Yuuri spent his first New Years Eve party in America hiding in his bedroom. He had been unsure what to expect when his three roommates had told him that they were hosting the team party this year. While he had seen American movies and how they depicted parties, he wasn't sure how close that would be to reality. He hadn't wanted to assume.
Turned out, it was pretty similar after all.
His Toledo Walleye teammates hadn't excluded him, of course — they had been nice to him so far this season. Painfully, pityingly nice to their quiet teammate who spent more time missing his dog than he did speaking to his fellow players. They invited him to hang out with them and play video games, they made sure he always had a ride when he needed one, and they recognized his contributions on the ice after games.
It was kind.
At the party, his teammates tried to get him to join in on the underage drinking and games, to talk to the pretty girls who had shown up seemingly by magic, but it was too much. Yuuri left them to their red plastic cups and too-loud music and locked himself safely behind his bedroom door.
He crawled into bed and missed. He missed his family, and his dog, and his friends. He missed his country. He missed what he thought following his dream would be like.
One of their Russian teammates invited all of the foreign or single, family-less players over to his house for his New Years party. Serezha was older, with a wife and three children under the age of seven, and he was always acting like a father to any teammate he thought needed one. That was how Yuuri and Viktor found themselves at a New Years Eve party they had not, truly, wanted to go to.
Yurio, of course, had laughed in their faces at the extended invitation and left to go party with his MHL teammates at someone's house. Yuuri was sure there would be drinking involved.
It seemed like Serezha's entire extended family was packed into his house, as well as his wife's extended family, in addition to possibly their neighbors' extended families. Children darted back and forth, grabbing oranges from the tables and attempting to sneak pieces of pelmenyi that their parents were hoarding. Part way through the evening, two hired actors dressed as Ded Moroz and Snegurochka made an appearance, much to the delight of the smaller children. Everyone was given a present, even Yuuri, who opened his to find two tickets to a local ballet production. Serezha winked at him from over his wife's shoulder.
Everyone joined together to eat some of the many different kinds of salad, with ingredients Yuuri would not think to combine, that apparently made up part of the traditional meal of the holiday. There was also copious amounts of caviar, meant to be spread across the thickly sliced bread placed on the table; Yuuri helped himself to generous amounts of it.
A small plastic tree in the corner, decked out like a Christmas tree that was definitely, Viktor told him, not a Christmas tree, reminded him of the kadomatsu they would have back home in Japan. Yuuri snapped a picture and sent it to his family.
As the official end of the year drew closer, everyone gathered around Serezha's enormous television to watch the presidential address. Viktor took the opportunity to draw Yuuri to the back of the room, and then outside to the front yard. They listened as the rest of the party-goers went outside to the backyard in anticipation of the fireworks and to set off a few of their own.
It was bitterly cold outside. Viktor cupped Yuuri's hands in his, and they shivered together, silent, as the clock struck midnight and fireworks exploded across the sky.
It was a new year.
It was different from the parties he had gone to while the ECHL. Still a little wild, still a little loud, but it was classier. Maybe it was the difference between the ECHL and the NHL, or maybe it was that they were all a little older than Yuuri and his teammates had been back then. But it was nice.
Viktor and Yuuri hadn't told their teammates about their relationship yet, not really, but that didn't stop them from being greeted at the door like a couple. Yuuri thrust the bottle of Champagne they had brought into Ashley's hands as Jonesy welcomed them into their home. The decor stood out to Yuuri as the perfect blend of homey and magazine perfect, and Yuuri enviously compared it to the furniture that had come with their rented house.
"Yuuri, we came here to mingle," Viktor whined in his ear when Yuuri seemed more inclined to sulk in the corner than do anything else. "We have to talk to people to mingle."
Yuuri sighed, put upon, but he struck up a conversation with Cheesy's fiancée Jessica about whether going skating on the river was worth it for the photo opportunities. There were only a few members of the team milling about, as well as some of the equipment staff who had been invited. Most people in the organization were still entertaining friends and family who were in town or were making appearances at restaurants and clubs to celebrate the end of 2019.
He sipped on the sparkling wine their hosts had generously provided and thought, At least the alcohol is better than the old parties. In the ECHL they drank whatever came cheapest on the shelf, and in Russia they fulfilled the stereotype and drank vodka. Lots of vodka.
Yuuri preferred the Champagne, to be honest, even if he didn't trust himself to drink much of it.
Viktor soon reattached himself to Yuuri's side, and once everyone was distracted by the count down to midnight, they slipped outside. Away from everyone else at the party. The action felt like such a repetition of years past that Yuuri hated it.
The Winter Classic was tomorrow, and Yuuri was only a little nervous.
Yuuri's parents couldn't fly out, but the rest of his family came without hesitation — even the members of his family that weren't related to him by blood. While his parents were so booked for the holiday season that they didn't feel like they could travel across the world, Mari had come, and Minako as well. Yuuko and her husband Takeshi came, and along with them were their daughters.
The special practice for the game tomorrow had ended a few hours ago, and now the constructed rink was given over to the players for a family skate. Most of their teammates had their families and friends out on the ice, taking advantage of opportunity to include them in the festivities. Tomorrow the Senators would play against the Habs, and the stands of TD Place would be full of people enduring the cold to see their favorite NHL teams play outside.
