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In These Quiet Spaces

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 ~*~

 

I had a dream that you were mine
I’ve had that dream a thousand times
A thousand times, a thousand times
I’ve had that dream a thousand times

 

~*~

 

The first few weeks after the Grand Prix were peaceful.

Or, they were as peaceful as they could get.

In the mania of press conferences and training sessions and Skype calls, the weeks passed by quickly.

The Grand Prix had finally cemented Yuri’s skating style, something straddling artistry, prepubescent flexibility, and sheer athletic prowess. While it erred too closely to sixteen-year old Viktor Nikiforov to placate an inner twelve-year old tired of being compared to that loser, Yuri figured he would take it. He only had so long before he grew too tall and wide to manage skating like it ever again. 

The Grand Prix also meant that everyone was looking at Yuri with something flinty in their eyes. 

You told me I was going to be the next Viktor Nikiforov, Yuuri would think, feet pulled apart into a perfect line as he watched people fill in the rink, but you’re all going to kill yourselves being the next Yuri Plisetsky. 

He felt nothing thinking this, had no time to name an emotion for this revelation, because Viktor would stumble into the rink every day, scant minutes after Yuri had begun stretching, as if he had any time to waste.

“Yurio!” Viktor would call out from across the rink. Every day. If he thought he would eventually inspire the other skaters to use it, then he underestimated the clout Yuri now commanded. “Here already? Do you want so badly to beat me? To beat Yuuri?”

“Shut it, old man!”

 

~*~

 

There was a viewing party for the Japanese National Championships.

Normally, no one would bother. Yakov’s skaters already barely managed their neuroses skating against Viktor, no need to disturb the time bombs with more competition, but Yuuri was more competition. Surprisingly, he was agreeable competition—unfailingly polite, modest to a fault. It was difficult to feel abject misery when he pulled a SP score that was close to displacing Yuri’s new record. Yuri had been too-caught up in realizing Oh, Champion Yuuri was still the same as Grand Prix Loser Yuuri.

On screen, Yuuri was stammering out something to the 2nd place skater, probably something polite and nonsensical and completely detached from how Minami Kenjirou's face was as red as that bright streak in his hair. Does he never notice anything around him?

“What a loser,” Yuri said out loud.

“Be nice, Yurio,” Viktor called from his position, dead-center in front of the crowd. “Yuuri can beat you in March.”

Yuri twitched. “I already beat that pig,” he tried to make it sound casual, but half the room turned towards him with wariness, “I’ll do it again.”

Alexei, a thirteen-year old who entered Yakov’s club too late to know the sheer asshole that was Viktor Nikiforov Five-Time World Champion, piped in, “Or you’ll beat both of them Viktor!”

Viktor’s voice was dripping honey when he answered but there was something sharp in it, “We’ll see.”

Well, Viktor Nikiforov isn’t dead after all.

 

~*~

 

Yuri was a machine, he didn’t need to exert half the effort he did to beat a man in his late-twenties who decided he could, after months of inactivity, launch a comeback in two weeks. Even if Viktor didn’t devote all his free time to preparing his apartment for Yuuri’s move (which, with what visa, Yuri had no idea, he was absolutely certain Viktor was bribing someone in the consulate to okay someone who wasn’t a student, wasn’t a worker, and wasn’t—for all those gold bands promised—actually a spouse) and secretly planning a wedding Yuuri didn’t know about, Yuri could have beaten him easily. 

But if Yuri let up his regime, his body would rebel, would finally lapse into puberty and he’d be damned if he let that happen in the middle of a season.

Then Russian Nationals came and Yuri Plisetsky found himself kissing a gold medal as Viktor Nikiforov was kissing a gold ring and… wasn’t that unnerving?

 

~*~

 

Viktor was simultaneously the most intelligent man in figure skating and the least.

He was smart in a deceptive way. Even before Yuri met him he knew that the Viktor who had his own training sessions and private tutors was more of a finely-tuned blade than the Figure Skating Federation of Russia would have preferred. At first, Yuri had been impressed—when Viktor was young and his innate skill wasn’t enough to make up the experience gap, his unerring ability to drive his older, more-experienced competitors to literal shakes cinched him a gold medal.

