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The Nature of Things

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Viktor Nikiforov is standing outside of a Circle K in Detroit with a cup of shitty coffee in one hand and a bagged donut in the other when he makes what may be the worst decision of his 26 years of life. He’s staying here, at least for the time being. Two competitions, a month and a half apart in the same area of the United States, led to him renting an apartment close to the rink in Detroit for convenience. Not expecting to stay long, he’d brought few things from home. Trinkets, mostly. Some books. His great-grandparents’ kiddush cup that for some reason his mothers had given him rather than keeping for themselves. Makkachin, of course, is here, and adjusting fantastically. Detroit isn’t what Viktor’s used to, but it’s a welcomed change.

It’s not necessarily better than St. Petersburg, per se, but it’s different. Less stifling. The rink is nice, and Celestino has no issue with Viktor using his rink time to practice, so long as he helps some of the younger skaters when he’s able. He’s still getting used to the constant ebb and flow of English around him, but years of practice and international competitions have proven their worth. He eats as he walks to the rink, crisp spring air biting at his cheeks and the tips of his ears. As he walks up the steps to the ice rink ten minutes late, he finishes his donut, tossing the bag and a good two-thirds of his coffee in the trash his way through the doors.

He’s just finished warming up when he sees Celestino wave him over. Skating to the edge of the rink, he leans against the boards as the coach finishes pulling his hair back. “Viktor, congratulations on taking gold! It’s been good working with you,” Celestino starts, before Viktor puts a finger up.

“About that,” he says, “I’m staying in Detroit! I wanted to ask if we could keep this arrangement going indefinitely.”

Looking Viktor up and down, Celestino raises an eyebrow. “Does Coach Feltsman know?”

“Not yet!” Viktor says brightly. “I’ll call him after making arrangements with my landlord.”

Celestino looks concerned. “You’re sure about this, no?” Viktor nods.

“I’ve thought about it, if that’s what you’re asking!” He smiles reassuringly, waving his hand.

Celestino nods, “I’m going to have to talk to the owner, but I don’t see why it would be a problem to have the one and only Viktor Nikiforov training here.” He laughs, and the pit of loneliness deep inside Viktor grows just a little. He hadn’t anticipated anyone having an issue with him staying, because who wouldn’t want to lay claim to Russia’s Living Legend, but it somehow feels worse to have that line of reasoning confirmed.

At least Makkachin doesn’t care about his gold medals.

Remembering that his only real friend is a dog doesn’t help anything, as dear as Makkachin is.

Viktor throws all of his frustration into practicing. He does another short series of warm-ups, and moves into running through his free skate. He lands his first jump badly, but moves smoothly through the choreography that follows. When he barely lands the second, he skids to a stop. Skating a lap around the rink, he shakes out his arms and rolls his shoulders, breathing deeply. Celestino is standing near the center of the rink, eyes following Viktor’s movements carefully.

His second run-through is worse. He touches down after the first jump, and robotically runs through the step sequence, only to pop the next. He runs his hands through his hair, taking deep breaths as he skates to the edge of the rink, stopping just short of the boards. As he drinks water, he notices the younger skaters starting to whisper amongst themselves. Celestino glances back at him repeatedly. He shakes his head and moves again into his starting position.

Viktor’s chest burns, a lump forming in the back of his throat, but after a few deep breaths he feels calm enough to try again, and he takes off for the third time. When he barely manages to stay on his feet after his first jump, he skates quickly around the edge of the rink, gracefully (narrowly) avoiding a collision with a group of younger skaters, and throws himself in to practicing only his jumps. At first he does ok, but as quads turn into triples and triples into doubles, he gets more frustrated. His landings get progressively worse, resulting in an abundance of near-falls and he’s halfway through his signature quad flip when he realizes everything is going wrong.

He ends up sprawled out on the ice, face against its cool surface. He rolls onto his back and lets his arms fall to his sides. Heat crawls up his face and a cold, burning pit of disappointment forms in his stomach. He’s never had this much trouble landing jumps. It’s not that the jumps are his only skill, his spins and choreography have garnered their fair share of attention as well. The fact of the matter is, however, that he’s been known for his jumps for over a decade, constantly pushing himself to increase his technical skills until they took him to the top of the podium and kept him there.

And now the great Viktor Nikiforov is on his back in the middle of an ice rink in Detroit, after a solid hour of practicing jumps without one successful attempt. He barely keeps himself from kicking the ice after he stands up, instead skating briskly towards the exit, determinedly avoiding making eye contact with any of the other skaters. His career depends on his impressive jump repertoire.

You’re nothing without your jumps.

He angrily puts on his skate guards and makes his way to the locker room.

Halfway through untying his skates, he hears a chipper voice making its way down the hall. A second later, he hears his name.

“Phichit,” he says, turning around.

“Bad day?” Phichit sits on the bench opposite Viktor. He yanks off his tennis shoes and ankle socks, moving to put on his skates.

Viktor sighs as he wipes down his blades. “I’m not allowed to have a bad day,” he says defensively. The instant the words leave his lips he regrets them.

Phichit raises his hands in surrender. “Everyone has bad days.” He smiles, “I won’t tell if you don’t, though!” Despite the early hour, Phichit is as chipper as ever. Viktor is proud to call himself a morning person most of the time, but even he has his limits. Phichit tugs on his skate laces to make sure they’re tied properly, before he stands. “Maybe you should take the rest of the day off? Grab some coffee or something. Not convenience store crap, like real coffee.”

Viktor raises an eyebrow. He hadn’t realized Phichit was so familiar with his morning coffee routine.

“I know a place nearby. They’re really good, and their pastries come from a bakery down the street. You can’t go wrong, really. The chairs are comfortable, too. Take a book, take some time for yourself.” He pulls out a note pad, writing a vague address and haphazard series of directions. A small map is drawn at the bottom, a cheerful hamster holding a steaming mug denoting Viktor’s destination.

Taking the paper, Viktor nods gratefully. He finishes putting his skates away, and moves to leave. Before he lets the door close behind him, he looks back at Phichit, “Thank you,” he says quietly. Phichit nods in return, offering a thumbs-up before he heads out to practice.

He calls his landlord and Yakov while he walks. Staying in his apartment won’t be an issue, the landlord happy to keep the apartment occupied indefinitely. Yakov, though, is less than impressed with Viktor’s “rash decision making” and has plenty of choice words about his career (and the apparently imminent destruction thereof). Viktor cheerfully brushes off his concerns, promising an eventual email about setting up a training regimen before ending the call abruptly.

 

He walks into the coffee shop Phichit recommended with a plastic smile on his lips and a deceptive skip in his step. While he waits in line, he busies himself reading the beautifully-written chalkboard menu behind the counter. His coffee selections at the convenience store had been abysmal, though they functioned as intended, and Phichit’s reassuring “You can’t go wrong,” had given him high hopes. He’s engrossed in the descriptions of the house blends when he hears a soft, melodic voice trying to get his attention.

“Sir?” Viktor looks at the source of the voice, and meets the deep brown eyes of the young man leaning slightly over the counter. “Hi,” the man continues shyly, “Welcome to The Daily Grind, what can I get started for you today?” His smile reaches his eyes, framed by chunky blue glasses. The top of his dark hair is pulled back, held in place by gel and a few bobby pins here and there, while the back and sides are cut fairly close to his head. “Sir?” he says again, and Viktor nearly jumps.

“Can I get a Raf?”

“Sorry?”

Viktor quickly remembers he’s not in Russia anymore, and corrects himself. “Black. A black coffee. Please. Dark roast.” The man smiles and leans back. The sun glints off the silver nametag on his burgundy apron.

“I’ll have that right up!” Viktor can’t help but stare as the barista turns around and reaches for a cup. His black button-up pulls where it’s tucked into the equally-black work pants he’s wearing. Rather well, if Viktor has anything to say about how the material hugs incredible thighs and accentuates an incredibly toned backside. Viktor follows the line of clothing up the barista’s body, ending at the rolled-up cuff of his shirt. His eyes trace the man’s lean forearm, coming to rest briefly on a small oddly-shaped group of scars near his wrist, finally landing on the elegant, manicured hand holding a burgundy paper cup.  All too soon, Viktor’s staring at the same cup in front of him, now with a lid and cardboard sleeve. “That’ll be $2.75.”

Viktor fumbles slightly with his wallet, pulling out a couple of bills and counting out the change into his hand. He gives the money to the barista, and his fingers feel hot where they brush skin. He takes his coffee and moves away from the counter. As he’s dumping in sugar and copious amounts of cream, he catches the barista staring at him with one eyebrow raised and a sly smile on his lips. The tips of Viktor’s ears grow warm and he busies himself with putting the lid back on his drink.

Viktor looks at his coffee, tossing a wink at the newly-dubbed Cute Barista on his way out the door, and he just knows that even if the coffee is terrible, he’ll be back.

 

~*~

 

The coffee is anything but terrible, and he’s back the next morning, and the one after that. Every day he’s greeted by the same smiling face, and every day he leaves feeling a little lighter.

It’s three weeks before he decides to try something different.

It’s a month before he finally (finally!) has a conversation with The Cute Barista.

It starts when he mentions the unfortunate habit pet hair has of getting into even the weirdest places. The Cute Barista’s eyes widen, shining. “What kind of pet do you have?”

“A poodle! His name is Makkachin. He’s ten years old and he has the softest fur imaginable!”

“I love dogs!”

Viktor immediately pulls out his phone. He has over a thousand pictures of his dog and he’s not about to waste the opportunity to show them off. He’s interrupted by a small group of people walking through the door, and The Cute Barista gestures for him to take a seat at the bar.

Ten minutes and three re-made drinks later, Viktor can swear The Cute Barista is scowling at the backs of the departing customers through the most blatantly plastic customer service face Viktor has seen in his life. Once the door closes behind the offending group, however, a genuine smile returns. He glances at Viktor tentatively, and Viktor holds up his phone with his latest picture of Makkachin. The barista’s eyes light up, shining more with each consecutive photo. When Viktor shows him one of Makka covered in packing peanuts, he looks like his day has absolutely been made. Viktor scrolls through his gallery until his phone goes off.

“15 Minutes Until: Be at the rink for practice” flashes on the screen in Russian, and Viktor barely keeps from letting out a groan.

“Gotta go?” The Cute Barista asks softly. When Viktor nods, he smiles. “One for the road?” he raises his eyebrows, holding up a cup.

“Please. Two extra shots, if you don’t mind.” The Cute Barista raises one eyebrow, but starts pulling shots of espresso.

“Long day ahead of you?” He asks as he finishes steaming milk.

Viktor sighs. “Yeah. I’m already looking forward to going home.”

The Cute Barista laughs. “I know that feeling,” he says. “I had to open today. I’m two hours into my shift and I just want to go to my place and boot up my Playstation.” He puts a lid on the burgundy cup in front of him, taking the cash Viktor slides across the counter. As he hands back Viktor’s change, he smiles. “I hope your day goes well.”

Viktor can’t help but smile in return. “I’m sure it will.”

 

~*~

 

Late one afternoon, Viktor is walking Makkachin when he hears a sudden gasp.

“Is this your dog?!” He turns to see a young man in glasses and a blue pea coat over a loose grey t-shirt pointing excitedly at Makka.

Viktor nods mutely.

“Can I pet him?”

Viktor smiles and motions for the man to go ahead. Makkachin’s always brought attention when he’s out and about. It’s hard for people to resist his fluffy hair and cute face, especially when his tongue is hanging out the side of his mouth as it is right now. The stranger kneels down, cuffed jeans hiking further up his legs. He leans forward, offering his hand, and laughs when Makka jumps on him, knocking him to the ground. The man’s messy black hair falls into his eyes, obscuring his glasses, while his manicured hands run through Makkachin’s hair, scratching behind his ears and under his chin until Makka is panting happily.

“I’m so sorry about that,” Viktor says, as he moves to pull Makkachin off of the man.

“I don’t mind, I love dogs,” the stranger says. “I had one, when I was younger. Toy poodle. He looked a lot like Makkachin, here.” Viktor’s brows knit together. He doesn’t recall mentioning Makkachin’s name, but then, the man’s face is six inches from Makka’s tags. He smiles. The man takes a deep breath before continuing. “I’d have gotten a dog when I moved to Detroit, but my apartment won’t allow large pets. My roommate is also worried about the continued existence of his hamsters in the presence of such a,” he raises his hands and does finger quotes, “ferocious beast.” He frowns. It’s adorable. Viktor’s heart does summersaults.

When Makkachin gets distracted by a particularly interesting patch of grass, Viktor offers his hand. The young man takes it, smiling. He jumps lightly to his feet, brushing grass off his knees and (admittedly shapely) rear. “Thanks for that.” He says to Viktor, smiling brightly. “So do you live near here?”

Viktor’s slightly taken aback by the man’s forwardness. “Yes, I do,” he says cautiously.

The man smiles. “Me, too. I’m down that way a few blocks,” he says, gesturing vaguely. “Over near the university.” In the interest of politeness, Viktor asks how he likes it. “It’s not bad,” he responds. “We moved here from Alpena while ago. It’s definitely not what I was used to. Alpena’s a small town, so Detroit is…different. Much bigger.”

“Where’s Alpena?”

The man promptly hold his right hand out flat, fingers together and palm up, using his left to point at the middle knuckle on his index finger. “Right there.” He then moves his finger down to point at the base of his thumb. “Detroit is here. Alpena’s about a four-hour drive north, on the coast of Lake Huron.” Viktor belatedly realizes he’s using his hand as a rough representation of Michigan. This explains the oven mitts with maps on them that permeate souvenir shops throughout the state. “What about you?” He asks.

Viktor clears his throat. He’s not looking to get into the details of why he suddenly uprooted his life, but he doesn’t get the impression he’ll be asked. “I actually moved here from St. Petersburg.”

“I’m assuming you’re not talking about Florida.”

Viktor laughs gently. “No, you’re right. I’m Russian. I needed a change of scenery.”

The young man nods, “I can understand that.” He looks at his watch. “I’ve gotta get going, but I’ll see you on Monday, right?” he says as he tilts his head slightly. Viktor squints, puzzled. The man runs his fingers through his hair, small scars on his forearm coming into stark relief in the morning light. Realization hits Viktor like a train.

It’s The Cute Barista.

“Baruch Hashem,” he says under his breath. Thank God. Makkachin loves him, too, which adds points in Viktor’s book. He smiles. “You know, in all this time I don’t think I’ve ever gotten your name,” he says smoothly.

“Yuuri,” the man says, holding out his hand. “My name is Yuuri Katsuki.”

He shakes it. “Viktor Nikiforov,” he replies, and if Yuuri recognizes the name he doesn’t show it.

Moving to Detroit was the best decision Viktor has made in a long, long while.

 

~*~

 

It’s early on Monday when Viktor enters The Daily Grind, finding it mostly empty. Yuuri is behind the counter, wiping down his work space, and his face brightens when he sees Viktor. Dropping his cloth in a basin behind him, he holds up one finger and gets started on Viktor’s coffee. Viktor approaches the register, watching red bloom on Yuuri’s cheeks. He jumps when a burgundy cup is almost slammed onto the counter in front of him.

“It’s on the house!” Yuuri blurts out, blush spreading across the tip of his nose.

Raising one eyebrow, Viktor lifts the cup to his mouth. The taste is familiar, and Viktor’s three sips in before it clicks. “You made me a Raf?”

Yuuri nods, the tips of his ears getting pinker. “Y-you mentioned you were from Russia, and I remembered you asking for…something your first time here? So I googled stuff about Russian coffee and wow, I didn’t realize you guys used samovars so often, but uh, I found a description online and….I thought I’d try to make you one.”

 “I missed these,” Viktor says fondly.

Yuuri nods, a shadow of longing flashing across his face. “It’s always nice to have a taste of home when you’ve been away for a while.”

“It is,” Viktor agrees with a nod. He takes another sip of the sweet, frothy drink. “This is really good! Tastes just like the ones I used to get in St. Petersburg.”

Yuuri beams. “There were differing opinions on what was the iconic ‘Russian coffee’ but with how much sugar and cream you’d dumped in, I figured this was my best bet. Were you going to order a pastry as well?”

Heart full to bursting, Viktor examines the pastry display. He finally settles on a fruit danish with an obscene amount of icing, diet be damned. Yuuri drops it in a bag, and sets it in front of Viktor, waving him away as he pulls out his wallet. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yuuri, you already gave me the coffee for free, won’t your bosses…” he trails off as a sly smile spreads across Yuuri’s face.

Yuuri leans forward, across the counter. Viktor’s heart leaps into his throat as his gaze moves across Yuuri’s face, down from his slicked-back hair, to the blue frames of his glasses before it’s pulled into deep brown eyes. The apron he’s wearing enhances the flecks of burgundy around his pupils, and as the sun glints off of Yuuri’s silver name badge, Viktor suddenly finds it very, very hard to breathe. “The coffee was on the house. The pastry’s on me.

Time seems to stand still. The world around Viktor keeps moving but he’s thoroughly entranced by the man in front of him. Yuuri winks, straightening up as the bell over the door rings. As he moves to take the order of the person who just walked in, Viktor grabs the pastry in front of him and takes a seat at the counter. He eats while he watches Yuuri, a flush spreading across his face as his hands fly over the machinery, elegant fingers pulling together a macchiato with precision. When the customer leaves, Viktor smiles. "I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on." Yuuri's face turns scarlet as he sputters.

"Wh-what?!"

Viktor blushes as he realizes what he just said. "Your regular clothes!" He clarifies. "You were in jeans and a t-shirt, I'm used to the black clothes and the apron. I didn't realize it was you until you mentioned seeing me today. You look very different with your hair pulled back." Viktor silently thanks years of dealing with the press for his ability to keep his cool.

Yuuri’s laugh rings clearly through the shop. He smiles and starts cleaning steamed milk out of the frothing pitcher. “I’m sorry,” he says, “the glasses usually give me away. If I’d realized you hadn’t recognized me I’d have told you.” He looks up suddenly, mouth open and unfairly beautiful eyes sparkling. “Makkachin’s fur really is incredibly soft, though!”

Viktor launches into a detailed explanation of his care regimen for Makkachin, which quickly devolves into him showing Yuuri pictures on his phone. He’s just passing pictures of Makka sitting guiltily next to a plate of what had been last Passover’s brisket when Yuuri tugs his sleeve. He looks up to see Yuuri pointing at the clock on the wall. “When do you have to be wherever you usually go?”

Viktor swears quickly in Russian when he sees the time. “In fifteen minutes,” he says, shoulders drooping. He holds up his almost-finished coffee. “Can I get a cappuccino to go?”

Yuuri nods and starts pulling espresso shots. It takes longer than normal for him to hand Viktor’s coffee over the bar, but when he does his eyes are sparkling. “I forgot to sweeten it. So you might, um, want to do that.” Confusion creeps through Viktor’s head as he makes his way to the condiments, but it’s quickly replaced by an almost giddy joy when he opens the cup. Floating on top of the foam is a latte-art rendition of Makkachin, complete with his little tongue sticking out of the front of his mouth. Viktor looks excitedly back at Yuuri, who’s blushing furiously. He meets Viktor’s eyes, and seeing the excited gestures made in the direction of the cup, a small smile creeps over his face. He makes a pointed gesture at the cup he’s holding, mimes writing something, and then points at the one in Viktor’s hand, before hurriedly waving and helping the customer at the counter.

Viktor takes several pictures of the latte-art Makkachin (he dubs it the “Makkaccino” with a small chuckle to himself), posting his favorite on Instagram as he walks to practice, tagging the café in the description. Reaching the rink, he’s about to throw the cup away when he remembers Yuuri’s frantic gestures. Twisting the paper sleeve off, he immediately sees a phone number followed by a looping signature. Excited, he pulls out a phone and makes a new contact.

 

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   [photo attached] Makkaccino!!

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   (⁄ ⁄>⁄ w ⁄<⁄ ⁄) you finally found my number

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   What do you mean, ‘finally’, I had to finish my drink first.

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   (•_•) that was the third time i put it on one of your cups

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Oh.
>>>   Well I have it now! :)))

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   (・ω・) obviously. did you enjoy your makkaccino?

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   It was almost too cute to drink :( but your coffee is too delicious for me not to! (and I needed the caffeine ^_^;)

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   (>////<) i don’t really do anything special, i just follow the recipes.

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   It’s still some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   ~(^u^)~

 

The man uses too many emojis for Viktor’s heart to take.

 

To: Chris ∠( ∠) _
>>>   Look at my Instagram.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Oh, my.
<<<   Who is he? He must be *someone* amazing if you’re making first contact.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   Barista at a coffee shop near the rink.
>>>   Chris you have no idea how beautifully adorable this man is.
>>>   He loves dogs.
>>>   He uses emojis shamelessly, Chris.
>>>   He makes perfect cappuccinos.
>>>   He made me a Raf!

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠)_
<<<   And when did you meet him?

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   A month ago.
>>>   The same day I decided to stay here.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠)_
<<<   It must be fate.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠)_
>>>   Must be.

 

~*~

 

The unusually cold spring wind whistles through Viktor’s hair as he makes his way to The Daily Grind, hands buried in his pockets to keep warm. Feeling a warm hand on his shoulder, he turns around and ends up looking directly at a smiling Yuuri, lopsided beanie on his head and a grin to match.

“Are you heading to the café?” he asks, brown scarf fluttering to the side. The other end of the scarf is still tucked into the dark blue jacket Yuuri’s wearing over his work clothes. Viktor nods, looking him up and down.

“You’re not wearing anything warmer? I thought Americans always bundle up.”

Yuuri’s laugh rings through the quiet street. “I grew up in Michigan. You either learn to laugh in the face of the cold, or you move to California,” he deadpans. “I visited Los Angeles once, and they were complaining when it was 50 degrees. Parkas, scarves, those Ugg boots everyone likes for some reason…I was wearing a hoodie and tennis shoes.” Seeing Viktor’s confusion, he clarifies, “Fifty Fahrenheit is like, somewhere around ten degrees Celsius?” Eyes widen in understanding as Viktor lets out a short laugh. Yuuri nods and chuckles again.

They make their way towards the shop. When they’re about half a mile from their destination, Yuuri speaks tentatively. “Viktor?”

“Hm?” Viktor looks over.

“I’m not offended, or anything, but um, I wear a name tag at work? How did it take you almost a month to ask for my name? Or was it because I finally pet your dog?” Yuuri asks, smiling jovially.

Brown eyes are twinkling behind blue frames, and Viktor feels his cheeks getting warm. He runs many responses through his mind, ranging from lighthearted to flirty to sarcastic, his mouth opens before he registers what he’s about to say and-

“I was too busy staring at your face,” Among other things, he practically blurts. He’s rewarded with a small squeak as Yuuri pulls his scarf over burning red cheeks. Somehow his own composure is still intact, and he flashes a smirk and a wink in Yuuri’s direction. “But Makka’s seal of approval was the final deciding factor.”

“Good to know,” Yuuri replies, soft smile almost radiant. Viktor sighs happily.

When they arrive at the café, Yuuri vanishes behind the counter, reappearing a few minutes later with his apron hanging loosely around his neck. He pins on his name tag, looking pointedly at Viktor with a grin, before tying his apron with practiced hands and logging into the register.

Viktor gets his coffee and waits a few minutes to chat, but the line only grows as Yuuri rushes around behind the counter. He catches Yuuri’s eyes, waving his phone in the air as he waves goodbye. Yuuri smiles, briefly raising his hand and nodding in response, and Viktor heads off to the rink for what is a surprisingly productive day.

Chapter Text

It comes to be that more often than not, Viktor spends his afternoons in the café, chatting over the bar with Yuuri while he works. It’s become one of the highlights of his day. His anonymity, as fleeting as it may be, offers a sense of warmth and security, and if Viktor had his way he’d be basking in it forever. He’s spent so much time at the top of the world, the center of attention, the freedom he feels is refreshing in a way he’d never expected it to be. These quiet moments ease themselves into Viktor’s routine to the point where, on the days Yuuri’s not working, he doesn’t quite know what to do with his free time.

Much of his spare time is spent reading, curled up on the couch or bed with Makkachin for hours. All of his books were left in St. Petersburg save a few essentials, but living in close proximity to a college means living in close proximity to bookstores, and he takes shameless advantage of this fact. He’s on a first-name basis with clerks in at least three different shops, and is on friendly terms with several more. His appetite is voracious, and he’s amassed quite a collection of novels both fiction and non-fiction, all haphazardly stacked on whatever surface he could find in his apartment. Not for the first time, he seriously considers buying a book case. Treating himself to new furniture wasn’t high on his list, especially when he’d planned on returning to Russia after the competitions ended, but now that he’s here indefinitely (and tripping over books left and right), a bookshelf has become more of a necessity than a splurge. Makkachin seems to agree, if his distress at not being able to sniff around without knocking things over is anything to go by.

Sighing, Viktor decides to make his way to Target. It’s Sunday, so he knows Yuuri isn’t at work, and there’s really nothing else for him to do other than go to the rink. He’d be there already if he had any say, but Celestino and Yakov have apparently joined forces, and have instituted enforced rest days to keep him from overtraining, despite it being the beginning of the off-season. Their concern is comforting, but has directly resulted in Viktor’s restlessness, to his irritation.

It doesn’t take long to choose and pay for his purchase. Leaving the store, Viktor hefts the bookcase over his shoulder (thanking his lucky stars it doesn’t come preassembled) and finally takes a moment to assess the situation. He’d come by bus, a route running almost directly from his apartment to the local Target, but hadn’t thought about needing to transport anything but himself back home.

He’s set the box down and is in the middle of downloading Lyft when a grey hatchback pulls up in front of him. The passenger side window rolls down to reveal Yuuri’s smiling face, his loose hair blowing around in the breeze. “Do you need a ride?”

Prince Charming to the rescue. Viktor clears his throat, “If it’s not any trouble, please.”

Yuuri throws the car into park. “Not at all!” He makes his way to the rear of the vehicle, folding the back seats down and opening the hatchback. They maneuver the bookshelf in with no small amount of effort, finally getting it situated diagonally. The passenger seat in front is moved forward to make room, and Viktor gives a laugh as he tries to fit himself into confined space.

“Sorry about that,” Yuuri says with a grimace. “My roommate usually doesn’t have a problem, but…well, he’s short.”

“It’s all right, you’re doing me a favor! I can put up with no leg room for a little while.” Viktor smiles, tucking his legs up on the seat. It’s not especially uncomfortable, Viktor’s crammed himself into smaller areas before, but it’s still awkward. His shins are jammed up against the dashboard, even folded into himself as he is, and every time Yuuri brakes he feels the hard plastic pressing into his legs.

The drive to Viktor’s apartment is relatively short, Yuuri making his way across the city with confidence. Once they park, it takes them ten minutes to maneuver the book shelf into Viktor’s apartment, and another thirty to make tea and play with Makkachin.

When they go to get started on assembly, Yuuri undoes the sleek grey button-up he’s wearing, laying it gently over the back of the chair. He’s left in an undershirt, slacks, and a black leather belt and shoes. It’s an oddly formal outfit for someone just out and about.

“Do you go to church, Yuuri?”

Yuuri looks back at him, flushed. He combs his hair back with his fingers, confused. Viktor runs his gaze up and down Yuuri’s body once, savoring the view. “You’re dressed more formally, today.” Meeting Yuuri’s eyes, he can only grin as Yuuri glances once, twice at his own clothing before registering what Viktor said.

“Oh, uh, no.” His voice is soft, hesitant, and it’s a while before he speaks again. “I um, I meet with my sister on Sundays. In the morning. We go to brunch.” Brunch? “It’s a nice place, so I dress well.” Sighing softly, he sits back on his feet before looking at Viktor again. “What about you?”

“If I went anywhere it’d be the, um, synagoga, on Saturdays.”

Puzzled, Yuuri frowns.

“We’re Jewish…”

Understanding dawns on Yuuri’s face as his cheeks slowly turn an interesting shade of pink. “Oh, I didn’t mean to- I thought since you – I’m so sorry!” He waves his hands in front of him before settling abruptly, hands on his knees and head bowed slightly.

Laughing, Viktor kneels next to him, prying the instructions from his hand. “It’s alright, I asked you about church, so it was a logical conclusion.” Brown hair flops with a nod. Viktor absently wonders running his hands through it would feel like, the transition from the long, silky strands on the top of Yuuri’s head to the fuzz around the back and sides. How soft would it be?

“Wait, Viktor. What do you mean we’re Jewish? You and…?”

“Makkachin, of course!!” Hearing his name, the dog plods over, flopping down with his head on Yuuri’s lap. Obliging him, Yuuri scratches behind the dog’s ears absently.

“Did he have a bar mitzvah or something?”

“Bark,” Viktor corrects.

“Come again?”

“He had a bark mitzvah. There were dog biscuits. He chewed a stuffed Torah. It was great.” Viktor’s rink mates had humored him, teasing him for months about his devotion to his dog. Viktor threw Makkachin a private birthday party every year since, partially out of spite, partially because Makka’s birthday was the only thing Viktor ever felt like celebrating sometimes. It was nice to pamper someone else.

Yuuri smiles, pushing his glasses back up his nose and scooting to sit next to Viktor to read the directions. After another unsuccessful try at figuring out just how everything goes, they spend ten minutes arguing about how to proceed. Viktor cross-references the English instructions with the French, before giving up and turning to the internet. YouTube tutorials prove to be very good teachers, at least in this case, and an hour later the bookcase stands proudly against the wall.

Books are collected from their perches around the house, Viktor careful to save out those he’s currently actually reading. As well as a few he intends to, and one or two (or four or five) more that have been recommended. Yuuri draws the line there, insisting that, should Viktor have immediate need of any of the books on his shelf, it would be a simple matter to walk himself over. Conceding, Viktor starts sorting his books, first into stacks of fiction and nonfiction, then by genre and author name, until neat piles are perched on every available surface.

Viktor feels Yuuri’s eyes on him as he puts his books on the shelves, lining them up against each other snugly. He runs his fingers across them, ridges of worn spines punctuated by the smooth backs of books he has yet to read through. Stepping back, he surveys his handiwork, noting the shelf-and-a-half or so he has to work with before needing yet another bookcase. A warm feeling overcomes him as he realizes how much he missed having shelves of books nearby. They reassure him, a group of old friends who’ve pulled him through nights of insomnia and times where he was drowning in isolation.

Shuffling behind him pulls his attention back to the here and now, and he turns to see Yuuri petting Makkachin with a grin. Dog fur is getting all over his slacks, but he doesn’t seem to mind as he pulls him closer. He takes off his glasses before Makka starts licking his face, laughing as he moves around to (unsuccessfully) keep from getting dog tongue in his mouth. Viktor realizes, with a start, that it’s been a while since he’s felt lonely enough to rely on books like he used to.

They end up ordering takeout, courtesy of Viktor (“You have to let me pay you back for giving me a ride,” he’d said, to a blushing Yuuri), curling up on the couch with a soap opera to pass the time. Neither of them pay attention, preferring instead to chat as plates and silverware are pulled out and set on the table. Makkachin noses Viktor until he’s been fed, curled up happily in the corner with his bowl.

The food arrives, Viktor tipping generously, and they sit down to eat. Eventually, the topic of conversation moves towards work, and after getting a detailed list of all of the things Yuuri absolutely loathes about working in a coffee shop (“Don’t order a cappuccino if you’re going to ask me to take the foam off. Just order a latte for fuck’s sake,” he’d groused, shoving a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth), Viktor realizes he doesn’t want to talk about his own career. He’s tried, before, just telling people he was a figure skater, but with the internet at everyone’s fingertips, it had never been long before their focus had turned to his career. More often than not he’d ended up fielding questions about figure skating, about his medals, could they come see him skate, and if so could he get them rink side passes. Several memorable occasions had ended with requests to meet other skaters with not-so-subtle hints at desires for a threesome. He listens absently as Yuuri talks about differences in coffees and brewing temperatures, enjoying the sound of his voice.

Viktor takes another bite, trying to figure out how to avoid telling Yuuri anything that might give him away. He could, though. He could come clean, tell Yuuri, and get the awkwardness (and likely heartache) out of the way. He goes so far as to try during a break in conversation, but it’s impossible to make the words come out of his mouth. Yuuri is staring at him inquisitively, eyes searching Viktor’s face.

He must find what he’s looking for, because he shrugs one shoulder slightly before taking another bite. “This woman came in a few weeks ago, right? Now, I’ve been asked for some ridiculous drinks before, but she wanted a small latte with thirteen shots of espresso. Thirteen! And extra syrup, too!! I give this monstrosity to her, and she dumps even more sugar in it. She’s asking for a heart attack, honestly.” He scrapes up the last of his sauce with his bread, tearing a small chunk off as an offering for Makkachin.

“Do you get drinks like that often?” Grateful for the chance to keep the topic of conversation away from himself, Viktor encourages Yuuri to continue.

“Not as much as Starbucks, thankfully, since our menu is more limited, but you’d be surprised. I have this one regular, sweet older woman, who always asks for precisely nine pumps of syrup in her mocha. Every time she comes in, without fail. I tried it once, just to see, it’s ridiculously sweet. There’s this other person,” Yuuri’s face twists with displeasure, “he always orders a frappe, always with some sort of special request, and he always walks out muttering about how Starbucks tastes different. We don’t carry the same ingredients or product line, of course it’s not going to taste the same.”

“Any other notable regulars?”

Yuuri’s cheeks flush slightly, his eyes sparkling and full of mischief. “This grad student comes in and gets a latte with eight shots of espresso, but always has us do some convoluted number of pumps of different syrups? It’s different every time, but at least he knows what he wants when he walks in.”

“Oh? Anyone…else?” He smirks, leaning closer.

Rich brown eyes meet his as Yuuri looks at him, cherry-red and smiling. “There’s this other one. Comes in and orders some weird Russian coffee all the time. Asks for whipped cream for his dog on occasion. He sits at the bar chatting all day, he’s a bit of a mystery, but somehow his visits are my favorites.” It’s barely noticeable, but Yuuri’s chewing lightly on his lower lip, fidgeting with his silverware now that he’s finished his food. He glances at Viktor from behind his bangs, glasses resting low on his nose.

Viktor feels his cheeks grow warm. He can’t help but stare at Yuuri, before a grin splits his face wide open. “Maybe the café is his favorite place to visit, too.”

Impossibly, Yuuri’s face comes closer to resembling a tomato. Viktor can feel the warmth in his own spreading across his ears and down to his chest, his breath growing heavier as he holds Yuuri’s gaze. Time stretches impossibly between them, and he’s falling, falling into the rich brown depths of Yuuri’s eyes. Yuuri stares back, unwavering. His lips are slightly parted, pupils slowly dilating the longer they stay locked with Viktor’s. The tension between them grows, curling around the two men like a pleasantly warm fog, gently urging them to close the distance. Viktor feels himself leaning forward, slowly but with intent, before Yuuri’s phone vibrates across the table.

Startled, Yuuri almost hits his phone onto the floor, scrambling and grabbing it at the last second. He opens it, eyes skimming across the screen quickly. A look of fond exasperation comes across his face as he quickly types something before shoving his phone in his pocket. “Sorry,” he says, looking back up. “My roommate’s wondering if I’m dead in a ditch somewhere, since I haven’t let him know I was gonna be late.”

“Am I keeping you from something?”

“No!” Yuuri responds earnestly. “No, no, you’re not…he just got worried, normally I’m home right after I meet with my sister, but obviously that didn’t happen today.” He smiles, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. Viktor nods, understanding. He gets up, clearing the plates from the table, while Yuuri puts on his shirt. He doesn’t bother doing it up all the way, leaving the top and bottom buttons undone and the shirttails un-tucked.

Yuuri pulls out his phone again, looking up. “How do you spell your name? So I have it right in my contacts?”

Pausing a moment, Viktor eventually replies, “I don’t really mind if it’s spelled with a C or a K. I normally use a K out of habit. It reads the same in Russian, so it helped when my English was worse.”

“I mean, how do you actually spell it? In Russian?”

Holding out his hand, Viktor takes Yuuri’s phone. The contact screen is already brought up, and he smiles seeing his name put in as ‘Vik(c?)tor.’ He highlights it, switching Yuuri’s keyboard to Russian, and types ‘Виктор ( ´♡ ` )’.  Handing it back, Yuuri blushes further before smiling. “It looks like ‘Binktop’.” Viktor makes a face.

“If you grew up with the Cyrillic alphabet, ‘Yuuri’ looks like ‘Ooogie’.”

Yuuri snorts. “Fair enough, fair enough.”

They share a smile, before Viktor leashes up Makkachin for the walk back to the car. Slowly they make their way to the parking lot, meandering along while Makka carefully inspects each bush they pass. “Do you have any hobbies?” Yuuri asks, hands shoved in his pockets.

“I read. A lot. Obviously,” he replies. He wracks his brain for something else to talk about. Besides the obvious. Coming up empty, he decides to take the plunge. Yuuri’s right, he is a mystery. Experience has taught him to play his cards close to his chest. To answer questions without revealing anything about himself. But he’s tired of it. He’s tired of hiding everything. There’s something about Yuuri that tells him his trust wouldn’t be misplaced. Yuuri is honest, earnest in his desires to make people happy and comfortable. His wit is sharp, but never mean, and his smile comes easily, all things that help ensure Viktor this won’t be the wrong decision. He takes a deep breath.

“I skate, too. Figure skating. Sometimes.” He reminds himself knowing how Yuuri’s going to react now saves him a lot of pain down the line.

“That’s awesome,” is Yuuri’s (unexpected) response. “I do too, occasionally. Not much, just…when I need to get extra energy out.” His phone dings again, somehow more insistent, and Yuuri lets out a sigh. “I should head out, my roommate’s going to start calling if I don’t tell him I’m on my way soon.” Viktor nods. He’d never liked living with roommates, and the instant he could afford to live on his own, he’d seized the opportunity. Things like this were why.

They make their way to the parking lot, and Viktor sends Yuuri off with a hug and a promise to text. As the car’s tail lights pull onto the street and around the corner, Viktor walks Makkachin back to the apartment. Leftovers are slowly packaged up and put into the fridge, in individual meal containers, and Viktor’s curling up on the couch with a hot mug of tea and a book when the silence crashes into him like a tidal wave. Makkachin is breathing heavily, still sniffing around the new bookcase, but his apartment feels lonelier than ever.

He sits against the arm of the couch, opening a random book he’d set on the end table. The words swim across the page, focus impossible. Frustrated, Viktor stalks over to his bookshelf. Maybe reading Russian will be easier? He grabs a book of Russian folklore, running his page over the familiar cover gently. This is one of the few he’d brought from home, a gift from his dedushka, along with his tallit, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah. “Never forget your roots”, he’d been told. “Your heritage, your people, these make you who you are.” He hasn’t forgotten where he came from, but that doesn’t tell him anything about who he’s supposed to be.

Flopping back down on the couch, Viktor crosses his legs at the ankles. He lays the book down on his lap, his arms feeling leaden, clumsy. He can’t bring himself to open the cover before Makkachin is panting in front of his face, inches above the leather-bound volume in his hands, begging to cuddle. Acquiescing, Viktor lays the book aside, clapping his hands and holding his arms out to Makka. The dog obliges, crawling up his body until he’s cuddled firmly against his torso. Viktor wraps his arms around him, stroking his fur softly. Burying his face in Makkachin’s fluff, he continues running his shaking hands down the dog’s back. The warmth is pleasant, grounding, and for a second, Viktor feels a sort of peace come over him before it fades into familiar numbness. His hands slowly stop shaking, burying themselves into Makkachin’s curls as Viktor sighs deeply.

He’d almost forgotten this feeling, when the world seems all too close, yet too far away. He wishes he’d never remembered.

He scoots his way down the couch, not bothering to turn off the lights. He pulls a blanket over himself, holding Makkachin close, and closes his eyes. His mind is simultaneously full of everything and nothing, flashes of warmth and happiness and smiles in a coffee shop dulled by an oppressive, almost overwhelming static. The last thing he remembers is kicking off his house slippers before a restless sleep comes over him.

 

~*~

 

“I’d love to see you skate someday.”

Viktor looks up from his wallet, half-counted change in his hand. Yuuri’s blushing as he pushes a button on the espresso machine. Viktor swallows quickly. “I’m not very good,” he lies, voice shaking.

It’s then that Yuuri looks up, face unreadable.  His eyes bore into Viktor, like he’s searching for something unnamable. “I’m sure you’re incredible,” he eventually says with conviction. He sounds sure of himself, sure that Viktor’s something more than a hobbyist figure skater, but it’s been months and he hasn’t said anything at all about Viktor’s career. In Viktor’s experience, no one goes very long knowing him without asking about his medals. Logically, it makes sense to assume Yuuri doesn’t know, but doubt still crawls under the surface.

Feeling slightly guilty, he hands Yuuri a fiver, receiving his coffee and change in return. He takes his usual seat at the bar, biting into a blueberry muffin as he watches Yuuri work. It’s late in the day, slow, and when Yuuri is done with his latest wave of customers, he jokingly collapses against the espresso machine.

“Every time someone asks for extra foam with skim milk, a coffee tree dies somewhere.” He declares. “Save the coffee, ask for something within the realm of possibility. Please.”

With only half an hour left on the clock, Yuuri cleans his workstation, telling Viktor about the café as he does so. The original owners still run the place, apparently. A sweet older couple, moved out here from rural Iowa when the toll of running a farm became too much. With no children, they’d relocated to Michigan, starting a failed restaurant before moving into the coffee business. The café has, according to Yuuri, been a local favorite ever since.

Viktor eventually asks why they chose red as their color scheme.

“They originally thought the apron should be blue. Not like a deep blue, but,” Yuuri lets out a short sigh, “like your shirt in your 2014 short program.” Viktor’s eyes widen. He does know. Yuuri nods, “Yeah, right? Eventually they settled on the burgundy though, and it’s kind of become our thing now.”

“Yuuri?” Viktor says, and the man stops in the middle of holding up a rich burgundy-colored cup in demonstration. Viktor continues, “You know who I am?” Yuuri lowers his arm, nodding slowly, breath catching in his throat. “How…how long have you known?”

Yuuri takes a deep breath, setting the cup on the counter. “Since I saw you?” Seeing Viktor’s eyes widen in disbelief, he explains. “I was trying to…I-I know it’s…it must be frustrating when everyone treats you differently? Being put on a sort of pedestal and then people are awkward because they’re merely in your presence, and then prying about your personal life like it’s any of their business…I figured you’d want to be treated normally, instead of being fawned over. I just wanted,” he blushes, steeling himself. “I just wanted you to be able to be yourself. Not Russia’s Living Legend, just…just Viktor.”

Viktor nods slowly. The turn of events is unexpected, and he hadn’t planned for the possibility that things may not go badly. He’s been careful, almost paranoid, the last few months, and nothing Yuuri said or did gave any clues that he knew.

“My roommate skates with you,” Yuuri says suddenly, pulling Viktor out of his thoughts. “Phichit Chulanont?”

“I know him, yes! He’s fun to work with, I didn’t know he was your roommate.”

Yuuri laughs. “Yeah, we’ve lived together for a few years now. He said he told you about the café. He didn’t mention me?”

Viktor shakes his head. “I wish he’d said something sooner, though.”

Yuuri blushes, grinning shyly. Viktor smiles, and after a few minutes of amicable silence, he speaks. “You were right.” Yuuri perks up and looks at him. Viktor stares into the dregs of his tea. “Being treated like a person is…refreshing.” Looking up, his eyes meet Yuuri’s. “It got to the point where people were tripping over themselves to make me happy. As if I was royalty. They looked straight through me at the medals I’d won. I had – have the expectations of a country on my shoulders, and as long as I keep skating well, it doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s all very impersonal.”

Yuuri nods somberly as he rinses a blender. He looks pensive, almost sorrowful, before his face softens. A mischievous smile spreads across his lips. “I could, you know. Treat you differently. If you wanted.” Viktor raises an eyebrow. He swallows the sick feeling growing in his gut. Yuuri turns around, suddenly, and bows extravagantly. “My liege,” he says in a pompous voice, “may I tempt you with another of our handcrafted, highly-caffeinated beverages?” He rises from his bow with a graceful flourish, hitting a stack of paper cups with his hand and sending them flying across the floor. Viktor barely has time to register the surprise on Yuuri’s face before he’s laughing harder than he has in a while. After a brief second, Yuuri’s clear laugh rings out alongside his. It’s the most beautiful music Viktor’s ever heard.

It takes well over a minute before the laughing subsides enough for them to catch their breath properly. Yuuri picks up the fallen cups, smiling widely, while Viktor chokes down the last of his tea, setting the burgundy ceramic mug on the ledge at the far edge of the bar. It’s quickly swept up and placed in a basin, and Yuuri’s back in front of him, leaning on the espresso machine. “I can make a Raf, if you like?” Yuuri busies himself when Viktor nods. “I-I’ve kinda been a fan for a few years now,” he says quietly, adding sugar to the espresso.

“I can see that,” Viktor replies.

“You haven’t been looking as happy when you’re skating, recently,” Yuuri says, barely above a whisper.

Viktor blinks. He hadn’t thought anyone would be able to tell. “What-what makes you say that, Yuuri?”

Yuuri's quiet as he finishes making the drink.

“It’s your eyes,” he finally says as he holds out a steaming cup to Viktor, who takes it thankfully. “Your smile doesn’t reach them anymore.” He rinses out the frothing pitcher. “Smiles are fake, too,” he says matter-of-factly.

“You can tell?”

Yuuri looks up. “I always suspected, but I couldn’t tell, before, not for sure,” he says, after a beat. “I can now.”

Viktor’s heart skips a beat.

 

~*~

 

Practice almost over for the day, Viktor skates to the boards, grabbing water before he finishes cooling down. Yuuri’s been watching him, enraptured, ever since he got off work. Viktor smiles. Yuuri’s presence has been a boost for the last half of practice, he’s landed his jumps consistently and managed to throw a little extra oomph into his step sequences. He’s taking one last lap around the rink when a clamor of voices makes itself known over the sounds of blades on ice and industrial air conditioning. Viktor looks at the doors just in time to see a small group of reporters walk in, cameras already rolling and microphones at the ready. Probably here about the Grand Prix Series. His suspicions are confirmed as Phichit is called over for an interview by Celestino. Several cameraman start making their rounds of the rink, getting general footage to be played during segments. Some mingle amongst the other skaters and people in the rink, trying to get a good sound bite.

The next thing Viktor hears is retreating footsteps as Yuuri disappears through a back door. He looks around, and sees Phichit gesturing at him to follow Yuuri. Viktor nods his thanks, hastily putting his skate guards on when he exits the rink and moving as quickly as he can after Yuuri. Once he reaches the cold linoleum of the training facilities, he yanks off his skates and, tying the laces together, slings them over his shoulder. Unencumbered, he runs further into the building, alternating between calling for Yuuri and listening carefully for movement of some sort.

After a few minutes of frantic searching he hears ragged breaths and near-sobs coming from a storage closet. He knocks gently, kneeling just outside the door. “Yuuri? Is that you?”

He hears shuffling.

“Yuuri what’s going on? Can I come in?” He’s surprised when the handle turns, and the door creaks open a bit. He pushes it all the way open gently. Yuuri’s huddled in the far corner, knees drawn to his chest with his arms wrapped around his legs. His face is carefully blank, but his eyes and nose are both red. He’s been crying. Luckily, it seems like Yuuri’s done, at least for the time being, making this whole encounter less daunting.

Viktor enters the closet, hanging his skates on the knob after he closes the door. He moves closer to Yuuri, but when Yuuri gently pulls away, he shifts to sit against the adjacent wall. They sit there in amicable silence, Yuuri in his corner, Viktor with his legs crossed in front of him. After a few minutes, Viktor speaks, “Do you want a hug?” Yuuri shakes his head, pulling his knees closer. “Do you want to talk about it?” A shrug. “Is it the media?”

Yuuri hesitates before nodding quickly. Viktor sighs and leans back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know they were going to show up today.” Yuuri draws further into himself, but nods again. “Do you dislike the press?”

Another shrug. “I get anxious sometimes. It’s been pretty bad all day,” Yuuri says hesitantly. “Groups of people don’t help. Especially not strangers with questions.”

Viktor nods, ever grateful he’s had exposure to Phichit over the last few months. If there’s anything he’s learned from Phichit’s frantic interactions with the younger skaters, it’s how to deal with people who are anxious. Not that he’s very good at it, but he’s not entirely out of his element.

“If you want, I could come get you after they’re gone? They’re probably trying to interview me, or I’d hide with you.” He smiles reassuringly.

Yuuri looks up, contemplative. He carefully surveys Viktor, then nods his assent.

Viktor leaves to deal with the reporters, hanging his skates on the outside of the door so it’s easily identifiable when he comes back. The questions he’s asked are pretty standard, what his goals are, who he’s worried about competing against. When asked why he decided to stay in Detroit, he smoothly responds with a made-up answer about finding inspiration in new experiences. The end of the interview can’t come soon enough, and as soon as the press moves on, he walks briskly towards the back doors, breaking into a run when he’s out of sight of the rink.

He knocks gently when he reaches the storage closet, opening the door when he hears a muffled “come in” from the corner. Yuuri’s still curled in on himself among the cleaning supplies, but his breathing is more natural and his hands aren’t shaking anymore. His eyes are dry, albeit still puffy, and he looks up with a small smile. Taking Viktor’s offered hand, he allows himself to be pulled into a standing position. They make their way carefully to the main rink, taking a side route to the locker room in silence.

When they arrive at their destination, Viktor quickly changes and gathers his things. Zipping his gear bag closed, skates tucked carefully inside, Viktor offers his hand. “I have to walk Makkachin after this, if you want to join me?” He’s rewarded with a small smile and a nod, and they set out in the direction of Viktor’s apartment.

 

On their way to fetch Makka, Viktor looks at Yuuri. “I’m surprised I found you way back there,” he laughs.

A small smile spreads across Yuuri’s face. “I used to love hide and seek as a kid. Played it all the time. I remember this one time I was hiding behind a tree in a park, and there were geese nearby...”

Viktor shudders. “I’ve never particularly liked geese.”

“I hate them,” Yuuri says vehemently. “One of them thought I was trying to attack, so it chased me almost all the way across the grounds, squawking and flapping its wings. I was three, it was as big as I was and frankly terrifying, especially after it bit me.” He holds up his forearm, showing off the small scars near his wrist. Viktor laughs softly, imagining baby Yuuri running away from a honking goose. He receives a light smack on his arm. “I’m still scared of them. I live in Michigan!” Yuuri’s pout is adorably indignant. “There are so many geese in Michigan,” he says under his breath.

Viktor’s laughing dies down and they walk in amicable silence for a few minutes. “I’m scared of cows,” he says after a bit.

“Really?”

Viktor nods. “I don’t even know why, but they’ve always terrified me. I was in Switzerland for a competition a few years ago. Chris and I – Christophe Giacometti, he’s a fellow competitor, he’s Swiss – we visited Lucerne and went up the mountain and there were these cows near the top. They were massive, and had these giant bells around their necks. They just…wandered the top of the mountain like they owned it. Chris tried to get me to take a footpath to the peak with him but I wouldn’t leave the building.”

Yuuri looks over at him. “I mean, cows are dangerous, don’t get me wrong, but if you don’t mess with them, and know how to tell if they’re agitated, you should be fine. They’re kind of cute, actually.” At Viktor’s incredulous look, Yuuri laughs. “I did 4-H for a bit, I’ve spent time around livestock.”

Viktor’s not entirely sure what 4-H is, but apparently there are cows involved. He doesn’t care to know more.

“So you’re just…scared? Of cows?” Viktor nods. “What about horses?”

“Horses are fine.”

Yuuri looks at him out of the corner of his eye, smiling wryly. “What about moose?”

“I haven’t actually seen one in person.”

“They’re huge,” he says, gesturing widely with his arms. “They’re like giant, giant horses. Yeah, like whatever you’re imagining only bigger.”

Viktor’s eyes widen. “Are there moose in Michigan? We have them in Russia, but nowhere near where I grew up.”

Unfortunately, Yuuri nods. “Only in the U.P. though. The Upper Peninsula. We’re on the Lower Peninsula.” He holds his hand out as a map again, this time putting his left hand flat above it, palm down and thumb pointing out at his right hand. He wiggles his left hand a little. “This part of Michigan. We’re on this part,” he says, wiggling his right hand. “We won’t see any in Detroit.”

“What about pigs?” Yuuri asks after a minute, as they’re waiting for a signal.

“Pigs aren’t that big, I’m sure they’re fine.”

Peals of laughter spill through air. “Have-have you ever seen a pig?” Yuuri wheezes, “An actual pig, in person?” Seeing Viktor shake his head, he smiles wider. “Pigs are huge. Bigger than I am. These animals are five hundred pounds of omnivorous stubbornness. I’m gonna have to find a picture to show you, they’re ridiculous.” Several human-to-pig comparison photos later, Viktor understands Yuuri’s laughter.

 

They reach Viktor’s apartment, and he leads Yuuri through the building and to his front door. Once he gets the door open, Makkachin jumps on Yuuri, almost knocking him to the ground. Yuuri pets Makkachin as he pushes him back into the apartment, kneeling down to give him a proper behind-the-ear scratch when they’re over the threshold. Viktor fetches the leash and doggy bags.

Their walk takes them by Starbucks first for drinks (“I always feel dirty when I come in here,” Yuuri grumbles to no one in particular) and then to a local park, Makkachin running in circles once he’s let off the leash. Yuuri and Viktor take a seat on a nearby bench. Eyes closed, Yuuri leans back, savoring the relative quiet of the outdoors. The sun is bright, starting to dip down towards the horizon. The world around them glows steady orange in the light, clouds slowly turning from white to brilliant pinks and purples across the darkening blue sky. Yuuri, basking in the sunlight, is radiant.

Makkachin apparently thinks so too, the way he throws himself onto Yuuri with a stick in his mouth. Reflexes are the only thing keeping Yuuri’s coffee from flying out of his hand, and he laughs as he pets Makka. Taking the stick, Yuuri holds out his cup in Viktor’s direction. Viktor takes it, smiling, as Yuuri hypes Makkachin up before launching the stick with a full-body jump. His lips twitch up at the corners when he sits down.

“Are you feeling better?” Viktor says lightheartedly, voice laced with concern.

Yuuri offers only a small nod in reply before Makkachin bounds over, dropping the stick at his feet. Picking it up, he throws it again, further this time. “The distraction is helping,” he says before taking a long drink of coffee. He scowls slightly, brightening into a smile when he sees Viktor laughing at him. “What?” he asks indignantly.

“Why did you get the coffee if you don’t like it?”

Yuuri shrugs. “I’m here for the company, not the coffee.”

He likes spending time with me. Viktor feels almost giddy, tension in his back and shoulders easing as the smile on his face grows. They sit together, watching the sun sink into the treetops, occasionally throwing the branch for Makkachin when he brings it back. Eventually, they’ve shifted closer, sitting right next to each other, knees touching. Viktor surprises himself when he puts his arm on the back of the bench behind Yuuri. He grins when Yuuri leans closer to him, a smile on his face.

Makka noses at Viktor’s ankle, bursts of cold against the exposed skin. Laughing, he hooks Makka’s leash onto his collar. “Someone wants to get home,” he jokes. “Do you want to join me for dinner?”

Yuuri’s cheeks grow pink, but he shakes his head. “Phichit and I have plans, sorry.” The disappointment in the air is palpable as they walk together.

“You and Phichit are close?” Viktor asks softly.

“Best friends,” Yuuri responds. “I moved in with him when I left my sister’s place, we’ve lived together ever since. That was,” he says slowly, “three years ago? Yeah, thereabouts.”

“Wow.”

Yuuri nods, tossing his cup in the trash as they pass a can. He shoves his hands into his pockets. “But yeah, we’ve lived together the whole time. I’m his hamsters’ godfather, apparently.”

“Do you have any pets of your own?”

Yuuri's face darkens a bit. “No,” he replies flatly. “My dog died a while back. He lived with my parents. He was getting old, so it wasn’t unexpected, but I hadn’t seen him in a while.”

“May his memory be a blessing,” Viktor replies, almost automatically. It makes Yuuri smile, though.

Pulling out his cell phone, Yuuri scrolls through his gallery before pulling up a picture of a toy poodle with greying-brown hair. He looks almost like a miniature Makka, complete with an adorable pink tongue that hangs out of his mouth. He’s lying on plush blue carpet, a manicured woman’s hand scratching him behind the ears. Yuuri pulls his phone back and scrolls a bit, hesitating over a few pictures before scrolling again. The next time he holds his phone out, the same dog is laying on a silk bed spread, chewing a bone.

“His favorite things were those bones. He used to go around the…he’d dig holes everywhere in the yard and just drop the bones in. And leave.” Yuuri looks indignant. “Who just does that?”

“Dogs, apparently,” Viktor replies. “Makka eats everything.” Yuuri looks at him, curious. “Anything and everything. If he can reach it and it seems edible, it’s gone.”

“Sounds like Phichit’s hamsters. They’ll eat whatever they can get their teeth into,” Yuuri says, “if they can get to it. They chewed through Phichit’s skating costume once, like a month before a competition?”

Viktor winces. “Oh no,” he says sympathetically. He’s had to scramble to find a new costume just before a competition. It’s not something he’d wish on even his most bitter rival.

“Yeah, we had to come up with the money to get a replacement made at short notice. Luckily the tailor who’d done it before had extra fabric and still had the pattern, and was able to squeeze his in. The fitting was literal days before he competed. He made it though.” Yuuri's smiling now, recounting the memory. Makkachin pulls at the leash, exploring the base of a nearby tree. Viktor stops to let him.

“So what’s the plan with Phichit?” Viktor asks.

“Movie night,” Yuuri says with a grin. “June’s theme is ‘Road Trips’ so I’m making him watch National Lampoon’s Vacation. My week to pick.”

“You do this every Thursday?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Yuuri says apologetically. He glances at the rink as they make their way closer. Viktor tries to avoid looking at it, the visual reminder of the fact their paths will soon diverge. Makkachin has slowed to a walk, seeming to sense Viktor’s displeasure. If a slow pace is what his dog wants, far be it from Viktor to hurry him along.

“Will you be working tomorrow?”

Yuuri smiles, nodding as they reach the rink. “I will, I have the morning shift.”

“I’ll see you then,” Viktor responds with grin. They linger in front of the rink for a bit, neither particularly looking forward to leaving. Reluctantly, Yuuri turns away first.

“I should…”

“Makkachin’s probably hungry, so…”

They almost collide as they move around each other, smiling. “I…I’ll see you tomorrow, then, yeah?” Yuuri asks hopefully as he backs away. He stumbles where the paving isn’t level, but he catches himself, laughing. Viktor nods.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Yuuri,” he says quietly, before turning to head back to his empty apartment.

 

Chapter Text

Viktor knows Yuuri's knowledge of his career should make him wary, but strangely, it doesn’t. It helps that they talk about plenty of things outside of skating, Yuuri just as interested (if not more so) in how Makkachin’s doing and Viktor’s latest literary adventures. He doesn’t pry about Viktor’s personal life, but the interest is there, in a friendly sort of way. Viktor supposes Yuuri doesn’t have much room to talk, though, given that the list of Things Viktor Nikiforov Knows about Yuuri Katsuki is abysmally short in the family department.

The times Yuuri does mention his career, though, never make Viktor feel awkward. Usually it’s some question, often starting with oddly specific information (“Ok, so in your final step sequence of your 2014 short program,” was one opening that caught him off-guard). Sometimes it’s just clarification on a specific move or piece of footwork. There’s never the undercurrent of animosity Viktor’s come to expect. No one’s trying to knock him down a peg or discover his “secret,” there’s no promise of defeat. Just genuine curiosity and fascination, with a hint of admiration.

Yuuri's enthusiasm sparks something long-forgotten in Viktor; he’s started to enjoy being on the ice again.

The change in his demeanor had been pointed out the first time he video called Yakov. His coach had taken one look at him after the first run-through of his program and raised a bushy eyebrow until it met the brim of his hat. He surveyed Viktor carefully, before letting out a huff of air and telling him his footwork was shoddy. When they hung up, though, he mentioned Detroit seemed to suit Viktor, despite the idiocy behind a spur-of-the-moment decision to move to a foreign country. Yakov has never prodded, though, in that conversation or any since.

He’s thankful.

 

~*~

 

The first time he gets the idea to take lunch to Yuuri, he’s in line at a Thai restaurant they frequent. Yuuri had texted him, lamenting the food choices within short walking distance from the café. A thirty-minute lunch break means he’d barely have time to get back and eat before it ends if he wants anything different.

But if he doesn’t have to go get the food, that’s a full thirty minutes he has to actually eat. Decision made, Viktor orders for both of them.

 

He walks into the café half an hour later, food in hand. Yuuri's at the counter, explaining something to a coworker as he unties his apron. When he sees Viktor he gives him a reluctant look before miming eating a sandwich. Viktor smiles. He holds up the bag of food, pointing between the food and Yuuri until the barista’s eyes widen. Yuuri points to himself, mouthing “for me?” with raised eyebrows. When Viktor nods, he grins and holds up a finger, pointing towards one of the tables outside.

Viktor sets the food down, separating it out and putting utensils on napkins. He hears the café door a second later, before a steaming cup of tea is set in front of him. Yuuri smiles as he takes his place across from Viktor. Opening his container, his grin widens.

“I love drunken noodles!” He digs in with fervor.

Viktor nods. “I thought you’d like to have something different from your usual food today.”

Yuuri smiles, mouth full, before swallowing. “Thank you. I made us tea,” he says, gesturing at the cups.

“Do you have jam?”

A curious look comes over Yuuri's face. “Jam for what? Your noodles?”

“My tea.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Viktor huffs.  “I’m Russian. We put jam in our tea.” Viktor doesn’t like jam in his tea as much as a lot of people he knows, he himself uses it relatively infrequently, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to shy away from it now. Not with a point to prove and his national pride at stake.

“The only jams we have are whatever plays on the radio,” Yuuri grins, and when it clicks, Viktor rolls his eyes and smiles. “But yeah, we don't have any. We only carry cream cheese for the bagels. Unless you put cream cheese in your tea?” Yuuri raises one eyebrow, looking at Viktor like he’s desperately hoping the answer is no.

Viktor debates messing with him for a second, before he decides against it. “We don’t.”

Yuuri lets out a sigh of relief. “We have honey and sugar, though, if you want sweetener?”

Viktor considers it for a second, before replying. “Honey, then.” As Yuuri goes to stand, Viktor holds out a hand. “I can get it,” he says, grinning. “You, eat! You have a short window of time and you need the calories to get through the day! It won’t do you any good to fall over in the middle of your shift.”  He’s starting to sound like Yakov, good god.

“Yes, my liege.” Yuuri says with twinkling eyes.

When Viktor comes out with a handful of honey packets, Yuuri's gingerly sipping his tea. Viktor empties three packets into his own, stirring before tentatively taking a sip. Perfect. Yuuri steadily makes his way through the noodles, occasionally making endearingly happy noises. When he’s about two-thirds of the way through his food, he closes the container.

“For my last break,” he says by way of explanation, just before his phone chimes on the table.

 “Ugh. Back to work.” He sounds tired, resigned to the hours of dealing with customers ahead of him. “I just want to go home and play Dragon Age. That’s all I want to do,” he laments, “is that too much to ask?” He packs up his leftovers, tying the bag shut before pulling a sharpie out of his pocket and writing his name on it, a looping signature large enough that it won’t be missed. He smiles at Viktor before glancing back at the café.

“Thanks,” he says quietly. “This was nice.”

“Text me tomorrow when you know what time you’re taking your lunch break,” Viktor says, smiling. Yuuri looks puzzled for a second before realization hits, his eyes and mouth widening as cherry-red spreads across his cheeks. He nods with a grin before vanishing into the café.

Viktor has a lunch date tomorrow.

 

Yuuri is positively beaming when he sees Viktor show up the next day, arms full of Mediterranean food and excitement painted across his face. He points at his watch, then holds up five fingers. Five minutes. Viktor can wait five minutes. He’s pretty sure he can wait five minutes.

It takes Yuuri twelve minutes and change to show up, setting hot drinks on the table in front of them as he takes his seat.

“Sorry, I’m really sorry,” he says quickly. “There was a rush towards the end, so I ended up finishing up late and then my manager was telling me about some seasonal drinks she was thinking of, and then I had to make tea for us…” he trails off.

Viktor smiles, pushing his food towards him. “I’m not on a schedule, I just have to make it to the gym later. You’re fine.”

Yuuri nods as he shoves a stuffed grape leaf into his mouth. He stops chewing for a second, before reaching behind him and pulling out his wallet. “Here,” he says, holding out a fifty dollar bill. “For my food.”

“I can’t take that, Yuuri, I have more than enough money. I don’t mind paying!” Viktor holds his hands up as Yuuri waves the bill in front of him.

“They’re my lunches, you have to let me pay.”

“I insist,” he says, crossing his arms with finality.

