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Gods of Circumstance

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People always say disasters happen in slow motion. That time comes almost to a standstill, and you witness, in grueling detail, every moment of a catastrophe. That, in the instant before a deadly impact, your whole life flashes before your eyes, and you’re forced to review every choice, relive every tragedy and triumph. That’s what they say.

But Yuuri doesn’t even see it coming.

He’s on the ice, performing his Yuuri on Ice routine better than he ever has ever has before. After he and Viktor finished talking through their problems in the hotel the night before—and, ah, maybe thrown in a few minutes of intimacy before lights out—Yuuri had woken up this morning refreshed. Ready. One hundred percent ready. To nail Yuuri on Ice and make up for his pitiful Eros performance. To climb back up the rankings and take home that gold he’s been working toward for so long.

And here he is. Having made every right move, landed every jump.

The moment of truth has arrived—the Quad Flip he’s never landed perfectly in competition. The jump he must land if he has any hope of beating Yuri Plisetsky on the podium.

He approaches fast, a familiar anxiety bubbling in his gut. But this time, he doesn’t let it get to him. He doesn’t count the deductions for his wobbles. He doesn’t wonder if the other skaters spot his miniscule mistakes. He doesn’t think back on his past failures.

He clears his head and imagines one thing only, landing the Quad Flip in front of the man he’s fallen in love with.

Viktor, who’s watching him now, with so much hope, so much joy, so much pride.

He will not let Viktor down this time—no. That’s not right.

(You’ve got it all wrong, Viktor had said. You’ve never let me down, Yuuri. And you never will.)

Himself. Yuuri has only ever let himself down, because he’s allowed his anxiety to get the better of him when it matters most. Everyone else, Viktor assures him, Minako assures him, Mari assures him—everyone else has always been proud of him. So, so proud. And he has nothing to be ashamed of.

For the first time in his life, after looking Viktor Nikiforov in the eye as the man he’d idolized for years told him the truth (yes, truth) point blank—You are not a failure, and you never were—Yuuri Katsuki truly believes he can win.

He will not let the anxiety take him this time.

Not today. Not at this Grand Prix Final. Not during this Free Program. No, he tells the monster in his head that has sabotaged him for so many years. Not now. And not ever again.

Yuuri jumps.

He spins four times. 

He lands—perfectly. 

He’s done it. He’d done it! One more spin to finish and…

…and then, he doesn’t know what happens. Not really.

Something snaps, loudly. Something metallic.

Yuuri’s left foot is yanked out from underneath him.

The ice flies up to meet him.

And the lights go out.

*** 

“Yuuri,” says a concerned voice. “I know you’re upset about Vicchan, but the Short Program is tomorrow. You’ve worked so hard for this, and it’ll be a damn shame if you miss the podium because you forgo an opportunity for one last practice session.” A moment of silence. A knock on a door. “Yuuri? I know you can hear me. Please come out.”

Yuuri blinks, uncomprehending. He’s in…a room of some kind. On a thin brown carpet, back against a wall, his arms wrapped around his knees. The room is dim, all but one lamp switched off, the curtains drawn to. Sunlight weakly filters into the room through the gaps in the heavy, dark curtain fabric.

Yuuri’s eyes feel heavy, puffy, raw, and his nose is running like he’s been crying in the past few minutes.

What?

Unfurling, unsure of himself, he examines the room in more detail. It looks…familiar somehow, but he can’t quite place it. It’s definitely a hotel room, a generic design with a few standard amenities, a small bathroom attached to the end of the hall, near the door. A suitcase that Yuuri recognizes as his sits next to an unmade bed—but the suitcase in question is one he hasn’t used in a while. One of its wheels broke on his way back from…Sochi.

“Where…am I?” he mutters quietly.

Hadn’t he just been on the ice, skating his Free Program? Hadn’t he been seconds away from winning that gold he’s coveted for so long? Hadn’t he been one spin from fulfilling Viktor’s dream, his own dream, of performing Yuuri on Ice to perfection? Hadn’t he finally landed that Quad Flip?

Where had all that gone, between one blink and the next? How had he gotten here?

And where the hell is here?

Someone knocks on the door again, harder this time. “Yuuri, are you okay in there?”

Is that…Celestino? Why is Celestino knocking on the door to a—it can’t be.

The anxiety froths in his gut, and he can feel it building, building, threatening to topple him, send him sprawling across the ugly carpet, even though he’s only trying to walk. Sucking in too-shallow breaths, Yuuri hauls himself up with the aid of the nearby nightstand and shuffles over to a small desk, where his phone is plugged in.

His trembling fingers drop the phone twice before he manages to rip the charging cord out of it and pull it close to his face. (His glasses are missing. Where are his glasses?) He fumbles his passcode twice too, before he bites his tongue, steels himself—Calm down, Yuuri, a memory of Viktor says soothingly, it’ll be all right—and finally unlocks the phone.

He ignores all his notifications and swipes his screen until he finds the calendar. Then he swipes back because the calendar must be wrong. He taps on his email app and reads the dates of the new messages in his inbox. And they’re wrong too. So he switches over to his text messages, only to find one from Phichit with that same date on it, that same wrong date.

Yuuri drops the phone, and it clatters across the floor.

The anxiety takes over—he can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t control himself—and his legs move on automatic, quaking all the way, as if the earth is shuddering beneath him. He maneuvers around the single bed in the room, to the window. His arms move of their own accord, grab the curtains, and drag them out of the way.

No, says a distant whisper that isn’t Viktor’s, but his own voice in his own head, already trying to run away from this new problem.

But to be fair, Yuuri thinks, staring dumbstruck out the window, this problem is a bit bigger than his usual ones.

He presses his palms against the cool window, followed by his forehead, and breathes steam onto the glass until the city outside is frosted white.

The city he shouldn’t be in. The city he cannot be in. The city he has not visited in a year and doubted he would ever visit again.

Somehow, some way, mere minutes ago, Yuuri Katsuki had been performing his Free Program in Barcelona in 2016…

…and now…

Now he is in Sochi. It is 2015.

And the Grand Prix Finals start tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Half of Yuuri’s day-that-cannot-be passes by in a blur. After vomiting up everything in his stomach, lying on the bathroom floor in the fetal position, and hyperventilating so hard he nearly passes out, he finally manages to drag himself to the door and allow Celestino inside. His coach takes one look at him and immediately whisks him off to a clinic down the street, thinking he’s desperately sick.

The staff monitor him for an hour, during which time Yuuri’s shock slowly fades into a general sense of dissociation. Celestino talks to him several times, but it sounds like the man is speaking through water, and the nurses don’t fare much better. The doctor who examines him is a little more intelligible—Yuuri catches terms like “severe emotional trauma” and “should see a therapist”—which is ironic because the man spends most of the time talking to Yuuri’s coach, not to him.

It’s not until Yuuri is released from the clinic, with Celestino guiding him back toward their hotel, mumbling to himself in dismay as he considers withdrawing Yuuri from the Grand Prix Final—that the world suddenly seems to snap back into place. It finally clicks for Yuuri, on this rather chilly day in Sochi, where he should not be, that, no, he’s not hallucinating, and, no, he’s not dreaming, and, good god, this is all real.

Yuuri fell during his Free Program in Barcelona and woke up in Sochi a year ago. He can’t even begin to fathom how such a thing is possible—time travel, or something like it. Is this some kind of second chance from a benevolent god, or…?

A cold knot forms in Yuuri’s stomach, and he tugs his hand out of Celestino’s, stumbling his way over to a bench in front of a closed store. His coach starts but doesn’t immediately follow him; instead, the man observers him closely, apparently trying to see if Yuuri is finally emerging from his emotional coma.

Yuuri isn’t quite ready for that—first, he has to confront the awful thought in his mind.

He thinks back to his Free Skate. He landed the Quad Flip, yeah? And then…then…he struggles to remember. Something…broke? Yes? Something broke! His skate blade, it must’ve been, because it sounded like metal splitting.

Okay, so he landed his Quad Flip, then his left blade fractured, and he tripped and fell and…hit his head.

Yes, he remembers now. He’d slammed into the ice head first, face first. Going more than fast enough to cause a major injury. 

Is it possible that he…that he…died?

Oh god, did he die in front of Viktor, in front of the whole world, on live television, from a freak equipment malfunction? Did Viktor have to watch, horrified, from the sidelines as the paramedics skated over, checked his pulse…and found nothing? Did Yuuri’s parents have to sit there, stunned and helpless, while the announcer for the Grand Prix Final confirmed his death? Did everything he’d spent a year working for, all that time with Viktor, all that practice, crawling his way through competitions, to the top of the mountain once again…end in such a complete disaster?

Yuuri hangs his head and shudders, tears building in his eyes, gaze cast down at the concrete. His shaking left hand automatically rises to his right, but he finds no comforting gold ring there—of course not. This is 2015, and he and Viktor haven’t even met at that stupid banquet where Yuuri made a drunken fool of himself. Viktor hasn’t seen his Stay Close to Me video, recorded by the Nishigori triplets, because Yuuri hasn’t skated the program for Yuuko. Viktor hasn’t arrived in Hasetsu and proclaimed himself Yuuri’s coach.

None of that has happened yet, and it hasn’t happened because Yuuri Katsuki fucking died a year from now. 

