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alleyways and payphone calls

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Okayama, Japan


One of these days, if only because he feels there should be a written record, Yuuri is going to sit down and make a list of all the things five-time World Champion Victor Nikiforov classifies as 'wow.' Ekiben. Shoyu-butter popcorn. The deer in Miyajima that stole his sandwich. And now, the long, silent platform ahead.

"It's so empty," Victor marvels, as they shuffle off their equally-empty train.

"'Cause we're so late," he half-slurs back. He's only been awake for the past five minutes, and, if he's being generous, fully conscious for two. He's spent most of his life traveling now. He can sleep anywhere. But while sleeping on an airplane is a necessity, sleeping on an express train is a genuine luxury.

Victor checks his watch with a rueful grin. It's lopsided. Half a grimace. Not at all media-ready. Yuuri still almost trips over his own suitcase looking at it.

"Well, practice doesn't start until late afternoon," Victor says. "I'll make it up to you. We can sleep in."

"Make what up?" Yuuri attempts a smile. It's swallowed in a yawn. "It was fun."

"We could have spent less time at the giant..." Victor frowns and mimes shoveling something heavy. "What did you call it?"

Yuuri's smile goes unchecked this time. "Shamoji."

"Shamoji," Victor echoes brightly. Another notable entry in the 'wow' category. They were a few months too early for Miyajima's famous maple leaves, but Victor had been more than satisfied with the world's largest rice paddle, prominently displayed by the island's entry port.

He had taken at least three establishing shots, five selfies with Yuuri, maybe five more pictures with Yuuri alone, and he'd laughed like someone who'd never gone a couple hours out of his way to a tourist trap before.

(Suddenly, standing there on the platform, Yuuri gets the unshakable sense that this is true.)

They walk, the only sound the roll of their suitcases, and Yuuri doesn't feel the usual pre-competition nerves. They're coming, of course - rattling and shivering in the distance, like a train out of sight but not sensation.

But even when he makes the effort, he can't reach them - not yet. He's still stuck on five-time world champion Victor Nikiforov, carefully composing a shot of the world's largest rice paddle.


"Hm?" Yuuri blinks.

"You stopped moving," Victor says.

"... oh." Yuuri's stare drops to his feet, which should be in motion, but have definitely stopped. He should do something about that, maybe.

"Yuuri." Victor laughs and closes the distance, cupping Yuuri's face to tilt his head up. "Still with me?"

He is, kind of. Half of him is, anyway. Even if the other half isn't quite awake, isn't quite thinking in complete sentences, and is leaning into Victor's palm like that's what he's supposed to be doing.

You know how this ends, he reminds himself. It's just common sense.

And yet he finds himself thinking, please. It's not over yet.


Beijing, China

After the gala, they find a food cart behind the hotel selling fresh roast pork buns. It is, as Phichit declares, the best thing to ever happen to any of them.

"Yuuri," Phichit adds through a mouthful of pork, "the universe is apologizing for the Chili's."

Yuuri hums in agreement and takes a moment of silence for their younger selves and their not-strictly-diet-approved post-competition snack runs.

Chris shudders pointedly. "The universe will never apologize enough for Chili's."

"We wouldn't know. It was closed," Phichit sighs. "It was the only restaurant near the hotel. We almost starved to death on the side of the highway."

The thought of that parking lot, heavy with the scent of french fry oil, is enough to make Yuuri's stomach curl. The steamed bun in his hands is the heaviest meal he's had since landing in China, and between his uneven sleep schedule and the dizzying highs and lows of adrenaline, food isn't a terribly pleasant experience just yet.

And yet Victor presses another plate his way.

"I think I'm full," Yuuri says.

"Try to have one more," Victor says, pleasant but firm.

Yuuri chances a look at his face. He looks - well. It's kind of like how he looked one of those first weeks, that time Yuuri fell so spectacularly ass-over-toepick he nearly cracked his head against the ice. Except it's more like how he looked afterward, as they eased back into practice. Like he's still thinking of how things could have gone.

("He just saw your life flash before his eyes," Nishigori had laughed, while Yuuko swatted at his arm and hid a smile behind her hand.)

Maybe they should talk. Maybe that's what you do when have a meltdown in a parking garage and attempt a quad flip in competition and get kissed once in mid-air and then once in the lobby and twice in the hotel room. They talked a little last night. At least, he remembers sitting down to talk, and then waking up several hours later drooling on Victor's chest. So he's not sure how far they got.

The next time he looks up, Phichit's level stare has taken in the both of them, considering. It is vaguely reminiscent of the looks he used to give Yuuri during finals, like he was trying to decide whether to take him to the ER or the KFC. But when he speaks again, he's smiling.

"So, Victor," he says. "Do I finally get to retire the Yuuri Katsuki Hotline?"

