would think. If he teased Yuuri about the note, he was pretty sure he was going to feel self-conscious about it forever.

Trying to distract himself from his nerves, Yuuri went into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face, which banished the final traces of fatigue after his long plane ride last night. He then returned to the bedroom to change out of his sweatpants and into something nicer to wear to the rink. He wanted to make a good first impression with his new rink-mates.

Victor entered the walk-in closet less than a minute after him and touched Yuuri’s waist as he passed.

When Yuuri felt brave enough to steal a glance, he saw that Victor seemed to be lit up from within. It wasn’t just his mouth that was smiling. His whole countenance hinted at just how loved and special he felt at that moment. He glowed with it.

“How did you know I like hydrangeas?” Victor asked as he pulled a sweater off a hanger. “I don’t think I ever told you that.”

It wasn’t just hydrangeas that Victor liked. He loved roses, peonies, orchids and many other flowers as well, though he gravitated to the ones that were cooler in tone. Blues, purples, white, and occasionally a touch of the softest pink. In fact, the first thing that had come out of his mouth when they’d started talking about planning a wedding was that he wanted loads of flowers.

Did he think Yuuri hadn’t noticed?

“You didn’t have to tell me,” Yuuri said. “They just looked like you.”

Even those simple words seemed to please Victor greatly. As he pulled the sweater over the t-shirt he was already wearing—the one that was stolen and two sizes too small—Victor was practically radiating happiness.

Figuring out one of his partner’s love languages was kind of amazing. Yuuri made a mental note to send his mother a thank-you card. Maybe she’d like to receive some flowers, too.

They decided to travel to the rink on foot, which was only a pleasant ten-minute walk from the apartment. Late December in St. Petersburg was cold enough that it was difficult to think at times, and the sun made only the briefest of appearances through the heavy winter clouds. Yuuri felt optimistic and excited nonetheless.

It was hard not to, when Victor was in such a good mood. He looked far more rested than he had when he’d surprised Yuuri at the Moscow airport.

They took Makkachin down the street to a little park that he loved, where his excited barks soon faded into a look of focused determination. He set about sniffing around almost frantically. It was as if he had realized his scent had faded from his territory, so he hurried about, peeing on every tree, fence, and landmark he could find.

Yuuri and Victor stood side-by-side as they watched, both smiling fondly at the dog. Neither of them felt the need to talk much. The silence was filled by the sounds of the city and the breeze blowing through the icy branches of trees.

In time, Yuuri smiled up at Victor and bumped shoulders with him. “Hey, after Makkachin is done, can we make a quick stop? I need to pick something up.”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I have the shop’s address on my phone. It should be on the way to the rink, if I looked at the map right.”

He held out his phone to show Victor, who looked a little puzzled by Yuuri’s evasion of his question. “That’s just around the corner,” Victor confirmed. “What kind of shop is it?”

“You’ll find out.”

“Yuuri . . . why do I get the feeling you’re plotting something?”

“Who?” Yuuri pointed at his chest, blinking innocently. “Me?”

Somehow, it was more fun not to try very hard to hide anything. Victor’s quiet growl made Yuuri feel all warm and fluttery inside. Grinning, he again bumped up against Victor and encouraged him in the direction of the park’s exit. Makkachin came bounding after them, tail wagging and not a drop of pee left inside him.

He trotted proudly at Victor’s side all the way to the shop, which was just a short distance away. Though Yuuri had trouble reading the Cyrillic on the signs, he knew they’d found the right place just by seeing the grand floral arrangements in the windows. He imagined that on a warmer day, the doors might be open with buckets of flowers arranged on the sidewalk out front.

It was a quaint little flower shop that Mila had helped Yuuri find. She’d also helped arrange this second surprise for Victor, and she had texted Yuuri earlier to let him know she’d confirmed everything was ready.

“I think this is it,” Yuuri said as he reached for the door.

“What . . . do you need here?” Victor asked slowly.

“Let’s see what they have for us.” Yuuri held the door open for Victor, who stepped inside wearing a look of hesitant surprise.

The young man behind the counter took one look at them and lit up with recognition. He started speaking in Russian and addressed Victor by name. Mila had clearly told him who to look for. (It certainly didn’t hurt that Victor was famous.)

Still hanging back by the door with Makkachin, Yuuri held up his phone and snapped a picture of the florist handing Victor a bouquet of lilacs that was tied with a satin ribbon. Victor was speechless and looked like he didn’t know why he was holding the flowers at all. He blinked at the florist, who continued speaking to him in Russian. Yuuri imagined the young man was assuring Victor that yes, the flowers really were for him, and yes, they were already paid for.

There was another envelope carefully nestled between the flowers, and Yuuri felt a pang of nervousness when Victor pulled it out. Unable to stand there while he read it, Yuuri thanked the florist with a nod and slipped out of the shop. Outside, he tried his best to relax. The frigid air felt good on his overheated cheeks.

He wondered how Victor would feel about the note. Would the words mean as much to him as they had meant to Yuuri when he’d written them?

To my Vicchan – you are kind.

Just a few short sentences, but they had taken Yuuri a long time to write. It was hard to boil down so many feelings into mere words. But that nickname was special to him. And Victor’s kindness, which he had gifted so generously to Yuuri from the beginning, was something he’d never be able to repay. Not with a million bouquets of flowers.

He wanted Victor to know how much his kindness had touched his life. Would he understand that, just from those six words? Surely not. Surely his eyes had glazed right over them because of how plain they were.

The little bells on the door jingled when it opened. As Victor stepped out of the shop and joined him on the sidewalk, Yuuri’s insecurity melted into love.

Victor was so pleased with the flowers that he had them hugged to his chest. His expression was softened with the most beautiful smile, and he was looking at Yuuri like he was the source of it all. “Yuuri, this is too much,” he said, though his happiness made it clear that it really wasn’t too much at all. Victor was loving every second of being spoiled. “You already gave me flowers today.”

“Yeah, but those are back at the apartment,” Yuuri explained. “You needed some to walk around with. How else will other people know today’s your birthday?”

“I love lilacs. They smell amazing!” As they fell into step together and set their path in the direction of the rink, Victor slipped the love note into the front lapel pocket of his coat, near his heart. “Is there an overall message with these little notes, or are you just trying to make me fall for you harder than I already have?”

“I just wanted you to know why.”

“Why what?”

Yuuri only smiled in response.

St. Petersburg was incredibly beautiful, with towering old architecture mixed with sophisticated newer constructions, as well as everything in between.

While they walked along the river, which wound through the city like a ribbon, Victor wasn’t able to answer too many of Yuuri’s questions about the landmarks they passed. Instead, he mostly talked about the places Makkachin loved to visit. Other than that, Victor seemed just as bewildered and curious about the city as Yuuri was.

It struck Yuuri that the way Victor looked at St. Petersburg was very similar to the way Yuuri once viewed Hasetsu. There were some unpleasant memories associated with this city for Victor—too many lonely days and nights with only Makkachin and ice skating there to keep him company—and from prior conversations, Yuuri knew depression was at the root of it. He understood the way the fog of unhappiness could blind someone to what was all around him.

But now, Victor seemed to view the city as a place he could share with a loved one, and it excited him greatly that Yuuri was now here to experience it with him. Victor spoke of festivals and events that he’d never taken the time to attend before and made Yuuri promise they could go together.

Up ahead was Victor’s home rink, which had the Russian flag displayed over the large, columned entrance. It was a mammoth structure that housed some of the greatest athletes in the world, a fact that both excited and terrified Yuuri. He’d wanted to come here for a good portion of his life, but Yakov Feltsman’s training camps were far too expensive for Yuuri’s family to afford. To find himself here now, alongside Victor Nikiforov himself, was more than Yuuri had ever hoped for. This moment was truly a dream come true.

“It’s bigger than it looks in pictures,” Yuuri said, lagging a few steps behind. “A lot bigger.”

Victor must have heard the nervousness in his voice because he chuckled and said, “Relax. Everyone’s been looking forward to seeing you.”

As they climbed the icy steps of the building, Yuuri spotted Mila and Georgi standing just outside the doors. It looked like they were enjoying an afternoon break. Mila sipped a hot beverage while Georgi was finishing up an apple.

When she spotted them, Mila nudged Georgi and threw up a hand in greeting. “Yuuri! Welcome to Russia!”

Yuuri was a little embarrassed but pleased with the warm welcome. The four of them lingered there on the steps for a few minutes, chatting about Yuuri’s journey and what he thought of St. Petersburg so far.

When Mila found out that Victor had chartered a private plane for the sole purpose of seeing Yuuri a few hours earlier than scheduled, she laughed and said, “Oh, Victor. You’re so thirsty. God bless.”

“I think it’s romantic,” said Georgi, who was turning out to be much more of a sensitive soul than Yuuri had ever suspected. Everyone who had witnessed Georgi Popovich’s skating knew he had a flair for the dramatic, but Yuuri had never been exposed to this sweeter, more romantic side of him. With a wistful sigh, Georgi added, “Maybe I should fly my Nadia on a private jet to our next date.”

“Didn’t . . . she break up with you?” Mila said, her tone bewildered. “Like a week ago?”

“Oh, she’s just playing hard to get,” Georgi said. “That’s what women do when they want you to get serious about pursuing them. They break up with you to give you the opportunity to prove your devotion.”

“Um. . .” Victor tapped a finger to his lips. “I’m not sure if that’s, um . . .”

“No, Georgi.” Mila shook her head back and forth, her red curls moving against her cheeks. “Bad. No.”

“But Victor chased his love all the way to Japan,” Georgi pointed out. “If it worked for him, then—”

No, Georgi.” Mila shook her head even harder.

“Yuuri invited me to Japan,” Victor clarified. “There’s a difference.” When Yuuri looked over at him, eyebrows raised, Victor said, “You invited me, even if you don’t remember it. Stop giving me that look.”

Georgi heaved a great sigh. “How can I show her what we could have if she won’t listen? She’s my One. My Forever. I feel it in the depths of my soul.”

“Maybe try feeling some restraint in the depths of your soul,” Mila said, “or you’re going to scare her off the same way you did Anya.”

Georgi’s lower lip started quivering. (Actually quivering. Yuuri hadn’t even known that was a real thing people did.) “Do not speak to me of the dead.”

Rolling her eyes, Mila said something disparaging in Russian that made Victor’s laughter ring out, bright and carefree. It echoed off the pillars of the building.

Though Yuuri’s shyness and unfamiliarity with his new rink-mates inspired him to keep quiet during this exchange, he found himself smiling nonetheless as he watched them. Throughout his career, he’d always been incredibly intimidated by the Russian team, what with their talent, good looks, and unflinching confidence. But like Victor, they were much more personable and friendly than Yuuri could have imagined.

All the same, he had little doubt that his new rink-mates were going to test the limits of his self-confidence during his time here in St. Petersburg. It was going to be difficult to feel comfortable skating here when there were so many unfamiliar eyes on him. But then again, Yuuri had once felt that way around Victor.

“Who are the flowers for?” Georgi asked Victor mournfully.

“They’re mine,” Victor said, hugging the lilacs to his chest. “From Yuuri for my birthday! Aren’t they amazing?”

Georgi’s head hung lower. “No one got me flowers for my birthday. . .”

Mila and Victor must have been used to hearing things like this from Georgi because they acted like he hadn’t said anything at all. Instead, they started talking about the flower shop surprise, which Mila had helped arrange with the shop owner.

Yuuri felt a little bad for Georgi. Mila had mentioned to Yuuri in text messages that Georgi’s birthday was yesterday, which was the day after Victor’s, and how Georgi felt that even his birthday was in Victor’s shadow. The plan was to celebrate both birthdays at dinner tonight, since Georgi and Victor had been occupied with Russian Nationals and traveling on the actual days.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Mila said, her face lighting up with sudden glee. “You both have to help us. We’ve been playing a prank on Yuri since this morning.”

Like magic, her words pulled Georgi out of his gloomy thoughts. “Our Yuri,” he clarified. “Not yours.”

“The little kitten is just so pure,” Mila said. “It’s almost too easy.”

“We’ve even got Yakov playing along,” Georgi said.

Victor laughed. “Yakov’s in on it? This should be good.”

“We’ve been telling our Yuri that you and your Yuuri aren’t in a romantic relationship,” Georgi explained, “and that he’s misunderstood everything this entire time. Victor, it’s hilarious.”

“He’s so angry,” Mila added with glee.

“But surely, he doesn’t believe you,” Victor said. “He’s seen Yuuri and I together many times.”

“Of course, he doesn’t believe us.” Mila bounced on her heels while she spoke. “That’s what makes it so funny.”

“Yakov had him going good this morning,” Georgi said. “Yuri wasn’t buying it at all when it was just the two of us teasing him, but once Yakov joined in, you could see Yuri really starting to panic and doubt himself.”

“You two have to keep it going,” Mila said. “But it’s important not to change anything about your behavior. The more you flirt and act like a couple, the better to confuse him.”

With a grin, Victor looked at Yuuri. “Should we help them?”

Please, Yuuri,” Mila said, hands clasped in front of her.

Well, if he’d wanted a chance to bond with his new rink-mates, now was the perfect opportunity. . .

Smiling, Yuuri gave them a little shrug. “Seems like a waste of a good prank not to.”

They went into the building together as a group, with Mila leading the way and Georgi and Victor following just behind her. Yuuri was doing a decent job of keeping up until he got a good look at the place. Then he stopped walking and started gaping instead, his chin lifting higher and higher by the second.

The place was enormous, with huge windows that flooded the great room with light. Giant flags and banners removed all doubt that this was Russian territory. The fresh smell of ice cooled Yuuri’s lungs as he breathed in, eliciting a shiver.

There were quite a few people on and around the rink—young, bright-eyed students, as well as retired competitors coaching them from the sidelines. The rink itself was Olympic-sized, but it seemed somehow bigger. Perhaps it was because the room that housed it was so vast and open. Every shout and slap of skates on the ice seemed to echo a dozen times.

