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Life in a Beautiful Light

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Yuuri took what he told himself was a last look at Vicchan’s room; rather, at Vicchan’s shrine, since the rest of the room seemed to have been invaded by various fixtures and fittings during the time he’d forgotten to pay attention. It seemed that, whether he was there or not, business was still flourishing for his parents, which accounted for the need to free up as many rooms as possible for the oncoming guests, which in turn accounted for the conglomeration of boxes and old mattresses squeezed into Vicchan’s room until a good opportunity to get rid of them appeared.

It was his last look at it, but Yuuri had already said so about the other four times he’d drifted in over the past two hours. His mouth formed a thin, half-disappointed and half-confused line. This wasn’t his first time moving out, although so far he’d always ended up moving back in after a while. He’d been telling himself, just as a precaution, that it was pretty likely that he’d be coming back after near future events ran their course. It was as likely as anything else, after all.

It wouldn’t last as much as his stay in Detroit, that much was certain. Yuuri didn’t feel like he had it in him.

Still – he couldn’t shake the feeling that this wouldn’t be like Detroit at all. So, he let himself indulge in a few second-long moments of finality, of feeling like this was, after all, his last look at Vicchan’s room, at his entire home, before things changed. Just as a precaution, of course.

“Yuuri? Are you still not ready? The car’s here for you,” his sister said from the top of the stairs, where she stood, giving him an odd look. Half-concerned and half-confused.

Yuuri wondered why they all seemed so confused today. He plastered on a smile, nevertheless. “Yeah, I’m coming.”

Making himself not glance at the shrine again, he went to retrieve his luggage from his room. Just as he was about to close the door behind him, he stopped. Another last look. It seemed emptier than usual now, and not only because of the lack of posters. Yuuri had had over a year to get used to that. Rather, over the course of the past few days, as he’d slowly and carefully made himself pack, he had found it increasingly difficult not to want to put in as much of his stuff as possible. Little things that made his room seem like home. When he’d gone to Detroit, his parents had urged him not to take quite all of it with him – homesickness will be hard, but it will get better in the end, and you want a familiar room when you come back to it, don’t you?

They hadn’t told him what to pack this time. Of course, now he was 24, and had already moved his home rink once before, and not 18 and still intimidated out of his mind by the Senior Level. So, Yuuri had packed most of everything – from the figurines found ten years ago, to his penholders.

As a consequence, his luggage had been a nightmare to close, and now proved equally hard to carry down the stairs. Yuuri was very apprehensive of all the planes he was going to have to change over the next 16 hours.

His mother was waiting by the door, a prepared farewell hug visible in the way she held herself. Yuuri dragged his trolley down the last couple of steps and convinced himself he wasn’t panting.

“My, don’t you look gloomy,” his mother exclaimed in a rather soft tone of voice, which made it sound not like an exclamation at all.

“I’m fine,” Yuuri said with a smile, and let himself be hugged. He was tall enough to rest his chin on his mother’s hair. How had he not noticed that before? “I’ll call you when I get there.” He hugged her tight in return. “It might be late.”

“We’ll wait,” she said, patted his back, pulled back, and gave him an affectionate smile. Her gaze invariably drifted a bit to the side, and she lifted a hand to run it through the hair falling over his ear. “I do wish you’d let me give it a trim,” she said, and he laughed, just a bit, just enough not to feel homesick already. “Well, they’ll like you anyway, won’t they?” Her smile was so warm that it had an effect on Yuuri’s heart of hearts.

He laughed once more, for a moment, then glanced at the car waiting in front of their home. “Goodbye,” he said over his shoulder, grabbed his luggage again, and went outside. Near the car, he said so to Mari too, then waved at his dad, who was wishing him good luck and all the best from a window on the upper floor, and then Yuuri finally stepped into the car.

 

The ride to the airport rather nostalgically took Yuuri both past Minako’s studio and past the Ice Rink. He’d said farewell to all the people he knew the night before, when they’d gathered, pulling Yuuri after them, in one of the few bars Hasetsu offered and talked about the past, the present, and the future, about what plans some of them had and of what they hoped to hear from others, and how nice it was that Yuuri was still going to compete for at least one more year, and how they’ll cheer for him all the way.

Yuuri had enjoyed it, mostly, let himself warily be persuaded into drinking one pint of beer, listened with interest to others while hoping they would not turn the conversation on him, and politely thanked them for everything when they invariably did. Still, by the end of the night, he’d grown even more quiet, and caught himself absent-mindedly playing with his ring on more than one occasion.

He wondered how much harder it would be to be away from all of them now he understood them better. When he’d left for Detroit, he’d missed them, longed for their familiar faces, but there had also been a not-quite-so-small kind of relief which had come with the separation. Back when he took their support with a grain of salt, knowing their intentions were good but loathing the sense of weakness their assurances gave him, he’d found it just a bit easier to breathe once he was away from it all. Now, Yuuri wasn’t so sure.

He fixed his glasses, absent-mindedly pushed a few strands of hair behind his ears – his mother had made several playful jibes at it over the two months Yuuri had spent at home after the Grand Prix: Yuuri, do you remember when you tried to let your hair grow at 10? Remember that time you and Yuuko spent two hours trying to braid it? We still have some pictures, do you want to see if there’s any resemblance? You know, if you’d actually let it grow from then on, I bet your hair would be now as long as Vicchan’s was. – and gazed out the window at the ocean, at the seagulls, wishing to be able to hear the waves splashing on the shore, but all there was to hear was the muffled engine of the car and the old static-y musing coming on the radio.

Yuuri looked down; he’d been playing with his ring again, just kept turning and turning it on his finger, the way he’d seen some people do with various stress-relieving devices. He wondered whether he was relieving stress. Speaking as somebody who’d been struggling with anxiety for over a decade, he didn’t feel like he was particularly stressed right now. He made himself pull his hand away, leaving his ring, still on the finger of his right hand, in plain view. A few months have passed, but it still looked like new, like it had just been put there yesterday. He figured it was only common sense, after having cost that much.

For a moment, he indulged in another ridiculous but unpleasant thought, and he wondered whether he would have to take it off, if Victor no longer wore his. Maybe. With a small shrug, Yuuri turned his head back to the window.

 

Russia was cold, even in spring. Well, Yuuri guessed many countries were still variably cold at this time of year. After all, it had been April when it had snowed in Hasetsu one year ago, terrifying all the neighbours who could afford to pay any attention to it, thanks to them not having an international celebrity using their hot springs. Yuuri had only had a few minutes to wonder at it, but yes, that had been strange. The first in a series of strange events.

It wasn’t snowing in Russia now, though. Looking around, Yuuri couldn’t even see remnants of snow or ice lining the driveway, so maybe he had been hasty in his earlier statement. However, as he dragged his luggage to the airport bus stop, and then proceeded to wait ten minutes for it, he nodded to himself: Russia was cold. The wind was biting at his skin and pushing his hair every which way, making Yuuri, finally, to his mother’s metaphysical delight, consider that maybe it would have been a good idea to cut his hair a bit, if it meant he wouldn’t have to meet Victor and (possibly) Yurio with his head looking like an owlet’s nest.

He hadn’t been able to get a good night’s sleep for the past week, and only managed to doze off for twenty minutes at a time on the plane, but once he actually got on the bus, Yuuri found himself unable to tear his gaze away from the window. He’d always, always wanted to visit Saint Petersburg, ever since he’d heard it mentioned before one of Victor’s Junior Level competitions, years before the internet became commonplace and he could actually look up photographs of it and gaze longingly over travelling tickets too expensive for their family. He guessed he liked the sound of it, liked knowing that it was an attainable city, although much too far away to seem real.

And now Yuuri was here. In fact, he was going to keep on being here for some time, according to plans.

Yuuri swallowed, hands going white-knuckled over the handle of his trolley. He made an active effort to relax his grip, and then placed his left hand over his right, feeling the metal of the ring under his fingertips, but painfully abstaining from doing anything more.

As the city drew closer, so did the jittery feeling inside him get closer to his heart. He allowed himself one, two twists of his ring as his eyes drank in the buildings, steadily growing older and closer to one another, all the while fearing that, despite his research at home, he wouldn’t be able to tell when his stop was announced. He watched, a bit winded, as the bus made its way towards streets that finally looked like places where people could live.

Among many other things, he felt cautiously excited.

Then he remembered he was supposed to call Victor. Trying to keep the frantic expression off his face, and presumably failing, he dug into his jacket’s pockets one by one until finally retrieving his phone. It was still in Airplane mode, and he rendered it completely silent before turning the signal on again. Four missed calls and seven texts joined the other two texts he’d got during his last night at home and avoided looking over, for reasons he wasn’t particularly sure of. One of the new ones was from Yurio, the rest all Victor. Yuuri huffed, expression torn between guilt and exasperation, and bypassed reading all and any texts in favour of just hitting the call button.

“Yes?” Victor answered, so matter-of-fact that Yuuri felt shivers down his spine from remembering all the other times he’d used that tone. It was usually when Yuuri was being purposefully obstinate or difficult.

“Hi,” Yuuri said, sounding sheepish even to his own ears. “I forgot to call, sorry. I’m on the bus.”

Once Victor made sure – in a decidedly friendly way – that Yuuri was, indeed, in Russia, he proceeded to make him repeat the steps he had to take once he got off the bus, including how he’d get a metro ticket and where he had to change to a different line. Yuuri went through it all, feeling increasingly like he was being quizzed at school.

“See you when you get here!” Victor said at the end of it all, smile very, very perceptible in his voice, which only made Yuuri’s hair rise further.

 

Once in the metro, Yuuri decided to check his messages. The ones from before he left were just Victor wondering whether he ought to buy an extra bath gown, and then wishing Yuuri a safe trip and, of course, asking him to call him before and after the flight. The other ones started early in the morning, with Victor mostly debating with himself what groceries they ought to get, where they would take Makkachin for a walk tonight, and so on, until the time for Yuuri’s arrival got closer and his texts got covertly worried. They stopped around the time Yuuri’s plane must have finally landed, which was when Yurio’s message came.

Yurio: I don’t see why I should miss morning practice to babysit a grown-ass man with attachment issues.

Yuuri blinked, bit his lip in what he hoped looked like a fully penitent manner, and distractedly pushed a strand of hair behind his ear. Oh, God, his hair; he was even afraid to catch a look at himself in the glass. He was just about to start considering answering his text when another one came.

Yurio: Can you buy some pastry without getting any major injuries? We ditched grocery shopping in favour of staring at a blank wall for two hours.

 

Luckily enough, there was a bakery nearby as he climbed up from the metro station, although it was a distinctly small one. Choosing to ride the train of surreality for just a bit longer, Yuuri went in and bypassed speaking English for the two minutes it took him to buy several croissants and cheese pastries. He walked out in a daze at the fact that it had actually worked.

