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How to Lose a Guy in 16 Weeks

Chapter Text

There is an old rule that ideas fueled by champagne are bad ideas no matter what the alcohol makes you think. Some would even argue that the more champagne you get behind the idea, the worse it is.

Victor Nikiforov, 5-time world champion, the living legend of figure skating and with titles enough to make a good paragraph stood next to his friend Christophe Giacometti (who’d won some titles and medals himself) with a glass of champagne in his hand and sighed.

It was the banquet after the Grand Prix Final, where Victor had, once again, won another gold medal. It was a time for socializing with the sponsors and showing them what good role models they were and definitely the sort of people to trust with advertising their products.

Victor and Chris were using this opportunity to get drunk. Or, to be more exact, Victor was getting drunk and Chris was keeping him company.

Alcohol affects different people differently. Some drink like mad until they pass out, only to wake up the next morning with the realization that they have no memory of what happened the night before. Some are giggly drunks. Some are brooding drunks.

Victor was a sad, reflective drunk. Usually he was a giggly drunk, but he’d passed that stage two glasses ago.

“I just don’t meet the right person, you know?” he was explaining to Chris.

Chris had already listened to Victor’s rendition of “oh woe is me! I am a living legend with no inspiration to continue!” Now he was listening to his version of “I’m just the most eligible bachelor who is so lonely, but why won’t the right person come along and sweep me off my feet? Why? I don’t have high standards. I just want the perfect guy.” It was impossible to listen to without a smile.

“Skin as smooth as silk and all that?” Chris suggested.

Victor halted mid-sentence. “What did you say?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“All I seem to do is run into people who don’t know the first thing about dating.” He sighed theatrically. “I can write you a book on all the ways you can screw up a date.”

Chris chuckled. Except you’d give up on page one, he thought, knowing his friend’s short attention span. “I would’ve thought the living legend gets the best of the best,” he said out loud instead.

Victor shrugged with a helpless expression on his face like someone who’d been unjustly wronged by the universe. “All I get are free tips on what not to do. With examples.”

“Could be useful,” Chris said and snorted. “You can always take up a side job as a person who helps people break up.”

“In fact,” Victor said, warming up to the subject. “I bet I can drive the keenest man off by doing all of this to the point where he’d run away at a single sight of me.”

Chris looked at him. “Oh really? The keenest man?”

“Yes.”

“Even a long-time, super-obsessive fan? He’ll forgive you anything!”

“Even him.”

Chris smiled to himself, remembering a conversation he’d had earlier that day. He cast his eye around the room. “Well, why don’t you prove it?”

“How?”

“I’ll pick a man and you drive him off.”

Victor, too drunk to realize that this would do the opposite of helping his situation, agreed.

“And we need a time limit,” Chris said thoughtfully. “Let’s say… World’s. You have from now until the World’s to drive him away? Is that enough time for you?”

“What is that?” Victor counted aloud. “Sixteen weeks?”

Chris smiled.

“I bet I can do it in ten weeks, but I’ll take sixteen, if you insist!” Victor announced a little louder than necessary. “Will you pick him now?

“Why not?” Chris asked. He pretended to search around the room for a likely candidate. Little did Victor know, Chris already had the perfect person in mind. I doubt you’ll drive him off. In fact, I bet he’ll win your heart before the end. He pointed at a young man in the crowd. “What about him?”

“What?” Victor exclaimed. “Oh come on, Chris!”

Chris laughed. “Alright, alright! I was just kidding.” Yeah, I can’t imagine you going out with JJ either. “What about that boy?”

“I think he’s dating the guy with him,” Victor hissed back.

The man in question turned and kissed the boy next to him on the cheek.

“You’re right,” Chris admitted. “Well, then, that boy over there.”

Victor’s jaw dropped slowly as blood rushed to his cheeks. “Yeah,” he cleared his throat, “him. Sure. Yeah, I’ll win him – I mean, I’ll drive him away.”

Do you think you can remember which you’re supposed to do? Chris thought, watching Victor adjust his tie and fix his hair with amusement.

 

By the strangest of coincidences, the young man Chris was pointing at was in the middle of a conversation about the same thing. The lucky winner was Yuuri Katsuki – one of the top figure skaters in the world who’d come in second this Grand Prix Final – and he was telling Phichit about how lonely he was.

Phichit Chulanont, Thailand’s top figure skater, watched Yuuri with the same amount of amusement Chris felt while watching Victor. He had his own opinion of his friend’s troubles.

“I should just accept that I will spend the rest of my life alone,” he said.

This from the guy who’d accidentally flirted with ten different men one night in a bar and then broke all of their hearts without realizing, Phichit thought, doing his best not to burst out laughing. “Look, Yuuri, let’s be honest. There’s a good reason you’re not having any luck with anyone.”

“There is?” Yuuri asked.

Oh god! He probably thinks I’m going to point out some fundamental flaw in his personality! “Admit it, Yuuri. Your heart’s not in it.”

Yuuri turned away.

Phichit put an arm around him. “Every time you meet someone they just don’t measure up to the person you’re already in love with.”

There was a blush on Yuuri’s face now. “I-I’m not…”

“And pining away,” Phichit went on as if Yuuri hadn’t said anything, “isn’t going to get you anywhere. Go over there and try to win his heart.”

“Why would he ever be interested in someone like me?”

“Yuuri!” Phichit straightened up. “Do I need to remind you that you almost won gold this time around?”

“Almost doesn’t count…” Yuuri muttered.

He was retreating into his shell again and usually Phichit would leave him alone, but they’d both had a few glasses of champagne as well and Phichit felt his brain work away like crazy that night.

“Listen,” he said, “I bet you that you can charm Victor Nikiforov himself. You can win him over just the way you are.”

“I can’t!”

“I’ll get you every single relationship expert, every single self-help book on the subject, anything you like if you go over there and talk to him!”

Yuuri fidgeted. “No, I think I’d rather go home.”

“Okay, Yuuri, I bet you…” Phichit considered this, “I bet you that you can go over there and win his heart and if you don’t win Victor over by the time… by the World Championships, I will quit competitive figure skating.”

“What?” Yuuri exclaimed. “Why would you bet it on that?”

“Because I have complete faith in you, Yuuri,” Phichit said simply. You honestly have no idea what kind of monster you are. Especially when you go out on the ice and skate your Eros routine. Also because I don’t think I can survive another year in competitive skating participating in the most frustrating soap opera about pining away ever.

“No, please…” Yuuri argued. “I’m tired. I want to go home. I just –”

“Oh! Sorry about that!”

Someone bumped into Yuuri. They both turned to see who it was.

Ah! Finally! Phichit caught Chris’s eye across the room and saw the man give him a thumbs up.

Yuuri was too busy studying his shoes to see the big smile on the newcomer’s face. “Um… sorry. It was my fault.”

“No, no,” the man argued and held out his hand. “Please let me apologize and as compensation I will invite you to a dance.”

Yuuri raised his eyes. “Really? You’ll invite me?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

“Hold on. I need to tell my friend something.” He turned around and hissed to Phichit, “Get me all of those books on relationships you promised. If you win this bet, I’ll do anything!”

“Anything?” Phichit raised an eyebrow. Are you sure you want to promise that? Isn’t it a little dangerous?

But Yuuri let himself be led away by his new dance partner without saying a word. He had the smile of the luckiest man in the world. Phichit followed him, trying to find a good vantage point.

This was going to be one wild night and he already had an Instagram account ready for the occasion. The Yuuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov forever fangroup will be over the moon when they see this.

 

It was just Victor’s luck that the first dance he pulled the boy into was a slow one. The boy blushed and fidgeted before putting his hands around Victor’s waist. The world spun around him, full of all kinds of colours and sounds.

The boy smiled and Victor realized his hands had settled on his shoulders without any instructions from him.

He was really handsome. This close to him it was all Victor could think about.

I want to dance with you all night long, he thought. Now if only I knew what your name is… He remembered now where he’d seen him before.

 

They stood on the podium next to each other. The fans screamed at the top of their voices as Victor waved back enthusiastically. This boy stood on one side of him and on the other was that skater everyone raved about, the Canadian one. Victor could never remember his name either. Only his initials: JJ.

Victor didn’t pay either of them much attention. Not even during the press conference that followed.

 

How do I get you to tell me what your name is without asking for it? he wondered in the here and now.

“It’s too crowded here,” he said once they got to their third dance. “We should go somewhere more private.”

Brilliant idea, the drunk part of his brain told him, don’t forget to ask for his room number.

The boy gave him an innocent look. “Phichit told me there was a good restaurant two blocks away from here. We can go there, if you like.”

Great! And you can charm him there with dinner in the candlelight! the drunk part of his brain raged on.

Hold on, he thought, I thought I was supposed to drive him away.

Yes, but you can’t exactly drive someone away before they’re even properly attracted to you.

He was only mildly aware of the fact that he was tottering on the verge of insanity. Charm the boy – that sounded like a brilliant idea.

They got their things and walked out into the cold night air. Two blocks later he was starting to feel almost sober and realized with a panic how bad the whole idea was.

Here is a nice (and very hot) boy and I’m supposed to drive him off? How can I possibly do that? Why, oh why, did I make that stupid bet with Chris? Let him have whatever he wants, I’m not going to do this! It’s stupid! It’s awful! It’s…

His phone vibrated and he pulled it out of his pocket.

Have fun ;) Chris texted.

He could say it was just a joke. He could try to blame the alcohol and call the whole thing off right there and then, but deep inside he couldn’t help the feeling that Chris would talk him back into it again.

There was no backing out now.

Beside him the boy whose name he couldn’t remember and whose heart he was undoubtedly about to break gave him a brilliant smile. “We’re here.”

Chapter Text

Here he was all alone with the love of this life in a restaurant. The lights were slightly dimmed, slow romantic music was playing, neither of them said a word. What could be said at a moment like this?

What did people say when they were out on a date?

He’s Victor Nikiforov, a little voice in the back of his head reminded him, he’s the living legend and completely out of your league. What can you say? That you’re his biggest fan? That you own every poster of him ever made? That you obsessively read every interview with him? Do you want to creep him out? Just keep your mouth shut and enjoy these minutes of happiness. You know this is all you’ll ever get.

Victor smiled at him and Yuuri’s stomach flipped over. There was a bit of food on his face, but Victor didn’t seem to notice.

He leaned forward and Yuuri resisted the urge to wipe his face clean. Victor’s mouth opened and Yuuri wondered what he would say. Would it be something meaningful that would turn his understanding of the world inside out? Would it be a really interesting story? Or would it – no, surely not! – be something romantic?

“That couple over there has their dog here with them and he’s sitting in a chair like they are!”

Yuuri turned to look.

“Do you think they ordered something from the menu for him too?” Victor asked.

“Maybe there’s a dog’s menu we don’t know about… like the kid’s menu some restaurants have,” Yuuri suggested.

Victor burst out laughing. “Good one!”

“R-really?” I don’t think it was that funny. You’re just laughing to be polite.

But Victor kept laughing. “Yes!”

He was closer now. Yuuri picked his napkin up and wiped his cheek.

Victor froze and so did Yuuri. For a moment it was as if they’d both turned to statues from sheer embarrassment.

Yuuri snatched his hand away and gave the longest apology of his life.

Victor watched with a surprised expression on his face.

Oh god! I should just go home now! Let’s pretend none of this ever happened. Pretend you never met me. Pretend you don’t know who I am. Pretend I didn’t just screw up my only chance for a date (or a sort of date, because let’s be realistic: why would Victor ever date me?) with Victor Nikiforov!

Victor picked his napkin up and pressed it against Yuuri’s face.

“Uh… D-do I have something on my face?” he stammered out. Oh god! How embarrassing!

“No,” Victor said. He shifted forward. “Come closer.”

Yuuri did and felt the napkin slide over one cheek and then the other.

“Will you go out with me?” Yuuri suddenly blurted out. Where the hell did that come from? He’s going to say no. Why did I have to open my mouth? This is so awkward!

“I will,” Victor answered with a smile.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry! I don’t know why I asked, of course you wouldn’t! I mean why –” his mouth stopped moving as his brain realized what his ears had heard. “Y-you will?”

Victor smiled. “Yes. But I’ve never really gone out with anyone before,” he went on, “so I don’t know anything about having a boyfriend.” He put his hand under Yuuri’s chin and slid his fingers over his skin. “Will you teach me?”

Yuuri nodded, unable to understand a word of what he’d said. His face was as red as a tomato as one thought went around in his mind. Victor had said yes! He didn’t try to back out. He wasn’t offended or disgusted. He actually said yes!

 

When the boy touched his face Victor was suddenly overwhelmed. That was it. He was going to dissolve into a puddle at a single touch.

What could he do but return the touch?

Deep inside he was getting more and more confused, unable to tell what it was that he wanted anymore.

“Will you go out with me?” the boy asked.

Will I? Yes, of course! “I will,” he answered.

The boy panicked and misheard his words, but before Victor could correct him, he realized his mistake himself.

You can’t do this, the voice of reason insisted. Forget attracting first and driving him off second. Just drive him off. It doesn’t matter if you’re melting at a single touch from him. It doesn’t matter if he might turn out to be your soulmate. Drive him off before either of you gets in too deep.

But no, he was still flirting. Why was he still flirting?

Quick! What weird thing did people do on their first dates? What would be guaranteed to drive anyone off? He thought feverishly for several minutes, unable to come up with anything and then his eye fell on one of the tables in the room.

“I have a rule for dating,” he said, madly inventing on the spot.

“Yes?” the boy whose name he still couldn’t remember asked.

“Before I date anyone seriously, I want them to meet my parents,” he declared with his usual happy smile and waited for the muttered excuses which were bound to follow.

The boy nodded, “Sure.”

No, no, don’t agree to this! Don’t nod like it’s a normal thing and accept happily! You should make up something to avoid it. Or will you do that later? “They’re in St. Petersburg right now, so you’ll have to go there with me. Is that okay?” Still the boy agreed. “I should warn you: my parents are really embarrassing,” he went on. “Whenever someone comes over they,” he tried to think of something really terrible but his imagination failed him and he ended the sentence truthfully, “they stuff you full of food until you feel like you’re about to explode!”

Come on. Come on. Be weirded out. I’m a 27 year old man inviting you over to introduce you to my parents before we even know enough about each other to decide whether or not we actually want to go out!

“My parents are the same,” the boy said, “or, at least, my mother is. She loves sitting people down and feeding them until they’re full.”

“Maybe I should meet your parents too, then,” he suggested. You can’t tell me you’ll accept that too!

The boy gave a sad sigh. “We should. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them.”

“I haven’t seen mine in several years, either,” Victor suddenly admitted.

The boy smiled and Victor’s heart beat faster.

“Can I have your number, please?” Victor asked, pulling out his phone and sliding it across the table.

“Sure.”

He sat there, cursing himself until he got his phone back and realized that he’d found a way to ask for the boy’s name without giving away the fact that he had no idea what it was. And so he finally found out that his date’s name was Yuuri Katsuki.

What a beautiful name!

They walked back together afterwards. Yuuri reached for his hand, but Victor pulled it away, remembering another odd thing someone had done once.

“Sorry, I don’t hold hands on first dates.” It was something a schoolkid would say, but Yuuri merely nodded and apologized.

Why is he accepting everything I say without an argument? Is it really because he’s such a big fan? But then it doesn’t matter what I do, I’ll never drive him off! No, no that can’t be right! There must be something that will drive him off. Everyone has that line they won’t cross, so he must have one as well. I just need to figure out what it is.

Unless…

Unless he was the kind of person who didn’t care what sort of person they were dating as long as they were someone to boast about to everyone.

He felt his blood run cold. He always knew he’d run into someone like that one day.

Yuuri’s eyes were lowered as he walked, but a warm smile spread over his lips. Victor studied him thoughtfully, the way the light reflected off his hair, the way he held his hands in his pockets.

No. Not him. Not someone who looked as naïve as he did. Never. He’d never believe it.

They barely said a word all the way back. Yuuri escorted him back to his room, wished him a good night and walked away without saying anything else.

Victor locked himself in and leaned against the door. Now what?

Maybe Yuuri would think about it, realize it was all really stupid and text him some pathetic excuse and that would be the end of that.

Text him? How could he text him, if he didn’t have Victor’s number? Why didn’t he ask for it? Victor had.

Was that his way of turning Victor down? What if… What if the number he gave Victor wasn’t his, but a bogus made-up number?

He panicked, pulled out his phone and stared at the number. It looked real enough. How could he know if it was real or not? He could call. Yes, he could call and if Yuuri picked up he’d know it was right and…

What if he didn’t?

What if the phone was answered by someone else? By, say, a deaf old lady and he’d be stuck shouting for an hour, trying to explain that he’d gotten the wrong number.

What if…

He wanted this to be Yuuri’s number. He needed it to be his.

Because he wanted to see him again.

No, no, I can’t think that! I don’t know him and he’s probably just an obsessed fan. That’s why Chris picked him. Yeah. That must be it. An obsessed fan.

He stayed up all night, tossing and turning in his bed, unable to stop thinking of Yuuri, who he’d barely talked to and who he wanted desperately to see again.

 

Morning came and brought with it anger and frustration. No person in the world was worth this much suffering, no person was worth this much pain. Especially if they were just a fan.

He’d dealt with enough of those in his lifetime and he didn’t need Yakov to interfere this time to pull him out of this situation.

They all gathered together for their goodbyes in the hotel lobby that morning.

Chris cornered him with the expression of someone who was determined to get every little detail of the night before and, if necessary, invent a detail or two, if the account didn’t agree with what he wanted to hear.

But before Victor could say anything, before he could decide which parts of the night before to leave out and which ones to interpret differently, there was Yuuri walking out of the elevator.

He was at Yuuri’s side in record time, forgetting about Chris completely. “Good morning, Yuuri!” he said cheerfully even as he was inwardly cursing himself.

Yuuri smiled. “Good morning! Did you sleep well?”

“Yes,” he lied and was filled with a sudden suspicion that this would only be one of the first lies in a long string of lies.

You lied several times last night, his conscience reminded him, but he just ignored it.

“I’m glad,” Yuuri said. “I look forward to seeing you in St. Petersburg!”

And he walked away. Just like that.

“Wait!” Victor chased after him, remembering something important.

Yuuri turned around.

“I forgot to give you my number,” Victor said and watched Yuuri blush.

For a moment he thought Yuuri would take everything back and try to talk him out of giving it to him. He braced himself to hear “you don’t have to” and more variations on it, but instead Yuuri pulled out his phone and handed it to him.

“Yes, please,” he said.

God! Victor thought, seeing the serious expression on Yuuri’s face. Unfortunately, everything that followed that thought was completely incomprehensible. There was something about wanting to be in those arms and cling to those shoulders, quite possibly also something about a kiss, but he wasn’t very sure.

He entered his name hastily into Yuuri’s phone and then his number. He triple-checked that he’d put every number in correctly. He wasn’t going to spend hours agonizing over whether or not he’d made a mistake. Not for this.

Victor returned Yuuri’s phone with a smile. “Text me anytime,” he said and watched Yuuri walk away.

“See you in St. Petersburg, huh?” Chris dropped into his ear.

“Shut up,” Victor said through gritted teeth and then waved when Yuuri turned to look at him.

The doors of the hotel opened and Yuuri was gone.

“I take it last night went well,” Chris said.

Victor turned to face him and he knew, he just knew that Chris could see by his face that he hadn’t slept a wink.

“That well, huh?” Chris said and laughed.

“It’ll end the day he gets there. You’ll see. He’ll be changing his tickets to go home earlier,” Victor promised, trying to sound nonchalant, as if that was exactly what he wanted. It was, he told himself. And then he’d win their dumb bet and he could… Could what, exactly? Well, it didn’t matter. He’d think of something then. It was no use planning this far ahead, anyway.

“Oh, he’ll be changing his tickets, alright,” Chris muttered, following Victor to the front desk where they would both check out of their rooms. “I think he’ll be extending his stay in St. Petersburg.”

“One day,” Victor repeated, “that’s all it will take.”

Chapter Text

In his wildest dreams Yuuri imagined himself meeting his idol’s parents and making a really good impression. He’d once taken this fantasy so far that he’d actually Googled Russian customs for visiting people and wrote down all of the tips he got.

That was why the first thing he did after arriving in St. Petersburg wasn’t checking into his hotel, but visiting a couple of stores to get everything he needed.

And, so, when he arrived at the address Victor had given him he was dressed in his absolute best, had a box of chocolates in one hand, a bouquet for Victor’s mother in the other and did his best to carry the bag with a bottle for Victor’s father and a bag with Victor’s present somewhere between the two.

It was December the 25th. For many parts of the world this meant Christmas, for the apartment he was currently standing in front of it meant Victor Nikiforov’s birthday.

He rang the doorbell, wishing desperately he had a third arm.

The door swung open and two people flew out onto the stairwell landing. Their arms caught Yuuri before he could even understand who they were.

He was kissed, greeted, kissed again. Someone took the flowers and chocolates out of his hands. Someone else pulled him inside.

He stopped to take off his coat and his eyes fell on Victor Nikiforov, standing in the middle of the corridor with a smile on his face.

“You came,” he said, as if he hadn’t expected Yuuri to do it.

“Of course I did.” You invited me. How could I not come? He took a deep breath. “Happy birthday!”

He felt as if it was his own birthday. Who else got the chance to wish their idol a happy birthday in person?

He handed Victor his present. That had taken some research too. He’d gone through every interview Victor had ever given to work out what the perfect present for Victor would be.

“Thank you,” Victor said.

The sound of a laugh made Yuuri take his eyes off Victor’s face to see both his parents exchange amused looks.

“Well?” Victor’s mother asked. “There’s no need to be embarrassed of us!”

Yuuri felt the blood rise to his face as he realized what she was suggesting.

Victor’s father gave him a gentle nudge in Victor’s direction, but Victor didn’t seem to understand what was going on.

There was only one thing left to do. He leaned forward to briefly kiss the birthday boy on his cheek, his lips just touching Victor’s skin before he pulled away.

“Oh!” Victor exclaimed softly, raising a hand to his cheek. Then he stared down at the present. “Can I open it?”

Yuuri nodded. His face was still red, but another feeling rose up inside him, something other than embarrassment. Victor hadn’t pushed him away, no, Victor had invited him over to meet his parents and accepted his silly kiss.

Victor’s parents watched with interest as their son unwrapped his present.

What did people usually say at a time like this? Yuuri searched his mind desperately for some sort of idea, but had no luck. He couldn’t tell Victor where he’d gotten the idea from!

The wrapping paper fell to the floor and Victor raised the box with a soft gasp.

 

Tell us, Mr. Nikiforov, when you’re taking time off skating what is your favourite pastime? What do you do to relax and take your mind off things?

Victor: I like to spend time with my dog, Makkachin. We go on long walks outside together. Sometimes I take some food with me and have a little picnic!

 

Victor unwrapped the present, unable to contain his impatience. He hadn’t said anything about a birthday party, but, of course, as a fan, Yuuri knew. He felt his cheek burn where Yuuri had kissed it and mentally cursed himself. Why was it such a big deal now? It was just a kiss on the cheek, nothing more!

He’d seen what Yuuri had brought for his family. He’d done exactly what his parents had wanted. Victor remembered the conversation earlier that day. His mother didn’t understand that people in other countries had other customs and declared outright that if Victor’s boyfriend didn’t arrive with flowers she wouldn’t encourage his relationship with Victor.

And now here he was, in a word: perfect.

The present was in a big box and he struggled to hold it while unwrapping it. He almost dropped it as soon as he saw what it was.

A picnic basket that wasn’t so much a basket as a suitcase with cutlery, glasses and even a picnic blanket.

He raised his eyes and caught Yuuri’s smile.

“I thought… We could, well, if not us, then, maybe when you’re out with someone else you could…” Yuuri stuttered to a stop.

“I love it,” Victor whispered.

His parents were hugging Yuuri and thanking him over and over again.

“Well?” his mother asked. “Are you going to help your boyfriend out of his coat, or not?”

Victor set his present down and went to take Yuuri’s coat.

Yuuri smiled over his shoulder at him and murmured a quiet “thank you”.

He picked his present up and walked Yuuri into the living room where his parents had set a long table with all kinds of food. His family, from his two siblings all the way to his third and fourth cousins and his grandparents were already at the table.

At least until Yuuri walked into the room and then they were out of their seats and all around him.

Victor’s two older brothers (who’d already married with families of their own) studied Yuuri as if trying to find a fault with him. Before Yuuri arrived they’d joked about their roles as older brothers and now they were acting as if they’d been serious. Victor’s cousins and nephews were clinging to Yuuri’s arms and legs, all trying to get his attention at the same time. His grandparents were taking turns shaking Yuuri’s hand and asking him questions.

It was chaos and it drove him, who was used to it, mad.

And he was sure it would drive Yuuri mad. Anyone facing the combined might of his family was bound to be driven mad.

But Yuuri smiled politely, bowed and asked everyone’s name. He greeted everyone in the room and wished them all a Happy Upcoming New Year.

As if he’d passed some kind of test they dragged him to his seat and sat him down. And, of course, it had to be by Victor’s side, near the head of the table.

Victor sat down next to him, but before he could say anything, before he could even think of something to say, his family brought out the heavy artillery.

“Yuuri, what do you like to eat?” his mother asked.

There was only one correct answer to this question and Yuuri got it wrong. “Oh, anything is fine by me. I eat everything.”

Victor turned away to hide the painful expression on his face.

“You’re so small and thin! You need to eat more!” Victor’s mother exclaimed. “Don’t your parents feed you anything?”

He must really hate them now. He must!

Yuuri smiled politely and said that his parents always fed him well, but that now he didn’t live with them anymore.

Second mistake there.

Victor’s mother loaded Yuuri’s plate with a bit of everything on the table until the plate threatened to overflow. As she added each new dish, she went on about the name and what the ingredients were. For some reason, she had this desperate desire to explain the history of the dish and who had taught her how to make it.

Oh God, he’ll never want to come back ever again! …Which is what I want, of course, Victor reminded himself.

Victor’s father, meanwhile, wasn’t going to be outdone: he filled Yuuri’s glass with the bottle he’d brought himself.

“We need to toast Viten’ka’s health!” his mother exclaimed, taking her seat at last.

There was a mad scramble for alcohol and, as always, Victor’s glass was the only one that was empty when he went to raise it.

“Who will say the first toast?” his father asked with a laugh as he filled Victor’s glass.

“I think Yuuri should, as the guest of the evening,” his mother suggested.

Yuuri stood up with a serious expression on his face and raised his glass. “Victor, you were a big inspiration to me all my life and I’m sure that there were countless others who got inspired by you.” He looked around the table and then turned to smile at Victor. “And I wish you all the best in the upcoming year!” He downed the glass in one gulp and sat down.

Victor’s heart was beating faster. Everyone shouted something excitedly in Russian and English, but he was staring at Yuuri with his mouth slightly open.

Someone nudged him and he downed the contents of his own glass.

He sat down and shifted his chair closer to Yuuri’s.

There was more food and then more alcohol. His mother was merciless when it came to attacks with food, especially since the meal had several courses and then ended with tea.

But Yuuri didn’t last until the tea. He stood up as soon as Victor’s mother started to clear the table of food to make room for dessert and told Victor that what a birthday really needed was a dance.

“Of course!” Victor’s mother exclaimed and rushed off, almost dropping the dish in her hands, to put some music on for them.

Yuuri nodded in approval, even though the song was something from thirty years ago at least and definitely something that no one listened to anymore. But, no, he didn’t seem to mind this in the slightest. He held his hands out for Victor.

He nearly tripped over a chair and then one of his cousins as he rushed to join Yuuri. And under the watchful gaze of his entire family, of every single relative they’d crammed into their parent’s living room, he danced.

Yuuri swayed slowly, or moved quickly, as the songs changed in tempo and style, not too bothered by the big differences between them.

Victor did his best to follow along.

Only when Yuuri tossed his sweater aside to reveal the shirt he was wearing underneath and leaned in really close did it occur to Victor that the boy was smashed out of his mind.

And still he danced.

How much did he have? How much did Victor have? It must’ve been a lot: Victor’s head was spinning.

Yuuri pulled him closer and smiled at him, before pulling away again. And Victor followed. It wasn’t a dance. It was a chase.

Another slow song ended with their arms around each other. Yuuri’s were draped over Victor’s shoulders and he gave Victor that smile again and leaned in close.

He’s going to kiss me! Oh my god! He’s really going to kiss me!

“Who wants tea?” Victor’s mother exclaimed, walking in from the kitchen.

And Yuuri passed out.

 

There was something soft under his face and something warm on top of him. He turned over, making an incomprehensible sound and nearly fell off. He was lying on a sofa, under a blanket and he had no memory of how he got there.

Yuuri sat up.

The room around him was in semidarkness, but he could see the dinner table he’d sat at the night before. It had been covered with food, he could remember that.

He put his hand to his head. It ached madly.

How much alcohol had he had?

His blood ran cold as more memories came back. He went to Victor’s family’s house and got drunk! And then what happened? What did he do? Why was he on the couch now? Was he wearing all his clothes?

He knew that when he drank he went off the rails and did mad things and he wondered just how bad the things he’d done the night before were.

But, no, his clothes were still all on him.

And then someone tiptoed into the room and he saw Victor’s mother standing over him. “Does your head hurt?” she whispered.

He nodded. “A little.”

She motioned him into the kitchen where she made him drink something that she promised would make everything better.

“So you’re dating my son,” she said without any preamble whatsoever.

“Yes,” Yuuri said, not sure if he was telling the truth or not. It still felt too surreal. Had he really slept on the couch in Victor’s family’s house? Had he really celebrated his idol’s birthday with his idol?

“Is it serious?” she asked, as if she was talking about some kind of disease.

“I-I don’t know…” he stammered out and saw by her facial expression that it was the wrong answer. “It is!” he assured her. “I am very serious about this!”

She laughed and leaned against one of the counters. “You need to work on your confidence, Yuuri.”

He sighed. “I know.”

Afterwards he wondered if he’d really had this conversation with Victor’s mother while the both of them stood in her kitchen. Did she really stand in front of him and lecture him on proper behaviour while dressed in a pajama, and a bathrobe, her hair full of curlers?

She fixed his clothes and talked about Victor. She glanced at the clock and told him that Victor and his father would probably sleep for another hour or so.

And she made the two of them breakfast. Yuuri offered his help, but she sat him down and told him not to worry about it.

Yuuri forgot about the hotel room he’d booked, he forgot that he’d flown to St. Petersburg for a couple of days and let Mrs. Nikiforov look after him.

She sighed, raising a cup of tea to her mouth and stared at the wall opposite dreamily. “It’s so nice to have the whole family gathered together like this.” She smiled at Yuuri. “Thank you.”

Everyone woke up one by one after that.

Mr. Nikiforov came into the kitchen first. Then Victor’s two brothers and finally Victor himself.

Victor stood in the kitchen doorway, rubbing sleep out of his eyes, his hair slightly dishevelled and his pajama sliding off one shoulder.

There was something child-like in his appearance and it brought a smile to Yuuri’s face. “Good morning!”

Victor blushed, as if he’d forgotten that Yuuri was there and rushed away. And that was the living legend.

Yuuri wanted to go talk to him, to apologize for intruding like this and staying overnight, but Victor’s parents trapped him between the two of them and started to ask him questions about his private life.

When Yuuri finally managed to slip out of the kitchen he found Victor on the phone in his room. “Can you believe it? Isn’t it the best present ever?”

Yuuri froze in the doorway.

One of Victor’s brothers, Peter, walked past him then and hissed into his ear, “he’s calling all his friends to tell them about your present.”

Yuuri stepped aside and leaned against the wall. “What?” he whispered in disbelief.

“No! No!” Victor protested. “It’s the best one, definitely!”

“He’s been on the phone for an hour now,” Peter said. “He does that. He once spent a whole day on the phone.”

He could wait here or he could return to the kitchen and face Victor’s parents again.

They stuff you full of food until you feel like you’re about to explode!

Victor, Yuuri thought, if someone had asked me what your parents’ biggest fault was, that would’ve been the last thing I would’ve mentioned!

Victor chose that moment to end his conversation and step out into the hallway. He smiled at Yuuri. “I have practice today,” he said, “so you won’t mind spending the day with my parents, right?”

“S-sure,” Yuuri said.

He didn’t just spend that day with Victor’s parents, but the rest of his time in St. Petersburg. He flew back to Detroit, wondering if he’d done something wrong and if Victor was avoiding him because of it.

Chapter Text

Yuuri woke up because his phone was vibrating against his cheek. After the long flight back to Detroit he’d passed out on his bed still in his clothes. He hadn’t intended to pass out. He’d actually pulled his phone out to text Phichit about the disaster that his trip to St. Petersburg had been before fatigue overruled all his plans.

 

Yuuri spent the whole flight back thinking about the way Victor had acted and could only come to one conclusion: it was over.

Somehow Victor had decided that they were no good together and all the avoiding afterwards had been his way of giving Yuuri a gentle hint.

It was bound to happen, Yuuri thought sadly. Why would someone like him settle for someone like me? And, besides, we weren’t really going out. It was, at best, a date and a half, when all is said and done.

Then he remembered his bet with his friend. I’m sorry, Phichit. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Phichit hadn’t really meant it about leaving figure skating, Yuuri was sure of it. Pretty sure. Mostly sure. Kind of sure.

But, then again, the list of things Phichit did just to prove a point was impressive. And terrifying.

He can’t leave over something like this! Yuuri thought. And then he had another thought, Maybe… maybe it’s not completely over. Maybe I still have a chance. Next time we see each other at a skating competition I can try again.

And then he realized when that next time would be: the World Championships.

No, it was no good. The whole universe was hell bent to not let this happen. He could see it now.

 

And now he was back in Detroit he could return to worrying about the Japanese Nationals.

Except that someone was calling him.

He turned his head, saw the name of the caller and wondered if he was hallucinating. Or possibly dreaming.

What did it mean? There was only one way to find out.

“Hello?”

“Yuuri!” the voice of the living legend came through loud and clear, making Yuuri sit up. “Can you please tell me your address?”

“My a-address?” Yuuri repeated in disbelief.

“Yes! I just realized that I don’t know what it is.”

“Um… Why?” He winced at how horrible the question sounded.

“Because I’m coming to visit you, of course!” Victor exclaimed. “After you met my parents, it’s only fair that I get to meet yours.”

Yuuri went silent as the meaning of those words sank in. “You mean you’re in Japan right now?”

“Not right now. But I hope to be tomorrow morning.”

Yuuri didn’t have a heart attack at those words and that was the surprising part. No, he simply gave his address in a calm tone of voice, wished Victor a good flight and hung up.

And then he panicked.

Here he was, in Detroit, while Victor was about to go to Hasetsu, in Japan. On the other side of the world. In a different country. One that took at least 13 hours of flying to get to.

Oh my god! He jumped up and grabbed his head. What do I do? What do I do? No, really, what the hell do I do?

Could he get a ticket to Tokyo at such short notice? Probably. But it was bound to be ridiculously expensive! But Victor Nikiforov, his long-time crush and idol was about to arrive in Hasetsu, expecting him to be there and introduce him to his parents. Victor meeting his – that is: Yuuri’s – parent’s! Actually meeting his actual parents. In real life and not in some deluded fantasy.

Oh my god!” he screamed.

Yuuri himself was supposed to go to Japan. Eventually. When he flew to Tokyo for the Japanese Nationals. Could he change his ticket?

One really frustrating phone call and several hundred dollars later it turned out that yes, he could.

He never wanted to do that again.

Luckily he didn’t need to pack, since he never got a chance to unpack, so he made his way to the airport and prayed that whatever flight Victor was on, he would arrive after him.

And then he had an idea.

 

Victor Nikiforov, Russia’s hero and the man currently doing his best to earn the jerk of the year award, relaxed in his first-class seat and sipped the champagne the flight attendant had brought him the moment he got on the plane.

After a while Victor set the empty cup down and reclined in his seat with his eyes closed.

He had no idea where Hasetsu was or even how to get there, but he wasn’t worried. There were bound to be helpful people at the airport who could explain what train he needed to take, or, failing that, maybe he could get a taxi.

This was turning into an adventure!

When he bought the ticket he’d assumed Yuuri lived in Tokyo, but, as it turned out, this wasn’t the case.

He’d also expected Yuuri to try to talk him out of this second meeting, but, no, Yuuri just went with it.

Maybe he just can’t say no. Is he a complete pushover? I guess I’ll find out.

He’d spent some time planning how he could act in front of Yuuri’s parents. How he would embarrass Yuuri and convince him that he was definitely a boyfriend he didn’t want.

Victor was good at sleeping anywhere, so he slept through the whole flight, dreaming of Yuuri and their dance on his birthday.

He was woken up by the flight attendant just after they landed. He took his time getting off the plane, going through passport control and collecting his luggage. He was used to the whole thing, as if it was some sort of ritual, and walked with the air of someone taking a casual stroll.

A small part of him didn’t so much expect as wouldn’t have been surprised, if there had been a crowd of fans ready to greet him with posters and excited screams.

But he wasn’t greeted by a crowd of fans. Only one fan.

And what a one!