“Like what you see?” Victor asked. He had stopped to wait for Yuuri with a knowing smirk on his handsome face. He knew his home rink was impressive.

“It makes the Ice Castle look like a tiny, dark cave,” Yuuri said. “How could you even stand it there after having all this?”

“Excuse me,” Victor said, feigning offense. “I have very fond memories of that tiny, dark cave. I’d call it my home rink again in a heartbeat, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build some new memories here.”

He extended his hand to Yuuri, who took it and followed Victor further inside. There, they saw Yakov standing near the barrier of the rink, giving instruction to Yuri Plisetsky, who was on the ice and struggling to get his sweaty hair into a tighter ponytail. The hair at the nape of his neck was still too short to stay up.

When Yurio spotted them, his eyes went wide, and he drew a great deal of oxygen into his lungs, which he then used to yell across the building. “OY, VICTOR. KATSUDON. I WANNA TALK TO YOU.”

Yurio pushed away from the barrier and skated over to the opening of the rink. Once he slid a pair of guards onto his skates, he marched straight up to his rink-mates. “Did you get to him?” Yurio said in Mila’s face, then turned to address Yuuri. Jabbing a finger in Mila and Georgi’s direction, Yurio said, “Did they get to you?

Yuuri lifted both hands in surrender, laughing nervously. “Er . . . hi, Yurio. It’s good to see y—”

“Look,” Yurio said, cutting in. “Baba Ganoush and Vanilla Ice here have been trying to convince me all day that you and Victor aren’t completely gay for each other. And I’m not stupid, okay? Admit it. You and Captain Forehead are a thing.”

“I . . . um . . .” In his periphery, Yuuri could see Mila and Georgi stifling their laughter behind bitten lips. It was going to be hard to keep a straight face, but Yuuri had a lot of practice with pranks. He and Phichit used to play them on each other constantly in Detroit. “Hang on,” Yuuri said. “You think Victor and I are . . . ?” He pointed back and forth between himself and Victor and lifted his eyebrows.

“Wait, I’m confused,” Victor said. “Who’s Captain Forehead?”

“Yurio, Victor and I are just friends,” Yuuri said. “I mean . . . it’s even a stretch to call us that. He’s my coach. Getting involved with him would be so unprofessional.”

Victor had slipped an arm around Yuuri’s middle during this speech, fingers curling possessively over his hipbone. “So unprofessional,” he purred. “Can you imagine?”

Yurio looked like he was about to pull his hair out. “Are you freaking kidding me? You two kissed on television!”

“Allegedly,” Mila interjected.

“Where’s the proof?” Georgi said.

Victor sighed and shrugged, as if the whole thing was out of his control. “People see what they want to see, I guess.”

“You’re both wearing matching wedding rings,” Yurio said, undeterred.

“Well, they were actually meant to be good luck charms for the Grand Prix Final,” Yuuri said with a self-depreciating laugh. “They didn’t even work.”

“They worked at Nationals, though!” Victor sang. “My Yuuri won gold at last!”

“You pair-skated together,” Yurio said. “And what about you two kissing in those paparazzi pictures, huh? I was standing right there. What about that?”

Yuuri smirked and looked at Victor. That was going to be a hard one to explain.

But Victor just waved off the accusation with a laugh. “Oh, that was just a publicity stunt. We needed to give Yuuri a boost in the media.”

Yurio’s anger faded into a look that was somewhere between disbelief and concern. “Listen . . . are you two hiding your relationship because you’re worried I might judge you or something? Because that’s not going to happen. I mean, sure—I might throw up in my mouth every time I look at you, but if anyone else ever gives you a hard time, I’ll make them wish they were never born.”

“Thanks, Yurio,” Victor said, his smile heartfelt. “I appreciate that.”

“So you’re admitting it, then,” Yurio said. “You’re gay.”

“I never said I wasn’t. No one’s denying that. But seriously, Yuuri and I make it a point to keep things professional between us.” Victor hugged Yuuri closer to his side and said, “Don’t we, sweetpea?”

Completely professional,” Yuuri said, leaning into him. “Hey, coach—do you have any lip balm? My lips are feeling really chapped.”

“Oh, my Yuuri, I’m so sorry for not noticing. Here. . .” Victor pulled a jar of balm out of his pocket with a flourish and proceeded to apply a generous coating to Yuuri’s mouth. “You haven’t had anyone to hydrate these lips for two long weeks, have you? My poor, neglected student. . .”

“Mmm, you’re the only one who does it right.” Yuuri rubbed his lips together and smiled up at Victor with all the love in his heart. “Thanks, coach.”

Yurio looked back and forth between the two of them before storming off, muttering, “I fucking hate you both.”

Georgi and Mila were practically turning purple from trying to hold their laughter in, but they managed to wait until Yurio was out of hearing range before they let it all spill out. Victor hooked an arm around Yuuri’s neck and murmured in his ear, “Well done.”

Yakov had wandered over in the middle of all this wearing his usual scowl, and when Yuuri noticed him, he immediately went quiet. Yakov nodded a silent greeting before turning his attention to Mila and Georgi. “Your break ended ten minutes ago. I thought you wanted to leave early today?”

Both skaters tossed apologies over their shoulders and went to put their things down so that they could finish up practice.

“And who said you could take the whole day off?” Yakov said to Victor. “What is this you’re wearing? You’re not dressed to skate.”

“I took eight months off and won a gold medal after two weeks of practice,” Victor said. “I don’t think one more day will kill me.”

“Maybe not . . . but I might be tempted to.” Yakov turned to Yuuri. “And what about you? Where are your skates?”

“Um. . .” Yuuri could feel his body temperature creeping up beneath his coat. Was he supposed to come here prepared to skate today? Why hadn’t Victor told him? This was a horrible way to make a first impression at a new rink. “I, uh . . .”

“He’s just teasing you, Yuuri,” Victor said, tightening his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders. “Breathe.”

Yakov’s expression hadn’t changed, but when he spoke again, his tone was milder. “Today, you rest from travel. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, you come here and skate, yes?”

Yuuri stood up a little straighter. “Y-yes, sir. Thank you.”

“And we’ll work on that shit you seem to think is a Salchow,” Yakov said.

Yuuri deflated a degree. “Yes, sir.”

Yakov covertly glanced behind his shoulder, where Yurio could be seen doing furious laps around the rink, and jerked his chin in the young skater’s direction. “You kept the joke going with the Ice Kitten?”

A wicked gleam flashed in Victor’s eyes, his lips curling into a smile. “I told him the paparazzi pictures were a publicity stunt.”

“Heh,” Yakov said. “Heh heh. Back to work now.” He tapped Victor’s arm and gestured toward Yuuri. “Feed this boy something Russian. He needs to build strength if he wants to survive on this rink.”

The words made Yuuri go rigid with fear.

“You’re coming to dinner tonight, right?” Victor called as Yakov walked away. “You and Lilia?”

The older man gave a slight nod before returning his attention to Mila and Georgi, who were taking too long lacing their skates back up. While Yakov started shouting orders at them, Yuuri glanced up at Victor, who looked incredibly pleased that Yakov had accepted his invitation. The events of the last year had driven a huge wedge between the two of them that had lasted for months and months, so it was a relief to see them communicating again. Yuuri knew that Yakov was more than just a coach to Victor. He was like a father to him.

Why would he say that?” Yuuri asked. “That I’m not going to survive?”

“Because he likes you. If he didn’t, he’d just pretend you weren’t here.” Victor was gingerly touching his own hairline as he spoke. “Hey, who was Yurio talking about earlier? Captain Forehead or something. . .”

Filled with sudden panic, Yuuri smiled tightly in response. “Hmm?” he said and wandered off in the direction of the rink, pretending like he hadn’t heard the question so that he wouldn’t have to answer it.

Victor and Yuuri hung around for another hour or so until Yakov took pity on them all and dismissed his team from practice. After Georgi, Mila, and Yurio cleaned themselves up in the locker rooms, they left the rink and went together as a group to a food market to pick up supplies for dinner.

“Who are the flowers for, Victor?” Yurio said, his tone revealing he was still just as annoyed as earlier. He was lagging behind the rest of the group and wearing a sullen expression, his hands jammed into his team jacket to keep them warm. “You bought them for katsudon, didn’t you?”

“Actually, it’s the other way around,” Victor said. “Yuuri bought them for me.”

Yurio’s glare shifted to Yuuri. “Sounds like something a boyfriend would do.”

“Oh, Yuuri’s definitely not my boyfriend,” Victor said, laughing. “That, I can promise you.”

Which was true. He and Yuuri had shed that label and graduated to “fiancés” when they’d come to the agreement that marriage was in their future. Even without an official proposal, they knew they were getting married one day.

Victor still had his arm around Yuuri. The sweet scent of the lilacs enveloped them in their own little world where it was springtime, when all around them was the bitter cold of a Russian winter. Yuuri felt warm with happiness . . . even though Yurio was making gagging noises behind them.

The others teased Yurio all the way to the market, which was located across the street from Victor’s apartment building. By the time they reached their destination, the young skater was smoldering with fury, and Yuuri was feeling a bit guilty for taking part in the prank. There was only so far he could push things like this before giving in.

They left Makkachin secured outside the market and went inside for a quick shopping trip. There, Yuuri stepped out from beneath the comfort of Victor’s arm and joined Yurio on the hunt for supplies for tonight’s dinner. Georgi and Mila disappeared down one of the aisles together. They had all agreed to make different dishes that they could share. Yuuri’s personal plan was to make Victor and Georgi a pair of birthday cakes, and his mother had sent him to Russia armed with a family recipe, which he pulled up on his phone and showed to Yurio.

“Doesn’t look too hard,” Yurio muttered as he scanned the instructions. “You sure this recipe doesn’t suck?”

“It’s from my mom,” Yuuri said.

“Hmm. I guess it’s probably okay, then.”

Victor followed them with the cart, watching fondly while Yurio helped Yuuri find the items on his checklist. Some of the ingredients were easy enough to identify just by looking at them, but he needed Yurio’s help reading the Cyrillic on the labels. Together, they found almost everything on the list—flour, sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla extract. Yuuri checked off each ingredient on his phone once it was placed in the cart.

“What are you two planning to make tonight?” Victor said. “Looks like something sweet.”

“None of your damn business,” Yurio said. “Hey, geezer. What kind of baking pans do you have at your apartment?”

“That depends. What are you planning to bake?”

Tsch. Nice try.” Turning to Yuuri, Yurio said, “He probably doesn’t remember half of what he has in his own damn kitchen anyway. If he doesn’t own the right pans, I’ll get Lilia to bring something over. What’s next on your list?”

“Um, let’s see.” Yuuri blinked down at his phone. “Do you think they sell birthday candles here? We need to get enough for both Victor and Georgi.”

“Those are a few aisles over, but I doubt they sell them in packs that big. Hey, can we get the trick candles that keep relighting themselves again and again, no matter how many times you blow them out?”

“Sure. Why not?”

Yurio brightened, instantly cheered by the prospect of revenge. “Haha, yes!”

Yuuri smiled as he watched the teenager skip off down the aisle in search of candles, and then he glanced back at his future husband, who was eyeing the groceries in the cart with a smug expression. “You’re making me a birthday cake, aren’t you?” Victor guessed.

“I’m making Georgi a cake,” Yuuri said. “You’ll have to be on your best behavior if you want one, too.”

Victor’s smugness faded into bewilderment. “Georgi? Why does he get a cake?”

“What do you mean? Yesterday was his birthday.”

“Really. . . ?”

Yuuri closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Oh, Victor, he thought.

They met up with Mila and Georgi some time after that. The two of them had filled another cart with ingredients for a sizeable family dinner—meat, vegetables, bread, appetizers, and wine. “Where did the Ice Kitten go?” Mila asked, looking around for Yurio and not finding him.

It was a good question that Yuuri had been wondering the answer to himself. Yurio had been gone way too long to just be getting birthday candles.

“I sent him on a little errand,” Victor said. Winking at Yuuri, he added, “You’re not the only one who has a surprise in store for tonight.”

In time, Yurio returned with the birthday candles, as well as some meat wrapped in paper, a box of bread crumbs, and rice. He snuck bottles of saké, soy sauce, and mirin into the cart when Yuuri wasn’t looking, but he spotted them when they were paying for the groceries at the front.

Yuuri frowned, confused by what he was seeing. Those were the ingredients for katsudon.

But . . . weren’t they going to have a traditional Russian dinner? Why would Victor want a Japanese dish on the menu? Maybe he was trying to make Yuuri feel more at home, but Victor knew better than anyone that he wasn’t allowed to eat katsudon on his current diet. . .

Then Yuuri remembered. Yes, he was allowed to eat it.

He’d won a gold medal last night.

Victor might not remember half his promises or that Georgi Popovich’s birthday took place the day after his own, but he had remembered a promise he’d made to Yuuri many months ago. They were going to eat katsudon together tonight.

Yuuri looked at Victor, hopeful surprise written all over his face. Oh. He hadn’t expected that.

“Pretend you didn’t figure it out,” Victor said, “and I’ll pretend I don’t know about the cake.”

“What cake?” Yuuri teased.

The clerk at the front of the store was an older woman with plump, rosy cheeks and an apron tied around her waist. From behind the counter, she pulled out a bouquet of soft pink peonies and held them out to Victor, who just blinked at her in confusion until he finally figured out that they were a gift meant for him.

Yuuri glanced at Mila, who grinned back. She had snuck off while they were shopping to talk to the clerk about giving Victor the flowers. “Thank you,” Yuuri mouthed silently to her.

While the clerk bagged up the groceries, Victor just stood there in stunned silence with the flowers in his arms. He had two bouquets now, and the gentle pink of the peonies matched the color of his cheeks while he retrieved a small white envelope from among the blossoms.

This one said: To my Vitya – you are beautiful.

And Yuuri had absolutely nowhere to run while Victor read those words.

He stood there, sweating and squirming and praying none of the other skaters would see what he’d written. Thankfully, after Victor read the note, he folded it up carefully within his hand and brought it to his heart. He was silent for a long moment and didn’t hear when the clerk told them in Russian to have a nice day. (Yuuri, on the other hand, was quite proud of himself for understanding what she’d said.)