Yuuri had known basic Russian for several years now. It was hard not to expect it of him, after being so entranced by a Russian figure since his very easily influenced childhood years. When Victor first arrived at his house, he’d tried to hide it, like he’d hidden most of everything else, because Yuuri was nothing if not a perfectionist at heart and he drew back in horror at the thought of making some grammatical, vocabulary, or pronunciation mistake around a native speaker, especially when said native speaker was Victor. Phichit only knew how long it had taken them to make him speak in anything else than monosyllables in Detroit.

As he’d opened up about other things, though, he’d opened up about this too, and Victor had taken great pleasure in teaching him new words over dinner, during the occasional break from practice, as they took Makkachin for a walk. It had greatly improved his vocabulary and diction, to say the least, but Yuuri had still been vaguely sceptical at the thought of actually speaking it around people that were not Victor. This shop owner had seemed to understand him well enough, however. That was enough to put some bounce in his step as he went in what he hoped and believed to be the direction to their meeting place.

The first one to see him was not Makkachin, as Yuuri had vaguely hoped and suspected, but Yurio – Makkachin being too busy being vigorously petted by a kneeling Victor. The fleeting look of honest relief in Yurio’s face was the first thing to start dragging Yuuri down from his dream realm into the world he knew, and he grinned back at him, even while knowing that it would provoke a ferocious scowl in return. He must have gone back home somehow too soon after the Grand Prix, before it had all settled in and started to make sense, because he felt like this was the first time in months that he was awake.

“Took you long enough,” Yurio said, when he was close enough to hear him, effectively making Victor snap his head in his direction, with Makkachin following his example.

For a moment, Yuuri considered hugging Yurio, both as a sign of gratitude and in order to wind him up a little, for old times’ sake, but before he made up his mind Makkachin was already on him, and all effort went into not letting him topple him to the ground. “Hello,” he said, and made to put a hand on his head, but before he got to do that too, he was swept into a hug made predominantly of black wool and expensive cologne. It seemed like nobody wanted to let him finish a thought today.

“Yuuri,” Victor said, from somewhere in the depths of his scarf, and the way he said it made Yuuri’s heart swell and his chest grow wonderfully warm, with a warmth he felt gliding down to his fingertips as he raised his arms to hug him back.

Yuuri hadn’t let himself particularly dwell on this during the couple of months he’d spent at home. After the Grand Prix, with his apparent comeback in sight, Victor had returned to Saint Petersburg, both to get himself settled back in and to discuss strategies with his coach. The offer for Yuuri to follow him right away had been there, nicely wrapped and placed on the metaphorical table, but something had made Yuuri act not as much reluctant as cautious, choosing to go back home for a while, process everything that has happened to him over the past months, breathe, and clear his head by practicing on his own. It seemed like, whether he won or lost, the Grand Prix kept taking its toll on his mental faculties. Moving, directly after it, to a new rink, a new set of people, moving in with Victor, had felt like too much, too sudden, on top of it all.

Moreover, he was an adult, and could make his own decisions and take responsibility for them, so feeling down while being on his own at home had hardly felt like the mature thing to do. Consequently, Yuuri hadn’t dwelt on it, hadn’t let himself feel lonely, and most definitely hadn’t regretted his decision. It wasn’t like it had been a bad one, either; objectively, he knew it had helped his state of mind. Besides, he’d talked to Victor often enough, every other day if not daily, kept him updated with his training almost as diligently as Victor did with Makkachin’s moods, and even spoke to Yurio once or twice. So, he hadn’t been cut off from everything and everyone, like last time.

Still – he hadn’t perfectly managed not to miss this.

He had missed it, and so much. Nose buried in Victor’s scarf and ignoring how his glasses dug into his skin, Yuuri sighed and held him tighter, and the same warmth made his fingers tremble when Victor shifted a bit against him and held him tighter still. He truly was the best hugger Yuuri knew. Nobody else could compare, so far.

Then Makkachin jumped against their side again, and Yurio was heard huffing nearby, so they pulled back, and for a moment stood gazing sheepishly at each other. Yuuri’s glasses were now smudged, and his fingers still tingled a bit, but he could hardly look away when Victor gazed at him like that. He looked like Yuuri felt, and Yuuri had never expected to be able to say that about him before.

“You done?” Yurio asked, sitting on a nearby bench, just as Victor’s expression changed quite suddenly into a sombre one. Yuuri wasn’t exactly sure on which one of them he ought to focus his attention.

“Yuuri Katsuki, you cruel man. I told you to call me.”

Drawing back a couple of steps, Yuuri put on a placating smile, welcoming Makkachin when he jumped on him as a mighty shield. “I know, I’m sorry. I forgot.”

Victor looked wounded at the words, but from behind him Yurio uttered a bark of laughter. “Ha, see how that feels!” which only made Victor’s pout more pronounced.

“Yurio, you should be nicer to your betters,” Victor said, although he still fixed Yuuri with a hurt and disappointed stare.

“What betters? I practically beat both of you not three months ago.”

It was so familiar that Yuuri could not help sketching a small, private smile and directing it at Victor, who, despite all his efforts to look affronted, at this point gave in and returned it. Yuuri’s heart grew three times in size.

“I brought you breakfast, though,” he said, brandishing the paper bag at Yurio, who widened his eyes and immediately jumped off the bench.

“God, yes. Finally,” he took the bag from Yuuri and directed one more accusatory look Victor’s way, who blinked back at him in complete innocence.

The same innocence remained in place as he afterwards said, “Yuuri, would you like to join us for grocery shopping?”

As if Yuuri had any choice in the matter. “Sure,” he said, grabbing his painfully stuffed luggage again and trying to blink the jetlag and 16-hour flight out of his eyes.

 

For some reason, one out of the three bags of groceries they left the store with was full of cereals specifically chosen by Yurio. Yuuri might have commented something on it, had he not been too busy trying not to fall asleep in the dairy aisle. Also, Victor had yet to offer to call a taxi for the day, so currently Yuuri was still dragging his luggage over the unfamiliar, grey, and windblown streets of central Saint Petersburg. He was relieved he hadn’t taken his mother’s advice to take an extra bag with him. One backpack and one trolley seemed to be more than enough for him at the moment. He could only hope this lack of transportation meant that Victor lived fairly close by.

In between turns, he allowed himself the occasional glimpse of the neighbourhood. The buildings were lower than he’d expected them to be, but they looked orderly and well-maintained. The array of streets seemed endless, though. It was hard to believe that, sooner or later, one of these months, he’d get to know his way around almost as easily as Victor and Yurio did. It made his heart falter, but not in a completely unpleasant way.

They took another turn, ending up with the wind beating in their faces, and Yuuri grimaced as it sent his hair straight in his eyes for a moment. Yurio, mindfully keeping his in a ponytail, didn’t seem affected, but he did use the occasion to scowl at Yuuri once more.

“Say, what’s with the hair?” he said, and Yuuri blinked at him, slightly teary-eyed from the wind.

“Nothing,” he said, feigning nonchalance.

Yurio did not seem to be taken in by it. “Well, I think it’s charming,” Victor said as he walked in front on them with Makkachin. Yuuri did not have time to wholly revel in the compliment when they suddenly stopped in a doorway to their right and Victor pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket. “Shall we?”

 

Victor’s apartment was on the top floor, which was exactly what Yuuri would have expected of someone like him. Although the sky outside had been overcast ever since Yuuri had got off his plane, it still seemed well lit, with its large windows and white walls. It was also somewhat smaller than Yuuri had expected, but that was probably because he’d always associated fame with mansions, or particularly fancy lofts. Which it was – fancy, that is – but in a rather more eccentric way, just like Victor himself was. Sometimes. In a way.

If, when he was younger, he had found it difficult not to think of Victor and his skating as something not entirely real, something set apart from the ordinary world, now Yuuri found it equally hard not to question every allusion that Victor was anything else than one of the most human people he knew. It had taken time, and it had taken work, and trust, and painful bursts of communication, but this was the decision Yuuri had reached, in the end. One could not look at Victor, hear him laugh, and talk, and get excited or upset, or see him pour his whole being into a thing he had set his mind on, and not see how wholly human he really was. From time to time, Yuuri felt ashamed at not having seen it before, but, then again, he hadn’t known any better.

That was not to say Yuuri completely understood him. No, he was not yet there, maybe would never be, but at least now he had a better idea of what his essence was truly like. If some things still seemed peculiar in the overall picture that was Victor Nikiforov, Yuuri believed he could get used to them, in time.

Just like he would to those lightbulbs.

They were in Victor’s living room, which also contained his kitchen, and, while Victor and Yurio poured the contents of the shopping bags over Victor’s dining table, Yuuri was left by the entrance door, one hand still on his luggage as he surreptitiously glanced at the several bulbs dangling from the ceiling. At a lower level, every piece of furniture which might have accommodated him bore one or several pillows, rendering Yuuri both reluctant and unable to choose the right one to seat himself on, even though Makkachin seemed to have no such problems.

“Make yourself at home, Yuuri,” Victor said, washing his hands at the kitchen sink, right underneath those eerie lightbulbs.

Both he and Yurio had taken their coats off, leaving them on a stand near the door. Yuuri considered he also ought to, so he let go of his trolley and slowly unbuttoned and unzipped his jacket. Taking off his backpack, he placed it as unobtrusively as possible beside his trolley and then eventually removed his jacket.

At the dining table, Yurio had just laid what was left of Yuuri’s bakery adventure on a plate, while Victor was busying himself pouring them glassfuls of orange juice. Breakfast? Yuuri guessed it was, technically, still morning. How late was it back home? Afternoon? Evening? He thought the time difference was six hours. In lack of any better ideas, Yuuri toed out of his shoes.

“Everything alright?” Victor asked, presumably because Yuuri had made no movement to either join them in the kitchen or to walk further into the room.

Yuuri turned to look at him, reassurance ready on his tongue, but his eyes were promptly caught by the glint of gold on the finger of Victor’s right hand. “Ah, yes.” He took as much reassurance from the sight as he could. Already, he felt thirty pounds lighter. “Can I look around?” he asked, strengthened.

“Of course,” Victor said, the mild concern on his face slipping off once Yuuri smiled in response.

So, with careful steps which he tried to make look carefree, Yuuri advanced into the room, passing the couch which Makkachin seemed to have already claimed for the next few hours, looking at the black and white pictures on the walls, at the various souvenirs placed on the several windowsills, and finally stopping to get a glimpse out the window. They weren’t facing west, so the city seemed to stretch infinitely ahead of them. He remembered feeling something similar in Detroit, when he’d first gone to the roof of the university and saw the city laid out all around him.

Then, in order not to raise any suspicions, he continued his solitary tour of the apartment, opening the next door he found with bated breath, and – there was the bathroom. Yuuri tried to imagine that the other two were not watching him, but just in case they were, he stepped inside in the same faux casual manner.