He knows it’s true. It must be true. He died and got sent back here to do it all over again.

Maybe it is a second chance. Maybe someone, or something, a higher power, is being nice to him for once.

But then again…when has the world ever played fairly with Yuuri when it really mattered? For god’s sake, his dog died today, right before what was supposed to be the most important competition of Yuuri’s life. And a year from now, he died at the same competition. It’s like a cascading comedy of errors, and Yuuri is the butt of the joke.

Someone sits next to him on the bench and places a hand on his shoulder. “Yuuri,” Celestino says, “if you really want to, you can withdraw from the competition. You don’t have to skate. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

Want to.

What does Yuuri want to do? That’s a damn good question, isn’t it?

What is he supposed to do? Is there a lesson he’s supposed to learn, from going back and redoing the past year? Or are his options boundless? Is the world his to take, with the foreknowledge of everything that has yet to come—and the ability to change it as he pleases? Is this a predestined path he’s supposed to walk, or does he have free will in this second life of his?

If he changes things, will the outcome differ? Can he survive Barcelona? Can he win Barcelona?

Or…better yet…

Can he win Sochi?

Yuuri tries to dismiss that thought—because it’s ludicrous. If he wins Sochi…but wait, no. His loss at Sochi wasn’t what led Viktor to him in the first place. It was the drunken banquet that got Viktor interested. And it was Yuuri skating to Stay Close to Me that sealed the deal, that lured Viktor away from a final season. So even if Yuuri changes the outcome of Sochi, he can still replicate all the events that originally followed his loss, and ultimately end up with Viktor as his coach, as his…almost husband.

After all, Viktor admitted he was considering retirement even before Sochi. He was lost, out of inspiration, slowly spiraling toward depression—and it was Yuuri, Viktor claims, that drew him out of it. Yuuri that gave Viktor a new direction. Yuuri that saved Viktor Nikiforov. 

Yuuri had blushed at that line, the night before the Free Program—last night, to Yuuri. He’d blushed a lot during their discussion of Yuuri’s career, of their future together. He’d also cried a lot. In the end, they’d ironed out all their problems, all their mistakes, softened all the tension between them. They’d come to understand each other in a way they’d both been dancing around for so many months…that conversation had simultaneously been the best and worst of Yuuri’s life.

He’d never felt more embarrassed, or more loved. 

Yuuri grips his bare ring finger, the one where that gold band should be—and will be again, if Yuuri has anything to say about it—and finally rises from the bench.

His relationship with Viktor up until Barcelona, he realizes now—what a powerful thing hindsight is—was filled with so many missed opportunities, so many wasted moments, so much wasted time. If he hadn’t let his self-doubt get the better of him, he and Viktor could have been a stronger team much sooner, could have been more devoted lovers so much earlier. Viktor had been trying to tell him so much, through so many subtle expressions and gestures, for so long, and Yuuri had blocked it all out with that wall of anxiety he refused to let anyone climb over.

He’d finally overcome that wall, once and for all, in his last moments in Barcelona.

And he’ll be damned if he’s going to let his mind rebuild it.

No, if this truly is a second chance at life, a chance to fix all his mistakes, a chance to be a better lover for Viktor, a better skater for his fans, a better son for his family—then Yuuri Katsuki is damn well going to take this opportunity. And he’s not going to let it go until he’s standing on the podium at Barcelona a year from now, with that gold medal around his neck, his fiancé waving from the sidelines, his family and friends cheering for him from all over the world, and a long, happy future ahead for him and Viktor.

But to figure out whether this is a second chance, whether he can actually change things…Yuuri will have to test that now. Here. At the Sochi Grand Prix Final he failed so long ago.

Yuuri turns to Celestino, notes the worry etched deeply into his coach’s face, and says, “I’ll skate tomorrow.”

“Yuuri,” Celestino says, standing up, “you don’t have—”

Yuuri holds up his hand to interrupt the man, and replies in a voice that sounds eerily calm, even to his own ears, “I’ll skate tomorrow, Coach, and I’ll win. But I need to make a few adjustments to my programs first.”

If he’s being honest with himself, he barely remembers his programs for Sochi. But he’s practiced enough choreography over the past several months, bits and pieces of gala ideas, and a few things Viktor was working on for them to try during the 2017 season (if Yuuri hadn’t retired by then) that…yes, Yuuri knows, he can work with this.

Especially if he pulls in Eros for his Short Program. He can’t possibly do Yuuri On Ice for his Free Skate—the final song doesn’t exist yet—but there are other songs about love out there, and he and Viktor had discussed many of them in recent weeks.

Yes, he can do this. He has almost no time to learn a new Free Program, the world itself may very well be plotting against him, and the odds of him suffering another breakdown from this freaky mental time travel are absurdly high…

But he can do this.

He can do this.

He will do this.

And that’s all there is to it.

Yuuri pats a dumfounded Celestino on the shoulder. “I need to go back to my room to get my computer so I can show you the music I want to use. I’ll met you at the rink in thirty minutes, okay?”

Celestino doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing.

And that suits Yuuri just fine. He has too much work to do to chat.

Chapter Text

Yuuri wakes early, restless. 

After rushing all afternoon and evening the day before, he’d dropped like a rock in his hotel room late last night, but something in his brain drags him out sleep a full hour before his alarm rings. There’s a moment of confusion, of course, where he looks at a ceiling he vaguely remembers staring at in dismay a year ago, after he screwed up his Sochi Short Program the first time. But then it all comes rushing back—his death, his apparent second chance, his doubt, his hope, his anxiety.

The last one he crushes again before it has a chance to take root this morning. As much hard work as he did yesterday, he won’t let his nerves settle in his gut and throw him off today. Oh, no. The man who allowed his anxiety to get the better of him truly did die in Barcelona—Yuuri is no longer that guy.

He’s the Yuuri who nailed the Quad Flip now. The Yuuri that, he knows for a fact, would have outscored Viktor’s Free Program world record (had his skate not broken and killed him). He’s the Yuuri who can win Sochi on his second attempt and prove that his past mistakes can be undone, and that the future he wants so much can still be grasped. He’s a new Yuuri, and the old one is never coming back. 

Of course, he’s still on the verge of spilling his guts in the toilet this fine morning, but he can’t do much to stop the physical symptoms of his nervousness. He can only power through and not let them distract him from his goals today.

He throws the sheets off his body and rises, shuffling toward the bathroom. His legs are a bit sore from his late practice yesterday, and his eyes are a little sensitive to the bright bathroom lights—he sat in the dark too long in front of his computer, securing his music selections.

And then, for three hours after that, he sat in a chair by the window, modifying his costumes. He’d brought a couple extras, like usual, in case he had a severe wardrobe malfunction—which is lucky, because the costumes he’d originally worn in Sochi did not fit his love theme. At all.

Even his backup costumes were pretty far off, but he had scissors and needles and thread, and had learned over the years how to repair moderate damage to his costumes, so he’d done what he could to his old black and silver outfit, along with a navy-colored one, to make them mimic the two he’s been using for his love season. They aren’t perfect, but they’re tight in all the right places, and he can do the rest with his body language.

As long as he warms up first—and maybe puts on a little makeup. 

He grimaces at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His eyes are still puffy from yesterday’s breakdown, and now he has noticeable dark circles. He also looks paler than usual, but then, he did spend a while in a clinic yesterday afternoon, after crying on the floor and vomiting several times. Yeah, I’ll definitely need the makeup bag.

Yuuri smacks his cheeks a few times, trying to get the blood flowing, then strips and hops into the shower. He works all the stiffness out of his muscles under the hot spray for fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. Then he spends an extra ten with his hands braced against the wall, just gazing at the bottom of the tub.

He’s been trying really hard to ignore his situation since he made his decision to change the outcome of Sochi—the whole death and mental time travel thing. It still boggles him. Why him? Of all people? And how?

Yuuri has never been spiritual, but he honestly can’t think of a single rational explanation for his current predicament, other than interference from an outside power. Does this mean…?

He shakes his head, flinging water against the curtain.

Now is not the time for an existential crisis, he reminds himself. He can have one of those two days from now, after he’s confirmed whether or not he can indeed change the outcome of major events in his life—like this Grand Prix Final. If you can make it to the plane back to Detroit, he promises, you can spend the whole trip locked in the bathroom, hyperventilating as you freak out about the possible existence of a god and actual fucking time travel.

That sounds like a good plan.

He turns off the shower and yanks the curtain back, then snatches the towel on the nearby rack to dry off. By the time he’s dry and fully dressed, his costumes packed in his day bag, along with his skates—he checks his blades several times for noticeable defects—he has roughly thirty minutes left before Celestino is to stop by to make sure he’s up.

Yuuri honestly isn’t sure what Celestino is thinking, after he watched his student practice routines that should be impossible for him at this point in his development—and which, Yuuri admits, were pretty hard to break himself into yesterday, since his body isn’t used to some of the moves at this point. His coach is probably thinking Vicchan’s death and Yuuri’s subsequent breakdown “tripped” something in Yuuri’s brain. Some kind of grief-induced breakthrough. If not that, then maybe he just thinks Yuuri’s lost his mind.

