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the warmest part of winter

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The wedding is in early February, right after Yuri comes home to Yuuri and Victor’s crumbling farmhouse in upstate New York from the European Championships with a gold medal around his neck.  They’ve been in the process of restoring the dilapidated barn out back and turning it into a fully functional dance studio, and the fire marshall has finally approved it for occupation without fear of the whole thing coming down all at once and crushing a half dozen elite figure skaters to death at any given moment.  Which is perfect, considering they’ve been planning on holding the reception in the barn, and finding a last minute venue would be a goddamn nightmare, especially since Victor has obsessively planned the entire event down to the last detail for the past six months.  

They have a smaller Shinto ceremony, just Yuuri and Victor with Yuuri’s family in Hasetsu.  It’s entirely for Yuuri’s family’s sake, what with how supportive they’ve been since the beginning, and Victor insists they go even if there’s nothing legally binding about it.  The real event is back in New York a week later, with half of the International Figure Skating community flying in at the same time as them.

Yuri surprises them both by showing up at LaGuardia to pick them up.  He doesn’t look happy to be there--hood up, arms crossed, leaning against a column near baggage claim--but they never asked him to come.  Victor had called the night before to remind him to leave the key under the mat so they could let themselves in if he wasn’t at home, and he’d said fine, sure, whatever dismissively.  

“Yurio!” Victor abandons his suitcase in the middle of the crowd to rush over to him and pull him into a big hug that Yuri seemingly allows, though Yuuri can hear him grumble something viciously into Victor’s chest from a few feet away.  “I didn’t know you missed us so much!  You should have come with!”

Yuri shoves himself out of Victor’s arms and directs a firm glare at Yuuri to make him well aware of just how much he didn’t miss them, he didn’t miss them at all.  “I didn’t miss you.  I was just in the neighborhood.”

“What were you doing in this neighborhood, buying crack?” Victor says, gesturing around them at the run down, outdated decor of the airport.  “You’ve always been a terrible liar, Yurio, stick to things like skating that you’re good at.”

“Whatever,” Yuri says, folding his arms over his chest and turning away from the both of them.  “I expected you to call as soon as you touched down anyway.  How were you idiots expecting to get home?  You left the car at the house while you were gone.”

“We were going to rent a car for the guests coming this weekend,” Victor replies. “But since you went out of your way, I guess we can have Yuko and Takeshi pick one up when they land, right Yuuri?  However that works.  Now help me with my bags.”

He picks up his larger suitcase off the ground and hands it to Yuri so he can resume wrapping the rest of himself around Yuuri as they follow Yuri out to the garage where he’s parked the Prius.  

“Don’t you want to hear about our flight?” Victor asks, turning around to look at Yuri in the backseat sandwiched against the window and a suitcase almost as big as him.

“No, I don’t want to hear about you and the pig jerking each other off in some stuffy airplane bathroom.”

“If you keep trying to pretend like you don’t care you might sprain something, Yurio,” Yuuri says, turning around in the passenger seat to smile at him.  “We don’t want the 2018 World Champion to hurt himself before his season is over, do we?”

“Listen to your father,” Victor says, and then laughs when Yuri kicks the back of his seat with a grumbled I hate you guys, why did I come here under his breath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Victor does is done so bold and loud it could be written in the sky, so it’s easy to miss the quieter things he tries to layer underneath.  Yuuri feels like an idiot when they’re in Hasetsu and he finally realizes that every extravagant thing Victor has planned for their wedding is just a distraction from a something bigger.

“Why were you so insistent we come here for a wedding ceremony?” he asks Victor the afternoon after they land.  They’re still in Yuuri’s old bed, weighed down with jet lag and content to spoon together on his too-small mattress, Victor’s knee between his thighs, arms around the soft of his stomach.  

“To celebrate you,” Victor tells him, kissing his temple.  He’s got rank morning breath after breaking open a bottle of Suntory as soon as they arrived late last night, but Yuuri could still kiss him forever.

“We didn’t have to,” Yuuri tries.

“And your parents couldn’t afford to close down the inn for too long, and the travel plans, I know we could have paid for their flight!  But they’ve been so supportive of you,” Victor says.  “Of us.  I thought it would be nice.”

“But we aren’t doing the same for your parents,” Yuuri continues.  It’s like poking a bruise; Victor closes his eyes and his hand traces down Yuuri’s arm to his wrist, fingernails lightly tickling at his skin in figure-eight patterns like calligraphy strokes.  

“You know I don’t talk to my parents,” Victor says, and there it is: the thing he’s been trying to cover up with two lavish ceremonies and the dance studio project and taking on probably too many new clients at once like he has since they announced their engagement over half a year ago.  

Yuuri does know, but he doesn’t know why.  It’s something they don’t talk about, like Yuuri’s bad middle school photos and terrible haircuts, or the time Victor got drunk and was almost arrested for peeing in public until Yuuri intervened; they’re memories and ugly parts of themselves put into a box and shoved under the bed to collect dust and be forgotten.  