There were those lightbulbs again, dangling even more precariously and now even at uneven heights over his head. The fact that there was a window which was almost as large as the ones in the living room, above the bathtub, hardly bothered him more than those bulbs did. Still, it was nice enough, even if he couldn’t yet see himself living here, so he made to turn and check out the last room when – he caught sight of himself in the mirror.

“Oh, no,” he mouthed soundlessly at his own reflection, because the door was still open and he didn’t want the others to be privy to every moment of self-awareness he had.

He’d been right: his hair did look like an owlet’s nest now, and he looked somehow more tired than he felt. Or, rather, he looked as tired as he felt, but, apparently, he’d been better at hiding it from himself than from others. He couldn’t believe he’d been seen like this in public, but, then again, he’d probably looked worse. So, he took off his smudgy glasses, squinted at his reflection, and ran them under the sink and dried them on a hand towel. Now he could at least see his eye bags in high definition.

Then he went back into the living room, catching some snippets of Victor and Yurio’s conversation, opened the last available door, looked around, and –

“No,” Yuuri said, a little louder this time, since the conversation behind him suddenly stopped, but he chose to ignore that and instead step inside, closing the bedroom door behind him.

Now, this was ridiculous; and Yuuri honestly found himself smiling helplessly at the mason jar lights hanging over Victor’s bed. At least, he guessed it was a grand finale to this entire tour, but – he let out a huff of laughter, took a few steps inside, and carefully seated himself on the very edge of the bed. He looked up. This explained why Victor had dredged up every last lamp they had in the house when he’d first moved in, he supposed.

He didn’t attempt to consider the fact that he was presumably expected to sleep here, even though, right now, Yuuri considered that he could sleep anywhere if given the opportunity. So, he dragged his gaze back down, and looked out the window. This way, he knew, was the sea, several miles away, but still close by. If he really strained his eyes, Yuuri could make out a few seagulls. He remembered Victor once telling him that the ocean view from Hasetsu reminded him of this city, and took heart in that. Maybe he could go and see if the reverse was true as well, one of these days.

Abruptly, he felt himself fighting the urge to lie back on Victor’s bed. There were two reasons behind his opposition: 1) he was nearly sure he would fall asleep instantly if laid on a horizontal surface, and 2) lying on his back would bring those hanging mason jars back in full view. Therefore, he pushed himself back up and returned to the living room.

Victor was leaning on one of his kitchen counters in a deliberately laid-back manner, tearing bits from a croissant over a paper napkin. “So? What do you think?”

Yuuri stopped before he reached the dining table, mused for a moment, then simply said: “You have a lot of lights.”

Seated at said table, Yurio laughed derisively. “See, I told you he was looking at them weirdly,” he said to Victor. Yurio also appeared to have already fixed himself a bowl of cereals. Looking at it, despite his exhaustion, Yuuri felt suddenly both very envious and very hungry.

“You don’t like them?” Victor said, disappointment badly masked in his tone, as Yuuri carefully made his way around him to grab a bowl and a spoon.

“No, I… like them,” Yuuri mumbled, returning to the table and ignoring Yurio’s snort in order to pour himself some milk and cereals too. “They just… surprised me, that’s all,” he mumbled further, not looking up to see Victor pouting, choosing instead to entirely focus on his food.

“I often show my surprise through horrified shouts of No! too,” Yurio said from beside him, but Yuuri was too busy having breakfast to rebuke him just then.

However, it so happened that finishing an entire bowl of cereals after not having eaten anything in twenty hours didn’t take quite that long, so, a few moments later, Yuuri lowered the now-empty bowl from his mouth and looked at Yurio. “I didn’t shout.”

Yurio just turned towards Victor and raised an eyebrow, which made Victor sigh into his croissant and Yuuri frown and reach out a hand to the yet untouched glass of orange juice. Victor handed it to him before he could get to it, and then walked a few steps into the centre of the room and appraised his kitchen ceiling with a critical eye.

“I suppose you could… get used to them,” he said, thoughtfully, but ignored Yuuri’s prompt assurance that he will. “I could take down a few of them, maybe…,” and here he made a pained expression, as if taking out a piece of his apartment’s design was like tearing out a piece of his soul. “I’m not sure. Yurio, what do you say?”

Although Yurio was at first surprised to be asked for advice, he hid it well. “Buy a different house,” he said directly.

Victor fixed him with an unimpressed look. “Yuuri?” he asked, returning to the kitchen and picking up his glass.

“They’re not that bad,” Yuuri muttered against the mouth of his own glass.

Victor visibly brightened up. “Then that’s problem solved!” he grinned, ignoring Yurio’s eyeroll and Yuuri’s own bemused smile, and then turned to look behind him. “I meant to ask, Yuuri. Is that all the baggage you’ve brought?”

Yuuri followed his gaze to the place where his trolley and backpack still stood, close to the front door, feeling only mildly horrified at having left them there. There was no other obvious place where he could have put them, after all.

“Yes?”

Victor looked back at him. “But that’s so little.”

Knowing what he’d been through to make everything fit, Yuuri thought it was more than enough. The only things he’d left at home were his books, college notebooks, and some clothes which were so old that the mere thought of bringing them into Victor’s apartment made him shiver.

“It’s enough,” he assured him, then shrugged. “Even if I had more to bring, I don’t think I could have carried them all with me.”

Victor hummed, drumming his fingers over his glass. “If you’d called, I would have picked you up at the airport, so you wouldn’t have had to drag it after you all the way here.”

Yuuri dimly wondered whether that was why Victor had decided to take him grocery shopping earlier, as retaliation for his radio silence. He realised he hadn’t even known Victor had a car, but just as he was going to say something about it, he swallowed back his words, because Victor had one hand at the back of his neck and was pressing on either side of it, at the point where it met his shoulders. Then he let it drift to his right shoulder, pressing and pushing against Yuuri’s tense muscles so that he had to hold his breath for the entire ten seconds that it lasted before Victor pulled away.

“We’ll have to do something about that,” he said matter-of-factly, going back to leaning against the kitchen counter. “Yurio, what have you prepared for today?” It promptly made Yurio’s head snap up from where he’d been looking through his phone, as if he’d forgotten some extra choreography for the day. Victor glanced at Yuuri, who was still recovering, and winked. “Yurio’s here today because he’s the only one of the two of us who can cook.”

Yurio bristled. “I’m here today because you called me at 6 in the morning to complain that you were lonely and wanted company in walking your dog.”

Victor waved a hand, with a seemingly unaffected smile. “Excuses. I knew you cared more about me than about Yuuri’s fibre intake.”

“I can cook,” Yuuri offered, just in case he’d forgotten, which was a feasible possibility with Victor.

The same hand was waved in front of his face now, and Yuuri instinctively followed the glint of gold on it for a moment. “It’s only for lunch, by which time you ought to be asleep.”

Asleep. Yuuri found himself in need of a deep breath just thinking about it. He’d temporarily forgotten that sleep was something which existed. At this moment, it almost seemed too good to be true.

“Oh,” Victor said, studying his face. “Perhaps you’d like to go to sleep now?”

Formulating a coherent reply seemed like it would take too much effort, so Yuuri nodded, squeezed his tired eyes shut for a long moment, and settled for: “Yes.”

It turned out he’d been right. In his current state, the mason jars barely got to make an impression on him as he slid, still in his airplane clothes, under the covers and breathed in their fresh smell of jasmine, and laid his head on pillows which still smelled, somehow, like Victor’s hair.

 

When Yuuri woke up, the first thing he saw was the sky, still light grey, although darker clouds had appeared on the horizon. And that was about it. For a more in-detail analysis of his surroundings, he had first to grab his glasses. He found them, thankfully, on the bedside table near his head. Now he could see that it had rained at some point, drops still splattered sparsely on the room’s large windows. He wondered how long he’d been asleep, but his phone was still in his jacket, and there was no noticeable clock in Victor’s bedroom. Still, if it was still light, it couldn’t have been that long.

He felt much better, though, so he allowed himself a few more moments in the warm confines of Victor’s bed, turning on his back and stretching his arms and – seeing those mason jars again. Yuuri stared at them for a few moments, idly trying to figure out how they’d been made, and whether they were safe enough to keep over your head as you slept, and then closed his eyes again and dragged Victor’s blanket over his head. It still smelled dimly like jasmine, even though the initial rush of fragrance was gone, and Yuuri let himself think, for just a moment – that this was the place Victor called home. Or, at least, something close to it.

Victor had been living here since before he’d met Yuuri, before the thought that he might someday be here had ever passed Yuuri’s mind. And it had dangling lightbulbs and strange mason jars and pillows that smelled both like Victor and like Makkachin, and Victor had been living here all along; living as himself before Yuuri had even been aware that that self existed.

For a moment, he wondered, and wanted, wanted to somehow make himself imbibe all the little things he had yet to discover here, but then he was shaken out of his still half-asleep state by Yurio’s clear voice saying something about ballet exercises in the other room.

“Goodbye, Yura! Tell Yakov we’ll be there for practice first thing in the morning,” he then heard Victor say to him in Russian, to which Yurio simply replied:

“Tell him yourself!” And then Yuuri heard the front door being unlocked, opened, closed, and locked back again.

Then Yuuri breathed in, delighted in the silence that seemed to settle like snow over the apartment, only permeated by wisps of Victor’s soft voice as he talked to Makkachin. Yuuri smiled to himself, pulled down the blanket, opened his eyes, and found that he didn’t even mind the mason jars that much after all. When he finally made himself sit up, it was more from happiness and dull, warm yearning than anything else. Thinking about it, he’d been breathlessly, heart-poundingly happy more times this past year than ever in his life.

He did his best to leave Victor’s bed as orderly as possible, then ran his fingers through his hair without much hope, and opened the door. Peeking outside, he saw Victor, half-lying on his couch, with Makkachin draped over him knees-to-chest.

When Victor saw him, he welcomed him with a smile that was so down-toned and intimate that it was worlds apart from the one Yuuri had so often seen him display to the world. “You’ve just missed him,” he said, meaning Yurio.

Yuuri closed the bedroom door behind him. “I heard,” he said, and was just about to start figuring out a strategy to join them on the couch when Makkachin bundled out of Victor’s arms and made a wobbly beeline for Yuuri’s legs.

“Of course, what good am I to you when you’ve got Yuuri here to smother you in affection,” Victor commented.

Hands already petting at Makkachin’s fluffy head, Yuuri glanced up at him with a smile, which Victor habitually returned, betrayal or not. Then Yuuri, Makkachin jumping on his legs at every step, made his way to the couch too, and Victor pulled his knees to his chest to make room for them.

“Good dog,” Yuuri said, touching Makkachin’s nose, feeling infinitely warm and safe with both of them there.

“Sneaky dog,” Victor corrected, and shifted to his knees in order to pull Yuuri into a hug. “And just as mean as you. I thought I’d die here on my own,” he said, nuzzling Yuuri’s temple and then pressing a kiss to his hair.

