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The iPhone was on the floor, lodged between the wall and the five-foot potted fern in the Sochi hotel that was currently shielding Katsuki Yuuri from Reporter Morooka. It wasn’t that Yuuri disliked the man, but with the short program for the Grand Prix final starting tomorrow, Yuuri’s nerves were frayed. He didn’t want to think about the upcoming competition. He surely couldn’t afford to waste his energy lying to the public in a futile attempt to sound upbeat and ambitious.

But this? Yuuri picked up the phone, a small smile touching his lips. This was something to distract him from his nerves. He could do a good deed, get his mind off the fact that he was going to perform in front of Vic—in front of thousands of people tomorrow. He could take a little time to find the phone’s owner, and for a few minutes, he could have relief from the onslaught of anxious thoughts that assailed him.

Whoever this phone belonged to was a fellow fan of Victor Nikiforov. The case matched Victor’s free skate outfit from last year.

Yuuri no longer had such a terrible crush on his idol. (No matter how Phichit teased him, he’d outgrown it years ago. He was twenty-three and an adult and too old for that sort of thing. Really.) (Kind of really.) (Fantasies didn’t count, okay?)

Yuuri still watched Victor every time he competed. Good skating was good skating. One couldn’t appreciate figure skating in any capacity and not want to watch Victor Nikiforov.

(“You’ve watched his free skate from the Cup of China twenty times,” Phichit would say, if he were here. But how else was Yuuri to prepare for the competition?)

He banished the imaginary teasing Phichit from his consciousness and turned the phone over. One button press, and he brought up the lock screen—Makkachin.

Cute.

“Whoever you are, you’re almost as bad as I am,” Yuuri murmured. The screen was in English—thankfully—but the phone demanded a passcode.

After a bit of googling for help about how to figure out who a phone belonged to, he tried the medical ID card—which was utterly blank. For a moment, he contemplated leaving the device with the front desk. But he didn’t want to give up so easily. Instead, he slid deeper into the search. “See if Siri is enabled,” someone suggested. Apparently, you could use the virtual assistant to place calls.

Whoever it was had Siri active.

“Call Mom” got nothing. Neither did “Call Dad” or “Call Grandma.”

On a whim, though… This was a skating competition, after all.

“Call coach,” Yuuri tried.

There was a moment while the phone considered this. Then…

“Calling Yakov Feltsman,” Siri replied cheerily.

Yuuri yelped and nearly dropped the phone. “What?”

Before he could fumble his finger on the screen to hang up, Yakov Feltsman—Yuuri recognized his voice from television interviews with his idol—answered.

“Victor,” he said in what sounded like accusatory tones. Then he immediately started shouting at the phone in Russian.

“Excuse me,” Yuuri whispered, but the man just shouted over him. There was nothing to do but wait. Wait until…

The man made a surprised noise and stopped.

“Excuse me,” Yuuri said again.

“Victor’s on the ice in front of me,” Yakov said, switching to English. “Is this one of his jokes? Who is this?”

“I found his phone. I just wanted to get it back to him.”

Reality was beginning to sink in. Oh, holy shitballs. This was Victor Nikiforov’s phone. Yuuri had wanted to dial back his anxiety, not send it shooting to the moon and back.

There was a pause. “Ah. That’s what he was complaining about this morning, then. Is it possible you could leave his phone with the front desk? Victor and I will both be at the rink for practice for several hours still.”

Of course, Yuuri almost said, but some part of him thought about Victor at the rink, and what came out of his mouth instead was this: “I’m actually a competitor at the Grand Prix final myself. I was just on my way to practice at the rink. Why don’t I drop it off?”

His heart slammed in his chest. Stupid, stupid, stupid—why was he putting himself out this way? Yuuri wasn’t supposed to train with Celestino for another forty-five minutes, and the thought of meeting Victor for the first time when he was wearing a track suit of all things…

“Fine,” Yakov said. “See you soon.” He hung up.

Yuuri exhaled and looked at Makkachin on the lock screen.

Fine. It was fine. It was going to be just fine. He’d just hand the phone to Yakov. He wouldn’t even have to look at Victor. It would work out fine.

#

Ten minutes later, he slipped into the rink. He’d changed into skates and a somewhat nicer shirt. There was little to be done to help his hair; the comb had changed it from messy to…still messy.

Yakov Feltsman stood at the side of the rink. The coach was frowning out over the ice, his eyes narrowed at a figure on the other side of the rink. He held a pair of skate guards, which he tapped impatiently against his thigh.

Easy peasy. Yuuri would just slip over there and hand the phone to the coach. He wouldn’t have to say anything to Victor. He crept forward, as silently as he could.

This was… This was, in fact, not silently at all; his skate guards clacked loudly against the concrete underfoot, echoing in the open space almost as loudly as the swish Victor made on the ice. Even from here, Yuuri could tell Victor was practicing a step sequence that he’d made more complex since the Cup of China.

(Whatever you do, Yuuri cautioned himself, do not admit you’ve watched it twenty times.)

“Here.” Yuuri pitched his voice low.

Yakov didn’t so much as turn to him. He swiveled an eye in Yuuri’s direction. “Hmm?”

“Victor’s phone.” He held it out. “I brought it. I’ll just go—”

Too late. Victor himself came skating up, coming to a halt in front of them.

Yuuri had watched him in person in competition before—he’d won the NHK tournament that year—but this was the closest he’d ever been. Up close, Victor’s eyes were a brilliant cerulean. His smile was broad, and he…

He snatched his skate guards from Yakov’s hand and slipped them on.

“You found my phone!” Victor sounded utterly delighted. He bounded from off the ice and plucked his phone from Yuuri’s hands. “You found it! I tried calling it all last night and it wasn’t anywhere. My hero!”

“Uh…” Yuuri shrank back slightly.

Victor just beamed at him. “How can I ever thank you?”

“Ah, saying thank you is enough!” Yuuri took another step back. “There you are. Now you have it! I’m just going to…” He jerked his thumb at the rink. “Go…practice…? For the Grand Prix final?”

Oh, hell, how was he supposed to do that? With Victor watching him, aware of him now on the ice, oh God, he hadn’t thought this through.

“But what about our selfie?” Victor asked.

Yuuri stared at him in hapless confusion. “What selfie?”

Victor slung one arm around Yuuri. “Smile!” The other brought the phone up. Click. Click. Click.

“Um.”

Victor didn’t take his arm from around Yuuri’s shoulder. Instead, he peered at the screen, frowning at the possibilities. “Is this pic okay to share?”

Yuuri hated looking at pictures of himself. His hair had started sticking up again. And he had that horrible star-struck smile on his face. Plus, he was blushing, and blushing always made him look so young.

“Aaaaaah.” Yuuri winced. “I look so…”

Victor winked at him. “Cute!”

Before Yuuri could protest, Victor dropped the photo into Instagram and started typing a caption.

My champion! I thought I lost my phone this morning, but look who returned it? Our very own…

Yuuri watched as Victor’s agile thumbs (so agile, and no, he was not going to think about what else Victor could do with them) stopped moving. That fan-struck part of him that had been screaming mentally in the back of his mind came to a slow halt.

