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When the phone rings in the middle of the night, Yuuri assumes it’s Phichit—this would hardly be the first time his best friend had been so excited he forgot about time zones. Last time, it was four a.m. and two new hamsters that desperately needed Yuuri’s suggestions for names.

And Yuuri’s flattered his friend thinks of him, really, but it’s the dead of night and that whiny default ringtone is piercing his eardrums. Next to him, Viktor groans and rolls over, trying to escape into his pillow. Yuuri’s fingers fumble with the touch screen and his glasses and through half-lidded eyes he reads—2:52 am. That’s…not even seven in Bangkok, what the hell Phichit—

Except his vision clears, and it’s not Phichit.

“Y…Yurio?”

Katsudon." 

And Yuuri’s awake, just like that. Back straight, eyes open, legs swung over the side of the bed. He’s familiar with the sound of his nickname on Yuri’s tongue, because it’s never Yuuri or Katsuki or even piggy, anymore. Pork cutlet bowls had never been cursed, scoffed, teased, barked, cursed so many times until Yuri Plisetsky came along.

(On an unrelated note: Yuri Plisetsky loves katsudon.)

But tonight? Yuuri’s never heard his nickname sound quite like that. His heart hiccups.

“What’s wrong?”

You like cats.”

“I… yes?”

How is Makkachin?”

Yuuri rubs his eyes. “She’s fine?”

No, I mean with cats.” The words strain and stretch thin and threaten to snap in a way that has nothing to do with a tinny phone connection. Impatience only makes it worse.

“What’s going on, Yura?” 

There’s a huff from the other end of the line. “I’m trying to ask you and your boyfriend to watch Potya, idiot.

Yuuri isn’t quite sure what to do with this. His eyes search his and Viktor’s darkened room, over their dirty clothes piled in the corner, their skate bags lying by the door, the lights of the city peeking through their curtains, before resting on a vaguely Makkachin-shaped outline lying at their feet.

“I don’t understand.”

Yakov and Lilia are out of town.

“I know that, but—”

“Is that Yurio?” comes Viktor’s sleep-logged words from beside him. Yuuri puts the phone on speaker.

She’s well behaved. You know that. Just feed her and she’s happy.”

“Yurio, you sound awful.”

Ah, yes, Yuuri groans internally. Leave it to Viktor.

The phone connection cuts out most of the deeper register, but Yuuri recognizes a growl when he hears one. “Shut the hell up, geezer. I’m out front. Now buzz me through the damn door.”

Yuri Plisetsky, more than any teenager—or adult—Yuuri has ever met, knows how to curse. He’s sharp and creative and committed, to say the least. And after a line like that from Viktor, Yuri would always have a comeback ready to fire.

Always: except for tonight, apparently, tonight when his curses fall flat and fireless and threaten to fall apart.

A tone hums out low through the receiver. He’s hung up.

Viktor sits up and stares over Yuuri’s shoulder at the darkened phone screen. “What…?”

Yuuri just shakes his head. “Let’s go find out.”

They swing the door open and find Yuri looking worse than he sounded. His eyes are bloodshot, his cheeks pale, his hair sticking out like straw and mouth pulled into a frown that he’s trying and failing to fight. He’s clutching a carrier cage and bag of supplies in one hand, knuckles turned bloodless white, and has a small duffel slung over his opposite shoulder.

The second Yuuri opens the door, he’s hit with just how heavy the air around Yuri feels. And yet, the teenager stands tall—spine straight, shoulders back, ever the prima ballerina even as his free hand twitches and the left corner of his mouth trembles ever so slightly.

Yuuri and Viktor wait for him to say something, anything, but it seems that he hasn’t thought quite this far ahead.

Viktor speaks first. “Come inside, Yurio.”

“No, that’s…” Yuri clears his throat. “I’m just dropping her off.”

After a year of knowing Yuri with his armor of brusque anger and teenage angst, it feels wrong to look at him now, standing alone in the hallway with that protective layer stripped away. He’s naked and he knows it, and Yuuri’s first instinct is to avert his eyes.

But Yuri came to him. He came to them. Yuuri’s next instinct, then, is to take Potya’s carrier and supplies and not take no for an answer.

“You have to tell us what’s wrong, you know.”

Yuri sets the duffel down by the door but doesn’t move past the entranceway, watching with sharp eyes as Viktor pulls Potya from her cage and coos at her softly. Miraculously, the cat relaxes in his arms. Viktor beams and some tension drains from Yuri’s shoulders.

(No, Viktor may not be the best with people in emotional distress, but he’s getting better, and he right now seems to know exactly how to help the most.)

Yuri, on the other hand, stands with awkward, empty arms. Unanchored, unmoored. Drifting.

“I got a call. Dedushka’s in the hospital.”

Ah.

“Oh, no. Yura, I’m sorry.”

(Yuuri had discovered, a few months into his new life in Saint Petersburg, that Yuri really liked it when Yuuri called him this. The diminutive had slipped out during ballet training once, when the teenager was particularly irritable and Yuuri had been afraid the usual nickname would push him over the edge. Yuri hadn’t said anything about the change at the time, but after he turned away Yuuri caught the faintest hint of a smile playing on the boy’s lips.)

(Tonight, Yuri—Yura—does not smile, but his nickname in Yuuri’s voice is gentle and concerned and safe and it seems to calm him, if only just a little.)

“You’re going to Moscow, then?”

A curt nod. “The flight leaves in three hours.”

“You should get going, then,” Viktor chirps, unburying his face from a barely-tolerant Potya’s fur. “Yuuri, darling, can you grab the keys?”

“I’m taking a cab. I just came to drop her off, the driver’s still waiting downstairs—”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m much faster than a cab. It will take him, what, forty minutes to get there? I’ll have you there in twenty. Besides, they always rip you off for the airport fares.”

Yuri hesitates, blinks, then nods. 

The drive is quiet, both inside the car and out. Viktor, as promised, drives much faster on the empty highway outside the city than he should. He so rarely gets the chance to use his car—an impulse purchase, years ago—and despite the circumstances he’s clearly relishing the feeling of open road. In the backseat Yuri runs his fingers along Potya’s fur through the holes in the carrier cage. They didn’t want to leave the cat alone so soon with Makkachin, and the comfort she seems to provide Yuri is an added bonus.

Outside the car the night speeds by; on the dashboard the clock speeds toward three-thirty. Viktor presses the gas, the clutch, shifts gears. Yuuri sifts through possible things to say and comes up blank.

“The doctors said it was, um, a… сердечный приступ. I, uh, I don’t…”

The boy in the backseat speaks so softly that for a moment Yuuri thinks he’s talking to the cat.

“Heart attack,” Viktor supplies.

“Yes. That.”

Yuuri swallows. He’s not sure how to ask this. “Is he… um… Is it very serious?”

“They’re running tests still but they… they think he needs surgery. In a day or two. Open, um… open heart surgery.” The last few words crack open and spill out into the canned air. They breathe them in. Hold them in. Then slowly, slowly breathe them out. In the backseat, Yuri shivers.

In the driver’s seat, Viktor speeds up.

He gets them there in twenty-five minutes, in the end. When Yuri gets out to grab his duffel from the trunk, Viktor looks to his fiancé.

“We can’t let him go alone.”

“No,” Yuuri agrees, watching Yuri in the side mirror, “we can’t.”

The decision is made silently, together, in that moment. Viktor reclaims Yuuri’s attention by dusting long fingers over his cheekbone. “Don’t be gone too long then, дa?”

“Is that you or my coach talking?”

“Both.” Viktor’s soft smile fights the concerned grief that’s touched them both. “But mostly me. Mostly me.”

He joins their lips for just a moment, and what the kiss lacks in length it makes up for in aching, melting depth.

“Call me when you land?” Viktor’s request is a whisper, hot and light on Yuuri’s mouth.

“Of course. I’ll keep you updated.”

“And keep him busy? Oh, make sure he eats. He likes blini a lot, and they’re easy to m—”

“Viktor.” One more kiss, quick and chaste. “Don’t worry. Okay? We will be back soon. Just make sure Potya and Makkachin don’t tear up our home.””

