Chapter 1: Short Program
It was all due to a series of unfortunate coincidences.
After a night about as restful as one filled with torture, Yuuri Katsuki prepared to skate his short program. As he reached the rink, Viktor Nikiforov– who had only come to Skate America to appease his sponsors– waved at some unidentified person who must have been standing near the Japanese champion.
The Japanese champion who, stressed and having already removed his glasses, walked straight past his idol without seeing him.
Phichit Chulanont, Thai skating champion, best friend of Yuuri Katsuki and social media king, proceeded to take a picture that, out of context, showed the number eleven skater in the world deliberately snubbing a cheerful greeting from the demigod of figure skating.
Phichit immediately posted the photo on Instagram with the caption: "Blown off!"
Yuuri Katsuki proceeded to skate a perfectly respectable short program. An opportunistic journalist asked Viktor Nikiforov for his opinion. The world champion, whose memory was very selective and for whom the name evoked only a vague sense of familiarity, gave the generic and unintentionally condescending response that he unfortunately couldn't watch every program and that he would form an opinion when– what was his name, again? Yuri Kabuki?– competed at the Grand Prix Final.
In Viktor's mind, it was encouraging. In the article published that day, it was pure mockery.
Yuuri Katsuki, whose social media presence was directly inverse to that of Phichit Chulanont, remained blissfully unaware of the wave of popularity created by the photo his friend had taken that had served as an illustration of the article's point on a website full of dubious but exciting news. It seemed so obvious that a certain tension reigned between Katsuki and Nikiforov, it was almost written in black and white.
The next day, Yuuri Katsuki's free program earned him fourth place; he hadn't reached the podium, but it was a respectable finish and he had a good chance of reaching the final if he earned a medal at his next competition. He went through his interviews already beginning to feel like a zombie. So when a reporter asked him if he had a comment on Viktor's program, he said simply: "It's Viktor," meaning: no one could doubt for a single instant the magnificence of his choreography, his presentation, his forms, his whole being, what a stupid question
"Japanese skater Katsuki Yuuri declares that world champion can't reinvent himself!" proclaimed the next day's articles.
The few reasonable voices pointing out that that wasn't even close to what Yuuri had said were drowned out by the interested "OoooOooooh!" of the others.
Thus was born the idea, so patently false it would have fit better in a politician's speech, that Yuuri hated Viktor.
"I'm almost jealous," Phichit said, contemplating the battlefield that was the Tumblr skating tag.
Curled in a ball on his bed, Yuuri groaned.
"What's happening? Phichit!"
"The Internet," his friend responded wisely, before adding in an impressed tone, "I didn't know that this many people hated Viktor."
Yuuri sat up, squeezing a pillow to his chest.
"They're just jealous," he muttered.
"Yup, jealous– and they've made you their figurehead. Oh, the irony!"
Yuuri squeezed his pillow harder. Phichit, seeing that he was truly upset, sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.
"Don't worry! You know no one important believes it. Neither does anyone who knows you at all."
"Chris texted me a thumbs up this morning," Yuuri responded gloomily.
"He doesn't count."
"What am I going to do, Phichit?"
Phichit frowned. "You could post a statement on Twitter, but some people will think you're just backing down because of the bad press... Especially because you never use your account..."
"Backing down from what? I never said anything!"
"You could write a love letter to Viktor! We just have to record you gushing about his last Junior Championship."
Yuuri gave him a look straight out of ancient times, the look of one of his samurai ancestors about to commit seppuku.
"Or I could end my career," he said with worrying seriousness.
Phichit's hug nearly strangled him.
"Don't joke about that! I want to compete with you in the Grand Prix next year! But you know, now you don't have a choice– you have to go to the final and win! Once you're on the podium, you can tell them all these rumors are ridiculous without ruining your reputation. And besides," he added encouragingly, "maybe Viktor hasn't seen it."
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Sk8teluvr54: @v-nikiforov what do you think of yuri katsuki lol
tripletoeloop: @v-nikiforov destroy katsuki!!!!!
iceicebb8: @v-nikiforov why doesn't yuri katsuki like you
"What was that?" Yakov roared. "A three-days-dead rat would have more soul!"
Viktor reached the edge of the rink and played deaf, leaning on the guardrail to watch the others warm up.
"Viktor!" grunted Yakov.
"Yes, yes," he said absently.
Maybe the program would be more exciting if he switched the loop and the axel. But could he pull that off? And since when was that even in question? There was nothing more depressing than having to worry about his body failing. Beyond that, it was like his choreography was taking a step back. Viktor's technique might have been better than ten years ago, but to him the program seemed, for a skater approaching his thirties, like a Ferrari for a fifty-something.
At this rate, he'd be skating with a cane by next year.
He had to hold on until the end of the year, but each performance of Stay Close to Me killed a little more of his enthusiasm.
"Ha!" snorted Yuri condescendingly at his phone.
"And you!" Yakov exclaimed. "Do you really think you can win the Junior Grand Prix by doing the bare minimum?"
Yes, unfortunately, Viktor thought. None of the juniors really threatened Yuri's supremacy, it was terrible for his growth. Even Viktor had had a few rivals worthy of the name, like Georgi when he had actually had ambition, or more recently Chris, who would be the biggest threat on the ice once Viktor retired.
He waited in vain for the thrill of horror he had always experienced at that thought, and its absence left him feeling even worse.
"What are you looking at, Yuri?" he asked, moving closer.
"Viktor, don't encourage him!"
"These idiots are pretending Katsuki is a threat to you," Yuri said, ignoring their coach. "I'm the only threat!"
"Who's that?" Viktor asked, surprised.
He knew all the skaters grasping at his heels, and that wasn't one of them.
"Katsuki Yuuri, the Japanese champion who hates you," Yuri said irritably. "I don't know how they picked him out, he has no technical skill! I can't believe we have the same name."
"He hates me?" Viktor was shocked.
He wasn't stupid, he knew very well that (oddly) he wasn't universally adored, but he had long since accepted that he could do nothing about jealous people or ex-lovers. No other skater had ever had the courage to profess distaste for him, if only to avoid being ridiculed.
"Yeah, there was an article on the Internet where he said you never do anything new..."
If that was true, Viktor thought with an internal wince, Katsuki was more observant than the rest of the skating world.
"You shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet, Yurochka," he said absently.
"And he snubbed you at Skate America!"
With a sigh, Yuri tapped his phone and showed Viktor an article that artlessly distorted Katsuki's words.
"I don't remember seeing him," Viktor said, raising his eyebrows at the picture.
"What a surprise," muttered Yuri.
"You're so mean..."
Katsuki would be pretty cute, mused Viktor as he looked at the picture from just after his free program, if you ignored the bags under his eyes and his uncanny resemblance to a deer in the headlights.
The article, and the one that preceded it, created an intricate story of rivalry based on one out-of-context picture, an innocent comment from Katsuki and an irreverent one from Viktor. Based on the number of times it had been shared, people liked it.
"Viktor! Give me back my phone!"
"Go train, Yuri," Viktor responded as he looked Katsuki up on Wikipedia, "your landing on the triple loop is pathetic."
Viktor glided away a few feet to avoid the noise.
"Oh, he's one of Celestino's students.... Mmmh, solid career but a bit of a late bloomer... Well, we'll see."
Losing interest, Viktor left Yuri's phone on the edge of the rink and left the ice.
"VIKTOR! MY PHONE!"
The whole thing would have ended there if certain reporters, who apparently had nothing better to do, hadn't kept trying to milk it.
Viktor won the Cup of China with an insulting ease that only reinforced his boredom. Katsuki finished his short program at the Trophée de France in third place, which Viktor wouldn't have known if a reporter hadn't immediately sought him out to ask if he considered the Japanese man a serious rival.