Victor didn’t know his name.

Yuuri hadn’t expected him to know much about him. But he was one of six competitors in the Grand Prix final. It wasn’t like it was hard to know his name. He was the Asian who wasn’t Cao Bin, which Victor should have known since Cao Bin had taken silver at the Cup of China alongside him. Yuuri wasn’t going to win—they all knew that—but Victor should have at least known his name.

“Ah,” Victor said with a second wink, this one feeling a little more practiced. “How do you spell your name again?”

Victor definitely didn’t know his name. Yuuri’s stupid, affectionate crush felt suddenly sour in his stomach. It was stupid to think Victor would notice him just because he’d made the finals. It was stupid to think that being on the same ice as him counted for anything. He’d worked for over a decade to stand in this very spot, and now that he was here, his success tasted like ashes.

The smile slid off Yuuri’s face.

“You spell it exactly like it sounds,” he said a little coldly.

“Um.” Victor’s smile didn’t falter—not on his lips—but his eyes narrowed just a little. “Well. It’s just that Japanese names are so different from Russian ones. I don’t want to mess it up…”

All that bouncy happiness. Victor calling Yuuri “hero” and “champion” and “cute.” The last year of Yuuri’s, binding his aching feet and telling himself it wouldn’t matter, it couldn’t matter, every late night on the ice practicing, practicing, practicing just so he could get to the Grand Prix final with Victor.

It had all been a lie.

Yuuri had earned the right to skate on the same ice, but Victor still didn’t even know his name.

Yuuri shook his head, took off his skate guards, and stepped onto the ice.

“Wait,” Victor said behind him. “I haven’t—that is, you haven’t—” He held out his phone.

Yuuri glanced behind him. “You do know how to say my name, right?”

Victor didn’t answer.

“That’s what I thought.” Yuuri pushed off.

#

Victor Nikiforov stared after the other man. He’d…left. Just left. Without saying good-bye, without even telling Victor his name.

Beside him, Yakov was shaking his head.

“Yakov, who was that?”

“Katsuki Yuuri.”

“Yuuri? Like… Like our Yuri?”

“Da.”

Oh. Shit. No wonder he’d been annoyed. It must have been so obvious that Victor had no idea who he was. Japanese names are so different from Russian ones. Idiot! It had sounded so good in his head.

His junior teammate literally had the exact same name.

“Concentrate on your own skating,” Yakov said. “Get back out there, and let’s see that step sequence again.”

“Mmm.”

Victor slid off his own skate guards.

“Vitya. Your phone.” Yakov held out a hand.

Victor was googling. The other skater’s name, it turned out, was spelled almost exactly as it was pronounced.

“Vitya,” Yakov called behind him, “do not skate and text. Do. Not.”

Victor was no longer paying attention.

#

V-is-for-Victor: Hey, you were at the Trophee de France with the Yuuri from Japan, right?

Chris: …yes? why?

V-is-for-Victor: Did you talk to him?

Chris: It’s like you know my taste in asses or something.

Victor glanced up from his phone to look over the ice. Yes. Well. It was probably he first thing he’d seen. He and Chris had basically the same taste in butts, and Yuuri had a great one.

V-is-for-Victor: Mmm. Answer the question.

Chris: I tried to talk to him. He kind of kept to himself, though. He’s nice. Quiet. I wouldn’t have thought he was your type.

V-is-for-Victor: I wouldn’t say that.

Chris: Uh oh.

V-is-for-Victor: I think it’s more like I’m not his.

Chris: I find that hard to believe. Pretty sure he’s not straight.

V-is-for-Victor: No. He… He straight up *dragged* me this morning.

Chris: What? Quiet Yuuri dragged you?

V-is-for-Victor: Very, very politely. But still. He challenged me. You know what that means.

Chris: Oh, Victor. No.

V-is-for-Victor: Oh, Christophe. YES. Don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything mean. I think he was upset because I didn’t know who he was. I’m just going to grant his wish. I’m going to know his name so well that boy will not know what hit him.

Chris: Fuck. Savage Victor is the worst Victor.

Victor smiled. From across the ice, Yakov was still yelling at him. Yes, he supposed he should get back to practice. But he had a few things to do before he felt ready to go back to his step sequence…

V-is-for-Victor: You mean…the BEST Victor.

He hit send, and brought up the camera.

#

It took Yuuri four hours to skate off his frustrations. To begin to forget that he’d looked Victor Nikiforov in the face the day before the short program at the Grand Prix Final, and Victor had basically said, “Who are you?”

He slipped on his skate guards and pulled out his phone to see if Phichit had checked in. It would have been late in Detroit, but Phichit was a bit of a night owl.

Instagram: You have 103,412 notifications.

“Huh?” Yuuri frowned.

Something had to be broken. He tapped on his phone, shaking it, but that number didn’t change.

With great trepidation, he opened the app.

[Photo]

v-nikiforov

MY HERO KATSUKI YUURI! He found my phone this AM, sacrificed his morning routine for me. CHEER FOR HIM AS MUCH AS YOU WOULD FOR ME!!! Don’t forget!

“What the hell,” Yuuri said.

[video]

v-nikiforov

OMG I am watching Katsuki Yuuri at this morning’s practice. Check out his step sequences! I am a FAN!

“What the HELL,” Yuuri said aloud. “I didn’t even know you could do videos on Instagram.”

[video]

v-nikiforov

Textbook perfect positioning. Look how tight he is; that spin is fast.

[video]

v-nikiforov

Katsuki Yuuri executes a perfect triple axel!

yuri-plisetsky

why the hell are you posting all these pictures of a skater with my name? #rude

v-nikiforov

I think YOU have HIS name. You should cheer for him, too!

yuri-plisetsky

as if. i will never cheer for yuri #2.

The notifications had metastasized from there. Victor had encouraged his fans to send him photos of Yuuri in past competitions, tagging them both in. Photos of Yuuri in costumes from his dark past littered his feed. People were making gifs of him.

“WHAT THE HELL!!” Yuuri shook his head. “What is happening?”

He frantically mashed buttons until finally…

You have 0 notifications.

He took a breath of relief, slumping in place. What on earth had happened? It had to have been a dream. There was no way that Victor Nikiforov, of all people, would have spent the morning taking pictures of him. And how had he gotten so many people to respond? It was insane. At least it was over.

He glanced down at his phone.

You have 92 notifications.

Oh, no. Not again. He opened up instagram…

You have 189 notifications.

You have 939 notifications.

Comments were still multiplying like rabbits. He stuffed his phone in his pocket—he was going to have to figure out how to make it stop vibrating every time he got a notification—grabbed his gear, and started for the exit.

He opened the door to the outside only to find a crowd.

“It’s Yuuri!” someone said.

“Yuuri!” They screamed his name.

He slammed the door. “What the hell?!”

Yuuri: Phichit. Help.

There was no answer.

Yuuri: Phichit I know you don’t sleep until 2 AM. HELP.