Even after they left the market, Victor was quiet. If he had looked pleased or flustered after Yuuri’s first two notes, this third one had seemingly left Victor shaken.

“Are you okay?” Yuuri asked when they had a moment alone together.

Victor had his nose buried in the peonies but looked up at the question. His gaze came to rest on Yuuri’s hands, which were busy untying Makkachin’s leash from an iron fence in front of the market. “I just don’t understand,” Victor said quietly.

“What do you mean?”

“You already bought me the most beautiful flowers. No one’s ever. . . I’ve never had someone. . .” Victor trailed off, as if unable to properly phrase what he wanted to say.

“Well, you didn’t have any pink flowers yet,” Yuuri pointed out. “How will people know it’s your birthday if you don’t have a bouquet of pink flowers to walk around with?”

With Makkachin’s leash in hand, Yuuri straightened and moved closer to Victor, who now had actual tears glittering in his eyes. The others were waiting for them, but Yuuri couldn’t help but give Victor a hug, right there in the middle of the sidewalk. It was a little awkward, with Victor’s arms filled with flowers, a bag of groceries sitting on the ground at their feet, and Makkachin jumping up to paw at them like he wanted a hug, too.

“Baby, this is the best birthday I’ve ever had,” Victor whispered, leaning his body into Yuuri’s. “But I still don’t understand. Why are you so sweet to me?”

“Haven’t you been paying attention to my notes?” Yuuri smiled and gave him a final squeeze. “Come on. Your birthday is just getting started, and I’m hungry for some katsudon and cake.”

Wearing a scowl that vacated the sidewalks in front of them, Yurio led the way back to the apartment while the others followed behind with their arms laden with grocery bags. All except Victor, that is, who was carrying too many flowers to make room for anything else. He hugged them to his chest and smiled so brightly that the now-absent sun in the wintery sky went unmissed. Already, it was getting dark outside.

When they arrived, they went upstairs to Victor’s apartment and dumped all the groceries on the counters. Makkachin kept getting tangled up underfoot, almost tripping people with his leash again and again. He was excited to see so many familiar faces, especially Yurio’s.

Unfortunately, Yurio had never forgiven Makkachin for not being a cat and refused to give him anything more than a reluctant scratch behind the ear. “Victor, get your smelly dog out of the kitchen. We’ve got work to do.”

“You wouldn’t kick your cat out of the kitchen if she was here,” Mila teased. “You’d probably wrap her around your neck and wear her like a stole.”

“Yeah, well, my cat doesn’t smell like dog. Now, move. I need to preheat the oven.”

It was at that point that Yurio took charge of the kitchen and started issuing orders. While he tied an apron around his waist, he assigned everyone a job and gave them hell if they didn’t snap to it. He ordered Georgi to start chopping vegetables while Mila set about searing a roast on the stove, which would soon go in the oven. Yuuri got started on the cake recipe while Yurio measured out ingredients for the dough of his grandpa’s famous pirozhki.

“Why can’t I help?” asked Victor, who had been banished to the outskirts of the kitchen.

“Because you don’t know how to follow instructions,” Yurio said. “You always think you know best and do everything your way, no matter what anyone else tells you.”

Victor considered this for a moment. “And that’s a bad thing?”

With a scathing look, Yurio said, “Go clean the bathroom or something.”

Into the oven went the roast, nestled in a bed of carrots, onions, and parsley, and doused with a generous splash of kvass. It was a beloved family recipe that had been passed down from Mila’s grandmother, to her father, and then to Mila herself. With that taken care of, she started cleaning up the mess while Yuuri ransacked the kitchen cabinets on the hunt for a cake pan.

Georgi heaved sigh after wistful sigh as he watched Victor arrange his newest flowers in vases. There were already two other bouquets on display—the hydrangeas from earlier, as well as the lavender roses that Victor had given to Yuuri at the airport. The apartment was starting to look like a flower shop.

“Oy, katsudon,” Yurio said. “What’s that on your neck?”

Eyes widening, Yuuri slapped a hand over the hickey Victor had given him when they were in bed together. A winter coat and scarf had kept it covered throughout most of the day, but Yuuri had shed all those extra layers when they’d arrived at the apartment. Now he was dressed in an oversized button-down sweater that he’d borrowed from Victor’s side of the closet, and he was still wearing the beige Henley beneath that.

Yuuri had forgotten about the hickey. “Um. . .”

“Is that a bruise?” Yurio said, clearly not recognizing the mark for what it was. “You fall or something?”

Standing over by the stove, Mila started sniggering under her breath.

“Kind of?” Yuuri said. “I slipped earlier in the shower.”

This wasn’t a lie. Victor’s fancy shower had all but assaulted him earlier that day. It was a little funny, though. Yurio had finally spotted clear evidence of Victor and Yuuri’s relationship but hadn’t figured it out yet.

“You fell in the shower and landed on your neck?” Yurio scoffed. “What a loser. Hey, Victor. We can’t find a cake pan. Do you own one or not?”

Before Victor could offer a response, a buzz at the door distracted him. “Hang on,” he said and walked over to the intercom panel that was located on the wall beside the front door. Someone from the security desk downstairs was calling again.

Yuuri peeked over the kitchen counter to watch.

Even as he smiled to himself, knowing Victor was about to receive yet another birthday surprise, Yuuri felt a stab of nervousness right in the center of his heart. All of these gifts were headed in a specific direction, and as much as Yuuri had mentally prepared himself for tonight, he suddenly felt like it was all happening too fast.

Deep breaths, he told himself. You can do this.

I think. . .

Abandoning his search for the cake pan, Yuuri fled to the bathroom instead. There, he rifled through Victor’s drawers until he found some concealer, which he then used to hide the hickey on his neck.

From the bathroom, he heard when the front door of the apartment opened. Then came the muffled sound of Mila’s voice. “Victor, they’re beautiful!” she gushed. “Set them down over here. Yuri, move that cutting board to make room on the counter.”

Victor had received his fourth flower delivery, then.

Yuuri had given him white orchids this time, a flower Victor had confessed his admiration for more than once. He loved the way the elegant blossoms dripped down from the artfully-curved stems. Yuuri had specifically ordered them to come with the roots still potted so that Victor could keep them long after the other birthday flowers had withered.

Enclosed with the orchids, the fourth note said: To my Vitenka – you make me happy.

Were Victor’s reaction to the first three notes anything less than amazing, Yuuri might never have come out of that bathroom again. There was a part of him that could not believe he’d had the courage to say or give any of this to Victor . . . but he had. Yuuri had little doubt that he was in for a life-long struggle with his own insecurities, but Victor wasn’t one of those insecurities anymore. Yuuri loved him, and he knew Victor was going to react beautifully to the flowers and note because he loved Yuuri, too.

That’s how it always was with Victor. When Yuuri opened up, Victor met him where he was. Enthusiastically. That was part of the joy of their relationship.

As Yuuri’s eyes locked onto his own reflection in the mirror, he was filled with a strange confidence that calmed him. “You can do this,” he told himself again—this time, with conviction.

Now that he’d gotten a better handle on his nerves, he was curious what Victor thought of the orchids. Yuuri opened the door but came to a sudden stop, one hand still resting on the handle. He blinked, his lips parting in anticipation.

Victor had come into the hallway, a small white envelope held in one hand, and was walking in the direction of the bathroom wearing a look that could have made all the water in the pipes explode into steam.

And he wasn’t slowing down.

“V-Victor?” Yuuri asked.

That’s all he managed to get out before Victor put both hands on Yuuri’s shoulders and guided him backwards into the bathroom. The door closed behind them, ensuring their privacy. As Yuuri gazed up at his fiancé, silent questions in his eyes, Victor answered him only by drawing him in for a long kiss.

Surprised, Yuuri resisted for only the briefest of moments before he closed his eyes and gave in. A soft moan slipped out between kisses, and his arms went around Victor’s neck, pulling him closer. Yuuri hadn’t even known how badly he needed to be kissed until it was happening. It felt amazing, like being wrapped in a warm blanket after a long day spent outside in the cold.

As they kissed, they forgot about their guests, who were still in the other room of the apartment. They forgot about dinner and everything else, for that matter. All Yuuri wanted anymore was the heat of Victor’s mouth and the gentle pressure of his hands. It was impossible to live without such things anymore, as vital to his continued existence as food or oxygen.

Victor backed them up against the bathroom counter, his hands moving from Yuuri’s hips to his ass, and then lifted him up to sit on top of it. Whatever decorations or toiletries Victor kept on the counter fell over and clattered to the white marble, disturbed by their movements. Neither one of them noticed. Yuuri spread his thighs, dragged his hands down the gorgeous, masculine contours of Victor’s neck to his chest, and gripped handfuls of his sweater to make sure he didn’t go anywhere.

They made out until their lips were red and swollen, and their pants had grown uncomfortably tight. Only then did they draw back to gasp for air, search each other’s eyes, and go in for just a little bit more. Just one more kiss before they had to return to reality. . .

Even then, after the heat of the encounter calmed to a simmer, they stayed there with Yuuri seated on the counter and Victor held between his thighs. With their faces pressed to each other’s shoulders, they hugged, tighter and tighter until something deeply satisfying seemed to click into place. It was then that they finally relaxed.

“I take it you liked the flowers?” Yuuri guessed. He could feel his pulse in his lips, as well as against the zipper of his pants. Good thing he was wearing a long sweater.

“That would be an understatement.” Victor rubbed his face against Yuuri’s shoulder and gave him another squeeze. “Would it be rude to ask our guests if we could postpone dinner to tomorrow? Or maybe the day after that. Or what about after New Years?”


“Because that’s how long I plan to have you naked in our bed.”

Blushing, Yuuri drew back and said, “No. It’s your birthday. We’re having this dinner tonight.” When Victor opened his mouth to protest, Yuuri clamped a hand on top of it. “Then, after I give you your present, you can have me.”

Victor moved Yuuri’s hand off his mouth. “What do you mean, after you give me my present? You’ve been giving me presents all day.”

“I already told you, the flowers aren’t all of it.”

“Yuuri. . .”


“What kind of present? Tell me what it is! You know how much I hate waiting. . .”

“Oh, you do not. You’re loving every second of this, and you know it.” With a teasing smile, Yuuri gave Victor one last peck on the lips and pushed against his chest to indicate his desire to get down from the counter.

As requested, Victor backed up but kept his hands on Yuuri’s waist until he was safely on the ground again. “I can’t even have one little hint? Is it big? Small? Does it bark or meow?”

“It’s not flowers,” Yuuri said. “There’s your hint. Come on. The others are probably wondering where we went.”

Victor opened the bathroom door and was about to lead the way back to the kitchen when he stopped in his tracks, almost causing Yuuri to bump into him from behind.

Yurio had jumped into the doorway. “Ah hah!” he declared, jabbing a finger at Victor’s face. “Caught you red-handed.”

“Oh, hey there, Yurio,” Victor said. “Did you need to use the bathroom?”

No. What were you two doing in there all alone, huh?”

“Yuuri was just helping me straighten up. You told me to clean the bathroom earlier, remember? See? I do know how to follow instructions.”

Yurio got up on his tippy-toes so that he could see past Victor’s shoulder into the bathroom. There, Yuuri smiled nervously back as he straightened the items they’d knocked over on the countertops. They were going to have to be more careful when and where they chose to get physical with each other.

Since it really did look like Yuuri was cleaning, Yurio’s triumphant smile faded into something else. If Yuuri had to put a name to the emotion, he might suspect Yurio was getting frustrated by all the teasing. He knew people were lying to him, and it was starting to hurt his feelings.

Victor ruffled Yurio’s hair as he walked past him into the apartment. “Bathroom’s all yours, kiddo.”

“I don’t have to use the stupid bathroom,” Yurio yelled at Victor’s back. “And I’m not a kid!” He reared around to level Yuuri with a glare—like how dare he not get caught making out with Victor—and said, “Do you want to make this cake or not? I’m not doing everything by myself.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Yuuri said. “Let’s go finish up. Hey . . . Yurio? You know we’re just teasing you, right?”

Yurio hesitated mid-turn, still glaring. He waited for Yuuri to explain what he meant.

“Victor and I,” Yuuri said. “You’re right about us. We’re together.”

“Together, like you’re a couple? Like you love each other and stuff?”

“Yes. Don’t tell the others I told you. But yes.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have ruined the prank, but Yuuri couldn’t help it.

There was something in Yurio that made Yuuri want to show him what it felt like to truly be included in a group. A little joke was harmless, but the last thing he wanted to do was make Yurio feel like he was on the outside. A well-meant joke was supposed to make someone feel like part of the group—not separated from it.

Like magic, Yurio’s aggression melted into a tiny smile. “Cool,” he said. “But I swear, katsudon, if either you or Victor threaten to quit skating again because you’re too busy getting married or adopting puppies or whatever, I’m going to kick both your asses. That’s bullshit.”

“Don’t worry,” Yuuri said. “Victor and I aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.”

“Good. Make sure it stays that way.”

Just as Yurio started to walk away, Yuuri called after him, “We could keep it going, you know.”

Yurio paused and lifted an eyebrow, cautious but still listening.

“The joke, I mean,” Yuuri said. “No one else knows that you know the truth about my relationship with Victor. We can use that.”

“We?” Yurio asked. “Like, the two of us teaming up to play a prank on everyone else?”

Yuuri smiled, pleased that he had the opportunity to teach his young friend what it felt like to be part of something. “Exactly. We Yuri’s have to stick together.”

As Victor went out into the living room, he tucked Yuuri’s note into his pocket and smiled to himself.

His Yuuri had certainly spoiled him today. There were flowers everywhere Victor looked—on tables in the living room, by the front door, and on the counter in the kitchen. They made the apartment seem to come alive, whereas before, it had always felt so still. Like a photograph with no one in it.

