Viktor’s spoonful of paella was halfway to Yuuri’s open mouth when a magazine flapped wildly through the air, its glossy pages finding the side of Viktor’s face with a smack.
“Uh!” Viktor sounded almost indignant, his spoon still poised, as the magazine fell into his lap. He looked around the lively restaurant and saw a familiar leopard-print bomber jacket headed their way.
“What the hell is that?” Yurio’s angry voice cut through the loud chatter of the room. He was weaving through a herd of round tables and toward their booth, pointing angrily at the magazine he had thrown at Viktor.
“Yurio!” Yuuri greeted cheerfully, waving. “What are you doing here?”
Yurio was too distracted to reply, as he got momentarily stuck between two chairs that were too close together. The women sitting in both chairs were taking pictures of him eagerly with their phones.
“You’re the Ice Tiger of Russia, right?” one of them asked. Yurio puffed up with pride, but somehow still managed to look mad.
“Ice what now?” Yuuri whispered across the table to Viktor.
“Ice Tiger of Russia,” Viktor whispered back. “I’m pretty sure he gave himself that nickname.”
“Hmm,” Yuuri hummed distractedly, eyeing the food still hovering between them. He leaned toward it, and all thoughts of Yurio Plisetsky vanished from Viktor’s mind as those pink lips finally closed around his spoon, slid back off, and curved into a smile.
“Yum,” Yuuri’s eyes widened behind his glasses.
“Told you.” Viktor smiled back. He watched Yuuri chew the paella contentedly, until a magazine identical to the one before slammed down on the table.
“Don’t ignore me,” Yurio growled.
“How many of these magazines do you have?” Viktor asked, picking up the one from his lap and pausing when he saw a photo of himself on the cover. He was posed against the barrier of an ice rink, wearing a well-tailored suit and slicked-back hair, and dangling his recognizable ice skates over one shoulder.
“Oh! From that photo shoot,” Yuuri chimed in, excited. “Is the interview in there? Can I read it?”
“A newsstand was selling them outside the rink,” Yurio explained, pulling a third one out of his backpack and handing it to Yuuri. “I bought as many as I could carry, but it’s no use. They’re all over the place. You’re ruined, Viktor.”
“I think you look good,” Yuuri said, touching the cover lightly with his fingertips. “Wow, so cool…”
Viktor nearly forgot to breath as he watched Yuuri trace his image with a fingernail.
“It’s awful!” Yurio snapped. “Look at his face!”
“What’s wrong with my face?” Viktor asked.
“You look like you’re about to laugh.” Yurio said laugh in a way that made it sound as bad as fart.
“I probably am,” Viktor said, shrugging. “What’s wrong with that?”
Yurio’s eyes look like they were about to bulge right out of his face. “What’s not wrong with that? What about your image?”
Viktor’s eyebrows shot up. “I appreciate your concern, but my image is flawless. As it always has been, and as it always will be.”
“Are you sure about that?” Yurio asked, shoving himself into the booth beside Yuuri. “Read the article.”
Viktor flipped to the pages of the magazine, and after a few moments, he found the article. On the left page was a picture of his profile looking out onto what was presumable a skating rink. On the right was the article’s intro, topped with a large, bold title: Dethroning the King of Ice.
“You worry too much,” Viktor said, setting the magazine down in favor of picking his spoon back up. “Of course I can’t be the King of Ice if I’m not even ice skating.”
“It’s got nothing to do with skating,” Yurio told him. “If you’re the King of Ice, that means you’re cool. Cool as ice, you follow?”
Viktor shot Yuuri a look to see if he was familiar with that term, but Yuuri just shook his head.
“So by dethroning,” Vicktor said slowly, trying to work it out, “do they mean I’m being overthrown by someone cooler than me?” He immediately thought of Yuuri licking his lips during Eros. Viktor would definitely be okay with that kind of insurrection.
“No,” Yurio gave an annoyed huff. “You’re not being overthrown. You’re just… not cool anymore. This wouldn’t be a problem if you two weren’t so-”
Viktor shoved some paella into Yurio’s mouth to prevent him from saying anything stupid. “It's just one article,” he insisted. “I’m still as cool as ever. Now since you’re here, you might as well shut up and eat with us.”
