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a million miles from your desperate days

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[image: an empty living room, minimalistic and pristine; dull, gray morning light coming in through the windows.]

v-nikiforov Home, sweet home! #saintpetersburg #yuurikatsuki #jetlag

 

Saint Petersburg welcomes them with snow and wind coming in from the river.

In the early morning light, the city looks like it’s been here forever, distant and ageless, but Victor welcomes it like an old friend. It’s written all over his face, the way it had been that day at the beach—that no matter where he goes, there will always be a part of Victor that belongs to Saint Petersburg.

Yuuri understands that. He might have left Hasetsu for five years without a single visit—between school and training, and then his relocation to Detroit to train under Celestino—but the feeling of knowing where his home is has never left him. He’s always known that if—when—he returned, the sleepy little town would still be there to welcome him as one of its own.

This is what it must feel like for Victor, coming back.

They take a taxi back to Victor’s apartment, and once they’re comfortably seated in the back of the cab, Yuuri leans against Victor’s shoulder to watch the unfamiliar streets pass him by out of the corner of his eye. The silence of the cab is soothing, and so is the feeling of Victor’s chest rising and falling beneath Yuuri’s head.

They are both beyond exhausted—the flight from Barcelona had been delayed, and then they circled above Pulkovo Airport until the weather cleared enough for them to land. All their belongings currently fit into four suitcases while they’re waiting for the rest of their things to be shipped along with Makkachin from Japan.

It’s only two weeks until the Russian Nationals.

“Yuuri, we’ll be home soon,” Victor says into his hair before he presses a soft kiss to Yuuri’s temple.

Yuuri feels faintly sick with anticipation and dread at the same time. There is a part of him that fears he will never be able to fit as seamlessly into Victor’s life here as Victor had been able to fit into Yuuri’s life in Hasetsu. Wherever he goes, Victor seems at ease, charming the people he meets and easily falling into the rhythm of their lives like he’s always been there, but Yuuri isn’t like that. He knows how to go on with the hollow feeling inside his chest where his homesickness lives, but he’s not good at making himself at home around new people.

Usually, it doesn’t bother him. He’s content to be left alone to do things at his own pace, and he doesn’t seek other people’s approval, but Victor has been talking about introducing him to all the people at the rink like it’s important to him that they like Yuuri. Like it’s important to him that Yuuri likes them.

Victor’s apartment building has a doorman who holds the door open for them as they drag their luggage inside and chats pleasantly with Victor in Russian like they’re old friends. The only thing Yuuri can make out is Victor’s last name, the rest of it drowned out by the speed with which they converse. Yuuri can read a little Cyrillic and clumsily transliterate it into the Latin alphabet when given enough time because, embarrassingly enough, he’d spent far too much of his teenage years trying to keep up with the news on Victor in any way he could, but this is beyond his capabilities.

“Come, Yuuri,” Victor tells him, already calling the elevator, and Yuuri rushes through the lobby to meet him just as the elevator door slides open. Victor turns to him with a smile and takes Yuuri by the hand. He looks radiant. “I have so much to show you!”

Victor’s apartment is beautiful and airy, and absolutely sterile.

Yuuri stands in the doorway for a moment too long, looking around the bright, open space that looks like it has never been lived in at all and tries to imagine Victor coming here after practice, day after day. Tries to imagine Victor living here, curling up with Makkachin on the sofa under a pile of blankets and eating at the kitchen table, coming back in from the cold with a cup of coffee, Makkachin’s leash in hand.

It’s hard for him to imagine living in a place that looks like it came straight out of a catalogue and has been furnished by a professional interior decorator. His home in Hasetsu has always been full of mismatched furniture and knick-knacks gathering dust on shelves; his apartment back in Osaka was the size of a shoebox and sparsely decorated, but there were clothes he didn’t bother to put away left on the chair, his training gear lying in a heap in the corner by the door, and posters of Victor on the walls; and the apartment he shared with Phichit in Detroit never felt as temporary as it was in reality.

This place is something else entirely.

Finally, Victor turns back to him with an expectant smile, arms splayed wide as if to encompass the entirety of this beautiful, cold space.

“So?” he prompts and Yuuri takes a step forward. “How do you like it? I’d lived here alone before I came to Hasetsu, obviously, just Makkachin and me, but there’s a lot of space, so you don’t have to worry.”

“It’s…beautiful,” Yuuri says. It’s not a lie, but he’s been here all of three minutes and it’s a little overwhelming, if he’s being completely honest with himself, to finally see the place where Victor used to live before he knew Yuuri and find only loneliness lurking in the corners.

He can see the moment Victor’s face falls.

“We can redecorate if you don’t like it,” he says like it’s obvious, like the furniture here didn’t most likely cost more than Yuuri has earned in his entire life. “I let a professional handle this back when I bought it, but—”

“No, it’s not that.” Yuuri shakes his head and takes a step closer, then another, until he’s close enough to reach for Victor’s hands. “It’s just— It’s a big place for just one person.”

To his surprise, Victor smiles. His thumb keeps running along the rim of Yuuri’s ring like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

“Well, I had Makkachin, of course,” he replies, and Yuuri wants to say, it’s not the same, but doesn’t open his mouth. Victor, meanwhile, grows more serious and brings Yuuri’s right hand up to his mouth to kiss his fingers. To kiss the ring. “And now I have you, too.”

At that, some of the tension leaves Yuuri’s body. It’s true—as long as they’re doing this together, it doesn’t matter where they are. That’s the most important thing.



[image: an open walk-in closet; piles of clothes strewn around the floor.]

v-nikiforov Moving in! #saintpetersburg #yuurikatsuki

 

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, to come into the remnants of somebody’s old life all of a sudden after they’ve already moved on.

Just being with Victor—that’s easy, and it has never been a problem, not since Yuuri finally figured out what he wanted for himself and what he wanted for both of them: a life together, wherever it takes them. It’s the other things—the everyday, mundane things—that come with being with Victor that sometimes give him pause and leave him with a feeling like he’s somehow missed a step while walking down the stairs.

That’s what it feels like now, too, as he stands in the middle of the walk-in closet, trying to unpack.

It’s been less than twenty-four hours since they touched down at Pulkovo. Thirty minutes earlier, Victor returned from the airport with the rest of their luggage and Makkachin, shipped back from Japan by Yuuri’s family, in tow.

Once Victor left the other side of the bed empty and cold, Yuuri found that he couldn’t sleep anymore, either. He spent fifteen minutes tossing and turning in the crisp, white sheets that smelled like unfamiliar fabric softener before giving up and making his way into the kitchen to make coffee and wait for Victor to return.

Now Victor is back, drinking his morning coffee while lounging on the sofa with a newspaper that Yuuri will probably never be able to read. He never took Victor for someone who reads newspapers instead of browsing the news online. But then again, Victor is already a walking contradiction.

Makkachin, hazy and tired after the long journey spent in the cargo hold of a plane, slowly reacquaints himself with his old home, sneezing every time he pushes his nose into a corner like he’s confused by the half-forgotten, half-unfamiliar scents. Yuuri understands. He thought the apartment would still smell like Victor, but it mostly smells like dust.

