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trying to find the in-betweens

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1.

Puberty hit Yuri Plisetsky like a speeding train.

It started quietly, a low warning rumble in the distance. Yakov and Yuri started to butt heads at Nationals after a series of missed jumps and uncharacteristic fumbles cost Yuri a top spot on the podium. Victor noticed it then - the tension, the changes - but spread thin as he was between coaching and perfecting his own programs, he didn't give it much thought until the end of the season, when he could afford to relax and further divide his attention.

By April it was obvious: the smooth lines of Yuri's childhood body were giving way to sharp planes and angles, and in the span of one winter he'd closed the height gap between himself and Yuuri, with no sign of stopping there.

Hormones did nothing good for his temper. Mila got away with teasing as usual, on the understanding that she could - and would - toss Yuri over the rinkboards if he ran his mouth. The rest kept a comfortable distance; even Yakov wrote Yuri off as unapproachable on the days Yuri didn't manage to land a single clean jump.

And then there was his Yuuri.

"Yurio," Yuuri said. He finished warming up as Yuri joined them in the studio. "I was watching you yesterday at practice. Do you mind if I give you advice?"

Yuri glanced at the door. He didn't decide to turn on his heel and leave, but he snorted to let Yuuri know how he really felt. "I can't stop you."

Victor rested his choreography notepad on his knee, tapped his eraser on the page to make it look like he was thinking while he watched for signs that Yuri might end this conversation with his fists.

"You've grown a lot. It reminds me of when I was your age." Yuri continued to stretch and gave no sign of having heard. Yuuri continued, "one year I grew six inches. It felt like walking around in someone else's skin, like my whole body was covered in stretch marks and bruises."

Yuri's flush crept from his shirt collar to the part of his hair. He stopped mid-stretch to lean his weight against the barre, shoulders drawn in tight. "Disgusting. Why the fuck would I want to know that?"

Yuuri braced his weight to move smoothly into a vertical split. Victor caught his pencil; the choreography notes were not so lucky and hit the floor with a dull thump. "Minako-sensei always made me focus on basics and core exercises when I hit a growth spurt. It's frustrating, but you'll save yourself a lot of pain if you relearn your body and get comfortable before you work on your jumps."

Yuri bristled. "You can't make me do anything."

"No," Yuuri agreed.

"I'm the current SP world record holder," Yuri spat. "I don't need advice from some pig."

"You're probably right."

Yuri's grip turned white-knuckled on the practice barre. "I'm going to destroy your free skate record and grind your smug face into the ice. Next season will make you wish you'd quit skating while you were ahead. Your failure at Sochi will feel like a happy dream by comparison. And I'm going to be taller than you, so you'll have to look up even further to see me on the podium."

Yuuri caught Victor's eye in the mirror, smiled. It was confusing, to Victor, how a harsh word from anyone else could send his fiancé into a tailspin of anxiety, while Yuri's venom washed over him like water. "We'll see. Anyway, I'm always here if you need to talk, and I'd be happy to help you practice after hours if you'd like."

Yuri relaxed for what seemed the first time in weeks, youthful expression sitting strange on the increasingly mature angles of his face, and resumed his stretches in silence.


2.

Yuri held his final pose at center ice until Yakov clapped, two sharp strikes dismissing him from practice. "Better. We'll focus on your jumps tomorrow. Vitya, the rink is yours."

Victor knew that a month of after-hours practices wasn't entirely responsible for the changes in Yuri's attitude. He still had the unpredictable temper of a feral cat, had yet to fully integrate his new height and strength into his movements, but he was no longer impossible to be around at practice, and in that, at least, Yuuri had succeeded where nothing else had worked.

On the other hand, Victor had been kicked out of these practices for being a distraction, and it had been a long, lonely month of taking Makkachin for solo after-dinner walks.

Yuuri met Yuri at the gate. "You did great, Yurio!"

"I told you to never call me that again," Yuri threatened. He accepted his skate guards and knelt.

"Okay," Yuuri said, "Yurochka."

Victor had watched Yuri hit the roof before; this was not his usual explosive rage, instead quiet but simmering, eyes burning bright in an otherwise stony face. Yuri slapped on his skate guards, straightened, considered Yuuri's smile, stalked past him toward one of the side halls. His guard-punishing stride faded into the locker room and disappeared behind a slammed door.

In the following silence, Victor's quiet "wow!" carried across the rink.

Mila glided by with one hand to her mouth and exchanged a look with Yuuri. Yuuri waved her closer. "Was it too much too soon?"

Mila gave him two thumbs up. "No, no, that was fine. If he gives you any trouble, tell him that's what he gets for calling you Victor's second poodle, but I don't think he will. He likes you." [1]

"I should have used Yura first," Yuuri decided, wringing his hands.