“Sorry,” Yuuri just said, still looking down at Makkachin.

“That’s okay,” Victor said into his hair. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m alright,” and Yuuri closed his eyes and turned his head a bit, just enough to let their foreheads touch. He could feel Victor’s fringe tickle his face.

“Yurio made blini. He couldn’t be bothered to make anything more difficult,” Victor said, rubbing their noses together in a few impromptu eskimo kisses. It was a bit uncomfortable, with Yuuri’s glasses still being on and all, but Yuuri’s heart was so full he could scarcely find the strength to care. “But we have some salmon, and some cheese, and maybe we could go out for dinner...”

Yuuri hummed in distracted agreement, and felt Victor’s hands go from around his shoulders to rest at the nape of his neck. He opened his eyes.

“Did you miss me?” Victor asked, from a hair’s breadth away, fingers barely grazing his skin. “I missed you so much,” he said, and carefully took Yuuri’s glasses off, just as Yuuri himself was growing steadily more short of breath.

He wished he’d taken his hands off Makkachin’s fur earlier, when he’d still been able to focus on something other than Victor’s eyelashes, the soft dust of pink on his cheeks, the way his gaze invariably lowered. He thought – hands would have been useful in this situation; but not compulsory. So, as much as he liked looking at Victor’s face in that instant, he let his eyes fall shut as he leant a bit forward, bumping their noses together for a moment before Victor tilted his head and kissed him.

Although fortunate enough never to think too much about it, Yuuri used to be faintly worried that he’d never be able to get close enough to somebody to have this kind of relationship. However, for months he’d been gently prodded and nudged into opening up by degrees, until he’d found himself laid bare, or as open as he could even hope to be, looked at, and told: That’s more than enough. And, in turn, he’d fallen in love with Victor just as gradually, with one bit at a time, with every shard of glass and chip of ice that fell away as Victor, either laughing or criticising, made his way from who he was as a skater to who he was as a person. Until, one day, he’d looked back to see Yuuri, with all those sharp bits and pieces gathered in his hands, and stopped to show him that, put together just right, they made up his heart. Then he’d left Yuuri both with that knowledge and with his heart laid equally bare in his hands and let him follow along.

Makkachin had left his lap, Yuuri dimly realised, turning towards Victor with his whole body, like some strange kind of sunflower. Victor was just pressing his lips to his, but it made the same warmth as before bloom wonderfully in Yuuri’s chest, and climb up his throat, until he had to sigh against Victor’s lips, opening his mouth just a fraction and angling his head even better. Before he’d had his first kiss, just a few months before, Yuuri had not been aware that people’s faces were so soft, least of all Victor’s, but a few moments of noses pressed against cheeks and fingers tracing jawlines had settled that. It was strangely comforting, and the way Victor’s breath ghosted over his cheeks now, warm fingertips still resting at the nape of his neck, slowly making their way into his hair, as they kept brushing and pressing their lips together, was one of the most relaxing things he’d experienced in weeks.

“If I keep this up,” Victor said, once he pulled back, cupping Yuuri’s cheek with a pleased grin, “you won’t even notice my light fixtures.”

At which Yuuri snorted and pushed his face away with his hand, just to distance himself from that grin. Victor merely started laughing against his fingers, though, and Yuuri had to pull his hand away and get to his feet before he did something unseemly, like start kissing him again. He didn’t want to completely give Victor the upper hand, after all.

“Do you want me to help you unpack?” Victor asked once his laughter had died down, settling himself better on the couch.

It was something that had temporarily escaped Yuuri’s notice, but yes, now that he looked around, his trolley and backpack were still where he’d left them. He looked down at Victor, who reached for his hand and started idly playing with it, just like he used to do whenever Makkachin lied down next to him back at his family’s inn, and then suddenly remembered:

“I have to call my mom,” he blinked, as surprised as Victor now looked that he’d forgotten, and went to retrieve his phone from his jacket. “Oh, no,” he muttered as he tried to make his butterfingers work on the screen. “Do you think it’s late?” he asked, looking back at Victor. Normally, he could have done the maths himself, but this suddenly felt like a small emergency.

“Hm, a little after 10 pm, I think,” he said, crossing his arms and laying his head on the back of the couch in order to get a better view at Yuuri in his distress.

“Right.” Yuuri squinted at his phone. He looked over his shoulder. “Glasses?”

“Right here,” Victor said, dangling the hand holding them, and Yuuri didn’t need perfect vision to know he was grinning again.

Instead, he made the productive choice of just retrieving them and seating himself back on the couch. Victor took his phone away for a moment, typed in his Wi-Fi password, and then Yuuri was finally free to dial his home number.

“Hello, I got here alright,” he said sheepishly once his mother answered the phone, and then waited while she whisper-shouted the news to all those at home.

“We’re happy that everything went fine. Those were such long flights,” she said, and Yuuri closed his eyes, just remembering.

“Yeah. I’m sorry I forgot to call when I landed,” he eventually made himself say.

His mother, however, was as nice about that as she was about everything. “Oh, that’s alright. You’re growing almost as forgetful as Vicchan, these days.” Well, almost as nice.

“Hello, mom!” Victor promptly interjected from beside him, probably hearing his name.

“Oh, is that Vicchan? Hello!” So Yuuri took his phone away from his ear and defeatedly pressed the speaker button. “Thank you so much for taking care of Yuuri,” she said. “He was working himself into quite a sulk back home.”

Yuuri closed his eyes. Victor’s, however, gleamed. “Is that so? We won’t let that happen here!”

“I hope so!” she said, and she really sounded thankful. It made Yuuri feel both guilty and happy at the same time. “You’re so good for him, you and Yurio both! Will you give him my good wishes, too?”

“Of course,” Victor grinned, taking the phone from Yuuri’s outstretched hand. “Oh, Yurio made us lunch today!” And he started to recount the day’s events – in a very charismatic fashion – while his mother supplied all the right interjections and questions.  

It was something that Yuuri had observed at home before, but his mother and Victor sometimes had this strange connection in which they mutually made themselves get progressively more excited. Yuuri, seeing that he was no longer needed in the conversation, got up and went to get himself a glass of water, and eventually to check out the acclaimed results of Yurio’s culinary endeavours.

 

Unpacking proved to be a way more difficult task than he’d expected, as Yuuri discovered that night. It wasn’t so much the fact that he had a lot of stuff – which he did, even if Victor still acted surprised every time he said so – as the fact that nothing seemed to fit anywhere. He’d had to stand in front Victor’s desk, one penholder in each hand, for fifteen minutes before finally making himself squeeze them in between Victor’s.

Meanwhile, Victor’s part in the affair had been going at a much faster pace. During the same fifteen minutes, he’d already placed Yuuri’s figurines on his shelves (after prying them from Yuuri’s nearly cold, dead hands), moved his (few) bathroom supplies their rightful place, and would have probably gone on with who-knew-what if his attention hadn’t been caught by Yuuri unconsciously raising a hand to his shoulder as he was taking a closer look at Victor’s miscellaneous book collection.

“You didn’t have any bad falls, did you?” Victor asked, calm but still sounding a bit concerned, after making a note of Yuuri’s sore muscles once more.

“No, I didn’t,” Yuuri assured him, turning back to him now. “It’s just –” He hadn’t found it perfectly easy to relax. Even their hot springs only managed to make him sleepier at the end of long training days. Yuuri shrugged. “I haven’t even realised there was a problem before you –” He stopped, remembering the sensation, with its promise of being uncomfortable but turning out to be much, much better. “I don’t think it’s serious.”

“Neither do I,” Victor said, and waved a hand at the space beside him on the couch. “All the same, let’s see what we can do.”

When Yuuri went to take a seat next to him, he did so with a dull concoction of nervousness and excitement in his belly. It was good that it was evening and that his nap had left him comfortably tired, so that he thought he could enjoy whatever came next. Victor put his hands on his shoulders and angled him a bit to the side, and Yuuri, in lack of anything else, focused his gaze on a yellow, striped blanket that had made its way in between Victor’s blue and grey couch pillows. Then Victor started pressing on his shoulders with his fingertips, probingly, and Yuuri attempted to make his breathing slower, instead of stopping it altogether.

As he continued, trying different methods, Victor seemed to grow more confident, pressing a bit harder when he needed to, making tight circling motions along Yuuri’s spine and in between his shoulder blades. Every now and then, Yuuri found himself closing his eyes, taking deeper breaths, biting his lip while Victor worked over the tenser parts of him.

He’d missed this too – missed having Victor so near him, missed the quiet moments they both seemed to need at times. Granted, Victor had chosen a more hands-on approach to make up for the past months (because this was a first, and even if Yuuri told himself it resembled stretching exercises a little, he knew it too), but it was nice to know that he had been missed, a bit, in turn. Maybe, according to Victor, more than a bit. It wasn’t something that came necessarily as a shock to him, since that would have been ridiculous, but Yuuri was glad to know that he had somehow become a tangible enough part in somebody’s life so that his absence could be felt like this.

As Yuuri’s upper back got distinctly more relaxed, Victor’s movements started getting less calculated, not following a strict pattern anymore, and after a while Yuuri hummed a bit as his hands were just idly running over his shoulders. Then Victor guided him to lean backwards a bit, until Yuuri’s back was against his chest, with Victor softly pressing his cheek to his hair.

It was, indeed, more than Yuuri had grown accustomed to. Victor liked touching and being touched, but so far he had only rarely partaken in prolonged displays of affection. His touches were abundant, but brief, and Yuuri could only recall a couple of times when Victor had been this affectionate. Since he couldn’t know whether this change had taken place because of their separation or just because they were safely nestled in his house, Yuuri wanted to make sure.

“Do you think it was a bad idea?” he asked, raising his right hand to tangle it with Victors, watching the light being reflected in their rings in countless sparks. “Me, staying home these past two months,” he clarified.

After a pause, Victor hummed. Yuuri felt it in his back. “No, not really.” He applied a bit more pressure to Yuuri’s hand. “Did it help?”

“It did,” Yuuri said, still staring at his ring.

“Then it wasn’t a bad idea,” Victor pronounced, simple as that.

It would have been a nice thing for Yuuri to be able to take that to heart as it was. Instead, he persisted. “Would it have been more convenient if I had just come with you then?”

Victor nuzzled his hair a bit, making a sound that let Yuuri know that this was one of these moments when he was being deliberately stubborn. Well, Yuuri knew that already. “Not necessarily. You needed your space and I think I needed mine too. To get my bearings. I did take a one-year hiatus, if you remember,” he clarified when Yuuri turned his head a bit in question.

“I remember,” Yuuri said, biting back a smile. “Did you?” he then asked, hoping for truth. Are you okay?