There is still so much luggage waiting to be unpacked. Yuuri might feel more overwhelmed by all of it if he didn’t have so much practice moving from place to place. The first time was the hardest—back when he moved to Osaka for university and changed coaches again. After that, uprooting his entire life every few years just became routine.

It still feels strange, though, and almost inappropriate to hang the jackets and sweaters he’s owned since he was eighteen, worn and soft with age, next to Victor’s Burberry coats and Armani suits. More than anything else, this is what hammers home the message that the two of them come from two completely different worlds.

And yet—Victor came to Hasetsu with the force of a hurricane and managed to make himself right at home at Yu-topia, somehow fitting into the quiet rhythm of their lives. Maybe this means that Yuuri will fit into Victor’s life here, too, against all odds or reason.

There’s a suitcase missing, he realizes somewhere in the middle of unpacking, and he can feel the flash of heat blooming from the center of his chest and up his face when he realizes it’s the one where Mari packed all of his winter clothes.

“Victor,” he calls out into the living room, “wasn’t there another suitcase somewhere? A large dark blue one?”

The sound of footsteps comes closer and closer until Victor comes into his view, leaning against the doorframe. The soft, striped sweater he’s wearing is sliding off his shoulder, exposing his collarbone.

“No, I don’t think so.” He taps his finger against his lips, thinking. “Why?”

Yuuri swallows. He’s not panicking yet—it’s not like that time the airlines lost his costumes two days before Four Continents when he was twenty.

“All of my winter clothes are missing,” he says. “We need to call the airport, maybe there was a mix-up and it’s still there somewhere. Victor, they need to find it.”

If they don’t, the only winter clothes he has are what he’d packed for Barcelona, and winter in Spain has nothing on winter in Russia.

Victor, solemn but not too worried, goes to make a phone call, while Yuuri frantically tries to calculate the time difference in his head to make sure it’s not too early or too late to call Mari and ask if she’s sure she didn’t forget about one suitcase.

She didn’t. The call is brief, and once Yuuri hangs up, he listens to Victor talking in rapid-fire Russian to the person on the other end of the line. He sounds pleasant and perfectly polite, but even without understanding the words, Yuuri can hear the edge of frustration in his voice.

“It seems that there has been some sort of misunderstanding and they sent it to Australia by accident,” Victor announces once he’s disconnected the call, coming back to the bedroom, phone still in hand. “They’ll ship it back to Russia as soon as they find it, but it might take them a few days. A week, maybe.”

Yuuri slumps against the wall, his shoulders hunched.

“But in the meantime,” Victor continues, undeterred, “there are some great places to shop around Saint Petersburg, so we can take you shopping.”

He says it like it’s the obvious solution, like worrying about it never even crossed his mind in the first place.

“What? No, we’re not going to do that,” Yuuri says categorically, because the entire notion is completely ridiculous. “Why would I waste money like that? My clothes will be here in a week. I can make do with what I have until then. I’ll live.”

“Oh, well, in that case,” Victor says with a smile that is entirely too self-satisfied for the circumstances, “I’ll just have to lend you some of mine.”



[image: team japan and team russia jackets hung over the boards next to each other; two pairs of skate guards set neatly next to them.]

v-nikiforov Back to where it all began, now with some wonderful company! #yuurikatsuki #saintpetersburg #sportschampionsclub #teamrussia #teamjapan

 

They arrive at the Sports Champions Club for the first afternoon practice with half an hour to spare, thanks to Victor’s reckless driving, and once Yuuri crosses the threshold and breathes in the unmistakable smell of the ice, his nerves seem to settle.

He has never, in his entire life, been more grateful for the fact that all rinks are fundamentally the same.

Training, at least, he knows how to handle. He goes through the motions with a single-minded focus as he gets ready for practice, tuning out everything else while he changes into his athletic gear and starts to lace up his skates.

He’s halfway done with the first boot when the bench rattles with the weight of another person. When Yuuri looks to the side, Yurio is sitting at an arm’s length, eyeing the clothes folded into a neat pile right next to Yuuri with suspicion.

“Does he dress you now, too?” he asks with all the fake bluster and abrasiveness Yuuri has come to expect of him. “That’s his favorite sweater.”

It feels familiar, this half-belligerent back and forth, even though Yurio spent only a short while in Hasetsu, back before Victor officially became Yuuri’s coach. Back before Victor became many things. Still, there are some things that don’t change, Yuuri supposes.

“The airlines lost some of my luggage.” Yuuri resumes lacing up his skates, glancing to the side at Yurio, who keeps scrolling through his Twitter feed with a scowl. “Victor is just lending me his clothes until I get it back.”

“Oh, yeah, I bet he’s really fucking heartbroken about the missing luggage.”

Yuuri smothers a smile into the sleeve of his jacket.

“You’d have to ask Victor that.”

Yurio bristles as he finally gets to putting his skates on. “Like hell.” For a moment, he’s quiet as he laces up one boot, then another, pulls up his leg warmers. Then he stands up, looking at Yuuri expectantly. “Come on, I’m gonna show you around. No use waiting until you get fucking lost on your first day because Victor is too much of an airhead to remember to give you the tour.”

After a lifetime spent at various rinks, Yuuri is pretty sure he could navigate the nooks and crannies of the Sports Champions Club with little difficulty, but he still goes, lets Yurio point him in the direction of the showers, the cafeteria, the gym.

“And don’t,” Yurio says with emphasis, turning on his heel with more grace than his skate guards should allow, “mention Yubileyny in front of Yakov. This rink might not be as flashy, but it’s ours.”

Yuuri certainly won’t, mostly on account of the fact that he has no idea what Yubileyny even is. A rival rink, he guesses.

When they step onto the ice, Victor is already there, running through his short program under Yakov’s unimpressed stare. He choreographed it on the plane from Barcelona, asking Yuuri for input every now and then with the step sequences, but to see it skated live is something else.

The thing about Victor, Yuuri guesses, is that he makes what they do look so effortless that it’s easy to forget how breathtaking his skating really is, until you see it right before your eyes—the perfect lines of his body, the gentle slope of his neck as he inclines his head to the side.

His music is playing on the speakers, and even though there are other skaters on the ice—Yuuri recognizes Georgi and Mila Babicheva—he has the entire rink captivated. Yuuri finds himself incapable of looking away, enraptured.

“It’s beautiful,” he whispers.

“It is.” To his left, Yurio is watching, too, with an awestruck look on his face, before he covers it with his usual scowl. “He’s still crazy, though, to start learning a new routine two weeks before Nationals. I’m going to wipe the floor with him.”

On center ice, Victor strikes his final pose and holds it, his fingertips outstretched gracefully in Yuuri’s direction. Then he takes off at a sprint until he’s hugging Yuuri and twirling them around, his face buried in the crook of Yuuri’s neck.

“Yuuri!” he exclaims once they part. “How did you like it?”

Yuuri swallows, his throat tight. “It was amazing,” he says. It’s the truth—he’s never seen Victor skate with this much freedom before, like he was being carried across the ice by some unseen force.

Victor, however, barrels on undeterred. “What did you think about the step sequence?” he asks. “I think we got it right, didn’t we? Maybe I should tweak the jump composition, though, go for a quad-triple combination at the end and push the flip earlier, and—”

“Victor,” Yuuri interrupts him, forcing Victor to finally look at him. Their hands are still linked between them. “It was amazing.”