“Wait,” Yuuri said, looking up from his magazine. “How did you know where we were?”
“Phichit tweeted,” Yurio said simply through a mouthful of seafood.
"Why would Phichit know?"
“I invited him,” Yuuri said, a bit guiltily. "I didn't think you would mind."
Viktor reached out and touched Yuuri’s wrist lightly. “I don’t mind, especially since I get to spend all day with you tomorrow.”
Yuuri laughed. “That’s only because you’re making me practice all day.”
Viktor felt a flutter of happiness in response to Yuuri’s laugh. The small amount of anxiety he was feeling from the magazine article quickly drained away. Only a few months ago, this simple touch would have sent Yuuri bolting across the restaurant. Now he sat there, laughing with ease, and so Viktor let his touch on Yuuri’s wrist linger a bit longer than necessary. Yuuri didn’t pull away.
“Oh my god, you’re doing it right now,” Yurio said, exasperated.
“Doing what?” Viktor asked, but he retracted his hand.
“Being uncool,” he hissed. “Quit smiling like that.”
“Smiling like what?” Viktor asked, feeling his smile widen as he met Yuuri’s twinkling eyes.
Yurio pulled his hood up over his head and slid down low on the bench. “Like a dork in love. It’s embarrassing as hell.”
Yuuri flushed and opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say died in his throat when a digital shutter sounded beside them.
“Cheese!” Phichit said, already adjusting the filter.
“You’re supposed to say ‘cheese’ before taking the picture,” Leo deadpanned behind him.
“I brought Leo!” Phichit said, too late. “He flew here to cheer us on!”
Viktor would have complained about the amount of people in the booth, but their presence was obviously making Yuuri happy. Yuuri’s face was practically glowing at seeing his friends, and poor Yurio had to squint beside him like a kitten in the sun.
“What’s this?” Phichit asked, grabbing the magazine off the table.
“It’s Viktor’s interview I told you about,” Yuuri said, and Viktor couldn’t help but think, You talk about me? “Yurio thinks it makes Viktor look uncool.”
Yurio shrugged rigidly. He usually went pretty quiet when people he didn't know were around.
“Hmm,” Phichit looked the article over, focusing on the larger text blocks. “His icy heart is melting… Wow, very poetic for a sports magazine.”
“I kind of get what they’re saying, though,” Leo said, his eyes sweeping Viktor’s face. “You seem… softer, somehow. Not as scary.”
Viktor looked down at his belly, concerned. “Softer?”
Phichit nodded. “Yeah, he used to be all somber and sad, especially during his routines. I remember Yuuri used to freak out about how cool and mysterious-”
“-uh, Batman was.” Phichit said quickly, his eyes shifting between Viktor and Yuuri. “Yeah, I mean, Yuuri just loves Batman. He has all of those comics. Which he would read instead of watching Viktor’s lame routines. Right, Yuuri?”
Viktor stared at him, insulted. “I thought you liked watching me skate.”
Yuuri buried his face in his hands and said, “I do.”
“But you like Batman more?”
Yuuri threw a look at Phichit through his fingers. “Apparently.”
Phichit could only hold his laughter in for so long.
The rest of the night proceeded in a similar fashion, with another order of paella to accommodate the crowded booth. Viktor tried not to think about the magazine- which shouldn't have been hard, since he really didn’t care- but he still found his eyes drawn to the glossy image of himself smiling, his expression looking weirder than he had ever seen it.
He was still cool, though. One article didn't prove anything.
The next morning, Viktor messed with his hair in the mirror while Yuuri went for his routine run. When Yuuri got back, he was still at the mirror, frowning.
“Are you okay?” Yuuri asked him, stretching on the hotel floor. “That article isn't still bothering you, is it?”
“Of course not,” Viktor said, pulling at his bangs self-consciously. “I’m just having a bad hair day.”
Yuuri peered up at the back of it. “It does look a bit gray.”