“Did you invite your parents to the wedding?” he asks despite himself

“No,” Victor says.  “Yakov’s been more of a parent to me than they ever were anyway.”

“Oh,” Yuuri says softly.  “Did you invite Yakov?”

Victor is quiet for a second.  “Yes.”

“Is he coming?”  

Victor is quiet again.  “I don’t know.”

Yuuri has only seen the relationship between Yakov and Victor deteriorate from the time Victor quit skating to become his coach through the time Yuri also quit working with Yakov to move to America and skate under Victor instead.  He was never privy to what their relationship looked like outside of the arena before.  Victor always tells stories from his childhood in roundabout ways that obscure details like his parents, or his relationship with Yakov, and despite his cheerful demeanor he never fully loses the austerity of Mother Russia that seeps into everything that’s made him who he is.  

“It’s okay to be sad about things,” Yuuri says.  He wishes Victor would tell him more--he wishes that Victor would tell him everything, lay out every second of his life up to this point on a line and talk Yuuri through it.  “It’s okay to be disappointed.”

“Yeah,” Victor says.  He smiles shyly to himself.  “Did I ever tell you that we used to pull pranks on him?”

“No,” Yuuri replies, but he wants to hear.  He’s always thirsty for new stories from Victor, about Victor, even now.  

“Dumb kid stuff.  We’d fill his car with dead leaves we’d rake up in the fall.  One time we found his collection of gross eighties pornos and went through with a marker and censored the pages before returning them.”

“Victor!” Yuuri hits his arm playfully.

“He gave me Maccachin,” Victor says.  “Did you know that?”

Yuuri didn't.  All he’s known up until now is that Maccachin is the one thing in life that Victor loves more than Yuuri, which is totally understandable.  “You never told me that.”

“For my birthday in 2005.  I was still skating Juniors.  I never had received a gift before.  My parents were too poor paying for my coaching and boarding.  Yakov told me he found Maccachin down at the meat market, but you don’t find an expensive breed like a poodle at the meat market.  He did, at one point, really care about me like a father.”

“Maybe he still does.”

“Yuuri,” Victor says with a sigh.  

“Even if he’s disappointed in you like a father would be, or disagrees with you like a father would, that doesn’t mean he stopped caring,” Yuuri says.  He shifts under the sheets to crawl on top of Victor so he can hold him and smother him and breathe him in, acidic whiskey breath and all.  “I bet he comes.  I bet he brings bread and salt to town hall, and gets drunk enough to dance with you at the wedding.”

“Maybe,” Victor laughs and hums, letting Yuuri kiss his jaw, get down on his elbows and tangle his hands in Victor’s hair.  He says, softer, “God, I can’t wait to marry you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yuuri’s nerves have been acting up ever since they arrived back in New York from Japan.  There’s a lake out back past the barn and through a small thicket that’s frozen over, and he’s considered strapping on his skates in the middle of the night to relieve some stress.  

“Please don’t,” Victor tells him after he mentions the idea one early morning, when the sky is still dark and the world feels quiet around them.  He’s sitting on the counter while Yuuri makes protein shakes for him and Yuri.  “As much as I love using my body heat to keep you warm, I don’t want to fish a Yuuriscicle out of the lake.”

“Do it,” Yuri says, leaning beside him.  “I want to see if the pig can swim.”

“And I want to see you run through your short program three times this morning without getting any of this protein shake,” Yuuri responds warmly, shaking the Vitamix pitcher at him.  Yuri’s eyes instantly get big and watery with need and he makes grabby hands for the shake, which he secretly loves but will never let Yuuri know out loud.  

“Oh, Yuuri, be nice to him, he’s just a kid,” Victor laughs, nudging at Yuuri’s thigh with his toes, swinging both his feet off the counter.  

“Victor, he’s almost eighteen,” Yuuri replies, still holding the pitcher out of Yuri’s reach.

“Hey losers, maybe don’t talk about me while I’m right here?” Yuri says, getting three thermoses out from the cupboard over Victor’s head.  Yuuri rolls his eyes and hands him the pitcher.  “Thank you.”

“Don’t think you’re getting out of a punishment later,” Yuuri says, watching him pour them each a thermos of the shake.  Yuri’s hand twitches slightly.

“Yeah, well maybe you should get on the ice with me,” Yuri replies, handing him the shake a little too forcefully.  “I think you stress ate a few too many pork cutlet bowls when you were in Japan.  It would be a shame if you didn’t fit into the suit Victor got you for the wedding.”

“I have the tailor on speed dial, because I thought of everything,” Victor says cheerfully, sliding off the counter.  “Alright, time to go!”

Yuuri starts getting phone calls from incoming guests on the way to the city as they head to the rink, and he thinks he’s going to be carsick with the nerves.  Victor’s holding his hand from the passenger seat, rubbing circles into his palm while Yuri makes vomiting noises from the backseat.  

“Y-you’re staying at a hotel in the city?  It’s over an hour away.  There’s cheaper out near us--” Yuuri is trying to explain to Minako, who just landed in America, but has one more layover before she’s in New York.  Victor nudges him.

