There were a dizzying array of details, but reading the contracts and comparing them to others that Victor had had, they looked fairly standard. If anything, more permissive than a few had been. The amount of money seemed staggering. “Should I get an agent?” Yuuri asked Victor.
“Probably,” Victor said. “I’ll talk to JJ and see who he uses.”
It was nearly time for the practice skate when they escaped the suits to change into their freshened costumes. As they rode over to the rink with Yakov and Yuri, Yakov said, “I talked to the Russian government while you were with the Americans.”
“And?” Victor said, his voice devoid of emotion.
“They yelled. I yelled. Yuri yelled. I honestly think he was the one who made the most difference. They know he’s their best chance for another long dynasty. When he threatened to skate for Japan on the grounds that he was unwilling to skate for a country that refused to protect its citizens from discrimination, I thought they were going to explode. Of course they protect their citizens. It’s in the law. And then Yuri said, ‘And their spouses.’ And they agreed. I cannot believe I’m going to say this, but you might be better off getting married sooner than later.”
“Even though Russia does not recognize…” Victor started.
“They said very rude words about the idea of an unmarried gay lover. It’s a much harder sell, socially, to reject a citizen’s spouse, even if they don’t like or approve of a same-sex marriage, the weight of that in the international community is much greater and much harder to deny. They don’t really think about married people having sex so much, I guess? So there’s maybe less scandal?”
“Why anyone but us needs to be concerned about our sex life is beyond me,” Yuuri said.
“Are we concerned about our sex life?” Victor asked.
Yuri clapped his hands over his ears and said, “Lalalalalalala,” until they all stared at him.
“What?” he said.
“Are you done?” Victor asked.
“Are you?” Yuri shot back.
“IN ANY EVENT,” Yakov said, “You will be safe enough to go back, with private security, but if you are serious about marriage you should do that soon. Things may get very strange once the Americans change their government. No one really knows what’s going to happen, so even in the US they’re telling people to marry sooner. There are reactionary movements all over Europe right now, so what is true this month and in January may not be true in April or next year. Lilia and Minako and I all agree that you have a window of opportunity here to tell your story and establish yourselves as a couple in a positive way. You should save as much of your endorsement money as you can, for the long run, because we don’t know what the climate will be like once you aren’t competing anymore. Not for sure.”
“We aren’t doing anything to be ashamed of,” Victor said. “But Yuuri knows I’d marry him tomorrow if he wanted.”
“Maybe before the European championship?” Yuuri said. “If we can get the paperwork in time?”
Victor grinned. “In January?”
Yuuri smiled and nodded. And blushed.
Getting back on the ice felt good, and strange. It had been over a week since they’d actually practiced together, and most of their 15 minutes of dedicated ice time was not particularly productive, though the light designers managed to get a feel for what was needed. Other skaters started trickling on the ice, including a very excited Minami.
「You won this last year, but you seem happier this year?」 Yuuri said.
「Last year was a fluke. Four top skaters with injuries or major falls. I skated my best performance this year,」 Minami said. 「I’d rather lose with my best than win because other people messed up. But 4th out of 30 isn’t bad, especially when the guy who beat me skated the best anyone’s ever seen in this country. And then asked for me, specifically, to skate in the gala. My score last year would have put me sixth this year. Of course I’m happier.」
「I like watching you skate,」 Yuuri said. 「You have a great style. You just need to work on your consistency. But even when you fall your artistry and recovery are very interesting and good.」
「I’m just amazed I get to skate with you, and with Victor, in the same showcase,」 Minami said. 「Thank you!」
「It’s our privilege.」 Yuuri smiled, and skated back to Victor, leaving a flustered Minami in his wake.
Victor smiled at him and said, “You’re getting so much better at that.”
“I learned from the best,” Yuuri said. “Let’s practice the quad toe loops.”
Yuuri had always had a knack for matching Victor’s pacing and moves, but something had changed, and it was obvious on the ice as they matched stroke for stroke and spin for spin as they rehearsed the jump. They were laughing by the time they came to a spinning stop in each other’s arms. When they looked out, the other skaters were staring at them. The pairs gold medalists skated over.
「Are you going to be doing any throws?」 Ryu Ihara asked in Japanese.