Yuuri pouts, shoving the money back into his pocket. “Fine but I’m going to start bringing you guys drinks after practice and you can’t stop me.” His tone is firm. Viktor wouldn’t be able to argue if he tried.

Instead, he grins. “That’s fair.”

 

~*~

 

They spend Yuuri's lunch breaks together after that, more often than not. Yuuri in turn becomes a welcomed sight after practices, showing up with a tray of drinks and on occasion a bag of pastries shortly after they finish for the day. Celestino takes less issue with the inevitable distraction when Yuuri starts bringing him coffee, too. Viktor has his suspicions that Phichit texts Yuuri with their ending time to make sure the tea’s still hot when he gets it, since Yuuri consistently shows up within a few minutes of practice ending. Regardless, the routine brightens Viktor’s life. His smiles grow wider. His laughs get louder and less forced.

Even Yuri, the rare times they see each other on camera, tells him he’s looking less like a grouchy old man, and more like a goofy, geriatric idiot. It’s endearing. Yakov doesn’t pester him as much about coming back. Mila hasn’t said anything the few times he’s spoken to her, but Lilia’s commented on how healthy he looks, so that’s something. Georgi…Viktor has yet to talk to Georgi over video. They aren’t particularly close anymore, but they’re the same age and have been training together under Yakov for years. Of all his rink-mates, Georgi knows Viktor best. He’s sure he wouldn’t be able to hide his affection for Yuuri for long.

He wants to see how this develops before giving people something to talk about.

Russia has taken the ice, his happiness, almost everything he holds dear. It can’t have Yuuri, too.

 

~*~

 

Viktor knows he’s in deep when Yuuri shows up at his apartment one morning, unannounced and his heart goes directly to heaven. Practice the day before had ended early with a twisted ankle, and he’s decided (more like been told) to stay home, elevating it, and generally trying not to make it worse. Complaining at Yuuri over text helps, and he takes full advantage of that when he realizes he’s out coffee of his own. Reasonably sure Yuuri’s working, he’s surprised to hear a knock on his door, even more so when he sees Yuuri himself on the other side, smiling and holding up drinks and a paper bag.

“What are you doing here?” Viktor asks as he lets him in, heart beating a rhythm against his ribs.

“You said you wanted the coffee fairy to come to your house with…what was it? The blessings of caffeinated bliss?” Yuuri smirks as he holds up the drink tray.

“Something like that,” Viktor replies with a wry smile. I could marry this man. The realization hits him with a start. The idea, when he considers it, leaves only a warm feeling curling deep in his chest.

Yuuri smiles fondly, setting the drinks and bag on the counter. “Anyway, I’m not working today, so I thought…” he hesitates briefly, before speaking again. “I got you bagels. And cream cheese. And the salmon spread you mentioned you like.” He pulls the items out of the bag as he explains, finishing when there’s a veritable feast laid out on Viktor’s counter. “I went by the coffee shop and made you a Raf, too.”

Viktor’s happiness threatens to bubble over as a smile stretches across his face. “You didn’t have to do all this for me,” he says, in awe.

“I wanted to,” Yuuri replies firmly. “It’s my day off, and…you’re always dropping by on my lunch break I figured the least I could do was bring you coffee when you’re under house arrest.”

“The bag of bagels is from a completely different store.”

Yuuri’s face turns redder. “I was hungry, too, and it was on the way and they have the salmon stuff. We have three types of bagels and little cups of cream cheese, and I’m sick of all of them. Get your bagel and sit down, you shouldn’t be standing too much!”

They’re just about to watch Spirited Away when Yuuri pulls a pound of coffee out of his bag.

“I got you something,” he says with a wink and a smile. It’s Viktor’s favorite dark roast. He’s not sure how his heart is managing to handle this.

 

~*~

 

One early fall afternoon, Viktor’s walking towards the ice to practice when the sight of Yuuri executing a stunning triple lutz followed by a triple flip stops him in his tracks. As Viktor watches, he recognizes the familiar choreography for Stammi Vicino. He rushes to the boards as Yuuri flies across the ice, watching attentively with renewed awe as the barista moves smoothly through the program. Aside from scaling the quads to triples, Yuuri seems to perform effortlessly, and Viktor can see the song in every movement. Somehow, Yuuri’s rendition of Viktor’s step sequence moves him more than performing it himself ever has, weaving echoes of loneliness and hope together beautifully. After an incredible combination spin – “He’s not even travelling,” Viktor notes, impressed – Yuuri comes to a stop, arms crossed, elbows raised towards the ceiling. He’s breathing heavily, but not painfully so, and Viktor immediately calls out to him.

“Yuuri!! That was perfect!!” Yuuri blushes as he sees Viktor, skating smoothly to the boards. “You’re amazing! Why don’t you compete?”

A sheepish smile spreads across Yuuri’s face as he rubs the back of his head, “I’m not sure I’d do well under so much pressure.”

Viktor makes his way to the entrance, removing his hard guards and setting them aside. Taking to the ice, he glides over to Yuuri, stopping with his face mere inches away. “When you skate, your body is a symphony,” he says quietly, touching Yuuri’s lower lip gently with his thumb. “With the right program, one that emphasizes your strengths, you could be a formidable opponent.”

Laughing slightly awkwardly, Yuuri blushes and waves Viktor off. He skates backwards a bit, and Viktor follows closely. Picking up speed, he catches up, skating alongside Yuuri for a little. Yuuri changes direction, and Viktor follows. The dance continues, until they’re moving together across the ice in tandem to a song only they can hear. They come to a stop, faces flushed, eyes locked together, moments before Celestino’s laugh echoes from the doors. Panting, they both smile at each other before looking away. As Viktor looks at the front entrance, he can see Yuuri blushing and rubbing the back of his head out of the corner of his eye. His lips twitch up in a smile.

Celestino skates over with Phichit, raising an eyebrow in Yuuri’s direction. “Don’t you have work?”

“Shit!” Yuuri hastily waves goodbye before bolting to the edge of the rink. He slams his skate guards on, tripping over himself as he hurries towards the benches. Phichit laughs at him, Viktor chuckles, and Celestino just looks on fondly before putting Phichit (and to some degree, Viktor) through his paces. The workout is strenuous but welcomed, leaving Viktor sore, bruised, and breathing hard, but more satisfied than he’s been in ages.

 

~*~

 

As Viktor walks into the coffee shop one evening, he’s surprised to see Yuuri seated at a corner table. He’s wearing jeans and a loose sweater, a laptop and books spread across the table in front of him. His legs are folded under him on the chair, and he’s hunched over a large textbook. He looks up when he hears Viktor place his order and, brushing his bangs out of his eyes, waves Viktor over while he waits for his drink. Viktor sits at the table across from him while Yuuri stacks his books neatly to the side. Conflict and Response. World Politics. International Relations. Public Policy. As he reads the titles, Viktor’s curiosity grows. “Majoring in Politics, Yuuri?”

Yuuri nods. “Political Science, yeah, with a minor in Communications.”

“Impressive.” Viktor smiles warmly. “What do you want to do when you graduate?”

Yuuri shrugs. “I don’t necessarily have a career in mind, but…I’ve always been interested in government, so I’m working on my degree and looking at different paths I can take.”

Viktor hears his name called and grabs his coffee. Sitting back down, he’s quiet as Yuuri quickly types something into his computer. Yuuri picks up his cup, draining it before tossing it expertly into the trash can and continuing his work. When Yuuri looks up, Viktor gestures at his own drink. “Do you want something else?”

Yuuri smiles. “Um, yeah, sure. Tea, please. Mint and chamomile.” Viktor raises an eyebrow. “Tell the barista it’s for me, I get free drinks.”

When Viktor returns with the tea, its calming scent washing over him, Yuuri’s closed his laptop and pulled out a well-worn notebook. His handwriting loops across the pages, an elegant cursive Viktor’s only ever seen on the side of a coffee cup. He wonders briefly what Yuuri’s Cyrillic would look like, how his own name would look carefully written across the page.

Yuuri smiles as Viktor sets the tea down and takes his seat. He takes the cup, inhaling deeply before setting it near the window. He scribbles something down, cross-referencing between two textbooks, and Viktor looks out across the sunlit trees, waving gently in the breeze. Instead of the awkward tension Viktor’s used to experiencing when it’s silent, this is rather nice. Comfortable, easy. He wouldn’t mind getting used to it.

Frustrated grumbling catches his attention, and he looks over to see Yuuri frowning at a book and furiously marking it up. He raises his eyebrows when Yuuri finally meets his eyes. Yuuri closes his book and sighs. “Two of my textbooks are saying two different things about the nineteenth-century political climate of a small country in the pacific, and they’re both wrong.” He runs his fingers through his hair, briefly pulling his bangs away from his face. “I…had to do a paper on this exact thing and just…the authors don’t know what they’re talking about.” ‘Find prev. sources’ is scrawled across his notebook as he reaches for his tea. Cautiously, he blows softly across the lid before taking a sip.

Pushing his books gently to the side, Yuuri finally straightens his legs. He rolls his ankles, cracking them, and smiles at Viktor. Glancing behind him, Yuuri’s face changes from contentment to happy surprise before a clear voice rings through the café.

“Viktor! Yuuri!!” Phichit’s smiling face moves into view as he stands next to their table.

“Phichit!” beams Yuuri.

Phichit places his order before dragging a chair over and plopping down on it. Seeing Yuuri’s look, he laughs. “I’ll put it back when we’re done.”

Grinning, Yuuri nods before sipping his tea again. “What are you doing here?”

The look he gets in response is incredulous. “I just finished practice,” Phichit says. “The café’s on the way home from the rink. Why wouldn’t I drop by?”

“Because I’m not working.”

“And yet you’re still here.” There’s a dull thwap as the back of Yuuri’s hands connects with Phichit’s chest.

“It’s a good place to study. And I like the coffee.”

“Even when you’re not making it?”

The barista sticks out his tongue. “You just want a ride home.”

“Oh, you have your car?” Phichit’s expression turns into one of surprise, his hand coming to rest gently on his sternum. “I had no idea.”

“Phichit, I dropped you off at practice this morning on my way to school, you know full well I have my car.” Yuuri gives him an exasperated look.

Phichit laughs. “Guilty. Can you blame me not wanting to walk back when I’ve been running quads all day?”

Their teasing is light, amusing. The barbs fly across the table, but both of them are smiling, the atmosphere warm and friendly and not at all uncomfortable. Yuuri's smile is open, something about him less guarded in Phichit’s presence. Viktor smiles as he drinks, watching the exchange fondly.

 

~*~

 

Viktor stands in his skates and hard guards, fresh coffee in hand and a sheen of sweat drying on his forehead as he happily listens to Yuuri’s summary of his work day.  Yuuri’s just getting to the good part of a story about his coworkers and flagrant misuse of the espresso machine when the sudden, dull thud of a body hitting plexiglass startles Yuuri enough that he almost drops their drinks.

Viktor, unfazed, looks over and smiles. “Ah, Phichit!”

Phichit’s gesturing wildly for Viktor and Yuuri to move to a different area of the boards with no glass. He’s wearing a bright green shirt today, emblazoned with the phrase “I Rink, Therefore I Am” under an adorable drawing of an ice skating hamster, and he pulls off his gloves as he skates over to meet them. Viktor pulls Yuuri along the boards with him until they reach Phichit, who gratefully takes the cup of tea Yuuri holds out. He glances back at Celestino before taking a sip. He sighs happily, eyes closed and a grin on his face.

“Are you excited to find out where we’re competing?” Phichit asks after a moment.

Viktor doesn’t particularly care where they’re competing, but he’s going to need to know, so he nods.

“Yuuri and I were gonna order takeout tomorrow night and stay up until the assignments were in,” he continues. “You can join us if you want? Yuuri’s paying.”

Viktor smiles at Yuuri, who somehow has gotten rid of the tray he’d been holding. His smile is returned shyly, Yuuri’s eyes half-hidden behind the fringe of his bangs.

“I’d love to. Let me know when I should be there?”

“I get off work at five tomorrow,” Yuuri says. “If you want to meet us at the coffee shop, I can give you a ride to our place. You can bring Makka, if you like.”

“Yuuri,” Phichit says, a hint of warning in his voice.

“Makkachin’s not going to eat your hamsters, Phichit.” He gives him a pleading look.

Phichit relents with a wave of his hand. “Fine, but if any of my babies end up as a snack you’re finding a new roommate.”

“So noted,” Yuuri says, smiling as he sips his tea.

 

~*~

 

“Yuuri! Assignments are in!!” Phichit’s voice rings clearly throughout the small apartment. Yuuri shuffles in from the kitchen, three mugs in his hands and jam balanced in the crook of his arm. He sets the mugs on the coffee table after Viktor takes the precariously perched jar. Viktor adds a heaping spoonful of jam to his tea, settling back while Phichit pulls up the assignments. Makka looks at him sleepily, before jumping on the couch and putting his head on Viktor’s lap where it belongs.

Viktor is surprised to see him and Phichit both on the lineup for the Tropheé de France. Phichit’s other event is Skate Canada, Viktor’s the NHK Trophy, but the shared competition gives Viktor an idea.

“I can pay for your tickets and hotel, Yuuri, if you’d like to come watch Phichit and I compete in Paris.”

Yuuri’s eyes widen slightly, before narrowing again. “I-I don’t know, Viktor.”

“I’m more than able to afford it, and you wouldn’t be a bother, if that’s what you’re worried about. I could probably get you a rink-side pass as well! All I’d have to do is get Yakov or Celestino to add you to one of our teams, and you could watch our programs from the boards!”

Yuuri pulls his knees to his chest, leaning back on the couch. Closing his eyes, he breathes in deeply. He waits a bit before he exhales slowly, the tension in his shoulders slowly loosening.

“I don’t…I don’t like travelling much, and there’s likely to be reporters and everyone there, and then there are crowds.” His breathing starts to quicken. “And I d-don’t know if I’ll be able to take the time off work, and then there’s school, I have an exam a few days after the competition and I need to study for that…”

Phichit chimes in softly, “Yuuri, it’s ok to say no.” Viktor nods in agreement, as badly as he’s hoping Yuuri will go, and relief spreads across Yuuri’s face as his breathing slowly calms.

“I think I’d just prefer to watch from home, if that’s alright with you guys.”

Viktor feels a sharp pang in his gut, but he nods. After Yuuri’s panic at the rink, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to be in front of the media any time soon. Unfortunately, as competitors, both Phichit and Viktor would be constantly surrounded and scrutinized by the press, leaving Yuuri to either hide away by himself, or deal with the circus on his own. If word gets out that he’s there with Viktor, it’d open up a whole new line of near-desperate questioning on the part of reporters there, scrambling for any additional information about Russia’s National Hero. Viktor’s never hated the title as much as he does now.

He smiles at Yuuri. “I’d love that,” he says quietly, scratching Makka behind the ears.

Yuuri returns his grin, shifting slightly closer. “I promise to text during your performances,” he says. “Both of you.”

Viktor meets his eyes, holding his gaze for a long minute before smiling gently. “I look forward to it,” he says quietly. Phichit looks at them, eyes flickering between Yuuri's face and Viktor’s for a second, before he smiles and looks back at his phone.

They sit silently on the couch. Phichit scrolls through Instagram, showing the occasional picture to Yuuri (who’s turned on his Playstation and is currently killing an electric swamp dragon), but all Viktor can do is run their conversation through his head repeatedly. He hadn’t wanted to keep his burgeoning relationship with Yuuri, whatever that may be, secret indefinitely, but to do otherwise would put Yuuri in the public eye. A position in which he is clearly uncomfortable being.

Not to mention the amount of travelling they’d be doing. Viktor regularly leaves the country for competitions. He’d either be dragging Yuuri to all corners of the globe, or leaving him alone for days at a time. With his busy schedule, a relationship by itself would be difficult to maintain. Adding in media pressure and frequent trips…How long will Yuuri put up with it before he decides it’s too much, that Viktor isn’t worth the time or effort?

 

~*~

 

The question plagues Viktor over the next few weeks. It’s on his mind when he practices, when he tries to sleep, and – worst of all – when he’s with Yuuri at the café. He’s absorbed in his thoughts one day, making his way to The Daily Grind, when he almost misses an incredibly upset Yuuri running past. Doing a complete 180, he runs after him.

“Yuuri!” he calls fruitlessly. Traffic roars down the street next to them, drowning his next shouts out in a cacophony of sound. Viktor curses as Yuuri keeps running. He ups his pace, finally gaining on him.

“Yuuri!!” He shouts again, as loudly as he can. That seems to get his attention. Yuuri slows down next to a park, moving off of the sidewalk. When he turns towards Viktor, it becomes clear he’s been crying. His cheeks are an angry, blotchy red. He rubs at his swollen eyes, tears wetting the sleeve of the hoodie he’s wearing.

“Yuuri, what…what’s wrong?”

Viktor watches as Yuuri’s jaw moves up and down, before silently gaping. When he goes to answer, his breath catches in his throat. Curling in on himself, he seems to try gathering courage, glancing around furtively. His breathing steadily quickens and when he clutches his chest, Viktor starts to panic.

“We can go to my place, if you want.” It seems like the best option. Privacy. Familiar surroundings. A dog to hug. Books. Tea. Viktor’s not very good with crying people, but he knows they prefer not to do it in public. It’s a start.

There’s a long moment of near-silence.  Yuuri hiccups gently, but is otherwise still. Viktor’s about to rescind the offer when he nods slowly. Clasping his hand, Viktor leads him the few blocks to his apartment in silence. Yuuri hesitates when they get close to the door, dropping to a slow walk. Whines come from inside the unit, then scratching, and something in Yuuri’s face darkens. Taking a deep breath, Yuuri takes a few steps forward, indicating they should go in.

Once the door is closed, Yuuri collapses against it, holding Makkachin. His shoulders shake as he starts crying in Makka’s fur. As expected, Viktor feels awkward and uncomfortable so he busies himself making tea. When the samovar is plugged in and heating up, he starts adding leaves to a small teapot.

“V-Viktor?” It’s quiet, shaky, but his name pierces Viktor's thoughts like an arrow. In a flash, he’s kneeling next to Yuuri.

“Yes? What is it?”

Yuuri’s face lifts from Makka’s fur, and when his eyes meet Viktor’s, Viktor’s heart shatters. Yuuri looks devastated.

“Viktor, y-you remember I told you my dog died a while back?” Viktor nods. Yuuri’d shown him a few more pictures since then. He’d looked like a tiny Makka. “I just, I miss him,” Yuuri continues, “And some woman came in with a dog today and she looked so m-much like Vicchan, my Vicchan, and I just…My sister’d been texting me old photos she’d found and I’d been m-missing him and th-then the woman came and I…”

He’s breathing deeply now, face buried in Makkachin’s fur.

“I know it’s silly, he was a dog and it was a wh-while ago but I –“

Viktor cuts him off with a gentle touch on his shoulder. “I don’t think it’s silly,” he says as sits next to Yuuri, leaning against the door. “If Makkachin died I’d be devastated. He’s been my best friend since I was 16, I can’t imagine life without him. I don’t find it silly at all you’re still missing your dog after a few months.”

“It’s been almost a year,” Yuuri replies quickly.

“That doesn’t mean you’re not still allowed to miss him.” Viktor holds his arm up, smiling when Yuuri takes the invitation to lean against his chest, still clutching Makka. “Grief works in weird ways. I remember when my babushka died. We sat Shiva at home, since Mamulya is an only child, and –“

“Shiva?” Yuuri’s looking at him now, brow furrowed.

“It’s part of the Jewish mourning process, you basically…sit at home and let yourself grieve for a week. People come to pay their respects, usually they bring too much food. But we were sitting Shiva, and some people came in and were just fine, like normal. Others were crying. Some were angry. The biggest thing I learned that week, though, was that grief doesn’t work the way you’d expect it to.” He pulls Yuuri closer to him. “It’s clear that your dog –“

“Vicchan,” Yuuri says softly. “His name was Vicchan.”

“Vicchan,” Viktor repeats. “It’s clear Vicchan was important to you. It’s ok to miss him.”

“I hadn’t seen him in years.”

“I’m sure he knew you loved him,” Viktor says confidently, “you’re too kind for him not to.” He’s rewarded by Yuuri snuggling a bit closer. “I can’t bring him back, but I can offer my dog for you to borrow, if you like. You can always come over and see Makkachin, and if you really want to, you could watch him while Phichit and I are in France!”

Yuuri straightens slightly. “You’d trust me with your dog?”

“Of course I would, Yuuri! I know you wouldn’t let Makkachin get hurt. He doesn’t like the kennels, so I’d been trying to think of a solution, but this would be perfect! You have a dog for when you’re alone, and I know Makkachin is in safe, familiar hands.” He nods emphatically, finishing his speech. Yuuri’s smiling now, through his tear-streaked face.

“I can do that,” he says softly. Makkachin nuzzles closer to him, and he wraps his arms around the poodle.

 

They end up ordering takeout and sitting close to each other on the couch, Makka draped across their laps like a living blanket. They’re finishing their second movie, this time a Miyazaki film about a giant rabbit and a cat that’s a bus somehow, when Yuuri lets out a positively massive yawn. He smacks his lips together blearily, rubbing his face with his hand.

“I should get home,” he says, to Viktor’s dismay.

“So soon?”

Yuuri laughs as he rubs sleep out of his eyes. “Unfortunately. I have work early, I’m opening. My manager let me go early today because I got upset, so I don’t want to be late tomorrow morning.” He puts his glasses back on. “Do you want help doing the dishes?”

Viktor waves him off. “No, I actually don’t mind them. They give me something to focus on.” Yuuri gives a slightly disappointed nod. He clears the table anyway, putting the used dishes in Viktor’s sink, before sinking back down to his knees and coaxing Makka over. When Makka lays his head on Yuuri’s shoulder, he embraces him, burying his face in the curly hair.

“Did you mean it?” He asks, voice small.

“Mean what?”

“When,” he says softly, “…when you said I could come visit Makka?”

“Absolutely,” Viktor replies fervently. “You’re always welcome in my home.”

Yuuri’s face is still buried in Makkachin’s neck, but the tips of his ears are red and Viktor can see a hint of a smile on the corner of his lips. He stands, after a short while, rubbing at his still-red eyes. Viktor finds himself moving towards Yuuri, arms open. Yuuri leans into it, wrapping his arms around Viktor’s waist as Viktor embraces him. He lays his head on Viktor’s chest, just over his heart, breathing softly.

“Thank you, Viktor.”

“You know, in Russia…with friends we usually use diminutives instead of the full first name.” He feels Yuuri nod against him and smiles. “So call me Vitya, if you’d like.”

“Is me calling you Viktor making you uncomfortable?” Yuuri's voice is muffled against his chest. Viktor squeezes him a little tighter.

“I feel like I’m in trouble for some reason.” Their quiet laughter fills the room.

“Alright, then, Vitya. Thanks."

“You’re welcome, Yuuri.” Viktor returns his smile fondly.

 

~*~

 

The flight to Paris for the Tropheé de France is relatively stress-free. Thankfully, no baggage is lost, and Viktor, Phichit, and Celestino get checked in without issue.  Viktor meets up with Yakov, discussing routines and strategy, ending up at a local rink to run through his programs. He’s sweaty and exhausted after a few hours, Yakov, the demanding taskmaster, pushing Viktor ever further. Jet-lag rears its ugly head, though, and Viktor forgoes his traditional visit to a local restaurant in favor of calling room service and languishing in his hotel room. Rolling over in the soft sheets after he’d eaten and showered, Viktor picks up his phone.

Is Yuuri up right now? Mentally calculating the time difference, Viktor frowns. Probably. It’s early evening in Detroit. After coming up with a suitable excuse for texting, Viktor presses send.

 

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   How’s Makkachin? (´°̥̥̥̥̥̥̥̥ω°̥̥̥̥̥̥̥̥`)

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   he’s doing fine. ( ღ˘ ⌣˘ ღ)
<<<   [photo attached] we’re snuggling on my bed.  ʕ•.•ʔ

 

The selfie shows Yuuri propped up on his elbows under his blankets. His loose white t-shirt drapes open where the collar’s been stretched, and his glasses are slightly askew under an unruly mop of black hair. Makkachin’s asleep, facing the camera. His chin is on his front paws, tongue lolling to the side and leaving a wet patch on Yuuri’s blanket.

 

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   That’s adorable!! o(^ ♡^)o

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   he was a sleepy boy after his walk. (∪。∪)。。。zzZ
<<<   i’ll probably have to walk him again before i go to bed.
<<<   why do dogs go to the bathroom. ( ╥_ ╥)

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   It’s natural!

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   it’s inconvenient is what it is. ( ̄、 ̄) 
<<<   i just want to play dishonored 2 and makka has to interrupt me
<<<   hence: inconvenient. (¬ ¬) 

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   But you love him!!! (ノ´ ♡ `)

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   yes. yes i do. (ノ´ヮ´)ノ ♡
<<<   how’s paris? ღゝ ◡╹)

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Beautiful, as always.
>>>   I haven’t been much, outside of competitions.
>>>   I should come here during the off-season.
>>>   But it’s nice not having to work so hard to translate everything!!
>>>   I grew up speaking French, so it’s almost like being home!

From: Yuuri  ^_^
<<<   i’ve never heard you speak french.

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Je te montrerai plus tard.

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   i’m not googling that rn
<<<   do you have family in france?

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Nope. My moms, brother, and sister live in Russia.

 

He feels his face fall. It’s been years, years, since he’s visited his moms and siblings. Last he’d heard, they’d talked about moving to France, but there’s been no mention of them actually doing so. As far as he knows. He sighs. There are over 3000 new emails in his inbox and he hasn’t bothered with any of them, for all he knows his family’s ready to be part of the first wave of volunteers for a colony on Mars. He opens his last text messages from his maman, words of congratulations.

He has to check the date to figure out which competition it was for. His thumbs hover over the on-screen keyboard as he tries to compose a message. “I miss you!” is quickly deleted, as is “How is everyone??” and “Sorry it’s been almost a year since I’ve bothered contacting any of you.” He supposes it wouldn’t be as hard if he hadn’t done this before. Repeatedly. The general assumption at the rink is that he’s on bad terms with his family, and it’s easier to let them think that than try to explain.

He closes out of the app and puts his phone on the night stand. It’s an early day, tomorrow, and he needs to be well-rested.

 

~*~

 

Viktor is about to go on the ice for his short program when the first of Yuuri's texts comes through.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   давай, витя!!

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   ୧( Ò ‸ Ó)૭
>>>  Watch me skate, Yuuri?

From: Yuuri ^_ ^
<<<   i will (⌒▽⌒)

 

 

He smiles as he does a couple of laps around the rink, greeting the audience with a flourish while centering himself. Yakov stands to the side with Georgi, arms crossed, with his trademark scowl on his face. Viktor flashes both of them a brief smile before taking his starting position. The music begins, and he loses himself to the ice.

 

Coming out of the short program, no one is surprised to see Viktor in first. Phichit is in fourth, and when Viktor collects his phone, a slew of unread messages are waiting from Yuuri. A giddy smile stretches across his face, drawing looks from his fellow Russians. Yakov’s hand on his back reminds him that he’s not done yet, there are still interviews to get through before he has time to respond. He takes his skates off, wiping the blades down slowly before putting the soft guards on and putting them in his bag. After he puts on his sneakers, he stands in front of the mirror, adjusting his jacket, fixing his hair, turning himself into the Viktor Nikiforov the public knows and loves.

He fields the interview questions with practiced responses, all delivered with a smile. When asked about his move to Detroit, he cites new inspiration and a desire for adventure as his motivation. When asked if his programs are devoted to anyone, he deflects with an easy laugh, responding that if there were news, Instagram would be the first to know. He talks blithely about his jumps and choreography, hopes for the season, and very pointedly about his dog. When the press has had enough of him, he waves them off happily.

He makes his way to the locker room, face lapsing into the mildly-cheerful, friendly sort of expression he wears in public. He scrolls through his phone, avoiding his messaging app in favor of Instagram. Yuuri’s words are for him alone, and he intends to keep it that way. In the privacy of the locker room, however, when he’s showered and dressed in his Team Russia tracksuit, he sits cross-legged on the bench as he opens up the texts, heart fluttering with anticipation.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   costume is so shiny (ノ´ヮ`)ノ*: ・
<<<   sry im tired rn. ( _   _ |||)
<<<   it’s starting! davai!
<<<   4-3 combo!!!!!
<<<   that spin though °˖ ✧◝(⁰ ▿⁰) ◜✧˖°
<<<   quad flip!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
<<<   step sequence is gr9
<<<   flying sit spins are my fave.  ( ♡。 ♡)
<<<   yours are the best.
<<<   how do i unsend messages omg  Σ(°△°|||) ︴
<<<   nice combo!!
<<<   that was literally perfect   ∑d(°∀°d)
<<<   can i touch your gold medal
<<<   it is 4 am here don’t judge me
<<<   oh god i have work at six i haven’t slept(-≖ 、 ≖-|||) 
<<<   good thing I make caffeine for a living (─ω─)

 

Viktor’s heart does flips in his chest.

 

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   I haven’t won, but thank you!  °˖ ✧◝(⁰ ♡⁰) ◜✧˖°

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   you can do it though. i’ve seen your free skate and it’s amazing.  d(`∀ ` )

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   ( ̄ ♡ ̄;)ゞ Getting ready for work?

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   omw there now.

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Don’t text and drive, Yuuri!! It’s dangerous!

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   i never text and drive.  (•_•)
<<<   i do text and walk though ( •_•)>⌐■-■
<<<   cafe is close enough to my apartment i don’t mind walking (⌐ ■_ ■)

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Can I video call?

 

There’s a pause before he gets a response.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   sure.

 

Immediately, Viktor’s in his contacts and pressing the call button. Yuuri’s face appears on the screen shortly, cheeks and nose red from the cold. He smiles when he sees Viktor. His hair has bits of sparkling snow on it, illuminated faintly by the thin light of dawn. Small clouds come out of his mouth with each breath, fogging his glasses as he walks. Viktor recognizes a few of the buildings nearby as Yuuri waves at him. “Good morning, Yuuri!!”

Yuuri laughs softly, adjusting his earbuds. “Good afternoon, Vitya,” he replies, sleep still coloring his voice. “How’s everything going?” He sniffs adorably and wipes his face with his free hand.

“As well as they could be,” Viktor laughs. “Yakov’s insisting we go to dinner. Apparently there’s a Russian place nearby he’s been looking to try. He likes having Russian food when he’s away from home, for some reason? I always thought it was more interesting eating local cuisine.” Yuuri’s camera swings wildly, the sound of keys in the background. The camera shifts back to Yuuri again, who looks sheepish.

“Sorry about that,” he says, as the pale blue of the dawn sky framing his face is exchanged for the dark of what Viktor’s sure is the inside of the café. Yuuri turns on a light and his face is thrown into sharp relief. He goes about getting everything ready to open while Viktor chats about the trip so far.

“How do you feel about your free skate?” Yuuri asks, as he stacks cups.

“Mostly worried about landing my jumps, if we’re being honest.” Jumps haven’t been an issue for a while, but Viktor still hasn't managed to push the memories of that disastrous practice out of his mind. Yuuri nods. His phone is propped up on the espresso machine at the moment, offering a decent view of the area behind the counter. “How’s Makkachin?”

“Doing alright still,” Yuuri says, around measuring out coffee beans, “but he misses you.”

Viktor misses his dog dearly as well. One of the hardest parts of travelling has always been the lack of a warm dog by his side, especially late at night when sleep eludes him. The video on his phone is shaky as Yuuri messes with his own, but the reason becomes clear when a notification pops up on his screen.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   [6 photos attached] was gonna send these on break but here  (´ ▽ ` )/~

 

They’re all of Makkachin sleeping, or playing, or sniffing inquisitively at a tree near the café. One of them is a selfie, Yuuri laying back on his couch with Makka sprawled across his chest. Both look happily sleepy, Yuuri’s smile lopsided and Makka’s tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. Viktor sets that as his new wallpaper. When he switches back to the video app, Yuuri’s in the staff room, putting on his apron.

“-And I told her I had to pick you guys up and she said I was ok to leave early,” he (apparently) finishes.

“Sorry?” Viktor says. He can faintly hear Yakov yelling in the distance, and knows his time is growing short.

“My manager is ok with me leaving early to get you guys from the airport, so you don’t need to catch a taxi.”

“Oh, that’s good! Thank you!” Viktor says, smiling.

Yuuri responds with a nod, before looking out the door. He looks back at the phone with a grimace. “My manager’s here, we’re opening soon. I have to go.”

Viktor hums in agreement. “Yakov’s probably going to come looking for me anyway. Will you watch the free skate?”

Yuuri nods excitedly and grins. “I’ll be cheering you and Phichit on! Davai, Viktor! You’ll be great out there.” A woman’s voice comes into the background. Yuuri hunches over and whispers, “I’ve gotta go, sleep well tonight.”

“Have a good day, Yuuri. I mean it.”

Yuuri laughs, “Yes, My Liege. Now go, before your coach gets mad at you!”

“Madder, more like.” He’s grinning happily, though, as he waves at the phone in his hand and ends the call. The locker room door opens, and instead of Yakov, Phichit enters, making a beeline towards Viktor.

“Your coach is pissed,” he says.

“Yakov is always angry about something,” Viktor replies nonchalantly. If Yakov truly had an issue, it wouldn’t be Phichit telling him to hurry up.

 

~*~

 

The next morning finds him sitting outside a café, just blocks from the competition venue. Crisp fall air bites at his ears and nose, leaving them an angry red. He takes a picture of the coffee in front of him before sending it to Yuuri.

 

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   [photo attached] It’s good but it’s not yours. ( ˘ ♡ ˘)っ♨

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   (⁄ ⁄>⁄ w ⁄<⁄ ⁄) i’ll bring coffee when i come pick you guys up if you want
<<<   [photo attached] makka took over my bed, the thief. (-︿-)

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   To be fair, you’re not using it at the moment.

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   it’s the principle of the thing though
<<<   g2g, break’s over but i’ll be watching the free skate tonight
<<<   good luck! ∑d(‘▽ ` d)

 

 

~*~

 

Fresh off the ice from free skate warmups, Viktor notices his phone light up with Yuuri's name. Opening the message Viktor taps the attached photo, smiling when he sees Yuuri and Makkachin in front of Yuuri’s laptop, already set up for the livestream. Phichit’s hamsters are in their enclosure in the background, presumably scurrying around.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   makka and phichit’s hamsters and i are rooting for you!!  \\\٩(
๑`^´ ๑)۶////

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   ( ´
♡  ` ).。o

 

Yuuri chats idly through the first two skaters, but is utterly silent during Phichit’s skate. When he finally replies, he’s apologetic.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   sorry about that, i was live texting phichit during his program.
<<<   he had a nasty fall at the beginning  (ノ ゜Д゜)ノ
<<<   his chances aren’t good Σ(°△°|||)︴
<<<   your dog is slobbering on my phone.

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   I can buy you a new one if Makka ruins it! Tell him he’s being a bad boy.
>>>   Be very stern with him, especially if he makes his puppy dog eyes.
>>>   Like this. ( ≖ 、 ≖) 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   it’s all good, lol. you know i’m weak for puppy dog eyes
<<<   i don’t stand a chance.  ( ˙ ꒳˙ )

 

Viktor moves through his typical warm-up routine, hyperaware of the cameras on him. He wonders if Yuuri's watching him now. The second-to-last skater is called to the ice, and Viktor makes his way to the rink, meeting up with Yakov and Lilia near the boards. He removes his Olympic Team jacket, checking his phone one last time before he takes to the ice.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   давай!!!!!!!  \(´ ▽`)/

 

Another text comes in as he’s staring fondly at the screen.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   i can see you looking at your phone
<<<   go do your program, vitya!

 

He chuckles before handing his phone to Yakov as his name is announced. Skating a lap, he waves happily at the audience, allowing himself to bask in the attention for a bit before he takes his starting position, hands to his sides as he looks down at the ice. Just as the first notes of Stammi Vicino drift through the air, he feels it. A spark, deep in his chest, spreading warmth through his torso. He knows who he’s skating for.

He thinks of Yuuri, allowing his affection — his love — to pour through his body. His movements are fluid, his jumps taking him to new heights. He remembers the cozy afternoons spent chatting at the café, oftentimes only ending when one or the other had an unavoidable obligation. He pours hope into his step sequences, dreaming of a future with Yuuri by his side. As he slides into his ending pose, flushed and out of breath, his dreamlike trance is broken by thundering applause. Roses and stuffed animals rain down around him as he takes his bows. He skates off the ice with a grin, grabbing a large Makkachin plush and some flowers on his way out. Arms filled with bouquets from people standing near the exit, he lets Yakov hold him as he puts on his skate guards before making his way to the Kiss and Cry.

Scores are announced. Viktor’s final score is less than two points away from his personal best (and the current world record), landing him in first by a large margin. He’s nailed his first gold of this year’s Grand Prix series.

He can’t wait to show Yuuri.

His exhibition skate is that night, and the time in between that and his program is spent in a flurry of interviews and press conferences. By the time he gets to his room, he barely has time to shower before Yakov is pounding at the door, telling him to get a move on for the exhibition and banquet.

Once he’s finally at the hotel for the night, showered again and changed into his pjs, he crawls into bed with his phone, plugged in and charging, ready to read through his texts.

He wakes to Yakov yelling that he’s going to miss his flight.

 

~*~

 

The taxi ride gives him time to look at the messages from last night. He opens his app, smiling.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   so those golden shoulder loop things, don’t they get annoying at some point?
<<<   flopping around and shit 
<<<   i love the swoop at the beginning
<<<   wow. the emotion??? how????
<<<   (  ゜Д゜)
<<<   sorry i meant to live text but kind of ended up watching
<<<   whatever you did it worked
<<<   that was…
<<<   makkachin is proud of you
<<<   he’s excited to see the gold, lol   o(^▽^)o
<<<   i am toooppkbflr gsjlfffffffffffffffff

 

Viktor smiles to himself. Yuuri must have fallen asleep. The next message is five hours later, a selfie Yuuri took on his way to work. He’s smiling sleepily, wind-chapped cheeks bright red in the cold. As they pull into the airport, Viktor checks his ticket and boarding pass. He texts Phichit about meeting up, since neither of them particularly enjoy travelling alone and Celestino’s taking a bit more time on the continent to visit family in Italy.

His phone chimes again while he’s in line for security.

 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   i can’t wait to see you ( ´ ▽ ` )
<<<   i’ll wait in the baggage claim for you guys (i’ll text phichit this too)
<<<   hope your flight goes well  ~ヾ(・ω・)

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   I can’t wait to see you, too!! And Makkachin!
>>>   Not looking forward to nine hours in a plane, though. ( ̄ -  ̄|||) 

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   you’ll be back in no time. ( ง •̀_•́) ง
<<<   when you start hating travel, think of makkachin waiting not-so-patiently here for you.
<<<   and coffee. i promised coffee.  ( ˘▽ ˘ )っ ♨

To: Yuuri ^_^
>>>   Can you make me something ridiculously caffeinated?

From: Yuuri ^_^
<<<   i’ll see what i can do, my liege (シ_ _)シ

 

Viktor makes his way through airport security when he arrives, bypassing the lounge he’d usually use in favor of meeting Phichit by the gate. Phichit’s waiting with tea when he gets there, packets of honey and sugar ready in the carrier.  He smiles at Viktor, still chipper despite the hectic schedule of the last few days, but something weighs on him that wasn’t there last–

Last night. Phichit came in last after a messy fall and several badly-executed jumps in his free skate. His chance to go to the Grand Prix Final is gone. Once Viktor notices, the disappointment is palpable.

He leans back in the plastic chair, sipping his tea.

“You know,” he says after a bit, “at my first Grand Prix competition when I hit seniors, I flubbed a jump so badly I twisted my knee slamming into the boards. First jump of my first seniors short program, and I was practically carried off the ice. I ended up having to withdraw that time.”

Phichit is quiet next to him, taking slow drinks from the cup in his hands.

“I still skated in the next competition,” Viktor continues. “I knew I wouldn’t make it to the final, but somehow the pressure was still there. I had to show everyone what I could do after coming back from an injury. Russia had high expectations for me, but I let them down. Again. I missed most of my jumps, and forgot the transition out of my step sequence into the last triple axel. I came in last, but trained as hard as I could and made a comeback to take silver at Russian Nationals.”

“What’s your point?” Phichit says softly. His knees are drawn to his chest, and he’s resting his chin on them, staring at a distant spot on the floor.

“My point is, even something far more disastrous than what happened at the Tropheé de France doesn’t spell the end of your career, or even the season.” Viktor looks over at the younger skater. “Take the disappointment, accept it, and use it to fuel you. You have incredible potential, and a great love of the sport. That’ll take you far, one day. I’d wager you can make the Final next season.”

“You think so?” Phichit’s voice is small, but carries echoes of determination.

“I’m sure of it.”

 

~*~

 

The landing is uneventful, Viktor and Phichit wiping sleep out of their eyes as they grab their carry-ons. Both of them put on sunglasses, and Viktor covers most of his hair with a lumpy beanie he’d stolen from Phichit who had, apparently, stolen it from Yuuri. They make their way to the baggage claim without incident only to see Yuuri standing there with a tray of coffee and small box of pastries, despite it being early afternoon. The sight of the familiar burgundy cups (and definitely the man holding them) is welcomed after the long journey. Phichit runs over, still energetic somehow despite having spent a solid 9 hours in a metal tube rocketing through the sky. Chatting animatedly, Phichit grabs a cup after Yuuri points to it. Taking a sip, he makes the thank-god-for-caffeine face Viktor knows from early mornings at the rink before taking another long drink. Both men look over as Viktor arrives, and Yuuri holds out a cup of steaming coffee. Viktor takes it gratefully, smiling when he tastes his favorite with a few added shots of espresso.

They’re in Yuuri’s car when Phichit and Viktor are finally allowed to dig into the food. Viktor grabs an onion bagel and two containers of cream cheese out of the bag, while Phichit settles for a croissant. They eat in silence as Yuuri carefully navigates Detroit, cursing under his breath whenever he hits a particularly bad snag. They head to Phichit and Yuuri’s apartment first, Phichit loudly making his desire for a nap in his own bed known. Yuuri teases that the real reason he’s so eager to get home is to check on his hamsters, earning himself an indignant look. Laughing, Yuuri assures his roommate his hamsters have been well taken care of. The three men make their way upstairs, Yuuri pulling Phichit’s suitcase behind him.

Hearing familiar scratches and whines coming from behind the apartment door, Viktor smiles. He’s missed Makkachin while he was gone, despite all of the pictures and texts Yuuri sent to update him. There’s just no substitute for the real thing. Once he’s in the apartment, he lets himself fall to his knees, embracing Makka tightly. All he knows for a brief minute is the warmth of curly brown fur and a familiar tongue on his face. He regales the story of his latest competition, Russian spilling out of his mouth in an endless stream while he strokes Makkachin’s ears, scratching his head in all of his favorite places. Makka barks when he hears about Viktor’s gold medal (though it could be at Yuuri walking across the end of the hall), and Viktor laughs. He spends a few more minutes cuddling his dog before Yuuri appears again, tote bag full of Makka’s things over his arm. Makkachin trots over, nosing at the bag until Yuuri chuckles and pulls out a treat.

“I spoil you, I really do,” he says, scratching Makka behind the ears.

“He deserves every bit of it,” Viktor chimes in. “Don’t you, Makka? Who’s a good dog?”

Three minutes and several impressively exasperated eye rolls later, Viktor and Yuuri are leading Makkachin downstairs for the journey home. The drive to Viktor’s complex is short, and all too soon (not soon enough) Yuuri’s pulling into the guest parking spot. Viktor’s luggage is pulled out of the back of the car, and Makkachin makes it a point to investigate all of the new smells surrounding them. The walk to Viktor’s front door is leisurely, Yuuri insisting on pulling his suitcases so Viktor can enjoy his time with his dog. Once the baggage is in, and Makkachin’s food and water taken care of, Viktor finally has the luxury of enjoying his own couch. Stretching out across the cushions, he basks in the feeling of unlimited leg room and generally being horizontal while Yuuri sorts out the pastries and makes them more coffee. He walks over with a tray full of breakfast, a carafe of coffee, cream and sugar in their own dishes, and a pair of blue and purple mugs. Making his way carefully to the couch, Yuuri nudges Viktor’s legs with his foot until he grudgingly moves enough for him to sit.

As weak as Viktor is for his couch, he’s exhausted and can’t go to sleep any time soon if he wants to get back on a normal schedule without issue. He swings himself into a sitting position, swaying slightly before moving to take his mug from the tray on the table. Copious amounts of sugar and cream are added, and he sits back, sipping creamy, caffeinated bliss. Yuuri scratches the back of his head, buzzed hair sticking up from between his fingertips. He moves his hand forward to comb his bangs out of his face nervously, looking at his watch, before glancing back at Viktor.

“I-I should stop bothering you and let you sleep. Or spend time with Makkachin. Or…something.” He’s halfway to standing when Viktor grabs his wrist.

“Stay? Please?” Yuuri’s eyes widen as they meet Viktor’s. “I need to stay up until eight or so, to get back on schedule. It would help having someone to pass the time with.” Shock melts into some sort of sweet affection, and Yuuri smiles.

Viktor bounces slightly as Yuuri drops back onto the couch. “Sure, I-I’ll stay,” he says, perhaps a little more happily than he intends. He’s blushing now, pulling out his phone as he murmurs about letting Phichit know he’s going to be home late. “Phichit’s probably asleep by now, somehow he just doesn’t get jetlag.” Well aware of this fact, Viktor nods. Every time Phichit comes back from travelling internationally, regardless of the time difference, he’s at the rink, bright and early the next day. Usually too chipper for the rest of the skaters to handle. It’s simultaneously endearing and annoying.

“We should eat something,” Viktor says.

“I can take care of dinner, if you like.” Yuuri holds up his phone, smiling.

“Do you need me to help cook?”

Yuuri grimaces. “I was going to order takeout. I’m not…particularly skilled in the kitchen.”

“I’m sure your cooking tastes fine.”

Yuuri raises one perfect eyebrow. “Trust me, Vitya, you want the takeout.”

At this point, Viktor really doesn’t care as long as there’s food going into his stomach.

 

~*~

 

It’s a sleepy afternoon, a week and a half after the Tropheé de France. Viktor pulls ingredients for borscht out of the fridge, laying them out on the counter. Yuuri is playing with Makka in the living room, and the smell of autumn drifts in on a cool breeze from the open windows. A pot of water and beef simmers gently on the stove. Beets, carrots, and onions lie freshly peeled on a cutting board, and Viktor’s working on peeling the potatoes when he hears footsteps. Yuuri comes into view, leaning against the counter as he watches Viktor work. The expression on his face is curious, but guarded. He continues to stare as Viktor moves to grab tongs to pull out the large piece of meat before slicing it and tossing it all back in the pot to continue cooking.

Grabbing the grater, he can still feel Yuuri’s eyes on him. “Do you want to help?” he inquires. Yuuri hesitates, biting his lip, before nodding. Viktor holds out the grater. Gingerly, Yuuri takes it, turning it over in his hands. When the carrots and beets are set in front of him on a cutting board, he stares at them, too. Taking a beet in hand, he glances between it and the grater, biting his bottom lip and furrowing his brows. Viktor watches for a bit, somewhat amused, before Yuuri looks back up at him.

“I’ve never used one of these before.”

“You’ve never grated potatoes? Cheese?” Yuuri shakes his head, biting his lip again.

Viktor takes the grater from his hand, perhaps a bit more roughly than necessary, and trades the carrots and beets out for potatoes and onions. He sets a sharp knife on the cutting board. “You’ve used a knife, right?” Yuuri nods slowly. “Then cube the potatoes, and when you’re done with that, dice the onions. I’ll grate the carrots and beets and finish up what you don’t get to.” Yuuri nods quickly. Viktor turns back towards his task, quickly grating half of a beet before he hears a sharp intake of breath and the sound of metal clanging to the floor.

Red drips down Yuuri’s hand from a cut on his left thumb. He scurries into the kitchen as Viktor turns on the cold water, shoving his injured hand underneath. When he’s offered the first aid kit, Yuuri applies antiseptic and puts a cloth band aid on the wound. Viktor checks the potatoes, happy when he sees them uncontaminated. He switches out the knife as Yuuri makes his way back over, freshly bandaged.

Viktor hasn’t even finished the rest of the first beet when he hears another low curse. Looking back over, he sees Yuuri clutching his left hand again, blood running down his wrist as he moves back towards the sink. Viktor turns the tap back on. “You’re not very good at this, are you?”

Yuuri shakes his head as he rinses his hand. “My sister always makes food at home.”

“You live with Phichit now, though, don’t you?”

“Takeout is a thing.” His cheeks are slightly red. Viktor moves the cutting board next to the stove, finally noticing what exactly is on it. Two of the potatoes have been messily butchered, uneven pieces moved neatly to one side. The third is cut in half width-wise, both halves perched proudly on the flat ends. One of the pieces has a jagged slice down the side, presumably made as Yuuri cut himself the second time. There’s still no blood to be seen, so Viktor moves the cutting board carefully aside. Glancing back at the sink, he sees Yuuri putting a bandage at the base of his left index finger. Two more are wrapped around his middle and ring fingers, joining the one on his thumb.

“You said you knew how to cut vegetables.”

“You asked if I’ve used a knife,” Yuuri snaps, clenching his fists. He winces, uncurling his left hand, before making his way around the breakfast bar and sitting firmly on a stool. Resuming his work, Viktor finishes grating the beets and carrots, pulling a bowl of diced tomatoes out of the fridge. He dumps the vegetables into a skillet, adding a few things before covering it. When he looks back at Yuuri, he’s picking at the bandages on his fingers, lost in thought.

Viktor moves his cutting board from near the stove to just in front of the breakfast bar, setting a knife next to it. He gathers the cut pieces of potato, methodically evening them out as best he can before tossing them in a bowl. As he goes to cut the untouched potatoes, he notices Yuuri staring again. The knife moves quickly across the board as he cubes the remaining vegetables efficiently.

He’s adding the last ingredients to the soup to let it simmer when Yuuri speaks.

“I’ve…I’ve never had to cook for myself.” His voice is soft, a bare whisper over the bubbling of the soup.

“Your sister didn’t teach you?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “I always had homework, or extracurriculars.  She took care of the house and making food.” Somehow he draws further in on himself.

“Huh,” Viktor says absently. “My moms taught me to cook when I was growing up. By the time I moved in with Yakov for training I was able to mostly take care of my own meals. I got better when I moved into my own apartment, though. It’s much easier eating healthy when you know exactly what goes into your food, you know?” Yuuri nods. “That, and everything’s customizable!” Viktor tosses the last of the potatoes into the bowl and pulls out the onions. “You can add this, remove that, whatever you want to switch things around.”

He’s halfway through dicing onions when Yuuri lets out a loud sniffle. Viktor himself is blinking back tears, cutting onions has never been a particularly fun job as far as he’s concerned, but Yuuri is looking around almost worriedly. His eyes land on Viktor’s face, widening.

“Are you okay?” he asks, concerned.

Viktor looks up at him and blinks. “I’m fine, Yuuri. Are you okay?”

Yuuri makes the mistake of rubbing his steadily-reddening eyes. “I just, for some reason…my eyes…”

“It’s because I’m cutting onions.”

“They actually make you cry?”

Viktor frowns, setting down his knife. “Were you under the impression they didn’t?”

Yuuri shrugs, looking down. His ears and cheeks turn a vivid red as he mutters, “I thought that was just on tv.”

“You’ve really never cooked before, have you? Ever, in your life?”

Yuuri pouts and shakes his head.

The borsht eventually comes together, and Viktor ladles out two bowls, topping them gently with sour cream and fresh herbs. He carries the food to the table, bringing with it silverware and napkins, and has everything laid out when Yuuri takes his seat.

“It looks good,” Yuuri says happily, “and it smells divine.” His shoulders give an excited wiggle before he digs in.

“Have you had borsht before, Yuuri?” Viktor asks.

“I did some when I was a kid,” he replies after taking a bite. “One of…one of our neighbors was Russian. She used to babysit me sometimes. She gave me tea and sushki after I got attacked by that goose.” He rubs his thumb over the small white scars on his arm absently.

“Must have been terrifying.”

Yuuri nods. “Some men had to chase it off with sticks. I was tiny and it was very, very big. But when I was all bandaged up, she brought the tea and sushki over for me and chatted for a bit. It was really nice of her. But yeah, I’ve had borsht. Yours is really good.” He blushes before eating more.

Viktor beams. “It’s a family recipe, I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I made way too much, if you want to take some home?”

Yuuri considers his offer for a moment, before nodding slowly. “That’d be nice. It’s getting cold, so soup for dinner seems like a good idea. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Something warm inside Viktor curls happily in his chest as they eat.

 

“You don’t have to come with me, Vitya, I’ll be ok.”

“I’m not making you carry this whole thing of soup with an injured hand, Yuuri. We can make Phichit drop me back home! It’ll be fine, I promise,” Viktor says as he finishes spooning the last of the borscht into a large container. He closes it, setting a small bag of fresh herbs on top. “Anyway, you had some tea you wanted me to taste, right?”

Yuuri nods, “So long as you figure out what it tastes like before trying to add jam.”

“What’s the phrase? ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tasted it’? And I don’t add jam to all of my tea automatically, I’m not that bad.” He sticks his tongue out as he puts the soup next to the front door, grabbing his jacket before they lock up and head to the car. Yuuri makes the drive to the apartment carefully as Viktor balances the food on his lap. The trip is uneventful, the walk up almost boring.

This changes when they go through the front door.

“Yuuri, what happened to your hand?!” Phichit’s voice rings clearly through the apartment as Yuuri and Viktor enter, closing the door behind them.

“He had a few accidents while slicing potatoes!” Viktor replies cheerfully. He rests his hand on Yuuri’s shoulder reassuringly, rubbing the back of his neck with his thumb. He doesn’t expect to see Phichit nearly drop his phone, eyes widening before he lets out an unholy screech.

“You let him in the kitchen?!” Yuuri huffs, marching past his roommate to make tea. His cheeks are glowing red, and he glances down at the floor repeatedly. Viktor looks at Phichit questioningly. Phichit handily drags him into the kitchen, gesturing at red crosshatching on the tile in front of the stove, the cupboard where the pots and pans are, and even in front of the counter where the cooking utensils are kept in canisters.

“Viktor, there- there is a reason for this. That’s the No-Yuuri Zone. The last time he tried to make food, things literally exploded, Viktor.” Phichit’s eyes are wide as he pulls out his phone. “Exploded! I was cleaning for days!” He holds up his phone, then, photographic proof of a catastrophic attempt at cooking onscreen. As Phichit scrolls through the images and video, Viktor’s eyes move back and forth between the phone and Yuuri’s mortified face, feeling his own twist into new expressions of horror with each additional photo.

“Wow,” he hears himself say quietly.

He’s no stranger to pictures of cooking accidents, there’s only so much time you can spend on the internet before you hit those sorts of lists, but what he saw on Phichit’s phone screen was chaos the likes of which he’d never seen. Shuddering, Viktor does his best to put the images of broken glass and utterly destroyed cookware out of his head. He takes the mug of tea Yuuri offers, smiling. “You said you weren’t skilled in the kitchen, Yuuri, but that was the most disastrous attempt at cooking I’ve ever seen!”

“You don’t have to say it like that,” he retorts. Then, quiet enough that Viktor’s not sure it was meant to be heard, he whispers “It’s not my fault.”

When Phichit disappears into his room, Viktor looks towards Yuuri. He’s sitting at their kitchen table, hair hiding his still-red cheeks. Absently spinning the mug in his hands, he looks deep in thought. Viktor moves to sit next to him.

“Do you want to learn?” he asks, startling Yuuri out of his thoughts.

“Pardon?”

“Would you like me to teach you how to cook?” Viktor looks at him inquisitively.

Yuuri shrugs. “Last time I tried really, really didn’t end well. As you saw.”

Taking a slow sip of his tea, Viktor watches as Yuuri finishes his own, scowling at the cup before setting it aside.

“You know,” Viktor says, leaning forward, “learning to cook doesn’t mean doing it alone. If someone’s there to make sure nothing goes too wrong, you should be fine! It was a one-time thing, anyone can learn to cook.”

“Phichit tried to teach me.” Yuuri looks down at his hands, twisting his mug between them. “It still didn’t end well. He says he follows his mom’s recipes, but he just throws stuff into a pot and out comes dinner. I wasn’t able to get the hang of it.”

“I can at least teach you how to cut vegetables. You could make salads.”

“I could mince,” Yuuri says with a laugh. He sees Viktor’s puzzled expression and smiles. “There’s this- have you seen The Princess and the Frog? The Disney version? Because there’s a character in there, the prince, he can’t cook for anything, but she teaches him how to mince stuff? And he just gets good at that one specific thing. She opens a restaurant, it’s pretty much his only contribution.” He swallows nervously. “Sorry, I’m…I’m rambling.”

“I love hearing you ramble.” If Chris were here, he’d be making fun of Viktor for looking like a lovesick puppy, but he can’t help himself.

 

 ~*~

 

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠) _
>>>   I knew he couldn’t be perfect.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠) _
<<<   Oh no, what happened?

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   [photo attached] He can’t cook. I got Phichit Chulanont to send this to me.
>>>   They’re roommates.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Mon dieu, they’re roommates?
<<<   Phichit has shown me pictures of his roommate, Vitya.
<<<   You *are* a lucky man.
<<<   Shame about the cooking, though.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   It sounds like he’s just never learned.
>>>   He’s coming over to my place next week.
>>>   I’m going to teach him some of the basics.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠) _
<<<   It sounds like a date.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」 ∠) _
>>>   I hope so.

 

~*~

 

The knife Yuuri's holding slides slowly, wetly through the cucumber. His brow is furrowed in concentration, lips pursed, as he lines it up and cuts again, each slice more sure than the last. When Yuuri finishes, he’s looking proudly at the pile of cucumber in front of him.

It’s at that point he sees how uneven the slices are, some as thick as his entire thumb and others no wider than his pinky finger. He moans softly, before sliding down to crouch on the floor.

“It’s horrible,” he laments.

“The potatoes were horrible,” Viktor replies. “This is just…very uneven. Besides, you haven’t cut yourself at all!”

Yuuri looks at him.

“You’re learning,” Viktor says gently, kneeling next to him. “I’ve been cooking for years. I bet you know a lot of things about politics I don’t.”

“I’m getting a degree in PoliSci, I took classes. I was taught that stuff.”

“And my mothers taught me how to cook. I fail to see the difference.” He seems to get his point across, because Yuuri stands back up and examines his work.

Thoughtful, Yuuri transfers the cucumber from the cutting board to the salad bowl, before pulling another, peeled and sliced in half length-wise, to the center. Carefully, he makes another cut down the length of it, before slicing it into irregular chunks. His lips tighten as he frowns at the pile in front of him.

“This one looks awful, too.”

“It’s just a cucumber, Yuuri,” Viktor says as he cleanly dices a tomato.

“It’s our lunch, though.”

“It doesn’t have to look perfect to taste fine.” He’s scraping the tomato into the salad bowl now.

Yuuri purses his lips, staring at the pieces of cucumber on the cutting board. “I can’t even cut a vegetable properly. I feel like an idiot.”

“A cute idiot.” Viktor says, cocking his head to the side with a grin.

“Vitya!” The knife clatters on the cutting board as Yuuri buries his face in his hands. Viktor laughs, reaching around Yuuri for a paper towel.

It’s at that moment Yuuri turns around to say something, and Viktor can hear Yuuri’s breath catch in his throat. He swallows. Yuuri flushes, before he starts stammering an apology, shyly playing with his hands in front of his chest. Feeling his own face grow hot, Viktor smiles as charmingly as he can, feeling it falter as he gets lost in Yuuri's gaze. His heart pounds a rhythm in his chest, quickening as Yuuri licks his lips, pulling the bottom between his teeth as he looks at Viktor through his eyelashes. His eyes flicker between Viktor’s own and his mouth before he clears his throat.

“S-sorry.” He says quietly, “I’ll get out of your way.” He starts moving away slightly. There’s nowhere to go, really, being pinned between Viktor and the counter such as he is, so he just turns his head to the side and looks down. Viktor puts his fingers gently on Yuuri's cheek, tipping it back up to face him.

“Yuuri, you’re…you’re fine. You’re perfect.”

Yuuri looks at him then, uncertainty and doubt written across his face, and Viktor moves his hand to cup his cheek. Their eyes meet and the world slows to a crawl as Viktor leans forward. Rocking up on the balls of his feet, Yuuri meets him halfway. Sparks fly as their lips touch, a gentle brush turning into a deep embrace as their arms wrap around each other and it feels so right. Yuuri's lips are warm, soft and inviting, tasting faintly of Viktor’s preferred brand of chapstick. When they pull away, Yuuri's eyes are sparkling. Breathing hard, Viktor smiles softly, glad when it’s returned. Brushing hair out of his face, Yuuri clears his throat.

“You…you wanted a paper towel?”

Viktor nods mutely. “For the lettuce.”

 

Hours later, the remnants of their food lay forgotten while they doze on the couch, wrapped in each other’s arms.

 

 

Chapter Text

“So, Viktor.” Phichit skates over, coming smoothly to a halt. “You busy next weekend? Outside of practice?”

“I’m going to be in Japan for the NHK Trophy.”

Phichit’s eyes widen slightly. “Shit, I forgot.”

“Why?” Viktor asks curiously.

“It’s Yuuri's birthday on the 29th, but that’s a Tuesday so I thought the weekend before…” Phichit furrows his brow, twisting his mouth to one side as he considers this.

“What’s keeping us from celebrating that day?”

Phichit shrugs in response. “I thought it’d be easier, I guess? We could make it work, though. Yuuri works the morning shift on Tuesdays, so he’d be home in the early afternoon. If you and I can get off practice around that time, we should be able to kidnap him for dinner, and take him home to watch a movie and do cake. Or something.”

“That sounds good. I don’t mind paying for dinner if you’d like.” That can be part of his present. He has no idea what else he’s going to get Yuuri, though.

Phichit puts his hand on his chest, relieved. “Oh, thank god. I was hoping you’d say that.” Glancing at the entrance to the rink, his eyes widen as he sees Yuuri. “Ok,” he says, “I’ll text you to set up plans.” He waves as Yuuri makes his way over.

Viktor nods happily as a drink tray is set down on the boards.

“What are you talking about?” Yuuri asks with a grin.

Phichit skates over smoothly, taking his drink from Yuuri's outstretched hand. “Viktor was promising to help me with my quad toe loop,” he says easily.

Viktor nods in agreement, taking his Raf. He smiles at his name, written in large cursive on the side, before doing a double-take. It’s in Cyrillic, and the looping letters are far more beautiful than he’d expected. Yuuri notices his smile, blushing when Viktor looks at him happily.

“I’ve been practicing,” he says shyly.

“It’s gorgeous.”

“Can you write anything else?” Phichit asks with a grin.

Yuuri scowls in lieu of an answer, bright red.

 

~*~

 

Viktor walks up to the address he was given, looking for the small door in the wall Yuuri had described to his manager. Finding it, he enters, going up the narrow staircase carefully so he doesn’t spill the drinks he’s carrying. The door at the end opens to a small benched area with carpet. The wall opposite is glass looking into a dance studio, inside of which Yuuri is on the floor doing the splits. Quite impressively. He sees the woman standing nearby frowning as she talks, and Yuuri runs his fingers through his hair before sitting all the way forward and resting his head on his arms.

The woman keeps talking with quick gestures, but startles when she sees Viktor through the glass. She says something, and Yuuri's head jerks up. He looks over and sees Viktor, giving a wave, before jumping smoothly to his feet. Grabbing his bag, Yuuri moves to leave the room when the woman catches his arm, saying something into his ear. He nods, biting his lower lip, and then heads in the direction of the door.

He smiles when he leaves the studio. “Did you bring them?”

Viktor holds up Yuuri's car keys. “Yep!”

Yuuri smiles, rubbing the back of his head. “Thanks, I’m sorry you got pulled into this.”

“It’s no issue, your manager was really nice about asking,” Viktor replies cheerfully. “I brought drinks!” He holds up the tray in his hand. Grinning, Yuuri sits on the bench to trade out his dance slippers for sneakers. He’s finishing tying his shoes when the woman comes out.

“Yuuri,” she says. When he looks up, she holds up a water bottle. Yuuri stands, taking it, before he looks back over.

“Viktor, this is my ballet instructor, Minako Okukawa.”

“Hi,” Viktor says as he holds out his hand, “I’m Viktor Nikiforov.” Minako takes it with a smile and shakes it vigorously.

“A pleasure,” she says.

Yuuri pulls on a sweater. “Minako’s been teaching me since I got to Detroit,” he says as he gathers his things. “She’s kind enough to let me use her studio when I need to unwind.” When Viktor holds out his tea, Yuuri takes it happily.