“Okay. I love you. Text me.”

“Love you, too.”

Yuuri claims one last kiss—because it’s Viktor and he wants to and he can—before getting out of the passenger seat, grabbing the bag of extra training clothes he keeps in the trunk and joining Yuri on the sidewalk.

“I’m coming with you." 

“Like hell you are.”

“It’s not really up for debate, actually.”

As if on cue, Viktor speeds away. The look on Yuri’s face as he looks between the disappearing car and Katsuki Yuuri is two parts surprised, one part gapingly ridiculous. Yuuri expects him to school his expression and protest at least a few more times: maybe an eloquent fuck off or I don’t need a goddamn babysitter or even call your asshole boyfriend and tell him to get his fucking flashy-ass BMW back here before I—

“…Fine. But I’m sleeping on the plane. You better not try to make conversation.”

And that’s red flag number…oh, maybe thirty-two, of the night? Thirty-two and counting.

Yuri doesn’t sleep on the plane. Eyelids drooping, hair matted, he’s a perfect picture of exhaustion—but he doesn’t sleep, just stares, some playlist Otabek sent him playing loud enough through his headphones that it’s nearly audible over the roar of twin jet engines. For a moment Yuuri considers saying something to spare him the hearing loss, but in the end opts against it.

He fishes his own ear-buds from his pocket and pulls up the playlist he and Viktor have been adding to for the past few months in an effort to find music for next season’s programs. His finger hovers over the skip button as song after song goes by, spins and extensions and step sequences playing like movies in his head, but it’s never quite right. He sees the movement, hears the music and the cut of metal on ice, but doesn’t feel it, not yet.

Every now and then, he looks discreetly to his left. Out the window the sun is rising, and Yuri stares at it blankly for the full hour and a half.

They catch a cab from Sheremetyevo Airport to a hospital in the south of the city. It’s the first time Yuuri’s been much of anywhere in Moscow besides the arena for Rostelecom, and he wonders what Yuri sees out the cab windows. Does it feel to him how walking through Hasetsu feels to Yuuri? This city is so big, so busy, so fluid—after all these years, can it still feel like home?

Yuuri practices reading the street signs and tries to see what Yuri sees.

The hospital, like most hospitals, is a strange combination of calm and frantic. They’re directed to the cardiology unit in a flurry of Russian that Yuuri, for all his attempts at learning the language in the past half-year, can’t so much as parse into words. The Moscow accent twists his fiancé’s language in ways Yuuri had never noticed before and was certainly not expecting.

Yuri moves down the whitewashed hallways with shoulders square, head held high, spine straight: a flawless performer, on and off the ice. Yuuri follows a few steps behind. 

Room 315, 317… 319. Yuri’s hand pauses on the door handle, ghostly white. From inside the room comes the steady beeping of monitors, the low drone of the television.

They enter to find Nikolai Plisetsky sound asleep, mouth hung slightly open, hooked up to more wires and his skin more pale than Yuri is likely to find comforting. Yuuri’s presence suddenly feels like an intrusion.

“I can wait in the hall if you—”

“Yes. Please.”

Viktor <3 <3 <3

8:32am

— the online tracker says you landed

— did you have a nice flight??

— o(*^ ▽^*)o

 

9:47am

Hi sorry —

Bad signal at the hospital —

The flight was short, miss you though —

— yuuri!!!

—I miss you too <3 <3

— hows moscow?

the accent is different I can’t understand anything —

I never noticed it before?? And Yurio doesn’t have one —

— it was SO BAD when he first came to train w yakov

— but the little kitten assimilated ( ^▽^)

— how is he?

Not sure yet. —  

A doctor comes by on rounds a half hour later, stepping past where Yuuri sits near the doorway and delivering what must be a full diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan to a very overwhelmed sixteen-year-old. His tone at least sounds delicate, but Yuri’s responses, from the hallway at least, sound like it hardly makes a difference.

In March, only weeks before his first senior Worlds, Yuri had contracted the flu. It shouldn’t have amounted to much, really—a few other skaters at the rink had gotten sick, taken a bit of time off and then been back and ready to train a few days later. But Yuri, being Yuri, had felt the first evidence of sickness and ignored it with a vengeance, pushing himself harder in training instead. Yuuri was never really sure what his rationale had been: maybe he thought he could beat the virus into submission with quad sal, triple toe combinations and rigorous cross-training? In the end, he only weakened his ability to fight the virus and ended up at home for an entire week.

But for those few days he’d fought like hell, skating through his programs over and over again on aching limbs and wiping beads of cold sweat from his forehead. Yuuri remembers watching him run through his free program, the phantom, frantic notes of Allegro Appassionato pushing him from combination jump to death drop to combination spin even as it became obvious to everyone watching that he was holding on by a thread.

He grimaced, grit his teeth, and held his body in a perfect Biellman as his blade cut circles into the ice. It was only once he lurched to a stop that his limbs gave out and he collapsed like a marionette with its cords cut, limp and gasping and utterly spent, before their widened eyes.

From the hallway in a hospital in Moscow, Yuuri hears Yuri speaking to the doctor and can’t help but see a boy spinning, reaching back, pulling his leg to a point above his head, and fighting to hold on (and, perhaps more importantly, to not let on).

Every time the teenager speaks, Yuuri listens for the spin to grind to a stop and a body to strike unforgiving ice. But the doctor talks, Yuri replies, and he spins and spins and spins.

“What did the doctor say?” Yuuri asks once the man leaves and Yuri comes out to the hallway.

“His heart’s shitty. They’re operating tomorrow morning. They’re putting in…” His eyes search the empty hall for nothing in particular. “It’s a…machine. To make his heart pump right. I don’t know the word in English.”

“A pacemaker.”

“Yeah. That.”

“He’s going to be okay, then.”

Yuri shrugs, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets. “Doctor says so.”

“You don’t believe him?”

There’s silence, for a moment, as Yuri’s eyes move over every inch of the hallway but avoid Yuuri entirely. Then he sighs, pulls a hand back out from his pockets, and extends it to the Japanese man.

“C’mon. The floor’s fucking filthy.”

Yuuri takes his hand and pulls up off the cold tile. They head together into the hospital room, settle into the plastic chairs, and try not to let the silence strangle them.

… 

Viktor <3 <3 <3

11:29am

He’s hanging in there —

— of course he is, he’s yurio

— that part’s not really what im worried about

Yeah. Me neither. —

Nikolai wakes up around lunchtime. Yuuri almost immediately has his face buried in the Russian version of People magazine, actively trying not to listen, but amidst the stream of unfamiliar words he can’t help but make out a few.

…worried…doctor…alone…shouldn’t…fine…Yuuri....

He knows it’s his own name because it comes to him in Yuri’s voice. There’s a rare, soft edge to the word. A reassurance, maybe, to placate his obviously concerned grandfather. He looks up for a moment, feeling Nikolai’s stare. And Yuri’s.

Oh. He’s being rude. He closes the magazine.

“Hello,” Yuuri nods, his western-culturally-assimilated equivalent of a bow. “I’m Yuuri. Yura’s, um…” rinkmate? friend? competitor? He looks to Yuri for a clue, but he’s not forthcoming, just rolls his eyes.

“He knows who you are, idiot.”

“Ah.”

“You skate very good.” Nikolai’s accent is heavier than Yakov’s.

“Thank you, sir.” The old man doesn’t reply, just continues to study Yuuri. “You, uh, make very good pirozhki.”

Nikolai’s responding laugh comes from deep in his chest and causes him to cough. The beeping on the monitor stutters, but he recovers quickly.

The same can’t quite be said for the naked panic on Yuri’s face.

And Yuuri’s intruding again, so now sounds like the perfect time to grab lunch. 