Victor couldn’t help the blush that rose to his face at the sight of Yuuri. He stood there, waiting for Victor in a nice long coat, his hair slicked back and a big bouquet of white roses in his hands.

Victor did his best to not look fazed by this. He smiled and gave a nod of recognition, as if tall, dark and handsome men often greeted him in airports with roses in their arms.

“Hello! How was your flight?” Yuuri asked, holding out the flowers and taking Victor’s bag.

The living legend took the flowers and stared at them dreamily. “Wonderful…”

They took two trains to Yuuri’s hometown and Victor watched him the whole time with a smile on his face. Yuuri was saying something about the weather and Victor hung on every word, as if it was the most fascinating story in the world.

He’d forgotten what he’d come here for. He’d forgotten about the bet. He’d nearly forgotten his own name.

Later he cursed himself for losing it over something as stupid as a bunch of flowers and a pretty face, but in that moment all that didn’t matter.

And then they arrived in Hasetsu. And he took in the walls of the station, which were all covered in posters of Yuuri. And he took in the excitable woman who’d shown up to greet them with her arms spread wide and Victor felt the call to arms.

“Hello! I’m on a holiday to visit my dear boyfriend,” he announced, throwing his free arm around Yuuri to pull the boy in super close. “He told me all about this wonderful town and so I just had to come see it for myself!”

“V-Victor!”

He turned to smile at Yuuri. “Yes?”

But the boy lowered his eyes and didn’t argue.

Pushover.

“Lead the way,” he paused for just a second and wondered what would be the worst word to use until finally it came, “cookie.”

Yuuri straightened up, as if he’d been hit by bolt of lightning.

“Oh my!” the excitable woman said. “Why didn’t you tell me it was so serious between the two of you, Yuuri?”

“What?” Victor asked. “Don’t you think it’s serious between us, Yuuri?”

Yuuri stammered something incoherent out.

Victor turned away and gave the heavy sigh of a heartbroken man. “When you invited me over to introduce to your parents I thought it meant that you were serious!” He pretended to wipe a tear off his face. “I didn’t realize you were just playing with my heart!”

There were a lot of people in the station and all of them were turning around and staring.

Victor’s bag dropped to the ground as Yuuri let go of it. He took Victor’s free hand in both of his own and with the most serious look imaginable exclaimed, “I would never play with your heart, Victor!”

Victor’s eyes widened, but only for a moment. Remembering the role he was playing, he pulled his hand free and said, “Then prove it.”

He thought Yuuri would protest, or make some sort bold declaration. He didn’t think Yuuri would grab him by the shoulders and press his lips against Victor’s.

Yuuri stepped away, blushing deeply and apologized with a bow before turning away, picking up Victor’s bag and walking away.

“Yeah…” Victor gave a little sigh, his eyes on Yuuri’s back.

It was several minutes before he shook himself out of his daze and hurried after Yuuri.

After that, it was only harder to do what he’d intended.

To his great delight, it turned out that Yuuri lived at a hot spring. Yuuri walked through the front door, announcing his arrival and was greeted by the kindest parents in the world (as Victor later found out) and his sister. They then turned around to look at him expectantly.

He gave a little wave, wondering if it was the proper greeting or not. “Hello!”

Yuuri’s mother beamed. “I’m so happy to see you!” She took the flowers out of his hands. “Let me get some water for these! Oh my! I wonder where Yuuri managed to find them!”

A quick glance in Yuuri’s direction told Victor that the boy was still blushing.

“I’ll take your things up to Yuuri’s room,” Yuuri’s father offered.

Victor hadn’t been ready for this. There were some things he hadn’t thought about, assuming that Yuuri would break up with him before things got that far.

Judging by Yuuri’s reaction, he hadn’t been ready for those words either.

“Thank you,” Victor said.

They really were treating them as if they were going out.

Which they were. Sort of.

Victor was getting more and more confused with each hour.

He told himself he was tired after his long flight and chatted happily with Yuuri’s mother, following her into the room where she was putting the flowers in a big vase. He adjusted the flowers lovingly himself and caught himself grinning at them like an idiot.

“My Yuuri really has grown up!” his mother said and gave a sigh. “Thank you!”

Victor’s eyes widened. “What are you thanking me for?”

“For bringing him home early. He wasn’t going to come to Hasetsu until next week,” she said.

You mean he wasn’t in Hasetsu when I called him? Victor’s heart sank. And then he felt his anger rise again. Then why didn’t he say anything? Why does he just accept whatever happens? How did he win a medal with an attitude like that? How can he compete when he does whatever people tell him?

He had another thought and turned away as the blood rose to his face.

Will he do everything I tell him? Or are there things he would never do, no matter who asked him?

He promised himself to find out that night, but Yuuri didn’t sleep in his room.

The following morning Yuuri invited Victor on a walk through Hasetsu, giving him a tour of the town and showing him all of the local attractions from the castle on the hill to the local ice rink.

There they found some of Yuuri’s friends who refused to believe that Victor was going out with Yuuri, no matter what Victor said on the subject.

They were convinced it was some kind of prank.

Judging by Yuuri’s face, he thought something similar himself.

Oh well.

The bet momentarily forgotten, Victor donned his skates and went out on the ice to do what he’d done all his life.

 

Yuuri watched Victor go out on the ice and gave a sigh.

“You should go out there with him,” Yuuko suggested.

“What?” Yuuri asked.

She winked. “Are you his boyfriend, or not? What better date for Victor Nikiforov than a romantic pair skate with the rink all to yourselves?”

But I’m not… We’re not… Not really. We’re really, really not.

He thought back to the way Victor acted while he was in Russia. He remembered how on New Year’s Eve Victor had disappeared to celebrate with his friends and didn’t return until 2 in the morning when he joined his family. He’d barely said two words to Yuuri that day.

And then Yuuri flew back.

“Come on,” Yuuko whispered, “don’t be shy! Show some initiative! He’ll love it, I promise!”

Maybe that’s what it was. Maybe Victor was waiting for Yuuri to make the first move, while Yuuri was the one standing around and waiting for Victor to do something.

He remembered Victor’s reaction to the flowers and nodded. “I’ll do it,” he said in the tone of someone about to climb Mount Everest.

 

Victor jumped the quadruple flip again. He’d forgotten where he was and just kept going, skating whatever felt right without any real purpose. There was an ice rink for him to use, did anything else really matter?

The answer, as it turned out, was yes.

Someone’s hand caught him around the waist and he turned around to face Yuuri.

With a smile, Yuuri led him around the ice rink and Victor followed. He followed without a word.

Who was this bold young man holding on to him with a smile? Who was it that was letting him go so he could jump and then catching him again afterwards? Was this really the same person who got flustered so easily?

Was he going mad or was there really music playing now?

Victor lost track of the number of times they went around the rink when Yuuri took him by both hands and picked him up.

What is he thinking? I’m going to fall!

And he did.

And not just on the ice.

He raised his head from Yuuri’s chest and watched the boy stutter out an apology. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I shouldn’t have done that…”

Victor laughed, unable to help himself, lowering his forehead onto Yuuri’s chest as his shoulders shook.

And Yuuri joined in as well.

 

They returned to Yuuri’s house late in the evening.

“Oh!” Yuuri exclaimed softly, lowering his eyes and Victor realized that they’d held hands the whole way home.

Yuuri released him and apologized.

Victor didn’t say anything.

This time they had dinner alone. Yuuri set the table and Victor watched in amazement, too stunned to do anything. He spent the rest of the evening as if under a spell.

They both went to Yuuri’s room without thinking and then both froze at the door to it, as the realization hit them.

“I’ll sleep on the floor,” Yuuri offered. “You’re the guest, after all.”

Victor, still not having recovered from everything nodded numbly.

It wasn’t until much later, when he turned over and over again in the bed, unable to fall asleep, that he remembered what he’d intended to ask Yuuri.

But Yuuri was so attentive. He spent the days, anticipating Victor’s wishes, taking him on long evening strolls, or skating with him, and then taking him to different places for lunch, where they would always be served delicious food. The evenings would invariably end at the hot springs, where Yuuri would always leave him to himself.

Days went by and Victor wiled away his free time fantasizing about moving to Hasetsu, where everyone was so nice, taking his dog Makkachin with him on walks along the beach with Yuuri by his side. He had to keep stopping himself before he got too far.

Finally, with two days before the Japanese Nationals, he decided that enough was enough. He would pose the question to Yuuri and end everything for good.

We barely know each other, so, of course he’ll say no, Victor decided, relaxing after his dip in the hot springs.

But what if he says yes? a voice in the back of his mind insisted.

Then I will have to go through with it. And tell him that it was awful afterwards. Should be easy enough to do that.

 

Victor sat down on the bed and watched Yuuri lay blankets out on the floor. “You know, I was thinking… You’re not really my boyfriend.”

Yuuri raised his eyes and Victor could see the pain in his face.

“I mean: until you’ve slept with me, you’re not really my boyfriend,” he amended.

A blush appeared on Yuuri’s face and Victor waited to see if he would have to explain what sleeping with meant. Would Yuuri make a comment about sharing the bed?

“I think you’ll be more comfortable, if you have the bed all to yourself,” Yuuri muttered.

Victor slipped off the bed and dropped onto one knee next to Yuuri. He raised Yuuri’s chin. “Will you have sex with me, Yuuri?”

Chapter Text

Yuuri sometimes dreamed about sharing the room with his idol, but there were some areas where his imagination didn’t dare go. Victor, on the other hand, seemed to have no trouble in this area.

“You know, I was thinking… You’re not really my boyfriend,” Victor said.

Didn’t he know it! Not only was everything really unreal, but there was this odd feel about the whole thing, as if the universe had loaned him Victor for a few days and would soon take him away.

“I mean: until you’ve slept with me, you’re not really my boyfriend,” Victor explained.

Yuuri could feel a blush rising to his cheeks. Did he really just hear Victor suggest they have sex? No, someone like Victor wouldn’t. To throw an idea like that around was too absurd! And with him of all people!

Victor probably felt bad about taking the bed away from Yuuri and forcing him to sleep on the floor. Yes, that’s what it was. It had to be.

God, I have a dirty mind! It’s all Phichit’s influence.

He muttered something about how small the bed was and how uncomfortable they would be.

And then Victor was right in front of him, his hand under Yuuri’s chin and his face just a few tantalizing inches away. And he really was asking Yuuri to have sex with him.

Yuuri fought down the urge to back away and make a run for it. The urge had come instinctively without any actual thinking on his part, but he knew that if he did that, Victor would take it the wrong way entirely. And the living legend would be on the first flight back to St. Petersburg.

Besides, things like that didn’t happen. The most beautiful men on the planet didn’t offer to sleep with him and he most certainly wasn’t disrespectful enough to make a run for it when they did.

And so he took Victor’s hand – the very same one he’d held up Yuuri’s chin with – in both of his own and tried to gather his scrambled wits to give Victor the answer he deserved.

“I’m sorry,” he began. “I know it’s really old-fashioned, but I want to get to know you better first.”

Victor’s face fell and then rose again. “What do you want to know? Is it about my past boyfriends?”

“No, no!” Yuuri protested, waving his hands in the air. “That’s your business and has nothing to do with me!”

“Or do you want to know if I talk in my sleep?” Victor offered.

I already know you don’t, Yuuri thought and hated himself for that treacherous thought. “I just want to get to know you as you really are.”

Oh god, if Phichit ever found out about this, he would never hear the end of it! Yuuri Katsuki actually turned Victor Nikiforov down. He could already hear all the words Phichit would say. Stupid, Yuuri. Naïve and stupid Yuuri.

But Phichit could wait. Victor, on the other hand…

Victor was giving him an odd look.

And now he thinks I’m accusing him of pretending. How did I get into this situation? Yuuri blushed. Think of the bet, come on! If I don’t do this, Phichit will lose his career! I need to win him over somehow. I need to make up for screwing this up.

He took Victor’s hands in both of his own. “I mean it,” he said as sincerely as he could. “Let’s spend the next two days together. I won’t practice, so it will be just the two of us and –”

Victor put a hand over Yuuri’s mouth. “No. You have a competition in two days.”

Right. Yuuri lowered his eyes. He felt Victor’s fingers brush through his hair and didn’t dare look up.

“I will come cheer for you, of course,” Victor whispered. “What sort of boyfriend would I be, if I didn’t do that?” There was a short pause and then he added, “Unless you don’t want me to?”

Yuuri caught Victor’s hands with his own. “Of course I want you to!”

There was surprise on Victor’s face at that and Yuuri couldn’t help wondering why. Then the surprise was replaced by a laugh. “Well, if you insist.”

“Ah!” Yuuri released him and backed away. “You have the Russian Nationals to prepare for! I can’t keep you here and…”

Victor silenced him with his hand again. It was as effective as the first time and he seemed to really enjoy it. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. He rose to his feet.

Yuuri watched him stretch and slip under the blanket on the bed.

“Good night, Yuuri,” the best figure skater in the world said.

He turned the light off and lay down in his own bed. “Good night… Victor.”

His heart was beating fast in his chest. He turned away from Victor and covered his face with his hands, as if afraid that the expression there would give him away.

Oh my God! I turned him down! I must be going mad!

 

Victor Nikiforov, living legend and five-time World Champion meanwhile lay with his back to Yuuri, his pillow raised to cover his face.

Oh God! His heart was racing. He’s perfect! I didn’t think perfect people existed! Chris, what did I do to deserve being stuck in this situation?

He had a strong temptation to wake Yuuri up and tell him everything.

I’ve been stupid, he told himself. He doesn’t deserve any of this! But how do I admit what I’ve done? How do I explain why I did something so cruel?

He lay awake for a long time, trying to come up with the right words, trying to justify what he’d done.

And then he had a brilliant idea. I’ll call Chris. He’ll have some good advice for me, I’m sure of it!

With that settled and feeling much more at ease, he fell into a dreamless sleep.

 

Morning came and Victor awoke to find Yuuri’s place empty.

The sound of a conversation outside made him peer out of the window.

Yuuri and his father were clearing the snow that had fallen overnight. Victor rested his chin in his hand and watched Yuuri work with a big smile on his face.

Then he tore himself away from the wonderful sight, brushed his teeth and dressed before finding his phone and calling Chris.

He was very determined and sure of what he would do, but when the time actually came to call him, he hesitated and froze with his finger right over the call button on the screen. What time was it in Switzerland? Would he be asleep?

And then he realized that he didn’t need to call Chris to hear what he would say.

 

“Listen, Chris, about that bet –” Victor began.

“Oh? Did he dump you already?” Chris asked with a laugh.

“No!” Victor protested. “He’d never dump me! Yuuri is the best person in the world!”

“Sounds like you’ve fallen for the Yuuri Katsuki Charm,” Chris taunted him. “Well, enjoy. What did we say I’d get when I won?”

“Who said – We never agreed –” Victor flailed.

 

He imagined Chris taunting him and maybe even threatening him with something. He wasn’t sure with what exactly, but he suddenly found himself too frightened to call Chris and find out what. Chris would only manipulate him into continuing with the bet.

No, it was no good. There would obviously be no help from there.

He put his phone away with a sigh and went to get breakfast.

Maybe he didn’t have to break the boy’s heart. Maybe just being annoying would be enough to get Yuuri to dump him.

 

Once Yuuri finished clearing away the snow, he returned inside. His cheeks were slightly flushed from the cold and he couldn’t help the smile that spread over the face. He felt happy.

That was the state in which Victor found him as he came out of the kitchen. He threw his arms around Yuuri. “My hard-working boyfriend is already awake and bravely clearing the way!”

“B-bravely?” Yuuri repeated in disbelief.

“Come have breakfast with me.” He pecked Yuuri on the cheek and headed for the kitchen.

Yuuri stood rooted to the spot, with one hand on his cheek. “Oh.”

Victor stopped, realized that Yuuri hadn’t followed and returned to get him. “What’s wrong, sugar muffin?”

One day Yuuri would have to tell Victor what he thought of all his pet names, but it wouldn’t be that day.

“Nothing,” he said, shaking some sense into himself at last.

Victor smiled. “And then, after breakfast, you can show off your skating to me.”

He leaned in really close to Yuuri. “Watching you skate always excites me, sugar muffin.”

So much blood rushed to Yuuri’s face at those words that he was convinced he would faint. He nodded weakly.

“And I promise to cheer for you with all my heart!” Victor said. “I’m very good at screaming loudly.”

Yuuri clutched at his own heart and said nothing.

 

The next morning Yuuri was getting ready to leave for Tokyo when a deliveryman showed up at the onsen.

Victor was called to sign for a package and two men came in, carrying a big box.

Yuuri watched him open it, wondering what could possibly be inside and why Victor felt the need to order it while here.

Victor stuck his hands inside the box and pulled out a big plant. It was the most ordinary plant in the world.

Yuuri opened his mouth to ask why Victor ordered a plant (if he wanted one, surely he could’ve just ordered the same one when he went back to Russia?) and was interrupted by the sight of the deliverymen coming back.

They were carrying more boxes. They put these down, walked out and came back with more boxes.

It took him some time to close his mouth and gather his wits and in that time the deliverymen managed to bring at least a dozen boxes in. Finally, he walked up to one of the boxes and unpacked it.

There was a plant inside.

Dreading what he would find, he opened all of the boxes while Victor did the same. They all had plants inside them.

He stared at Victor, waiting for an explanation and completely unable to form a single sentence.

Victor beamed at him as he stood among the little forest. “I thought your room was very bare and needed something, so I ordered some plants for you. I didn’t think they’d take this long to deliver them!”

For me? “Y-you really didn’t have to…”

“I did! I need to look after you. It’s my duty as a boyfriend, after all,” Victor declared.

Maybe it’s a thing they do in Russia? Yuuri wondered, but the thought was quickly pushed aside as he realized what Victor had just said. Sure, Victor had said it before, but for some reason it didn’t really sink in until then.

The rest of the day passed in a daze. He and Victor carried all the plants to his room and they left for Tokyo together and still Yuuri was in shock over Victor’s words. It didn’t matter that his room was overflowing with plants or that Victor had come up with an odd pet name for him.

 

“Yuuri! Yuuri!” A hand was waving in front of his eyes.

“Hm? What?” Yuuri straightened up.

Celestino’s peered into his face. “Were you listening to a word I just said?”

Yuuri was suddenly very aware of the fact that he was standing out on the ice, in front of his coach, about to go out there and compete. Shock made way for panic. “Um… Yes.”

“You’ll be fine,” Celestino reassured him, patting him on the shoulder. “Just don’t space out like that again, okay?”

Yuuri raised his eyes and stared into Celestino’s face. “Victor…” he mumbled, unable to get out a full sentence.

“He’s over there,” Celestino nodded at the audience.

Yuuri turned. The seats were packed with people. They were all here to see him compete. There were so many of them and they were all screaming something.

They were chanting his name.

“And up next,” the commentator shouted into the microphone, “is Yuuri Katsuki!”

That was his cue. He skated to the centre of the ice.

Somewhere out there in that mass of people was Victor. Victor, who’d called himself… Who said he was…

A hush descended on the audience and Yuuri got into position, doing his best to remember that he was in a competition. That he had to skate and not shame anyone.

“Go get them, sugar muffin!” a voice called out, breaking the silence.

His eyes flickered to the audience and he thought he could make out someone waving at him. Then again, it might’ve just been his imagination turning shapes into something recognizable.

In the few seconds that remained before his music started to play his mind raced through any number of thoughts somehow ending with: He picked me out himself. I didn’t say anything about going out, but he calls himself my boyfriend. Oh my God! Victor Nikiforov is actually calling himself my boyfriend! And now he’s here to watch me skate!

And a different bunch of thoughts followed soon after, I can’t let him down. Victor Nikiforov doesn’t go out with just anyone. I can’t embarrass him in front of others! I can’t have people say that Victor is dating a third-rate skater!

The music started to play and Yuuri did what Victor Nikiforov’s boyfriend would do: he turned around and blew a kiss in Victor’s direction (or what he hoped was Victor’s direction).

Thinking back to all those times he watched Victor go out on the ice and seduce the audience, he put his whole self into it.

It was a boast, but he couldn’t help it. Victor chose me and not any of you.

He jumped with a confident smile and crossed the ice like a ship ready for a battle.

And a part of him wondered if he was just trying to prove a point to himself. As if he needed to know that, yes, he did deserve the attentions of the figure skating god.

 

Victor watched Yuuri skate with his mouth slightly open. Was that really the same flustered boy who blushed at the smallest hint? Was that really the man – no, sex god – who’d declined to sleep with him?

He blushed as he watched the Eros routine. It brought with it promises of nothing but pleasure and he found himself blushing even deeper at the thought of how close he’d come to all those promises.

Yuuri was incredibly good. Victor had watched him skate before, seeing nothing more than competition, but this time he was seeing a person out on the ice who could leave him in the dust, if he so wished.

Yuuri demonstrated a step sequence that made Victor’s heart beat faster. It wasn’t the perfection that excited him, but the way Yuuri moved through the whole sequence. If humans ever did mating dances like birds did, then Yuuri’s dance would have been the best.

The end caught Victor off guard. He applauded enthusiastically with the rest of the audience and almost shouted for more. He saw several people in the crowd turn to stare at him.

And then, getting impatient, he rose to his feet and ran to join Yuuri. He went past rows of people who all turned to watch the man rushing past them. He headed straight for the kiss and cry with the air of someone who was supposed to be there.

“Sir, you can’t come in here,” a security guard declared, blocking his way.

Victor dodged past him and caught up with Yuuri at last. He caught Yuuri in an embrace before he could even say anything.

“And the scores for Yuuri Katsuki are… 101.2! He is currently in first place!” the commentator shouted.

You bet my boyfriend is in first place!

The sound of Celestino’s booming voice reached his ears, but he couldn’t make out a single word. The tall long-haired Italian was Yuuri’s coach. Victor didn’t know him very well, but still he smiled at him once he released Yuuri.

“Come with me,” he said and headed off, not even bothering to check if Yuuri was following or not.

He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say to Yuuri when he got the boy alone, but he didn’t get a chance to say it anyway: the press surrounded them almost right away.

“Victor Nikiforov,” one journalist said, stepping forward with a microphone in her hand. “Are the rumours true: are you really dating Yuuri Katsuki?”

Victor gave her his sweetest smile and watched her blush. “I am. Isn’t my sugar muffin an amazing skater?” he asked, throwing an arm around Yuuri and turning to smile at him.

Yuuri stood with his head lowered.

“And what do you think of his performance today?” another journalist asked.

“Honestly, I had no doubts that he could skate his Eros routine this well,” he said, watching Yuuri out of the corner of his eye. “He always has me begging for more every night, so why should it be any different on the ice?”

Yuuri’s face and ears were red. Was it Victor’s imagination or was he wobbling slightly on his feet?

“You have no idea what my boyfriend is capable of!” Victor declared, trying to hold Yuuri up as discreetly as he could.

“So what you’re saying is that he’ll win the Four Continents Championship?” another journalist insisted.

Victor slid a hand over Yuuri’s shoulder, as if brushing off some dust. “I don’t doubt it for a second.”

Yuuri raised his eyes and stared at him.

“He’s won me over,” Victor added.

One of the journalists leapt on this. “Are you saying that you expect Yuuri to beat you in the World Championships?”

Victor smiled and then looked at Yuuri. “What do you say to that, sugar muffin?”

Yuuri caught Victor’s free hand in both of his own and declared, “I will show the world our love and use it to win gold at World’s!”

Chapter Text

Chris reclined in his seat as he watched the livestream of the Japanese Nationals on his computer. It showed Yuuri finish skating and Victor run towards him with the biggest smile on his face. Chris poured himself a glass of champagne and toasted the screen.

“You didn’t think I could do it,” he muttered aloud. “Yet here we are! The only question is: will Victor screw it up?” He chuckled. “Then again, it is Victor, so I expect so.”

 

Yuuri won gold at the Japanese Nationals and yet Celestino couldn’t help the feeling that Victor had somehow stolen that victory from him.

True, Yuuri had done really well and beaten his personal best for both the short program as well as the free skate, but the press seemed to be only interested in his relationship with Victor.

He watched Yuuri smile from the podium at Victor who was waving back happily.

There was something just slightly off about Victor. Celestino couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but it was there and it worried him.

Yuuri had idolized Victor from a young age. He knew all of his programs and often spent practice time repeating some of them. Did Victor know that? Was he just taking advantage of Yuuri?

The living legend was an enigma to most people in the figure skating world. While the fans saw a charming, good-looking man, the people who’d actually had a chance to meet him face to face would often wonder just how much of what they saw was a façade put up for the press.

What hid behind that smile and charm? What was Victor Nikiforov really like?

Celestino watched Victor throw his arms around Yuuri as soon as he got off the ice and promised himself to have a conversation with Yuuri in private about the living legend later.

Three days later Yuuri was the one starting the conversation.

“I’m going to Russia for a few days,” he told Celestino. “Victor came all the way here to cheer for me and I want to do the same for him.”

Celestino took in the look on Yuuri’s face and placed a hand on his back. “Yuuri…” He opened his mouth to ask Yuuri about Victor, to maybe put the boy on his guard, to admit everything he’d suspected about the living legend he was so obsessed with. “Are you sure about this?”

“M-hmm,” Yuuri nodded.

He stared at Yuuri. How could he explain what he’d suspected?

He’d watched Yuuri grow up. Sure, he hadn’t always been Yuuri’s coach, but he was there when Yuuri was competing in the Juniors with a different coach. He’d known Yuuri long enough to know that he’d never been in a serious relationship with anyone before. If Phichit was to be believed, there was no shortage of people trying to win Yuuri over, but he’d missed every cue.

And here he was with Victor all over him.

“Everything working out well between you and Victor?” he asked after some hesitation.

Yuuri lowered his eyes and even his ears went red. “Y-yes…”

Well, he was an adult and should be able to deal with it himself. “Just… be careful, alright?”

Yuuri gave him a look full of puzzled innocence.  “Careful of what?”

Celestino made a vague gesture. “You know how it is in relationships, sometimes it’s best to be… safe and be prepared for anything.” He froze as he realized what he’d said and how it must have sounded.

Oh well, it was too late to take the words back now, so he drew in a breath and prepared himself for too much information, accompanied by another blush.

But Yuuri seemed to be giving his words serious contemplation. “That’s true…” he said softly.

The conversation never got further than that.

 

Victor sat in the airport, waiting for his flight back home and watched the YouTube video of Yuuri’s free skate over and over again. It was beautiful. It wasn’t technically perfect, but, as far as Victor was concerned, it was perfect in its own way, even down to the fall when – to everyone’s great surprise (Victor included) – Yuuri jumped the quadruple flip.

It was… It was like a love confession.

A love confession that you don’t deserve, Victor’s conscience spoke up again, but he ignored it.

Beautiful Yuuri Katsuki finished his skate yet again and arched his arms towards Victor.

He had what it took to win gold, Victor was sure of it, and maybe to others it looked like Victor was scoping out the competition, but, really, at the end of the day he was just enjoying reliving the emotions he’d had when he’d watched Yuuri skate.

Beautiful Yuuri. His Yuuri.

A smile spread over his face and he didn’t even bother hiding it.

His phone rang and he answered it with the smile still there.

“Hello, Victor,” beautiful Yuuri said. “I was just calling to… um…”

Do you miss me already? Victor wondered. Because I miss you. The realization hit him hard. Oh god, I really do.

“…to wish you a good flight,” Yuuri went on.

He’d taken Victor to the airport himself. His flight out of Japan was the next day and Victor couldn’t help wishing they could fly together.

“I’ll see you at the Russian Nationals,” Yuuri added.

Victor gave a sigh and then straightened up. “Russian Nationals?”

“You came all this way for me and so I thought it was only fair I’d go and watch you skate.”

Victor reclined in his seat with his eyes closed. “We can stay at my uncle’s house in Moscow.”

“Alright. See you in a couple of days,” Yuuri promised.

“See you,” Victor hung up and tensed as he realized what he’d suggested.

His uncle was one of the most irritating relatives in existence. He had a knack, a special talent, for winding up everyone without exception.

Victor was fighting back subconsciously, without even thinking about it, as if he was some sort of masochist determined to show Yuuri just how terrible he was.

He sighed and returned to the video of Yuuri’s free skate. He didn’t dare re-watch Yuuri’s short program, not with how much it made him blush every time.

 

Moscow was one big traffic jam, as Yuuri discovered the day he arrived.

Victor had greeted him with a big bouquet of flowers and a white teddy bear that Yuuri was now holding as he sat in the car.

Victor’s uncle was giving them a ride. He was also yelling and swearing in Russian at every other driver on the road.

Yuuri turned away from the window and met Victor’s eye.

“What is it, sugar muffin?” Victor asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Nothing, just a little jetlag,” Yuuri admitted and then realized it was the wrong thing to say entirely. He was here to support Victor! Complaining about the flight was the last thing he should do. “I… uh…” he tried to save the situation. “But I feel better now I’m with you!”

“Yuuri…” Victor put his head on Yuuri’s shoulder with a sigh.

One of Victor’s hands was resting on his arm, close to his heart. Yuuri pulled it closer.

“Yuuri…” Victor breathed out a second time.

He turned to face him. Their noses, their faces were mere centimetres apart. Yuuri’s heart beat faster.

Just a little closer…

Victor’s uncle exploded with swearwords, startling both of them.

Yuuri turned away and stared out the window. Victor shifted away as well.

Oh god! I can’t believe I forgot where I was! But he’s so close I can’t think about anything else! I need to think about something else! Is that a clown sitting in that car? …But Victor! He’s right here. Why is he moving away? It’s all my fault! I came here to see him! I need to show him how happy I am to be here. And I am happy. I am so happy!

He turned to face Victor just as the man turned to face him. “I was thinking…” he blushed and took Victor’s hands. “I… Can I call you “Sugar”?”

He lowered his eyes, keeping them on his and Victor’s fingers as his grip tightened on Victor’s hands. What face was he making now? Was he mad? Was he laughing at Yuuri?

Swallowing nervously and realizing that Victor still hadn’t said anything, Yuuri raised his eyes. “I… You don’t have to agree…”

Victor was blushing. He nodded and whispered, “Kiss me.”

Somehow the traffic jam ended then. Yuuri caught Victor in a kiss, wrapping his arms around him, just as the car made a sharp turn. They fell into a heap in a corner of the car, Yuuri plastered over Victor. But they were both too far gone to let that stop them.

Victor’s hands were on Yuuri’s back and each time Yuuri tried to pull away, Victor caught him again. So Yuuri waited for Victor to decide when the kiss should end.

Only when the car stopped did Victor let go. “Yuuri…” He stared up into Yuuri’s eyes.

There was only one way to describe the expression on his face: needy. Victor was very needy.

No, that couldn’t be right! He was the living legend! He could get the best of the best! What could he possibly hope to get from Yuuri apart from awkward blunders?

Yuuri’s heart hammered against his ribs as all these thoughts shot through his mind.

“You gonna get out of the car anytime this century?” a voice cut in.

Yuuri tore his eyes away from Victor and stared up at Victor’s uncle. He leapt back, further into the car, embarrassed that they’d been caught like this. “I… I… I…” he stammered out.

Victor sat up, straightened out his clothes and got out of the car as if it was no big deal. He held out his hands to Yuuri and helped him climb out.

His uncle opened the trunk and pulled Yuuri’s suitcase out with a grunt.

“Please don’t trouble yourself –” Yuuri began, but Victor pulled him close.

“Uncle will be personally offended if you don’t let him carry your stuff.” He handed Yuuri his bouquet and the stuffed bear and closed the door of the car.

They watched the uncle lock the car and turn to grimace at them. “Now, I’m uncle Vanya and your name is Yuuri, I know.”

Yuuri resisted the urge to bow. “Yes. Nice to meet you.”

“So let’s get one thing straight, alright?” he went on, stepping up to Yuuri. Uncle Vanya was two heads taller than Yuuri, which made him even more frightening to look at, since Yuuri was quite tall himself. “I need to know before I let you into my house: are you going to break my nephew’s heart, or are you serious about this?”

Yuuri turned bright red and threw a quick look at Victor’s face. For some reason, he couldn’t understand the expression there.

“I am,” he said, swallowed and added hastily, “serious, I-I mean.”

“Hmm,” the uncle turned away. “Alright. I’ll believe you for now.”

Yuuri breathed out and looked at Victor, but Victor was facing the other way.

I’m embarrassing him, Yuuri thought, his heart sinking. He’s probably expecting something else, something less predictable. Something not so cheesy. He sighed. But I can’t help it, this is who I am. He walked over to Victor, trying to come up with an apology, but Victor turned back to face him with a smile.

“Call me sugar,” he said.

“If… If you’re sure,” Yuuri stammered out.

Victor made a prompting gesture with his hand.

“…sugar,” Yuuri added, his face almost purple.

As if that had somehow settled everything, Victor hooked an arm around Yuuri’s and led him towards his uncle’s apartment.

 

Victor rested his chin in his hand and watched Yuuri eat with a smile. He wasn’t going to leave. He was here, right here.

He wished he could raise his hand and pull it through Yuuri’s hair, if only to see if he could get the boy to sigh. He swallowed and tried to keep himself under control.

His uncle, after all, was in the kitchen with them.

Yuuri didn’t eat much and slid his plate away after barely eating half of what was on it.

Uncle Vanya didn’t like that at all. He couldn’t cook, but he still took it very personally when people weren’t ecstatic about his cooking.

“Something wrong with the food?” he asked coldly.

Yuuri, always so quick to get embarrassed, flushed yet again. “It’s really good, honest. I’m just not hungry.”

“Oh, used to starving yourself, are you? How do you expect to protect my nephew when you’re just skin and bones?”

“P-protect?” Yuuri repeated in disbelief.

Uncle Vanya nodded. “He’s very popular, don’t you know? Men and women throw themselves at him all the time.”

Victor reflected on this. It wasn’t exactly true. Not all the time, but often enough for that to be almost right. I want you to throw yourself at me, he suddenly thought and suppressed his feelings.

“Or are you not planning to protect my nephew?” the uncle growled, as if he suspected Yuuri of being a no-good, unreliable person who couldn’t even be trusted to protect a piece of paper.

“I will!” Yuuri insisted. “I just… I’m just not hungry.”

The uncle sat down beside him. “Why not? Do you have a disease of some kind? I don’t want my nephew getting sick! He has a hard enough time as is with all the competitions all the time. They can’t be good for his health…” And the uncle was off on his favourite rant about the evils of figure skating.

Victor reached out and threaded his fingers through Yuuri’s. “Uncle,” he interrupted after a while, “Yuuri is tired after his flight. He needs to rest.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” His uncle’s one weak spot was his strong sense of hospitality.

Victor rose to his feet, pulling Yuuri after him. “Come here, sugar muffin. I’ll show you the guest bedroom.” That hadn’t sounded the way he’d intended, but it was too late to take his words back now.

Yuuri missed the innuendo entirely and followed Victor with a grateful smile.

How could anyone be so innocent?

Victor led Yuuri to the spare bedroom and stopped, leaning against the doorframe. “Do you want to share, sugar muffin? I have my own bedroom, but it’s much nicer than this one.”

It was always funny watching Yuuri blush: not only did his face turn red, but so did his ears and neck.

“I… uh…” he stammered out.

Victor stepped forward and pulled a hand through Yuuri’s hair. God! It felt so good!

Yuuri closed his eyes, his body reacting to Victor’s touch all on its own.

“I will do my best to deserve you,” Victor whispered. “Tomorrow and the day after I’ll skate for you, darling.” He leaned in close and caught Yuuri’s mouth with his own.

Why couldn’t things be simple? Why hadn’t he merely met Yuuri as a matter of course and just fallen in love like normal people did? Why did he have to get so infatuated after agreeing to drive the boy away? Maybe he could enjoy this: their few normal days together. Maybe he could do something to make up for what he was about to do.

But what? What?

His hands trailed over Yuuri’s chest and he felt the boy’s hands on his shoulders. He snatched this victory while he still could, pushing Yuuri against the wall and keeping the kiss going.

He pulled away as soon as he heard his uncle coughing in the kitchen, as soon as he remembered where they both were.

His head was spinning and he turned away from Yuuri, waving at the doorway. “G-get some rest. We can go on a date later.”

God, Yuuri was a good kisser! He did his best to stay upright. He wasn’t going to reach out for the wall. He just wasn’t!

 

It took Yuuri several minutes to come to his senses before he could enter the spare bedroom.

He was too tired to bother with unpacking. Jetlag came in to drown out all his emotions and he dropped onto the bed and fell asleep before he could even get a chance to think.

 

…Someone was humming a tune that sounded vaguely familiar. A delicious smell wafted in from the kitchen, accompanied by the clash of pans and the murmurs of a radio.

It was getting dark outside. Someone had turned on the light in the corridor and it flooded the room with a soft yellow light.

Yuuri turned over and stared at the rows of books before his eyes. There were some little knickknacks among them: statuettes, paperweights, what looked like souvenirs from different countries, little ships and a couple of faded photos. One of them looked like Victor in his teenage years, beaming happily, wearing what was probably a school uniform, his long hair tied in one long braid with a red ribbon at the end. The other photos had to be of his parents and other family members, all with that really light blond hair and all with that same smile on their faces.