“Yuuri's been kind enough to help me when he can on the days my assistant is unable to. It’s a fair deal in my book,” she says brightly.

Yuuri smiles affectionately at his teacher. “I’ll be back Saturday after work, if that’s ok?”

Minako nods. Viktor tosses the tray in a nearby trashcan before reaching his hand towards Yuuri, who smiles as he takes it. “Thanks! See you soon!” He says, before they’re going back down the staircase.

Yuuri's car is half a block away, and it doesn’t take long before they’re driving towards Viktor’s apartment.

“I didn’t know you did ballet, Yuuri,” Viktor says.

“Uh, yeah. I’ve done it off and on since I was a kid. It’s good stress relief, especially when the rink’s closed.” He takes a left into traffic and sighs. “Minako’s really nice. She lets me come by whenever, usually, unless it’s the middle of the night.”

“That’s good. Stress relief is important, you should take advantage of the opportunity!”

“Yes, My Liege,” Yuuri laughs. Somewhere along the line, the words have gone from an inside joke to a term of endearment Yuuri uses when Viktor gets bossy. It brings a smile to his face every time. Yuuri's hand moves towards Viktor, who eagerly clasps it with a grin. Yuuri looks at him, bright red, before screwing up his face as he tries not to laugh.

“What is it?” Viktor asks, completely lost.

“I, um…I love holding your hand, don’t get me wrong, but I was going for my tea.” Yuuri chuckles when Viktor pulls his hand away. The car inches forward as he picks up his tea, blowing across the mouth of the lid before taking a drink. They’re stopped again when he sets it back in the cup holder, and he holds his hand out, palm up, in Viktor’s direction. Viktor looks at him, seeing only a smile, and takes it gladly, threading his fingers through Yuuri’s. They ride in silence the rest of the way, only breaking contact when one or the other gets thirsty.

Viktor whips up dinner when they get to his apartment, a vegetable-heavy pasta dish he made up a few years back. Yuuri takes a shower first, changing into clean clothes from his duffel, and then leaves with Makkachin for his walk while Viktor cooks.  When he gets back, cheeks red and eyes bright from the cold, Viktor’s just setting the sauce to simmer. He's pulling off his coat as Viktor steals the chill from his lips with a kiss and a smile. Blushing, Yuuri looks at him through his lashes. Viktor unwraps Yuuri’s scarf tenderly, brushing snow-dusted hair behind his ears. His eyes closed, mouth open in a broad smile, Yuuri is adorable. Beautiful. Viktor cups his cheek, pressing a kiss to his nose, feeling hands come to rest on his arm, cool to the touch.

“How was the walk?”

Yuuri looks at him. “Everything went fine. He did his thing. Took too long to sniff at some bushes, because of course.”

“There are always new bush smells,” he says, as Makkachin jumps up. He scratches his dog behind his ears. “Were you a good boy Makkachin? Do you want a treat?” Makka pants happily as Viktor reaches for the bag.

“I gave him one outside,” Yuuri says quickly.

“He can have another one, can’t you, Makkachin?” Viktor makes what he’s sure is a downright disgustingly adorable face at his dog as he feeds him. Makka takes the treat from his outstretched hand before turning away and trotting to the other side of the living room. Viktor’s face falls. He didn’t raise Makkachin to be this rude.

“He only loves you for your treats,” Yuuri says wryly.

Viktor scowls at him before checking on the food. Yuuri follows him into the kitchen, coming up behind him to look over his shoulder eagerly. “Would you stir the noodles?” Viktor asks as he seasons the sauce.

Yuuri reaches for the spoon slowly, moving his arm wide around the steam. He takes it, carefully moving it through the water and noodles. His brow is furrowed in concentration, his lower lip held between his teeth as he tries not to spill boiling water over the edge.

“How do you know when they’re done?” he asks softly, looking at Viktor.

“They’ll be very slightly firm when you bite them, but not chewy,” he responds as he sets his spatula down. He moves behind Yuuri, putting one hand around his waist, wrapping the other around the hand holding the spoon.  He stirs a little more deeply than Yuuri, two or three times around the pot, before pulling the spoon out. “It doesn’t need much, just to make sure nothing’s sticking together.” He feels Yuuri's hair brush against the side of his head as he nods. They set the spoon down, and Viktor kisses the curve of Yuuri's jaw before letting him turn around.

He pulls out a colander when the noodles are finished, setting it in the sink. Smiling at Yuuri, he gestures towards the pasta. “Would you like to do the honors?”

“Of what?”

“Straining the pasta.”

“How?”

After a short but thorough explanation, Yuuri looks at the pot, and glances at the sink. Rolling up his sleeves, he grabs two potholders, putting them on, and picks up the pasta. He walks gingerly towards the sink until he’s able to put the pot on the counter, tipping it so it pours into the waiting colander. Viktor feels himself smile with Yuuri, who appears very proud, turning to Viktor with a grin when he’s done.

“Did I do alright, coach?”

Viktor smiles, nodding happily. Dinner is served in short order and eaten almost as quickly, both men positively famished from the day’s activities. They do the dishes together, laughing when Makka attacks the odd bubble that erupts from the dish soap container. Yuuri hunkers down on the couch, a blanket around his shoulders and his school binder in front of him, while Viktor grabs the novel he has sitting at the side of his bed. He’s mere chapters from the end, the story is getting really good, and if he finishes this one tonight, he can start the next tomorrow. Or tonight, depending on how things go. Taking his place at the other end of the couch, there’s very little small talk before they settle into a comfortable silence.

 

“Hey, Vitya?” Yuuri's nervous voice breaks through the quiet evening a few hours later.

“What is it, Yuuri?” Viktor closes his book, setting it on his end table. Yuuri's set his readings down and has his knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them protectively. His hair flops in his face, hiding his eyes.

“I’m just letting you know I’m going to be taking a trip soon. For school. To Hasetsu. My thesis paper’s on the Socioeconomical Ramifications of the Transfer of Power from Colonizer to the Formerly-Colonized, my focus is Sachima, and there’s some documentation that can only be accessed in-person at their archives.”

“When is this?”

Yuuri takes a deep, shaky breath. “January. Early January. I might end up leaving at the end of December? It depends on how things go.”

Viktor mulls things over. He’s not sure Yuuri would want someone to go with him, but…he does hate travelling, and Viktor’s an experienced traveller with more than enough money to make sure everything goes smoothly. It’s worth a shot for a chance to see the world with him.

“I should go with you!” he says excitedly, “I’ve never been to Sachima  before!!” He’s been to Japan of course, but not the small island nation off the coast.

“What?” Yuuri's eyes widen as he pulls away from Viktor.

“It’ll be like a vacation!” Viktor beams.

Yuuri swallows thickly. “You…you want to come with me?”

“Of course! You don’t have to say yes if you don’t want to.” Viktor’s smiling now, but he can see trepidation in Yuuri's eyes.

Averting his gaze, Yuuri clears his throat. “You…you understand this is a research trip, right?”

Viktor nods. “I’ll be fine! I travel alone all the time!” He doesn’t. Yakov usually accompanies him with these last few months being the rare exception, but he’s no stranger to travel in general and it’s been a while since Yakov had felt the need to supervise his sightseeing.

Yuuri plays with his hands, lost in thought. “I could look into it,” he says slowly. “Talk to the university. You’re sure you won’t mind me disappearing a lot?”

Viktor shakes his head. “I can always find a way to entertain myself! I’ll find brochures and take some tours. It’ll be fun! And when you have time, we could visit things together.”

Nodding, Yuuri moves closer to Viktor.

“If you’re sure,” he says quietly.

Planting his lips on Yuuri's cheek, Viktor nods. “I’m sure.”

 

~*~

 

Two days later, Yuuri pulls out a thick envelope of paperwork after they finish dinner.

“The university needs you to fill out these forms in order to accompany me,” he says shakily.

“When do they need to be done?” Viktor picks the forms up. They’re pretty standard. Release of liability, background check, medical background, emergency contact information…he smiles despite the mountain of paperwork to fill out because it means he’s going.

“They should be done as soon as possible but we need them back in the next week.” Yuuri keeps his eyes on his plate as he explains, shoving a stray piece of meat in his mouth when he finishes.

Viktor pulls out a pen. Yuuri raises an eyebrow as Viktor gets to work, pushing his bangs behind his ear as he bends over the table. The forms are simple enough, Viktor’s filled hundreds out in several languages over the years, and he finishes them in 45 minutes. When he sits back in the chair, combing his hair away from his face, Yuuri has his DS out. He chews his tongue as he skillfully works the buttons, smiling as a happy tune plays. His eyes flick up to Viktor, and he shifts forward, saving his game.

“How much did you do?” he asks.

“All of it,” Viktor replies casually.

“You…finished everything?”  Yuuri looks at him in awe.

Nodding, Viktor smiles. “I did!” he responds happily. He shoves the papers into the envelope they came out of, sealing it with the metal clasp. “When do you think we’ll hear back?”

“We should have approval for your visa within the next week.”

“So soon? How likely am I to be approved?”

Yuuri stills, looking at him for a second, before leaning back with a sigh. “Very likely, since it’s connected to the university. They’ll send all necessary documentation to us shortly after, I'll let you know when I have it.” He puts the parcel safely in his bag.

Viktor takes an unpleasant gulp of his now-cold tea.

“So everything should be sorted soon?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says quietly, “it should.”

 

~*~

 

The flight to Sapporo would have been long and boring, had Viktor not slept nearly the entire way. His Makkachin tissue box peeks out of his bag, bringing a smile to his face as he collects his things to disembark. The trip to the hotel is easy, once he manages to hail a taxi, and Yakov has already checked them in, meeting Viktor in the lobby to give him his keycard. After getting his things situated, he changes into his swimsuit, grabs his phone, towel, and key card, and heads downstairs to the pool, almost jumping when a hand wraps itself around his waist.

“Vitya, it’s been a while.” Chris says, smiling as he comes into view. He’s wearing a silk bathrobe, holding a bottle of champagne and a glass in his free hand.

“Too long,” Viktor says, lapsing into French with a grin. It’s good to see him again.

“And how is Coffee Boy?”

Smiling fondly, Viktor sighs. “Wonderful.”

“You seem absolutely infatuated with him.”

Viktor pauses as he slips his keycard into the gate handle.

“I am,” he says as he pushes the gate open. Chris follows him in. The pool area is empty, the cold a strong deterrent, and they set their stuff down on a pair of lounges near the deep end, laying their towels out over the backs.

“I'm worried, though,” Viktor continues after a pause, and he’s really not sure why exactly he’s talking to Chris about it, other than the fact the man has a boyfriend practically no one’s laid eyes on and might be able to offer some input. “I’m worried about how we’re going to…he doesn’t like travel and gets anxious about the media. I'm, well, me,” he finishes lamely, sitting down.

Chris opens the champagne. “I’m sure you two can figure something out,” he says as he fills the glass. He offers it to Viktor first, who waves it off. Chris drains it quickly.

“I hope so. He’s been on edge, recently. We’re taking a trip soon, so it might just be that, but…I’m not exactly unrecognizable, and he knows it.” Viktor takes the newly-filled glass when it’s offered, downing half of it in one go.

“You don’t want to be the cause of his discomfort?”

Viktor sighs, nodding.

“Have you talked to him about it?” Chris looks at him inquisitively as Viktor drinks the rest of the champagne.

“No.”

“Well, there’s the start of your problems.” Smiling, Chris refills the glass, taking a sip. “You need to talk to him, Vitya. Until you do, you won’t know how to make things better.”

Viktor runs his fingers through his hair, before getting up and walking towards the pool. The water shimmers in the night, steam rising gently from its surface. The clear blue is inviting, and Viktor jumps in without hesitation. He resurfaces, moving his wet hair out of his face, in time to see Chris stand, setting the champagne and glass down on a table nearby. There’s a moment of hesitation before he disrobes, but when he does, he folds the silk carefully and lays it gently over the back of the chair. He turns, posture open and confident. He looks more comfortable now than the last time they’d been in a pool together, when he’d been swimming awkwardly in a loose t-shirt over his binder. He stretches quickly, confidently, before diving in and surfacing near Viktor. They float in silence next to each other, staring at the sky. The stars shimmer overhead, glittering pinpricks in the dark of the night.

It takes only a few minutes before Chris suggests they take selfies. Likely as a distraction, but Viktor goes with it. He dutifully likes each post on Instagram as it loads, reposting his favorites. Scrolling through his feed, he sees a post by Phichit from the night before, a selfie of himself with part of Yuuri’s shoulder and hair in the corner. Their stove is behind them, a large pot of soup simmering on top.

 

 @phichit+chu: making #dinner with the roommate! he’s not half bad (anymore)

 

Viktor smiles, liking the photo. Phichit’s been refraining from tagging him in posts with Yuuri, citing Yuuri's need for privacy, but Viktor likes every one of them just the same. He smiles again when he comes across another picture by Phichit, this time of Makkachin on his bed, chewing away at a bone.

 

@phichit+chu: #makkachin chilling at my place while @v-nikiforov competes at the #NHKTrophy. давай, виктор!!

 

Another one to repost. He saves the picture and re-uploads it.

 

@v-nikiforov: @phichit+chu He looks like he’s doing so well!! (ノ´ヮ´)♡   ขอขอบคุณ

 

He gets a “you’re welcome” comment from Phichit a few minutes later, followed by a text from Yuuri. Yuuri includes a selfie of him and Phichit cuddling Makka on the couch, and Viktor smiles happily before Chris clears his throat.

“Coffee Boy again?”

Viktor nods. “He’s taking care of Makkachin right now, so he sends updates.”

“And how’s the old boy doing?”

“He’s doing well,” Viktor says gladly. Makkachin’s health has been good, thankfully, and he’s still got the same boundless energy as when he was a puppy, when he wants to. Viktor misses him, though it feels good knowing he’s with familiar people. A shiver runs through him as a cold breeze whistles through the courtyard. Checking his phone, he mutters a curse when he sees the time.

“I should head to bed, Yakov wants me at the rink early.” Gathering his things, he wraps his towel around his shoulders. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Chris.”

“Vitya,” Chris says as he walks away. He stops, looking back. “Talk to him. I’m sure you guys can find a way to make this work.”

Viktor nods, before heading back into his room.

 

~*~

 

The picture onscreen shows Makkachin curled up on Yuuri's bed, nose buried under his tail and sleeping peacefully. His hair shines in late afternoon light, looking as soft as Viktor knows it is. He sighs. Saving the photo, he sets it as his lock screen before returning to the text chat.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   So peaceful! He looks well-rested!! ( ´ ♡ ` )

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   he was rowdy this morning on his walk, but we played a bit so he settled down \(  ̄ ▽ ̄) /
<<<   then we went to the park once i was off work
<<<   he chased a squirrel ( ღ˘ ⌣˘ ღ)
<<<   he was covered in snow, it was adorable ( っ´ω`) ノ ʕ• . •ʔ

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Did you get a picture?

From: Yuuri<3
<<<   [photo attached] he dove into a snow bank
<<<   notice his butt is still brown (^∇ ^)
<<<   i brushed him, don't worry <(‾︶‾)>

 

A laugh escapes Viktor when he sees the picture. Makkachin has both paws on Yuuri’s stomach, and he's panting happily at the camera. His entire front is caked white, brown tail a blur behind him. Yuuri’s hand cups the side of his head gently, knocking chunks of fresh snow to the ground. Viktor changes his lock screen again. This photo includes Yuuri, albeit only a glimpse, but is still innocuous enough that he won't be recognized by anyone glancing at the phone when Viktor’s not around. It's as good as he’s going to get for now.

Another picture follows shortly of Makkachin scratching furiously at a spot of Yuuri’s carpet, newly-brushed hair a brown halo around him.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   He's so handsome! ☆\(^ω^\)
>>>   I appreciate it!
>>>   How is work?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   uneventful, but i like it that way sometimes
<<<   it's not as fun as when you're here, though (;ω;)
<<<   i’m going to miss it
<<<   when we're in Hasetsu  ( ╥_ ╥)

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I'll be home soon. (ɔˆ ³(ˆ ⌣ˆc) ♡

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   o(^^o) ... (o^^)o ... (*>.<*)

 

Viktor arrives at the rink, shoving his phone in his pocket before making his way to the locker room. He puts on his costume carefully, sliding the zipper up his back, then laces his skates. After stashing the rest of his things and putting on his Olympic Team jacket, he makes his way out to the boards. Yakov is standing near the other coaches, eyes scanning the entrances until he sees Viktor making his way over.

His phone buzzes with a new notification, and he pulls it out before coming to a stop. Yuuri's sent a selfie of him, Makkachin, and Phichit, all holding (or “holding,” in Makka’s case,) Russian flags.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   you can do it!! we’re rooting for you, vitya!!!
<<<      \(* ^ ▽^*) / ʕ•.•ʔ\(* ^ ▽^*) /

 

He smiles at the nearest camera. He has no idea if it’s the one Yuuri's seeing right now, but hopefully it was picked up somewhere.

When he finishes warming up, Yakov begins his customary pre-skate advice session, barely giving Viktor a chance to breathe before he’s next up. He glances at his phone to see a few more encouraging texts, and smiles fondly. When he hands his phone to Yakov, the coach is staring at him, expression thoughtful. He removes his skate guards, handing them off before taking to the ice to greet the roaring crowd. Skating a few laps, he waves with a flourish, before taking his starting position and moving into his routine.

 

Yakov is yelling in the Kiss and Cry when Viktor’s score is announced, putting him in first. Not for the first time, he vaguely wishes he’d come in second just to see what happened. Maybe to have a sense of something to prove, to work for, rather than scraping up medals by virtue of showing up. Yakov, at least, is pleased with the outcome, not objecting when Viktor heads straight for the locker room. He reads Yuuri's texts on the way, smiling with each emoji and note of encouragement.

Once he’s showered and changed, he leaves to talk to the press before he can head back to the hotel. On his way, he stops into a small restaurant, ordering food through what he feels is a clever combination of charades, Google translate, and pointing at what looks good. The owners smile at his halting Japanese when he thanks them. When he walks into the hotel lobby he nearly runs into Yakov, standing near the entrance.

“Vitya,” he says firmly, and Viktor raises an eyebrow.

“The food fits into my plan, Yakov.”

“I’m not here about the food,” he says gruffly. They turn to walk towards the elevator. “You’re seeing someone in Detroit, yes?”

Viktor jabs at the call button impatiently. “What does that have to do with anything?” he asks, irritated. A family with children comes around the corner, holding brochures for the competition, and the little girl, probably around eight, tugs on her mother’s sleeve excitedly. When the woman looks down, the girl points at Viktor, who smiles and waves cheerfully.

“Hi!”

The girl says something quietly to her mother, who nods and pulls her over. The elevator dings behind Viktor, but he nods as the girl holds out her program and a sharpie, taking it gently. Flipping through the pages, he reaches his spread, and signs his name at the bottom with a flourish, finishing it off with a heart-mouthed smiley face. Handing it to the girl with a grin, Viktor gestures at the other programs with raised eyebrows, signing all of them happily as they’re offered. He hands them back, and after they get a picture with him, the family thanks him with short bows, walking back down the hallway. His face falls once they round the corner.

When Viktor turns around, Yakov’s already called the lift again, the doors sliding open shortly. Once they’re in the privacy of the elevator, Yakov speaks.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, Vitya. You know how the last one went.”

“Yuuri isn’t Ivan,” he replies curtly, narrowing his eyes.

“I didn’t say he was.” Yakov stares stoically at the doors.

Viktor lets out a frustrated sigh. “Yakov, I’m almost thirty. You don’t need to police my personal life anymore.”

“Someone has to look out for you, Vitya,” he says gruffly, “since you won’t let your parents do it.”

The doors open on Viktor’s floor, and he glares at Yakov after he exits. “That was a low blow and you know it,” he bites out as the doors close, turning on his heel to stalk down the hallway. He closes the hotel room door with a little more force than necessary, dropping his food on the table and his gear near the bed, before collapsing onto an armchair.

His phone dings cheerfully, and he debates ignoring it before grudgingly picking it up. Yuuri's sent a selfie, smiling sleepily at the camera in the café break room. Viktor texts back a picture of himself looking tired, and grins when he sees the message he gets in return.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i’m on my ten if you wanna chat. _(._.)_

 

His finger’s on the call button before he has time to think, and it talks half a ring for the line to engage.

“Hey.” Yuuri's soft voice drifts across the phone, soothing some of the anger he feels toward Yakov.

“Hello, Yuuri.” Viktor sits up, moving toward the table. He can at least pretend to have company while he eats, if only at the beginning.

“People need to stop ordering frappes en masse at seven am.”

“Is it that sort of day?” Viktor asks around a bite of salmon.

“Apparently.” Yuuri sighs. The phone rustles slightly, before Viktor hears Yuuri drinking something. “I’m off the day after you get back,” he says when he finishes. “I was wondering if…well, I was thinking, I need to study but Phichit’s having friends over that day…so, maybe…”

“If you want to come study at my place, you can.”

 “I can bring food,” he says happily.

“Coffee?”

“Of course.” Viktor can hear the smile in Yuuri's voice through the exhaustion. He’d watched Viktor’s short program live, which means it’s been either a very early morning, or a very, very late night. Knowing Yuuri, Viktor’s betting on the latter. He picks vegetables off of his rice with his chopsticks, eating them quickly. The adrenaline of competition has died down, leaving him weary and famished. A notification pops up on his phone, and he smiles as he accepts the change to a video call.

Yuuri grins when he comes onscreen, his hair flopping in front of his face as he sips whatever is in his cup. It’s longer, Viktor realizes, at least on the top. He can’t say it’s a bad thing, the way Yuuri's eyes are framed by his bangs when his hair is loose. His cheeks are thinner as well, now that Viktor’s looking. He’s not sure how he didn’t notice it when he left, but there’s a barely-perceptible difference.

Not enough to be concerning, though.

Yuuri pulls off a chunk of his croissant, tossing it in his mouth deftly. “So one of my professors wants me to get them copies of some records while we’re in Hasetsu.”

“Are you going to?”

Shrugging, Yuuri replies, “I’m not sure. I told them I’d try if I had time, but the Sachiman authorities are strict about access to those archives. I’d take you with me, they have a lot of interesting books there, but there’s no way the University could get you a pass, not unless you were a student.”

“That’s alright,” Viktor says with a smile.

“I did find some interesting libraries and bookstores, though.” He finishes his croissant, wadding up the paper bag and tossing it off screen. A small fist pump lets Viktor know he made it into the trash can, and he grins.

“Nice shot.”

Yuuri blushes, smiling shyly. “Thanks.” He drinks more tea, shoving the corner of a textbook to the side as he leans on the table. “I found some restaurants we can try to go to, as well. Local cuisine. The sorts of places natives frequent, like you said you like.”

Viktor grins. He’s looking forward to the trip now more than ever before. He’s been doing research, of course, going through websites and destination lists, but it warms him to know Yuuri's been doing some of his own. In search of things for Viktor, no less.

“I look forward to it,” he says happily.

“Me too,” Yuuri responds. “My break’s over, now, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning? Your tomorrow, not mine.”

“That sounds nice, Yuuri.”

“I’ll send you my hours so you know when I’m off, if you decide you want to call. Talk later?”

Viktor nods. “I can’t wait.”

Yuuri signs off with a wave after that, Viktor’s phone buzzing moments later with a screenshot of the next day’s schedule.

He saves the picture before going back to his lukewarm food with a sigh.

 

~*~

 

Viktor looks worriedly around him, listening to the phone ring as he holds it up to his ear, early morning sun bright in his face. The line engages, and he speaks.

“Yuuri?”

“Yeah?” Yuuri’s voice is hesitant.

“Do you happen to speak Japanese? At all?” Viktor crosses his fingers and holds his breath after asking. There’s a long pause, soft breathing on the other end.

“I…yeah, I do,” is his response. Viktor sighs in relief. “A dialect, anyway, but I’ve studied Standard Japanese, too. Why?”

“I’m lost.” A barely-muffled snort comes across the line.

“You’re in Sapporo, right? Hokkaido?” Viktor nods before remembering Yuuri can’t see him.

“Yes.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“I need to get back to my hotel.” He hears another snort.

“Where are you?”

Viktor looks around. The signs are unintelligible to him, but he sees something recognizable. “There’s a Starbucks!” he almost shouts. He hears computer keys tapping.

“That’s……marginally helpful. Anything else you can recognize?”

He surveys the shops. There’s one that looks like it could be a bookstore, another that sells electronics, but there’s no way of knowing if they’re big brands. He wracks his brain for a solution.

Chris. His mind supplies. The solution dawns on him. He holds his phone away from his ear, taking a few pictures before quickly sending them off to Yuuri.

“I sent street signs,” he says when the phone is back against his cheek. Chris had gotten lost in St. Petersburg at one point, and had taken pictures of everything as he walked while Viktor guided him back.

“Excellent,” Yuuri says. He hears more keystrokes and a few clicks of a mouse. His phone buzzes against his face.

“I’ve sent you directions and street names, you need to make sure the kanji match exactly,” he says. “I can stay on the phone for a little to make sure you get there ok.”

Half an hour later, Viktor’s hiding his face as he video calls Yuuri so he can actually see the signs himself.

“This is so embarrassing! I feel like an idiot,” he says, blushing.

“I still love you, though.”

It takes him a second to register what was said. When he looks back at the screen, the barest hint of black hair is in the corner.

“I can’t believe I just…” Yuuri whispers, voice tinged with embarrassment.

“Say it again?” Viktor’s voice is soft, hopeful.

Yuuri comes back into view, face a vivid scarlet. He stays silent though. Viktor’s eyes fall away from the screen as he struggles to hide the disappointment he feels. It was a figure of speech, nothing more.

“I love you,” Yuuri says quietly, almost disbelievingly.

Viktor’s head snaps up. “I love you, too, Lyubov,” he replies with a smile. Yuuri looks confused by the endearment but blushes just the same, his shoulders wiggling slightly as he does something on his computer.

The walk back to the hotel feels like floating, the snow gentle on Viktor’s glowing face.

 

~*~

 

When Viktor takes to the ice for Stammi Vicino that evening, he feels like he’s soaring before he even takes his opening position. The crowd greets him with cheers, boosting the airy feeling he has in his chest already, and he as he takes his pose, he flashes a smile at the nearest camera.

“I'm skating for you,” he thinks. “Watch me, Beloved.”

Out of the depths of his heart pour his love and affection, his body moving fluidly across the ice. He lets himself smile. The crowd roars somewhere in the distance with each successful jump, but all Viktor knows is that he feels light on his feet, weightless as he moves through his choreography.

Stay with me.

Stay by my side, and never leave.

He takes gold.

 

~*~

 

The moon is bright over Detroit as Viktor walks out of the airport, glancing down the line of cars. None of them are Yuuri's, so he sits on the cold metal bench to wait. His phone buzzes with notifications after he turns it on, and he flips through his Instagram idly. He yawns, tears collecting in the corners of his eyes as he drags a hand down his face. The night is cold, but his coat is thick and his scarf is bundled tightly around his neck.

It’s not long before Yuuri pulls up, lightly tapping his horn while he waves. Viktor smiles, hurrying over to the car while Yuuri comes around the back. Luggage is forgotten on the curb as Viktor pulls Yuuri into his arms, peppering his face with kisses while he giggles softly. Viktor lets himself melt into the embrace, resting his chin on Yuuri's shoulder.

“Welcome back, Vitya.” The nickname never fails to brighten Viktor’s spirits, not when Yuuri says it. He nuzzles the crook of Yuuri’s neck before kissing his cheek.

“It’s good to be back. How’s Makkachin?”

“See for yourself,” Yuuri says, laughing. He pulls open the back door and Makkachin takes a flying leap off the seat. Viktor catches him, barely, staggering backwards before lowering them both to the ground so he can scratch his ears. A pink tongue drags roughly across his face repeatedly as Makka greets him excitedly. His tail is wagging hard enough to make his butt wag with it, and Viktor pets him vigorously before letting go.

The back of the car slams closed, luggage stowed safely away, and Viktor stands. Makkachin jumps into the back seat when Yuuri calls him with a biscuit. Viktor closes the door and gets in himself, taking Yuuri's hand after he buckles his seatbelt.

“Take me home, Lyubov,” he mumbles quietly, before a yawn crawls out of his throat.

He’s met with a laugh. “Yes, My Liege.”

 

Jostling wakes him as Yuuri pulls into the parking space at Viktor’s apartment. He clips the leash to Makkachin, handing it to Viktor before grabbing the luggage. They make their way inside, slowly enough to let Makka take care of his business on the way. Yuuri waits in the living room after they get the luggage put away, while Viktor showers and gets into pajamas.

“There’s nothing like a hot shower after a long trip!” He says when he returns. He takes a seat on the couch. Yuuri grins at him cheerfully before his smile turns into a yawn. Smacking his lips, he rubs sleep out of his eyes.

“I’m so tired,” he says, resting his head against the back of the couch.

“Too tired to drive home?” Viktor asks, almost hopefully.

“No,” Yuuri says. Hearing Viktor’s disappointed sigh, he sits up and kisses the tip of his nose. “But I could be.” He smiles, pulling out his phone and composing a quick text. “I’ll need to borrow pajamas.”

“That can be arranged.” Viktor grins and vanishes into his room, rummaging through his drawers to find something on the small side. He emerges a few minutes later, t-shirt and flannel pants in hand. Yuuri takes the proffered garments to the bathroom to change, walking back out after a bit.

“Do you happen to have an extra toothbrush?” He asks. Viktor’s old Russian Olympic Team t-shirt is draped nicely over his torso, his collarbones visible where the neck gapes open. The cuffs of Viktor’s pajama pants are rolled up, still dragging lightly on the floor as Yuuri rocks back and forth on his feet.

“Vitya?”

He blinks. “Um, yes, I do. Let me get it for you.” When he pulls one out of the cupboard under his sink, Yuuri takes it from him, smirking.

“Like what you see?” he whispers, inches from Viktor’s ear.

Clearing his throat, Viktor nods slowly. Cold fingertips turn Viktor’s head to face Yuuri, who brushes his lips across Viktor’s before kissing his cheek.

“Thank you for the toothbrush,” he says, grinning cheekily as he wiggles the item in question.

“It matches your glasses.”

Yuuri looks it over with interest, smiling happily. “It does! Did you plan it like that?”

Viktor nods, caught. “I did. You can put it in the cup when you’re done. So you have one here.”

Yuuri's face turns a bright red. He nods, beaming, before nudging Viktor with his hip. They brush their teeth in tandem, side by side in front of the mirror and it’s not for the first time Viktor wishes they spent every evening together. He wipes his mouth off as Yuuri leans up to kiss him.

“Mmm. Minty.” Yuuri smiles.

Viktor kisses him again. “You’re right.”

Yuuri blushes, kissing his chin. “You’ve got stubble.”

He rubs his neck, new hairs rough under his fingertips. “I’ll shave tomorrow morning.”

“Don’t be nuzzling up against me with your sandpaper chin, Vitya.”

Flinging his arms around Yuuri's waist from behind, Viktor rubs his cheek on the back of his shoulder. Yuuri laughs, squirming in Viktor’s grasp. “It tickles!” he says between breaths. Viktor only clings tighter, moving on to blowing raspberries as best he can against Yuuri's shoulder blade. Yuuri hunches over, pushing at Viktor’s arms weakly. “Vitya!” He finally manages to turn around, and Viktor catches his mouth in a kiss, arm tight around Yuuri's lower back, supporting him in a slight dip. He smiles, brushing a lock of hair out of Yuuri's eyes and tucking it behind his ear.

“You’re impossible,” Yuuri says fondly.

“Mmm is that so, Lyubov moya?”

Yuuri kisses his nose. “Absolutely incorrigible.”

 

They fall into bed together shortly thereafter, cuddling together under the blankets while Makkachin makes himself comfortable at the foot. The moon shines on Yuuri's face, throwing each eyelash into new definition.

“Vitya?” Yuuri asks softly.

Viktor raises his head slightly, looking at him. “What is it?”

“What does that mean?”

“What does what mean?”

“The thing you call me,” Yuuri says around a yawn. “Leyouboo something.”

“Lyubov moya?”

“Yeah, that.”

Viktor smiles, kissing Yuuri gently. “My Beloved,” he says softly, and he hears a small gasp. Yuuri is smiling, his eyes are sparkling and he rests his head on the pillow as he looks up at Viktor. He looks almost ethereal, sleepy as he is, and as Viktor brushes Yuuri’s dark hair back, cupping his cheek, he wishes he could remember this moment forever. They snuggle in tired contentment, murmuring love and happiness to each other as they drift to sleep.

 

~*~

 

The next day had started happily with kisses in bed and pancakes, Yuuri only burning himself once and beaming with pride, but it quickly devolved. Yuuri rubs his arm nervously as he looks at Viktor.

“You know, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” It’s the third time today Yuuri's told Viktor he can back out of the trip if he wants. He closes his book with a snap.

“If you don’t want me there, Yuuri, just say so.”

“It’s…I’m just thinking, you have stuff to do, you know? And it’s just a stupid research trip, you’re probably going to get bored and hate it.” He’s practically gnawing the inside of his cheek, fingers playing with the sleeves of his hoodie.

“Then I won’t go,” Viktor says curtly.

Yuuri flinches, retreating to the kitchen for tea, and then to the bedroom to study at Viktor’s desk.

 

Two hours later, Yuuri’s leaning against the doorjamb to the living room during a study break, staring at Viktor with a complicated expression on his face.

“I know you don’t get much time off, though, so if you wanted to go still I haven’t said anything to the university. You could shop or something while I do my research. There are museums. Bookstores.” His eyes glimmer dimly, the faintest flicker of hope in their depths. Viktor sighs.

“What answer are you looking for, Yuuri? I say I’ll go, you try to convince me not to. When I finally say I won’t, you come back out with reasons I should! What do you want me to do?” Viktor’s words slice through the air. Yuuri looks taken aback for a second, stunned into silence, before tears well up in the corners of his eyes.

He drops his gaze to his hands, rolling the hem of his t-shirt between his fingers. Viktor can hear him sniffling. He may have been too harsh, but Yuuri's been flip-flopping like this for days over text, constantly either implying that Viktor shouldn’t go, or practically begging him to be there. It had seemed like it would settle down for a bit, Viktor has constantly been hinting and even saying that he’s been more than excited to go, but Yuuri apparently hasn’t picked up on his sincerity. He rubs the bridge of his nose and tries a gentler approach.

“Yuuri, if you don’t want me there, I’m not going to be mad or offended. You can just say so.” Yuuri chews on his lip. “But if you want me to go, I need you to tell me for sure, so I can figure out how I’m going to practice and make arrangements for Makka. You can’t just keep changing your mind like this, it’s not fair to me.”

He hears a hitched sob. Yuuri's crying now.

“Yuuri, please, look at me. Remember, this was my idea in the first place. Do you want me to go with you or not?”

He bites his lip, still faced away. “I-I mean, you have to train. It’s right after Russian Nationals, you’ll be getting ready for the European Championships, and I don’t know how long m-my research is going to take so I can’t just keep you there forever and-“ He stops as Viktor puts a hand on his cheek.

“Stop thinking about what’s good for me. Tell me what you want and we’ll go from there.”

Yuuri's eyes meet his, uncertain. “It would be nice to have you there.” It’s the best answer Viktor’s going to get and he knows it.

“How about I plan to stay with you at the start, maybe just for two or three weeks, and we can figure out what needs to happen after that? It’ll be like a vacation! I haven’t had time off in too long.” He smiles cheerfully. “Is there a rink near the hotel?”

Yuuri swallows thickly. “I can check. I’ll…I’ll get back to you about that. I know there’s a rink in the city we’ll be in, I just…don’t know how far it is from where we’ll be staying.”

Viktor holds out his arms, pleased when he feels the press of Yuuri's body against him. He closes his eyes, sighing happily. “If there’s a rink nearby, and I can book time on it, I should be able to train remotely. I’ve been doing it with Yakov for months now already, so it really doesn’t matter where I am.”

“But you have Celestino here. I know he’s not your coach, but he’s still a coach.”

“Yuuri I’ve been doing this for 20 years already. I’ll be fine. I know how to train, and Yakov’ll be analyzing video footage to give me pointers. A few weeks on my own isn’t going to hurt, and I’m spending time in Russia with him right before we leave.”

Yuuri nods. “You’re sure? You actually want to go?”

“Why wouldn’t I want to take a vacation with you?” He’s met with a shrug. Running his hand up and down Yuuri's back, he kisses the top of his head softly. “I’ve been excited to go with you since you said you were ok with it! The worst thing that’ll happen is I come back to Detroit early.”

Yuuri goes oddly still, before nodding and leaning closer.

“Yeah.”

 

~*~

 

“He’s definitely not the person I’d have chosen to represent us,” Viktor finishes ranting as JJ Leroy glides across the screen. He’s curled up on the couch with Yuuri, watching competition footage in preparation for the Final.

“Us?” Yuuri's eyes are glimmering as he pauses the video. “Are you Canadian?”

“I’m a Russian Citizen.”

“But are you Canadian?”

Viktor glances back at the image on the screen, JJ’s ridiculous pose frozen in high definition. He closes his eyes, sighing. “Yes. My mom is Québécoise.” It’s not his heritage he’s ashamed of, but in the world of figure skating, most people associate “Canadian” with “JJ Leroy” and “JJ Leroy” with “annoying show-off” and it’s made Viktor a little less forthright about things. Mostly because the only thing people in his social circles talk about when they find out is JJ Leroy.

“I thought she was Russian,” Yuuri says, puzzled.

“That’s my other mom,” Viktor replies. “I was raised Russian, so it’s not like I grew up in Canada, but still.”

“No wonder you hate JJ so much.” Yuuri's look is sympathetic.

Viktor nods. “I don't hate him, he's a good kid, he’s just so…” He trails off, trying to find the word without resorting to insults.

“Obnoxious,” Yuuri finishes.

Viktor nods emphatically. “Maman’s been hoping I was assigned to Skate Canada with him, specifically, so I could make her proud. It doesn’t matter to her that I skate under the Russian flag. Winning against a ‘fellow Canadian’, and on Canadian soil no less…” His smile is fond, but steadily turns to plastic. He still hasn’t contacted them, despite getting another congratulations text, and the guilt’s starting to eat away at him.

Yuuri frowns, running his thumb along Viktor’s lips. “What’s wrong?” he asks. “You look sad.”

Sad? That wasn’t right. Viktor is smiling, he’s making sure of it. His mask is solid, impenetrable. The concern in Yuuri's eyes says otherwise, though. Yuuri's fingers are wet against Viktor’s skin, and he’s confused for a second. When another warm tear slides down Viktor’s face, he figures it out.

He misses his family. He genuinely, truly misses them and it hurts.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Yuuri's forehead rests against Viktor’s now, breath ghosting across Viktor’s lips.

“I don’t know.” Viktor bites his lip, closing his eyes. The sadness refuses to be willed away, the lump in his throat growing, suffocating him. He feels arms wrap around his torso and lips on his cheek before Yuuri pulls him into a firm hug.

When he opens his eyes, his vision is blurred by tears. He pulls away from Yuuri, wiping his face with his sleeve roughly. Taking an offered tissue, he blows his nose.

“It’s been a year since I've contacted my family.”

Yuuri’s face jerks up. He sits back on his heels.

“We’re not even on bad terms, I just…I plan to, and then I forget. Then I feel guilty for forgetting, so I put it off…” He combs his hair out of his face with his fingers. “I can’t seem to break the cycle.”

“Just do it.”

Viktor looks at Yuuri in disbelief. Yuuri, who struggles with anxiety, just telling Viktor to do something like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Like there’s not a voice in the back of Viktor’s mind, constantly reminding him that all the gold medals in the world won’t make him a decent son and brother, shackling him with guilt when he tries to fight it.

Yuuri pales when he realizes how it came across. “I-I don’t mean it like that! When I have anxiety about something like that, sometimes… Sometimes it’s easiest to do the thing right when I have the urge to, before giving myself time to question myself.” Yuuri rubs the back of his head, gesturing with his free hand. “It’s obviously not good for everything, but it helps with things that need to get done. Stuff like chores and sending emails you’ve been dreading and taking a shower.”

It actually makes sense when he puts it that way.

 

~*~

 

Lying in bed late that night, Viktor opens the group message with his moms again. Biting his lip, he stares at the line blinking ominously on screen. He’s composed and erased several messages, each worse than the one before, when a bubble with three blinking dots pops up in the bottom.

His heart leaps into his throat and he freezes, waiting. They must have seen him typing. It feels like forever those dots flash at him accusingly, before a message pops up.

 

From: Maman
<<<   We love you, Vitka! Always and forever. <#
<<<   * <3

 

Tears start running down his face. It’s been so long, so incredibly long since he’s heard their voices. His finger hovers over the phone icon. Yuuri’s words float back into his mind, and he doesn’t allow himself to hesitate before pressing call.

The phone rings once, twice before a woman’s voice comes on the other end.

“Vitka?” He hears apprehension and disbelief, and how could he do this to his own mothers, that they can barely believe their own son is contacting them?

“Vitka, is something wrong?” He hears a low murmur in the background and god they think something’s wrong just because he called and what sort of son is he?

“No, Maman, nothing's wrong. I just…I missed…” It’s hard to talk around the lump in his throat. He takes a deep breath.

“Oh, Vitka, we miss you, too.” He hears another murmur, louder this time, before his other mom picks up the other line.

“Vitya, how is Detroit?”

“It’s wonderful, Mamulya. I met a boy,” he says happily, his voice catching in his throat.

“A boy? Is he anything like the last one?” Her tone is wary, her mind undoubtedly on the weeks Viktor had spent sulking around the house after the nasty break-up with his first boyfriend.

“No, nothing like Ivan. He’s sweet and thoughtful and fun, and he loves Makkachin, and he makes the most incredible coffee, Mamulya.”

“Is this the one from your Instagram?” He smiles. He’d forgotten they follow him.

“He is.”

He hears shuffling on the end of the line, and then his Maman’s voice.

“You sound happier.”

“Do I really?” It’s one thing to hear from his rinkmates, another to hear from his mother.

“You do, darling Vitya.” He can hear the smile in her voice.

“He doesn’t care who I am, Maman. He doesn’t care about the medals. He sees me, not the Legend. He brings me coffee after practice, and I take food to his work so he has company on his lunch break.”

“That sounds absolutely lovely.” A door closes in the background, a man’s voice speaking rapidly before there’s a sudden pause in conversation. The phone is handled again, before a new voice comes on the line.

“Vitya, is that you?”

Viktor almost laughs. Alexei sounds so eager and he’s missed him, too. He’s missed all of them.

“It’s me, Lyosha.”

“Something happen? You can tell your big brother.”

“I think being born twenty minutes before me hardly qualifies you as my big brother.”

“I’m still older. Everyone has to be a winner at something,” he says jokingly. “You have your medals, I have my twenty minutes.” Viktor laughs. Alexei’s surprisingly good about being the identical twin of Russia’s National Hero. He’s never once made Viktor feel bad about his status, even when the paparazzi mistakenly hound him instead. Which has happened more often than the press likes to admit.

“How is Detroit?” There’s a soft click as the other line disengages. The background is quieter, now, as well. Lyosha must have stolen the phone.

“It’s nice,” Viktor says sleepily.

“How is Makkachin?”

“He’s happy.”

“And you?” Alexei’s tone turns serious. “We’ve been worried, Vitka.”

“I’m doing well, too. I met someone, Lyoshen’ka.”

“Is he cute?”

Viktor chuckles. “He’s gorgeous and he has so much love to give. He makes me so happy, Lyosha,” he says and it’s true. He’s genuinely smiled more in the months knowing Yuuri than he had in the years before.

“He’s not weird? About the skating?”

“He pretended he had no idea I was a figure skater for months so I’d feel normal.” Viktor rolls over, laying on his back and stroking Makkachin’s fur idly. “He’s…surprisingly conscious about…everything. Not in a bad way, though? We eat in a lot, because he knows I get recognized, and it’s not like he doesn’t talk about my career but it’s never that sort of…”

“Voyeuristic self-serving fascination?”

“Yeah.” Alexei’s always been incredibly concise with his words. Viktor yawns, now. It’s deep, and seems to shake his entire body. His brother laughs on the other end of the line.

“It’s what, two am there?” Viktor hums in agreement. “Vitka, go to sleep.”

“Is Katya there?”

“Not at the moment, no. She’s at school.”

Viktor pulls his covers further up his bare chest, making a noise of displeasure as he does.

“Vitka, we’ll still be here when you feel up to calling again.” Alexei’s always known how to talk to Viktor, how to reassure him, even during the dark days of their adolescence. “I’ll tell our little sister you say hi and that you love her.”

“I should say good night to our moms.” There’s an amused sigh on the other end, and then shuffling. A door opens and closes, and he hears women’s voices. Rustling comes over the line, and finally his brother’s voice again.

“You’re on speakerphone, Vitka. Say goodnight so you can go to bed.”

“But I wanna talk.” His lips feel clumsy, even speaking his native Russian, and he yawns again.

His maman laughs softly. “Vitya, sleep is good for you. We’ll always be here, you can always call us.”

“It is true,” Mamulya says gently. “We love hearing from you.”

He sighs. Saying goodbye hurts, because there’s still so much to tell them, but he can barely keep his eyes open and he has to be at the rink early the next day. He’s drifting off by the time his family reminds him again they love him, voices earnest and full of kindness. When he hangs up, there’s a smile on his face and he lets out a contented sigh as he snuggles closer to Makkachin.

 

~*~

 

The next morning, Yuuri greets him with a smile.

“What can I get for you today?”

Viktor grins, “A kiss from the Birthday Boy?”

Yuuri blushes, glancing around the café, before leaning across the counter for a quick peck on the lips.

“S dnem rozhdeniya, Lyubov moya,” Viktor says, “Happy Birthday.”

“Spasibo,” is the bashful reply. “Now what can I get started for you?”

“Can I get a Raf?”

Yuuri nods. In short order the coffee is ready, and Viktor sits at the counter in his usual spot as he drinks. Terrycloth squeaks against metal as Yuuri wipes down the espresso machine.

“I talked to my family,” Viktor says suddenly, into the relative quiet of the café.

“Did you? How’d it go?” Yuuri asks curiously.

“It went pretty well. Talked to my moms and my brother, my sister was in school.” He smiles as he remembers, fondness pulling his mouth into a smile.

“Are they doing alright?”

“They are! I was happy to talk with them.”

Glancing at the clock, Yuuri sighs. “Want one to go?”

Viktor looks, and he has about 10 minutes to get to the rink.

“Sure,” he replies. “Why don’t you make one for Phichit, too?”

“I’ll make one for him and Celestino, and you can play delivery boy,” Yuuri says, smiling. When he holds out the tray of drinks, Viktor takes them carefully.

“Don’t forget, Phichit and I’ll meet you here with Makka so we can go to your place and order food, or whatever it is we’re doing.” The party’s tonight, and Viktor still hasn’t figured something out for Yuuri's present. Yuuri gives a shy smile before moving to answer someone’s question, and Viktor leaves for the rink.

 

“I don’t know what to buy him,” Viktor says as he skates up to Phichit with their drinks. He hands over the coffee, and leans against the boards as he pouts.

“Are you talking about your dog or Yuuri?” Phichit’s grinning into his coffee as he takes a sip, looking at Viktor with sparkling eyes.

“In this case, Yuuri,” Viktor responds. He runs a gloved hand through his hair. “I’ve tried figuring out what he wants, but I don’t want to buy him coffee, he has enough of that at work. I’d get him a video game, but I don’t know which ones he has for his Xbox already.”

“Playstation.”

“Same thing,” Viktor says, because it may as well be.

“He has a Wii U, too. And a 3DS, both of which are obviously backwards-compatible to an extent.”

The exasperated look on Viktor’s face makes Phichit shut his mouth.

“Have you thought of tea?” Phichit asks as he spins in slow circles.

“He has so much tea already.”

“He goes through it really quickly, trust me.”

That much should have been obvious to Viktor, now that he thinks about it. Yuuri uses making tea for stress relief as much as drinking it, and it’s not uncommon to find several forgotten mugs laying around the house when Yuuri leaves.

“But what kind of tea?” Phichit stops spinning, putting his free hand on his hip.

“Almost anything, really. He tends to avoid fruity teas unless he’s in a mood, but he’ll appreciate almost anything. Unless it smells like alfalfa,” he says as he frowns. “There are teas out there that do, and every time he gets one he starts talking about doing 4-H.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Viktor chuckles.

“Seriously, though? Just get something you think he’d like, either a favorite tea of your own, or just one that smells nice.” Phichit smirks. “He’ll like it if it’s from you.”

 

He doesn’t have time to run to a tea shop before Yuuri's driving them to the apartment, and Phichit already makes him drive them to a store to pick up his cake and candles. They get up to the apartment without issue, Yuuri playfully averting his eyes so he doesn’t see the cake before it’s in front of him with candles, per Phichit’s orders. Viktor orders food, Phichit makes everyone tea, and after they eat, Yuuri blows his 23 candles out with a single breath. They clap, and Viktor introduces him to the great Russian tradition of ear-pulling, leaving the tips of Yuuri's ears (and his cheeks) a bright red. Viktor kisses his nose, and Yuuri's eyes shimmer.

 

Viktor’s holding the plastic controller, fiddling with too many buttons and joysticks and essentially just smashing his fingers in random places as Mario jumps and fireballs his way across the screen. Yuuri and Phichit are fighting each other, high on a ledge above, and Viktor struggles to make Mario fit in the small passageway to the upper level without coming dangerously close to falling off the map. Yuuri and Phichit are waging battle in the temple area, furious spins and brutal attacks alternating with going at each other using cartoon items that fall from the sky.

A blonde kid in an elf costume flies towards the camera, landing against the screen as Yuuri cheers.

“We’ll see how the next round goes, Princess,” Phichit says. “Don’t think just because you’re good at Zelda means you’re always going to win.”

Yuuri sticks his tongue out, his character moving rhythmically in place. Viktor finally gets Mario on the main level, and makes his way in Yuuri's direction. Chancing a glance at the others, he smiles as he sees Yuuri and Phichit heavily involved in an argument about character stats and abilities. Onscreen, Mario moves towards Princess Zelda, and Viktor quickly figures out that you can shift people if you keep walking towards them. He grins. Moving his joystick to the left, Viktor quickly moves Mario to push Princess Zelda further and further, until the announcer’s voice booms from the speakers.

“K-O!!! Winner: Mario!!”

Yuuri and Phichit both gape at the screen while Viktor beams widely.

“What the fuck?” Yuuri mutters quietly while Phichit rapidly looks between Viktor and the T.V. before howling with laughter.

“You- he- he just…” Phichit clutches his side as he dissolves into giggles again.

“I didn’t hear you hitting me.” Yuuri says, still in shock.

“He pushed you off the ledge, you nerd,” Phichit says, throwing an arm around Yuuri. “You only had one life left. You should’ve paused it if you’d wanted to win. Or beaten your boyfriend before arguing with me.” Yuuri blushes furiously and stares at his controller like he’s debating throwing it at his roommate. He settles for smacking Phichit with a nearby pillow and crawling onto the far end of the couch.

“Well played,” he says to Viktor with a smile on his lips.

“Happy Birthday, Lyubov moya.” Viktor responds, leaning over, eyes closed, for a kiss. His mouth connects with fabric, and he opens his eyes to see one of the couch’s decorative pillows an inch from his face. Backing off, he pouts while Yuuri lowers the pillow just enough to meet his eyes over the top.

“No, you’re rude. You ignored the rules of combat. This is war, Vitya.”

“All’s fair in love and war,” Viktor replies with a grin. He pulls the pillow down farther, exposing Yuuri's lips, and leans forward with the most sappy puppy-dog look he can manage. “Yuuuuuuri,” he drawls playfully when Yuuri makes a face. He knows Yuuri's weak for puppy-dog eyes and he keeps it up until Yuuri blushes, rolling his eyes, before giving Viktor a quick peck on the nose and a playful shove.

Both of them notice buzzing as Phichit holds up Yuuri's phone.

Yuuri groans, “reject the call, would you?”

Phichit looks at the phone, finger held over the reject button. “It’s…Yuuri, it’s your sister,” he says quietly.

Yuuri moves to get off the couch, looking at Viktor. “I’m sorry, I have to take this.”

“Didn’t your family call earlier?” Viktor asks curiously.

Shrugging, Yuuri stands as he takes the phone. “My sister calls separately.”

He looks down at the buzzing device in his hand before sighing and swiping his thumb across the screen. “I’ll be out in a sec,” he says, before putting the phone to his ear and walking down the hall.

 

Forty-five minutes later, Viktor’s sitting at the coffee table with Phichit, grinning smugly as he puts the last cards in his hand down in front of him.

“I’m out,” he says, “and with 515 points this game goes to me.”

Phichit drops his cards on the table. “How do you even learn to play this game?”

Viktor shrugs. “The same way you get good at video games, I imagine. Play it, suck, keep playing it, and then you get better and eventually beat your coach so badly he vows never to play with you again.”

“That sounds like there’s a story connected to it.”

Viktor grins. “There is. He technically hit five hundred first! Negative five hundred.”

Phichit winces. “No wonder. Makes a mere 175 sound not-as-bad.”

Excusing himself to go to the bathroom, Viktor heads down the bare halls. The walls have post-it notes on them, similarly to the kitchen, but they’re mostly inconsequential reminders about using the thermostat and such. One bedroom door at the end of the hall is cracked open, the sounds of a metal wheel squeaking loud in the night. The other is closed tightly, likely Yuuri's.

His business taken care of, he stands outside Yuuri's bedroom door, fist raised to knock. Yuuri's speaking to someone, in what sounds like Japanese. It’s not a form Viktor’s heard before. Yuuri had said he’d studied standard Japanese, which means…this must be the dialect he’d grown up speaking. The cadence and intonation are different, but it flows out of Yuuri's mouth like water just the same. Viktor’s about to back away when Yuuri's voice catches in his throat. He listens as his voice grows thicker, before going completely quiet.

A hand on his shoulder startles him. Phichit puts his fingers over his lips when Viktor turns, gesturing for him to follow him down the hallway. They make it to the kitchen before Phichit speaks.

“He’ll be done soon.”

“I’ve always gotten the impression he’s not on decent terms with any of his family. He’s always stressed when he’s done spending time with his sister.”

Phichit frowns for a second. “His relationship with her, and his family in general, is complicated. He doesn’t really talk about them much, to be honest.”

That’s something Viktor’s not unfamiliar with. He nods to Phichit. “Should I wait to say goodbye, or should I just…go?”

Phichit shrugs. “He’ll probably be out in a couple of minutes, if you want to stick around.”

Sure enough, Yuuri shuffles out of his room a few minutes later. He smiles when he sees Viktor, gravitating over. His eyes are red and puffy, and he wraps his arms around him. Viktor runs his fingers through Yuuri’s hair, kissing the top of his head.

“Everything alright, Lyubov?”

Yuuri's breath hitches in his throat, but he nods. “I just miss my family.”

Kissing his forehead, Viktor pulls him closer. “I could pay travel expenses for you to go see them. It can be part of your birthday present!”

He pulls back in time to see Yuuri's eyes drop to the floor, his face twist into a pained expression before fading into melancholy. “I appreciate it,” he says flatly, “but that’s not necessary. We’re…currently discussing possible arrangements for a visit in the near future.” His lips brush Viktor’s neck before he buries his face in his shoulder. “I’ll be ok, Vitya. Thank you, though.”

“You’ll be going home soon?” Phichit’s voice is soft, but there’s an unusual weight to the question.

Yuuri nods, turning his head to rest his cheek against Viktor. “Yeah. I will.” He sounds resigned.

“You don’t sound very happy about that,” Viktor says gently.

Yuuri stiffens, pulling back, and something dark crosses his expression. “It’s complicated, Vitya.”

 

When Viktor gets home that night, after taking Makkachin out, he sends a few final texts to Yuuri.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Happy Birthday, Любовь моя!
>>>   Sweet dreams, I’ll see you soon! ( ´ ♡ ` ). 。o ♡
>>>   Good Night!! ( ∪ 。 ∪) 。。。zzZ

 

He doesn’t receive a response.

 

Chapter Text

“Yuuri, I love you. I love everything about you, I’m not going to be upset that you’re so anxious about this trip.”

Somehow, it’s the wrong thing to say. Yuuri’s hiccups turn into full-blown sobs. Tears and snot run down his face, hurriedly wiped off with the sleeve of his hoodie.

Viktor’s at a loss. If this were a typical anxiety attack, he’d have some idea what to do, but something is wrong. Everything he says, normally things that help, or at least don’t do anything, seem to make the situation worse. The upcoming trip is impacting Yuuri more than he is letting on, and for the life of him Viktor can’t understand why. Travel and hotel expenses are already paid, their passports are in order, additional paperwork finished and mostly approved, and Yuuri has a clear idea of the information he needs for his thesis, as well as where to find it. They don’t even need to worry about Makkachin’s care since he’ll be with Phichit. Nothing Viktor can think of offers any explanation for this, and the only logical conclusion he can come up with is just… stress.

But knowing it’s just stress isn’t helping him calm Yuuri at all. Hurt wells in his chest as Yuuri struggles to pull himself together, sobs forcing their way out of his throat.

“Yuuri,” he says quietly, on the verge of tears himself, “Yuuri, Lyubov moya, what can I do? How can I help?”

Yuuri just shakes his head, shoulders trembling forcefully.

“Ph-Phichit. Please,” he chokes out. “He...text him?”

Viktor nods. He pulls his phone out of his pocket, keeping his arms wrapped around Yuuri as he texts his rinkmate. Phichit’s over in short order, pulling Yuuri into the bedroom with him after offering apologies to Viktor. With nothing left to do but worry, Viktor paces laps around the living room, Makkachin at his heels.

 

It’s been over an hour when Phichit emerges from the bedroom. Viktor looks over from the couch and jumps to his feet when he sees him, tripping as he rushes over for news.

“He’ll be ok,” Phichit says softly before Viktor can ask. “It’s not something he can really…it’s hard for him to talk about. Nothing you did, though, just…nerves. Because of the trip. And his paper. And stuff.”

“What kind of ‘stuff’?”

Phichit glances back at the bedroom, biting his lip as he sighs. “He’s got a lot on his mind right now. I’m not really comfortable speaking for him, though, so…”

Viktor nods in understanding.

“Let him tell you everything when he’s ready, yeah?” Phichit crosses his arms, concern evident in his voice.

“I will.”

Yuuri comes into the hallway then, eyes swollen and the tip of his nose an angry red. His feet shuffle under the blanket he has wrapped around himself, as he makes his way towards the kitchen.

“Do you want me to make you tea?” Viktor asks, almost eagerly. It sounds jarring next to Yuuri’s quiet footsteps and the occasional sniffle.

“I’ll be ok, thanks.” He walks slowly past Phichit and Viktor.

“I don’t mind,” Viktor says.

“It’s fine,” Yuuri responds quietly as he sets the water to boil. Viktor walks into the kitchen and grabs Yuuri’s favorite mug, setting it down near the kettle. Yuuri looks up at him quickly, face shadowed. When Viktor reaches for the tea, he snaps.

“I don’t need you to take care of me,” he says as he snatches the tin out from in front of Viktor.

Viktor pulls his hand back, wounded. “It’s not like you’re telling me what you do need!” Phichit moves forward at that point, both hands raised. Yuuri shoots him a severe look, and he gingerly folds his arms in front of his chest. “How am I supposed to know what to do when you won’t tell me how to help?!” Viktor’s almost shouting, but it doesn’t matter. These last few weeks, tiptoeing around Yuuri’s ever-increasing anxiety while trying to focus on training and dealing with his own issues have taken their toll, and his nerves are frayed and ready to snap. Yuuri’s eyes meet Viktor’s and he looks guilty.

“I’m just stressed. I’m fine.” He looks down as he measures tea leaves into a bob and drops it in his cup.

“Clearly you’re not.”

“Regardless of whether or not I am, I clearly don’t want to talk about it!”

Viktor opens his mouth for a retort, but can’t find the words. Yuuri’s tone leaves no room to argue, finality echoing in the last statement. He scowls, keeping his eyes firmly on the kettle as the water comes to a boil.

Viktor looks at Phichit. Phichit holds his hands up in a blatant don’t-get-me-involved gesture, and Viktor sighs.

“Should I just kiss you or something?”

Utensils and dishes rattle as Yuuri slams his hands down on the counter.

“No, Viktor! No! That’s not what I – “ he throws up his hands, exasperated. His eyes start shining, tears collecting in the corners, before he marches into the living room. He pulls his coat on roughly, buttoning it halfway before putting his scarf on. The rest of the buttons are done up, securing the scarf ends, and Yuuri pulls his beanie roughly onto his head before grabbing his bag and marching over to the door.

Viktor goes to protest as he pulls his shoes on, but stops when Yuuri snaps his hand up. “I’m going for a walk,” he says curtly. He finishes tying his shoelaces, standing up and straightening out his jacket. In a flash he’s gone with a burst of cold air, leaving Phichit and Viktor stunned in his wake.

“That...could have gone better.” Phichit’s voice breaks through the silence.

“What did I do?” Viktor’s surprised at how distraught he sounds.

“Aside from asking to kiss him?” Viktor nods. “Nothing,” Phichit says. “You might have pushed the whole helping-out thing a bit too much, but…I can promise you, you’re not the main source of Yuuri's stress. He has a lot going on. This research paper could make or break his academic career.”

“There’s more than just the paper, Phichit. I’m not an idiot.” His tone is harsher than he’d anticipated, almost accusatory.

Phichit’s eyes narrow, glinting in the light. “I won’t speak for him. I’ve said all I’m comfortable saying. I’m going to go find him before he freezes to death. You stay here. I’ll text with updates.” He, too, bundles up before heading out, the door slamming shut behind him. Viktor slumps over on the couch. Makkachin makes his way over, cold nose nudging Viktor’s hand until he moves it to scratch behind his ears.

Five long minutes later he gets a text saying Phichit’s with Yuuri.

Fifteen minutes after that, he gets another informing him that Yuuri's staying at his own apartment for the night, and probably the next couple of days. To “de-stress”, apparently. There are no further texts for the rest of the night, and Viktor wakes the next morning sore and badly rested. It’s a rest day, so he spends it at home absorbed in any book he can find that’ll hold his attention for more than ten minutes. He debates messaging Phichit, deciding against it when he remembers how angry he’d been. He makes another cup of tea, and slouches in his chair with a pile of books as he tries to pass the time. Walking Makka provides some distraction, but not enough to stop him from seeing Yuuri's stricken face every time he closes his eyes. That evening, after no updates, he finally gives into the temptation to text Yuuri. Yuuri doesn’t answer, even after Viktor’s sent several, but the reason becomes clear when Viktor tries calling him, only to hear a muffled ringtone from the couch cushions. He pulls up his messages with Phichit.

 

To: Phichit C.
>>>   I messed up.

From: Phichit C.
<<<   yea kinda. but i was being serious when i said most of it isn’t you.

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Still, I want to apologize. Can I come over?

From: Phichit C.
<<<   uhhh we aren’t home right now.
<<<   yuuri wanted to get out of the house so i took him to a party?
<<<   but if you’re serious i can give you the address. he’s not drunk.
<<<   yet.

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Please?

 

The text comes in a few minutes later, as Viktor’s pulling on his boots near the front door. He calls an Uber while he makes his way to the street. The ride over is uneventful, and the house they stop in front of is the only one on the block with its lights blazing and a crowd of people outside, so he assumes he’s at the right place. Getting out of the car, he slides the driver a twenty before heading into the throng of people.

It doesn’t take long to spot Phichit in the crowd indoors, staring at something going on in the next room. He rounds the corner, refusing several plastic cups held in his direction, and makes his way over. When he pushes through the crowd gathered near Phichit, it becomes clear what’s drawn everyone’s attention.

Yuuri's spinning languidly halfway up a metal pole, his glorious thighs on full display as he dances. His tie hangs loosely around his neck, and his unbuttoned shirt is draped across his torso. Aside from his socks, the only other clothing on his body is his boxer-briefs. He does a Superman, then swings himself around the pole with a flourish. When he finally stops going in circles, his eyes meet Viktor’s and his face lights up. He grins happily, shifting his hand to wave, before promptly sliding down the pole and landing in a heap on the ground.

He’s not on the floor for long. Jumping to his feet enthusiastically, he shouts, “Vitya!!! Did you see me?! I did great, right?!?!” Viktor feels his face grow hot as he nods. He clears his throat as Yuuri's soft hands grab his, long fingers wrapping around Viktor’s like they were made to be there. Moving energetically to the music, Yuuri leads Viktor into the next room. They spin across the floor, Yuuri pulling Viktor in every direction, but after the third song comes to an end Viktor’s tired. He raises his hands in surrender, laughing.

“What’s so funny, Mr. Nikiforov?” Yuuri slurs indignantly.