Yuuri laughed. 「No, we haven’t had time to practice any yet.」
「Too bad,」 Miho Suzuki said. 「I’d love to see that. I’d say it’s too bad you can’t compete together in pairs, but I’m glad we don’t have to compete against you.」
Yuuri blushed. 「We just like skating together,」 he said. 「And since I knew his routine, it made sense…」
「We’re rooting for you two,」 Ryu said. He looked down at the ice. 「It… matters to a lot of us.」
「We’re not the first to come out,」 Yuuri said.
「But you show no shame on the ice,」 Miho insisted. 「You skate perfectly, strong, athletic, and you aren’t afraid to play with gender, and you’re calling the shots. You’re making them bend to you instead of just going along with ‘Skaters might be gay but they can’t act gay and boys must be boys and girls must be girls.’」
「I think it is just that I’m not that tactful,」 Yuuri said.
They laughed. 「Whatever the reason,」 Miho said, 「the result is beautiful. If you ever want to learn throws…」
「We’ll be in Russia soon,」 Yuuri said. 「But I’d love to learn.」
Victor, getting bored, draped himself over Yuuri’s shoulders. “Learn what?” he said in English.
“Throws,” Yuuri said. “I bet I could throw you.”
“I already know how to do throws,” Victor said. “It’s the air position you’d have to learn.”
“It would be funny for you to throw each other at different points,” Miho said with a giggle. “I tried throwing Ryu once, but he didn’t go very far.”
“It would be easier to throw Yura,” Yuuri said. “For a little while, anyway. How tall is his father?”
“You know,” Victor said, “I have no idea. His grandfather’s not short.”
The lights flashed, and the skaters made their way off the ice, a knot of people putting on guards just beyond the rail. The Zambonis slid out to wipe the ice clean.
One of the event staffers was posting the order of skating. Yuuri blinked. “We’re last,” he said, pointing.
Victor put his chin on Yuuri’s shoulder from behind. “I see that. Would you not be, normally?”
“Well, then we wait,” Victor said. “It’s what, 2 hours or so until we need to skate?”
“About that,” Yuuri said.
“Come, then,” Victor said, grabbing Yuuri’s hand and dragging him farther from the ice, back into the arena until they found a small, darkened gymnasium with a stack of mats against one wall. “Perfect.”
Victor sat down with his back against the wall on the mats, and dragged Yuuri down after him. “We can have a little quiet time. I’m sure someone will find us eventually, but in the meantime…”
Yuuri looked at Victor, arm stretched invitingly against the wall, and a tiny smile played at his lips as he scooted closer to Victor, then put his head against Victor’s shoulder.
“I want to go home,” Yuuri said. “But I’m not sure where home is anymore.”
“My home is where you are,” Victor said. “But I do believe you earned a bowl of katsudon, and so did I. And I’ve been told that the best katsudon in Japan is found in Hasetsu, at this little onsen, across the bay from an ice rink that will let you practice whenever you want.”
“Are you afraid?” Yuuri asked.
“Of what?” Victor asked.
Yuuri didn’t answer right away, just closed his eyes and pulled a knee up to start unlacing his boot. When he switched feet to take off the other skate, he said, “Of rushing in, of what they might do to us, of making a mistake.”
“I am more afraid they will hurt you. Rushing in… it would be scarier to me at this point in my life to hold myself back when I can see such joy right in front of me. I make mistakes all the time, even with you, but you are not a mistake,” Victor said, leaning forward to untie his own skate.
“I hurt you, though,” Yuuri said. “I’m so afraid that I will hurt you and I don’t want to ever be the one to cause you pain.”
“I’m no expert on relationships,” Victor said. “But I’m pretty certain that you will hurt me, and I will hurt you, and it won’t matter because we will be looking for ways to make it better all the time. I’d rather be with you, and take the chance of pain, than die a slow death of numbness by myself, never having taken the chance. You’ve hurt me more than anyone else ever could, but you’ve also cared more about me than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s worth it.”
“I wish I knew how to be better for you,” Yuuri said. “You’ve been so good to me.”
Victor laughed. “We will figure it out together. You have always been surrounded by people who loved you deeply and hurt you without even understanding they were doing it. I just have to remind myself where you come from, and where we are going, and remember that the times you have hurt me most were the times you either thought you weren’t good enough, or thought you were protecting me. I hope you always care enough to try, even if sometimes it doesn’t work very well. I know that I’ve hurt you, too.”
“You’ve helped me,” Yuuri said, indignation coloring his voice. “You had more faith in me than I had in myself. I like who I am better when I’m with you.”
Victor laughed, and tugged Yuuri back against him. Yuuri resisted and turned to look at him.