"Phichit-kun," Yuuri groans. "No."

"The what?" Victor says.

"Not that I minded," Phichit says with a pointed look at Yuuri, "but every other call I got the entire time I lived in Detroit was like..." He affects a California drawl. Every American Phichit imitates, no matter where they're from, sounds like a Ninja Turtle. "So, Yuuri Katsuki. Like, what's his deal? What's he into?"

"It was not," Yuuri says. He's not sure they can hear him over their own howls of laughter.

"Phichit." Victor leans forward, his expression serious. "You're going to need to tell me everything."

"Ohh?" Chris's smile curves. "Where's that famous Nikiforov respect for the competition?"

"I have plenty of respect," Victor says with a wave of his hand. "But I'm feeling very validated right now."

Which - Yuuri doesn't even know what that means.

"Let me put it this way," Phichit says. "One of us never paid for his own coffee. Hint: it was not me."

"That was--!" Yuuri's mouth hangs open, then snaps shut. "I just - I pulled a lot of all-nighters, so - people just..."

Phichit shoots Victor a despairing look over the top of Yuuri's head. "Why is he like this?"

Victor's nod is solemn. But when he snakes an arm around Yuuri's shoulders, the earlier line of tension is gone.


Barcelona, Spain

"You understand, don't you." Victor's voice is hardly more than a grunt. "A right must be wronged, Yuuri."

"Victor," Yuuri manages, frantically waving a hand in Victor's general blurry direction. He's pretty sure there are tears of laughter streaming down his face. "Leave them."

"I'm not... going to stand for this..." Victor lifts his bed, jiggling it just a couple inches closer to Yuuri's. "We have... the technology..."

Yuuri buries his face in the curtains and giggles helplessly until the sound of bed frames scraping against carpet stops, until two hands come to rest on his waist.

"I fixed it," Victor murmurs in his ear, still a little out of breath.

Wiping at his eyes, Yuuri leans back, without looking. "We're saved."


Fukuoka, Japan

After Nationals, with the specter of the European Championships on the horizon and Yakov's dangerous blood pressure apparent even in the background of their call, Yuuri tells him again: "You don't have to come back. I can have your things shipped."

"Yuuri," Victor huffs, "I am not about to make Japan's ace pack my worldly belongings. And besides. I want to eat mochi."

Victor lands in Japan on New Year's Eve. Travel time included, they've been apart for a week and a half. According to Twitter, their reunion is less 'darling, I missed you' and more 'darling, they told me you were killed in Normandy.'

There are maybe two dozen pairs of eyes on them. It's mortifying, but kind of understandable.

"Victor," Yuuri says, his voice muffled by his fiancé's jacket.

"Yes?" Victor says, somewhere from the top of his head.

Reluctantly, Yuuri pries his face from Victor's chest and glances to either side, where passengers exiting the terminal are still cautiously edging around them. "We're blocking the door," he says.

Victor pulls him close again. And, voice still choked with tears, he inexplicably declares, "Good."


Ostrava, Czech Republic

The interview is unfolding, in real time, on the monitor over the cameraman's shoulder. Victor looks alert, calm, polished. Competition ready. Yuuri looks like he's about to vomit. So that's pretty much par for the course.

"Mr. Nikiforov." The reporter smiles and inches forward. "You famously decided to stay on as Yuuri Katsuki's coach following your return to competitive skating."

Victor smiles his Living Legend smile and tightens his arm around Yuuri's shoulders. It's both for the camera and for Yuuri - an acknowledgement of what's coming.

"There's some concern among your fanbase that your coaching duties have become something of a distraction."

Nice passive phrasing there. Among your fanbase. Prodding Victor to answer the speculation when they can't even own it themselves.

Victor just smiles down at him. "Have you seen my fiancé?" he laughs. "He's very distracting."

There's some polite laughter before the interview, mercifully, moves on to Emil. 

Victor's smile drops before he's fully turned around.

"Was that-" he starts.

"No, no, no," Yuuri takes him by both hands. "They were going to ask. It's fine."

He hasn't been at a competition solely to support someone since Phichit's debut in the Grand Prix series. But that's - different. Phichit is always clear about what he needs, if he needs anything at all.

It's less clear with Victor. But Yuuri thinks pulling himself together would probably be a good start.

He lasts about twenty minutes rinkside. When Victor blows him a kiss coming out of a flawless triple axel, Yuuri smiles, pretends to catch it, holds up the universal signal for 'one minute,' and quietly excuses himself to a short but hopefully satisfying stress-cry in their suite.

Public practice is supposed to last another half hour. He doesn't count on Yuri and Yakov showing up within five minutes to raid their stash of Salonpas.

Turns out, Yuuri is starting to get the hang of Russian. He understands when Yakov, still awkwardly hovering just out of his personal space, mutters Has he done this before, and when Yuri hisses How the fuck should I know? and then almost immediately, Yes? I think so? 