Victor had spent many lonely nights in this place, with nothing to break the silence except his phone and no energy to cook a meal just for himself. What was the point? But it didn’t feel like that anymore. Tonight, the apartment was buzzing with activity, filled with the voices of people and the smell of good food. Makkachin was finally home again, and Yuuri would hopefully soon settle in and feel like this was his home as well. However, it wasn’t just the two of them that Victor now felt warming up the apartment.

These past two weeks, having returned to St. Petersburg after spending nearly a year with someone else’s family, Victor had come to realize that he had a family of his own waiting for him in Russia. He always had.

There were his rink-mates, whom Victor had always held at arm’s length when he was so bogged down with depression. They’d welcomed him back into the fold like no time had passed at all, and more than once, they remarked that Victor seemed like a different person now. He was softer around the edges—more genuine and fun—and it was nice to have someone care enough about him to notice those changes.

And then there was Yakov. . .

Victor’s relationship with his coach was complicated, and he supposed it always had been, though he had only just figured that out in the past year. As it turned out, there was a huge difference between how Victor had once perceived his relationship with Yakov and the reality of what it actually was.

Before he went to Japan, Victor hadn’t acknowledged in his heart that Yakov was anything more to him than a figure skating coach. Victor had broken off their relationship like it was nothing but a business transaction, but he couldn’t just dismiss the person, who for all intents and purposes, had spent the last twenty years being a father-figure to him.

That’s why Yakov had been so angry with him for so long . . . because Victor had treated him like an employee instead of family. He could see now how wrong it had been to just leave like that, when all he had to do was involve Yakov in the discussion.

They’d since had several long talks now that Victor had returned to St. Petersburg, and he’d had the chance to explain to Yakov how uninspired and unhappy he had been. Victor would have retired from skating entirely if he hadn’t taken that break, so it was really the only option. While Yakov still had strong opinions of his own that often differed from Victor’s, the fact that they were talking about it had made all the difference in their relationship. It didn’t matter if they disagreed, but it did matter that they were still a family afterward. Now that Victor had acknowledged Yakov’s place in his life as far more significant than that of a coach, the two of them were doing just fine, arguments and all.

Being with Yuuri’s family in Hasetsu had been wonderful. They’d accepted Victor like he and Yuuri were already married, but what made Victor especially happy was that he could now give Yuuri the exact same thing. A second family, this one Russian. Victor’s family would soon be Yuuri’s, too. He just knew they were going to love him.

Victor went to pour himself a glass of wine and chat with Mila and Georgi, who were laying out appetizers for everyone to enjoy before dinner. Yurio and Yuuri eventually rejoined them in the kitchen, and their amused smiles and quiet conversation left Victor wondering what they were talking about with such secrecy.

Since there were no cake pans anywhere to be found in the apartment—to be honest, Victor wasn’t even sure what a cake pan looked like or why everyone seemed to think he owned one—Yurio texted Lilia to request that she bring a few over. Yuuri then abandoned the unmixed cake ingredients on the counter and instead started to help Yurio with the pirozhki, which Victor had asked him to stuff with katsudon in honor of Yuuri’s gold medal.

“Hey coach,” Yuuri said as he sprinkled flour on the pirozhki dough so that it would be easier to roll out. “I know we have practice tomorrow, but do you think it’s okay if I drink tonight?”

At once, Victor’s face lit up with a megawatt smile. Yuuri wanted to drink? That was rare. And wonderful. “Of course, you can. We’re celebrating. Would you like a glass of wine?”

“Yes, please.” Yuuri glanced up at him and winked. There was a bit of white flour on his left cheek. “Thanks, coach.”

Just when Victor was starting to wonder why Yuuri kept calling him ‘coach,’ he remembered that they were still playing a prank on Yurio. Amused, Victor poured another glass of wine and cuddled up extra close to Yuuri as he handed it over. “Here’s your drink, my sweet little katsudon, whom I have nothing more than a professional relationship with that in no way involves kissing or snuggles.”

Yuuri took the wine and a deep breath at the same time. “Really subtle. . .” he said quietly to Victor.

“You know, I’m actually glad to hear you two aren’t dating,” Yurio said.

As Victor turned his attention to the Ice Kitten, his smile became slightly strained. Sure, the prank had been a good laugh so far, but why would Yurio say something like that? Victor and Yuuri were perfect together, and everyone should see that and agree.

“Why do you say that?” Victor asked, fighting the urge to get huffy with him.

“Well, these two guys were asking about Yuuri earlier today at the rink,” Yurio said. “I guess one of them was interested or something. He wanted to know if I could introduce them.”

The glass of wine started trembling in Victor’s hand. “Oh, yeah? What guy are we talking about, exactly?”

Mila turned and said, “Yeah, who is he, Yuri?”

“I can’t remember his name,” Yurio said, “but I think he’s a coach. He was with one of the ice dancers, who’s a lot younger. Closer to my age. The other guy is in his thirties, I think, or maybe he just looked older because he’s got his shit together, you know? Really well-dressed. Obviously rich. The kind of guy you know has a great family and education. Hey, is thirty too old for you, katsudon?”

Yuuri opened his mouth to reply but then shut it a moment later. He looked up at Victor and said, “Um . . . I guess it depends on the person?”

Victor set his wine glass down on the counter a little too hard and glared at Yuuri, who shrugged helplessly back.

And okay. Victor understood that Yuuri was just trying to keep the prank going with Yurio, and that he didn’t really want to run away with Mr. Well-Dressed-Obviously-Rich-Coach-Man, who probably wasn’t that good of a coach anyway and definitely not as well-dressed as Yurio seemed to think. (Because honestly. Yurio thought loud animal prints were the height of fashion, which meant this guy was probably dressed head-to-toe in clashing leopard and tiger print athletic wear.)

There was nothing for Victor to worry about. No need to feel insecure. Yuuri loved him and only him, and he definitely wasn’t into animal print.

“I can probably get you his phone number,” Yurio said. “I told him you weren’t available because I thought you and Victor were a thing. He’ll be relieved to hear you’re actually—”

“Yuuri is not available,” Victor declared, loud enough to send a hush through the room. “He’s mine, and I’m his. We’re in love, and we’ve been in love for months and months. So you can tell this guy to keep his phone number to himself, or I will be the one returning it to him, along with an invitation to our wedding.”

There was a long moment of stunned silence.

Mila was the first one to move, putting her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter, while Georgi leaned against her for support, his shoulders moving as he snickered. Victor watched as Yuuri’s entire face pulled upward into a tentative smile. He looked more amused than embarrassed by Victor’s declaration.

“That’s a good idea, right?” Victor asked him. “Not too aggressive, but still sending him a clear message? We could sit him in the front row so he can have a good view of us exchanging our vows.”

Mila and Georgi sputtered into laughter. Even Yuuri was chuckling silently now. His brown eyes shifted to Yurio, who was smirking at Victor in triumph.

“What?” Victor said. “Why does everyone think that’s so funny?”

“I think Yuri’s teasing you, Victor,” Georgi said.

Mila nudged Yurio’s shoulder and said, “I’m kind of impressed. You got Victor to confess and everything.”

Yurio was so pleased by his victory that he didn’t even shove Mila away from him. Victor blinked at them all, still puzzled.

“I used reverse psychology on you,” Yurio explained with no small amount of conceit. “Get it now?”

“You mean . . . there’s no ice-dancer-coach trying to take my Yuuri away from me?” Victor said slowly.

Yuuri had come up alongside Victor and linked arms with him, as if to give him an ally in that moment. “Like that would ever happen,” Yuuri said under his breath.

Victor looked down at his Yuuri, heart fluttering with love. “Okay, that was actually a pretty good prank,” Victor admitted. “You got me, Yurio. Congratulations.”

The funniest part was that Yurio was in the best mood after that.

As he continued to lead the charge in the kitchen, his sullenness had vanished, and he actually joined conversations for once, especially with Yuuri. Victor had never seen the kid so optimistic. Every time he wondered what had inspired this transformation, his eyes shifted suspiciously to Yuuri, who again and again found ways to subtly include Yurio in what was going on and make him feel like he was part of it.

Victor mentally patted himself on the back for having incredible taste in men. With each passing day, Yuuri was finding newer and newer ways to reinvent the word ‘perfect.’

It was Yurio and Yuuri that made the katsudon together, with Yurio explaining what his grandfather had taught him and Yuuri commenting that it was very close to what his mother did. They met somewhere in the middle, using a mix of techniques from both families.

When the katsudon-stuffed-pirozhki came out of the oven, they smelled so incredible that they all spoiled their dinner right then and there. Standing around the still-warm oven, they devoured the pirozhki, setting two aside for Yakov and Lilia to enjoy when they arrived for dinner.

“Katsudon is just so good,” Yuuri lamented between bites. He looked close to weeping from sheer happiness alone. “Why does it have to be so good?”

“To inspire you to win more gold medals,” Victor said. “Hey, Yuuri . . . is this technically still katsudon we’re eating if it’s not served in a bowl?”

“What are you talking about?” Yurio snapped.

“Well, ‘don’ means ‘bowl’ in Japanese, right? So this would technically just be pork katsu and rice stuffed in a—”

“The pirozhok is the bowl,” Yurio said, cutting him off. “Trust me. It’s katsudon. Right, katsudon?”

“I have no idea what either of you are saying,” Yuuri said, eyes closed as if he was in the process of ascending to heaven.

Laughing, Victor slipped his arm around his Yuuri’s shoulders. “You’re having a moment, aren’t you?”

Mmmmph” was Yuuri’s heartfelt reply.

By the time the roast came out of the oven, Yakov and Lilia had arrived at the apartment. The mingling scents of Chanel N°5 and hard alcohol hovered around them.

Victor felt a little nervous when he went to take their coats and welcome them inside. Yakov hadn’t been to his apartment in years, his aversion no doubt the result of an argument they’d had a long time ago when Victor had moved out of Yakov and Lilia’s house and into a place of his own.

“You came,” Victor said, still unable to shake the surprise.

“Nice of you to notice.” Yakov handed Victor a bottle of his favorite vodka. “Pour me a glass of that, would you? Lilia’s in a mood.”


“Because I’m in a mood.”

After Victor fetched Yakov a drink, the older man seemed to relax. With one hand buried in his pocket, he went off by himself into the living room to inspect Victor’s furnishings, looking like he neither approved nor disapproved of what he saw. Makkachin came to hover near Yakov’s feet, tail wagging, until he reluctantly offered the dog a pat on the head.

Meanwhile, Lilia had gone into the kitchen with a large bag in hand. Sniffing her nose at the mess of flour and egg shells on the counter, she said, “You used the lemon zest in the batter like I suggested? Georgi and Victor both like lemon.”

Victor brightened, touched by her thoughtfulness. She remembered.

“Yes, we added it,” Yurio said. “Did you bring the pans?”

From the bag, Lilia brought out several circular cake pans, which she handed over to Yurio only after getting him to promise they would be cleaned properly and returned to her the next day. “We need to coat them in oil and flour so the cakes won’t stick,” Lilia said to Yurio, rolling up the sleeves of her exquisite silk blouse. “Let me show you.”

“Is the rest of the stuff in the bag?” Yurio asked her. After she gave a curt nod, Yurio turned to Yuuri, who had just finished stirring the cake batter and was eyeing Lilia like he was scared to death of her. “I asked her to bring all the stuff you mailed me last week so the geezer wouldn’t see it,” Yurio explained. “The rest got delivered to the house this morning. It should be in there, too.”

Accepting the bag from Lilia, Yuuri glanced at the contents before closing it up tight. “Thank you both for your help. I’ll go hide everything.”

Listening from the outskirts of the kitchen, Victor frowned at them. What were they up to?

He followed Yuuri out of the kitchen and past the living room, where Victor caught up with him at the door of the bedroom. There, Yuuri finally spun around and said, “Hi. Do you need something?”

Undeterred, Victor leaned against the doorjamb and smiled. “What’s in the bag?”

“Gee, let me think,” Yuuri said, blowing his bangs out of his eyes. “It’s your birthday, and I haven’t given you your present yet. Whatever could this thing be that I’m trying to hide?”

Victor’s smile widened into a grin.

“Do you need anything else from the bedroom tonight?” Yuuri asked. “Go get it now because I’m officially kicking you out. And I better not catch you peeking either.”

“I won’t peek,” Victor promised. “I’ll be too busy making eyes at you.”

“Smooth,” Yuuri said. After receiving a kiss, he went into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.

By the time the cakes were ready to go into the oven, Mila’s roast had just come out. The smell was incredible, and they all gathered together in the kitchen to wait for it to be carved.

While Yakov was sharpening one of Victor’s knives, which hadn’t been used in a long time, he spoke to Yurio in Russian about the proper technique for slicing up a roast. “Against the grain,” Yakov instructed. “Never with it. You should like that, knowing you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Yurio said. “Hurry up. I’m starving.”

“Yuri Plisetsky,” Lilia said, prompting Yurio’s shoulders to go tense. “Those are not the manners of the refined young man I know you to be.”

The whole scene reminded Victor of the past, when it used to be him being taught by Yakov and scolded by Lilia. Victor chuckled, charmed by the memory, and hugged his Yuuri a little closer. “He actually came,” Victor murmured, his lips near Yuuri’s ear.

Yuuri glanced up and gave him a soft, knowing smile, seeming to understand without being told that Victor was talking about Yakov. Resting a hand over Victor’s heart, Yuuri said, “He came.”

The apartment wasn’t big enough for a formal dining table, so dinner was a casual affair that night. They ate wherever they could find a place to stand or sit, though Yuuri outright rejected the invitation to eat his dinner while seated on Victor’s lap.

(“Maybe later,” Yuuri told Victor in a whisper that got him more than a little worked up.)

It was a good night, filled with laughter, delicious food, and wine. While Victor washed dishes, Lilia helped Yuuri and Yurio decorate the cakes with icing made from confectioners’ sugar, water, lemon zest, and vanilla. Yuuri had a nice conversation with her about his dancing experience and tutelage under Minako-sensei, whose career Lilia was familiar with.