And then Viktor got older, kept winning like it was nothing, and decided to use all that grey matter to see how far he could push before someone pushed back. 

Skating with unbound, meter-long hair for years? Only Viktor.

Bad-mouthing the former Russian champion after he retired? Only Viktor.

Complaining that he wasn't being overscored, but everyone else was? Still, only Viktor.

It was annoying and petty, but everyone dealt with Viktor Nikiforov because he knew how and when to simper and placate. 

Standing on the podium, Yuri finally placed what unnerved him about Viktor’s comeback. 

His smile was fake—they were always fake—but there was a gleam of something—pride? contentment?—when he glanced up at Yuuri. 

It was relief.

A photographer had the uncanny skill to capture the exact moment Yuri’s mouth fell open into a gape. 

Fucker didn’t even try.

For all his intelligence, Viktor was an idiot. 

No photographer had the foresight to monitor Yuuri’s face, to capture the exact moment Viktor turned back to the crowd with his fake-ass smile and Yuuri’s gaze skittered back to Viktor, their separation mapped in ten vertical centimeters. The clench of his jaw was so minute that only someone practiced in the art of noticing Yuuri would notice. 

There were twenty vertical centimeters between him and Yuuri. There was a half-centimeter difference between happy Yuuri and upset Yuuri. 

Yuri noticed.

He always noticed Yuuri, even when Viktor didn’t. 

 

~*~

 

Two weeks into the definitive end of Viktor Nikiforov’s chokehold on men’s figure skating, Viktor finally used what little emotional intelligence he had to find Yuri.

“Yu~ri~o,” Viktor moaned, poking at Yuri with each syllable. “Yu~ri~o, what did I do wrong?”

Yuri’s fist wrapped around Viktor’s index finger. When he released it, Viktor held it to his heart in exaggerated remorse.

“You’re asking me that?”

Viktor nodded, his eyes still comically huge.

“You thought you were clever,” Yuri said, “thought no one would figure it out.” 

Viktor had the nerve to stay silent.

“Did I even win at nationals? Or were you holding back then too?”

At least Viktor lost the puppy-dog eyes when he answered. “No, I could have spent more time at the rink.” 

Everyone had suspected, no one could launch a successful comeback with as little rink time as Viktor put in, but to hear it out loud... Yuri would sell that medal. He’d make a killing off it.

“I only had two weeks,” Viktor continued, “the Nationals loss was expected, I’ve been out for so long. I spent more time training with Yuuri here, but I was focused more on coaching him to a gold medal than on getting my own. In a way, his victory was unfair...” 

The thought of how much money Yuri would make off of his fraudulent gold medal was enough to keep him from strangling Viktor. His voice was surprisingly cool when he responded, “And you thought Yuuri would appreciate you dropping a gold medal in his lap?”

Viktor shrugged, “It meant so much to him.”

You never understood him, Yuri wanted to say, why would you think he was that weak? 

He said the last part out loud. He didn’t mean to—he couldn’t spend his entire life as their couple’s counselor—but Yuri relished seeing that blow play out on Viktor’s face.

“I don’t think he’s weak,” Viktor finally said, “but I don’t want him to see me serious, serious at winning.” 

Viktor kept talking, uncertain and soft, “I don’t want him to see that I wasn’t,” he paused to search for the words, “beautiful when I competed.”

Yuri's temple was throbbing. Years, years of psychologically destroying his competition, of such blasé cruelty. Then—worse—the negligence when no one was left to challenge him, the public moping about no one being as good as him, as if the entire skating world weren't killing themselves to meet that standard, weren't killing themselves for Viktor to find something in them worth considering, and he only felt remorse because of it now? It’s not even remorse, Yuri corrected, he just doesn’t want Yuuri to see who he really is. 