He hears them agree not to get Victor. Which saves him the trouble of asking.

At one point, Yakov vanishes, and Yuuri dares to hope he made a break for it. He reappears with a full ice bucket, and within a minute, the ice has been transferred to a bag, wrapped in a towel, and deposited into Yuuri's hands.

"... nice," he says faintly, pressing it to his swollen face. Because even in his mortification he can appreciate that kind of thrift.

"I have coached many skaters," Yakov says in his gruff, thick accent. Which... is just a fascinating response by any measure.

Afterward, Yuuri slides the facial wipes, tea tree oil, and tube of concealer out of his suitcase and slinks into the bathroom, ready to pretend with all his might that the last ten minutes didn't exist. It's just kind of tricky with Yuri standing in the doorway.

"Do you seriously have supplies for this," Yuri says.

"I... tend to cry at competitions," Yuuri mutters, leaning closer to the mirror. They're just usually my own, he adds silently.

"... listen." Yuri rubs at his temples. "You're not actually worried about this, are you? There's no way that fossil misses the podium. We could not have less competition here if we tried. He and Giacometti can fight it out for silver."

"Poor Georgi," Yuuri says absently.

"Georgi knows the score," Yuri says with a dismissive shrug. "Now come on. Your face looks fine or whatever."

"I'm not helping." By the time he looks up from his own curled fingers, Yuri is glancing from his face to the tube of concealer with a quizzical expression. "Victor," he clarifies. "He's so much- better at this. I don't- I'm not good at being -"

Supportive, he means to say. But that's not quite right, either. It falls short.

"... are you fucking..." Yuri pushes the bathroom door open with such force, it bounces off the opposite wall. He does, however, speak a little softer when Yuuri's shoulders knit together. "We're going back to the rink, Katsudon. You can figure something out on the way down."

Yuuri quickly falls out of step with Yuri's newly-lengthened stride (by the time his growth spurt ends, he might even be taller than Victor) but even as he falls behind, so does Yakov. Yakov is waiting up for him. That's - new.

"It's early," Yakov says as he drops into Yuuri's pace.

"Sorry?" Yuuri checks his watch. It's 1:34. Not that early, but maybe relatively--

"If you'd like to worry that you're some kind of distraction," Yakov says, "at least wait until after the free skate."


Yakov leaves him to his thoughts the rest of the way.


In the hours leading up to the short program, he lets himself look at Victor. Really look this time. Not just smile and focus on a spot just past his shoulder where he can't see the destruction he's wrought.

And - maybe Victor abuses the Living Legend smile just a little, the smile Yuuri used to think was normal and now feels like that sick sudden drop when you're half-asleep. Maybe their pre-competition makeup routine doesn't quite hide the dark circles under his eyes. (Yuuri tries very hard not to feel responsible for those.)

But when he catches Yuuri looking, he brightens, straightens. And this might just be - not easy, but simple. At least simpler than Yuuri thought.

Victor draws first for the short program. Yuuri walks down with him to the rink, with a determined set to his jaw and as many bottles of water as he can carry.

"You got me water," Victor coos.

"I did," Yuuri says.

"You got me... way more water than any one person can drink," Victor says.

"... I definitely did," Yuuri says. He lets Victor pluck them out of his hands and line them up neatly on the boards so he can take Yuuri's hands.

Yuuri levels him a long look, long enough that Victor's smile becomes a question mark, that his head tilts. Then Yuuri raises Victor's right hand to his lips and presses a long kiss against his ring.

Yuuri lifts his head and murmurs, "Show me."

Victor's mouth curves as he lifts Yuuri's hand to return the favor. And then, gently setting down Yuuri's fingers, he pushes off to center ice.


Vladivostok International Airport, Russia


"So there's no plane," Victor says.

"We're very sorry, sir," says the woman at the Aeroflot desk.

Victor waves off her apology, his expression pleasant but genuinely confused. Yuuri doesn't think it's entitlement - Victor isn't entitled. It's just that he's Victor Nikiforov. You naturally want to do things for him. If Yuuri was Aeroflot, he'd produce a plane out of nowhere for Victor Nikiforov in a heartbeat.

This time, however.

"And you don't know when you'll have another?" Victor says.

"We're working as hard as we can to find a replacement, but we are looking at a four hour delay, at least," the woman says.

"So..." Victor says slowly. "What happened to the first plane again?"

"Victor." Yuuri tugs at his elbow. "Let's just sit down."

With a smile and a thank you to the Aeroflot employee, Victor steers Yuuri past the gate and through the doors of the first-class lounge. It's a moderate step up: the seats are bench-style, with no armrests to block them from stretching out. Victor's tapping away at his universal clock app even as he gestures for Yuuri to sit, a deep frown creasing his face as the words 'four hour delay' start to sink in.