… 

Viktor <3 <3 <3

12:14pm

— yuuuuriii

— yuuuuuuurrrriiiiii

— the rink is so lonely without you ( ≧Д≦)

You’re skating?? —

I thought you’d take the day off —

You barely slept —

— well

— I was getting tired of third wheeling makka and potya

You know Makka only has eyes for you —

Are you really jealous of a cat? —

— yuuuuuri

— I got jealous of a potted plant that was standing too close to you once

— you know what im capable of

[IMG_034] —

What does this say? —

My translate app is being useless —

— some kind of whole milk yogurt

— dont get that one, get the brand with the purple label

— its better

Спасибо

<3 —

— ( )  

… 

When he comes back, Yuri’s showing his grandfather videos of the new short program he and Viktor have been choreographing for next season. Since they’re talking about skating, Yuuri’s able to understand more than normal—something about Yuri not knowing his theme or music yet.

“Here.” Yuuri hands over a to-go container from the hospital cafeteria. “You need to eat something.”

A few minutes later, Yuri’s mostly eaten it all. Mostly. (Which is red flag number fifty-something, honestly, but Yuuri stopped counting hours ago.)

For a while, Yuuri puts in his ear buds and skips through potential song after song. He can’t focus, though, so he goes back to idly flipping through magazines and trying to understand the daytime Russian soap that’s playing on the TV. Sometimes he and Viktor will curl up on the couch and watch shows like these, ostensibly for language practice but it always devolves very quickly, because Viktor likes to whisper translations low and hot near Yuuri’s ear and of course that never lasts long. 

“Ugh, I fuckin’ hate these trashy shows. Stop watching, Katsudon, it’ll murder your brain cells one by one.”

Viktor <3 <3 <3

2:52 pm

Vitya —

I’m a bit concerned —

— what happened? is he okay

— are you sure you don’t need me to come?

Oh sorry yeah Yurio is fine —

He’s currently complaining about you to his grandpa —

((I think??)) —

— oh ok

— he gets a pass this time

— wait then why are you concerned

Well —

I might have developed a pavlovian response to russian soap operas?? —

— YUURI

ヾ(@^ ▽^@)

The nurses kick them out before dinner, citing the surgery early the next morning. It’s a good thing, too, because both Plisetskys’ eyelids had begun to droop and Yuuri was only minutes away from suggesting they head out so Nikolai could rest. But despite his exhaustion, talking to his grandfather seems to have calmed Yuri’s nerves. It’s the most relaxed Yuuri has seen him since he opened the apartment door late last night. 

Turns out, it’s only a momentary reprieve. In the cab the nerves creep back, winding Yuri’s shoulders and mouth and fists up tighter with every meter they move away from his grandfather.

“I don’t have to stay here, if you don’t want,” Yuuri offers as they walk into Nikolai’s home. Yuri flicks the lightswitch, illuminating a sparsely decorated, Soviet-era apartment.

“Don’t be an idiot,” is all he says before grabbing some sheets from a cabinet by the television. He tosses them onto the couch, an invitation if Yuuri’s ever seen one.

Yuri retreats down the hallway. A door slams.

It’s nearing six-thirty and despite his exhaustion, Yuuri doesn’t want to sleep. He doubts Yuri will be sleeping either. Still, ten, twenty, fifty minutes pass without so much as a sound from the teenager’s room.

Viktor <3 <3 <3

6:23pm

You said he likes blini? —

— **like** is an understatement

— I saw him eat sixteen in an hour once

— hang on I have a good recipe saved

— [attached:link]

Viktor —

this is in Russian —

— there’s a translate button

I think the kitchen has all the ingredients —

(wow his grandpa has a lot of vodka) —

I found a packet of yeast but it’s expired —

I probably shouldn’t use it (??) —

— (welcome to russia!!)

— and there’s probably a store on the block

— ask for дрожжи

ok thanks —

….stay tuned I might need your help —

— nowhere better to be <333

— oh and make sure you have strawberry jam

— he loves strawberry jam

 

Yuri

6:38pm

— the fuck katsudon

— where the hell did you go

The store to get some things for dinner —

Sorry, thought you were asleep —

— oh

— okay

I’ll be back soon. —

Yuri eats four blini, which is something. Better than nothing. He doesn’t say a word the whole time, though, and the apartment is small and the air thick and it’s damn hard not to just talk to alleviate some of the awkwardness.

“Viktor sent some pictures of Potya. He says she and Makkachin are getting along really well, which is a little surprising, right? I mean, Makka’s a little hyperactive for her age, a lot like her owner, I guess… But Potya just curls up a few feet away from her and naps.” 

Yuri nods. “Good.”

The silence returns with a vengeance.

Eventually, once the dishes are clean and leftovers put away, Yuuri decides it’s ridiculous. He’s gotten lost in his own head enough times to know that sitting silent and idle on a couch is a recipe for disaster.

So he makes an executive decision.

“Okay. Grab your skates.”

“Huh?”

“You heard me. Let’s go.”

Yuri’s old home rink is just a few blocks east, and the owner remembers him. More than remembers, really: Yuri Plisetsky’s face is plastered on posters all over the entranceway, as recent as this year’s Worlds, stretching all the way back to his first junior Grand Prix medal.

Yuuri’s never been here before, but it’s familiar. Ice Castle Moscow, he thinks. He smiles.

Skates still at home in Saint Petersburg, Yuuri finds a seat on a nearby bench and pretends to be deciphering a book he swiped from Nikolai’s bookshelf. He pretends not to watch as Yuri skates to center ice and starts doing figures; pretends not to watch as he gains speed, sits deep on his edges; as he falls easily into the step sequence from last season’s free skate.

Yuuri blinks, and with a sudden counter turn the familiar, racing movements of the Allegro give way to nascent choreography that’s yet to find its music. Yuuri has spent hours rink-side watching Viktor and Yuri tinker with these steps, whirling side by side across the ice as they added, subtracted, refined.

But even if he weren’t so familiar with the younger skater’s programs, Yuuri would still have noticed the second Yuri made the shift. Old programs are like pairs of well-worn skates, comfortable and comforting and trustworthy. New choreography on the other hand… Well, everyone loves the gleam of a pair of new skates, but no one likes the bruises and welts that form when everything is still stiff and unfamiliar.

Yuri’s new step sequences lack the practiced ease of his old, and he makes mistakes. From where Yuuri’s watching, this doesn’t seem to help his nerves.

The sharp sound of metal gouging ice bounces through the empty rink as Yuri completes a jumping pass—a triple toe, Yuuri notices, giving a small sigh of relief that the young skater at least has enough sense to start out slow.

He’s across the rink in seconds, and oh, there’s a three turn, setting up—

—a quad Salchow.

Kuso. So much for slow.

Yuri two foots the landing, which is really no big deal given the circumstances; but then again, given the circumstances, Yuuri can understand why this minor mistake has infused new frustration in the young skater’s movements. Katsuki Yuuri certainly isn’t one to judge: he once started crying in international competition because he touched down slightly on a quad flip. 

Pressure certainly doesn’t get easier to deal with just because it’s self-imposed.

No, he’s well aware of the dangers of bringing Yuri here tonight. Yuri needs a something to focus on that isn’t the mental image of the most important person in his life under a scalpel. Yuuri, alone in the dead of night, has skated his way through enough personal and familial crises to recognize the necessity now.

But he’s also worked himself (alone, in the dead of night) into enough nervous breakdowns on the ice to know to monitor Yuri carefully here. Yuuri has found and charted his own breaking point, but Yuri is still so young.

Quad toe, touch down.

Triple lutz, triple loop combination—over rotation on the second.

Triple axel, and the sickeningly familiar sound of a body smacking the ice, but only seconds later another triple axel that’s more frantic than graceful—

—two feet, but he sticks it.

And then, for some ungodly reason, Yuri decides now is a good time to try that quad flip he’s only landed twice before but has been chipping away at mercilessly since Worlds.

Of course.

He throws himself into the air and the rotations aren’t there. Not tonight, not even close. He falls, hard, skidding on his side across the unforgiving, scarred surface.

“Yura.”

What?!" 

A half a rink away, Yuuri doesn’t so much as flinch. “Come look at this picture of Potya Viktor just sent! She somehow decided to take a nap in the bowl of our electric mixer…”

He holds out his phone expectantly; Yuri skates over, ice chipping up furiously from his blades, and grabs it. He squints violently at the screen but his grimace, so pronounced only moments ago, begins to sooth into a carefully neutral expression.