Viktor could have put an end to the misunderstanding, could have explained that he and Katsuki didn't know each other and the whole story had come out of nothing. But he was bored, and the idea of exciting the masses, who seemed so enthralled by the prospect of a rivalry between Viktor and another skater, amused him.
It was one way of surprising people. Until now, he had always been perfectly neutral toward his competitors.
"If Yuuri Katsuki takes gold at the final, I'll retire at the end of the season," he declared, smirking.
The reporter, of course, took that as a dare. Viktor himself was surprised at how serious he'd been. It wasn't about Katsuki, or Chris, or any other young skater with ambitions. The problem was that Viktor had no idea what he would do if he stopped competing. Oh, he didn't lack opportunities: skating companies would fall over themselves to offer him cushy jobs, uncounted sponsors wanted him as a model, numerous television networks had asked him to become a commentator, and that wasn't even counting the three reality TV skating shows that had begged him to be a judge...
But none of that would be enough.
Viktor was at the pinnacle of his career, felt like he could still win gold for years, and yet even the Olympics didn't excite him.
"Makkachiiiiiiin!" he whined as he squeezed the dog against himself. "Your master is having a crisis!"
Makkachin gave him a lick on the chin. Viktor slumped on the couch and pulled his laptop open while the dog settled on his legs. An alert notified him that the reporter had already written his article. Viktor shook his head as he read the wild interpretation of his quote.
"I'll see Katsuki at the final," he told Makkachin, "and we'll have a good laugh about this!"
"He hates me," sighed Yuuri, slumping against his locker.
He shouldn't have checked his alerts before skating his free program. Viktor hated him. No, it was worse than that: Viktor despised him.
Yuuri stared at the fuzzy ceiling.
"Yuuri? What are you doing?" Celestino asked, poking his head into the locker room. "Warm up, it's almost time."
Yuuri began his stretches with his ears humming. He waited for the moment when his heart would start to race, when his chest would squeeze, when a crackling would fill his mind and the world would suddenly disappear behind a window, leaving him with that horrible feeling that nothing could ever go well.
But he felt strangely calm.
He didn't have anything to lose, he realized suddenly.
Viktor had noticed him, and despised him. Yuuri had nothing left to fear. He could only skate and prove that he was worthy of the attention, negative though it was.
Yuuri stepped onto the ice with rare serenity.
"Show them what you're worth," Celestino told him.
Yuuri nodded slightly, went to his place and closed his eyes.
Katsuki skated to the center of the rink.
"Let's see what our imaginary rival is worth," Viktor said as he scratched Makkachin's ears, the dog sighing in contentment.
He had gotten home just in time to wolf down dinner (calculated down to the calorie) and turn on the television. The commentators gave the name of the song, the prescribed jumps, then quieted for a few seconds as Katsuki began to move.
Viktor shot upright.
"This is his first time qualifying, right?" asked one commentator.
"Yes," responded the other, "his career took off late and until now he showed a certain tendency to... Oh!"
"Ssh," Viktor ordered uselessly.
Katsuki landed his first jump impeccably, flowed into a perfect combination and...
"Shut up!" Viktor snapped when the commentators returned to their irrelevant chatter.
Makkachin whined. Viktor muted the TV.
"Do you hear it?" he whispered to the dog.
"Me too," agreed Viktor. "The music. It's in his every movement."
Viktor surprised himself by wincing when Yuuri missed a landing, chewed his thumb when the second half came and Yuuri combined two jumps as though he wasn't already exhausted, smiled at the grace of his Ina Bauer, and fell back on his cushions when it was all over.
He didn't wait to hear the score, immediately looking up the music Yuuri had skated to and watching the program in parallel.
He watched it again. Then he looked up Yuuri's short program.
It was not as good, not as intense. In his free program, Yuuri had skated like a man with a broken soul, with a heart that had been trampled, like a final vision... were those tears collecting on Viktor's cheeks? He wiped them away. Even despite the weakness of Yuuri's short program, there was still that melody in his movements...
In the hours that followed, Viktor learned several things:
- Yuuri only won silver at the Trophée de France, behind some upstart Canadian, which was a deplorable injustice on the judges' part
- Yuuri didn't exist, at least publicly, on social media
- Fortunately, his training partner and roommate, Thai skater Phichit Chulanont, was apparently determined to document his entire life and by extension, Yuuri's
- Compared to Viktor's, Yuuri's fans were few, but extremely well organized
Viktor watched a few of the training videos posted by Phichit, who taped his friend almost as much as he did himself, registering by reflex the Thai skater's ability and the risks he posed to Yuuri's future. With difficulty, he stopped himself from liking many of them, but couldn't resist following Phichit on Twitter and Instagram– after all, Phichit was a respectable figure skater, who would be at the world championship even if he hadn't made the Grand Prix final. There was nothing astonishing about Viktor following him.
His favorite video showed Yuuri and Phichit skating to Single Ladies; while Phichit immediately threw himself into it with abandon, Yuuri obviously began purely out of friendship, looking like he'd feel more at ease drifting on a Lake Baikal glacier. But bit by bit, he caught his friend's enthusiasm; his laugh was audible at one point, and his hips were...
Viktor clicked on a link posted by Phichit and found himself on a Tumblr post titled "DA BOOTY," where one of Yuuri's fans had compiled a series of almost worryingly good pictures, all dedicated to the skater's callipygous beauty.
Viktor spent more time on that page than he cared to admit.
From there, he began to explore Yuuri's fan community. Like all fans, they were a little bit obsessive, but there was a childlike atmosphere pervasive throughout and only exacerbated by the enthusiasm over that night's silver.
Viktor quickly learned that Yuuri had no known love life (though numerous fans held very liberal interpretations of his relationship with Phichit), that he had a brown poodle (very good choice!), that his favorite food was katsudon (a mysterious dish that Viktor just had to try), and that he seemed to struggle with anxiety - the last was not taken from an interview, but from several extremely pointed analyses by members of the community, posts with copious specific examples and which invariably ended with a comment along the lines of "MY SON! PROTECT MY SON AT ALL COSTS!" Viktor quickly realized that this was an expression of affection, not Yuuri's mother under twenty different pseudonyms.
Some fans were, like Viktor, furious that Yuuri had been cheated out of gold, but most were simply ecstatic that he would compete at the Grand Prix Final. The few "Take that, Nikiforov"s were immediately rejected by the rest of the community: the wave of new "fans" brought by their irrational hatred of Viktor had seemingly been vigorously corrected. Bad sportsmanship was not allowed; apparently, Yuuri attracted the cute and adorable in this brutal world.
Viktor also found what appeared to be every recording of Yuuri's programs, conveniently organized in chronological order.
He reached the end of the video, then replayed those from the Trophée de France, taking note of the gradual evolution.
Yuuri's technique was lacking, yes, his jumps were uncertain, but what rhythm! What grace! What depth of emotion! No wonder that he'd managed to reach this level; he recovered every point with his presentation. What a marvel he'd be once his technique developed!
Makkachin whined, and Viktor raised his head.
"Wow, you're right, we should have slept hours ago! Wait, one more video..."
"Viktor is following me on Instagram," Phichit said in surprise. "And Twitter!"
The dream-state Yuuri had floated in since his triumph the previous night dissipated abruptly. He sat up on his hotel bed.
After Yuuri won his medal, mused Phichit, raising his eyebrows. Yuuri went white as a sheet.
"Take down Single Ladies! Take it down now!"
"What? No! That's my most popular video! No way!"
"Phichit, if he sees it, you'll have my death on your conscience!"
"He won't see it," Phichit promised, "he'd have to be looking, and do you really think Viktor Nikiforov is going to go through my Instagram?"
"Viktor! It's past noon!" Yakov bellowed. "You weren't answering your phone! What were you doing?"
"Sleeping!" Viktor chirped, rings under his eyes like Georgi's raccoon makeup.