In the living room, Mila and Georgi were explaining to an amused Yakov how Yurio had masterfully turned their prank around on Victor. Makkachin trotted from person to person, waiting for someone to drop something he could gobble up. More than once, Victor spotted Yurio slipping the dog covert bites of food, even though Makkachin still hadn’t miraculously turned into a cat to better please the tastes of the Ice Kitten.

Soon, it was time to light the birthday candles, and they all gathered around the kitchen counter.

Yuuri hugged Victor around the waist while the group sang to him and Georgi. Out of everyone else in the room, Yuuri had the most beautiful voice. Clear and sweet. (Not that Victor was biased or anything.) Someone had taught Yuuri the words in Russian, and Victor rewarded him for a job well done with a kiss on the rosy tip of his nose.

There were two identical cakes, each one made with two layers, and there was no room to write anyone’s name with icing because Yurio had covered every available inch of the surfaces with candles. Dozens of them, far more than were necessary.

“I’m not that old,” Georgi said, clearly affronted.

“Neither am I,” Victor added under his breath.

“Sure, you are,” Yurio said cheerfully. “Make a wish.”

After Victor closed his eyes and wished for Yuuri to tie with him for gold at the World Championship, he was ready to blow his candles out, but he stopped when Georgi burst into noisy tears beside him. There was no need to ask what was wrong. He was crying about Nadia again. Or maybe Anya. Victor couldn’t keep up with Georgi’s women anymore.

“Birthday candles, hear my cry,” Georgi said, weeping openly. “Bring her back to me.”

But when he blew his candles out with great ceremony, every single one of them sparked back to life again. Georgi looked upon his failure with horror, as if it meant his wish would never come true.

Victor tried to blow his out as well, but they also relit themselves. Trick candles, he realized and looked up at Yurio with a smirk.

“Ha!” Yurio said. “Good luck with that wish.”

“Oh, I’m not worried,” Victor assured him. “I never needed a birthday wish to help me win the World Championship before.”

Like a blown-out flame, Yurio’s smile winked out of existence. He still wasn’t over Victor beating him at Nationals.

When they finally got the trick candles extinguished, they sliced up both cakes and enjoyed them with some freshly-brewed coffee. Victor excused himself to call Hiroko-san so that he could thank her for sending the recipe for his cake. When he got her on the line, he told her that Yuuri and Yurio had done it justice. It was a brief but pleasant conversation, shortened only because of the language barrier. Hiroko was still in the process of learning English, and Victor’s knowledge of Japanese was also limited.

(Though, admittedly, that Japanese for Dummies book Mari-Neechan had given him for his birthday had really come in handy. He asked Hiroko to put Mari on the phone so he could tell her thank you, too.)

By the time he hung up, he found the others had pitched in to finish tidying up the kitchen. It was getting late, and Victor suspected their guests would soon be reaching for their coats and shuffling towards the front door.

As it turned out, he was mistaken.

“Is it time?” Mila asked.

Everyone looked to Yuuri, who blushed and gave a shy little nod. Then their attention shifted to Victor, who as usual, had no idea what was going on. “Time for what?” he asked.

When Yakov and Georgi pulled Victor away from the party and guided him into the bedroom, he felt confused and a little off-balance. “I’m not supposed to be in here,” Victor said. “Yuuri made me promise I wouldn’t peek.”

“I’m pretty sure he just gave you permission,” Georgi assured him.

What Victor saw waiting for him in his bedroom both pleased and puzzled him. There, on the bed, was another bouquet of flowers. Blue roses this time, with a small envelope nestled in the leaves. It matched the other envelopes he’d received earlier that day.

Yuuri, Victor thought, affection humming in his heart. Blue roses were his absolute favorite. Had he ever told Yuuri that? Victor couldn’t remember.

Beside the flowers, Yuuri had laid out what at first appeared to be one of Victor’s suits, but upon closer inspection, he realized he’d never seen it before. There was a white dress shirt, a silk tie, a pair of suspenders, gray pants, and a matching button-down vest. The only thing missing was a suit jacket to go on top, and its absence made the whole outfit more seem casual than something he would normally wear.

Victor frowned as he picked up the dress shirt, which was softer and more delicate than the shirts he typically paired with his suits. “These tags are vintage,” he murmured to himself.

So were the shoes. They were also waiting for him on the bed—a pair of comfortable but stylish vintage leather shoes that would match the outfit well. Again, not his normal style, but there was something about them that made him smile. They were the type of shoes he might wear out on an epic night on the town. Maybe to a jazz club or out for some impromptu dancing in the rain.

Yuuri, what are you up to?

Since Yuuri wasn’t around to ask, Victor looked up at Yakov and Georgi with questions in his eyes.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Yakov said. “Get dressed.”

They shooed Victor off to his walk-in closet so that he could change his clothes in privacy. There, he stripped off what he was wearing and put on the outfit that Yuuri had apparently picked out for him.

Age had softened the cotton of the vintage shirt, making it very comfortable, and though the pants were a little more high-waisted than he normally preferred, when he glanced at himself in the mirror, Victor could see the look Yuuri was going for. It was a little mobster or perhaps old Hollywood. Either way, it was fun to dress up in something so different than the norm. Victor pulled up the suspenders and smiled at his reflection as he chose a matching belt. Once he had the necktie perfectly knotted and the vest buttoned up, he went back into the bedroom.

Yakov took one look at him and said, “Too formal. Georgi, help me roll up his sleeves.”

“Too formal for what?” Victor asked.

Neither of them answered. Together, they undid the buttons of his sleeves and rolled them up to his elbows. Then Yakov started adjusting Victor’s necktie, loosening it up a bit. (They never had been able to agree on the best way to knot a tie.)

The strangest feeling came over Victor in those moments . . . like he was getting ready for his wedding or something. Maybe it was because Yakov was there, like the father of the groom making sure his son didn’t choose stupid socks—and maybe because Georgi was there, too. Victor had known him for so many years that it was a given that he’d be in the wedding party. Only Christophe was missing. He would definitely be there, too. And maybe Yurio and Mila, looking gorgeous in a suit.

But that was a silly thought to have. Victor knew he and Yuuri weren’t getting married tonight. (At least, he hoped they weren’t because as great as this outfit was, it was not what he’d had in mind for their big day.)

Maybe Yuuri was just planning to take him out on a date. A club, perhaps.

Yakov and Georgi continued to fuss over him for a good five or ten minutes longer than necessary, leaving Victor with the impression that they were stalling for time. Yakov shined the shoes on his sleeve before handing them over to Victor to put on, while Georgi very carefully sculpted Victor’s bangs into the perfect position.

After a spritz of fragrance and a final inspection, Yakov nodded in stern approval. “You’ll do,” he said.

It was the nicest thing Yakov had said to Victor since the 2014 Winter Olympics, when he’d broken his own world record for the third time.

“Did you read the card that came with the roses?” Georgi said. “I’m supposed to make sure you read it.”

“Oh, right.” Victor went over to the bed, smiled again when he took note of the roses, and felt the thumping of his heart as he retrieved the little white envelope. It was the fifth one he’d received today, and the other four had been so perfect that Victor was almost afraid to read this one. (Surely it couldn’t get any better than Yuuri calling him ‘my Vitenka.’ Where had Yuuri even learned that?)

Victor slid the note out of the envelope and quietly read the words Yuuri had written him.

And okay. So maybe he was wrong. No, he was absolutely wrong. Because there really was something better than Yuuri calling Victor those other nicknames from before. And there was also something better than being told he was beautiful and kind and so many other amazing things.

In his last note, Yuuri had written: To my best friend – I love you.

Victor blinked at the words, stunned. Was that . . . true?

Did Yuuri really think of Victor as his best friend?

Victor had long-since considered Yuuri to be his best friend, but he hadn’t thought Yuuri felt the same way. Sure, they were lovers and planned to spend the rest of their lives together, but Victor had always assumed Phichit was Yuuri’s best friend. Not him.

Lowering the note, Victor felt a little lost inside. Not because anything was wrong, but because for the life of him, he could not figure out what he had ever done that would inspire Yuuri to write down those seven words, seal them in an envelope, and give them to Victor alongside his favorite flowers.

“What does it say?” Georgi asked.

Victor couldn’t even answer him, so he just held the note out for his friend to see for himself.

After reading it, Georgi sighed and said, “What’s it like to have someone love you this much?”

“You’ll find out, Georgi,” Yakov said, giving Victor’s vest one final adjustment and smoothing it into place on his shoulders. “If it can happen for this hopeless old bachelor, it can happen for you, too.”

When Victor came out of the bedroom, he saw that the lights in the living room and kitchen had been turned off.

It wasn’t dark, though. At first, he thought it was candlelight that had given the room such a lovely golden glow, but then he realized someone had put up white twinkle lights all over the place—around the windows and laid on top of the counters in the kitchen.

The sofa had been pushed to the side, leaving a large open space in the living room, but everyone had gathered near the kitchen instead. There, Yurio was helping Yuuri pair his phone to a Bluetooth speaker that hadn’t been there fifteen minutes ago.

Yuuri glanced up at Victor and smiled, dozens of little twinkle lights reflected in his eyes like stars.

He had changed clothes as well and was dressed all in black—a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the top button undone, suspenders, and black pants to match. His shoes had a distinct shine to them in the dimly lit room. He’d slicked back his dark hair but left his glasses on. Paired with his dark eyes, arched brows, and the curves of his body, Yuuri looked stunning. Literally. Victor was too dazed to do anything more than stare at him.

But the best thing of all was still Yuuri’s smile. It warmed the whole room up, even as snow drifted silently past the living room windows.

Yakov and Georgi had left Victor standing there all by himself, instead going to join the others near the kitchen. There, Mila and Georgi pulled out their phones and held them up like they were taking pictures or video. Beside them, Yurio had his arms crossed over his chest and was smirking at Victor with a look that said, Just you wait and see what’s about to happen. And don’t you ever forget that I helped.

“Yuuri?” Victor asked, his voice timid. He was even more confused than before.

Yuuri walked over to take Victor by the hand and draw him to the very center of the living room. “Nice outfit,” Yuuri said.

Victor’s eyes moved down Yuuri’s body and back up again. “I could say the same about you.” In a quieter voice only Yuuri could hear, he said, “What’s this all about?”

The hand that held Victor’s was trembling slightly. Yuuri was nervous. Considering they had a whole room of people watching them, it was understandable.

“I want to ask you something,” Yuuri said.

Victor had no idea why, but he started trembling. Things began to feel very surreal. Like they were standing somewhere else together. Alone on the beach or maybe on the top of some high building. With snow falling from the sky, and impossibly, stars coming out to sparkle all around them at the same time.

“In your Free Skate. . .” Yuuri began. “The one you said was dedicated to me . . .”

When Yuuri trailed off and lowered his gaze, Victor squeezed his hand to encourage him to continue. They hadn’t really had a chance to talk much about Victor’s Free Skate, which was essentially a love song choreographed just for his future husband. Yuuri had shied away from the subject more than once, and Victor had figured that was just a result of bashfulness. He had to know Victor had been dancing just for him.

But why was Yuuri choosing to bring it up now, with everyone watching them?

“You went down on one knee during your performance,” Yuuri said, looking up again. The words hung in the air for a moment. Then he added softly, “Were you proposing to me?”

Victor stared at him for a long moment, absolutely amazed by what he was seeing and hearing. Was that really his Yuuri standing there, looking so strong and calm while Victor was the one about to fall apart?

He was getting emotional without really understanding why. Something was happening—something life-altering—but he was afraid to put a name to it. “Yuuri, I’ve been proposing to you in my own way every single day for a long time now. Probably longer than you realize. And I don’t plan to stop, even after I’ve made you mine.”

The sweetest smile spread across Yuuri’s face. “Will you ask me now?”

Victor was truly failing to keep his composure now. He could hardly stand still.

Could he really say the words, right here in front of everyone?

So much of their relationship was built on communicating with each other in ways other than words. A lot of that was rooted in insecurity, with Yuuri not trusting himself to be worth loving and Victor hungrily grabbing for whatever he could get. (Because he didn’t trust himself to be worth loving either.)

The truth was, there was still a part of Victor that didn’t believe Yuuri wanted to marry him. In Barcelona, when Yuuri had given him that ring and called it a good luck charm, Victor had declared them engaged when neither one of them had asked the other person about marriage. And afterward, it had never felt right, even though Yuuri had gone along with the idea of a future wedding.

Though Victor tried not to let it bother him, the lack of an actual proposal still nagged at him. Why hadn’t he just gotten down on one knee and asked the question? He could have done it anywhere. On the steps of that cathedral or alone in their hotel room. He could have even proposed this morning when he’d surprised Yuuri at the airport, and it would have been perfect. A thousand other perfect moments passed them by every day.

Victor wanted Yuuri to be his husband more than anything, but even now, part of him was afraid Yuuri might say no. But that was ridiculous. Why would Yuuri orchestrate this entire night if he was going to refuse him? Why would he write Victor all those beautiful notes that had so perfectly led up to this moment if he planned on saying anything other than a resounding Yes?

Still holding Yuuri’s hand, Victor went down on one knee and took a moment to compose himself.

When he was ready, he said, “Yuuri, I love you so much that it scares me. Sometimes I think I hold onto you too tightly. Tighter than I really have to. I guess we’ve both had to learn how to trust each other this year.”

After they exchanged a little laugh, Victor squeezed Yuuri’s hand, his thumb rubbing at the golden ring on his finger. They quieted, giving in to the reverence of the moment.

“I don’t want to be alone anymore,” Victor said quietly. It was one of the most honest things he’d ever said to Yuuri . . . or anyone else, for that matter.

“I know,” Yuuri said. “I’m here.”

A welcome feeling of peace flooded through Victor until there was no trace of fear left in him. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. You are the most amazing man I’ve ever met. The most beautiful. The most inspiring. Yuuri, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

Yuuri’s eyes were now sparkling with tears, but his calm smile remained fixed in place. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“Say yes,” Victor pleaded. “I want to hear you say it.”

“Yes,” Yuuri said without hesitation, his voice confident and clear.