Still no answer.

Yuuri: PHICHIT I AM DYING.

Phichit: Help with what?

Yuuri: I have a social media emergency.

Phichit: NEVER FEAR. I GOT THIS. LET UNCLE PHICHIT FIX YOUR PROBLEM. IMMA JUST TAKE A LOOK-SEE AND…

He even typed out the little dot dot dot dramatically. Yuuri sighed.

Phichit: UH.

Yuuri: I know.

Phichit: Yuuri Yuuri Yuuri what is happening. Oh. Oh my God. Why is Victor fanboying you?

Yuuri: I don’t know!

Phichit: Are you dying? Are you dead? Where should I send the ambulance?

Yuuri: Yes! No! I don’t know!

The door on the opposite side of the room opened. A head of silver hair peered in, turned towards Yuuri…

Yuuri: OMG. He’s here. He’s coming this way. I’ll call you later!

Phichit: NO CALL ME NOW PUT ME ON SPEAKER I NEED TO HEAR THIS.

Phichit: KATSUKI YUURI DON’T YOU DARE PUT ME AWAY I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU

Yuuri shoved his phone in his pocket just as Victor approached, a brilliant smile on the other man’s face. Unlike Yuuri, Victor looked fresh, sweet, and clean.

Yuuri was aware that he had just finished practice. He smelled of sweat. He badly needed a shower. His hair was even more of a mess, and…

“Yuuri!” Victor grinned. “My sweet cupcake!”

Yuuri swallowed. “…Your what?”

Victor didn’t answer. He just winked, and came to stand by him.

Yuuri glanced at him. He wasn’t precisely sure what to say.

“Well,” Victor finally said. “You wanted me to know your name. Now you know that I do.”

“Not like this,” Yuuri groaned. “Not with your stupid followers clogging my notifications. I tried to go outside and your people mobbed me.”

Victor giggled. He actually giggled.

Yuuri turned to face him, pointing a finger at the other man’s chest. “You did this on purpose.”

Victor winked at him. “Of course I did!”

“Why!?”

Victor leaned in. He set his fingers on Yuuri’s chin. His eyes bored into Yuuri’s. “Because,” he said. “I had to know.”

“You had to know what?”

“The cutest boy I’d ever seen brought me my phone and then walked away from me,” Victor said. “What was I supposed to do?”

Yuuri’s brain froze on cutest boy I’d ever seen. He couldn’t process that. It didn’t compute. If Victor had said Lemmings built the Eiffel Tower, so I have to climb it, it would have made more sense. After a moment’s hesitation, he discarded that insanity and focused on the second question. What was Victor supposed to have done?

“Um, you could have apologized?”

“Probably,” Victor admitted. “I could have apologized and tried to get you to go out on a date with me.”

Yuuri found himself choking. “Date?” His brain translated helpfully: Lemmings built the Eiffel Tower. They made it out of cotton candy.

“But no,” Victor sighed. “I was curious. I had to know what you would do to get your revenge.” His fingers trailed down Yuuri’s neck.

“Revenge.” Yuuri felt himself flush scarlet. “Are you always this dramatic?”

But he knew the answer to that question. He’d watched Victor skate for over a decade. The answer was: No, Victor was not always this dramatic. He was usually worse.

Victor pulled away. “Yuuri. One last question.”

He was going to ask him out. Victor Nikiforov was going to ask Yuuri out, and—after Yuuri died and ascended to heaven—he was going to have to answer.

“Yes?” The word came out on a whisper. Oh, crap. He’d already answered and Victor hadn’t even asked yet.

Victor tapped Yuuri’s thigh, leaned in, and whispered. “Is that a vibrator in your pocket? Or are you just happy to see me?”

It took Yuuri a moment to understand what Victor was saying. To realize precisely where Victor’s hand was resting—on his phone in the pocket of his pants, which was buzzing and buzzing and buzzing.

Victor was already walking away.

“It’s from your own Instagram notifications!” he shouted after the man. “It’s your fault!”

Victor just laughed.

In that moment, Yuuri realized that he and Victor had one thing besides skating in common.

Yuuri also wanted to know how he was going to get his revenge.

#

“Victor. You did not.” Beside him in the cafe, Chris was going through his Instagram, shaking his head. “You decide that you like this man and want to get to know him, so you sicced your Instagram fans on him?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Victor muttered.

“Why would you do that?”

Victor had been wondering himself. He’d arrived in Sochi. He’d waved to his fans. He’d signed autographs and done his warmups and…

And this season? He had four Grand Prix medals so far, and number five was basically a fait accompli.

“I was bored,” he finally admitted. “I mean, competitions used to be fun. Now what happens? I go. I skate. I win.”

Chris flicked his forehead. “Hey, presumptuous asshole—you haven’t skated yet. I could still beat you.”

Victor didn’t say anything. He just waited.

“I mean, you could always break your ankle,” Chris added. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. You might have a really, really bad day.”

“Let’s be honest.” Victor sighed. “Who is going to beat me? Nobody has a technical score that’s remotely close to mine. Even if I did fall, I’d win. So here I am, feeling depressed about this season. Nothing but winning, winning, winning as far as the eye can see. Then this adorable, sexy man comes up to me, hands me my phone. And while I’m trying to get his name and number, he walks away from me. It’s the first time in years that I’ve failed to get everything I wanted at a skating competition. What did you expect me to do?”

“You like him,” Chris said. He was looking off over his shoulder, his eyes focusing on something in the distance.

“Duh.” Victor rolled his eyes.

“Good,” Chris said. “Because he’s coming over here.”

Victor scrambled, turning, his neck craning—oh, God. There he was. Yuuri, sweet, delectable, adorable Yuuri, with those glasses and his pink cheeks and his incredibly tight ass…

He’d changed out of track clothing into something a little more formal—slacks and a collared shirt. He’d showered and tamed his hair with gel, but it still stuck up just a little.

He was carrying a bunch of blue roses. His eyes searched the restaurant, landed on Victor.

For a moment, from thirty feet away, they just stared at each other. Victor could feel himself blush. Blue roses were his. Every one of his fans knew he loved blue roses. And here came Yuuri with a bunch.

He was going to ask Victor out. Fuck the competition. Victor was going to ditch Yakov tonight and say yes. He needed to clean his room. Find some lube…

Yuuri was blushing as he came up to their table. He fiddled with the roses—an even dozen—and glanced at Victor. He bit his lip, as if he were embarrassed.

God, he was so utterly adorable.

“Yuuri.” Victor put one hand over his heart. “Are those for meeee?”

Yuuri looked at him one more time. His cheeks flushed a bright pink.

Then he turned to Chris. “Chris,” he said shyly. “I got you these.”

Victor’s mouth dropped open.

Chris burst into deep, rumbling laughter. “Yuuri,” he said. “You’re a treat.”

Yuuri gave his head a little nod. “Yes,” he said determinedly. “Yes, I am.”

“Pull up a chair.”