"Internet, Yakov, Internet!"
"Vikor, are you drunk?"
"Nope!" Viktor responded with enthusiasm.
He removed the guards from his skates and glided onto the ice.
His free program still wasn't his greatest concern, but he felt different, like he could skate it better.
Yuuri danced as a man with a shattered heart, Viktor as one afraid of losing his lover. Maybe he could play the role.
A few minutes later, when he returned to the edge of the rink, Yakov eyed him suspiciously.
"That was, artistically, your best performance since last year," he said. "Yes, that includes the last few competitions. What's in your head?"
"Single Ladies," Viktor responded. "Yakov, do you know when Celestino Cialdini is arriving in Sochi?"
"No," Yakov said.
"Can you ask him that, as well as Yuuri Katsuki's room number?"
"No," Yakov said.
Pulling up short, Viktor stared at his coach, who had his arms crossed.
"I don't know where this sudden interest in Katsuki is coming from, but you need to forget all that and focus on the competition. Christophe is close to taking your medal this year."
Outraged, Viktor put a hand on his heart.
"Yakov! Do you really believe I'd neglect the competition like that?"
"Katsuki is not a threat. Forget him."
Viktor felt personally offended. Yuuri wasn't a threat because no one had given him the right tools yet; he had plenty of respect for Celestino, but it was clear that the coach didn't truly understand what his student needed.
Viktor watched Yakov walk away and tapped his chin. He'd have to find a way to attract Yuuri's attention, but without destroying the appearance of rivalry they had created.
Subtlety was key.
Mila walked by, and Viktor had a stroke of genius.
v.nikiforov posted a video
v.nikiforov @phichit+chu ;) #danceoff #singleladies
The sound Phichit made was entirely inhuman. Yuuri immediately stopped his warmup.
"Viktor! Mila Babicheva! Yuri Plisetsky! Single Ladies! VIKTOR!"
Phichit replayed the video.
Yuuri felt his soul leave his body.
Viktor looked at the amount of shares with satisfaction. The video had had its intended effect: no one doubted that it had been meant for Yuuri. Mila had found the idea hilarious, though very 2009. Yuri would forgive him one day for filming it under false pretenses.
The journalists were in seventh heaven.
Viktor simply had to wait for Yuuri's response.
Next to him, his phone vibrated.
Chris: I don't know what game you think you're playing with Yuuri, and I know he seems harmless when you don't know him, but you're taking great risks, my friend
Chris: at Skate America i said that he was too stiff and that maybe he needed a ~private lesson~ in relaxation
Chris: i meant to volunteer
Chris: to ~relax~ him
Me: yes i understood
Chris: he thought i was insulting his dance teacher
Chris: suffice to say that if figure skating doesn't work out he could make it as a pole dancer, easy
Chris: that keeps me very busy some nights~
Chris: are you still there?
Me: PHICHIT HASN'T PUT THAT ANYWHERE ONLINE
Chris: i don't think he was there
Chris: ...do you want it? the video?
Me: don't play games with my heart chris
Chris: your "heart," definitely
Me: what do you want
"Christophe Giacometti is truly the best skater," Viktor told the reporters serenely. "His sensuality on the ice is incomparable, and he is the only one I consider my equal."
Yuri switched the television off and turned to Viktor
"I don't know what you sold your soul for, but I hope it was worth it," he said, nauseated.
Viktor pressed his phone to his chest, smiling beatifically.
"Oh, it was," he sighed blissfully, "Ab-so-lute-ly."
Phichit shook his shoulder to no effect. Yuuri remained curled in a ball on the bed, back turned. Phichit had managed to steal his pillow and blanket, but his friend refused to move.
"We can't just sit around without responding, we have to make another videoooo!"
"No. Let me die in peace," Yuuri declared, which was an improvement compared to his utter silence over the last 24 hours.
"We have to respond! I said we would do it!"
"Figure it out yourself."
Phichit fell bodily onto his friend, easily evading an elbow and taking advantage of the gesture to pin the limb to the bed and forcibly uncurl him.
Yuuri shot him a look far darker than most imagined he was capable of, but Phichit had lived with him for a year and was familiar with all his moods.
"Everyone knows that video was meant for you," he said reasonably. "It wouldn't make sense if you didn't participate. Anyway, you wouldn't want to disappoint Viktooooor, right?"
"I hate you."
"I made a list of songs we could use, I'll let you pick, but first..."
Phichit turned his head, brandished his phone and pretended to kiss Yuuri on the cheek before taking a picture.
"For the shippers," he declared. "So, the list. Personally, I would choose Lady Marm-"
Phichit found himself on the ground before he could finish the sentence.
"-alade but I somehow knew you'd disagree."
phichit+chu posted a photo
phichit+chu #katsukiyuuri #bff #toocute
Viktor put a hand over his heart, which beat dangerously irregularly.
"This could become a problem," he murmured.
"What I'd like to know," Celestino said dryly, "is how you convinced him."
"It was like haggling," Phichit said, still filming. "I started with songs that were completely ridiculous, so he ended up agreeing to something that he would have rejected outright if I'd suggested it first."
"And he had a shot of tequila."
"I know he has to relax, but we're leaving for Sochi in two days, and I want him to focus on his program. He has a chance at the bronze. This is the last video, Phichit, I'm not joking."
"I promise, Ciao Ciao."
Yuuri wouldn't fall for this again so easily anyway.
phichit+chu posted a video
@v.nikiforov ;) ;) ;) ;)
#katsukiyuuri #hotfortheseason #hishipsdontlie
"Why are you all red?" demanded Yuri, eyebrows knit. "Show me!"
Viktor quickly pressed the phone screen to his chest.
"You're too young," he declared, "go back to training."
"What? Show me!"
Arm raised to keep his phone away from Yuri, Viktor turned his head to look at Yakov and so couldn't avoid the punch to his stomach.
"Yuri, on the ice. Viktor, may I ask why I received a call from Celestino telling me you had to stop distracting Katsuki?"
"I distract him?" Viktor asked, delighted.
"Katsuki again?" groaned Yuri.
Yakov fixed them both with a glare.
"I don't want to hear anything more about him until his short program!" he announced. "Don't you think trying to throw off a weaker skater is a little below your dignity?"
"I didn't do it to throw him off," Viktor protested.
"You're twenty-seven! His coach had to intervene to make you stop, and I quote, pulling his pigtails!"
Yuri burst out laughing. Viktor crossed his arms and summoned all his dignity to keep from stomping on his foot. Yakov rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Would you promise me to leave Yuuri Katsuki in peace?"
"Yes," Viktor said reluctantly.
Yakov let out a huge sigh and dragged Yuri onto the ice. Viktor looked at his phone screen, and it was hard not to replay the video, in which Yuuri proved that he was definitely Shakira's equal.
v.nikiforov commented: "#smokinghot #katsukiyuuri am forbidden to respond, but i concede with admiration~ see you at the #grandprix ♥ #romeo&juliet"
"Romeo and Juliet?" Phichit muttered.
"What's that?" Yuuri asked as he got out of the shower.
Phichit started and hid the screen of his phone.
"Viktor liked your video!" he said with exaggerated cheer.
Yuuri fell back on his bed with a groan. Phichit sat by his side and tapped his shoulder.
"This is good! He obviously doesn't hate you!"
"This might be worse," Yuuri told his pillow.
"Apparently he's not allowed to make more videos either..."
Romeo and Juliet! Phichit understood suddenly. Separated by their coaches!
Why didn't anyone ever remember that that story ended in blood and tears?
"I think I'm relieved," Yuuri admitted, "I don't think I could've watched Viktor dance to Hips Don't Lie. Single Ladies was hard enough."
"Uh-huh," Phichit said absently.
He wondered, now, what Viktor had been trying to do. It wasn't his style to try to distract a competitor, and anyway no one thought Yuuri was a serious threat, though that was their mistake.