Shooting up from his kneeling position, Victor’s arms went around his fiancé. He hugged him so tightly that Yuuri’s toes left the ground. There was a swell of vocal reactions from the kitchen, and Victor remembered then that they weren’t alone. His coach and rink-mates were witnessing this moment, as were the cameras on their phones.

And it amazed Victor, to be honest. Had his Yuuri really planned this moment and purposefully brought people here to share it with them? He could scarcely believe it.

Victor’s heart soared with happiness, even as Yuuri pushed gently against him, silently asking to be released. “Hey,” Yuuri said with a smile. His toes had just touched back down on the floor. “We’re not done, you know.”

And then, stepping back and taking Victor’s hand into his own, Yuuri went down on one knee in front of him.

Instantly, Victor burst into tears.

He couldn’t help it. Even before the tears had a chance to really start flowing, his breaths were coming out in little sobs. “Oh, my God,” he said. “Yuuri. . .”

Everything was just so perfect. The scent of flowers in the air, the little lights twinkling in the background, his friends and family standing close by, and Yuuri looking so handsome and sure of himself. And he was looking at Victor like that. It was almost too much for his heart to handle.

“Victor, I promise you,” Yuuri began, which was enough to make Victor fall to pieces all over again. “As long as you want me, I will never leave you. And even if you don’t want me, I will never stop loving you. Isshou kimi no soba ni isasete kudasai.”

“What does that mean?” Victor asked, so choked-up that he could barely speak.

In contrast, Yuuri’s face was dry and full of confidence as he said, “It means, ‘Please let me be by your side forever.’”

Victor swiped at his tears, unable to contain his joy. “Wow.”

“Say yes.” Yuuri’s thumb rubbed a slow path across Victor’s ring. “I want to hear you say it, too.”

Launching himself into Yuuri’s arms, Victor gave him exactly the answer he was looking for.

After they toasted their engagement with a bottle of champagne that Yakov had brought for the occasion, the others slipped on their coats, accepted doggie bags of cake, and said goodnight to Victor and Yuuri.

Perhaps they’d gotten the hint that the two lovebirds wanted to be alone after officially getting engaged, or maybe Yuuri had already informed them that the party would end immediately after the proposal. Either way, Victor and Yuuri couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Even before their guests were gone, the two of them kept sneaking off to steal a few kisses or just hold each other for a minute or two. It wasn’t until Yurio started threatening to literally throw up right in front of them that they concentrated on seeing their guests to the door.

Alone at last, Victor drew his fiancé in for yet another hug. He couldn’t seem to get enough of them. “We’re getting married,” he said, rocking Yuuri back and forth.

“We are. But before we do. . .” Drawing back, Yuuri’s fingers curled around Victor’s necktie, laying claim to it. “Would you like your birthday present now, Mr. Nikiforov?”

Victor’s eyes widened a degree. He looked around at all the flowers, the lights, and the remains of the wonderful birthday party Yuuri had thrown for him. Then there was his new outfit, the ring on his finger, and the love of his life standing in his arms. “You’re not serious,” Victor said.

“I’m very serious.” Pulling on Victor’s tie, Yuuri placed a feather-light kiss on his fiancé’s cheek near his mouth. “You didn’t think any of that just now was your present, did you?”

“But. . .”

“Come on. I had you put on this suit for a reason.” Yuuri started walking backwards towards the open living room, smiling flirtatiously up at Victor as he pulled him along. “Don’t you want to know what it is?”

“Are we dressed up because we’re going somewhere?” Victor said. “It has to be close to midnight by now. Nothing will be open.”

“No, your present is right here in this apartment.”

Victor liked the sound of that. “Would my birthday present happen to be dressed all in black and looking like he needs a good seeing-to in our bed?”

“Hmm, maybe later. But no, that’s not it either.”

“I’m out of guesses, then.”

Still gripping Victor’s tie in one hand, Yuuri pulled his phone out of his pocket with the other. He pushed a few buttons, then tossed his phone aside, where it landed safely on the couch cushions. Behind them, a soft jazz melody started playing from the Bluetooth speaker on the kitchen counter.

“Do you remember that conversation we had in Barcelona?” Yuuri asked. “When we were cuddled in bed and imagining our life together, here in St. Petersburg?”

Victor remembered. It was after that awful fight they’d had about Yuuri retiring. They’d taken a shower together, and then Yuuri had held Victor in his arms in bed and talked to him about what their future might look like in St. Petersburg. They’d imagined it out loud together—waking up each morning in this apartment, cooking meals, going on walks with Makkachin. They’d done many of those things already today, in fact.

“I do remember,” Victor said softly. He wore the beginnings of a smile because he was starting to understand where Yuuri was going with this. The gentle sway of the music playing in the background gave it away.

“One of the things we talked about was dancing together,” Yuuri said. “That’s what I want to give you for your birthday. Our first dance on our first night, living together in our first apartment.”

“You forgot that it’s also our first night being officially engaged,” Victor said. They moved closer to each other, already swaying to the music. His hand came to rest on Yuuri’s hip. “God, you look gorgeous tonight. Just when I think I can’t fall for you any harder than I already have. . .”

More confident than Victor had ever seen him, Yuuri let the necktie slip from his grasp as he stepped back. He held out his hand to Victor and asked, “May I have this dance?”

To be concluded.

Chapter Text

They started out slow with Yuuri taking the lead for the first dance. Touching Victor’s waist, he eased him past his surprise into the gentle rhythm of the music, a jazz classic stripped down to just a few instruments. Unobtrusive piano chords, a walking bass line, and the drummer using a brush technique on the snare.

The air smelled of fresh flowers and blown-out birthday candles. The acoustics of the room, with its high ceilings and hardwood floors, were perfect for listening to music. And dancing to it.

Dancing always filled Yuuri with the kind of confidence he so often felt he lacked. The movements came to him as naturally as breathing, and if the way Victor was smiling at him was any indication, he liked everything he was seeing. Yuuri could relate. Victor looked beyond beautiful in the outfit he’d picked out for him. The little twinkle lights all around the room glittered in his blue eyes, inspiring Yuuri’s pulse to skip ahead of itself in spite of the laidback tempo of the music.

He loved it when Victor looked at him like that. . .

Like there was no one else in the world worth noticing.

When the second song came on, one melody flowing seamlessly into the next, Victor glanced at the Bluetooth speaker on the kitchen counter and lit up when he recognized what was playing. “Oh . . . I love this song.”

“I know you do,” Yuuri said. “I picked it on purpose.”

“How long have you been planning this?”

“Since Barcelona. That’s when I got the idea anyway, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time before that. It wasn’t easy to top the birthday surprise you gave me in November.”

“Hmm, I think you might have won . . . but I hope you know this means war. Now I have to outdo you next year. I’m very petty, you see.”

Yuuri laughed and twirled Victor around, letting him take the lead when they came back together. “Good luck with that.”

He had indeed put a good deal of planning into this night. During those two weeks in Japan without Victor, Yuuri had battled his loneliness by putting together the playlist they were now dancing to. The first few songs were simple and engaging—the type of music designed to ease people out onto the dance floor. But then the tempo began to pick up, and the real fun started.

Yuuri loved swing dancing. He was good at it, too. Victor wasn’t half-bad himself. While he knew enough of the basics to keep up, he wasn’t as well-versed in the style as Yuuri, but he caught on quickly. They matched each other, movement for movement, with Yuuri demonstrating steps and Victor imitating them immediately after, often adding a flare of his own.

The more they challenged each other with complicated dance steps, the more they found themselves laughing louder than the music. It was so much fun, playing off each other like that. Every spin, dip, and smile felt like a celebration. And it was. They had just gotten engaged, after all.

The playlist Yuuri created was a mixture of many different genres. After the swing numbers got their heart-rates up, they slowed things down again with a very sexy little rumba. However, it wasn’t long before Yuuri’s pulse began to speed back up for a different reason. Namely, the feel of Victor’s leg pressing between his own. They moved in time with each other, their lips just a breath apart as they smiled and flirted with their eyes.

After that, things got a bit silly. A tango came on, and they’d both had one too many glasses of champagne to take it seriously. They cracked up while they glided across the room, cheek to cheek, and stopped in the most ridiculous, overly-dramatic poses they could manage. Makkachin watched from the couch, his head tilted inquisitively to one side.

“Are you sure no one can see through your windows?” Yuuri asked when he noticed the dog staring at them.

Victor had to remove the blue rose from between his teeth before he could answer. “Promise. There’s only so much of you that I’m willing to share with the rest of the world.”

“Likewise,” Yuuri said, fingers tightening possessively around Victor’s tie, the silk sliding out from beneath the button-down vest.

Now assured of their privacy, Yuuri didn’t bother holding himself back even a little. A samba number had come on, and their silliness soon quieted into playful flirtation instead.

“Mmm,” Victor said, eyeing his fiancé up and down as Yuuri rotated his hips. “You can do that move on my lap later on if you’d like. I volunteer as tribute.”

“You mean, like this?” Turning around with the tie still held in his hand, Yuuri molded his backside against Victor’s front and proceeded to do the same slow, circular movement as before, though this time in full contact with Victor’s body.

Letting out a quiet gasp, Victor put his hands on his fiancé’s waist. “Yuuri. . .” he murmured, his voice going raspy.

The moment made Yuuri feel strangely powerful. Though he’d been drinking, it wasn’t the alcohol fueling his confidence tonight. Victor made him feel like he could do anything. His love for Yuuri brought about a feeling of freedom from his self-consciousness. He was comfortable in the awareness that Victor knew him inside and out. Not only had he seen Yuuri at his best, but Victor had loved him through his worst.

Who needed false confidence from alcohol when he had that?

Yuuri shivered at the feel of warm breath on his neck and turned his head to the side so that they could exchange a brief but very enjoyable kiss. When they parted, Yuuri’s eyes flickered upward to meet Victor’s. Then he smiled again, turned his body back around so that they were facing each other, and took Victor’s hands into his own.

Their fingers laced together at first, but Yuuri had other plans in mind. Still moving his hips to the music, he guided Victor’s hands around his body, placed them on his ass, and encouraged him to give it a squeeze.

“Oh, you are in a mood tonight, aren’t you?” Victor said, laughing.

Yuuri’s grin spread wider in response.

They danced together for hours, and between songs, fed each other bites of leftover birthday cake and sipped champagne to keep their energy up. Neither one of them wanted this night to end anytime soon. While they hung out in the kitchen, licking icing off their fingers, Victor got ahold of Yuuri’s phone and started making adjustments to his carefully selected playlist.

Things got very silly after that.

Yuuri sat on the kitchen counter, trying not to spill his champagne while cracking up at Victor, who’d had enough of the classic dance songs and had decided they needed to liven things up. Victor sang a Prince song into an imaginary microphone, which was a fork that Yuuri was still holding in his hand, Victor’s fingers curled over his own. Then, seeming to like that he’d made Yuuri laugh, Victor put on an upbeat Backstreet Boys song and perfectly replicated the choreography from the world’s stupidest music video. He knew every single word by heart.

Yuuri almost fell off the kitchen counter from laughing so hard. “You are such a nerd,” he wheezed as he wiped tears from his eyes. “I’m so disillusioned. This is the best day of my life.”

After that, Victor tugged Yuuri down from the counter, and they “pushed it” with the help of a little Salt-N-Pepa. Their dancing was a mess of genres—hip hop mixed with Vogue posing, a moonwalk or two, some impromptu waltzing, and the occasional twerk. It was the kind of dancing that might make a spectator experience some profound secondhand embarrassment. Makkachin had long since fled the room.

Neither Victor nor Yuuri cared. They were having the time of their lives.

Ohhh,” Victor said, bouncing with excitement. “Put on that song from Dirty Dancing. You know the one. Be right back, I gotta get my sunglasses.”

Eventually the hour grew late, and their laughter diminished into romance. They slow-danced together, sometimes making out while they swayed to the music but other times, just holding each other. Yuuri closed his eyes and pressed his face into the warmth of Victor’s neck.

He really did give the best hugs in the whole world. It didn’t get any better than this.

When he started kissing Victor’s neck, the mood began to shift into something else. A sensuous slow song had started to play, and it had the kind of hypnotic, pulsing rhythm that encouraged them to press their bodies together and move as one. Victor’s hands slid into the back pockets of Yuuri’s pants, encouraging him closer, and he let out a hitched gasp as Yuuri’s teeth grazed at the place where his pulse beat.

“Baby,” Victor said, his hands working at Yuuri’s flesh through his pants. “God, you feel so good.”

“Do you want to go into the bedroom?” Yuuri said.

All day, he’d been denying Victor’s advances in the hopes of building up the sexual tension between them. That kind of friction was what made chemistry spark during a dance, but there was only so long that Yuuri could ignore the heat pooling low in his belly. Not when he was pressed up against Victor’s body like this. . .

“You know I do,” Victor said, “but I also don’t want to stop dancing. I don’t want this night to ever end.”

“Hmm . . . I think we can find a compromise.”

Placing both hands flat on Victor’s chest, Yuuri guided him backwards across the living room until Victor’s legs encountered the couch. Gently but firmly, Yuuri pushed him into a sitting position. Victor landed with a surprised huff and blinked up at Yuuri, who towered over him with a pointed look of hunger.

When Yuuri rested one knee on the couch cushion beside Victor’s thigh, Victor’s surprise quickly melted into pure worship. “Oh,” he said. “I like this compromise.”

Yuuri danced for him like that, moving his body over Victor’s, the slow, grinding rhythm of the music filling his mind and doing away with any remaining inhibitions he might have. What was there to feel self-conscious about when his lover was staring up at him with such naked adoration?

As he watched, Victor put his hands on Yuuri’s hips and said, “You are so damn beautiful. . .”

Smiling, Yuuri gave him a quick tease of a kiss, then lowered himself down a bit more onto his lap.

The fabric of their pants rubbed together as Yuuri continued his dance, the push and pull of Victor’s hands on his body urging him ever closer. It was more than apparent now that they were both aroused. Victor’s pants were strained to the point that his zipper was exposed, the bit of fabric that normally covered it now gaping outward. Yuuri looked Victor straight in the eyes as he dragged a fingernail down the length of his zipper, letting it catch between the grooves.