Or well, he may have thought that—until Yuuri landed a Quad Flip last night. Which, to Celestino’s knowledge, Yuuri hadn’t attempted at all in months.

He’d thought Celestino might have a stroke. 

Thankfully, they’d both left the rink in good (physical) health. Celestino had eyed him in shock and confusion the whole way back to the hotel. But Yuuri can’t explain the truth—to anyone; who would believe him?—so Celestino will just have to deal with Yuuri’s major, sudden transformation in whatever way lets him sleep at night.

Yuuri has more important things to worry about.

Yuuri zips up his bag, grabs his wallet, phone, and room key, and heads out. He tapes a note to the door informing Celestino he’s decided to go to the rink early and that he’ll grab breakfast along the way.

Which he does—grab breakfast, that is. There’s a café right across the street from the hotel, and Yuuri buys a filling but not overly large meal, along with a few healthy snacks for later. He can’t skate on an empty stomach, but that anxious nausea still isn’t being kind to him, so he has to make some kind of compromise. He eats in small bites, sipping water in between each one, as he starts the long walk from the hotel toward the rink.

He could call a cab or something, but he prefers the walk. The cool air wipes away the rest of his exhaustion from yesterday’s overwork, and his measured steps work the lingering soreness from his practice out of his knees and ankles and hips. When the rink finally comes into view, people already milling about near the entrance, waiting for the competitions to begin, Yuuri feels much, much better than he did at any point yesterday, even during his intensive “boot camp” to work out his “new” programs last night.

As soon as he passes through the doors, into the building where his fate will be decided for a second time, Yuuri Katsuki feels that flicker of confidence he’s been grasping at during every competition he’s had since Viktor Nikiforov showed up out of the blue and announced he’d be coaching Yuuri. (Well, not really out of the blue—there was that banquet after all—but it seemed out of the blue until Yuuri found out the truth later.)

He has to admit—never before has he adequately grasped that much-needed confidence throughout an entire competition. He’d flubbed it during his Short Program in Barcelona, which had hurt his chances of reaching the podium tremendously, only to grab it by the reins and dominate the Free Skate, making up all the points he’d lost the day before.

If he can manage to keep that tiny flame of confidence burning throughout the Short and Free Programs here in Sochi—he can win. He knows it. If he hadn’t died in Barcelona—he still shudders at that thought—then maybe he would have succeeded at fanning that flame during Nationals, or Four Continents, or Worlds. Maybe he was one or two competitions away from nailing both programs. Maybe he was that close.

And maybe he’s that close now, even though, contradictorily, it’s a year before instead of weeks or months after Barcelona.

But…if this is what Yuuri has to work with, he’ll take it.

He’ll take it, and he’ll run with it, and—

Viktor steps out of a restroom twenty feet in front of Yuuri, and time slows to a crawl. Viktor.

He’s wearing that red and white Russia jacket Yuuri remembers from so long ago, tapping away some message on his phone. His lips are drawn into a thin line, and he looks less like the faintly smiling, casually confident Viktor that Yuuri remembers from this period and more like the occasionally solemn and worn-out Viktor that Yuuri has spent the last several months catching glimpses of (when Viktor thinks he isn’t looking).

And, of course, that makes sense. Viktor was unsatisfied, uninspired, unsure of his future, for months before Sochi. Viktor admitted to him one late night (he may have been a little drunk) that he’d considered retiring after the 2014 season. So long. So long Viktor had stood on his pedestal, high above everyone else, just waiting and wondering when it’d all come toppling down. When he’d finally run out of ideas for new programs, or, hell, just break down physically and be surpassed by younger skaters. So damn long.

Yuuri’s throat closes up before he has a chance to call out to Viktor—which is good, because this Viktor doesn’t know him yet. (Something painful twinges in his chest at that admission.) This Viktor hasn’t met a silly drunk man at a banquet, or seen that same man mimic his Stay Close to Me program. This man is just…lonely and adrift. No anchor.

Yuuri doesn’t know what hurts more. That he can’t comfort Viktor yet, or that he’s about to prove Viktor right. If Yuuri pulls off both his programs here in Sochi, he can score higher than Viktor. He can beat Viktor—not easily, but possibly. And even if he doesn’t beat out Viktor for the gold, their scores will end up uncomfortably close. 

Yuuri certainly doesn’t want to upset Viktor, but…he can make up for it. At the banquet (where he won’t get quite as drunk, he promises himself). And later. When he (this time deliberately) lures Viktor to Hasetsu. Hell, maybe Viktor will be more interested in Yuuri if there’s the added detail of this Japanese man suddenly coming out of nowhere and threatening Viktor’s “reign.”

Either way…there’s nothing he can do about Viktor’s feelings right now. Nothing that makes sense.

So Yuuri holds his tongue, clenches his teeth, his entire body shaking because he wants, so badly, to say something to the man he loves—anything to cheer Viktor up. He holds his tongue and loiters awkwardly in the middle of the hallway, until Viktor finishes his text message, puts his phone away, turns, and walks off in the same direction Yuuri was heading. To the rink.

Not once does Viktor glance over his shoulder to find Yuuri staring like a total creep, unshed tears gathering on his eyelids. Not once. 

And Yuuri is actually glad about that. He doesn’t think he could take having Viktor’s eyes on him. Not yet.

So Yuuri watches Viktor walk away and does not follow.

But he will. Soon enough.

*** 

Celestino finally catches up with Yuuri twenty minutes before the Short Program begins. He stands at the entrance to the locker room, watching Yuuri dress in his modified black outfit. Yuuri sees Celestino’s eyebrows perk up as his coach notices the changes he made to the costume last night, but the man doesn’t say anything about them. He seems to have accepted that Yuuri is bent on these new programs, despite their difficulty and the fact that, to Celestino, Yuuri made them up yesterday.

“I made sure your new music is ready to go,” is all his coach says. “I got a few curious looks when I mentioned it was a totally new program, but I tried not to raise any real suspicion. If you come out the gate with what you showed me last night, Yuuri…” He sighs, and then chuckles. “I don’t know how you suddenly pulled all this out of thin air—I’m somewhat afraid to ask, and I know you won’t answer me if I do—but, if this is truly what you want to do, then I’m not going to press you. I’ll support you regardless of what or how you perform. You know that, right?”

“Yes, Coach.” Yuuri throws him a thin smile over his shoulder. “Can you help me with this zipper?”

“Sure.” Celestino saunters over and tugs up the hidden zipper Yuuri can’t quite reach. Then he gives Yuuri a once-over, noting the costume’s more risqué alterations, along with Yuuri’s makeup, which is more noticeable up close. He pats Yuuri’s shoulder softly. “Don’t stay up so late tonight, all right? I know you want to practice your new Free Program a bit more, but don’t push yourself too hard. You need a good night’s sleep. No amount of concealer can hide the blood if you fall out in fatigue on the ice and break your nose.”

Yuuri can’t help but snort. Because he almost did that once, years ago, and Celestino has never let him live it down. It’s always the prime example he uses to make Yuuri behave if he even thinks about acting recklessly during practices or competitions. Yuuri takes his coach’s hand, squeezes it gently, and nods. “Understood, Coach. I won’t stay up past my bedtime today.”

“Good. Glad we settled that.” He turns and guides Yuuri toward the door. “Now, let’s go show these people what you’re really made of. Let’s go show Nikiforov what you’re made of.” 

Yuuri almost laughs out loud at that—at the memories that statement evokes. Because the Viktor that Yuuri left behind in Barcelona knew exactly what Yuuri is made of. Viktor spent months poking and prodding (and also kissing) him to discover all the secrets hiding inside Yuuri’s anxiety-ridden brain. And if Yuuri plays this right—or at least not totally wrong—then Viktor will do that all over again. Except Yuuri will make it easier for him this time around. It’s only fair, after Viktor put so much effort in the first time—so much work, just to get Yuuri to open up to him centimeter by grueling centimeter.

Yuuri doesn’t want to hide from Viktor again. He wants Viktor to see him. 

And see him Viktor will. In a few short minutes.

Celestino holds the door open, and Yuuri peers out into the hallway, hears the distant cheers of the crowd as the announcers are proclaiming the start of the Men’s Singles Short Program.

He walks out of the locker room, his covered skates padding against the floor, takes a sharp left, and marches toward the waiting rink.

*** 

The first sign that the future is changing before Yuuri’s very eyes is that he ends up last in the lineup. He’d been stuck in the middle last time, which he honestly didn’t mind—he still hates going first—so the fact that fate doesn’t put him in the same place twice breathes on that little flame of confidence, and it grows that much brighter. Enough to leave a lingering warmth in Yuuri’s chest as he watches his competitors.

He’d purposely held back in the warm-up session, refusing to show off all his “new” program moves to the competition, or the audience. He wanted to stun them, the same way he had the very first time he’d performed Eros. You could only get that gasping reaction of utter disbelief once—after this performance, the videos of his new program will spread across social media like wildfire (Phichit will make sure of that), and never again will he garner quite the same level of shock and awe from the crowd. 

As his competitors finish their routines one by one, Chris, JJ, the others, and finally, second to last, Viktor—who Yuuri can barely bring himself to watch yet can’t stop stealing glances at all the same—he wonders who he should direct his Eros toward. He’d aimed it at the wall during practice, but that never felt quite right. He’d only ever had his mind on one person during actual performances, and that person was Viktor. Because he loved (loves) Viktor.