With a soft sigh Yuuri turned onto his other side to find Victor Nikiforov himself lying on the bed next to him. He almost leapt towards the bookcase from the shock of finding him there.

“V-Victor!”

The living legend beamed. “I was waiting for you to wake up, sugar muffin.” He stroked Yuuri’s cheek. “Did you sleep well?” he whispered.

“Yes, thank you.”

Victor slid closer. There was that look in his eyes again and, like before, it troubled him. What did Victor want so badly? And was there any hope that he could give it, whatever it was?

Their lips met again and Victor climbed over Yuuri before he could even realize what was happening.

It was all too surreal. Any minute now he would wake up at home to discover that it was nothing more than a dream, he was sure of it.

Maybe it was just a dream.

Maybe it was really happening and Uncle Vanya was about to walk in on them.

Yuuri felt panic rise in his chest at that thought, but Victor was still there, on top of him and with no plans to go anywhere in the immediate future. What could he do? Push Victor off? How could he do that after he’d seen the looks Victor was giving him?

After a while Victor sat up and grinned. “My Yuuri is so demanding!”

Yuuri, who was having trouble breathing and thinking stared up at his idol’s face, saw the smile and in his state didn’t think of it as happy.

Victor was sad, his confused brain told him. Sad and in pain.

He was also saying something about a prize he would get later, but Yuuri wasn’t listening. He pulled Victor into an embrace, trying to come up with something to say.

Victor’s head dropped onto Yuuri’s heart and he went silent.

They breathed together.

He was suddenly very aware of everything around him in that moment: the lump in the mattress digging into his back, the noises coming in from the outside and those from the kitchen, and the smell of food that insisted on staying in the air.

He remembered this moment later, especially that moment when Victor sat up again but with no smile this time. Shadows fell over his face and he almost looked like someone else. If it had been anyone else, it would’ve probably been frightening, but Yuuri found to his surprise that he wasn’t frightened at all. No, he had that sense of sadness again.

But not just sadness this time.

Victor rose to his feet. “Uncle is probably done making dinner. He’ll get really mad if we’re not there soon,” he said, turning away and left the room.

Yuuri sat up. What was that? Did he do something wrong? Was Victor disappointed for some reason?

The answer didn’t occur to him until much later, after the Russian Nationals.

 

For many years now Russia had a team of figure skaters to be reckoned with. Every couple of years they would dominate the whole podium at an international event. Male or female figure skaters, they would end up among the best. And the very best, of course, was Victor Nikiforov himself.

There he was – out on the ice, waving at everyone with his usual smile on his face.

It wasn’t jetlag or fatigue that was making Yuuri see things. He could see it even now after a full night’s sleep. Victor’s smile was a sad one.

As always he was the last one in the last group to skate and Yuuri waited patiently for him, ready to wait all night long if he had to.

Skater after skater went out onto the ice and gave their all. Even the worst amongst them did amazingly well and many countries around the world would’ve been honoured to get any of them as their representatives.

Yuri Plisetsky went out onto the ice and skated a difficult program as if it was a mere walk in the park. He was second last.

And then the cheers and chants died down: Victor stood in the middle of the ice with his head lowered.

Victor didn’t actually have an official theme this season. In fact, it was his first season where he didn’t. He explained in countless interviews that he wanted to leave the theme behind his skate open to interpretation and was willing to agree with any analysis of his skating. Naturally, this led to a lot of silly jokes, but the more serious people in the audience had only one question on their mind.

Why is Victor leaving his theme open to interpretation when he never did that before?

The press loved this mystery, of course, and published article after article full of the wildest theories imaginable.

Why had Victor decided to do this? What went on in that head of his?

After twenty years of having his life all over magazines and newspapers, he still managed to remain an enigma. He had a big family, a dog, an endless supply of figure skating talent and a smile for everyone he met. But no one seemed to know what he was really thinking about.

The music began to play. It was an old song, performed by a singer who’d lived several decades ago and he sang in Russian. Of course, as soon as it became known this was his short program music, people poured over the translation and the theories really got exciting then.

 

“The song for your short program is about a man who is tired of performing on the stage and who feels lonely. Did you pick this song because it reflects how you feel?”

Victor smiled. “I watched the movie with the song recently and thought I could skate a winning routine to it. Wouldn’t you say it’s a good song?”

“Ah, yes, of course.”

 

Yuuri watched the skate. There was the pain and sadness again, but there was also a smile on his face at the start of each element. In fact, the smile didn’t ever leave his face, as if someone had fixed it there.

What did Victor Nikiforov think about when he skated?

Every jump was timed to follow the music. No, it was more than that, anyone would have timed their jumps to the music. Victor followed each note.

It was still hard for Yuuri to think of Victor as his boyfriend, but remembering that he was his competition came naturally, for some reason.

How could he compete with that? How could he compete with someone who made everyone hold their breath? There were no cheers like for the other skaters. People didn’t clap when he landed a jump, they merely waited until the end when they would be able to breathe again.

And what an end it was! Victor jumped the quadruple flip, reminding the whole world why he was the living legend.

No, Yuuri thought as he rose to his feet and applauded along with everyone else. He isn’t the star who’s tired of performing. He enjoys it so much he wouldn’t be able to live without it. So what does this skate really mean? Is it just something to surprise the audience?

Victor turned, as if he’d somehow heard Yuuri’s thoughts and beckoned with his finger. His eyes had picked Yuuri out in the crowd, ignoring everyone else.

They all turned, trying to see who the gesture was for and then several people spotted him and grinned. Someone even clapped him on the back.

“Go on! No need to be shy!” they told him. Or so he assumed: they were speaking Russian to him and he only understood two of the words they’d said.

With a nod he rushed towards Victor as blood flowed to his face.

On the ice Victor waved his arms like a conductor. They chanted his name to the swinging of his arms, but he shook his head and skated towards Yuuri.

And then the audience – all who knew how many thousand people – chanted Yuuri’s name.

“Yuuri! Yuuri!”

He started to feel self-conscious. All these people with their eyes on him. All of them chanting his name! Why his name?

Victor was at the boards in front of him and leaning forward. What could he do then but lean towards him?

Would he get in trouble for this? Would they disqualify their top skater?

“And the score for Victor Nikiforov,” the announcer called out, apparently not bothered by Victor’s absence from the kiss and cry in the slightest, “is 112.1 points! This is his new seasonal best and is higher than the current world record!”

He felt Victor’s lips press against his and his eyes closed on their own, but Victor had already moved away.

There was no end of press conferences after that. And the living legend was happy to answer all their questions.

 

Victor dropped a question of his own as soon as they were in a car going back to Uncle Vanya’s apartment. “What did you think of my short program, Yuuri?”

Yuuri swallowed down every question he had about it and aimed for a neutral answer: “I really liked it!”

“It’s my father’s favourite song.” It was an innocent sentence, but it caught Yuuri off guard. It didn’t match any of the explanations he’d come up with himself.

So you’re skating this for your father!

Mr. Nikiforov was a skating legend himself and so it made sense. It would be perfectly normal to dedicate his skate to his parents.

But why would Victor do it now? Or was it just a coincidence?

 

“Will you get me something special if I win gold?” Victor asked.

“Hmm?” Yuuri shook himself awake. It was too early in the morning for anyone sane to be awake.

“A present,” Victor repeated, shifting his chair closer. He was barely ten centimeters away. He was also eyeing Yuuri’s lips with interest. “Will you get me one, if I win?”

Yuuri forced himself to focus on Victor’s eyes and gave his warmest smile. “What would you like… sugar?”

“Guess,” he whispered right into Yuuri’s ear. He trailed his fingertips over Yuuri’s hair.

Yuuri licked his dry lips and tried to think of something. “Um… how about a date at a restaurant? You can pick… an…” He resigned himself to all the troubles the next words would bring him, “…expensive one.”

“You’ll treat me, sugar muffin?” Victor whispered, rubbing his nose over Yuuri’s cheek.

“Yes.”

“Will you treat me nicely afterwards?” Victor went on, a hand on Yuuri’s other cheek.

“We-we can go for a walk…” He was really out of ideas now. “We can always go to a store and I’ll buy you a gift.” His heart fell. His bank account screamed in agony. “Anything you like.”

Victor’s hand slipped under Yuuri’s shirt and up to his chest. “Anything? I think I want something really special. Something money can’t buy.”

What? What on Earth was he talking about? Yuuri agonized over this question. He tried to remember what he’d read about ideas for dates in Moscow. St. Petersburg was easier: couples stayed up all night and watched the raising of the bridges.

Victor’s hands were still hunting around under Yuuri’s shirt. It was a relief he could still hear Uncle Vanya’s snoring coming from the next room.

“Well?” Victor whispered impatiently.

“Can you show me your favourite place in Moscow?” Yuuri asked, at a complete loss for ideas.

Victor pulled away and chuckled. He rose to his feet and returned to the stove. He’d made them breakfast that morning.

He loaded Yuuri’s plate with two more pancakes and slipped onto his lap. “I’ll show you my favourite place,” he whispered and something about the way he’d whispered those words made Yuuri blush.

“O-okay.”

“Feed me,” Victor said. “I have a big day ahead of me. I’ll need all my strength.”

 

Yuuri got to watch Victor practice for the first time that morning. Every time Victor was facing him he winked.

Of course his face was red. Of course it was hard to act normal when on the receiving end of so much flirting and from the hottest man alive, but one hour into practice Yuuri realized something:

First, Victor had no trouble winking a lot. In fact, he was quite the winker.

Second, no matter what element he did, Victor always knew where Yuuri was.

Many skaters had good spatial awareness of course (it helped to always know where the judges were), but Yuuri was still flattered by this attention.

Of course, the other skaters weren’t as thrilled by this. Yuri Plisetsky, the rising star in figure skating, didn’t miss a single opportunity to complain loudly about Victor’s behaviour.

 

Evening crept up on them and Yuuri found himself in the audience once more, watching the skaters go out on the ice and waiting for Victor to skate.

This time the tone of his skate was completely different. If in the short program he skated like a man with years of experience behind him in the free skate he let himself loose like someone who was there for the first time. He was also skating to music from The Mask.

The speed at which he was going was incredible on its own, but add to that a complicated step sequence and several jumps, three of which were quads and the total score started to get close enough to break another world record. It was a very clean skate. Never once did he put a foot wrong.

This time the audience didn’t hold its breath, but cheered with the music. The roar when he finished was deafening.

Victor stood in the middle of the ice, one arm raised triumphantly and smiled.

Masks, his theme was masks. Everyone knew that. It was obvious from the two skates. But if one skate suggested that he was tired of wearing a mask, the other one seemed to say the opposite. So which was it? Or was the living legend – as some people suggested – just having fun?

The living legend turned and blew Yuuri a kiss.

Just when Yuuri thought he understood Victor better, everything he thought he knew was put into doubt yet again.

But at the moment there was a more pressing question weighing on Yuuri’s mind: what sort of prize does a living legend get from his boyfriend for winning gold in a competition?

Chapter Text

Yuuri was waiting for Victor to finish changing and join him when his phone rang. “Hello?”

“Yuuri!” Phichit’s voice rang out happily. “Congratulations!”

“F-for what?” Yuuri’s cheeks burned. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew what the congratulations were for.

“Snatching up the most eligible bachelor, of course! Tell me everything,” Phichit insisted. The skater thrived on gossip, no matter how unbelievable it was, no matter how fake it turned out to be. And when it passed some sort of criteria that only made sense to him, he would spread it around. Naturally, this led to more than awkward misunderstanding.

But Yuuri wasn’t the type to kiss and tell. “There isn’t much to say, really!”

“You’re in Russia and living with him, aren’t you? Or was it your twin that I just saw getting a big kiss from the god of figure skating?” Phichit teased.

Yuuri sighed. “You’re right: I am in Russia.”

“And before that he went to Japan for the Japanese Nationals.”

“Yes,” Yuuri admitted, wondering where this was going. He glanced around, hoping desperately that Victor would come faster so he could end the call.

Phichit, who really should’ve become a spy and not a figure skater with his abilities of pulling information out of people, went on, determined to get every last detail out of Yuuri.

“So you’re not going to deny that you’re dating, are you?”

“We are,” Yuuri conceded. “But I don’t know how he feels about me. He’s probably already tired of being with me and –”

“Yuuri, we need to work on your self-esteem.” It was a sentence Phichit often said to him, but it was never really followed by anything. “What I saw today was Victor Nikiforov flirting with Yuuri Katsuki.” Phichit chuckled. “I’m sure that doesn’t mean anything.”

Yuuri sighed. If an angel came down from the heavens just then and told him that Victor liked him, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Alright,” Phichit went on, “I take it that the bet is still going until he confesses.”

“About the bet –”

“And because I’m the best person in the world, I have an idea for how you can get a confession out of him. But first…” Phichit paused.

“First?” Yuuri asked, terrified of what the answer would be.

“Now that you have a chance to get to know him up close and personally, how good is he?”

The question caught Yuuri completely off guard. “Good?”

“You know: on a scale of one to ten. Or, if you want, you can use a different scale,” Phichit added with a laugh.

“Ten, of course!” Yuuri exclaimed. How could Phichit even doubt it? Victor was the figure skating legend!

Phichit laughed. “You sound very satisfied!”

There was still no one in the hall to hear them and Yuuri let himself get carried away. “I want to be as good as he is one day! I-I mean, obviously, I won’t be, but maybe I can get close with – with enough practice! And we got to practice together. And maybe one day I’ll be better than he is and…” Yuuri felt a blush creep up to his cheeks. How bold of him! Did he really just suggest that he could skate better than Victor?

“Oh my!” Phichit exclaimed.

Yuuri couldn’t say anything after that.

“Don’t hurt yourself!” Phichit joked. “You do remember to protect yourself, right? Or are you getting too carried away for that?”

“P-protect?” Yuuri repeated in confusion.

“Oh dear.” Phichit sighed and went silent. “You don’t know what I was talking about, do you?” he asked after a while.

“Sugar muffin!” a voice called out.

Yuuri apologized hastily and hung up.

Two arms slipped around him and a pair of lips pressed against his ear. Victor had somehow snuck up on him without him noticing it. “Who are you talking to?” he whispered.

Yuuri trembled, too embarrassed to utter a word. Parts of his brain were shutting down, making it even harder to speak.

“Are you seeing someone else?” Victor asked. He pulled away and walked around Yuuri until he was standing in front of him. “Are you cheating on me? Am I not good enough for you?” He put his hands over his face.

Shock at the thought of Victor crying knocked Yuuri’s brain into working again. “I… No! Not at all! That was my friend Phichit. He called to see how I was doing.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “I would never cheat on you!”

Victor turned away. “That’s what all the cheaters say. You’re just a heartbreaker. I should’ve known!”

Yuuri caught his hand. “No! Please! You have to believe me. There isn’t anyone else! I swear it!”

Victor turned back to face him. “Then kiss me!”

There were people coming down the hall now, but Yuuri could see by Victor’s expression that pointing them out to him wouldn’t end well.

And, so, Yuuri, in his eagerness to get it right, got too carried away. He pushed Victor against the wall and caught him in a kiss.

Oh god! I…Yuuri’s brain shut down a second time that day.

Victor’s hands were wrapped around his neck, holding him in place, refusing to let him go.

There it was again: that neediness.

Victor broke the kiss and smiled at Yuuri. “I want you,” he whispered. “How much longer will you toy with my heart before you let me have you?”

Yuuri’s face went purple in record time.

“Or do I have to do something to deserve you?” Victor went on. “I promise to do my best, if you tell me what it is.”

He had to do something, his brain reminded him. Anything.

“U-um…” Yuuri stammered out. “You don’t have to do anything! I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you.”

There was just a hint of something in Victor’s eyes. A brief flicker of some sort of emotion, but it was too quick for Yuuri to interpret. And the smile and playfulness was back.

“My sugar muffin is playing games with me again.” He stepped away from the wall and made for the exit.

Yuuri remained where he was and stared after Victor’s retreating back. What was that?

And then, coming to his senses, he chased after Victor. He caught him at the door and took his hand.

“You can choose where we go now,” he offered.

Victor smiled and, just as they stepped out in front of a big crowd of the press, said, “Should I pick a hotel, or is my room good enough?”

Yuuri’s face went red.

Of course, the press delighted in it. Of course, they wouldn’t let them go anywhere before they got bombarded with a ton of questions. Of course, Victor assured them that it was all very serious between him and Yuuri. Of course, Yuuri was too stunned to understand what was really happening.

They headed for Uncle Vanya’s car together. Victor held the door for him before joining him in the back seat. He went silent as his uncle drove out of the parking lot.

The uncle turned the radio up to the max and sang loudly along with it.

But Yuuri wasn’t looking at him. He was watching Victor’s smile melt away to be replaced by an exhausted look. His hands were resting on his lap and he lowered his eyes to stare at them.

He looked so miserable that Yuuri couldn’t help feeling as if the smiling façade had come crashing down in just one second.

He wasn’t really asking Yuuri to have sex with him. Even the flirting wasn’t in earnest. He was playing a role and was starting to find it hard to keep it up.

But why? Why? Why keep up the image of being Yuuri’s boyfriend? Why not just break it off? Why not just admit that his heart isn’t in it?

You don’t actually like me, do you, Victor? Maybe you thought you would and now I’ve disappointed you somehow. How do I give you a way out, if you can’t find one yourself?

Yuuri watched Victor give a heavy sigh.

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri said at last.

Victor turned to look at him and there was no smile on that face. “Why?”

“You don’t need to be so nice to me,” Yuuri explained. “There is no need to be worried you’ll hurt my feelings.”

“What?”

“You’ve been very kind to me,” Yuuri took Victor’s hand into both of his own, debated kissing it and then changed his mind. “But I know you don’t want to do this anymore.” He didn’t even think of Phichit this time. Victor’s happiness was much more important and it was obvious to Yuuri that it wasn’t in his power to make him happy, not without leaving, anyway. “So, I will break it off.”

Victor stared at him. “Why?”

 

“Yuuri and I are in a very serious relationship,” he declared in front of the press and laughed internally at this lie.

But as he walked to the car the mild amusement gave way to fear. Sure, he’d dated several of his fans, but they’d never actually gotten very far. This was always the moment of truth for him and each time he’d break it off before they managed to make it to the bedroom. Oh, some people were fine with the idea of sex with anyone and Victor made jokes about it himself, but deep inside he knew that there would probably be only one person he’d let get that close.

And he sure as hell wasn’t going to let Yuuri Katsuki be that person.

Why was this bet turning into a game of chicken where he kept underestimating his opponent? He kept waiting for Yuuri to back down and instead he was the one backing away.

He stared at his hands while the car drove on and the radio blasted at full blast. His uncle could see that he needed some space after this competition. Tomorrow he could face more press conferences, but not right now. Right now he was too mentally exhausted to do anything else.

Yuuri chose that moment to remind him that he was still there and say something that made no sense to him at all.

“You don’t need to be so nice to me,” Yuuri explained. “There is no need to be worried that you’ll hurt my feelings.”

“What?”

What did those words mean? Was Yuuri tired of him already?

He listened to Yuuri and failed to understand.

He went through all the questions, hoping that one of them would get an answer that would explain everything. “Why?”

“Because I think people should date when they want to, not when they’re forcing themselves.”

Victor went very, very still. He’d figured it out. The naïve boy had gone and figured him out. How? Did someone tell him or was Victor that obvious? Was he really so unconvincing?

He worried about this. For some reason, this worried him more than the proposed breakup.

You’ve been faking everything from the start, his conscience reminded him. Just end it here. Who cares about that bet with Chris, anyway? You aren’t actually betting anything!

But his pride piped up at that. I care! I’m not losing this!

But isn’t him leaving a sign that you won the bet? You drove him off. That’s all you needed to do. Who cares how you did it?

No, No. It doesn’t count, he told himself. This doesn’t count at all. It can’t count.

He took Yuuri’s hand. “You’re breaking up with me?” he asked.

His pride and conscience both waited for what Yuuri would say. Just end it here, they both pleaded. You don’t have to stick around!

Yuuri gave him a smile that was so sad Victor felt a pang in his heart. “I’m letting you go.”

He could accept this as a yes and tell Chris that he’d won and that would be that. But could he really end it right there?

He turned away and said nothing. He didn’t know what he could possibly say to this.

And then he remembered that they were still in his uncle’s car and realized that the radio was turned off. A blush worked its way up to his face. His uncle was listening to their conversation! But it was too late to do anything now.

They sat apart the whole way and didn’t say a word.

It was over, Victor thought. It was done. He let relief spread over him and resisted the urge to smile. He felt as if a mountain had fallen off his shoulders.

When they arrived he held the door for Yuuri and watched him walk away. He didn’t feel regret. No, of course, he didn’t. Why would he?

Yuuri locked himself away in the guest room and Uncle Vanya grabbed Victor by the arm to pull him into the kitchen.

“What’s going on, Vitya?” he growled.

“Nothing, uncle.”

His uncle narrowed his eyes. “Do you want to try answering my question again?”

“We broke up, uncle. It happens.” He sighed. “You heard –”

“What I heard was you lying time and again.” His uncle sat him down on one of the chairs and lowered his voice. “I thought you were serious for once, turns out you were just messing with his head. If I had known my nephew was the kind to mess with people’s heads and hearts, I wouldn’t have agreed to let you stay under my roof!”

Victor traced the patter of the tablecloth out with his finger. There was no use arguing or agreeing.

The uncle waited patiently. “Well?” he asked after a while.

“Well what?”

“Are you going to go apologize to him, or do I have to do it for you?” And he would, Victor thought.

He rose to his feet, glad that the lecture was over and that he could leave. “I will.”

He rushed out of the kitchen and through the living room, only to freeze before the door to the guest room.

The door was still closed.

Should he knock and ask to be let in? Maybe he could walk away and tell his uncle he’d talked to Yuuri…

He heard a meaningful cough and turned around to see his uncle watching him.

Here goes. He knocked on the door. “Yuuri, can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Come in.”

He opened the door and found Yuuri packing his suitcase. “I… um…”

Yuuri was folding his clothes carefully and putting them away. He didn’t even stop or look up at Victor.

Victor swallowed. “I’m sorry,” he said after an awkward silence. “I’m sorry it turned out this way.”

“It was fun, you know?” Yuuri finally looked up at him. “It was really flattering to have you as my boyfriend. Thank you.”

Victor watched him finish packing and close the suitcase. He didn’t know what else to say and just turned around and walked out of the room. He let his uncle argue Yuuri into staying there for his last night in St. Petersburg. His uncle would die before letting any friend or family member stay in a hotel room.

The next morning Yuuri left St. Petersburg.

The press somehow missed this fact entirely and focused on the interview the night before.

Unaware of this, Victor called Chris around noon. “See? I told you I could do it!” he said, trying to sound triumphant. He didn’t even bother with a hello when Chris answered his phone. “I won our bet! Yuuri left. We’re over.”

“Oh my!” Chris exclaimed. “What did you do to the poor boy?”

Victor hesitated, trying to think of a suitable lie. “Does it matter?” he challenged. “I won.”

“And I’m supposed to take your word for it?” Chris chuckled. “After your bold announcement to the press last night?”

“He flew home this morning!” Victor protested.

“And what does that mean? Wasn’t he supposed to leave today, anyway?” Chris countered.

He wanted proof! He actually wanted proof! But what proof could he possibly have? A text saying it was over?

“You’ll get your proof when you see we’re not together at the European Championships,” Victor promised. “Or at World’s.”

“Is that so?” Chris asked. “Alright, I guess I’ll wait until then for my proof. Good luck!”

“Thank you,” Victor replied automatically.

Only after he hung up did he wonder what Chris had meant by wishing him good luck.

 

Yuuri flew back to Detroit and spent a week training as hard as he could. Four Continents was coming up. It was important to do well and he needed to make up for missing practice. There was little time left after all.

He arrived in the morning and trained until the evening with only a small break for lunch.

When he returned to his apartment at night he was too exhausted to do anything, to even think about anything and simply collapsed on his bed.

A week went by. It was Sunday morning and he crawled out of bed, wishing he could stay another five minutes when Phichit came into his room.

“Yuuri, we need to talk.”

He dropped back down onto his bed. “We do?”

“Yes. What happened in St. Petersburg? Ever since you returned you’ve done nothing but practice. I haven’t seen you call Victor even once. Did he do something?”

Yuuri got back up to his feet. “I’m going to be late for practice.”

“Big deal! It’s not like you get points for punctuality,” Phichit pointed out. “So you can spare me five minutes and explain what’s going on.”

Yuuri sighed. He’d hoped to avoid this. He’d thought that, maybe, if he didn’t say anything and went on as normal, Phichit wouldn’t realize what had happened until World’s and then maybe he would think of something…

But no, it was no use.

“I broke up with Victor,” Yuuri whispered. Just hearing himself say the words aloud broke his heart. But that was the truth, wasn’t it? After all, he would much rather not date Victor than date him under false pretences.

“Oh, Yuuri,” Phichit sighed. “Everything was going so well! What happened?”

So Yuuri told him. It was no use hiding anything: Phichit pulled all the details out of him anyway.

Phichit listened and shook his head. “No, no,” he said. “I think you have it all the wrong way around. I think Victor is very interested in you. Why else would he go to all that trouble? If he didn’t want to see you, he would’ve just said so. He’s had no trouble turning people down in the past. And, besides, he was the one to make the first move.”

Yuuri considered this. No, he still wasn’t convinced. “It was all so over-the-top. It felt so forced,” he insisted, wishing he could explain himself better.

“Some people are very enthusiastic,” Phichit pressed on.

He wasn’t going to be convinced, was he? But how could Yuuri prove something he could feel with his instincts?

He listened to Phichit assure him that, of course, Victor liked him, that it wasn’t unreasonable for anyone, even someone like Victor to like him. That just because he was Victor Nikiforov didn’t mean that he would express his love in a way Yuuri expected. That, at the end of the day, the Victor Nikiforov in real life wasn’t the same as the Victor Nikiforov in Yuuri’s imagination.

Yuuri sighed. He still wasn’t convinced.

“Alright,” Phichit said. “Call him and tell him…” He paused and considered his next words. “No. Just go to the European Championships to show your support and see how he reacts.”

“I’m not going to force my company on him!” Yuuri protested.

“You don’t need to do anything. Just go and watch him compete and see what he does.”

Yuuri sighed. It was so easy for Phichit to make suggestions like this. He wasn’t the one with a broken heart.

Was it really broken? a voice in the back of his mind asked. You didn’t believe Victor could like you from the start, so you weren’t surprised. You’re not really heartbroken.

I am a bit. A part of him did hope, but it was only a tiny smidgeon of hope.

But Phichit would never understand.

 

Phichit, the person who could convince anyone in the world that white was black, went on relentlessly, piling argument on top of argument. The end result was that thirty minutes later Yuuri, in a state where he could barely tell up from down, was buying tickets to the European Championships and looking up hotels.

He made sure that Yuuri entered all of his information correctly, of course, and then waited patiently for him to gather his things and leave.

The door to their shared apartment closed and Phichit stared at the clock on the wall, letting the seconds tick by. Once a minute passed, he pulled out his phone and called.

“It worked,” he said after a cheery hello. “He’s going.”

The response was a soft laugh. “How did you do it?”

Phichit was a little offended by the other speaker’s amusement. “I told you I could get him to do it, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”

Phichit laughed. “Alright, alright, I forgive you, Chris.”

Chapter Text

Days passed, one after another, empty, lonely, grey and bleak. Victor fell into his usual routine of practice and barely doing anything else.

It was better this way. This way was safe. This way he couldn’t hurt anyone and no one could hurt him.

In the mornings he would make himself breakfast, trying not to look at the flowers on the table. He’d kept the flowers Yuuri had bought for him when he came to visit for the Russian Nationals, unable to throw them out.

Some mornings he would sit at his kitchen table and rearrange the flowers, but they were all dying one by one. Each time he found a dried out one he’d toss it out, telling himself there were still some left.

Now there was only one rose left. The flower kept wilting, no matter what he did.

He sighed. “It’s better this way,” he told the flower. “I wasn’t interested in him anyway,” he lied.

Under the table Makkachin went on sleeping.

With an angry noise Victor got up, took the flower out of the vase and tossed it away with the rest of the garbage.

 

Two days later his mother called.

“Viten’ka!” she exclaimed as soon as he answered her call. “How are you?”

“Good,” he replied. It had been a good day. He was feeling very happy with himself after that day’s practice. “And you?”

He waited for her to reprimand him for not calling and checking up on her, but she merely answered his question. “Good, with God’s help. How is Yurochka doing?”

Victor froze and then drew a breath in slowly. “Good.”

“When will you see him next?” she pressed on.

“He promised to come cheer for me at the European Championships,” Victor lied without even stopping to think.

“How nice of him to give you time to practice!” His mother sighed. “He’s such a nice boy. Promise me you’ll bring him over again sometime.”

“I will, mother.” His eyes stung and he found himself biting his lips in frustration.

“You weren’t very nice to him when you were here, you know,” she said, returning to a lecture she’d given him earlier.

“Yes, I know,” he said in a tone of voice that was as neutral-sounding as possible. After ten such lectures he’d managed to work out that this was the safest possible response.

He listened to her lecture for what felt like the millionth time and waited patiently for her to run out of things to say. “You’ll remember to treat him better next time?” she concluded, like she always did.

“Yes, mother.”

“Promise?” she insisted.

He put on his talking-to-the-press voice. “Yes.”

The brief silence that followed it told him that she wasn’t convinced. And, yet, she didn’t argue, merely wished him a good day and hung up.

Victor dropped into a chair next to the kitchen table and sighed. “Why did I throw that rose out?” he asked no one in particular.

He imagined going on a mad search for it, tracking down where all the garbage from his apartment building went and following it to find the rose again, looking the same as it had when he’d tossed it out.

But it was no use. There was no way in the world he would ever find it. There wouldn’t be any more roses from Yuuri Katsuki and he’d thrown out the very last one.

No, they were over. It was over. This was for the best, anyway. It was for the best, the best… The words kept echoing in his head.

Don’t think about Yuuri. Think about the European Championships and who you’ll see. Chris will be there and… and Yuuri won’t be there and…

He dropped his head in his hands and tried not to think of anything.

The clock ticked on the wall. People outside shouted something to each other, but none of that mattered. Someone’s car pulled up under his windows and blasted a very catchy love song.

I’m just tired, he told himself. Tired and upset. I need to do something to take my mind off this.

He took Makkachin out for a walk. He did chores around his apartment. He watched the first thing he could find on TV.

Still his mind kept going back to their cold goodbye. He cursed that evening when Chris had come up with the bet and cursed himself for agreeing to it.

At night he dreamt that Yuuri came to visit him and when morning came he woke up and searched for Yuuri in his apartment for at least five minutes before the realization hit him that it was nothing more than a dream.

 

That year the European Championships were in Milan. Skaters gathered from all over Europe to compete for the coveted title of European Champion.

Victor chatted with Chris as if nothing was wrong, as if it was just another competition and his mind was completely focused on it and not one very specific person.

He smiled and made jokes, while deep inside he was frightened that any minute now Chris would bring up Yuuri and the façade Victor had so carefully constructed would fall apart. Worse than that, he was convinced that the mere mention of Yuuri’s name was enough to bring the whole façade down.

But his luck held out and Chris said nothing.

I just have to compete and go home. I do it all the time. It will be really easy, he told himself over and over again. Compete, win and go home to prepare for the next competition.

Why did that thought not excite him like it usually did?

 

A roaring crowd greeted the skaters of the last group and they headed out onto the ice for their warmup. Victor, who was usually so good at ignoring everything else to focus only on his skating, found his eye constantly drawn to the crowd.

There! That was Yuuri, right there!

No, no, what was he doing here? What would he be doing here? He was just seeing things, just seeing someone who looked a bit like him and letting his brain imagine it was Yuuri.

Besides, what would Yuuri be doing here, anyway? They were over.

He executed a combination jump and went around the ice rink, keeping his eyes off the audience as they cheered happily. He’d learned long ago to block out the screams so he could do it now without thinking.

“Gentlemen, you have one minute of warmup remaining,” the announcer told them.

Just sixty seconds more.

 

Victor was the second last one out on the ice, right before Yuri. He went in a circle, spiralling towards the centre before stopping to get into his initial position.

People screamed his name and waved banners. As always, he smiled and waved back at them, not looking for Yuuri in the crowd. He wasn’t searching for his face among the thousands.

Was Yuuri watching Victor skate? Was he sitting up in front of a computer somewhere, following a stream with interest, or was he busy doing something else? Was he cheering any of the skaters on? Was he watching them all curiously and preparing for World’s?

He lowered his head and let the smile fade from his face. A sad and tired expression took its place. He didn’t think about how easy it was for his face to drop the smile and slip into this role he’d picked for himself.

The music began and he raised his head only to lock eyes with someone in the crowd.

Yuuri was there. He wasn’t seeing things, he was sure of it. He sat near the front, a large bouquet of flowers in his hands and Victor’s heart leapt.

No, no, it’s not him, he told himself obstinately. I’ve gone insane. I’m hallucinating.

He crossed the ice to the music and jumped.

It’s a skating competition and he’s a skater, so he could be here to watch because he’s interested. Maybe he’s here to watch someone else. Yes, that’s why he’s here: he moved on and now he’s dating someone else and he brought them flowers and…

He tried to invent some kind of scenario where Yuuri found a different skater to date, someone to take Victor’s place, but he knew deep inside that Yuuri was here for him.

Their eyes met several times as he went around the ice. Yuuri was smiling now.

Victor’s heart beat faster. He told himself that it was just the excitement of the skate. He wasn’t happy to see Yuuri. His heart didn’t skip a beat when he noticed Yuuri moving down to the boards.

He wasn’t sure how he made it to the end of the skate, or how he forced himself to stay still for all of two seconds once the music ended.

And then he flew.

He was at the boards in front of Yuuri before he was even aware he’d moved, before he’d even thought about moving.

Yuuri gave him a sad smile, holding out his flowers. “Victor, I’m –”

He threw himself forward and caught Yuuri’s mouth with his own, both hands holding his head in place. The boy wasn’t going to apologize, he wasn’t going to let him.

Oh god! You’re here! You’re actually here! Did I dream up our breakup? Did it never really happen?

He hadn’t meant to do it, but the kiss was telling Yuuri everything he couldn’t say out loud, everything he couldn’t ever hope to put into words.

He had to go and, so, with a great deal of effort, he wrenched himself away and looked into Yuuri’s face. There was no helping the smile that spread over his face.

“I’ll see you later,” he promised and skated away.

Why did you come back? How could you possibly return after everything I did?

He joined Yakov in the kiss and cry. The scores didn’t matter. His heart sang and he grinned at the cameras, waving happily at the viewers.

Yuuri was here. He was back.

Yakov muttered something and Victor threw an uncaring glance at the score.

“He beat this season’s best!” the announcer shouted as if he was the one about to win a gold medal.

Victor rose to his feet and waved.

They all chanted his name. But his heart chanted Yuuri’s.

There was no avoiding the press this time and he cursed all of them mentally as they asked more and more questions. At this rate he would be stuck here until his free skate.

After an hour of questions, he glanced at his watch and apologized. “I have a date tonight and I’ve already made Yuuri wait too long for me. Goodbye!”

It didn’t matter what they shouted after him in response: he had more important things to worry about right now.

 

Yuuri stood by the main entrance with the flowers in his arms and dressed in his absolute best, not sure which exit Victor would take, or if he really wanted to meet up with Yuuri, or even if coming back was a good idea.

He hadn’t expected such an enthusiastic reaction from Victor. No, he thought he’d watch the competition from afar, too terrified to come close. But something about Victor’s skating called out to him, drawing him in and he got as close as he could.

Victor had missed him. He was happy Yuuri was back. He hadn’t ignored him, or tried to push him away, no he wanted to see him.

Phichit had been right and Victor really did care about Yuuri. And to think Yuuri had nearly broken off their relationship before they could really get to know each other!

“Yuuri!” Victor called.

He turned, breaking into a big smile.

Victor swept him into an embrace, flowers and all, kissing every part of his face, making Yuuri laugh. His hands were on Yuuri’s back, rubbing it affectionately.

They pressed their foreheads together. Yuuri closed his eyes and suppressed a sigh.

“Take me somewhere nice,” Victor whispered.

Yuuri pulled away, opened his eyes and handed him the flowers. “I’ll make a reservation. Give me a minute.”

Despite having no hope of actually getting together with Victor, he’d prepared ahead of time and found a good place for them to have dinner. Now it was just a matter of calling them.

 

Victor clutched the flowers to his chest as Yuuri made his call. He reached out with one hand and slid it over Yuuri’s arm.

Yuuri turned and smiled at Victor. “Yes,” he said into the phone, “I’d like to make a reservation, please.”

Victor heard the person on the other end exclaim something in Italian.

And, to his surprise, Yuuri responded in the same language. He reached out to catch Victor’s hand as he argued, negotiating for a spot.

Victor had no idea what Yuuri was saying, but he could feel his jaw drop and the blood flow to his face. Italian suited him so well!