He doesn’t need to ask what Victor’s theme is. He already knows it’s life.

Before Victor can say anything else, though, he’s called away by Yakov, leaving Yuuri alone with Yurio, Georgi, Mila, and a few other skaters Yuuri doesn’t know who have gathered to watch Victor skate. Now that the only thing they all have in common is gone, Yuuri finds himself at a loss for words.

For all their idiosyncrasies, they seem like a tight-knit group of people who know each other well and who have been together through good times and bad, supporting each other. Apart from Phichit, Yuuri has little frame of reference for what it’s like to have something like that. There was Yuuko, of course, and Nishigori, to an extent, but by the time Yuuri was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and started winning national titles in the juniors, they couldn’t really keep up with him anymore. These people here all know what it takes to win on the international stage.

Yuuri, though—Yuuri is just an outsider.

It doesn’t bother him that much. He’s used to being the odd one out, has been that for the majority of his life.

He’s ready to skate away to run through his choreography, taking advantage of the fact that everyone else seems to be taking a break, when he feels two arms wrap around him from behind and then Victor’s cold face burying itself in the crook of his neck. Victor inhales deeply and makes a sound deep in his throat, completely unconcerned about the audience. Yuuri goes hot in the face.

“Are you a dog,” Yurio demands. “You’re disgusting.”

Mila just laughs as she tries to wrestle a furiously resisting Yurio into a chokehold.

“Welcome,” she says, “to the Sports Champions Club.”



[image: the figure of a man, dressed in a camel coat and a charcoal scarf, walking down a park alley covered in snow with a standard poodle on a leash, looking over his shoulder with a smile.]

v-nikiforov Out for a walk at the Alexandrovsky Sad! #saintpetersburg #yuurikatsuki #makkachin #dogsofinstagram

 

Saint Petersburg is beautiful in the same way that Victor is beautiful—overwhelming and breathtaking, and seemingly always just barely out of reach.

But even as they walk the unfamiliar streets of the city that Yuuri is slowly beginning to acquaint himself with, his hand never leaves Victor’s. Instead, it rests nestled comfortably in the warmth of the pocket of Victor’s coat or hangs loosely between them as they take Makkachin out to the park on the south bank of the Neva, near Victor’s apartment.

When Yuuri was younger, he sometimes imagined what it would be like, to really meet Victor face to face, come close enough to see for himself if his hair was as soft as it looked on the tv, long and flowing. Come close enough to touch.

It was never supposed to be anything more than a fantasy. Competitively, Yuuri has always wanted to skate with Victor on the same ice as his equal; privately, he never thought he would find it in himself to come close enough for Victor to acknowledge his existence. In that, they were always supposed to keep their distance.

And yet here he is, in this unfamiliar place, brushing shoulders with Victor as they walk.

This is Victor’s city, through and through. He knows it in that intimate way people know the places in which they’ve spent their entire lives, until those places irrevocably became parts of them, deep in the marrow of their bones. Next to him, Yuuri can only try to catch up.

Still, he tries.

They have a routine going by now, a month into their life together in Saint Petersburg. They wake up far too early and go to morning practice, eat a light lunch, then spend the time after the afternoon practice at home if they have no prior engagements, or take Makkachin on long walks around the neighborhood whenever they have a moment.

Slowly, Yuuri learns how to unravel the unfamiliar maze that is Saint Petersburg.

He knows that in Hasetsu, the snow is nothing but a distant memory by now, to Mari’s infinite relief, but winter still holds Saint Petersburg firmly in its grasp. Yuuri is no stranger to cold and frost, but it feels bolder here somehow, more biting. Still, he can’t find it in himself to complain when what it means is Victor’s hands and lips warming his fingers, Victor’s arm slung across his shoulder to keep them close and keep them warm, and cups of hot tea on their way home.

“It’s too bad the river is still frozen over,” Victor sighs wistfully as they walk along the waterfront one evening, their gloved fingers tangled together between them. Makkachin, even less behaved than usual, keeps pulling Yuuri forward on his leash. “In the summer, there are boats that you can hire to take you all around the city along the river. We should go, once the ice thaws.”

Once the ice thaws, they will probably be too busy doing ice shows for the first half of the off-season and then working on their new routines for the second half, so they might not manage before the city gets overrun with tourists come summer. But it’s still a nice thought.

For now, there is still wet, heavy snow lingering on the sidewalks, slowly turning into a gray sludge that sloshes under their feet as they walk; dead, barren trees in the park where they walk Makkachin in the afternoons; and cold, tired people rushing to get off the streets and leave the gray January cold behind.

Back in Japan, or even in the States, Yuuri would be just another one of those nameless people, braving the elements with their faces turned down, their eyes on the pavement, watching out for the patches of black ice that still remain on the sidewalks despite all the salt that blooms in white at the soles of their shoes no matter what they do to wash it off.

He’s lived in big cities before, even if he likes the quiet, unassuming calm of Hasetsu best, but back in Osaka or Detroit, he’s always been just another face in the crowd. Here, next to Victor, it’s impossible.

He knows that there are people who take pictures of them as they walk Makkachin in the afternoons, to upload on social media or sell to the papers; some of them stay at a respectful distance, but some of them approach, asking for photos and autographs. Victor always smiles, because he always, always smiles graciously at his fans, slipping into the role he’s played for so long that Yuuri can’t help but wonder if he’s forgotten that he’s even playing anymore.

So he stops for them, chats with them, and introduces them to Yuuri, then leaves them with a wave and a smile, and the impression that Victor is more grateful to them than they should be to him, for sharing his extraordinary talent with the rest of the world.

Yuuri can’t say that he understands, because he’s never been to Japan what Victor is to Russia, and it frustrates him sometimes—the way Victor always makes himself so approachable and available even when Yuuri would just tug on a flu mask and try to scurry away in his place. Victor stays, though, and gives his fans his undivided attention for a moment, like it’s his privilege and his duty at the same time.

But, in the end, when all the autographs are signed and all the photos are taken, Victor always turns back to Yuuri, takes him by the hand and presses a kiss to his temple.

“Come, Yuuri,” he says, nosing his way under Yuuri’s scarf to leech warmth for a little while. “I have so much to show you.”

And so they go, making their way around the city, with Makkachin trotting happily at their side. In time, Yuuri thinks, maybe he could learn to love this city as much as he loves Victor. It’s not home yet, but, one day, it could be.



[image: a brightly-lit rink; the silhouette of a man landing a quad flip, arms and free leg extended.]

v-nikiforov Ready to fly. #yuurikatsuki #worlds2017

 

It’s two weeks out from Worlds when Yuuri hits a slump.

The quad flip, which earned him gold at the Japanese Nationals and then again at Four Continents, goes from semi-consistent to nonexistent in the span of a day as Yuuri falls over, and over, and over again throughout the practice. At the end of the day, his hip feels like one huge bruise, sore and throbbing with pain at every move. Still, he grits his teeth and skates through it. No reason to stop now—not until he finally gets it right.