“Nothing,” Viktor says, chuckling as he pushes Yuuri towards Phichit. “I’m just happy you’re having fun. Let’s go see Phichit, yes?” Yuuri mumbles something incoherent.

They finally reach their target. Yuuri, suddenly ecstatic, throws himself on Viktor. Phichit grimaces. Yuuri frowns. “Vitya. Vitya, I have to pee.” He’s still slurring his words, and when Viktor nods, he pokes his chest before staggering off to the bathroom.

After Yuuri disappears into the throng of people, Phichit shifts closer. “When I messaged you, he was only a beer and a half in. I thought he’d be relatively sober when you got here.”

“How is he?” Viktor asks, concerned.

Phichit takes a long sip of whatever is in his cup before he responds. “He’s doing ok.” Viktor raises an eyebrow. First Yuuri stalks out of the apartment in the middle of the Detroit winter, and now he’s three sheets to the wind and apparently going for a fourth. He’d hate to hear what counts as doing badly.

“Or, he will be,” Phichit continues. “Especially after you guys have sorted it out.”

Viktor nods. “Before I forget,” he says, pulling Yuuri's phone out of his coat, “he left that at my place.”

“I’ll make sure it gets back to him,” Phichit says as he pockets it.

Yuuri staggers back into the room, stumbling on the carpet before collapsing onto Viktor. His body shakes as he lets out a giggle. “Vitya!” He wraps his arms around Viktor’s waist and gazes him with such affection Viktor’s heart threatens to burst.

He smiles softly. “He’s a regular Prince Charming.”

Yuuri, apparently a romantic at heart, seems to latch onto the idea. “I’m your Prince Charming?!” Viktor nods shyly, and it only brightens the smile on Yuuri's face. “You should be my Prince Charming, Vitya!!” Viktor feels Yuuri's hips gyrating against his thigh as he’s pulled closer. “And I’ll be your s any day of the week,” he says before his face contorts into a grimace. He’s more drunk than Viktor’d realized (and that’s saying something) but nevertheless, he continues, determined. “I’ll do i-“

Phichit pulls him away just as he looks like he’s about to puke on Viktor’s shoes. “All right, Big Boy, time to go home!” Yuuri makes vague noises of protest as he’s turned towards the door. Phichit looks apologetically at Viktor, mouthing “sorry” as someone hands him Yuuri's pants. He mimes gagging while pointing at Yuuri, before gesturing that he’ll text later. Viktor nods his head, waving as they leave.

With nothing else to do, Viktor leaves out the back, making his way to his apartment. The night air is cold against his face as he walks, stinging his still-pink cheeks. The walk is fairly short, Makkachin very happy to see him, and he plays the night over in his head on repeat while he gets ready to sleep.

 

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   He can pole dance.
>>>   He has background in ballet.
>>>   His body makes the sweetest music, Chris.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   You hold onto that man, mon chere.
<<<   Literally and figuratively.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   He asked me to be his prince.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Mon dieu, Vitya.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   It’s just…

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Oh?
<<<   What’s the problem?

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   We’re fighting right now. Or at least I think we are?
>>>   He stormed out of the apartment yesterday.
>>>   But at the party he was more than friendly.
>>>   I went to apologize, and expected him to be upset.
>>>   But he pulled me into a dance.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   That’s odd.
<<<   Have you talked to him yet?

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   No.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Vitya.

 

He sighs, looking at his phone. Determinedly placing it face-down on his nightstand after plugging it in, he rolls to face away from it. Makkachin shifts, sleepily looking up at Viktor before plodding over slowly and flopping down next to him, letting Viktor run his fingers through his hair until he falls asleep.

 

~*~

 

The next morning, he wakes up to an apologetic text from Yuuri. At least that’s what it looks like. He’s not entirely sure what was typed can pass for anything found in the English language, but the letters s, o, and r appear repeatedly in close proximity to each other, so it’s good enough. He sends a picture of Makkachin with a heart drawn on it. It takes a while before he gets a response in the form of a picture of one of the café cups, taken in the break room, followed shortly by a text.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   sorry about freaking out. life is stressful atm.

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I could have handled things better, too.
>>>   I just don’t know what to do in that sort of situation.
>>>   I don’t know how to help, and when I tried it only made things worse.
>>>   I’m very bad with people when they’re upset.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   just…i need you to have faith in me.
<<<   just believe in me, even when i don’t believe in myself.
<<<   i need to know you’re on my side
<<<   even when it seems like the world’s against me
<<<   just stay close to me.
<<<   that’s all.

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Of course, Любовь  
>>>   But what do I do when you’re upset like that?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i guess, just let me do my thing.
<<<   offering help once is fine, but if i say no, don’t push it

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’ll do my best. (。・ω・。)ノ♡ (ˆ⌣ˆc)♡

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   (ɔˆ ³(ღ˘⌣˘ღ) ♡

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Who’s doing the kissing?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   we can switch off. ღゝ◡╹)ノ♡

 

Wow. Ok. A flush crawls over Viktor’s face and he hates the fact they had their first fight right before he has to leave the country. He wants to apologize properly, not over a rushed text conversation while he throws the last of his things in a bag.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’m getting ready to head to Sochi.
>>>   I’ll be in to see you before I go.
>>>   See you soon!! ε===(っ≧ω≦)っ

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   ttys!

 

The Daily Grind is thankfully empty as Viktor stops in on his way to the airport.

Yuuri's looking pretty rough after the night he’d had. His hair and clothes are fine, as usual, but the bags under his eyes stand out in stark relief against his skin, and when he’s not dealing with a customer, he’s squinting and rubbing his head. When Viktor approaches the counter, he gets a pained smile. After he orders, Yuuri looks at him nervously. “Uh, I need to talk to you about arrangements for Makkachin while you’re gone.”

Viktor’s stomach plummets. “Yuuri, my flight to Sochi leaves in four hours, I don’t have time to—”

“It’s not bad!  Don’t worry,” Yuuri says quickly. Viktor nearly clutches his chest, trying to control his breathing. Making new arrangements at such short notice would have been nearly impossible.

“Sorry,” Yuuri says sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.  Something came up, though, and I have to leave town for a few days while you're in Russia.” He runs his hand through his hair, letting it fall in his face. “I just needed to know if you were alright with Phichit watching Makka while I was gone, or if you wanted me to take him to a kennel.”

“Makkachin hates the kennel,” Viktor says after a moment. “Leaving him with Phichit is fine, as long as he doesn’t mind.”

“He doesn’t, I cleared it with him beforehand to be sure.”

Viktor nods. “Where are you going?”

Yuuri waves him off as he sets Viktor’s coffee on the counter. “It’s not important, really.” He holds a pastry bag out. “Here. Breakfast. I know you probably haven't eaten anything.” Viktor takes the bag sheepishly, glancing inside to see a croissant.

“Thanks.”

Yuuri nods, looking morose. “I'm sorry I can’t see you off,” he says sadly.

“It’s ok. At least I got to see you here!” He smiles like his heart isn’t breaking, like he hasn’t spent the last few days daydreaming about somehow being able to stay or take Yuuri with him.

We’ll have our trip soon, he reminds himself.

After these three weeks coming up, they’ll have a couple of days together before leaving for Hasetsu. He takes Yuuri’s hand across the counter before he leaves, bowing slightly to kiss it. “I love you so much,” he says, lips brushing over Yuuri’s knuckles. When he looks up, Yuuri’s eyes are shining. He glances behind his shoulder, and Viktor barely has time to register a woman’s voice before Yuuri’s hand abruptly leaves his. He glances around in confusion before he hears footsteps running around the counter, feels Yuuri’s body slam against him, arms wrapping tightly around Viktor’s torso.

“I'm going to miss you,” he says into Viktor’s shoulder.

Viktor holds him close. “I'll miss you, too, Lyubov.” Yuuri’s name tag digs into his chest. “Watch me?” They pull apart just far enough to meet eyes. “Watch me skate?”

Yuuri nods vigorously.  He grips Viktor’s lapels, pulling as he rocks up to kiss him deeply. “I will,” another kiss, “I promise. Be safe, Vitya.”

Viktor rests his forehead on Yuuri’s. He can feel his breath ghosting over his lips and he closes his eyes, savoring the contact for as long as he can. Swallowing tears, he kisses Yuuri’s nose. “I will, Lyubov. I'll see you in three weeks.”

“Three weeks,” Yuuri repeats, before kissing him again. “Three weeks.”

A horn sounds, and Viktor turns to see the taxi driver tapping his watch. Yuuri holds up the coffee and the croissant, putting them in Viktor's hands before kissing him once more on the lips. “Davai, Vitya.”

Viktor nods as he backs away, only turning after nearly knocking over a chair. When the taxi pulls away, he sees Yuuri waving through the window. Once the café is out of sight, he opens the coffee, smiling when he sees the heart floating on top. It’s enough to get him a bit misty-eyed, and he eats as Detroit passes him by.

 

~*~

 

Viktor sleeps the entire flight to Sochi. He’s still rubbing sleep out of his eyes when the taxi pulls up in front of the hotel. Yakov meets him in the lobby for check-in, fedora still dusted with snow. When he gets to his room, Viktor closes the curtains against the late afternoon sunlight. He pulls out his phone. Instagram and Twitter notifications are ignored in favor of texts. Phichit’s sent one wishing him good luck. From Yuuri, though, is a selfie of himself and Makkachin on the couch. A few hours later, a selfie taken by Phichit. He’s in the near foreground, hand over his mouth in a mock scandalized look. Yuuri’s sprawled on the couch behind him, glasses askew with his arm thrown over his face. Drool runs down the side of his open mouth, pooling on the arm of the couch under his cheek. His chunky sweater is bunched up on the side Makkachin’s not laying on, showing off a line of the soft skin beneath, ending where the tips of his fingers are tucked into his waistband. Makka is drooling a puddle on Yuuri’s stomach, content.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   don’t worry, I sent this wonderful picture to myself, too, so i have another copy in case yours goes missing.  – p
<<<   and no, yuuri, i’m not deleting it – p

 

Viktor smiles, downloading the picture immediately. Yakov ends up pulling him downstairs to the hotel restaurant for a meeting of sorts, and halfway through dinner, Viktor gets a downright rude text from Yuuri. There’s no reason he can think of for Yuuri to be mad at him, other than the picture from last night, but he didn’t actually send it, so…he swallows thickly, but puts his phone away when Yakov raises his voice. Once he’s free and has a printed copy of his interview and event schedules, he makes his way back upstairs. Reaching his room, he pulls out his phone nervously, before quickly dissolving into laughter.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   you’re an asshole you know that?
<<<   why the fuck did you send this from *my* phone, hamstermaster?
<<<   where’s the common courtesy
<<<   could at least use your own gd phone i know you have one
<<<   don’t ignore me
<<<    (╯°□°)╯ ( \ .o.) \
<<<   why do you treat me like this      ʕ•.•ʔ t(ò ó)t
<<<   see now i can see you on your phone
<<<   sitting right outside the café
<<<   “doing homework”
<<<   no excuses   t(-_- )
<<<   ….fuck, i can explain vitya   ∑(O_O )
<<<   i’m so sorry, i just went on break and saw…
<<<   it’s been an early morning   ( _   _ |||)
<<<   i haven’t had enough caffeine  (•̀_•́) っ♨
<<<   those were for phichit (  ̄▽ ̄ ;)

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   No worries!!
>>>   You call him hamstermaster?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   it’s his contact name in my phone
<<<   i’m sure you can figure out why, lol   o(^ ^)o
<<<   how was your flight?

To: Yuuri <3
<<<   I slept!! ( ) 。。。 zzZ

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   that’s one way to pass the time.
<<<   how’s sochi?

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Not exciting in the least!

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   (o´Д`)

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I don’t have any time in my schedule for sightseeing! () ┻┻
>>>   Yakov runs a tight ship.
>>>   My schedule is packed, though! We’re going back to St. Petersburg the morning after the Gala.
>>>   I left my favorite suit in Detroit, too.  Σ(°° )
>>>   Would you be willing to ship it to my apartment in Russia? I wanted to wear it at Nationals.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   sure! (•ᴗ•) *
<<<   send me your address however it needs to be written
<<<   and i’ll send it off

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I will! Let me know how much shipping is, I’ll reimburse you when I get home. (ノ ´ `

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   don’t worry about it

 

When Viktor takes to the ice for warm-up, it’s to cacophonous welcome from the audience. He takes some time to greet them, waving with a smile. It's the Grand Prix Final, this is the first time he’s been back in Russia since he’s left, and the crowd isn’t shy about their excitement. All eyes are clearly on him as he skates, despite the others on the ice. When he lands a jump, there are cheers, the bits of step sequences he runs through are answered by gasps and clapping. He can see the other competitors staring out of the corner of their eyes. Chris smiles and gives him a wave, while Leroy does increasingly complicated moves.

Soon enough, their time on the ice is over. The competition goes smoothly, as expected, and Viktor’s in the lead after the short program. The next day finds him at practice in the morning, but his afternoon is free and he intends to take full advantage of it. He’s reading in a nearby café, when the chair he’s resting his feet on is pulled out from under them, and a mop of curly blonde hair comes into view above the pages he’s reading. Sliding a bookmark between the pages, he closes the book and sets it down.

“Hi, Vitya!” Chris says cheerfully.

Viktor smiles. “Good to see you again, Chris.”

“Phichit says you and Coffee Boy are doing well.” Leaning back, Chris sips his coffee.

“We are.”

“Have you talked to him, yet?”

“It’s none of your business.” Crossing his legs, Viktor folds his arms and levels a steely gaze in Chris’s direction.

“So you haven’t.”

“I don’t need you to babysit me, Christophe.”

“Vitya, this isn’t something you can keep putting off.” Chris is whispering furiously now, leaning forward. “You’ve got to discuss this with him.”

“Back. Off.” Voice cold steel, Viktor narrows his eyes.

Chris’s face falls as he sits back in his seat. “I… Ok. Fine.”

There are a few seconds of awkward tension, but it fades when Chris smiles. “You look well.”

Viktor smiles. “Yourself, as well. How’s mystery boyfriend?”

Chris laughs. “Mine’s doing well. We’ll be celebrating our anniversary after I get home.”

“Mazel tov,” Viktor says excitedly. “I’m happy for you! How’s your cat?”

“Doing well!”

They chat animatedly for a while, buying rounds of coffee and tea for each other as they catch up. Chris has had recent renovations done at his place, and he shows Viktor photos of the process. They don’t talk much about the competition, and Viktor determinedly avoids discussing anything to do with Detroit, and when the time comes to head back to the hotel, they walk together.

“I have champagne, if you’d like to join me, Vitya,” Chris says as they reach their floor.

“I probably shouldn’t,” Viktor replies with more regret than he actually feels. “Yakov wants to meet for breakfast tomorrow, and I need to get some sleep before dealing with that.” Smiling genially, he grabs Chris’s shoulder. “Allez, Chris.”

Chris nods, smiling. “Allez, Vitya. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

~*~

 

Yakov’s breakfast pep talk goes better than Viktor’d thought. They stay on-topic, going from discussing the upcoming free skate to strategies for training over the next few weeks. The walk to the arena, while still tense, passes quickly. Press is dealt with, warmups are run through, and the first skater is on the ice when Viktor pulls out his phone.

Yuuri's sent a selfie of him, Phichit, and Makkachin on the couch in their living room, presumably set up to watch the Final. Finding a quiet area, where he has some semblance of privacy, he dials Yuuri's number for a video call.  It’s answered shortly, Yuuri and Phichit’s smiling faces popping up onscreen.

“Hey,” Yuuri says, smiling. “How’s the final so far?” He squirms, laughing, and then Makkachin’s face pops up between him and Phichit. With fingers now running through his hair, Makkachin pants happily at the camera.

“Makka!” Viktor cries excitedly. Makka’s ears perk up, looking for the source of the voice. “Makkachin, who’s my good boy? Are you behaving? Are you being a good boy?”

Makka whines softly, licking Yuuri's face repeatedly. Viktor feels a hand snake around the side of his waist, coming to rest on his hip as stubble scrapes against the side of his face.

“Why, hello, Phichit,” Chris says next to Viktor’s ear. Phichit waves. “Is this your roommate?”

“Yeah, this is Yuuri!” Phichit looks over at Yuuri with a smile. “That’s Christophe Giacometti, he skates for Switzerland.”

“Is that Cow Chris?” Yuuri asks, looking at Viktor inquisitively.

“Cow Chris?” Chris sounds shocked, looking at Viktor. “Do explain, Vitya.”

“Switzerland, remember?” Viktor says, feeling flushed. “When we went to the top of Mt. Pilatus. Those giant cows with the bells?”

Chris grins, likely remembering Viktor’s adamant refusal to go anywhere near the beasts. “I am indeed Cow Chris. It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you, Yuuri.”

“And yourself,” Yuuri replies, smiling.

“Is this the decadent Coffee Boy?” Chris looks at Viktor, something hiding in the depths of his gaze. He knows full well Yuuri is Coffee Boy, and he knows Viktor knows that.

“It is,” Viktor replies. “He’s taking care of Makkachin right now!”

Yuuri's face goes red onscreen, and he hides partway behind a pillow he’s holding.

“That’s sweet,” Chris says. Viktor smiles fondly.

“How’s he doing, Yuuri?” He asks of his dog.

“Good. He misses you, I think, but he’s doing alright. He’s been draped across my lap most of the time.” Yuuri gestures at his lap. “He’s there right now.” Chuckling, Yuuri scratches Makka’s head.

“I bet you’d like to be in Makkachin’s position,” Chris says to Viktor, “on the lap of a cute boy.” Yuuri blushes onscreen.

“I’ll be with Yuuri soon enough,” Viktor replies.

Chris laughs softly. “I should be getting back,” he says. “It was nice seeing you, Phichit. And you, Yuuri.”

“A pleasure,” Yuuri says.

“Take care of Vitya,” Chris responds with a wink. “He needs it, if you know what I mean.”

Yuuri's blush spreads to the tips of his ears behind the pillow, and Phichit laughs.

“Shouldn’t you be warming up?” Phichit smiles, moving the phone camera to face him.

“Oh, I am,” Chris says. “Viktor looked like he was enjoying the view, and I wanted to get in on the action.” He laughs again, flashing a smile. “I should be heading back,” he says, waving at the camera. Phichit waves happily, Yuuri shyly waves his hand.

Chris turns, heading down the hallway, but stops a few steps away. “I’ll see you on the ice, Vitya,” he says. His mouth opens again as he glances at the phone, but he thinks better of whatever he was going to do, shaking his head before he turns to leave.

Viktor looks back at the screen. Yuuri's face is back in full view, Makka nosing him gently, and Phichit’s vanished somewhere.

“I should be getting back, too,” he says. “Will you watch me skate, Lyubov?”

“I will, Vitya,” Yuuri says earnestly. “I am. Davai!”

Viktor makes it back to the rink as Leroy flashes his pose, shouting “JJ Style!” to thundering applause.  The ice is cleared, and Viktor puts his phone in his jacket pocket before slipping it off. He holds it out to Yakov, who takes it with a nod.

“Vitya,” Yakov says, but Viktor just shoots him a glare.

“Unless it’s about my program, right here, right now, I don’t want to hear it, Yakov.” He doesn’t need a lecture before he goes on the ice. He doesn’t want one.

Yakov nods, closing his mouth. Just before Viktor goes on the ice, however, he feels a hand on his shoulder. “Vitya,” Viktor turns his head to the side, barely. “This is your song.”

With a nod, Viktor puts on his most charming smile and does his customary laps around the rink. The audience screams, a sea of banners and flags as he waves, stopping only when he’s at the center. This is his song. His program. He owns it, and as the starting notes of the aria fill the air, he intends to make sure no one forgets. He misses Yuuri already. It’s been only a few days, but the loneliness is almost overwhelming, and he lets it pour into his every sweep of his arms, every turn, every movement he makes.

When he’s done, the roar of the crowd lets him know he’s made his point.

 

~*~

 

The gold medal is heavy around his neck as he checks his phone to see a pair of messages that both soothe and deepen the ache in his heart

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   that was incredible.
<<<   i miss you, too.  (っ˘ω˘ς )

 

When Viktor’s in the privacy of the hotel suite hours later, press conference finished and the media satisfied, he takes a selfie of himself in his Team Russia jacket, gold medal held to his lips with a wink, and sends it to Yuuri.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   your skates were amazing!! (♡‿♡)。

 

Yuuri sends a selfie in return, dressed in a loose sweater. He’s smiling, and his hair’s in his eyes, but he looks exhausted. His cheekbones stand out under the dark circles shadowing his eyes. Still, seeing him makes Viktor happy.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Are you doing all right, Любовь?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   yeah, i’ve been pulling late nights for this research project   (T⌓T)
<<<   i’ll be ok.
<<<   (ღ˘3˘ღ)
<<<   at minako’s for ballet, now, talk later?

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Of course. I have more press to do and the Gala, so I'll be busy, but I'll text when I can!
>>>   Will you tell Makkachin I love him?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i always do. he’s been really well-behaved. (〜^∇^)〜
<<<   i’ll tell him you're proud of him, too

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Thank you!  ヽ(^ ♡ ^)ノ
>>>   Я тебя люблю!!!

From: Yuuri: <3
<<<   i love you, too.

 

He gets a selfie shortly after, Yuuri at the ballet studio in a scoop-neck sweater. His back is to the mirror, and in the reflection Viktor can see how the sweater is just a few inches short, leaving a line of skin between it and the sweats Yuuri's wearing. Bare-faced and smiling, Yuuri waves at the camera. Lips curling up in a smile, Viktor sighs as a gentle warmth envelopes him. Crawling into bed after his shower, he plugs his phone in and sets an alarm before pulling the covers up to his chest. A spare pillow is pulled under the blankets, and Viktor wraps his arms around it, burying his face as he feels the exhaustion of the last few days washing over him.

 

~*~

 

Dealing with sponsors has been no more fun this time than it’s ever been in the past, and Viktor regrets staying at the Gala as long as he had. He’d posed for pictures with sponsors, with his fellow medalists, with a varied assortment of other skaters, and pretty much anyone who’d asked. He’d smiled at all the right times, laughed at all the mediocre jokes, and is eternally grateful Yakov had said nothing as he’d slipped out at his earliest opportunity.

Viktor’s cheeks ache as he rubs them. The elevator is taking an agonizingly long time to get to his floor, and he pulls out his phone while he waits.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Finally heading to my room ( ´ ー `)

 

His phone starts buzzing in his hand as he’s turning down the last hallway. He answers, and he’s just sliding the key card into his door when Yuuri’s face comes on screen. Closing the door behind him, Viktor smiles.

“Hello, Lyubov. You're looking sleepy.”

Yuuri smiles. His oversized T-shirt drapes low around his neck, showing off his collarbones and one smooth shoulder. His hair is messy, and his glasses are slightly crooked as he drinks his coffee.

“I just woke up. Stayed up last night.” The camera tilts, stopping with a nice view of Makkachin draped across Yuuri’s lap. It doesn’t stay long before shifting back to Yuuri. “He’s a sleepy boy, too,” Yuuri says, yawning.

“When do you have work?”

“Tomorrow,” Yuuri says with a sleepy grin. “Day off, today.”

“Lucky you,” Viktor smiles.

Nodding, Yuuri takes a slow sip from his mug.

“How was the Final?” Yuuri asks.

“Uneventful.” Viktor sets his phone down, propping it against the lamp next to his bed as he takes off his jacket. Chris keeps telling me to talk to you, and I think he’s right, his mind supplies. People are going to find out. People are going to start asking questions. I need to make sure you know what you’re getting into. He shakes his head. Yuuri deserves better than to have this conversation over video chat while they’re both half asleep. “It was nice seeing Yakov again,” Viktor says. “He’s already planned out my schedule for when I’m in St. Petersburg, and he and Lilia are going to run me through their assessments again to figure out what I’m doing wrong.”

“They’re gonna whip you back into shape, huh?” Yuuri asks. He’s got the phone propped up on his lap, it looks like, and is deftly working a Playstation controller.

“That’s the plan,” Viktor says. He moves off camera to change into pajamas. “I think Yakov’s convinced I spend one day of the week at the rink and the rest eating pastries or something.”

“To be fair,” Yuuri says, laughing, “you do spend a lot of time at the café, and you do order a lot of pastries.”

“They’re usually croissants, when you’re not giving me pastries to flirt,” Viktor says, watching a blush spread across Yuuri’s cheeks, “and I rarely eat sweets or junk food otherwise. Yakov seems to think I live off of Oreos or something.”

“Rafs have a lot of sugar in them.”

“Oh, hush, Yuuri. My point is, Yakov thinks I’m being a lot more irresponsible than I actually am.” He pulls on his t-shirt, adjusts his sweats, and grabs the phone again.

“He should have faith in you,” Yuuri replies, furiously working the buttons and joysticks on his controller. “You’ve kept up with your training, you’re diligent about your meal plan, for the most part, and you’ve obviously not gotten arrested or anything.”

“I haven’t been doing as much cross-training as I should have been.”

Yuuri glances down at the phone with a smile. “If it’s any consolation, I really should be working on my homework right now.”

“Yuuri!” Viktor exclaims, mock-scandalized. “You need to do your homework so you can graduate! You’ve come so far!”

Yuuri laughs, holding the controller loosely in one hand while the other clutches his stomach. The afternoon sun in Detroit filters through the windows across from Yuuri, bringing out the rich brown of his hair, the burgundy of his eyes. His skin looks warm, radiant, and his smile stretches happily across his face.

“You’re so ridiculous, Vitya, I love it.” Yuuri looks lovingly at the phone, and Viktor’s heart seizes in his chest, a flash of loneliness tearing through him before he shakes it off.

I want to marry you, he thinks, and it’s true. He wants it, wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his life with that smile, with Yuuri's gentle chiding, in happy contentment with 2.5 dogs and a pink convertible.

Before he can ask Yuuri to marry him, though, he’s got to talk to him.

 

~*~

 

Viktor arrives in St. Petersburg the next morning, sleep in his eyes and a distinct drag in his step. He parts ways with his teammates at the airport, and has the cab stop by a restaurant on the way to his place. When he gets to his apartment, there’s a box waiting outside his door. He takes in his luggage, first, before collecting the package excitedly. Looping handwriting in both English and Russian makes him smile. Yuuri's sent the suit for him. Opening the box with one of his keys, he finds it full of other things, as well. Included in the package are three pounds of Viktor’s favorite dark roast coffee, the recently-released next novel in a series he’s been reading, some of his favorite healthier snacks (and a package of his favorite hard candies with a heart drawn on it), a pair of warm fuzzy socks he absolutely adores and hadn’t realized he’d forgotten, polaroids of Makkachin, and a handwritten note.

Vitya,

Here’s your suit (and your favorite tie, which I thought you might want), as promised, and a few things I thought you might like.

I know training’s going to come with a lot of early mornings, hence the pound of coffee per week you’re gone. Keep me updated!!

And yes, I know the candy’s against your plan but as I’m unable to give you pastries and sugary coffee, it’ll have to do. (Bonus points: easy to sneak!)  Indulge yourself sometime! You work hard, you deserve it!

I miss you already, and I’ll see you soon!!

Davai!!

All my love,

Yuuri.

He smiles fondly and curses the world in the same instant. He snaps a selfie of himself with the open box, sending it off to Yuuri with a string of heart-mouthed emojis. He gets a response in the form of a picture of Makkachin curled up on Yuuri's couch.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i’m glad it got to you ok!! °˖✧◝(⁰▿⁰)◜✧˖°
<<<   i know most people don’t go through a pound of coffee per week
<<<   so you can use some to bribe your coach into liking me

 

Viktor laughs. It’s not a particularly bad idea, when he thinks about it.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I just might!

 

It doesn’t take long for Viktor to slip back into the familiar routine of his St. Petersburg training regimen. Yakov does what he calls a “full reassessment,” running drills and jumps until Viktor’s panting against the boards with a stitch in his side. The next day, Lilia is a demanding taskmaster. Viktor hasn’t been keeping up with his ballet since he’s move to the States, and it’s painfully obvious. Between skating, dance, and working out, Viktor gets home late each night, with barely enough energy to talk to Yuuri before he finds himself falling asleep before his head hits the pillow. He calls Yuuri when he’s out and about, walking to the rink, or to get dinner. As time passes, the calls leave him more tired, more drained. There’s a feeling like homesickness he has when he thinks about Detroit, and he’s sure it’s more about who he’s with (or not with) rather than where he is.

St. Petersburg has never felt less like home. Hearing random snippets of English on the streets has never made him turn his head as quickly. He misses Makkachin more and more with every picture and video from Phichit and Yuuri, and his Instagram quickly becomes a shrine to his dog. The time difference between Detroit and St. Petersburg, surprisingly, turns out to be a blessing. When Viktor’s just getting ready for bed, Yuuri is usually getting off work, and they have a blessed hour or so of time to video chat.

The end of his second week, there’s another box in front of his door when he gets home from the ballet studio. The familiar handwriting makes him giddy, and he tears it open the instant he has a moment. Inside is another assortment of snacks and something soft covered in thick plastic. He looks through the box for a note. Finding one, he opens it and reads, smiling.

Vitya,

First, they didn’t have the flavor of sweet potato chips you like, so I got you a few to try. Sorry!

Second, the plastic bag has something I was going to give to you before you left, but the person I commissioned it from ended up having a family emergency, and couldn’t finish it until recently. Luckily, I think this should reach you in time for you to have “company” your last week or so!! We (Makka and I) hope you like him, I stole the idea off your Instagram.

Davai!!! I’m sure Nationals is going to be great!!

Much love (and I’ll see you soon!)

Yuuri

P.S. I miss you!! Makkachin sends his regards ->

The arrow Yuuri’d drawn points to an ink pawprint on the page. Makkachin had signed it, too, apparently. Viktor smiles.

Tearing into the plastic package, he reaches in, only to feel something fuzzy. Pulling it out, he laughs happily. It’s a Makkachin plush wearing his Stammi Vicino shirt and jacket, a perfect copy of the picture he’d posted just after receiving the outfit from the tailor. The details are there, the soft, gauzy material of the jacket, the golden ropes on the shoulders, Makka’s adorable tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth… it’s perfect.

He pulls out his phone, dialing Yuuri's number for a video call. Yuuri answers in short order, and appears on the screen in his work uniform and apron.

“Were you at work, Yuuri?” Viktor asks for some reason. As if it’s not obvious. A blush crawls across his cheeks.

Yuuri glances back down at himself and then at the screen, all the while chewing something. He swallows, then takes a drink, before answering. “Yes. Yes, I’m at work, but you caught me on my lunch. Is everything ok?”

In response, Viktor holds up the plush. Yuuri's face immediately lights up as he chuckles.

“Do you like him?” he asks eagerly, as if there’s a possibility Viktor’s going to say no.

“I love him, Yuuri. The costume’s perfect!”

“I figured since I couldn’t send Makka to Russia to surprise you, this was the next best thing. I wanted to give him to you before you left, but no dice.” He shoves another bite of hamburger into his mouth, chewing quickly. The camera tilts as the phone vibrates, and Yuuri looks irritated when he comes back onscreen. “Break’s over,” he sighs.

“I’ll be home soon, Lyubov,” Viktor says. He knows Yuuri can hear the sadness in his voice.

“One more week, Vitya.”

“At Nationals, Yuuri, watch me skate?”

“I will, I promise,” he replies with a smile. “When you’re on the ice, I’ll be watching. I’ll talk to you later, Vitya.”

He waves goodbye before ending the call.

Viktor sighs, clutching the Makkachin plush to his chest. One week.

Just one more week, and he’ll see Yuuri again.

 

~*~

 

The weather in Chelyabinsk is particularly unforgiving the day of the Russian Nationals short program, and not for the first time Viktor’s thankful for whomever it was that decided figure skating should be an indoor sport. He’s just finished his first round of interviews when he checks his phone again, frowning when there are no new messages. He’s been texting Yuuri all morning, but there’s been an unusual lack of response, which is to say, there hasn’t been any at all. Growing steadily more worried, he decides to check in with Phichit.

 

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Yuuri isn’t answering my texts, is everything ok?

From: Phichit C.
<<<   yea, he’s just heading out on that trip
<<<   give him like, uhhh, a few hours

To: Phichit C.
>>>   I skate in a few hours. (T∩T)

From: Phichit C.
<<<   oh, don't worry, he's planning on watching for sure.
<<<   i'll let you know if there’s anything to worry about
<<<   you go to do your thing
<<<   i’ll make sure yuuri contacts you when he can

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Thanks, I appreciate it! O(∩_∩)O

From: Phichit C.
<<<   [photo attached] makka says good luck

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Please tell him I love him and miss him and he’s a very good boy. (>_<。)

From: Phichit C.
<<<   ok, i did. he licked my face.

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Thank you! ヽ(´ ♡`)/

 

~*~

 

Less than 20 minutes before his short program, there’s still no message from Yuuri. He tries calling, but instantly reaches voicemail. Apparently his phone’s turned off. Viktor’s heading out of the warm-up area when he can swear he sees the flash of a familiar blue jacket near a side entrance to the rink. He rubs his eyes blearily. The strict training regimen and early mornings must be messing with him more than he’d thought they would. The warm-up area is quiet, competitors either already out by the boards, or actively trying to get into the zone. It works for Viktor. Doing stretches, focusing on his short program is impossible as he keeps replaying the memory of that jacket. It’s not particularly special in its own right, and he’s seen plenty just like it before.

It’s becoming clear just how much he’s missing Yuuri. He finishes his stretching, and sighs before making his way to the rink. The halls are empty, competition in full swing, and his eyes glance around against his will, searching. The person before him is finishing his program as Viktor finally meanders to the entrance, hesitating briefly. With a sigh, he walks through the curtains towards Yakov, but his heart skips as he sees another flash of a distinctly lumpy beanie near Lilia. His breath catches in his throat.

It can’t be…

He’s prevented from investigating when he hears his name announced. The previous skater is sitting in the Kiss & Cry, and the last of the stuffed animals and flowers have been picked up. Viktor looks at his surroundings, straining to see around other skaters and members of the press, before Yakov almost shoves him into the rink.

“Vitya, you’re up.”

Viktor nods as he removes his skate guards, handing them to Yakov before taking to the ice in a fluid motion. He does a lap around the rink, greeting the audience with a glittering smile as he scans his eyes over the crowd. He skates to the center, moving languidly in small circles, before glancing back at his coach. Instead, he sees Yuuri, standing next to Lilia. He has a surgical mask up, but his eyes are twinkling as he waves softly and Viktor barely keeps his jaw from dropping. It takes him a second to remember he’s supposed to be competing, and he skates another small circle before taking his opening position with aplomb.

“Watch me,” he thinks, and Yuuri is. He’s here, in Russia, at the boards, and Viktor can feel his eyes on him as he moves into his routine with grace.

“Watch me,” he thinks as he soars. The crowd cheers in the distance as he steps deftly across the rink. He takes a pass wide so he can skate past Yuuri, catching just a glimpse of him watching, awestruck. Golden blades fly across the cold ice, drawing his love with every stroke, every movement dedication.

 

When Viktor finishes putting on his hard guards, Yuuri’s nowhere to be found. He’s sitting at the Kiss & Cry waiting for his scores and carrying on the noble tradition of tuning out Yakov’s customary post-skate lecture, when he feels Lilia’s gentle hand on his shoulder. She leans in close to his ear and whispers, “He said he did not want to be around the press, so I had him taken to the hotel.” He nods, and smiles as his scores are announced. He’s in first, ahead of Georgi and the skater who’d gone just before him. The others have yet to perform, but having seen their previous competition footage, he’s not sure he has to worry.

He’s on his way to the warm up area when the press finally catches up to him.

“Mr. Nikiforov! How do you feel going into the free skate?” A microphone appears to his left.

He does his best to play the friendly-yet-tired athlete. “I feel great! Coach Feltsman and I have been working on polishing presentation, and I feel like it’s going to pay off.” Let me go, Yuuri's here.

“Any competitors you’re watching out for?” More microphones are shoved in his face, causing him to shift slightly backward.

“I’m bringing my best to the table and I’m sure my fellow competitors will do the same! I wish them all the best of luck with their programs!” He smiles. It’s plastic. He doesn’t care.

“Yuri Plisetsky is planning on making his senior debut next season. As the person at the forefront of Russian figure skating, and Plisetsky’s rink mate, what are your thoughts?”

“Yura has much potential and I look forward to seeing how his career develops!” It’s not a lie. Yuri has the skills needed to make it in the Senior Division, but his self-discipline and presentation is lacking. If he can work through that, though, Viktor may be in for a run for his money when they finally compete. He’s looking forward to it.

“Why have you chosen to train in Detroit over your home rink in St. Petersburg?”

I found Yuuri there. I found life and love again, in a small café in Michigan. “I felt like I was stagnating, but the change in setting and the sense of adventure that’s come with it has offered new inspiration! It’s been refreshing, to say the least, but my heart will always belong to Russia!” He laughs genially, winking at the cameras. There. A nice sound bite for you. Now leave me alone.

He’s grateful when Yakov pushes his way through the throng of reporters, grabbing Viktor’s arm and leading him away. When the press tries to keep interviewing, he cites Viktor’s strict training regimen and a need to discuss the free skate as reason enough for them to stop hounding. The media leaves them alone, knowing better than to antagonize Yakov Feltsman. Viktor still gets chills when he remembers Yakov throwing a particularly nosy reporter’s camera and microphone to the floor, destroying them. To be fair, though, he’d warned them to back off plenty before that. As they walk quickly to the hotel, Viktor looks at his mentor.

“Nothing to say? You had choice words in Sapporo, as I recall,” Viktor says coolly.

“I'm not here to scold you, Vitya.”

“Could have fooled me.” He’s being petulant, and he knows it, but Yakov also knows he’d been an ass, so it all works out.

“You've managed to go this long without incident. I'll reserve judgment until after Nationals. Bring him to dinner tomorrow.” It’s a rare moment of acknowledgement from Yakov, that maybe, maybe Viktor knows what he’s doing. He obviously thinks Yuuri's worth something if he’s asking to talk to him.

The anger in Viktor’s chest subsides a bit as he nods. “I will.”

Yakov grunts. They walk silently the rest of the way, snow falling gently on their shoulders. By the time they arrive at the hotel, ice is crunching underfoot. They make their way through the lobby, and despite the excitement coursing through him, Viktor smiles happily as people stare, pausing for the occasional photo or autograph. Near the hotel bar, Yakov stops suddenly. Viktor looks back with a raised eyebrow.

Yakov meets his eyes after an appraising look. “Practice is at 8 tomorrow. Don’t be late, Vitya.”

Viktor nods before he rushes to the elevator. He presses the call button, rocking back on his heels as he waits for doors to open. Yuuri's here. Yuuri's waiting in his room. An elevator opens, and Viktor almost bowls over a family on their way out in his eagerness to get inside. He presses the button for his floor, fidgeting impatiently as the doors take their time closing. The floor numbers tick up agonizingly slowly before the doors open again. Hefting his gear and garment bags over his shoulder, Viktor nearly trips over his feet as he runs, navigating the halls easily after years of hotel experience, and he finally comes to a screeching halt in front of his room.

Fumbling with his bags, he pulls out his key card, jamming it into the door before pushing it open as Yuuri stands. Yuuri, who is here and smiling and who watched Viktor skate. He’s setting his DS down as Viktor shuts the door behind him, dropping his things, and they’re both moving towards each other. Viktor throws his arms around Yuuri as their lips meet and it feels so right he could cry. They stand together, for a few minutes, holding each other tightly. Yuuri’s face is buried in his neck and Viktor feels his breath against his throat as he lets out a contented sigh. It’s been almost three weeks since Viktor left Detroit for the Grand Prix Final. Almost a month of only texting and video calling and he’d never imagined the toll it would take.

“Yuuri, what are you doing here?! I thought you hated travel!”

Yuuri smiles and it’s so incredibly bright. “I wanted to watch you compete! And it’s your birthday, soon. I wanted to spend it with you.”

Viktor hugs him again before pulling back. “What about the media, though? They crowd around and I’m a prime target, it being Russian Nationals and all…” He trails off when Yuuri looks at him.

“I, uh, explained everything to your coaches, and they’re ok with helping me sneak around.” Viktor’s slightly taken aback. It’s unlike Yakov and Lilia to be so accommodating of even their own skaters, much less a complete stranger. He makes a note to thank them properly, since they’re probably doing it on his behalf. “I um, I got my own room, but just for the first night.”

“Are you not staying for the whole competition? You should stay in here, with me!”

“I thought you’d say that.” Yuuri grins cheekily. “I just wanted to make sure I had a place to stay in case I couldn’t see you today.”

Well then.

Viktor kisses him. It’s gentle, but deep and enthusiastically returned.

 

They wake up together the next day, huddled close under the blankets in the winter chill.

“So how was your trip?” Viktor asks sleepily, half-conscious in the morning sunlight.

“What trip?” Yuuri grumbles into his chest.

“Whatever you had to leave Makkachin with Phichit for?”

Yuuri props himself up on one elbow, a look of irritation and disbelief plastered on his face. He raises one eyebrow, rolling his eyes and throwing his hand out to the side. He waves it in a vague circle before flopping back down on the pillow and pulling the blanket over his face. Viktor chuckles and moves the blanket over his own head. “I see,” he says, planting kisses on Yuuri’s cheek once he has access. Yuuri moves closer, snuggling into his chest as he sighs.

 

~*~

 

That evening, after Viktor finishes practice, they go to dinner. Yuuri smiles shyly as he’s introduced to Viktor’s rink mates officially. Georgi introduces himself, moving directly into congratulating Yuuri on “bringing such love into our dear Vitya’s life” before waxing poetic about love itself. He stops once they’re seated, engrossed in the menu. Yuuri seems to already know Mila, and they chat amicably for a few minutes. “She helped me get to the hotel,” Yuuri explains when he notices Viktor’s surprise.

Yuri walks in with Lilia and Yakov, having been delayed by the press, and they take their seats at the end of the table. The waiter brings menus, and Viktor’s engrossed in the descriptions of the offered dishes when he feels a small tug on his sleeve.

“I can’t read this,” Yuuri says when Viktor looks over.

Viktor glances back at the menu, back up at Yuuri, and down again before he registers what the problem is. “Ahh.”

The restaurant doesn’t have English menus, so Viktor spends the next ten minutes translating while Yuuri listens closely. When the food is ordered and drinks are on the table, the conversation turns towards Viktor’s stay in the States and, inevitably, Yuuri.

“Do you have a job?” Mila asks as she takes a sip of her tea.

“I do,” Yuuri replies. “I work at a café near the skating rink.”

“He makes the best coffee!” Viktor chimes in with a smile.

“Are you the one who made the latte with Makkachin on it?” Mila asks, eyes shining.

Yuuri gives a small nod. “I am.”

“It looked just like him!” she says excitedly. “What else can you make?”

“Just the basics,” Yuuri says, blushing. “Leaves, hearts, swirls…” He plays with his hands under the table.

“Poodles,” Viktor says.

Yuuri nods, adding, “cats, too.”

Yuri perks up in the corner. “You can make a cat?” he asks disbelievingly.

Yuuri nods again happily. “The 3D ones.”

“Prove it.”

“Next time you and I are in the same place, and I have access to an espresso machine, I will.” Yuuri smiles, raising his chin. Challenge accepted, his posture says, and Yuri raises an eyebrow, scoffing, before going back to his meal.

 

“He is treating you well, yes?” Lilia asks in a whisper while Yuuri's in the bathroom.

Viktor nods, swallowing the food in his mouth. “He is.”

“And you are happy with him?”

He smiles, pushing the beef around his plate a bit. “Very. I can’t thank you and Yakov enough for sneaking him around for me.”

Lilia’s lips purse as she looks him up and down, an unreadable expression on her face. “Indeed.”

Yuuri sits back down at Viktor’s side, glancing anxiously at Lilia before smiling. Viktor kisses him on the forehead.

“I assume you found what you were looking for, Mr. Katsuki?”

“I did, thank you.” Yuuri pushes his potatoes around, staring determinedly at his plate. He doesn’t notice the way Lilia’s eyes linger on him, briefly enough that people who didn’t know her would think it a passing glance. Viktor sees it for what it is, though, and wraps his arm protectively around Yuuri.

He smiles cheerfully, if a bit forced. “You can all call him Yuuri, you know! There’s no need to be so formal!” Don’t push him away.

Lilia looks at Yuuri, and he moves to meet her gaze. They share a moment, before Yuuri gives a slight nod and goes back to his food.

“There’s only room for one Yuri!” Yuri says, pointing with his fork. “And it’s not going to be this pig!”

“Yuri Plisetsky!” Lilia hisses. “You will watch your tone with our guest.”

“It’s alright, Madame Lilia.” Yuuri says, smiling nervously. “He’s young.”

“What?!” Yuri screeches, jumping to his feet. Yakov claps a hand on his shoulder, keeping the teen from vaulting the table.

“Sit down,” he says gruffly. When Yuri opens his mouth to argue, Yakov’s eyes narrow. “Yura. Sit.”

Yuri shuts his mouth and sits down, glaring at Yuuri across the table. “Name a food then,” he says petulantly.

Yuuri furrows his brow, twisting his mouth to the side as he concentrates. “Katsudon,” he replies after a minute.

“Cat’s…..doom?” Yuri raises his eyebrows.

“Ka-tsu-don,” Yuuri clarifies. “It’s a fried pork cutlet on rice, with egg on top. It’s my favorite!” He grins happily.

Yuri huffs. “Whatever, Katsudon.” He stabs a piece of meat, shoving it into his mouth angrily.

“Yura!” Lilia says curtly.

“It’s fine,” Yuuri says cheerfully. “I like katsudon, and I’m sure it’s far nicer than whatever else he could come up with.”

Everyone around the table nods in agreement except the teenager in question, who has taken it upon himself to make his annoyance obvious. Silverware clanks against the ceramic dishes as the group eats their dinner, Yuuri leaning on Viktor sleepily after he finishes his food. Viktor wraps his arm around him, resting his cheek on Yuuri's hair. He doesn't miss his fellow skaters’ glances. Mila smiles, elbowing Georgi, who grins and gives Viktor a wink. Yakov doesn’t look entirely displeased, the corners of his mouth giving the barest twitch occasionally. Lilia, as usual, is nearly unreadable, but her eyes move between him and Yuuri thoughtfully. Slouching in his chair, Yuri’s gaze is fixed firmly on his plate.

Viktor feels the weight on his shoulder shift and sees everyone’s eyes widen the instant before he hears the sharp thump of Yuuri’s head hitting the table in front of him. Yuuri sits up quickly, before clutching his nose and curling into himself with a whine.

“Are you ok, Lyubov?” There is no shortage of raised eyebrows around the table at the endearment, Mila’s grin widening impossibly.

“I fell asleep,” Yuuri moans, pinching the bridge of his nose. Viktor grabs a paper napkin off the table and holds it in front of Yuuri, wrapping his arm around him. Yuuri takes the offered napkin, dabbing his lip and pulling it away to see blood. Sighing, Viktor holds out a tissue, which is promptly taken by Yuuri to be torn up and stuffed in his nostrils. Kissing his temple, Viktor hugs him tightly.

It’s not until dessert is brought out, a lone candle in Viktor’s dish, that he remembers it’s his birthday. A twin candle in Georgi’s has him grinning at the other man. They’ve always celebrated their birthdays at the same time, being one day apart, and there’s a sense of nostalgia as they blow out their candles, smiling. Yuuri's eyes widen as Mila runs around the table, setting herself up behind Viktor and eagerly pulling on his ears while Yuri goes to work on Georgi’s. Viktor laughs good-naturedly when she finishes, putting his arm around Yuuri. He looks vaguely concerned about the enthusiasm with which Mila was tugging, but his face softens when Viktor gives him a kiss.

“I’m used to Mila’s brand of birthday well-wishing,” he says with a grin.

Yuuri smiles and kisses him on the nose. “Happy Birthday, Vitya,” he chuckles. Looking over, he smiles in Georgi’s direction. “Happy Birthday to you, as well, Georgi,” he says, getting a nod in return. Dessert is eaten quickly, and shortly after, he’s dozing on Viktor’s shoulder again. It’s endearing, and Viktor wraps his arm around him again, gently pulling Yuuri towards himself and kissing the top of his head. Georgi meets his eyes across the table and gives him a smile, which Viktor warmly returns.

Yuuri wakes up a few minutes later when Viktor chuckles at one of Mila’s jokes. Sleepily, he rubs his eyes and leans closer, wrapping his arms around Viktor tightly. “I’m tired, Vitya,” he says as he yawns.

“Maybe it’s time for us to go back to the hotel?”

Yuuri nods into his shoulder.

Slipping some bills to Yakov to cover the food, Viktor orders a cab for the return to the hotel. Yuuri leans on him the whole way, snoring softly as the lights of Chelyabinsk flicker across his face. He wakes sleepily when they arrive, allowing Viktor to lead him to their room.

They brush their teeth together in the en-suite, Yuuri's eyes fluttering sleepily. He crawls into bed first while Viktor checks his costume, hanging it on the back of the door to let it air out. His gear bag is reorganized, makeup and chapstick put in their regular pockets. He wipes his skates down, and puts them back in gently. By the time he’s folded his tracksuit and laid it atop his bag, gentle snores are coming from the vicinity of the bed. Turning off the light, he crawls under the already-warm covers happily. Pressing a kiss to Yuuri's forehead, he pulls him close, settling into his sleepy embrace.

 

~*~

 

He leaves for the venue early the next morning, Yuuri still barely conscious as he gives Viktor a sleepy kiss goodbye. Viktor makes his way through the cold streets with ease. The winter air bites at his cheeks, waking him up even before he enters a café to buy coffee. Absently playing with his phone, Viktor sips his coffee slowly. As he enters the competition venue, he greets people with a smile, stopping for a few pictures with fans before making it to the competitor’s area. He’s barely putting his stuff down when Yakov sidles up next to him.

“Vitya, have you seen Yura?”

He raises an eyebrow in Yakov’s direction. “Did you lose him or something?”

Yakov’s scowl deepens somehow. “He ran off when we got here. He’s got another round of interviews coming up about the Junior Nationals next month and he’s nowhere to be found. Already missed the first.”

Sighing, Viktor massages his forehead. “I’ll go find him. Let me know if he comes back, so I don’t keep looking,” he says. When Yakov nods, he heads down a random hallway. Viktor doesn’t even know why Yuri’s here to begin with, aside from Yakov and Lilia not trusting him to stay in St. Petersburg alone. He could have had these few days to visit his grandpa, spend Chanukkah with him, but instead, he’s stuck here in Chelyabinsk, and Viktor’s apparently got babysitting duty on top of the competition itself.

Wandering the back halls of the competition venue, Viktor finally hears Yuri’s shouting, and goes to locate its source, though he can’t quite figure out who he’s yelling at.

“And you, old man!! Why the fuck does Yakov get mad at me when you’re not even in the competitor’s area!! You’re not even dressed properly!!! Since when does Viktor Nikiforov wear jeans and a t-shirt to a competition, anyway?! And what’s with the stupid hat on your head? Everyone thinks you’re some stupid fashion icon, but maybe you’re starting to lose your touch.” His voice has adopted that gratingly condescending tone Viktor hates so, so much.

He looks down at himself. He’s still wearing his tracksuit and tennis shoes, which means either Yuri’s ranting to himself and more confused than he thought as far as normal fashion goes, or…he only thinks he’s talking to Viktor. There’s one person in this world Viktor knows of that could be confused for him like this, and Yuri doesn’t know he exists. It’s just like Alexei to surprise him at a competition. His heart beats faster as happiness floods his torso, and he jogs down the hall and around the corner, smiling when he sees Yuri yelling at his brother, who just looks amused. Alexei’s grin widens when he glances over to see Viktor holding a finger to his lips. He takes a few quiet steps into the room.

“What are you talking about, Yura? I’m dressed just fine!” Viktor says cheerfully, with the widest grin he can manage. He doesn’t get many opportunities as golden as this one.

Yuri whips his head around. His jaw drops, eyes nearly bugging out of his head as he looks between Viktor and Alexei disbelievingly. “What the fuck?!” he screeches, pointing between the two.

Viktor laughs, walking over to put a hand on the teen’s shoulder. “Lyosha, this is Yuri Nikolaevich Plisetsky. Yura, this is my twin brother, Alexei Alexandrovich,” he says cheerfully.

Alexei grins, closing his eyes, and waves. “Hi!”

“The last thing the world needs is two of you,” Yuri mutters under his breath, but he takes Alexei’s offered hand and shakes.

“The last thing you need is to piss Yakov off any more than you already have. You’ve missed your first round of interviews, and the next starts in ten minutes,” Viktor says happily. “I’d get a move on if you don’t want to be running even more drills when you get back to St. Petersburg!”

Yuri flips him off before turning on his heel and stalking away. Viktor meets his brother’s gaze, amusement twinkling behind his eyes. It's barely a second before they’re laughing uncontrollably, leaning on each other for support.

“He totally thought I was you!” Alexei is almost crying as he clutches his stomach. “He went on for ten minutes about you, and Yakov, and how Yakov likes you better for no apparent reason, and something about your costumes being stupid. I don’t think he’s figured out Yakov’s just given up fighting you at this point.” He pulls Viktor into his arms. “It’s good to see you again, Vitka.”

Viktor hugs his brother, happy beyond measure. “You too, Lyoshen’ka.”

Quick footsteps come down a nearby hallway, and Viktor hears a squeal as his sister leaps into his arms. He swings her in a circle, laughing as he peppers her face with kisses.

“Katya! Don’t jump on your brother!” He feels his mothers’ arms around him mere seconds after he sets his sister down, pulling him into a close hug. Melting into their embrace, he puts his arms around them in turn. Simultaneous kisses on his cheeks have him smiling happily.

“Are you going to watch the free skate?” he says eagerly.

Maman smiles. “Of course we are, Vitya! We got tickets and everything, we’ll be right near the Kiss and Cry!”

“I got something to throw at you!” Katya giggles.

“I’ll buy you a souvenir if you hit Viten’ka in the head.” Alexei says as he throws his arm around her shoulders.

“Alexei!”

Viktor laughs, ruffling Katya’s hair before kissing it. “I’ll skate too fast for either of you to hit me.”

“I’ll throw it when you exit, then!” Katya says, pouting.

“I’ll do a quad flip over the boards on the other side,” he retorts.

“Well,” she says with smug satisfaction, “We’re gonna be near the Kiss and Cry anyway, and you’ve got to go there!”

“Ahh, yes, you’ve caught me,” he responds jovially, tickling her sides. “What will I ever do once you’re not a baby anymore?”

“Vitya, I’m thirteen!”

He laughs, hugging his sister tightly, kissing her hair before letting go. “I should be getting back,” he says, “but I’ll look for you in the audience!”

Katya gives him one last embrace, while Alexei ruffles his hair with a smile. “Davai, Viten’ka. We’ll be watching.” His mothers smile and hug him, kissing him on the cheeks before he heads back.

 

~*~

 

Yakov stares stonily ahead while Viktor warms up in front of the camera. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just as much of a performance as his time on the ice. Sponsors like to see how hardworking he is, his fans just apparently enjoy watching him move. The press likes any footage they can get of him doing anything, so they crowd around and film segments to show while they discuss him, his career, his scores…his personal life, or what they think that might look like. Running through the familiar choreography of Stammi Vicino, he lets himself get lost in the haze of the last few days he’s had with Yuuri.

Soon enough, he’s changed and on the ice to warm up, running through bits of his step sequences and choreography. He does a few jumps, just because, and then skates off the rink when the competition starts. Checking his phone, he sees Yuuri's messaged him about meeting privately before he skates, in a storage closet somewhere nearby. A quick glance tells him Yakov and Lilia are talking amongst themselves, and he takes the opportunity to slip away. He wanders the corridors in the direction Yuuri’d said he’d gone, until he finds a door with Yuuri's beanie perched on the handle. Smiling, he knocks quickly before opening the door and removing the beanie.

Yuuri's smile shines in the light from the hallway before it vanishes, and Viktor feels hands on his chest in the dark. He’s still wearing his Olympic jacket over his costume, and he feels a gentle tug on the front. Grinning, he lowers his face towards where he knows Yuuri's to be, and puckers his lips for a kiss just before they connect with cold glass and a thin strip of metal. He hears a snort, and then giggling, and then feels warm lips brush his affectionately.

“Those would have been my glasses,” Yuuri says, amused.

“I thought that might have been the case,” Viktor laughs. “I’m used to you being a few inches taller.”

“No, you’re used to being a few inches shorter,” Yuuri retorts. “Don’t you have your skates on?”

Viktor hums in agreement before he feels cool, soft hands on his cheeks. His face is pulled gently down, and Yuuri kisses him.

“My family’s here,” Viktor says quietly, and he hears a small gasp.

“They came to watch?”

Viktor nods. “Yeah. They just showed up out of the blue, same as you did. My moms, and my brother and sister, too. I’ll introduce you after, da?”

“I’d love that.” Yuuri sounds excited for Viktor, and his arms wrap around Viktor’s torso, under his jacket, as he leans his head against his shoulder. Yuuri’s coat is still chilled a little from the walk over, bits of ice melting onto Viktor’s hands, but when he sighs against Viktor’s neck his breath is warm. Viktor feels himself shiver. Yuuri pulls away, and Viktor curses the lack of contact before he feels soft kisses on his cheek. He turns his head, and Yuuri chuckles when his lips connect with Viktor’s. He kisses him again, and Viktor can feel the smile on Yuuri’s lips, in his cheeks, and he knows Yuuri can feel his own.

“Is your coach going to get angry if you spend the time before your free skate making out in a closet?” Yuuri asks, laughing as he kisses him softly.

“If not that, something else,” Viktor replies. “But it’ll be worth it.”

“This was supposed to be,” Yuuri says as he kisses Viktor’s nose, “one of those pre-skate pep talks,” another kiss, this time on his chin, “where I get to cheer you on in person,” a gentle brush on his lips, “instead of with emojis over text,” he finishes.

“I love your emojis,” Viktor murmurs. “They’re adorable. And creative.” He kisses Yuuri's forehead, “and you include Makka,” this time his eyebrow, “and I love going back and re-reading your messages.” A small peck on Yuuri's nose is rewarded with the most precious giggle Viktor’s heard thus far.

“I can’t wait to see Stammi Vicino in person.”

“I skate it for you now, you know,” Viktor says softly, and he feels Yuuri gasp, shifting against him. “Stammi Vicino,” he murmurs into Yuuri's ear, “non te andare, ho paura di perderti.”

There’s a hiss of Yuuri sucking air through his teeth, before his lips smash against Viktor’s, arms wrapping around his shoulders. Heat curls low in Viktor as he returns the kiss desperately, enthusiastically. Hands run up and down sides, under and over jackets, and all they know is the taste and feel of each other in the dark. Yuuri's body presses against Viktor’s, warm and firm, slotting against him like they were made for each other.

There’s a pause in Yuuri's ministrations, his breath hot against Viktor’s throat for a long moment. Warm lips brush Viktor’s jaw, nip at his lower lip, before moving to encompass his once more. Yuuri presses forward, one arm firmly around Viktor’s waist as the other sneaks under his jackets, tracing the muscles of Viktor’s chest. Shivering, Viktor allows his hands to come to rest on Yuuri's hips, fingers moving gently over firm muscle. Skate guards click as Viktor is pushed back into the shelving lining the wall, and bottles rattle precariously before there’s a yelp, Yuuri vanishing from his arms in an instant.

“Are you ok, Lyubov?” Viktor asks as he kneels.

“Y-yeah, I’m fine, it just got me on the head” Yuuri says as he stands, until the top of his head collides with Viktor’s, causing both of them to jump back in pain. There’s rattling as another few bottles fall off the shelf, landing on Viktor’s back and shoulders, and he hears Yuuri snort before dissolving into laughter. Soon enough, Viktor’s laughing with him, and he feels hands moving up his legs to his arms, before Yuuri pulls himself standing.

Viktor throws his arms around Yuuri. “Watch me skate?” he asks fervently, as if the answer’s ever been anything other than a resounding “ yes,” and Yuuri cups his face gently.

“Until the very end,” he says sincerely, breath ghosting across Viktor’s lips, “I’ll keep my eyes only on you.”

They’re interrupted by a knock, freezing. Their breathing grows slow, rhythmic, and they cling to each other while they wait for the threat to pass.

Another knock on the door, followed by a high-pitched “Viktor, I know you’re in there.”

“It’s Mila,” Viktor says, rolling his eyes. He opens the door a crack, wincing as light spills into the room. “Anyone around?”

She shakes her head, “No, but it’s almost your turn. Yakov’s not thrilled, but he thinks you’re in the bathroom.” She leans to the side, looking around him, and waves. “Hi, Yuuri!”

“Hi,” comes the quiet response from the closet. He turns, and Yuuri's bright scarlet, his lips a vivid, swollen red, and Viktor flushes more when he realizes it’s blatantly obvious what, exactly, they’d been doing.

Mila chuckles. “I’ll tell him I found you outside of the bathroom. You may want to, um, cover some stuff up,” she says as he gestures to Viktor’s forehead.

“Now’s hardly the time for a forehead joke, Mila.”

Yuuri's hand is gentle on his shoulder, and when he turns, Yuuri smiles. “I think she was talking about the bright red spot you have. From when we bumped into each other.”

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Mila jokes, and Viktor feels his blush down the back of his neck. He glances both ways down the hallway.

“How long do I have?”

“Not enough time to go back in that closet, that’s for sure. They were calling Kadnikov to the ice when I left, then is Rabrenovich, and Gosha’s after him. Then you, but I left a few minutes ago, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Rabrenovich is on the ice already.”

He lets out a sigh, but looks back at Yuuri with a pained smile. “Duty calls,” he says, turning to kiss him.

“Davai, Vitya,” he says in return, smiling.

“I can get Yuuri to the rink,” Mila offers with a grin and a wink. “Go, Vitya.”

Viktor doesn’t have time to question what she’s up to, instead kissing Yuuri again before heading off at a brisk pace. He makes it to the locker room with time to spare, Rabrenovich just taking to the ice on the TV’s he’s passed, and manages to apply cover-up and more eyeliner quickly.

 

When Viktor gets back to the boards, hair fixed and newly-chapsticked lips still kissed red, Yuri gives him a disgusted look.

“What, were you sucking face with Katsudon or something?”

Viktor just smiles, removing his jacket while Yuri sticks out his tongue. Georgi finishes his routine to applause, flowers and plush hearts raining down onto the ice as he thanks the audience with a flourish. He skates to the exit, and as he steps out of the rink, he looks at Viktor.

“Davai, Vitya,” he says, and Viktor tries to ignore the defeat already in his eyes. He and Georgi had been close, friends even, in the years before Viktor’d become Russia’s darling. They’d spent long nights talking together about dealing with Yakov, their hopes, their dreams, their families and their favorite foods and what they missed most about home. They whispered ridiculous routine ideas in the dark of their shared dorm room, and came up with even more harebrained ideas for ice shows and exhibition skates. It had been nice, while it lasted. Viktor’d had someone he could connect with, who understood him in ways his non-skating friends hadn’t been able to.

But then he’d started winning medals, and Georgi hadn’t. He’d become Russia’s sweetheart, Russia’s pride and joy. Russia’s National Hero. Georgi had become “Viktor Nikiforov’s Rinkmate.” They’d never stopped being friendly, and Viktor’d never stopped caring about him (and had never gotten the impression Georgi didn’t feel the same), but the space between them, both competitive and emotional, had grown uncomfortably vast. Viktor became a Living Legend, Georgi became a friendly acquaintance, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

In response to the encouragement, Viktor claps his hand on Georgi’s shoulder, giving him a nod. “Gosha,” he says, and he knows Georgi understands. Georgi heads to sit at the Kiss and Cry with Yakov, and when Viktor chances a glance at the seats above it, he sees his family with banners and flags, smiling and waving. He raises his hand shyly, giving a little wave. His sister jumps up in her seat, waving harder, and he sees Alexei grab the back of her jacket to keep her from falling over the railing. Alexei’s wearing a beanie now, hair tucked underneath, he notes with a smile. Unsurprising, since he’s probably been approached for interviews already.

Lilia gestures at the ice with a look, the kind that tells Viktor he’s wasting unnecessary time, and as he’s pulling his skate guards off, his eyes come to rest on Yuuri, standing in a back corner by himself with a surgical mask on. Yuuri waves, then makes a heart with both hands, and Viktor beams as he takes to the ice with aplomb.

The audience is on their feet chanting his name as he greets them, banners with his name and face blanket the stands. The roar of the crowd fills the stadium, and he flashes his best smile, waving, as he skates a few laps. Cheering continues as he moves to take his place in the center of the rink, but once he’s taken his starting position, silence falls.

The opening notes of the aria float through the air, and with them, Viktor.

For all of the times he’d skated Stammi Vicino, for all of the times he’d used his body to call out, first in desperation, and then in love, he’d never in his life expected this. He’d never expected his family to be here, watching. He’d only dreamed Yuuri would.