“‘Hotel?’” He repeats, his Japanese still poor enough that he hasn’t been able to follow their conversation, but not completely terrible; he can pick out the foreign words.  “Who is staying at a hotel, Yuuri?”

“Uh, just a second, Minako--all of the guests coming to our wedding, Victor? Why?”

“What!” Victor says.  “Seriously?  I thought they were all staying on the farm.”

“Where are they supposed to stay on our farm, Victor?  We live in an ancient farmhouse and are using the barn for the reception hoping it doesn’t get burned to the ground in the process.  It’s literally negative ten degrees out right now.”

“You’re making a very insensitive cultural assumption that people have time, or would want to sleep during a Russian wedding reception,” Victor points out.  “If someone needs to nap, they can just go pass out in Yurio’s room, then come back to the party when they’re ready.”

“Hey!” Yuri says from the backseat.  They both ignore him.

“Oh my God,” Yuuri says, melting down more into his seat.  He can hear Minako’s muffled voice still on the line saying, “is that Victor? Did he say what I thought he said?  That there’s room at your place?

Victor grabs his phone, and in clumsy Japanese screams into the receiver at a cheerful volume too loud for any hour of the day something that roughly sounds like, “MOSHI-MOSHI, Minako!  You house to ours come stay okay!”

“Oh my God,” Yuuri says again as Victor hangs up the phone and passes it back to him.  He did this; he let Victor have full control over planning the wedding down to the last meticulous detail, and didn’t bother to check any of it, just trusting in him. “How many people did you say could stay with us?”

“Fifty, sixty, a hundred, whatever, it’s a party!” Victor replies brightly.  “Don’t worry, Yuurichka.”

“Sure, you know me,” Yuuri says, confident that in the next 72 hours there will be a scorched crater in the earth where their homestead currently stands.  “Always keeps his cool, Katsuki Yuuri.”

“Soon that’ll be Katsuki-Nikiforov,” Victor continues without waiting a beat.  

When they get to the rink, Victor won’t let him get out of the car right away.  He takes off the scarf he’s had wrapped around his neck and ties it around Yuuri’s while Yuri gets out of the backseat as soon as humanly possible.  “Hey.  Go for a walk.  Go get a coffee.  I’ll take Yurio for the first half of this morning.  You take care of yourself.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m suddenly so nervous,” he says. The closest way he can come to describing it is that Victor’s never shown any sign of distress through the entire process, even though when Yuuri finally scratched at his surface when they were in Japan, he could see something awful churning underneath;  Yuuri feels like he’s carrying a weight for both of them in his heart, because Victor doesn’t know how to carry his own.  

“It could be worse,” Victor tries to joke.  “You could be Yurio right now.”

Yuri is cracking impressively under the pressure of their upcoming nuptials, which is even more bizarre.  “What’s with him?” Yuuri whispers, as if Yuri can hear him from the locker room inside the rink where he’s no doubt already ran to.  “Ever since we got back from Hasetsu, he’s been acting like he’s fifteen again.”

“I think he’s worried when we’re married there will be no more room for him,” Victor replies, which is absolutely true when Yuuri thinks about it.  There’s always been something lost in translation between him and Yuri, and Yuuri’s never been the most intuitive person, but at his core Yuri has never stopped being something of a wounded animal, lashing out when hurt in some form of self preservation.  

“Well now I feel like a jerk for teasing him back,” Yuuri says, tucking his face into Victor’s scarf shyly.  It smells like Victor’s sweat and musk and when he closes his eyes it brings him back to earth a little.

“No, you should definitely tease him back, he’s being a little shit,” Victor says, pauses, puts a finger tip to his mouth and gazes at Yuuri curious and fond, like he can untangle the mess of Yuuri’s insides with just a look.  “You know, we are all feeling the stress right now.  Tomorrow is a big day.”

“You don’t seem stressed,” Yuuri says, and it almost comes out like an accusation of something.

Victor snorts.  “Well, I’ve always been the one who performs best under pressure.  Go take a walk, darling.  Get it out of your system.  Stop worrying about me.  I’m going to be fine, because we’re going to be fine.”

Yuuri is helpless to do anything but nod and be kissed firmly at the crease of both eyes, then forehead, and let Victor squeeze his hand encouragingly.  

“We’re going to be fine,” Victor says again, and Yuuri tries to repeat it in his head like a mantra: we’re going to be fine we’re going to be fine we’re going to be fine.  

 

 

 

The truth is that they only need a single witness for the ceremony at the City Clerk’s office, but the invitations that Victor sent out said everyone was welcome to come to both the ceremony and reception with only the reception requiring an RSVP.  Which means that Yuuri is completely overwhelmed that a good half of the most elite International Figure Skating community is there to greet them in the morning as they walk up the sidewalk with Yuuko, Takeshi, Minako, and Yuri pulling Maccachin with rings around his neck in a rusty wagon they’d found in the barn when they first bought the house.

Yuuri’s first instinct is to anxiously look for Yakov, maybe hidden behind Christophe or huddled next to Ciao Ciao in solidarity, but he quickly realizes Yakov isn’t here.  He looks up at Victor to see if Victor is doing the same, but Victor’s just looking at him.  