He’s alone in his corner of the ice right now. Georgi, who usually tries to keep him company out of politeness, and Mila, who likes to annoy Yurio by hanging around Yuuri as much as she seemingly likes to actually talk to him, have both finished early today, leaving just the three of them. After a while, Yurio has left, too, to do his off-ice conditioning at the gym.

Now it’s only the two of them and Yakov, who keeps glancing in Yuuri’s direction every now and then but never says a word.

When Yuuri falls again, hard enough that the impact forces a groan of pain out of him, Victor, who’s been going over his footwork on the other end of the rink, stops and skates over.

“I think that’s enough for today, Yuuri,” he says, extending his hand to help Yuuri back to his feet.

Yuuri shakes his head. Their hands are still touching in the small, insignificant space between them. “No, no, it’s fine,” he tries to reassure Victor, tries to shake it off. “I know I can do this, I’m just…off today. But it’s fine!”

Victor squeezes his hands. “What did I tell you about resting properly, hm?” he asks in a serious tone. “You took a lot of falls today; don’t think I didn’t notice. You need to let your body recover. We’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

Yuuri frowns. “And what did I tell you about trying to sound like a proper coach?” he jokes, because the alternative is to panic.

When they come home in the afternoon, Victor covers his mouth with his hand when he sees the bruise slowly blooming across Yuuri’s hip, like he hasn’t suffered this—and worse—himself. For skaters like them, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. And yet.

Victor, Yuuri realizes, probably thinks he’s being sneaky, with the cushions on the couch suddenly materializing in Yuuri’s usual spot and the offers of a hot bath, and the fact that Victor walks Makkachin on his own while Yuuri is in the bathroom and comes back in less than fifteen minutes.

“You’re not worried, are you?” Victor asks later, when they’re lying together on the couch, with Makkachin curled in on himself beneath their feet like a warm, fluffy breathing pillow.

Victor’s fingers keep stroking the inside of Yuuri’s wrist absentmindedly, where the skin is thin and almost translucent, tender. It makes Yuuri shiver.

“You must know by now that it’s impossible to look away when you skate,” Victor continues. “You have nothing to worry about.”

“No, it’s not that,” Yuuri says, not entirely sure himself if he’s telling the truth. “It’s just that—” He pauses, trying to put in words what has been going on inside of him—the fear that now he must prove himself yet again in front of Victor the skater, not just Victor the coach. The fear that he might succeed. “It’s the first time we’ll be skating against each other. First time since Sochi, at least.”

It’s an almost impossible situation, and much harder than he expected it to be; he wants to win, but he doesn’t want Victor to lose.

It’s not only that, though, but his head is just a jumble of conflicting feelings, so that’s what he settles for in the end.

“I know,” Victor says. Yuuri can feel him smile against his temple. “And you will be beautiful. We both will be.”

The following day, Yuuri goes in with a clear head and a steel resolve to push past whatever is holding him back.

The others—Yurio, Mila, Georgi, a couple of other junior skaters who mostly keep to themselves—are just watching from a distance.

He knows that Victor’s rink mates don’t dislike him, but they’re not friends either; for Yuuri, to have them see him struggle like that makes him feel awkward and unsettled. It’s like pulling off a band-aid in front of strangers to reveal the ugly, embarrassing wound underneath.

He doesn’t land a single quad flip in practice that day.

On day three of his inexplicable mental block, ten days before Worlds, Yuuri laces up his skates in complete concentration, tuning out everything else, and steps onto the ice. He takes a deep breath, and another, then exhales slowly and steels himself before pushing off towards center ice for warm-up.

He does slow, lazy crossovers for a while, then runs through a set of drills and a series of doubles before speeding up to prepare for take-off on the quad flip. He falls just as Victor skates out onto the ice, and the impact of the fall when his bruised hip touches the hard surface paints black spots in front of his eyes.

“Yuuri!” Victor skates over, and Yuuri braces himself for the scolding, but instead, Victor just extends his hand. “Come, skate with me.”

They skate around the outer edge of the rink, falling into the familiar steps choreographed for the two of them by Victor. It seems to settle Yuuri enough that he feels the tight coil in his stomach unravel. By the time they’re finished an Victor lets him go with a kiss on his knuckles, Yuuri feels a lot looser in the shoulders. Eventually, he gathers himself and skates back to the center of the rink.

He stays behind after practice, determined to make it work. He brushes off an invitation to lunch from Georgi and ignores the jabs Yurio sends his way.

Victor stays behind, too, strangely quiet all of a sudden. Maybe he’s tired. He’s been working so hard these past few months, harder than anyone else Yuuri has ever known. Yuuri realizes full well that competing and coaching at the same time must be taking a toll on him, but Victor never complains, except to grumble about Yakov in a way that’s more fond than really exasperated.

“Okay, Yuuri,” Victor says. “Let’s try this again.”

Yuuri exhales slowly, looks down at his right hand and kisses the ring. That’s what it’s always meant for them, after all—the quad flip. Love. It’s the one thing Yuuri doesn’t lack.

In the end, this is all he needs—to remind himself of this. He has the technique and he has the skill. It’s just a matter of letting his fears go.

He grounds himself in this certainty, digs the toe pick into the ice, then takes off.

The sound of the camera shutter goes off in the gold-pink light of the late afternoon just as Yuuri’s foot touches the ice, his free leg extended gracefully.

When Yuuri looks up, Victor is beaming.



[image: the silhouette of a sleeping man, chest bare, lying under the white sheets pooling around his waist, soft light seeping in through the big window.]

v-nikiforov Back from worlds and sleeping in! #yuurikatsuki #sleepingbeauty

 

There are things that are hard, in this new, strange life he’s chosen for himself.

And then there are the things that are easy.

It’s the easiest thing in the world, waking up next to Victor in their bed and dragging him in for a sleepy kiss before they go back to nap for a little while on their days off. Coming into the kitchen to the smell of coffee and tea, wrapping his arms around Victor’s waist, pushing cold hands under the hem of his shirt just to hear him yelp. Pulling him down by the wide collar of his sweater to kiss him against the kitchen counter.

The day after they come back from Worlds—Yuuri with silver, Victor with gold, as if it could’ve happened any other way—it’s Victor who wakes Yuuri with kisses trailing up the curve of his neck and behind his ear, to the sensitive spot that Victor knows always makes Yuuri squirm.

“Go back to sleep, I’m not getting up yet.” He tries to swat Victor away without opening his eyes, but Victor just pulls him closer against his chest, wrapping an arm around Yuuri’s waist and burying his face in the nape of his neck. Yuuri can feel his warm breath on his skin, the way Victor’s hair tickles slightly whenever he moves.

Victor,” he whines.

At the foot of the bed, Makkachin barks softly in his sleep, disturbed. Victor, on his part, doesn’t respond to Yuuri’s complaint in any way, just shifts even closer, trying to be sneaky about it and failing.

They got in late last night, after a flight from Helsinki, exhausted but happy for the season to be over. Earlier that day, they’d skated Stammi Vicino together, and now Yuuri wonders idly if there will ever come a time when skating the routine that brought them together won’t make him feel like his heart is full to bursting, his chest filled with light.

Their medals are tucked safely into the cabinet drawer, neatly put away next to each other. The costumes are waiting to be sent in for dry-cleaning. They have nowhere to be today, on the first day of the off-season. Soon, there will be shows, and more practice, and new choreography, but today is just for the two of them.