"No! It's funnier this way. Did you see his face?" Mila tried to imitate the confused anger of a teenage boy faced with an affectionate nickname.

So it hadn't been a coincidence, and if Mila had been giving his Yuuri tips, that meant--

Yuuri leaned back against the rinkboards to accommodate Victor's arms around his shoulders.

"Yuuri."

"Victor." Yuuri's fingers brushed the back of his hand. "You wanted to work on the last sequence, right? I was thinking the entrance to the quad flip would be smoother if I--"

Victor hooked his chin over Yuuri's shoulder and nosed into the collar of his practice shirt. "Yuura." No reaction. "Yuurochka. Yuurichka?" No reaction. "Yuuri-chan. Yuu-chan!" [2]

Yakov reappeared, coat and hat in hand, tucking a set of keys into his pocket. "Vitya! I'll be back in an hour to discuss next season's programs. Flirt on your own time."

Yuuri let him babble for a few more seconds. "Victor," he said, half-turning to poke where the edge of Victor's frown met his cheek, "we only have an hour. Pay attention."

His coach was cruel. His fiancé was crueler. His rinkmates thought their exchanged looks were subtle. For the rest of the afternoon Victor made sure they all knew he was ignoring them.


3.

"Yuri!" A muffled grunt was the only answer from deeper within the apartment. "Sorry we're early. Yakov overestimated traffic. Are you ready?"

"What did I tell you on the phone? Not five minutes ago? Wait in the car," a deep voice shouted back. Victor struggled for a moment to connect this voice with his mental image of Yuri Plisetsky; it helped that it was the same petulant tone as always, lowered a few octaves.

Victor checked his instagram feed, left comments on the most interesting posts, queued photos from this morning's walk with Makkachin to post throughout the day. No Yuri. He changed his profile picture to Yuuri and Makkachin curled up on the couch, laptop opened to a Skype session with mama and papa Katsuki. Still no Yuri. He double-checked the time of their scheduled pre-season press conference; Yakov wouldn't be pleased about the wait, but they still had plenty of time.

"Yurio," Victor called.

"Yuriooooo," he called again.

"Is there any way I can help?" Victor toed off his shoes. "I'm coming in!"

"I said wait in the car." Something crashed to the floor, followed by the sound of ripping paper. Victor stomped as he walked to give Yuri fair warning.

Yuri's room was in its usual state of disaster: discarded snack wrappers, clothes on every flat surface, used dishes rising like icebergs from the mess. A wall of teenage boy smell wafted out when Victor pushed open the door. Yuri's Himalayan cat was lovely and stood out in the chaos; she opened one lazy eye to study Victor, decided she didn't care, and curled into her spot in the wreckage of the unmade bed.

Posters covered almost every inch of available wall space: bands, clothing brands, cats with motivational taglines, and promotional shots of fellow skaters, Victor and Mila among them.

Yuri gasped and-- crinkled, like paper pressed against a soft surface, when he crossed his arms. "Fuck off, Victor."

The few gaps where the plain wall showed through really drew the eye. Torn edges of posters were still taped or tacked to the wall around these spaces; the jagged edge of a poster stuck up from the collar of Yuri's jacket.

Yuri had missed two incriminating posters in his haste.

The layered white and sky-blue waves of Yuuri's shirt - Victor recognized it as an old free skate costume - made him blend into the backdrop of ocean and summer sky and sun-bleached pier. It was hard to coax Yuuri into that relaxed smile, the one that softened his eyes around the edges. Had he known the photographer? Victor understood enough of the text to gather that the poster was a Japanese magazine exclusive with a datestamp from three years ago.

The second, half hidden behind an overflowing laundry hamper and obviously home-printed on copy paper, showed Yuuri and Yuuko dressed as Ice Castle's mascots. It was signed in four colours of crayon: one each for Yuuko and her triplets.

"Oh," Victor said. He'd suspected, but this was too good to be true.

Yuri looked on the verge of angry tears. It could have been emotion or hormones that made his voice crack. "If you tell anyone--"

Victor tapped his index finger to his mouth. It would be so easy to say something and ruin... whatever this was, so he considered his words carefully. Even if fanboy summed things up nicely.

Silence lit a fire under Yuri, who turned to shove clothes into his backpack with unnecessary force. Everything sort of matched when all of your clothes came in shades and matching animal print; as fond of Yuri as he was, Victor had never understood why Yuri's fans considered him a fashion icon. "Fine. Take the fucking thing. I couldn't care less."

"It's yours, Yura, and your secret is safe with me. I think it's very sweet. Besides," Victor hoped this hunch was right, "it looks like you went to a lot of trouble to get this. Did you import the magazine? Or... Did Yuuko give it to you? Was there an interview? Can I borrow it? Yuuri will have to translate but it would be good practice to try reading it mys--"

Victor's athletic reflexes narrowly saved him from a leopard-spotted blade guard to the face.