“Victor,” he says, because he can’t think of any word in the three languages he knows that fully describes how suddenly loved he feels, how Victor was the catalyst in his life for him to recognize and accept love, and how despite it all how bone-crushingly sad he is that the one person Victor wanted to be here isn’t; how Victor has built this world for him, and Yuuri’s done what?  Sat back helplessly and let him struggle by himself.  

“Don’t be silly,” Victor tells him, and he realizes embarrassingly enough, that he’s just said everything he’s been thinking out loud.  “You’re the only person I care about showing up today.”

“Right, sorry,” Yuuri says, feeling so dumb and overwhelmed, wanting so much in this moment, but nothing more than he wants to keep Victor to himself until the end of forever.  He grabs Victor’s hand and tries to shake off any doubt in his heart.  “Let’s get married.”

“Yes.  But first,” Victor says, “let’s take a selfie.”

 

 

 

Victor says, “Love of my life.  I call you that, because you are.  Before you, I thought skating would be the love of my life.  I used to wake up every morning for practice, put all of my energy into performance and routines. I was never satisfied.  I didn’t know why, but there was a great hunger in me for something more.  And when I met you, I knew.  I knew exactly what I was starving for.  Meeting you, being with you, learning about you made me feel full for the first time in my life.  Now I wake up every morning for you, work hard to keep building a life with you, dream and breathe for you.  And I feel so full of love, and fall asleep every night knowing I get to do the same the next day.  Love of my life, you are my life, and I want to spend the rest of my life making sure you know the same love that I do, that you fall asleep next to me at night feeling as full as me.  I will always be the pork cutlet bowl you need at the end of a long day.  I promise to never let you starve.  Settle your roots into me, Yuuri, and I promise you I will sustain you until the day I die."

Yuuri says, “Victor, you drive me crazy.  You drive me crazy, and you, you, you make me so happy I feel like I have to scream sometimes, because it’s so much.  You surprise me, always have, even before I knew you.  In fact, when I met you I think that was the first time in my life I felt something that wasn’t fear.  The day I met you was the day I started to learn how to become myself.  Being with you has been an adventure, Victor, the best adventure.  And I vow, I promise you, I will never stop being the man you have made me, will never run out of passion for you, or the life we’ve created together.  I will grow with you until we grow old together, and will never stop loving you, because knowing you taught me what love was.”

The Officiant says, “I now pronounce you husband and husband.”

Maccachin wags her tail as they pull the rings tied to her collar.  

 

 

 

They don’t go to the reception immediately.  Instead, they take a few self-indulgent pictures around the city with whoever wants to tag along, and Yuri as their photographer grimacing behind the lens as Victor curls into Yuuri against the marble siding of a building, the blues of their suits fading together.  

“I won’t be able to put any of these online.  Instagram is going to flag all of this as pornography,” Yuri grumbles under his breath, pocketing his phone for the Nikon around his neck.  

By the time they go home, there’s a few dozen cars parked in the frozen overgrown grass that constitutes their front lawn, and a warm light radiating out of every seam in the barn.  The noise of the crowd is already loud a hundred meters from the house, enough even through the thick winter cold.  

“I wanna change,” Victor says playfully in Yuuri’s ear, as the others in their party make their way from the Prius to the barn. “Help me?”

They like to think they’re sneaking away.  Yuuri follows Victor inside, toeing off his dress shoes one by one in the foyer with a fist curled up at the hem of Victor’s peacoat.  Victor kisses him hungrily, like kissing Yuuri is still something new and intangible, until Yuuri shoves him with a flat palm against his chest into the house and up the stairs, still kissing.  

“‘M gonna shower,” Victor says, undoing his own tie and throwing it on the bed they hastily made this morning.  “You should join me.”

Yuuri does.  They’ve got a small bathroom just for them connected to the master bedroom upstairs, with original black and white mosaic tile and clawfoot tub tucked inside a wrap around curtain.  It’s just big enough that when Yuuri stands under the spray Victor can get down on his knees and suck him off, hands bruising Yuuri’s waist trying to keep him upright.  When the cascade of water comes into contact with the wet, hot heat of Victor’s mouth, Yuuri can’t even register it, can barely register the curl of his own toes against the ceramic tub when he comes.

Victor rubs a salt scrub on Yuuri’s face and shampoo in his hair while Yuuri jerks Victor off, eyes closed and bottom lip clenched between his teeth.  He laughs into the salt of it while Victor slips and jerks and gets off all over his hip.  Victor pushes them both under the faucet like he’s cleansing them from something, his smiling mouth pressed against Yuuri’s own, while thumbing underneath Yuuri’s eyes gently to wash the rest of him clean.  When they step out of the tub, he takes his own towel to Yuuri’s head and tries to dry his hair aggressively.

“Don’t want your hair to freeze in the cold outside,” he says, like his own won’t do the same.  Yuuri grabs him by the wrists halfway through to poke his head out of the towel and kiss him fiercely.  

“Hey, husband,” he says.