It must have felt good because Victor’s hips lifted off the couch, seeking out more contact. “Fuck. . .” he hissed.

Unable to resist any longer, Yuuri rested his other knee on the couch and straddled Victor fully. He cupped Victor’s face in both hands and kissed him on the mouth. The full extent of their mutual hunger revealed itself then, and they kissed like they were half-starved for it, Yuuri still moving his body to the beat all the while, rubbing himself against his fiancé. Their tongues came out to play while Victor’s hands roamed freely.

The friction built to such a degree that Yuuri broke away from the kiss with a gasp. Already worked up, he had to lift his body off of Victor’s lap and put his weight on his knees instead. Yuuri smiled breathlessly down at him and said, “That felt a little too good.”

“You look a little too good,” Victor said. “Take your clothes off for me? I want to see all of you.”

“I suppose it is still your birthday. . .”

Yuuri’s hands went to his belt, and he made a show of unbuckling it, sliding the thick strip of leather slowly from the loops of his pants, and casting it aside. When Victor tried to help him with his zipper, Yuuri batted his hands away playfully and tugged the bottom of his black dress shirt out of his pants instead. He took his time easing each and every button out of the holes of the shirt, knowing the slow striptease would drive Victor mad.

“How are you so good at this?” Victor put his hands on Yuuri’s thighs and squeezed as he watched him undress. “Do you have a second job I don’t know about?”

Yuuri shook his head, a coy little smile still tugging at his lips. “For your eyes only.”

The moment Yuuri released the final button on his shirt, Victor’s hands slipped inside to feel the warm skin underneath. Hungry for it, he pulled Yuuri closer to him and pressed blazing hot kisses to his bare stomach. The feel of his open mouth and tongue was so startling that it drove the breath from Yuuri’s lungs.

Victor took his time exploring Yuuri’s body with his mouth—licking up the middle divide of his abs before biting at the swell of his pectoral muscle. When he homed in on Yuuri’s nipple, drawing the little nub into the heat of his mouth and rolling it around with his tongue, Yuuri relinquished control to him completely. He closed his eyes and craned his head back, floating along in the pleasure.

Victor wasn’t gentle with him, sucking and biting and kneading Yuuri’s body until he was left with glistening wet red marks everywhere. “You little tease,” he said between nips and kisses. “You see what you do to me?”

Yuuri, meanwhile, was loving every second of his punishment. Wherever Victor’s hands guided him, Yuuri complied without hesitation. Sliding his back down on the couch, Victor moved his lips to Yuuri’s lower stomach, where his muscles were hidden by a soft pillow of padding. Victor hummed deep in his chest as he pressed his face there, taking a moment to enjoy the feel of it before moving lower.

When Yuuri felt Victor mouthing at his erection through his pants, his thighs started to quake beneath him. It was getting harder and harder to hold himself up. “Vitya. . .”

Gentler than before, Victor’s teeth nipped at the head of Yuuri’s cock through the fabric. “Let me suck you off? Been thinking about it all day.”

Yuuri’s head was spinning. It was amazing to hear those words coming out of Victor Nikiforov’s mouth. Almost as amazing as it was to see Yuuri’s ring encircling his finger. Yuuri nodded rather stupidly and didn’t protest this time when Victor went for his zipper.

Once Victor got Yuuri’s pants undone, he made him stand up in front of the couch. Victor sat on the edge of the cushions and took Yuuri in hand, mischievous blue eyes darting upward to weigh his fiancé’s reaction as he started to stroke.

“Someone’s certainly pent up,” Victor observed as he worked Yuuri’s foreskin back and forth, exposing the pink-tipped head of his cock. “Look how ready you are already. . .”

“It’s been two weeks. Of course, I’m pent up.”

“We just had phone sex the other night. . .”

“That doesn’t count. My hand doesn’t feel as. . .” Yuuri gasped, eyes squeezing shut as he steadied himself on Victor’s shoulders. “. . .as good as yours. . .”

“Mmm, and what about my mouth? Does that feel good, too, baby?”

As Victor dipped his head down and licked the slit, Yuuri let out a moan that wasn’t anywhere close to quiet. He couldn’t help it. Victor might have found contentment from their phone sex the other night, but Yuuri needed the real thing to give him that deep feeling of satisfaction. “Please. . .”

Victor teased the underside of Yuuri’s cock with his tongue, licking a wet stripe up to the tip. Dropping a kiss there, he said, “Please what, my love?”

A blush had flared to life on Yuuri’s cheeks, but it wasn’t from embarrassment. It was pure need. He touched Victor’s face, rubbing a thumb across his parted lips. “Please don’t tease me anymore. I’ve missed you so much. . .”

In an instant, Victor’s gaze shifted from playful to protective. His grip on Yuuri’s cock tightened, fingers deliciously hot and firm, and Yuuri sagged with relief. Victor kept his hand there at the base while he put his mouth to the tip, swirling his tongue over the head before taking him in deep. He stroked Yuuri while he sucked him off, his tongue rubbing all along the underside. Then, eyes locked with Yuuri’s, Victor pressed in and took the entire length down into his throat.

Yuuri’s knees almost buckled. The shock of heat and pressure felt so good—such a profound relief—that he wanted to cry. Victor’s nose was pressed against Yuuri’s skin, the puff of his breath tickling his pubic hair. Yuuri caressed his fiancé’s face and stared down at him, lips parted, breathless.

When Yuuri’s cock finally emerged from Victor’s mouth, it was hot and slick and impossibly more aroused than before. A smile shone in Victor’s eyes as he tugged Yuuri’s pants the rest of the way down, where they pooled around his ankles. Yuuri felt wet fingers move between his cheeks and started shaking as soon as he realized what Victor meant to do.

God, he wanted it. . .

But without lube, there was only so far Victor could push. With the help of a bit of saliva, he rubbed at Yuuri’s entrance and got the nub of his middle finger worked inside. While he fingered him, Victor gave Yuuri’s ass a sharp slap with his other hand, drawing out a cry of surprise.

Yuuri’s mouth had fallen open. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in danger of coming so fast. Pushing on Victor’s shoulders, he said, “Need to slow down. . .”

Chuckling softly, Victor pressed a kiss just below the dip of Yuuri’s navel. “I’m not even touching your cock anymore.”

That didn’t matter. The flesh of Yuuri’s ass was pulsing from where Victor had just slapped it, no doubt leaving a hand-shaped red mark there on the cheek, and Victor’s finger was moving inside of Yuuri. The lack of lubricant made the shallow push and pull of it burn in the best way possible.

“You know this gets me off,” Yuuri said, panting.

Victor was breathing hard as well. His eyes were half-lidded as he stared up at Yuuri, his finger still working in and out of him. “Just watching you is getting me off. I think it’s time to go into the bedroom, love. I need to be inside you.”

Yuuri needed that, too. So much so that he pulled his fiancé off the couch by his necktie.

He left his pants and boxer briefs in the living room and led the way to their bed wearing only his unbuttoned black dress shirt. Victor fondled Yuuri’s ass along the way, seeming to like the way the bottoms of his cheeks peeked out from beneath the tail of the shirt.

When they entered the bedroom, Makkachin lifted his head up from where it rested on the mattress. He took one look at them, jumped to the floor, and fled past their legs into the living room with his collar jingling every step of the way.

“I didn’t think we were being that loud,” Victor said as he watched him go.

“It’s probably for the best,” Yuuri said. “No need to scar the puppy with what’s about to happen.”

“Oh?” With a sly grin, Victor’s hand went to the knot of his tie to tug it loose. “Is something about to happen?”

Yuuri reached out to stop Victor before he could remove his tie. Unlike Yuuri, Victor was still fully dressed and looking gorgeous in the vintage outfit Yuuri had picked out for his birthday. Gray slacks with a matching vest, a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a tie made of silk. Not a single button was undone. His silver hair was disheveled from Yuuri’s fingers, but that only added to the overall appeal.

“Leave it on,” Yuuri ordered quietly, his hand sliding down Victor’s chest to his stomach . . . and lower. “It’s sexy.”

Victor’s eyes glittered at him in the dimly lit room. The lights were off, but the city sparkled all around them through the tall windows. “Yuuri . . . do you happen to have a thing for me dressed in a suit?”

“You just now figured that out?” Yuuri’s hand went to Victor’s belt so that he could unbuckle it. “You can lose the belt, but everything else stays on.”

“All right,” Victor said, amused. “But you, on the other hand . . . I want you like this.”

Drawing a bit closer, he pushed Yuuri’s shirt off his shoulders and eased the light fabric down his arms until it fluttered to the floor, leaving him fully naked in front of Victor. Yuuri shivered as his fiancé’s fingertips came to trace lines down his bare arms.

“It’s sexy,” Victor added, rubbing the very tip of his nose against Yuuri’s as he echoed his words.

They kissed several times in slow succession, still barely touching each other except for the tips of their fingers and the nudge of Yuuri’s erection against Victor’s clothed thigh. Drawing back from the kiss, Victor’s eyes moved up and down his face. “Get on the bed, baby. I can’t wait any longer.”

Yuuri felt a pang of nervous excitement as he pulled the covers to the foot of the bed where they wouldn’t get in the way. He climbed in, laid down with his head on the pillow, and turned to watch as Victor rummaged around in the drawer of his nightstand. When Yuuri saw the variety of sex toys and different colored lubricants inside, his eyes got very wide.

“What happened to that box of toys I sent you for Christmas?” Victor asked. “Did you bring it with you on the plane? I don’t think I saw you unpack it.”

“I dropped the box off in the mail before I got on my flight,” Yuuri said. “No way was I going to get caught with that stuff at the airport security checkpoint.”

Laughing, Victor said, “A shame. I have plans involving you and several of those toys.” He tossed a bottle of lubricant onto the bed, followed by a long length of black silk that fluttered down onto Yuuri’s bare thigh. “But I think we have enough here to make do.”

Shivering at the feel of cool silk on his skin, Yuuri turned his attention to the plug Victor selected from the drawer. It wasn’t that long, but it was noticeably thick at the base. Thick enough to make Yuuri press his lips together and swallow hard.

“Don’t be nervous,” Victor said gently when he noticed Yuuri staring. “You know I would never make you do anything you don’t like.”

“I trust you,” Yuuri said without hesitation.

Victor stilled and met Yuuri’s eyes. With a soft smile, he said, “You really do, don’t you?”

Yuuri was reminded of the first night they’d made love, when Victor had told him flat-out that he wasn’t going to touch him if he didn’t have Yuuri’s trust. The truth was that even though Yuuri had already been in love with him, he hadn’t given Victor his full trust at that point. But he had it now. Victor could have led him through a tunnel of flames, and Yuuri would have trusted him to get him out without a single burn.

Victor tossed the plug onto the bed, seemingly distracted by other things as he crawled on top of his future husband, smiling down at him with pure love in his eyes. As they came together in a kiss, Yuuri parted his thighs so that Victor could settle down on top of him. The strained fabric of Victor’s clothing felt delightfully indecent against Yuuri’s naked skin. He opened his mouth up to the kisses and moaned softly when Victor licked into him. Sliding the unbuckled belt free from Victor’s pants, Yuuri tossed it aside.

It was a gorgeous moment—rolling around on the bed, tasting and touching each other all over, letting the sexual tension build back up again. Victor managed to get ahold of the bottle of lubricant without breaking away from the kiss. He squeezed some out and warmed it up with his fingers before bringing them to Yuuri’s entrance.

At the moment of penetration, Yuuri broke away from the kiss with a cry and stayed that way, frozen and breathing hard as Victor peppered his face with soothing little kisses.

He worked two fingers in and out of Yuuri’s ass, setting a demanding pace from the start. Victor pushed his fingers deep, past the second knuckle, as far as they could go, which inspired Yuuri’s nails to rake down Victor’s back. Were he not still wearing clothes, Yuuri might have marked Victor’s skin.

It was almost too much to be stretched that wide and deep with barely any preparation, but Victor knew Yuuri’s body well. He’d brought him to the place where the pleasure only hinted at the idea of pain without ever going there. It didn’t hurt at all, and Yuuri’s open lips soon morphed into a dazed smile. He loved it.

“More,” he whispered and dragged Victor back to his mouth for a bruising kiss.

They made out like that for several minutes, constantly changing positions. First Victor on top, working three slicked-up fingers in and out now. Then Yuuri on top, clawing at Victor’s shirt and vest, suddenly impatient to feel the gorgeous heat of his skin against his own. Several buttons had already popped off and scattered.

In the living room, the music was still playing over the speakers—a sultry melody that made Yuuri want to fuck. “Enough foreplay,” he gasped between kisses.

He guided Victor into a sitting position and got on his knees in front of him. Yuuri made quick work of his fiancé’s zipper before tugging his length free from his pants. Licking his lips, he couldn’t resist bending down to taste the wetness already gathering at the tip of Victor’s cock. He laved his tongue over it greedily before taking the full length into his mouth, bobbing his head up and down to get everything nice and wet.

When his own need became too great to ignore anymore, Yuuri sat up, wiped his chin off, and turned around on the bed so that Victor was behind him. Then, reaching back to grasp Victor’s cock, Yuuri lined himself up.

“That’s it, baby,” Victor said, putting both hands on Yuuri’s hips to guide him. “Sit back on it. . .”

Oh, my God,” Yuuri moaned.

Even before he was fully seated with Victor inside him, Yuuri was already losing it. He pushed himself past his normal limits and took in Victor’s cock in a single stroke, back arching as he bottomed out, pierced deep and stretched wide.

As Yuuri let out a helpless whine, Victor soothed him with a warm hand on his lower belly. “Shhh,” he said, his breath hot and wet in Yuuri’s ear. “Settle down, honey.”

Yuuri didn’t want to settle down.