4.

"You're very patient with Yurio."

"I remember being a teenager," Yuuri said, with the same grim tone he used to talk about his self-perceived failure at Sochi, or the photo album of his preteen ballet recitals that Mari had conveniently left open on the arm of Victor's couch. So far that tone had led only to delightful things, so Victor didn't feel bad about digging for a story.

Victor thumbed through to his phone's Japanese keyboard and worked out a message to Mari. His writing was still serviceable at best, so he repeated the request in english.

Sisters were a blessing that Victor hadn't known growing up. Mari, in particular, was surely the best (near future) sister-in-law anyone could want: supportive, hardworking, always willing to take time out of her busy day to critique his fledgling language skills and dig up embarrassing photos of her baby brother.

The attached picture was definitely his Yuuri, younger and chubby-cheeked under a black surgical mask, the same quiet intensity about the eyes, but no sign of the sweet shy smile Victor adored.

Yuuri's jacket draped carelessly from his shoulders. His hair was styled back, bangs bleached in jagged pieces that screamed DIY, eyebrows stuck in an awkward middle stage of growing back. Victor couldn't imagine why they would have been shaved to begin with. No glasses, so the squint that was meant to look tough was probably just him compensating for poor vision.

Mari stood off to the side, long hair fully bleached, ears lined with piercings, dressed in an artfully rumpled school uniform and long skirt. Was this... a thing? A look?

"What's wrong with your face?"

Yuri stepped off the ice like a shark scenting blood. Victor was still thrown off by that expression - innocent curiosity - on that face - planes and angles and sharp cheekbones.

Well, it was too good not to share.

Yuri accepted the phone.

Laughter burst out of him like a gunshot.

"Hey! Katsudon!" Victor made a halfhearted grab for his phone; really he was glad, because he had so many questions, wanted to know the context behind his new favourite picture of Yuuri. Yuri held the screen over the rinkboards until Yuuri skated close enough to see.

Yuuri sputtered. "Wha-- Why do you have this?"

All eyes turned to Victor. "You never talk about your teenage years, so I asked Mari-neechan."

Yuuri buried his face in his hands. "I thought you loved me," he moaned.

It wasn't really a question, but just in case, Victor opted for something reassuring. "I love you even more after seeing this."

Yakov Feltsman could sense a disruption to practice from halfway across St. Petersburg - he claimed his students had forced him to develop a sixth sense to keep ahead of their drama, and his students had accepted the challenge and taken their dramatics to new heights. Victor caught Yakov peering through his office window, face set into deep lines, and he crossed the arena to them in a stride that meant trouble.

Victor retrieved his phone and held it out to Yakov. "Yakov! Yuuri wasn't kidding about his dark past."

Yakov ran a hand over his bald forehead; he only did that when he was stressed, and Victor couldn't understand why he would find an innocent picture stressful. He looked at each of them in turn, and whatever decision he came to made him reach for his wallet, pulling a piece of folded paper from the billfold. Yuuri accepted the paper and unfolded it.

Most of Russia had witnessed Victor Nikiforov's whirlwind teenage years. Photographic evidence was a google search away. Any invested fan knew about that phase of his career: the black nailpolish, the dramatic costumes, the harsh things he'd done to his long hair for performances that had damaged it beyond repair.

(This is damage control, Yakov had told him after ordering Victor to get a haircut. Victor wasn't sure if he was talking about framing the haircut as an image change or getting rid of his horrendous split ends.)

Yakov's candids preserved the less flattering aspects. Namely, the attitude.

"Don't let him bully you. I survived this Vitya," Yakov said, with one hand clapped companionably to Yuuri's shoulder. "Always caught up in some drama with the RSF. No filter. We had to hire a publicist from abroad when no one local would work with him. Whatever ridiculous stunts he pulls now, I look at this and think to myself... at least he's no longer this walking heart attack."

"Yakov," Victor whispered, clutching his chest.

"Back to practice," Yakov shouted, carrying across the rink at a volume that snapped everyone to attention. The picture disappeared neatly into its place in his wallet. He warned Victor at regular volume: "get your head in the game, or I'll acquaint your rinkmates with your old choreography notes. Nineteen was a dramatic age." Then he left as quickly as he'd come, as though he hadn't just thrown his own student to the wolves.

Yuuri joined Victor on the bench, slid their palms together, slotted their fingers, squeezed. "As much as I'd love to see those notes, he's right." There was an edge behind his smile: Victor had started this, but Yuuri would finish it, all while sweetly holding his hand.