“Hey, husband,” Victor replies, looking down at him fond and sincere.  “I hear there’s a party waiting for us.”

“Yeah?” Yuuri asks, a joke in the back of his voice.  He wants to crawl palms first onto the bedspread in front of them and ask to be taken.  Instead, he says, “They’re probably fine without us.”

“I know,” Victor jokingly whines.  “But I got a special outfit made for the reception and I really want to show it off.”

“Fine,” Yuuri says, laughing and reaching up around Victor’s bare, damp shoulders and kissing him again and again anyway.  “I want to see you show off.”

Victor gets down on his knees to dress Yuuri first, starting from his socks on each foot to the re-doing the tie at his neck, before he lets Yuuri help him into the blue and gold tunic suited for Boyars, with a sash around the middle and ties firmly done up to the neck.  It took one of the designers who was used to costuming him each season on the ice the entirety of their engagement to design.  When Victor spins in it, the flaps of his coat swing around his hips and immediately hug down on his thighs, which Yuuri rubs up the silk of with his palms assuredly.

“Perfect,” Yuuri says.  “You look perfect.”

“No, you.  Wait until everyone sees you,” Victor says.  Yuuri’s wearing the same suit he wore at the ceremony, but it fits him perfectly, even if Victor is smoothing out the shoulders from where it was temporarily discarded on the bed.  Victor’s always loved to watch.

They wrap one of Victor’s thick, wool winter coats over both of their shoulders before heading out of the house toward the barn-cum-entertainment hall.  The night before the wedding they managed to spend over five hours with Yuri, Minako and the Nishigoris hanging the last strings of incandescent bulbs and pine garlands from the stainless steel beams in the barn.  They just had the laminate installed last week, and one wall has been converted to mirrors that reach halfway up to the second story loft, making the space feel huge.  

It feels much smaller with the addition of long, wood benches that the catering team have crowded with white linens and dishes and ice buckets full of sparkling wines, and some hundred odd guests mingling.  Yuuri tries not to be overwhelmed when JJ’s voice comes over the speakers to announce his and Victor’s entrance.  

“I can’t believe you let that maple syrup-soaked douchebag and his band set foot in this barn, let alone MC your reception,” Yuri says, stumbling through the crowd towards them, and interrupting any train of thought that could run away from Yuuri.  It’s been less than an hour, surely, but Yuri’s already looking redder in the face, holding a full glass of what he later finds out is champagne with multiple shots of vodka in it.  

Victor says something back in Russian that completely shuts Yuri up.  After a few beats of uncomfortable silence, he turns on his heel, sulking into his wine glass.  Yuuri looks over at his husband--husband, husband, he’s my husband, he can’t stop thinking it--confused.  “What’d you say to him?”

“I told him we’d try not to embarrass him in front of his crush,” Victor replies, looking immensely proud of himself.  Yuuri can’t help the soft laugh that comes out and tries to stifle it, because it’s as mean as it is fond.

And then the crowded room around them is full of people standing, tapping knives on their wine glasses chanting, kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.  The sea of faces is dizzying, so Yuuri just closes his eyes and lets himself sink into Victor’s mouth as he’s pulled around and kissed senseless.  

“Speech!” JJ cheers from up in the loft, where his band is staged.  Victor squeezes Yuuri’s arms and kisses his forehead one more time before walking toward the loft, the crowd before him parting like the Red Sea.

He climbs up the ladder to the loft and gets a few whistles for his traditional coat that shows off the streamlined silhouette of him.  When he gets to the top he blows a kiss out to the crowd with his usual self-satisfied smile from being the center of attention.  JJ gives him the microphone, and he sits down, long legs hanging off the edge with the entire room turned toward him.  “Ah, spasibo.  Arigatou.  There are at least twenty more languages here in this room I should have learned how to say ‘thank you’ in, so I’m sorry for that, but thank you.  So happy to see what appears to be the entire ice skating world come out to our small farm to celebrate the wedding between myself and Yuuri, especially right before Pyeongchang!  We’re not trying to sabotage you all, but you’re all welcome to keep celebrating right through Opening Ceremonies.  Everyone but you, Plisetsky.”

The crowd laughs, and it falls on Yuuri’s shoulders thick and warm like his favorite winter comforter.  He didn’t need tonight to put it into perspective for him, because Victor has slowly made him realize over the years how far from alone he is, but it doesn’t hurt to look across the room to his husband and see that the people between them are the pillars of a community that he’s very much apart of.  He’s always been a part of it, but it took Victor to realize that, and it’s something that makes him absolutely ache in moments like this when he sees the sheer amount of people who want to celebrate him, and celebrate Victor, and celebrate him and Victor.  There’s something about the crowd that makes the ring on his finger feel heavy and sure, the years of people saying that Yuuri stole Victor away from the rest of them still make him want to say, yeah, yeah, I did, and now I have him forever, aren’t I lucky?

“Please, help yourself to what we’ve made available here tonight.  I’m sure you have all found your way to the open bar and banquet tables in back, and--” Victor stops himself, eyes locking over Yuuri’s head the same time Yuuri feels a breeze lick up the back of his neck with the opening and closing of the door behind him.  