They doze off again for a little while; even though they are both early risers, it’s routine and necessity rather than nature. On days like this, when they have no pressing issues to attend to, they both welcome the opportunity to sleep in.

Soon, though, Victor’s impatience wins over everything else, the way it usually does, and he stirs before pressing another kiss to the nape of Yuuri’s neck. His hand, which until now has been resting against Yuuri’s abdomen, begins to slowly inch downward. Yuuri would probably be a bit more irritated that Victor is interrupting his sleep if he wasn’t slowly getting hard, too.

“What happened to not kissing silver?” he asks just to be difficult, hiding the sly smile he can’t quite contain in the pillow.

Behind him, Victor slowly rolls his hips against the curve of Yuuri’s ass. Neither of them is wearing anything, so it’s just skin on skin, and Yuuri shudders.

“I’m reconsidering,” Victor informs him in an airy tone, no rough remnants of sleep left in his voice. Then he kisses Yuuri again, down the nape of his neck, along the line of his vertebrae, at the same time as his fingers finally wrap around Yuuri’s half-hard dick.

The pace that Victor’s hand sets is lazy and slow, even though Yuuri can feel that Victor is completely hard where they’re pressed together at the small of Yuuri’s back.

“Wait, Victor—wait,” Yuuri says, already breathless, and feels as Victor stills against him. Yuuri cranes his neck to steal a kiss before he shifts to reach blindly into the nightstand for the bottle of lotion they keep there.

When he rolls back toward the center of the bed, Victor is watching him, enraptured, like Yuuri is something precious. It would be ridiculously sappy and embarrassing if it didn’t make his breath catch the way it does.

Slowly, he lets his legs fall open and reaches under the covers to spread the lotion on the insides of his thighs while Victor continues to pepper the curve of his neck and shoulder with kisses.

“Yuuri,” he murmurs into his skin with a smile that stretches across Yuuri’s shoulder blade, “you have all the best ideas.”

“I know,” Yuuri says turning onto his side and pulling Victor close to him with a hand on his hip. “Come on now, Victor.” Feeling strangely bold all of a sudden, he turns over his shoulder to look at him and drag him down for another kiss. “You know what I want.”

Victor hums quietly against the nape of his neck, then pushes between Yuuri’s closed thighs at the same time as his fingers wrap once again around Yuuri’s dick. The rhythm he sets is languid and unhurried, his other hand braced against Yuuri’s thigh, fingers splayed wide across the expanse of his skin. His forehead is pressed against Yuuri’s shoulder blade. The slow drag of skin on skin is making both of them breathless, and Yuuri can feel the way Victor’s heart is pounding in his chest.

It’s Yuuri who comes first, all over Victor’s hand and his own chest, and Victor presses a bruising kiss against the skin of his back before following him a moment later with a quiet gasp. When Yuuri turns to look at him, Victor’s hair is in a complete disarray, plastered all over his forehead and falling into his eyes.

They stay like this, pressed against each other while their breathing slows down and evens out, for a long time. The insides of Yuuri’s thighs and his chest are a mess, and he should probably get a tissue to wipe himself off, but he can’t bring himself to move just yet.

In a little while, they will both get up and shower together in Victor’s spacious bathroom, and then Yuuri will put on the wide-collared sweater that belongs to Victor and that Yuuri has taken to wearing around the apartment because it makes Victor drape himself all over Yuuri’s back, chasing his own scent on his skin. They will drink their morning coffee, and they will eat a nice breakfast, because today is their cheat day no matter what their nutritionist says. They will take Makkachin out for a walk, and they will come back home to more kisses stolen against the kitchen counter as they make fresh juice in Victor’s ridiculous, expensive juicer.

Now, though, Yuuri wipes himself off perfunctorily before turning around and burying his face in the crook of Victor’s shoulder, their legs tangled under the covers.

This, here—this part is the easiest of them all.



[image: two men, their arms around each other, posing with two women in bright sunlight in front of a café garden, smiling into the camera.]

v-nikiforov Out and about, meeting fans! #yuurikatsuki #saintpetersburg #fanencounters

 

It’s Mila who suggests that they should go somewhere together, as a group, once they all come back to Saint Petersburg after touring with ice shows all over Europe and Asia.

Yuuri has been training at the Sports Champions Club long enough to know that Yakov’s skaters all like to live out of each other’s pockets, and they’re close in a way Yuuri has only experienced once in his life—back with Phichit in Detroit. It’s also then that he discovers, with mild surprise, that he doesn’t really mind being included anymore, despite the number of loud personalities in the group and the way they all seem to lack personal boundaries for the most part.

Throughout these past few months, ever since Yuuri relocated to Saint Petersburg, Victor has been acting as a buffer between him and the rest of Yakov’s skaters, but also as a convenient excuse for Yuuri whenever he wanted to be left alone. He’s used to Yurio’s company, of course, but with Georgi and Mila, it sometimes got to be too much. Now he finds out that it doesn’t really bother him the way it used to.

He doesn’t really protest, then, when they get together after practice one day in late July and go out to eat somewhere that isn’t the rink cafeteria, with its slightly bland but nutritionist-approved meals next to the high-carb, high-protein some of the hockey players who train at the rink like to stuff themselves with after practice.

After months spent running around Saint Petersburg with Victor, Yuuri has a vague idea of where they’re going for lunch, even if the route Georgi takes to get them there is a bit roundabout—it’s a nice place with a patio and a good selection of tea that Yuuri has visited a few times with Victor.

It’s close to the rink, too, and the weather is warm and sunny, so they decide to walk. Georgi leads, with Mila hanging off Yurio’s shoulder a couple of paces behind; Yuuri and Victor follow behind them, holding hands.

Walking around Saint Petersburg with Victor means that they get recognized a lot. It’s no wonder, with Victor’s face smiling from a giant billboard by the Nevsky Prospekt metro station and the covers of at least five separate magazines on the newsstands. All of it makes it hard to forget that Victor is so much bigger than himself, not only because he’s always seemed larger than life. It was so much easier to disregard that back in Hasetsu, where Victor was just the charming, eccentric foreigner who used to chat with the fisherman on the bridge in broken Japanese every morning and walk along the beach in the afternoons, and wake up next to Yuuri in the pale light of daybreak. Back there, he was just a person. Here, he’s a god.

For Yuuri, who’s come close enough at last to be able to pull Victor off his pedestal, it’s jarring, despite the years he’d spent idolizing and deifying Victor before he really got to know him as more than just an unattainable dream. This Victor who smiles and poses for the cameras, throwing up peace signs and wrapping arms around the shoulders of his fans like they’re the best of friends, at the same time is and isn’t the same Victor who leaves dirty dishes by the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher and who wakes up with bed head more often than not. In those moments, under the scrutiny of the camera lens, he’s equal parts man and mask.

It’s hard to blame him, though, after seeing him do it over and over again for months, knowing how much pressure and responsibility has been piled onto his shoulders since he won his first junior title and became the face and future of figure skating in Russia. Yuuri can’t imagine living like that. But he can’t begrudge Victor trying to live up to that impossible standard anymore, either.