It took Yuuri a moment to do so, another moment to order an espresso from the waitress when she arrived. From the moment he sat down, he hadn’t once looked at Victor. He’d focused his attention on Chris, of all people, who looked to be enjoying himself immensely.

What the hell.

“So, Chris,” Yuuri said after his drink arrived. “We didn’t get to talk enough at the Trophee de France.”

“Mmm.” Chris was barely biting back a grin. “That was not for lack of trying on my part.”

“Um… Yes, yes, of course, but… I was nervous, you see, and I was trying to concentrate on my skating. And you were rather overwhelming.”

“Was I.” Chris raised an eyebrow. Over Yuuri’s head, he caught Victor’s eye and dropped him a languid wink. “So that’s why you didn’t agree to come to coffee with me after the awards ceremony. You were trying to concentrate on the programs you had already skated.”

“Um.” Yuuri blushed. “Well.”

Chris reached out and set a hand on Yuuri’s wrist. “And here I thought I came on a little too strong.”

“Aaaah!” Yuuri yanked his hand away. “I mean… Um.” He swallowed and glanced back at Chris’s hand. Slowly, he pushed his hand forward.

“Yuuri.” Chris sighed. “Are you honestly pretending to flirt with me? You sweet summer child.”

“Obviously not!” Yuuri blushed even harder. For the first time, his eyes darted to Victor. He looked away just as swiftly. “Obviously I’m trying to flirt with Victor!”

“A ha.” Chris tilted his head. “An unusual method of implementing that particular strategy, but it appears to be working.”

“I don’t know.” Yuuri frowned. “He is an absolute idiot, so I guess we’re playing it this way. You get the flowers, Chris.”

“Thank you.”

“You get the attention.”

“Also thank you.”

Yuuri stood up. “And you get this, if you don’t mind—”

He leaned in. Victor didn’t really think he was going to do it. He didn’t. Yuuri was too shy, too quiet, too diffident—

“I don’t mind at all,” Chris purred.

Yuuri kissed him. On the lips.

Oh, hell no, Victor thought. But also: Oh, hell yes.

It wasn’t a deep kiss. Or a long one. But it was a very pointed message.

Yuuri straightened and looked over at Victor. “I have watched you skate since I was eleven years old.” His voice dropped. “I have spent a dozen years working my hardest so that one day I could face you on the ice. So that you would see me skate the way I saw you.”

Victor’s heart seemed to hold still in that moment.

“Maybe lemmings did build the Eiffel Tower,” Yuuri said, which made absolutely no sense. “Maybe you do want to go on a date. Fine.” Victor’s mouth dried. “You can have everything you want. You don’t have to play your stupid game. All you have to do is watch me on the ice tomorrow. Watch me during my program, and don’t you dare take your eyes off me.”

Victor couldn’t speak. He couldn’t answer.

Yuuri dusted his hands off. “Enjoy your flowers, Chris.” He turned and walked away.

Victor watched him, watched the muscles of his ass shift in those tight pants. He watched him, and felt…

Awe. Inspiration, for the first time in months. The tickle of something warm in his chest…

“I’m in love,” he said softly.

Chris reached over and flicked Victor on the forehead. “Snap out of it. You just met him today. You’re not in love.”

Victor considered this. He was in lust, absolutely. In thrall, definitely. In love? He sighed.

“Probably not,” he admitted. “But I want to be.”

#

Victor had it all planned out. He was going to watch Yuuri’s short program. He was going to toss a bouquet of forget-me-nots on the ice like a proper lover. He was going to meet Yuuri at the kiss and cry, and never mind that Yakov would kill him for not getting ready for his own short program; it would be enough, just to be able to tell the other man that he’d watched, that he couldn’t stop watching, and to ask for dinner with him as a reward. Victor already had a reservation and a box of condoms.

But from the moment he stood at the side of the rink, watching Yuuri glide to his starting position, Victor could tell something was wrong. There was a tension in his body, a redness to Yuuri’s eyes. His step sequences lacked the fluidity that Victor had captured in his videos just yesterday.

In the space of a minute, Yuuri fumbled a simple double axle, popped a jump, underrotated a triple flip, and fell on a quad toe loop. With every mistake, his shoulders grew more tense. It was painful to watch—most painful because he could almost feel Yuuri begging Victor silently to look away, after he’d ordered him to keep his eyes on him.

It was a relief for everyone when the music ended and Yuuri struck his final pose.

Victor dawdled on his way to the kiss and cry. Something was wrong, and somehow he knew that whatever he said to comfort Yuuri would be the wrong thing to do.

He arrived at the kiss and cry moments after Yuuri’s score was announced. Yuuri’s hands were clenched on his knees; his head was bent. For a moment, he didn’t see Victor.

Then his coach, sitting next to him, nudged him. “We’ll talk soon, Yuuri,” the older man said. “But… I’ll leave you to say hi?”

Yuuri looked up. His eyes landed on Victor. He didn’t blush. He didn’t smile. He just exhaled slowly and waited for his coach to leave.

“Yuuri…” Victor took a step forward.

Yuuri looked away and spoke with no enthusiasm. “It’s you.”

Victor’s fingers played with the ribbon of the bouquet he was holding.

Yuuri shook his head. “I can’t do this. Just leave me alone.”

“What’s wrong?” Victor took a step forward. “What happened?”

“I just found out.” Yuuri’s voice quavered for a moment and he looked away, inhaling sharply. “My dog died. He had cancer. We went through an operation and chemotherapy, and the vet thought he was going to pull through. But it had metastasized to his lungs…”

Victor could only stare at Yuuri in dismay.

Yuuri stood. He glanced once at Victor’s bouquet, and Victor’s final little joke about their meeting—those forget-me-not flowers—seemed stupid and childish in the moment.

“Just leave me alone,” Yuuri said. “I’m not in the mood for playing games right now.”

Yuuri left. For the third time in two days, Victor watched Yuuri walk away from him. This time, his shoulders were slumped and his posture was miserable.

Fuck.

#

Yuuri wasn’t on the ice to practice all the next day. Victor stalked the hotel halls for any sign of him, but didn’t see him—not in the cafe, not in the restaurant, not even in the little coffee shop.

By noon, Victor had begun to worry. By three, he was frantic. But this was Victor, and by six, he had a plan.

By seven, he was juggling the packages he was carrying into one hand so he could knock on the door that he had been told belonged to Yuuri.

He knocked. Then he knocked again. Then, shifting the plastic bag he was dangling to his other hand, he leaned in.

“Katsuki Yuuri,” he announced as loud as he dared. “I know you’re in there. If you don’t open up, I am putting a snapshot of this door on Instagram, and heaven help you if your fans get hold of it.”

He heard movement in the room. The clatter of metal echoed down the hall as Yuuri undid the bolts on the door. Then the man opened the door a mere half inch. The room beyond was unlit, the curtains pulled closed. Yuuri was wearing sweat pants and a wrinkled T-Shirt, and even though his eyes were red and puffy, he still looked adorable.

Yuuri gave Victor a suspicious frown. “How did you get my room number?”

“I asked the front desk.”