Wasn’t that a slap in the face? At least Giacometti and Bin seemed relatively sane when they retired, but Yuri still had nightmares of the former American champion shattering his leg and being shunted into an early retirement trying to land Viktor's flip. And who knew what Georgi could have been had he not shared a rink and age-group with Viktor Nikiforov. 

Yuri's temper rose when Viktor turned away, possibly to speculate about how many lives he'd ruined, but most likely to think about Yuuri crying over un-beautiful Viktor Nikiforov, Five-Time World Champion.

He snorted, the sound drawing Viktor back to him. As if Yuuri ever cared that you're an asshole.

“Yuuri’s seen it. When you couldn’t even recognize him as competition.” 

Viktor didn’t wince, his face was too trained for something so un-beautiful, but something in him seemed to recoil. If he was searching for words, Yuri didn’t give him the chance to respond. “He wants competition you, even for a little while.” 

Yuri closed his eyes, summoning the memory of Yuuri skating in their rink at night. His ballet teacher had called in a favor with Lilia who called in a favor with Yakov, and between the three had hashed out an agreement that Yuuri could use the rink any time of day. (And oh, wouldn’t Yuri have killed to know what made Yakov sputter at the thought of the two retired ballerinas talking to each other.) Yuri had similarly taken advantage of the agreement, skating with Yuuri on those long, dark nights. 

Sometimes they were playful, throwing out their best moves to surprise the other. Sometimes they were silent, skating in tandem with only the whoosh of their blades on ice to betray their presence. It reminded Yuri of Hasetsu, that week before the competition. Except Viktor wasn’t there.

He’d never felt so happy.

But he remembered Yuuri a day after they returned from Worlds. All the older skaters were celebrating their fleeting freedom with booze and food, but Yuuri had politely declined, citing how easily he gained weight. Yuri, who had neither the disposable income nor the will to consume all of those fat-laden calories, simply ground out “fuck no”. Viktor had stayed behind, intent on making friends with his rinkmates after all these years.

Yuri went to the rink. Unsurprisingly, he found Yuuri there, skating solemnly before he held his entire body taut, and lapped the rink, accelerating—faster, faster—until he launched himself mid-air. 

A lutz. 

An attempt. 

He crashed to the ground and Yuri had to force himself to only walk to him. “Baka!” he had spat in Japanese, heart caught in his throat, “doing that alone! Did you lose your mind?” When Yuuri stood, a wince betraying a bruise Yuri hoped would remind him to never be so reckless again, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Why are you even trying that? No one here can land one, who’s supposed to teach you?”

Yuuri had laughed, soft and self-deprecating. “I wasn’t really thinking”—as if Yuri hadn’t guessed that—“I just wanted to upgrade my moves.”

“Why? Is there a medal better than gold?”

Yuuri’s face fell and, oh, Yuri knew what this was about.

Viktor fucking Nikiforov was still staring at him and it spilled out of Yuri’s mouth easily. “Yuuri is your true love and an artist and all that nonsense you spout to every journalist, but he’s also an athlete, and as much as he wants you—” he looked Viktor up and down, a reminder that there were at least two people who knew how high Viktor had reached “—he’s still that idiot who wants you to look at him as serious competition.”

Yuri felt bare when Viktor looked at him again. “You’re not just talking about Yuuri.”

So what if the air rushed out of his lungs? None of this was news for Viktor. 

Regardless. Yuuri’s not going to be happy until it happens and you’re not going to be happy until Yuuri’s happy. And no one wants to watch these competitions wondering if you’re finally going to kick it the next time you do a quad flip, so you might as well figure this out soon.”

Yuri walked out of the locker room, but he threw over his shoulder, “Also, fuck you for thinking you had to tone it down to beat Yuuri and me.”

Viktor's voice found him, “Yes, but I didn’t even need to try to beat you those last two times.”

 

~*~

 

Viktor and Yuuri didn't show up to practice the next three days.

Yakov was apoplectic every morning Viktor (and Yuuri) didn’t show up. The first day, Yuri had stretched to visions of Yuuri and Viktor sobbing over each other. The second day, he was warming up in the rink and decided, Well, maybe they’re actually talking to each other about this. The third day was gratuitous, and Yuri mock vomited as everyone speculated about the make-up sex. 