But here and now, they don’t know each other.

Would it be weird, uncomfortable even, to aim his Eros at Viktor this time? Or…?

Ah, the answers comes to him. I’ll make it look like I’m challenging him.

After all, Viktor will still be in the Kiss & Cry when Yuuri performs. It’s a perfect setup. He’ll make it look like he wants to challenge Viktor’s nearly flawless performance with his own. And at the same time, he’ll get a glimpse of the face of the man who’s kept him going all this time, who stopped him from retiring seasons too early, who helped him work through the crippling anxiety that has held him back for so long—Viktor. Who means more than anything to him.

No sooner does Yuuri think that than Viktor’s Short Program comes to a close. The crowd cheers, deafening, as Viktor has outdone himself yet again. Yuuri watches Viktor wave and bow to his adoring audience, then snatch up some of the flowers thrown his way as he heads off the rink toward the Kiss & Cry. 

Yuuri takes the silent earbuds out of his ears and looks to his left, where Celestino is standing. His coach nods at him, and Yuuri sheds his jacket, handing it off. He closes his eyes for a moment, in the seconds before Viktor’s insanely high score is announced, and when the crowd breaks out into applause again, buffeted by Viktor’s latest success, Yuuri begins his march toward the rink.

At the edge, Yuuri bends down and removes his blade guards (he checks one last time for any tiny fractures in the metal, but finds none). 

From above, the announcers call his name, then state the name of his program’s song. He hears the faint wave of confusion wash over the audience—his fans who’ve been watching him all season and know, for a fact, that he hasn’t once skated In Regards to Love: Eros this entire season.

A palpable nervousness ripples through the audience. What is he doing? Changing things so late? Oh no, is he going to crash and burn? The whispers grow louder and louder, and Yuuri, for once, lets them bounce right off him and roll away across the ice.

Crash and burn? No.

That was the old Yuuri, and that was the first Sochi.

This is the new Yuuri, the one Viktor Nikiforov coached closer to perfection than anyone could have ever predicted, the one Viktor Nikiforov fell in love with and who fell in love with Viktor in return, the one who nailed his Quad Flip in Barcelona and would have stood proudly on that podium had fate not dragged him back here.                                                             

And at this second Sochi, Yuuri will show the world what Viktor Nikiforov has taught him, whether they realize it or not. (Whether Viktor realizes it or not.)

Yuuri will not crash and burn under the weight of his anxiety ever again.

His skates meet the ice. His heads to the middle of the rink.

The crowd falls silent.

The music begins. 

Yuuri casts his gaze on Viktor, pointing directly at him, his eyes narrow and intense, his lips tucked into a flirty smirk. He winks.

The crowd gasps.

Viktor, in the Kiss & Cry, who happens to glance up at the perfect moment, looks taken aback. (And Yuuri can’t tell for sure without his glasses, but he thinks Viktor’s cheeks turn the palest shade of pink.)

Yuuri takes off.

The choreography he’s been practicing for so many weeks with Viktor, firm in his mind, makes up for the short time he had to physically practice, and he lets his memory guide him through each step, each spin. His memory of past performances. His memory of Viktor’s hands on his body, on his hips, on his waist, lips flush to his ear, whispering tips and advice. His memory of their moments in bed together, both innocent and not.

He’ll have that again. If it’s the last thing he does before the afterlife drags him off for good…he’ll have Viktor again. He’ll have Viktor’s love again, and this time, the road to that love won’t be paved with Yuuri’s dumb mistakes, his stupid misunderstandings. He won’t hold Viktor’s feelings back, stifle them—and he won’t do the same to his own out of fear, out of anxiety. No!

He nails the triple axel, nails the combo, nails his spins, swaps out a Triple Toe Loop for a Quad he lands without a single misstep.

The crowd is freaking out, but Yuuri doesn’t give a shit about them. Only the skater in the Kiss & Cry, whose mouth is hanging wide open—he’s the only person in the world Yuuri cares about.

The Eros music reaches its climax, and Yuuri glides through his step program like he’s been practicing these moves for a decade, preparing for this moment for his entire career. From the tips of his fingers to the skates cutting through the ice, every ripple of his muscles is deliberate, a dance so elaborate that he’d thought, once upon a time, he could never do this.

But he can do this—and Viktor made him believe it. Made him believe in himself.

He swings around to come into the last jump...and he knows, right then, what he needs to do. How this has to end.

The phantom of the Barcelona disaster rears its ugly head, along with a spike of fear in his gut. And he almost screams at it out loud. Get the fuck back where you belong!

The fear recedes.

Yuri picks up speed, closes his eyes for a microsecond—during which he pictures Viktor, wearing a smile he saved for late nights in dim lighting, sweat-slicked skin, not a single article of clothing between them—and then he does it. He jumps.

He jumps into a Quad Flip.

And he lands it.                                 

His skate doesn’t break. He doesn’t fall. He doesn’t die.

He comes out of the Flip more smoothly than he’s ever come out of any Quad, and heads into one final spin. Before he ends the routine in the pose he’s practiced a thousand times. 

His eyes fall toward an impossibly blue pair, staring back at him in absolute astonishment. Their gazes connect, and something passes between them—that something Yuuri doesn’t think he felt for months the first time around, after Viktor came into his life so abruptly. That indescribable spark, more powerful even than the now raging fire of confidence burning in Yuuri’s chest.

It’s been a day and a half, and he’s already gotten it back.

Yuuri smiles at Viktor.

The music ends.

The crowd goes wild.

And Yuuri Katsuki surpasses Viktor Nikiforov’s Short Program score…by eight points.

Chapter Text

Viktor Nikiforov wakes the morning of the Short Program—and sighs.

He rolls over on yet another stiff hotel mattress, swipes his thumb across his phone screen to silence the buzzing alarm, and then glances out the window, as if to double-check he’s still in Sochi and hasn’t sprinted ahead to next year’s GPF without noticing any of the events in between.

This entire season has felt that way, a blur of spins and jumps, the static of cheering crowds, too many podiums and interviews to differentiate between them. Idly, lying in the rumpled sheets, on yet another day when everyone expects the living legend to make history once again, Viktor wonders if this is just how life goes. If it all just keeps getting faster and faster the older you grow, all the little details (the important details) slipping through the cracks.

God, he hopes not. He hopes this is just some hole he can climb out of with the right motivation.

(He won’t say it’s depression. He won’t dare whisper that word, not even in the sanctity of his own mind—because sometimes he’s legitimately afraid that Yakov can read it. And it’d be disastrous if his coach, who keeps asking if he’s planning to retire, urging him to press through for one or two seasons more, found out that Viktor isn’t even half as happy about his string of historic victories as he pretends to be.)

The real question, of course, is what motivation can pull him out of this slow dive? Viktor hasn’t a clue.

New routines don’t do it. He makes new routines every year, gorgeous routines, breathtaking routines, complex routines that stun his audiences all over the world. But for the past two years or so, those routines have been feeling more and more like cheap façades than expressions of Viktor’s true creativity and imagination. Is he losing his touch, or is he just…out of touch? With others? With himself? With the whole goddamn world?

Sometimes he wonders. How do these people not see right through him? How can his mask be that good?

He’s considered what would happen if he dropped it, for even a day, for even an hour. How would they react to the Viktor underneath the medals and the flower crowns and the flirty, pointless smiles? But that would be cruel, he knows, a terrible thing to do to so many fans, to so many young skaters who idolize him, revealing the ugliness under his skin.

Viktor doesn’t want to be a cruel man. Just a different man than he is now.

But how…?

There’s a knock on the door. It’s not Yakov’s measured knock, but rather a hard and furious one. Which means it’s Yuri, who’ll be competing in his last GPF in the Junior Division today. Like usual, he’s come to Viktor for last-minute pointers; though Viktor still doesn’t understand why the boy bothers. He never listens to a damn thing Viktor has to say. Hell, he hardly listens to Yakov—but at least Yakov can wrangle him when Yuri goes one step too far. (That angry brat really needs an attitude adjustment. Maybe his first year in the Senior Division, up against the real competition, will knock him down a peg. Viktor can only hope.)

Viktor sits up in bed, familiar aches in his knees, back, and left ankle. They’ve been his companions for almost three years now. He doesn’t think they’ll be leaving him anytime soon.

As he slips out of bed, he bends down and grabs a shirt from his suitcase, then plods his way over to the door. When he opens it, he finds little Yuri on the other side, huffing and puffing as he types furiously away on his phone. He perks up when Viktor clears his throat, and shoves his phone in his pocket.

“Finally!” Yuri snaps. “Before the Short Program, I need you to check out my—”

“Ask Yakov,” Viktor mutters. “He’s better at giving you advice than me.”

Yuri rolls his eyes. “Viktor, come on. Yakov doesn’t know nearly as much shit as he—”

Viktor raises a hand, palm out, to cut him off. “I’m not your coach, Yuri.” 

Yuri’s acidic green eyes narrow. “You could be.”