Now, everyone he loves is here, eyes fixed on him, and it feels like his blades barely make contact with the ice as he dances across its surface. It’s not difficult to let himself fall into the music, channeling his emotions into every movement while he lets his newfound giddiness take him to unprecedented heights.

It’s a love letter, he realizes, about his routine. Somewhere along the way, it had gone from a manifestation of loneliness to a demonstration of his love, his adoration. His infatuation with a barista from Detroit whose coffee and embrace have, somehow, become home even thousands of miles from Russia.

Stay close to me, Yuuri, he says, with every fiber of his being.

Never leave, he begs with every outstretched arm, every spin.

I’m scared of losing you.

He swings into his final pose to elated cheers, the crowd on their feet as he blinks, coming back to the present. Taking a bow, he greets each area of the audience with a flourish, turning last towards Yakov and Lilia. He catches a glimpse of Yuuri, brown eyes shimmering brighter than the gold Viktor’s just won.

Yuuri stays through the medaling ceremony, keeping to the dark corners near the exits. When Viktor moves off the podium for publicity photos, he sees a wave from one of the doorways. He smiles at Yuuri, nodding, before Yuuri vanishes into the crowd, and Viktor lets himself ease into the thrill of victory. Georgi stands to his right, Kradnikov to his left, and Russia cheers as the cameras flash.

Standing at the top of the podium had felt better than it has in years, and Viktor lets himself bask in the glow as he fields questions. Everything is going well, despite the fact that the only thing Viktor wants to do right now is be anywhere but in front of the cameras, until one of the younger reporters brings up Detroit and Viktor’s stomach plummets.

“Mr. Nikiforov, do you have any comments about the rumors regarding a special someone in your life?”

“What rumors would those be?”

“There are rumors that you moved to Detroit in order to be with a secret long-distance boyfriend, do you have anything to say in response?”

Viktor’s never wanted to tell the press to fuck off as badly as he does now, and Chris was right, he needs to talk to Yuuri about this. It’s reached the boiling point, that place where Viktor’s not sure he can hide things any longer. He knows he doesn’t want to.

He briefly considers retiring on the spot, just to get away from them.

He loves Yuuri too much to do anything rash, though, so he throws on his best press smile and gives a laugh. “Well, over the years there’s been such wild speculation about my love life, I’m not surprised a secret lover in Detroit is one of them!”

“Fans say they’ve seen you out and about with a young man, is he someone special?”

“I’m allowed to make friends, aren’t I?” He can feel that cutting edge in his voice, a warning for the people who bother to pay attention.

This reporter is not one of those people.

“Rumors have also circulated that you were seen entering a restaurant with the same young man here in Chelyabinsk. Are there any truth to those?”

Someone saw him with Yuuri? Panic curls through his chest before he feels an arm around his shoulder.

“Perhaps your sources are mistaken,” Alexei says next to him. “I went out to dinner last night with a dear friend, and as you can see, Viktor and I can be very easily confused, especially at a distance. Especially by people who don’t know us very well.”

Viktor sends a silent prayer of thanks for his brother.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Alexei continues, making sure to meet the gazes of a few specific members of the press, “that I’ve been confused for my brother by strangers or the media.” His voice has an edge of laughter, a note of warning. Viktor wonders how Alexei got so good at talking to the press.

“I understand that, Mr. Nikiforov, but the description of the young man in question matched the description of the man seen in Detroit with, um, Mr. Nikiforov.”

“Shorter by a few inches? Beanie on? A coat?” The reporter nods. “Anything else?”

The reporter sheepishly shakes their head. Alexei smiles. “Imagine, someone wearing a beanie and coat in the middle of winter. Here in Russia, of all places! Unless you can provide photographs, I’m afraid there’s nothing for us to comment on.” Alexei, like Viktor, aggressively smiles at people he’s attempting to avoid verbally eviscerating, and they’re both wearing identical grins now.

One of the reporters more familiar with Viktor’s mannerisms coughs softly, trying to diffuse the tension. “Congratulations on taking gold again, Mr. Nikiforov, your family must be very proud!”

“We are!” Alexei says, beaming. “Viktor works very hard, and it shows in his performances!”

Viktor smiles genially.

“Can you comment on your plans for the next season?”

“I’m currently focused on keeping my skills sharp for the European Championships and Worlds,” he says with grating cheer, “so I’ll refrain from commenting about the upcoming season for now.” Viktor is entirely too done with the press right now, and it must be showing on his face some, because a few of the reporters thank him and leave. The rest go a few seconds later, after Viktor’s accosted by his sister once more. His mothers show up shortly after, smiling proudly as they take turns hugging him.

“You saved me,” he says to his family. He looks at Alexei, smiling. “It’s a lucky coincidence you went out last night, too.”

“Vitka, I was in Yekaterinburg until late.”

“You’ve gotten better at lying,” Viktor says. “You're an archaeologist, how did you get so good at talking to the media?”

“We’ve had a few digs with camera crews. Apparently, I’m the most photogenic person there, so they make me talk to them.” Alexei flashes a wink and a grin.

“With looks like mine, of course you were.”

“Vitka, we’ve gone over this. I’m older, therefore you have my good looks. Not the other way around.”

“Which is why I’m always getting mistaken for you, yes,” Viktor laughs. Alexei pinches Viktor’s side, getting a firm jab in return. Katya giggles as Alexei pulls Viktor into a headlock, ruffling his hair, and Viktor starts poking whatever areas of his brother’s back he can reach.

“Boys,” their Maman chides gently.

They straighten up, adjusting their clothes.

“Maman, Mamulya,” Viktor says excitedly, pulling his family into a quiet area, “I want to introduce you to someone!” His mothers glance at each other, breaking into happy smiles.

“Who?” Mamulya asks. “Is it the young man from Detroit?”

Viktor nods excitedly, biting his lower lip. “He surprised me here! He should be at the hotel soon, we can meet him in my room.”

Maman hugs him. “We'd love to meet him, Vitka!”

“We can take two taxis,” Alexei says. “Vitya and I can ride in one, in case there’s press waiting, and you three can take another. We’ll meet at Vitya’s room?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Viktor says, smiling. He kisses each of his mothers, and hugs Katya, before they go their separate ways.

 

When they arrive, Viktor sends Alexei up to his room, just in case his family made it to the hotel before them. There’s a bench a short ways away from the lobby door, with a clear view of the unloading area. He sits in the cold, watching mist balloon with every breath. Before long, his family gets out of a taxi, all smiles and excitement, looking around for either Viktor or Alexei to show them where they need to go. Jumping to his feet, he rushes over, greeting each of them with a kiss.

Katya chatters away as they make their way upstairs, showing off the autographs she’s gotten from other skaters and wheedling an agreement for one out of Viktor. Glancing at his phone, there’s no sign of a text from Yuuri saying he’s arrived. The hotel room door is cracked when they approach, and as he pushes it open, he has to stifle his laughter. Yuuri is standing with his arms wrapped around Alexei and a confused look on his face. Alexei is looking towards the door, both hands against Yuuri's chest, grinning widely. Apparently, Yuri wasn’t the only one taken off guard.

“Yuuri!” Viktor calls out, smiling. Yuuri looks over, before his eyes go even wider and he steps back in shock. He looks between them rapidly, jaw gaping as he tries to figure out what’s happening. His cheeks grow red as he covers his face in shame. “You said you have a brother,” he says, sinking slowly to the floor. “He wouldn’t happen to be your—”

“Twin, yes. We’re identical!” Viktor says, with more cheer than is strictly necessary.

Yuuri groans. Viktor kneels next to him, smiling. Wrapping his arms around Yuuri, he rubs his back in gentle circles.

Alexei kneels next to them both. “Hi, I'm Alexei Nikiforov,” he says in heavily-accented English, holding his hand out. Viktor wonders briefly if his accent is as strong as his brother’s.

Keeping his face buried in Viktor’s shoulder, Yuuri gives it a shake. “Yuuri Katsuki. Pleasure.” He pulls back from Viktor, frowning. “Alexei like Yagudin?”

Viktor laughs, looking at his brother. “Exactly like Yagudin. He once begged me to get Yagudin’s autograph because they share a name.”

“Vitya, of course, can’t do anything by halves and ended up taking us to lunch.” Alexei grins.

“You got your autograph, though.”

“And a picture.”

“And a healthy dose of embarrassment when you laughed hard enough water came out your nose.” Viktor laughs, remembering Alexei sputtering apologies as he offered Yagudin his napkin.

“Shut up, Vitka.” Their banter is light, easy, and familiar.

Yuuri glances between them, standing slowly. “He almost looks just like you,” he says quietly. Viktor looks at Alexei as they straighten up as well. His hair is slightly shorter than Viktor’s, styled so it’s out of his face. He’s a few centimeters taller, loathe as Viktor is to admit it, but not as muscular. The differences end there, for most people. (It’s a rarely-mentioned fact that their mothers used to tell them apart as infants using a method they like to call “Which butt cheek is the birthmark on?”)

Alexei laughs. “The press thinks so, too. You’re not the only one to get us confused, though I have to say, you’re the only person that’s kissed me like that because of it.”

Yuuri leans against him. “That explains so much,” he says, voice muffled against Viktor’s chest. “I’m sorry I tried to make out with your brother.”

“It happens,” Viktor says reassuringly. “One of Lyosha’s ex-girlfriends screamed at him for three hours when she saw me out with a friend of mine.” He remembers it well. She’d only calmed down when Viktor walked in and showed her a selfie he’d taken with the girl that day, wearing the same outfits she’d spotted them in. Needless to say, she wasn’t his brother’s girlfriend for long.

“I thought his name was Alexei?” Yuuri says curiously.

“Lyosha’s a diminutive, like Vitya,” he explains.

Yuuri nods. “Congrats on winning the gold,” he says before his lips brush Viktor’s. The door closes behind them, and Viktor turns quickly. His moms are standing near the entry, still, while Katya has taken over the bed.

“Yuuri! This is my family. My mamulya, Alexandra and my maman, Hilaire.”

Yuuri smiles at them, giving a short bow. “I'm Yuuri Katsuki. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“You’ve met my brother, obviously,” Viktor says, eyes twinkling as Yuuri blushes further, “and this little pupsik is my sister, Katya.”

“Is this your boyfriend, Vitya?” Mamulya asks as she approaches.

The question causes Yuuri to blush. Viktor looks at him, and Yuuri smiles.

“He is. This is my boyfriend, Yuuri,” he says proudly to his beaming family.

This is everything he’s ever wanted and he’s positively euphoric.

 

~*~

 

They wake in a tangle of limbs, and Yuuri brushes his his lips across Viktor’s with a smile. “Morning,” Yuuri rasps, before laying another kiss on Viktor’s nose.

“Good Morning, Lyubov,” Viktor replies with a sleepy grin.

His hand runs down Yuuri’s side before it comes to rest on his waist, soft skin warm under Viktor’s fingers, and they share a kiss before Yuuri begrudgingly crawls out of bed. He heads into the shower, borrowing Viktor’s soap to avoid getting his own toiletries wet before the flight out. Viktor gets his things together, a pleasant soreness thrumming through his body, and he smiles as he zips up his garment bag.

Yuuri comes out of the bathroom fully dressed, and soon enough his luggage is set up close to the door and he’s bundled up for the cold. Viktor says his goodbyes in the privacy of their hotel room, far from the press, and it’s bittersweet.

“I’m going to miss you,” Yuuri says as he kisses Viktor’s chin.

“I’ll miss you to, Lyubov,” he replies. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Vityusha.”

Viktor’s face heats up when he hears the endearment and he can feel the blush spreading, across his ears, the back of his neck, and the top of his chest and shoulders while Yuuri stands there with the most precious grin.

“Y-you called me Vityusha.”

“I did. Mila suggested it,” Yuuri says with a smile. “Is it ok?” His cheeks are dusted with pink, his eyes shining brightly behind his glasses.

Viktor nods. It’s more than ok. He’d never expected one of the more affectionate diminutives to come out of Yuuri's mouth, what with him not being Russian, but hearing it makes his heart do a quad flip in his chest, and he can’t stop replaying it in his mind. He makes a mental note to thank Mila, maybe he’ll buy her a coffee for their flight back to St. Petersburg. He has another bag to pick up before he heads back to Detroit, so they’ll be sharing the flight out.

Maybe he’ll buy her ten coffees.

Yuuri pulls his head down, planting an affectionate kiss on his lips before leaning against his shoulder. “I don’t want to leave,” he says sadly.

“We’ll be together in Detroit soon.”

“Not soon enough,” Yuuri mumbles into his shoulder and Viktor has to agree.

 

~*~

 

Yuuri picks Viktor up at the airport the morning of his return, sleep in his eyes and coffee in the cup holder. Viktor waves, smiling, once he’s in the car, before taking the paper bag Yuuri holds up. When he looks inside, his face lights up.

“You got me donuts!!”

“The bakery that supplies us makes the… suf… something, the ones for Chanukkah, and Mila said something about a tradition…” He blushes a bright red.

Setting the donuts on the dashboard, Viktor flings his arms around Yuuri. The center console digs into his side as he kisses Yuuri's cheek, but he can only smile. “I can’t believe Mila told you I buy sufganiyot every year!”

“Well, to be fair, she was complaining you never bought any for her.”

Viktor laughs, sitting back in his seat. “So what’s the plan for today, Lyubov?” He asks as Yuuri pulls into traffic. The Raf Yuuri brought has a couple of extra shots in it, and the bitterness contrasts nicely with the strawberry jam-filled donut Viktor chose.

“I have the day off,” Yuuri says. “I was…I was thinking we could take Makka to the park.” His eyes are fixed on the road as he chews the inside of his bottom lip.

“Of course we can!” Viktor smiles. “Makkachin will love it!”

Yuuri grins, “I thought he might. We could get lunch, too, afterward. Find a place with a heated patio, order something for Makka.”

“It’s a date, then!”

Yuuri blushes, staring at the road. He smiles as he glances at Viktor out of the corner of his eye. Viktor watches with delight as the blush spreads from Yuuri's cheek, to the tip of his nose and ears. Yuuri nods quickly, flashing a shy smile, before turning onto the street for Viktor’s apartment.

 

Makkachin jumps on Viktor happily as he walks through the door, knocking him back and licking his face. Sliding to the floor, Viktor wraps his arms around his dog as Yuuri rummages through the tote bag for the leash and baggies. Makka’s fur is soft against Viktor’s cheek, his head resting on Viktor’s shoulder. Raking his fingers through the poodle’s fur, Viktor starts telling him how much he missed him, what a good boy he is. At some point, he switches to Russian, but Yuuri only smiles good-naturedly.

When he finishes greeting his dog, Viktor looks over at Yuuri, smiling. He rummages through his luggage until he finds a brightly-wrapped box. His stop in St. Petersburg allowed him to drop by one of his favorite tea shops, and he’d bought a large variety of teas for Yuuri. When he stands, holding it out, Yuuri's face shifts into confusion before lighting up.

“I know it’s a month late, Lyubov,” Viktor says, “but I wanted to give this to you in person. Happy Birthday.”

Yuuri takes the gift gingerly, smiling. He unwraps it gently, taking care with the paper, and lights up when he sees the neat rows of labeled metal tins inside. “You bought me tea?” He asks. His voice is soft, full of love, and Viktor smiles.

“I did. They’re all of my favorites,” he says, “from one of the best tea shops in St. Petersburg, and I thought you’d like to try them.”

Eyes shining, Yuuri wraps his arms tightly around him. He clings to Viktor in happiness, laying kisses on his shoulder and torso before nestling his head in the crook of Viktor’s neck. After a short while, the box of teas is set aside, almost reverently, and Makka wags his tail happily as his leash is clipped on. Viktor bundles up, hiding his hair under a beanie before offering his hand to Yuuri.

Smiling, Yuuri takes it. “Weather’s been nice, recently,” he says softly.

“That’s good,” Viktor replies. It’s a beautiful day for a walk, the sky crisp and blue and clear. They drop by the café for hot drinks, Yuuri running inside while Viktor holds Makka’s leash. When he comes out, he has a bit of foam on his nose, which Viktor promptly kisses off.

“Did you make them yourself?” He asks with a smile.

Yuuri nods, holding out a cup.

They make their way to a nearby park, sitting close on a bench. Viktor lets Makka off his leash to play, wrapping his newly-freed arm around Yuuri's shoulders. Time passes in a comfortable silence as they watch the wind whisper through the trees.

“I love you, Vityusha,” Yuuri says suddenly. “I just want you to know that.” Blushing and slightly flustered, Yuuri’s eyes shine as he looks out over the park, hair blowing softly in the breeze.

“I do, Lyubov.” Kissing Yuuri's hair, Viktor pulls him closer. “I love you, too.”

Yuuri nods, sighing.

“What brought this on so suddenly?” Viktor asks gently.

He feels Yuuri shrug against him. “I know things haven’t been easy these last few months,” he says slowly, carefully. “This paper’s just…” He trails off, taking a sip of his coffee.

Viktor rubs his shoulder. “It’s ok, Lyubov. If you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

Yuuri snuggles closer to him. “Let’s just enjoy being out together for now,” he says softly. “I like this.”

 

They end up getting lunch at a nearby bistro, Viktor ordering a thick minestrone, while Yuuri gets tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. They trade bites as often as they trade kisses, Makkachin lying contentedly at their feet, and it’s not long before they’ve finished their meal. At times, Yuuri's smiles seem a little too bright, the melancholy in his eyes occasionally too deep to ignore. In response, Viktor hugs him, kisses him, smiles at him more often. His frequent touches become almost constant, and Yuuri seems to take some comfort. They walk back to his apartment with their arms wrapped around each other, Makkachin trotting happily by their side.

Yuuri doesn’t stay long at Viktor’s that evening, barely late enough to watch him light the menorah, and the next day he spends getting everything together for the trip to Hasetsu. He texts Viktor with reminders about what’s needed as far as identification goes, and reassures him several times that he still has the university paperwork.

 

~*~

 

The night before their trip, Yuuri sleeps over. Luggage is piled near the door as Viktor finishes frying latkes, stacking them high on a paper towel-covered plate. Yuuri sits at the table in his pajamas, setting out sour cream and applesauce. At the end of the table, a menorah with the stumps of nine brightly burning candles is surrounded by crumpled golden foil and wooden dreidels. The apartment seems strangely empty, Makkachin having already been delivered to Phichit, but the atmosphere is still warm.

He sets the plate on the table, sitting next to Yuuri with a smile.

“Now, it’s traditional to eat these with applesauce or sour cream. Sometimes both.”

Yuuri makes a face. “Applesauce with potatoes?” he asks as he spoons some onto his plate.

“Trust me, it tastes better than it sounds.” Viktor holds out the sour cream.

“Only a little,” Yuuri says, dropping a dollop on his plate. “I'm lactose intolerant.”

“Doesn’t that mean you can’t have milk and such?” Yuuri nods. Viktor raises an eyebrow. “You put half and half in your coffee. You ate a toasted cheese sandwich a few days ago. You had ice cream with your cake, Yuuri. What do you mean you're lactose intolerant?”

“I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but I don’t know one person who’s lactose intolerant, but not debilitatingly so, who actually completely stopped consuming dairy.”

“So what changed this time?”

“We’re going to be on a plane for fourteen hours,” is all Yuuri offers by way of explanation.

It’s enough to get his point across. Yuuri cuts off a piece of a latke with his fork, dipping it in both the sour cream and the applesauce on his plate. When he puts it in his mouth, his face lights up. “This is good!” he exclaims.

Grinning, Viktor says, “See? I told you!”

Yuuri smiles at him, putting another bite in his mouth. “How do you say ‘delicious’ in Russian?”

“Vkusno,” Viktor says smiling.

“They’re vkusno.” Yuuri eats the rest of two latkes, leaning back as he stares at the third.

“I'm out of sour cream, do you think I could use k-”

“If you say ‘ketchup,’ so help me, Yuuri…”

Yuuri nods and spreads applesauce on the latke. He does the dishes when they’re finished eating, with his sleeves rolled up and rubber gloves on his hands. Viktor steals a few kisses, first when he puts their mugs in the sink, again when he finds a knife on the floor under the dishwasher. A third kiss is stolen when he accidentally bumps Yuuri putting the sour cream and applesauce in the fridge. Yuuri steals the fourth when he hands Viktor a dishtowel, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh are stolen by no one in particular, but lead to contented smiles and happy noises as they press their foreheads together.

The dishes are dried and put away, stacked neatly on the cupboard shelves and the counters and stove are wiped off. Yuuri takes a moment when they finish, slowly looking around the room. Viktor wraps his arms around Yuuri from behind, resting his chin on Yuuri’s shoulder.

“Everything alright, Lyubov?”

Yuuri nods. “It’s so clean,” he says absently.

Viktor smiles, kissing his jaw. “That's because we just cleaned it.”

“I know that,” Yuuri grouses. He turns in Viktor’s arms, leaning into his shoulder as he hugs him. “Happy Chanukkah, Vitya.”

Kissing the top of Yuuri's head, he murmurs his thanks. They brush their teeth together, hands touching, shoulders brushing against each other. Viktor smiles as he feels Yuuri’s arm around his waist. He moves his free hand to grip Yuuri’s bicep gently. Wiping his chin after spitting out his mouthwash, he pulls Yuuri close.

“I'm so excited, Lyubov,” he says.

Yuuri leans against his chest. “Yeah,” he says softly. Hands gripping the back of Viktor’s shirt, he lifts his head to plant a kiss on his jaw. “Me, too.”

They turn off the lights and crawl under the quilt on Viktor’s bed. Wrapping his arms around Yuuri, he lays a kiss to the top of his head.

“Are you ok, Yuuri?” he asks, “You’re trembling.” Yuuri pulls him closer.

“I’m just cold, Vitya.” Yuuri kisses his chest, tangling their legs together as he sighs softly.

 

Viktor wakes up once that night, jostled by Yuuri tossing and turning. Sleepily wrapping his arms around him, he pulls until Yuuri's body is flush with his own. “I’m here,” he says, though he’s not entirely aware of what language he’s speaking. Yuuri seems to understand, because he sighs gently, snuggling closer.

“I’m here,” Viktor repeats once more, before the world drifts away.

 

Chapter Text

Viktor wakes to the sounds of the flight attendants moving around the cabin, asking everyone to stow their belongings and put meal trays and seats back up. He looks to his right to see Yuuri gazing steadily out the window. The bags under his eyes are worse than ever, deep purple standing out against unusually pale skin. The shift in his weight causes Yuuri to look at him. Smiling, he kisses Viktor’s nose softly. “Sleep well?”

Viktor nods. “I did! How long was I out?”

Yuuri looks at his watch. “About four hours, this time.” Viktor scrunches his face, causing Yuuri to chuckle. “If it’s any consolation, you mutter adorably when you dream.”

His cheeks grow warm. Stealing a kiss, he moves the back of his chair into its proper and upright position after a stern glare from a flight attendant. Resting his head on Yuuri’s shoulder again, he asks, “Have you slept at all?”

Yuuri closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I tried. Wasn’t successful.” Viktor smiles as he sees Yuuri use his feet to carefully nudge his carryon under the seat. Grabbing his own bag, he stands to put it back in the compartment above their heads, nestling it against the wall before closing the hatch. He looks around the plane cabin.

It’s impossible to miss the way some gazes linger on him, his hair, his eyes. His obviously foreign way of dressing, given that much of the population seems to prefer more traditional wear if the travel guides and articles he’d read about the country were accurate. Perhaps they actually recognize him. He runs his fingers through his silver locks, smiling as he sees Yuuri rub the back of his own hand with his thumb. Yuuri offers a shy smile in return, and leans softly against Viktor’s shoulder after he sits down, clasping their hands together. Viktor kisses Yuuri’s head through his beanie and settles in for the last of the ride.

They land smoothly at Hasetsu International Airport, and Viktor waits patiently with Yuuri while the rest of the passengers grab their carry-ons and push towards the exits. Once their bags are secured and they’ve made it out of the jetway, Yuuri drops Viktor’s hand and fumbles with his messenger bag. Pulling out his phone, he turns it on, eyes widening as he starts getting notifications. He bites his lip, running anxious fingers through the short hairs at the nape of his neck. Viktor practically guides Yuuri through the crowd as he looks at his phone, weaving around families and businessmen alike as they make their way out of the area, and Yuuri’s anxiety only seems to grow while they walk.

Yuuri’s phone rings suddenly, and in his hurry to see who it is, he drops it. Scrambling to pick it up, he freezes, kneeling on the floor. After a second he stands, looking sheepish as the call goes to voicemail. “That was my sister,” he says, voice small. His breath catches in his throat as he stares at the lock screen.

Viktor cups Yuuri’s cheek with his hand. “If you need to call her back, Yuuri, it’s fine. Family is important, I understand. I’ll stay right here, yes? She probably just wants to make sure you’ve landed alright.”

Yuuri nods. Taking a deep breath, he throws his arms around Viktor, nuzzling into his shoulder. Before Viktor can react, Yuuri’s phone is vibrating in his hand again. He takes another deep breath as he lowers his arms, moving a few feet away before answering.

Whatever his sister says makes Yuuri bite his lower lip, nodding quickly several times in rapid succession. He glances over, turning his back to Viktor briefly before whispering quickly, at times harshly, into the handset. He eventually walks back over, hanging up after saying something about the baggage claim. Viktor’s “what’s wrong?” goes unnoticed as he follows Yuuri out of the area.

The airport is open, sun shining through the windows and lighting up the terminal as they head out. There are occasional whispers behind hands, glances that rest too long on Viktor’s hair and face. A few surprised looks tell him he’s not entirely unknown here, and he flashes a smile to people he notices are staring. Security is ever-present, it looks like, with regular airport officers standing alongside people Viktor recognizes as members of the Royal Guard from his pre-trip reading.

As they make their way through the airport, Viktor notices cell phones raised in their direction, and he glances nervously at Yuuri while trying to keep a friendly-yet-neutral look on his face. They turn a corner and lining their path are still more of the Guard, almost watching Viktor as he follows his boyfriend. Yuuri keeps his eyes firmly ahead of him when he’s not reading the signs to figure out where to go, seemingly unaware of the scrutiny they’re under. Viktor wraps his arm protectively around him. He hadn’t expected to bring so much attention to them, especially not this early on in the trip and especially not from any sort of law enforcement.

He should have made sure they discussed this. Swallowing his guilt, he looks around as they navigate the crowd. They walk quickly, weaving around suitcases and strollers and groups of people huddling around available outlets. More photos are taken. Yuuri seems to notice, stands up straighter and schools his face into a more neutral expression. Viktor glances around again. The Royal Guard stands around the perimeter, eyes constantly on him. On Yuuri, he realizes with a start. He looks down at his boyfriend, walking purposefully through the airport with his shoulders back and head held high, and everything starts coming together.

Yuuri, who’d never cooked for himself before Viktor had taught him, whose past is as much a mystery now as it had been when they met. Who’s a political science major, has money far beyond what his part-time job should be paying, and is walking through the airport as if he owns the place. Lilia had acted strange around him, almost deferential at times . In her work, she’s met all sorts of people, has mingled with members of the highest echelons of society. She’d have never acted so oddly around anyone less than… royalty.

The young Crown Prince of Sachima vanished from the public eye and, according to news sources, the palace itself when he was a child. Everyone knows the story of the Lost Prince. Everyone’s seen video clips of the young boy, played over and over on his birthday each fall, even as he fades back into irrelevance once it’s over and done. Almost everyone, at one point or another, has seen footage of the King of Sachima making a speech wishing the Prince well and promising to keep him safe and now the King hasn’t been seen in public recently. Rumors are circulating that he’s taken ill. The Crown Prince would be taking the throne on the King’s death and to do that, he’d need to come home.

“You’ll be going home, soon?” Phichit’s words, strangely heavy at the time, echo through the back of Viktor’s mind with new layers of meaning. Yuuri saying he was planning to see his family soon, without even a mention of them before, just after a phone call he clearly wasn’t expecting… The idea is far-fetched, but the pieces are tumbling almost perfectly into place. Grabbing Yuuri’s shoulder, Viktor steers him towards a nearby single-occupancy bathroom. Yuuri nervously glances at the guards, giving one an almost invisible nod, before the door is shut and locked behind them. Keeping his hand on Yuuri’s arm, Viktor backs him to the opposite wall.

“Vitya?” Yuuri says, almost panicked. “Vitya, what—”

“You’re the Crown Prince,” Viktor interrupts. Yuuri’s eyes widen, relief spreads across his face even as it saddens.

“Not for long,” he says softly. “Vitya, we have to… It’s my dad. He’s not—”

Viktor stares at him. He’d half expected laughter, or an exasperated sigh followed by a peck on his nose. Part of him had thought he’d be wrong, that it was too wild a coincidence, but Yuuri’s standing in front of him, face full of sadness and frustration and the edge of an anxiety Viktor’s barely beginning to comprehend, confirming the theory.

Yuuri is the missing Prince of Sachima.

“Vityusha, I… we have to go to the palace. I’ll explain, I promise, please just don’t- don’t go. Stay with me, Vitya.” Pain and urgency color Yuuri’s voice as he visibly tries to settle himself.

Snapping out of it, Viktor nods. “Of course, Yuuri. Always.”

Rummaging quickly through his bag, Yuuri pulls out what Viktor recognizes as a case for his glasses. Taking them off, Yuuri rubs his eyes before opening the case, putting the glasses inside as he takes something small out, a plastic tray for contact lenses with white and green lids. He washes his hands quickly, before putting the lenses in with surprising finesse. Blinking slowly, he pauses, before closing both cases and slipping them into his bag. With a shaky smile, he looks back up at Viktor.

Viktor raises an eyebrow. “I thought you hated contacts.”

“I do,” Yuuri replies as he straightens his jacket and brushes his bangs under his beanie, “but I’ll be wearing them at functions and I’d rather reduce the chances of being recognized if I’m wearing glasses.”

“Recognized?”

Biting his lip, Yuuri looks Viktor in the eye. “Not… not right now, but in the future. The fewer pictures there are of me with glasses on, the less likely people are to recognize me when I’m wearing them. I’m not exactly… invisible here,” he finishes, looking at the floor as he sighs. Glancing at the exit, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Let’s do this,” he says, walking towards the door.

Yuuri pulls out his phone as they leave the bathroom, pressing a number on speed dial as they walk. Viktor faintly hears the click of the other line, before Yuuri’s speaking.

“Mari,” he says quietly into the handset, “he figured it out. He knows now.” A shriek comes across the line and Yuuri holds the phone a few inches from his ear until it stops. “He figured it out!” He hisses into the phone, “I didn’t- You know what the palace would have done if I’d told him, I wasn’t going to risk him being detained!”

Detained?

“He’s not an idiot, Mari, and having the Royal Guard here doesn’t help secrecy, they draw attention as it is!” Yuuri’s whispering furiously, almost angry. They head through the doors into the baggage claim as he rolls his eyes. “Well I’m not going to say I’m not happy he did, but I still didn’t tell him because the stupid rules said I couldn’t.”

They stand near the baggage carousel. Yuuri’s eyes constantly flicker towards the crowd growing near the exits. Viktor grabs the first of their bags as it moves past them, while Yuuri sighs. “I can’t believe you guys sent a—” he purses his lips. “Fine. We’re getting our bags now. I’ll be home soon, how’s… how’s dad?” The sharp intake of air and a choked gasp tells Viktor the answer. Yuuri’s face visibly falls before he schools it into a neutral expression, but he chews the inside of his lower lip as he nods at the phone. “I’ll see you soon, Nee-chan. Tell mom and dad… tell them I love them.” There’s a beat of silence, and then he hangs up, tucking his phone back into his messenger bag. Sighing heavily, he grabs one of their suitcases off the conveyor belt as it drifts past.

Bags are coming out of the chute at a crawl, and as they wait Viktor’s eyes move across the unfamiliar airport. Beyond the glass walls he sees a large group of people milling around. Some look in his direction, snapping quick photos on their phones, but the rest are focused on what’s going on outside. They don’t act like the typical airport crowd, searching for whoever’s picking them up or trying to flag a taxi. Instead, cellphones are held high over the throng of people, everyone’s necks craning to see something beyond Viktor’s line of sight. As he glances over the passengers still waiting for their luggage, Viktor sees one of the Royal Guard speaking into an earpiece while staring at him. He looks behind him and sees several more people in the same uniform, all facing his direction. All watching Yuuri carefully. A chill crawls down his spine.

He glances outside, eyes drawn by the flashing lights of a police motorcycle before moving back across the crowd. Viktor does a double take. There’s actually a motorcade pulled up at the curb now, police escorting several limousines with Sachima’s flags on them. That must be their ride. He vaguely wonders if there was ever a hotel reservation, if the trip ever had another purpose.

The admittedly short wait to collect their baggage is nerve-wracking, but as each suitcase makes its way to them, he knows they’re closer to being able to leave. Closer to… whatever happens next. Yuuri is quiet next to him, eyes fixed firmly on the belt, looking over each item as it passes.  When Viktor lays his arm across Yuuri’s back, his hand coming to rest on Yuuri’s shoulder, Yuuri sinks, just barely, into his touch. It’s clear he’s steadily growing more anxious. His back is tense, breathing forcefully regulated as his eyes flick across the conveyor belt, but he holds his head high, keeps his spine straight. Viktor gives his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. When their last bag is spit out and makes its way to them, Yuuri waits a beat before moving to pull it off. Viktor chances another glance around the room. The guards are still there, still staring. One of them speaks into his mouthpiece as they turn to leave, while the guards further into the airport start moving forward.

He feels Yuuri squeeze his hand and gives a small smile in return. Yuuri stands on his tiptoes and delivers a brief kiss on Viktor’s lips before pulling back, offering a sad smile of his own. Viktor can see the apprehension and longing in his eyes, and it hits him again. Yuuri’s home, now. This is Yuuri’s home country, and if the impression Viktor’s gotten is correct, he’ll be ruling it soon. The air leaves his chest in a rush and for an instant, he’s unsteady on his feet. Constant shifts between shock and pure adrenaline have rendered him numb. Yuuri’s a prince. Yuuri will be king. His entire understanding of the world around him has been turned on its axis in one dizzying revelation, and his mind is reeling in the aftermath.

Yuuri’s visibly anxious, but barely so, and there’s nothing Viktor can do to assuage it beyond the superficial. When Yuuri’s stressed, he relies heavily on his support system back in Detroit, whether it’s going to the rink after hours to skate, or Minako’s ballet studio a few blocks down. Phichit has promised to Skype, but Viktor knows Phichit’s particular brand of comfort is best given in-person, with a cup of something warm and a movie on the television. Usually The King and The Skater. None of that is an option, and the severity and sheer urgency of the situation is daunting. He wraps his arms around Yuuri in reassurance. I’m here. You’re not alone. After briefly leaning into the hug, Yuuri takes a deep breath, before his need to escape seems to kick in, and he moves towards the glass doors, pulling his luggage behind him.

The chatter grows louder the closer they get to the exit. Yuuri seemingly doesn’t pay attention, but bits of intelligible conversation make their way into Viktor’s ears.

“-I hear it’s an important diplomat wh-“

“-rumor about the Prince returning-“

“-and the Queen of England is vis-“

“-it could be a celebrity, you never know-“

 

The chatter turns into an endless roar, and Viktor pushes away his growing nerves to focus on Yuuri’s lumpy beanie, following him through the airport. The crowds are thicker towards the door, bodies moving through and against each other in a suffocating mass. The exit they’d originally headed toward is blocked on both sides now, the crowd on the sidewalk expanding steadily. Yuuri turns abruptly towards a farther exit, shoulders relaxing slightly as they get out of the main group of people. Viktor catches up to Yuuri, grabbing his hand gently.

Yuuri stops, suddenly, and Viktor very narrowly misses hitting his leg with his suitcase. Yuuri stares determinedly at the floor, hands holding tightly to his luggage handles. “Vitya, I… I'm… I’m so sorry,” he says quietly. He glances nervously at the still-growing crowd they've just escaped, then to the guards steadily surrounding them to keep the onlookers away, and back at the floor. Viktor hugs him quickly.

“We’re going to be fine, Yuuri,” he says as reassuringly as he can despite the anxiety coursing through him. “We can talk about things when it’s calmed down.” Yuuri nods, scratches his nose with his sleeve, and turns toward the exit. Taking a moment to breathe, Yuuri moves his shoulders back as he takes on a distinctly regal air, letting himself settle into it like a well-worn jacket before walking determinedly towards the door. They’re met by two uniformed attendants, who, with a bow and a quick “welcome back, Your Royal Highness,” immediately take Yuuri’s luggage from him. Once his messenger bag’s been handed over, Yuuri glances back at Viktor and looks at them expectantly. It seems natural. It feels wrong.

“Mr. Nikiforov’s as well, please,” he says when no one moves, “since he’s here as my personal guest.” It’s more of an order than a request, and the attendants both bow before the second moves to Viktor.

“I’ll be taking care of your bags, Mr. Nikiforov,” he says curtly. Viktor yanks off his scarf and shoves it haphazardly in his carry-on before handing everything over in a daze. The difference in Yuuri’s demeanor is striking, the authority and expectation in his voice completely at odds with what Viktor’s come to expect. He adjusts his jacket and runs his fingers through his hair, and before he has time to ready himself the doors are opening. The Royal Guard has formed an aisle of sorts for them to walk through towards the waiting limousine, keeping the throng of people at bay. Still, camera flashes go wild as the crowd roars, clamoring to get a good look at the returning prince. As Yuuri passes, each guard lowers their head briefly, waiting a beat before straightening. Viktor walks a few steps behind with his best smile plastered across his face.

When they arrive at the limousine, the driver is waiting at the ready. “Your Royal Highness, welcome home” he says, bowing deeply as he opens the door. He gestures for them to get in, saying, “if it pleases you, Sir.” Yuuri looks up at Viktor, nods at the driver, then turns to face the crowd with a jarringly convincing smile. Standing proudly, he gives a nod and greets the people with a short wave.  

After Yuuri slides gracefully across the seat, Viktor is rushed in with a “please, Mr. Nikiforov, if you don’t mind,” plopping unceremoniously onto the soft leather. The last of the suitcases are loaded into the trunk, and Viktor feels the car shake as the lid slams closed. Yuuri is sitting ramrod-straight in the seat beside him, tense, wide eyes staring anxiously at the partition separating them from the driver while they pull out of the airport.

Viktor leans forward to ask a question but before it leaves his mouth, Yuuri shakes his head, giving a pointed glance at the driver’s seat. He doesn’t want to be overheard. It’s just as well, because as Viktor leans back, the partition slides down. The driver’s face is visible in the rear-view mirror, and he tries to give Yuuri a reassuring smile.

“It must be good to be home, Your Highness.”

Yuuri gives a noncommittal grunt, before seeming to remember himself. “Yes,” he says, “it is.”

“It’s been what, fifteen years?”

“Thereabouts.” Yuuri brushes his hands down his legs in an attempt to steady himself. His face remains neutral, but the way he rubs his thigh with his thumb tells Viktor he’d rather not deal with the driver’s questioning. Viktor reaches over and takes his hand, squeezing it gently. Yuuri gives him a small smile, squeezing his hand in return.

The driver shakes his head, following the police escort through a red light. “Pity the circumstances, though, what with the king falling ill.”

“Indeed.” Each response is more clipped than the last, as Yuuri closes his eyes, taking deep, purposeful breaths while his fingers grip Viktor’s hand. Viktor holds tightly in return, attempting to ground himself as much as he’s trying to comfort Yuuri. They turn down increasingly older streets, buildings more and more traditional as they make their way to the palace. Belatedly, Viktor realizes that cars are pulling to the side of the road, some have people leaning out the windows with cell phones, and he takes a moment to appreciate the heavily-tinted windows of the limo.

They reach a set of ornate gates. The Royal Palace. Yuuri swallows thickly, glancing up at the massive building anxious and afraid and his hands start trembling violently. Using his thumb, Viktor does his best to rub reassurance into the back of Yuuri’s hand while trying to slow his own heartbeat. The trip up the brick driveway is short, and the motorcade comes to a stop smoothly but quickly in front of the main entrance to the palace. Viktor barely registers a near-hyperventilating Yuuri scrambling across the seat and getting out of the car before he’s chasing after him.

 

The attendant waiting by the door falls into step with Yuuri, walking just beside him. “Welcome home, Sir,” she says as another shiver crawls up Viktor’s spine, “Her Royal Highness sincerely regrets that she was not able to greet you upon your arrival. A communication error meant she went out front, rather than to the rear entrance. She’s making her way back in to meet you as we speak.” Yuuri nods, heading into an area marked ‘Off Limits’ without a second thought. The armed guards on either side merely bow as he walks through, holding it until Viktor’s passed.

“And my mother?” Yuuri asks. His voice shaking, he takes a subtly deep breath as the attendant continues.

“The Queen has been pulled aside to talk to the doctor, Your Highness. She intends to meet you in the King’s bedchambers once she’s done. It shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.” Yuuri nods again, striding through the halls with a dogged determination Viktor’s rarely seen. His heart skips in his chest, leaving him near-gasping as he looks around.

The private wing is no less lavish than the areas open to the public, though it does feel somewhat more intimate. Yuuri, unusually distant, doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t slow down they make their way through the corridors. “How have my mother and sister been holding up?” He asks, and for the first time since they left the baggage claim, Viktor can hear the fear thrumming under the surface. His hands itch to take Yuuri’s, to comfort him and reassure him and just hold him close, but he shoves them in his pockets to avoid reaching out. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like it would go over particularly well.

“Word among the staff is they’re doing as well as they can be considering the circumstances, Sir, but I don’t work with them directly, so I’m not able to say. My apologies.” She navigates the hallways easily, Yuuri following just a fraction of a step behind. His demeanor has gone from merely distant to completely aloof, panic at a level Viktor’s never seen in him before. Viktor swallows, taking in Yuuri’s labored breathing and the tears he’s blinking back as his own anxiety throbs in the background and a new wave crashes through him, pulling the air from his lungs as the world spins uncomfortably. He shakes his head, takes a deep breath as tight heat coils in his throat. Save the panic for later. For now, he stays with Yuuri. They turn down a hallway lined with paintings. All apparently of former kings.

Pulling off his beanie and shoving it in his pocket, Yuuri glances around and Viktor follows his gaze to the curtained painting at the end. The current king and Yuuri’s father, it seems. Subtly wiping a tear away, Yuuri takes one terrified glance back in Viktor’s direction before steeling himself as they come before an ornate set of double doors, held open by two attendants waiting with a low bow. Yuuri breaks into a jog, disappearing through a throng of people moving quickly around the center of the room. Viktor himself enters, following Yuuri through what looks like a sitting area before he reaches a bedroom, eyes immediately drawn to a large bed in the center.

 

A frail, middle-aged man is propped up at the head of the bed, pillows dwarfing his gaunt frame. Machines surround him, blood pressure monitor slowly but steadily beeping. An IV pole lays abandoned but ready in the corner, and a group of doctors stand to the side. Yuuri is seated on the edge of the bed, holding the man’s hand and leaning close to him, speaking in a low voice. Tears are gathering at the corners of his eyes, and Viktor can hear strained whispers, the words “I missed you so much,” as Yuuri chokes back a sob. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Yuuri leans over his father, hushed voices filling the room. Silence descends as Yuuri shifts position, nervously smoothing his t-shirt and jeans, coat askew and hair sticking up all over the place.

The steady, slow chirp of the machinery turns abruptly into an extended tone, lines on the screen going flat. Doctors surround the bed as Yuuri moves swiftly aside, whispering and gesturing quickly amongst themselves. One does chest compressions, while another presses their index and middle finger to the king’s wrist, and then the side of his neck. It’s only when the doctors turn off the machine and step back from the bed, shaking their heads that Viktor realizes what’s happened. He looks quickly towards Yuuri. Panic and horror and despair flash briefly across Yuuri’s face, quickly hidden behind a somber expression. Viktor looks back at the bed, the late king still propped up against his pillows looking, for all the world, like he’s merely sleeping.

He turns his gaze back to Yuuri. To most people in the room, Yuuri is the picture of composure, back straight, eyes open, face set with grim determination, but Viktor sees the slight tremor in his hands, the carefully controlled breathing. His glistening eyes are just a bit wider than normal, teeth subtly worrying the inside of his bottom lip. It’s clear to Viktor that Yuuri is most definitely not okay. Already pale, Yuuri turns a ghastly shade of white as a voice rings throughout the room.

“The king is dead! Long Live the King!”

A chorus of voices respond, “Long Live the King!”

The next thing Viktor knows, everyone in the room drops to one knee, save himself and Yuuri. As a palace attendant pulls him down, forcing him to kneel, Viktor sees another flicker of pain in Yuuri’s eyes.  He doesn’t have time to figure out what’s going to happen next before a flurry of activity begins. Palace staff move around and between them frantically, and Viktor is pushed further and further towards the edge of the room. As Yuuri is swept away by a group of stone-faced guards, he looks back at Viktor, pleading with wide eyes, stay, please, I can explain.

Please don’t leave me, I need you.

Viktor feels a hand grasp his arm, and barely registers himself moving as an attendant guides him through the maze of hallways that make up the palace.  He’s led into a lavish apartment with sitting area with a desk, table, and fireplace. Near the hearth is a door to a large bedroom holding a plush four-post bed. Another door goes off the bedroom, likely a bathroom. His luggage is already placed neatly by the bed, scarf he’d yanked off folded and laid gently on a pillow. Viktor’s apartment in St. Petersburg is nice, but this? This is a different level entirely. For the first time in his life, he feels like he’s truly in over his head.

“Please remain in your chambers until His Royal Majesty sends for you,” the attendant says sharply.

Viktor turns around, a million questions on his tongue, only to see the door slide shut, latch clicking with a grim finality.  His mouth opens and closes as he stands there, eyes wide, trying to sort out what just happened.

Yuuri’s father just died.

Yuuri’s father was the King.

Yuuri was the Crown Prince.

His shy, anxious barista boyfriend… is the new King of Sachima.

 

He paces frantically around the room, glancing at his phone often enough that time seems to crawl agonizingly slowly. An hour later, Viktor is carefully examining the ornate clock on the mantle, silently willing the hands to move faster. His phone shows no new notifications, his near-desperate texts to Yuuri remaining unread. He’d given up on calling after the fourth time he got Yuuri’s voicemail. He takes another lap around the room, pausing to look out the floor-length windows near the bed. Snow falls quietly outside, dusting the palace grounds with a glittering, pristine layer. Viktor holds his hands against the window panes, finding comfort in the chill leaking in from outside. The atmosphere is suddenly entirely too stuffy, and his breath catches in his throat. He looks for a latch, any latch on the window, to provide relief, to fill his lungs with anything but the suffocating warmth of the bedroom. In his quest for fresh air, Viktor discovers a handle, and pushing it down, a door opens to the private balcony.

He walks across the stone to the railing, brushing snowflakes off quickly to provide a place to rest his arms. The full moon provides plenty of light, throwing the palace into sharp relief against the dark sky. Millions of stars glitter overhead, cold, echoing the snow on the ground. Closing his eyes, he leans over the edge of the balcony, taking deep breaths of fresh winter air. The cold wakes him up, grounds him, but provides none of the answers Viktor seeks.

Another question works its way out of the depths of Viktor’s subconscious, bringing with it an icy, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Was anything we had real?

He does his best to will the feeling away. He walks back inside, leaving the door ajar. Removing his jacket in the still-warm room offers a sense of relief, and he drapes it across the back of an armchair near the empty fireplace. Kicking his shoes off near the entrance, he spies a pair of plush, embroidered slippers. Shrugging, he puts them on. The top buttons of his shirt are undone to the collar of his sweater, giving him more room to breathe.

A knock sounds at the door. Viktor opens it to see a man with a cart.

“I have brought your dinner, Mr. Nikiforov, at the request of His Royal Majesty.”

Dumbfounded, Viktor can only stare as he pushes the small cart past him. Viktor watches as a small tureen is taken off and set on the table, next to it a bowl of rolls. A matching porcelain soup bowl is placed in front of one chair, silverware next to it, and the attendant ladles a hearty stew into the bowl. Ladle returned to the tureen, and the lid put on, the attendant rolls the now-empty cart to the door and turns with a short bow.

“Is there anything else you require?”

“Some answers would be nice,” Viktor bites out.

“I’m unable to do that, sir, though I understand the king intends to summon you at his earliest convenience. Is there anything else you need, Mr. Nikiforov?” His voice is unaffected, cool and detached, and his face betrays no emotion.

“Where’s Yuuri?”

“I’m unable to give any further information sir, if there’s nothing else, I will take my leave. Someone will be in later to collect the tableware.” He heads out the door before turning, giving a short bow, and shutting it firmly behind him.

Viktor sits at the table. The rolls are soft, still warm, and there’s a small, chilled dish of butter next to them. He rips one in half, dipping it into the stew before taking a bite. His stomach growls, and he tucks in. His phone is silent on the table next to him while he eats. No matter how often he glances at it, there are no new notifications. Not from Yuuri.

 

Dinner finished, he stacks the dishes on the corner of the table and busies himself with the selection of teas next to an electric kettle on the desk. Many of the teas available are unfamiliar, but Viktor finds an Earl Grey that smells good, and turns on the kettle.

He’s staring at the empty fireplace, lost in thought, when the beeping kettle indicates the water is boiling. After dropping the tea bag in and filling the cup, there’s another knock on the door. Opening it, he sees another attendant with a cart.

“I’m here to collect the dinner dishes, Mr. Nikiforov.”

“Can you tell me what’s going on?”

The attendant shifts uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, sir,” she says, “but we’re unable to comment on anything at this time.”

“I’m not a journalist, for fuck’s sake, I’m – “

“Regardless, sir,” she says with a bow, “it’s not my place. We have our orders. If you’ll allow me to collect the dishware?”

Viktor lets her in with narrowed eyes, watching as she starts clearing the table.

“Why can’t you comment?” He asks, almost angrily. “Why can’t I talk to Yuuri? Can you at least tell him I want to see him?”

The attendant looks at him as she puts the tureen on the cart next to the rest of the dishes. “I’ll be sure your request is put through the proper channels.” Pulling out a cloth, she wipes down the table, leaving it as spotless as it was when Viktor arrived.

“Can you ask him directly?”

“I don’t have access to His Royal Majesty, sir, I just work in the kitchens. I’ll put your request in, though.” She pushes the cart towards the door.

“Is he ok? At least tell me that much, is…is Yuuri ok?”

“His Majesty is in meetings right now, Mr. Nikiforov. There’s much to be done, in light of the late king’s death. I can’t say anything beyond that, sir, my apologies.” She bows again, quickly, before vanishing out the door.

 

He settles on the couch a few minutes later, sipping his tea in a desperate bid to calm his nerves. Things start to make more sense, the more he thinks about them, but he still doesn’t understand. He knows what’s going on, if barely, but the circumstances that led to this point are as shrouded in mystery as ever. Pulling out his phone, he brings up Google. A quick search of “sachima secret prince” brings up hundreds, thousands, of articles about the “Exiled Prince.” It’s a press moniker, but there’s little information of value about the circumstances of the prince’s disappearance. Viktor wades through conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, UFO abductions vie for attention with celebrity secret identities and kidnapping plots. There’s an impressively extensive article “proving” he’s been killed and has been cryogenically frozen for years. It’s all useless for Viktor’s purposes. There is plenty of tabloid speculation, but it all runs in circles and gives the same exact information.

Searching “sachima royal family prince” gets him better results. Here, there are more articles about the family as a unit. Every article stops mentioning him in-depth after the age of seven or so. One says only that he left under mysterious circumstances, others that he went into hiding. The royal family has been incredibly tight-lipped about his whereabouts, only confirming, on occasion, that the prince is alive and doing well.

The pictures in the articles are all of a serious-looking child with a small layer of baby fat. “ Yuuri,” he thinks, and there's a sharp pang in his gut. Scrolling shows him pictures of a young, fresh-faced Yuuri meeting dignitaries, playing with the children of world leaders… It almost seems an impossibility. He taps one of Yuuri looking up at an older man with a smile, holding his hand while a parade passes by. Searching the page for a caption, he reads:

HRM King Toshiya of Sachima on a rare trip out and about with his son, HRH Crown Prince Yuuri, who is fascinated by New Year’s celebrations in the capital city of Hasetsu (January, 1996).

 

It’s hard to see Yuuri as anyone but, well, Yuuri. His Yuuri, who makes the best coffee in the world and jokes with his roommate, who watches every one of Viktor’s competitions without fail and gets flustered at the oddest times. His Beloved, who’s charming and sweet, and tries his best to cook, and is the sort of combination of adorable and beautiful Viktor’s not entirely sure should be legal. Yuuri who pole dances when he’s drunk and turns into a burrito when he’s anxious, who brings bagels and coffee over when Viktor is injured and walks his dog, and who randomly quotes The King and the Skater because he’s seen it more times than he can count, even if it’s nowhere near his favorite movie for any reason beyond the sentimental. Viktor’s Yuuri stays up too late to just beat that one boss before he sleeps (or goes to straight to work) and seems to subsist entirely on takeout, tea, and coffee.

But then, the more he thinks about it, the easier it is to see bits and pieces of what was hiding under the surface. Things as small as his lack of cooking experience and the awkward hesitation he always has just before telling Viktor something about his childhood make a startling amount of sense, as does how he carries himself. Yuuri, when he allows himself to, moves through the world with grace and formidable determination and confidence, at the same time unfailingly kind and thoughtful and generous. Sometimes, though, he just has this air about him. A presence that commands attention in and of itself – without relying on showmanship – and a tone of voice that’s used to being heard. It’s suddenly very easy to see Yuuri in this life, and Viktor can’t figure out if that makes things better or worse.

He’s brought abruptly back to reality when his lips are met with a shock of cold liquid. Staring down at the teacup he’s holding, he frowns. Setting the cup and saucer on the coffee table, he adjusts his position so his head rests comfortably on one arm of the couch, ankles crossed and resting on the other. Placing his phone on the coffee table next to his unfinished tea, he rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling as exhaustion washes over him.

He knows Yuuri loves him, he does.

He’s madly infatuated with Yuuri, himself.

But how much of that infatuation is based on a lie? He feels a lump form in his throat. His chest tightens as he swallows the tears threatening to spill over. Intuition tells him that he does know Yuuri, the real Yuuri, and that the somber dignity he’d seen earlier was the mask, but there’s a small part of him that can’t help but wonder. Yuuri had slipped so easily into the role, so perfectly into the authority and bearing required by his station, but there was nothing to cause Viktor to think Yuuri was anyone but who he'd said— implied —he was.

There is nothing to lead him to think Yuuri’s affection, his love, has been anything but genuine, but how much does that truly mean in light of what he’s learned?

He’s been lied to before, used as a stepping stone to prestige or for someone’s fifteen minutes of fame by colleagues, friends, and romantic partners on more occasions than he likes to admit, and each time had hurt as much as the first until he’d stopped trusting people entirely. And now he’s given his heart away to a man he thought he knew.

A sob is ripped from his chest as he claps his hands over his mouth, tears streaming down his face.

Yuuri is royalty.

Yuuri could potentially have any suitor he wants.

Yuuri has known who Viktor was from the second he laid eyes on him.

Does he want his Vitya, or does he want the additional prestige of being with four-time World Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist Viktor Nikiforov?

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he thinks bitterly, and although there’s still a part of him that believes Yuuri would never do that, a far greater part reminds him that when it comes to Yuuri, he knows nothing. He curls up on his side, back towards the rest of the room, and lets the tears run down his face unhindered until he’s swept into a fitful sleep.

Chapter Text

Short, light knocks on the door rouse Viktor from his slumber. He sits up, shivering, rubbing his swollen eyes blearily. His phone is dead on the table next to his forgotten tea, but the clock on the mantle over the now-empty fireplace reads 6 am. Running his fingers through his hair, he sighs. He puts his phone on the charger, turning it on, and after another, more urgent series of knocks, makes his way across the room. He stops in front of the door, taking a deep breath, ready to demand answers from whichever unfortunate attendant is on the other side.  Pulling the door open quickly, he opens his mouth as well, only to stop short when Yuuri squeezes his way into the room and closes the door firmly behind him, yanking off his shoes before he comes to stand in front of Viktor.

As haggard as Viktor feels, Yuuri looks much worse. He’s in fresh, traditional clothing, with loose black pants tucked into boots and a deep blue kimono-style shirt with silver embroidery up one side. Rather than disguising Yuuri’s fatigue, it almost emphasizes it. Dark circles frame Yuuri’s eyes, gaunt cheeks making him look almost skeletal. Hands twisting around each other quickly, Yuuri manages impeccable posture while still seeming, somehow, to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. Trembling, Yuuri looks lost, almost disoriented, and when Viktor opens his arms, it takes a second before Yuuri falls into them. Hands gripping the fabric of Viktor’s sweater, Yuuri clings desperately as the trembling grows stronger.

A high, keening whine emerges from his throat, followed by choked sobs. His body shakes, face buried in Viktor’s shoulder. A lump forms in Viktor’s throat again. He tightens his embrace, pulling Yuuri closer to him, trying to tell him he’s safe even as Viktor’s words fail him. Feeling helpless to stop the tears, he presses a kiss to Yuuri’s forehead.

He can help when it’s Yuuri’s anxiety. He can help when Yuuri’s caught up in a movie or show, or just having a bad day. But he has no real experience with grief like this. He can’t stop the tidal wave of emotions, and any platitudes he can come up with never make it past the planning stage.

Viktor’s never been good with people crying, even for trivial reasons, but now the man he loves has lost his father and gained the expectations of, and responsibility for, an entire country in the span of one night. A country he hasn’t seen in years.

How do you comfort someone after that?

After a few long minutes, Yuuri’s crying slows down to choked sobs punctuated by hiccups. He makes small noises into Viktor’s neck, and it takes Viktor a few seconds to understand them for the words they are.

An unending stream of I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I never meant for this to happen I love you so much and I’m so sorry, he’s gone, I haven’t seen him in over a decade I couldn’t-I’m so, so sorry Vitya, my Vityusha bubbles from Yuuri’s throat. His shoulders start shaking again and Viktor pulls him tighter. He hates that this is what’s reassuring, that Yuuri’s anxiety, Yuuri’s emotions are what tells him it’s real rather than the months they’ve been together.

“Yuuri,” he says gently. Yuuri looks up at him, face blotchy and wet and terrified . “Yuuri, I’m not just going to run away, I won’t abandon you like this.”

Tears well up in Yuuri’s eyes, running down his cheeks. Viktor rubs his back as he keeps hugging him.

They’re interrupted by sharp rapping on the door.

Yuuri nods for Viktor to answer it as he busies himself wiping off his face. He blows his nose softly, discarding the tissue, and as he takes a deep breath, Viktor sees an eerie calm come over him, his face molding itself into one of somber determination. A shudder crawls up Viktor’s spine.

When Yuuri nods, Viktor lets the attendant in.

“Your Majesty,” the attendant starts, and Viktor doesn’t miss Yuuri twitch beside him. “The chef would like to know what you and Mr. Nikiforov would like for your breakfasts.”

Yuuri requests oatmeal for himself and strong coffee, and Viktor orders eggs and toast. The attendant nods and gives a small bow, closing the door as they back into the hall.

Yuuri shudders as Viktor wraps his arms around him. “I’m never going to get used to that,” he says shakily. Viktor looks at him, vaguely puzzled. “Y-your Majesty. That’s,” Yuuri’s voice catches in his throat, “that’s always been my father’s title. For as long as I can remember, almost. It never really hit me it was going to be mine.” He curls into Viktor’s hug. “I’m not ready for it to be mine,” he chokes out around a sob.

Viktor tightens his embrace, pulling Yuuri as close as he can. “May his memory be a blessing,” he says softly. He rests one hand on the back of Yuuri’s head, pressing his lips against the mop of black hair in front of him. They stay like this, for a while, taking comfort in each other’s arms. Viktor whispers a litany of reassurances into Yuuri’s hair, I’m here, you’re not alone, I’ve got you. It takes a while for the crying to subside, and Yuuri’s just cleaning up in the bathroom when the food is delivered by a pair of attendants, one of whom lights a new fire to warm the room.

When Yuuri comes out, Viktor’s sitting at the table. Yuuri sits opposite him, pouring a cup of coffee before meeting Viktor’s gaze. He bites his lower lip. Tears well up in the corners of his eyes and he takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I'm sorry,” he says abruptly. “Vitya, I'm so, so sorry, I never meant for it to happen like this.” His mug trembles in his hands as he takes a sip. “I never- this wasn't how you were supposed to find out, they wouldn’t let me say anything, the security team, they—”

“They wouldn’t let you tell me?” Cold anger seeps into his voice, and Yuuri looks up at him, almost scared. “Yuuri,” Viktor says gently, and he can’t help but think of the pain, the melancholy, the sheer guilt he’s been seeing on Yuuri’s face with increasing frequency, “is this why you’ve been so stressed?”

Yuuri nods, relieved. “I tried, Vitya, especially over the last couple of months,” he says barely above a whisper. Eyes fixed on the table in front of him, he rubs his thumb along the handle of his mug. “I tried, and they kept saying no and I couldn’t… if I’d told you without them saying I could I…” Taking a shuddering breath, Yuuri bites his lower lip as he meets Viktor’s eyes. “If I’d said it the airport, they might have detained you. I don’t know how they’d have justified it or how long it would have lasted, but they’d have made a fuss. Before, though… if I’d told you they would have made me move. Change identities. You wouldn’t have seen me again, they’d have made sure of it.” He pushes his oatmeal around in the bowl, adding milk and brown sugar before mixing it up.

He’s left stunned as the gravity of Yuuri’s situation over the past few months hits him. “So this… this entire time, you’ve…”

“Vitya, I promise, I tried. I fought with them every day for weeks to rush it through, and they kept having issues of some sort or another, and I couldn’t… I debated telling you in secret. I wanted to, but there’s… My movements have been controlled and tracked by a security team,” he says, “ever since I left home. They’ve had an agent in every city I’ve lived in, in case of emergency, but I had no idea who they were. They could have been my boss, a customer, a random worker at the university… it could have been anyone, Vitya, even your next-door neighbor, and after I’d told them I wanted to tell you they would have been watching. Scrutinizing everything for some sign that you knew and I couldn’t risk it.”

“You didn't trust me?”

“I did, but that wouldn't have mattered to them if they suspected I might have told you. You're a public figure, Vitya. A slip-up from you, even a small one, could have been disastrous.” His lip trembles as a tear runs down his cheek. “I love you so much. I was so scared of losing you, Vityusha. Terrified. I was already losing my dad, and my life in Detroit. I was happy for the first time in years. I didn’t want this to end before it had to.”

“You assumed I was going to leave?”

Yuuri looks down, curling in on himself further. “Vitya, this… this is a lot. I… I didn’t necessarily assume, but it was safer to plan for that rather than assuming you were going to stay.”

“Is it even possible to make this work, Yuuri? Can we do it?” he asks, searching Yuuri’s face for an answer. Yuuri takes a bite of oatmeal and chews, before swallowing and setting his spoon down.

“I… I don’t know. I want to. I think we could, I just don’t know what obstacles there are.”

“What do you mean?”

Yuuri takes another bite, swallowing quickly. “I… In the entire history of my family no one’s ever married a commoner, and I don’t know if that’s because there’s a law against it, or if it’s just highly frowned upon. My mother was a lower-born noble and my dad had a hell of a time getting people to approve of them.” Taking a sip of coffee, Yuuri lets his eyes scan over Viktor. “That, and you’re foreign. It’s one thing for common citizens to marry foreigners but god forbid a royal do it. Potential legal ramifications aside, Vityusha, there’s a lot that comes with this. A lot more risk, too.”

“What kind of risk?” Viktor leans forward, getting to work on his breakfast as well.

“I was… when I was seven there was an assassination attempt that almost worked,” Yuuri says, “which is why I was sent out of the country for fifteen years. I was hiding. We were trying to keep me safe.” His tone is strangely matter-of-fact, and he frowns at his oatmeal, adds more sugar, and sighs. “So there’s… there’s that. And a lot more responsibility. We’d have to make appearances, you’d have to show up at court with me sometimes, get good with titles and everything. You have to use mine, by the way,” he says as he turns red. “Not here, not in private, but in front of the staff, for now, and especially in front of literally anyone else.”

“Your family?”

“It depends on the situation. In private, no, and I imagine they’ll allow for less formal forms of address as well. When you meet them later, use my title until I… give you… permission,” he says quietly. “You’re going to need my permission for a lot of things, as far as court is concerned.” Biting his lower lip, his eyes scan the table in front of him. “If we play our cards right and your approval is good, we’ll have a stronger chance, especially if there are legal issues. Social acceptance will come with time, and I’ll have to work on that from the beginning.”

Viktor nods, chewing his toast.