Champion or not, if Viktor meant to hurt Yuuri, Phichit would make him regret ever setting eyes on his friend.
"Aaaah," he whined, "I really wish I could go to Sochi with you! But I'll watch, and support you from here!"
Yuuri turned and gave Phichit an adorable smile.
Click, went Phichit's phone.
"The world must know!"
phichit+chu posted a picture
phichit+chu Good luck #katsukiyuuri ♥ #bff #grandprixfinal
Viktor kept his promise for about ten hours, which was the amount of time that passed before he saw the newest picture of Yuuri that Phichit had posted. It was really Yuuri's smile, his gaze, the pillow on his head that should be blamed; it was Phichit to blame for taking such good pictures.
You really couldn't blame Viktor.
If Yuuri was already nervous, he had to know that Viktor hadn't been trying to distract him. It was important. For their relationship. As skaters. They shouldn't start with a misunderstanding.
Me: do you have Yuuri's #
Me: or his email
Viktor Nikiforov @v.nikiforov - 20m
Of all the finalists, @christophe.gc has the nicest ass #sochi
Viktor Nikiforov @v.nikiforov - 5m
Except, of course, this one: katsukatsukatsuki.tumblr.com/post/145962/dat-booty
Chris Giacometti @christophe.gc - 3m
@v.nikiforov you cheater!!!!!!
Viktor Nikiforov @v.nikiforov - 1m
yuuri-deserves-the-gold [reblogged] katsukatsukatsuki
OMG VIKTOR NIKIFOROV TWEETED THE LINK TO MY PICSET OF YUURI'S BUTT
WHAT THE AHHHHHH
I DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING THAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW BUT IT'S MAGICAL
#viktor nikiforov #yuuri katsuki #i ship them #idgaf #ot3 with phichit????? #with chris??? #OT4!!!
Chapter 2: Free Skate
Yuuri yawned and leaned back in his chair. Celestino had left to get some coffee while they waited to board. They had a twenty-hour trip ahead of them, with two layovers, and Yuuri hoped he'd be able to sleep on the plane despite his anxiety.
The final was dangerously close, and with it the worry that he wouldn't measure up. He was obviously the weakest of the six finalists, and everyone always talked about him as Japan's "hope," but it wouldn't be "hope" for long: at his age, you just tried to keep your head above water.
And then there was Viktor. The strange behavior of his childhood idol had thrown him off, and he didn't know what he'd do if... when they met at Sochi.
Maybe Yuuri could avoid being seen? Or at least manage not to be noticed? Maybe Viktor was just looking for something to distract himself with, and Yuuri had taken the fall?
"Ugh," he groaned, slipping his fingers under his glasses to rub his eyes, which of course dirtied the lenses ridiculously. He sighed and was cleaning them with a tissue when his phone buzzed.
That must have been Phichit, about to go to class.
But the WhatsApp message was from an unknown number.
810-1: Yuuri! Where are you? When do you get to Sochi?
810-1: It's Viktor
Yuuri was immediately overcome with panic. Viktor? What was happening to him? What was going on?
Me: Viktor what?
810-1: This Viktor!
"What?" Yuuri squeaked.
810-1: I'm Viktor!
Relief was immediately replaced with irritation.
Me: I don't know who you are, but this isn't funny!
810-1: no no, I'm really me!
810-1: Chris gave me your number
810-1: okay actually I can see how that wouldn't be reassuring
810-1: just a second
Yuuri's eyes widened and he squeezed his phone tighter. No, it couldn't be Viktor, not really, it was just a bad joke, probably one of Chris's...
A picture popped up on the screen. Viktor, smiling brightly, arm around his dog, held a sign on which was written the date and "It's really me ♥ ". Yuuri's breath caught. It could just be photoshopped. It wouldn't be hard to do.
Yeah, it was definitely photoshopped.
Me: could you take a picture where you're writing
Me: The weather in St. Petersburg?
810-1: who made you so suspicious?! ok, wait...
There followed a moment that seemed to last forever, then a first picture of Viktor holding up a pen, a second where he pressed it to the page, and a final one where he held up the paper on which was written: "-2, overcast but no snow."
810-1: I had to look up the temperature on the internet :)
Yuuri pulled his scarf over his face and squeezed his lips together to hold back the high-pitched sound building in his throat. He removed his scarf, hesitated a few times, then typed with trembling fingers:
Me: tomorrow at 11; i'm at the Detroit airport
There was a moment of silence in which Yuuri created a new contact with a strange feeling of terrified exultation.
Viktor: i'd forgotten my first question! you're traveling for so long, and you'll only have 24h to recover, poor yuuri
Viktor: im only getting there tomorrow evening, i wont see you until your short program :( we aren't in the same warmup group :(
Why, Yuuri wondered with a touch of hysteria, was Viktor Nikiforov talking to him like they were friends?
Viktor: we have to find a time to talk besides through videos or completely distorted quotes ;)
Yuuri felt his cheeks light on fire.
Viktor: Though I am a huge fan of videos ♥
"Oh my god," whined Yuuri because he couldn't help himself. A nearby traveler glanced at him, raising an eyebrow.
Okay, he responded simply.
Thank goodness, he thought nervously, that this is happening over texts. Viktor had no idea of the state he was in, or his incoherence, or the fact that his spoken vocabulary currently consisted of "uh.."
But at the same time, he wasn't at all sure how to seem interesting enough that Viktor would keep talking to him.
Viktor: :D :D :D
Viktor: They say you like katsudon, is that true?
"What," Yuuri said.
Where did Viktor get that? Who was giving him his information? Phichit? Yuuri sent a quick message asking his friend if he told Viktor that Yuuri's favorite food was katsudon, and immediately received a response: No????? Why???? What's happening????
Yes, Yuuri sent to Viktor, How did you know that?
Then: He has my phone number! Chris gave it to him!!!! to Phichit.
Viktor: secret~ :) I've never had it, i found a place in Sochi where they have it that we can go to but i don't know if it'll be good
Yuuri hid his face in his scarf again. Breathe, he reminded himself, breathe.
Then he responded I KNOW to Phichit's wide-eyed selfie, and to Viktor: It would never be as good as my mom's, anyway, so if i cant make it myself, i just enjoy what i can get.
There, a response that was clear, long and coordinated, written by a sensible person.
Viktor: Oooooh, you should make me one ♥
Me: I can only eat it after a victory.
Viktor: What :O Why :O
Me: It's too rich and i gain weight easily, so it's my reward
Viktor: I'll share mine with you ;)
Viktor: it'll be after a Viktor :D
Yuuri burst out laughing, then clapped a hand over his mouth.
He almost dropped his phone, caught it deftly and pressed it to his wildly-beating heart.
"Are you okay?" Celestino asked with eyebrows raised.
"Uh, yeah, yeah!"
"Tell Phichit to pay attention in class instead of sending you jokes."
He shifted so that Celestino couldn't see the screen, smiled like an idiot, relishing Viktor's last message, then responded with a thumbs up, assessed his degree of panic, and added without giving himself time to think too hard about it, We're boarding. I have to turn off my phone.
It was a dirty lie, but he had to digest the last ten minutes. He had to breathe.
Viktor: Bon voyage ♥
Yuuri put his phone in airplane mode and tried to regain his calm.
When they landed in Paris just under eight hours later, Yuuri had mostly returned to equilibrium. He'd had to reread his conversation with Viktor a good twenty times to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
After a few stretches to recover from the first leg of the trip, he connected to the airport wi-fi and settled down to wait for the plane to Moscow, their second stop before Sochi.