“She’s the best cat.”

Yuuri nods. “Hai.”

Yuri fixes him with a strange, expectant look as if to ask is that it? He’s out of breath, fighting to regain what the ice knocked out of his chest seconds ago. The vicious frustration that had felt so appropriate a moment ago as he chucked his body into the air again and again suddenly seems out of place in this quiet, domestic conversation. Yuri’s chest heaves, but the fury in his eyes comes slowly down from its peak.

With a huff, Yuri skates back to center ice, pauses to inhale, and for a moment Yuuri worries he’s going for another jumping pass. But he runs through a few combination spins instead—in fact, he doesn’t attempt another major jump the whole night. He seems slightly calmer now… or no longer skating head first into a nervous breakdown, at least.

A few minutes later, Yuuri recognizes the opening step sequence of Agape, and again something changes. It’s not just the practiced ease he’d seen with the Allegro—there’s something else there, heavier in every movement, even as Yuri glides and spins weightlessly across the ice.

Yuuri wonders if Yuri hears the music, too—the organ, the woodwinds, the harp, the snare. Does he hear how the boy’s crisp, clear soprano sounds mournful tonight, as well?

Last night at three a.m., when Yuuri found the teenager standing exposed in the stark light of the hallway, he had wanted to look away. He wants to look away now, too. Yuri, out of sheer exhaustion, has dropped the shields he usually clings to so tightly; it feels wrong, somehow, to watch him like this as he carves unconditional love into the ice where he first learned to skate.

Yuuri wants to look away, but he can’t. Quads and triples turn to singles, but the program is hardly less moving for their absence. Yuri ends with his hands clasped above his head, chest heaving, as he has so many times before. This is different from all of them—from Onsen on Ice, from Barcelona, from Worlds. 

Honestly, Yuuri expects the skater to collapse like he did, ill and overworked, in March. Yuri does not collapse, but his limbs are heavy with exhaustion and, as he exits the rink, Yuuri catches a glimpse of unfocused blue eyes that just… aren’t quite there.

Yuuri only barely restrains himself from offering to unlace his skates. It’s what Viktor would do, if it were Yuuri. But Yura isn’t him, and he isn’t Viktor, so instead, Yuuri gives the boy space. 

It’s pitch dark when they walk the few blocks back to Nikolai’s apartment. Yuri puts up his hood and leads them without a word.

 …

Viktor <3 <3 <3

10:48 pm

 

Thanks for the picture. It helped —

— let me know if you want more, I have s o m a n y

— I think my phone’s almost out of storage

— and it’s all makka and potya’s fault

— well, yours too

— I have probably 20 gb of videos of you doing … assorted things

— ( ๑^ ں^ ๑)

— tell me if there’s anything else I can do, ok?

I will, I promise —

I think he needs some space —

— call me if you can? 

When he hears the shower running, Yuuri pulls up Viktor’s number. It only rings once before the video call goes through, his fiancé’s face immediately filling the screen.

Yuuri lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

“Vitya.” The name is warm on his tongue.

“Hi.” Viktor’s staring into the camera with that soft, hopelessly-in-love smile Yuuri adores, head propped up on his hand. Their living room fills the background.

“I missed you. Miss you.”

“Being apart sucks. It’s like Nationals all over again.”

“Except we don’t have winning gold to distract us.”

“It really sucks.”

“I’ll be back soon. The surgery is tomorrow, and as long as everything goes well they won’t keep him too much longer. A day or two, maybe.”

Viktor opens his mouth like he wants to complain, but it gets stuck somewhere between his brain and his throat. Yuuri understands. “Poor Yurio.” 

“Don’t let him hear you say that.”

“I know, I know. Pity and babying and all that. But Yuuri… it really sucks.” 

“I know. He knows.”

“Did he like the blini?”

“I think so. He ate some of them.” 

“How many is some?”

“Four?”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Is he in bed now?”

“The shower, but he’s exhausted. He pushed himself hard at the rink.”

Viktor opens his mouth to say something, but stops himself again. “It’s… it’s a good thing you’re there with him." 

“Yes.” Where Yuri would be right now—mentally or physically—if he had arrived in Moscow alone is an unsettling thought.

It’s good that it’s you, I mean. I think we both know I’d be terrible at it.” The last sentence comes out with a chuckle, but Yuuri hears past it.

He shakes his head, unwilling to let that stand. “You would be fine, Viktor. You help me through rough patches all the time, just by being you.”

“Oh.” It must be just what Viktor needed to hear, because that smile is back again, melting any further coherent thoughts from Yuuri’s head. A few rooms away, the water shuts off. 

“He’s getting out of the shower. Can I call you tomorrow?” 

“Can Katsuki Yuuri land a quad flip with plus three GOE?”

Vitya…

“Ask a silly question, get a silly answer,” Viktor sing-songs back. “I love you.”

“Love you too. Talk to you later.”

Yuuri takes the last second of the call to appreciate how beautiful his fiancé is, even pixelated on a tiny phone screen. His sea-blue eyes, his silver hair falling just so, his heart-shaped grin and the golden ring symbolizing everything gleaming on the hand propping up that jaw that could just cut right through you—

And then he’s gone. Yuuri takes a breath, re-orients, and remembers why he’s here.

“Oi, Katsudon.”

Yuri’s standing at the entrance to the hallway with a towel wrapped around his waist and dripping wet hair. “Towels are in the cabinet left of the bathroom. Toothbrushes and shit are in the middle drawer below the sink. Make you set your alarm. The surgery’s at nine. We’re leaving at eight.”

Yuuri nods. “Get some rest, Yura.”

The younger boy swallows. “Yeah. You too.”

He disappears into his room, shutting the door behind him.

Yuuri doesn’t get rest, though not for lack of trying. He’s exhausted, past that point really after the day (and preceding sleepless night) they’ve both had, but apparently his brain’s ceaseless rambling runs on a different and seemingly endless power source than the rest of his body.

It’s not that he’s particularly anxious tonight. It’s not even that he can’t relax on this unfamiliar couch, because after so many years of bouncing from hotel to hotel for competitions, there’s something familiar about the unfamiliar.

He just can’t sleep. And luckily, Viktor can’t either.

Viktor <3 <3 <3

12:54am

— wait no it’s your turn

— tell me yuuri

— I want to know what you’d do then

Alright, you asked for it —

X|_|O
_|O| _
X|  |X

— …………

— wait

— yuuuuriiiii noo

— you’re so mean to me ( 个_ 个)

And to think I ever thought Viktor Nikiforov was a graceful loser —

Viktor stops replying around two a.m. and Yuuri figures he fell asleep with the phone in his hand. It’s an adorable mental image, really, one he can’t quite get out of his head once it’s there and damn he needs to sleep—

A soft sound comes to him from Yuri’s room. It’s nothing particularly discernable, just movement, but the apartment is small and the walls are thin. Yuri must have woken up. Or he’s still up.

He hears more movement, and decides to go check.

Yuuri’s barely rapped a knuckle against the bedroom door before the muffled response comes through.

“What do you want, Katsudon?" 

“Can I come in?”

Through the door, Yuri scoffs. “Are you going to stay out there if I say no?”

“Well… probably, yeah.” Viktor wouldn’t, but Yuuri would. It’s not quite the answer Yuri expects.

“…ugh, fine. Whatever. Come in, I don’t give a shit.”

The door creaks open and Yuuri’s eyes fall immediately on the bed. The only light comes from Yuri’s laptop sitting in at center atop the still-made comforter. There’s a video playing that Yuuri can’t make out without his glasses. The light from the screen changes and moves and casts a ghoulish glow on Yuri’s face.

And then there’s Yuri himself, propped up against the headboard, half-empty bottle of vodka in hand.

“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” 

Oh.

Oh.

“Have you been awake this whole time?” Drinking hard liquor straight from the bottle this whole time, while Yuuri played tic-tac-toe with his fiancé on the other side of the wall? 

“Tried to sleep. Couldn’t.” There’s a slight slur to the words, but not terrible, which gives Yuuri hope that the missing half of the handle hadn’t all been consumed tonight. 