“Are you trying that again?” Viktor throws up one of his prize-winning smiles. All plastic. No substance. “I’d be a terrible coach, Yuri. You know that. I’m flaky, forgetful. I could show you how to land quads, maybe, but that’s all you’d get out of me. And jumps aren’t the area where you need the most development. Your step program…”

Yuri groans. “I don’t want to hear it, Viktor. If you’re not going to help me practice, I’ll just tell Yakov you drank all night and slept in.”

“Wow,” Viktor says in that sugary tone he absolutely hates, “that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen you resort to blackmail. Pretty sure you set some kind of record.” 

Yuri glares.

Viktor plants his forehead against the doorframe. “Fine. Give me fifteen minutes to get ready.”

“Whatever.” Yuri yanks out his phone and continues whatever he was doing before.

Viktor shuts the door, and sighs again.

*** 

The rest of Viktor’s morning before his “time to shine” is the expected rush of pre-competition events he’s become accustomed to over the years. On his way into the rink building, a dozen people ask for interviews, twice that many beg for autographs, and at least a hundred more snap pictures of him as he trails Yuri inside.

Something shifts awkwardly in Viktor’s gut then, and he sends Yuri on ahead, then ducks into a restroom. He doesn’t throw up, thankfully—just what he needs, social media candid shots of the living legend looking nervous to the point of nausea before a major competition—but he ends up with his hands braced against the sink, jaw set tight, for several minutes, and in the end, he has to resort to splashing his face with cold water to make that awful knot in his stomach loosen.

He isn’t quite sure what that was (hopefully not an ulcer—wouldn’t that be his luck?), but he knows he doesn’t want to feel it again. 

A voice in his head tells him to suck it up, because if he continues the way he’s been going for the past few seasons, he’ll be feeling that a lot more often.

As he’s drying his hands, his phone buzzes, and from then on, his morning gets even worse. He left Makkachin with a familiar neighbor for the duration of his trip, and the man has just texted to tell him the poodle got into a bag of cookies last night and ate herself sick. Makkachin has always had a habit of indulging in bad foods while Viktor is away, but he feels disheartened all the same to hear she’s made herself ill again and spent the morning throwing up.

Just what I need…

He exits the bathroom while hastily typing out a reply. He tries not to sound too harsh—his neighbor can only do so much with the dog, after all—but he knows he comes off angry. He wonders where the old Viktor has gone, the one with the legitimately genial disposition, who could swat away negative emotions like his skin was made of steel.

When did that Viktor leave? And is he ever coming back?

Viktor turns to head to the rink, but as he picks up his pace, he becomes keenly aware of eyes boring into his back. He has half a mind to turn around and confront whoever is staring at him—to snap in a way that Viktor Nikiforov does not snap, just this once, just to keep these nosy, annoying people, his “fans,” on their toes—but he resists. He’s not cruel. He’s not. 

Whoever is watching him is probably another longtime fan, ecstatic and star-struck to see his idol in the flesh. Viktor had his own idols back in the day, he won’t deny it, and he remembers that excitement of catching a glimpse of those people who seemed so much larger than life. He can’t fault others for being the same way he was. That would be unfair.

So instead of revealing himself as an ass to the world, Viktor ignores the stare and continues on. 

The eyes follow him until they no longer can, and when Viktor finally cuts another corner, he shivers. Not in fear or discomfort—but because something, something in that stare felt personal. Personal in a way Viktor hasn’t been with anyone in years.

He has the sudden urge to go back, to hunt down his unknown admirer. But just as he thinks that, Yuri, now dressed in his practice gear, calls for him from the door to the locker room. Viktor puts the mystery fan out of his head for now, and jogs over to catch up with his so-called protégé. 

“Hurry up, old man,” Yuri gripes. “I don’t have all day.”

Viktor smiles at him, candy sweet, and thinks, Thank god for that.

*** 

Viktor comes off the ice with three things on his mind. One, this performance of his Short Program was the most lackluster yet. Two, his ankle is bothering him more than usual, and he thinks it’s because he landed a triple axel too hard. And three, everyone in the goddamn world (or at least the rink) is cheering like God himself just descended from Heaven and skated a flawless routine.

Viktor has the urge to sneer at them—he smiles instead. 

Yakov welcomes him at the Kiss & Cry, nodding in approval. Viktor hasn’t needed Yakov’s approval in some time; his coaching is more peripheral this year than ever before, largely due to so many up-and-coming skaters working at Viktor’s home rink. Why should Yakov bother dedicating time to a man at the height of his career, who choreographs his own programs, chooses his own music, and can “perfectly” perform any jump with minimal effort?

And, really, it isn’t that Viktor blames him. Yakov works very hard, especially with Yuri and Mila and Georgi. Viktor can’t fault the man for spending more time fine-tuning the skaters who need improvement and guidance. It’s just…he kind of misses it sometimes, those days when Yakov would tear him apart for every little wobble, and Viktor would stand on the ice with his head hung low, until Yakov slid over to him and patted him on the back. Tomorrow, Vitya. You’ll get it tomorrow. 

Well, he got it tomorrow all right, and there was no going back after that.

“Viktor,” Yakov mutters, and Viktor realizes he’s been inside his own head for so long that his scores are now up.

Oh, look at that. A new personal best. A new record.

Again.

Yakov grasps his shoulder and says, “Excellent.”

Viktor wants him to say more, but they both know there’s nothing else to say.

Viktor will take home the GPF gold for the fifth time, to absolutely no one’s surprise. He’ll go through the same interviews—Are you retiring this year? Next year? What are your plans for next season? Are you ready for Worlds? The Russian Nationals?—and give the same answers. The same articles will make the rounds on the internet again. The same gossip will crop up, then fade away just as quickly.

Around and around he goes.

As soon as the crowd dies down after his score announcement, the press flood the Kiss & Cry, microphones drawing closer to his face than he likes. The stream of questions begins. He pulls out his memorized list of non-answers. He opens his mouth to spew the same replies he’s been handing out at every competition this year and…

The skater on the ice is looking at him. 

Viktor feels a strange spark of recognition. Those eyes. The ones that were glued to his back earlier today. The ones he refused to meet until he’d lost the opportunity. Those eyes are staring at him from the center of the GPF rink. They don’t belong to a fan. They belong to this man. This skater. His competitor.

Yuuri Katsuki, the announcers claim. From Japan.

The man smirks—no one could misconstrue his target. He smirks at Viktor Nikiforov, the living legend, the man to beat…and winks. It’s caught on camera and broadcasted in high-definition to the entire rink from the jumbotron. The crowd loses it. Viktor’s cheeks grow warm.

Then Katsuki takes off across the ice. 

It’s not until that moment that the music registers in Viktor’s ears. Fast. Upbeat. Flirty…no. Heated.

It’s Eros, the music Viktor has been considering for next season’s Short Program. How did…? But…?

Viktor feels Yakov stiffen next to him. His coach grumbles in Russian, “This is not Katsuki’s usual routine.” 

Of course it isn’t. If this was Katsuki’s normal number, Viktor would have noticed it ages ago. But he’s never seen anything like this in his life. The way that Katsuki dances across the ice, the artistry sewn so delicately into every sweep of his arms, every turn of his spins. He’s grace the likes of which Viktor has never witnessed, and that no one but Viktor has ever been crowned since the living legend first stepped into the Senior Division so many years ago.

Where did this man come from? Where has Katsuki been hiding?

He’s too old to be new, so…?

Viktor doesn’t understand. 

And then Katsuki glides into his jumps. Flawless. A triple axel here. A combination there. The announcers make a note that he changed a planned Triple Toe Loop into a Quad, which he conquers like it’s the easiest thing in the world. He moves through his step program like the stars move through the night sky, and Viktor can’t help but let a gasp slip from his throat (one the microphones in his face must catch).

Katsuki comes out of the step sequence already a champion. Unless he completely blows his Free Program tomorrow, he’ll be on the podium.

The only question is where.

And then Viktor gets that answer too. 

At the last minute, as the music hits its climax, just before the whole routine winds down into the dramatic finishing pose, Katsuki suddenly whips himself into a setup for…No. There’s no way.

Katsuki jumps into a Quad Flip as the last jump in his program—which Viktor has never attempted—and lands without a single mistake.

Then he twirls himself down into the closing sequence of the program, stops in his last pose, and meets Viktor’s awe-filled gaze without a moment’s hesitation.

Three things happen in the following minutes that change the course of Viktor’s life forever.

First, Yuuri Katsuki smiles at Viktor Nikiforov.

Next, Viktor Nikiforov, for the first time in over two years, sees a faint, flickering light in his uncertain future, which had, until this very moment, been nothing but a black, empty void.

Finally, Yuuri Katsuki steamrolls over Viktor’s brand new Short Program record by eight whole points.

And Viktor isn’t even angry.

He’s elated.

Chapter Text

The press storm is like nothing Yuuri has ever experienced before. The second he steps off the ice, they swarm him like angry hornets, microphones too close, questions too loud and too numerous, camera flashes too bright. So bright, in fact, that he runs right into someone’s chest on his way to the Kiss & Cry. 

He sputters and steps back, apologizing, only to look up and see Viktor standing before him.

At this distance, even without his glasses, Yuuri can see Viktor’s face in stark detail, illuminated over and over again by the flashing cameras. And yet, he struggles to read the expression on the man’s face. There’s no recognition, of course, no familiarity—Yuuri returned to the past alone, and his Viktor is lost forever now. At least, his first Viktor.