Viktor: here's a picture of Makkachin for the long trip
Viktor: and one of Makkachin and me
Viktor: you should stretch if you have a stop
Viktor: i was thinking, in your short program you could combine your triple axel after your toe loops, the sequence between them is useless and it shows in your steps, you have enough momentum for the combination and you can see your frustration about not doing it, put the steps in after the axel
Viktor: when you land it, your axel is divinely graceful
Following was a series of biting critiques that would have destroyed Yuuri's confidence utterly if, each time, Viktor hadn't told him: I saw you do it in a video, if you did it in training you can do it in competition, and if for each negative remark he hadn't given some concrete advice, and all of it... strangely accessible.
Viktor: It's frustrating, i want to show you what i mean, and i can't even in the training, aaah... Never mind, we'll talk about it before the world championship
Viktor: I'm waiting for you on the podium!
Yuuri closed his eyes. How many videos had Viktor watched? Why? asked a little worried voice in the back of his mind. But for once, it was a fragile, careful hope that won, that gave him a faint smile and burning cheeks.
He hesitated lightly, then wrote: Celestino said I have a good chance of taking bronze.
The response came immediately.
Viktor: Bronze? No, no, no!
Yuuri felt his heart stop.
Viktor: You should be aiming for the gold!
After a moment of incomprehension, Yuuri's smile returned and he raised his eyes to the ceiling.
Even if I get the maximum score for presentation and technique, he replied, which was basically impossible, the total points from my jumps wouldn't be enough.
To beat you, he didn't have to say. And that was true even if Viktor missed more than one jump, which was unlikely.
Feeling a little braver, he added: And anyway then you'd have to retire, and I'd feel bad.
Yuuri waited for the response with his throat a little tight.
Viktor: :D :D :D :D :D :D
Viktor: Why would you feel bad?
Maybe because Viktor hadn't even tried to justify what he'd said to the reporters, as if there had been nothing wrong with it (and maybe in his head there hadn't been?), Yuuri responded without hesitation: I wouldn't get to see you skate anymore.
Viktor: and if i promised to skate for you whenever you wanted, would you try to take the gold from me, ~Yuuri~ ♥?
That didn't solve the problem of points, but that wasn't important; they both knew very well that gold was out of his reach.
What Yuuri was ignoring was Viktor's motivation, was how Yuuri had attracted his attention, was if Viktor just needed a distraction around competition time... But no matter what, he would always have these conversations: this magical instant where Viktor had talked to him like an equal, had encouraged him, and where he'd flirted (Yes? No? Maybe? Yes???) with Yuuri.
Yuuri chewed his lip and responded: Deal.
Celestino fixed Viktor with a look so murderous that he backed up three steps before shrugging and leaving to look for Yuuri alone. He really didn't see what Celestino was upset about; his student had skated his best short program that season thanks to Viktor's advice. If Yuuri was only in fourth at the moment, it was simply because the program didn't take advantage of his strengths, as though neither Celestino nor Yuuri had dared to be more ambitious.
Yuuri had surpassed Mickey by enough points to keep his place after his free program, which was much better, and he was so close to the Canadian whose name and music Viktor could never remember that the bronze was easily within reach. But that wasn't enough for Viktor. Even if it was unreachable, Yuuri should dream of first, not third.
Viktor had hoped to see him that day, before the free program, but he wasn't responding to any of his messages though they'd been in constant contact since the beginning of Yuuri's trip. They had talked about food, their dogs, his parents' onsen where Viktor had promised to visit, about what Viktor loved most about St. Petersburg (the outdoor skating rink, walking by the sea), hundreds of tiny details that had seemed of the utmost importance. He had made Yuuri admit that his favorite program of Viktor's had been his last one at the Junior World Championship; Viktor had lamented that he hadn't been able to impress Yuuri since. Yuuri had hurriedly listed every performance where Viktor had been exceptional before becoming embarrassed and cutting off all communication for at least half an hour, the longest of Viktor's life.
They had seen each other here and there during the warm-up day; Viktor had written to him: do you want to play a game?
Which one? responded Yuuri.
Viktor had caught Yuuri's eye, then shaken his head scornfully. Yuuri must have understood, because when they saw each other face to face a little later, he had walked by Viktor without a glance. Viktor had realized that they could have, at that moment, spoken to each other out loud, that he could have seen Yuuri's face light up, could have made him blush and made him smile and maybe touched him. The game had lost all its joy.
He had watched Yuuri walk away. Less than ten minutes later, his phone had alerted him that a picture of his melancholy expression had found itself on Tumblr right next to the one from Skate America.
That night, their WhatsApp conversation had ended because of their respective obligations, but Viktor had sent Yuuri ten lines of hearts at the end of his short program, and when Viktor had finished his own, Yuuri had sent him a dazzling smile as he left the Kiss and Cry.
They had wished each other good night.
But Yuuri hadn't responded since the morning, Viktor hadn't passed by him even once, Chris hadn't seen him either and Celestino had had Viktor blacklisted since their arrival in Sochi.
He had almost reached the point of messaging Phichit.
The first skater wouldn't delay much longer before starting; Yuuri must have been warming up somewhere. Viktor went around the rink, avoiding first Yakov, then Yuri who had won gold in the Juniors and wouldn't stop bringing it up. Viktor assumed his most determined look so that no one would stop him and headed for the general area of the locker rooms.
It was in the corner of a hallway that Viktor finally saw him. Yuuri wasn't warming up: he was sitting on a bench, shoulders hunched, staring straight ahead with devastated eyes. Viktor felt his heart stop.
Yuuri turned toward him. Viktor launched himself across the space between them. Yuuri's lips trembled when Viktor stopped in front of him.
"Yuuri, what is it?"
Tears streamed suddenly down his cheeks.
"Vicchan," he gasped brokenly.
Then he wrapped his arms around Viktor's waist, hid his face against his stomach and dissolved into harrowing sobs.
Viktor panicked, started to put his hands on his shoulders, stopped himself, then continued the movement, finally wrapping his arms around Yuuri's neck.
"Yuuri, Yuuri, what is it, Yuuri?"
Yuuri said something unintelligible into his stomach, so Viktor, unwillingly, gently, disentangled himself so he could kneel on the ground to see Yuuri's face. Eyes filled with tears, Yuuri seemed to look at him without seeing him. He repeated all the same:
"My dog died."
Viktor hesitated briefly, then pulled Yuuri into a hug so tight they toppled over. They found themselves on the ground, holding each other close.
"Oh Yuuri, my heart, my treasure, I'm sorry," Viktor murmured into his ear.
Yuuri let out another sob. Viktor, too, felt tears coming to his eyes. The idea of losing Makkachin was unbearable, Yuuri's suffering intolerable. Viktor rubbed his back, caressed his hair, until his shoulders stopped trembling, his sobs calmed. They stayed there without moving, without speaking, for an eternity. Then a movement caught Viktor's attention. He raised his eyes and saw Celestino frozen at the bend of the hallway. He had stopped, watching them. Viktor tightened his embrace. Celestino's gaze softened; he nodded briefly, then tapped a finger on his watch. Time was running out.
Viktor signaled that he understood. He waited for Celestino to leave before murmuring, "Yuuri, angel, look at me."
Yuuri straightened his head immediately. His eyes were red but dry, his features drawn but calm.
"You have to warm up," Viktor said. "You have a medal to win. Do it for your dog. Do it for yourself. Do it for me."
He took Yuuri's hands and kissed them, then met his gaze.
"Dance for us."
Yuuri closed his eyelids, hid his face in Viktor's neck for a second, then leaned on his shoulder and stood.
Viktor helped him stretch in silence until it was time. He snaked his arm around Yuuri's waist and brought him to the rink. Before leaving him with Celestino, he dropped a lingering kiss on Yuuri's forehead. Yuuri clenched his fingers on Viktor's jacket, then stepped back when Viktor let him go.
"Watch me," he said hoarsely, his first words since the tears had dried.
"Always," Viktor promised him.