The frown deepened. “Aren’t there privacy policies? I didn’t think they were supposed to just give out room numbers.”

“Hmm. But I’m Victor Nikiforov,” Victor said brightly. “We’re in Russia, and I’m a Russian hero. Besides, everyone who follows me on Instagram knows that we’re friends.”

Yuuri sighed. “Of course. You’re a hero.”

Victor held out the paper cup he had in one hand. “For you. It’s hot chocolate.”

Yuuri didn’t take it. He eyed the cup suspiciously.

Victor held out his other hand, which held the plastic bag. In it was a newspaper wrapped carton. “Katsudon. Also for you.”

Yuuri blinked at him, his frown disappearing.

“You mention it on your skater’s profile on the JSF,” Victor said. “I thought you could use a little comfort food.”

The door opened another half inch. Yuuri’s hand reached for the plastic bag, before pulling back to land on his hip.

“How did you get katsudon in Sochi?”

His hands were full, so Victor settled for waggling his eyebrows expressively. “Magic.”

Yuuri’s gaze slid back to the take-out carton, then up to Victor’s face, then back to the take-out carton. Finally, he pulled the door all the way open and flipped on a light.

“Fine. You can come in. But fair warning—I’m a bit of a mess right now. And I haven’t taken a shower today.”

Victor came in. Yuuri hurriedly cleared a spot on a little table, unceremoniously moved a giant pile of clothing—track suit mixed with short program costume—from the tiny couch in the room, and gestured for Victor to sit.

Victor did. Yuuri hesitantly perched on the couch a foot away from him.

The other man didn’t move, so Victor handed him a napkin, a pair of cheap wooden take-out chopsticks, and unwrapped the food.

It was still steaming—the pork looking crispy, the egg on top soft and delicious.

Yuuri’s tongue darted out, touching his lips. He broke the chopsticks in two, rubbed them together to rid them of splinters, leaned forward…

And shook his head grimly. He set the chopsticks down.

“I’m sorry. This is very kind of you, but… I can’t. I don’t deserve katsudon.”

What an odd thing to say. Victor didn’t respond for a moment, and Yuuri finally went on.

“I’m only allowed to have katsudon when I win. I haven’t won anything. I’m in last place.”

Victor scooted an inch closer to Yuuri. “This is a special circumstance, I’m sure. You’re in need of comfort—”

Yuuri let out a gasp and buried his face in his hands. “I don’t deserve comfort.”

Oh. Crap. He was crying. Victor was incredibly bad at dealing with people crying in front of him. He stared around the room, searching for something useful to say.

“It’s my fault Vicchan died,” Yuuri said.

Vicchan must be his dog. Victor was crap at comforting, but he did understand dogs. And loving them. “Yuuri.” He leaned in a little closer, setting a few tentative fingers on Yuuri’s shoulder. “Cancer isn’t anyone’s fault.”

“I haven’t been home in almost five years,” Yuuri said in response. “I’ve been away at college. Skating. Training for skating. It’s been my whole life. I haven’t even seen him.”

Victor hadn’t seen Makkachin in two months. His chest squeezed. He didn’t say anything; it hurt too much, that moment. He just kept his fingers on Yuuri’s arm and let the other man sob.

“Before I left,” Yuuri said, “Vicchan used to go everywhere with me.”

“It’s the same way with my Makkachin.”

“Every time I’d get anxious, I’d go to the rink and skate. Any time of day or night. But even when I left him at home, he’d always find his way out and wait for me. It didn’t matter how late it was or what the weather was like. He’d always be there.”

“He sounds like a good dog.”

Yuuri let out a sob. “The best dog.” Another sob. “When I left home to skate… He went to the rink because he thought I’d be there.”

“Oh.”

“He went to the rink,” Yuuri said through his tears, “and he stayed there. My parents tried to take him home at first, but he’d always escape. He spent four years waiting at the rink. For me to come home.”

“Oh,” Victor said again.

“My friend Yuuko—she married the son of the rink owner—she took care of Vicchan for me. Minako would come and take him on runs. The kids at the rink played with him, and they’d send me videos. But every time they’d throw the ball, Vicchan would run after it, get it, and run back to his spot by the door to wait for me. He never stopped waiting for me, and I never came. What kind of horrible person does that to a dog?”

“Oh, Yuuri.” Victor slid all the way towards him, putting an arm around him. “You’re not horrible.”

Yuuri looked up. His face was blotchy; his eyes were red. “I told myself he was safe and loved and fed. That it would be even harder on him if I came home just for a day or two and then left him again. I told myself it would be okay. I told myself that this was just the way things were, that I couldn’t have everything I wanted. Instead, I’ve been skating purely for myself. I was selfish, so selfish, thinking only of what it would mean for me.”

Victor had nothing to say to that. He just continued to hold him. Finally, Yuuri looked up with a frown. He glanced at Victor’s arm around him.

Frowned over at Victor. “Don’t act like you understand. You’d never let this happen to Makkachin.”

Victor swallowed. “Well.” He didn’t want to admit it. But he had to. “Makka doesn’t eat when I travel.”

“What?”

“She used to when she was younger. But now she’s older, and when I’m gone, she loses her appetite. Sits with her caretaker and sighs, and then she gets so hungry that she’ll steal human food, which isn’t good for her… I have to call her twice a day, because she won’t eat if she doesn’t hear my voice.”

Yuuri frowned.

“It’s hard on her. Too hard on her. But here I am.” Victor shrugged lightly. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course.”

“I’m thinking of not skating next year. Crazy. I know. Yakov says that I only have so many years to skate. But Makkachin is fourteen right now. How long do I have her? Never mind. I just want to say… I know where you’re coming from. I understand. You’re not a bad person, Yuuri. And you’re not selfish.”

Yuuri’s mouth crinkled in disagreement.

“That reminds me.” Victor snapped his fingers. “Do you want to know how I got katsudon tonight?”

“You told me,” Yuuri muttered. “Magic.”

“Well, in this case, I found an elderly Japanese couple who run a restaurant in Sochi. I called. I said, ‘This is Victor Nikiforov. I’d like to order some katsudon.’”

Yuuri let out a sigh. “Of course. Just like the hotel staff. The old Victor Nikiforov magic. They said yes, of course.”

“No,” Victor replied calmly. “The woman who answered said, ‘we don’t have katsudon on our menu,’ and she hung up on me.”

Yuuri’s nose crinkled. He turned his head to look at Victor.

“So,” Victor said, “I called back and asked if she knew how to make katsudon. She said yes, of course, she knew how to make katsudon. I asked if she was interested in figure skating, and she said yes, yes, she and her husband followed the sport with great interest. Then I asked if they knew me, and begged them to do it as a personal favor.”

“And…?”

“And she hung up,” Victor said.

A glimmer of interest sparked in Yuuri’s eyes. “What then?”

“I called back and offered a simply ridiculous amount of money. The woman said, ‘I will never do anything to help you at this moment, Victor Nikiforov. Do not call back.’ And she hung up yet again.”

“Then what did you do?”