“Victor, you’ve done so much for me!”
“Yes, but at the cost of your tears, of making you think that I could ever want anything more than I want you,” Victor said. He reached up and stroked Yuuri’s cheek. “Do not absolve me of my mistakes so easily. I want to do better for you. You deserve better from me.”
Yuuri’s breath hitched, and he leaned into the caress. Then he smiled. “If our goal is to always do better for each other, I’m not sure how we can go wrong.”
“I’m sure we’ll find ways,” Victor said. “But I am on your side, and you are on mine, and as long as we remember that, even when we’re feeling low, I think it might be okay. So no, I’m not afraid of being with you, of marrying you. I fell in love with you when you thought you’d failed the most. Remember that. And you fell in love with me when I was doing something new, badly, and behaving ridiculously. We’ve seen each other at our most inept.”
“I might get fat someday,” Yuuri said.
“And I might go bald,” Victor said. “So? You’re cute when you’re round. It’s just harder to skate that way. Easier to get hurt. Someday we won’t be skating. I think we will still find things to love about each other. We can live next to the ocean and teach young people to fly, and own dogs and go for long walks on the beach.”
“I’d like that,” Yuuri said.
“Oh, I forgot to ask, and maybe it’s important,” Victor said. “Do you want kids?”
Yuuri froze. “I… have never thought much about it. That always seemed like something other people did. Do… Do you?”
Victor was silent for a minute, then said, “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’d be much good at it. I’m very self-centered.”
Yuuri snorted. “You’re really not. You just focus on one thing really hard. Sometimes that’s your skating. Lately it’s been me. If you had a child, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t throw everything you had into being a good parent to that child.”
“True, but maybe since neither of us is desperate to be a parent, it can be a discussion for another time,” Victor said.
“Another decade,” Yuuri said, laughing, and then stopped. “We’re going to be together in a decade, aren’t we?” He buried his face against Victor’s warmup jacket.
“’Til death do us part,” Victor said, and then looked down. “Are you crying? Does this upset you?”
Yuuri shook his head, nose still buried.
Victor pushed Yuuri gently off his shoulder and brought Yuuri’s chin up with his hand. Yuuri’s face was wet, his eyes full of raw emotion. “Hey,” Victor said. “It’s good, yes?”
Yuuri nodded, and then used the sleeves of his own warmup jacket to dash the tears off his cheeks. “I never let myself think of a future beyond skating. I barely let myself think of it at all. And you are giving me everything I never let myself admit that I wanted. It’s just so much. I think part of me assumed always that in ten years I would be working at the onsen, completely forgotten, quietly growing fat while others reached greatness around me.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Victor said. “I can think of worse places to retire.”
“But in that vision, I was always alone. And now… I won’t be, and I’m just afraid I’m going to mess it up.”
“Don’t threaten to leave, don’t try to protect me from you, and tell me what you’re afraid of,” Victor said. “If you can do that, I don’t think there’s a lot of ways you could mess it up. Please believe me… I want this, I want you, I want all of it. With or without kids, or dogs, or any of the rest of it, I want you , and that hasn’t changed since you first asked me to come to you. And it doesn’t feel like rushing.” Victor leaned forward and kissed Yuuri’s cheek. “You’re all salty now.”
Yuuri reached up and brush at Victor’s cheek. “So are you.”
Victor touched his own face, and then smiled sheepishly. “So I am. Look, if you want to wait, I’ll wait for you, as long as you need me to. I’m just a little scared that this window of possibility won’t be open forever, and I don’t want to miss our chance.”
Yuuri straddled Victor’s lap, stocking footed, and cradled Victor’s face in his hands. “I’m going to marry you, Victor Nikiforov. I’ll marry you as soon as you want.”
Victor stared up at Yuuri, eyes wide. “Good,” he whispered.
And then Yuuri was kissing him.
“Ugh, disgusting. Typical. They’re looking for you,” Yuri’s voice broke through their reverie. They broke apart, looking over to the doorway, where Yuri stood with his arm thrown up over his eyes.
“Thank you, Yurochka,” Victor said. “We’ll be there in a moment. I thought we had more time?”
“Your turn isn’t for an hour yet,” Yuri said. “The sponsor lady from Versa wanted to talk to you.”
Yuuri sighed and said, “So it begins.”
“We’ll have plenty of time,” Victor said.
They grabbed their skates, and followed Yuri to meet Gloria.