Yuri's eyes were sparkling, like maybe this was the best day of his life. "You used to be cool," he said in a low voice; realizing how that sounded out loud, he rushed to follow it with a biting "what happened?"

Yuri jogged after Yakov, nape and ears burning red, before Yuuri could respond. [3]


5.

Victor almost turned and walked out of his own apartment.

Makkachin leapt to greet him, as usual, but the lap he jumped from was not his Yuuri's. Yuri Plisetsky spared him a glance, a dismissive half-wave, and turned back to the television.

Yuri's feet were propped on the coffee table next to a laptop, HDMI cable, and a leaning tower of hand-labeled DVDs. The television screen played a grainy video, quality lost in the transfer from VHS to DVD and a much larger screen ratio, but the woman who held center stage was unmistakable. Okukawa Minako had a timeless grace and effortless movements that could only be achieved through a lifetime of hard work. She still had it, pushing fifty years old.

Victor waved and followed Makkachin into the kitchen, where the twilight zone ended. Makkachin settled patiently at Yuuri's feet to beg for scraps. Victor draped himself across Yuuri's back. This was normal.

Yuuri leaned into his weight. "How was practice?"

"I missed you," Victor said. "I miss you whenever we're apart."

Yuuri continued to cut broccoli into bite-sized pieces. "You don't say."

"Yuura," Victor definitely did not whine. "I waited all afternoon to see you. I couldn't focus on anything else. If I could just hear your sweet voice--"

"I'm talking," Yuuri pointed out. "Is there something you want me to say?"

Yuuri edged the broccoli aside with his knife and moved on to an onion.

"Yuurichka."

"Oh, I see. I guess you'll have to make me say it." Yuuri used the same tone for we should add bread to the grocery list or time for Makkachin's walk. So cruel.

Something whipped by Victor's face. It took out one of the onions Yuuri had set aside in its arc across the counter, clattering to a stop against the backsplash. Victor's hand paused in its descent of Yuuri's stomach.

Yuri met his eyes over the back of the couch. "I'm right here, you pervert," he said.

Victor smiled. "How could I forget!" Not only because Yuri's aim was good enough that he'd only missed on purpose, but also because it was weird to have a rinkmate in his apartment.

Georgi had stopped by, once, without an invitation. It had been terrible and had never happened again.

Yuuri's shoulders bounced with contained laughter. "Later, Viten'ka."

The second DVD case clipped Victor's shoulder, but he was a man in love, and Yuuri had a very kissable neck. Yuuri, ever the romantic, hip-checked him aside to grab a saucepan.

The night continued like a strange dream.

"You used the spices grandpa sent over," Yuri noted with approval, shoveling down a second helping of dinner.

Yuuri poked at his food. "I did! It's... different, but I like it."

"Good. Now I can tell him your cooking tastes like real food." Lilia would die if she knew Yuri still talked with his mouth full.

Victor had met Nikolai Plisetsky a few times: usually at competitions, a few times when he made the trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Never more than a greeting and small talk.

After dinner Victor sprawled across the couch, head in Yuuri's lap, knees bent over Yuri's legs. Makkachin jumped onto his stomach and took her time settling into a comfortable spot that managed to touch all three of them. "Are we watching old videos tonight? What's the occasion?"

"Shut up. You'll see." Yuri didn't look away from the screen.

Only Yuri could be so rude to a man in his own living room. "I guess I'll go where I'm wanted," Victor said, staying exactly where he was, except to raise his knees enough to force Yuri to move further down the couch. Yuri eventually won the fight that followed, pinning Victor's legs to the couch by sitting on them, and afterward Victor felt less like he'd walked into his apartment in an alternate universe.

"Yura hasn't seen The King and the Skater," Yuuri explained, ignoring them, carding through Victor's hair with one hand while the other rested on the laptop touchpad. "Phichit thinks that's a cardinal sin."

Yuri rolled his eyes. "I asked what Yuuri thinks, not what Phichit thinks. Anyway, neither has Beka."

"Yuuri thinks it's worth watching." His cheeks were a contented pink. Yuuri opened an app window on his laptop with a video screen on one side and chat on other, text in a mix of cyrillic and roman alphabets. The scroll bar cut off the context for Otabek saying he would consider DJing a wedding reception, though it wasn't really his scene, and the sliver of a scroll bar suggested the conversation had been going on for a while.

"Simulcast. This way Otabek can watch with us." Yuuri typed ready? into the chat window in english. Otabek and Yuri (from his phone) replied with thumbs-up emoticons.

As the opening credits played, Victor thought that this was nice. Whatever this was - Yuuri's hands idly stroking his hair, Makkachin crammed around him into every spare inch of couch, Yuri curled as small as his growing frame would allow, which was fine, even if his bony ass was putting Victor's calves to sleep - Victor decided he could get used to it.