“I figure…” Yuuri trails off, frowning as he takes a sip of coffee. “So much of dealing with titles is knowing when to use them, so here’s a system. If I call you Mr. Nikiforov that’s ‘Your Majesty’ and ‘King’ absolutely. If it’s Viktor, use titles in front of people you don’t know, outside of the staff. If it’s Vitya, you can call me whatever you want.”

“Makes sense,” he replies. “Yuuri?” he says, getting a hum in response. “Did Lilia know? At Nationals?”

Leaning back, Yuuri nods. “She did. I asked her not to tell, since the Palace hadn’t approved of you knowing. Minako-sensei… my teacher from Detroit, she originally worked here with me and came out to teach etiquette and social skills and help prepare me to take the throne. She asked Madame Lilia to help me out as a favor, as a normal student, of course, because she assumed if Madame Lilia didn’t figure it out, she’d do it as a favor to Minako-sensei. If she did, her close relationship with my family would keep her from telling anyone. It was a safe bet. I wasn’t going to tell her, but she recognized my scar,” he says as he rubs his forearm. “The one from the goose bite. It normally… This is my day-to-day wardrobe here.” He holds up his arms in demonstration, the fitted sleeves staying put while the bell sleeves of the kimono-style shirt fall to his elbows, “and it has been since I was a child. This means most people who weren’t close staff and family had never seen my arms. So I never thought to cover the scar. I never needed to. Problem was, she was there when I got it. When I got injured, Minako-sensei was the one to patch me up, and Madame Lilia was there talking to me to distract me. She knew who I was the instant she saw my arm.”

“She was acting strange around you.”

“She really tried not to,” he says around another bite of oatmeal, “seriously. You should see how she treats me next time she comes to court.”

“She bent over backwards to keep you as far away from press as possible,” Viktor replies, “she wouldn’t do that even for us unless the situation was really bad.” That hardly seems like normal behavior for her on the best of days.

“Vitya,” Yuuri says softly. “I was a Crown Prince. You have to understand, she’s only ever treated me with the respect the title requires. She’s curtsied to me before, and I was like, six. In Russia, she was calling me by name, any name, and not reacting when everyone was doing their thing with me, save the bit with Yuri. Trust me, she was trying.” At this point, he really has no choice but to believe Yuuri. So much of what he knows is being rewritten in his mind, his perception of his world changing drastically.

“Phichit knew too,” Viktor says, voice heavy, “didn’t he? He knew what he was asking when he asked if you were going home.”

Nodding, Yuuri sighs. “He’s known since about… six months after we moved in together. They took a week to do his background check, which… I’d expected to be able to tell you long before now, Vitya. I thought I’d have a few weeks with that timing but it took… unusually long for them to process your paperwork. Anyway he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so he couldn’t tell you. I… thought about that option, too.”

“Celestino?”

“No,” Yuuri says. “Ciao Ciao has- had no idea. I’m sure he’s found out by now. It was just my bodyguard, Minako-sensei, and Phichit that knew, aside from the nameless agent-person.” Leaning forward, he squares his shoulders. “Vitya, I know you have a lot of questions. I do. And I know there’s a lot we have to figure out I just… right now…” He takes a hitched breath, swallowing new tears. “I just can’t, right now. I can’t. We- we’re having the funeral for my father tomorrow and- and the day after that is my coronation,” voice breaking as he reigns in his grief, he shudders. “Today I have to make announcement speeches and meet with some of the department heads from different areas of the government, and the nobility, and then I have fittings later, for clothes, I need an entire new wardrobe and the event outfits have to be tailored and—”

“Yuuri,” Viktor says as he reaches across the table. Yuuri doesn’t look at him, but takes shuddering breaths, hands in his lap as he tries to calm himself. “Yuuri,” he says again, “I understand. There’s a lot happening. We’ll have time to talk when everything’s done.” Disbelieving, Yuuri looks up at him with a raised eyebrow. “You’ll have time to figure out what we’re up against in terms of laws and stuff, and we can discuss that, too. Get all the talking out of the way at once, when you’re not so pressed for time.”

Yuuri nods, reaching out to take Viktor's hand. “I’ll set aside a day. You… after all of this, especially, you deserve to get a thorough explanation.”

“I can’t argue with that,” he replies fondly. “Let’s just get through the next few days, Lyubov.”

Taking a deep breath, Yuuri nods again. “After the coronation, Vitya.”

“After the coronation,” Viktor repeats.

Glancing at his watch, Yuuri takes another shaky breath before blowing his nose, depositing the tissue in a nearby trash can.

“I should leave, soon. I’ll have someone give you a tour, okay? You can get a feel for the layout of the palace. There might be cute pictures of me around, I haven’t checked. I’ll see you for lunch?” He wipes at his face, takes a deep breath, and sighs.

Viktor nods. “That sounds good.”

“If you need anything, Viktor, let them know,” he says. “They’ll take care of it, get it figured out. If they give you trouble, tell them to talk to me directly. I'll get it sorted.”

They stand, and after Yuuri's pulled his boots back on, Viktor pulls him into his arms. “Yuuri,” he says softly, “lyubov moya.” Yuuri turns to face him, placing his hand on his chest.

“Yes, Vityusha?”

“One last question before you go?” Viktor runs his fingers️ down Yuuri’s cheek.

“Anything,” Yuuri says, breathy and quietly radiant in the morning light.

Viktor smiles, a twinkle in his eye. “Why did you use your real name if you were in hiding? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive?”

Yuuri scowls, before letting out a short laugh. “We thought it would be a good idea for me to get used to being called ‘Yuuri’ again, and it’s a pretty common name. Not distinctive at all. I used completely fake names at the start.”

“And at the end?” Viktor asks curiously.

“Katsuki’s an assumed name, though I am fond of it, I've been using it since high school. I don’t actually have a family name.” Kissing Viktor, his sigh is a mix of happiness and dread. “I have my phone now, it was in my bag last night and I couldn’t figure out where they put it, sorry, but I have it now so I should… hopefully be able to text. Depends on what I can get away with.”

Chuckling, Viktor pulls him closer. “Don’t get in trouble on my account,” he says, before kissing Yuuri’s nose.

“What’re they going to do? Yell at the king?” Yuuri grins, but something makes his face fall. He sighs. “Probably, actually. I need… I need to impress them, make them see me as an actual monarch. I’ll try to text on breaks, Vitya, but otherwise I won’t be available.”

“I understand, Lyubov,” Viktor says, kissing his forehead. “I understand. Do what you need to do.”

Arms tighten around Viktor as Yuuri nods.

“I love you, Vitya,” he says as he pulls back.

Viktor kisses him then, a peck on the nose and each cheek. Smirking, he pulls out his favorite lip balm. Dipping his finger in the small tub, he applies it gently to Yuuri’s lips watching the blush spreads across his cheeks. When Viktor finishes, Yuuri habitually rubs his lips together, smacking them once. Viktor holds out the container.

“Here,” he says. “Your lips are chapped, you need to take care of them.”

With a shy smile on his face, Yuuri kisses him before excitedly putting it in a pocket. “It’s almost like kissing you,” he says quietly.

“I know,” Viktor replies with a smile, “I love you, Yuuri.” They share a moment resting their foreheads against each other, only parting when Yuuri’s alarm rings. He pulls the phone out of the flap on his chest, silencing it with a sigh.

“I love you too,” he says fondly. “I’ll see you for lunch.” Viktor watches as the love of his life takes a deep breath, steels himself, and walks out the door.

 

~*~

 

When he’s coming out of the shower, Viktor’s phone goes off on its charger. He glances at it, tempted to ignore what seems to be the start of a deluge of questions, but decides otherwise when he sees Phichit’s name.

 

From: Phichit C.
<<<    i just saw the news.
<<<   are you ok? please tell me yuuri told you before you got there.

To: Phichit C.
>>>   I figured it out just after we landed.
>>>   He explained why, I’m not mad at him.
>>>   It’s just a lot to take in.

From: Phichit C.
<<<   have you seen him in Royal mode yet?

To: Phichit C.
>>>   Yes. Just before we left the airport.

From: Phichit C.
<<<   it’s weird, huh? seeing him like that?

To: Phichit C.
>>>   I thought you’ve known for years?

From: Phichit C.
<<<   yea but most of the time it felt like it wasn’t real?
<<<   his bodyguard used his title and such, so i kinda saw it when she was over
<<<   it was p casual, but still there
<<<   but at the same time
<<<   it was like you *say* you’re a prince
<<<   but you drive a chevy and wrap yourself in a blanket
<<<   shovel reheated takeout down your throat like a gremlin
<<<   and play video games all night and complain about being tired at work
<<<   so regal. such dignity. wow.

 

Viktor snorts. He towels off his hair, pulling on nice jeans and a sweater before letting himself fall onto the couch while he waits for whoever’s going to be giving him a tour.

 

From: Phichit C.
<<<   he wanted to tell you, you know. i did too
<<<   his bodyguard reminded me i’d signed an nda
<<<   and he didn't want to risk you
<<<   i honestly would have told
<<<   but if the palace found out…
<<<   i couldn’t make yuuri go through this alone, you know?
<<<   are you doing ok though? what’s going on? yuuri's not answering his texts

To: Phichit C.
>>>   I’m ok.
>>>   We talked a bit ago, but haven’t had the chance to talk about everything. We’re going to when stuff calms down.
>>>   The funeral’s tomorrow, coronation the next day.
>>>   He left his phone in his bag, but he should be able to respond soon.

From: Phichit C.
<<<   how’s he doing? he’s been a mess
<<<   you should have seen him yelling at the security team
<<<   it’s easy to forget he’s royal
<<<   well, it was but
<<<   yeah those fights reminded me

To: Phichit C.
>>>   He’s coping.
>>>   I haven’t seen much of him, but he’s pushing through.

From: Phichit C.
<<<   sounds like him. give him a hug for me?

To: Phichit C.
>>>   I will.

 

~*~

 

Viktor’s tour of the palace gives him fewer glimpses into Yuuri’s childhood than he’d expected. The palace is huge, the attendant at Viktor’s elbow briskly guiding him through the maze of corridors. Occasionally, they stop in a sitting room, or one devoted to displaying various artifacts and gifts to the Royal Family. A few times, he catches glimpses into ornate ballrooms and stately offices. He listens to the guide talk, telling him as much as she can about nearly everything in the palace. Of all the rooms he sees, his favorite is the library.

Walls of books are stacked high on two levels, between huge windows open to the grounds. Chairs, couches, and desks are strategically placed in the areas with the most light. He can imagine Yuuri spending afternoons here curled up with a book, or handheld game system as a child. Looking through the stacks, he sees books on every subject imaginable. Photos and paintings adorn the walls. In them, figures in widely varying clothing are posed carefully. Older paintings resemble those he’s seen on his visits to Japan, the clothing almost exactly the same. Some newer paintings, however, show a sudden and drastic switch. Here, clothing is mostly European style, all of the men in suits while most women stand awkwardly next to them in Western gowns. The next section of wall holds only one image, a giant painting hung above a desk. The family in it is back to traditional clothing, the stately man in the center proudly wearing a crown.

Viktor examines the wall for information about the painting, but the only plaque is in the Sachiman dialect of Japanese. Shortly, however, the guide approaches and starts explaining. “This is a portrait of His Royal Majesty’s grandfather, King Noboru, the first monarch in power after the sovereignty of our nation was fully restored.”

“The royal family was out of power, before?”

“In all but name, yes,” she replies. “We were taken over by Imperial Japan. Our cultures have always been similar, since we are both island nations and close enough in proximity for trade to flourish easily. We’d had a peaceful coexistence until Japan started colonizing the countries around them. We were one of the first they went after. Once we were overthrown, the Emperor established the title of ‘King’ as being lower than his, and wrested all power from the royal family.”

Viktor nods, contemplative.

“It was with England’s aid that we regained our independence, though their persistent meddling didn’t cease for more than another decade. It is for this reason that to this day, English is the language of use here in court.” She gestures at the painting with practiced elegance. “King Noboru took full governmental control back from the English upon his coronation, thanks to a series of cunning and effective negotiations. Since then, the crown has passed peacefully to King Toshiya, and now to King Yuuri, long may he reign.”

She guides Viktor further into the library, and they’re standing in front of the fireplace at the other end when Viktor lets out a gasp. A giant painting hangs between two open curtains. The late king stands in the center, dressed in a kimono, haori, and hakama, leather split-toed boots on his feet. Behind him, to either side, stand a stout woman and young teenaged girl, both in ornate kimono. In front of the woman, standing directly to the king’s left, is very young Yuuri in a similar outfit to his father’s. His face is bare of glasses, long hair slicked back into a small topknot. He’s smiling faintly, and Viktor wonders briefly if he got in trouble for fidgeting while the portrait was being taken. The older woman guiding him smiles and turns to move on.

Their next Yuuri-related stop is a sitting room very close to the throne room, clearly for dignitaries and guests of the king. This room holds another portrait of the Royal Family, a photograph taken probably months before Yuuri’s last days in the country.  Yuuri looks to be around seven, this time in Western-style military dress, long pants tucked into knee-high boots. He’s sitting almost casually in a chair next to his father, also in uniform, both looking somberly at the camera. His mother and sister stand behind them in the center, each dressed in layered kimono, stone-faced and staring into the lens. Viktor absently wonders if there are any pictures of Yuuri as a child where he’s smiling. Was he allowed to smile?

The woman with him asks if he’s ready to move on. He nods. They’re walking the grounds when he asks about Yuuri directly. “Did you know Yuuri when he was a kid?”

The woman purses her lips. “It is proper to refer to His Royal Majesty by his title or honorifics when talking to or about him, Mr. Nikiforov. At all times.”

Viktor frowns. “Did you know…His Royal Majesty when he was a child?” he repeats. The words feel strange on his tongue, but the woman’s face softens.

“I did,” she says. “I was responsible for much of his supervision when he was young.”

“What was he like?”

“He was a good child. Well-behaved, most of the time. He often ran off when he felt overwhelmed, which was fairly troublesome.”

“He was a kid, though. Kids do that kind of thing.”

“He was a prince and knew better,” she says curtly.

Viktor doesn’t argue back. No wonder Yuuri’s so restrained.

They pass much of the rest of the tour in silence, Viktor’s guide pointing out “places of interest” while Viktor tries to imagine a tiny Yuuri roaming the palace and grounds. He wishes, briefly, that Yuuri was the one showing him around. They’ll have plenty of time, though, and Yuuri’s dealing with so much right now he can’t bring himself to ask.

 

~*~

 

It’s almost noon when the guide is finished. “Unfortunately, Mr. Nikiforov, we will have to end our tour, as His Royal Majesty has requested your presence for lunch.” It takes a second for Viktor to process that she’s talking about Yuuri, but when he does, he nods. The woman takes Viktor’s arm, quickly guiding him to the king’s quarters.

Going down the hallway, Viktor realizes it’s the same one from the night before. The picture of the late king has had black curtains draped over the side, in mourning. They enter through the double doors to the king’s – to Yuuri’s private sitting room. “Your Royal Majesty,” the guide says, “Mr. Nikiforov, as summoned.”

Yuuri smiles. Viktor takes a few steps forward. “Yuu-“ he begins, but is cut short when the attendant clears her throat and gives him a pointed glare. “Y-Your Majesty,” he begins again, “I’m honored to have received your invitation.” The guide had made him rehearse the phrase until it sounded appropriately respectful, insisting that protocols be followed by all visitors to the palace, regardless of why they’re there to begin with.  Viktor risks a glance at the woman as he toes off his shoes, her warnings about propriety echoing in his head.

Yuuri takes it in stride. “I appreciate you coming. Please, if you will.” He gestures at the chair opposite him. He dismisses the guide as Viktor sits down stiffly. “Our lunch will be in soon.” He nods in response. After the door is closed, leaving them alone, Yuuri leans forward, worried. “Vitya, are you ok?”

Viktor nods, letting his shoulders drop. “I am. I’m just not used to the formality of everything.”

Yuuri nods. “I can see why that’d be an issue. I’m still getting used to it again, honestly. While I was gone, my only… practice acting royal was with my bodyguard, at home, or with Minako-sensei. Having so many people using my title and whatnot again is a little disorienting, but it’s getting better. How was the tour?”

“It was interesting.” Viktor says. He describes his morning, how the guide showed him everything she deemed important. Reverence fills his voice as he describes the immense library, stacks of books and plush seating just waiting for him, and the shine in Yuuri’s eyes says Viktor’s excitement hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Yuuri smiles. “I’ll have to show you the borrowing system, so you can read while you’re here. There are plenty of books in English, and I’m sure some are in Russian or French. We have a wide variety.” Viktor’s relief is palpable. He’s had plenty to occupy his morning so far, but the long hours Yuuri’s apparently required to devote to his duty loom ahead of him, storm clouds on the horizon. Never does he feel more alone than when he’s isolated, and while most of the people at the court seem to speak English, the dialectical Japanese spoken in the rest of the country is impossible to decipher. The food is delivered, and while they eat he finishes his story quickly.

 

They curl up on the couch with coffee when they're done with their meal, savoring the time they have left.

“I wish you didn’t have to use my title,” Yuuri says quietly as he snuggles up against Viktor. “It’s awkward hearing you use it. I should just… tell everyone to let you call me by name.” Sinking into him, Yuuri smiles. “You know, they can hardly get mad at you when the king is ok with it.” Viktor sees a slow, sleepy smile spread across his face. “I’m the king. I do what I want.” He chuckles to himself.

Viktor’s laughter fills the room. The relief he feels spreads, warm, through his entire body.  The last twenty-four hours have been a rollercoaster, but at the end of everything, Yuuri is still very much his Yuuri.

“What did you think of the palace?” Yuuri asks as he sips his coffee.

“I didn’t realize how big this place was!” Viktor replies, awestruck. He’s seen few buildings that rival the palace, and those he has seen were museums open to the public. For something that is, in essence, a residence first, there’s so much space . He wonders briefly if Yuuri’s ever gotten lost.

Yuuri laughs in response. “Neither did I, when I was little.” He looks contemplative for a second, and then a grin spreads across his face. “I tried to flood the entire first floor once.”

Viktor feels his eyebrows shoot up. “Wow, why?”

“Wanted to turn it into an ice skating rink.” A red flush crawls up Yuuri’s cheeks. “I’d just gotten both roller and ice skates for my sixth birthday, and I figured out how nice the floors were for rollerblading, so I decided if it was that fun on wheels it’d be even more fun on ice skates .”

Viktor snorts. “Were they mad?”

Yuuri sighs. “I assume the staff was. We had to get the whole hallway redone and that, I imagine, was a hassle. My dad – “ he takes a deep breath, “my dad thought it was hilarious. He told me off, of course, but his eyes were shining the whole time. He reminded me that maybe our living quarters weren’t the best place for an ice rink, as attractive as the idea was. That winter they froze an outside rink for me in one of the gardens.” Yuuri leans into the crook of Viktor’s arm. “I never did figure out how to actually freeze the water in the house.”

“So you were the stereotypical prince who roller skated around the Royal Palace?”

“The main ballroom’s never been the same,” Yuuri says sadly and Viktor chokes back a laugh. “I’m serious! They had to re-finish parts of the floor and I chipped part of the baseboards. It’s behind a curtain, I’ll show you if they haven’t fixed it.” At this point, Viktor’s now laughing uncontrollably. “The curtain… also might be hung from a relatively new curtain rod.”

Viktor takes a deep breath before smiling and pulling Yuuri closer as he lays a kiss on his forehead. “The woman said you were well-behaved!”

“She says that to everyone, I'm sure,” Yuuri retorts. “Can’t be less than perfect if you’re royalty.” His face falls.

Viktor scoots closer. “You can be less than perfect if you’re Yuuri.”

Yuuri looks at him, relieved.

 

~*~

 

Yuuri leaves for official business again, and Viktor’s left to wander the grounds as he pleases, as the palace has been closed to tourists in light of the king’s death. It’s a nice day outside, cold, snow on the ground glimmering in the afternoon sun. He sorely wishes he’d brought Makkachin, but then, he didn’t expect the recent turn of events. He’s admiring a fountain when he’s approached by a short, stout woman in an ornate red kimono.

“You must be Yuuri-kun’s Vicchan,” she says warmly. Viktor turns towards her and nods mutely. Yuuri-kun? Who is this woman? She takes Viktor’s arm. “Join me on a walk?” Viktor nods again, still puzzled. They make their way around the courtyard in silence, for a bit, before the woman speaks. “How are you finding Hasetsu?”

“I haven’t seen as much of the capital city as I’d like, but what I have seen is gorgeous, ma’am.” Offending anyone at court is the last thing Viktor wants to do, so he flips the switch in his brain that helps him navigate interviews and conversations with sponsors. It must have been the right thing to say, because the woman beams.

“There’s no need to be so formal, Vicchan, not when we’re alone.”

Viktor lets go and looks at her. “I’m sorry, I’m not entirely sure who…”

The woman laughs softly. “Yuuri-kun must be anxious indeed. Understandably so. I’m his mother, Queen Hiroko.” Viktor’s eyes widen in surprise. He’s seen no recent pictures of the queen mother, and the pictures he had seen were formal and austere enough that the kind smile on the face of the woman in front of him had rendered her almost unrecognizable.

He does his best to bow. “Y-your Majesty, I-“ he stops as the queen mother pats his arm.

“No need for that when it’s just us.” Her smile is soft, genuine. He offers his arm again and the Hiroko takes it, guiding him gently towards the main buildings.

“How are you liking Akitsushima so far?”

“Aki…su…” he trails off, the unfamiliar word escaping him.

“Akitsushima,” the queen mother says, “is our name for our country. ‘Sachima’, as we are known to much of the rest of the world, developed when foreigners misheard and mispronounced Akitsushima. As you can see, the error stuck.” Chuckling good-naturedly, she beams at him, and he can see Yuuri in her smile.

She’s leading him into the palace now, and they walk amicably through the corridors. Sometimes, Hiroko stops them to tell some story or another about Yuuri’s childhood, smiling the entire while. Upon reaching her rooms, she looks at Viktor warmly.

“Would you like to see some of Yuuri-kun’s baby pictures?”

“I saw a few on my tour of the palace earlier,” Viktor assures her.

“All formal portraits, I’m sure.” Viktor nods. She’s not wrong, even the picture of the young princess lovingly holding her baby brother had been posed. The girl’s kimono was neat, sleeves falling around her in graceful curves as she gently held the bundle in her arms (conveniently propped up with pillows so the camera could catch the infant’s face). Her hair had been perfectly styled, and the lighting too good for coincidence.

“Would you like to see the family albums?” The queen continues. She’s looking up at Viktor now, eyes sparkling much like Yuuri’s. Only kindness is in her smile, and Viktor nods gratefully. She pats his arm with her free hand, nodding regally at people they pass as she leads him further into the palace.

 

True to her word, the queen mother pulls out two large scrapbooks, both almost bursting. They’re bound in blue leather, silver accents running along the spine and edges of the covers. When she opens them, Viktor sees what he can only describe as a veritable treasure trove. It’s an intimate glance into Yuuri’s life, a chance to learn more about him. Viktor is almost desperate for even a taste.

Many of the photos wouldn’t look out of place in a typical family’s album were it not for the sheer opulence of their surroundings. Yuuri taking his first steps in a gilded bedroom, Yuuri as a baby with cake all over his face in a carved wooden chair with plush velvet cushions. There are pictures of him as a child, playing in water on the manicured lawns and chasing butterflies through the ornate gardens. A picture taken on his sixth birthday shows Yuuri holding up a new pair of skates, grinning from ear to ear. A pair of roller skates lies on the table behind him. In the next photo, a young Yuuri in a stiff black uniform stands next to his parents and a limousine with flags on it, grinning from ear to ear.

“That was his first day of school,” Hiroko says lovingly. “He was so excited to have friends and playmates his age.”

“There weren’t many before that?” Viktor asks.

She shakes her head. “Not many children at the palace, save a few of the live-in staff’s. He didn’t have much interaction with them, and what little he did have was fairly awkward, as you can imagine.”

“Because he was royalty?”

“That was much of the reason, yes. The fact that Yuuri's family technically employed their parents is another. He had two young friends, a boy named Takeshi who was the son of one of the guards, and a girl named Yuuko, daughter of our events coordinator. They grew close in the months before Yuuri left us, and I imagine he’ll be happy to see them again.”

Viktor nods. He points at a picture of Yuuri, wearing a small tuxedo and a huge grin, standing next to a grand piano. “What’s this from, if you don’t mind?”

“His first big piano recital. It was at the school’s end-of-semester program, and he played Edward MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose,” she says, smiling. “He insisted on us not hearing him play until the recital.”

Turning the page, she points to another picture. Yuuri sits at the piano, aged six or seven, with his hands gently on the keys. His tongue sticks out the side of his mouth in concentration, and he’s leaning forward, squinting at the sheet music. “That was about the time we figured out he needed glasses,” she says. “He’d had larger print music before as a beginner, and of course his books had large print as well, but when the music and text in his books got smaller, he had more trouble reading it.” Tapping a picture below, she grins. “This is him with his first pair of glasses, he loved the chunky blue frames he got for everyday use. Blue’s his favorite color, you know.”

Viktor smiles. “I know! His laptop case is blue, the mug at my apartment is blue. He even has chunky blue glasses, they almost look like the ones from the picture,” he says cheerfully. “I have some pictures from Detroit, ma’am, if you’d like to see them.” Hiroko’s eyes widen as she beams happily.

“I would love to, Vicchan!”

Grinning, Viktor goes to his ‘Yuuri’ album, starting off with the picture Phichit had sent him during the Grand Prix Final. Hiroko gingerly reaches for the phone when she sees, taking in Yuuri’s sprawl across the couch almost reverently.

“May I scroll?” she asks, quietly.

Viktor nods, and as she goes through the pictures he gives background. He talks about lazy afternoons in the park, about Yuuri’s cheerful personality while managing both school and a job. He shows her pictures of Yuuri and Makkachin playing, selfies he’d taken whenever he'd felt like preserving the moment. She laughs when she sees Yuuri on the ice, offering stories of his first few lessons and his fight with the palace to be allowed to skate in Michigan, but her face changes to wonder when Viktor shows her a video. She smiles sadly as they share stories and go through Viktor’s phone, and when he offers to send her files, her eyes glisten as she nods happily.

 

Forty-five minutes later, Hiroko and Viktor are chatting over tea when a brisk, patterned knock sounds against the heavy wood of the door. “Come in!” She calls happily. Yuuri opens the door slowly, smiling as he sees his mother. He’s accompanied by a young woman with dyed-blonde hair pulled back by an ornate headband. They share a look as they pull off their shoes, setting them neatly by the door before heading over.

“Yuuri-kun,” Hiroko says with a smile, “how how were your meetings?”

Sighing, he rolls his eyes. “About as tedious as I'd expected.” The beginnings of anxiety are showing on his face and Viktor smiles reassuringly.

Yuuri takes his seat next to Viktor, gesturing towards him. “Mari, this is Viktor Nikiforov, my boyfriend.” He looks at Viktor, who gives him a smile. Blushing, he continues, “Vitya, this is my older sister, Princess Mari. I see you’ve met my mother.”

He looks at the princess, standing to offer his hand. She smirks slightly and takes it, shaking firmly before taking a seat next to her mother. Viktor smiles as he sits back down, “Your mother’s been very nice. She showed me your baby pictures.”

“She what?!” Yuuri’s face turns a charming shade of red as he sputters. “ Kaa-san, really?! He hasn’t even been here a day!”

Hiroko only smiles more. “Why wouldn’t I? He’s likely never seen any before.” She’s right, of course, and Viktor doesn’t hesitate to let Yuuri know how much he enjoyed the glimpse into his childhood.

Mari chimes in with a smile, “Kaa-san, did you show Viktor the video of Yuuri putting ice cream on his nose at Dad’s coronation dinner?”

Mari!! ” Yuuri shouts indignantly.

“Oh hush, it’s adorable,” she says, reaching across the coffee table to pat Yuuri on the cheek.

Viktor laughs, putting his arm over Yuuri’s shoulders as he buries his face in Viktor’s chest.

“What about the one of him stealing sweets off the banquet table when he was six?” Yuuri groans. “It was hilarious; he was hiding under the tablecloth and thought no one would notice an arm sneaking up from underneath,” Mari says, smiling at Viktor. ”He used to think he could get away with anything, since he was next in line for the throne.”

“I did not ,” Yuuri protests quietly into Viktor’s torso. Viktor rubs his side reassuringly.

“You did, for about three months when you were four.”

“I was four.” If Viktor could see Yuuri’s face, he’s sure he would be pouting. He squeezes Yuuri’s shoulder, and Yuuri wraps his arms around him.

Hiroko’s voice ends the banter. “I believe dinner will be here momentarily. I would like to discuss what’s going to be happening over the next few days.” Yuuri sits up.

“The funeral?” he asks quietly.

Hiroko nods. “The coronation as well. I’ve been going over the ceremonies and guest lists, and unfortunately I’m not sure we’ll be able to accommodate Vicchan’s presence at either event without making waves. First and foremost, the guest list for the coronation has been relatively finalized, since we were… anticipating this,” she says sadly. “We’re unable to shift things around without a great deal of effort, even were it not for my second point. There is much speculation about why you and Vicchan were at the airport together. Vicchan,” she says as she looks at Viktor, “as you’re already a highly-visible public figure, we believe it’s prudent to tread carefully right now. I understand you and Yuuri-kun are planning on discussing the situation soon, but this is far too soon for you two to be able to really talk about things in-depth.”

Both Yuuri and Viktor nod slowly, in unison, and Yuuri leans on Viktor again, slotting comfortably against his side. “This means, Vicchan,” Hiroko continues, “the palace has concluded it would be best for you to remain here, in the residential wing, during both events.”

Yuuri pulls his legs up to the couch, burying his face in Viktor’s sweater with shuddering breaths as he wraps his arms tighter around him. “I want you there,” he says on the edge of crying, voice muffled in the thick wool.

“I know, Lyubov,” Viktor responds, rubbing his back. “But I can’t, you heard—”

“I know, Vitya, I just… I want you there.”

Running his hand through Yuuri’s hair, Viktor kisses the top of his head, before looking at Hiroko. “Will I at least be able to watch?”

To his relief, she nods. “We’ll have a livestream for you, a dedicated one so traffic doesn’t clog it up. Someone will be by to set it up before each event. Do you have a personal computer you’d like to use or should we get you one?”

“I brought my laptop and plug adaptors,” he says, rubbing circles on Yuuri’s back. Mari smiles at him.

“We’ll get you an account for the wifi. Vicchan,” Hiroko continues, “I have some paperwork we need you to fill out as well, to get you set up here and cleared to have access to most areas of the palace.”

“Most?”

Yuuri moves his face, speaking quietly, “you won’t have access to places you don’t need access to. The conference rooms we use for the really sensitive political discussions, government documentation storage and the like.”

Viktor nods, using his thumb to work on some of the knots in Yuuri’s shoulders. “I can fill out paperwork,” he says. “How soon do you need it?”

“As soon as you can, but there’s no real rush. On your own time is fine.” Viktor nods again. He can fill forms out; he’s good at filling out forms.

“I’ll have them to you within the next few days,” he assures her. “Should I give them to you?”

“Any one of the palace staff will be fine, Vicchan.” Hiroko smiles.

“I’d rather he didn’t,” Yuuri says. “Vitya, give the forms to me or my family, I’ll make sure they get to the proper people.”

“Yuuri-kun, I hardly think that’s necessary.”

Viktor feels Yuuri stiffen beside him. “Kaa-san, I’ve spent months being jerked around by the security team. I’m not entirely sure they had problems on their own, if you catch my drift, and I’d like to prevent further issues.”

Pursing her lips, Hiroko nods. “Understood. Give it to one of us, then, Vicchan, and we’ll get back to you when it’s been processed.”

 

~*~

 

Dinner finished, in a small sitting room in the eastern wing of the palace, Yuuri is positioned on a small dais in his formal clothing, black silk kimono-style shirt wrapped around his torso, the looser pants tied tightly around his waist, and tucked into leather boots at the bottom. A solid haori is draped over a nearby chair. Everything he’s wearing is a rich black, and a circlet sits nearby, gleaming silver in its storage case. This is the final fitting, the outfit he’ll be wearing at the funeral, and he looks almost desperate to be done with it.

The tailor rambles on as he makes his adjustments, marking the fabric as he comments on how fashions have changed over the years, how King Toshiya handled his wardrobe. How very much like his father Yuuri looks, as he stands there with clenched fists in front of three full-length mirrors. Viktor meets Yuuri’s eyes in the reflection, and they twitch with each mention of Toshiya, with each comment comparing them. Tears start to gather at yet another mention of his father’s death, and Viktor can’t help what comes out of his mouth. “For god’s sake, he doesn’t want to talk about it, can’t you see that?! Talk about the weather or something!” Yuuri just stands with his mouth agape, blushing fiercely, blinking away his tears. Before he can say anything a stern woman, the tour guide from earlier, steps forward.

“Mr. Nikiforov ,” she spits. “Know your place.”

Viktor bristles at being patronized like this.

“It’s fine, leave him.” Yuuri’s voice is quiet but firm, and the attendant backs off, glaring daggers at Viktor.

Viktor sits back on the couch smugly, as the tailor discusses the unseasonably sunny (yet still cold) weather recently. Yuuri responds appropriately at the right times, and the rest of the fitting goes without issue.

 

Once they’re back in the relative privacy of Yuuri’s rooms, Yuuri trades his contacts for his glasses and begins making tea in earnest. He calls down for a selection of jams to be brought up, giving Viktor looks that tell him exactly what he thinks of his tea habits, and waits impatiently for the kettle to boil. The jams are delivered promptly, set on their own stand on the table. Yuuri returns to the table to examine the teas, glancing frequently at the kettle. He jumps slightly when Viktor wraps his arms around his waist, leaning his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. It doesn’t take long for Yuuri to relax into his embrace, much of the tension leaving his him as he almost sags against Viktor.

“Anything I can do to help?” Viktor whispers against his neck.

Yuuri shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says shakily. “I d-don’t kn-know.” Warm tears run into Viktor’s hair, and he looks up to see Yuuri crying quietly. He kisses his cheek.

“How about we focus on making tea, and then curl up on the couch, yes?”

Yuuri swallows and nods. He rubs the back of his hand across his face, sniffling. When the kettle is finally done, Yuuri quickly makes their tea and walks over to the couch with his while Viktor stirs a spoonful of jam into his own. Yuuri sets his tea down on the coffee table, pulling it closer to the couch so they don’t have to get up. Viktor sits, one leg along the back of the sofa, leaving room for Yuuri to lean against him. Yuuri opens one of the windows a crack, grabs a blanket, and sits against Viktor, tucking the blanket around them. Viktor wraps his arms around Yuuri again as he turns to lean sideways against Viktor’s torso, tucking his feet up onto the couch.

“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

Yuuri shrugs, grabbing his cup and sipping gingerly. He sputters a bit, setting his cup down on the table and curling into Viktor. “Too hot,” he whines softly.

Viktor chuckles, “It happens.”

Yuuri’s quiet for a few minutes, and Viktor occupies himself rubbing Yuuri’s back, paying close attention to knots in the muscles. Yuuri sighs contentedly. “Thank you.”

“I love giving you back rubs.”

“F-for earlier.” Yuuri takes a deep breath, holding it slightly before letting it out. Viktor rubs his back with renewed enthusiasm.

“He was being an ass.” Yuuri nods quickly against his torso.

“Y-you can’t do that in public, though,” Yuuri’s voice sounds rough, but invites no argument. “No matter what anyone’s saying to or about me. Let me take care of it.”

Viktor scowls, but nods against him. “I’ll be on my best behavior, Yuuri.”

After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Viktor feels his shirt getting damp. Looking down, he sees tears running down Yuuri’s face. He sets down the tea he was about to drink in favor of pulling Yuuri closer, wrapping his arms tightly around him. He rests his cheek on the top of Yuuri’s head, whispering reassurances in whatever language comes to him. When Yuuri buries his face in Viktor’s chest, sobs now wracking his body, Viktor feels his throat grow tight and a warm prickling at the corner of his eyes.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been by the time Yuuri stops crying, but his leg is numb and his hips are stiff. Yuuri sits up slightly, swinging his legs over the edge of the couch. Grabbing a tissue, he wipes his eyes and blows his nose. Viktor takes advantage of the distraction to rub hurriedly at his eyes, but when he looks back up, Yuuri’s holding out a tissue. He smiles wanly, cleaning up as best he can before moving his leg away from the back of the couch, stretching it in front of him as feeling slowly returns. Yuuri sits next to him again, legs crossed.

“I’m sorry about that,” he says quietly.

“About crying?” Viktor looks at him, puzzled. Yuuri blushes while he nods. “You don’t need to apologize for having emotions, Yuuri,” Viktor says gently. “You’re human. You’re allowed to cry.”

“I’m not though,” he says in a hoarse whisper. “I’m king, now. I can’t cry, I can’t be weak. I have to – I have to hold my head up high and be strong and…” he trails off as a hitched sob escapes him.

“You don’t have to be king when you’re alone with me.” Viktor rubs his back. “You can be Yuuri, just Yuuri.”

“B-but if someone comes in,” Yuuri says, “I have to – “

“I’ll deal with them,” Viktor replies gently. “I’ll give you time to clean up. It’s healthy to let yourself grieve properly. You need to give yourself time.”

“I don’t have time, Vitya. It’s not like… it’s not like I can just cancel everything until I get my shit together, and I can’t just not have my shit together.”

“Lyubov,” Viktor says softly, “you can’t just power through everything. Eventually, something’s going to give.” Yuuri looks at him then, somewhere between distraught and frustrated, before looking back down at his hands. Viktor kisses his cheek.  “Do you have anything else to do today?”

Shaking his head, Yuuri sighs. “Nothing else today, no. The preparations for the funeral are finished, as far as I'm concerned, and my meetings are done. I was going to bed soon.”

“Sleep with me, Yuuri,” Viktor says softly.

Yuuri jerks away. “Are you seriously wanting to —”

“No,” Viktor interrupts. Yuuri blushes and looks down. “Just come to bed with me, we can curl up under the blankets and I can hold you.”

“Sorry,” Yuuri says softly. “After what you said during the fight we had in Detroit, I…”

Kissing him, Viktor brushes his hand down Yuuri’s cheek. “It’s ok, Lyubov. Would you like to spend tonight together?”

Yuuri nods. “I would, Vitya. I'd love to.” His voice is quiet, his shoulders heavy, and when he smiles at Viktor, it carries with it the sense of unfathomable sadness.


Chapter Text

Yuuri presses his forehead to Viktor’s. He’s clothed in pure black, his long haori nearly skimming the ground. He clutches the lapels of Viktor’s jacket, gripping them tightly in his hands.

“I can’t go out there,” he says, voice breaking. “Vitya, I can’t.”

“You can, Lyubov moya,” Viktor says. He wraps his arms around Yuuri's shoulders as firmly as he can.

“You’re not even going to be there,” Yuuri says with a sob.

“We couldn’t fit me in comfortably, remember? Not without causing problems. I’ll be here when you get home, it’ll only be a few hours.” He rubs Yuuri's back, along his shoulders. “I’ll be watching.”

“I promise I won’t cry,” Yuuri says, even as a tear rolls down his cheek. “I promise, Vityusha.”

“Yuuri, you don’t ha—” Yuuri silences him with a finger on his lips.

“I need to be strong for someone else, I can’t do it for myself,” Yuuri chokes out. “Please.”

Viktor nods. Yuuri's hair is gelled forcefully back, with no ornamentation beyond a silver circlet. Not for a funeral, especially not before he’s been officially crowned king. Viktor presses a kiss to the top of his head regardless. His hands move to Yuuri's cheeks. Yuuri's eyes are shining, his lips trembling, but he does his best to swallow his tears as he grips Viktor’s wrists.

There’s a knock on the office door.

“What is it?” Yuuri asks, sounding far braver than he looks.

“Three minutes, Your Majesty!” An attendant shouts from just outside.

Biting his lower lip, Yuuri looks back up at Viktor. He’s terrified, and barely managing to hide it. With an ache in his chest, Viktor wraps his arms around Yuuri tightly, pulling him close.

“You can do this, Lyubov,” he says hoarsely.

“Watch me?” Yuuri asks, eyes pleading. “Watch me, Vityusha?”

“I will,” Viktor says. “I’ll be watching, and I’ll have my phone on in case you want to text.”

Yuuri squeezes him tightly. “I can do this,” he says quietly. “I…I can make it through today.”

“You can,” Viktor whispers. “You can make it through, then you’ll come home, and I’ll be here waiting.” He presses another kiss to Yuuri's forehead. “I’ll see you in a few hours, Yuuri.”

“Just a few hours, Vityusha.” Yuuri rocks forward on his toes, kissing Viktor firmly, lingering for a long moment. “I’ll see you soon.”

“I’ll be watching, Lyubov.”

Yuuri leaves the room, glancing nervously back at Viktor before closing the door behind him. Viktor opens his laptop, finding the webpage he’d been logged into that morning by one of the cabinet aides. In short order, the funeral procession comes up on the livestream. Viktor knows it’s going to take hours for them to make their way through the capital, so he scrolls through Instagram and replies to the occasional comment. His most recent few pictures are flooded with comments asking about the photos of Yuuri and him at Hasetsu International Airport. Those, he pointedly ignores. On the laptop, a close-up of Yuuri draws his attention.

The very image of composure, Yuuri stares bravely ahead as he rides behind his father’s plain wooden casket. His eyes are focused on an indistinguishable point in front of him, and it’s clear he’s not paying much attention to the proceedings. Occasionally, he nods in the direction of the crowd, but doesn’t wave, the occasion too somber. Hiroko and Mari ride in the open carriage on either side of him, both dressed in black kimono. Their outfits and hair are unembellished, makeup subdued.

Viktor’s not familiar enough with Hiroko and Mari to be able to read them, though he knows this can’t be easy. Yuuri, though…Yuuri wears his heart on his sleeve, if you know how to find it. He expresses emotion with his whole body, which is what makes the footage on Viktor’s screen so jarring. Yuuri sits as still as a stone, face an unreadable mask. Clenched fists resting on his knees are the only indication of how he’s feeling, and as his thumb rubs his leg repeatedly, it becomes clear how anxious he is.

 

The livestream cuts to wide shots, and while the procession continues, he reads through his messages. Everyone who’s met or heard about Yuuri has sent questions, and Viktor had been avoiding looking at the skyrocketing numbers on all of his social media icons, avoiding dealing with the storm of inquiries, but at this point he has nothing better to do.

 

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Let me know how things go in Sachima with Coffee Boy
<<<   Send me a souvenir ;p
<<<   Vitya, I just saw your boyfriend on the news, I think.
<<<   He looks like Phichit’s roommate, but it says he’s some sort of king.
<<<   I just saw pictures of you with him at the airport, it’s definitely Coffee Boy
<<<   Vitya, what’s going on?
<<<   Are you ok?
<<<   Vitya?
<<<   Viktor, what’s happening? They’re saying he was exiled?
<<<   Did you know about this?
<<<   Vitya, it’s been almost two days, are you ok?!
<<<   At least tell me you’re alive.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   I’m ok. It was him.
>>>   I didn’t know he was royalty until we got here.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Thank God you’re alive.
<<<   So he lied to you? The whole time?

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   I figured it out
>>>   He couldn’t tell me, Palace’s orders.
>>>   The “Exiled Prince” thing is just a press nickname, he wasn’t actually kicked out of the country.
>>>   Someone tried to kill him when he was a kid, so his family sent him into hiding.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Merde. I hope he’s not expecting you to just be ok with this.
<<<   I don’t care if he’s royalty, he hurt you.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   I never said he hurt me, Chris.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Can you honestly say he didn’t?

 

The situation may hurt, yes, but Yuuri didn’t hurt him. Yuuri tried to prevent this, that much was clear, and since Viktor figured it out he’s been nothing but honest.

 

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   I can.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Phichit says he knew
<<<   But you didn’t?
<<<   You two have been together for months
<<<   How does that make sense, Vitya?!

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   It may have something to do with the fact that Phichit’s been his best friend for years!
>>>   Things are hectic right now, we haven’t had the chance to talk things through entirely.
>>>   His dad’s funeral is today. Right now.
>>>   His coronation is tomorrow.
>>>   He’s having a rough enough time as it is.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Don’t let this turn into you making excuses for him, Vitya.

 

Viktor’s lips purse as his eyes narrow. Chris has his best interests at heart, it seems, but he doesn’t have the right to start prying like he is. One shit relationship and a short list of people he very briefly dated over the years, and it seems like the entire world either thinks Viktor’s a playboy, or in the case of those “close” to him, a desperate romantic with terrible taste willing to overlook any flaws. For some reason, they also seem to think they have the right to butt into his love life at will.

He’s sick of it.

 

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   I’m not. We’re going to discuss this more after things settle.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   Make sure he doesn’t weasel out of it.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   Considering HE keeps insisting we have to discuss things without me saying anything, I highly doubt he’s even going to try.
>>>   He knows things went badly.
>>>   He meant to tell me before all of this happened
>>>   He was happy I figured it out.
>>>   Yes, I wish he’d told me well before we left on the trip.
>>>   But he couldn’t. And he’s explained why.
>>>   He’s already apologized, more than once.
>>>   He apologized before we left the airport
>>>   And it was the first thing he did when he saw me again.

From: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
<<<   I’m just trying to help, Vitya.
<<<   You’ve been hurt before.

To: Chris ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_
>>>   I’m well aware of that fact, thank you.
>>>   As it stands, it’s my personal life.
>>>   My choice.

 

He closes out of the conversation with Chris before he says something he regrets.

 

From: ICE TIGER
<<<   what the FUCK, viktor?!!
<<<   katsudon’s some sort of king?!
<<<   the fuck is going on? yakov and lilia haven’t said shit aside from lilia saying he was a fucking prince and that’s why they snuck him around?
<<<   when are you coming back to russia
<<<   are you even coming home?!
<<<   ignoring me? fuck you, too, asshole
<<<   i hope katsudon’s fucking worth this bullshit.

 

He runs his fingers through his hair again. The only responses he can think of as far as Yuri goes range from jokingly sarcastic to irritated beyond belief, and he can’t deal with Yuri’s badgering right now. He fires off a quick message to Alexei, letting him know that he’s ok, and to tell their moms he’ll call and explain everything when he has a moment, once things are settled. He ignores the messages from other skaters he doesn’t know as well, and his rinkmates since he doesn’t feel like dealing with their prying. Yakov hasn’t said anything, and somehow that’s not as comforting as Viktor thought it would be.

His texts to Yuuri from the night they arrived have been opened.  Viktor looks them over again.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Любовь what’s going on?
>>>   Are you safe?
>>>   Can I see you?
[Call not answered]
[Call not answered]
>>>   Yuuri please, what’s happening now?
>>>   Are you ok?
>>>   Please, Любовь, answer the phone.
[Call not answered]
>>>   They told me to stay in this bedroom I’m in
>>>   Nobody would tell me anything, just told me to wait
>>>   For you to send for me.
[Call not answered]
>>>   Are you doing alright? You looked terrified
>>>   Call me, please? When you can?
>>>   I know they said you’re in meetings.
>>>   I’m worried about you, Любовь
>>>   Yuuri.
>>>   Please.

 

He’d given up after that. Closing his eyes with a sigh, he exits out of the app. Re-reading the messages is like reliving that night, and it was bad enough the first time. The video on-screen changes, Yuuri and his family are making their way up a dais in front of an ornate building. A government official stands at the podium and starts speaking. It’s in Sachiman Japanese, as far as Viktor can tell, but soon enough captions in Russian pop up. The official talks about the late king, about the turbulence of his reign, the careful balance between tradition and progress he’d kept. He praises King Toshiya’s kind heart and genial personality, his willingness to hear varying points of view, and his readiness to admit when he’d been wrong. Viktor smiles. It sounds very much like Yuuri takes after his father.

When the official has finished speaking, there are several others. Government workers as well, they mostly give anecdotes about positive experiences with the king, the strength of his leadership in times of trouble. When they’re done, Yuuri stands. He walks slowly towards the podium, head held high as he takes several deep breaths. The prepared speech is short, fond memories from Yuuri’s childhood mixed with cautious admiration and praise. As beautiful as the speech is, if the subtitles are accurate, it’s clear Yuuri is walking a fine line, careful in how he phrases things and what he says. Though distorted by the microphones, his voice rings clearly. He’s a gifted orator, his native dialect of Japanese flowing off his tongue despite the clear effort he’s making to reign himself in and follow the script.

The speech concludes on a hopeful note, and Yuuri gives a nod of acknowledgement to the crowd before bowing deeply to the wooden coffin. Another bow, this time to his mother, as the widow of the late king, before they follow the coffin into the building behind them. At this point, a message comes up on the screen informing Viktor (specifically, and it strikes a dissonant chord somewhere in his chest) that the ceremony itself has reached its conclusion, as far as what’s visible to the public, and the livestream will stop broadcasting when he exits out of the window, which he does promptly.



Forty-five minutes later, Viktor’s phone goes off on the desk next to him.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   on our way back  _(._.)_

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I'll be here. Do you want me to meet you out front?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   no, meet me in my room
<<<   wait you'll get lost, nvm, i’ll meet you in the office.(º_º)
<<<   are you still in the office or did they move you
<<<   or did you move yourself

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’m still in the office!!
>>>   I remember how to get to my room, though.
>>>   I can meet you there, if you like? I understand this is your public office?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   shit it is. yeah, i’ll meet you in your room. (。_。)
<<<   ttys. love you.

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I love you, too.

 

A while after he’s successfully found his room, Viktor hears Yuuri’s knocks on the door, and he calls for him to come in while he finishes pouring water into the teapot. Yuuri enters, still dressed in black, and his shoulders seem to carry the world as he makes his way over. In silence, he wraps his arms around Viktor’s waist, resting his head on his shoulder, and lets out a heavy sigh.

Kissing the top of Yuuri’s head, Viktor rubs his back in slow circles. “What’s on your schedule now, Lyubov?” he asks.

“Break for tea. Short meeting about the coronation, and then dinner.” There’s another sigh, drawn out and ending with a hitched breath as Yuuri’s arms tighten around Viktor. “We’ll… There’ll be a private wake in a few days, once the cremation is finished, and after that everything will be over but… that’ll just be my family. I mean, you can go if you want, but you didn’t know him.” He goes still for a second, the air caught in his throat before he lets it out shakily. “To be honest, I barely knew him.”

Somehow, he sounds calm. Resigned. As if he’d long since acknowledged the fact that he would never really know his father. Viktor makes a mental note to call his family more often.

“I made tea,” Viktor says softly, “I hope you don’t mind.”

Shaking his head, Yuuri sits at the table. Viktor brings the tray over, teapot standing proudly next to the cups, creamer, and sugar bowl. Yuuri takes one of the teacups and its saucer, setting it in front of him before putting the small metal strainer on top. He pours himself a cup, sets Viktor’s cup and saucer in front of him and pours that one, too, before setting the teapot on a trivet and passinge Viktor’s tea over the center of the table.

“Chai?” Yuuri asks softly, smelling the air.

Viktor nods. “Cinnamon vanilla.”

“Is this the one we had at home?” Looking up at Viktor with a raised eyebrow, Yuuri adds milk and sugar, stirring a bit before placing it on the saucer.

“It is!” Viktor responds. “I grabbed some of each of our favorites.”

Yuuri stills, looking into his cup, before looking back up with a smile. He takes a sip and his eyes close, his body relaxes into the chair as he leans back, and he takes a deep breath before taking another sip. “It’s perfect,” he says softly. “How do you always get the perfect ratio of leaves to water, Vityusha?”

Smiling, Viktor adds milk and sugar to his own cup. “Practice?”

“Mmmm, no,” Yuuri says as he drinks more. “Gotta be some sort of magic.”

“I make my own tea a lot,” he offers by way of explanation.

“I’ve been making my own tea for years,” Yuuri responds, “it was all I could actually make for myself there, for a while.”

Frowning, Viktor leans forward. “You knew how to use a microwave and stuff though, right?”

There’s a beat of stunned silence, before Yuuri lets out a laugh. “You really think-? You… you remember I worked at a café, right?”

Feeling his face go hot, Viktor gapes for a second. “I meant before Phichit!”

Yuuri chuckles again. “I knew how to microwave stuff, how to boil water for tea, how to make stuff like sandwiches. Nothing fancy, just peanut butter and jelly or pre-cut deli meats. As far as using a stove and oven, though, I never really learned.”

It seems almost wrong for them to be joking, for such a lighthearted conversation in light of the morning’s events, but Yuuri deserves to have a reprieve from the oppressive grief looming heavy in the air. They both do, if he’s being honest. He looks at Yuuri, only fondness in his eyes. He’ll take the smiles, the few moments of happiness they scrounge up when he can. There won’t be nearly enough for a while.

 

Too little time has passed when Yuuri’s alarm goes off in his pocket. He drains the last of his third cup of tea, wiping his mouth gently with a cloth napkin. Viktor looks at him as he stands. “How long will you be, Lyubov?” he asks.

“The meeting will be a few hours, they’re doing a final fitting for that outfit, double-checking the crowns and whatnot. Running through the ceremony with me. But then’s dinner, and I’ll be free after that.” Viktor nods.

It’s going to be unpleasant, sitting and waiting like he has been, but there’s not much else he can do. He kisses Yuuri’s forehead and makes a note to ask a member of the staff later when he should expect his food to be delivered. Yuuri sighs, heavy and defeated, and he looks to be on the verge of tears when he stands and allows himself to be wrapped in a hug. His arms drape themselves loosely around Viktor’s waist, his cheek coming to rest on Viktor’s shoulder as he lets out a trembling breath. They spend a few minutes in the quiet, holding each other as best they can before Yuuri’s second alarm goes off.

Pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Viktor’s mouth, he tries for a smile. “I’ll see you later, Vitya.”

Viktor nods. “I’ll see you soon, Lyubov. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Yuuri says, before the door is closed behind him and Viktor is, once again, left alone. He puts on his pajamas, pulls out a book, and prepares to wait.

 

~*~

 

Viktor’s halfway through the last chapter when he’s surprised by a knock on his door. Standing, he throws a robe on over his pajamas and pads over. Opening it, he sees Yuuri.  He’s still in traditional formal wear, albeit not the somber outfit he was wearing earlier. This time it’s a grey shirt, embroidered with silver on the left side and at the ends of the bell sleeves. The black undershirt matches Yuuri's loose pants, tucked into split-toed boots at midcalf. His hair’s still slicked back, but some pieces around his face are starting to come loose. He looks tired, though, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. Viktor grins, happy to see him, only to feel his face fall when he sees his worried expression.

“What’s wrong, Lyubov?”

“Are… are you not coming to dinner?” Yuuri asks softly, glancing down at Viktor’s pajamas.

“Dinner? Your mom said it was going to be a private affair.”

“And you assumed that meant… without you?”

Viktor nods.

“All she meant by that was we weren’t going to be inviting people. It’ll be just the family. And the family’s guests-slash-significant-others. Which means you, unless…” He thinks Viktor doesn’t want to go.

“No, Yuuri, I’d… I’d love to come,” he says, raking hair out of his eyes with one hand. “I just didn’t realize I was invited. I know today’s been hard, and I wanted you to have time with your family.”

When he looks down, tears are gathered at the corners of Yuuri's eyes. As he watches, one slips down his cheek, coming to rest on his jaw.

“I just wanted you to feel comfortable, Yuuri,” he says, putting his hands on Yuuri's shoulders. “I didn’t want to intrude.”

“Vitya,” Yuuri says hoarsely. “I haven’t been home in more than a decade. I’m more used to being around you than— please. I need you by my side, Vityusha. I can’t do this alone.” More tears are running down his face. This must be a nightmare. Viktor’s world was thrown for a loop, but Yuuri's must feel like it’s ending. He wraps his arms around Yuuri, pulling him into the room and kicking the door shut.

“I’ll be there, Yuuri. I’ll go wherever you need me.” Cupping Yuuri's cheek in his hand, he kisses him softly, pressing their foreheads together.

“My god, Vityusha, we need to talk about this. We need…we can’t just leave things as they are.” His voice is halting, full of sadness and near-desperation. Resting his hands on Viktor’s arm, he bites his lip.

“We need to talk, Yuuri, yes. And we will. But right now, you need to make it through tonight and tomorrow in one piece, and I promise, no matter what, I’ll be by your side the entire time, as much as possible,” he says, and he can feel his throat getting tighter. “Yuuri, I know you know things are less than ideal right now. I also know that you didn’t want everything to happen this way. I want to talk, believe me; I have so many more questions, but for now, let’s do the unhealthy thing and shove everything down until the coronation’s over.”

Tears flow faster now, streaking Yuuri's cheeks and falling heavily onto his shirt collar. “I’m so sorry, Vitya.”

“I know, Lyubov moya, I know. I’m not angry with you, you had your reasons,” he says gently, “and I trust you’re going to explain everything in detail, like you said you would. You’ve been nothing but honest with me since we’ve gotten here, Yuuri, and that means more than you seem to think.”

Yuuri nods slowly.

“I love you so much, Yuuri. I’m not just going to abandon you at the first sign of trouble.” And now Yuuri's crying more, tears streaming openly down his face as hitched sobs force their way out of his throat. He flings his arms around Viktor, burying his face in his shoulder, and Viktor rubs his hands up and down Yuuri's back, his own face wet with tears.

They separate a few minutes later. Yuuri rubs his face and eyes vigorously. He freezes a few seconds later, touching the space under one eye gingerly, feeling around for something. He makes a noise under his breath as he picks something small up, placing it gingerly in his palm. Hand held out in front of him, he looks at Viktor with one eye closed. “I’m, um, going to go take out my other contact, I’ll meet you back here?”

“What should I wear?” Viktor asks.

Shrugging, Yuuri says, “I don’t know. Nice jeans with that one knit sweater? With the boxes on it.”

Viktor nods. He knows the outfit Yuuri's talking about, and it’s near the top of his luggage. After dipping into the bathroom to change and comb his hair, he emerges with a smile. Sitting on his couch is Yuuri, now wearing his glasses.

Yuuri takes his hand, giving it a squeeze before threading their fingers together. They walk through the halls, but instead of heading to one of the main dining rooms, Yuuri's taking them further into the residential area. “We have a private dining room,” he says, “for when it’s just us.”

Yuuri makes a turn at the end of the hall, opening a set of sliding doors. He removes his boots just inside the door, Viktor following suit, and they take their places at the low table. Mari, who’d stood up when they entered, sits when Yuuri takes his seat, giving a cursory nod as she picks her phone up again. Viktor sits to Yuuri’s left, Mari to his right, but Hiroko’s nowhere to be found.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” Viktor says with a smile.

“‘Mari’ is fine in private, Viktor,” she says, “and good evening to yourself.”

“Is your mother joining us?” he asks.

For the first time that day, Yuuri smiles, giving a short wiggle of his shoulders. “She is, but she’s cooking dinner. She’s making us katsudon.”

“Your mother can cook?”

Mari leans forward. “She took a class when she was in school, and learned to make katsudon because it was something our dad loved. He made it too sometimes, after she taught him, but he was usually too busy.”

Another door slides open in the room, and Hiroko walks in, followed by several attendants carrying trays. She sits, and food is placed on the table, followed by a pot of tea. A pair of ceramic chopsticks is set in front of each of them, and the attendants vanish as quickly as they’d come in.

Viktor opens his mouth to say something, closing it again when he realizes he’s not entirely sure how to address anyone. Mari had said he could use her name in private, but he isn’t sure if that means here with the staff just one room over, or just when they’re in a sitting room with the door closed. As it stands, they seem to be alone, but there might be people within earshot, and he purses his lips in a frown.

“Vitya?” Yuuri says gently. The nickname answers Viktor’s question. “Everything ok? Oh, god it’s the pork isn’t it?” He buries his face in his hands with a groan.

“What?”

“I forgot to ask if you keep kosher. Do you need something else to eat?”

“No, no, Yuuri, it's fine. I eat pork. I figured everything out.” He beams at Yuuri while Mari smiles at him from across the table. Hiroko pats his hand gently.

“Have you had katsudon before, Vicchan?”

“No, I haven’t,” he says, smiling as he remembers Yuuri mentioning it in Russia.

“It was Yuuri-kun’s favorite food as a child!” Hiroko says as Viktor takes his first bite.

His eyes widen. The pork melts in his mouth, flavor mixing with the egg and daishi and it’s an absolute dream on his taste buds.

“This is amazing! I can see why he loves it so much!” Viktor exclaims, shoving another bite into his mouth. “I swear, it tastes like it was sent from heaven itself!”

Hiroko beams at him.

Yuuri tucks in enthusiastically, savoring each bite as it comes. After a minute, Viktor sees him look at his bowl, swallowing thickly.

“Lyubov?” Viktor says softly, reaching his hand towards Yuuri. Yuuri takes it, lacing their fingers together and giving a squeeze. “Are you…is something wrong?”

Yuuri shakes his head as a solitary tear makes its way down his cheek. “I just…I missed this, so much. Not katsudon, specifically, my bodyguard made it for me but…”

“Your mom’s?”

Yuuri nods, swallowing thickly before taking a deep breath. Mari and Hiroko share a glance as Yuuri collects himself. Viktor rubs the back of Yuuri's hand with his fingers, smiling at him softly. “Eat it before it gets cold, Yuuri,” he says, voice gentle. Yuuri's head jerks up, and his eyes fill with tears as he stares at Viktor. He looks back down at his bowl, swallowing thickly, before he clears his throat.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” he says flatly. There’s no emotion in his voice, no expression on his face, and he turns to meet Viktor’s eyes with such raw pain in his own it causes Viktor’s heart to skip a beat, and then he’s gone, scrambling quickly to run out of the room. The door slams behind him, Viktor can hear quick footsteps in the hall and before he knows it, Mari’s stood up as well.

“I’ll go find him,” she says softly, before she, too, leaves.

Viktor shifts uncomfortably, looking at Hiroko. “I should go too.”

His heart falls when she shakes her head. “Yuuri-kun is overwhelmed right now.”

“But still, if I can help him feel better I should.”

“Vicchan, where will you look for him?”

Pursing his lips, he stares at the queen mother. Where would he go? Left is his best guess, based on Yuuri's footsteps. But then there are hallways, rooms, passages, and he has no experience navigating the palace. He’d be lucky if he made it from his room to Yuuri's without getting lost. Sighing, he looks at Hiroko. She nods, not unkindly, and clasps his hand in hers.

“Vicchan, he’ll be ok. Mari will take care of him.”

Viktor nods. He takes another few bites of his dinner.

“Hiroko-san?”

“Yes?”

Viktor takes a deep breath. “What can I do? How can I help Yuuri?”

“Be honest with him, Vicchan. And be honest with yourself. For what it’s worth,” she says, eyes twinkling, “I've never gotten the impression Yuuri would have you anywhere but by his side.”

Frozen warmth spreads through Viktor, hope for his future with Yuuri warring with dread at what struggles they may have to face.



They’re sitting at the table when Mari returns alone. Hiroko gestures at an attendant, and fresh tea is brought out as Mari kneels at the table. “Yuuri’s in bed,” she says with a sigh.

“Did I do something wrong?” Viktor asks curiously.

“No,” she says, “he just… It’s his anxiety, he said.”

“Did he have another attack?”

She looks at him curiously, before her face fades into a sort of sad understanding. “Yeah. He was pretty much asleep when I left.”

Viktor’s phone vibrates in his pocket, but he ignores it in favor of his tea. Hiroko and Mari share a long look over their own cups.

“Viktor?” Mari asks tentatively. He looks up, inquisitive as he takes another sip of tea. “Does this happen often?” She looks concerned, mouth twisted to the side.

“Not too often,” Viktor says, “just when he’s under a lot of stress.”

Mari huffs. “He’ll be under a lot of that,” she says, “especially over the next few days.”

Viktor’s phone vibrates again, and when he pulls it out of his pocket to look at the screen, Yuuri’s name flashes again with another text message. He swallows. A cursory glance at his mug tells him he’s almost finished, so he drains the last of it before failing to stifle a convenient yawn.

“Vicchan,” the queen says, “please don’t stay up on our account if you need to sleep, you must be exhausted.”

“Thank you, Hiroko-san,” he replies, “I should probably head to bed. Should I expect someone to come set up the livestream again tomorrow?”

Nodding, Hiroko smiles softly. “Yes. They’ll be there about half an hour before the event starts to make sure everything’s connected alright.”

“Understood.” Viktor smiles as he stands. “The food was wonderful, and the company better,” he says. “I’ll see you both tomorrow?”

They nod in unison. “Goodnight, Vicchan,” Hiroko says warmly.

“Good night,” he responds. Mari gives a wave and he heads out, pulling his shoes on without tying them and taking out his phone when he closes the door behind him.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   sorry about that.
<<<   if you want, you can come to my room when you’re done
<<<   only if you want thought i understand if you don’t

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’ll come! I was going to change into pajamas, unless you want me there right now.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   that’s fine! that’s ok.
<<<   if you don’t want to come that’s fine too
<<<   up to you.

