Victor is twenty-four and he can't hear a single word that his coach is saying.
Yakov talks his ear off for about ten minutes before he realizes that the silver-haired skater isn't paying attention. The older man sighs and decides to leave his protégé there to stew. Sometimes, Victor is just like this. His coach has learned to stay on the bleachers, giving pointers to the younger people at the rink while Victor zones out, lost in his own head while he continues to spin circles around everyone else.
When the highly-decorated athlete wanders back to Yakov's side, a sleepy smile on his face, he asks, "What should I work on next?" Yakov gives Victor a grumbling list of things he should work on, knowing that he's wasting his breath. Victor just wants to listen to the angry cut of his coach's voice. He's going to ignore every word and do whatever he wants. Luckily, Yakov has been around him long enough to know that he's a good kid - just a bit strange.
He'll let Victor do whatever he wants as long as he shows up to practice on time and he continues standing at the top of podiums. He'll support him and reprimand him and let Victor hug him when Victor's having a particularly tough day.
Whatever it takes, Yakov thinks, trying to remain steadfast and sturdy for the fragile gold medalist. Whatever it takes, Vitya.
When Yuri first moves to St. Petersburg for training, he realizes that Victor likes to sleep. A lot. Perhaps to an unhealthy degree.
Yakov calls a lunch break. Victor is twenty-five and gearing up for another brutal season, creeping into an age that he should no longer be able compete with the teenagers rapidly rising from the junior ranks. He can be blunt and annoying, flipping emotions like a switch, but when the older man calls for everyone to kick off their skates and come to the break room for an hour, Victor disappears.
As the lunch break comes close to its' end, Yakov sighs and puts a hand on Yuri's shoulder. He's only been at the rink for a few months, so he tenses up at the action. Mila and Georgi give him sympathetic looks as their coach begins to speak. "Yuri. I'm sorry to ask this of you, but Vitya...he's in a bit of a mood. Could you find him for afternoon practice, please?"
Yuri looks up with the quirk of his eyebrow. He's never seen Victor as anything else but an air-headed yet calculating monster. Victor Nikiforov is a man full of contradictions, but once his blades touch the ice, he lets his skating speak for him.
The teenager never could have imagined that he would have to try to find the Olympic gold medalist and the current three-time Gold Prix champion to drag him to the ice. He couldn't have foreseen that Victor was the type of person to curl up in the furthest stall of the bathroom, sitting on top of the toilet seat and dozing uncomfortably with his head on the tile. It's dirty, and Victor has a reputation of caring how well his nails are manicured. This kind of behavior is unlike him - Yuri can tell that much.
"Victor," Yuri angrily jabs the man in the shoulder, reeling when Victor blinks awake slowly. "Get up. You need to eat something and get back to work."
"Mm," Victor hums evasively, yawning and heading towards the men's locker room. He smiles and ruffles Yuri's hair, which just annoys the shorter skater. Yuri slaps Victor's hand off and watches the living legend slip back into his skates without saying a word, skating dramatically back to the center of the ice like the interaction had never taken place.
Yakov doesn't say a word.
This isn't the first time Victor's done something so stupid, and it won't be the last.
All the older man can do is make sure Victor gets plenty of rest and is filled with hearty, healthy meals when he finally regains his appetite.
"I'm bored," Victor mumbles on the sign boards when he's twenty-six. Yakov loves his boy to death, but damn, Victor sure can be melodramatic and exhausting. "Yakov, I'm bored. Give me something to do."
"You wouldn't listen to me if I did, so what's the point?" Yakov rolls his eyes. "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know. I want to skate, but I'm so tired. I hate skating." The older man's eyes bug out at that and Victor suddenly closes himself off, realizing that he made a mistake in this admittance. "I'm sorry. That's not what I meant. I'm just...uninspired."
Victor's coach swallows and dryly asks, "So, what? You reach the top of the world, and now you want to retire?"
Ice blue eyes wander off. Victor looks like he's been caught, and anger wells up in Yakov's chest. This boy. "I haven't thought about it. Retirement."
The lie burns both of them.
"You want to take care of your dog, right?" Victor nods at that, looking appropriately cowed. "You want to have your fancy toys and pay rent at your apartment, yes?"
Victor lowers his eyes and sighs. "Yes."
"Then figure something out, stupid boy." Yakov grabs Victor's chin and forces his star pupil to look at him. "You give the ice up when it's your time, and not a second sooner, you hear me?" Victor nods, finally smiling a bit at his snappish antics. "Vitya. You have fun doing this, don't you?"
Victor waits until Yakov's hand drops, then skates in lazy circles. "Being on the ice makes me feel alive. Like my body is real."
He doesn't answer the question, but Yakov refuses to ask him again.
At twenty-seven, Victor is full of renewed vigor. It reminds of Yakov of how he had looked as a child, with a mane of long hair and fresh blue eyes, excited to prove himself to the world. He'd been untarnished, a little bullish and somewhat awkward, but lovable all the same.
Yakov watches his little shit go through the motions every day until that banquet, and even as Victor gets on his plane four months later and Yakov watches it take off, the old coach isn't sure whether he wants to dedicate his life's will to Yuuri Katsuki or murder the Japanese man. He knows that Victor's been dying for something to catch his attention and reinvigorate him for ages. There's only so much reinvention that one can do before they feel the slog of constantly being an imposter catch up with them.
Still. This is far from how Yakov saw Victor's retirement going.
Now, Victor's eyes are energetic and young, and he can't stop smiling. He's not just relying on Yakov and his dog now - now he's got a future. Victor's got something he's willing to lay down all the accolades for, for that one spark of life, one that he's seen off of the ice this time.