Grazie,” Yuuri said and hung up. “Well?” he asked Victor, as if he hadn’t just done something so stupendous. “They said they’ll have a table ready for us in 15 minutes.”

“Yuuri,” Victor whispered, “I didn’t know you could speak Italian!”

“I… uh,” he looked away and blushed, “took it as an elective and… well, we – Phichit and I – have Italian neighbours, so…” He sighed. “I’m not very good, to be honest.”

“You’ll be telling me you can drive a motorcycle next!” Victor exclaimed, suddenly excited by the prospect of sitting behind Yuuri as he took them down the streets of Milan and said something romantic in Italian.

Yuuri released Victor’s hand and walked away. “I can’t.” He turned back to face him. “But I’m willing to learn, if you want me to.”

“Yuuri, teach me how to say something in Italian,” Victor asked.

“I… uh… what do you want to learn?”

He considered all the possible words out there. “Anything.”

They flirted their way to the restaurant. Victor asked for translations of different compliments and then repeated them at Yuuri. He listened to Yuuri’s pronunciation and then complained that it was too hard for him, that he couldn’t ever hope to repeat something like that.

By the time they arrived at the restaurant they were arm in arm, Victor clinging on tightly and throwing looks at Yuuri’s mouth. It didn’t matter what the restaurant would serve them now.

The owner ran out to greet them and Victor wondered what exactly Yuuri had said to him. Meek Yuuri, shy Yuuri, who had suddenly burst out with enthusiastic Italian when Victor had least expected it.

The owner bowed several times before taking them to the best table out on the terrace. He even pulled their chairs out for them, made a few recommendations and then disappeared to grab their appetizers.

They sat by the light of two burning candles under the starry sky. Somewhere out of sight musicians sang about love (or, rather, songs that could only have been about love). It was the most romantic thing to ever happen to Victor.

Victor fidgeted, waiting for Yuuri to say something about their breakup, or to possibly confess, but Yuuri’s eyes were on the table as he rearranged his fork and knife without a word.

It felt right, sitting here with Yuuri, out on a date together. This was exactly where he belonged.

But it also felt wrong.

Guilt reminded him that he almost didn’t get this, that he didn’t deserve this, any of it. Guilt made him wish things were completely different.

They ordered food, along with a glass of wine for each of them. As always, the wine came first and they eyed their glasses, not daring to start drinking.

Victor watched Yuuri bite his lip and went on waiting for him to say something, unable to think of something suitable himself.

“I was wrong about you,” Yuuri said. “I’m sorry –”

He clutched Yuuri’s hand in both of his own. “Yuuri –”

The waiter chose that moment to return with a loud exclamation in Italian and Victor released Yuuri to let the man put their dishes down in front of them.

“Enjoy the meal!” he said, grinned at both of them and left.

They exchanged a shy smile and started to eat.

Guilt poisoned the romantic atmosphere, but Victor knew he had no right to enjoy any of it anyway.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t going to let Yuuri suffer because of him, so he flirted. He let his knee brush against Yuuri’s, he asked Yuuri about his Italian language course and listened with his chin in his hand, hanging on every word. He fiddled with his glass and asked Yuuri to say something else, complimenting him in exchange for each sentence he said.

When the meal ended he snatched the bill up and paid for both of them, not bothering to even look at the total.

I’m not allowed any of this, he thought bitterly as they left together. I’m not allowed a single moment of the most romantic date ever, but here I am, stealing it for myself. He hated himself more than anything that evening.

It was warm. The air was full of the smell of something sweet. As they walked down a street full of cafés music drifted over to them, slow and tender. That alone was enough to make someone fall in love.

Just a little longer, Victor thought. Just a few more minutes…

Yuuri caught him in a kiss and they stopped in the middle of the street to enjoy the moment.

You don’t want to be with someone like me, Victor thought, his hands on Yuuri’s shoulders. You need to go and forget I ever existed.

But the evening, the music and the touch of Yuuri’s tongue were more persuasive arguments than anyone could ever come up with.

Maybe a little more, he thought once they pulled away. Maybe…

Yuuri smiled at him.

Victor squeezed his hand and pulled him close again. They were almost at his hotel, but going the last block was hard. He didn’t want to return to his room alone. Just thinking about it made his heart tighten painfully in his chest.

He pulled something out of his pocket and pressed it into Yuuri’s hand.

Yuuri stared down at it in surprise.

It was the key card to Victor’s room.

“Take me back to my room,” Victor whispered and rubbed his nose against Yuuri’s cheek. “Take me…” he breathed out.

Yuuri blushed and pocketed Victor’s key card. “I… uh… don’t have…” He went redder. “Um… what we need.”

Victor remembered a story Chris had told him once and smiled. “We’ll ask at reception. They always have it.” He put on a confident tone, as if this was something he knew for certain. He didn’t dare think what they would do if the receptionist told them they didn’t have anything. “I can ask them,” he offered and gave Yuuri a look.

“I’ll do it,” Yuuri said, swallowing. “It’s my fault anyway: I should’ve come prepared.”

 

Afterwards, they giggled from sheer embarrassment all the way up in the elevator. It had amazed Victor how Yuuri marched up to reception and boldly made his request.

Victor felt light-headed, as if he was drunk, but he’d only had one glass and he knew it wasn’t the wine that was making him feel this way.

He watched Yuuri now: face red even as he laughed at himself. He was almost glowing in the elevator. On second thought, maybe Victor was drunk from the wine, after all.

The elevator dinged and Victor caught Yuuri around the arm. “I lost the keys to my room,” he whispered and resisted the urge to laugh, “so can I stay in yours?”

Yuuri pulled Victor’s key card out of his pocket and nodded.

He was going mad and he knew it. Maybe they both were.

The corridor went on forever and it took a lot of self-control not to run, but to hang on to Yuuri and keep smiling as if they were just casually going for a little stroll.

He couldn’t help the tremble that passed through him as Yuuri opened his door and as it closed he felt all the self-control drain out of him. He pulled Yuuri towards him, trapping himself between Yuuri and the nearest wall. His mouth was pressed against Yuuri’s, as his hands clutched Yuuri’s jacket tightly.

Yuuri placed his hands on the wall, on either side of Victor.

It was getting harder and harder to remember that this was a bad idea, that really he should’ve come back alone and not…

Victor released Yuuri, feeling dizzy. “Take my clothes off,” he whispered and rubbed his nose playfully against Yuuri’s. He watched the boy blush and slid a finger over his nose.

Giving him an “are you sure?” look and letting his eyes flicker downwards briefly before returning to Victor’s face, Yuuri caught the bottom of Victor’s shirt and slid it up. Victor raised his arms and laughed as Yuuri pulled the shirt off over his head.

He’d never let it get this far before, sure, but he’d seen enough movies to have an idea of how this sort of thing went. So he waited to see what Yuuri would do. He smiled as the boy dropped to his knees in front of him and pulled Victor’s pants down gently. He’d expected Yuuri to make some sort of innuendo or to let his hands wander over Victor’s body.

What he didn’t expect was for Yuuri to undress him as if Victor was a well-bred aristocrat and Yuuri was his servant. What he wasn’t ready for was Yuuri picking him up into his arms and carrying him over to the bed like a bride and then laying him down gently as he tossed the blankets aside.

It’s just sex, he told himself. It’s just this once. I’ll let him do what he wants and then I’ll really drive him off. I won’t break his heart, I’ll just irritate him until he learns to hate me. Married couples do it all the time, so surely I can do this sort of thing?

He watched Yuuri sit down on the bed and pull his own clothes off. He didn’t blush when Yuuri dug around in his pocket for what the receptionist had given him, no he just looked away and stared up at the ceiling.

Take me, he thought. Take me before I change my mind.

Yuuri leaned over him. “Are you sure about this?” he asked softly. “We don’t have to do anything, if you don’t want to.”

God, he reads me better than I do.

He reached out with both hands. “Are you shy, Yuuri?” he smiled, still playing the part, although god knew why he still bothered. What was the point of a mask that didn’t hide his face?

Yuuri gave him another kiss, hands slipping under Victor’s back and trailing over his skin. He was careful to lean over him, still sitting on the bed.

He hated himself more with every minute that passed. Every gentle touch, every bit of proof that Yuuri didn’t want to hurt him was more painful than anything the boy could’ve done. He was starting to wish Yuuri had done the exact opposite.

Yuuri pulled away and Victor slid a hand over his face. Still he hid his feelings behind a smile. “Are you playing with me, sugar muffin?”

He caught the look on Yuuri’s face before the skater moved over and raised Victor’s legs. He watched the expression change as he shifted forward and turned Victor’s world inside out.

Victor threw his head back and gasped. The stone façade that had stood between him and the rest of the world crumbled entirely, leaving his soul completely exposed. Anything he did now he did as himself, not as Victor Nikiforov, the figure skating legend.

“Yuuri…” he moaned.

 

Yuuri pulled away and looked down at Victor. He trembled like a student waiting for his grade in front of a really strict teacher. What would Victor say or do now?

Victor lowered his head and Yuuri saw the expression on his face. All that playfulness and flirting was gone. Victor’s eyes had gone soft.

“Yuuri…” he whispered.

Something glinted on his face and Yuuri watched a tear slide out of the corner of one eye.

“Did I hurt you?” Yuuri exclaimed. “I’m so sorry!” He tried to move away, but Victor’s hands caught his own.

“Yuuri…” he breathed out, his hands sliding over Yuuri’s arms. “Oh, Yuuri…”

Victor’s tone was doing something to Yuuri, something he couldn’t exactly name.

It was semi-dark in the room. The hotel curtains were only partially closed, letting the moonlight flood part of the room and, by the oddest of coincidences, it fell onto the pillow and a part of the wall behind Victor. It reflected off Victor’s hair and made him look fragile.

There were more tears now. Yuuri wished he could reach out and wipe them away. He should’ve known he wouldn’t be any good. He should’ve known that he’d get it all wrong, but to make his idol cry!

“I’m sorry,” he whispered and leaned over to kiss Victor.

Victor moved his hands to block Yuuri’s face. “Don’t apologize. I was… It’s just that I…” His whole body shuddered and Yuuri felt himself tremble in response. “That was perfect…” Victor finally breathed out. “Absolutely perfect…”

 

There it was: laid out in the open and bare. Yuuri’s hands were on his face now as he tried to kiss the tears away, but still they came. His chest was pressed against Victor’s and he could feel his heartbeat.

Heartbeat.

He really hated himself now.

Yuuri was so warm and so gentle. He was so kind. He deserved none of this. Not one single minute.

I wish I’d never met you, Victor thought. But maybe for just one night I can pretend that I haven’t been a complete fool. Maybe I can throw it all aside.

Yuuri pressed his lips against the side of Victor’s mouth and Victor’s lips moved in response, snatching a kiss.

Was this when he turned them both over and made love to Yuuri? But he couldn’t move from this spot. He was too comfortable lying there, enveloped by Yuuri’s warmth.

Yuuri’s fingers were in his hair now.

Where have you been all my life? Why didn’t I pay more attention to everyone around me? He tried to come up with an explanation, with an excuse, but he couldn’t think of anything that was good enough.

Yuuri pulled his lips away. He was sitting on top of Victor now and his hands trailed over his chest to stop somewhere near his stomach. “Are you alright?” he whispered.

“You’re perfect,” he whispered, looking up into Yuuri’s face. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

He was blushing like mad now. “I-I’m not… um… Thank you.” He climbed off the bed and stepped away. “I… I’ll go now… You need to sleep.”

Victor sat up. “Stay,” he pleaded softly, “please.”

 

Yuuri stared at Victor in mild surprise. He’d already picked his underwear up from the floor, but made no move to put it on.

Victor’s eyes were deep and empty. They made Yuuri drop his clothes and walk back to the bed. He took the side of Victor’s face and caught him in a kiss. Victor raised a hand and placed it on Yuuri’s back, pulling him closer.

He was seeing it now. Here in this ill-lit room, where it was just the two of them, he could see it: Victor’s inner self, his deep loneliness. This was the Victor Nikiforov no one in the world knew, maybe not even his family. This is what was hiding behind all those smiles.

Yuuri held Victor’s face with both hands, keeping the kiss going, and Victor dropped slowly back onto the bed, taking Yuuri with him. Yuuri was climbing onto Victor’s lap as they kissed.

He couldn’t leave now, not when he could feel that neediness again, evident in every line of Victor’s body, in every touch they exchanged, in the way Victor’s mouth clung on to his own and his hands held Yuuri in place.

How could he even think about leaving when Victor surrendered so willingly?

Victor’s plea echoed in his ears even as they pulled apart briefly and caught each other again. It echoed in his ears when he took Victor again and the man gasped his name out over and over again. And it was still there when Victor’s head snuggled against Yuuri’s chest and he dropped off to sleep.

Stay, please…

Chapter Text

Sometimes, even when a performance is very good, a mask slips off the actor’s face and tumbles on the floor (metaphorically, but perhaps even literally). There are times when something breaks an actor’s concentration and they burst out laughing during a sad scene, or break out into tears during a happy one.

Someone’s hand was on his chest and it wasn’t his. Someone’s nose was pressed against his neck and that definitely wasn’t his.

Victor woke up first. After five minutes’ worth of “where am I?” and “who is here with me?” he sat up and leaned over Yuuri.

The skater was still asleep.

Victor reached out, hesitated and brushed a hair out of Yuuri’s face.

Yuuri slept on.

Victor brushed more hair out of Yuuri’s face. It was so soft. He let his fingers trail through it lock by lock.

 

Yuuri woke up feeling Victor’s fingers brushing through his hair. He kept his eyes closed, convinced he was still dreaming and afraid that once he opened them the dream would fade.

Victor’s fingers finished with his hair and moved on to Yuuri’s face, sliding down his left cheek and then nose.

He bent down and kissed Yuuri’s cheeks, nose, forehead, going on and on as if he couldn’t stop.

How long have you been this lonely? Yuuri suddenly thought, remembering the Victor he’d seen the night before. One of his hands slid over Victor’s.

Victor froze.

Yuuri finally opened his eyes, but only long enough to reach up and catch Victor’s mouth with his own. But the kiss didn’t last long.

Victor pulled away with a chuckle. “Morning breath,” he said softly.

Yes, well… Yuuri pulled Victor down into an embrace, holding him close. “Let’s go somewhere together after you finish practice. We can go anywhere you like.”

Victor was trembling and for one wild moment Yuuri was convinced he was about to cry again, but his voice was steady when he responded. “Anywhere?”

He recognized that tone, but he wouldn’t back down now. “Anywhere,” he repeated, rubbing Victor’s back.

Victor giggled into Yuuri’s chest. The giggles hurt him more than tears would’ve.

Do you still feel the need to pretend around me? Do you still not trust me?

They showered, got dressed and Yuuri took Victor out for breakfast in a nearby café.

 

Yuuri was taking care of him. He poured him tea and made sure his plate didn’t stay empty for long. He told silly stories to cheer him up and promised to find somewhere interesting to go for their date in the afternoon. Once breakfast was over, Yuuri took him to practice as if he was his family member, not just a boyfriend. He kissed Victor goodbye and promised to wait just outside until practice was over.

And what had Victor done?

Clung on and said very little. He couldn’t think of words to say. His mouth had spouted so many lies in their time together, but his eyes were telling the truth now. So he kept his mouth closed and let his eyes do the talking.

“Victor,” Yuuri whispered, “I promised to wait for you.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Yuuri lowered his eyes and gave their arms a meaningful look. Victor’s arms were still wrapped around Yuuri’s.

“Sorry,” he released Yuuri and stepped back.

 

“So tell me,” Chris asked once practice was over and they skated to the end of the rink to exit the ice. “What do you suppose “broke up” means?”

“What?” Victor asked distractedly. “What are you going on about?”

It’s over Chris,” the Swiss skater said, imitating Victor’s voice, “we’re through. I won the bet. I can’t give you any proof, but you have to trust me. Fine, you’ll get your proof at World’s.” He smiled once he finished. “Sound familiar?”

Victor opened his mouth to say that it had been true when he’d said it and that he hadn’t expected Yuuri to come back and sweep him away like this and… But what was the use?

“I have a date tonight,” he said, “and no patience to deal with this right now.”

It was possible that Chris had good intentions at heart when he said the next words. It was possible that he’d really meant what he’d said and wasn’t just goading Victor on, but it just so happened that they turned out to be the worst words to say at that moment.

“Just give up.” He shrugged. “There’s no harm in admitting defeat. You can’t win every competition.”

Victor bristled at this. “I can, you know!”

He should’ve backed out then. He should’ve… He should’ve done a lot of things, but failed to do all of them.

“I take it he’s awful in bed?” Chris asked.

Victor opened his mouth to say that no, he was very good and caught the look on Chris’s face. “Victor Nikiforov doesn’t kiss and tell,” he said and realized how much he gave away with that simple sentence.

Whatever, he thought, let him think whatever he wants.

All that mattered was that Yuuri was there. He had waited for Victor. He hadn’t abandoned him.

Victor threw his arms around Yuuri and clung on as tightly as he could. How can I let you go? How do I make you see how terrible I am when I don’t want you to see that? I don’t deserve all this. I wish I did, but I really, really don’t.

Finally he managed to pull free and said, “I look forward to our date. I’m all excited just thinking about it!”

“I thought I’d give you a choice,” Yuuri said. “We can go see some historic sites, or we can go shopping.”

Victor grinned, ready to flirt and do a million little things that might just be too much. “Are you suggesting we go to a museum for a date?”

“I was thinking about the Sforza Castle, but, yes, it is full of museums,” Yuuri admitted. “We don’t have to, of course. I just thought that if you wanted to… we could.” He stopped talking and looked away, avoiding Victor’s eye. “Forget I said anything.”

Victor stepped up really close and whispered into Yuuri’s ear, “Take me to the castle, Your Majesty.”

Yuuri turned to stare at him. “R-really?”

“Really.”

“Get a room!” someone shouted, drawing their attention away from each other and to them. It was Yuri Plisetsky – ten people’s worth of anger squeezed into a teenager’s body – walking out of the building to pass them.

Victor dismissed the boy from his mind and turned to look at Yuuri. “Well?”

 

The Sforza Castle looked more like a fortress with its stone walls and towers. It had several courtyards and a park and housed several museums.

Early on Yuuri had made the mistake of asking Victor what he thought of the first room they entered and, from that point onward Victor told Yuuri what he thought of every room.

But Victor was no art historian, interior decorator or even architect and didn’t pretend to be any of those. He didn’t lecture Yuuri on some facts he’d heard once (or just plain made up). No, he treated their time at the castle like a newlywed couple treats each house it visits on its hunt to find the perfect home. This was made stranger by the fact that he did this in old medieval rooms that, apart from frescoes and a few statues, had little else.

Yuuri listened in amazement as Victor told him that the room they were in would make a nice kitchen with the right changes. He couldn’t help it – he burst out laughing.

Victor stopped mid-sentence and looked at him. “Don’t you want a nice kitchen?” he asked as if about to take the imaginary kitchen away.

“I do,” he said and listened to Victor go on as if he hadn’t been interrupted.

They held hands, not letting go for a single second, despite the stairs and narrow passages in the castle.

Once they found a little discreet spot and Victor pulled Yuuri into a kiss.

They forgot where they were, ignored the crowds of tourists and the little plaques explaining what was what. By the time they made it to the park they only had eyes for each other.

 

A soft evening replaced the warm afternoon. They sat side by side on a bench and Victor told Yuuri a long and very complicated story, getting more and more tangled in the details as time went by. Yuuri listened with a smile.

Finally Victor cut himself off and slid closer to Yuuri. “What are you smiling about, sugar muffin?”

Yuuri put his arms around Victor. “I’m so happy right now. These two days were the best days of my life.”

Victor buried his face in Yuuri’s shoulder as his hands slid up the man’s back.

“I wish every day could be like this,” Yuuri went on. “And I want to do everything to make you happy. You see, Victor, I –”

He cut Yuuri off with a kiss, terrified of the words that would come tumbling next, terrified they would destroy him. Don’t confess to me, Yuuri. Not now, not ever. He lingered on Yuuri’s lips, tugging hungrily and refusing to let go even when Yuuri backed away. He gripped Yuuri by the shoulders and held him in place until he felt Yuuri relax.

“Sorry,” he whispered, releasing Yuuri’s mouth at last, his lips still mere centimeters away from Yuuri’s, “I…” He didn’t know what he meant to say.

They caught each other again and Victor mentally cursed everything. He cursed himself for being so stupid and so terrible. He cursed Chris and his stupid bet. He cursed Yuuri for turning out to be the sort of person who didn’t deserve any of this. And he cursed Yuuri’s mouth for being so kissable.

He wrenched himself away and trailed a finger down Yuuri’s chest as the boy gave him a lost look. “Let’s go back,” Victor whispered. “I want to see you naked again.” He remembered that it’s been hours since he’d eaten last and added, “let’s have dinner in bed.”

Even the way Yuuri was blushing was unfair, but Victor didn’t let it distract him from getting up and pulling the boy to his feet.

Yuuri’s hand was so warm and his shoulder so easy to lean on that Victor was sure he would be the one confessing any minute, but what good was his confession when the best he could do for Yuuri was to send him away? So he chattered on about whatever came to mind, desperate to fill the silence and not caring if he irritated Yuuri or not.

They stopped on the way to grab food and took it to Victor’s room where Yuuri sat down on the only available chair and ate.

Victor sat down on Yuuri’s knee. He took the fork from one of Yuuri’s hands, muttering that Yuuri was doing it wrong, took the box out of Yuuri’s other hand and scooped up some rice.

“Open your mouth, Yuuri,” he ordered and held out the spoon.

“Really, Victor, I –”

“Say “ah”.”

Yuuri opened his mouth and Victor fed him, stopping from time to time to wipe his face clean with his napkin. He giggled and Yuuri smiled, gripping Victor by the waist. Victor wriggled between Yuuri’s hands and put the food away. He leaned closer and put his forehead on Yuuri’s.

“I’m hungry,” he whispered.

“I can feed you.”

Victor’s fingers trailed down Yuuri’s chest as he giggled. He slipped off Yuuri’s knee and dropped down between Yuuri’s thighs. “What about this?” he asked, working a hand down Yuuri’s stomach and stopping at a place right between Yuuri’s legs. He fiddled with the zipper on Yuuri’s pants playfully. “May I?”

Yuuri was deep red and Victor giggled again. He leaned forward and rubbed his nose where his hand had been. “Please?” he asked.

Yuuri was shuddering now. “You have… you have a competition… ah! Tomorrow…”

Victor went on rubbing his nose against Yuuri and waited for a definite “yes” or “no”.

“Please…” Yuuri gasped.

Victor backed away, taking his hands off Yuuri.

“Please…” Yuuri whispered, eyes closed and body ready to fall back. “Don’t stop…”

 Victor pounced on the poor skater before he was even aware he was doing it. He unzipped Yuuri’s pants, pulled down his underwear just a little so that he could get to the part of Yuuri that was oh-so-interesting in that moment.

He was so hungry. Every part of him yearned for this even as a voice in the back of his mind reminded him that he had no right to have even this. And later, but not much later, when he had Yuuri on the bed, naked and moaning weakly, the treacherous voice told him that even if he spent his whole life grovelling at Yuuri’s feet and worshipping him, it would still not make up for how cruel he’d been.

He went slow, dropping his usual flirting and settling for seduction instead. Yuuri hadn’t been prepared for Victor’s slow progress from Yuuri’s toes up to his inner thighs, before he sat up and took Yuuri.

Yuuri’s whole body was covered in sweat, his wet hair was sticking to his forehead. Victor lowered his head and slid his tongue up, catching the droplets with a hungry mouth.

“Victor!” Yuuri gasped for what was probably the hundredth time that night, reaching out and tangling his hands in Victor’s hair.

 

Later, much later, after he dropped down next to Yuuri and the boy turned onto his side to give Victor an exhausted, but very happy smile, after he pulled Yuuri close, enveloping him in his arms, as if to shield him from the rest of the world, he thought – really thought – about the competition the next day.

Was getting carried away with Yuuri a good idea the night before his free skate? Yuuri had turned out to be more demanding than Victor had been prepared for.

It doesn’t matter, he thought. I don’t care, if this means I’ll be too exhausted to skate tomorrow.

He sighed. What would this have been like if Yuuri and he were going out, really going out?

Victor slid down on the bed until his face was level with Yuuri’s chest and he buried himself there, listening to Yuuri’s heartbeat.

 

Yuuri woke up first. Feeling Victor’s nose digging into his chest, he thought back to the night before. Images flashed before his eyes, making the blood rise to his face.

He hadn’t been prepared for the feel of Victor’s lips on his feet and nothing in the world would’ve prepared him for the way he shuddered under kisses pressed against his inner thigh.

But what he really hadn’t been prepared for was the realization, while he lay under Victor, feeling weak and ready to melt, that the man seducing him as if he did it regularly had that deep loneliness in his eyes again.

Oh, Victor, he thought, remembering the desperate kiss that had interrupted his confession, I promise that you won’t be lonely anymore. No matter what happens I won’t leave you. I just hope that’s enough to take the loneliness away.

Victor moved next to him. He would be awake soon.

Yuuri put on his happiest smile, getting ready to give him a cheerful “good morning”.

 

The rumours were going around. It seemed to Victor that everyone in the skating world knew about him and Yuuri. It was obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that the two of them were going out (even if it wasn’t as sincere as it seemed at first glance), so people knowing that was expected. What he didn’t expect, however, was that everyone had somehow found out that he and Yuuri had had sex.

Victor laughed and made jokes, dreading the moment when the press would ask him about it. “Yuuri knows what I like,” he deflected another question that was just too personal.

He repeated the phrase a few times to different people as he made his way past them. Some laughed, some rolled their eyes and some muttered something to their neighbours that didn’t sound very pleasant.

He saw the hostile looks they gave him. He knew about the resentment they felt towards him. It was the resentment he got at every competition. Every year it seemed to only grow stronger.

“Here comes the living legend himself,” some of them would whisper just loud enough for him to hear and “Aren’t we lucky that we get the honour of basking in his presence?” others would add.

Once, during a competition the year before he heard someone call him a bad luck charm, because when Victor Nikiforov was in a competition – they’d said – there was no winning for anyone but him. Everyone else had to be happy with competing for second place.

That day it was even worse. The first skater went out on the ice and flubbed two of his jumps. The second skater messed up two landings. The third… The fourth… And on it went.

A whisper passed among the skaters waiting for their turn – the ice was cursed, they said.

“That’s silly,” others said.

But still the skaters kept making mistakes. No one had a clean skate, not a single one of them.

The last group went out for their warmup.

Victor, who’d spent what felt like an eternity on the receiving end of glares and muttered insults, was shocked by the enthusiastic screaming at the sound of his name.

“We love you, Victor!” the fans yelled.

He smiled and waved at them and then jumped. The cheers grew louder.

There – Yuuri stood by the boards, a smile on his face, cheering and clapping along with everyone else.

Victor went around, coming as close to Yuuri as he could without stopping or risking hitting the boards and blew him a kiss.

Yuuri blushed and blew a kiss back.

And Victor forgot about the jealousy and resentment of the other skaters. He forgot all the dark thoughts he’d entertained during the interminable wait. There was only him, Yuuri and the ice.

A minute of pure bliss went by and he had to get off the ice for the next competitor. As always, Victor was up last. He watched Yuuri while he waited, locking eyes with him across the rink.

Yuuri’s expression was hard to read at this distance, but Victor was sure that he was still smiling.

The audience groaned in disappointment: another skater flubbed a jump.

Three skaters – three imperfect performances – later Victor was out on the ice, standing in front of Yakov and listening to him talk.

“Listen, Victor, I want you to focus. Got that? Focus,” Yakov got Victor to repeat the word back at him, as if it was some kind of magic incantation.

Victor circled the ice, his eyes on Yuuri. Today I skate for you, he decided.

Yuuri nodded as if he’d somehow heard Victor’s thoughts and Victor smiled.

 

Masks. Victor’s theme for this season was masks. Victor’s actions in this season were also best described by masks.

Yuuri watched Victor skate, no, play with the audience and thought about Victor falling back on happy smiles and silly flirting even as his eyes gave him away.

Victor was always in a mask. Or almost always. Yuuri had succeeded in catching a glimpse of what was underneath and he wondered what Victor thought about that. He felt as if he’d discovered Victor’s dirty secret, spied on him somehow, and a feeling of guilt washed over him.

But it should’ve occurred to him earlier: it was a lonely life up on the pedestal when you had it all to yourself and lonelier still when you could never be yourself.

And Yuuri heard what they said behind Victor’s back. He knew how envy had made enemies of so many skaters out there.

On the ice Victor smiled and flew and not once did he put his foot wrong or mess up a landing. His spins were perfect, his jumps – in time with the music. And he did it all with such ease that everyone watching couldn’t help thinking that anyone could go out there and repeat what he’d done.

Yuuri watched Victor finish and bow repeatedly as the cheers and applause only grew louder. He watched Victor smile and bow again when his scores were announced.

Victor won, but the victory brought him no happiness.

 

“It’s bad enough that he wins everything, but now he’s won Yuuri over too!” a voice grumbled.

“Yeah, I know! He’s so cute! I’ve had a crush on him since, like, forever!” another skater confessed.

Victor paused outside the change room and listened.

“Ah! My sweet and innocent Yuuri now in Victor’s evil clutches! That man’s too self-obsessed to make Yuuri happy. He’ll only break the poor boy’s heart in the end.”

There was a pause and the sound of people shuffling around. Realizing that they were about to walk out, Victor slipped into a dark corner, trying to become as invisible as possible.

“I tell you,” one of the skaters said as three people Victor didn’t recognize walked out, “that Victor’s a bad luck charm. Do you think it’s a coincidence that he’s the only one who didn’t fall tonight? Mark my words – if he doesn’t retire at the end of this season, I will! It’s not like I have much of a skating career, anyway.”

“Oh come on! Don’t be like that! If Victor retired you won’t start magically winning, you know? It’s not like you got second place!”

“Just seeing him makes me mess up. I can’t focus at all with him around.”

They walked away, joking and laughing, while Victor wondered if the change room was empty at last.

There was another press conference in half an hour.

 

Victor was retreating into himself again.

Yuuri watched him get drunk out of his mind to celebrate his victory and wished he’d talked Victor out of it.

The living legend climbed onto their table and screamed loudly as he tossed his shirt off. His pants were next and Yuuri had to follow him up and stop him before his underwear came off too.

“Victor,” Yuuri said, “let’s go back to your hotel room.”

The European Champion laughed and poked Yuuri’s cheek. “Why?” he demanded in that cheery tone that only drunks have. “I’m having so much fun!”

“I’m tired,” Yuuri lied.

“You shouldn’t be! You’re young and full of…” But what Yuuri was supposedly full of he never found out because Victor picked that moment to pass out.

Feeling relieved that he found a way to get Victor out of there at last, he dressed Victor, paid the bill and carried Victor back to his hotel room.

 

Victor woke up to find Yuuri asleep next to him.

While waiting for the press conference to start the night before he’d discovered that Yuuri had a big fan group, almost as big as his own, and that many skaters had a crush on him. He wondered how he’d never known about this before.

In any other circumstances he would’ve felt flattered that Yuuri picked him, or, perhaps, if he’d had at least one gram of sense, he would’ve done his best to deserve Yuuri, instead of doing the opposite.

Yuuri’s chest rose and fell steadily with each breath.

Victor reached out and paused with his hand a few centimeters away from Yuuri’s hair. He’d reached out without thinking, eager to play with his hair again. He pulled his hand back and turned away from Yuuri to face a bare wall.

 

It was barely past noon and they were in an airport saying their goodbyes. Yuuri held Victor in a tight hug.

“I will call you every day,” he promised.

“You don’t have to,” Victor whispered. He held on as tight as he could, one hand on Yuuri’s head. Then he pulled free, grinned and trailed a finger down Yuuri’s arm. “I’ll call you every day,” he promised.

Yuuri leaned forward for a kiss, but Victor stepped back. “I decided to retire from competitive figure skating after this season,” he said, the smile still on his face.

“What?” The world around them trembled, as if they were caught in an earthquake.

“What will I do with all those gold medals, anyway?” Victor said with a shrug as if he was talking about a collection of ugly statues and not medals coveted by so many people.

“But don’t you enjoy competing?” Yuuri asked.

“Not really.” The expression on Victor’s face remained the same, as if it had frozen permanently in that smile.

“This way I’ll have time for a proper hobby,” Victor said.

Something had happened. Something had pushed him out of figure skating and somehow Yuuri had missed what it was. Something had upset Victor right under Yuuri’s nose.

Yuuri thought again of Victor’s loneliness, despite the big crowds of fans, or the huge, loving family.

Victor laughed, but it sounded forced. “Wouldn’t you prefer it if I retired? You’ll have a better chance at gold that way.”

True, Victor had beaten him in the Grand Prix Final and only by a few points, but Yuuri wanted to win because he was the best, not because the best person wasn’t competing and, besides…

“But what about all the other skaters? Competing against you makes them try harder.” He’d heard them grumble a lot about Victor winning all the time, but several skaters admitted that Victor was the ideal they aspired to.

Victor laughed at Yuuri’s words. The sound pained Yuuri, but he said nothing.

Victor stopped laughing and his face grew serious. “No, Yuuri. I’ve made up my mind.”

It was pointless to argue and arguing only meant not respecting Victor’s decision. It was his skating career and Yuuri had no business trying to tell Victor Nikiforov what to do. But he couldn’t help it.

He sighed and lowered his eyes. “What about the skaters who look up to you?”

“No one looks up to me,” Victor contradicted him. “Everyone just –”

I look up to you!” Yuuri interrupted, raising his eyes to meet Victor’s. “I’ve looked up to you my whole life! I wouldn’t have even become a skater, if it hadn’t been for you! Competing against you has brought me where I am today! I want us to keep competing, no matter who wins gold at World’s! So don’t you dare say you don’t inspire anyone!”

Chapter Text

"I look up to you!”

Victor turned over and put his hands over his already closed eyes.

“I wouldn’t have even become a skater, if it hadn’t been for you!”

Victor turned back and took his hands away. The clock on his wall counted away the seconds loudly in the quiet of the night.

It was really dark in his room. He wondered what time it was. Probably close to four in the morning.

Still the clock ticked away as thoughts raced through his brain.

“So don’t you dare say you don’t inspire anyone!”

If he got up now he could… He could go to practice, or have breakfast, or do something else that was better than just turning over and over in his bed.

Victor turned again and buried his face in his pillow.

“Don’t you dare!”

There would be no sleep at all for him. No, no he had to sleep. He was tired and…

A gasp and then, “Victor!”

He made a frustrated sound that got muffled by the pillow.

“Victor…”

The bed was too empty, the night – too cold and sleep stubbornly refused to come to him.

“Don’t you dare!”

He got up and headed straight for the kitchen where he turned the kettle on and settled down by the counter to wait.

 

Yuuri sat on Victor’s knee, holding Victor’s face with both hands, and kissed him. There was one hour left until his flight, but Yuuri was still here – on Victor’s lap at one of the benches of the airport.

He pulled away at last and smiled at Victor with those kissable lips of his. “Promise you’ll call me,” he said softly.

Victor nodded. His head was still spinning from the kiss. “You need to go,” he finally said.

Yuuri rose and Victor walked him to the security checks…

 

It was a nice fantasy. If only it had actually happened.

Victor put his hands over his face and cursed himself again.

“So don’t you dare say you don’t inspire anyone!”

The water boiled and the kettle made a loud click as it turned off. Victor poured the hot water into a mug, trying not to dwell too long on what a big mistake he’d made.

He looked at the clock in the kitchen. It was 3 am in St. Petersburg, which meant that it was late afternoon in Detroit.

He got his phone out and called. The phone went straight to voicemail.

“I’ve looked up to you my whole life!”

He waited for the recorded greeting to end and then exclaimed with an enthusiasm he didn’t feel, “Yuuri! How was your flight?”

 

After a long layover, after a long flight and then a shorter one, Yuuri finally, finally landed in Detroit.

The flight felt like it would really go on forever. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t relax. He tried to watch a movie and gave up five minutes into it, unable to focus on what was happening.

So he thought of Victor. He thought of the look on his face after Yuuri’s angry outburst. All the colour had drained out of it as if Yuuri had hit him.

 

Yuuri waited for Victor to say or do something. He wasn’t sure what he expected. A joke and a laugh? For Victor to hold him close and cry into his shoulder?

But Victor merely stepped back, turned away and left. He ran.

And Yuuri didn’t run after him.

 

One thing was obvious – Yuuri had offended Victor in some way. Something about his confession had shocked Victor.

He shouldn’t have snapped like that. He should’ve said it gently, without raising his voice.

I can’t do this anymore, he thought. I can’t.

 

He sat at the gate, waiting for his plane, and called Phichit. He didn’t have the courage to call Victor, even though he knew that’s what he was supposed to be doing.

“Phichit,” he said as soon as the skater picked up, “our bet is over. I know I can’t convince you to take your promise back, but I hope you don’t leave figure skating over this.”

“Yuuri, what –”

“I decided to retire from competitive figure skating after this season,” Victor said with a smile on his face.