Yuuri nodded. He returned to Celestino, who gave Viktor a brief smile. Viktor reluctantly made his way back to Yakov and Yuri.
Yakov grunted without further commentary, but Yuri didn't know when to shut up.
"What are you playing at, with Katsuki? You don't need that kind of publicity, especially with that second-ra--"
Viktor grabbed him from behind and put a hand over his mouth.
"Shh," he whispered while Yuuri struggled furiously.
He let him go once Yuuri took his place on the ice. For all his rudeness, Yuri would never disrupt another skater's program.
The music began, Yuuri raised his head and Viktor smiled.
"And it's a new personal record for Yuuri Katsuki! He's unstoppable this season! Who'd have thought?"
"The combination beginning with his Biellmann was a work of art, and with this score, he is actually in first, far ahead of Michele Crispino. But there remain Jean-Jacques Leroy, Christophe Giacometti, and of course Viktor Nikiforov..."
"Speaking of which, can we show the slow motion of... yes, there, we weren't dreaming, before going to warm up, Nikiforov blew Katsuki a kiss!"
"And everyone saw him accompany Katsuki to the rink... Evidently rumours of tension between the two were unfounded!"
"Ah, here's Jean-Jacques Leroy preparing to skate his program... The Canadian skater has..."
Before stepping onto the ice, Viktor looked around. Yuuri had returned. He was at the edge of the rink, hands in the pockets of his jacket. Viktor, who had been alone to warm up, hadn't seen Yuuri's reaction when the scores of first the Canadian, then Chris had been announced. Neither had surpassed Yuuri, thus assuring him the silver medal.
He had put his glasses back on. Viktor shifted his starting point slightly to face him, extended an arm toward him, and took his position.
The first notes of Stay Close To Me were raised.
At the Kiss and Cry, Yakov threw him a guarded look.
"I would never have anything to scold you about," he declared somberly, "if you put that much into every program."
Viktor smiled serenely and the score was posted under the hysterical roar of the audience.
"Ah! A personal best!" he exclaimed.
"And a new world record," Yakov grumbled.
"You could act a little happier," Viktor commented cheerfully.
"Bah." There was a moment of silence, then Yakov asked in a surly tone, "Should I ask Celestino to give me Katsuki?"
"No," Viktor responded, "you'll kill him by accident. No. The season has only just begun. Let me talk to him."
Yuuri felt spent. He still couldn't believe that he had won the silver medal. It was a bittersweet victory, troubled by Vicchan's death which still left him wracked with grief, and yet that too was disturbed by the memory of Viktor's arms around him. He felt himself blush, and then someone grabbed him by the butt.
"I underestimated you," Chris declared, still groping him. "That won't happen again!"
"Chris," Viktor said flatly as he joined them.
He took Yuuri by the arm and pulled him in. Yuuri let it happen and leaned against Viktor, who hugged him about the waist.
"Ah," Chris said. "That explains a lot of things.
Yuuri hoped he didn't look as much like a tomato as he felt. He didn't know how he'd attracted Viktor's attention, and the last few days had been surreal. And yet, he had never felt so anchored.
"Congratulations," Viktor whispered in his ear.
Yuuri shivered and said in the same tone, "That was it. My favorite. Of all your performances."
"It was for you," Viktor responded.
Chris let out a laugh and shook his head.
"What should JJ and I have done against that?" he asked no one in particular.
The music changed, and the commentator seemed to get excited.
"He's going to call us," Viktor translated.
His name sounded first. He let go of Yuuri, saying, "See you soon!" and left to salute on the ice before climbing the podium. The audience was wild with excitement.
"What did you do to him?" Chris asked. "Don't you think he was already good enough? And can you do the same thing to me?"
The commentator's call let Yuuri avoid answering. Feeling simultaneously euphoric and embarrassed, he saluted the crowd before turning to the podium; Viktor held out a hand to him, Yuuri took it without hesitation, and his heart raced when Viktor dropped a kiss on his fingers. Yuuri had the impression that the cries of the crowd had become even louder, but that could have been his ears ringing. Viktor hadn't let him go, so he took his hand more firmly and they exchanged a smile.
Christophe was called, and couldn't resist doing a small pirouette before joining them. It was there that everything became like a dream in Yuuri's memory. The most striking moment came not when the president of the ISU gave him the medal and congratulated him, but when Viktor released his hand to receive the gold. Yuuri immediately felt the loss, and took it again as soon as the president turned to Chris. Viktor's smile was blinding.
Without really knowing how, Yuuri found himself in the conference room in front of a crowd of reporters. He responded to their questions automatically: yes, his season was beginning well, yes, he meant to continue in the same vein, yes, he would be at the Japanese championships at the end of December ...
"You exchanged a few words with Viktor just before your free program," a journalist began. "What did you say to each other?"
Yuuri, who was beginning to transcend the stage of fatigue, responded, "Oh, I told him to watch me."
There was a moment of silence. The journalist asked, "And...?"
"And I watched him," Viktor intervened serenely.
Chris made some comment that diverted their attention. Soon after, Celestino came to tell him he was free, that he could go eat and rest.
Yuuri wasn't hungry. He had only one wish: to take refuge in his room, digest the day's events far from the world. At that thought, he jumped and turned toward Viktor. The urge to stay with him was almost as strong as the urge to disappear under his blankets.
Viktor smiled at him and drew closer, just enough to squeeze his hand.
"Go rest," he said. "Tomorrow at lunch, I'll take you to have some katsudon before we're all trapped at the gala."
Yuuri didn't know what face he'd made, but Viktor embraced him suddenly, saying, "Aaaah, don't tempt me! Go on!"
"You'd have to let go of me," Yuuri pointed out.
Viktor let out a huge sigh and did so.
"Send me a message when you wake up," he said with a small smile. "Good night, Yuuri."
"Good night, Viktor..."
They would have stayed there, gazing at each other, for a few more minutes if Celestino hadn't taken the initiative and dragged Yuuri into the hall.
"You're going to have to tell me what the story is with Nikiforov," he said.
Yuuri was too tired to explain that he didn't know himself.
When they finally arrived in front of his hotel room, Celestino tapped his shoulder.
"In any event, I'm proud of you, Yuuri."
Yuuri entered his room unsteadily and barely had the strength to undress before collapsing.
Viktor slipped out the little back door of his hotel, where he could be nearly sure that no fans would be waiting. He wore a hat that covered his head until just above his eyes, sunglasses, and a scarf that reached up to his nose. He looked like the shadiest person on the planet, but it was better to be stopped by the police than the fans; the first wouldn't take nearly as long. Normally, Viktor would have happily taken as many photos and signed as many autographs as one could possibly want, but today was only for Yuuri.
He looked at the time on his phone, then the most recent picture of Makkachin that the dogsitter had sent him. Viktor had called as soon as he could; after what happened to Yuuri's dog, he needed fresh news of his own. He had received a series of reassuring pictures, but all the same he couldn't wait to cuddle Makkachin again.
He checked the time again– Yuuri was a little late. He had received a message that morning, saying simply I'm awake, and they'd arranged to meet for lunch.
Katsudon isn't a good idea, it's too heavy, Yuuri had written, there's still the gala right after and I'll end up spending more time on the ice than my skates.
So reasonable! Viktor had marveled to himself before receiving the next message.
Yuuri ♥: And then what if they take back my medal?
Viktor had laughed.
Me: You wouldn't be the first to have a terrible gala because of the release of tension, people will understand.
But they had agreed on something lighter that wouldn't make their respective nutritionists scream too much. What mattered, to Viktor, was that it would be the two of them.
The door creaked behind him. He turned. Yuuri stuck his head through the opening, looking lost. Seeing Viktor, he jumped violently and backed away.
"It's me! It's me!" Viktor yelled.
He pulled down his scarf and removed his glasses.
"Oh!" Yuuri said.