But beyond that, Yuuri can’t pin down what Viktor is feeling. Those gorgeous blue eyes are bright, excited, and wide enough that Yuuri would almost dub it nervousness. But Viktor’s mouth is set in a thinner smile than his eyes would suggest, and there’s a tension in his jaw that Yuuri usually associates with Viktor repressing his anger.

Viktor had always been good at hiding his true feelings, except in those few situations where there was nothing left to hide, only admit. Like the night before the Free Skate, where they’d both bared everything. All their insecurities regarding their relationship, their questions, their hopes, their dreams. Viktor had dropped all his masks then, peeled them off all at once and revealed the real, raw Viktor beneath. 

The man standing in front of Yuuri now isn’t familiar enough with him to trust him with that raw, vulnerable soul. Especially not in public.

So Yuuri can only guess at this point how Viktor feels about him, one-upping the world champion and then sliding off the ice with only a few heavy breaths to suggest it took real effort. He must be disappointed on some level, since Viktor scored his personal best just a few minutes ago, and it looks very much like Yuuri will smash right through that record. But when they made eye contact, while Yuuri was still on the ice, there was something else. That spark. Right?

Viktor felt it too. He must have. 

But does he know what he felt?

Yuuri’s not sure, so he decides to play it safe.

He shoots Viktor a shy smile. “Ah, Viktor. Sorry I bumped into you.” He tries his hardest to ignore the press still invading his personal space, jabbering on, snapping pictures. Yuuri has to squint to keep sight of Viktor’s confusing face—the flashes make dots dance before his eyes. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Viktor chews on the inside of his cheek, and then plasters on that fake smile Yuuri has become well acquainted with. “No, not at all. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Yuuri is almost hurt, but then he realizes Viktor threw on the smile not for Yuuri, but for the press. He doesn’t want the press to see how Yuuri’s performance affected him. So many years of building a wall to hide himself from the nosy media. Yuuri’s chest tightens, and he sighs inwardly. Poor Viktor. So removed from everybody else.

“Oh, good.” Yuuri gestures to the Kiss & Cry bench, where Celestino is already waiting, shaking Yakov’s hand, both coaches stiff and overly formal. “I should get over to the Kiss & Cry. I…”

His voice catches in his throat. This is his first conversation with Viktor in this new world of his, and all he can manage is pathetic pleasantries. He should have considered this, that the press would impede him, but he hadn’t thought about the media hawks at all until now. 

Poor planning.

He’ll do better next time.

He continues with, “Great Short Program, by the way.”

Viktor replies, “Ah, but not as good as yours, huh?”

“I…I mean, we’ll see.”

Viktor chuckles dryly. “Honestly, Yuuri.” His name rolls off Viktor’s tongue like honey. “Modesty is fine and all, but you should own your successes. I find it a little grating when someone downplays their achievements, especially when that someone just wiped the floor with me.

Yuuri almost chokes. Does he? Find that grating? Viktor had never told him that. Maybe he didn’t want to upset Yuuri—and Yuuri would be upset, for his idol to say that so bluntly, if he didn’t already know that Viktor is a good, warm, loving person past his faux distant exterior painted with a mediocre splash of friendliness and the perfect amount of flirtiness to make people like him without it being a burden on his part.

Viktor is complicated in that way, he’s discovered over the past year, so Yuuri doesn’t hold the minor insult against him. Inside, Viktor is thinking something else, Yuuri knows. He just can’t quite vocalize it in this “pressing” situation.

Yuuri understands that, more than Viktor may ever realize. 

“Yuuri!” calls Celestino from the Kiss & Cry. “Your scores are coming. Get over here.”

Yuuri nods at Viktor. “Sorry, time to go.”

“So it seems.” Viktor’s smile grows thinner.

“Good luck tomorrow,” Yuuri hastily mutters back, and finally skirts by Viktor, his arm bumping into a microphone on a pole as he all but runs away.

He thinks—but isn’t certain—that he hears Viktor reply, “And good luck to you as well.”

Yuuri drops onto the bench for the Kiss & Cry mere seconds before his record-breaking score pops up on the jumbotron. Eight points. Good god, he beat Viktor by eight points. He knows he did Eros well, very well, possibly the best he’s ever done in all the months of practice. But to have nailed every element flawlessly enough to pull ahead of Viktor by so wide a margin… 

Tears gather in Yuuri’s eyes, and he wishes, as he watches Viktor trudge away through the crowd of reporters now hounding him about his “loss”—he wishes he could thank Viktor, here and now, for all the effort he put into helping Yuuri, for all the time he spent painstakingly working out Yuuri’s every flaw, both on the ice and off, for all their little stolen moments, Viktor’s soft kisses and intimate whispers of encouragement, in the nearly public lockers and bathrooms before every competition.

But he can’t thank Viktor yet—and he never can in the way he really wants to.

All those moments were lost in Barcelona.

*** 

Viktor isn’t sure what just happened. He walked out of the Kiss & Cry in a manic daze, as Katsuki was coming off the ice. He felt pulled, as if by gravity, toward the Japanese skater, a hundred and one possible conversation starters rolling across his tongue, everything and anything he could say to get the ball rolling on…what? A relationship? He doesn’t really know. But whatever he wants it to be, he’d planned to start it here, now, right on the edge of the rink.

But then Katsuki had bumped into him, and the impact had somehow knocked all the sense out of Viktor’s brain. Instead of swooping into a smooth conversation with Katsuki, he’d lost his finesse and spewed out bullshit, and then Katsuki had run off looking distinctly uncomfortable, and Viktor had been left standing there to field never-ending questions from the press as Katsuki’s incredible scores were announced, trampling his own to dust.

When had Viktor lost all his charm?

Is this new, a result of Katsuki’s performance throwing him off balance? Or has his suave exterior slowing been eroding away without him noticing?

Viktor wants to believes the former.

(He’s inclined to believe the latter.)

After he yanks himself free of the press, he hides in the shadows of a hall just off the rink, his hood pulled up (as if people won’t notice the red and white Russia motif of his staple track suit), and he watches Katsuki react to his scores. The younger man is less shocked at his record-breaking scores than Viktor would have guessed he’d be, and more…satisfied? No, that’s not the word.

Viktor can’t get a solid read on Katsuki’s emotions, but it’s almost like Katsuki knew he could plow through Viktor’s records, but wasn’t entirely sure he’d manage to pull it off. That’s a very odd combination of confidence and doubt, Viktor thinks, and he’s not sure where Katsuki got that from. If only he’d been able to ask Katsuki out for a meal or something, then—

A foot lands on his ass, and Viktor sighs, knowing exactly who it belongs to. He peers over his shoulder at Yuri, who bowled over his own competition in the Junior Short Program an hour prior. The boy is hunched over, situated carefully behind Viktor, like he doesn’t want the press to find him either. Probably because he ran his naughty mouth in front of them at the Kiss & Cry earlier, and Yakov chewed him out for it. 

“I assume there’s a reason your foot’s on my ass, Yuri?” he drawls.

The boy snorts. “You’re losing your touch, old man. Katsuki basically kicked you off a cliff.” He growls. “Eight points. How’d you mess up that bad?”

Viktor steps forward to relieve his butt of Yuri’s shoe and turns around to loom over the boy. “I didn’t ‘mess up,’ Yuri. His program was more complex than mine, and his execution was nearly as perfect as it could possibly be. He simply stepped up as a challenger and delivered. It happens.” Of course, it hasn’t happened to Viktor in a while. It’s been years since a real rival has taken a jab at the living legend. And all of a sudden…

Almost too suddenly…

Like…

Like what?

Yuri huffs. “Yeah, how the fuck did he do that anyway? I’ve seen him perform before. He always has great step sequences, but his jumps are usually shit. What the hell has he been doing these past few weeks to improve that much?”

Viktor wants to know the answer to that as well, but there are too many eyes on Katsuki right now, and a wall off press between them. He’ll speak with Yuuri Katsuki—it’ll be a thorough conversation—but it’ll have to wait until a more opportune moment.

Viktor was an idiot to try and speak with him here in the first place.

Poor planning.

He’ll do better next time. 

Viktor drapes his arm around Yuri’s shoulder and turns the boy away from the rink. “I’m sure he’ll spill his secrets eventually. A new training regimen or something. Few things stay secret forever in the figure skating world. You know how the gossip rolls.”

Yuri scowls. “Well, yeah, but…” He shrugs off Viktor’s arm and peers up at him, his angry green eyes a bit softer than normal. Viktor won’t call it worry, but it borders on concern. “You think you’re going to figure him out before he knocks you off the top of the podium at the Free Skate tomorrow? You don’t have a lot of time, Viktor, and—” 

“And what happens,” Viktor finishes, “happens, Yuri. If Katsuki is indeed a better skater than me, and he’s in top form tomorrow, then, well, what can I do? No king reigns forever.” He smiles. “But no good king goes down without a fight.”

“So, what?” Yuri furrows his brows. “You saying you’re at war with Yuuri Katsuki?”