He casts dubious look at the still-made bed. “Did you really?”

“Well, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep.” 

“And the vodka?”

A shrug. The clear liquid sloshes around in the bottle.

Yuuri squints, drawing closer to the bed. “What are you watching?” It’s not a Youtube video, it’s some sort of webpage with a lot of text and bullet points, and the video in the center looks just like a whole lot of undesirable red, but it’s moving, pulsing… 

Yura.” 

“What.” 

“That is… a really, really bad idea.”

The light from the video—and that’s a heart, definitely an open, beating heart, and a blue-gloved hand and a scalpel—bathes Yuri’s flat expression as he takes another swig straight from the bottle.

He shrugs. “So? I want to know what’s gonna happen.”

Yuuri’s not really sure how to respond to that. He blinks, mouth open and closed then open again. Yuri stares back. 

A deep breath, then the mattress dips under Yuuri’s weight.

“Listen, the doctors are trained well. You don’t have to wor—”

“Like hell.”

And really, who is Yuuri to argue with that? He thinks for a moment before reaching over and shutting the laptop. The room goes dark, so he flicks the light on the bedside table—a lamp with a leopard print shade.

Yuri flinches, and in the new light it’s obvious how bloodshot his eyes are; whether from crying or the alcohol Yuuri doesn’t know, but his money’s on the latter.

He steels himself, remembering that if there’s anything Katsuki Yuuri is qualified to empathize with, it’s late night crying and sloppy, anxiety-induced drunkenness. 

“He’s going to be okay, Yura. Pacemakers are really common, I’m sure the doctors do these kinds of surgeries all the time.”

The clear liquid swirls around and around in the bottle, and Yuri can’t seem to take his eyes off it.

“I don’t think they really touch the heart much, right? It should be—”

“No.” 

Yuuri blinks. He sits down on the bed. “What?”

“The pacemaker. It’s not there to… to just pacemake or whatever. He had a fucking heart attack.”

Yuri goes to take another swig from the bottle, but Yuuri is quicker and feeling bold, tonight. He confiscates the bottle, placing it on the ground out of reach, and angles himself to face where Yuri has leaned back against the headboard with his knees tucked to his chest.

“I don’t understand.”

Yuri scoffs, gaze roaming the far wall. “Well fuck if I do.”

“Yura…"

“His heart’s shitty. It won’t do its job. Only ten percent.”

“Huh?” 

“That’s what the doctor said. It’s only operating on ten percent, whatever the hell that means.”

“Oh.”

“Apparently pacemakers can fix shit like that now.”

“That’s—” 

“Wanna know the best part?”

And Yuri finally, finally, looks at him, and there’s something manic in his vodka-soaked eyes that nearly makes Yuuri flinch away.

Yuri barks a laugh. “Apparently, if this had happened a few years ago, the doctor would’ve just told me to go home and start planning the goddamn funeral.”

Yuuri sucks in a breath and it reeks of booze. It’s too much. It’s so much. What kind of doctor tells a kid something like that?

Yura…

“Should count myself lucky, then.” Yuri gestures blankly toward the closed laptop at his feet. “All they gotta do is slice him open, shove in a machine, and he gets to live another ten years.”

Yuuri straightens. “Ten years? The doctor said that?”

“Yep.”

“That’s… that’s good, right?" 

“Fucking fantastic.”

Yuuri can taste the bitterness on his own tongue.

The far wall has captured Yuri’s attention again. Following his gaze, Yuuri realizes now that his eyes have started to adjust that he’s in Yuri Plisetsky’s long-abandoned childhood bedroom. On the opposite wall: tons of band posters, medals of gold and silver and bronze hanging from nails driven clumsily into the wall, and a small, worn banner with “Давай Юрий” copied in precise, angular black ink. No exclamation marks, no cute drawings or hearts or kitten ears. It seems fairly obvious which long-time supporter would have crafted such a no-nonsense show of support, why Yuri would have kept it all these years, and why he’s staring at it now like he could bore a hole through both it and the wall with only a scowl.

“I’ll be twenty-six. And that’s only if he makes it that long.” 

Yuuri is on eggshells. He fidgets. “Your grandfather seems really stubborn.”

“Yeah, well, his heart apparently isn’t.”

“He’ll fight—”

“So what?” He turns his head, trying to bore a hole through Yuuri now. “Ten years, twelve years, what’s the difference? He’s almost eighty.”

Yuuri tries his best to make his voice sound gentle. “Ten years is a long time. A decade...”

Fuck, Katsudon, that’s not the point.” His eyes are red and wild and growing more so by the second. “Ten years, and where will I be? Still training. Still competing. You know I hadn’t seen him since Rostelecom?”

There it is.

Vicchan’s in Yuuri’s head, then, as small and soft and bouncingly happy as the day Yuuri left him for Detroit and, as it turns out, never saw him again. He nods and tries to get his voice to work around the lump in his throat.

“Okay. I understand.”

Yuri’s not talking anymore. He’s looking away, white fingers balled in white sheets. His knees are drawing closer to his chest, making him smaller, smaller, until Yuuri notices a fine tremor ripple through the boy’s shoulders.

“Yura…”

There’s a low noise, barely discernable, from Yuri’s throat that means nothing and everything at the same time. On the wall, the banner encourages davai, Yuri! and his eyes are searching every other part of the room but there. 

When he finally speaks it’s in Russian, hometown accent barely there as his voice cracks and curls in on itself.

He’s all I...

Yuuri wants to not understand, but he does anyway. He reaches out before he can stop himself, his hand finding Yuri’s balled into a fist around the sheets. There’s that noise again, like something choked back, and Yuri’s chin falls to his chest. Behind locks of straw-like hair, his eyes are screwed shut.

The hand lets go of the sheets and makes a fist around Yuuri’s fingers, instead. A breath, then, barely audible:

“He’s all I have.”

Yuuri wants to protest, wants to shout the names Viktor, Yakov, Lilia, Mila, Otabek, me but he knows better. He knows—has figured out, slowly, over the past few months—that Yuri hasn’t seen his mother in years and his father in more than a decade. There’s a reason it’s this room, here in his grandfather’s dingy Soviet apartment, that houses his novice medals and band posters and that gaudy bedside lamp with a leopard-print lampshade. There’s a reason, too, that Yuri went off the rails when Viktor suddenly up and left Saint Petersburg last year. There’s a reason, too, that he curses and spits and pushes Yuuri and everyone else away…

Except right now, right here, where he clings to Yuuri’s hand with tiger-like claws and slowly turns his head to face him.

And Yuuri expected the tears, the red rims and crumpled mouth, but he recoils upon seeing the unbridled panic that has seized Yuri’s glazed-green eyes and blown his pupils wide.

“I… I can’t…”

It’s all too familiar for Yuuri, and a bit of an out-of-body experience. 

“I can’t…” Yuri’s breaths are audibly shallow. “Fuck.

Yuuri’s veins are buzzing, his mind reeling, trying to remember what it is that Viktor does when he gets like this, or what his mother used to do, or Mari, or—

A gasp. “I can’t breathe.” Another, and it rattles. Yuri’s nails are cutting crescent moons into Yuuri’s palm. “Fuck, Katsudon, I can’t breathe—”

And Yuuri’s moving, then, placing himself square in front of where Yuri has curled in on himself against the headboard. His veins buzz, but his head is surprisingly clear. “Listen to me, Yuri. You’re having a panic attack.”

“No. I don’t ha—” He shudders. “I’m not…”

“Listen to me, and breathe, okay? In… out. Do it.”

“I can’t—” His lungs convulse.

“Yes you can. In… out, in… out. There you go.”

It takes a few minutes of coaching before Yuri’s breaths no longer sound like they’re being ripped from his chest. Eventually they steady, eventually they deepen, eventually that god-awful rattling goes quiet and he’s left only with finely trembling shoulders and half-lidded eyes that don’t seem to see anything at all.

“There you go.”

He lets go Yuuri’s hand to wipe furiously at the tears left on his cheeks and in his eyes. Yuuri pulls back. Space will be important to the teenager right now.