“I’m retiring from figure skating after this season,” Yuuri said. “Please don’t try to talk me out of it.” Then, realizing he’d just asked Phichit to do the opposite, he ended the conversation before his friend could point this out, “I need to go.”

He hung up and breathed out.

 

And now he was back. Now he would have to face Phichit again.

He pulled his phone out and turned airplane mode off.

Fifty-five voicemail messages arrived all at once. He considered turning his phone off and pretending he didn’t get anything and then he saw the name of the person who’d left them.

Victor Nikiforov.

Heart tightening painfully in his chest, he raised his phone to his ear and played them.

“Playing message one.”

“Yuuri! How was your flight? I’m so jetlagged I can’t sleep a wink. It’s still three am!” He went on and on about how dark and cold it was in the room.

“Playing message two.”

“Yuuri! It’s 3:35. I just remembered that I forgot to ask you what your favourite movie was. My favourite is this old comedy movie. It’s hard to translate to English, but basically the plot is…”

“Playing message fifty-five.”

“Sugar muffin, I finally managed to fall asleep and I had the most wonderful dream! I was –”

“Sir!” a voice called out, making Yuuri pull away from his phone. “Sir!”

There was a flight attendant standing in front of him. For a moment he couldn’t understand what she was doing there.

“Sir! You need to get off the plane. Everyone else left already.”

He looked around him. All the passengers had gone.

“Sir? Are you alright?” she asked.

His cheeks were wet. He wasn’t sure when he’d started crying, but there were still tears rolling down his face.

She held out a napkin. “Is something wrong? Would you like me to call for some assistance for you?”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I really am. Sorry for… sorry for staying behind. I just… I got distracted.” He got up hastily, fumbled around for his things, threw a look around him to see if he’d left something behind and walked away.

“…and then I woke up. What do you suppose the dream means? Do you believe that dreams have meaning? I know some people have these dream dictionaries. My cousin has one. I can borrow it and see what it says.”

Oh Victor.

Even now, even in a phone recording like this, when he could barely make out Victor’s words, there was still that hint of loneliness.

Yuuri stepped off the airplane and paused in a corner of the corridor.

Victor had gone on in all his messages, as if Yuuri’s outburst hadn’t happened, as if they’d had a normal farewell before their flight.

He’s not mad at me then.

His phone rang and he answered it without thinking.

“Sugar muffin!” Victor exclaimed. “There you are at last! Did you get some sleep? Did you watch a movie?”

“Victor… I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

Yuuri felt stupid as he tried to fumble around for words to explain how he felt. “I’m sorry for… for raising my voice at you. Please don’t be upset.”

Victor laughed. “Why would I be upset? If I got upset every time someone raised their voice at me, I’d be upset all the time. Yakov just loves to yell, for some reason.”

“I…” Yuuri swallowed, “I want to see you again.”

“But you just saw me, sugar muffin! Are you going to be so demanding all the time?” Victor asked.

He’s retreating into himself again. He’s hurting more than he did before. How do I make him feel better? How do I make him happy?

“I’m a very demanding…” he hesitated before the next word, but only for a second, “…boyfriend. I want my boyfriend by my side at all times.”

Victor laughed. He laughed and laughed, as if unable to stop. Even Yuuri started to laugh.

“You’re so cute, sugar muffin,” Victor said once he managed to calm down. “Did I ever tell you that? In the mornings when you wake up with your head a big mess, you’re the cutest person in the world!”

Yuuri kept walking down the empty hall and listened to Victor tell him what he, Yuuri, looked like in his sleep and what he looked like in the middle of the day. And then Victor described what Yuuri was like between Victor’s thighs and Yuuri had to stop walking.

 

Victor couldn’t stop talking. Words just tumbled out of him, one after the next, without asking for his permission and just happened to come in an order that he wasn’t prepared for.

He’d been getting ready to go to practice when he’d decided to call Yuuri again and actually got through to him this time.

That night guilt told him that there was only one thing he could do in his situation: make Yuuri hate him. It wasn’t about the bet anymore. He needed Yuuri to dump him. Yuuri deserved someone better and Victor could never hope to be that person.

A selfish bad luck charm was the worst person for Yuuri to be in love with. Not just in love with, to idolize.

He must know the old rule that you should never meet your heroes. And I’m the worst of the bunch anyway.

But how do you get someone who idolizes you to hate you?

Simple: irritate them to the point of driving them insane.

Victor chatted on about whatever came to mind, but it was just his luck that instead of pointless chatter he fell into flirting.

 

Yuuri remembered to keep walking and stumbled down the halls of the airport like a drunk. He got to the line for passport control and still Victor went on. Beside him a couple of kids were having a silly argument, an old lady was struggling with a suitcase, a young couple was exchanging happy smiles. Up ahead – immigration officers sat with serious looks on their faces. In Yuuri’s phone the voice of Victor Nikiforov described in unnecessary detail what sex with Yuuri Katsuki felt like.

Yuuri swallowed and followed the lineup, wishing he’d turned his phone off.

“What do you feel like?” Victor asked, coming to the end of his impressions at last.

Yuuri’s throat was dry and he coughed before he could get a word out. “I’ll… I’ll tell you later,” he promised.

“Why not now?” Victor insisted.

Because a hundred or so people would hear me, Yuuri thought. “I’m at… I’m at passport control right now,” he admitted. “I’ll call you back. We’re not supposed to have phones here.”

He hung up and sighed.

His heart was beating fast, but there was a smile on his face now and he promised himself that he would come up with a suitable response.

But, what was more important, Victor didn’t hate him.

Maybe he was just so embarrassed he ran away, Yuuri thought and then remembered the details Victor had just gone into. Or maybe embarrassed is the wrong word for it.

 

Phone calls. What were they good for? A lot of things, of course, but if someone recorded all of Victor’s conversations with Yuuri in the week that followed they would have a good deal of details that never made it into any of Victor’s biographies. They would get a snapshot of all the dreams that the living legend had in that week (or not, since most of the time he didn’t dream about anything so he just made stuff up), all the food he ate, all the things he said to everyone around him and all the things he bought, or thought about buying, or saw other people buying. In short, Victor talked about everything with Yuuri.

Once Yuuri woke up and found 30 voicemail messages of just Victor reading a book aloud in Russian. Once he listened to two hours of Victor’s opinions on dogs.

Yuuri didn’t tell anyone about the phone calls, keeping them a secret and feeling a kind of thrill that they were a secret from the rest of the world. Had he been someone else he might’ve shouted at Victor, saying nasty things and suggesting he go see a doctor. But Yuuri just listened.

He knew why Victor was doing this: he was feeling lonely.

When Victor started to pester Yuuri for some sort of response, Yuuri came up with his own little details to share in return. And, at Victor’s request, left him voicemail messages when the living legend slept as well, sharing what bits of his life he dared to share.

 

It wasn’t working. No matter what Victor talked about, Yuuri listened to it all as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world. Even that Russian book, even though he hadn’t understood a word of it.

“I promise I’ll take Russian classes,” Yuuri said and Victor felt his heart sink.

He wasn’t supposed to just accept all this!

He tried to be difficult and tell Yuuri that silence wasn’t fair and got a taste of his own medicine. And what a bitter medicine it was!

How does he listen to me ramble like this? Victor wondered as he paced his room and just listened to the sound of Yuuri’s voice, unable to focus on any of the words.

He dropped onto his bed and put a hand over his face. “Read to me,” he cut in.

“What?” Yuuri asked.

“I want to hear you read something to me,” Victor explained.

“What do you want me to read?” He sounded really lost now.

Victor grinned, feeling like he had the perfect answer to that question. “What does anyone read to their boyfriend? Love poetry, of course.”

Only after Yuuri spent an eternity trying to find something suitable and after he got well into the longest poem he could dig up did Victor realize his mistake. He remembered what it was like – lying in his bed, late at night and listening to Yuuri whisper what his impressions of the living legend in bed were

 

Victor stuck his head under the pillow and covered himself up completely with his blanket, as if to hide how deeply he was blushing, as if someone would come into his room and see him.

Except that there wasn’t really anyone to hide from.

“…and then you –” Yuuri whispered and Victor made a sound that could’ve been a groan, or could’ve been a moan. “Yes, just like that.” Yuuri paused and for several seconds Victor forgot how to breathe.

“Victor,” Yuuri whispered.

Even the sound of his voice did something strange to Victor’s insides.

“Victor, it’s getting late. You need to sleep.”

“I can’t sleep,” Victor insisted. “You need to come here and only then I’ll sleep.” He was being childish and he knew it. Childish and demanding, and all those other things that would make any normal person come up with a silly excuse to never talk to him again. Oh god! He was becoming like some of those people he’d dated and this time it wasn’t because he was faking or pretending.

“Just close your eyes,” Yuuri said, going along with it all for god knew what reason, “and imagine I’m there with you. I’m stroking your back gently. My fingers are sliding up…”

Later Victor realized that there was a name for what they’d unwittingly done several times. But that was later.

Now he just listened to Yuuri speak and tried to calm down.

The dreams he had that night were unlike any of the dreams he’d told Yuuri about and he left them for a later day.

 

Yes, it all came back to him now as his heart beat faster in his chest and all the blood flowed to his cheeks.

This is what I get, he thought. The harder I try to drive him away, the deeper I fall.

He stared up at the ceiling. What I really deserve, he decided, determined to torture himself all the more, is to see Yuuri fall in love with someone else.

The thought alone drew tears from his eyes, but he bit his lip and considered it. Maybe that was the best way to drive Yuuri off. But if he couldn’t even get Yuuri to hate him, how could he possibly get him to fall in love with someone else?

Chapter Text

Training that day stared off the same as it had the week before – with several hours of exercise. By noon everyone was out on the ice, practicing their elements, with Celestino keeping an eye on all of them.

Yuuri and Phichit went on as if there had been no talk about retiring. Victor’s name never came up in conversation. Yuuri avoided the topic altogether. Phichit saw Victor’s phone calls and said nothing. He didn’t even tease Yuuri about it.

Yuuri was practicing his triple axel when Phichit returned from a short break with the words “Anyone order a living legend?”

He messed up the landing and fell on the ice. “What?” Yuuri asked, getting up and rubbing his knees.

“Only one’s arrived, looking very thrilled with being here.” Phichit pointed a thumb at the door behind him just as said door opened and the living legend burst in with a big smile on his face.

“Sugar muffin!” he called.

Yuuri was at the boards nearest Victor before he even thought about moving. “Victor! What are you doing here?”

“I thought I’d surprise you, dear!” He threw his arms around Yuuri and held him close. “Won’t you indulge your boyfriend for a week?”

“But what about training?” Yuuri asked. “You’re not going to miss a whole week just so you can be here, are you?”

Victor chuckled and pulled back to look at Yuuri. “I missed you, sugar muffin.”

And so did I, Yuuri thought, guilt rising in his stomach. I can’t believe my first thoughts were about your training!

They leaned in for a kiss, forgetting about everyone else.

“Will you sign for your delivery, sir?” Phichit called out.

Yuuri broke the kiss and turned deep red. “Ah! I… uh…” His eyes darted around before falling on Victor’s face again.

“Go on, go practice,” Victor encouraged him. He had a dreamy smile on his face. It drew Yuuri in for a second kiss.

God, how he missed Victor! The full force of the feeling hit him then.

It was Victor who broke the kiss this time. His face was red and there was that heart-aching sadness in his eyes again, but he gave Yuuri a lopsided grin.

“Are you avoiding practice?” he teased. “I’ll be right here, don’t worry.”

Yuuri skated away, going backwards, his eyes fixed on Victor. It was so hard to look away and return to practice as if Victor wasn’t there.

 

Victor watched Yuuri skate and forgot that this was his boyfriend, or that he was supposed to be pushing him away. For a while, all he saw was an incredible skater out on the ice.

His phone rang.

Victor knew before he even answered his phone who the caller was. When you didn’t report for duty (as some of the Russian figure skaters called it) for two days in a row you got a call from…

“Yakov!” Victor exclaimed.

“Vitya, where the hell – and this had better be good – are you?” the coach growled.

“Detroit,” Victor replied. “Sorry, Yakov, I’d love to talk, but you know how busy I am.” He hung up and turned his phone off.

He knew what his coach would say. He could already hear the long rant. Busy doing what? You’re not busy! You’re just wasting time and fooling around! You have a big competition coming up! Or did you forget?

Victor sighed. How could he forget? He had a big competition coming up for as long as he could remember.

He watched Yuuri go into a beautiful spin and lowered his head onto his hands. And, yet, he’d lost the most important competition of his life.

Yuuri finished with his arms arched at Victor.

Putting on his biggest smile, Victor whistled and shouted in encouragement. “Yuuri! My dear sugar muffin! I could eat you up!”

Yuuri fumbled in embarrassment. He really was very cute. And so innocent.

Guilt threatened to suffocate him as he leaned over the boards with a grin. “Yuuri!”

And Yuuri flew to him, exclaiming his name.

Victor didn’t succeed in making Yuuri hate him. He didn’t even manage to irritate him. But by the time Yuuri’s practice ended that day every single skater training in that rink hated Victor with every fibre of their being.

“Yuuri, my dear,” Victor went on, one arm around Yuuri as they left the rink, ignoring his surroundings completely, “are you free this evening to spend some time with your boyfriend?”

Yuuri mumbled something not very coherent in response, making Victor chuckle.

He dragged Yuuri off to the first nice place he could find, flirting the whole way.

 

When they returned to Yuuri’s apartment, a little tipsy and clinging to each other with big grins on their faces, Phichit met them at the door, his arms crossed and his eyebrows raised. “And here I thought I’d get the apartment all to myself tonight.”

Victor laughed, hiccupped and attempted a pun – always a mistake when the attempt is made by a person who is very definitely drunk and not that good at puns to begin with.

Yuuri laughed and Victor grinned wider.

Phichit watched them make their way to Yuuri’s bedroom, holding on to each other for support. But, since they were both swaying as they went, their walk reminded Phichit of two very slow, very chaotic pendulums.

In a state like that they could spend half the night just missing the bed, getting up and trying to drop onto it again.

But it was silent after that and Phichit slept through the whole night without interruptions.

 

Victor dropped onto his back on the bed and grinned up at Yuuri. “Why are you wearing so much clothes?” he asked Yuuri and giggled.

But as soon as Yuuri undid his shirt Victor got up and caught him against the door in a kiss, stumbling most of the way. Victor clung on to Yuuri’s mouth, as if afraid that Yuuri would pull away.

And then there were tears. At first Yuuri wasn’t sure why his face felt so wet, but when he finally pulled away, he saw the look on Victor’s face and the tears sliding down his cheeks.

“Victor…”

“I… uh…” He tried to laugh, but it sounded wrong. He wiped his eyes with the palm of his hand. “…uh…” He couldn’t even find an explanation that would sound convincing enough. The tears had surprised him as much as they’d shocked Yuuri.

He pulled Victor close and whispered. “Let’s just sleep side by side tonight.”

Victor nodded and sniffed.

They took turns getting changed and taking a shower. Victor lay down first and Yuuri joined him after turning the lights off.

“Yuuri,” Victor whispered. “Turn onto your side to face me.”

“Like this?” Yuuri whispered back, turning over as Victor had instructed.

Victor pulled Yuuri close until Yuuri felt his stomach press against Victor’s back. He wrapped Yuuri’s arms around himself and gave a soft sigh. “Like this.”

 

The first thing Yuuri was conscious of when he woke up was Victor fiddling with his hands. He was humming something unrecognizable as he took Yuuri’s hands and slid them both over his own chest. But Victor was only in his underwear and so Yuuri found his hands on Victor’s nipples before his mind was ready for it.

“My dear Yuuri knows my weak spots so well,” Victor whispered.

Yuuri was silent, as if he was still sleeping.

Victor lifted Yuuri’s right hand and pressed it to the side of his face. Then he turned his face and kissed Yuuri’s hand. Yuuri shifted his leg forward, his thigh sliding over Victor’s and he felt the other man shudder and pull away from Yuuri’s hand.

How long would they have to lie together like this before Victor’s sense of loneliness went away?

I’m right here. Here, Yuuri tried to say with his entire body.

Victor gasped. “Yuuri!” His hands were pulling Yuuri’s down.

Yuuri caught Victor’s underwear between his fingers and hesitated.

And his alarm rang loud and clear over the sound of Victor’s moans.

Victor pulled free and sat up, turning around to give Yuuri a smile. “My sweet Yuuri…” he whispered and reached down for a kiss.

But something made him put a hand over Yuuri’s mouth and throw a look around.

“What’s wrong?” Yuuri asked, his blood going cold.

“Oh, Yuuri,” Victor leaned down to his ear. “I’m so flattered!”

“Flattered?”

Victor sat up and nodded at one of the walls.

If Victor hadn’t been sitting on top of him at that moment, Yuuri would’ve, without a doubt, sprung off the bed and run around in a panic.

The walls were covered in posters of Victor.

Victor studied them carefully, while still sitting on top of Yuuri. Finally he returned his attention to his boyfriend below him. “You know, Yuuri,” he said, “you’re lucky it’s just me on these.” He leaned down and whispered. “What would you do if I got really jealous?”

“Victor… Victor, I…” He looked away, unable to meet Victor’s eye.

 

Oh, Yuuri. Oh, Victor.

It seemed to Victor that the whole world was determined to keep reminding him over and over again what a terrible thing he was doing. First there was Yuuri’s confession, now there were the posters.

He teased Yuuri and flirted with him all through breakfast, turning his head completely.

Afterwards Victor told Yuuri that he needed to go train and they went their separate ways.

I need to do something, Victor thought as he jogged around the block.

He’d come prepared to visit Yuuri this time. He’d arranged for his things to be dropped off at Yuuri’s apartment before surprising him at the rink. He even found somewhere he could train for a week, if not for himself, then at least to have an excuse to leave Yuuri alone.

There was one line he refused to cross. He knew all too well that if he did, then he would never forgive himself.

But he still had Yuuri’s feelings to deal with. He had to think of something. It couldn’t go on like this.

 

That afternoon when Victor entered the rink where Yuuri trained he slipped in as discreetly as he could and found a good spot to watch from. Things were desperate. He had to do something. Anything.

The universe chose that moment to interrupt with an intervention of its own. This intervention came in the same of six tall, well-built and very loud men.

Victor turned to see them all take the seats near him as they made jokes and laughed too loudly for Victor’s comfort.

“Hey! You’re new around here, aren’t you?” one of them asked.

Victor turned to face them and gave them a big smile.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere?” one of them asked and then looked at one of the others. “Hang on, it’ll come to me in a minute. You’re that guy in the flower shop? No? Corner store? Dammit, where have I seen you?”

Victor laughed. It had been a long time when he’d been in a situation like this. People either knew him right away, or didn’t know him at all.

“Help a guy out,” the man said, turning to throw a look at his friends.

They laughed and shrugged, their looks making it obvious that they had no idea either.

The man gave a dismissive wave. “Figures.” He turned back to look at Victor. “Where could I have seen you?”

On TV. “I’m a figure skater,” Victor answered and waited.

The man snapped his fingers. “Victor Nikiforov! I thought you looked familiar!"

“Oooh! Victor Nikiforov!” They surrounded him on all sides and he had to fight down the urge to get out of the circle.

“Damn!” one of the men exclaimed. “He’s cute! Why didn’t I ever realize Victor Nikiforov was cute?”

Victor panicked. They talked about this as if it was a fault and he wasn’t sure what it meant. “Thank you?”

“Don’t thank us!” the first guy shot back. “We’re all angry with you, heck we all hate you!”

“…Why?” Oh God, what did I do this time? Is this their spot, or something?

They laughed. “Because you keep beating our Yuuri!” the answer came from multiple people at once, almost at the same time too.

“Um… yes…” he said, but what could he possibly said to an accusation like that. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize!” someone exclaimed, knocking him on the shoulder.

“So… um…” he looked around at them, trying to think of some way to deflect the attention from him and the nagging thought that he needed to apologize, that he had a lot to apologize for. “What are your names?”

They introduced themselves and Victor got a sense that they were all called Chad or Brad, or some variation on those two names. Could he refer to all of them as Chad? Would they get offended?

The first one who spoke (Victor mentally called him Chad number one), moved closer and confided in Victor, letting him in on a secret that was obvious to anyone who saw the group for more than ten minutes, “We’re all Yuuri’s fans.”

“…Are you figure skaters too?” he asked and took in figures suited better for fighting rather than jumping or spinning on the ice.

“Hockey players,” Chad number one answered.

Chad number three or four leaned closer with a big grin, “We tried to get Yuuri to play hockey once.”

“Yeah,” Chad, or maybe Brad, number five said, “he was awful!”

They laughed and Victor laughed along with them. They were nice, he tried to tell himself, they were definitely really nice.

So why did he have this feeling that they were about to hit him?

They bombarded him with questions after that, but if the first one was about him, the rest were all about Yuuri. What was he like in competitions? What was it like competing against the cutest guy on the planet? How did he not faint from being around Yuuri for many hours? How big was Yuuri’s official fanclub? Were they accepting new members? And so on.

Victor didn’t even have to think of answers to any of these questions – the Chads didn’t stop for a second to even give him a chance to think about his answers.

Victor watched them all closely, studying their faces and mannerisms, trying to decide who out of all of them was the better choice. They were all head over heels for Yuuri, but which of them…

“Victor! I didn’t realize you were here!” Yuuri called out and Victor turned around to face him.

He ran to his dear Yuuri’s side and cursed himself for it.

“Yuuri, I just thought I’d come watch you practice. I met some nice friends of yours,” he added as the nice friends in question joined him.

Yuuri smiled at them and greeted each one by name.

The Chads, or Brads, looked ready to melt as Yuuri went through the long list of names.

“Thank you for coming,” he added and got a collective sigh in return.

Victor chuckled. My Yuuri can make anyone melt from joy, he thought and, forgetting that he was supposed to be distancing himself from Yuuri and finding someone to take his own place, he pulled a little box out of his pocket with the words, “Your lips are chapped, Yuuri.”

 

Every Chad and Brad in the rink watched in amazement as Victor reached out and – he dared, he really dared! – touched Yuuri’s precious lips. Victor Nikiforov, that hated enemy (until about an hour ago) was so disrespectful, so…

They exchanged a look that said it all.

…so much better-suited to be with Yuuri than any of them could ever hope to be.

Yuuri blushed, and smiled, and thanked Victor. And the terrible man didn’t think to drop on the ground and grovel at their god’s feet!

And then he compounded the insult by flirting with Yuuri in front of all of them. And Yuuri flirted back.

“Come join me, then,” Yuuri teased Victor, making him run to get his skates.

He returned before any of the Chads and Brads found the courage to ask Yuuri about him.

And then they were out on the ice together. And then they skated the most beautiful duet in existence. And then they got applause from all the other figure skaters. And then, and then…

The Brad and Chad hockey team was used to foul language from their opponents and was used to giving as good as they got. And, when words weren’t enough to figure out who was the biggest —, then fists were the next weapon of choice, or legs, or – if that really wasn’t enough – their entire bodies.

What they weren’t used to was beauty beyond the power of mere words to convey. What they weren’t used to was seeing the look of deep love on Yuuri’s face. What they weren’t used to…

 

“I think they fainted!” Phichit called out.

Yuuri turned away from Victor to give the Detroit hockey team a worried look. “What? Are they okay?”

Victor pulled Yuuri close. “Yuuri, I think I’m about to faint too. Hold me, please,” he said, making the skater laugh.

They had dinner with the hockey team afterwards. Yuuri caught the way Victor watched each of the members of the team and wondered what it meant.

The hockey players were all very interested in Victor, talking mostly to him (even if they only asked questions about Yuuri). Victor, on his side, asked them all about their hobbies, and interests, and…

With a pang of guilt Yuuri realized he was tuning the conversation out and just listening to the sound of Victor’s voice, letting it wash over him.

The conversation on the way back to Yuuri’s apartment was very puzzling.

“The blond one was nice,” Victor said. “I thought so, anyway. What was his name again? Brad?”

“Tom,” Yuuri answered automatically.

Victor repeated what Tom had said about his hobbies and asked Yuuri what he thought. There was something odd about the way he watched Yuuri as he answered.

“I thought he was nice,” Victor repeated.

And then it clicked: Victor was jealous. Yuuri laughed as the realization dawned on him.

“What’s so funny?” Victor asked, looking alarmed.

Yuuri took Victor’s hand and gazed into his face. “There’s no need to be jealous.”

“Jealous?” Victor echoed.

“Phichit tried to set me up with one of them once,” Yuuri admitted, “but we never really got anywhere. Big, strong and muscular isn’t really my type.”

“Oh? What is your type, Yuuri?” Victor asked.

“Tall, blonde and handsome.” The treacherous words slipped out before Yuuri could stop them. But then again – they were going out, weren’t they? So it was a given thing, wasn’t it? He blushed deeply anyway.

Victor turned away and said nothing.

“Victor?” Yuuri asked after a long silence.

He turned back to face him and there was a smile on his face. “Oh really?” he asked. “See any lately?”

They laughed the whole way home, stopping only in front of Yuuri’s door to exchange a kiss.

Yuuri closed his eyes and held on to Victor’s face with both hands. For a while, it didn’t matter who would win gold in World’s, or in the Four Continents’. Victor’s fingers slipped into Yuuri’s hair and Yuuri found that even his own name didn’t matter anymore.

They pulled apart at last and Yuuri unlocked the door for them.

This time he’d arranged with Phichit to leave the apartment to just him and Victor. Yuuri had apologized to his friend, but all he got was laughter and the promise to return late the next day.

Their way clear, Yuuri prepared for a romantic evening in.

But Victor had other plans. At Yuuri’s suggestion that they watch a movie together Victor headed straight for Yuuri’s closet.

“Honestly, Yuuri,” he said as he pulled it open, “you aren’t going to spend the evening with me while you’re dressed like that, are you?”

To Yuuri’s embarrassment and horror, Victor went through all of Yuuri’s clothes and tossed aside everything he didn’t like with the words, “No boyfriend of mine will be seen dead in something like this.”

Out went nearly all of Yuuri’s ties, several shirts and one pair of pants. He very nearly burnt one of the ties and Yuuri had to get rid of it before Victor could trigger a fire alarm.

After that Victor refused to watch any movie with Yuuri. “It’s late,” he said, “and you need to get up early tomorrow. You need lots of sleep, Yuuri.”

Yuuri couldn’t think of anything to say to that.

So much for a romantic movie together. But, that just left…

“But what about –” Yuuri began, blushing deeply and not really sure how to phrase his question.

“Don’t worry,” Victor reassured him, “I will tell you a nice bedtime story to help you sleep.”

And he did.

Yuuri lay next to Victor and listened to the most bizarre story he’d ever heard that made absolutely no sense and was incredibly hard to follow, wondering what had gotten into Victor all of a sudden.

But Victor kept stroking his hair and Yuuri found that it didn’t matter what the story was about. He took Victor’s hand, pressed it to his face and closed his eyes.

 

Quiet. Yuuri was still sleeping.

It was really late in the night and Victor did his best to lie very still. He couldn’t make a single sound, or move an inch, because it would definitely wake Yuuri up.

He buried his face in the pillow and tried not to shake as the tears came.

Yuuri turned over in his sleep and one hand fell over Victor. It slipped around him and pulled him close.

Oh Yuuri…

There had to be something Victor could do. The hockey team hadn’t been good enough, but maybe there was someone else. Maybe he could find someone who…

Yuuri shifted closer and Victor felt Yuuri’s stomach press against his side. His warm breath tickled Victor’s cheek. His mind reminded him just how soft Yuuri’s lips were and he hated himself.

He hated himself with every fibre of his being. He wasn’t worthy of skating with Yuuri, never mind beating him in figure skating competitions, never mind dating him.

One of Yuuri’s legs slipped around him and he really trembled this time. He gripped the pillow tighter.

He was Victor Nikiforov. He’d lasted through worse than this. He could deal with this. He would find a way to make Yuuri happy that cut the living legend out of Yuuri’s life, even if it broke Victor’s heart in two to do it.

But just for now… Just a little longer…

 

Morning came, bright and warm.

Victor turned over and stretched. He opened his eyes and found Yuuri sitting up next to him.

“Good morning,” Victor whispered.

Yuuri leaned over him and kissed Victor’s cheek.

“Hmmm…”

Yuuri kissed Victor’s other cheek, then his nose, his forehead, his chin and his neck. He went on kissing Victor’s neck as Victor protested softly.

“Yuuri…” Victor said and laughed as Yuuri reached a ticklish spot on his stomach. “Really, I… I… you don’t need to…” He went on giggling.

The giggles were interrupted by a gasp as Yuuri pulled Victor’s underwear off.

Yuuri’s fingers trailed down over Victor’s chest and onto his stomach, moving slowly, making it impossible to breathe.

“We… we shouldn’t…” Victor whispered as Yuuri’s hands moved on to stroke his hips.

Yuuri pulled his hands away and sat back on the bed.

There was a long look between them, one that was full of a thousand words, but Victor sat up, as if everything was fine, as if his shoulders weren’t hunched in defeat. He stared down at his hands. It was just another day. Just another morning. Just…

Yuuri reached out and his hand stopped above Victor’s foot, as if not daring to reach out further. For an instant that lasted forever Victor couldn’t breathe, wondering what Yuuri would do next.

And then Yuuri caught Victor by the heel and pulled him across the bed.

Victor dropped onto his back in surprise, his head hitting the pillow.

Yuuri leaned over him. “I think I can be late for practice just this once,” he whispered.

We shouldn’t do this, Victor thought as Yuuri kissed him and pulled Yuuri down closer. I should leave, walk out of your life and you should find someone else. He thought as the rest of him was convinced of the opposite.

“Victor,” Yuuri whispered, breaking the kiss, “we can go t-to practice now, if you want.”

How did someone who barely knew him understand him so well? When did Yuuri learn to read him so perfectly? It was one thing to figure out what he liked best, to know that he liked to be touched here and there, and … oh god, Yuuri, don’t you dare stop now… Don’t you dare let me go.

He would always remember every detail of that morning, every touch. He would always remember how Yuuri caressed his buttocks with both hands. He would always remember how Victor turned over when Yuuri finished and pulled away, how he dragged Yuuri back down into an embrace and held on as tight as he could.

It was so warm. He was sure that on the lonely, cold nights in St. Petersburg that would inevitably follow he would remember how warm and wonderful that morning was.

You shouldn’t be here, his conscience whispered. You should be in St. Petersburg, training for the next competition and thinking only about that, and not ruining the life of someone as wonderful as Yuuri Katsuki.

He sat up with a smile. “Time for breakfast!”

 

A cold wind blew from the Neva river, making him wrap his scarf tighter around his neck. It was a bleak morning. They sky was nothing but clouds. He walked across a bridge as it started to drizzle something between snow and rain with Makkachin by his side and thought about the empty apartment that waited for him.

That was every winter for Victor Nikiforov until Yuuri came along and he was determined that it would be the same the next winter.

That afternoon he showed up as Yuuri’s practice ended with a friend he’d made that day: another figure skater who was tall, blond and handsome.

Yuuri greeted them both with a smile, took Victor’s hand and led him off to a dinner for just the two of them.

By the end of the week Victor knew what felt like everyone who lived in Detroit and could be described as “tall, blond and handsome” (even if the last one was a bit of a stretch). Yuuri didn’t show even the smallest interest in a single one of them.

 

Phichit watched Victor befriend half of Detroit with surprise. The living legend attracted people like honey attracted flies. To be fair, even without his fame, he had looks enough to attract a good crowd, but it caught Phichit off guard nonetheless.

One day, unable to resist the urge any longer, Phichit pulled Yuuri aside during practice and asked, laughing to show it was just a joke, “Aren’t you jealous? Or at least worried he’ll find someone else?”

Yuuri gave him an odd look. “No,” he said simply. “Victor gets very lonely.”

Phichit watched his friend skate away and folded his hands over his chest.

So he worked that out, then. Yuuri was very observant in some ways, but completely blind in others. For some reason, he missed that the hockey team had a giant crush on him and, when the date with one of them flopped, was convinced that the lucky Chad had been bored the whole time. He didn’t realize what it was that Victor was doing, didn’t see all the attempts to irritate him, but he saw the Victor behind the mask the man wore in front of the rest of the world.

When Victor arrived to pick Yuuri up alone that afternoon Yuuri took his hand, and smiled, and flirted, and shone, not realizing how in love Victor was with him.

 

It was Victor’s last day and he was eyeing the Brad and Chad hockey team, wondering if maybe one of them could pass off as tall, blond and handsome, after all.

“Yuuri!” they screamed and Victor joined in.

The best person in the world jumped, spun and landed perfectly.

The cheers got louder.

One of the Brads got up. “You’re all little wannabe Yuuri fans. I’m the real fan! Look what I got!” He raised his shirt to demonstrate a tattoo of Yuuri that covered his entire chest.

“So you got a tattoo, so what?” someone called and a fight broke out not long after.

Victor watched them with a sigh. No, they just weren’t good enough for Yuuri.

Someone sat down next to him and Victor braced himself for more questions about Yuuri he wouldn’t get to answer. “So you’re his boyfriend, then?” the Brad-Chad asked.

Victor lowered his head and nodded.

“You know, when we first met I was convinced you were hitting on us,” the man admitted.

Victor stared at him in shock. “Hitting on you?”

Behind them someone shouted, “Yeah? Well, I have Yuuri’s autograph on my –”

“Yeah. The guys all thought that.”

“Oh.” It was no use arguing, so he didn’t even bother.

“Listen,” the Chad-Brad said, leaning closer as the fight behind them got louder, “if we ever find out that you made our Yuuri cry…” he raised a hand to his neck and made a cutting gesture.

Victor swallowed. It’s too late for that, he thought miserably.

Someone screamed and Victor raised his eyes to see Yuuri fall on the ice.

Ambulance Victor Nikiforov was out on the ice before anyone else could get close to Yuuri.

“I’m fine,” Yuuri reassured him with a smile as he got up to his feet, “I really am.”

“You’re sure?” the Brad-Chad hockey team was all around them. “You’re really sure?”

He gave them all a smile. “Look.” He skated around them and they left the ice looking even more upset that Yuuri was fine after all.

They were so obsessed with Yuuri that they treated their obsession as a sort of competition. Why were they ok with Yuuri having a boyfriend, then?

Before he had a chance to think about it properly, he was voicing the question aloud to one of them.

“Of course,” the man said and added nothing else.

Of course? Of course what?

 

“Take care of yourself, my dear Yuuri,” Victor said as everyone gathered in the airport to see him off. Phichit and the Detroit hockey team wanted to be there. Yuuri wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t dare argue.

Victor zipped Yuuri’s jacket up to the top and fiddled with the zipper.

Yuuri, catching the hit, leaned forward and kissed him.

Victor was getting clingy again and, as before, it meant that he was acting stranger than normal. He pulled away after a long while and brushed Yuuri’s jacket off, as if it was covered in dust.

“Don’t forget to eat,” Victor said, his eyes on Yuuri’s chest. “Don’t stay up too late and get lots of sleep.”

Yuuri nodded numbly.

Victor took in a shaky breath and Yuuri was suddenly convinced that he was about to cry. “Take care of yourself, alright?”

“I will.”

Why did this sound like a final goodbye?

Yuuri gripped Victor by the arms. “I’ll see you at World’s,” he said.

“Yeah… World’s…” Victor gave a big sigh. “Maybe I should come cheer for you at the Four Continents?” he suggested.

“You don’t have to –” Yuuri protested.

“I will,” Victor raised his head and met Yuuri’s eye at last. “I want to. And I promise I will.”

What is it? Yuuri wondered. There’s something eating you from the inside. Why won’t you tell me what it is? “You need to prepare for World’s. You can’t keep flying across the world just to see me. You should be practicing and –”

Victor put a finger on Yuuri’s mouth. “I’ll see you at Four Continents,” he insisted.

Then he pulled free and walked away.

Yuuri watched him leave. Every line of Victor’s body radiated defeat and he wondered why. What was weighing so heavily on Victor’s mind?

Chapter Text

In the week before the Four Continents Championship Victor didn’t call Yuuri even once.

Chapter Text

Yuuri called several times a day, every day, but it wasn’t until the day before the Four Continents Championship that his call was answered at last.

“Victor? Finally! I was getting really worried!”

“Why?” Victor asked and Yuuri’s heart fell.

“It’s been a whole week! I was starting to think something happened to you!” He’d asked Celestino for Yakov’s number and called him directly to know if Victor was alright.

The coach hadn’t been thrilled with that, Yuuri knew, but at least his answers were polite.

Maybe he spared Yuuri’s feelings because he knew he and Victor were going out, maybe there had been some other reason…

“Victor,” Yuuri said, getting his feelings under control, “are you alright?”

Yuuri tried to hint with his tone that he was open to discussing anything Victor wanted to talk about, but Victor shut him out again.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” he asked in return.

I wish I could go be with you, Yuuri thought, regretting that he had a flight to Taipei in a couple of hours, I wish I could join you and look after you. It was clear to Yuuri that Victor was in no state to travel. “I’ll see you at World’s, ok?”

“But what about –” Victor began.