Eyes hazy with arousal, he rested his palms flat on Victor’s thighs and started moving his hips in little circles in time with the music. It felt so incredibly good that Yuuri might have laughed were it not so difficult to get enough oxygen at that moment. Finding a good rhythm, he picked up speed and determination. Yuuri ground himself backwards onto Victor’s cock like he was giving him another lap dance, only this time, with full penetration. The glittering lights of the city were on display in front of them, bathing them both in a pale glow.

Behind him, Victor took some time matching the pace. He kept losing concentration as Yuuri fucked backwards into him, his own cock swinging heavily between his legs. Murmuring something in gruff Russian, Victor seized hold of Yuuri’s arms just above the elbows and guided them together behind his back. It completely changed the angle of their thrusts, forcing Yuuri’s back to arch inwards and his ass to push out.

And just like that, Victor was in control.

Yuuri had just enough time to smile drunkenly before his breath was stolen away again.

Crying out in broken Japanese, his upper body melted down onto the bed while Victor pounded into him from behind. He’d let go of Yuuri’s upper arms but had seized his wrists instead, holding them together behind his back. There was a flutter of coolness against Yuuri’s overheated skin as Victor wound the length of black silk around his wrists.

“Let me know if you don’t like it,” Victor said, the gentleness of his voice in complete contrast with his punishing pace. He released Yuuri’s now tied-up wrists and gripped his hips instead.

“Are you kidding me?” Yuuri gasped and thrust backwards, encouraging Victor to fuck him harder. A sharp crack split the air, and Yuuri’s movements faltered for a moment, his ass stinging from where Victor had just spanked him. The blow wasn’t painful, but it did make Yuuri’s ass and thighs quiver and leave him a gasping mess.

“Do you like that, sweetheart?” Victor asked.

Yuuri was too far gone to respond with anything remotely resembling coherence. “I fucking love you,” he huffed, his red face pressed into the mattress.

Over the next few minutes, Victor was magnificently rough with him but remained attentive to Yuuri’s every reaction. If even a hint of discomfort crept into his gasps and moans, Victor’s movements would shift to sweetness in an instant. He would kiss and nuzzle Yuuri until he received a nod of encouragement to continue. All of this happened without needing to say a single word. Victor just knew what he needed. He even noticed when Yuuri’s thighs started to quake a little too hard, every breath coming harsher than the last.

“All right, baby,” Victor murmured, releasing Yuuri’s wrists from the silk tie and rubbing the circulation back into his hands. “Settle down now.”

This time, Yuuri was ready to listen.

His arms fell uselessly to the mattress, the silk still wrapped loosely around one of his wrists. His entire body hummed with friction and arousal like a live electric wire. He wet his lips, eyes closing as he whispered, “Needed that. . .”

“I know. I needed it, too.” Victor mouthed at the shell of Yuuri’s ear and slipped out of him from behind, taking particular care to move slowly. “Now roll over for me. I want to be sweet with you.”

Yuuri didn’t immediately do as Victor asked. Instead, he sat up on the bed and turned around to face him. “Want you naked first. . .”

They kissed while they removed Victor’s clothing together, Yuuri’s movements unfocused and Victor chuckling softly against his lips. Off came the pants and tie, and the vintage shirt lost several more buttons before it joined everything else on the floor. Once they were fully naked in front of each other, Yuuri’s hunger had returned. Running his palms down Victor’s hard, smooth chest, he thought, Mine.

Victor gathered Yuuri up into his lap then, hugging him close while they kissed. Together, they guided Victor back into position, and he entered Yuuri with a bit more caution this time, keeping the strokes shallow and slow until he made sure he wasn’t sore.

“You’ll have to forgive me for not giving you a turn yet,” Victor said, his lips at the corner of Yuuri’s mouth. “I’m greedy for you tonight.”

Yuuri had no idea why Victor was apologizing. He wanted it like this, too.

Still hugging Yuuri tight to his chest with one hand on the back of his head, Victor lowered him down to the bed and rocked into him slowly, their tongues weaving together all the while. The long, wet slide of his cock made Yuuri’s toes curl with delight. Victor seemed to like this position, too. He let out little sighs and gasps with every thrust, and his nails left crescent moon marks on Yuuri’s skin.

Smiling up at him between kisses, Yuuri thrust his hips upward to meet Victor’s strokes. Soon their bodies were clapping together.

“Love,” Victor said, a touch of warning in his tone. “You’re not going to be able to walk in a straight line if you keep going so hard.”

“I’m okay with that,” Yuuri said and pushed on Victor’s chest to roll him over.

They switched positions so that Victor was now flat on his back with Yuuri up on his knees, straddling him. He rode Victor like that, rocking his hips in circles to the beat of the music, sometimes taking Victor as deep and hard as possible, and other times just letting the fat head of his cock stretch his entrance wide. This left Yuuri with the most pleasant burn—a deep satisfaction he’d been missing for weeks.

But it wasn’t until he located that little bundle of nerves inside his own body that Yuuri truly started losing it again. He figured out an angle that rubbed Victor’s cock up against it and just about lost his mind in his desperation for more. Sparks of electric blue exploded behind his closed eyelids.

Victor eventually had to stop him, gripping his hips hard right before they both reached the point of overstimulation. “Yuuri. . .” he panted. “I need to . . . I’m going to come if you don’t. . . you’re just too fucking sexy when you move like that.”

With a wicked little smile, Yuuri wiggled his hips one last time. “Want to take a turn?”

He got up and moved to the side so that Victor could choose the position he wanted. Then Yuuri was laughing as Victor seized his ankles and dragged him back over to the center of the bed again.

“Come here,” Victor ordered as Yuuri slid across the mattress, giggling every inch of the way.

They exchanged a few kisses, though the fact that they couldn’t stop grinning at each other made it difficult to focus. Sitting up on his knees, Yuuri watched as Victor used the lubricant to slick up the sex toy he’d chosen earlier—the one that had made Yuuri’s eyes go wide. “Aren’t you supposed to use a plug at the beginning?” he asked. “I thought they were supposed to help you warm up before sex.”

“Like you need any help warming up,” Victor muttered. “You set the whole damn apartment on fire before we even got into the bedroom. No, this is to keep you satisfied for two whole seconds while you fuck me.”

While Yuuri still felt like a novice with the whole idea of toys, he did like the feeling of fullness inside him during sex and missed it when it was gone. More than once, he’d demanded Victor’s fingers inside him while Yuuri thrust into him. Maybe the plug was worth a try. . .

“Show me what to do,” Yuuri said.

Victor guided him so that he was leaning slightly forward on his knees, then bit gently at Yuuri’s shoulder and upper arm while he worked the plug inside of him. It slid in easily enough, the feel of it quite different than Victor’s cock. Yuuri felt stretched wide but comfortable enough to keep it in for a while. He thought he even might be able to walk around while wearing it, if he wanted to.

Perhaps that was the idea. . .

It brought a mental image to mind of wearing it out in public, hidden beneath his clothes. Only Victor would know it was there. Only he would know how wicked Yuuri really was. . .

“How does that feel?” Victor asked, pressing his thumb against the flared base of the plug, drawing a gasp of pleasure out of his fiancé.

“I like it a lot,” Yuuri said, breaths coming fast. He looked at Victor. “I like you better.”

Victor smiled and gave Yuuri’s ass another slap, hitting the edge of the plug at the same time. “Good answer.”

After he soothed Yuuri’s sore bottom with a few kisses and a gentle rub with the palm of his hand, Victor ran the length of cool black silk over Yuuri’s inflamed skin, inspiring goosebumps to erupt all over his body. Yuuri whimpered with pleasure at the shock of cold, his knees sliding apart on the mattress. “Oh, that feels so good. . .”

Victor gave Yuuri’s ass one final kiss and said, “Now is it my turn?”

“Yes, yes,” Yuuri said, laughing. “How do you want it?”

Victor wanted to be snuggled.

He laid down with his head on the pillow, and Yuuri moved over him, still smiling as his hands came to cradle the back of Victor’s head. Their playfulness softened into something quieter as they kissed.

Yuuri gave Victor a good seeing-to with his tongue before dragging his mouth down the column of his neck. Victor’s natural scent warmed the air, making Yuuri feel intoxicated from the pheromones. He licked and kissed at his fiancé’s skin and rubbed his face against Victor’s neck so that he’d smell like him.

“Yuuri,” Victor whispered, fingers ghosting down Yuuri’s spine. “Please . . . I need it.”

He took his time warming Victor up with the help of the lube, kissing him deep while he thrust his fingers even deeper. Victor moaned into his mouth and began to rock his hips in a silent request for more. He was worked up tonight, and by the time Yuuri lined himself up, a dark rosy flush had come to stain Victor’s cheeks and the center of his chest. His heels dug into the mattress as Yuuri worked his cock into him, deliciously slow.

“Shhh, Vitya,” Yuuri whispered, kissing the corner of his mouth to soothe him when he cried out. “I know what you need.”

He kept Victor bundled up in his arms while he made love to him, fingers tangled in silver hair, Victor’s legs wrapped around him, his beautiful scent in his nose. Yuuri kept his strokes gentle but decisive, giving Victor all the sweetness he seemed to be craving while satisfying their mutual hunger at the same time. When Yuuri reached for the length of black silk, Victor grinned beneath him and held his wrists together above his head so that Yuuri could tie them to the headboard.

The sex was perfect—a mix of hotness, romance, fun, and the deepest intimacy. They locked eyes as they moved together, Victor matching Yuuri stroke for stroke, straining for more kisses even though their lips were beginning to ache and swell.

Eventually, Victor’s body started to tense beneath him. His breathing had gone haggard. “I’m close. . .”

Yuuri could feel Victor’s cock trapped between their bellies, getting stimulated by the movement. He’d never come like that before . . . with Yuuri inside him like this. “Do you want to. . .?”

Yuuri, please,” Victor begged.

Yuuri quickened his pace, fucking into him hard while his hand slipped between their bodies, fingers closing over Victor’s cock.

Victor left the planet for a good minute afterward. The orgasm hit him hard, and he seized up, practically sobbing as he bore down on Yuuri’s cock. Wetness poured out onto Yuuri’s hand and dripped onto Victor’s belly. Somehow Yuuri remembered to keep moving his hand as Victor clenched around him, milking and squeezing his cock until he was on the brink of an orgasm himself.

Yuuri tried to resist it at first but eventually threw himself to the wind. The man beneath him was just too damn beautiful. Yuuri breathed Victor’s name, gripped him hard, and spilled inside of him.

But that wasn’t even the best part. The plug in his ass had him spread wide, and Yuuri bore down on it as he came, eyes widening at how shockingly good it felt. “Victor. . .” he gasped as his vision went white. “Victor.”

Even after the orgasm faded from a bright flash into a simmer, Yuuri kept moving inside of his fiancé, who was panting and covered with sweat. Yuuri’s cock was softening but still firm enough to stay inside. His pulse hammered in his ears, and he could see Victor’s beating wildly in his neck in contrast to their slow, gentle lovemaking.

Victor pulled his own wrists free from the silk tie and combed Yuuri’s sweaty hair back from his face. They kissed once before Yuuri collapsed down on top of him, completely wrung out. Victor’s fingers came to stroke up and down his back.

Neither one of them seemed to be able to speak, but three words ran through Yuuri’s mind all the same. Over and over again. I love you. I love you. He felt the words pass between them both like a shared thought. Like it wasn’t only their bodies connected, but their minds were one as well. Yuuri turned to press a kiss to Victor’s hair before closing his eyes.

I love you.

They cleaned up together afterwards, taking their time washing each other’s bodies in the shower, fragrant soapsuds running down their legs while they nuzzled and savored every kiss. In the living room, the music was still playing softly.

When the hot water ran out, they finally reached for their towels and dried off. The bathroom was a sauna of steam, and Yuuri wiped the mirror clean while he rinsed his toothbrush in the sink. In his reflection, he saw that his skin was pink from the heat of the shower, with little marks of rosy-red all over, evidence of the many love-bites Victor had given him.

Yuuri smiled shyly as Victor joined him at the sink. He had quite a few marks on his body as well and looked quite pleased about them. His eyes had been fixed on Yuuri without end ever since they’d gotten out of bed, a little smile tugging at his lips.

“Why do you keep staring at me like that?” Yuuri said, not sure whether to hide or laugh. (He chose the latter after Victor pressed a warm kiss to his cheek that made him squirm with delight.)

Victor’s arms encircled Yuuri from behind as he reached for his own toothbrush. “Do you remember what you said to me that night we made love for the first time?” Victor’s mouth was close to Yuuri’s ear while he spoke. Their eyes met in the mirror. “You had gone into the bathroom afterward to clean up, and I found you looking at your reflection. You said you were wondering if you looked different.”

Yuuri let out a soft laugh at the memory, a little embarrassed. “I was just being silly. I didn’t really think anything had changed me.”

“I don’t know. . .” Victor said. “I think you do look a little different now. Your eyes don’t stay fixed on the ground anymore, and you smile and laugh now more than you worry. When you look at me, it’s like you’re no longer afraid of being seen. You just look more like your real self, I guess.” He kissed Yuuri’s cheek again. “Confidence looks good on you, baby.”

Yuuri’s cheeks were already pink from the shower, but they started to warm even more at Victor’s words. The truth was, he felt confident . . . even though he normally wouldn’t. This was Victor’s apartment. Victor’s city. Victor’s life. Yet Yuuri had eased into all of it as naturally as if it was his apartment, city, and life, too. It just felt right.

“Oh,” Yuuri said, his smile widening as Victor gave him yet another long kiss on his cheek. He couldn’t seem to get enough of them.

Their heads rested together, their eyes meeting in the mirror again. “Do I look different at all?” Victor asked.

After a moment of consideration, Yuuri smiled and shook his head. “You just look like my Victor. Exactly the person I want you to be.”

Victor turned to look at Yuuri’s real face rather than at his reflection, prompting Yuuri to do the same. Pure love shone in Victor’s beautiful blue eyes. Rubbing the tips of their noses together, he lifted Yuuri’s hand to his lips, and kissed his engagement ring.

With an emotional smile he could barely contain, Victor said, “Oh.”



The end.