No, he thinks, I’m in a dance with Yuuri Katsuki. A dangerous dance that could either burn me alive or burn me into something new. Yuuri is…a new light in the distance, hovering just out of my reach. Yuuri is…a new star in the sky I’m aching to touch. Yuuri is…a vast power I don’t yet understand, who can bend me, break me, or rebuild me—repair all the broken things inside me, slowing rusting away.

Yuuri is…

Yuuri is…  

“Yes,” Viktor says. “Something like that.”

Chapter Text

 Un bel dì, vedremo

Levarsi un fil di fumo

Sull'estremo confin del mare

 

One good day, we will see

Arising a strand of smoke

Over the far horizon on the sea

*

Viktor wanders.

It’s late, too late to be out the night before a Free Program, and if Yakov finds out, he’ll be eaten alive. But Viktor thinks the man may have turned in early—his coach is getting old, after all, though he won’t admit it—so as long as he does nothing too stupid, he should be able to slip back into his room without arousing suspicion.

Then again, if he comes to the warm-up session tomorrow with bags under his eyes…

Ah, but he won’t stay up too late, he promises to nothing but the cool air around him. 

He just needs some time, a good walk, maybe an hour or so, so he can organize all his scattered thoughts. His thoughts about Yuuri Katsuki. The first skater to break Viktor’s records in a long time; Viktor’s been breaking his own for…he’s forgotten how long. (Things gets a little repetitive when you stay at the top for so long, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track, you know?)

But Yuuri Katsuki…Good Lord.

Viktor still can’t believe how badly he bumbled that first meeting outside the Kiss & Cry earlier. In hindsight, he should have avoided it altogether and concocted some sort of plot for “accidentally” running into Katsuki later in the day. But he didn’t, and it’s set him back, because shortly after he left the rink, Yakov herded him and Yuri up to his usual post-skate review session. What they did wrong. What they did right—a much smaller list than the first one, normally. Who the “threats” are.

Strangely, Viktor couldn’t help but grin his way through that last part, even as Yakov snapped at him to take Katsuki seriously. But then, all Yakov’s advice amounted to was “Don’t screw up your Free Program, Vitya.” Because even Yakov is unsure how to approach the “Katsuki Problem.” He’s unprecedented. The Japanese skater really did come out of nowhere, at least as a serious competitor.

Viktor had spent his free time before dinner looking up videos of Yuuri Katsuki’s past performances on YouTube. And really…he can why Yakov is so out of sorts. Katsuki had been a beautiful skater, step program wise, filled with clear and obvious passion, his choreography moving and emotional. But Yuri had been right—Katsuki’s jumps typically were shit. And if Viktor read Katsuki’s body language right, it had to do with nerves.

Some kind of persistent anxiety problem? Maybe he’d started therapy recently, or some kind of medication. Maybe that could explain his sudden leap in improvement, a balm for the issues that were costing him those jumps in the first place. And then, successful jumps plus those gorgeous step sequences…well, that would definitely make a winner of any skater.

And yet…Viktor doesn’t feel quite satisfied by that answer.

Which is why he’s out here now, walking the streets of Sochi after dark. He’s wearing a more nondescript jacket than usual—no RUSSIA emblazoned on it anywhere—and he has the hood pulled up, so no one disturbs him on his walk. Which suits him just fine. He tires of the press and the fans equally quickly these days. And it’s not that he blames them for his irritation; it’s just…it’s been so long since he’s been able to think after a performance. Every time he steps off the ice these days, he’s mobbed.

Hell, half the time he’s mobbed before he steps on the ice, too.

It wears on him. 

Logically, he knows it would wear on anyone, but some selfish part of him wants to believe this is a problem unique to the living legend. Some part of him is still stuck in that arrogant rut where he’s too far removed from all those beneath him to share his problems, because he doesn’t believe other people can have the same ones.

Sometimes, Viktor can’t believe he hasn’t crushed that part of himself yet. A naïve, youthful part of himself. A funny thing to keep when you’re…not so youthful anymore. Any yet…he hasn’t summoned the strength—or is it courage?—to kick the pedestal away.

What does that say about him? What—? 

No, never mind that. He can worry about internal matters later. 

Now is for Katsuki

Viktor finds himself naturally drifting down the street toward the rink. Which works. If he heads to the rink, it’ll help him recall Katsuki’s incredible Short Program performance. Viktor’s ability to feel, really feel a skater’s routine, has always been dependent on his proximity to the ice. Videos are good and all, but they’re missing something. Some element of the atmosphere.

Something about the ice triggers Viktor’s memory like nothing else. 

As he approaches the doors to the rink, which are blessedly not surrounded by the press this time of night, Viktor starts trying to recall the notes of Katsuki’s music—Eros—which he’s listened to more than a few times over the past weeks, in his attempts to get “inspired” for next year’s programs. Though he’d been struggling with that, especially given his…doubts that he’d be competing next season at all.

He’d started some choreography work for the song, but…God, Katsuki’s choreography had been…Viktor doesn’t think he has a word for it. In any language. Masterful is the closest he can come, but that’s missing the perfect expression of emotion in every single gesture Katsuki made on the ice.

Bah! He needs to go over that performance again, in full. Needs to pick it apart. See if he can find that missing piece Katsuki acquired out of the blue. See if can find what’s forged this new Katsuki out of the slightly broken mold that was the old, nervous one who flubbed all his jumps. It has to be there. The whole story.

He tries the front doors to the rink—most are locked, but one has been left open. He slips inside the building and makes his way toward the ice. No one in the halls. No one in any of the rooms with open doors. No one to stop him, distract him from what seems like an increasingly frantic…compulsion. He picks up his pace, almost running toward the ice he’s spent so much of his life on. That, in some ways, he’s lived on.

Thrived on, certainly.

(But then, Viktor would use that word, “thrived,” to describe a person he’s not entirely sure still exists. If he’s being honest with himself.)

However, as he nears the rink, his ears pick up a noise. No, music. It’s not loud, something broadcasted over the sound system. It sounds more like a phone attached to one of those little dock speakers.

Is someone practicing this late? Chris, maybe? Intent on pulling himself out from underneath Viktor and Katsuki this time? Bin? No, he’s a stickler for curfews. Or perhaps that Canadian…what’s his name again?

Ah, whatever.

Viktor slows down and maneuvers closer to the wall, approaching in the shadows of the hall that leads out to the rink. Maybe if he’s quiet, he can see what some of his competition has in store tomorrow. 

From the haunting notes of the music, it must be something dramatic. Passionate.

It must be…Katsuki

*

E poi la nave appare

E poi la nave è bianca.

Entra nel porto, romba il suo saluto.

 

And then the ship appears

And then the ship is white

It enters into the port, it rumbles its salute 

Yuuri isn’t quite honest with Celestino. He doesn’t plan on staying up too late tonight to practice his new Free Program, but he’s not turning in early either.

After he plies Celestino with enough alcohol to knock out a horse over their dinner, then tucks his coach into bed, with the aspirin and water laid out for a nasty morning, he grabs his things and heads to the rink. 

He spent a great deal of time thinking hard on which song to use for his Free Program. Certainly, something about love. But Agape wouldn’t work. It didn’t fit his current mindset. And Viktor is, of course, doing Stay Close to Me tomorrow for his Free Program.

Those are the two songs Yuuri knows best, regarding love on the ice, but they aren’t the only ones.

He and Viktor spent some time trying out other songs for the exhibition gala skate, before they’d settled on an unconventional pair skate to a duet version of Stay Close to Me. Which Yuuri is a hundred percent sure would have lit the skating world on fire. It would have blown up Phitchit’s Instagram, at least. 

Alas, he and Viktor never got to skate it. All because of that stupid broken blade.

But, if Yuuri doesn’t completely blow his chances in this new timeline, then maybe, maybe he and Viktor can learn that pair skate program again, for another exhibition. Maybe even another Barcelona. (One where Yuuri doesn’t die.)

So, anyway—Yuuri had six other songs he and Viktor had worked on once upon a time. He rifled through those last night, trying to see if any fit with Eros well enough to use for his Free Program. And, to his surprise, he found one.

The last time he’d listened to this song, he’d tossed it aside. This particular version of the love theme didn’t apply to Yuuri, and so he hadn’t connected with it.

But now. Now it’s perfect.

As Yuuri listened to the song, all the choreography started to fall into place in his mind. And in only forty minutes, a record, he’d designed an entire program. (Yuuri knows the phrase “inspiration strikes,” but he doesn’t think it’s ever applied to him quite so much before.)

No matter how hard he practices, he knows this routine won’t be as polished as Eros, but he can hide the flaws from his lack of practice—he’s an expert at hiding the tiny problems in his step sequences, to the point where a lot of people, even those who analyze his videos, don’t think he makes any. As long as he doesn’t flub his jumps, he can make the podium.

No, he can take the podium. Because he knows what Viktor can and will do tomorrow, with Stay Close to Me. And because he knows, he specifically designed his new routine to outmaneuver the great Viktor Nikiforov’s majestic program, by enough to scrape by with a victory even with a few small mistakes here and there.

You can do this, he tells himself for the thousandth time, as he’s tying his skates. Just remember, Yuuri. You already nailed the Short Program. You’re already in the lead. And that’s not an invitation to get nervous! He shoves the churning fear in his gut down again. No, a high score should inspire another high score tomorrow, not sabotage it. You know better. Viktor taught you better!