Viktor’s hand fell away from his hair, and he turned around. “Yuuri!” he said, trying to sound hurt, but failing miserably. Yuuri smirked back at him from the floor, and the angle of his look did all sorts of things to Viktor’s heart.
In the cab ride to the ice rink, Yuuri asked Viktor why he was wearing his shades.
“The sun isn’t even up yet,” Yuuri pointed out.
“I have sensitive eyes.”
“Hmm,” Yuuri said. They sat in silence for a moment, and then Yuuri leaned over and snatched Viktor’s shades off his face, replacing them with his own thick glasses.
“Oh my god, I can’t see anything!” Viktor peered through Yuuri’s glasses.
“Me neither,” Yuuri said from the seat next to him.
Viktor took off the glasses, blinking. His eyes focused on Yuuri, who was squinting behind Viktor’s shades and pursing his lips in what he must have thought was a ‘cool’ expression.
“Please don't move,” Viktor whispered, as if saying anything too loudly would spook the glorious image before him. He tried taking a picture with his phone, but he couldn’t focus the camera, his shoulders shaking too much from laughter.
“You have that stupid look on your face again,” Yurio said, skating up to where Viktor was watching Yuuri skate.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Viktor said, putting on a very deliberate frown.
“Face it- Katsudon is sucking the cool right out of you.”
“He’s not sucking anything out of me.”
“Ohoho?” Phichit glided by them with a gleefully scandalized look on his face.
“You misheard us!” Viktor called after him.
“Leo, you’ll never guess who’s sexually frustrated,” Phichit was already telling his friend loudly, right beside his rather agitated coach.
Viktor sighed and looked out onto the ice again. Yuuri caught sight of Viktor’s frown and seemed to forget to skate, slowing down as he held Viktor’s gaze.
“Don't think I’m cool, huh?” Viktor muttered to Yurio. “Watch this.”
Viktor put on his most sultry smile and winked at Yuuri.
Yuuri visibly balked, shock written all over his face. He ripped his gaze away from Viktor’s and skated away, but not before Viktor noticed something that looked a lot like…
“What am I supposed to be watching?” Yurio asked flatly.
Viktor opened his mouth to call out, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. All he could think about was the sudden, horrible sinking feeling in his stomach.
Yuuri kept his head down as he made his way to the far end of the rink, and he opened the gate, not bothering to take his skates off as he wobbled in the direction of the locker rooms.
“Enough chit-chat,” came a familiar voice, the heavy Russian accent making Viktor tense. He turned and saw Yakov approaching them, and a second later Yurio was skating away before Yakov could tell him off twice.
“Vitya,” Yakov nodded in way of greeting. “How is Makkachin?”
“He’s wonderful. I’m sorry, I meant to call you. Thank you so much for helping-”
“And how is Yuuri?” Yakov cut him off.
Viktor’s eyes shifted away in the direction of the locker rooms. “Ah…”
“I like Yuuri. He’s got a lot more passion than you,” Yakov said, brutally honest as always. “You can see it when he skates.”
“I know,” Viktor said.
“You can also see it when he doesn’t skate,” he added. When Viktor didn't say anything, he turned to watch Yurio warm up. “Our Yuri was ranting about you nonstop last night.”
“He thinks I’m ruining my image.”
“He told me. Now let me tell you something, Vitya: Yuri thought you were the coolest when you were the most unhappy I have ever seen you. So if he doesn’t think you’re cool anymore, what does that mean?”
Viktor’s head lifted.
“Emotions aren’t a weakness,” Yakov said. “And showing them isn’t a weakness, either. Yuuri is proof of that.”
“I…” Viktor trailed off, feeling shame, but also feeling something else bubbling up. Guilt. “I know.”
“And? You keep saying you know, but is this new way of living going to be a problem for you? Because if so, I could always coach…”
But Viktor was already running away and around the rink, toward the locker rooms where Yuuri disappeared.
This new way of living was everything for Viktor. He thought back on the restaurant, of his fingers on Yuuri’s wrist. There was a reason Yuuri hadn’t pulled away. It was the same reason Yuuri turned away from him just a few minutes ago.