“Of course,” Victor huffed into his hair, as if the idea was ridiculous, but then he sagged against him once more, and the truth came in the soft, tired syllables of his speech. “It was like a morning run through hell, but I’m sure Yakov enjoyed every bit of it. He had probably been preparing his drills all year.”

By the end of it, he sounded petulant, and Yuuri let out one easy breath of laughter. When Victor let out another dissatisfied sound at that, Yuuri raised his other hand to guide Victor’s head to his shoulder, and encountered no complaints.

Chapter Text

Those events had marked the end of the night for them. So, utterly exhausted once more, Yuuri had barely had a moment to squint up at the hanging lights over the bed. Instead, he’d revelled once more in Victor’s clean sheets, and comfortable pillows, and steady breathing just inches away from him. And, when Victor’s strangely shrill alarm woke them up at 5 in the morning, everything had been too much of a blur for him to notice the lights, once again. Maybe, then, even if he wouldn’t get used to them, he’d end up lacking the time to remember their existence.

“Nervous?” Victor asked, a mere twenty minutes into Yuuri’s first early Russian morning, as they waited at a stoplight. Yuuri had been blearily looking at Victor’s hands on the wheel. It still seemed strange to see him drive.

“I wasn’t,” he said, “until you asked.” Which they both knew was a big fat lie, but Yuuri could afford to be sarcastic in the mornings.

“It will be fiiine,” Victor said, dragging his vowels, and the light turned green. “You’ve seen Yakov at his most stressed, so that won’t be an issue, and the others will like you, or at least not mind you at all.” Oddly comforting, Yuuri thought. Victor made a thoughtful pause and took a turn. “Lilia will be there, though, so be careful around her.”

“That’s very – reassuring,” Yuuri said, stopping midway to yawn.

“I’m a very reassuring man.”

Yuuri snorted, eliciting a hurt noise from his left. “Yeah, right.”

 

It was fine, though. When Yuuri got there, he had no time to marvel at the sheer size of the Ice Palace – it was bigger than his rink in Detroit, though, as he realised after being given a few swift directions. Then, Victor took them directly to stretching, and then to warming up exercises, while everyone else very much minded their own business. There were several people there already, even at that hour, but they seemed to be more preoccupied with their own programmes than with anything else.

Nevertheless, Victor still dragged him around the rink, making him shake everyone’s hand, literally or not, almost as ferociously as Minako used to do. Which was reasonable enough, since Yuuri was going to share the rink with them for at least a year, so he tried not to look like he was in pain while it happened. Some of them he knew already, from competitions, others he didn’t, and he was told that there were still several who weren’t there yet. However, even if not all of them looked friendly, nobody actually looked hostile (or, at least, more hostile than Yurio), so Yuuri took that as a win.

Still, he had to force himself not to be intimidated; had to remind himself that he’d broken a world record not three months before, that he’d proven himself several times over, that he was, truly and definitely, at everyone else’s level in that rink. All these things considered, he still found it laughably difficult not to wish to go and hide himself in the bathroom every now and then.

Then, as more people arrived, the place started becoming more hectic – or, politely said, more animated – and Yuuri, eyes following Victor’s step sequence, could make out snippets in Yurio’s voice somewhere in the near distance, sounding either defiant or irritable. The complaints got closer and closer, and then Yuuri’s shoulders jumped once Yakov started yelling something (undoubtedly instructive) at Victor, from directly behind him. Having soundlessly skated to Yuuri’s side, Yurio added his two cents by sniggering at him, and that was, in a way, the start of their soon-to-be routine.

This was, of course, during the first part of the day, while everyone’s attention span was still at its peak. But, as the day advanced, the skate-to-talk ratio seemed to become, so to say, increasingly more balanced. Victor wasn’t immune to it either:

“So, does this mean you’re employed again? How does it feel?” Mila was asking him – granted, in Russian – sometime after their warm-up had finished.

“As good as ever,” Victor answered her, leaning back on the side of the rink. Yuuri, just beside them, fiddled with his water bottle and attempted to look like he had completely lost both his hearing and his interest in the world. “You know keeping busy is good for your health.”

“Yes, but not too busy,” she said, looking unconvinced.

“Do you really think you can pull it off?” This was Georgi, having just come to join their chat from the other side of the rink.

Victor raised one shoulder and adopted a thoughtful expression as he looked at the ceiling. “Well—”

“Or is this what you plan to use as an excuse if you don’t win gold?” Mila interrupted him, grinning once he gave her a fleeting wounded look.

“Who says I won’t win gold?” he asked, defiant, and Yuuri had to – he just couldn’t help himself – briefly raise his eyebrows, in no direction in particular. It would have escaped anyone’s notice but Victor’s, who now directed the same look from before his way. “Yuuri, you wound me,” he scolded him, promptly, also in Russian.

“Yeah, well…,” Yuuri replied, in English, returning his water bottle to its place, and swiftly gliding away from the silence that had fallen around them. Well, it wasn’t really eavesdropping if they didn’t ask him if he could speak the language beforehand.

 

“Thank you for lunch, yesterday, Yurio,” Yuuri told him later, when they had both finished gathering their things at the end of practice.

“Yes, thank you, Yurio!” Victor also said, although he was just now untying his skates.

“Not like I had a choice, with him hanging over me like a hungry hawk,” Yurio said, pointing at Victor.

They had ended up eating it at around five in the afternoon, after Victor had finished his cheerful conversation with Yuuri’s mom, and made such a slow affair of it all, with Victor stopping between every bite to gather ingredients to yet another topping combination, and then having Yuuri try it first, that by the time they had finished they both agreed to have no more dinner plans for the day. There had been something very peculiar about eating by themselves in Victor’s kitchen, with Makkachin soundly asleep back on the couch and only a wall lamp for lighting (out of courtesy for Yuuri’s still fresh aversion to hanging lightbulbs). It had been very quiet, more quiet than Yuuri, born and raised in a tourist inn, was familiar with, and very unhurried, as if they had all the time in the world, as if they’d be doing that a lot more from now on.

It had almost felt like – home life.

Yuuri caught himself fiddling with his ring again. “Oh, right, you should come and join us for dinner tomorrow, Yurio,” he heard Victor say from the benches behind him, and realised he’d drifted off for a moment there. “Yuuri’s cooking.”

“I am?”

“You are?” Yurio turned to him, expression suddenly sharp, like he was examining him. “What are you making?”

“Uh, I don’t know?” Yuuri answered.

“Sukiyaki!” Victor also answered, strangely sure of himself for somebody who had once admitted to burning a boiled egg.

“You only want that because you heard mom talk about it yesterday,” Yuuri looked back at him, expression torn. “Can’t I just make pasta or something?” Victor’s face suggested that that wasn’t an acceptable solution.

“Well, whatever,” Yurio intervened before he could say anything. “Just don’t eat it all, whatever you make. I’ll come by later.”

 

It took almost the entire ride back to Victor’s apartment for Yuuri to explain why his choice of dish wasn’t a viable option and that they shouldn’t just go on another overly expensive shopping trip just to change that. Instead, they decided they’d make preparations and try their hand at a homelier sort of stew. As for today, they would figure something out.

That had to wait, though. Because, as soon as they stepped back in the apartment, Yuuri knew two things: 1) that he was dying for a bath, and 2) that he still had to tell some people that he wasn’t dead. One thing at a time.

The bath took a rough twenty minutes. Once he stepped outside, in the distinctly colder air of Victor’s living room, Yuuri found him still in his shirt and sweatpants, sitting on the floor and taking close-up photos of Makkachin’s nose. Yuuri considered dragging him, along with himself, back in the warm confines of the bathroom, and stay there and make themselves busy until the weather turned. It was, indeed, tempting, but also a slightly premature line of thought, so, in the end, he shook his head and discarded it as such.

“Your phone has been buzzing continuously," Victor told him, then raised his phone from Makkachin’s face to Yuuri’s, and took a picture.

Yuuri held his bathrobe closer to himself. It was time for step two. “Go take a shower,” he said, distractedly running his hand through Victor’s hair as he went to retrieve his phone.

Step two was composed of a few smaller steps, like a smaller and less paradoxical Zeno’s paradox. First, Yuuri had to unpack another set of clothes. Once he’d done that, the inconsequential thought that he might as well unpack all his clothes and have it done with crossed his mind, and was swiftly brushed aside. Then, he had to dig his laptop and charger out of his backpack. He did that, and then settled in the armchair Victor also had in his living room (Makkachin could go on hogging the couch), connected the Wi-Fi, and signed in. Finally, he video-called Phichit.

“I was this close to checking the black market to see if anyone offered your skates for sale,” was the first thing Phichit told him. “Hello,” was the second.

“Hi,” Yuuri said with an apologetic smile. “It’s alright. I’m all in one piece.”

“I can see that,” Phichit said, squinting at the screen as if to make sure. He appeared to be back at home, in his room, and his bed was covered in papers, which reminded Yuuri that Phichit still had a couple of years of college to go. “How’s Russia?” Phichit asked, hugging his knees to his chest and resting his chin on them.

Yuuri hadn’t been outside long enough to get an impression, so he looked out the window right beside him. The sky was a bluish grey, and it seemed to be raining again. “Cold,” he said, turning back to his laptop.

Phichit laughed. “Well, that’s a surprise. You should’ve come here, I haven’t worn a cardigan in ages.”

If that was a silent jab at the fact that Yuuri had swaddled himself in a hoodie in a decidedly non-springtime fashion, he chose to ignore it. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said instead, hearing the shower being turned off.

“You always say that,” Phichit grinned. “How are the living arrangements?”

Yuuri took a quiet, thoughtful breath. “Well, they are—” Victor walked out of the bathroom, shrouded in a dark blue bathrobe, hair dripping. He put a finger to his lips. “—nice. I mean, there were some... unusual bits,” said Yuuri, inadvertently glancing up at the lightbulbs hanging over the kitchen. Victor followed his line of sight, then narrowed his eyes at him. Yuuri narrowed his eyes right back. “But, overall, yes, they’re quite nice,” he concluded, returning to the conversation at hand with a smile.

“That doesn’t sound suspicious at all,” Phichit said, a wide and innocent grin on his face. “I’ll want pictures, at some point, unless you had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.”

Yuuri laughed. “No, I did not.”

“Then there’s no excuse,” Phichit decreed, and leant back on his bedframe. “Did you figure out what you’re going to do for the season?”

“Not yet,” Yuuri said with a pained expression, briefly glancing at the ceiling as if asking for some divine intervention.

On the other side of the room, Victor was poring over a couple of mugs while waiting for a kettle to boil. Makkachin, noting the sound of something going on in the kitchen, left the couch and went over to inspect. Somehow ready for it, Victor promptly offered him some biscuits.

“Celestino got even more determined after the Grand Prix, so now we’re trying to put together the ultimate programme,” Phichit sighed, but there was that same determination in his eyes, hidden under a layer of exhaustion. “I’ve listened to so many different music pieces. It won’t be ready in time for Worlds, but I’m still going to meet you there, okay?”