He turns around to see what could have stopped Victor, but he’s sure he already knows--and he’s right: It’s Yakov.

 

 

 

 

Victor follows Yakov outside and closes the door behind the both of them, shrugging his wool coat back on over both shoulders.  Yakov seems reserved and tired, looking decades older than Victor remembers him.  It’s been too long.

“You came,” he says finally.  Yakov grunts.

“Really, Victor?” he says, crossing his arms.  He looks unimpressed.

“I mean--” Victor tries, stops, looks away.  He was so sure, so confident that Yakov wouldn’t show up.  They’d maybe see each other in a week at the Games, but he would be looking at the backs of Yakov’s shoulders, watching him walk away.

“Shut up,” Yakov says.  “You think there is a thing in this world you’re capable of doing to hurt me that would keep me from your wedding?  Don’t be stupid.”

“Right,” Victor says, sputtering the word out like tires stuck in mud, earnestly trying to move forward.  “I’m just--I’m happy you came.  I was worried you wouldn’t make it.”  

Yakov huffs a hot breath through his nose, looking away.  “Well, yes, I am much later than expected.  If it weren’t for this one down here taking so long to get through customs, we would have been here days ago.”

“‘This one?’” Victor repeats, and looks down to where Yakov has both a suitcase and what appears to be an animal carrier.  His breath catches in his throat.

“Yes, this one ,” Yakov says.  He sounds angry, but Victor knows him well enough that it’s fondness he’s trying to cover up with annoyance.  “She’s four months, named Sasha.  I figured since you were busy trying to play at happy families, I could burden you with a child.”

Victor gets down on his knees, letting the snow instantly seep through the silk of his pants.  Under the bright, white barn lights he can make out the outline of a whimpering poodle puppy.  He sticks his fingers through the door grate and feels a wet nose sniff each of his fingers excitedly and the warm scrape of puppy tongue over his palm, and he lets out a desperate, unexpected laugh.  “Did you find her at the meat market too?”

“Of course,” Yakov says, gruffly.  

“You’d never go out of your way for anyone,” Victor continues, entranced with the whines of Sasha as he sticks his other hand into the cage for more sniffs and licks.  “Thank you, Yakov.”

“Of course, Vitya,” Yakov says, soft in a way he’s always imagined his own father to sound when he first met his mother and they were young and in love.  It’s a tenderness Victor’s always sought out, but only known fully through Yuuri until this second.  “Make sure she gets inside soon, though.  I don’t think being born during a Russian winter has even prepared her for this kind of weather.  Do you still have--”

“Maccachin?” Victor asks.  “Of course.  She’s an old lady now, though.  I’m sure she would love the company in her final years.  Talk to Yurio, he should have pictures from the ceremony earlier today--she came to the courthouse with us, but her hind legs aren’t good anymore, so I had to carry her up the stairs.”

“That’ll be the last thing I ask from that brat you’re trying to dress up as a world champion,” Yakov says, and Victor laughs.

“Right,” he says, getting off his knees.  He wraps Yakov, folded arms and all, into a huge hug and sighs deeply while resting his head on Yakov’s shoulder.  “You should still be so proud.  You were there for the most important parts of his development.  And in a week, what, we’ll still be on the same team, won’t we?”

“We will,” Yakov agrees.  They stand like that for a moment that seems like an eternity in the quiet of winter, muted sounds of a party behind them, the whimpering of a puppy at their feet.  “I want you to know, Vitya--congratulations.  On everything.  And I’m so, so proud of you.”

Victor is happy that, even in his old age, Yakov is strong enough to hold his weight while he cries.

 

 

It’s been over a year since Yuuri has actually spoken to Yakov, and he can say with one-hundred percent confidence that Yakov has never, ever in their entire history knowing each other been as open as he is now after what has probably been a fifth of vodka from behind the bar and a few Baltikas that he brought with him.  

Yakov’s accent is ten times thicker than Victor’s, and even sloppier when he’s drunk, but Yuuri is pretty sure when Yakov wraps an arm around his shoulders to tell him something in a hushed voice, he’s saying, “You hurt this boy, you hurt Vitya, you break my son’s heart, I still have some favors to call in with former KGB.”

“Haha, okay,” Yuuri says, shrinking away to go dance with his husband.  Since they entered the barn they’ve probably shared a maximum of five minutes together and maybe half a plate from the catered dinner.  Yuuri is starving and slightly drunk, missing his husband, and mostly does not want to die at the hands of one of the world’s most elite figure skating coaches who has probably had Yuuri’s name on a short list in a black book since Victor first left for Hasetsu.  

He finds Victor in a corner, laughing about something with Mila and Georgi and a few older Russian skaters who had retired by the time Yuuri started competing in the senior division.  He snakes both arms around Victor’s waist and gets his chin up on Victor’s shoulder.

“What are we laughing about?” he asks.

“Georgi was saying this wedding wasn’t Russian enough,” Victor says.  “We said we’ll wait for his to have a traditional Russian wedding, even though it’ll take forty years.”