It was different, and Yuuri could tell. Even if Viktor- stupid, stupid Viktor- didn’t realize it was different until now.
But of course Yuuri picked up on it first. Yuuri, who was so full of emotions that he was overflowing with them, so freely giving. Viktor was so blind – Yuuri wasn’t sucking him dry. He was filling him up with something better.
God, if Phichit could hear his thoughts…
Viktor got to the locker room and caught his breath outside. He listened at the door, but couldn’t hear anything. Slowly, he pushed open the door, and he saw Yuuri sitting on a bench directly inside. He was unlacing his skates with harsh, jerking movements, his shoulders tense and his face twisted into a scowl.
“Yuuri,” Viktor said cautiously, and then realized he was wearing his earphones. He sighed, shutting the door quietly behind him, and walked forward.
Yuuri didn't realize Viktor was there until he was kneeling in front of him, gently pushing his hands away and unlacing his skates for him.
Neither of them said anything, and Yuuri didn’t take his earphones out. Viktor worked in silence, slipping off the first skate, and then the second, and then pulling down Yuuri’s socks slowly, one by one, until he had both bare feet in his lap.
“Viktor,” Yuuri said, and Viktor’s head snapped up, his body moving forward, wanting nothing more than to hug him, to make him understand that things weren’t going back to how they were before, that it didn't matter what other people thought.
But Yuuri’s feet both rose up and pushed against Viktor’s chest, holding him back.
Yuuri took his earphones out and said, “I’m mad at you.”
“I’ve been trying to cheer you up all morning.”
“But you’re too busy worrying about how uncool you look to notice.”
“I even let you wear my glasses!”
“Oh- Was that a big deal for you?”
“And here we are, three days before the Grand Prix, and you’re too self-absorbed to realize I’m having trouble with the timing on my first jump-”
“You had too much height-”
“All because of some stupid article you didn’t even read. It’s probably a good thing you didn’t read it, because it was all about how great you were, and how well suited you are to being a coach, and if this is how you get when you’re self-conscious I would hate to see what you’re like with an inflated ego.”
“I’m sorry,” Viktor said, pulling one of Yuuri’s ankles to rest on his shoulder. He massaged the inside of his calf, and Yuuri’s other foot fell back into Viktor’s lap. “I’m so, so sorry, Yuuri. I’m so stupidly happy with you, and I want to keep being stupidly happy with you, and I won't ever try to be cool in front of you again.”
“You don’t have to try,” Yuuri mumbled, his composure finally cracking. “Do you see yourself right now?”
“Hm?” Viktor grinned and took Yuuri’s hand, and it was in a way that Yuuri recognized as the new way, not the old way, and so he let him. “Are you saying I look cool right now?”
“Definitely not,” Yuuri lied, and he could feel Viktor’s smile widen against his knuckles.
“Am I at least cooler than Batman?”
Yuuri’s entire expression changed, and he covered his mouth with his free hand before letting out a bellow of laughter.
And Viktor laughed too, because Yuuri’s laugh was more contagious than anything he’d ever caught before. He didn't think he'd ever be immune to it.
"Is that a yes?" Viktor grinned giddily, not letting go of his hand as Yuuri rose to his feet.
Yuuri was still laughing a bit, his eyes shining down at Viktor. "Yeah."
"Oh my god," Phichit said, and they both looked over to see him frozen with his hand on the locker room door.
Viktor realized he was down on one knee, and quickly said, "Phichit, no."
"Oh my god!" Phichit said, his voice raising in glee. He turned and bolted from the room, yelling, "Leo! Bring me my phone, it's happening!"
"We're going to give that boy a heart attack," Viktor sighed. He got up, pulling away from Yuuri, but Yuuri tightened his grip on his hand.
"Just a little longer," he said with a determined glint in his eyes, as if getting revenge for Viktor's behavior earlier. He laced their fingers more comfortably together.
Viktor's heart flip-flopped in his chest, and he purposefully didn't look at the mirror along the far wall, fully aware that he looked like a bright-red fool.
If Yuuri liked when Viktor was a fool, well then a fool he would be. Always.