When they arrive at the bistro, the place is crowded, but all it takes for them to get a nice table out on the patio is one look from the waiter who comes to seat them; he glances up at Victor, who flashes him a friendly smile and waves, then blushes and leads them to their table while listing their lunch specials in English. Must be a Victor fan, then, if he knows who Yuuri is and that he probably doesn’t speak or understand Russian all that much.

That, in itself, is not surprising. Saint Petersburg is full of Victor fans.

“Oh my god,” Yurio spits out with contempt halfway through their meal, scowling at something behind Yuuri’s back. When Yuuri follows his line of sight, he sees a group of five people about their age, looking around for a free table. “What are they doing here?”

“They?” Yuuri asks. He thinks he vaguely recognizes one of the two men.

“Skaters from Yubileyny,” Georgi explains, eyeing them suspiciously.

Whatever bad blood there is between the Sports Champions Club and the Yubileyny Sport Club, it seems to center around Yakov. If Yuuri is being completely honest with himself, he doesn’t really care. He’s picked up on the animosity, of course, because it would be difficult not to, between Yurio’s open contempt and Mila’s more discreet jabs, but he doesn’t want to get involved. He’s not one of Yakov’s skaters; it’s none of his business.

Yurio spends the rest of the meal glaring at the skaters from Yubileyny in between bites.

“Yurio’s greatest rival from the juniors skates at Yubileyny,” Victor explains in a stage whisper that Yuuri knows is meant to rile Yurio up just a little bit.

True to form, Yurio snarls. “Please, I don’t see him winning the Grand Prix Final at fifteen,” he says.

“Yurio,” Victor chastises, reaching out to ruffle his hair, “you should be gracious in defeat and in victory.”

Yurio scoffs but goes back to the miniscule portion of plain frozen yogurt he’s allowed himself to have for dessert.

It’s nice and comfortable, Yuuri realizes—spending time with Yakov’s skaters even outside of the rink. It’s not exactly a huge revelation, but it’s still a surprise.

On their way back, once they say goodbye to Georgi, Mila and Yurio, who live in a different part of the city, they’re approached by two girls who can’t be more than nineteen, maybe twenty. Yuuri knows the script by heart: words of admiration that are the only thing Yuuri can pick out from the torrent of rapid-fire Russian, a request for an autograph and a photo, a glance and a smile spared in Yuuri’s direction, a nod of recognition that rarely amounts to anything more.

To his surprise, this time, Victor pulls him closer almost immediately, throwing an arm across Yuuri’s shoulder. Victor’s fingers keep running up and down the side of his neck as he turns to Yuuri with a wide smile that reaches all the way up to his eyes.

“Yuuri,” he says, hooking his ridiculously expensive sunglasses against the collar of his t-shirt and ushering him forward, towards the girls who wave at him instead of Victor, “don’t keep your fans waiting.”



[image: the figure of a man sleeping on a sofa, curled up under a gray blanket with a dog.]

v-nikiforov Catching up on sleep with my other favorite cuddle companion! Yuuri didn’t want to join us :( #saintpetersburg #makkachin #dogsofinstagram #yuurikatsuki

 

“No, no, everything’s fine,” Yuuri says into the phone in a quiet voice, careful not to disturb Victor, who’s napping in the living room with Makkachin snuggled against his chest. “It’s been a while, though. Sorry I haven’t called earlier.”

“You bet your ass it’s been a while, little bro,” Mari says, and then there’s the tell-tale sound of a lighter being lit, a deep inhale.

Yuuri can picture her just fine—leaning against the wall next to the back door of the inn with her eyes closed, the phone tucked between her cheek and her shoulder as she takes her smoke break. It must be late back in Japan—around nine p.m. The last of the guests should be leaving soon, except for the local regulars, because his father is too softhearted to tell them to go home at closing time.

“Sorry,” Yuuri says, scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment. He knows he doesn’t call his family often enough. It’s always been a thing with him. “I didn’t realize it’s been so long. How are you? How are mom and dad? Minako?”

On the other end of the line, Mari sighs. “You’d know if you called her every once in a while. She misses having you around, I think. Comes by the onsen all the time. You know dad, though. Too soft to tell her to knock it off with the booze. Same with mom. They’re good, though. We’re all good here.” She pauses, takes another drag of her cigarette. “It’s, you know, same old, same old. People still come here to visit the place where Victor Nikiforov used to live, though. Good for business. But how are you two doing, huh? Minako said you’re gonna be in Japan for the NHK Trophy?”

“We will,” Yuuri confirms, throwing himself back onto the bed until he’s looking at the immaculate white ceiling and the multitude of lamps hanging directly above his head. “Victor got assigned Skate Canada, and that’s a week earlier, so he can come with me.” He pauses, then adds with a sly smile, “Yurio is coming, too.”

The sound Mari makes is probably more embarrassing than anything Yuuri has done in his entire life, and that includes half-naked pole-dancing in front of the ISU officials while blackout drunk on champagne, and breaking down crying in a bathroom stall after bombing at the Grand Prix Final just to get schooled by a fifteen-year-old.

“I think I’m really getting used to living here,” he admits in a moment of honesty, unprompted. He doubts Mari expected anything beyond a general update on their lives, but this realization has dawned on him gradually, and it’s just now that it hits him full force. “It’s…it’s a nice life. I’m good. You don’t have to worry about me.”

He’s never really said anything to anyone back in Hasetsu, never so much as implied that relocating to Saint Petersburg had been so much harder than he’d expected, despite how much he loves Victor and how much he loves getting to wake up next to him every day. But gradually, he’s learned to think of Victor’s apartment—their apartment—as more than a temporary place to live. Now, when he thinks about the seagulls crying in the early hours of the morning, he thinks of Saint Petersburg first, and of Hasetsu second.

“Kid, we always worry about you,” Mari says matter-of-factly, and Yuuri feels something like a pang of guilt, low in his stomach.

“Sorry,” he mutters.

“Don’t be.” Mari dismisses him without hesitation. “You’re family, and that’s what families do. We worry.”

The truth is, for Yuuri, family has always been a thing he’s taken for granted. They have always been there to support him—always so steadfast and understanding that Yuuri has allowed himself at times to forget that what he owes them in return is his attention and appreciation.

Now, after living in Saint Petersburg for the past nine months and training alongside Victor and Yurio, he knows that not everyone is that lucky.

He’s heard the rumors before, of course, because skaters love to gossip, but now he knows about Yurio’s mom, who’s out there somewhere, trying to revive a career over fifteen years past its expiration date, and about the dad Yurio has never met in his entire life. He knows about Victor and his parents, who live in Yekaterinburg but have not once made an attempt to contact him.

“We don’t talk,” Victor said tersely when Yuuri asked him about it for the first and last time.

“Say hi to mom and dad for me, okay? For me and for Victor, I mean.” He flings a hand across his eyes and sighs. “He misses mom’s cooking and the hot springs. And say hi to Minako, too, okay? Tell her…tell her I’ll call her soon.”

“Or you could tell her yourself,” Mari scolds, but there’s not much bite to it. “Anyway, Yuuri, don’t be a stranger, okay?”