The entire group starts laughing again, with the exception of Georgi, who looks livid.  Still, Georgi angry is ten times less threatening than drunk, earnest Yakov promising to take a crowbar to Yuuri’s kneecaps if Victor so much as suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, so.  

“Wanna dance?” Yuuri asks, as if Victor would ever say no.

“Always,” Victor says, excusing himself from the hoard of Russians to drag Yuuri to the middle of the room, where it’s clear of benches, and a few dozen other couples and friends are fueled by the open bar and swaying together with the music.  

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how when we first decided to get married,” Victor says, wrapping both arms around Yuuri’s shoulders, as Yuuri finds the small of Victor’s back with his hands.  “I remember when you asked me if I wanted to have a traditional wedding.  And I said, what, traditional Japanese?  Traditional Russian?  Traditional Catholic wedding?  Because we’ve never been traditional.  And do you remember what you asked me?”

“I asked you what you wanted,” Yuuri says.

“No, you asked me what I believed in,” Victor says.  “And at the time I said, you know, nothing.  But I’ve been thinking about it; how I’m not religious, but every time I look at you, it makes me want to believe in God.”

“Victor Nikiforov,” Yuuri says, because sometimes Victor says things that make him feel shy and stupid and wonderful all at once.

“Katsuki-Nikiforov,” Victor corrects again, and Yuuri leans up to kiss him hard and mean just to shut him up, because sometimes he doesn’t know how much affection he can take all at once.  

This is how Yuri finds them, and with the strength of a shitfaced bear, pries them apart.  

“You two,” he pants, wet-eyed and red-cheeked and absolutely wasted. “You can’t get married.”

“I mean, it’s kind of too late for that,” Yuuri says, trying to grab him around the wrist.  He isn’t shocked when Yuri pulls away, stumbling.  “You were our witness at the ceremony.  Do you not remember?”

“No,” Yuri moans.  “You guys are--you guys can’t--”

Victor mouths he’s gone at Yuuri, and Yuuri widens his eyes at Victor in a way that Victor clearly reads as, no shit.  

“--leave me,” Yuri finishes, slurring angrily, drool at the corners of his mouth.  “I can’t be, don’t want to be alone.  I need you.  Please, you can’t get married.”

“Okay, maybe it’s time to stop drinking,” Victor says kindly, reaching for Yuri’s left hand where he’s clutching a bottle of champagne that’s three-quarters of the way empty.  

“No,” Yuri says, swatting back at him, and taking a spiteful drink for the sake of it before choking and coughing bubbles all over the front of his own suit.

“Oh my God,” Yuuri says.  “At least let us get you some water.”

“I’m fine, ” Yuri protests, leaning forward to wrap an arm around both of their shoulders and pull them down towards him.  “Please.  You two are my family.  I don’t, I can’t--I’m not ready to leave.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Victor says softly, with the sympathy of someone who knows exactly where Yuri is right now.  “We want you to stay.”

“What if you adopt though,” Yuri says, snot running out of his nose until Yuuri pulls out his pocket square to press against Yuri’s upper lip.  “What if you replace me?  Where do I go?  What do I do?  You two are all I have.”

“Yurio--” Yuuri tries again, but Yuri suddenly pushes himself away from the both of them to launch himself at the nearest table, grabbing an empty wine bucket to violently puke into.

It takes fifteen minutes of negotiation before Yuuri and Victor are able to escort Yuri back to the house, bucket in hand.  Yuri’s still crying and saying something in Russian, or too mumbled in English to understand, or both, Yuuri isn’t sure.  All he can do is help guide Yuri through the frozen tundra separating the barn from the house and rub soothing circles in Yuri’s lower back, looking up to Victor for some sort of clue.  

“I love you two so much,” Yuri cries, as Victor helps him into his bed downstairs, and Yuuri puts a clean towel over his pillow.  Victor takes the bucket to rinse out in the kitchen while Yuuri folds the duvet up over Yuri’s shoulders and sits at the curve of his knees on the bed, stroking his sweat-soaked bangs back from his forehead.  

“You’ll never forgive yourself for saying that in the morning,” Yuuri says in a quiet, playful way, too quiet for Victor to hear from the laundry room.  

“Shut up,” Yuri replies, scrunching his eyes closed and burying his face into his pillow.  Yuuri leans over and rolls him onto his side.  Victor comes back with a clean bucket and leaves it at the side of the bed.  

“Should we leave him?” Yuuri asks, looking up at Victor.

“Maybe we can send some people to check up on him from time to time,” Victor suggests, taking in the way Yuri tucks into himself when he sleeps, even drunk, curled up into a desperate ball.  

“I feel bad,” Yuuri admits.  “I didn’t realize he was--I mean, you said he might be feeling something, but I didn’t realize it was this extreme.”

“Yeah,” Victor says, sighing.  “It’s not like he tells me these things, but you could tell.  He tries to hurt us before we can hurt him.”