“Of course,” Yuuri said. Something suddenly settled in his mind, and he blinked. “It still seems a bit surreal,” he added after a moment, blushing slightly at saying that aloud, in front of both Phichit and Victor. Still, with the apartment being as it was, Yuuri supposed he ought to get used to it.

“The competing part? Because if you’re talking about being qualified, I’m ending this conversation right now, getting on a plane, and forcing you to take a dip in the Baltic sea.”

Yuuri laughed, and he thought he heard Victor snort too, but he immediately raised his hands placatingly in front of him. “The competing, the competing. It’s just, I haven’t really allowed myself to think about the possibility of future competitions, all of last year.” He shrugged. “I’m still adjusting.”

“Well, we’re all very glad you’re still with us,” Phichit said, and, upon hearing how that sounded, stopped and raised his eyes upwards, as if sending a silent prayer of thanks for Yuuri not having faced an untimely death. His smile was back in full force the next moment, however. “Seriously, though. We’re all excited.”

An affectionate smile made its way on Yuuri’s face. “Me too.” Then he looked up to see Victor holding a cup of tea out to him. “Oh, thank you,” Yuuri said, taking it in both hands.

“Hello, Victor,” Phichit said, at which Victor smiled and, in lack of a better alternative, crouched beside Yuuri’s armchair in order to take a look at the screen. “Thanks for taking care of Yuuri.”

Victor smiled even more widely. His hair was still damp, Yuuri noted. “That’s the third time somebody’s said that to me over just two days,” he said, in an unexpectedly proud tone. “Hello. I hope you and Celestino are doing well.”

“Of course, we are,” Phichit said, just as Yuuri, after a moment of mental calculation, mouthed Who has been saying that to you?

Still half-kneeling beside the chair, Victor transferred his gaze from the screen to Yuuri’s face. “Well, the second one was your mother,” he said, and raised himself up. “The first one was Yurio, of course. Nice to see you, Phichit,” he added, with one last sunny smile, before getting out of the camera’s range.

Yuuri might have fallen into a whirlwind of confusion if Phichit hadn’t been quick to pull him back into the conversation. “Likewise,” he first said, ever friendly, in reply to Victor, then raised an amused eyebrow at Yuuri. “You mom is turning into quite a fan, isn’t she?”

Well, no, Yuuri certainly hoped it would not get to that level. He allowed himself an eye-roll. “She’s just excited she found somebody to practice her English with,” he said, at which Victor, on his way to the bedroom, stopped and clutched melodramatically at his heart. “She likes him an adequate amount,” he admitted, bringing the tea to his mouth.

It wasn’t very strong, but it was mildly bitter, with no sugar, lemon, or milk in it. Yuuri thought he tasted predominantly liquorice and mint, and was glad that it had been given to him hot. After a long day’s work, even if he hadn’t known he’d needed it, it was more than welcome.

“If you say so,” Phichit conceded, then looked at his buzzing phone. “It’s time for the evening run. Okay, Yuuri. Don’t let me wait for several days next time something exciting happens, alright?” he admonished with fake sternness. “Don’t be a stranger,” he said, and smiled.

“I won’t,” Yuuri smiled back. “Talk to you soon.” As he didn’t think he needed his laptop anymore now his talk with Phichit was over, he closed it and placed it carefully on the shelf beneath Victor’s TV set, conveniently set beside his armchair. Then, he looked around. “Did Yurio seriously tell you that?”

Victor had left the bedroom door open, but, from where he was, Yuuri couldn’t see him. “Well, he didn’t articulate it quite so nicely, but I got the gist of it. I remember him saying something about suffocating rink atmosphere if we fought and how we’d better not try to sabotage him in such a roundabout way. I think a couple threats have been involved, too.”

Yuuri was strangely touched.

“I’d better make him a good dinner, then,” he said, taking another gulp of tea.

“As I would also benefit from that, I second that motion,” Victor said, grin apparent in his voice. “Tomorrow, though. There’s time.”

He guessed there was. Finally giving in to curiosity, however, Yuuri got up and took himself and his mug of tea in the direction of the bedroom. “What are you doing there?”

Once in the doorway, he saw Victor kneeling at the foot of the bed, an interested look on his face. “Helping you finish unpacking,” he said simply, looking through Yuuri’s open trolley.

Yuuri abstained from yelping and held his mug more firmly in front of his chest. “That’s… really not necessary,” he tried.

“Well, you didn’t seem in a hurry to do it, and I’m faster at it, so – Aha!” Victor held up a large brown T-shirt and got himself to his feet.

A single whimper escaped Yuuri’s throat as he caught a glimpse of its faded colour. He’d loved that T-shirt; it had been his comfort, mental health wear whenever he’d felt down – in high school. Now it was just an old thing, but, as it had been mentioned, Yuuri had taken most of everything, and he’d thought maybe he could continue using it as pyjamas…

“Just—” he sighed, and held out one hand for it.

But Victor was inspecting it quite attentively. “It’s quite big, isn’t it?”

Force of habit – Yuuri had always instinctively bought loose shirts, just in case. With his moods and his weight being two mismatched rollercoasters, one going up whenever the other one went down, it had just seemed safer.

“I guess.”

“Soft, though,” Victor said, placing the T-shirt on the bed. “Well, then,” and he sounded like he’d taken a decision, but all Yuuri saw him do was reach for the cord of his bathrobe.

“What are you doing?” he asked and, not knowing what to do in this situation, took another gulp of tea.

“Getting changed,” Victor said, letting the robe fall to the floor.

In that? “Why?”

Victor shrugged, stepped into his pyjama pants from the night before, and pulled Yuuri’s old T-shirt over his head. “There,” he said, self-satisfactorily.

Yuuri drank some more tea. Victor had been right; the shirt looked big on Victor too, who, although taller than Yuuri, had a slightly leaner frame. Yuuri felt a bit bad on its behalf. After all the two of them had been through, he didn’t think that T-shirt had ever dreamt it would be worn by Victor Nikiforov, on a rainy afternoon in Saint Petersburg, in Victor’s own apartment, while Yuuri himself would just be drinking tea. Well, both Yuuri and his shirt had come a long way.

Victor took a seat on his bed, and then just looked at Yuuri, and Yuuri looked back at him, and had no idea what was expected from him, although he was dimly aware that something probably was. His mug was empty, though, so he put it on the closest available surface, a short table of sorts, and seated himself beside Victor.

Victor’s hand reached for a strand of hair that was reaching past Yuuri’s ear. He pushed it back, and then shifted so he could face Yuuri better and did the same with the strands on the other side of his face, until he had both his hands at the back of Yuuri’s head. “If you let it grow for a few more months, we could tie it in a very small ponytail.”

Yuuri let out a breath of laughter. “Should I let it get that bad?”

“It’s not bad,” Victor said, frowning. “I like it.”

Yuuri smiled. He was feeling warm all over again. “You should dry yours,” he offered, and as soon as Victor’s hands were out of his hair Yuuri reached for his in turn. It was still damp, but the hairs on top had started drying, and curling just the tiniest fraction with the humidity.

His hand trailed downwards over Victor’s cheek, and Victor just leaned into the touch, eyes closed and lips barely brushing Yuuri’s palm. Yuuri’s heart stuttered, but kept on beating steadily. He could count all the times they’d ever kissed on the fingers of both hands, and still have some to spare. It looked like Victor intended to change that from now on, one way or another.

They said absence made the heart grow fonder, or something like that, Yuuri recalled, sceptically. But his heart had never felt fonder than it did now, with Victor so close and so open in front of him. Those bits and pieces of him that Yuuri had fallen in love with at first had dug and cut into his hands as he’d held them, but his heart had just made Yuuri’s stronger once it had been given to him, like a second skin over everything he held dear.

“I was worried,” he admitted, voice almost a whisper as he watched Victor open his eyes again. “Before I came here. I know maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was.” His eyes were so blue; they looked like the ocean in summer, not a frozen pond. “I thought, perhaps – whether you’d taken yours off.”

It was his ring hand which caressed Victor’s face then, and Victor grasped it in his, and brought both their hands between them. “I don’t think that’s how engagement rings work,” he said, looking down at them, so small and delicate, but shining so brightly under the dozen lights above them. “At least, not without the people engaged talking about it first.”

Yuuri bit his lip, helplessly. “Were you serious about that?”

Victor looked at him. “Were you?”

Yuuri thread their fingers together, only a bit shakily. “Of course.”

“Of course,” Victor echoed, bringing his lips over their entwined fingers. Yuuri wished he could do the same, but, in return, he just leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the crown of his head. Then Victor looked up, slowly, and Yuuri pressed a kiss to his lips too. “Such a worrywart, what are we going to do with you?” Victor asked, pushing Yuuri’s hair behind his ear.

For his part, Yuuri tried to grin, and then to laugh, but he mostly felt like crying. So, when Victor’s arms went around his shoulders and pulled him into a hug and he let them both fall back on the bed, Yuuri just clung to him right back, and let himself breathe.

 

They did finish unpacking, too, shortly after the emotional moment was ended by Victor sneezing, and Yuuri ushering him to find his blow-dryer. Yuuri’s clothes formed a couple neat stacks in Victor’s wardrobe, his shoes carefully placed in between Victor’s boots and sneakers, training journals and various trinkets sprinkled all around Victor’s shelves and tables.

“You didn’t bring a lot of books,” Victor said, leafing through a Japanese volume of short stories.

He was right, of course. Yuuri had only managed to squeeze in three or four, with a heart as heavy as his backpack, and those mostly in case he’d need some quiet comfort. The rest of his books he’d left at home, together with his college notebooks, and pretended they were not real travelling material. He hadn’t taken that many books with him in Detroit either, after all, so why ought this be any different? That was how his mind had worked, at the time.

“They were hard to carry,” Yuuri shrugged, running his fingers over Victor’s music albums, neatly stacked at eye-level. “I figured I could just find something here, if I really wanted to.”

“Hmm,” Victor said, closed the book, and got up. Just as Yuuri had been practicing his Russian with him, he’d been trying to learn basic spoken Japanese while living in Hasetsu, but the written form was still pretty much incomprehensible for him. “Let’s go out.”

“Huh?” Yuuri turned to him. “Where?”

“We need to show you around, don’t we?” He was already putting Makkachin’s collar on. “Also, since we didn’t get to do it yesterday, celebrate your arrival with some traditional food, so there’s dinner.”

Yuuri had been half expecting a simple home-practice routine for the entire week, and maybe some sightseeing during the weekend, but he was happy enough to oblige now, and go and get changed into more adequate evening wear. By the time Victor was putting on his coat, Yuuri didn’t know whether he or Makkachin was more eager to be going out. This was Saint Petersburg, after all.