“What do you think?” Victor grinned. “I called back. I begged her not to hang up. I told her that it wasn’t for me, that it was for my friend, Katsuki Yuuri, who was having a bad day.”

“And she decided to help out a fellow countryman?”

“And she said, ‘Katsuki Yuuri? Japan’s ace? Katsuki Yuuri, the only Japanese man to make the Grand Prix final this year? Katsuki Yuuri, who skates to give pride to my homeland?’”

Yuuri shut his eyes and pushed away. “You’re making this up.”

“I’m not!” Victor rummaged in the bag. “When I came in, she told me that she wouldn’t have done anything for me because she was sick of me winning everything. She thought you were objectively better and the judges were biased. Look, she sent you a note on the napkin in Japanese. Do you think I could possibly fake that?”

Yuuri frowned. Picked up the napkin. Read it, and slowly shook his head.

“You’re not skating for yourself alone. You never have been. You’ve skated for Japan. For your family. For the children at the rink who played with Vicchan and watched you on TV. You skated for your friends.”

Yuuri swallowed. Their eyes met. Yuuri’s were a rich burnished brown. This close, Victor could see brown laced with gold and black veins. His eyes were wide and gorgeous.

“Don’t forget,” Yuuri said in a low whisper. “One more person. You.”

“Me?”

“We’re four years apart.” Yuuri reached out and brushed Victor’s hair back. “You’ve skated longer than you should have. I’ve always wanted to skate on the same ice as you… And I’ve always been looking for the chance to catch up.”

Victor remembered what Yuuri had said in the cafe a little earlier. He swallowed. He’d come to the Grand Prix final expecting to be bored. Thinking that nobody would challenge him. That nothing would pique his interest.

He’d been so, so wrong.

“Tomorrow,” he said slowly. “The free skate…”

Yuuri sighed. “I suppose now you’ll tell me to skate for you.”

Victor shook his head. “I wouldn’t dare.”

“No?”

He toyed with the chopsticks Yuuri had set down. “I don’t know if you believe this,” he finally said, “but… The way I see it, I just discovered your existence a few days ago. Someone else has been waiting to see you at the side of a rink for years. This is the first time he’ll be able to watch you in years.”

Yuuri’s eyes glistened.

Victor nodded. “I wouldn’t expect you to skate for me. But don’t you think you could skate for your Vicchan?”

“Y…yes.” Yuuri’s voice wavered. The tears fell again, sliding down his nose. But he looked… Better, somehow.

Victor reached over and picked up the chopsticks. “Here.” He held them out.

Yuuri hesitated a moment. “Will you have some with me?”

“Sure.”

Katsudon was delicious. The rice had cooled a little, but it was still wonderfully chewy. The onion was flavorful and almost sweet, the egg coating the pork cutlet luscious and smooth.

“Vkusno,” Victor said.

Yuuri just shook his head. “My mom’s is better.”

When they’d finished—passing the chopsticks back and forth between them, Yuuri very politely not mentioning that Victor wasn’t quite as good with them—Yuuri stood.

“I know you must be tired. But…wait here, please.”

He disappeared into the bathroom.

Victor heard the running of water. A few minutes later, Yuuri rematerialized and came to sit by Victor. This time, he was the one who sat close, so close that they almost touched. He looked at Victor’s hand; Victor turned it, palm up. Yuuri blushed, and very slowly, set his hand on top of his.

“So,” he finally said. “This probably isn’t how the great Victor Nikiforov wanted to spend his evening off. Watching over a sobbing mess of a boy.”

“This is exactly how I wanted to spend my evening off,” Victor said. “With the cutest boy I have ever met. He found my phone and didn’t let me get away with my bullshit.”

“That still doesn’t make any sense.” Yuuri shook his head. “Are you sure lemmings didn’t build the Eiffel Tower?”

“Uh.” Victor shrugged. “I wasn’t there when they built it, how would I know? Maybe they did.”

“Hmmm. It would explain a lot.”

“As for the crying…” Victor picked up Yuuri’s hand in his. Turned it around so he could kiss his knuckles. “Let me be clear, Yuuri. I refuse to kiss boys who don’t cry over dogs.”

Yuuri’s eyes fluttered shut. “Oh. Well. In that case. I’m exactly your type.”

Victor locked his hand around Yuuri’s neck. Their lips drew together. Touched, like the landing of a butterfly—and then drew together, harder. Yuuri’s breath was hot and sweet—he must have brushed his teeth in the bathroom—and Victor leaned into him, licked his lower lip until Yuuri opened up, and oh, God, there he was…

He pulled away. Maybe he could have everything he wanted. Just…not tonight.

“Sleep well,” he said.

Yuuri looked up at him with a dazed expression. “You…too, Victor.”

#

He had come out of the other side of something, Yuuri thought the next day, as he took off his glasses and handed them to his coach. The ice no longer seemed hard and unforgiving, a reminder of the fact that he’d traded away so many years for the chance to stand here. It felt softer, the glow of the lights off it giving everything an unearthly feel.

Yuuri’s eyes still felt scratchy and irritated from tears, but instead of feeling overwhelmed and beleaguered, he felt…

Calm. Free.

When he’d used to skate back at Ice Castle Hasetsu, Vicchan had curled up there—in that one curve at the edge of the rink where he could keep one eye open and on Yuuri. Here, there was nothing in that spot but a cameraman, the glass lens reflecting in the bright lights.

Yuuri took his position on the ice. He thought of Vicchan waiting for him. Of the nights spent cuddling his dog. Of the times when he’d been overwhelmed with anxiety or people and Vicchan had helped him through. Dogs gave so much in return for so little; it hardly seemed fair.

“Vicchan,” he whispered.

The music started.

Yuuri’s theme for the year was “Impossible Yearning.” He’d meant it for Victor—the bittersweet feeling of reaching forward, upward, for someone you would never catch, the refusal to let go of the possibility, the dream of capturing the other man’s attention.

The music rippled around him, and he pushed off, reaching his arms upward.

It wasn’t Victor he was thinking about catching now. That slow spiral, that layback spin…

Coach Celestino always told him to put his heart on the ice. Yuuri had always been too afraid, almost ashamed of his own ambition, horrified at the thought of someone discovering that deep in his heart, he wanted to stand as tall as Victor Nikiforov.

But his ambition wasn’t his whole heart. It wasn’t even half of it. The other half of his heart, the things he’d wanted off the ice… He’d neglected those for so long. He let his wistful memories come back now.

Yuuri let himself remember running along the beach with Vicchan barking at his side. He let himself think of jumping into the waves with laughter, felt the shock of landing his first quad travel through his muscles. He was dimly aware of applause, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t skating for the audience or for the judges.

Today, his yearning was for something impossible—the chance to say good-bye to his dearest, most loyal friend.

He skated the loneliness of going to a foreign country to train, the fear of hearing that Vicchan kept running away from home. He made his second quad into the trill of laughter he’d given when Yuuko sent that video of Vicchan dashing onto the ice, slipping, barking, and trying to round up the kindergarten class that had come for lessons.