Yuuri thinks back to earlier, when Yuri first picked them up at the airport and he was reminded of a wounded animal; here he is again, Yuuri thinks, desperate to save himself from what he’s afraid of, because he never lets himself know.  

“Can you get him a glass of water too?” Yuuri asks, not taking his eyes off of Yuri, who has curled around him completely.  

“Yeah,” Victor says, leaving again for the kitchen.  As soon as he’s gone, Yuuri sighs.

“I know what you’re afraid of, Yurio,” he says.  “Don’t think I don’t know.”

“Victor’s always been good at leaving,” Yuri mumbles.  His eyes are still closed, but his brow is pinched in a way that Yuuri knows he’s still awake and hungry for a fight, as fucked up as he is.  “He left us for you on a whim.  He does what he wants.  I don’t know that he won’t leave me--that he won’t leave us.”

Yuuri hums, fingers riding up the seam of Yuri’s spine in an attempt to comfort him.  Finally, he says, “I do.”

“How?” Yuri asks.

“Because I do.  You think too much of him if you think he makes all the decisions in this relationship, or that he would just leave.  That I would let him leave, ” Yuuri says.  “He is who he is, but he isn’t cruel.  And you aren’t the only one with a fight in you.”

“I don’t want to bore you two,” Yuri admits, his fist curling and uncurling at the bedspread.

“Why, do you think you’re at your limit as a skater?  As a person?  Yurio, you’re not even eighteen,” Yuuri says, and he would be exasperated, if he didn’t know exactly how Yuri feels from being a teenager himself.  “This is just the beginning.  You met me when I was what, twenty-three, and I thought I was washed up.  I went on to win the Grand Prix Final the next year.”

“Don’t remind me,” Yuri whines.  

“I’m just saying,” Yuuri continues.  “Don’t you dare think for a second that Victor and I don’t believe in you, and will stop believing in you over the next however many years.  You’re our pride.  You’re our family.  Nothing can replace what you are in our lives.”

“You promise?” Yuri asks, more vulnerable than Yuuri’s ever known him or ever expects him to be again.  He gropes around for Yuuri’s hand and when he finds it, links their pinkies together.  

“Promise,” Yuuri says, looking down at their locked pinkies.  “You really are going to regret this in a few hours.”

“Don’t tell me how to feel,” Yuri slurs as Victor comes back in the room with a pint of water.  

“How’s he doing?” Victor asks, setting the glass down on Yuri’s bedside table.

“He’ll live,” Yuuri admits, giving his hand a squeeze. “But we should still send people to check up on him.  Just in case.”

“Don’t send JJ,” Yuri says.  “Whatever you do.”

They’re definitely sending JJ.

 

 

 

 

Yuri wakes up to a full bed.  Just as he’s not sure how he got into his own bed, he also doesn’t remember JJ or Mila being sandwiched around him, but here they are.  He doesn’t want to ask.  His head hurts, and his stomach turns, and he tries to peel his half-naked body out from under both of their arms without waking either of them or losing his mind.  

He can tell the sun is rising by the time he untangles himself and makes it to the bathroom down the hallway, past a living area with at least a dozen wedding guests draped over furniture or each other on the old hardwood floors of the house.  Faintly, a hundred meters away, he can still hear the thumpa thumpa of a stereo going, and something makes his heart beat so loud it settles in his throat.  

When he looks out the window, he sees what it is:  

 

 

 

“Didn’t you say you thought I would fall through the ice two days ago?” Yuuri asks the second that Victor suggests they go skate.  Half of the guests are asleep either around them or have migrated to somewhere in the house, and they’re left in the back of the barn, where Victor is holding a pair of their skates in each hand.  

“That was when you were sober, darling.  Right now we’re drunk enough, we could survive anything,” Victor says, like a true Russian.  

“I don’t think it works like that,” Yuuri tells him, honestly.

“What, are you a scientist all of a sudden?  Shh,” Victor slurs, pressing the skates into his chest.  Over his shoulder, Yuuri can see the sun starting to rise outside the window.  “We’re professionals.”

“So you’ll save me when I fall in,” Yuuri finds himself saying, stepping out of his shoes.  

“Or I’ll jump in after you and we’ll freeze together,” Victor replies, kissing him sincere and smiling about the very idea.  “I’ll race you there.”  

They stumble, clinging and pushing themselves off each other’s shoulders, rolling in the weeds more than once watching the other sprinting past towards the frozen lake behind the barn.  Victor wins and ends up on the ice first, skating backwards into a double salchow immediately.  When he lands on the other foot, he just reaches his hand towards Yuuri still standing on the snow bank.  The clouds past his shoulders are turning pink and purple and yellow and orange with the sun, reflecting off the icicles hanging from the leafless trees on the other side of the lake. Victor, Yuuri thinks, chest-heaving and dumb in love is still the most beautiful thing as far as he can see.  

This is it, he reflects, taking a step onto the ice.  This is Victor, an unpredictable, passionate adventure just waiting for him to follow.  This is Victor, drunk laughter into his mouth on a cold winter morning, protective hands around his waist.  This is Victor, bold and fearlessly in love with him. This is Victor, the rest of his life.