“That sucked. This sucks." 

“I know.”

For a few minutes, there’s only their breathing, the younger boy’s lungs still moving in time with the older. Between them, Yuri’s fingers loosen their death-grip and pull away.

“Katsudon—” he begins, but cuts himself off with a strange grimace. Another breath, before amending: “Yuuri…”

He glances up ever so briefly, and Yuuri sees an apology and a thank you in his eyes, on his mouth that opens and closes again.

Yuuri takes pity. “Hai. I know,” he replies with a quiet smile. “Now try to sleep. It helps.”

The mattress shifts as Yuuri stands. He picks up the laptop and places it safely on the desk in the corner, next to a framed photo of a little boy with a blonde bowl-cut and over-sized rental skates grinning from center ice of the rink in Red Square.

Yuuri hesitates before he reaches the doorway, for a second doubting his ability to read the situation. He looks back to the bed and to Yuri, sitting all alone with swollen eyes and slumped shoulders. “You don’t want me to…”

Eugh.” He recoils. “Fuck no, go to sleep, I’m fine.”

Sharp words with soft edges. Yuuri nods. “Okay. And also, for the record…” he stoops to pick up the bottle of vodka from where he’d placed it on the floor, “drinking never helps. Take it from someone who knows.” 

Yuri snorts. “Don’t be a hypocrite, I was there. It got you a husband.”

“That was an outlier,” Yuuri dismisses with a soft smile and a wave of his hand. 

The leopard-patterned light flicks off and he goes to leave, but something stops him again—something hanging in the air, left in the open, and he just can’t leave it like that. He swallows and turns back.

“What you said earlier, about… being alone…”

From the darkness comes a measured exhale, followed by a small voice: “I know.” 

Yuuri shifts his weight, fingers of his left hand twisting the ring on his right. Around and around and around. “It’s just that… for a long time I thought… even though I wasn’t, but if I’d known—”

“Katsudon.”

Yuuri’s hands still.

“I know.”

And it’s softer, rounder, quieter than he ever expected. He smiles. “Good.”

He falls asleep, not long after, to the steady pattern of Yuri’s snores from across the wall.

Viktor <3 <3 <3

7:04 am

Call me when you can?—

… 

To no one’s surprise, Yuri is hung over. Upon entering the kitchen that morning he fixes Yuuri with a glare that says not a goddamn word, downs two Tylenol, and then consumes the leftover blini at the pace of a wood-chipper.

Yuuri, who is just happy he’s eating, says not a goddamn word.

His phone rings while Nikolai is in surgery, and Yuuri steps out of the waiting room to take the call.

“Hi." 

Hi.

Viktor’s voice is like velvet, smooth and soothing and soft around the edges. All of the tension that had built up from the past hour of sitting in a plastic chair loosens and falls away from Yuuri’s body.

Sorry about last night, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“That’s okay, you needed it.”

“How’s the surgery going?”

“No one’s told us anything yet.”

Viktor is quiet for a moment. “And how’s the little kitten?” 

Yuuri makes a noise of protest on Yuri’s behalf. “He’s…okay. Better this morning. It was a bit of a rough night.” 

Oh?” 

Yuuri pushes his glasses up and massages the bridge of his nose. “I’ll tell you about it later, okay?” 

Okay. Tell him Potya won’t stop bugging me about when he’s coming home. Tell him I caught her last night with my laptop trying to buy a ticket to Moscow. Tell h—” 

“I’m not telling him that.” 

“Fine. But do tell him to reply to Yakov? I think he’s worried, not that he’d say so.”

“Okay, I will.” Down the hall, he sees a man that looks like Nikolai’s doctor heading toward the waiting room. Yuuri’s stomach twists. “Oh. I think the surgery’s over, I need to… Can you call me later?” 

“Okay, call you later. I’ll do that."

“Oh, and focus in practice today. The last thing Yakov needs is to be worrying about you, too.” 

He’s used to it.” 

“True. I love you.” 

“Love you, too. Bye.”  

Like usual, he has to force himself to press the “end call” button, remembering that he’s here for a reason and that he’s an independent man, dammit, who should be able to function without hearing his fiancé’s voice for a few hours. 

He rounds the corner into the waiting room and sees the doctor walk up to Yuri, who’s slouched in the plastic chair with music playing at a reasonable volume through his headphones, no doubt due only to the hangover. He straightens and stops the music the second he sees the doctor, still-bloodshot eyes widening. The knot in Yuuri’s stomach begins to untangle itself as the doctor announces something inaudible and relief floods his young friend’s face. 

Yuuri hangs back as the doctor explains, but goes to Yuri’s side as they head to Nikolai’s room. He hesitates when they reach the door, unsure if he should give them privacy; Yuri notices, and inclines his head in a way that Yuuri is pretty sure means to follow. 

He will wake up soon. Call a nurse if you need anything,” the doctor says, and Yuuri mentally pats himself on the back for understanding. 

Yuri lowers himself into yet another plastic chair and lets out a breath, deep and low. 

“So, it all went okay?” 

A nod. “Yeah.” 

“Good.” 

Viktor <3 <3 <3

11:02am

—everything ok?

Yes, just got to his room. He’s going to wake up soon.—

—yay!!!

—that’s great news!!

—[IMG_354]

—look, makka and potya say get well soon!

—(^^show yurio)

He said he wants you to stop putting words in his cat’s mouth—

—he said that?

Well, the wording was a bit more colorful—

—Aww I miss him

He says he misses you too—

—REALLY??!!?

…No, sorry—

—that’s ok. I know he does anyway

(●♡∀♡)

As soon as Nikolai begins to stir, Yuri’s knee starts bouncing up and down, up and down. Yuuri decides to give them privacy. Citing his desire for fresh air and remembering the courtyard he saw by the cafeteria yesterday, he heads out of the room and down to the ground floor. 

The courtyard is more of a garden and much larger than he realized. The fresh air does feel nice, and so does the stretch in his legs. It’s only been a few days since he skated, but it feels like weeks. 

He has his ear buds in, continuing to eliminate song after song. It isn’t bad music, far from it, but it’s not quite right either. The choreography whirling past his mind’s eye never takes him over; it never forces itself down into his fingers, his toes, his heart, never demands that they to move or glide or express.  

It’s a little difficult to not get discouraged, but it’s at least a good distraction from heart surgery. 

Viktor <3 <3 <3

11:30

[Screenshot_01]—

Yikes—

Have you listened to this one yet?—

—ooo that’s the one that sounds like a trashy nightclub right??

—I think I skipped it after ten seconds

—maybe six

It sounds like EDM—

I can’t imagine anyone skating to this?—

—me neither

I think this might be the artist Leo recommended—

Leo could probably pull it off—

only him though—

Well maybe Chris—

—what about me?? I’m offended

—Yuuuuuriii!!

—can you imagine

—they would be so SURPRISED

—ohhh picture the judges faces!!

Yeah I can see the headline now:—

Geriatric Living Legend Skates to Trashy Party Music—

Wait—

You aren’t seriously—

VITYA—

—no one would expect it!!

No one would like it either!!—

—yuuriiiii ( 个_ 个)

—you wound me

The truth hurts—

 

—an exhibition then?

You’re worse than Yurio—

Shouldn’t you be cross-training right now?—

—don’t tell yakov?

Viktor!—

—you texted me first!!

You set a terrible example as a coach, you know—

—it’s a good thing my student is so responsible then <3  

… 

When Yuuri returns to the fifth floor an hour later, Nikolai is wide-awake and Yuri’s eyes are a bit redder and puffier than before, even considering the hangover. Fortunately, the tension seems to have drained from his jaw and shoulders. 

“I brought Jell-O cups.” 

Yuri brightens. “Sweet.” He offers one to his grandfather, who passes, but thanks Yuuri for the thought. 

How…” Yuuri clears his throat, trying to get the accent right. “How do you feel?” As usual, his tongue makes a mangled mess out the beautiful language, but Nikolai is gracious enough to overlook this. 

Alright, thank you.” 