He was wearing a warm-looking coat, but that was all.
"Yuuri, you can't go out like that, they'll recognize you right away!"
Yuuri gave him a look of incomprehension. Viktor unwound his scarf, uncaring of the cold that nipped at his cheeks, and wrapped it around Yuuri's neck.
"And you seem cold, too!"
"The collar is enough," Yuuri insisted, voice muffled by the scarf.
He lowered it a little.
"I don't usually get recognized outside of Hasetsu," he said, "or just after the Japanese Championships."
"You just won the silver medal at the ISU Grand Prix, and we're in Sochi; they'll have to recognize you." Viktor took his hand, regretting the cold that forced them to wear gloves. Yuuri immediately tangled his fingers with Viktor's, making his heart beat faster.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
Yuuri lowered his head, hiding his face in the scarf. Viktor found that it suited him quite well. Maybe because it was Viktor's and it was protecting Yuuri.
"Better," Yuuri responded in a voice that said: not well, but I don't want to impose my grief on you.
Viktor hoped that that would change, that soon Yuuri would know he could trust Viktor without hesitation.
"I'm sorry, for yesterday," Yuuri went on, embarrassed. "I shouldn't have..."
"No, no, no! If it had been Makkachin..." Viktor shuddered. "I don't even know if I'd have been able to skate, and definitely not so well. You were incredibly brave."
"It's thanks to you," Yuuri said, hiding his face once again.
Viktor wondered whether Yuuri could smell him, in the scarf, whether that comforted him.
"He was called... Bichan? Was that it?" he asked hesitantly, trying to recall the name Yuuri had sobbed the previous day.
There was a silence, then Yuuri said without looking at him, "When I was little, I begged my parents to get me a dog. I wanted a brown poodle."
He hesitated and added: "Like yours."
"Oh," Viktor said.
His chest was abruptly tight, too small for the emotions suddenly blooming within.
"I named him Viktor. Vicchan."
Viktor felt as though his heart would burst. This wasn't the first time that someone had told him: I named my pet/child/plant in your honor, but it was the first time it had left him so happy.
"It's weird, I know."
Yuuri relaxed his fingers as though to let go of Viktor's hand, as if he was he was... embarrassed? Viktor quickly tightened his grip.
"Not at all," he declared fervently. "I'm..."
He really had to talk to a cardiologist, it definitely wasn't normal for his heart to race like this all the time.
Yuuri shot him a glance out of the corner of his eye, smiling faintly, before his face darkened.
"With all these competitions in a row and my college exams, I won't even be able to go home to mourn."
"But you'll be in Japan soon for the national championships."
Yuuri shook his head with a mournful air that immediately made Viktor want to embrace him. He squeezed his hand.
"Yes, but it's in Sapporo, almost across the country. And it'll be the tourist season, so they won't even be able to come watch..."
Viktor had burned his bridges with his family so long ago, he'd forgotten that others usually suffered when separated from their parents. Viktor had no regrets in that respect, had never felt any loss. One of his old lovers had once asked him what his heart was made of. Viktor had let the question torment him longer than it should have.
Looking at Yuuri, he realized that whatever his heart was made of, it had found its master.
They wandered slowly in silence. Viktor took a circuitous route. If Yuuri thought that they were taking a long time to reach the restaurant, he didn't say anything.
"The Japanese Championship," Viktor asked suddenly, "it ends on December 25th?"
Yuuri stared at him, a little incredulous. He would eventually understand that every moment of his life was important. Of course Viktor knew when his next competition would be.
"That's also my birthday," he hummed.
"You know what would make me happy?"
Yuuri tilted his head slightly and in his face, Viktor saw with pleasure, was a glow of amusement.
"A gold medal?"
"Yessss!" Viktor raised their joined hands toward the sky. "That's also the beginning of the Russian championship. We'll trade after."
"You want to exchange medals?" Yuuri repeated in disbelief.
Yuuri immediately turned scarlet. Viktor would never get tired of that.
"And it'll motivate you! You wouldn't want to give me anything besides a gold medal, right?"
Yuuri shook his head. Viktor continued. "After that I have the European Championships and you have Four Continents... Oh! I'm not doing any of the smaller competitions before the World Championships, it just doesn't seem fair..."
And Yakov had forbidden it to avoid any injury. Viktor, after all, had one foot in the grave in terms of his skating career.
".... so I can come see you at Four Continents!"
Yuuri stopped suddenly. Viktor didn't notice immediately, and gripped as he was by the hand, he was surprised to find himself pulling against an immovable object. He stumbled, but managed to catch himself, turning to Yuuri.
The other man was staring at his feet.
He hesitated, opened his mouth, closed it, then squared his shoulders. He raised his head. Viktor thought he felt Yuuri's hand shaking, and yet his gaze was determined.
"Viktor, I... d-don't misunderstand me, I'm... I'm so happy to... that you're here. But I don't understand," he said before repeating in a lost voice: "I don't understand why you're suddenly interested in me."
Viktor froze, then brought Yuuri's hand to his lips, cursing once again the presence of their gloves.
It isn't all that sudden, he thought, visualising his browser history. But for Yuuri, it must have seemed to come from nowhere...
"I saw your free program at the Trophée de France."
"Oh!" Yuuri said, blushing again, "ah, I..."
Viktor raised his eyebrows, but Yuuri shook his head.
"Nothing," he muttered.
Yes, there was something, but Viktor would come back to that later.
"It was like hearing with my eyes," he continued. "When you moved, even without the sound, I could hear the music."
Yuuri stared at him in stupefaction. Viktor couldn't help adding with a wink: "And then, the pole-dancing video was conclusive..."
Yuuri released a cry of horror, clapped his hands violently over his mouth, and spun quickly away. Viktor caught him, laughing, and pulled him close. Yuuri let himself be pulled, which was even more delightful because Viktor knew Yuuri was strong enough to break away if he wanted.
"Chris is going to pay," he told Viktor's shoulder, and Viktor laughed again.
"Yuuri," he said seriously. Yuuri looked at him.
"I've been skating for twenty years. Lately... it's lost some, no, most of its meaning. You brought back my joy."
Yuuri looked at him as though it was Viktor who had returned meaning to his life, even though the opposite was true. Suddenly, they were clutching each other so tightly, their faces drew close and... Viktor bumped against Yuuri's glasses, drawing back in surprise.
"Hum," Yuuri said.
Viktor began to laugh, placed his fingers on the arms of the glasses.
"May I?" he asked.
Yuuri nodded. Viktor pulled them off gently, so as not to risk hurting him, then placed a kiss on his forehead, a kiss on his nose, a kiss on his lips.
They were late reaching the restaurant, where the waiter stared at Viktor with the shaken air that certain fans got when they met him at random. Viktor put a finger to his lips with a wink. The waiter immediately assumed the determined expression of someone who would defend him to the death.
Viktor and Yuuri discovered that eating with one hand wasn't easy, but the alternative was letting go, which was out of the question. They even turned it into a sort of competition. Yuuri was more coordinated than Viktor and declared that if there had been chopsticks, his victory would have been assured. Viktor hoped to see him that confident on the ice.
They had to hurry back at the risk of being late to the gala, losing time kissing at the door behind the hotel; Yuuri's eyes shone, his breath was short and his cheeks were red when Viktor finally managed to let him leave, a torture all its own.
To share him with the rest that afternoon was extremely irritating, especially because they had to restrain their expressions of affection. Viktor's already debatable dignity almost flew out the window when Yuuri performed his free program at the gala: something in him had changed, gravity had lost its hold. Euphoric, Viktor told himself that if Yuuri had danced like that yesterday, he would have won the gold; the judges couldn't have done otherwise, technique or no.