“You don’t need to come,” Yuuri told him. “Just rest and train for World’s. I’ll see you there and…” he hesitated, “I can’t promise you that things will be better, but I’ll do my best.”

“I’ll watch you skate from here,” Victor promised.

 

Victor rolled into a ball on his bed and closed his eyes. He felt the tears come and bit his lip. He should’ve known that trying to avoid Yuuri wouldn’t work. He wasn’t the type to give up after three failed phone calls. Unlike him.

Oh, Yuuri.

Not for the first time he tried to imagine what sort of person Yuuri really deserved (dependable, intelligent and handsome) and wondered if there was any chance of him becoming that.

No. No, it just wouldn’t work.

He just had to wait for Yuuri to see what kind of man he really was and turn away in disgust. And leave.

He’d gone through life telling himself that any animosity people felt towards him was just their jealousy doing the talking. Now all the whispers and rumours were starting to break through his outer shell.

He was a monster, nothing more than a bad luck charm.

But monster or not, he would keep his promise to Yuuri to watch him skate.

 

The Four Continents Championship had the skating community all excited. Whoever won that, some reasoned, was a good candidate for silver at World’s. The gold medal, they were convinced, was going to be Victor Nikiforov’s, no doubt about it.

Discussions were posted all over the internet, fights broke out between fan groups and everyone waited to see what would happen.

 

Victor sat in front of his laptop, waiting for Yuuri to go out on the ice. It was almost midnight and only a handful of skaters were left. After Yuuri’s success in the Grand Prix Final, he was scheduled to go last.

The camera took in the audience and stopped on a familiar face.

Yuri Plisetsky was at the Four Continents Championship.

He must be there to support his friend Otabek, Victor realized with a pang of guilt.

He should’ve gone. He shouldn’t have listened to Yuuri and he should’ve gone. He could’ve given Yuuri a few really happy days, acted as if everything was fine, and then ended it all.

Ended it all. The three simple words felt like a dagger to the heart.

His eyes went from the stream to the big herd of tabs at the top of the screen, all of them with the kinds of titles that would’ve upset Yuuri if he ever got wind of the list.

Victor Nikiforov, in his desperation, was researching the best ways to end a relationship.

 

Scheduling one major competition two weeks before a second one wasn’t exactly fair, but, as it soon turned out, it wasn’t the worst that could’ve happened. The worst was yet to come.

 

“We now bring you to the final group of figure skaters,” the commentator announced as Victor huddled under his blankets, the computer taking the place of his pillow, and did his best to stay awake.

He listened impassively as five names were called out and five of the top figure skaters waved at the audience.

“And finally we have the Grand Prix Finals silver medallist – Yuuri Katsuki!”

Yuuri raised his hand to wave at the audience as a loud cheer broke out. The screen changed to show a big group of people get up and chant Yuuri’s name as they held between them a giant banner with his name painted on it in big black letters.

One of the cameras zoomed on the face of the person in the middle and Victor recognized the Chad-Brad hockey team.

They were all dressed in Yuuri’s “colours” – black, red and silver. Each of them had “Eros” written on one cheek and “Yuuri” – on the other.

For one long, perfect moment Victor imagined himself in the middle of that group, dressed and painted the same way. He imagined going to a tattoo parlour and asking to get every inch of skin covered in images of Yuuri. The moment ended and Victor gave a long sigh as the real world returned to its place.

The Chads were chanting something else now, but Victor couldn’t make out a single word over the commentators listing Yuuri’s achievements.

“And let’s not forget that this year was a big shocker for both his fans and fans of Victor Nikiforov, current top figure skater in the world, when the two appeared to together and announced that they were going out,” one of the commentators said.

The other one laughed, “Ah, yes! We saw Yuri Plisetsky in the crowd earlier, showing his support for Otabek Altin of Kazakhstan, but what about Victor Nikiforov? Is he there somewhere?”

No, I’m not, Victor thought, even though I really should be.

He sat up straighter and checked the schedule. He could get a last minute ticket to Taipei, couldn’t he? Arrive just in time to see the free skate in person? He had no ticket for the competition itself, but he could probably find a way to get one. He was Victor Nikiforov: he could call in a few favours and…

He couldn’t. It was no good.

He dropped down onto his knees and elbows and watched the last group do their warm up.

Yuuri was beautiful out on the ice, but, then again, there was nothing new in that. There was that determined look on his face as he went backwards, got ready to jump, and leapt, landing perfectly.

The audience clapped and cheered loudly.

Victor tried not to think about anything. He definitely wasn’t remembering their last night together, or the night before that. He wasn’t thinking of the way Yuuri’s eyes burned as he leaned in close, or how…

He sighed. It was no use – he was thinking about it.

He put his hand to his lips and then pressed the same hand to the screen where Yuuri’s face smiled back.

What was he thinking? Was he thinking about Victor?

 

Yuuri smiled up at the crowd, using all of his self-control to hold the tears back. When he saw Yuri Plisetsky come to wish Otabek good luck his heart leapt and, for a moment, he thought Victor would come too. But Victor wasn’t there.

He shouldn’t have told Victor not to come. He should’ve let him come. At least they would’ve been together now.

I’m being selfish, he told himself. He needs to focus on the next competition, not fly halfway around the world. And I should focus on this one too.

He heard the loud cheers and was shocked to find that the Detroit hockey team had come all this way just to cheer for him. He skated past them and gave a little wave. Then he saw the black, red and silver colour scheme and the words written on their faces.

The next time he went around he got into character for his skate and blew them all a kiss with a wink.

The front half of the Detroit hockey team toppled onto the back half.

They didn’t get up until it was Yuuri’s turn out on the ice.

 

Yuuri’s music started to play and Victor leaned forward.

Yuuri ran his hands up over his thighs and licked his lips. The camera backed away, as if it, like so many others, was intimidated.

He bumped into Yuuri, as if by accident, and then turned and exclaimed, “Oh! Sorry about that!”

Yuuri skated away and a cheer of “We love you, Yuuri!” went up from the Chads.

He waited for Yuuri to look up, to make eye contact with him, but Yuuri’s eyes remained fixed on his shoes. “Um… sorry. It was my fault.”

He moved like no other skater, following every note like someone who felt the music in the very depths of their soul.

“No, no,” Victor insisted and held out his hand. “Please let me apologize and as compensation I will invite you to a dance.”

How had he missed this routine the first time Yuuri skated it that season? Was it possible for anyone to miss a routine like that? How was that routine even legal?

They were swaying in a slow dance together, holding on to each other. There was a spark in Yuuri’s eyes Victor had never seen before.

Victor joined his hands and concentrated on wishing Yuuri luck. You can win, Yuuri, I know you can.

And Victor fell. He tumbled head first from a high wall and…

There was that step sequence that, when coupled with the violin’s music, made goosebumps go up Victor’s spine.

…and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put him back together again…

“Yuuri! Yuuri!” the Chad’s chanted and Victor joined in, whispering Yuuri’s name over and over again.

Yuuri jumped…

Victor’s heart stopped beating. He couldn’t breathe.

…and landed to cheers and applause.

“Yes! What a stunning, no, no, I will go ahead and say it – what an erotic performance from Yuuri Katsuki!” the commentator exclaimed.

“He really is something else out there on the ice, isn’t he?” the other commentator piped up. “He makes me want to moan “oh, Yuuri, please take me!””

They laughed.

The cheering from the Chads got louder. Victor could make the words out now.

“Yuuri, Yuuri, he’s the best!

“Yes, he will beat all the rest!

“No figure skater from east or west

“Can hope to top Yuuri Katsuki’s best!”

It wasn’t exactly poetry, but they managed to repeat it enough times for some of the members of the audience to join in.

 

Yuuri sat in the kiss and cry with an embarrassed smile on his face.

Celestino watched him out of the corner of his eye. Every time the skater finished his short program Celestino wondered if there was some magic at work that changed Yuuri to someone completely different. It was only at moments like this that Celestino found it hard to believe that Yuuri settled for Victor Nikiforov and not a member of the royal family (any royal family).

They read out Yuuri’s scores and Celestino put an arm around his pupil. “Bellissimo!” he exclaimed.

Yuuri lowered his eyes with a blush. “I was… I was thinking of Victor the whole time,” he admitted.

I see. “Listen, Yuuri, about you and Victor –”

The screams from the audience were almost squeals and Yuuri rose to his feet to give his fans a wave.

The press arrived not long after, but all they seemed to be interested in was Yuuri’s relationship with Victor: they barely asked about anything else.

“What’s it like dating your rival?” a journalist asked. “Are you worried this will impact your relationship in some way?”

Celestino stood back and watched Yuuri’s eyes go sad. “No, I’m not,” he said. “Victor and I competed against each other before we…” he hesitated and blushed, “…started dating, so there’s nothing new about it.”

It was a stupid question, but it gave Celestino a very odd idea. He imagined a person who was always used to winning meet someone who had a real chance of beating him. The person was determined to do anything to win, even to the point of messing with the second person’s mind.

But not Victor Nikiforov, surely!

If so – how else could he explain the living legend’s strange behaviour when he came to Detroit? And after Yuuri flew all the way to Milan to cheer for him, why hadn’t Victor returned the favour?

Celestino listened to Yuuri’s answers and suppressed a sigh. The boy was in deep. So he put on his biggest smile and stepped up to him.

“I am very proud of Yuuri Katsuki,” he said, putting an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders. “He is a very good student and one of the best figure skaters in the world.”

The journalists jumped at this, just like he’d expected. “Does that mean you expect him to win gold at World’s?”

Celestino raised one hand in a placating gesture. “Let’s not get carried away. We still have the free skate segment of the Four Continents to worry about. Now, if you don’t mind, my pupil is tired and I need to make sure he gets some rest.”

He led Yuuri away, grinning at everyone and muttering at Yuuri to keep smiling out of the corner of his mouth.

“Thank you,” Yuuri whispered once they made it back to the hotel.

“No need to thank me,” Celestino countered. “I meant what I said – get lots of sleep, call Victor, do whatever you need to rest and relax.”

“Um… about Victor…” Yuuri began.

“That’s completely your business,” Celestino waved it away, forcing the image of a manipulative winner out of his mind. “You’re an adult. You can make your own choices.”

“Thank you, but…” Yuuri looked away and then he raised his eyes to meet Celestino’s. “What do you think of him?”

“What do you mean? Even though he’s the living legend, I’m sure you can beat him.”

Yuuri blushed. “That’s not what I meant. What do you think of him as a person?”

What an odd question! “Are you asking me if I think you should be dating him?” Celestino asked, always direct and never willing to play word games.

“No,” Yuuri shook his head. “Do you like him? As a person, I mean?” He blushed a little and looked away. “It’s just that so many people in the skating world hate him, so I was curious…” His eyes were on Celestino again, digging into him.

“He keeps beating all of my most talented pupils,” Celestino said and chuckled, “but I can’t hate him for that, can I? And if you love him, then I must accept him too, surely?”

Yuuri fidgeted. “You don’t have accept him,” he said softly. It was an odd statement that had several meanings, but Yuuri turned away and left with a “good bye” before Celestino could ask any more questions.

 

It was already early in the morning and still Victor lay next to his laptop and listened to Yuuri Katsuki declare to the world over and over again that it was all very serious between him and Victor Nikiforov. He never once said the word “love”, but it was there in the spaces between his words, in the tone of his voice. It didn’t need to be said.

Victor’s biggest enemy, most hated rival, biggest thorn in his side, in other words – Victor Nikiforov himself, had ruined his one chance to be truly happy. Ruined irreparably too.

He closed his eyes to the sound of Yuuri’s voice saying, “…today’s performance is proof of that…”

 

Victor woke up because his phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

“Hmmm…” He stretched and answered it. “Hello?”

“Hello, Victor Nikiforov, I wanted to ask you a few questions. I was wondering if you could spare me a couple of minutes?”

It was about Yuuri. Of course it was about Yuuri.

Oh yes, they were the perfect couple, he told them. They were made for each other. They were soulmates. Yuuri was the best boyfriend anyone could ask for – passionate, caring, handsome, and so on until he ran out of breath.

“As I understand, it’s all very serious between you two?” the journalist asked.

 

Yuuri sat down on the bed. “We don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” he offered.

His torso was bare. His hair was a little dishevelled after he’d pulled his shirt off, but it suited him really well.

Victor sat next to him, slid a hand over the bed, back and forth, going only part of the way between them before bringing his hand back, then he reached out a little further, a little further, until he reached Yuuri’s hand. He put his hand over Yuuri’s and smiled. “I want it,” he said.

He dropped onto his back and crawled back on the bed, supporting his weight on his elbows and giving Yuuri a sly look. “Will you make me wait?”

 

“Of course it’s very serious between the two of us,” Victor answered. “How can it not be?”

He excused himself after that, saying he needed to train and hung up.

Victor pulled his legs up to his chest, wrapped his arms around his knees and wept.

In Taipei the Four Continents Championship continued…

 

Yuuri returned to his hotel room in the evening, telling himself that no matter what happened he had to go to bed early. He had to give his best during the free skate.

There were two people standing outside his door. He stopped, wondering if something was wrong and recognized who it was.

Otabek Altin and Yuri Plisetsky were having an argument in the hall.

Yuuri wanted to leave, afraid he’d stumbled into something personal when a few words reached his ear and he realized what the problem was: they got locked out of their room.

“Do you want to call reception from my room?” he offered, stepping up to them.

They turned at the sound of his voice and he wished he hadn’t said anything, feeling uncomfortable under their stares.

“Yes, please,” Otabek said with a serious expression on his face.

Yuuri opened his room and walked in as the two skaters lingered in the hall.

“I’m telling you,” Yuri said, his voice at the very edge of Yuuri’s hearing, “just ask to climb out his window. I’ll bet it’s close to yours.”

“That’s not safe, Yura.”

“Then I’ll do it.” Yuri stormed into Yuuri’s room just as he picked up the hotel phone. “Let me climb through your window,” he said.

“I can’t,” Yuuri argued. “It’s not safe.”

“What’s it to you, if I hurt myself?” Yuri challenged.

Yuuri bristled at this. He wasn’t going to let anyone dangle out of his window and potentially kill himself. “I don’t want anyone getting hurt, especially when there’s no need for it.”

“I didn’t think Victor would date such a goody-two-shoes!” Yuri shot back. He looked like someone squaring for a fight.

Yuuri straightened up. The boy could tease and throw insults around as much as he wanted, Yuri still wouldn’t get his way.

“Wipe that smile off your face!” Yuri demanded. “I will do it myself!”

Before Yuuri or Otabek could do anything Yuri was at the window, trying to climb out.

Yuuri ran to him. “Please! We’re on the 15th floor! You’ll hurt yourself!”

The window only opened a couple of centimetres, barely enough for a cat to crawl out. Yuri stared at it in quiet surprise.

Yuuri reached out and took Yuri’s hand. Otabek caught the boy’s other hand.

“Ok, fine,” he grumbled. “Call reception. I’ll wait.” He muttered a swearword under his breath.

Otabek and Yuuri exchanged a look, trying to decide which of them should make the call. Otabek gave a little nod and walked over to the phone.

Yuri, meanwhile, was staring down at where Yuuri was holding his hand. For some reason, he wasn’t snatching his hand away.

“Sorry,” Yuuri said, letting go.

Was that a hint of a blush on Yuri’s cheeks, or was it his imagination?

“Thanks,” Yuri muttered. “I… uh… I forgot we were on the 15th floor.” He raised his eyes and glared at Yuuri. “I’m not stupid, or suicidal, got that?”

Yuuri nodded. What else was there to do?

“I need to get back down to reception,” Otabek said, putting the phone back down. “Why don’t you wait here, Yura?”

The boy looked about to protest, but he nodded instead.

Otabek walked out, leaving the two Yuris alone as an awkward silence draped itself over them.

What could he say at a time like this? Don’t worry, Otabek will be back soon? But Yuri wasn’t worried and didn’t need any reassurance. Maybe he didn’t need to say anything, he thought.

And then his phone rang.

 

Yuri knew exactly who it was as soon as he saw the way Yuuri looked at his screen. He rolled his eyes and dropped into a chair, bracing himself for all the lovey-dovey crap that would undoubtedly follow.

“Hello, Victor,” Yuuri said. “What? You saw that? …Yes, right, of course. What did… What did you think?”

Yuri rolled his eyes and dropped his chin onto his hand, mentally willing Otabek to return faster.

The Japanese Yuuri turned bright red and stammered something out.

Yuri wondered if it was possible to die from seeing something really disgusting.

“What about… How do you feel, Victor? Do you feel better?”

Yuri reclined in the chair, folding his arms over his chest and watched Yuuri. He heard Victor’s ecstatic response from his side of the room and felt ready to throw up.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Yuuri said in a voice that sounded happy, but there were tears streaming down his face.

He didn’t want to see this. He didn’t need to see this.

They weren’t tears of joy. The idiot was upset. What the hell was wrong with Victor’s head?

Yuri stared at his feet as if they were very interesting. He wasn’t sure why Victor didn’t fly with him to cheer for his boyfriend. Yuri was sure until the last minute that he would, but for some reason he didn’t.

In his first year competing in the seniors Yuri got to know Victor a lot better than anyone else. After seeing that bright and happy smile every day he learned to see it for what it really was – nothing more than a mask. Victor shut everyone out. Maybe that’s what you had to do when you were the living legend, Yuri reasoned. Maybe that was the only way to stay sane with the crazy press trying to get every detail of your life down.

But to shut your boyfriend out!

Yuuri put a hand over his face and went on talking in a cheery tone as if everything was fine.

He can see you’re lying, Yuri thought. Why the hell do you keep doing it?

“Thank you,” Yuuri said. “I will talk to you later.” He hung up.

Yuri pretended he was interested in his shoes again, wishing he’d waited out in the hall. He didn’t need to see this.

Yuuri gave a long sigh and wiped his face with his hands. His shoulders radiated defeat.

This was more than Yuri was willing tolerate. He sprang out of his chair and to Yuuri’s side, his hands balling into fists.

“Now, obviously, it’s none of my business, but I find it disgusting that someone would let someone else step all over themselves like that,” he growled.

Yuuri put a hand over his face. “What… What are you talking about?”

“You. The way you let that idiot Victor do anything he wants is frankly disgusting!” Yuri crossed his arms. “He’s so spoiled. Everyone always gives him what he wants. “Oh Victor,”” he changed his voice to imitate an excited fan, ““we love you so much!” It’s enough to make me want to barf!”

“Yuri –”

“No, you listen to me!” He cut in. “If I were stupid enough to go out with someone like that,” and here he shuddered at the thought, “I wouldn’t be a freaking doormat!”

“Doormat?” Yuuri echoed.

“I wouldn’t let him walk all over me!” Yuri shot back. “I would be more demanding! Do I need to explain any more than that?”

“I don’t think you understand –”

“I understand very well, thank you very much! “It’s Victor Nikiforov! The living legend and god of figure skating! Let’s worship him!” I thought you were better than that!” He felt his voice break and stopped, terrified of the words that had come out of his mouth.

But Yuuri didn’t understand what Yuri had let slip. “I don’t worship Victor,” he said simply. “I used to be one of those fans, but not anymore. He’s a person like you and me.” Yuuri gave a big sigh. “And I don’t think he gets a chance to really be that.”

This made no sense to Yuri whatsoever, so he contended himself with merely shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Doesn’t mean you have to do everything he wants.”

There was a polite knock on the door: Otabek returned with a new key card.

“Great,” Yuri muttered, making for the door. He left the room, not daring to throw a look back at Yuuri. He didn’t want to see the skater cry again. The memory alone was enough to make his hands tighten into fists.

 

After the short program the scores of the figure skaters were so close together that the free program segment became a metaphorical bloodbath. The final six figure skaters all knew that with their choice of elements they needed to grab every point they could get. A single mistake, a little error could cost them a spot on the podium.

But the bad luck struck again, this time without Victor’s presence, and skater after skater fell, made mistakes, flubbed a landing, under-rotated a jump.

Who was it? Who was bringing them all the bad luck? Was it Yuuri, Victor’s boyfriend? Was it Yuri Plisetsky who’d brought it with him from Russia, from Victor himself?

Tensions ran high. Skaters panicked and lost even more points.

 

In St. Petersburg Victor was watching the free program in his kitchen. There was still another hour at least.

He poured himself a cup of tea and his hands shook.

“Look at that,” he said softly. “I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous. Can you, Makkachin?”

Makkachin raised his head. He’d been dozing peacefully under the table, but, sensing his owner’s worry, he got up and walked over to sit down in front of Victor.

Victor set his cup aside and crouched down to pet his dog. “Are you nervous for Yuuri, Makkachin?”

Makkachin licked Victor’s face, but Victor didn’t laugh.

He should’ve gone, he told himself. He should’ve been there to cheer for Yuuri in person. He needed to be with Yuuri. He needed him close.

Knowing it was a bad idea, Victor pulled his phone out of his pocket and called.

“Victor?” Yuuri asked.

He felt a sob rise in his throat and put a hand over his mouth to stifle it.

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

“Hello, Yuuri.” He put on a smile even though there was no one but Makkachin there to see him do it. He sounded so close, almost within reach. “I wanted to wish you luck!” He sounded almost too cheery, but that didn’t matter.

“Thank you.”

There was still time. He should tell Yuuri something that would help him skate better, something like “I believe in you”, but the words sounded fake and his mouth refused to say them.

“Today I will skate for you again,” Yuuri told him.

“I…” I want to be with you. “I look forward to it!” He laughed. “You better get a perfect score, then!”

“I will,” Yuuri promised.

Makkachin was licking Victor’s hand and Victor reached around to scratch behind his ears. “Makkachin is wishing you luck as well. Aren’t you, Makkachin?”

Makkachin barked.

 

Tensions ran higher than ever as the last group of skaters went out on the ice and made mistakes as well. And then it was Yuuri Katsuki’s turn with only Jean-Jacques left to go after him.

“We seem to be experiencing the same wave of bad luck as the one we’d seen at the European Championships,” one of the commentators announced.

The other sighed dramatically and talked about skaters getting too nervous and working too hard. What a stressful sport figure skating was!

Victor listened, feeling everything inside him tremble.

On the screen the Chad-Brads were chanting again as Yuuri took his place in the middle of the ice.

The music began to play, a theme that the commentators insisted was a reflection of Yuuri’s life and career. Delicate piano notes tumbled one after another and Yuuri followed them across the ice.

 

“What kind of boyfriend is Yuuri Katsuki?”

“Everything a boyfriend needs to be – beautiful, dependable and strong.”

 

Watching Yuuri skate the free program was like seeing him drop to one knee and confess his love. Victor couldn’t tear his eyes away and, yet, every second pained him.

What do I do? Why don’t I know what to do?

 

Backstage every figure skater watched Yuuri on all the screens available. Yuri Plisetsky watched Yuuri from the audience, mouth slightly open, eyes taking every second in. The Detroit hockey team, giant banner in their hands, faces painted with Yuuri’s name, all covered in the colours of his free program, stared soundlessly. Not a single person in the audience breathed, not a single figure skater backstage moved.

Everyone had a sense of something delicate, made out of glass, that could break if they weren’t careful.

The music was coming to an end and Yuuri jumped…

 

In a kitchen in St. Petersburg, the mug tumbled out of Victor’s hands and fell on the floor where it broke into several pieces and spilled tea on the floor.

If Yuuri had painted the words “I love you, Victor Nikiforov” on the ice he wouldn’t have had such a strong reaction from the living legend.

 

…making four turns before landing again and finishing his routine with a graceful spin.

A roar went up from the crowd. The Chad-Brads led the way and now everyone was shouting their silly chant.

 

“That was a quadruple flip! Amazing! That was Victor Nikiforov’s signature move!” one of the commentators exclaimed, sounding flustered.

“That was – I think I can say this – that was – ladies and gentlemen, what we just saw was a declaration of love, nothing more and nothing less!” the other commentator announced.

Victor put his hands over his face. “Oh Yuuri.”

Makkachin whined beside him.

The little puddle of tea spread. It was dark red, as if someone had replaced the drink with blood.

 

Yuri watched the Japanese Yuuri step off the ice with tears on his face. He was crying again. Damn Victor Nikiforov! Damn him to hell!

He jumped out of his seat, slipped through the audience and turned up at the kiss and cry where Celestino put an arm around his pupil, trying to calm him down.

“Oi! Yuuri!”

He turned, his eyes still wet.

“I look forward to kicking your ass in World’s!” Yuri declared and broke out into a smile.

Yuuri’s face split in a grin, the tears still on his cheeks. He reached out and pulled Yuri into a hug and the Russian skater struggled and swore, convinced he was about to die.

 

Phichit read Yuuri’s scores and then looked at Yuuri’s face.

The bet was going wrong. Had been going wrong for several weeks, only now he could no longer deceive himself. Yuuri hid his feelings and made excuses for Victor’s behaviour, but that routine and Yuuri’s face afterwards said it all.

If before a little bell was ringing in alarm and Phichit ignored it, hoping everything would turn out alright somehow, now every bell was going off, calling him to action.

He had to do something before it was too late.

Unless it was already too late.

He pushed that thought aside. He would find a way to fix everything. He had to. Even if he had no idea how, Chris was bound to know what to do. Between the two of them they had to figure it out.

Chapter Text

The Four Continents Champion got his phone out of his pocket as soon as the exhibition dance ended and called. He wasn’t going to wait any longer. It didn’t matter what happened next, he needed to make this call now.

As the phone rang he looked at his watch and cursed himself. It was the middle of the night over there.

“Hmmm?”

“Victor!” Yuuri exclaimed as the call connected him to the European Champion. “Victor, I was thinking… I… Sorry, I woke you up.”

“I wasn’t sleeping,” Victor admitted. “Is something wrong? Are you alright?”

“I was thinking, since World’s is in Moscow, maybe we should –” He rushed through the words, afraid that if he said them slowly he would change his mind halfway and take them back

Victor understood right away and didn’t even let Yuuri finish. “Come here, Yuuri. Come and train with me!”

Yuuri closed his eyes and leaned against a wall, putting a hand over his face. “I really miss you,” he admitted.

Victor laughed, and teased, and tried to sound happy, but Yuuri knew he was as miserable as he was.

Look at us, he suddenly thought. There must be something wrong with us. No matter where we are, we’re always unhappy. Will it be better when we’re together, or will it just get worse? He remembered the loneliness he kept seeing in Victor’s eyes and wondered if it would still be there when he came.

“Now, don’t you have a banquet to go to?” Victor asked.

I’d rather stay here and talk to you, Yuuri thought, but he didn’t argue.

 

Victor’s parents’ apartment was full of happy bustling: Victor was back and he wasn’t alone this time. Yuuri lay on the couch where he’d passed out almost as soon as he sat down. He hadn’t even touched any of the sweets Victor’s parents had lain out on the table for him.

After his victory and the press conferences that followed, Yuuri had flown straight to St. Petersburg where Victor had met him only to take him to his parents’ house right away. He’d let slip about Yuuri’s coming to visit and his parents had been adamant that they both stay with them.

Victor covered Yuuri with a blanket, wondering if maybe it was better to stay with his parents’ after all.

It was so nice to pretend everything was fine. Just imagine there was no bet and you didn’t do all those things, he told himself. Just act as if we’ve been going out for a while. Which we sort of have…

He hadn’t been ready for Yuuri to be suddenly there, an arm’s length away. It felt strange, surreal.

Yuuri should be sleeping in my room, Victor thought, but he wasn’t about to disturb his sleep.

Victor’s parents slipped out to whisper to each other in the kitchen while Victor reached out and brushed Yuuri’s hair out of his eyes as carefully as he could.

Yuuri slept on.

Later, they would go on the most perfect dates Victor could come up with. Later he would throw in all his efforts to please Yuuri. But that was later. Now, Yuuri needed to sleep.

Victor sat sideways in his chair, resting one arm on its back and studied Yuuri’s face, as if he hadn’t committed every feature to memory.

He longed to slip under the blanket and let Yuuri’s arms wrap around him and the warmth of his body seep into his own, but the couch was too narrow for that. Instead, he leaned forward and kissed Yuuri’s cheek.

His mother returned with a mug of tea for him.

Victor took it and she adjusted the blanket over Yuuri. She stroked Yuuri’s head gently and sat down in a chair next to Victor, giving him a big smile. “I’m so happy to see Yurochka back,” she told her son in a whisper.

They sat together in silence for a while, watching over Yuuri without another word, until Victor finished his tea.

As soon as she noticed his mug was empty, his mother rose to her feet and beckoned him to follow her into the kitchen where his father was cooking something.

Victor lingered in the doorway, turning to look back at Yuuri.

“Viten’ka,” his mother said, embracing him. “Look at you!” She rubbed a hand over his back. “When’s the wedding?” she whispered into his ear.

“W-wedding?” At the sound of that word Victor turned bright red.

“You mean you haven’t proposed yet?” she asked. “He’s kind. He loves you. He’s handsome. In short, he’s perfect. What more do you need?”

Victor had to agree that she had a point.

No, no. Stay focused! Yuuri needs someone better! he scolded himself and gave a heavy sigh.

She gave him a long, hard look and turned away to help Victor’s father cook.

Victor watched them exchange fond smiles and work around each other at the stove until they had three different dishes cooking at the same time. They washed vegetables and grated cheese for salads. As always, they were cooking enough food to feed 40 people.

His parents had lived together for a long time. They rarely ever argued and, even if they did, everything was resolved quickly in a way that left everyone happy. Even at the end of a long day when they were both tired they’d still have a sweet word or two for each other.

“Let me help you with something,” Victor said, realizing he was just standing around doing nothing.

“We’re fine here. Go look after our guest,” was his mother’s reply.

He left the kitchen, feeling more conflicted than ever.

What would his mother say if she ever found out about the bet and all the things he’d done as a result?

He remembered the way they used to punish him when he’d done something bad. He’d spend the whole day standing in a corner, his back turned to the rest of the room and everyone else would barely talk to him.

He nearly headed for a corner now.

Yuuri was still asleep on the couch, his chest rising and falling with each breath he took. There was a smile on his face and Victor wondered what he dreamt about.

The doorbell rang and Victor rushed off to answer the door before it rang again and woke Yuuri up.

“Hey, little brother!” His two brothers entered the hallway, a pair of grins on their faces.

“You’re back again?” Peter asked in surprise. “Why didn’t mom say anything?”

“Did you bring your boyfriend with you this time?” Pavel asked almost at the same time. “You know mother won’t stop –”

Victor raised a hand and motioned for them to stop talking. “He’s asleep,” he whispered.

They pulled him close, chocking him with their hugs, ruffling his hair and laughing as he tried to fix it indignantly.

“Mother can’t wait for your wedding, you know,” Peter whispered. “I think she has the whole thing planned already, down to the present she’ll get you two.”

Victor turned away and walked back to the living room, running away from the rest of the conversation before it got too far.

Still Yuuri slept on.

He knew what they would do next – gather in the living room and talk, so he reached down and picked Yuuri up with both arms as carefully as he could and carried him, blanket and all, to his bedroom where he lay Yuuri down on his bed and adjusted the blanket around him.

And Yuuri slept on.

Like Sleeping Beauty, Victor thought, brushing several strands of hair that had fallen into Yuuri’s face.

He perched on the chair in his room and waited patiently for Yuuri to wake up. Then, remembering what he’d wanted to do earlier, he moved to the bed, slipped under the blanket and in between Yuuri’s arms.

Victor closed his eyes and pressed his face against Yuuri’s chest.

He could hear Yuuri’s breathing and the sound of a muffled conversation in the living room. A car drove by outside, blasting a loud and catchy tune.

Yuuri made a soft sound and tried to turn, but Victor was in his way. His hands wrapped around Victor and pulled him closer. He mumbled something and shifted.

He was awake at last.

Victor’s heart beat faster. He moved so that he could reach Yuuri’s ear. “Hello, Sleeping Beauty,” he whispered.

“Victor… What…?”

“You fell asleep on the couch, so I took you here where you would be more comfortable.” He didn’t want to pull free, but he knew he had to. He sat up and smiled down at Yuuri. “Are you hungry?”

Yuuri’s stomach rumbled in response, making Victor giggle. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry – my parents are cooking a big feast right now.”

Yuuri sat up. “Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?”

Victor laughed and wrapped his arms around Yuuri. “Let’s go feed that hungry stomach of yours,” he whispered, sliding one hand over Yuuri’s stomach and earned another blush. He got up and helped Yuuri out of the bed, leading him into the living room by the hand while Yuuri adjusted his clothes and hair self-consciously.

As Victor had expected, the table was already set and everyone was just waiting for them to come join them. Victor’s mother hurried up to Yuuri to ask him how he was feeling and to suggest he take a shower. Victor’s father was going through the bottles of alcohol they had. Peter and Pavel were both trying to make excuses to go. They’d only dropped by to visit their parents. Their families were waiting for them.

“Just invite them here,” Victor’s mother told them over her shoulder once she managed to persuade Yuuri that everyone wasn’t hungry and could wait until he took his shower. She bustled around him, getting Victor to help her.

He’d already promised they’d both stay overnight. It looked like so would his brothers with their families.

 

That was how they ended up with an apartment full of Victor’s family (the uncles and aunts came as soon as they heard that “Victor’s nice and cute boyfriend” was back). Yuuri greeted them all by name and apologized over and over again for coming empty-handed with no presents for anyone.

They sat him down and asked him about his plans for the future. Yuuri answered as best as he could.

Victor reclined in his chair and watched Yuuri. He’d washed and dressed nicely for all the guests, reminding Victor of the way he’d looked at his birthday.

He took Yuuri’s left hand in both of his as guilt rose in his chest.

The boy cut off mid-sentence and flashed a smile at Victor.

Old uncle Borya who was the oldest relative present rose with a slight tremor in his legs. He held out his glass. “Я предлагаю тост за молодых!” he said. I propose a toast to the young couple!

Victor didn’t argue. He could pretend, couldn’t he? Where was the harm in that? He leaned closer to Yuuri and translated, “Uncle Borya wants to drink to us.”

He watched the boy rise, bow and thank the uncle over and over again, making various apologies. He didn’t realize the implications of this toast, but that didn’t matter.

They raised their glasses and Victor got up. Feeling like the biggest liar in the universe, he put his arms around Yuuri and leaned in for a kiss.

Yuuri froze in shock and then Victor felt the boy respond as his fingers trailed up Victor’s back.

His family was cheering and clapping when Victor broke the kiss. He held on to Yuuri’s hands and gazed into his eyes.

There were tears streaming down Yuuri’s face and Victor felt his blood run cold. He knows I’m just pretending.

He pulled Yuuri close and Yuuri clung on, resting his head on Victor’s shoulder.

Everyone was shouting something. Yuuri’s hold loosened and he turned to face them.

“I’m fine,” he reassured them, rubbing the tears off. “I’m just getting emotional… I had a long flight, so I’m…” He turned to look at Victor, “I really missed you,” he admitted.

Would it be too much to snatch a second kiss?

Victor didn’t dwell on the question for long and just leaned in and kissed Yuuri again.

They held hands all through the evening after that. Victor also had one arm around Yuuri. He barely ate, preferring to watch Yuuri eat and talk instead.

There was no dancing this time. Victor’s mother wouldn’t hear of it. Yuuri was too tired after his flight, she said. She also sent Yuuri and Victor to sleep early. The rest of the family was staying over and they were up late, until two or three hours of the morning, having their usual heart-to-heart conversations in the kitchen.

 

Victor sat down on the bed in the pink fuzzy pajamas he always wore at his parents’ house and pulled Yuuri down onto his lap. Yuuri got a pajama from Victor’s mom as a present for coming. It was blue and had a design similar to Victor’s.

Victor ran a hand over Yuuri’s thigh. “We’ll go somewhere special tomorrow,” he whispered, “I know just the spot. It’s my secret spot.”

Yuuri looked at him. There was an odd expression in his eyes and Victor got the feeling that he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the words. He was suddenly very scared of what the boy would say, but he could do nothing but wait to hear what it would be.

“Sounds wonderful,” the boy finally replied. He got up and walked around the bed to slip in under the blanket.

Victor hesitated before slipping in from his side. There were two pillows on his bed now and they moved to the edge of their pillows until there were only a dozen or so centimeters between them.

It was hard keeping eye contact with Yuuri. It was so hard to keep staring into those clear and honest eyes as the guilt built up in his stomach.

Victor reached out without looking and took Yuuri’s hands.

Something in Yuuri’s gaze trembled.

“I’m right here,” Victor whispered.

Yuuri moved closer. He was still so tired. His eyelids dropped heavily, his whole body relaxed and he fell asleep.

Victor wished he was that tired. All sorts of unwanted thoughts went through his brain and he turned the nastiest of them over and over in his mind. This could’ve been different. This could’ve been better. He could’ve proposed to Yuuri in front of his family. Yuuri could’ve been here as his fiancé and not sort of boyfriend.

He sighed and turned over onto his back, his hands still holding Yuuri’s.

He stared up at the ceiling as the murmuring in the kitchen reached his ears.

Yuuri shifted in his sleep. Victor pulled him closer and Yuuri’s head dropped onto Victor’s chest, his hair tickling the bottom of Victor’s neck.

Yuuri’s arms slipped around Victor. He was clinging on really tightly in his sleep.