Victor took a look at him, silently buzzing in place, and smiled. “You seem excited.”

To which Yuuri just shrugged, took Makkachin’s leash from him, and let Victor lead them out of the apartment building and into the dark streets of the city.

The air was crisp with the recently fallen rain, and it made everything more vivid, from the dark blue-grey of the old buildings to the bright orange of the street-lights. “I was thinking,” Yuuri started, then looked at Victor. “Do you go running around here? Could you show me?”

He’d been thinking of it since Phichit mentioned his evening run, when Yuuri realised that this was not the remote town of Hasetsu anymore, so he probably couldn’t just go running wherever he pleased. Back in Detroit, Celestino had shown them a good route or two, in case they felt like it. He thought it might be nice if he had something like that here too. Especially since, as he’d already noticed, Victor’s apartment didn’t look like it could offer too much privacy or, well, alone time.

“Sure,” Victor said, and pointed around them. “I usually went that way, then past the residential area and steadily westwards. You can get to the river, if you keep that way.” The streets were pretty empty around this time; he reached for Yuuri’s hand. “We could go tomorrow morning.”

Feeling his cold fingers, Yuuri tried to cover them with his as much as possible. “Tomorrow? At, like, what? Four in the morning?” he asked, sceptically.

“We needn’t always be there at first light,” Victor grinned.

Yuuri raised an eyebrow. “Awfully early to be already making concessions. What will your coach say?”

“The same thing he always says, I assume.” He glanced at him with a sly look. “What about yours?”

Yuuri pretended to ponder over it. “Probably that it’s his dog’s fault for eating the alarm clock.”

Victor waved a hand, dismissively. “Who needs an alarm clock when they’ve got a dog and a fiancé?”

It very softly knocked the breath out of Yuuri, but he elbowed him nonetheless.

So, Victor took them towards the river, which they reached sooner than Yuuri had expected, in around half an hour, past the Summer Gardens, and then the Mikhailovsky Garden, where they made a detour and went to pass by the Mikhailovsky Theatre and the Russian Museum too, before they started walking towards the river again.

Victor claimed that it wasn’t as impressive as Barcelona, but Yuuri could see that he liked being there, no matter what he said, and he could relate; there was a kind of pleasant feeling which could only arise from familiarity. It was the same for Yuuri, back home. Nevertheless, Yuuri loved seeing Saint Petersburg like this, at night, with a happy dog on his left and a relaxed Victor on his right, peppering their conversation with snippets from his childhood.

They were just past the Stroganov Palace when Victor declared that it was time for dinner, and he pulled them into the first restaurant with outdoor tables they found, encouraging Makkachin to sit very clandestinely under the table. And the wind was chilling, but the food wonderfully warm when it finally arrived, tasting differently and better than any attempts at various Russian recipes Yuuri had experimented with in his teenage years.

Victor took their first picture together in Russia that night. At first, its existence jarred a bit with the residual feeling of surreality Yuuri still had about him, but, once they got back home, he took several opportunities to keep gazing at it, until it finally clicked into place, and he grinned, and asked Victor to please send it to his mother too, and then used the chance to surreptitiously take a picture of Victor too, fiddling on his phone on the couch, Makkachin half draped over his lap, and his mom got two different pictures that night. Tomorrow, maybe, he’d start taking even more, and thus keep his promise to Phichit too.

 

Many different things happened on those first weeks of Yuuri’s living in Russia. He found that Victor disliked getting up in the mornings, although he always did, that he would lie in bed, half-awake and pillow-wrinkled, for hours, if he could have his way. He found out that Makkachin was a furnace when hugged by two people at the same time, and that both him and his owner were little spoons, if given the chance and choice. He found that he liked Yurio’s breakfast cereals and the sharp, fresh lemon-and-carrot juice Victor sometimes made in the morning.

He also found that he didn’t mind training around other people as much as he’d feared, and that the other skaters had been politely curious about him until then, and quite open to being friendly now that he was there, and that they hadn’t made so many assumptions about his character as, again, he’d feared. He realised that he liked Yakov, with his professional sternness and hard-won experience, but also with his sporadic moments of humanly irritation. He also discovered that he shared an enthusiasm and admiration for Yurio’s progress with Lilia, and that, while she was one of the most intimidating people he’d ever met, he kind of envied Yurio having her as an instructor. When he’d vaguely mentioned that in a discussion with Victor and Mila, both of them had passionately urged him to ask her to mentor him too, but Yuuri guessed he needed a lot more months of acclimatising before he could get around to doing that.

Moreover, on that first week, Yuuri started realising something that was only to become more eloquent in his mind over the following months. That was, that having Victor as a coach while Victor himself was coached by Yakov was a complicated and tiring affair, for all those involved. Thus, it was hard on Yakov, who now saw it as his civil duty to instruct Victor both on skating and on being a coach, and even sometimes to bypass yelling at Victor altogether and yell constructive criticism directly at Yuuri. It was hard on Victor, who was being coached on two different levels, often at the same time. And it was hard on Yuuri, who suddenly found himself having two coaches instead of one, and both equally hard to please. It was as beneficial as it was tiring.

“He likes you, but I’ll always be his favourite,” Victor said one day, playfully, right after Yuuri had got a shorter scolding than him.

“Even when you won’t win gold?” Yuuri asked, feigning innocence.

Victor’s hair had become dishevelled during their exercises, so now it fell comically in his eyes as he stared at Yuuri in honest surprise, mouth slightly agape. Then, surprise turned into something both proud and challengingly defiant.

“We’ll see about that.”

Yuuri grinned. “I guess we will, won’t we?”

 

Now they were halfway through their second week, relishing a nice, late morning finally spent at home, as they had agreed to go to practice in the evening, for once. And – they were making lunch. Yuuri couldn’t make up his mind whether Victor was dicing peppers or the peppers were dicing Victor. It was a rather even match.

He was watching each round from pretty close by, leaning back on a counter, arms loosely crossed over his chest, and Victor, after adding the peppers to the steaming pot they had prepared on the stove, took a look at him and seemed thoroughly pleased.

“You’re like a blooming flower,” he said.

Yuuri blinked, and then arched an eyebrow. That was scarcely how he felt, dressed in sweatpants and one of Victor’s old T-shirts, from when he’d gone on one of Yakov’s junior summer camps. He felt more like a very lazy and comfortable jellyfish, which he wasn’t sure was good or bad. Still, he asked: “I am?”

“You are.” Victor took the wooden spoon Yuuri had been holding in his hand, swirled it a couple of times around the pot, and turned back to him. “You kept yourself pretty closed-off when you first came here, but you’ve been slowly coming into bloom ever since.” He grinned. “Pretty soon, you’ll be in full flower and asking me to dance Paso Doble in public once again.”

Yuuri hid his face in his hands. “I think I preferred my metaphors better,” he muttered.

“I’ll admit they had a certain charm.” Victor reached for his hands and pulled them away from his face. A sudden distressed look passed over his features. “What are we going to eat when one of us wins something, now?”

“Borscht?” Yuuri offered, with a chuckle.

No,” Victor whined, holding tighter onto his hands. “Do you think we could use express airlines after each competition? We could warn your mom beforehand, so she’d have time to cook for us.”

Yuuri said, “You know I could just make it myself.”

“I know.” Victor’s thumbs traced circles over Yuuri’s wrists. “But it wouldn’t be the same, and I can’t just give you orange juice and toast every time you win.” He sighed. “Besides, I miss your mom.”

Yuuri smiled. “I miss her too.”

“I miss sleeping on the floor and not waking up with a cold,” Victor went on.

“I miss the sound of people talking downstairs,” Yuuri said, and was surprised to know it was true.

“I miss being in the hot springs on cold nights.”

“I miss my room.”

Victor paused, and Yuuri blinked, and then pressed his lips in a thin line. He hadn’t meant to say that. He looked down at where their hands were still clasped together.

“It’s not – as bad as it sounded,” he tried.

“No, I know,” Victor said, loosely interlacing their fingers. He was looking down too, a pensive expression on his face, when his gaze seemed to catch on something, and a sad smile bloomed where the pensiveness had been. “You know, I expected to love it on that first camp,” and Yuuri realised he’d been looking at his shirt. “In a way, I did, there were so many new faces, but – it was a month of sharing a room with three other people, and not one of them overly quiet.” He sighed. “It was easier to just practice until you’d black out as soon as your head hit the pillow.”

“It’s not that bad,” Yuuri said again.

“I know,” Victor said.

“I’m still getting used to it,” Yuuri went on, more restless.

“I know.” Victor let go of one of his hands to thread his through Yuuri’s hair. “But if you can’t, tell me.”

Yuuri guessed that he could. He knew what homesickness felt like, and he knew what others intruding into his personal space felt like too, and he could tell the difference. Most of it was just a passing mood, this he knew. It wasn’t like Victor was intruding in any way, since they understood each other on that level. Rather, it was his constant, nearby presence that Yuuri still had to get accustomed to. It wasn’t really uncomfortable, but it wasn’t as comfortable as living alone either, on certain levels. Somehow, he’d got a bit too accustomed to being home again, too quickly, and he missed that.

Besides, there were several things about this that he liked.

Victor sighed. “I’ve been trying to do too many things at once again, haven’t I?”

“The fourth sightseeing evening in a row was a bit much,” Yuuri said.

“I knew it,” Victor breathed out in an only slightly melodramatic way, but afterwards they let a comfortable silence settle over them.

“I like waking up in the morning, here,” Yuuri said. “It’s very bright and peaceful, and I can look at the sky without even getting out of bed.”

Victor seemed to think for a bit, fingers playing absently with the tips of Yuuri’s hair.

“When I first moved here,” he said, “I would turn off all the lights every evening and just sit on the floor with Makkachin and look over the city and see the windows light up as the sky darkened overhead.”

Yuuri raised his hand to touch Victor’s cheek, and smiled, urging him to smile again too. “I’d like that, too.”

Victor smiled, fingers softly curling in Yuuri’s hair, and leant in until their noses touched. Yuuri was just closing his eyes, hand drifting to Victor’s jaw, when an aggressive bubbling sound came from the pot behind them. Victor drew back and turned to look at it too, looking completely baffled, and they had to suddenly remember how to cook and what they’d put in it and what they hadn’t before letting it simmer.

“See, this is just like my mom said,” Victor declared as he watched Yuuri stir the soup a bit, for appearance’s sake. “Cooking is dangerous, Vitechka, so make sure you become important enough that others will do it for you.”

“Did she really say that?” Yuuri raised an eyebrow at him. It wasn’t often that Victor mentioned his parents; it still sounded a bit strange, sometimes.

“Certainly,” Victor said now, though, hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. “Right after burning a pot full of pasta to cinders.”

“Were you as distracting then as you are now?” Yuuri asked matter-of-factly, lowering the flame under their own pot and covering it.