The banquet was another form of torture: the necessity of making small talk while they only had a few more hours to spend together. Yuuri and Viktor didn't leave each other's side. They intertwined their fingers as soon as Yakov and Celestino had their backs turned. The little Yuri (who had screamed bloody murder the first time Viktor called him that, which was only an encouragement) made nauseated noises when he noticed. It wasn't that they were fooling anyone about what this was: the less serious sports reporters had already dissected their actions over the last six months for proof of a hidden romance. But there was something delicious about acting like they were a well-kept secret.
"You're stressing me out," Chris finally came to tell them, raising his eyes to heaven. "It's fine, you've been here long enough, leave!"
Yuuri left first. Viktor's heart was already breaking as he realized that very soon, he would be watching him go further away, for much longer.
"You'll have to tell me the whole story one day," Chris commented. "Even I feel like I've missed a few parts. And if you ever convince him to try a threesome, one of these nights..."
Viktor turned to Chris and smiled. Chris raised his hands in a sign of peace.
Viktor and Yuuri had decided to let ten minutes pass between their respective departures. Viktor didn't even last five. He found Yuuri not far from the entrance to the rink, as agreed, and immediately took his hand.
Yuuri contemplated the Olympic building longingly. He said with nostalgia: "What it must be like, to skate there when there's no one to watch..."
Then he added in explanation: "In Hasetsu, they would always let me train after closing."
Viktor had never felt a real urge to take deliberate advantage of his unofficial title of Tsar of Every Skating Rink in Russia; events had usually arranged themselves without him having to say a word.
But there were emergencies.
Twenty minutes later, the Iceberg Skating Palace was open to them. Yuuri, who until then had been dying of embarrassment, allowed himself to be seduced by the sparkling expanse that presented itself to him in absolute silence. He took off, laughing when Viktor caught him by the waist, then untangling himself gently and gliding off to the back, with a look that said, "come after me."
That evening, they exchanged only kisses, and yet Viktor felt as though he had made love for the first time.
Yuuri closed the door behind him and let his bag fall to the ground.
"Yuuri!" Phichit cried out with joy. "Congratulations again! Did you have a good trip?"
Yuuri looked toward him, eyes blurred. Phichit froze, then bounded toward him and hugged him with all his strength. Yuuri slumped against him and let go of the tears he'd been holding in for what seemed like an eternity.
"I'm so happy, Phichit," he managed to say against his friend's shoulder. "Why do I have the feeling that everything is going to fall apart?"
Phichit said nothing, and rubbed Yuuri's back until his exhaustion overcame his anguish.
[Photo: Yuuri sleeping on his bed, Phichit stretched out next to him]
phichit+chu #bff #champion #jetlag #sleeptight #katsukiyuuri
v-nikiforov commented: sleeping beauty ♥
Yuuri had waited for Viktor's interest to dwindle, without it ever happening. They video-called each other every night, always finding something to say. Viktor told him about the daily routine in St. Petersburg, little Yuri's escapades and Yakov's smoking ears, showed him Makkachin and swore that when they met, the dog would recognize him.
He was already planning their vacation after the world championships; he wanted to visit Hasetsu and try Yuuri's mother's katsudon.
He had asked Phichit to film Yuuri's practices more carefully, and every day sent an email detailing his critiques, which were sometimes a repetition of Celestino's, but other times picked out something Yuuri had never imagined.
It always took Yuuri a good hour to recover from those emails.
On the morning of December 24, Viktor had sent: I'm watching. Think only of me.
Yuuri took gold.
(The young skater who'd earned silver had burst into sobs, but oddly they were of joy from being beaten by Yuuri? He hadn't really understood.)
That evening, for the first time, he used the Instagram Phichit had made him create before he left.
His hesitant heart had never felt so strong.
katsuki-yuuri Happy birthday, @v-nikiforov.
Viktor's rebirth didn't last. Without Yuuri by his side, his program felt soulless once more. He danced like a mechanical puppet, perfectly but without warmth, and the worst thing was that no-one, or almost no-one, noticed.
"It was perfect," Mila said after the Russian Nationals where he had taken gold with a terrible feeling of monotony. "But..."
"But?" Viktor demanded.
"But," she said simply, shrugging.
But if this continues, next year, I'll go down one, two, three places, Viktor mused, and that out of sheer laziness.
"There was something better at the Grand Prix Final," Yuuri admitted with a slight frown. "But I don't know what."
"You were there," Viktor said.
Yuuri raised his eyes to heaven.
I'm very serious.
The European Championship went the same way. Viktor could have sworn the crowd was bored, even if the videos showed the exact opposite.
He reached Osaka, where the Four Continents would be held, twenty-four hours before Yuuri, in utter secrecy. He wanted to surprise him, so it was out of the question that anyone know where he was. He had sent Yakov a message just before leaving and had cheerfully ignored the furious messages he had received upon landing. The little Yuri hadn't taken long to start on Viktor himself, with all the rage of which he was capable.
At the airport, Viktor sat facing the arrivals and waited, tapping a foot in impatience. Next to him, a woman with long hair was sending him small suspicious glances. Viktor adjusted his scarf a little and checked that his sunglasses hid his eyes. Because of the Four Continents, Osaka was packed with skating fans. He had stayed locked up in his hotel near the airport so as to avoid being recognized.
The first passengers finally appeared. Viktor stood immediately to approach the gate, noting that the woman did the same.
He saw first Celestino, then Phichit and Yuuri beside him.
"YUURI!" he called at the same moment as the long-haired stranger.
They looked at each other, stupefied, before she exclaimed: "Ah! VIKTOR NIKIFOROV!"
At the same moment, Yuuri cried, "Viktor?! Minako-sensei?!"
"Ah!" Viktor realized excitedly. "Pole dancing!"
Happily for Viktor, Yuuri was too happy to see him to be angry for long.
Viktor won gold at the World Championships, to the surprise of absolutely no one. That was depressing, but he wasn't exactly about to lose on purpose. Chris had yet to overcome the psychological barrier necessary to dethrone him and Yuuri wasn't on his level technically.
Viktor didn't want to lose out of boredom or physical deterioration. He wanted to lose because someone had defeated him, despite all his efforts; he wanted to be able to pass on his crown without regret. But he didn't have the patience to wait for the little Yuri, who would take years to reach his full potential.
"What are your plans for next season?" a journalist demanded at the press conference.
Urgh, thought Viktor before smiling maliciously and saying, "It's a surprise!"
Even Yuuri looked at him with an obvious air of impatient curiosity, it was awful.
While the reporters concentrated on Chris and Yuuri, Viktor let his spirit wander.
In a few hours, he and Yuuri would be alone once again for a short time before having to part. Certainly, the end of the season had finally arrived, and they had planned to meet at Yuuri's parents' onsen for two weeks at the beginning of April, but that time hadn't even come yet and Viktor was already dreading the moment they would leave.
How could it be that someone he had spent so little time with, physically, left such a hole in his life?
The idea that Yuuri could come to St. Petersburg was becoming more and more attractive, and only the conviction that Yakov was not the type of coach Yuuri needed kept him from proposing it. Not that Celestino suited him either. Perhaps he had helped Yuuri before, but there was clearly something wrong now. It showed itself in the training videos: it was subtle, but Celestino seemed more effective with Phichit than Yuuri. Viktor had no idea what to do with that information. It was frustrating.
"Mr. Nikiforov never stops praising you," a reporter declared. "How does it feel to be endorsed like that by a real champion?"
What a stupid question, Viktor thought, and condescending to his Yuuri, who had several gold medals.
Yuuri let out an embarrassed little laugh.
"Actually, Viktor criticizes all my performances," he responded. "It's like having a second coach..."
Oh! Viktor said to himself.
He straightened, suddenly filled with absolute calm.
Translator's Note: When I read this fic initially, I loved it so much that I immediately asked to translate it. I've never translated a fic before, and I hope I did shakes' wonderful story justice!