Victor found himself planning their day together, forgetting that they had practice the next day. He imagined them walking along the Neva River, stopping to admire the gold spire on the Peter and Paul Cathedral, or the two Rostral Columns, or, if they crossed the river, then the Hermitage and the Admiralty building. They could take photos in front of the…

 

Morning came. The sun threw rays of bright light into the room, but his eyes were still closed and he wasn’t going to open them yet.

Someone was pressing tender kisses to his face and pulling fingers through his hair. “Victor…” the person whispered.

I wish I could start again, Victor thought. I wish I could go back to that evening, go up to you and have the same stupid conversation, go to dinner and… And do everything right this time. Take my time, make you fall in love slowly and deeply. Like in the movies. But all I have is this time I’m borrowing from the rest of the universe.

He managed to get enough strength to open his eyes and saw Yuuri’s face leaning over him.

“Good morning,” Yuuri said with a smile. Was there still pain in his eyes? Was there sadness in his voice?

Victor slid his thumb over Yuuri’s cheek.

 He was so beautiful. With the warm sunlight illuminating his face and hair at just the right angle he looked as if he’d stepped out of a painting.

Forget it all, bury it all in the past, a voice whispered in the back of his mind.

The sound of a conversation in the kitchen reached his ears, but it was just loud enough to make out the voices, but not enough to distinguish a single word.

And then his mother turned the radio on and a song swept into their room, taking them both by surprise.

Time, it needs time

To win back your love again.

I will be there. I will be there.

Love, only love

Can bring back your love someday.

I will be there. I will be there.

Yuuri pressed his lips against Victor’s as his arms slipped under Victor’s back. He climbed over Victor, pressing his hips against Victor’s. Victor held Yuuri’s face with both hands. He knew he should be letting go and helping Yuuri out of his clothes, even if this was his parents’ apartment and his door didn’t lock.

Yuuri’s fingers caught the bottom of Victor’s pajama top and tugged it up.

He should’ve gone to sleep naked. It would’ve been much easier now. Yuuri wouldn’t have had to struggle with his pajama through their kiss.

Yuuri broke the kiss and pulled Victor’s shirt off in one movement of his hands. He sat up and took his own shirt off.

Still the radio played on. The singer promised his lover that things would be better, that they could start again, that he knew where he’d gone wrong.

If we’d go again

All the way from the start,

I would try to change

Things that killed our love.

Your pride has built a wall, so strong

That I can’t get through.

Is there really no chance

To start once again?

I’m loving you

Victor tugged at Yuuri’s pants as Yuuri did the same with Victor’s, getting in each other’s way. They laughed and Victor sat up. Yuuri pressed his forehead against Victor’s as they went on laughing. The next few minutes were full of hot breath, a few stray giggles, Yuuri’s shining eyes and pajamas that just refused to come off.

Ah! Finally!

Victor, free of all clothes, tumbled back onto his pillow. Yuuri climbed off and went to rummage in his things.

Victor closed his eyes. “You don’t have to…” he whispered.

He felt the bed lower under Yuuri’s weight and Yuuri leaned close to whisper, “Do you want me to…?”

“Yes.”

He turned over. Maybe it was unfair of him to get Yuuri to do everything. Maybe he was just spoiled. Maybe instead of letting (and enjoying) Yuuri work him open he should’ve been the one on top, the one making Yuuri moan, like he was doing, and plead for more, like he was doing.

They will hear! He remembered, dropping his sweaty forehead onto the pillow and stifling the next moan that rose in his throat. Just breathe.

But how could he breathe when he could feel Yuuri’s fingers on his skin and Yuuri’s thighs against his own?

The song played on, getting louder. Did someone turn the volume up or was it Victor’s imagination?

Yes, I’ve hurt your pride, and I know

What you’ve been through.

You should give me a chance.

This can’t be the end.

I’m still loving you.

Yuuri moved forward.

Still loving you, the song insisted.

There came the first push, uncertain as if Yuuri was testing the way.

I need your love.

Victor gasped and tightened his grip on the bedsheets. He wanted to say Yuuri’s name, but he was afraid he would be heard, even with the music.

The bed gave a gentle creak and Victor cursed mentally.

Yuuri went still and then he reached down and pressed a kiss to the middle of Victor’s back. He trailed his fingers over Victor’s skin as he moved away. There was a wonderful moment as his thighs slid against Victor’s once more and then he was lying on the bed next to Victor.

Victor raised his head and looked at Yuuri.

The sunlight fell onto his chest and stomach. Victor’s gaze travelled down, lingered for a moment, and then went back up past the stomach and chest that rose and fell as Yuuri gasped for air.

Sweat trickled down his neck. His cheeks were flushed. But there was a happy sparkle in his eyes.

The breath caught in Victor’s throat. In the golden light of the room, Yuuri glowed. His whole body radiated that comfortable, almost sticky, warmth of a lazy summer day.

Victor took Yuuri’s hand and pressed it to his lips. “How do you feel about some breakfast, Yuuri?”

Yuuri smiled.

Victor trailed a finger over the boy’s nose. “After such a rigorous exercise you need to restore your strength.”

“I wouldn’t call it rigorous!” Yuuri protested and blushed.

“Oh?” Victor folded his arms and propped himself up. “You mean you could’ve tried harder?”

“Stop it!” Yuuri put his hands over his face and laughed.

And Victor let himself laugh too.

Afterwards they had one of the best breakfasts of Victor’s life.

Victor’s family watched in amusement as Victor showed Yuuri the correct way to eat Russian pancakes: with sour cream and sugar.

Victor rested his chin in his hand. He wished he could spend the whole day with just Yuuri for company, but there was World’s coming up and, well…

His smile drained from his face. There was the other thing to worry about, much more than he worried about World’s, definitely.

“Let’s meet up for lunch today,” Victor suggested. “We can go somewhere nice.”

He’d found a different skating rink for Yuuri to train in, knowing all too well the fuss Yakov would kick up if he brought Yuuri to his rink. Besides, he reasoned, if he got Yuuri to come all this way, the least he could do was find a place for him to train without any interruptions.

Yuuri smiled and gave a nod.

Unable to help himself, Victor reached out and trailed his fingers over Yuuri’s cheek. “I’ll miss you,” he admitted. I’ll miss you every day you’re gone. But, maybe, after enough time passes I will get used to the pain. He was sure the pain would never leave, no matter what people said about time healing everything.

He dropped his head onto Yuuri’s shoulder.

 

Lunchtime came and Victor left his skating rink, laughing and exchanging jokes with the other figure skaters. They gathered in the change room and made plans for eating out together before coming back for an afternoon of more training.

Victor was the only one who stayed silent throughout this conversation.

“Where are you off to?” Mila asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye that promised to misinterpret Victor’s answer, no matter what it was.

“I have a date,” he told her.

Yuri scowled, but didn’t say anything.

Victor made the mistake of taking on a big brother tone and saying, “Don’t be upset, Yuri, one day you’ll go on a nice date too, I’m sure!”

Yuri muttered, “And when I do, my date will know I’m serious and not just messing with them.”

Victor froze. He didn’t dare say anything to that. Somehow Yuri saw straight through him and didn’t approve.

I have a date, he tried to tell himself, with wonderful Yuuri!

Wonderful Yuuri who doesn’t deserve any of this, his conscience supplied.

“And if I was unlucky enough to be called Yuuri Katsuki,” Yuri added, stepping closer, “I would’ve twisted your neck by now.” He stormed off without bothering to wait for Victor’s response.

Victor stood rooted to the spot for several minutes, unable to do or say anything.

Then he remembered: it was time for lunch and Yuuri was waiting for him.

And Victor ran, but he couldn’t help the feeling that he was running from, not running to.

He got his car, picked Yuuri up and then drove them both to one of the parks in the city.

Yuuri looked around in surprise as Victor got out of the car and circled around to his door. “I thought you meant we’d go to a restaurant,” he said.

Victor opened the door for him and held out his hand. “We are in a restaurant.”

Yuuri took Victor’s hand and stepped out with a laugh.

Victor closed the door behind him, walked around and opened the car’s trunk to take something out.

“That’s my present!” Yuuri exclaimed.

And it was. Victor held up the picnic basket, which Yuuri had bought for his birthday, with a smile. “Let’s find a good spot.”

It was the middle of the day on a Wednesday and, apart from a couple of old grannies sitting on park benches, they didn’t see anyone else. They had the whole park all to themselves.

It didn’t take long to find the perfect place – a patch of grass in the shade of a few trees – and spread the blanket out.

Victor put the basket down and opened it to demonstrate all the food he’d packed for their trip.

“When did you make all this?” Yuuri asked in amazement.

Victor handed him a plate with a fork. “It’s all leftovers from yesterday,” he admitted.

He’d even brought a bottle of wine and two glasses.

No leftovers ever tasted as good as they did in that afternoon. They got through several boxes of food and lay down on the blanket, close enough for their shoulders to touch. The wind blew through the leaves, the sun shone from above and the birds sang. It was so wonderful.

Victor closed his eyes and took Yuuri’s hand.

“I just realized,” Yuuri said softly.

“Hmm?”

“You stopped…” Yuuri cut off sharply and pretended to cough. “Never mind.”

Victor opened his eyes and turned to look at Yuuri, but a view of the skater’s profile didn’t tell him anything. He sat up. “What? What did I stop?”

Yuuri blushed. “You’re not calling me “sugar muffin” anymore.”

“Oh.” Victor turned away and pulled up his legs to rest his arms on his knees. Because it’s an awful pet name. I have no idea how you put up with it all this time. He reached out and plucked a strand of grass and fiddled with it absent-mindedly.

Yuuri sat up. “What’s wrong?” he whispered.

“Are you happy, Yuuri?” Victor asked, staring at the blade of grass in his hands.

“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Because of me, why else?

Guilt nagged at him, reminding him that he was stealing happiness from someone else who deserved it more than he did, that Yuuri really needed to find a different person.

Yuuri put his hands around Victor and pressed a kiss against his cheek. “What’s wrong?” he whispered softly.

“Nothing,” Victor lied.

“Are you happy, Victor?”

He turned to smile at Yuuri. “I am.” For now…

“I’m glad.”

He was so sweet and so innocent! He didn’t deserve any of this. Victor stared down at the blade of grass. Even if he had treated Yuuri well, he wouldn’t have deserved Yuuri’s feelings.

There was a darkness in his heart that consumed everything.

Yuuri was still holding on to him. He pressed a kiss against Victor’s shoulder.

“I…” Victor began and bit the rest of the sentence back. Not now, not when everything was so perfect! “Thank you,” he whispered.

He could feel Yuuri peering into his face, as if he was looking for something there. Victor pretended to be interested in his blade of grass and said nothing.

“Let’s go somewhere together after World’s,” Yuuri said, putting on a cheerful tone that was almost convincing. “We can go travelling in France, or in Spain. I’ve always wanted to go on a long trip with… with someone close to me.”

He needed to smile and agree. He needed to go along with this.

Keep Yuuri happy, that was the plan, but how could he do it, if he knew this was it?

“Yeah…” he said. He reached out, took one of Yuuri’s hands and held it to his lips. “We’ll go anywhere you like,” he whispered once he could bring himself to let Yuuri’s hand go.

“Where do you want to go?” Yuuri asked.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Victor said and he could look Yuuri in the eye now. Now that he was actually saying the truth, even if Yuuri didn’t realize what he’d meant. He smiled. “Let’s go wherever you decide. We can go to France and Spain, if you like.”

 

It wasn’t easy to get up, fold everything away and drive Yuuri to the skating rink again. They would see each other later, he told himself. It was just for a few hours.

But he felt as if he was separating from Yuuri for an entire lifetime.

Evening found the two of them with Victor’s parents again. This time there were only four people in that apartment.

Despite all the protests from Victor’s parents, Yuuri helped around in the kitchen and set the table. Victor joined him and got his parents to sit at the table and wait.

They busied themselves in the kitchen, bumping elbows and making jokes. Without even thinking about it, they slipped into flirting with each other. Yuuri raised a spoonful of something he was making, intending to try it, when Victor leaned over and caught it with his mouth, his arms circling around Yuuri’s waist.

He held Yuuri close and watched him blush and stammer his way through his words.

Both of his parents later agreed that it was a very delicious dinner and… Well, they must’ve said something else, but Victor watched Yuuri the whole evening. He couldn’t get enough of his face.

It was the reason why, when they returned to his bedroom at last, Victor lay Yuuri down on his back with great care and climbed over him.

This time there was no music, but Yuuri’s gasps and moans. Instead of the sun, the light of a streetlamp illuminated the room. It was cold at first, but he had Yuuri to keep him warm.

It was much, much later, not that night and not even the following night, but on the night before they would take the overnight train to Moscow, that he realized how strange it was to make love to Yuuri over and over again in this room, where he’d been a little kid once, where he’d spent hours reading books about honour and love, where he’d imagined a knight coming and rescuing him.

The thought bothered him for a long time after Yuuri fell asleep at his side. When Victor drifted off at last he dreamt he in a tall tower and Yuuri, dressed in a knight’s armour and sitting on top of a white horse (which was named Makkachin, for some reason), was trying to get inside the tower. He couldn’t remember what the magic word to get in was, while Victor watched impassively. Victor felt as if there was something he was supposed to do that was very important, but, for some reason, he couldn’t remember what it was.

 

They stood on the platform of the Moskovsky railway station with their things. Victor’s mother had her arms around Yuuri in a tight embrace.

“Come visit us again, Yurochka,” she said, “promise me.”

He nodded, looking a little embarrassed.

“Take care of each other,” Victor’s father said to them both and, once Victor’s mother released Yuuri, hugged both figure skaters.

Victor’s mother caught Victor in a tight embrace next and held on for a very long time. “Viten’ka,” she whispered into his ear, “take care of yourself and call me once you arrive in Moscow.”

“But, mother, it will be really early,” he protested.

“That’s not important,” she told him. Then she pulled away and looked at him. “I need to know you got there safely.”

She always said this. Every goodbye at the station, or at the airport was the same. For some reason this time he felt tears rise to his eyes. “I’ll call, mother,” he promised.

She pulled him into a second embrace. “I love you,” she whispered, “remember that. And remember that I’m not the only person who loves you.”

He nodded. There was a lump in his throat that made talking impossible.

Finally she released him. She gave both figure skaters a kiss on the cheek and walked them to their carriage.

Victor had taken the St. Petersburg-Moscow train many times and was used to taking the sleeping compartment and sleeping the whole way. What he wasn’t used to, however, was taking the train with someone else.

He and Yuuri got the bottom two bunks and, by the oddest of chances, the top two remained empty.

As soon as the train started moving and they got their tickets checked, they changed into pajamas and lay down in their bunks.

“Good night,” Yuuri said and reached out for Victor’s hand.

“Good night,” he said, taking it and not letting go.

They held on for the entire trip to Moscow.

Their week together in St. Petersburg was over. It was time for one last attempt to get Yuuri to leave him.

But he’d tried everything he could think of and, still, nothing worked. This meant there was only one weapon left for him to use: the truth.

Chapter Text

It was time to determine the world’s best figure skater (or, in the words of the other figure skaters, “time to determine the world’s second best figure skater”). The time for guesses, bets and speculations on what would happen at the World Figure Skating Championship had ended.

The press, having worked out their predictions for the podium, lost interest in speculating very quickly and opted instead for doing what it did best – gossiping.

What shocking photo did Phichit Chulanont post on his account this time? Who was Christophe Giacometti dating now? Did Yuri Plisetsky get into another fight? And how were things between Victor Nikiforov and Yuuri Katsuki?

The press found out about the week in St. Petersburg and interviewed both skaters in hopes of getting more details.

“You stayed in the apartment of Victor Nikiforov’s parents? Interesting.”

“So tell us, Mr. Nikiforov, are there plans for a wedding?”

Both skaters were at a loss for answers.

What sort of answers was the press expecting, anyway?

It wasn’t long before every figure skater from the top ten was asked what they thought of Yuuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov’s relationship. They all gave the most diplomatic answers they could think of and only Yuri Plisetsky answered, “It’s all a lie.” He walked away before they could ask him what he meant by that.

The press naturally assumed that Yuri Plisetsky’s opinion of love was that it was a lie and thought no more of his answer, opting instead for interviewing Victor and Yuuri again.

They liked the image they got in the end: the lonely living legend finally found his true love in a long-time fan and super talented figure skater. And what could be better than two people head over heels in love with each other?

 

It was time for morning practice and Yuuri and Victor exited onto the ice, hand in hand. Practice very quickly turned into… well, if not a competition, then two mating dances aimed at each other.

“Watch me spin,” Victor seemed to say as he circled Yuuri once and went into a spin.

“Watch me do the Ina Bauer,” was Yuuri’s response.

“Well, here’s a triple axel just for you.”

“Here’s a quad salchow, dear.”

Jump followed jump and it didn’t matter that Yakov was yelling as if he was about to burst, or that Celestino was looking on disapprovingly and grumbling, looking ready to join Yakov any minute.

Victor caught Yuuri’s hand and they made one lap around the rink together.

For one very wild instant it seemed to everyone who was watching that Victor was about to lift Yuuri as if they were an ice dancing pair and not two figure skaters competing against each other.

“Oi! Victor!” Yuri shouted. “Cut the lovey-dovey crap! If you’re not going to compete then get out of the way of those who will!”

Victor and Yuuri let each other go and looked away in embarrassment. Somehow they’d managed to forget about everyone around else around them. They went around the rink, in opposite directions and met up on the other side.

“I think it’s so sweet!” Georgi said, joining his hands.

Yuri rolled his eyes. “Of course you think it’s sweet,” the skater grumbled. He’d long since given up on Georgi, dismissing him as a hopeless case that couldn’t be fixed by shouting. But Victor… Victor was the living legend and should’ve known better.

 

“Hello, everyone! Tonight we’re speaking to you live from the World Figure Skating Championship here in Moscow! Tonight’s lineup of figure skaters is a very impressive one indeed. After a season full of excitement and two broken world records we all want to know what World’s will bring us this year,” one of the commentators announced.

“Yes, of course!” his partner piped in. “And – well, let’s be honest – the thing most talked about this season is the relationship between Victor Nikiforov, who everyone is sure will win gold here, and Yuuri Katsuki, who everyone expects to win silver.”

“Let’s talk about Yuuri Katsuki. This season we saw him…”

They went on about his accomplishments, then about Victor’s, and finally asked the big question the press had somehow skipped:

“With both of them being such talented figure skaters you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t start going out earlier. Why did they only notice each other now? What brought them together?”

 

The first group was already out on the ice and everyone else was getting ready to go. Everyone except Victor.

The living legend stood against a wall and watched Yuuri stretch, feeling the guilt build up in his stomach drop by drop. Everything inside him screamed and protested.

No more waiting. He had to tell Yuuri the truth now.

Yuuri raised his head, an expression of strong determination on his face and Victor’s resolve faltered. Could he really say it now?

“Yuuri!” a voice called and they were joined by Phichit. He gave Victor an odd look and then smiled at Yuuri. “Good luck today!” he said.

Victor watched Yuuri nod and hug his friend. He couldn’t see his face, but Yuuri’s tone was cheerful when he wished Phichit luck as well.

Chris arrived next. He teased Yuuri and made jokes about the competition. Then he teased Victor.

They all talked to each other, but Victor felt left out of the group, as if they only really talked to him out of politeness. But, no, that was just his imagination. Wasn’t it? Did they all know about what he’d done and were they all trying to distance themselves from him?

A voice that reared its ugly head from time to time whispered, “They all hate you. They don’t want to be around you.” And he believed it.

The second group went…

The third…

Skaters threw hostile looks at him. When he went to the bathroom, someone knocked against him and didn’t apologize.

They all hated him and didn’t want him there.

It was getting close to his turn and then, once again, he’d go out on the ice, once again, Yakov would lecture him, once again, he’d give a flawless performance, and once again he’d take gold.

Take it away from everyone else. Take it away from Yuuri.

And then Yuuri would really learn to hate him, because who could stand a boyfriend that beat them effortlessly when they put in everything they had?

He remembered a conversation he’d overheard once between two figure skaters. One of them complained about how unfair it was that some people needed lots of practice, while others could rely on talent. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t exactly true, but that’s how it would always appear in their eyes.

The world was so dark and cold.

“Victor?”

He raised his eyes and stared up into Yuuri’s face.

Where was he? Victor looked around in confusion and tried to understand why he was sitting in a chair in the corner.

“Are you alright?” Yuuri asked.

I’m not. Everyone hates me, but I never cared for that. I care that one day you will hate me and when that day comes I won’t know what to do. He gave Yuuri a helpless look. “Not really,” he admitted and realized with a shock that the truth was starting to spill out of him at last.

Yuuri got a chair and sat down next to him. For a while, they were both silent.

The instinct of self-preservation is there to keep people safe, make them run from a dangerous situation, make them hide when they can no longer hide, and make them fight when they can no longer hide.

But Victor was led on by self-destruction.

Say it now, a voice whispered. Say it already! End it all. Stop dragging it out.

Perhaps if he said it now, when he appeared so weak and helpless, he would be forgiven and then everything would be alright again. No, it would be even better!

The truth rose to his lips, all there and ready for him to say.

He laughed. “You’d think someone like me wouldn’t get nervous before a competition.” He rose to his feet and turned to Yuuri with a smile. “You better watch out because I’ll beat you!”

Yuuri gave him a long sad look that made Victor uneasy.

He turned away as Yuuri got up and then he felt the boy take his hand. “Let’s go,” he said.

This was his last competition with a boyfriend at his side. More than that, this was his last day with a boyfriend and, so, what did it matter if Yakov yelled and got upset? And if the ISU decided to disqualify him it didn’t matter either – it was, after all, no less than what he deserved.

He pulled Yuuri close, brushed a lock of hair out of his way and kissed the side of his face. “My dear Yuuri…” he whispered into the boy’s ear.

Yuuri, sweet, innocent Yuuri, turned his head and caught Victor’s mouth in a kiss. His fingers slipped into Victor’s hair.

 

Finally it was time for the last group to go out on the ice.

“Although probability means any skater can win, we expect one of these men you see out on the ice to be the one to take home gold,” the commentator said. “All bets are on Victor Nikiforov. What do you think?” He turned to his partner.

“I think Yuuri Katsuki’s chances are equally good and, well, let’s be honest, both Jean-Jacques Leroy and Yuri Plisetsky have done incredibly well this season and both are favourites, if not for the coveted gold medal, then for the silver one for sure! And then, of course, there’s the “dark horse” – Otabek Altin of Kazakhstan.” Both commentators laughed. “So let’s sit back, enjoy the show, and wish all the skaters luck!”

For a while both commentators were silent and then the first one said, “I wonder what Yuuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov would’ve been like as an ice dancing pair. Do you see the way they keep looking at each other? Even their warmup feels like a routine done together, as if they rehearsed it before coming here.”

“Do you think the rumours are true?”

“Which ones? That we’ll get a happy announcement before the end of the week?”

“No, no. That they’re doing a pair skate for their exhibition skate?”

“I heard they barely practiced together, so I don’t know about that.” The commentator sighed. “But, like I said, I would be glad to see it.”

 

Victor circled Yuuri with a smile and got a kiss blown at him for his efforts. He avoided the other skaters without thinking, and wished with every fibre of his being that it was only Yuuri and him out on the ice.

The last minutes of happiness slipped through his fingers like sand and they had to leave the ice before he was ready for everything to be over.

He walked off the ice, put his skate guards on and Yuuri wrapped an arm around him to pull him off to one side.

“Victor,” Yuuri whispered. Victor held his breath, waiting for more, but no other words followed the sound of his name.

He lowered his head onto Yuuri’s shoulder.

“I’m right here,” Yuuri whispered.

But not for long. He was so terrified that he was shaking. I can’t say it. I just can’t.

“Please…”

Please what? Please let me go? What do you want Yuuri? Please tell me what it is and I’ll do my best to give it to you. He closed his eyes and waited for Yuuri to say something.

Seconds ticked away and Yuuri was silent.

Victor listened to his own heart beat fast. No, I was wrong. Whatever it is, I doubt I can give it to you.

Yuuri kissed Victor’s hand. “Will you make love to me tonight?” he finally asked.

Victor raised his head and looked into Yuuri’s eyes. “Yuuri, I…”

Loud cheers interrupted him and he turned around in surprise only to discover that the audience was cheering for Otabek who’d just finished his short program.

Yuuri’s hand was around Victor, pulling him closer.

On the ice Otabek was replaced by the Russian Yuri and everyone was cheering for him now.

They announced Otabek’s scores and another, louder, cheer filled the air.

“What did you want to say?” Yuuri asked.

“I…”

“Representing Russia – Yuri Plisetsky!”

The audience screamed his name. Some squealed, some shouted something else. Yuri was very popular, Victor remembered and a smile appeared briefly on his lips. There had been a time once when he oversaw Yuri’s growth as a figure skater, thinking of him as a younger brother.

“Can you tell me later?” Yuuri asked, bringing him back to the here and now.

He nodded. Yuuri was up next and then it would be his turn, so it only made sense to leave it all for later.

So he hung on to Yuuri while he still could. He had one arm around the boy’s shoulders and his face buried in his neck.

“Yuuri! Yuuri!” It was Celestino coming to break them up and put an end to even these few moments of happiness.

“I…”

Victor pulled away as soon as he heard Yuuri hesitate. He knew the boy was about to argue with his coach. He stepped away and smiled. “It’s almost your turn.”

Yuuri nodded, threw a look at Celestino and then took Victor by the hands, bringing Victor close enough for Yuuri to kiss him on the cheek.

He walked off after that, getting ready to go out on the ice as soon as Yuri stepped off.

A cheer went up, marking the end of Yuri’s skate and Yuuri was out on the ice.

Victor put a hand over his cheek and watched Celestino talk to Yuuri. The skater nodded with a grave look on his face.

What were the scores? Who was in the lead? Victor didn’t know and he didn’t care. But he did know that Yuuri was out there and ready to skate.

Victor rushed to Celestino’s side, nearly falling over and caught Yuuri’s hand. “Dear Yuuri,” he said and kissed Yuuri’s knuckles.

The crowd went wild.

“Don’t take your eyes off me,” Yuuri said.

“Representing Japan – Yuuri Katsuki!”

He let Yuuri go and watched him skate away as if Yuuri was leaving never to return.

There was Eros – at the centre of the ice, poised to go as soon as the music would start. There was Victor’s whole world.

The intro played and Victor watched with his mouth slightly open as Yuuri, burning with fire and energy, blew him a kiss and skated a promise to seduce the man he loved.

“Go, Yuuri!” Celestino yelled and Victor became very conscious how close the coach was standing next to him.

What would Celestino do if Victor told him how he’d toyed with his pupil’s heart?

Yuuri jumped perfectly and a chant started in the audience.

Briefly, Victor glanced at them. Sure enough, the Chad-Brad Hockey Team was there again to support their favourite skater.

“Yuuri! Yuuri!” they chanted. It was almost hypnotic and most of the crowd was picking up on it. Even Victor’s lips were mouthing along with the chant.

“Yuuri! Yuuri!”

He shone under the lights, drawing everyone in, making it impossible to look away. Victor’s heart beat faster. What sort of person could hope to deserve the man out on the ice?

The chant got louder, charging the air with energy. What words could describe that energy? What words could describe the electric charge that passed through Victor’s spine at the sight of that step sequence? Or how his heart thumped at the expression on Yuuri’s face when he thought back to Yuuri’s request?

He finished triumphantly, burning like a little flame, too hot to touch.

“Yuuri!” Victor was out on the ice, unable to resist the pull any longer. He caught Yuuri by the hands and leaned close. He’d intended to kiss him, but Yuuri moved in for the kiss as well and they ended up rubbing their noses together instead.

The audience was loving every minute.

“Go,” Victor said, pulling away. “It’s my turn now.”

Yuuri hesitated and headed for the kiss and cry where Celestino was waiting for him. Celestino sat with his arms crossed. He said something to Yuuri that made his face turn bright red, but both the coach and the skater were smiling.

Only then did Victor remember that he had a coach as well. He searched around for him with his eyes and found the man by the boards, looking resigned. He’d given up on fighting against Victor. It was just a waste of time.

It was too late to go to Yakov and listen to his lecture and, besides, it would just be wasted on him.

Victor got into his initial position and waited for his music to begin.

“I return there, to the sea of lights,

“I return again with that yearning of mine.

“The lights flood the stage, the fanfares blast!

“The audience awaits, be braver, acrobat!

 “I play with death,” He jumped the first quad of his program and the audience cheered, “brave and daring is my trick.”

“Everything goes still, everything goes silent.

“Hearing the violin play, the women in the lodges sigh,

“They’ll say with a smile – what a brave jester.”

He skated the routine the way he always did – like someone who was tired of it all. His head and shoulders were lowered, his movements felt heavy right up until the jumps.

He was wearing a black mask that was tied at the back. He’d smiled darkly when he’d put it on this time – he didn’t need an actual mask to remind him of the one he always wore to hide his feelings, but he wore it anyway.

The music grew calmer and he let it lead him. The music knew best.

“And bouquets rain down on the circus ring.

“The performance ends and the lights switch off,

“But there is no one by my side.”

But there was, or had been at one time. He realized with a pang that he was already thinking of his and Yuuri’s relationship as something in the past. Dragging it out any longer was just lying to everyone, he told himself.

“The flowers drop their petals onto the sand,

“No one knows how lonely my path is.

“Through snow and wind lies my way,

“With no one’s window to light me the way.”

He thought how different he’d felt about this song when he’d picked it almost a whole year ago. He’d started the season thinking how lonely he was and how sorry he felt for himself. Here he was now – convinced that he deserved it. He remembered wishing that someone was by his side to care for him, but now…

He was a liar.

“I’m tried of warming myself by someone else’s fire.”

Nothing more than a liar.

“Where is the heart that will love mine?”

And a liar didn’t deserve love.

“I live without tenderness, hiding my pain.”

Especially the love of someone as wonderful as Yuuri.

“To always wear a mask – that is my fate!”

The last element was a sit spin from which he rose as the music ended, but, instead of just freezing in the final position, he grabbed his mask and tossed it onto the ice, freezing with his arm outstretched.

It was over. It was done.

No, it wasn’t done yet, but he would finish it.

“We love you, Victor!” someone screamed.

He raised his head and waved with a smile as if it was all still fine and nothing was wrong at all. His life wasn’t falling apart at all. He was just playing a role, just telling a lie.

They tossed him flowers and toys. Something fell on the ice in front of him and he stared at it for several seconds before he figured out what it was.

It was a stuffed toy of Yuuri.

Even the fans know that I toyed with Yuuri’s heart. I’m just a liar and nothing more than that. But he picked it up and clutched it close to his chest. Then he bowed to show his thanks, as if he hadn’t understood the hint.

He was ready for Yakov’s lecture now. He didn’t care what his scores would be, or what place they would give him after the short program. He turned and saw that there were two people waiting for him in the kiss and cry.

Yuuri was there with a smile on his face.

Never before had Victor rushed to the kiss and cry with such joy.

He was a liar.

“Yuuri!”

He was just a liar and didn’t deserve any of this.

The boy accepted him into his embrace. “They didn’t want to let me stay at first, but I changed their minds,” he told Victor softly, talking into his hair and rubbing a hand over his back.

He didn’t deserve any of this, not one single second.

“Oh, Yuuri…”

“That was amazing, Victor! I cried at the end!”

They pulled apart and Victor saw the tears on Yuuri’s face.

He’d made Yuuri cry. And he would keep making Yuuri cry. He was a liar and deserved none –

“Let’s go get your scores,” Yuuri said. He took Victor to the bench and sat him down. His eyes were on Victor’s face. “Are you alright?” he whispered softly.

“I…”

He was a liar.

Victor lowered his head. The weight of all the lies was getting heavier with each second.

“And the scores for Victor Nikiforov are…” There was that pause that usually made his heart flutter nervously in his chest. This time he didn’t even listen.

He looked into Yuuri’s face. The boy was more nervous than he was. Of course he was – this would determine his placing as well. Would Yuuri end up in second place as a result of Victor’s score, or would he keep his first place?

Victor forgot about the scores for a second. He stared at Yuuri’s features, committing them all to memory – just how brown the eyes were, the shape of his face, the line of his nose and the curve of his mouth.

“Victor!” Yuuri exclaimed.

He turned away reluctantly and gave the scoreboard an impassive look. He was in first place after all.

“Victor, congratulations!” Yuuri leaned close and kissed Victor’s cheek.

Why? Why are you so happy? I beat you, just like I beat everyone else. You should be the one beating me. You actually care about the scores. I’m not even sure what I’m doing here.

Yuuri’s arms were around Victor.

You should hate me, just like all the other figure skaters do.

But no, Yuuri was only showering him with more affection. The audience cheered, as if it didn’t know how to do anything else.

Yakov was saying something too, but Victor had no idea what it was.

He needed to say it. Victor clutched the toy of Yuuri tighter and licked his dry lips. “I need to tell you something, Yuuri.”

“Alright,” Yuuri said into his ear. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

He remembered about all the cameras and microphones in the kiss and cry, and nodded.

They rose to their feet and walked out. Yakov grumbled something that could’ve been “come back soon”, or could’ve been something else. Victor didn’t care.

It wasn’t easy to find somewhere empty where it would be just the two of them – every room seemed to be packed with skaters. They all turned their backs on Victor and greeted Yuuri with a smile.

They all hated him and soon Yuuri would too.

He needs to hate me. He needs to see that I don’t deserve his feelings. I don’t deserve his love.

Finally they found a little empty room. Yuuri walked in first and Victor closed the door behind them.

“What is it?” Yuuri asked.

Victor stood with his back to Yuuri for several seconds, as if he was inspecting the door. Finally he turned around to face Yuuri with a smile.

“I haven’t been honest with you all this time,” he began. “You see, Chris and I had a bet…” He hesitated and saw the expression on Yuuri’s face.

What was it? Was it pity? Was it forgiveness?

He had an image then of what would happen next. He would tell Yuuri the truth about the bet, about pushing him away and explain his strange behaviour. And Yuuri would forgive him.

For some reason that was worse than Yuuri hating him.

How can you forgive me when I can’t even forgive myself?

So he opened his mouth and added another lie to the pile of lies. “We bet that I would make you fall in love with me,” he said, the smile spreading wider. “Maybe Chris had other ideas, but I thought it was funny and figured that I might as well go along with it.”

Yuuri opened his mouth, but said nothing.

“So, you see, I was never serious about any of this.” It took a lot of effort to keep smiling and hold the tears back. “I was never interested in you. I just thought it would be funny to play a lovesick fool.”

Yuuri lowered his head.

Victor stood still and waited, although god only knew what he was waiting for. What could Yuuri say to a confession like this?

Yuuri raised his head and Victor saw that his eyes were full of tears.

“It’s been going on long enough,” Victor said, turning his back on Yuuri. “I’m tired of this charade. It’s done. I’m done.”

He opened the door and walked out.

Chapter Text

“It’s done.”

Yuuri dropped to his knees on the floor, burying his face in his hands as Victor’s voice echoed inside his head.

“I’m tired of this charade.”

He put his hands over his ears, as if it would somehow stop the voice from echoing in his head.

After all that had happened between them, why lie like this?

A sob escaped his chest. He’d tried to cry quietly, but it broke free from his lips anyway. He clutched his fists to his heart and let the tears fall onto the floor. It wasn’t comfortable to fold over like this while in his skates, but he didn’t care. What did pain on the outside matter when there was a bigger pain inside?

“Charade…” Victor’s voice echoed, as if mocking him. “Chris and I had a bet…”

He knew about the bet. After the Four Continents Championship Phichit confessed to the idea he and Chris had of setting them up together. Phichit had called Chris and both skaters confessed and apologized together. Chris was convinced that making the same bet with Victor as Phichit did with Yuuri wouldn’t help, so he set up an opposite bet. He was sure that if Victor tried to win Yuuri over, he wouldn’t fall in love.

Love!

Yuuri laughed darkly. What did Phichit or even Chris know about love?

And, come to think of it, what did either of them know about Victor?

He didn’t believe Victor’s confession for a minute, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. Why lie about something like this? Why push Yuuri away anyway?

It made no sense.

He’d been shocked by what he’d learned about Victor over the past four months. He, Yuuri, was a figure skater who knew about public images and even he had been taken in by Victor’s public image. How did Victor keep smiling with such a deep hole in his heart?

“I just thought it would be funny to play a lovesick fool.”

Play a lovesick fool? No one could play that convincingly all the time.

Yuuri remembered the way Victor clung on in his sleep, or the expression in his eyes when he’d asked Yuuri to stay with him on their first night.

He didn’t get to dwell long on it, however. A voice cut into his thoughts, shouting his name.

They were looking for him.

Yuuri got up awkwardly and made a few steps to the door.

There would probably be a press conference and…

He didn’t want to see anyone. Would it be possible to slip away? He peered out into the hall and nearly bumped into the Russian Yuri.

The skater gave him a long, sour look. “Come here,” he said at last and dragged Yuuri off before he could protest.

After a few turns and before Yuuri could collect his thoughts enough to ask where they were going, they came to the men’s bathroom where Yuri dragged him to the first sink.