It wasn't as big as when they held the Winter Classic in the United States, one of their teammates had told them before the practice had begun, but it still took Yuuri's breath away to see the open sky above the ice. To think of all the cameras and pomp and glamor that was being engineered into one event.
The triplets had grown so much since the day they had secretly recorded Yuuri and their parents playing around on the ice. Yuuri's life had changed that day, and well. Viktor's life had changed too. Yuuko and Takeshi were skating side by side, not quite holding hands in public but brushing against each other easily. Yuuko had been surprised to be recognized from that same viral video by some of Senators. Seeing as the video now had over twenty million views, Yuuri didn't understand why she was surprised.
(A lot of those views had come after Yuuri and Viktor's public kiss had catapulted them from idle curiosity to global phenomenon.)
Mari was currently pretending that she didn't know how to skate so that Yuuri and Viktor's captain, a handsome single man with only his siblings present on the ice, would "help her learn." Yuuri rolled his eyes at how obvious she was, but he didn't really mind. The money Yuuri had invested in his family's business was what had allowed his parents to hire more staff and expand their services. They were no longer just scraping by in a little sea-side town no one went to; they were now a destination. Yuuri didn't regret that.
Yuuri turned his attention to dodging small children pushing buckets and people trying to stop for photos. The ice was almost uncomfortably packed with people.
Viktor's hand snaked down to grab Yuuri's, and his husband looked at him out of the corner of his eyes. That night they would eat osechi ryori and give the triplets otoshidama. That night, the celebration was going to be the closest Yuuri's had to a proper Japanese New Year's party in ages.
Playing a game on New Year's Eve was never ideal, but at least they earned a W out of it. Their narrow win over Minnesota put them towards the top of Eastern Conference, and Yuuri would take that over not playing at all. Viktor had scored a goal on Yuuri's assist, and their teammates were ecstatic for them; their point slump had been hard on both of them.
Viktor had been unusually quiet in the time leading up to the game, and while Yuuri had at first thought it was a reaction to their struggles on the ice, he started to doubt that when the silence continued after the game.
"Viktor, is everything okay?" Yuuri asked quietly after the media left the dressing room.
"We'll talk later," Viktor said, which did not make Yuuri feel better.
When they got home, Viktor told Yuuri that he had been thinking very hard about something.
"I think it's time," Viktor said. Yuuri stared at him, not comprehending.
"Time for what?" His came out embarrassingly high pitched.
"Time for me to retire," Viktor said.
Yuuri gaped at him for a moment. Viktor, retire? Viktor had been a hockey player for as long as Yuuri had known him, for as long as Yuuri had known of him. It was what he was, what both of them were, right down to the core. They were hockey players.
"I don't understand," Yuuri said. "We just signed a contract extension. We just won the Cup two years ago. Why are you giving up?"
Viktor rubbed his hand across his face and sat down heavily on the bed. He had a bruise forming on his arm from being struck with a puck during the second period, and his hair was still slightly wet from his after-game shower. He looked tired, more tired than he'd allowed Yuuri to see him before. Yuuri was his husband; how had he not seen how run down Viktor was becoming?
He pulled Yuuri down to sit next to him on the bed.
"Yuuri, I'm going to be with you always, through your whole career," he said seriously. "No matter where you play, I'm going to be with you. But it's time for me to leave the ice. I'm old. I'm old for this sport."
"But—" Yuuri started to protest. Viktor held up his hand to stop him.
"I'm not playing like I'm used to. I'm relying on you more and more to cover my mistakes. I can't keep up. My knees are bad, I've had two concussions in four years, and well." Viktor paused, examining Yuuri's face closely. "The coaching staff has been dropping hints lately."
"That they're going to need to clear cap space soon," Viktor said. "Now, they can clear it by trying to trade the both of us — they wouldn't dare do it separately, not with us being married — or one of us can retire."
"They said that to you?" Yuuri asked faintly, stunned.
"No, no of course not," Viktor assured him. "But I can read between the lines."
"But that doesn't mean that you have to retire," Yuuri said. He grabbed Viktor's hands and held them tightly. "We can just be traded. We'll play somewhere else."
Viktor shook his head. "You love it here so much. I love it here. There's no point in us moving our whole lives somewhere else just for me to have to retire in the next season or so anyway. This makes the most sense. For both of us."
"Do you..." Yuuri breathed deeply. "Do you want to play?"
Viktor laughed. "No. I'm tired. I'm done. I've won almost everything worth winning, and everything I'm ever going to have the opportunity to win." He had been excluded from every Russian national team for the last six years. He had made his peace with it long ago. "I've had a long career, with a fair share of injuries, and I'm ready to cheer you on the from the stands. And frankly, if I can't play my best, I don't want to play at all."
"You played through a fractured foot during the playoffs last year," Yuuri reminded him. "You weren't playing at your best then." They had argued about it, about whether Viktor should play through the injury. Yuuri supposed it would be hypocritical to insist that Viktor keep playing now when he was the one who demanded his husband sit out the rest of the round due to injury.
"And now I regret it every time I have to step out of bed onto a cold floor," Viktor said with a glimmer of humor. "You were right after all."
Yuuri leaned forward and rested his forehead against Viktor's.
"Okay," he said. "Okay. We'll announce it after the season?"
"Yeah," Viktor said. "Just remember: I'm with you from the stands."