Yuuri melts into the cushions. He'll never turn down a direct flight again, extra expense be damned. He's already got that dry, compressed feeling from flight #1, and they're not even out of Russia yet.

"At least we left a day early," Victor mutters, half to himself. "So if your first press conference isn't until 2:00 on Wednesday, and we arrive in Gangneung at... mm, then there's your sleep schedule to consider..."

With a firm nod, he wraps Yuuri in his jacket and produces his black silk sleep mask from his duffel. "Right! I'll listen for the announcement, Yuuri, so don't worry about anything and get some rest."

Placidly, Yuuri takes in the scene around him. The fussing baby at the other end of the lounge. The peppy Europop still blasting from the speakers, even at 4:00am. The chug, chug, chug of the escalators. The intermittent blare of boarding announcements. And his own long-suffering earbuds, which finally frayed beyond all repair right before they left Pulkovo.

"Ha ha," Yuuri says flatly. He doesn't mean to say it out loud. "I give myself half an hour."

Victor blinks, still smiling. "Until what?"

(Victor finds out what.)

Yuuri ends up half in Victor's lap, knees to his chest as he attempts to wrangle his breathing into something approaching a rhythm. With the sleep mask on, the airport blurs into one big writhing mass of sound beyond him. Victor's hands are pressed to his ears, which is not doing much of anything, but is also the most stupidly romantic thing anyone has ever done for Yuuri in his entire life. He wants to cry, it's so romantic. He wants to cry for multiple reasons.

NOW BOARDING, shrieks the loudspeaker. AEROFLOT FLIGHT 142 TO MOSCOW.

"I'm going to break it," Yuuri says.

"Okay, sweetheart," Victor says, utterly terrified.

He's not entirely sure how long this goes on. Long enough that the stores have started to open - he can hear voices, good mornings, doors being propped open. He starts to seriously wonder how long it would take Victor to just carry him to Four Continents. Or for him to carry Victor. The sheer force of his sensory overload would probably power them both across the Sea of Japan.

There's a kiss to the top of his head, and Victor's hands pull back from his ears. "I'll be right back."

Victor slides back from under him, and Yuuri pulls back the sleep mask just in time to see Victor sprint into a store he doesn't recognize, but looks distinctly high-end. Maybe Victor's getting them fancy neck pillows. That might be nice. A neck pillow might cushion at least a little sound.

Except when he reappears five minutes later, it's not with neck pillows. He's wrestling with the packaging of a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Yuuri doesn't catch the entire price tag, but he's fairly sure they cost more than their apartment's security deposit.

Yuuri stares for a full thirty seconds before he chokes out, "I love you so much."

Victor settles them over his ears. Even without any music playing, silence sweeps over him like a heavy blanket.

Victor's gentle, smiling mouth moves. Zero sound comes out. Yuuri can barely hear his own voice when he pats Victor's cheek with a dreamy smile, says "I can't hear a thing you're saying," and drops bonelessly against his shoulder.

The second flight goes much better than the first.



"Mila wants to know if we're in for brunch," Victor recites from his phone, "or if we're too busy, quote, gazing into each other's eyes."

Yuuri squints as he smiles at the Victor shape at the other end of the bed. His glasses are on the nightstand behind him, which feels like far too much effort for - 11:00am, according to his phone. "Does that sound like something we would do?"

Quickly, like he can't help it, Victor reaches out to poke the crease in Yuuri's nose. "She's thinking of someone else, I'm sure."

Victor extends his arm - a clear invitation to slide in closer, and who is he to argue with that. At least, if his headache is anything to go by, he didn't overdo it at the banquet. The most strenuous activity he remembers clearly is arguing with Victor over a hypothetical Dirty Dancing-themed pair skate.

("I do not understand how your mind works sometimes, Yuuri," Victor had declared hotly. "For you to say you could never be Patrick Swayze-"

"Is this a real thing," Yuri muttered from the sidelines.

"No," Mila and Georgi chimed.

"Then why," Yuri asked.

The argument had ended in a stalemate when Yakov, veins bulging, declared that no one was lifting anyone until after the gala.)

Victor's arm curls, pulling Yuuri in closer. Close enough to see the fine details of his face, even without his glasses. Yuuri remembers almost a year ago thinking that he knew how this was going to end. He doesn't usually like being wrong. Especially not this much.

"Victor," he says.

"Mm?" Victor says.

He moves in a little closer so he can whisper it. "I forget what city we're in."

Victor opens his mouth confidently. Then freezes. Then closes it again.

Yuuri rolls over and laughs helplessly into Victor's shoulder. And even when Victor remembers first, says it over and over - "Helsinki! Helsinki. Definitely Helsinki." - he doesn't stop laughing.