“Your eyes are all red,” he muttered, but there was no disgust in his voice. There was just a deep sadness.

Yuuri walked up to the sink to wash them, but Yuri barred his way.

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” he admitted. “I’ve been watching that idiot for a while now and I had a feeling something like this would happen.” He stared down at his feet and swore. “That bastard isn’t worth anyone’s time. That’s what I was trying to tell you earlier, but you didn’t seem to get it. Maybe that’s my fault for not explaining myself clearly enough, I don’t know.”

More tears came and Yuuri lowered his head.

“Oh, come on!” Yuri dragged Yuuri forward and turned the tap on. He bent Yuuri’s face down and scooped up some water with his hand. “Come on, you need to wash your face and stop crying for that stupid idiot!”

It was an odd feeling – getting Yuri Plisetsky himself to wash his, Yuuri’s, face, but Yuuri said nothing about it. He expected the skater to be rough and braced himself for a punch, but Yuri was very careful.

“Why are you shaking like that? I’m not going to hit you!” Yuri growled. “But when I get my hands on Victor…” He climbed onto the counter to sit between the sinks, where it would be more comfortable and washed Yuuri’s face with both hands. That done, he dried Yuuri’s face off with a paper towel.

Yuuri closed his eyes. The other skater’s touch was almost gentle.

“Beka and I are sharing a room in that awful hotel where they stuck all of us,” Yuri said. (This was an exaggeration, Yuuri thought, their hotel was actually good.) “We will get a bed each, of course, but you can sleep on the floor, if you want.”

Yuuri opened his eyes and stared at Yuri in surprise.

The skater looked away and something like a blush appeared on his face. “You don’t have to, obviously. I can kick Victor out of your room, if you like. Let him find somewhere else to sleep for the night, ha!”

“Y-you don’t have to do that for me,” Yuuri finally stammered out.

“Oh, don’t I?” Yuri demanded, eyes flashing. “Damn right I don’t! But…” He bit the rest of the sentence back. “Well? What do you say?”

“I’ll figure something out,” Yuuri promised.

“You mean you’ll pay for another room? Or ask to stay with that friend of yours?” the tone alone told Yuuri all that Yuri thought of Phichit.

“No,” Yuuri said after a moment’s thought, “but I might ask Celestino.”

This answer seemed to satisfy Yuri and he just gave a nod. “There,” he said, looking at Yuuri’s face, “your eyes aren’t that red anymore.” He climbed down and they walked out together.

“Yuuri!” Phichit called out. “Where have you been?”

“The bathroom,” Yuri cut in before Yuuri could answer. “Do you want more details, or can you leave it there?”

Phichit gave them a bewildered look and dropped the questions.

It was hard to talk at the press conferences afterwards and as soon as Victor’s name came up, Yuuri just shut down. The tears were rising again, threatening to choke him.

“No comment,” he said.

That earned him a surprised look. They asked something else, but all he heard was Victor’s name somewhere in the middle.

“No comment,” he repeated.

Another question followed, again with Victor’s name.

“No comment,” he said a third time.

They pressed on, but even if he wanted to tell them everything, he couldn’t – all he could hear was Victor’s voice.

Memories spun around in his head like leaves tossed around by the wind.

“Yuuri,” Victor said with a smile.

“Yuuri!” Victor called.

“Oh… Yuuri…” he moaned.

“Yuuri,” he whispered through the tears.

He murmured an excuse and walked away from the press conference only to stumble into Victor himself in the hall.

The living legend didn’t even look at him. He walked past Yuuri, staying as far as he could so they wouldn’t touch each other, as if the mere sight of Yuuri disgusted him.

“It’s done.”

Yuuri walked by, his head lowered, the tears threatening to choke him, but he kept going. He had no idea how he made it to the end of the hall and through the rest of the day.

 

Victor’s smile was on his face like a mask when he answered confused questions from the press.

“But what about Yuuri Katsuki?” they kept asking.

“Yuuri Katsuki is a very talented figure skater,” he said as if he was talking about any of the other skaters he’d defeated in his long career.

“What about your relationship with Yuuri Katsuki?” they tried to clarify after a while. “Did something happen?”

“I don’t understand the question. Can you please rephrase it?”

A journalist broke after a half hour of circling around the point. “Are you going out with Yuuri Katsuki, or not? Or dating him? Or whatever it’s called these days?”

“I’m not,” Victor said calmly.

Now they were getting somewhere! “Why did you break up?”

He was ready for this question. “No comment,” he said.

700 kilometers away his family was, without a doubt, watching him on TV and shaking their heads. He imagined his mother give that heavy sigh of hers. He imagined his father mumble something angrily. Maybe they were arguing about it in the kitchen, trying to figure out what went wrong. He could even imagine the argument. The food wasn’t right. They didn’t give Yuuri a good enough welcome. He was overwhelmed by the obvious expectation that he and Victor would marry.

Would his family realize the real reason? Would they figure out that it was all Victor’s fault?

For a moment there was a crack in the mask, but then it was gone.

“What about the… the wedding?” one of the journalists asked.

“Will you make love to me tonight?”

No, Yuuri, I’m sorry, but I never will. Never again.

“There were no plans for a wedding,” Victor answered and that was the truth.

He imagined them both standing in white tuxedos and exchanging their vows. Yuuri took Victor’s hand and slipped a ring over his finger…

A sob escaped Victor’s chest, but he coughed right away, hiding what it was.

The smile was still on his face.

The press had nothing else to say after that.

Victor walked away. He returned to the hotel and asked for another room, which they gave him without even asking why he needed it. Did they already know? Did it matter?

He went up in the elevator alone, the key card to what was now only Yuuri’s room in his hand. The corridor was also empty. Somewhere below people were partying loudly in the pool. Up here it was completely silent. He walked to their door and hesitated with his hand just above the card reader.

What if Yuuri was in his room? What would Victor do if he opened the door only to face him?

But he needed his things! They were all in there, including his passport! He’d been stupid enough to leave his passport behind and now he had to get it back somehow.

What was that saying about starting a mess and cleaning it up? He couldn’t remember.

He pressed his ear against the door and listened. It was completely silent.

Yuuri had lots of friends, he was definitely out having dinner with them.

Victor swiped the key card, waited for the light to glow green and turned the handle as quietly as he could. The door swung open without a sound and he stepped in.

He froze in the doorway and prepared to back out: Yuuri lay asleep on the bed.

Victor threw a look around the room. There was his suitcase in the corner with all his things. Yuuri was a heavy sleeper and Victor could –

He hated himself so much in that instant. He hated that he knew that Yuuri was a heavy sleeper. He hated that he was back here, where he had no business of being, just to get his things.

He walked to his suitcase and picked it up. He looked around. If he forgot anything, it didn’t matter – Yuuri or the hotel staff could throw it out.

Yuuri made a noise and turned over on the bed.

Victor froze with his back to the boy.

When no sound followed he turned back around.

Yuuri was still sleeping, except that now he was lying on his side.

The key card was still in Victor’s hand. He stepped slowly over to the bedside table and put the card on it. Let Yuuri think what he wanted about finding the card there.

He threw a look at the boy’s sleeping form. He’d dropped onto the bed in his clothes. Maybe he hadn’t planned to fall asleep and just passed out as soon as he sat down.

…like in his parent’s house…

Victor bit his lip in frustration, turned and left without a second glance.

Once he was safely in his room, he opened the bag with his skates, pulled out the stuffed toy of Yuuri, dropped onto his bed and wept, clutching the toy close to his chest.

That was when the enormity of what he’d done really hit him.

 

Yuuri woke up and the first thing he saw was the key card on the table before him.

That’s odd, he thought, I don’t remember leaving it there.

And then he remembered something and sat up. He hadn’t planned to fall asleep like this! He’d returned to this room, hoping that Victor would come here too and that they’d get a chance to talk away from everyone else. Even if they didn’t make up, even if Victor was as set on the breakup as he seemed to be, it would at least give him a chance to tell Victor everything he wanted to say. They could decide what to do after that.

His pocket! He’d left the card in his pocket!

Yuuri slipped his hand in and pulled it out. Then he looked at the one on the bedside table. He reached out hesitantly for it, as if afraid it would disappear. He picked it up and turned to where Victor’s stuff had been.

His things were gone.

So Victor had come in while Yuuri slept, took his things and left his card behind. He found somewhere else to stay, then.

Yuuri pressed the card to his forehead with a sigh. How could he have fallen asleep at such an important time!

But he’d spent several hours answering questions and then another half hour in his room, giving in to his tears. After all that he was too tired to do anything. All it took was sitting down on the bed, and then a thought like “lying down won’t hurt” and he was asleep before he even knew it.

Oh, Victor…

 

“Hello everyone,” the commentator said and there was barely any of the old enthusiasm in his voice, “and welcome to this year’s World Figure Skating Championship here in Moscow.” There was a pause and he continued with more energy in his voice, “And tonight we give you the men’s free program segment.”

“Yes, indeed, and you see there the list of skaters who qualified for the free program. In the top six we have: Christophe Giacometti of Switzerland in sixth place, Otabek Altin of Kazakhstan in fifth place, Jean-Jacques Leroy of Canada in fourth place, Yuri Plisetsky of Russia in third, Yuuri Katsuki of Japan in second and…”

“And Victor Nikiforov of Russia in first,” the first commentator picked up.

Both commentators gave a sigh.

“I’m sorry,” the first commentator said, “I’m sure I’m not the only fan who was devastated by the news, but… Well,” he cleared his throat, “looks like we won’t be getting any pair skate, after all.”

The second commentator whispered, “there, there,” which the microphone just barely picked up.

“Thank you.” The first commentator sighed. “And we start with the first group.” He called out six names and the broadcast continued.

 

Victor sat next to his coach, his head lowered and saying nothing. Yakov kept the press away, watching his pupil closely.

“Why did I ever become a figure skater?” Victor said and Yakov looked at his pupil.

This was going to take some delicate handling.

He didn’t ask Victor about Yuuri. He could see how much it pained Victor each time that figure skater’s name came up. He was there when Victor got a phone call from his parents and broke down completely. It wasn’t often that Yakov saw someone fall apart like that.

 

Victor leaned against a wall and wept as his parents went on about something just at the edge of Yakov’s hearing. He nodded through the tears and assured them that he would definitely do something.

Yakov just stood there and watched, not knowing what to say. Was it right for him to offer advice at a time like this?

And then Victor headed for the bathroom, where he washed the tears away and returned with a calm look on his face.

And, somehow, that was even worse.

 

Yakov overheard what the other figure skaters were whispering. He saw Yuri pointedly ignore Victor and spend his time with the Japanese Yuuri instead. And he wondered what had happened.

“If there’s any justice in the world,” Yakov heard one figure skater tell another one, “then Yuuri Katsuki will win and Victor won’t even make it to the podium.

Victor had no one on his side now. Every figure skater turned against him. Only the press was still interested in him.

Yakov put a hand on his pupil’s shoulder. Victor raised his eyes and Yakov saw what Yuuri always saw in those eyes – the deep loneliness in Victor’s heart. He tried to think of something neutral to say, something that couldn’t be misinterpreted as a hint or nasty remark.

“Did you hear that rainstorm last night? It woke me up around 3 in the morning and I was worried I wouldn’t go back to sleep after that.”

Victor gave him an odd look, then he lowered his eyes and admitted that he didn’t sleep a wink.

“That won’t do! Go take a nap. I’ll come fetch you when it gets close to your turn.”

Victor hesitated and then gave a nod. “Thank you.”

“Now,” Yakov muttered under his breath, “I think I’ll go find out what this is all about.”

It didn’t take long to find his pupil Yuri, pull him aside for a quiet chat and get as full an explanation as that boy was willing to give.

“Well?” Yuri demanded when he finished, “What do you say to that, old man?”

That if what you said is true, then this is something for them to sort out on their own.

 

Chris and Phichit, between the two of them, couldn’t get out of Yuuri what exactly Victor had said to him and, like Yuri Plisetsky, each had their own theory, all of them not that different from what had actually happened, all of them just a little different from each other’s.

Yuuri wanted to go home. He was tired of being questioned as if he was a criminal. He was tired of their pity. He was tired of tears. But home didn’t mean Detroit. Home meant going back to his family in Hasetsu.

Briefly – oh, how briefly! – he’d thought he’d found a home with Victor’s family.

He remembered about his return ticket to St. Petersburg. Everything had been so different when he and Victor went to the train station to buy two tickets to Moscow and back.

He suppressed a sigh. Somehow he’d found himself feeling exactly like Victor’s short program – tired of everything and wondering what it was all for.

They called the last group to come to their warmup and Yuuri stepped out onto the ice with a heart that felt as heavy as the world.

There was no flirting this time, no feeling of flying as they went around the rink together. It was just him and the screaming crowd.

 

Victor went through the warmup half-heartedly, making only one jump and only really as a kind of afterthought. He watched Yuuri instead.

He’d broken Yuuri’s heart. Worse, he’d done it in the middle of a competition. Would Yuuri pull through somehow? Or would Victor have to carry the guilt of his loss as well?

But, regardless of how Yuuri skated, the audience adored him. They screamed happily when his name was called at the warmup. They were even louder as Yuuri went out for his free skate.

He stood out there with a sad smile and for a moment Victor thought he saw himself.

The hockey team worked the audience up to a chant. Everyone wanted him to win, that much was clear.

Yuuri nodded and gave a little wave as a show of thanks.

Victor held his breath.

The music began and, instead of telling his usual story, instead of acting as if nothing had happened between them, Yuuri told the story of his troubles. He opened up his heart and let them all see what was inside from the joy and tender love to the pain and misery. He channelled all that pain and love into his skate. And the heartbreak into the flawless quadruple flip at the very end.

Not many people could transform their pain into art like Yuuri had done.

You have the potential to do so much more, Victor thought. Does anyone else see that, I wonder?

Yuuri was a real treasure, not just as a talented skater, but as a person. He was worth more than the whole world and not someone Victor deserved, not even the tiniest, smallest little bit.

On the ice Yuuri dropped to his knees and wept as everyone around him chanted his name.

Victor looked away.

There were so many people in the rink. So many people had gathered to watch and so many of them were chanting now.

They cry and laugh with you, but do they really care which it is? What was that quote? The same crowd that cheers at your coronation is the same that will cheer at your funeral. Was that it?

He’d learned long ago that they didn’t care.

“Vitya,” Yakov said softly.

He turned at the sound of his name.

“It’s your turn,” his coach said. “Wait.” He caught Victor by the arm before he could move away, grabbed a tissue and wiped Victor’s eyes, doing his best to avoid the face paint. Victor hadn’t even noticed he was crying. “Now listen,” he said softly. “I want you to think about the skate and forget about everything else for a while…” He patted Victor on the shoulder. “We’ll sort out the future when you’re done. I promise.”

He nodded, touched by his coach’s gentle tone. What did Yakov think of having a pupil like Victor? What did he think of someone toying with someone else’s heart?

“I should’ve never become a figure skater,” Victor said, feeling the tears rise once more.

“Don’t say that,” Yakov whispered.

“I should’ve gone to university and…”

“Victor,” Yakov said firmly and took him by the shoulders, “you are the best figure skater I have ever trained. You have done things no one else can.”

Victor gave a sad smile.

“I really mean it. You need to learn to value yourself more. Now go.”

“Representing Russia – Victor Nikiforov!” Victor was prepared to swear that the announcer didn’t have as much enthusiasm in his voice as he usually did.

Victor took off his skate guards and rushed out onto the ice without saying another word to his coach.

This time he was met with a puzzled murmur. The rumours had gotten out, then, and now they weren’t sure if they should be cheering him on or not. He’d never had to skate in front of a hostile crowd before, but there was always a first time for everything.

It was all a show, a charade, and nothing more than that. He went around the rink going through the elements with an ease he didn’t feel. In fact, he didn’t feel anything, except maybe disgust for himself.

There goes the living legend, repeating all the jumps he’d learned over his long career, like a programmed robot that couldn’t do anything else. There he went, jumping for everyone but himself.

He smiled as he darted over the ice, but there must’ve been something in his movements that told the audience that his heart wasn’t really in it. It had to be obvious for all to see. He was no longer the great entertainer, just the shadow of one.

The music ended and he felt as if something that had been holding him all this time finally released him from its clutches. He dropped to his knees on the ice and let his tears run down his face.

Someone in the audience started clapping. The sound made him raise his head and look around. It wasn’t just anyone. It was Yuuri. Soon everyone else joined in.

Don’t clap for me. I don’t deserve your applause.

He had to go. He had to get up and get off the ice. He had to get his scores and leave. And never come back.

It took a lot of effort to rise to his feet and drag himself to the exit where Yakov was waiting for him.

Take me out of here, Yakov. I want to go home. I’m done.

But he wasn’t done. Not yet. Yakov sat him down in the kiss and cry, and made him wait.

The judges posted their scores and a large groan went up from the audience. Victor turned to look at the scoreboard. There was his name – at the very top.

“That’s not fair,” he murmured and then a little louder, “That’s not fair! Yuuri should be in first!”

“They gave you enough points for your short program that you beat him overall. In the free skate –” Yakov began.

“But that’s not fair!”

“Victor…” Yakov said in a warning tone.

But that’s how it always was, wasn’t it? People lost, people found happiness around him, people moved on to other things, or kept going, but still he won. No matter what happened, he always won. And everyone hated him all the more for it.

The medal ceremony, another of oh-so-many in Victor’s life, dragged on forever. He had to wait until all the words were said and all the medals – handed out.

“And first place goes to Victor Nikiforov!”

As soon as they dropped the medal over his neck he took it off and dropped it over Yuuri’s. He didn’t say any grand words. He didn’t say anything, in fact. Instead, he got off the podium and left.

Let people and the ISU interpret his actions however they liked. He was too tired to stick around any longer. He was ready to go, but the press caught him in one of the doorways of the building.

“Mr. Nikiforov, what is the meaning of your giving the medal to Yuuri Katsuki? Are you apologizing for –”

“You can interpret it however you want,” he told them, turning away.

“This isn’t it for you, is it?” the journalist almost wailed. “We’ll get to see you out on the ice once more, won’t we?”

“I doubt it,” Victor said, not even bothering to face the journalist. “I’m retiring starting now.”

There. He said it.

He pulled out his phone and called Yakov as he walked away. “I’m not doing the exhibition skate,” he said. “I can’t.”

Yakov didn’t ask why. Maybe he understood, maybe he didn’t, but either way he promised to apologize on Victor’s behalf and explain what had happened. Victor found that he didn’t even care how Yakov could possibly explain something like that.

“I’m going back home,” he told his coach.

Stopping only at the hotel to get his things, Victor headed straight for the Leningradsky Railway Station. He went to the ticket office to swap his ticket for a different one for that night.

As he handed his passport to the woman at the ticket office he saw the look in her eyes.

“Victor Nikiforov!” she gasped. “Can I have your autograph, please? I’m not supposed to do this, but…”

He gave a quick nod and signed the first paper she handed him, barely sparing it a glance.

As soon as he got his new ticket and passport, he rushed off to mix in with the big crowd in the station. There was no escape for him, no matter where he went.

The Moscow-St. Petersburg train was packed with passengers and he’d managed to grab the last available spot in one of the sleeping compartments. Here, too, everyone stared and whispered his name.

This train journey was completely different from the one he’d made here. This time as soon as his ticket was checked he slipped onto his bunk, rolled onto his side, closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

One by one the other three people in his compartment settled down to sleep and turned the light off. The train rattled down the tracks in a way that he usually found calming, but this time he couldn’t sleep a wink.

How would his family greet him the next time he saw them? Could he avoid them somehow? Could he come up with excuses not to visit them for a while?

He covered his face with his hands. All he knew how to do, all he knew how to be was a figure skater. What would he do with himself now? Where would he go?

He drifted off after a while and dreamt he was dressed in rags, begging on the streets of St. Petersburg. Someone pushed him off and he fell into the Neva River…

Victor awoke with a shock to find that it was already light out. The other three people in his compartment were walking around, getting ready to leave the train.

It was still so early. The morning was bleak. The sun hid behind a sky full of clouds.

He was so alone.

A kid walked past him, eyes full of sleep. His mother followed right behind him. Victor watched him go, wishing he could be a toddler.

He thought of his family again.

Victor pulled his phone out of his pocket and realized that at some point in the night the battery had died. This suited him just fine.

The train pulled up to the station and he stepped out only to be surrounded on all sides, arms catching him and faces leaning close.

“Viten’ka!” his mother called out.

“Mama…” he stammered out and she pulled him closer.

“Oh, Viten’ka! You gave me such a scare!” She kissed his cheek and held on for a long time before finally letting go.

He stepped back. His whole family was there – parents and brothers with their families.

“You didn’t…” he began.

“You’re tired,” his mother said, “and you need sleep, I’m sure.” She refused to listen to anything he said and so he had no choice but to let his family take him home and put him to sleep in his room.

His and Yuuri’s room, that is – the room he’d shared with Yuuri.

He lay with the toy in his hands and stared at the wall opposite.

Had he really slept here with Yuuri? Did they really make love on this bed one morning? It all felt so far away, as if it hadn’t happened to him, as if it had happened to someone else in a movie.

He sighed.

An empty day went by. His parents insisted he stayed and he found himself unable to argue. His brothers dropped in with a visit. No one mentioned Yuuri, or talked about figure skating. Everyone acted as if Victor was sick and needed constant attention to help him get better.

He went out for a walk and stood on a bridge, staring out at the water flowing below. He felt as if his life had ended, as if he’d died and only his body hadn’t accepted the fact and kept walking around, talking and eating as if he was still alive.

 

The following morning he woke up because the sun was shining right in his face. He sat up and closed the curtains. It was a bright day outside, so rare for St. Petersburg. He felt as if even nature itself was mocking him.

He was still in his parents’ apartment, but this would be his last day here, he promised himself.

The sound of a conversation reached his ears.

“…really couldn’t. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“Who said anything about burdens?” He recognized his mother’s voice. “I don’t mind doing all this. Are you sure you don’t want to take a nap?”

“I’m fine, really.” He recognized that voice!

Victor ran from his room straight for the kitchen, forgetting about the fact that he was still in his pajamas, that he hadn’t washed his face or eyes, or that his hair was all messed up.

It couldn’t be!

But it was: Yuuri was sitting in his parents’ kitchen, having tea with his mother.

She raised her eyes at Victor with a serious look. “Good morning, Victor,” she said. Then she rose to her feet and walked out of the kitchen.

Victor leaned against the doorway, feeling his legs tremble under him.

Yuuri turned around to face him. “Good morning, Victor,” he said.

“Good morning, Yuuri.” And then, almost immediately he asked, “What are you doing here?” He winced internally at his question.

“I came to talk to you,” Yuuri explained as if it was the most simple thing in the world. “Will you listen to what I have to say?”

Victor nodded and walked over to the chair vacated by his mother. He trembled as he sat down, terrified of what would follow.

Yuuri picked up his teaspoon and turned it over, as if it was very interesting. “I wanted to talk to you in Moscow, but you avoided me.”

Victor opened his mouth to argue and had to concede that Yuuri was right. He’d done more than that – he’d run away.

Yuuri set the spoon down and looked up into Victor’s face. “I meant to tell you that I knew about the bet. I came to St. Petersburg knowing about the bet. After the Four Continents Phichit and Chris admitted everything. Chris called and we talked with Phichit there. They had two bets going at the same time: one with you and one with me. They wanted me to win you over while you pushed me away.”

“What?”

Yuuri gave a quick nod. “Chris said he reasoned that if he bet you the same thing as Phichit bet me, then you would’ve only learned to hate me. He said you tend to do the opposite of what you say and that you’re often your own enemy.” Yuuri stared into Victor’s eyes, his expression carefully neutral. “Naturally, I am very mad at both of them and won’t speak to either of them for a long time.”

Victor held his breath, not daring to say anything.

“But I’m even madder at you,” Yuuri added. “You pushed me away and then you drew me in. You flirted with me and teased me. You pretended to be in love and then you pretended to hate me. But I never really got the one thing I wanted from you: you were never really yourself with me. I just wanted to get to know the real you, not the Victor Nikiforov the public sees.”

Victor swallowed nervously. Here it came. Well, it was only fair. After all, hadn’t he done the same?

“When Yuri found out about the bet he swore he’d punch you out the next time you two met.” Yuuri’s eyes were warm now and the hint of a smile appeared on his lips. “In fact, he did more than that.”

“What? Did he hurt you? If he dared to –”

“No,” Yuuri cut in, “he didn’t hurt me.”

Victor lowered his eyes, catching the hint.

“He did surprise me at the banquet by getting me to stand up in front of all the skaters while he looked around the room and demanded to know how many of them had a crush on me.” Yuuri made a soft noise. Was it a laugh? Was it a sigh? “They said they all did. So Yuri told me to pick whoever I liked from the room. He said that I shouldn’t waste my time with some talentless man named Victor Nikiforov who no one had ever heard of when I could date the figure skating medalist of my choosing.”

Victor watched a smile appear on Yuuri’s face. Was he teasing? Was he serious? Did he really come all this way to tell Victor that he was dating someone else now?

“It’s none of my –” he began.

“But,” Yuuri cut him off again, “I told Yuri that I made a promise and that I intend to keep my promise. Except, you see, I have a problem, because I can’t keep my promise.”

“Promise?” Victor repeated and stared at Yuuri, waiting for an explanation.

Yuuri nodded and sipped his tea. “So I came to you for advice.”

“Advice? Really, Yuuri, I don’t think I’m any good –”

For someone claiming to be there for his advice, Yuuri was doing a poor job of listening to Victor’s words. “There was this person I knew once, a long time ago,” Yuuri began and stared down at his tea again, “he was very lonely, even if he rarely admitted as much to anyone (especially himself), so I promised to be with him no matter what happened. But then he pushed me away and told me he didn’t want to be with me anymore.” Yuuri looked into Victor’s face. “What do you suggest I do? Do I stay or do I go?”

Victor swallowed. “D-did you like being with the person?” he asked.

Yuuri considered this question. “I did.”

“Didn’t all those odd things he did bother you?”

Yuuri’s answer came faster this time. “Not really.”

“What? Not even ‘sugar muffin’?”

“Not even ‘sugar muffin’,” Yuuri replied.

“Oh, Yuuri,” Victor sighed, feeling everything inside fall apart. Tears poured down his face. “Yuuri… I… I’m so sorry…” He lowered his head as the tears rained down onto the table. “I’m sorry…” he said again. “I… I shouldn’t have said all those things.”

Yuuri rose to his feet, startling Victor and making him look up with a terrified expression on his face.

“Yuuri…” Convinced that Yuuri was about to leave, he got up as well and caught Yuuri by the hands. “I know I don’t deserve you, I know I’ve done terrible things, I…” He looked into Yuuri’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m really very sorry.” He gave a long sigh. “If I could… go back and undo what I’ve done, I would in a heartbeat, but I can’t…”

Yuuri freed his hands and wrapped them around Victor.

For some reason he couldn’t stop talking, which was just as well since he didn’t want to stop. “I…” He felt Yuuri’s hands slide up his back. Oh God! He put his own hands around Yuuri and clutched him close. “I love you.”

Yuuri stepped back and looked into Victor’s face.

Victor blushed under that gaze. Why was Yuuri staring at him like that? What did it mean? But that wasn’t the important question. The important question was… “Will you still stay with me?” he asked.

“I promised, didn’t I?” Yuuri said softly, brushing the hair out of Victor’s face and bringing his face wonderfully close.

Victor leaned close, but Yuuri put a hand over Victor’s mouth. “I’m still very mad at you,” he warned.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Victor promised. “I’ll…” oh hell, how bad could it be? “I’ll do anything!”

“Promise you won’t lie to me again,” Yuuri said.

Victor took Yuuri’s hand out of his way and leaned towards Yuuri again. “I promise.”

“And…” Yuuri began as Victor’s lips got within an inch of Yuuri’s.

“And?” Victor asked, his eyes closing.

“I want you to be my coach, Victor,” Yuuri concluded, moving away from Victor.

Victor’s eyes shot open. “Coach?” he echoed.

“Coach,” Yuuri repeated with a nod. “I want to keep competing in figure skating and I know you retired, but I thought that a former six-time World Champion would make for a good coach.”

Coach? Me? Victor panicked.

Yuuri made another step back. “You can have some time to think about it.”

They heard the doorbell ring and the sound of barking filled the apartment. Makkachin burst into the kitchen and pounced onto Yuuri, knocking him off his feet.

“He’s really excited this morning, isn’t he?” Victor’s father came from the hallway.

“Of course he is!” Victor’s mother exclaimed from somewhere near Victor’s father. “Yurochka came back!”

Victor stared down at the floor where Makkachin was licking Yuuri’s face. Would he be good enough? Could he do it? No, even Yakov said that Victor was very selfish and that…

Yuuri’s laughter filled the room and Victor’s parents poked their heads in to see what was happening.

And then it really sunk in: Yuuri was back. He was really back and Victor had to do everything in his power to keep him by his side.

He pulled Makkachin off and helped Yuuri to his feet. “Mother,” he said as he adjusted Yuuri’s clothes, “I’m going to be Yuuri’s coach!”

 

Yuuri kept his word and stayed with Victor, but, much to the living legend’s surprise, his pupil really was still angry: he wouldn’t let Victor kiss him and slept in a different room. It wasn’t until the end of a summer spent in Hasetsu that, after a long day of practice, Yuuri caught Victor’s mouth in a kiss. Victor, who’d learned to settle for hugs, hadn’t been prepared for the kiss when it came.

It wasn’t long after that that Victor’s mother got her wish granted.

Chapter Text

It was Victor’s first night back in Hasetsu. It was Yuuri’s idea to go back to his hometown for him to train there and Victor agreed with it. After everything that had happened, he needed a relatively quiet out-of-the-way place for his retirement. And, of course, a place where he could train his pupil without anyone getting in the way.

Victor remembered his warm reception the first time he came here how hard Yuuri had worked to impress him and how hard he tried himself to push him away. How things had turned around since then!

Yuuri was kind and attentive and everything a boyfriend should be, but was he still Victor’s boyfriend?

Victor walked through the town, his hands in his pockets, and sighed. He was supposed to be with Yuuri, making up what he’d done, but he wanted to be away from everyone to think.

Ever since his return to St. Petersburg Yuuri had set the boundaries very clearly between them.

He had to start again, be Yuuri’s closest friend, win Yuuri back, but he couldn’t. Not now.

He walked through the city until he found what he was looking for – a little restaurant that looked like it would serve him alcohol and not just food.

He slid the door open and immediately someone ran up to him.

They didn’t speak a word of English and he only knew how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Japanese, but that didn’t matter: he was determined to get what he needed and negotiated as patiently as he could.

He downed the first drink and sighed. Poor Victor, who no one cared about, stuck all alone here, far away from everyone else. But he deserved it. He’d broken the heart of the best person in the world, so he didn’t deserve anything. He didn’t even deserve this drink. He downed another shot.

Someone came in, but Victor didn’t even look up to see who it was. The person sat down right next to Victor and he turned to tell them to go somewhere else, to leave him alone with his pain.

It was Yuuri.

“Sorry I’m late,” Yuuri said. Then he turned to the owner of the restaurant and ordered something in Japanese.

He waited for Yuuri to say something, to remind Victor of his promise to make it up to him. For some reason, Victor became convinced that Yuuri knew exactly what was going on in his heart and he waited for the boy to say the same words everyone always said to him like “You should be happy” and “Everything turned out great, why are you sad?”.

But Yuuri said nothing. He sat thoughtfully and waited for his food. When it came, he thanked for the food and started to eat.

Victor watched him without a single word.

“Have you ever tried eel?” Yuuri asked nodding at his own plate.

“No, I haven’t,” Victor admitted.

Using only his chopsticks, Yuuri broke a piece off and held it out towards Victor’s mouth. Victor accepted it without another word.

Why couldn’t he be happy? Here he was with Yuuri and who cared if Yuuri wasn’t going to accept his kisses or sleep with him, if Yuuri was still here. He should be happy. He should be…

Tears poured down his face.

Yuuri set his chopsticks down and put his arms around Victor. For a while he didn’t say anything and then he whispered, “Do you trust me to look after you?”

Victor dropped his head onto Yuuri’s shoulder and whispered. “Yes.”

Yuuri held on as long as Victor needed him to. They had dinner afterwards and went for a nice walk along the beach, stopping first at Yuuri’s house to get Makkachin, who’d come to Japan with Victor.

It was so peaceful.

They lay on the sand under the stars in silence afterwards. There was nothing but him, Yuuri, Makkachin, the beach, the sea and those stars.

Victor closed his eyes as Yuuri took his hand. Makkachin sat at Victor’s other side, as if guarding his owner.

“I’ve had some thoughts about my program for the next season,” Yuuri told Victor. “I want your help with finding the right music.” He held Victor’s hand to his heart and then raised it to his lips.

Why was Yuuri so sure that Victor could help him when he couldn’t even help himself? He opened his eyes and stared up at the cold stars that twinkled uncaringly in the sky. “I’ll try to find something,” he promised.

Yuuri was always there, no matter where he went. They slept in separate rooms, that much was true, but he was there at breakfast, lunch and dinner, he took Victor out for runs along the beach and coach Victor had to watch Yuuri train.

The familiarity of the training schedule took Victor in and soon he was hunting for music that would suit Yuuri’s theme.

 

One morning Victor burst into Yuuri’s room. “Yuuri!” he exclaimed, a smile on his face.

“Hmm…?” he sat up, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Still half-asleep and confused, he panicked. “Did something happen?”

“Look!” Victor walked up to the windows and swept the curtains apart. “It’s a really nice day out! Let’s go for a picnic!”

“What about training?” Yuuri asked, putting his glasses on.

Victor turned away from the window. “You can take one day off, can’t you?”

He borrowed a car from Yuuri’s parents and drove them both along the coast until they found a spot they both liked. Here they stopped and Victor got out the lunch he’d prepared for them both. They sat on a cliff and stared down at the islands that pocked their heads out of the water below.

Victor felt as if he was at the very edge of the world, far away from everyone else. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the wind on his face and the sunshine on his skin.

Yuuri put his hand over Victor’s. They would do this again. He would take Yuuri to different spots along the coast until they saw it all. He would talk about whatever was on his mind. He would learn to be happy.

 

Yuuri had his troubles too. He got anxious and spent hours out on the ice, practicing away, changing the sequence of elements until he was happy with the end result.

But now it was the end of summer and his time to change the routines was running out. Victor watched Yuuri go over his routine again. Had he done all he could? Was he giving Yuuri enough attention? What sort of coach would he be when the competitions finally started?

Yuuri skated towards him and called out, “Come here.”

Victor removed his skate guards and joined Yuuri. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Yuuri said. “Skate with me.” He took Victor’s hand and pulled him along.

They weren’t sure who’d done it, but after they circled the rink twice the song for Yuuri’s free skate came on. Yuuri pulled Victor closer, wrapping one of Victor’s arms around his waist.

“I know you’ve been hurt

By someone else.

I can tell by the way

You carry yourself.”

He took Yuuri and twirled him around. Yuuri finished his spin and pulled Victor along. They let go and jumped at the same time.

“But if you’ll let me,

Here’s what I’ll do:

I’ll take care of you.”

Yuuri took Victor’s hand and reached out to touch his face. Victor leaned into the touch and closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds only to open them again and see that Yuuri was there and he knew that Yuuri would always be there.

“I, I loved and lost

The same as you

So you see I know

Just what you’ve been through.”

Yuuri’s eyes were so soft that Victor didn’t think about anything else. He followed Yuuri across the rink, ready to go anywhere, do anything.

“And if you’ll let me,

Here’s what I’ll do:

I just have got to take care of you.”

The music wrapped itself around them, filling the air with promises of good things to come. It was going to be alright, it said. Victor released Yuuri and made for the middle of the rink where he jumped the quadruple flip.

Yuuri circled around, as if to catch Victor if he fell. Yuuri was always there to catch him after a metaphorical fall. Yuuri was there…

Victor returned to Yuuri and took him by the hands.

“You won’t ever have to worry.

You don’t ever have to cry.

I’ll be there beside you

To dry your weeping eyes.”

Yuuri slipped his hands around Victor and picked him up. But he’d never picked Victor up before. He lost his balance and they both tumbled onto the ice. Victor landed on top of Yuuri and hurried to get off Yuuri, but the boy pulled Victor back down and kissed him.

I missed this! I really missed this! Victor put his hands on the ice to steady himself as he responded.

When the kiss ended Yuuri smiled up at Victor and pulled his fingers through his coach’s hair. “I’ll take care of you,” he promised.

And for the first time Victor believed those words all the way down to the depths of his soul.

 

The figure skating season began and Yuuri appeared on TV for yet another press conference.

The presenter gave him a polite smile as he asked the question he always did at the start of each season, “What is your theme this season, Mr. Katsuki?”

Yuuri looked over at all the journalists packed in the room and thought of Victor who was with Yuuri’s family right now, no doubt watching this interview broadcast live. He had his answer ready for everyone. He placed the plaque with a single word in front of them and raised a microphone to his mouth.

“Healing.”