 

Viktor runs his fingers through his hair as he tries to figure out where in the palace he is, exactly. Seeing a picture he remembers passing with Yuuri, he heads in that direction. Yuuri’s clearly anxious still, clearly feeling like an imposition judging by the amount of times he gave Viktor an out. He turns down another vaguely familiar-looking corridor, but doesn’t see anything distinctive.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’ll be there soon. I’m trying to figure out how to get back to my room, the palace is very confusing.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   lol. i still get vaguely confused sometimes (Θ︹Θ)ს
<<<   it’s easier to follow the attendants when they’re escorting me
<<<   do you need me to come find you?

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   No, I should be able to do it.
>>>   … Can you tell me how to get there? ( ̄▽ ̄;)ゞ

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   [photo attached] your room is across from this painting of my grandpa
<<<   not directly across, but like
<<<   a few feet down. it’s the only door nearby

 

Continuing down the hallway, Viktor scans the walls in search of the painting. He looks down each hallway as he passes, almost missing the right one, seeing the painting just before he looks away. He makes it successfully to his room, changes, and pulls out his phone as he’s closing the door behind him.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Now how do I get to your room?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   lol.
<<<   turn right out of your room  (o^^)o
<<<   down the hall turn right again (o^^)o
<<<   left down the first hall after that  o(^^o)
<<<   you should see all the paintings
<<<   the ones of my predecessors?
<<<   i’m at the very end  \(^O^)/

 

With renewed determination, he follows the directions, sighing with relief when he sees the portrait-lined hallway. Jogging the last half, he comes to a stop in front of the carved wooden door. He knocks, and the door is opened quickly by Yuuri, eyes swollen red and his hair disheveled. He’s wearing sweats and a T-shirt under a lined silk robe, and he smiles when Viktor waves, stepping aside to let him in.

Once the door is closed, Yuuri wraps his arms around Viktor, burying his face in his chest.

“Do you want to talk about it, Lyubov?” Yuuri shakes his head. “Tea?” A shrug. “We have sleepytime, I think.” A moment of hesitation, and then a nod. “Would you like me to make it for you?” Holding his breath, he looks down at Yuuri, hoping he didn’t overdo it. To his relief, Yuuri nods into his shoulder. He smiles, pressing a kiss to Yuuri’s forehead, whispering promises of comfort and tea while he tries not to think about how little he can truly do in the face of such an overwhelming, abrupt change.

 

Laying in Viktor’s arms under the covers, Yuuri absently runs his finger down his chest. He’s been almost silent since they had their tea, saying only a few words after they brushed their teeth. It’s impossible to tell what’s on his mind, as deep in thought as he is, and Viktor feels himself starting to drift off when he notices a tear sliding down the side of Yuuri’s face. He kisses his forehead.

“I'm not ready for this, Vityusha,” Yuuri says quietly, with little inflection. “I'm not ready to rule.”

There’s really nothing to say in response to that, so Viktor lays another kiss on Yuuri’s forehead, holding it for a moment before he pulls back. The tears flow faster now, Viktor’s heart aches in sympathy and he wishes desperately that there was something, anything he could do to ease Yuuri’s mind. He’s never felt so helpless, so useless.

“How am I supposed to do this?” Yuuri says, voice thick with emotion and shaky with fear. “How… how am I supposed to lead? I… I was trained, yeah, but I don’t have any experience. I've never… I was supposed to start working with my dad years ago, training under him, seeing- seeing how he ruled, but now…” voice catching in his throat, Yuuri stifles a sob. “How am I supposed to do this when the only person I can ask for advice, the only person who would understand is- is dead?” He sounds so lost, so broken, Viktor feels himself on the verge of crying as well.

Pulling Yuuri close, he kisses the top of his head. “Would your mother have advice?” Anxiety thrums in the back of his mind again. It's been a near constant presence since the airport, but now it’s pushing at his mental barriers, threatening to crash through him with the barest provocation.

“She m-might, but… She’s never had to rule and Mari wasn't ever t-trained because lineage is patriarchal and I—” a choked sob cuts him off as he clings to Viktor. Shaking, he cries into Viktor’s shoulder.

“I'm here, Lyubov. You don’t have to get through this alone.”

“How am I supposed to- to go through the coronation and not… How do I just look like I'm fine when I'm not?” He pulls back, looking up at Viktor with a tear-stained face.

“I'll be watching,” Viktor says softly. “I'll be watching, stay strong for me if that’s what you need to do.” He hates this, hates that he can’t go, but even if he could, he wouldn’t be allowed to hold Yuuri. Wouldn’t be allowed to comfort him, not in the ways he’d need. Somehow, it seems like it would be worse to be there, to be so maddeningly close but unable to help.

Yuuri shifts to lay closer to him, nodding into his shoulder. “Watch me,” he says, “please. Don’t take your eyes off me, Vitya.”

“Not once, Lyubov,” he says into Yuuri’s hair. “I'll watch until it’s over, and I'll be here when you get home.”

“I love you so much,” he rasps. “Vityusha I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” Viktor replies, running his fingers through the hairs at the base of Yuuri’s neck. Still trembling, Yuuri pulls himself closer to Viktor, entwining their legs under the blankets as he does his best to breathe. He’s terrified, it’s clear, and the only choice he has, aside from being crowned king tomorrow, is abdication before his reign begins. It’s never been mentioned as an option before, though, and Yuuri seems determined to follow through.

Still, being trapped like this, having only one real option… Viktor’s felt trapped before, felt stifled by his fame, his career, the expectations Russia has placed on his shoulders, but he’s never truly not had a way out. At any point he could have retired and now, with all the money he’s put away and carefully invested, he could and live comfortably for the rest of his life. He’d be lying if he said a small part of him wasn’t wondering if he should. Even so, Yuuri doesn’t have that out, doesn’t have that option, and he’s not so sure Yuuri wouldn’t blame himself for Viktor’s retirement.

He pulls the blanket higher up the bed, covering their shoulders, and when he pulls back to say goodnight, Yuuri’s already asleep. Tear tracks stain his face, his eyes are puffy and his nose is red, but he looks to be at peace, untroubled by what tomorrow brings, and as he snuggles closer with the barest hint of a smile, Viktor can’t help but hold him tightly.

Tomorrow will be another day of watching and waiting while Yuuri braves his birthright, but he knows Yuuri can get through it, and he knows he’ll be at the palace when Yuuri returns, ready and waiting with a mug of tea and love on his lips. Settling in, he pulls Yuuri’s head just a bit closer, to kiss love into his slumber, and he takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

They just have to get through tomorrow.

 

~*~

 

They wake in each other’s arms, the chill of the morning biting at their cheeks and the backs of their necks as they huddle close. Despite having slept, Yuuri has massive dark circles under his eyes, a deep purple that screams exhaustion. They take turns in the shower, Yuuri letting Viktor go first in favor of getting a few more minutes of rest. As Yuuri curls back into the blankets it strikes Viktor once again just how young he is. It makes the sinking pit in his stomach worse when he remembers the imminent coronation.

“I’m not ready for this, Vityusha.” Yuuri’s voice had been empty, devoid of emotion at first, and it comes to mind with jarring clarity.

Running his fingers through his hair repeatedly, combing through the tangles and straightening the bedhead as best he can, Viktor makes his way to the bathroom. He’s grateful for the warmed tile under his feet as he strips down, putting his clothing in the concealed hamper hidden cleverly in a small cupboard. Plush towels are hung over the warming rack, already turned on via some sort of remotely controlled system, and the heat radiates throughout the room, chasing the winter cold away.

Yuuri’s bathroom never fails to impress him, from the sheer size of it, much larger than Viktor’s at home, to the carved sinks and the massive bathtub set into a corner near the window. The view of the grounds is incredible, and gauzy curtains provide privacy while still allowing natural light to fill the space. The shower warms quickly and he steps in, allowing the water to cascade over his head and shoulders, letting the heat ease his tense muscles.

“I’m not ready to rule.” The way Yuuri said it made it sound less like a concern and more like a statement of fact. A painful lump forms in the back of Viktor’s throat. While he washes his hair, he does his best to blink back the burning tears in his eyes. He’s not the one getting crowned today. He isn’t the one being forced into a birthright he’s not ready for. Viktor isn’t the one who was denied the ability to be honest, to get genuine comfort from the people he loved the most. When he thinks about it, though, he’d been denied the opportunity to give that comfort. He’d tried his best over the past few months, desperately trying everything he could think of to encourage Yuuri, to ease his worries, but the comfort he knew to offer was entirely different from the comfort Yuuri had needed.

All of his reassurance, that he loves Yuuri, that he has faith in him must have just felt worse in light of what was happening, the forced deception upon which Yuuri’s life had apparently depended, and all Viktor had been able to do was to watch the emotional fallout. Eyes burning, throat growing tighter by the second, he soaps up a washcloth, running it quickly, harshly across his body. There’s no reason he should be crying, no reason he should be sad… but he has every reason in the world to be angry.

Angry at being denied the opportunity to do something. Angry at the idea of Yuuri being forced to hide such an integral part of himself, being unable to get the reassurance he truly needed and had so desperately wanted. “It’s not like you’re telling me what you do need!” Viktor had shouted. The words must have cut deep, the guilt he’d seen on Yuuri’s face shortly after too raw for it to have been otherwise. His promises that he loved Yuuri, that he’d stay with him… Yuuri had every reason to doubt them, every reason to believe Viktor would end things. Every reason to believe that Viktor would find him to be too much to deal with, in a cruel twist of irony.

He’s surprised to find a bottle of his face wash sitting next to Yuuri’s. He has his own in his room, half-empty and battered from travel, but this one is new. Yuuri must have been anticipating Viktor using his shower at some point. The gesture brings a smile to his face, but one that fades quickly. Being truly honest with himself, Viktor’s forced to admit that this new dynamic in their relationship, this new information he has, is daunting.

He’s never been one to back down from a challenge, though, and Yuuri… Yuuri is worth the fight.

 

The towels are warm as he dries himself, the bathrobe soft against his skin as he ties it around his waist. Running his hand over his chin, he feels new growth, the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow. There are no razors to be found, and he doesn’t quite feel comfortable raiding Yuuri’s toiletry bag, wherever it may be, so shaving is going to have to wait. Yuuri’s still asleep when he gets out, curled around a pillow. Groggy as Viktor got up to shower, he’d asked to be woken when Viktor was done, so Viktor sits near him on the bed, smiles at the trail of drool leading to the pillow, and gently shakes his shoulder. Yuuri merely groans, rolling over and pulling the blankets with him, so Viktor moves to the other side before repeating the the gesture. At that, Yuuri slowly blinks his eyes, squinting into the sunlight coming in through the windows behind Viktor.

“You showered?” he asks, throat hoarse. Viktor nods.

“I did. The water pressure here is perfect!” He tries to smile, and Yuuri smiles in return.

As is customary, Yuuri grumbles about having to be up so early as he drags himself from the bed to shower. Viktor dries off and changes, lets in an attendant delivering coffee and pastries, and is on his phone at the table when Yuuri walks into the sitting room. He’s wearing clean sweats and a t-shirt to eat in, not wanting to risk coffee on the formal robes he’ll don for the ceremony. Sitting next to Viktor, he leans on him as he prepares his coffee. Viktor takes a sip of his own. They eat in comfortable silence, for the most part, though there’s a tense undercurrent. It’s impossible to ignore the coronation. Impossible for either of them to forget, even for a second, what Yuuri faces.

Yuuri sighs deeply as he pours a second cup, adding cream and sugar slowly, but with purpose. Viktor rubs his back. The tension only grows as Yuuri glances repeatedly at the clock, turning his mug in his hands until Viktor reminds him to actually drink the coffee. When his phone goes off, Yuuri’s breath catches in his throat and his hands shake as he silences it. The dregs of his coffee are drained, the last of a chocolate croissant shoved into his mouth, and Yuuri stands. Viktor keeps his arm around Yuuri’s waist as they walk to the door, lays a kiss on his forehead when Yuuri hugs him, and, when Yuuri leaves, swallows the impulse to call him back, to pull him into the room and under the covers and hide him away from the world.

It’s starting to feel like neither of them have much choice in anything, and it’s with that thought running through his head that he grabs his phone and jacket, and prepares to meet Yuuri outside before the ceremony.

 

~*~

 

When Viktor sees Yuuri next, standing near the carriage that will take him to the ceremonial front gates of the palace, he’s absolutely resplendent. His formal robes are a deep green, the thick cloak he’s wearing included, complimenting the emeralds set into the golden circlet he’s wearing. The crown they will use in the ceremony follows the same color scheme, though it’s far more elaborate. Yuuri’s black undershirt only serves to emphasize his hands, long fingers moving through the air as he gestures at his sister. He nods when Viktor approaches.

“Mr. Nikiforov, hello,” Yuuri says with an attempt at a smile. His nose is slightly red at the tip with cold and Viktor strongly resists the urge to kiss it.

“Your Majesty,” Viktor says. He looks at Mari and nods. “Your Highness.”

“Mr. Nikiforov,” she replies, demure. She, too, is dressed in a rich green, her kimono simple but elegant. The ornamentation in her hair matches the color scheme of Yuuri’s circlet.

“Have you come to see me off?” Yuuri asks. He’s putting on a brave face, enough to fool most people, but not Viktor. Viktor can see the near-terror in his eyes, the way he chews on the inside of his lip when he’s not speaking or pretending to smile, and he wishes, not for the first time, that there weren’t so many rules about when and how he can comfort his boyfriend. He settles for a kind smile.

“I have,” he says. Yuuri’s not going far, just to a different area of the (admittedly large) palace, but he’ll be taken to the gates first, before walking from there all the way through to the throne room, where he’ll be crowned. Viktor has yet to see it. His tour hadn’t taken him through the showier areas of the palace, the grandeur made to be seen at events and state functions, to emphasize the family’s status. He suspects Yuuri’d rather give that tour himself.

As Yuuri glances around at the staff and guards in the area nervously, his lip starts trembling and his posture stiffens in an attempt to avoid curling in on himself. Mari looks at him, sighing softly before clearing her throat. Staff and guards all stop what they’re doing, turning towards her. “If you could all turn around, please? Give us a moment of privacy?”

Within moments, all backs are to them. Viktor hears Yuuri whisper a “thank you” before he feels his arms wrap around him. Yuuri’s careful to keep his face off Viktor’s clothing, not wanting to ruin the hard work of the makeup artist, but he clings to Viktor just the same. Pulling Yuuri close, Viktor lays a kiss on his temple, rubs his back as he holds him. Trembling ever-so-slightly, Yuuri takes deep breaths in an attempt to steel himself for the coronation. They stand together in silence for a moment, taking what comfort they can from each other’s presence, the small bit of warmth in the literal and metaphorical cold, but all too soon, Mari taps both of them gently on the shoulder.

“Yuuri, it’s time,” she says, the barest hesitation in her voice.

Fists clench against Viktor’s back, Yuuri gripping his sweater tightly before pulling away. Pulling out a pack of tissues, Viktor takes one and starts dabbing gently at Yuuri’s eyes. “You can do this, Velichestvo,” he says. Yuuri merely nods, biting his lip. Pressing a kiss to Yuuri’s nose brings the ghost of a smile. A gentle kiss to his lips widens it before it vanishes. “I’ll be here when you finish. I’ll even make you tea if that’s what you’d like.”

Yuuri nods, moving a hand to wipe his face with his sleeve before catching sight of the deep green fabric and remembering his makeup. He settles for wringing his hands, looking up at Viktor with another fleeting smile. “Sneaky, Mr. Nikiforov.”

Viktor grins, sharing a glance with Mari. “They can’t get mad at me if I’m just using my native language.” Leaning in, he whispers in the shell of Yuuri’s ear, “it can be our little secret that it’s a substitute for a certain other word in Russian, Lyubov.” There’s a small gasp, and a genuine smile comes over Yuuri’s face. It, like the others, is brief, but it warms Viktor’s heart regardless. He grins, laying another kiss on Yuuri’s lips.

“Very sneaky, Mr. Nikiforov,” Yuuri says, before kissing Viktor once more and backing away.  Mari gives permission for the staff to resume their duties, and Yuuri shares a long look with Viktor before he’s swept into the carriage, followed shortly by Hiroko and Mari. Before he’s taken away, Viktor sees Yuuri pull out the lip balm and apply it gently to his lips, smacking them with a sigh.

Viktor turns back to the palace.

 

~*~

 

“I’m not ready to rule.” Yuuri had sounded so incredibly sure of himself, and it’s those words that have been playing on repeat in the back of Viktor’s mind while he waits for the broadcast to start. He’s sitting in his bedroom this time, his computer open on the small table, a one-person coffee service taking up the rest of the space. A carafe, cream and sugar in china on a shining silver tray sit next to a small selection of cookies and biscotti. He picks one up, almond, and takes a bite.

A message pops up on the screen, warning him that there are only a few minutes until the ceremony begins, and he leans forward in his seat. There will be another processional, Yuuri walking this time across the grounds of the palace. Rich blue carpet is laid out leading to the palace, the path lined by guards. As the carriage pulls up and Yuuri gets out, the guards salute with a shout while the crowd erupts into whispers. This is only Yuuri’s second official public appearance since he was eight, he’d said when they discussed things with his mother, and it’s clear the country is clamoring for a look at him. After greeting the crowd, Yuuri begins to make the long walk towards the palace, flanked by Mari and Hiroko. The guards hold their salute, the crowd bows as he passes, and Yuuri’s jaw clenches. The amount of attention, the type of attention he’s getting must be making his nerves even worse. Despite this, Yuuri keeps his eyes forward, fixed firmly on the building in front of him.

Compared to what Viktor knows of coronations which is, admittedly, not much, Yuuri’s seems to be a simple affair. A solemn occasion as Yuuri accepts both the crown and responsibility for the future of his people. He makes his way up the palace’s front staircase slowly. Regally. As if he has more right than anyone to be walking this path, and he does, Viktor realizes in a sudden jolt of clarity. The Royal Guard, still standing at attention along the staircase, only serve to emphasize this fact. With this on his shoulders, it’s no wonder Yuuri’d had such a keen understanding of Viktor’s need to be treated normally. Yuuri greets the crowd before entering the palace proper, and the video cuts to an interior shot. Yuuri makes his way through a grand entrance hall, stopping to allow his heavy overcoat to be removed, and into the imposing throne room, the symbolic center of Sachima’s government. The assembled crowd is no one Viktor recognizes, though all are dressed formally, and all eyes are on Yuuri as he walks to the dais. Since Yuuri’s gotten into the carriage, there’s been not one moment that he wasn’t under heavy scrutiny, and Viktor would be lying if he said he wasn’t worried about how Yuuri’s going to come out of this.

Yuuri makes his way down the center aisle much in the same way he’s walked the entire distance so far. There’s a change in camera once Yuuri reaches the dais at the end of the room, and for the first time, Viktor sees the throne. It’s a solid seat of power, cherrywood and intricate metalwork blended together subtly, but in a way that draws the eye. In and of itself, it’s impossible to ignore, but behind it is Yuuri’s family crest. Large and imposing, it dominates the wall, emphasizing the throne. Yuuri comes to stand in front of it, and it serves only to emphasize him. Whoever designed the throne room knew what they were doing, how to draw the eye. Much of the ceremony consists of Yuuri standing, listening to officials read off various responsibilities of his while he promises to uphold them, to rule justly and with grace. Viktor is grateful for the captions in his native Russian, translating the Sachiman Japanese used in the ceremony.

“As King,” a woman says, “it is expected that the welfare of your people, the integrity of your kingdom, will be of utmost priority.”

“I understand,” Yuuri replies, “and I humbly commit to serving the nation of Akitsushima, to serving my people, at whatever cost is necessary, until the end of my reign.”

Yuuri is stubborn, Viktor knows this. Yuuri has integrity, takes his promises seriously, and today he’s promising to put his duty above himself, even as the officials surrounding him nod in satisfaction. Viktor would be lying if he said it didn’t just add to the ever-present worry in the back of his mind. There’s another speech, detailing the history of the Royal Family, reminding Yuuri of the legacy that is his to uphold, the next in an unbroken line of kings going back centuries. Particular emphasis is put on the sovereignty of the nation after its fight for independence, a reminder that Yuuri is a symbol of that as well. Grandson of the man who took the nation back, Yuuri is much closer to such a pivotal point in Sachima’s history than Viktor had realized. Yuuri had likely known the man, if he’d been old enough to be present at his father’s coronation dinner. The camera stays with wide shots, so it’s difficult to read Yuuri’s expression beyond the somber mask he’s putting on for the world. An attendant in ceremonial clothing comes forward with a green velvet cushion, on top of which is a large golden crown. It’s tall, intricate, and encrusted with emeralds on each of the many points. Yuuri, still standing, faces the rest of the hall, looking over the room as someone comes up behind him, taking the circlet carefully from his head and moving quickly aside. Slowly, Yuuri lowers himself onto the throne in a graceful, practiced move. The jut of his chin stirs something in Viktor before it dawns on him.

He’s turned it into a performance, Viktor realizes. Instead of going through the motions of a ceremony, he’s performing them for an audience. He wonders if it’s for the benefit of the crowd, or some sort of coping mechanism. Or both, even. Viktor knows well how much easier it is to be in the public eye when you’re wearing a mask, when observers only think they’re seeing the real you. The same determined glint stays in Yuuri’s eyes as he gazes stonily ahead while a man in a traditional hakama and haori moves behind him with the larger crown. Subtly chewing the inside of his lip, Yuuri’s fists tighten on the armrests, the tips of his fingers going white if the camera is to be trusted. His eye twitches as the crown is lowered onto his head, his shoulders settling with the weight of it as he raises his chin just slightly.

He looks born to wear it, something about the way he’s holding himself incredibly self-assured, projecting a distinct air of authority, even as Viktor sees him take a hitched breath. It’s clear how good Yuuri is at playing his part, how much practice he has putting a mask on for the world. Knowing of the decade and a half Yuuri spent in hiding, Viktor is still more surprised than he thought he'd have been.

When a booming voice declares him King, Yuuri’s posture straightens further. Much of the audience is off-camera, but the small group of people Viktor can see prostrate themselves while the guards bow their heads. He assumes the entire room is following suit. Those on the dais bow deeply, Mari and Hiroko included, and as Yuuri’s gaze traces over the sea of people, he looks oddly detached. His expression is very much the same, but his eyes have lost that look of fierce determination in favor of a distant gaze.

He’s in the middle of a full-blown anxiety attack, and there’s nothing Viktor can do to help. No steps Yuuri can take to calm down, not in front of his people. Not in front of the world, watching much as Viktor is through the lenses of cameras. The hum of anxiety, of fear and trepidation makes itself known again, that eerie feeling of wrongness seeps through his core as Viktor stares at the screen. He hardly knows what the next speeches are about, eyes fixed on Yuuri instead of reading the captions. It’s hard to watch, even though Yuuri doesn’t do much. Harder still when Viktor remembers they’re technically in the same building, that he could be there if only he knew how to get there, propriety be damned. Even if he could have gone, though, he’d still be permitted nowhere near Yuuri. Nowhere near the throne.

He’d still be just as useless as he is sitting in his rooms. On-screen, Yuuri’s eyes flicker towards the camera, as if looking at Viktor. Yuuri knows he’s watching, Viktor promised he would do so. Yuuri’s doing his best to be strong, because he doesn’t have a choice, he has to appear unshakeable as the new sovereign. Because anything less is not enough. Because Viktor is watching.

“Watch me, Vityusha,” he’d said, and Viktor does. Through the final speeches, as Yuuri walks to the staircase and greets his people, golden crown perched firmly on his head. He watches while Yuuri’s joined by his family, taking a moment to stand proudly before the crowd assembled. He watches as they wave, as Yuuri offers a smile looking, for all the world, like he’s comfortable, like he wasn’t sobbing into Viktor’s chest last night, terrified of exactly this moment. Yuuri leads the processional back to the carriage, walking proudly down the same blue carpet with the same impeccable posture. Viktor notices large screens on either side of the crowd, broadcasting Yuuri’s movements and, presumably, having shown the coronation live. Camera angles on the way in had hidden them from Viktor’s view, somehow, but there’s no way Yuuri had missed them. No way Yuuri could ignore that the eyes of a nation are fixed firmly on him. The eyes of countless unnamed people across the globe.

Yuuri climbs gracefully into the carriage once he reaches it, getting ready for the procession around the city. As the new King, it’s a ceremonial gesture of greeting, of acknowledgment and connection with his subjects, and cameras pan over a wide shot of the people lining the streets. The crowd is ten, twenty people thick in places, and the procession, similar to the one just before the funeral, stretches for several kilometers, winding its way through the city’s historic center, around the false castle on the hill near the ocean, and down the main avenues. Every time Yuuri is on-screen he has his head held high, his eyes fixed on the horizon.

Viktor watches, keeps the livestream going on his computer, but he pulls out the stack of paperwork for his new security clearance and his favorite pen.  The carafe of coffee keeps him company as he fills out each form in painstaking detail, and it’s little effort to poke his head out of his room and ask a passing attendant for a refill. He’d normally prefer to get it himself, if not make it himself (or ask Yuuri to do it, and it’s so strange to remember him as a barista even if it’s only been three days since Viktor had learned the truth,) but as it is, he has no idea where to even start looking for the kitchens. The coffee is delivered in short order; the empty carafe, dirty mug and serving dishes whisked away with barely a word.

 

~*~

 

When Viktor sees Yuuri again, near the rear steps of the palace, he’s almost in a daze. He’s responding to people well enough, allowing the ceremonial crown to be taken off his head and polished before the impromptu photo shoot. It’s a nice day outside, and the palace windows are letting the light in well, so the Royal Family’s official photographers want to take advantage to get additional, posed pictures of the King on his coronation day, rather than waiting a day or two as is tradition. Viktor just wants to wrap him in a blanket, shove him in the bedroom so he’s no longer under the scrutiny of the public, the staff, or anyone really.

Mari and Hiroko stand nearby, glancing concernedly at Yuuri from time to time. They seemingly can’t see the extent of his panic, and when Viktor gives it some thought it’s understandable. They don’t know Yuuri. They can’t see the tiny signals he’s sending, how he chews his lip, how his thumbs constantly rub his knuckles as he tries to calm himself. They keep talking to him, and he’s reduced to nodding or shaking his head when he can, or offering answers of as few words as possible when more input is required. Hiroko reaches out and touches him, surprised when his arm jerks back. Yuuri rubs the spot she'd made contact with. Confused, concerned, Hiroko glances between her two children. Viktor approaches Mari slowly.

“Your Highness,” he says softly, “a word please? Now?”

Nodding, Mari turns and walks a few feet away. “What is it, Mr. Nikiforov?” she asks, glancing back at her little brother. Viktor takes a breath.

“Your Highness, I understand that they need pictures of Y- His Majesty soon, but at the moment he needs some time away from the cameras. Away from everyone.” Glancing back over, it’s easy to see Yuuri still smiling as best he can, but it’s clear he’s not improving.

“Right now, Viktor?”

Looking at Mari, he nods. “Yes, Your Highness. Right now.”

Her eyes search Viktor’s face for something, some answer to an unasked question, but she merely sighs in agreement. “I will take care of things. You… you go take care of Yuuri. Take care of my little brother.”

“I promise, Your Highness,” he says. “I will.”

Mari walks over, pulling a group of people aside in a hushed whisper while Viktor makes his way to Yuuri. Taking Yuuri’s hand at this point would likely send him running, so Viktor moves in front of him, speaking gently.

“Velichestvo,” he says softly. “Velichestvo, please, look at me.”

Slowly, Yuuri’s eyes come to meet Viktor’s, before darting down to his chin, following the line of his jaw.

“Velichestvo, come with me. Let’s go sit in your rooms and have a cup of tea.”

Yuuri makes eye contact again, his gaze somehow detached, even as he nods. Viktor takes a few steps towards the palace, before looking back to see Yuuri frozen in place, his mouth gaping as he stares at the floor. Approaching him again, Viktor gets as close as he can, without making contact.

“Lyubov,” he says in a whisper too soft to be heard by anyone else. “Yuuri.” and Yuuri’s eyes come back up to meet his. He holds out his hand. “Here. Let’s get you back to your rooms.”

Slowly, Yuuri reaches out and takes his hand. Mari’s eyes widen when she sees, but when she looks at Viktor, she merely closes them and nods. Hiroko does the same, worry etched into her brow as Viktor and Yuuri walk past. They make their way up the stairs, into the palace proper. Once they reach the residential area, Viktor leans over.

“Can I put my arm around you?”

Hesitating for a second, Yuuri shakes his head, squeezing Viktor’s hand. Returning the squeeze earns Viktor a brief smile, and they walk in silence. When they’ve finally made it into Yuuri’s rooms, they both remove their footwear in the entryway, setting the shoes neatly to the side. Yuuri walks further into the room, holding himself as he glances fervently around. As Viktor approaches, he turns, and there’s a tear running down his face as his eyes flit across the room in front of him, searching for something unknown, perhaps something to pull his attention away from the morning’s events.

“Would making tea help, Lyubov?” Viktor asks gently.

Glancing at the kettle he’s had left in his room, Yuuri frowns before shaking his head. His fingers are running through and over each other, rubbing the backs of his hands, his arms, his thumbs massaging the muscles in his palms and wrists. It’s rare he’s too anxious to make tea, and this is about the point Viktor would be calling Phichit to come over if they were still in Detroit.

“Go ahead and ask, but if I say no, don’t push it.” Yuuri’s advice in mind, Viktor decides to go the questioning route. It seems easier for Yuuri to answer questions than to say what he needs at this point, and if he keeps them simple, it should be okay. He hopes it’ll be okay.

“Would you like me to make tea?” Yuuri nods. Viktor does his best to smile reassuringly, grateful he’s not messing things up further. “Do you have a preference?” Yuuri only offers a shrug, so Viktor looks through the teas available.

“We have a rose green, if you’d like? It’s one of your favorites, right?”

Yuuri frowns before walking into his bedroom. He returns shortly with a familiar-looking box, the teas Viktor had gotten him in St. Petersburg. He hadn’t been planning on going back, it seems. Viktor swallows thickly, steadfastly avoiding wondering how long Yuuri had been preparing for the possibility. Their last date, to the park with Makkachin, had felt like a goodbye, now that he sees it for what it was. At the time, he’d blamed anxiety about the trip. He was more right than he’d guessed, though for the wrong reasons. Setting the box on the table, Yuuri sighs as his eyes scan over the tins inside. It's not long before his breathing quickens, his eyes flitting from tin to tin, label to label, endlessly searching as he makes and reconsiders his choices constantly.

“Lyubov,” Viktor says, a bit louder than necessary. Yuuri’s eyes snap to him, wide and shining. “Do you want me to choose?” He walks forward, coming to a stop about two feet away. “Do you need me to make the choice right now?”

Biting his lower lip, Yuuri nods. Viktor swallows a sigh of relief, that he guessed right, that he managed to do something for Yuuri, that he hadn’t botched everything up. He smiles. “Alright Lyubov, I'll find something good. Do you want caffeine?” When Yuuri nods, Viktor smiles again. “Why don’t you go get in your pajamas? Comfort is key and you don't want to wrinkle your good clothing.”

Looking down, Yuuri nods once more. He heads into the bedroom, stopping at the door and turning back. Viktor looks at him, offering a grin, and the response is a mere facsimile, the barest attempt at a smile plastered across Yuuri's lips before he vanishes into the bedroom. Viktor looks at the teas in front of him, eyes scanning the labels before coming to rest on a coconut green similar to one Yuuri’d pointed out as one of his favorites. Perfect. He grabs it, turning the kettle on before measuring leaves into the teapot.

 

Yuuri shuffles into the room in flannel pants and a sweater. He looks more comfortable, bundled up and wearing his glasses. Slowly, he makes his way to a small cupboard, opening it to reveal a mini refrigerator. Grabbing a bottle of water, he then gravitates towards Viktor, sitting a foot or so away. He eyes the teapot on the table, before sighing and pulling a small pill bottle out of his jacket. Shaking, he opens it and dumps a pill in his hand. After breaking it in half, he puts one piece back into the bottle and closes it, before popping the other in his mouth, following it with a large gulp of water. He sets both bottles on the coffee table before pulling his knees to his chest.

Breathing deeply, Yuuri closes his eyes and rests his forehead on his knees. “It’s for the anxiety,” he says quietly after a moment. “The pill.” He turns to meet Viktor’s eyes, getting a reassuring smile in return.

“Is it a new prescription?”

“No,” he sighs, “I just haven’t… it’s never felt bad enough to need it, really.”

Viktor’s eyes widen as he thinks about the last few months. “What changed?” he asks before he can stop himself, and he winces when Yuuri goes still.

It’s a long, tense moment before Yuuri lets out the breath he’d been holding. “M-Mari,” he says softly. “Last night. She reminded me I… Vitya, I can’t afford to be anything less than at my best. Especially not now. She suggested I start taking them when I might need them, rather than waiting for it to get ‘bad enough.’ It’s less tiring in the long run.” He glances at the teapot on the table, the cups sitting next to it and sighs again.

“Would you like me to pour your tea?” Viktor asks gently. “I’m sure it’s ready by now.”

Yuuri shakes his head. Leaning forward, he pours his own cup of tea before looking back at Viktor with his eyebrows raised in a silent question.

“Please, Lyubov, if you don’t mind.”

A frown flickers across Yuuri’s face, but he pours the tea anyway, offering the cup and saucer to Viktor. Taking it, Viktor inhales deeply. He isn’t usually a fan of coconut, but Yuuri’s affinity for coconut flavored teas has resulted in Viktor having a few he enjoys. Coconut green is one of them.

Yuuri’s hands are still shaking, though it’s lessened considerably, and he closes his eyes. Several deep breaths later, he sips his tea slowly before using one hand to massage the back of his neck.

“Everything alright?” Viktor asks. “If you have a headache, I can find painkillers.”

Shaking his head, Yuuri takes another long drink of his tea. “My neck is just sore,” he says softly. “The crown they had me wearing weighs several pounds… a couple of kilograms,” he says. “It hurts after a bit. ‘M not used to it.”

“It’s a good thing you don’t have to wear the crown every day,” Viktor says. “It sounds exhausting.”

Yuuri stares into the mostly-empty teacup he’s holding. “I do,” he says softly, “when I’m dealing with people outside of the private residential areas. Most other royal families save them for special occasions, yeah, but… here it’s ‘tradition.’ The crowns for daily use are smaller and lighter. Still heavy, since they’re metal, but not nearly as much as the ceremonial ones. Fewer gemstones, too.” He gulps down the last of the tea in his cup. “I might try to talk people down to circlets, at least at the palace.”

“When do you wear circlets?” What’s the use of having them if Yuuri’s never going to wear them?

“When I’m out of the country, usually,” Yuuri replies as he pours another cup of tea. “My father used to have at least four or five cases with him every time we traveled, each holding a crown or circlet or whatever, depending on what was happening. My mother as well. It was a hassle, I’m sure, but if I go to an event or go meet people or something, I’ll be wearing one. You know, just in case people forget who I am somehow.” Yawning, Yuuri leans against the back of the couch. “The crowns would just be worn at state dinners or something fancy-schmancy like that.”

“You look tired,” Viktor says softly. Yuuri seems to have washed off the makeup as well. He’s paler, the circles under his eyes have returned with a vengeance.

Yuuri looks over, nodding slowly. “Anxiety is exhausting. My meds make me tired, too. Mari’s going to hate me,” he says, frowning.

“Why would she hate you?”

“The pictures,” he replies. “They wanted to get pictures.” It’s clear Yuuri’s worried, but exhaustion is softening his voice.

“They can get pictures tomorrow,” Viktor says.

“I’ve cleared my schedule tomorrow. And the next day.”

“They'll get their pictures later, then. Mari’s not going to hate you for having anxiety, and your mother said they usually wait a few days to get the official portraits.”

Yuuri nods slowly. “I figure tomorrow would be a good day to talk, you know. I’ll probably know what the laws are,” he says around a yawn, “and what hoops we’d have to jump through.”

Viktor raises his arm, smiling as Yuuri takes a few gulps of tea, sets the cup on the table, and moves closer, nestling himself against Viktor’s side. “Vitya?” Yuuri says after a second.

“Yes?”

“I’ll understand, you know. If you don’t want this.” Slurring his words, Yuuri is clearly growing more tired by the second. “It’s too much. It’s all too much. I know that.”

“It’s not,” Viktor wants to say. “It won’t be.” Saying so would feel too close to lying for comfort, though. It’d be more accurate to say Viktor doesn’t want it to be too much, that he hopes desperately that he’ll be able to handle this, will be able to stay with the man he loves. He can’t bring himself to make a promise he doesn’t know he can keep. He can’t bring himself to be complicit in his own destruction again, even for Yuuri. No matter how badly he wants to.

Pressing a kiss to Yuuri’s temple, Viktor shakes him gently. “Come, Lyubov,” he says, “we can talk about this tomorrow. Let’s get you to bed.”

Yuuri pouts. “The couch is fine.”

“If it’s anything like the couch in my room, you’ll wake up sore. I know from experience! You really should go to bed, I’ll be able to cuddle with you, there.” Forcing a bit of cheer into his voice, he tries to be encouraging.

Frowning, Yuuri looks up at him as if considering his choices. He yawns again, rubbing his eyes under his glasses before eyeing the couch next to him. When he looks back up at Viktor, it’s with a face that says he’d rather face discomfort than move at all, and Viktor does his best not to sigh in exasperation.

“Yuuri,” Viktor admonishes, drawing the word out, “you really should sleep in your bed so you can wake up refreshed tomorrow. For our talk.” Viktor moves to stand up, letting Yuuri readjust before he does so. Holding his hand out he smiles encouragingly. After a beat, Yuuri’s reaching out with his own, letting Viktor pull him easily into a standing position. Following Viktor, Yuuri shuffles into the bedroom, yawning several times. Viktor steers him towards the bathroom.

“Brush your teeth,” he says, holding out Yuuri’s toothbrush.

Yuuri blinks at him for a second, mouth agape, before reaching out and taking it with a frown. Viktor opens the toothpaste and holds it out. Yawning again, Yuuri takes it, puts a bit on the bristles, and starts brushing his teeth. When he’s done, he walks out to the bedroom, unzipping his jacket as he goes. Dropping it on the floor, he sits on the edge of the bed.

“Will you plug my phone in?” He asks. “It’s on the table.”

“I will, Lyubov,” Viktor says as he picks up the jacket, draping it over a chair in the corner. Yuuri has a second fireplace in his bedroom, he sees, and he looks around again. In the low light of the lamps on the nightstands and the light spilling in around the curtains, he can see the shine of the subtle gold touches on the patterned wallpaper, the shimmering details on the molding, the picture frames, the furniture. Yuuri has another, smaller sitting area here, a writing desk, and a set of doors that lead to a long balcony overlooking the grounds. The bed, though itself massive, manages somehow to look smaller than it is, almost dwarfed by the high ceiling and sheer size of the bedroom. Viktor walks back over to where Yuuri is. Pulling off his glasses and setting them on the table, Yuuri looks up at him, squinting.

“Vitya,” he says softly, “I love you so much.”

With a gentle smile, Viktor leans over, kissing Yuuri’s nose before pulling the covers back. “Into bed, Lyubov,” he says. “Time to go to sleep, I’ll come to bed in a bit.”

“You promise?” Yuuri asks, somehow sounding much younger than Viktor knows him to be.

“I promise, Yuuri,” Viktor kneels as Yuuri finally lays down, pressing another kiss first to his forehead, then his cheek, and finally on his lips.

“I like it when you say my name,” Yuuri mumbles, face half-buried in the soft pillow. After days of ‘Your Majesty’ and ‘Sire,’ it must be comforting. Probably nice, as well, to have someone not afraid to call Yuuri by name, outside of his family. It’s not something Yuuri will be hearing a lot of anymore, at least not paired with his title, and a stabbing pain shoots through Viktor. Every time he thinks he knows what Yuuri’s lost, something else makes itself known, and he’s beginning to wonder if he’ll ever understand.

“I like saying your name,” Viktor responds, and that’s more true now than it’s ever been before. Yuuri has always been Yuuri to him, first and foremost, and he hadn’t realized how much he he loves Yuuri’s name until he’d been unable to use it.

Yuuri looks up at him, blinking languidly. “Say it again?”

“I love you, Yuuri,” Viktor says, kissing him on the forehead as he sighs contentedly. “Sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Yuuri nods, snuggling into the covers as Viktor pulls them up. He’s out before Viktor turns the light off, snoring softly into the pillow. Viktor turns the flashlight of his phone on, finding pajamas and slipping them on before grabbing his robe. Padding gently out of the room, Viktor closes the door behind him, and there’s a mere whisper as he eases the latch into place.

 

He’s just finished stacking the tea dishes on the tray and plugging Yuuri’s phone in when there’s a gentle knock at the door. Viktor opens it, nodding at Mari in greeting. Though still in a traditional kimono, she’s dressed more simply than she was at the coronation. She comes in when he steps back, waiting until he’s closed the door before she sighs heavily.

“How is he?” she asks, glancing at the closed bedroom door.

“Asleep,” Viktor responds.

“I’ve cancelled today’s shoot, they’ll do it early next week, when it was originally scheduled.”

“Probably for the best,” Viktor says as he glances back at the door.

“It was pretty bad, wasn’t it?” She’s frowning, pursing her lips in a mix of concern and sadness and, somehow, regret. That she couldn’t help, maybe, or just because of the circumstances themselves.

“It was,” Viktor says softly.

Mari mutters a curse under her breath, crossing her arms as she turns away. Frozen in place, Viktor debates whether he should question her or change the topic. She turns, slightly, looking back at him. “How do you know?” she asks as she faces him fully. “How did you know, earlier?”

“I’m used to him,” Viktor replies. The look that crosses the princess’s face is like she’s been slapped, and he bites back a curse when he remembers how long it’s been since she’s seen Yuuri. How it wasn’t by choice on either of their parts. “I’m sorry, that… that came off badly. He has these… When he bites his lip, or fidgets, you can tell. His body says more than he does, he moves when he’s emotional and it’s the… the repetitive movements.”

Mari frowns, letting herself get briefly lost in thought before meeting Viktor’s eyes and nodding. “Will you… if you notice him panicking, let us know? Somehow? We’ll do what we can to get him out of the situation, to take care of him.”

“He’s generally pretty good at removing himself, if he has the option,” Viktor replies. “I would ask Yuuri about it. He knows how to manage his anxiety better than I do.”

“But what if he’s in front of people?”

“Believe in him. Believe he can get through it, and show him that.” Viktor rests his forehead on his fingertips for a moment, before combing his hair back. “Your Highness… Mari. I would talk to him ahead of time, when he’s not upset. See what he wants you to do, figure out how he wants you to address it before he needs you to.”

“You’re sure that’ll work? That he’s not going to get angry with us for asking?”

Viktor looks at her. “That’s what I did,” he says, matter-of-fact.

She opens her mouth, closing and opening it again before sighing. “I’ll be sure to do that, then. Thank you. Will you be joining my mother and I for dinner?”

It’s a chance to get to know Yuuri’s family, to find out more about him, it’s true, but… Viktor has time, and he made a promise.

“I told him I’d be here if he woke up,” he says in response, “my apologies. You and your mother could join me in here?”

Mari shakes her head. “I don’t want us to wake him up with our conversation,” she says, “and I suspect he’d find it less jarring if my mother and I weren’t here, since he wouldn’t be expecting us. I’d be happy to have someone bring dinner for you, if you’d like.” There’s something she’s not quite saying, but Viktor’s not sure.

Please, Vityusha, I’m more comfortable with you than— Yuuri’d cut the sentence off there, asking— almost begging Viktor not to leave him alone with his family. Mari must understand somehow, that Yuuri finds far more comfort in Viktor’s presence than hers, or her mother’s. It must hurt. He nods anyways. “Whatever is available is fine. Yuuri might appreciate sandwiches if he wakes up in the middle of the night.”

Mari nods. “Any particular favorites?” she asks softly.

Viktor thinks for a second, tapping his lower lip with his index finger. “Chicken salad? He eats a lot of deli meats, though, so that’d be fine as well.”

Nodding, she walks over to the door, before turning back. “Is there anything you need, Viktor? Aside from the food.”

He shakes his head. “I’ll be alright. I have stuff for tea here, and I was going to turn in after I called my family. I promised my moms I’d keep them posted.”

Mari nods. “Of course. I’ll see you tomorrow, Viktor,” she says, just above a whisper, “and thank you. For being here. For supporting him through this.”

“Of course,” Viktor replies.

 

~*~

 

Once he’s eaten, and Yuuri’s sandwiches are put in the fridge, Viktor eyes his cell phone. He wraps his robe around his body, tying it tightly before grabbing the phone and opening the door to the balcony. Now’s as good a time as any to call them, it being early evening in Yekaterinburg, and he runs back in to grab his tea before taking a seat on the cushioned bench at the end of the balcony. Sighing, he sips the warm liquid as he looks over the grounds; the gardens, still covered in a layer of snow, stretching out before him. The cold bites at his cheeks, but for now the thick robe is doing its job, keeping him warm as he tucks his legs underneath it.

Opening the group chat with his moms, he sees messages from them. Love and reassurance, promises to be there for him and that he can call any time, day or night. He smiles. They’ve always done their best to remind him they love him, always met him with open arms and open hearts no matter how long it’s been since he’s last contacted them. They’ll likely have questions, some he can’t answer yet. Some he may never be able to answer. Steeling himself, he presses the phone icon.

He’s just about to wonder if their voicemail is going to kick in when he hears the line click, a woman’s voice on the other end, out of breath. “Hello?”

“Mamulya,” Viktor says, “did I catch you at a bad time?”

“Vitka,” she says softly. “No, Vitka, we were just walking in the door as the phone rang. How are you? We’ve been worried.” Quiet, he swallows the lump in his throat, does his best to quiet that voice coming out of the darkness, chiding him for not bothering to call them sooner.

“I'm fine,” he says happily, the forced cheer grating even to his own ears.

“Are you?” his mother asks in a way that says she knows full well he isn’t.

He opens his mouth, trying to think of a way to convince her that nothing is wrong, but before he knows it, tears are collecting on his eyelids, threatening to run down his face. His throat catches on the beginnings of a sob and he hears a gentle sigh on the other end.

“Viten’ka, my darling boy, I’m here,” her voice is soothing, her words filled with love and comfort as he cries into the handset, head buried in his arms.

“Mamulya, I don’t… I don’t know what to do.”

“Is this about Yuuri?”

“He wants us to talk tomorrow.”

“Given the circumstances, I should hope so.” Another sob, aching deep in his chest. His mother doesn’t mean to sound callous, but it comes off that way just the same and she’s soon apologizing, gentle words in his ear that make him miss her all the more.

“It’s not… I’m scared, Mamulya,” he says into the handset, and somehow saying it aloud makes it worse. He struggles to breathe, struggles to keep his mind on track when the only outcome he can imagine is one of insurmountable obstacles, “not of anything Yuuri’s doing, but… we don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll be able to.” Fighting tears, he stifles another sob, chokes down what he can. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to.”

There’s shuffling in the background, hushed voices as his mother tries to comfort him. “It’s Vitka, about Yuuri,” he hears her say to someone else.

Alexei says something in the background, and he hears his maman agreeing before there’s more indistinguishable sound and his mother comes back on the line. “Vitya, tell us everything,” she says, her voice low and soothing. He’s put on speaker phone and he starts from the beginning, as best he can. It takes almost an hour to get through everything, from his figuring things out in the airport to explaining what happened the night Yuuri’s father died, to what he’s pieced together from the fragments of information he’s learned from conversations over the last few days. It’s been less than a week since he was in Detroit, but it feels like years.

“I don’t know what to say, Viten’ka,” Maman says gently, when he’s finished. “We can’t tell you what to do one way or the other. Only you can figure out if it’s something you can handle.”

“We’ll support you though,” Mamulya adds. “No matter what choice you make, Vitka, regardless of what happens, we're here for you.”

Viktor feels the tears welling up again as he curls into himself. Not for the first time he wishes they were here with him. “But I don’t know what to do,” he whispers hoarsely.

“Vitya,” Alexei says softly. “No one here has any more idea what to do than you. Finding out your boyfriend is secretly royalty… It’s not really a common problem to have.”

“I know,” Viktor says around a wan smile. “I just…”

“Vitya, you do what feels right after you talk.”

“But what if — “

“Stop planning for things that haven’t happened,” Alexei says firmly. Their mothers whisper ferociously at him, but he continues. “You love him, yes?”

“I do,” Viktor replies. “I wanted to ask him to marry me, Lyosha. I- I still do.”

“Mazel tov,” he says. “My advice is this: hear him out, talk things through, ask your questions. If he says it’s impossible, that there’s no hope, come to Yekaterinburg, come see us. We’ll be here. I’ll even fly to the United States and get Makkachin for you. Otherwise, do what feels right. If staying with him is too daunting, say so. If you need time to think, tell him. He ought to respect that.”

“And if I want to stay with him?”

“Then stay.” His brother’s voice is gentle. “You’ve spent too long trying to make other people happy, Viten’ka. Find your own happiness. You deserve it.”

“Vitka,” Maman says gently. “We want to see you happy. We want you to be living a life you love. That's what will make us happy. You adore that boy, and he adores you. The way you two looked at each other is proof enough.”

“This does not mean we want you to rush into things, Viten’ka.” His mamulya’s voice is kind, but firm. “You need to take a good look at what this kind of relationship will mean for you. But, Vitya, if this is what you want, if you truly want to be with Yuuri,” she says, “then do.”

Reduced to tears, Viktor clutches his phone in his hands. Words of comfort, of reassurance, of support come through the tinny speaker and once he’s calmed down, he takes a few minutes to chat absently. They hang up with promises to talk again soon, and he pulls the phone to his chest. He’s never missed his family so much, never missed the reassuring weight of Makkachin against him as he does now, and the loneliness is just starting to feel overwhelming when there’s a soft click, further down the balcony. Yuuri’s face peeks out of the door to the bedroom, looking up and down the length of the balcony until he sees Viktor.

His slippers shuffle softly against the stone as he makes his way over. “I thought I heard voices,” he says, yawning as he sits next to Viktor.

Putting his arm around Yuuri and pulling him close, Viktor kisses the top of his head. “I called my moms to let them know what was going on,” he says.

“I see.” Yuuri’s voice is strangely neutral.

Squeezing his shoulder, Viktor kisses him again. “They’re supportive,” he says, “and aren’t upset.”

“Even that I lied to you?”

“Yuuri, they understand that you couldn’t tell me. I explained, Lyubov.”

Snuggling closer, Yuuri yawns. “Are you coming to bed, soon? It was cold.”

Viktor chuckles. “I will, Lyubov. Are you hungry?”

Looking up at him, Yuuri shrugs. “Kind of, but it’s a bit late to be calling the staff when I don’t need to, and I don’t feel like making the walk to the kitchens.”

“I had sandwiches brought up. They’re in the fridge,” Viktor offers.

“You had someone bring sandwiches?”

“Well, I asked your sister to do it,” he replies. “She came by to see how you were doing.”

“Oh,” Yuuri says. “What kind?”

Viktor shrugs.

It doesn’t take much longer for them to head inside, the cold biting at them through their robes. Yuuri makes tea, something herbal and without caffeine to drink as he eats most of a turkey sandwich. “Was Mari upset?” he asks, looking into his mug.

“I didn’t get the impression she was. She said the shoot will be done when it was originally supposed to happen.”

“At least there’s that,” Yuuri mutters. “I checked my email, by the way. Nothing about the laws, yet.”

“Are you sure we’ll know tomorrow?”

“No,” Yuuri replies. “I’m not sure, but we should. They told me it would be today or tomorrow that they would have an answer.” His body shudders with a yawn, and he shakes himself again when he’s done. “Are you staying here?” he says, looking up at Viktor with shining eyes. “I mean, you don’t have to, you know I’m ok, I just…”

“Do you want me here, Lyubov?” Viktor asks.

After a pause, Yuuri nods. “I couldn’t sleep,” he whispers.

“I’ll stay, Yuuri,” he says as he pulls Yuuri into his arms. “I’ll stay.”

He hopes it’s for longer than just tonight.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure it's ok for you to be out like this?” Yuuri’s clothes are surprisingly casual, nice jeans and a peacoat over a sweater, and while his hair is mostly slicked back with a few errant tendrils making themselves known, there’s no crown on his head.

“I'm fine,” Yuuri says. “I’ve told people I’m keeping today casual, there aren’t any visitors on the grounds, and I have today and tomorrow off after… everything.”

“What about your staff, though?”

Chuckling, Yuuri glances back at the palace. “I, um… I told them I didn't want to be interrupted. There won’t be anyone out here until I tell them I'm done.”

“That’s effective.”

Yuuri’s fingers lace through his, their leather gloves squeaking in the cold. “Super effective,” he says with a laugh. “I wanted us to be able to speak freely. As Yuuri and Vitya. I don't want you to feel like you can’t speak your mind. As far as they’re concerned,” he gestures at the building behind them, “you have my permission to say what you want. Anything you want. We won’t be overheard in the gardens.” As much as Viktor hates having to have permission just to talk, it looks like Yuuri hates having to give it just as much.

“Neutral ground?”

“As much as it can be, yes.” Yuuri says gently. “I'm aware that… I know it must feel like you have nothing here. No power, over anything, and I'm going to do my best to mitigate that.” Viktor nods. “There’s only so much I can do, though.”

“Red tape?”

Exasperated, Yuuri rolls his eyes. “So much red tape. I need to tread carefully, especially right now. There's only so far I can push things, after the stunt I tried to pull at the airport.”

Viktor frowns. Yuuri’s actions at the airport consisted solely of talking on the phone, grabbing luggage, and walking out to the limo.

“You didn’t do anything at the airport.”

“I tried to, though, before you figured it out,” he says with a smile. “Vitya, I'd been trying to get the security team here to let me tell you who I was for months, but there kept being delays, even after the paperwork was submitted. I'd expected it to only take a few weeks.”

“Was there ever a research paper?” Viktor asks curiously.

“Yeah, yeah, there was. Is. I still need to turn it in if I want to get my degree.”

“Are you serious?”

Shrugging, Yuuri sighs. “I don’t know, my professor’s kind of…I could try emailing him. Explain what’s going on. He’s probably seen the news already.” Defeated, Yuuri's shoulder slump. His hand moves towards his face out of habit, stopping an inch from his nose when he remembers he’s not wearing his glasses. “Anyway. The research paper is actually real, but the paperwork was submitted by the university to Akitsushima’s government, who then passed it directly to my security team. They cleared all of the stuff for the university trip itself, like your visa and museum passes and stuff, but the paperwork was also submitted so that they could clear me to tell you who I was.”

“I take it they didn’t clear that bit.”

“No,” Yuuri says as he shakes his head. “I tried arguing, I tried yelling, I tried ordering them, I tried getting my mom to work with them – this was after my dad wasn’t doing well – but they wouldn’t budge for some reason.”

“How long has Phichit known?”

Yuuri looks thoughtful for a second, before answering. “Going on four years now. I’d only lived with him for six months when he found out.”

“He said he found out by accident?”

Nodding, Yuuri bites his lip. “He did. He walked in on a conversation he wasn’t supposed to. My bodyguard kept an eye on him until the palace decided he wasn’t going to spill the beans. He signed an NDA, and they made sure he remembered that when I was trying to get clearance for you. Aside from him, the only other person who knew was Minako-sensei, and there was no way she’d tell you without permission. As a citizen of Akitsushima, she could be tried with high treason for telling anyone against the palace’s— and my father’s— orders. It would have been direct action against the Crown.”

“Wouldn’t you have been able to do something about it though? As crown prince, and especially when you were king – “

“No.” Yuuri's voice is firm. “They’d have said I was ‘emotionally compromised’ and couldn’t make an impartial decision. I couldn’t worm my way out of that, since it technically’d involve you, too.” Sighing, he looks at Viktor with a smile. “They’d have been right.”

“So what was it you tried to do at the airport?”

Threading his arm around Viktor’s waist, Yuuri chuckles softly. “I was going to make them bring you to the palace. I told them in no uncertain terms was I going to abandon you at the airport, and as my personal guest it was my responsibility, my duty,” he emphasizes, “to make sure you were treated properly. Which, of course, meant bringing you with me. They wouldn’t let me tell you. They didn’t say anything about showing you”

“How big of a ‘fuck you’ would that have been?” Viktor asks curiously.

“A pretty big one,” Yuuri says, smiling. “But then you figured out I was the Crown Prince. At that point, there wasn't much they could do about you finding out anyway and they knew it.” He rests his head on Viktor’s shoulder briefly. “The call at the airport was when I knew for sure I’d be staying. Also, that I’d likely take the throne before the end of the night. Before that, we honestly thought we’d have time to break it to you gently. I'd planned to take you to lunch at the palace the next day to introduce you to my family. Your security clearance was in the final stages of being signed, as it was, it just ended up being… expedited.”

Viktor lets out a short laugh. “You looked so relieved when I figured it out.”

“Honestly, I was. I didn’t want to just… end up with you at the palace,” he says, “where the first thing you saw was me taking the throne. I’ve wanted you to know for months, Vitya. And if I couldn’t tell you, the next best thing would have been you finding out somehow, but with the guards I couldn’t make it look too overt. They were watching me as much as protecting me.” Looking up at Viktor, he brushes a stray piece of hair out of his eyes. “How did you figure out who I was, anyway?”

“I wasn’t trying to,” Viktor says, shrugging, “but I saw the guards staring at you, specifically, and everything just clicked into place somehow.”

Yuuri snorts. “I told Mari they drew attention. If they hadn’t sent them…”

“I probably wouldn’t have put it together,” Viktor says.

“But, Vitya… How did you know I existed? I didn't realize you were so familiar with Akitsushima’s… anything.”

“Most everyone's heard the story at some point, and I did research before the trip,” Viktor responds. Clearly it's not enough of an explanation, because one of Yuuri’s eyebrows moves towards his hairline.

“When I did research for the trip, I found a restaurant famous for some pork dish they said was your favorite—”

“Katsudon?” Yuuri asks with a smirk.

Viktor blinks. “Now that you mention it, I think so!” he says, in mild disbelief. He’d had more pieces to the puzzle than even he’d realized.

“My love of katsudon was… apparently, is well-documented here,” Yuuri says, “so I'm not surprised you heard about it.”

“But the restaurant mentioned you, said something about the ‘Lost Prince.’ Then a while later there was mention of it on a brochure. It was really just a bunch of little glimpses here and there, and aside from the stories there was nothing really noteworthy. The next time I remember hearing about you was a news report I read while you were in the bathroom at the airport in Detroit. Mentioned something about your dad being sick, and the Crown Prince rumored to be coming home to rule. Nothing really came together until I saw the Guard.”

“So you pulled me into a bathroom and asked.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

Yuuri smiles, shrugging in response. “I guess it did, yeah.”

“If we're being honest,” Viktor says, adjusting his scarf, “I thought you'd laugh at me for being ridiculous.”

Sighing, Yuuri looks into the distance. “Part of me wishes I could have,” he says. “I honestly don’t know why they wouldn’t have cleared you in the end. Especially once I got the call after we landed. I thought for sure, since we were headed to the palace, they’d have just… given up, at least. You finding out was inevitable.”

“They knew I was going to find out and they still forbade it?” Viktor can’t claim to know much about court politics, but that sounds suspicious.

He gets a nod. “Yeah. I know. It’s not sitting right with me, either. But as it was, the only way to keep us from being separated unnecessarily was to go along with it. To follow the rules. So, no telling you, and no trying to get Madame Lilia or Phichit or Minako-sensei to do it.”

“Can I ask you something, Yuuri?”

“Anything, Vityusha.”

“When Lilia found out, in Russia, did she say anything to you?” Was she ok with the lies?

“Not much. The first thing she did was make sure I wasn’t with you for the wrong reasons. That was before she figured it out.”

“And after?”

“After, it came with a side of ‘you’d better tell Vitya soon.’ She wasn’t thrilled with me keeping it from you, but with the entire palace security team insisting you not find out, there wasn’t much she could do,” Yuuri sighs, “not and stay in the palace’s good graces.” Viktor feels relief.

There are light tugs on his lapels as Yuuri faces him, leaning close. “Vitya, my Vityusha, I know I hurt you. And I'm so incredibly sorry, and I should have figured… something out so I could have told you.” His face is sad, guilty when he looks up, and it breaks Viktor’s heart all over again.

“Yuuri, Lyubov moya, can you honestly tell me that you made every effort? Did everything in your power to get them to let you tell me?”

Yuuri nods, looking up at him. “I- yes. I can. Vitya, I hated lying to you. Hated every second of it.” He sounds disgusted with himself, angry at the fact it was necessary in the first place and suddenly, Viktor feels calm.

It’s strange, he thinks, that it should come over him so quickly, but here he is, standing in front of the love of his life with a silly grin on his face and stars in his eyes. Yuuri's face scrunches in confusion, and Viktor kisses his nose.

“You truly never meant to hurt me.”

“No, Vityusha, never.”

“This is real,” he says breathlessly, pulling Yuuri's hands to his chest. “What we have is real.”

“It is,” Yuuri replies earnestly. “Vitya, my Vityusha, I love you so much.” Tears collect in the corners of his eyes, bright in the cold winter sun.

“Oh, Yuuri. Lyubov moya, I love you too.”

 

~*~

 

“It’s funny,” Yuuri says as he stands on the stone ledge of the fountain, “my mother never let me do this.” He walks slowly around the circumference, holding Viktor’s hand. “She was sure that – “ There’s a high-pitched yelp before a splash, Yuuri landing face-up in the icy water.

He sits for a second, gasping for air, and Viktor holds his hand out. Yuuri takes it gratefully, using the leverage to get to his feet. He steps out, shoes squelching, and it’s only a second before Viktor’s stripping the damp peacoat off his shoulders. Setting it to the side, he takes off his own.

“Let’s get you back inside before you freeze,” he says with a smile as he wraps his coat around Yuuri, depositing his scarf on his head.

“V-Vitya, aren’t you cold?” Yuuri's teeth chatter as Viktor pulls the jacket closed in front.

“You’re soaking wet, Yuuri. You’ll lose body heat faster than I will.”

“But it’s f-freezing, Vitya!”

“I’m Russian, I’ll be fine.”

“You know saying ‘I’m R-Russian’ doesn’t change h-human physiology, right?”

“I spend most of my time in an ice rink, too.”

“That doesn’t change it either!” Yuuri shouts indignantly.

Viktor just pushes him towards the palace. “It doesn’t, but it makes me feel better. Hurry up, or you’ll catch your death of cold!”

Yuuri stops, then, turning around to face Viktor with a smile. He glances quickly around, before going on his tiptoes and whispering in Viktor’s ear.

“Yes, M-my Liege.”

Viktor blushes, and then he realizes.

“Y-You’ve been calling me that, this entire time, knowing that…”

Giggling, Yuuri's eyes sparkle. “It m-may have been a double inside j-joke on my end,” he stammers with a blue-lipped smile. Viktor resumes pushing him towards the palace.

“You’re impossible, Yuuri.”

 

“So what was it your mother was so sure of?” Viktor asks as they climb the back stairs.

Blushing, Yuuri pulls the coat tighter around himself. “One day I'd end up falling in,” he mumbles into the collar.

Viktor laughs softly before kissing Yuuri's forehead. “Well, then.”

Yuuri takes off his shoes and socks just inside the door, handing them to a nearby attendant. Another rushes forward with a robe and slippers, and Yuuri puts the slippers on before taking his wet coat from Viktor and handing both jackets and the scarf over to be laundered. Someone comes up behind him with the robe, holding it up for him as he slips his arms into the sleeves. He pulls it closed, tying it securely, and smiles at Viktor.

“T-tea, please, to my rooms,” he says, and a young man rushes off. The staff gives them looks as they walk through the halls, eyes glancing repeatedly over both of them. Yuuri walks with his head held high, wet hair dripping down the back of his neck. His eyes shine as the sides of his mouth curl upward. It’s not far to the residential area, and they make it to Yuuri’s rooms in short order. Tea is delivered just as Yuuri’s getting out of the shower, and he smiles when he sees it. Clad in loose sweats and a thermal under a lined silk robe, he puts sugar in his cup before joining Viktor on the couch.

“Do you want to try mine?” Viktor asks, holding his out.

“Does it have jam in it?” Yuuri looks at him skeptically.

“Yes. Can you really have an opinion on jam in tea if you haven’t tried it?”

Yuuri scowls adorably, before taking the cup from Viktor’s hand. He takes a tentative sip, and then another, but his face is unreadable. There’s a long pause in which he sits almost perfectly still, before taking yet another sip, then frowns. He looks at Viktor, and a sheepish smile spreads across his face.

“It’s actually… good,” he says in disbelief. He takes another sip, and he’s just lifting the cup to his lips again when Viktor plucks it out of his hand.