He skated his heartache and his love and everything he couldn’t put into words.

And when he stopped—when the music began to wind down, and Yuuri ended his program, he changed the choreography just a bit. He ended with one hand over his heart, the other pointed right at the spot where Vicchan would have been sitting.

His free skate hadn’t been perfect. He only had two quads; compared to Victor’s four, it was nothing. Still, though, for the first time, Yuuri became aware of the audience screaming. They were on their feet, shouting.

He blinked in the bright lights, coming back to this world.

He hadn’t been perfect. But apparently, he had been…good?

#

Yuuri had been brilliant.

Victor didn’t know what they were to each other. He’d skated his own program in a daze.

The gold medal they awarded him felt like a fake. He’d seen Yuuri’s program, and he’d skated his own. Winning with four quads felt like fakery after Yuuri’s artistry. The fact that Yuuri had only been awarded a bronze?

It just went to show, that woman had been right last night. Victor didn’t deserve katsudon. The judging guidelines couldn’t capture everything.

But at the medal ceremony, Yuuri didn’t seem displeased with his third-place finish. He waved to the crowd, accepted his bouquet with a smile. He even glanced at Victor—once, then twice, then three times—blushing every time he did, as if he had a secret.

Victor was good at hoping. Maybe he should resurrect that reservation from the other night. Or maybe, he amended, he should call that Japanese couple and ask if they had a table for two…

Next to him on the podium, Yuuri smiled. His cheeks went pink. He took out his phone and moved a little closer to Victor.

Victor’s heart hammered in his chest. “Yes, Yuuri?”

“Can I get a commemorative photo?” Yuuri’s tone was breathless…and maybe just a little sassy. It was good to see him starting to come back into himself.

“Sure,” Victor said. He leaned down.

“On three?” Yuuri said. He brought his arm up, and Victor put on a winning smile.

“One. Two.” There was no three. On three, Yuuri turned to him, pressed his lips to Victor’s cheek.

It was a kiss. A kiss, in front of the entire crowd. There was a roar of surprise. Victor barely registered Yuuri clicking the camera button. He had an instant to see the photo on Yuuri’s screen—his own face, frozen in an expression of poleaxed delight—before Yuuri was casually pulling away.

“Your Instagram is going to love that,” Yuuri said. He looked up at Victor, his eyes sparkling. “Oh—and in case you haven’t noticed? We’re back on.”

“Yuuri.”

“Mmm.” Yuuri gave him a shy smile.

“Yuuri, get back here.”

“Oh, time to go.”

“Yuuri, I don’t even have your number.”

Yuuri gave him a little wave. “See you at the banquet!”

Victor watched him skate off, his eyes wide, his hand pressed to his heart.

Next to him, the silver medalist shook his head. “Oh my God. I can’t believe I was here for this. You two are ridiculous.”

“Chris.” Victor pressed his other hand to his mouth. “Chris, Chris, I think I’m in love.”

Chris just shook his head. “Victor. You’ve known him for three days. You’re…you’re probably not in love?” It was a question this time.

Victor sighed. “No? Maybe not. But at the very least, I’m heavily in like.”

#

The only place Yuuri could find for the phone call was a restroom. Nobody else was around; they were crowded around the other medalists. He slipped inside and hid in one of the stalls and made a phone call. It took a few moments for someone to pick up, but…

“Moshi moshi.”

“Ah, Yuuri! You called.”

“Were you sleeping?”

“Of course we weren’t sleeping. We had a public viewing here at the onsen so we could cheer you on!”

Yuuri found himself blushing. “Aaaah. I’m glad I did okay with my free program.”

“We were all so proud!” He could envision her friendly smile.

“Mom…” He paused. Swallowed. “Mom, if I sent you my medal, would you… Would you put it on Vicchan’s shrine?”

Her voice dropped. “Of course I will.”

Despite himself, the emotion of the last few days caught up with him again. He felt his eyes sting.

“Thank you.” He wiped at a tear. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?” He hung up before she could hear him sob.

Vicchan. He’d skated for Vicchan, and… And he didn’t think he could stop missing his dog. He couldn’t stop thinking of Vicchan, waiting for him in his spot at Ice Castle Hasetsu…

BAM. BAM. BAM. The door of the bathroom stall shook. What the hell?

Yuuri stood. BAM. The door slammed in. There, on the other side of the stall door, stood Yuri Plisetsky, the junior contestant who had taken gold. Yuuri hadn’t met him, had only seen him briefly earlier. He trained with Victor. Now he was glaring at Yuuri.

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri started to say. Then he wondered why he was apologizing to the kid for breaking down the door of his bathroom stall.

“Moron!” Plisetsky yelled. “Crying in the bathroom after you won bronze? What is wrong with you?”

“Uh…”

“There’s going to be two of us in the senior division next year,” Plisetsky growled. “Don’t you dare sully the name of Yuuri by being a cry-baby now. Shape the fuck up!”

“Ah…” Yuuri shook his head. “Have we met?”

In answer, Plisetsky shoved a book into Yuuri’s hand. It was hardbound, the words on the front printed in unintelligible Russian. Yuuri frowned at it, opened it up, to see nothing but blank pages.

“Ah….” He wrinkled his nose. “What…?”

Yuuri rolled his eyes and fished a pen out of his pocket. “God, you’re almost as dumb as Victor. Autograph it already, you idiot.”

This had to be the most surreal conversation Yuuri had ever had. Carefully, he took the pen from Plisetsky’s fingers.

He looked down at the boy. His fists were clenched. His nose was flared. He looked like he was about to punch Yuuri, and—simultaneously—as if he would cry if Yuuri didn’t sign his autograph book. Oh, the fluctuation joy of teenage hormones. What fun.

Still. Yuuri was tired of being careful and just a little annoyed at being called an idiot. He found himself writing this: To Yuri #2. Best of luck in the senior division next year. From, Katsuki Yuuri, #1 Yuuri forever.

He handed the book back, open to the page he’d signed, and booked it out of the bathroom. Good thing; it took Plisetsky a few seconds to read his little note and to start shouting again.

“I’m not Yuri #2,” Yuri Plisetsky screamed from down the hallway. “I’m Yuri #1! Just wait! You’ll see! Moron!”

#

Victor had been promised that he would see Yuuri at the banquet, but an hour had passed and the man had not yet appeared. Yuuri had to come. He had to, after everything they’d shared. Yes, they’d joked and…and made each other’s Instagram blow up, but he was positive that Yuuri wouldn’t leave him hanging. He was positive.

Mostly positive.

Possibly not positive at all. There were only so many times he could walk a circuit of the room, after all. Windows on one side; blue curtains on the other.

Back to the windows.

Chris caught him on his tenth round. “Victor. You look nervous.”

There was no point pretending. “Yuuri’s not here. We still haven’t talked.” I don’t have his number. I can’t let things leave off this way.

“He’ll be here,” Chris said soothingly. “He’ll be here.”

“Of course he’ll be here,” Victor snapped. Then, more miserably—“You really think he’ll be here?”