“His stamina is absurd,” Mila laughed within a crowd of second-rate skaters. Yuri had adamantly set himself off to the side and was composing a long text to Beka about his rink's sheer unprofessionalism, but Mila's grin grew feral when she saw him. "Yurio~!" she cooed into his ear, suddenly draped over him. “I forgot!”—she didn’t—“You stayed in his hot springs—tell me, what’s he packing? Will Viktor be limping in or wheeled in?”

He flung his cell phone at her face. She dodged, practically skipping onto the ice, her laughter trailing.

When the duo returned, they were practically glowing. Yuri shut out the whispers of sex glow and kept to himself.

Throughout the day, he would peak at Viktor. He looked better, he looked determined. Yakov also was watching Yuuri more, perhaps preparing to take over aspects of Viktor's coaching duties. Inwardly, Yuri breathed a sigh of relief—he wasn’t going to play couple's counselor one more time. 

Yuuri found him in the locker room, because it was apparently where everyone had these types of conversations. Yuri had been too caught up in the shine of Yuuri’s eyes to snark at him.

“Yura,” Yuuri said. 

Of course, of course Yuuri discovered Russian diminutives during that three-day fuck session. Yuri looked down, trying to preoccupy himself with his battered feet instead of the warmth that spread across his cheeks.

“Thank you for talking with Viktor.”

“’s’nothing.” It came out too quickly so Yuri took his time pulling on his socks and slipping on his shoes. “It was an insult to both of us.”

Yuuri smiled, open and knowing, He walked in front of Yuri to pull him up and Yuri accepted his hand easily, smiled easily too.

Yuuri always had this effect on people.

 

~*~

 

“He sounds like your best friend,” Beka said over Skype. 

Yuri had been lounging against a mountain of pillows, but he snapped up fast enough to disturb Sasha, who sprung off the bed. “What? No!” He scoffed, crossed his legs, and settled in front of the videocamera. “You’re my best friend, obviously.”

Beka’s face was always serious, and Yuri was just beginning to learn his expressions, but he could already puzzle out it was pleasure that warmed Beka’s eyes. Yuri was new to friendship, had been too absorbed with his family and skating, but he felt his cheeks flush at Beka’s obvious happiness.

Yuri liked how straight-forward Beka was, liked how he knew to never leave his emotions up to interpretation, liked how Beka responded, “You’re my best friend, too.”

I’m like a teenager on a date, Yuri thought, but the parallel was unsettling. No, he amended, this is more important

“What is Yuuri Katsuki to you?” 

Yuri snapped out of his thoughts. “Yuuri? My rival.”

Beka hummed.

“Well, not just my rival,” Yuri admitted. “I guess he’s my friend.” Beka was looking at him too intently. “It’s complicated. We have the same name. We’re always competing against each other. But it’s not like that—we get each other.”

They did. They did get each other. They could push each other to new heights. They would never hold back against each other.

“Look—I’ve been following his career for a while, it’s hard not to, we share the same name. And I liked his skating. I—” It was a credit to their friendship that Yuri was even saying this. “I admired him. Long before anyone took him seriously. Long before anyone took me seriously.” 

Yuri fell silent, unable to explain the mess that was his and Yuuri’s relationship. Idol. Fallen idol. Rival. Friend. But none of those terms could communicate why Yuri felt a punch in his gut when Viktor came to him, announcing his return. While Yakov and Lilia had fretted over Viktor—as though he was the more important part of Yuuri and Viktor—Yuri knew the real message. Yuuri was stopping, was stopping for a reason as stupid as he and his boyfriend couldn’t sort out how to talk to each other.

But Yuri had that talent. Yuri could talk to Yuuri.

“I see,” Beka finally said, the silence drawing too long, “your relationship is… complicated?”

 Yuri nodded. “Yes, complicated.”

 

~*~

 

The next couple months passed by in a beautiful blur. 

 

~*~

 

Not beautiful—he grew eight centimeters in the summer.

 

~*~