“I’m hurt that you’d so readily think it was my fault,” Victor said, then prodded Yuuri’s side. “But I’m glad to hear you say I’m distracting.”

Yuuri supposed he’d said much more embarrassing stuff over the past year – in public, no less – so he didn’t argue. Instead, he stepped away from the warmth of the stove and went to the window beside the kitchen and pulled away the curtains. It was sunnier nowadays, and only the slightest bit warmer – they’d stopped covering half their faces when they went running – and, right now, Saint Petersburg looked almost mellow under the midday sun. Farther away, not a sliver of the sea could be seen. Yuuri could smell the salt in the air through memory alone.

“When do you want to visit home again?” Victor asked, looking out the window too.

Yuuri didn’t know; for all his missing home, he hadn’t actually made definite plans of when he’d go back there. So, he shrugged. “Maybe in summer? There would be a few more people around, but it wouldn’t be close to any competition…”

“I think we could manage to get away from Yakov for a couple of weeks,” Victor said.

Yuuri was unconvinced. “You think it would be that easy, after running away from him once?”

“Who knows.” Victor pressed his face into his shoulder. “Like you said, I can be very distracting.”

 

Then – there were the other things Yuuri was gradually getting used to, apart from shared privacy, the coaching death combo of Victor and Yakov, and periodically speaking intermediate Russian with his rink mates. He got used to buying groceries that would last two people and a dog (and, sometimes, Yurio) for at least a week, instead of four people for two days – and learning that there was a difference between the two had been the first step. He got used to having Yurio over more often than Yuuri had expected – at which Victor had told him that Yurio was indeed visiting more ever since Yuuri moved in, which was different kinds of flattering and surprising. And, he was also getting better at finding his way around the neighbourhood, going on walks by himself when Victor slept or needed some time alone to perfect his choreographies.

One change, however, had come sprinkled in the small moments of his new daily life. It had come in the way Victor scooted a bit to the side of the couch whenever Yuuri came into the room, offering him the silent invitation of sitting next to him, even though there was more than enough space even before that. It came in the way that, whenever Yuuri had been sitting there first, Victor gathered all his necessities, threw a large pillow on Yuuri’s lap, and laid his head there, and then went on to read a magazine or check his phone as if nothing had happened. It was the way he kept playing with Yuuri’s hair even after Yuuri told him that, if he kept it up, he’d have no hair left to grow. It was the way he closed his eyes and his breath evened when Yuuri did the same to him.

It was the way Victor turned so pliable under Yuuri’s touches, following his hands with his head, his head with his hands, making their bodies seem to be working like clockwork at every movement, each gesture triggering a complementary one from the other.

“How are my lights now?” Victor whispered one day against Yuuri’s mouth, the words unexpected not the least because just moments before he’d been in the very unrelated process of softly nibbling Yuuri’s lip.

Yuuri raised his eyes to those exact lights, as if almost inviting them to crash on their heads right then, and let out a long breath. “Vitya,” he said, emphatically, and lowered his gaze to see Victor grinning cheekily at him. Instead of pushing him away, however, this time he just sighed once more and pulled him back in.

It was Yuuri getting used to occasionally waking up to the feeling of Victor’s lips on his face, soft and fluttery, until Yuuri opened his eyes enough to see his smile, and then closed them again and hid his face in Victor’s chest, comfortable with sleep in the early morning. It was Yuuri pressing warm kisses to Victor’s face whenever he fell asleep unexpectedly, more tired after the day’s practice than he’d thought himself to be.

It was the look on Victor’s face when Yuuri had seen him gazing at his ring one evening.

It was, in short, the way Yuuri started to feel that they were a couple, and not just two people who happened to have fallen in love. It was something deliberate, and unhurried, and secure. And, even though Yuuri had never felt anything like it before, it felt as easy as breathing – especially since they both knew how hard and painful, but utterly necessary, breathing after a programme was, those lung-shattering moments that slowly eased into breaths that seemed almost effortless by comparison. Little by little, it started feeling like something they could get used to doing for a long, long time.

 

After a month, Victor woke him up earlier than usual on a clear Saturday morning and took them for a drive. Yuuri, because he had no conscientious excuse, such as needing to be up for practice, would have gladly joined Makkachin on the back seat, and made the best of the impromptu ride. They would have had quite a nice nap there, squished together and warm with Yuuri’s hoodie and Makkachin’s fur. Still, he only let himself dream of it, and tried not to yawn too much as he kept Victor company in the front seats.

Victor was working on his empathy; he’d even stopped at a gas station immediately outside Saint Petersburg to let Yuuri buy them coffee. He didn’t say why they were going on a trip, all of a sudden, but Yuuri didn’t press him, knowing that he’d find out, sooner or later. Besides – apart from the rides he took to the Fukuoka Airport and back, and the occasional train or plane trip, Yuuri hadn’t travelled that much. Sure, he’d gone to different cities during his competitions, and he’d lived for five years in Detroit, but these were still more like fixed points he’d visited. He couldn’t remember the last time the travelling itself had been part of the journey.

So, this was nice. And Victor took them to the sea.

“Ah, the air is much fresher here, isn’t it?” Victor said as he stretched after the almost two-hour drive.

Of course, they had already been to the sea in Saint Petersburg. They had taken the ferry a couple of times, and generally did as much sightseeing as Yuuri could take on a weekly basis. But this was in a more remote place, surrounded by woods, and Victor was right – the air felt fresher. It felt closer to the real sea than the docks back in the city.

After locking the car, Victor strode towards the trees, certain that they would follow. He wasn’t wrong, of course, since Makkachin was already running into the leafage ahead like he, too, had been missing the greener surroundings of last year, and Yuuri reached his side after a few more hurried steps.

“I’d forgotten what having anything else than concrete under my feet felt like,” Yuuri said, crushing twigs and old leaves as they advanced among the trees.

“And ice,” Victor added, helpfully.

“And ice,” Yuuri conceded.

“It is a shame, isn’t it? It’s a lovely city, but over the past year I’ve grown – less accustomed to its urbanity,” Victor mused, pushing a branch away from his face. “You’ve spoiled me, Yuuri. You, and your whole family, and your neighbours.”

Yuuri laughed. “I’m glad.”

“What a cruel thing to say, after I’d spent so much time making my apartment look so nice,” he said, but, for once, he didn’t sound hurt at all.

“I’m sure you’ve complained once or twice about how rural we were, last year.” He could hear, now, faintly, the cries of some sea birds.

“Just making an observation, not complaining,” Victor said, and then looked at him. “Still, what are we going to do?”

They sidestepped a few scraggly bushes and, quite abruptly, there it was – the sea. Makkachin was running towards a few birds who’d been resting on the rocks covering the ground from the treeline to the water, and the wind suddenly started pushing Yuuri’s hair every which way. He looked to the side, to see if Victor was having the same problem, and saw him gazing nostalgically at the scenery.

There were no more shards to be gathered from him, however. When Yuuri looked at Victor Nikiforov now, it was Victor that he saw, whole and intact, with no tell-tale fissures of a fragmented self. Yuuri reached out for his hand, warm despite the cold wind.

“Maybe we could make both work,” he started, uncertain at first, but talking more clearly as the idea felt more right in his head. “For a few months, each year. We could open up a room and you could leave just enough at our place so that you wouldn’t need to always go to the trouble of always packing before we go there, and – it would be...,” he hesitated, but then he looked at Victor, who was watching him with something akin to hope, his hold steady on his hand, and went on. “Home. Whenever you wanted it to be. It could be home.”

Victor seemed to take a very careful breath. “And then?”

“– and then we could come back here, and be happy that there’s a grocery shop five minutes away instead of forty, and it would be home too.” Yuuri hadn’t felt his heart beat so painfully since he very abstractedly proposed to him in December.

“For you, too?” Victor asked, quietly, squeezing back once Yuuri clasped his hand tighter and nodded. “Then, does that mean you are finally going to move in with me?”

Yuuri’s eyebrows scrunched up in confusion. “But I moved in with you a month ago.”

“Really?” Victor feigned candid surprise for a heartbeat. “To me, it looked like you just thought you had a place to stay while training.”

Yuuri pressed his lips together with a torn expression, wanting to contradict him, but also realising he was right. He turned his gaze away out of habit, looking at the wind pushing a few small waves over the rocks, but when Victor threaded their fingers together he had to look back at him.

“Will you move in with me, Yuuri?” he asked, hair pushed back by the wind, so that Yuuri could fully see his face, alight with fondness and hope and happiness.

He bit his lip. “Sure.”

“Great!” Victor beamed like Yuuri had just told him he’d beat every world record there ever was in the upcoming season, including those Victor himself planned to beat. “We’ll send for your books tomorrow.”

“What?” Yuuri asked, but he was already laughing, a bubbling sort of feeling that was making him feel light as snow.

Victor had started pulling them from one rock to another, along the shore, down to where Makkachin had found a family of birds sitting on a higher rock, not to be reached. “And we’ll call your mom and ask her for her book of recipes. She could make a copy, couldn’t she?” he turned to Yuuri, in excited concern.

“I guess,” Yuuri said, still unable to control his grin. “I do know most of the recipes, you know…”

“It wouldn’t be the same. I need to practice on my own,” Victor dismissed him.

After only a moment of imagining Victor going through all the processes included in only one of his mother’s dishes, Yuuri let out a nervous breath. “Not unsupervised, though.”

“I’ll be fine, Makkachin will be there.” At the sound of his name, Makkachin came bundling towards them, spraying sand and twigs and smaller stones in his path, until he jumped on Victor, effectively turning his dark trousers grey. “Besides, it would be a good exercise to practice my Japanese.”

“I doubt you’ll have that many opportunities to talk about my mom’s miso marinade in daily conversation,” Yuuri said, in Japanese, just to make a point.

Victor had been crouching in order to pet Makkachin better, but now he looked up at Yuuri with seemingly innocent eyes. “I love you too.”

Although it took every ounce of strength in his body, Yuuri pressed his lips in an unimpressed line. “You know that’s not what I said.”

The innocent look melted into a more characteristic, knowing smile. “Isn’t it, though?”

Well – he wasn’t wrong, once again. “I love you,” Yuuri told him, in Russian, and crouched beside Makkachin too.

“And I love you,” Victor said once again, this time in Japanese, which made Yuuri bite his lip against a jaw-aching smile.

“Makkachin too,” he said, once he couldn’t contain the smile anymore.

Victor laughed. “Makkachin too, of course.” An excited tail wagging announced them that their feelings were very much reciprocated. “I’m glad you’re here, Yuuri.”

Yuuri nodded; he was glad too, as difficult as it had been for both of them. “Let’s do our best,” he said, meaning everything.

“Of course,” Victor said, pushing some of Yuuri’s hair out of his eyes. “I would offer us nothing less.”

“Good,” Yuuri said, looked into his eyes, blue like the sea behind him, and shared his smile.