“I won’t,” Yuuri says before he disconnects. It’s a promise he always intends to keep, but still fails more than half the time. He’s been getting a bit better at it, though—it’s nothing like his second year in Osaka, at least.

He plugs the phone in to charge it and crosses the living room to get to the kitchen and start preparing lunch. Victor is still sleeping soundly, his face hidden in Makkachin’s fur.

Back in Osaka, and then in Detroit, Yuuri mostly cooked for himself, as a figure skater with a strict diet and a meager budget, but Victor has a personal chef who works together with his nutritionist, and he gets his—and Yuuri’s—meals delivered three times a week. There is still lunch and breakfast to take care of, but both Yuuri and Victor are competent enough after years of getting by on their own to handle that, so they mostly take turns in the kitchen. Sometimes, though, Yuuri will let himself be swayed by Victor’s pleading look when he doesn’t feel like cooking and it’s his turn—like today. That’s why, instead of waking him up, Yuuri just starts on the already late lunch as quietly as possible.

He’s in the middle of chopping the broccoli into florets before he steams it with the rest of the vegetables when he hears the sound of quiet footsteps, accompanied by the tell-tale clicking of Makkachin’s nails against the hardwood floor. A moment later, Victor wraps his arms around Yuuri’s waist and buries his face in the crook of his shoulder, inhaling deeply. He’s still warm from sleep.

“Mm, smells nice,” Victor mumbles into Yuuri’s skin. Yuuri is not sure if he’s talking about him or the food. Both, maybe. Victor is weird like that.

“You know, you could just help me instead of breathing into my neck.” He tries to sound stern, but still inclines his head to the side to give Victor better access.

Next to them, Makkachin is trying to get their attention and probably head scratches or at least some food. It all feels very domestic in a way that’s real.

Maybe, Yuuri thinks, if he looked at the two of them from the outside, he would see the same thing he sees when he looks at his parents, still quietly in love after decades spent together. Maybe that’s how he knows—no matter where they are, this is meant to last.



[image: the figure of a man, dressed in a navy coat and a grey scarf, leaning over a street vendor stall, holding a starbucks paper cup.]

v-nikiforov Out and about in the city to celebrate the first snow of the season. Yuuri’s Russian is getting better! #saintpetersburg #yuurikatsuki #winter #snow

 

They’re leaving the afternoon practice on Tuesday in the week between Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy when it starts to snow. At first it’s just a flurry of snowflakes that melt as soon as they touch Yuuri’s face and hair, but by the time they secure their equipment in the trunk of the car and Victor reverses out of the parking spot, it’s already snowing in earnest.

“It’s early for first snow, even here,” Victor says as they drive home, then turns to Yuuri with a smile when they stop for a red light. “We should go out after dinner! The city is beautiful after the first snowfall of the season, before it all turns to slush. Yuuri, you must see this. It is your first winter in Saint Petersburg, after all.”

At first, Yuuri wants to say that Victor surely couldn’t have forgotten already that he brought Yuuri here for the first time in the middle of December last year—really, Victor, nobody is that forgetful—but he thinks he understands. It’s one thing to come to a city that’s already in the clutches of winter, and it’s another thing to watch it become a white, serene wonderland overnight, before the real winter takes hold and brings with itself black ice on the roads and gray sludge on the sidewalks, and the kind of frost that leaves you shaken down to the core.

For Victor, it seems, the first coming of winter has never lost its charm. For Yuuri, who remembers the way Hasetsu had always taken on an ethereal air after the first snowfall of the season, it’s a chance to experience it once again in a place halfway across the world that he’s learned to call home over time.

Maybe it’s funny, he thinks, that first snow still excites even people who spend the majority of their lives around ice. And yet.

Anton the doorman greets them as they emerge from the underground garage and into the main lobby with their luggage in tow.

“Ah, Mr. Nikiforov, Mr. Katsuki!” he says in Russian with a smile while they wait for the elevator. “How was practice today? And how are the roads? It looks like it’s really gonna snow through the night.”

Yuuri knows the questions have been directed at him, because Anton slows down from the rapid-fire barrage of Russian he uses in his conversations with Victor.

His Russian has been getting better, and even though he’s still far from being fluent, he can understand and participate in simple conversations, and reading Cyrillic isn’t an issue for him anymore. He knows his accent is probably atrocious, and he can’t write in Cyrillic to save his life, but he gets by. It’s enough to make him comfortable venturing into the city without Victor at his side, because even though many people in Saint Petersburg speak English, there are still those who don’t, especially in places located away from the tourist traps.

He answers Anton in stilted Russian that still has Victor beaming at him like Yuuri is the greatest conversationalist in the world—though, to be fair, Anton is wearing a similar smile—then asks about his day in return. It’s the polite thing to do, and besides, he’s been trying to improve his track record on that front for a while. Mari would laugh, he thinks, but also approve. Phichit would probably just laugh.

They go out for a walk after dinner, because it is pretty outside, Yuuri can’t help but agree. It’s still snowing, but it’s nothing more than a slow, steady flurry of feather-light white fluff that clings to their hair and eyelashes but doesn’t slash viciously at their eyes.

There is almost no wind and, for a moment, the city stands still in reverie.

“How do you like it, Yuuri?” Victor asks as they walk along the waterfront, pulling Makkachin along on a leash.

They have a dog-walking service come pick up Makkachin every day while they’re at the rink, but he still likes to accompany them whenever they go out, always more than happy to sniff at everything even mildly interesting and chase after pigeons. If it weren’t for the first stray grey hairs around his muzzle, you could almost fool yourself into believing Makkachin was still a young dog.

“It’s beautiful,” Yuuri says in complete earnestness, looking out at the city spread out in front of him, the shimmering play of lights on the river.

Saint Petersburg, once beautiful but distant, now opens up before Yuuri in ways he could have never imagined. Sometimes he wonders if that’s what it felt like for Victor, falling into place in the slow rhythm of life in Hasetsu.

On their way back, Yuuri buys a pack of cinnamon-coated almonds from a street vendor to share between the two of them. He speaks with the woman in slow, halting Russian while Victor pretends not to watch from a few paces away, seemingly preoccupied with cleaning snow off Makkachin’s nose and muzzle.

Makkachin, Yuuri learns, loves fresh snow, so by the time they leave the waterfront behind, his fur is coated in white and he looks like the happiest dog in the world. Victor, because he’s never not ridiculous, stops every once in a while just to hug Makkachin and kiss the top of his head with a smile. Every time some of the snow caked onto the fluffy ends of Makkachin’s ears falls between Victor’s scarf and his neck, he gives an undignified shriek that has Yuuri pressing his lips into a thin line to avoid bursting into laughter.

Finally, they come home with cold faces and pink cheeks, just to be greeted by Anton at the door. Makkachin, never to be restrained by such insignificant things as good manners or obedience, shakes himself off right in the middle of the lobby while they wait for the elevator, melted snow spraying everywhere.

“Makkachin!” Victor scolds him, appalled, but it takes more than one telling off after a lifetime of indulgence to really make a difference.

Yuuri can’t exactly blame Victor, though. He knows that’s Victor’s way of trying to make up for all the time they’ve been forced to spend apart over the years.