After devouring his Jell-O cup, Yuri lurches to his feet. “Katsudon, I’m starving. Lunch?” 

Yuuri blinks. “Uh. Yes, okay.” 

“None of that cafeteria crap, though. We’re getting real food.” 

“Um. Okay.” 

It seems as if Yuri’s pitiful caloric intake from the past few days is finally catching up with him. After assurances from Nikolai that he would be just fine without the younger boy, Yuri leads them out of the room, down the stairs, out of the hospital, and down a few city blocks until they find a street vendor selling something that smells deep fried and meaty. 

“Are you sure you want to be eating this right now?” 

“Why?” Yuri hands the money to the vendor and accepts the greasy food. “Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean I am.” 

Yuuri just shrugs. “I can never eat oily food when I’m hung over, it makes me sick.” 

“I’m not hung over.” 

Yuuri smirks. “Sure.” 

“Are you gonna eat or not?” Yuri demands, shoving the food toward him. “They’re cheburek.” 

“They look a little like pirozhki.” 

“Psht, they’re totally different.” 

They find a bench to sit on in a small nearby park. It’s filled with children chasing each other, laughing and screaming. A few benches over, their parents and babysitters are chatting and ignoring them. The swing-set creaks, a soccer ball goes flying. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barks. With a glance, Yuuri decides that Makkachin is much cuter. 

In all honesty, Yuri seems pretty out of place here. He’s not watching the kids, just staring blankly at a beetle crawling through the mulch. 

“You know, I’d never been anywhere in Moscow besides the rink for Rostelecom.” 

Yuri looks up, genuinely surprised. “Really? How? This is the best city. Saint Petersburg is okay, but Moscow’s so much better. No matter what the Old Man says.” 

It takes Yuuri a second to remember that Old Man is Viktor, not Yuri’s grandfather. 

“If you get assigned Rostelecom this year, we’re going sightseeing. You two love that shit, don’t you?” 

Hai. Well, Viktor does at least.” 

A wayward soccer ball rolls up to Yuri’s feet. For a few seconds, he looks between it and the waiting group of boys staring at him expectantly, before eventually throwing it back. 

The boys call out thanks! and continue to play. On the street the next block over, a few cars lay on their horns. The dog barks again, and the owner throws a toy for him to fetch. 

“Dedushka’s lived here his whole life.” 

Yuuri, wondering where this is going, decides to proceed with caution. “How long has he had that apartment?” A safe reply. 

“A few decades, I dunno.” Yuri shrugs. “Since before I was born. He lived somewhere else in the city before that, I guess.” 

Below the bench, his swinging foot digs hole in the mulch. Yuuri waits. When Yuri speaks again, it’s quieter. 

“He agreed to consider moving to Saint Petersburg.” 

Yuuri blinks. “He did?" 

“He shouldn’t be living on his own. If something happened…” The younger boy shrugs. “Anyway, I want to be closer. He wants to be closer, I think. To me.” 

“That would be good.” 

Yuri huffs. “It’s gonna be hard on him. He doesn’t know the city. He doesn’t know anyone. His whole life is here.” His feet stop swinging. “Pretty selfish of me, I guess.” 

“No,” Yuuri insists, because he’s trying to be impartial and supportive but he can’t let that stand. “It’s not selfish. Like you said, he wants to be with you, too, if he’s considering it. You’ll help take care of him. That’s not selfish at all.” 

For the quickest of moments, Yuri glances up, and there’s a little glimpse of the uncertainty painted clearly on his face. “No?” His fingers fidget at his sides. Yuuri shakes his head. 

“It’s not. It’s really not.” 

… 

Nikolai has just woken up from a nap when his grandson and Yuuri return. It is not long later that Yuri disappears to the bathroom: the cheburek, to no one’s surprise, had not sat well in his stomach. 

Which leaves Yuuri alone with Nikolai Plisetsky, which is a predictably intimidating situation. 

Moscow is a beautiful city,” is the first small-talk-like-thing that comes to his mind, and as soon as the words are out he wants to smack himself. Had Yuri not just gotten done telling him that the older man will likely have to move? 

Nikolai, as always, is a stoic picture of patience. 

It is. Have you been before?” 

“Only for competitions, so I’ve mostly only seen the ice rink.”  

(At least, that’s what Yuuri thinks, hopes that he said.) 

Nikolai seems to understand and there’s a pause, for a moment, as he gathers his thoughts. “Yuuri…” The name is practiced on his tongue. “I want… Thank you. For… Yuratchka. Yes. For Yuratchka. I…” 

“Of course,” Yuuri nods, and he means it. “He… He’s our family, too.” 

Judging from the smile that tugs on Nikolai’s lips, and from the way he relaxes back into the mattress, this simple phrase appears to bring him much more comfort than Yuuri could ever have expected. 

… 

Viktor <3 <3 <3

3:22pm

Hi!—

—hi!!!

Am I interrupting training?—

—nope, I’m home now

—why?? Do you have something in mind???

Yes, actually—

I was thinking we’d pick up where we left off last night—

—ohhh yuuri

—you’re on

—rematch

__|__|__
__|O|__
   |  |

Vitya—

You’re kind of terrible at this—

—well

—we’ll see

Visiting hours end around dinnertime and, exhausted despite having spent most of the day in uncomfortable chairs, they decide to order takeout to the apartment. Yuri, for his part, eats enough to feed an army. 

“They’re releasing him tomorrow evening,” he says around a mouthful of noodles. 

“Oh, that’s quick. Good.” 

“How, um… How long will you stay?” 

Yuuri takes a moment to consider. “I think it will be best to leave the day after tomorrow, then. Unless you…?” 

“No, no. That’s good. It’s good.” To Yuri’s credit, he does sound like he means it, which is reassuring to say the least. 

… 

That night, they go to bed at eleven and sleep like the dead. 

… 

The next day is the hospital, again, and a lot of instructions from the doctor: clean the bandages, no driving, eat healthy foods, rest frequently, go on light walks, take your pills. After scheduling a check-up appointment, the doctor discharges a very relieved-looking Nikolai. They have the taxi stop by the pharmacy on the way back to the apartment, and Yuuri spends a while at the kitchen table sorting pills into the daily container, one for each day of the week, while Yuri gets Nikolai comfortable on the couch. 

Afterward, he Googles “heart-healthy recipes”, makes a trip to the super-market, and cooks up a storm. In the end, freezer is stocked, the apartment smells fantastic and satisfaction settles in his stomach. 

… 

Yuuri’s flight is the next day around four in the afternoon, but before the airport they walk to the ice rink. 

The doctor said I should go on walks. Besides, Yuratchka, I want to see you skate. It has been too long.” 

As Yuri grabs his skate bag, he looks suddenly so like that little boy with a bowl cut, grinning out from the picture frame. That doesn’t change on the walk over, nor as they arrive at the rink, nor as he laces his skates up and does his stretches and glides out to center ice. 

He is different from the boy who nearly skated himself into a breakdown a few nights ago. After warming up with a few figures, a few easy doubles and triples, he goes right into Agape under the watchful, appreciative gaze of the man who inspired the emotion in every movement. It’s a bit surreal to watch Yuri alongside his grandfather, to see his friend skate from this new perspective. 

Well done, Yuratchka!” Nikolai bellows as soon as the movement ceases. 

Yuri looks over, pulling his hands down from where they had finished clasped above his head, and grins so genuinely that Yuuri’s heart stutters. 

Then the boy is moving again, into something else: after a moment, Yuuri recognizes the step sequence Viktor has been helping to choreograph, the one they had yet to find a program, theme, or music for. 

And, like Agape, it looks different today, too—but where Agape was meditative, well known and well loved and comfortable, this choreography holds something new, buzzing and trembling, imbued with energy and emotion that hums just under the surface. 

Yuri is not simply lighter today than the last time they were here; there is still a certain weight to his movements that perhaps will never go away. Nor is he simply more relaxed. Blades cutting across the ice, body moving as if it’s being carried and shaped and lifted by something unseen, he somehow looks like both that carefree little boy from the picture frame and the grave young man who spent the previous night hunched over his laptop, searching for apartments for rent in Saint Petersburg. 