Yakov turns Yuuri's name over in his head, trying to get used to the feeling of the words coach, Japan, and Yuuri Katsuki being associated with the emotional rollercoaster named Victor Nikiforov.
The quiet part of his brain says he should just be happy for Victor, but right now, he's still too busy being infuriated with him, so Yakov goes back to his condo and fixes himself a very tall drink.
Yakov watches the news and he's annoyed.
Victor is making a fool of himself overseas. He'd been moments from forgiving his old student and letting bygones be bygones, but now, instead of being a depressed, moping mess, the silver-haired superstar is draping himself all over his student and smothering him with affection. It's like all of those years of misery and vacant eyes finally got wiped out of his mind, and now all the happy feelings in his heart spill over when he's standing next to Yuuri.
Everything he does screams I love Yuuri Katsuki.
Yakov has to keep a tight eye on Yuri Plisetsky, who is driven now that Victor is out of sight. He works on Georgi, who is as emotional as Victor, but he's five times better at vocalizing his thoughts and getting out of his head. The balding man knows that Georgi shows more promise with Victor away in Japan as well.
When he runs into Victor at events, he acts his part as the gruff old man. It's not hard to do - he really is still miffed with Victor for flying out at the drop of a hat and dropping his skating career without so much as a conversation with his coach about his decision. But Victor's so damn happy, he feels a bit bad for jilting him.
Katsuki is a mess and Victor presses himself as close to the dark-haired younger man as he physically can, uncaring of all the reporters' camera flashes going off.
Yakov rolls his eyes and focuses on his own team, too busy to care about Victor and his blushing protégé.
I need your help.
The words rattle in Yakov's brain and he feels his throat close up. He's thrilled about Victor asking for his help - even babbles that he'll help him get back into the competition, but just moments later, when Victor's arms come around his neck, he tenses.
Victor hasn't had an episode in some time - or at least, he hasn't had one in the visible public. He's been nothing but smiles and fluffy feelings since he'd moved to Japan. Yakov foolishly thought that he'd just. Gotten better.
When he runs up and begs Yakov to help Yuuri, Yakov knows that he can't refuse.
Besides, he doesn't want to. He'd never leave a skater in need by themselves. Still, this is a special request from the man who he thinks of as his own son, and Yakov makes sure Yuuri feels welcome to ask for anything that he needs from his team and himself.
Yuuri is a walking ball of anxious energy. Yakov can see why Victor hovers over him and slathers him with hugs and soft words, because Katsuki looks like he might fall to pieces without his coach. In a strange way, Victor falling in love with this man makes sense. Victor likes being responsible for things. This had been the reason his first big purchase for himself after winning the juniors had been a poodle. Yuuri Katsuki is his own man; he stands his ground and powers through the Rostelecom Cup with teary eyes and wobbly legs, but he's still a delicate work of art.
Yakov can tell that they must push each other up when they're both falling down. Yuuri is stubborn and soft at the edges. Victor is blunt and unpredictable and he runs to whatever makes him feel good, and the Japanese man is the type of student that Yakov would love to have.
He's still not pleased with Victor, per se.
But, as Yakov lectures the wide-eyed Katsuki in the Kiss-and-Cry, he does get it.
Victor will be twenty-eight in just a few days, and he's crashing.
He's been with Katsuki for eight months now, but Yakov knows that Victor had been doomed to have some sort of fall out. It's just how Victor is. Eight months with only one minor emotional bump from Victor is a long time. Katsuki's good for him, but not that good. Victor's not perfect, and he's certainly not as composed as he'd like for everyone around him to believe.
Except, this time? This episode isn't just because Victor's struggling with his persona. It isn't because he's lost and searching for something to fill his vacant soul. He's found what he wants, and because the feeling of feeling is so foreign to Victor, he doesn't know how to hang onto it. He's faced with a dilemma that Yakov's been dealing with for years - how to make someone see their worth.
(He's still not sure that Victor had ever actually listened to any of his words of praise. Once upon a time, Yakov had read that people who suffered with depression could hear the praise and relish in it, but still not fully believe it.)
The words visibly sting Yuri Plisetsky.
Yakov can feel Victor's desperate tears hot on his coat.
When Victor returns to St. Petersburg, Yuuri Katsuki hot on his heels, Yakov just sighs.
He's happy that Victor's returning, of course, but this? This is just a mess.
"Vitya," Yakov quietly murmurs, sighing at his clingy student hugging his back and whining. "You are being too greedy. When I told you to live for yourself, I didn't say to go absolutely nuts. Stupid boy."
"Oh, Yakov," Victor hums, "Have a little faith in me!! I've never let you down before, have I?"
Victor has been many things, but he has never been a disappointment. Yakov rolls his eyes. "No. And you better not start now!! Now get to work. You have a lot of catching up to do, and I refuse to go easy on you just because you're getting old. Remember this!"
"I will!!" The silver-haired man kisses him on the cheek before flouncing off to his fiancé's side. Mila wolf-whistles as the two of them grin and tease each other until Yakov snaps.
"All of you stop talking and start skating!" Yakov grumbles to himself as his rink full of teenagers and twenty-somethings start working on flips and jumps and warm-ups.
Before he starts pointing out what they need to work on regarding the basics, he spares a fond glance at Victor and looks at the bright expression on his face, looks at how alive he seems now, and he realizes that he's thankful.
He's thankful to Yuuri Katsuki for helping his boy.
Yakov thinks to himself, I hate getting old and sentimental. Then, he barks out instructions, trying to whip the team into shape for the next season.
It's going to be a rough one, especially if Victor keeps his goals so lofty, but he has faith that the Victor of today will take better care of himself than he had in the past.
Yuuri will make sure of that.