Once they’re behind closed doors, Yuuri undoes the clasp of Makkachin’s leash, then presses Victor against the wall and kisses him, overcome with incredible fondness. He wraps his arms around Victor’s neck and pulls him in closer; their scarves are getting in the way and their lips are cold, but Yuuri doesn’t care. Victor doesn’t seem to, either—he never does, when it means he gets to kiss Yuuri.

“What was that for?” Victor asks when they part, breathless yet delighted.

Instead of answering, Yuuri, in a stroke of boldness, pulls him forward by the scarf and further into the apartment.

“I’m cold, Victor,” he says over his shoulder and gives him a long look. Victor follows.

A few moments later, they fall into their bed together in a tangle of limbs. Yuuri presses his cold hands under Victor’s shirt, and Victor presses his face into the crook of Yuuri’s neck, breathing softly. When Yuuri closes his eyes for a second and inhales, everything around him smells like Victor and home.



[image: a living room flooded with bright, crisp winter light; a dog sleeping on the sofa, covered with a slate gray blanket.]

v-nikiforov Home.

 

They return home from Nagoya in the early morning, just as the city slowly begins to wake from its slumber.

There are medals resting safely in their cases in the carry-on luggage—gold for Victor, another Grand Prix Final silver for Yuuri, second year in a row, and it stings, of course it stings, but Yuuri still can’t help but feel content, accomplished even despite that. Maybe, at twenty-five, he’s finally able to reconcile himself with the fact that doing his best doesn’t always mean winning, but also that winning is not always the most important thing.

It’s a familiar routine by now—a taxi from the airport, weaving through the early morning traffic just before the rush hour starts; Yuuri resting his head against Victor’s shoulder as they cross the city from Pulkovo Airport to their apartment on the south bank of the Neva; the sounds of the waking city passing them by. Their driver has the radio on, and the hosts are talking about roadworks and traffic around the city center—Yuuri sort of understands the gist, but not the specifics, since they keep talking at a breakneck speed and he can’t keep up all that well yet. His thoughts keep drifting off every few minutes.

It’s only two weeks until the Nationals for both of them; it will be the first competition since last year’s Nationals where they won’t be able to be there for each other. Still, Minako already volunteered to help him out at the competition, and once Yuuri returns from Japan, Victor will be here to welcome him home.

Anton opens the door for them once the taxi stops in front of Victor’s apartment building and they drag their luggage up the front stairs, tired but happy to be home.

“How was your trip?” Anton asks, and, before Victor gets the opening to start regaling him with the story of everything that happened between when they checked out of their hotel in Nagoya and when they landed at Pulkovo, Yuuri pulls his flu mask down and says, “It was good, thank you.”

He does like Anton, but he’s also tired and wants to be in his own bed, in fresh clothes and showered, as soon as possible. Victor, Yuuri has learned, is a notorious chatterbox, no matter the audience. Yuuri thinks it’s just bad manners to burden the people who technically work for you with inane stories about your life and take up more of their time than needed, but Victor manages to make it look effortless and pleasant, not bothersome. Maybe that’s just his personality. There are, after all, not many people who can resist Victor’s charm and genuine amicability.

Victor, unlike Yuuri, seems to enjoy the majority of what human interaction has to offer. It’s not a new observation, but rather one that keeps catching Yuuri off-guard over and over again.

They finally tumble through the door of their apartment a while later, their luggage in tow. At the first scratch of the key in the lock, they can hear the tell-tale clicking of Makkachin’s nails on the floor, and as soon as they open the door, he’s there to jump all over Victor with a soft whine of reproach.

“I know, I know,” Victor says, going down on one knee to properly hug Makkachin and bury his face in the dog’s fur. “We missed you, too. But we’re home now, aren’t we, Yuuri?”

Yuuri looks around the space they’ve come to share over this past year. “Yes, Victor,” he says, halfway between exasperated and fond. “We are.”

He remembers his first impression of Victor’s apartment—perfect and pristine, and cold. Now there are little traces of their life together hiding in plain sight all over the apartment: Yuuri’s jacket hanging on the weird chair coat hanger; a book in Japanese left on the coffee table, left open with its spine cracked; Yuuri’s clothes mixed with Victor’s in the laundry; a set of nice chopsticks in their cutlery cupboard; Yuuri’s dress shirts hanging next to Victor’s Armani suits in the walk-in closet.

What they have here, now, after a year of carving out a life for themselves together, is more than just a place to live.

“Victor, I’m going to shower,” Yuuri calls over his shoulder as soon as he drops his suitcase in the middle of the living room to deal with later, while Victor continues to fuss over Makkachin.

It’s moments like these that make Yuuri fully appreciate the spacious shower Victor had installed in addition to the enormous bathtub. He lets himself soak for a while under the hot spray that leaves his skin red and warm to the touch; he can feel all the pains and aches of the competition followed by sixteen hours on a plane, including a layover in Frankfurt, slowly wash away, his muscles relaxing.

After some time, just as he convinces himself to reach for the body wash and get himself ready for a nap in the hopes of fighting off the impending jetlag, he hears the glass door of the shower open behind him. Without a word, Victor steps inside and buries his face in the crook of Yuuri’s neck. His hair gets soaked almost instantly while he just stands there, shaggy like a wet dog, face hidden in Yuuri’s shoulder.

Victor takes another small step and presses his chest against Yuuri’s back. His hipbones dig into the meat of Yuuri’s ass. Yuuri knows what’s coming.

“Come on, Victor,” he whines even as his body slowly melts under Victor’s touch. “I’m tired, I just want to go to bed.”

“And here I thought you were supposed to have excellent stamina.”

Yuuri doesn’t need to turn around to know the face Victor is making. “This is not going to work on me,” he says, even though it’s a blatant lie, but if he doesn’t have to see it, he’ll have an easier time ignoring it.

He can feel the moment Victor gives in and lets go of the ridiculous notion of sucking Yuuri off in the shower at seven in the morning after over sixteen hours of travel. Instead, Victor reaches for the body wash and starts with the back of Yuuri’s neck, working methodically down until the lather reaches the swell of Yuuri’s ass.

“Later,” Yuuri tells him when Victor’s hands linger. He turns over his shoulder and presses a kiss to the corner of Victor’s mouth, a little off-center. “Sleep first, then you can kiss me anywhere you want.”

Victor’s eyes light up. “Anywhere?” he repeats, delighted. Yuuri presses his forehead against the tile and lets out a breathy laugh.

When they leave the bathroom, their bodies warm and ready for sleep, the living room is bathed in early morning light that illuminates the little fragments of their everyday life. Makkachin is fast asleep, curled up on the sofa under a soft, gray blanket and snoring softly. Victor’s navy Hermès scarf has been thrown over the couch cushions precariously, slowly slipping off. The kitchen is tidy and neat, the basil plants Yuuri has been trying to keep alive for the past few months standing next to each other on the windowsill. A stray mug has been left on the counter, gathering dust.

Yuuri has lived in many different places in his life, but this, here—this is home.

“Come, Yuuri,” Victor says, his hand outstretched in an invitation, palm open. A mirror image of a different scene, from a different time.

What awaits them is their bed, fresh linen that smells like them under the scent of laundry detergent, and slow kisses in the morning, and the way their rings catch light in the winter sunlight. A life.

Yuuri goes.