Out on the ice, Yuri moves and is moved. His body opens in a spread eagle, arms extended with a delicate bend, and he launches himself into a flawless triple axel that echoes through the empty rink and steals the air from Yuuri’s lungs. 

Yuri skates and skates, and something beautiful is taking shape. 

… 

Katsuki Yuuri is on a plane home when he hears it. 

His thumb, perpetually hanging over the skip button, out of reflex begins to move, but his brain stops it just in time. 

There’s a guitar, picking out a pattern over and over again, each note sharp but the melody blending together, smooth and undulating. Mesmerized, he pulls his thumb back entirely and closes his eyes. Behind his eyelids is a boy at center ice, reaching out, and beginning to move. 

Even shoved in a tiny economy class aisle-seat, Yuuri can feel each movement in his limbs. 

There’s another melody on top, another instrument, bright and rounded. Soon enough he hears the drums, subtle and lingering in the background but pulsing, driving everything else quietly forward. 

He can’t see the details of the step sequence, but he can feel them, and it’s humming and buzzing and imbued with some energy and emotion that is coming up to the surface, ready to burst. 

He has to remind himself to breathe. The moment the plane lands, he flicks off airplane mode with twitching fingers. 

Yuri

5:38pm

[Screenshot_03]—

Four minutes later, he receives back: 

where did you find this? 

It was just in a playlist— 

Viktor is waiting next to baggage claim with a heart-shaped smile nearly too big for his face. He’s waving, calling out Yuuri! as if his fiancé could ever miss that shock of silver hair. Yuuri only barely stops himself from running; Viktor has no such restraint. 

This is their third or fourth airport reunion and, so far, each has been sweeter than the last. Viktor smells like Viktor and their apartment and Makkachin and a little bit like nutmeg, for some reason. Yuuri buries his face in his fiancé’s shoulder and breathes. 

“Hi,” he mutters into Viktor’s shirt. 

“Hi,” Viktor replies, breathless, which is ridiculous for someone who basically makes a living out of not getting winded. Yuuri laughs. He stands on his toes to press a kiss, soft and sweet, to Viktor’s lips. Viktor whimpers the second they separate, a sentiment to which Yuuri is inclined to agree. 

“We’re pathetic,” Yuuri whispers, “and in public.” 

“But Yuuri, you were gone for years.” His name is long and trilled and perfect on Viktor’s tongue. 

Yuuri responds with an arm snaked an arm around Viktor’s waist and tugs him toward the sliding door. “Then take me home, Vitya.” 

On the way out to the car, Viktor asks, “Did you have a nice flight?” 

“Yes. Actually, there’s something I want you to listen to when we get home.” 

In his pocket, his phone buzzes. 

—Wait. Are you planning on using it?  

It takes Yuuri a minute to remember their conversation. 

No no, it’s not for me—

—Oh

—good

—ok

Yuuri can read between the lines, and he is pleased. 

A half hour later, as Makkachin greets them in the door of their apartment, Yuuri’s phone vibrates again: 

Thank you 

The words curl up in Yuuri’s chest, warm and heavy. There’s a smile playing at the corners of his mouth as the warmth spreads, caused by two words that really should have been the bare minimum but here are more than enough.

His reply, in the end, feels inadequate: 

Of course, Yura.—

Two weeks later, they’re back at the arrivals section of the airport, Viktor pouting because Yuuri won’t let him hold up the sign he made that says “Ice Kitten of Russia” in black sharpie. 

When Yuri appears, duffel slung over his shoulder and bangs in his eyes, Viktor makes that same heart-shaped smile, calls out his name brightly, and pulls him into a tight hug, paying little mind to his squawks of protest. 

“Ugh, Katsudon, get your gross boyfriend off of me.” 

“I missed you too, Yurio!” 

He pulls free, composing himself, but he can’t hide the embarrassed flush on his cheeks. 

“The flight was okay?” Yuuri asks. 

“Some dumb kid behind me kept kicking the seat,” Yuri grumbles. “But yeah. It was fine.” 

They go back to Viktor and Yuuri’s apartment because Potya is there, and they insist that Yuri stay the night, despite his weak protests, because it’s late and he looks like he might collapse on the spot. 

“Fine. But you’re taking me to the rink tomorrow morning. There’s something I want to show you.” 

So that’s how Yuri ends up on their couch, asleep almost instantly, his cat curled up and purring on his chest. Yuuri leaves a glass of water on the coffee table and heads to bed with Viktor. 

... 

This early in the morning, their home rink in Saint Petersburg is filled with sunlight. Though Yuuri has never liked actually getting up, he is always grateful once he’s gliding across the fresh ice, watching the light glimmer on the snow his blades make. Today, it’s Yuri that they’re watching as he warms up with on-ice stretches, a few figures, and double and triple jumps. Yuuri and Viktor lean up against the edge of the rink. 

“What is it that you’ve dragged us all here on a Sunday to watch?” Yakov is grumbly, but he’s Yakov, so it’s all for show. His impatience, Yuuri thinks, is coming more from the anticipation they all seem to feel. 

Yuri’s blades slice across the ice as he comes to a stop in the middle of the rink. 

“Oi, Katsudon. The music?” 

Yuuri reaches over to the table with the speakers and, smiling when he sees which song is pulled up, presses play on the younger skater’s phone. 

Yuri, standing with his head bowed and arms crossed over his stomach, begins to move. 

And there’s the guitar, that quiet melody plucked over and over from its strings, each note standing out on its own but melding together into a slowly building wave of sound that carries Yuri across the ice. His blades are an instrument themselves, their rhythm matching the music that pours from the speakers and cascades down Yuri’s limbs. 

The lines of his body are sharp and clean yet perfectly delicate. He reaches out, grabs hold of something only he can see, and pulls it into his chest as his skates cut a swirling circle in the ice. He holds on so tightly that it aches to watch. 

Yuri launches himself into quadruple salchow, reconnecting with the ice just as the music begins to pulse. It pushes him forward, across the ice, into a death drop and a flying sit spin. 

A step sequence, then: the one that he and Viktor had been choreographing together. It is almost unrecognizable now, with this new heartache and resolve and fire that Yuri has brought back from Moscow. 

As the music swells, Yuri reaches out again. This time, though, he isn’t grabbing and desperately holding on—he’s chasing, searching, determined in his pursuit. He sets himself up for a quad toe, triple toe and wobbles a bit on the landing of the second jump, but reins himself back in quickly. His cheeks are flushed but he shows no sign of fatigue. 

It’s exhilarating. Mesmerizing. This is it: what Yuuri saw taking shape that last day in Moscow, now just beginning to be realized. 

Yuri opens into a spread eagle, arms held out, eyes half-lidded, and there’s something so vulnerable that it’s almost painful to watch. His body tenses for the triple axel, the music pulsing and aching and building toward, toward, toward—he pitches himself in to the air, three and a half tight rotations. 

The music begins to strip away the second he reconnects with the ice, leaving only the guitar, low and undulating. There is quiet urgency in his movements as he moves into a final combination spin, curved in on himself at first but slowly opening, extending hopefully upward, reaching, reaching, reaching… 

The final note rings out, the spinning stops, and Yuri stands with one hand pressed to his heaving chest, the other stretching upwards with a clear resolve, as if to touch the sky. 

The rink falls silent. After a moment, Yuri falls out of his final pose, wipes a hand across his eyes, and turns to search his audience. 

“Well?” 

Words are, suddenly, completely inadequate. Even Yakov, who any other time would have jumped on Yuri’s mistake with the combination, stays silent. 

But Yuri is looking at him. Skating over toward him. 

“Well, Katsudon? What do you think?” 

And if the only response that Yuuri can muster is a hug, it’s only because he can’t even think of a response in his first language, let alone his second or third. He could say: it was beautiful, perfect, stunning, I couldn’t look away, but that’s all been said before, and this was… 

More. 

Yes, words are totally inadequate, so instead he wraps the trembling Yuri Plisetsky in a hug. 

And Yuri Plisetsky relaxes, leans in, and for once does not protest at all.