Viktor…what will he think tomorrow? Will he see Yuuri’s program as another flirty challenge? Or will he read something else out of it? A secret, maybe, that Yuuri can’t say out loud (yet, but sometime he will, sometime soon enough)? Viktor had always been good at reading the messages inside skater’s programs. He had a knack for it. Has a knack for it. Yuuri didn’t give him that. It’s a pre-Yuuri skill. A quality that made (and makes now) Viktor all the more attractive to Yuuri.

Certainly, if Yuuri performs the program well, Viktor will receive the message. Even if Viktor doesn’t realize it’s aimed entirely at him.

Yuuri stands up from the bench, observing the empty rink around him. No fans in the stands. No coaches or other skaters loitering around the rink. No judges sitting sternly to the side, scrutinizing his every twitch. No prying eyes. The condition under which Yuuri performs his absolute best. 

If I get it right three times in a row, I’ll call it a night, he promises. He does need energy to perform it tomorrow, after all, so he can’t wipe himself out tonight. That’s another of his anxiety’s little tricks, he knows, pushing him to overwork himself by subtly whispering one more time, until his legs finally give out.

Oh, that was a bad Nationals, he remembers. He wishes he could forget that Nationals.

He pauses halfway to the rink. Wait. He hasn’t done that Nationals yet.

He can fix that, too, after the Grand Prix Final is over. 

Huh.

Yuuri sets his little speaker on the wall of the rink, then plugs his phone into it, navigating to his music app and pulling up the song. He put a bit of silence on the file ahead of the song, so he’d have some time to set up first. So as soon as he hits the play button, he quickly detaches his blade guards and then heads out onto the ice, counting down in his head. 

He reaches the middle of the rink, takes a few deep breathes, strikes his starting pose…and the music begins.

*

Vedi? È venuto!

Io non gli scendo incontro, io no.

Mi metto là sul ciglio del colle

E aspetto gran tempo

e non mi pesa a lunga attesa.

 

Do you see it? He is coming!

I don’t go down to meet him, not I.

I stay upon the edge of the hill

And I wait a long time

but I do not grow weary of the long wait. 

Viktor watches.

It’s all he can do.

Katsuki glides across the ice, his head thrown back, arms reaching out as if to grasp the phantom hand of a missing lover.

His spins are flawless, fast yet soft, perfectly aligned with every note of the song.

His jumps hit either in the most passionate lines or in the quiet, understated gaps in between, giving the routine an ebb and flow, emotions rising and falling between the very breaths hidden beneath the opera singer’s words.

Longing pours out of every roll of Katsuki’s wrist, every extended finger, reaching for a happier time. In the tilt of his chin, up, up, as if toward a half-forgotten daydream still lingering in the clouds. In the bend of his back, performed so easily, yet tortured in tone, as if Katsuki is drawing from the heart of the greatest tragedies, the greatest classic paintings, figures bent and twisted into impossible poses in the quest to scream desire and pain, power and agony, to each and every gaze that dare lands upon them.

Sorrow cries out across the step sequence, a fear of love lost forever, hidden behind words of encouragement spoken by someone who truly wants to believe them. Quick steps. Slow steps. Long and short. Safe and risky. An Ina Bauer, flawless. Everything down to the flutter of Katsuki’s eyes, perfectly coordinated. Moves combined in ways Viktor would never attempt.

And…something else. What is it?

Viktor creeps closer, out of the shadows, even knowing it may give him away.

He needs to see it. What’s the last emotion?

Love?

No.

No, it’s that not that simple. It’s love and something else. Two emotions sewn together so seamlessly they’re nearly indistinguishable. Love is the first, the beginning of the story. But what’s the end?

What is it?

What is it? 

*

E uscito dalla folla cittadina

Un uomo, un picciol punto

S'avvia per la collina.

Chi sarà? Chi sarà?

 

And leaving from the crowded city,

A man, a little speck

Climbing the hill.

Who is it? Who is it?

Yuuri moves into the second half of the program, chest heaving, legs aching, heart pounding. But he doesn’t feel the exertion. No, he feels nothing of the world around him. Only the joy rushing through his veins as he leaps into a Quad Salchow. Only the fondness beating in his heart as he moves through a combination spin. Only the nostalgia as he flies through his step sequence.

Viktor coming to Hasetsu, and Yuuri walking in on him naked in the onsen. What a meeting.

A flying sit spin.

Viktor showing Yuri and Yuuri the Eros and Agape programs for the first time, and Yuuri proclaiming his Eros to be Pork Cutlet Bowls. Oh, god. He nearly laughs at himself.

A triple axel.

Viktor’s hand on his shoulder when he’s on the podium after the Ice Castle showdown with Yuri, a reassuring hand, the first of many, to help him through his speech after his win.

A combo jump.

Viktor’s unbelievable jump-and-kiss in China, where they both barely avoided cracking their heads on the ice. And all the kisses after that, too, later that same night…

The last spin before his final move. The final move. The only final move.

*

E come sarà giunto

Che dirà? Che dirà?

Chiamerà Butterfly dalla lontana

 

And as he arrives

What will he say? What will he say?

He will call Butterfly from the distance

Viktor almost calls out to Katsuki after the triple axel—spurred on by a feeling he can’t name—but luckily, his voice sticks in his throat. Because he can’t find the words. He can’t find any words.

The story is on the tip of Viktor’s tongue. It’s there. He can read it like a book, watch it like a play, unfolding before his eyes with every rotation, every step across the ice, everything Katsuki does down to his very breath.

Viktor stands in plain sight now, close enough for Katsuki to spot him easily. But Katsuki doesn’t spot him, and won’t, Viktor knows. There’s too much in this. Too many personal moments all woven together. Too many memories playing out like a film reel in Katsuki’s mind, in time with his movements, in time with his steps, his spins, his jumps. He laid the whole routine out across a storyboard…but god, what’s the story?

What’s the missing feeling? The one he still can’t name. It tells the whole truth.

It’s…

It’s… 

Katsuki swings around for one final move.

Io senza far risposta

Me ne starò nascosta

Un po' per celia,

Un po' per non morire

 

I without answering

Stay hidden

A little to tease him,

A little as to not die. 

Viktor leaving him in the middle of the Rostelecom Cup to be with Makkachin, like Yuuri couldn’t be with Vicchan. Yuuri begging him to go, to be with his beloved pet the same way Yuuri failed to. Something he regrets to this very day. And spits at fate for even now…because if he’d been sent back in time a day earlier, he may have been able to save his poodle’s life.

But fate is fickle.

And Makkachin was (and will be) fine.

And Viktor…Viktor waited for him a the airport, despite his obvious exhaustion.

Yuuri picks up speed.

Viktor taking him out shopping in Barcelona, Yuuri daring to buy the rings, and their…their sorta-kinda engagement Yuuri blushed his way through without saying the word “engagement” even once. Burying it all under Japanese cultural customs that were, yes, equally important to him, but also served the purpose of hiding his…not shame. No, simply his doubt. Like always. His doubt.

But Viktor had no doubt. None at all, as he slipped the matching ring onto Yuuri’s finger.

Yuuri takes off, spinning.

And Yuuri had learned why Viktor had no doubt that night after his Short Program in Barcelona.

Once.

Viktor had seen in Yuuri what Yuuri had never seen in himself. Or, rather, what Yuuri’s anxiety refused to let him see in himself.

Twice.

Viktor had seen the talent, the hard-won skill, the near perfection Yuuri had always been capable of, chained up inside Yuuri’s mind, in a cage labeled self-confidence that Yuuri could never unlock.

Three times.

Viktor unlocked it. That night in Barcelona. In his words. In his touches. In his kisses. In more. Viktor unleashed the reality of Yuuri Katsuki. The one Yuuri had spent so many years pretending didn’t exist because he struggled to find the key.

And in the end, it was so simple…the key. All Viktor had to do was whisper in his ear. That one word. The key to everything. The key to overcoming anxiety. To banishing fear.

Four times.

All you need to remember, Yuuri, he’d said, lips flush with Yuuri’s ear, when you’re out there on the ice, is that no matter how bad things seem, no matter how daunting the obstacles, no matter how much you’re hurting, inside or out, no matter how dark and solemn the world appears to be, no matter what the future seems to hold…

He lands. Perfect.

there is always, always… 

Al primo incontro,

Ed egli al quanto in pena

Chiamerà, chiamerà:

“Piccina – mogliettina

Olezzo di verbena”

I nomi che mi dava al suo venire.

 

At the first meeting,

And then a little troubled

He will call, he will call

“Little one, dear wife

Blossom of orange”

The names he called me at his last coming. 

*

Yuuri lands the Quad Flip, Viktor’s Quad Flip, for the second time in a single day, and the moment his blade touches the ice, the answer sweeps over Viktor like a divine revelation.

The story. The whole story.

Love. Profound and deep and endless.

Loss. Bitter and biting and raw.

Longing. For a time that will never come again.

And…

And…for the future…

Tutto questo avverrà,

te lo prometto

Tienti la tua paura -

Io con sicura fede lo aspetto.

 

All this will happen,

I promise you this

Hold back your fears –

I with secure faith wait for him. 

Hope.