Chris just shook his head. “I was wrong. Savage Victor has nothing on Angsty Victor. Angsty Victor is the worst Victor.”

“Agh. That’s it. He isn’t coming.” Victor rubbed his hands together. “I could…fly to Japan? No, no.” He shook his head. “Not a good idea. Japan’s pretty big.”

“He’ll be here. I know he’ll be here,” Chris said, patting Victor’s elbow. “And the reason I know he’ll be here is that he asked me for…something. A little in advance. He’ll be here.”

“Oh.” Victor blinked, then turned and grabbed hold of Chris’s lapels. “What?! What did Yuuri say to you?!”

“You’ll find out,” Chris assured him. He laughed, then gently set his hands on Victor’s shoulders and swiveled him around. “You’ll find out…right about now.”

Yuuri had entered the room. His face was flushed. He was dressed in a suit and tie (if you could call that a tie), but his tie was loose around his neck, making him look…

Debonair. Delicious. He looked in Victor’s direction and his mouth creased into a brilliant smile.

Victor’s heart may have stopped. It stood still for one pregnant moment while their eyes met, Yuuri’s eyes brown and solemn, and yet with that hint of a sparkle to them. It came thundering to life again when Yuuri’s eyebrow arched. From across the room, Yuuri extended an arm, pointing in Victor’s direction.

One finger curled in a come-hither gesture.

Oh, God. It was too good. Too sexy. Victor pointed at himself. Mouthed the words: Who? Me?

He waited for Yuuri to nod.

Instead, the man gave his head an impatient shake. He waved his hand dismissively at Victor—get out of the way—and pointed again.

He was pointing at Chris.

Beside Victor, Chris had begun to laugh.

“What,” Victor said shakily. “What is happening. What is this. Why doesn’t he want me.”

Chris patted Victor’s shoulder. “You poor boy.” He shrugged off his jacket, and handed the weight of warm fabric to Victor. “Hold this for me, will you?”

He trusted Chris. He trusted Chris. He… He also trusted Yuuri, Victor repeated, and besides, they hadn’t agreed to be exclusive. They hadn’t even gone on a date, not unless you counted Victor threatening Yuuri with Instagram photos to make him eat katsudon. They weren’t boyfriends.

Even though they should be.

Victor could sit here and pout about what was happening, or…

Or he could get a better view. Because Yuuri was taking off his jacket.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Chris was announcing. “The bronze and silver medalists of the Grand Prix Final would like to offer you your second exhibition of the night.” So saying, he whisked away a blue curtain, revealing…

A stripper pole. A stripper pole.

Yuuri calmly removed his shirt. And his pants. As he folded his trousers over a seat, he looked up, met Victor’s eyes. He blushed again.

Victor moved even further forward, because damn, he wanted a front seat.

There were contingency plans at the Grand Prix Final for every sort of emergency, ranging from strokes to terrorist attacks. Tomorrow, someone was going to catch hell for this. From the confused glances the officials were giving each other, “sudden outbreak of pole dancing” did not appear on any emergency list.

Today, though…

The music started up, an odd, thrumming, insistent beat, and Yuuri took hold of the pole and started climbing. He had a beautiful, fluid grace to him. His thighs gripped the pole; his back arched. His neck tilted, making an elongated curve of his body. For a second, with his head thrown back like that, he caught Victor’s eye.

Victor might have imagined the little smile.

Until this moment, Victor had never truly appreciated pole dancing.

Now? He could see the difficulty in the way Yuuri’s muscles bulged as he shimmied up and down, his body on display. All that delightful light bronze skin shimmered in the light of the banquet hall chandeliers. There was an artistry in this—grace and beauty and arousal all twining together.

Then Chris joined in. It shouldn’t have been hot, watching another man climb the pole suggestively with Yuuri.

It was definitely hot. Especially since Yuuri was openly making eye contact with Victor now. Smiling at him in encouragement, as if he were the only one in the room. He winked at Victor, and somehow, that made him blush even more than getting kissed at the award ceremony had.

Victor was painfully aroused. Yuuri slid to the bottom of the pole with Chris, and they arched their backs as the music came to an end.

Victor let out a little whimper.

And Yuuri finally took pity on him. He caught Victor’s eye. He crooked his finger.

More hesitantly, Victor tapped his chest. Me, this time?

Yuuri nodded, straightening, picking up his shirt from where he’d left it.

He was buttoning it when Victor came up to him.

“I didn’t know you had that in you,” Victor said in awe.

“Mmm.” Yuuri was frowning at his shirt. The buttons didn’t match up; he’d done it up crooked. “I don’t, really.” He glanced up at Victor, and motioned him in close. Victor leaned down. “It’s the champagne,” he whispered. “I drank ten glasses for courage.”

“Oh. Well. The champagne is an excellent dancer, then.”

Yuuri gave up on his shirt and looked up at Victor. He tilted his head to one side, and then stepped close. His finger pointed, reaching out, tapping the top button of Victor’s shirt.

“Too much fabric,” he suggested. “More skin.”

Victor swallowed. “Fix it, then?”

Yuuri was tipsy. Victor could smell the alcohol on his breath. He could see the unsteadiness in his hands, the way he frowned at Victor’s button before finally managing to pop it out of the hole.

“You can take off everything,” Victor said earnestly. “Just give me your number.”

“I wanted to…do that.” It took Victor a moment to realize that Yuuri was talking about the pole dance, not Victor’s clothing. Yuuri looked up in Victor’s eyes. “I wanted to dance for you. I couldn’t skate for you, that was for…” A cloud passed over his eyes. “But this? This was all for you.”

Yuuri’s fingers found a second button. Popped it out of place.

“Your number,” Victor reminded him.

Yuuri looked up. Slowly, he took hold of Victor’s tie. Pulled it close—bringing Victor within an inch of his face. The champagne was sweet on his breath. “I’m not saying anything,” Yuuri said in a low voice. “But if you did decide to take next year off for Makkachin? Hasetsu is a nice place for dogs.”

“Hasetsu?”

“That’s the town I’m from,” Yuuri said. “We have a beach. And an ice rink.”

“It sounds wonderful.”

Yuuri looked down shyly. “If you ever had to go anywhere, I would take care of Makkachin.”

Victor had received flowers. Compliments. He’d once had someone take him away to Tahiti for a whirlwind vacation. This, though? This was probably the most romantic thing that anyone had ever said to Victor.

“Okay. But… Your number.”

“Mmm.” Yuuri straightened. “Right. Don’t let me forget that. I…get forgetful when I’m drunk? Oh, speaking of forgetting! I’m not done yet. Let me put on my pants and I’ll dance with you.”

Victor watched Yuuri go. The muscles in his ass tightened, flexing, as he strode to the chair where he’d left his clothing.

Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit.

He looked up to see Chris standing next to him.

“Chris.” Victor couldn’t help smiling. “Chris, I’m in love.”

Chris looked at him. He looked at Yuuri. He shook his head. “Yeah,” he finally said. “Yeah, you are.”