“You have your own tea,” he points out.

Yuuri scrunches his face at Viktor and sips his own with a small smile. Pulling out his phone, Viktor leans over. “Selfie, Lyubov?” he asks, holding it up.

“You can’t post it, Vitya, not until we figure out what PR wants us to do about social media. Can we send it to Phichit, though?”

“That's what I’d been thinking!”

Yuuri smiles gratefully, leaning into the frame with a smile. Viktor takes the photo, pulling it up right away.

“Wow,” Yuuri whispers beside him. “We look so happy.”

It's true. If not for the background and the dark circles they share, this photo is nearly indistinguishable from the ones they'd taken in Detroit. Yuuri settles against him, soft, warm, and comfortable. Viktor sends the photo along. Honestly, there’s a lot to think about. There are a lot of questions he still has, but if there’s anything Viktor knows in this moment, it’s that he doesn't want to lose Yuuri if he can help it.

“Any word on the law?”

Yuuri’s eyes widen before he sets his teacup down, does a half-jog into the bedroom. He comes out with his computer perched on his arm, fingers working the trackpad and keyboard as he furrows his eyebrows. Taking his seat again, he gives a tentative smile as he finds what he’s looking for.

“I got the email this morning, apparently, just after we went out.” His eyes move back and forth, skimming the lines of text. His breath catches in his throat, eyes widening, and Viktor’s heart plummets.

“Lyubov, don’t tell me—”

“It’s legal,” Yuuri says, barely above a whisper. “There aren’t any laws against it, Vitya, it’s- it’s definitely highly frowned upon, but I don’t have… I don’t have to get any laws changed.” He looks up then, tears in his eyes as his face splits into a wide grin. “We— it’s possible, if that’s the course you want to take. If…” he trails off, taking a moment. “Being with me… it’s a lot. I… I will absolutely understand if you can’t handle it, and I won’t… I won’t hold any hard feelings if you decide it’s too much.”

“If we’re being honest, Lyubov, I was feeling the same way for a while. Worrying how you’d feel about being with me. The media exposure, the travel. I know you hate both of them and I was worried if you’d just… Figure I wasn’t worth it one day. That losing me to my career for huge blocks of time would be more than you wanted to deal with.” He smiles, kissing Yuuri’s nose. “It also allows me a unique understanding of the position you’re in.” The love that fills his heart takes his breath away. He wants to stay with Yuuri. He wants to spend the rest of his life at Yuuri's side, in whatever capacity he’ll have him.

Laughing softly, Yuuri kisses his cheek. “I don’t actually dislike either, you know. I mean, I guess I could always do without the media, but my main concern was them figuring out who I was. There was no way we could gag them in time if they’d figured it out, especially not without Minako-sensei around.”

“Your bodyguard couldn’t have helped from Detroit either, huh?”

“There’s no way the palace let me go to Russia alone,” Yuuri gives a nervous laugh. “She was there, but it was supposed to be incognito, so we didn’t talk until we left. She’s only one person, though, and she likely couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Wow,” Viktor responds. “You really don’t mind the media?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “I mean, we have laws similar to Japan’s about paparazzi, so it’s not as bad here. I expect  the media in certain circumstances. Outside of those, I don’t like it. I'm not as used to it anymore, but I’ve been on camera in public since I was like three hours old. I was well accustomed to it by the time I left home, I’d stopped minding at all by then.”

“Seriously? Three hours old?” Viktor’s been feeling the burden of having cameras on him since he was twelve. He can’t imagine how Yuuri must have felt as a child.

“It was the birth of the heir to the throne. Kind of a big deal, you know?” He’s scratching his head again, the way he does when he’s uncomfortable but still trying to stay upbeat. “They tried to film everything, but my mom wouldn’t hear of it.”

“What about travel?”

“The more scrutiny my paperwork went through, and the more it showed up in the system, the higher the chance someone would notice something. I knew it wasn’t likely, but I couldn’t risk it. I hated it more when I was younger and had to get used to being on a plane with people other than my family and staff.”

“You still came to Russia, though.”

“At that point, Vitya, people wouldn’t have been able to figure it out before I was back here. I’ve only ever traveled outside the US a few times when I was in hiding. A couple of those times were just up to Canada,” he says. “Phichit and I really wanted to try Tim Horton’s.”

“Twice?”

“Well, I mean, we, of course, were very forgetful and completely forgot how we felt about it,” he says, grinning, “so we had to go get more for research.”

“Of course,” Viktor laughs.

Yuuri sighs, leaning against the back of the couch. “Before…before you make your final decision about giving this a go, we still need to talk about what it’ll mean for you.”

“What do you mean?” Viktor asks.

“I know you’re used to fame,” Yuuri says, “but this is a different kind of famous than what you’ve experienced, with different responsibilities and rules and problems. Dating me comes with a high amount of scrutiny – more than what you’ve come to expect – and, also, a higher level of risk.”

Viktor’s head snaps up at that, because risk isn’t something Yuuri's mentioned so far. It’s not an unexpected turn to the conversation, Yuuri's talked before about assassination attempts and security breaches, but it’s the first he’s said anything directly concerning Viktor.

“Growing up royal, I’ve had people after me in some capacity for most of my life,” Yuuri says, staring at his restless hands. “Akitsushima is very traditional. As far as the nobility is concerned, I’m expected to marry either a noble from Akitsushima, or, if I must marry someone foreign, another royal. If you were the Prince of Denmark or someone, there wouldn’t be nearly as much pushback as I’ve gotten and am expecting to get in the future.”

“So what, I’m bringing down the monarchy or something?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “No. I am. By being with you. The people of this country…they’re ready for this. They’re ready for the Royal Family to stop being so bound by tradition and propriety, and start coming into the new age. There’ve been movements for years about succession, arguments that the throne is rightfully my sister’s. I agree with them,” he says earnestly, “she’s far more suited for this position than I am what with having lived here her whole life, but laws are laws, and the crown went to me. It’s the nobility that are holding us back. Not all of them, but a small, powerful, and vocal minority is causing enough pushback that it’s hard to move things forward.”

“Are you expecting more problems?”

Yuuri nods. “I am. We’re prepared for arguments, threats, actual attacks…security is unusually high at the moment, even for a new monarch.” His breath catches in his throat, briefly, before he swallows sadness and continues, “Vitya. Vityusha. I love you. More than anything. I’d love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you, but I want you to know what you’re getting into if you decide to stay with me.”

“That almost sounds like a marriage proposal,” Viktor says as he kisses Yuuri's hand.

Blushing a furious scarlet, Yuuri clears his throat, opening his mouth before Viktor interrupts.

“I would accept, you know, if it was.” At that, Yuuri squeaks and hides his face in the couch cushion. Viktor laughs, wrapping his arms around him, and kisses the tops of his shoulders and his upper back until he sits back up.

“Lemme finish first,” he says with a light pout and a sparkle in his eye.

“Give me the basics. Just enough to know what to expect, Lyubov. I’ll learn the details with time.”

“If we were to go public, if you officially become Suitor to the King, y—” Yuuri stops when he notices Viktor looking at him in disbelief. “Vitya… what is it?”

“Is that an actual… is that a title?” Viktor asks as the world goes quiet around him. The idea of being called by a title is strange, not something he’s given thought to before now.

“It’s not,” Yuuri says, “not in the same way I have one. It’d just be… so if we go to events, which we’ll have to do together sometimes, you’d be announced as Viktor Nikiforov, Suitor to the King or something similar, basically telling everyone you’re my romantic partner? You’d still be called ‘Mr. Nikiforov’ though.”

Viktor nods.

“You wouldn’t get an actual title until we were married.”

“What would that be, Lyubov?”

“If we get married you’ll be King-Consort. People… people would be addressing you as ‘Your Majesty,’ same as me.” Yuuri says this cautiously, hesitantly, seemingly sure that this will be the final straw. Somehow, Viktor’s surprised. He shouldn’t be, people who marry monarchs always end up with some sort of title, but in the last two days he’s been unable to think things through that far, as focused as he was on the events at hand. Taking a deep breath, he looks at Yuuri. ‘Living Legend’ and ‘National Hero’ have been his monikers, his titles for years now. What’s one more?

“I see,” he says, kissing Yuuri on the nose.

“Vitya, if it’s too much…” There’s a pained look on Yuuri’s face when he meets Viktor’s eyes.

“Yuuri,” he says, “just because I need time to get used to things doesn’t make it too much. It’s a lot to take in is all. Go on?”

Nodding, Yuuri lets out a sigh. “You’ll… you’ll need to be educated. Propriety. Rules, and stuff. Like how to carry yourself,” Yuuri says. “I love you, and you carry yourself with confidence, but… not quite… royal. You’ll need to know what to do when, what you can and can’t do when certain people are around.”

“Such as?”

“For instance, if I walk into a room, everyone’s supposed to stand.”

“Like Mari at dinner,” Viktor says as things start to make more sense. Yuuri nods.

“Exactly. No one’s supposed to be seated if I’m not. Which is… well, it is what it is.” Shoulders slumping, he rubs the back of his head. “Stuff like that, though. How and when to bow, how to greet people. Ballroom dancing, if you don’t know any. Even if you do, Minako will want to keep your skills sharp.”

“She’ll be working with me?”

“Both of us,” Yuuri says. “She’s been working with me for years, now. She moved out to Michigan when I was sixteen, taught me ballet and ballroom and etiquette and everything else I needed to know. And the stuff I had forgotten. I’m sure she’d drill you on ballet as well. Keep Madame Lilia off your back.”

“Why do you call her that?” Viktor asks. “Why ‘Madame Lilia?’” In his years of experience, he’d only ever heard ‘Madame Baranovskaya’ or just ‘Lilia.’

“Ahh, well,” Yuuri says sheepishly, “when I was a kid… Baranovskaya was almost impossible for me to say. She suggested ‘Madame Lilia’ after I started crying out of frustration, and it kind of stuck.” Viktor nods. It makes sense, and in Russia Lilia wouldn’t have made him work any harder to keep his cover than she had to. “I’m sure,” Yuuri continues, “that if you asked Minako she’d be willing to take you on for ballet, around her lessons with me.”

“She’s still giving you actual lessons?”

“Oh, yeah,” Yuuri says. “She wants to keep my social skills sharp. Work on my public speaking.”

“You sounded fine to me,” Viktor says.

“I sound too American, according to the palace,” Yuuri responds, “though I don’t know what anyone expected. Still, I have stuff I need to make sure I keep on top of, and she’ll be working with me on ballroom at the very least. Ballet is more stress relief than anything else, but… she was a ballerina, she doesn’t mind. She’ll likely be more than willing to work with you, too.”

“I’ll ask,” Viktor agrees. “When will I be able to talk to her?”

“She’ll likely be out within a few days. Maybe a week. We have a studio here, in the palace. My grandfather had it built after I took up ballet as a young child. It was still being built when he died, but my parents made sure I knew he’d put it in for me. I used to go there all the time. I can show you sometime?”

Nodding, Viktor smiles. “I’d love to! We can dance together!”

A blush spreads across Yuuri’s face, and he smiles in return. “We can, Vityusha. But she’ll need to give you lessons, and I’ll likely be unable to be there during them. She should be able to work around your training schedule just fine. Speaking of which, I need to show you where the private gym is.”

“You have a gym?”

“Well, it’s… there is a group of guards stationed here 24/7, so there are barracks and they have a cafeteria and training facilities. Including a gym. You’ll have clearance once we get the paperwork approved.”

“How long should that take?”

Yuuri flashes him a look. “Not very, if I have anything to say about it. Worse come to worst, I’ll order the clearance signed.” Viktor gulps. Yuuri’s talking about an upper-level sort of security clearance as far as access to the palace goes, almost unrestricted, and he can just order it given to Viktor at any time. It’s almost unnerving, certainly somewhat disorienting, and Viktor’s head swims briefly as he tries to find his breath. He feels hands on his.

“Vityusha?” Yuuri asks softly. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No,” Viktor says, “you didn’t.”

It’s not enough to ease Yuuri’s concern, though, and he leans forward. “Vitya, you look…” Pursing his lips, his eyes scan over Viktor’s face. “You look nervous,” he says.

“Yuuri, this isn’t easy,” Viktor says before he can stop himself. “I want this. I want you. I want to make a future for us, but there’s a lot I need to get used to.” He bites back anything else that might have come out before he says something out of anger. Fear? Either way, it wouldn’t be good.

Yuuri seems to think better of something before it leaves his mouth, shoulders drooping as he sighs. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Lyubov—”

“I was prying,” Yuuri interrupts. “You’re right. This is a lot to get used to. Moreso for you.”

Viktor wants to lie. He wants to just tell Yuuri it’s fine, to cover things up in an attempt to make himself more palatable, but he doubts it’ll be convincing enough to be worth the effort. Sighing, he nods. “Keep going, Lyubov. Aside from the lessons with Minako?”

“You’ll need to get ready for press. A lot of press.”

“I’ve been dealing with the press for years, Yuuri.”

“All I know, Vitya, is that Minako-sensei warned me that it’s different from being a celebrity.”

“I’ll be ok, Yuuri.”

“I was shielded from a lot of the press when I was a kid. I’ve been taught what to expect, and practicing for it, and yeah, I was used to it, because whenever I’m off the grounds I can almost guarantee I’m being filmed. I just want you to know what she’s told me. It's no longer about what you do. It's about who you are.”

Viktor nods. “I'll manage."

“You’ll also be expected to show up at… functions,” Yuuri says. “Parties, dinners, some stuff when I visit places.”

“Places?”

“Schools and hospitals and stuff. All that… kiss-the-baby, smile-for-the-camera stuff. Appearances.”

“What will I need to do?”

“Look pretty, mostly,” Yuuri mumbles. “Greet people, say a few nice things. Smile. Shake hands. Look interested the fifth time someone repeats the same information.”

“Sounds fun.”

“I’m not looking forward to it,” Yuuri sighs. “If we get married, you’ll be expected to do them alone, among other things. You’d be seen as an extension of the crown, kind of a stand-in for me when I can’t make it. In addition, if… if we get married, I’m not sure what all will go with that. There’re possible questions about citizenship, and then if we end up wanting children, and—”

“Yuuri, we can jump through those hoops when we know what they are.”

“You sound so sure of your decision, Vitya.” Yuuri's eyebrows knit together in concern.

“Yuuri, I… I want to make this work. I want to stay with you, and I know that’s not going to be easy but it’s worth it, to me.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“I know.”

“This life won’t be like anything you’re used to.”

“The life I was used to before I met you, Yuuri, is a life I honestly don’t care to return to.” Yuuri's eyes widen, mouth opening slightly.

“Yuuri, I… I was so dissatisfied with everything. Nothing made me feel good anymore. I’d been used for my fame, my skills… Like I said before, it’s been very impersonal. I stayed in Detroit because even a strange city in a foreign country I’d never stayed in long felt less uncomfortable than home. And then…I met you, and Yuuri, it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I had something to look forward to. Someone to talk to who wasn’t just picturing gold in their heads. Even after I found out you knew…” Yuuri looks at him guiltily.

“I’m sorry, Vitya, I didn’t – “ He stops when Viktor touches his hand.

“Let me finish, Yuuri. My turn.” Yuuri nods, swallowing. Sighing softly, Viktor continues. “Honestly, the fact that you lied out of consideration for my feelings was… I’ve never had someone do that. Put my feelings before their fascination, but you did it for months. And when I look back on things, I don’t know if we could have grown close like this if I’d known at the start.” He smiles, “honestly, I can see why you got it, now. I even compared myself to royalty.” Yuuri snorts, and Viktor feels his own grin widen.

“Yeah, that was…an interesting comparison. And the inspiration for your nickname, if we’re being completely honest.”

“You don’t have to keep calling me that, you know.”

Hurt flashes through Yuuri's eyes. “Does it upset you?”

“No, it’s…it’s just that you – you’re, well, you.”

“Vitya, please just…let me have my fun. Let me pretend to defer to one person in my life.” His eyes are filled with a sadness Viktor is more than familiar with.

Viktor nods. “It’s lonely at the top. I understand,” he says before he kisses Yuuri gently.

“I know you do,” Yuuri says, barely above a whisper.

“Yuuri, Lyubov, for the longest time I was scared that you’d find me overwhelming. That you’d find being with me more trouble than it’s worth. I should have discussed things with you back then,” he says. His eyes burn again. His chest feels tight. Yuuri takes his hands, massaging them reassuringly with his thumbs. Letting out a breath, Viktor continues. “I should have. Chris was telling me I should… I knew that I needed to, and… I didn’t. Because I was scared of losing you.” He feels a tear rolling down his face. “I know I didn’t really understand the entirety of the situation, but that doesn’t matter. I was doing a disservice to you. Regardless of who you were,” he says when Yuuri opens his mouth, “or who I thought you were. I had concerns, relatively huge concerns, and I didn’t say anything for months. There was no security team stopping me, Yuuri.”

“Oh, Vityusha,” Yuuri says softly.

“It was unfair to you. I’m sorry.”

Yuuri leans forward, kissing Viktor gently on the lips. “All is forgiven.”

“But Yuuri, I – “

“All is forgiven, Vitya,” he says gently. “I knew who you were. I knew you’d be in the public eye, and I know what a figure skater’s competition schedule is like. I lived with Phichit for almost three years, remember? It would have made sense for you to think I already understood.”

“Still, I should have said something.”

“Vityusha,” Yuuri says, with gentle admonishment. Viktor nods, resting his forehead on Yuuri's.

“I was serious about marrying you, if you’ll have me.”

There’s a short intake of air. “Vitya, it’s… it’s far too soon to get engaged, we can’t. You don’t know what it’s like, you don’t know what it’s going to be like, and there’s no guarantee that you’re even going to want this.”

“You’re still operating under the assumption I’ll leave?”

“It’s safer than operating under the assumption you’ll stay.”

Kissing his cheek, Viktor pulls Yuuri into his arms. “Yuuri, Lyubov moya, solnyshko moyo, there is nowhere I’d rather be than by your side.”

“Vitya, you can’t just say things like that,” his voice hitches in his throat, his hands clinging to the hem of Viktor’s shirt.

“After all this, you think I’m just saying that? Yuuri, I know this comes with risk. I know. You made sure of that. Yet all of this,” he says, gesturing at their surroundings, “isn’t a dealbreaker. Yuuri, you’re my beloved, my sunshine, you’ve brought love back into my life. You’ve helped me find my passion for skating again, Yuuri. I wanted to retire before I met you.” Yuuri gasps softly. “I was lost, I was lonely, and I…I didn’t care. About anything, Yuuri, outside of my dog, and my family but…we were distant. But now I feel like I’ve gotten my life back, and you with it, and I couldn’t be happier than when I’m with you. Please tell me we can do this, Yuuri.”

“I want to try, Vitya. There’s nothing I want more. For now,” he says, “I think… If you’re comfortable with it, we can announce our relationship. It would be the first step establishing us as a pair in the public eye, and you would start living…”

“Like a royal, Lyubov?”

Yuuri nods. “Yes. You would be expected to take on a sort of… like Consort, but more… Consort-Lite,” he says. “You would be going to appearances and everything, like I talked about, and it would be similar to a trial run. So you can get an idea of what this would entail and whether or not you feel like it’s what you want.”

“Would I have to live here?”

“Not if you didn’t want to, I imagine,” Yuuri says, “though as far as performing functions it may be easier. You wouldn’t be required to go to everything, but the more people see us together, the more opportunities we have to sway public opinion. The more functions you go to, the more it shows that you’re not just doing this for fun or for the title. That you’re actually willing to play the part of Consort. That is what’s going to prove to the people of Akitsushima, and the nobility, that you’re worthy of the this.”

“I understand, Lyubov,” Viktor replies.

“Do you?” Yuuri asks.

“As well as I’m going to until we actually give this a try.”

Nodding, Yuuri presses a kiss to his cheek. “You’re sure, Vitya? You’re sure you want me to announce us?”

“I’m sure, Yuuri,” Viktor says, and he is. He’s sure he wants Yuuri, he’s sure he wants to stay with Yuuri, and he’s sure he would move mountains to make sure this works. He knows, staring into Yuuri’s eyes, that Yuuri would do the same.

“You know,” Yuuri says after a long moment. “I have the rest of today and tomorrow free. I was thinking today would be a good day to show you the rink.”

Viktor nods in agreement. “I need to get back to training soon, if I’m going to stay in shape for Europeans,” he says.

“We can take our skates, if you like.”

“I would love that.” Kissing Yuuri’s nose, Viktor pulls him close and holds him tight.

“And since we’ll have all day, tomorrow I could take you on a tour, if you want. Kaa-san and Mari could join us for breakfast, and likely the tour itself if you're ok with that.”

“A tour sounds nice. You can tell me all about what you used to get up to when you were small and adorable.”

“Show you that chip in the baseboards, too,” he says, smiling. “As well as the borrowing system for the library. We can figure it out.”

“We'll figure it out,” Viktor says.

 

~*~

 

When they get out of the car, Viktor gets his first good look at the rink. It’s not as big as the one in St. Petersburg, barely large enough for a small ice show, but the facade is welcoming nonetheless.  Yuuri, now wearing a dark blue three-piece suit, smiles as they head up the front to the glass doors. They walk in to see a man and a woman, both dressed nicely, as well as three young girls in matching pink, purple, and blue outfits. Yuuri comes to a stop in front of them and they bow as a unit.

“Your Majesty, Mr. Nikiforov,” the woman says, “welcome to Ice Castle Hasetsu. My name is Nishigori Yuuko.” She smiles and gestures at the man. “This is my husband, Takeshi, and our three girls, Axel, Lutz, and Loop. It’s our distinct honor to have you here.”

Instead of the smile and nod Viktor expected, Yuuri just stands there with his mouth slightly agape. “Yuu-chan?” he asks, voice soft. “Takeshi-kun? You guys got married? You work at the rink now?”

“Y-Your Majesty, you remember us?” the woman, Yuuko, looks at her husband in disbelief.

“Of course I remember you,” Yuuri says, “you guys were my best friends before I left!”

“She means no offense, Sire,” Takeshi says.

Yuuri frowns. “I know,” he replies. “Everyone can be a bit less formal. I feel like that would make everything go more smoothly.”

Takeshi and Yuuko share a long glance, before Yuuko speaks, again with a shallow bow. “Of course, Your Majesty.” Yuuri’s shoulders sink, just barely enough to be perceptible.

When Viktor steps forward, Yuuri takes his hand. “I’d like to introduce you to—”

“Viktor Nikiforov!” One of the girls shouts.

“Can we get your autograph?” The girl in pink chimes in excitedly.

“Can we watch you skate?!” the last one asks, eyes wide and a phone in hand.

“Girls! You’re in the presence of your King!” Yuuko shouts. She looks back up at Yuuri, eyes wide. “I am so incredibly sorry for the interruption, Your Majesty, it won’t happen again.”

“It’s alright,” Yuuri says, laughing. “Figure skating fans?”

Takeshi nods. “Huge ones. They’ve been on the ice and following figure skating for almost as long as they’ve been alive.”

“I don’t mind signing a few autographs,” Viktor says cheerfully. “It’s great to meet fans, and such young ones, too! Do you girls skate?” He goes down on one knee, and the girls surround him.

“I’ve been skating my whole life,” one of them says firmly.

“That’s impressive!” Viktor responds. “I started skating when I was very young, just like you!”

“I can do a toe loop!” another chimes in.

“That was my first jump, too!” Viktor replies.

“I wanna do a quad!” the last one exclaims.

“Keep practicing, you’ll get there!” Viktor says. “That’s what I did!”

“Viktor,” Yuuri says, “did you want to see the facilities?”

“Of course.” Standing, he smiles at the girls. “We can trade stories later, okay?”

All three nod happily, though they don’t stop crowding him. It’s pleasant to see their enthusiasm, reminding Viktor of his early days and putting a smile firmly on his face.

 

The Nishigoris show them through the building, from the skate rental area into the rink itself, windows set high in the concrete walls. After this, they move again through the halls until they reach the locker rooms. The facilities are modest but functional which, at the end of the day, is all Viktor really needs.

“Are we able to skate today?” Yuuri asks after they’ve seen the showers. “I know you guys were told Viktor would be training here in the future, but…”

“Absolutely,” Yuuko says. “Of course! The Palace requested a few hours blocked off for your use, Your Majesty. Do you need a pair of skates? We have a new pair we can sharpen right up for you if you need.”

“I have my own, thanks,” Yuuri says, smiling as he gestures at the gear bag one of his bodyguards is holding. “I still skate.”

“Do you? You kept it up after you left?”

Yuuri nods. “Yeah, I did. Somehow, the ice always felt like home, even when nothing else did.”

Viktor sees shock cross the Nishigoris’ faces before they smile, more warmly than before.

“Would you like to skate now, Your Majesty?” Yuuko asks. “The ice was zamboni’d just an hour or so ago. If you need music, we’d be happy to bring out the speakers.”

“I’d enjoy that,” Yuuri says. “Viktor and I will be right out when we’re done changing. Please have the speakers ready.”

“Absolutely,” Takeshi says, bowing. “Come along girls, why don’t we let King Yuuri and Mr. Nikiforov change in peace.”

They’re soon left alone in the locker room. Yuuri takes his suit off carefully, hanging it in the garment bag brought for this very purpose. He pulls on his track pants, a nice black pair Viktor hasn’t seen before, and has just slipped on a grey t-shirt when Viktor moves towards him, kissing the back of his shoulder.

“Everything alright, Velichestvo?”

There’s a sigh, and Yuuri turns around, wrapping his arms around Viktor’s waist. “It’s weird,” he says. “I thought when I met them again we’d be more… familiar.”

“You could tell them you want them to be more familiar again.”

“That’d just make things more awkward, and there’s only so familiar I can let them be without problems.” He rests his forehead on Viktor’s shoulder. “It’s hard enough getting the palace to not get upset about you being familiar with me. You’re my boyfriend.”

“I see,” Viktor replies.

Yuuri takes another moment, before pulling away and grabbing his bag. He changes his socks before pulling his skates on, tying them quickly. Viktor’s just zipping up his jacket and taking his skates out of his bag when Yuuri stands up and walks back and forth, getting used to the feel of them again. Viktor puts his boots on and does up his laces, tying them securely before grabbing his phone.

When they walk out to the rink, the girls are already watching from the boards. Viktor doesn’t miss the bodyguards, posted around the rink at each entrance and along the walls, eyes constantly moving between Yuuri and any potential threats. Taking his hand, Yuuri smiles. “Skate with me?”

“How close to saying ‘shall we skate’ were you, Velichestvo?”

“Very, actually,” Yuuri says with a laugh as he steps onto the ice.

They’re skating laps in tandem the next time Yuuri speaks. Shifting so he’s skating backwards, just ahead of Viktor, he smiles. “You’re good with kids,” he says, nodding in the vague direction of the triplets.

“My little sister was born when I was thirteen,” he says. “I used to visit home a lot more when I was younger, so I saw her a lot when she was about that age.” Yuuri nods. “Do you like kids, Velichestvo?”

Snorting, Yuuri narrowly avoids hitting the boards before straightening out properly. “I have next to zero experience with children,” he says. “One of my classmates in college had a baby and every time I held them they started crying. I don’t know how to handle kids, they’re the world’s biggest mystery at this point.”

“So you were never around them.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “Not enough for me to get an idea of what to do with them.” Viktor pulls the remote for the speakers out of his pocket, turning on the music as they skate close enough to the speaker unit for the signal to reach. Yuuri occupies himself with figures while Viktor skates bits of his routines, but it’s not long before they’re skating with each other once more. They move across the ice, in an improvised ice dance that more often than not leaves them laughing after a near-collision. When Stammi Vicino comes on, however, Yuuri smiles. They move to the center of the rink before Viktor starts the music over.

Together, they move through the motions of the program, Yuuri trailing just a bit behind. His jumps are shaky, a clear indication that he hasn’t been practicing, and he scales most down to doubles, save the toe loop and flip. Still, he moves like a dream, his spins nearly perfect aside from some travelling. As they move into the ending, Viktor’s tempted to ask for a performance. To ask Yuuri to show him the routine as he sees it again, now that their relationship has moved into the romantic.

A silence descends over the rink as they hold the final pose, the playlist ending with the final song, and Yuuri smiles at Viktor. He’s breathing hard, sweating, and bits of hair have come loose, but he looks so alive. Viktor skates towards him, stopping inches away. “May I kiss you?” he asks, voice barely more than a whisper.

“Yes,” is Yuuri’s response, and they press their lips together. The lack of traction on the ice combined with the exertion of skating that has left them breathless means that they shortly break apart with breathy giggles. Viktor rests his forehead on Yuuri’s.

Cooling down doesn’t take long, and one of the bodyguards holds out their skate guards once they come off the ice. Yuuri takes his, easily slipping them on, Viktor following suit a moment later.

Yuuko and the girls, all nearly vibrating with excitement, approach slowly. Bowing at the neck, Yuuko smiles at Yuuri. “Your Majesty, you’re… that was so cool!” she exclaims, blushing heavily.

As the tips of his ears turn red, Yuuri coughs. “Th-thanks, Yuu-chan.”

The girls have all come forward with posters they’ve fetched from somewhere in the rink, and a small bag of sharpies.

“Will you sign these?!” They’re crowding Viktor again, one of them kneeling and looking at his skates. She points out the Russian flag on the side to her sisters, and one of them pulls out a phone.

A hand covers it, pushing it away from Viktor’s foot. “I’m sorry,” one of the bodyguards says, casting a shadow over the poor girl, “but we cannot allow photography right now. Put this away or I will be forced to remove it.”

The girl backs away, intimidated by the guard’s demeanor.

“That wasn’t necessary,” Yuuri says. “A simple ‘please’ would have sufficed.” His arms are crossed, water bottle held in one hand as he stares at the guard. “She’s a child,” he says, “not a member of the press. There’s no malicious intent.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. My apologies.”

Yuuri huffs. “I’m not the one owed an apology,” he replies with a nod towards the girl.

“Yes, Sire,” the guard says with a bow, before turning. “I apologize for the manner in which I spoke to you, young lady. I’m only trying to protect His Royal Majesty.”

The girl peeks out from behind her mother, nodding her head. The guard moves back to take his place on the wall. Viktor takes the posters still held in his direction and unfurls them on the boards to sign them.

Walking over to the Nishigori family, Yuuri smiles. “I’m terribly sorry about that,” he says. “Though I must ask for your discretion, about our time here and about Viktor’s practices in the future, and unfortunately that does mean we can’t allow picture and video, especially right now. For the next few days, the world will not know of our relationship, at least not beyond rampant speculation. I need it to stay that way.” Finishing his name in Cyrillic this time, Viktor adds a small heart-mouthed smiley face to the corner, making sure to include his bangs. It’s adorable, and he decides to keep doing it as he signs the rest.

“Of course,” Takeshi says. “The Nishigoris are loyal citizens. We wouldn’t betray your trust, Your Majesty.” He bows again, excessively if the look on Yuri’s face is to be trusted, but it doesn’t leave when Takeshi stands up. It takes a second for Yuuri to remember himself, but he gives a nod.

“The Crown appreciates your discretion and your service,” he says, somewhat robotically. “I thank you for allowing Viktor to train here. If there is anything the Palace or I can do for you,” he continues, “please inform us at your earliest convenience.”

Yuuko bows. “Of course, Your Majesty.” Yuuri manages to bury another grimace under an attempt at a smile.

It doesn’t take long for Viktor to finish signing the posters, and in short order he’s handing them back to the girls, now carrying tape and a step stool. They run off, and Viktor follows Yuuri back to the locker rooms. A quick shower later, Yuuri’s in his slacks and undershirt, bent over and towelling his hair off while Viktor pulls on his jeans. “This is so weird,” he says.

“Being back at the rink?”

“No, how the Nishigoris are acting.” He moves over to the sink, turning on the water and gelling back his hair with practiced movements. “It’s this… weird mix of formal and informal and I haven’t seen them since we were kids so it’s just… uncomfortable. I’m not used to formality with friends. Not anymore. Though,” he says with a sigh, “I guess it’s hard for them to see me as a friend now, if they ever did to begin with.”

“I can see how that would be, Velichestvo,” Viktor says, now drying his own hair. “Familiarity may come with time.”

“I hope it does.” Yuuri wipes the back of his neck, patting some of the excess water still running off his head before pulling his shirt on. Buttons done, he tucks it into his pants. Socks and shoes go on next, Yuuri putting on bona-fide sock garters on under his slacks, and he’s got the tie draped over his neck when he stops, staring at the mirror.

Grasping one end of the tie in each hand, he moves one across the other, before switching them, and switching back, frowning into the mirror.

“Do you need help?” Viktor asks. He pulls his sweater over his head and his comb out of his bag, moving to stand behind Yuuri.

“I don’t… entirely remember how they tied it earlier,” he says, “and I don’t… I didn’t wear suits often enough in the States to really need to learn how to tie one of these things.

“Which knot was it?” Viktor asks.

Yuuri shrugs, sighing “A Half Windsor? Full? I don’t remember.”

Standing on his tiptoes, Viktor reaches around Yuuri’s front, repositioning the tie until it’s aligned well. With deft hands, he ties a Half Windsor, tightening it until it’s an inch or so from Yuuri’s throat. Yuuri smiles at him.

“Thank you, Vitya,” he murmurs as he adjust the tie, pinning it to his shirt.

“Any time, Lyubov,” Viktor replies.

“Will you teach me?” Yuuri asks, pulling his waistcoat out of the garment bag.

“That knot?”

“Every knot,” Yuuri says. “Please teach me every knot you know, I’m going to need them if I keep being left alone to change into suits.”

Viktor smiles, running the comb through his hair. “I will,” he says, smiling further when Yuuri nods determinedly behind him.

Yuuri pulls on his jacket, adjusting everything in the mirror while Viktor packs up his gear. They’re quickly ready to leave, heading back to the front lobby of Ice Castle. The Palace Photographer is talking to them, gesturing at an area near one of their signs and moving his hand around quickly. When he sees Yuuri, he holds up one finger and walks over.

“Your Majesty,” he says, “we were thinking of a few photos marking the occasion. Just pictures with the Nishigori family and Mr. Nikiforov, nothing fancy.”

Yuuri nods. “Very well,” he says, as he and Viktor hand off their bags to the guards flanking them. “Where would you have us?”

The photographer lines everyone up, before moving behind his tripod to take the pictures. They rearrange several times, Some people standing, kneeling, shifting one way or the other as the photographer tries to get the best angles. They’re free to leave a few minutes later, Yuuri gracefully thanking the Nishigoris once more. Viktor says his goodbyes as well, promising to see them again within the next few days for practice.

 

~*~  

 

The first thing Viktor knows the next morning is that someone’s knocking on the door. The next is there’s a distinct lack of warmth in his arms and footsteps are padding across the hardwood. There are hushed voices, Yuuri’s alternating with a woman’s, with a bit soft laughter at the end. The door clicks shut after a moment, and Viktor rolls over when he hears Yuuri’s footsteps draw near.

“Mari wanted to know when we wanted to do breakfast,” he murmurs as he crawls into bed.

“What’d you tell her?” Viktor asks.

“We’ll be ready when we’re ready.”

Viktor laughs. “And what did she say?”

“She’ll see us in half an hour.” Yuuri buries his face in the pillow. “I don’t wanna get dressed,” he says, almost whining as he wraps his arms and legs around Viktor.

“You don’t want to show me around?”

Pulling back far enough to give him a look, Yuuri stares for a second before sighing. “I do. You’re ok with Mari and my mom joining us?”

“Of course! I’m sure they have plenty of stories to tell of when you were a baby!”

Groaning, Yuuri rolls over so his back is facing Viktor. “I regret bringing you already,” he moans, before he goes still. Silence descends, settling heavily between them before Yuuri rolls back over, nuzzling into Viktor’s chest as he pulls him close. “I don’t. I don’t, I’d never,” he whispers.

“I know, Lyubov,” Viktor murmurs. “I know.”

Yuuri’s hair brushes his chest as he nods. Viktor kisses the top of his head, wraps one arm around Yuuri to rub his back. “We should get ready,” he says, “I’m excited to see your childhood home!”

There’s laughter, and the next thing Viktor knows Yuuri’s shifted himself so they’re at eye level. Putting his hand on Viktor’s cheek, he moves closer and his lips are soft and warm, gentle, and Viktor allows himself to sink into the kiss. It’s tender, drawn out for a few languid moments as they relish each other’s presence.

“I love you,” Yuuri says, smile bright in the morning sun.

Viktor kisses him again. “I love you, too. Let’s get dressed.”

With a groan, Yuuri rolls over in bed, propelling himself to his feet in a single fluid movement. Viktor climbs out of bed and heads towards the bathroom. “Do you mind?” he asks, and Yuuri waves him in. Once he’s made himself presentable, hair combed neatly, freshly-shaven with newly brushed teeth, he comes out to see Yuuri staring at his wardrobe.

“I don’t know what to wear,” he says quietly when Viktor approaches.

“Does it need to be your court stuff?”

“Yup. Touring the palace means people might see me. Like… staff. Who will pretty much be seeing me every day.” He runs his fingers through his hair. “I really want jeans, though.” There are a few pairs in the wardrobe, hung up next to his formal pants, and he eyes them almost hungrily. In the end, he pulls out his court clothes, a relatively simple outfit with dark navy pants and a lighter blue shirt. He reaches for a blue undershirt when Viktor stops him.

“Lyubov you don’t need three different blues in one outfit. Get that green shirt, and that undershirt that matches the pants.” As he points to the garments, Yuuri pulls them out, grabbing a navy pair of boots to go with them. Rummaging through his sock drawer, he grabs a pair and turns around.

“What are you wearing, then?”

“Jeans and a sweater.”

Yuuri looks at him enviously. “I’m gonna check and see if they require consorts to wear traditional clothing. At all times.”

Viktor shrugs. “I’ll be fine.”

“They ought to,” Yuuri mutters as he lays his clothes on the bed.

When they’re dressed and Yuuri’s gelled his hair back, put contacts in and a dark metal crown on his head, they head to the private dining room. Mari and Hiroko stand and greet them cheerfully as they pull off their shoes, moving over the tatami to take their seats at the table. After the attendants have brought and served the tea, Yuuri sighs. Mari gives him a small pinch on the cheek, and he swats her hand away with a glare. She pulls back quickly, hurt.

After a second, Yuuri’s eyes go wide. “Mari-chan, I didn’t- I didn’t mean- I’m sorry,” he says, lowering his head. “I’m sorry.” One of the footmen standing near the doors looks surprised, quickly averting his eyes when Viktor makes contact.

“Yuuri-kun, it’s ok. It’s fine, I shouldn’t have pinched you.”

Moving to protest, Yuuri is interrupted by the attendants coming in with breakfast. Plates are set down quickly but near silently in front of them. As soon as they came, the attendants are gone, and Yuuri picks up his fork to poke at his sausages.

“Why are we having Western food?” he asks, resting his chin on his hand.

Hiroko glances at Mari before looking at her son. “We thought you’d like it better,” she says, “a bit of familiarity while you get used to being home.” Swallowing, Yuuri nods. “Would you prefer the normal menu?”

“I’d like that,” Yuuri says. “I can ask for a Western breakfast if I want one.” He shovels a bite of egg into his mouth.

“How did you sleep, Viktor?” Mari asks in an attempt to change the topic of conversation.

“Well!” he replies with a grin. “The skating yesterday helped tire me out, and Yuuri’s bed is so—”

Yuuri sputters, coughs, and takes a frantic sip of his still-hot tea before wincing and freezing in place.

“It’s not like nobody knows he’s been sleeping in your room, Yuuri,” Mari chimes in.

Bright red, Yuuri scowls at her.

“Yuuri,” she says, “you think they wouldn’t have gone to Viktor’s room in the mornings to ask if he wanted breakfast brought?”

Instead of responding, Yuuri looks away and sips his coffee.

“Anyway,” Viktor says, “it’s very comfortable!”

“I’m glad you’re comfortable, Vicchan!” Hiroko says, cheerful. “How was the rink?”

“Nice,” Viktor replies. “It’s perfect, I love the windows! Yuuri and I got to skate together, you should see him sometime, he’s amazing!”

“Vitya!” Blushing, Yuuri gapes at Viktor. “I’m not that good stop telling people—”

“Yuuri,” he interrupts, “Lyubov, you can skate my program.”

“I have to scale my jumps down and I—”

“You don’t compete and you only scale to triples when you’re in practice. That’s a Grand Prix Final gold medal program.” Viktor looks back at the Queen. “Ma’am, for someone with no intention to compete and inconsistent training, Yuuri’s amazing. He could out-skate some of my competitors if he put his mind to it!”

“That sounds lovely, Yuuri-kun,” Hiroko says, affection bleeding through every word. “We’d love to see you skate!”

“Didn’t Vitya already show you, Kaa-san?”

Hiroko nods. “I saw a short video, yes, but I want to see it in person!”

“I didn’t see this video,” Mari interjects as Yuuri opens his mouth to respond.

Pulling out his phone, Viktor looks at her. “I can send them to you, if you want! Email? Texting?”

His offered phone is taken as Mari fills in her contact information. Yuuri, bright red, is poking at the potatoes on his plate. Glancing around, his eyes meet Viktor’s. When Viktor raises his eyebrows, silently asking if Yuuri’s alright, Yuuri pauses. He takes a sip of his tea, before meeting Viktor’s gaze and nodding. Viktor smiles at the princess.

“If you’d like, I can share a folder online with you and your mother. I’ll put pictures and video in from Detroit!”

“Phichit has plenty to add too,” Yuuri says. His tone is soft but sure, and he smiles at Viktor. Now that he has permission, he’ll ask Phichit to contribute what he can. The more intimate or embarrassing pictures won’t, of course, be shared, but there’s plenty that Yuuri should be fine with, plenty to help sate his family’s curiosity. Besides, it’s easy enough to check if there’s any question. The rest of the breakfast is spent in silence, as Viktor drops photos and video into an online drive. When he’s done, he sends an invitation to collaborate to Phichit, and a text explaining the purpose of the folder.

 

“Shall we go on the tour?” Yuuri says after they’ve cleared their plates. Everyone follows suit as he stands, and once shoes are put on they head out. “I figure since there aren’t tourists we can cover the main palace first.”

“That sounds lovely,” Hiroko says, looping her arm through Viktor’s.

Leading the way, Yuuri walks them out of the residential area, towards the rear of the palace. “We’re basically set up around a large courtyard,” he says, “with a separate, but connected building for offices towards the rear, giving private access to officials arriving, and away from the tour-ier areas of the palace. Since we actually do a lot of government work here, the privacy is necessary.”

They go through two guarded pairs of double doors, passing a hall going to the right. Though the hall remains the same, the doors have become more regular, placed along the wall in even intervals. “This area is apartments,” Yuuri says. “For foreign officials and select members of the government to stay in when visiting me personally. Second floor is the same.”

They finally head through another pair of double doors to a much busier area. “Offices,” Yuuri says. When people see him, they either bow or curtsy, (‘according to their preference,’ Yuuri notes) and Yuuri nods as he passes. He’s straightened more, his movements stiffer than they were. These are the people he works with, to an extent, and he must be under pressure to make and maintain a good impression. “Where’s your office again, Velichestvo?” Viktor asks.

Yuuri turns around, smiling. “I have an office and parlor where I meet with people in this area, it’s the one you watched the funeral from, but the office I’ll do much of my work in is nearer to my rooms. Not by much, though. That one’s connected to a private study with my books in it, and the sitting room I’d use with like, guests of the family with whom I’m not close enough to take to my rooms.”

“You have a separate office for meetings and work?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says. “Yes. The meetings I’m talking about are like, with people who are visiting or when someone’s bringing cameras. It’s more for public appearances? The working office is where I have my books on legislation and such, where I’ll actually be doing work-work. Most everyone else’s office is upstairs, here.” As they pass a vaguely-familiar reception desk, the receptionist stands and bows along with everyone else.

When they reach the end of the hallway, Yuuri pushes open the heavy wooden door leading into the spacious and somewhat imposing office. A large wooden desk sits in front of huge windows overlooking the grounds. Flanked by rich green curtains and bookshelves, it’s clear this office is made to be seen. The family’s crest is everywhere, from subtly woven into the moldings to emblazoned on the front of Yuuri’s desk and embroidered on the back of his chair. The carpet on the floor has a simplified version, covering a huge area. Now that Viktor’s looking at it without the funeral hanging over him, he can’t help but be impressed.

“What’s the difference between this office and your working one?”

“Really just the amount of papers on the desk. And the number of books at my fingertips.” He brushes his hand across the desk, fingers lingering over ornate metalwork inlaid in the wood. Something about his expression is sad, and he opens the drawer directly in front of the chair, reaching in and pulling out a small bag. “Do you want a piece of watermelon candy?” he asks as he pulls it open. Viktor holds his hand out, and Yuuri drops a piece in. “Mari?” he asks.

Mari swallows, and with a sad smile takes one, unwrapping it gingerly. “Kaa-san?” Yuuri asks.

“I’d love one, Yuuri-kun,” she says, accepting the offered piece.

Yuuri looks at Viktor. “My dad used to give us candy when we’d come visit. This used to be the working office as well, but my dad decided he didn’t need a sitting room, a smoking parlor, and a study all in one place, so he had the parlor converted to a working office so it was less trouble when people were visiting.” He pops his piece of candy in his mouth at the same time Viktor does and looks down at the bag, staring. Sniffling, he uses his sleeve to wipe a tear away. “Always, though, whenever Mari and I showed up, he’d give us candy and ask about our day.”

“It was adorable when we were young,” Mari says. “Yuuri would come in here and tell elaborate stories about a caterpillar he saw or a book he was read. One time he spent ten minutes trying to tell Dad there should be a law against bedtimes.” She and Hiroko chuckle, a smile creeping onto Yuuri’s face as he looks fondly at the bag.

“I remember when Minako-sensei brought me some after I graduated, one of you had written that you guys were proud of me.”

“Your father,” Hiroko says as she softly pats Yuuri’s arm. “That was your father that wrote on the bag, it was his idea.”

Yuuri nods, biting his lip in an attempt to stifle the tears threatening to fall. As Yuuri breathes, pulling himself together. Viktor sucks on the candy in his mouth. It’s sweet, but slightly tart.

“The candy is delicious,” he says.

“Watermelon candies are my favorite,” Yuuri muses, “as far as fruity candies go.”

“Are Kit Kats your all-time favorite?”

“I never told you that,” Yuuri says.

“You didn’t, Lyubov, but Phichit did mention you taking all of the Kit Kats after you bought all that Halloween candy.”

“By ‘mentioned’ you mean ‘complained about?’ Because he told me he didn’t like Kit Kats and only clarified later.”

Viktor laughs. “Well, yes.”

Yuuri gives a rather impressive eye roll. “I offered to buy him more but he said it wasn’t in the spirit of things if it wasn’t discounted Halloween candy, so that’s his own fault.”

“I see.”

After another long glance around the room, Yuuri smiles as he walks towards a door Viktor hadn’t noticed his first time here, pushing it open and holding it open for everyone to pass through. They enter a formal sitting room, with a hearth and armchairs, everything carefully arranged and spotless. “There’s no balcony for this office or this sitting room, unlike the other. The windows are bulletproof and don’t open without a lot of effort.”

“Yuuri,” Mari says, standing next to a tall bookshelf in one corner of the room.

“Huh?”

“Do you remember climbing this?”

Frowning, Yuuri thinks for a second before his eyes widen. “When I got stuck on top! Yeah, I remember! You kept saying you’d catch me if I jumped but it took four attendants and Dad to coax me down.”

“I could have caught you!”

“Mari you were like twelve, there was no way you were going to catch a four-year-old. What if I’d smashed my face open on the side table of the armchair?”

Opening her mouth to argue, Mari seems to think better of it. “Yes,” she concedes, “you’re right. I’d probably have dropped you.”

Yuuri gives a nod, before heading to the other door in the sitting room. This one leads them back into the same hallway, and Yuuri takes them back the way they came. They take a left, going through part of the residential area. They pass through another guarded set of double doors, and shortly down the hall Yuuri turns into another room. This office is similar to the first, though with a more utilitarian feel with bookshelves lining the walls. The desk is similar, and holds a computer and a small stack of papers.

“This is the working office,” Yuuri says, looking around. “I haven’t been in here too much, it was still a parlor when I left. Which one’s the sitting room, Mari?”

“To the right,” she says, gesturing at another door, propped open against the wall. Yuuri goes in, and inside is a comfortable-looking array of armchairs and a window seat in the corner. Doors lead to a balcony outside, overlooking a central courtyard. The fireplace has a landscape painting over it, the view of Hasetsu from the top of a nearby hill. The ocean dominates much of the picture.

Yuuri tugs on his sleeve. “The study is the other way, back through the office,” he says, leading the way. Viktor, Mari, and Hiroko follow him into a comfortable room with walls lined with books. There’s a hearth in here as well, reclining leather chairs and a few small tables for tea. On one wall is a window seat, lined with pillows. Yuuri smiles.

“I fell asleep there more than once,” he says softly. “I’d be with my parents while someone was visiting and when I got tired I just sorta… crawled up on there and went to sleep.”

“We used to have to carry him to his room,” Hiroko says, smiling. “He’d fall asleep whenever he got tired, no matter where we were, as long as there was something to lay his head on. At one point we were in a parade celebrating our independence, Yuuri-kun was about three years old, and five minutes in he was snoring against my side, a little trail of drool running down his cheek. It didn’t matter that there was drumming and fanfare, he was so tired!”

Viktor grins. “When we were in Russia—”

“Vitya what are you—”

“We were at dinner,” Viktor continues, flashing Yuuri a wink. “He fell asleep on my shoulder and slipped off. He ended up hitting his face on the table in front of him!”

“Jet lag’s a pain in the ass,” Yuuri mutters, “and I’d been exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping well at all. For weeks at that point.”

Viktor frowns. “You seemed to sleep just fine when I was there.”

Crossing his arms, Yuuri looks out the window. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “I did.” Pink tinges his cheeks and it takes a second to register what Yuuri means.

“Easier to sleep when you’re not alone?”

Yuuri meets his eyes. “Easier to sleep when I’m with you,” he replies.

Oh, Yuuri… Viktor walks over, kisses Yuuri’s forehead and smiles at him. Returning the smile, Yuuri kisses his lips before looking back at his family. “I got a bloody nose,” he says to them. “It wasn’t pleasant.”

“Is there anywhere you won’t fall asleep?” Mari asks with a smirk.

Yuuri just shrugs. “Probably not, honestly. I’ve fallen asleep against the boards in the rink—”

“On the carpet, right?” Viktor asks, concerned.

Giving him an odd look, Yuuri blushes. “No, I was on the ice. Sitting against the boards, balanced on my toe picks. Ciao Ciao was impressed.”

“And Phichit?”

Yuuri rolls his eyes. “Took a picture he’s still waiting to post, I’m sure. But I’ve fallen asleep in lectures, at the break room of the café, on a tractor once…”

“A tractor?” Mari asks. She looks at Hiroko with wide eyes, and back at Yuuri.

“Mari I went to high school in rural Michigan. Tractors were part of daily life. Anyway, I was helping a friend with some field work.”

“Like on a farm?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says. “Crops, livestock and everything.”

“Huh,” she says, pursing her lips. “I didn’t realize things were like that.”

“Like what?” Yuuri’s looking at her now, puzzled.

Mari looks at him. “I didn’t realize you had to work at the café and on a farm and stuff.”

“Oh, I volunteered for that,” Yuuri says, cheerful before his face falls just a bit. “Palace said I had to stop because I got sunburned and apparently working with heavy machinery is on their list of things not to do. Working at the café was… I just wanted to see what it was like. Having a job. The Palace’s stipend was more than adequate, I didn’t need the money, but working sounded like it’d be an interesting experience.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

Yuuri brightens up. “I did! I got to make coffee and people yelled at me.”

“People yelled at you?!”

Sheepishly, Yuuri smiles. “Yeah, I mean, it’s an unfortunate part of working in customer service. I didn’t… at the time it sucked but looking back now, after… everything, it’s kinda… nice,” he says. “That and I know how not to be an asshole.”

Pulling up the picture of the Makkaccino, Viktor grins, holding out his phone. “He made this for me! It almost felt like a crime to drink it.”

“Yuuri-kun,” Hiroko says, smiling, “that’s adorable!”

“Not as adorable as his actual dog,” Yuuri mutters, blushing. It’s impossible to tell if he blurted it out by accident or if it’s a legitimate, if terrible, attempt at flirting. Either way, it’s the most adorable thing Viktor has heard. Yuuri, flustered, stammers an attempt at a topic change before giving up, falling silent.

Hiroko laughs as Yuuri turns back towards the door. They head out into the hall, continuing down.

“These are… additional guest rooms, parlors and such, upstairs,” he says after clearing his throat, gesturing at the ceiling. “Downstairs the rooms are…”

He looks at Mari.

“Mostly irrelevant,” she says as they walk. “There are bathrooms, smaller apartments, spare rooms in case we need them for something. A few of the smaller music rooms.” They pass through guarded doors and make another turn to a much wider hallway, with a ceiling much higher than the one they’d just left.

There’s a sharp intake of breath from Yuuri. “This…” he says, trailing off as he looks around. “This is the fancy area.”

“As opposed to the rest of the palace?” Viktor asks. It comes out with more of a bite than it probably should have, and Yuuri makes a face at him as he blushes. Taking an immediate right, they enter a small ballroom. Yuuri grins, walking towards the back. He crouches down near the windows before standing and waving Viktor over. When Viktor gets there, he points.

“See the discoloration? How the stain is very slightly different here?”

Taking a knee, Viktor looks. There’s a darker spot just barely visible where Yuuri’s pointing. “I see it. Is this where you chipped it?”

Yuuri nods. “Yup.” He stands again, looking at his mom. “When did you finally fix it?” he asks.

“A few months after you left.” Hiroko smiles at Viktor. “Vicchan, when he was just learning to crawl he had such trouble on this floor. It’s too slippery to get much traction, and his knees would go everywhere! Like a baby deer on ice,” she says, looking at Yuuri fondly. “You’ve gotten so big.”

Yuuri grins, bending over and unhooking his boots.

“Yuuri, what are you doing?” Mari asks.

“Shush, it’ll be fun,” he says with a mischievous smile, setting his boots to the side and backing up a few steps.

“Yuuri.”

“Mari.” Giving his sister a look, Yuuri gets ready and takes a few rapid steps forward, letting himself slide a few feet before stopping. He does it again, and Viktor unties his shoes and sets them next to Yuuri’s.

“Lyubov,” Viktor says to Yuuri across the room. “High-five?” He’s posed, clearly ready to do the same thing, and Yuuri grins, nodding. Simultaneously, they both run a few steps forward and they slide, Viktor letting out a laugh after their hands connect solidly. Yuuri stumbles a few steps, grabbing the crown on his head to keep it from clattering across the floor. Sheepishly, he looks back. Hiroko looks overjoyed and Mari’s not even trying to hold back her smile, but there’s sadness in their eyes as well.

Yuuri takes a deep, shaking breath. “We should continue,” he says as he pulls his shoes on. Viktor follows suit, and they head out the door.

“What did you see on your tour the other day, Viktor?” Yuuri asks.

“Some of the residential area, downstairs with the common areas and such. The library. We passed some ballrooms, and she took me into a few of the sitting rooms and out onto the grounds a bit before I came in for lunch.”

“So you’ve seen much of this,” Yuuri says, gesturing around the hall as they exit the ballroom.

“The smaller rooms, yes.”

“Have you seen the throne room, Viktor?” Mari asks.

“No,” Viktor says. “Not in person.”

Mari takes them to a set of stairs leading to a grand pair of double doors, each with the Royal Crest. Yuuri takes a breath, grabbing Viktor’s hand before walking up the stairs. As he approaches, two attendants rush forward, opening the doors just before they get there and bowing as Yuuri walks in.

The throne room is more imposing in person, and while the dais only rises a few feet above the floor it dominates the space. Yuuri hangs back, looking at the throne and its surroundings. The walls are relatively simple, plain enough to not draw the eye and detract from the throne itself. Yuuri makes his way slowly to the dais as Viktor walks alongside him, stopping at the foot. He puts his arm around Viktor, settling into him with a sigh.

“I remember seeing my dad crowned,” he says softly. “I was there,” he points at the same place Mari and Hiroko stood during his coronation, “but they had me sit there.” Pointing at a smaller chair to the right of the throne, he sighs. “I was officially given the title of Crown Prince at that point.”

“I didn’t see that during yours,” Viktor says.

Yuuri sighs. “My uncle has the flu and couldn’t make it. They don’t allow proxies for giving titles of any sort, so I’m going to have to officially appoint him at some other time, though they likely won’t make a ceremony of it.” He looks at Mari, frowning. “The title should be yours,” he says softly. “Or still mine. This is your birthright, too.”

Mari gives him a strange look. “Walls have ears,” is all she says with a hint of pride.

Nodding, Yuuri rests his head on Viktor’s shoulder. “You know,” he says absently, “If we get married they’re going to have to put the Consort’s throne back up there.”

Viktor looks up at the throne, tries to imagine how it would feel to sit on one. “May I?” he asks, gesturing at the dais. Yuuri looks at him, then nods.

“Don’t sit down,” he says, “but you can go up on the platform thing.”

Detaching from Yuuri, Viktor walks over to the steps and up them, turning to look over the room. The feeling that fills him is indescribable, a profound sense of awe mixed with something akin to hesitation and dread, but not quite. It stirs deep in his gut, knowing he could be here one day in an official capacity, next to Yuuri, and he’s not entirely sure if it’s good or bad. He walks down before his head starts to spin.

Yuuri takes his hand with a smile. They head back into the hall, ending up in an opulent ballroom, this one hung with several ornate metalwork chandeliers.

“This is where he snuck around under the tables,” Mari laughs. “Reaching up and taking cream puffs off the table.”

“I like cream puffs,” Yuuri says, “and the kitchens wouldn’t give me any.”

“They needed them for the banquet, Yuuri.”

“They coulda given me the janky ones but they didn’t.”

Mari rolls her eyes. They go down the hall to what Yuuri describes as the ‘smaller’ dining room, which is itself massive. Viktor sees why, though, when they go into a larger one towards the front of the palace. This one is huge and quite long, with a raised dais at the end.

“That’s where they stick us,” Yuuri says. “The Royal Family eats there, and then everyone else is positioned around the room depending on status or something.”

“It’s dependent on status and how close they are, personally, to the Royal Family,” Mari adds.

“Yeah, that,” Yuuri says, nodding. “You’ll be up there if we have a formal dinner, as Suitor.”

“You wouldn’t be sitting next to him though unless you were engaged.” Glancing at Viktor, Yuuri nods. He pulls his phone out, googling something quickly. Mari glances over his shoulder, snorting when he brings something up on screen.

He holds the phone out to Viktor. In the picture, the Royal Family is seated at a table on the dais Yuuri had just pointed out. His parents are seated in the center, both chatting quietly with small smiles. To the King’s right, a very young Yuuri is cross-eyed, staring at a large gob of vanilla ice cream perched on the tip of his nose. It's clear he’s about to start giggling. Mari, on Hiroko's left, is leaning over her bowl, one long tendril of hair nearly skimming the top of her ice cream with an expression of shocked laughter. It’s surprisingly domestic, especially when Yuuri scrolls to a follow-up picture of his father using an embroidered napkin to wipe the ice cream off, eyes sparkling behind an obligatory serious expression.

Viktor looks back across the room. The decor hasn’t changed at all since the picture was taken, and it’s not difficult to imagine the scene as if it were happening in front of him. “That was the coronation dinner, a few weeks after the event. I was five.”

“You were adorable!” Viktor says, laughing good-naturedly as he wraps his arms around Yuuri from behind. He feels Yuuri’s hands on his own as he kisses his cheek.

“Vitya,” Yuuri whispers, easing into his embrace. He sighs, pulling away.

They go back into the hall out a different door, this time exiting into the large entryway. It’s grand, with a staircase in the center leading up to the dining room they just left. They descend the stairs, and as Viktor looks around he recognizes the entrance they’d used when they first arrived, and the one Yuuri walked through during the coronation. At the bottom, Yuuri takes a few turns into a small hallway. He pushes open a nondescript door to his right. It’s instantly recognizable as a dance studio. The floor is smooth but intricately patterned hardwood. The mirrors on the walls are spotless, the ballet barre showing few signs of wear. There’s a picture of an older man on the wall near the door.

“That’s my grandfather,” Yuuri says. “The one who had this room converted for me.”

“How old were you?” Viktor asks curiously, walking around the room.

“Four,” Yuuri replies wistfully. “I loved going to Minako-sensei’s studio, this was back when she had one still, but she was hired on to help tutor me and train me up, and I was sad because I really wanted to dance, still, but I couldn’t use the ballrooms because they didn’t have a barre.”

“By ‘sad,’” Mari says, “he means nearly inconsolable.”

“I was an anxious child,” Yuuri retorts.

Mari looks at him blankly. “What does that… why is that relevant?”

He glances at Viktor. It’s clear he hasn’t discussed everything about how he manages his anxiety with his family. “Moving helps me calm down,” he says, “helps me think. I think dance helped with the stress, even back then.” Running his hand along the barre, he walks the length of the room. He looks at Viktor. “I’ve always known I was destined to be King, and I’ve always been expected to act like it,” he says. “Even when I was in hiding I was expected, at home and later in Minako’s studio, to conduct myself accordingly. Good posture, speaking properly… generally acting like a prince.”

“Did they defer to you, too, Yuuri?” Mari asks curiously. “Or were they not supposed to do that? I don’t know how everything worked while you were in hiding.”

“They did,” Yuuri says. “They wanted to keep me in the habit of everything, including having authority, because I could go home at any moment. It’s easier to keep habits than re-train them. My bodyguard had a little bit of a weird thing going because she was technically in charge of me? Like, she was raising me so she had to, you know, be authoritative but also treat me… like a prince. It was strange. Minako had an easier time of it.”

“I see,” Mari says. “But you acted common outside of the house?”

Yuuri nods. “And they acted the part in public, too. Being really familiar and stuff. Calling me by my name.”

“Was it weird?”

Looking at his sister, Yuuri lets out a sigh. “At first, yeah. Then I mostly got used to it. Having other people call me by name wasn’t as weird for some reason? But Hana and Minako doing it definitely took me off-guard sometimes. Mostly Minako.”

“So how was it with Phichit?” Mari looks as if she has a million more questions on her tongue, but she waits patiently for Yuuri’s answer.

Rubbing his arm right over where Viktor knows the goose bite scar to be, Yuuri glances around. “Normal at first, for the most part. He called me Yuuri and we were best friends, I just… happened to secretly be a prince. Phichit treated it more like fun than anything else, though he made sure to be careful.”

“What do you mean, fun?” Crossing her arms, Mari leans against the wall.

“Playful ribbing. My name in his phone is Prince Buttercup. He’d always say I failed completely at being a normal person, but he’d always help fix whatever I’d messed up.” A fond look in his eyes, Yuuri smiles. “He treats it as just… as if it were just another personality trait. He doesn’t let it makes things weird.”

Viktor moves forward. “You said at first, Velichestvo?”

Yuuri takes a deep breath. “He thought it would be a good idea to start practicing with the whole title thing during my lessons, when he was home for them. Always said it would help to get used to it before he was forced to after I’d come back. Hana-neechan agreed with him. I wasn’t a fan.” Displeasure clear on his face, Yuuri opens the door, leading them back into the hall. It takes a few minutes, but shortly they’re in front of a familiar, imposing set of heavy wooden doors, which are opened by footmen to reveal a staggering number of books arranged neatly on shelves.

Viktor can’t help but look around at the library, the sight just as impressive as it was the first time, and he smiles when he notices Yuuri doing the same. As they make their way down the center aisle, Yuuri glances at each of the pictures to the side, stopping suddenly when he reaches the end. Coming to stand next to him, Viktor looks up at the massive painting, and then to Yuuri, enraptured by his younger self.

“I look so bored,” he says softly. “So solemn.”

“You were,” Mari says. “You took your role as Crown Prince seriously as you got older.”

“I didn’t remember that.” Frowning at the painting, Yuuri crosses his arms over his chest. “When I remembered being home, it was always happy things. Playing with you, afternoons spending time with everyone. Riding horses and such.”

Hiroko steps forward, looping her arm through Yuuri’s. “This was just after your father decided you needed to be prepared for having responsibility and being more involved in society. He sat you down for a long talk one afternoon a few days before your first Official Engagement with him.”

“Over tea and cookies, yeah,” Yuuri says. “I kinda remember now. Talked about the country looking to me and all that.”

“Weren’t you six or seven?” Viktor asks. Yuuri’d said he’d left the country young, and that seems far too young for that sort of burden to be placed on his shoulders.

Yuuri looks at him, swallowing before speaking quietly, “I was Crown Prince, Viktor.” It’s all the explanation he offers, looking back up at the painting. “It was weird having my hair cut after I left.”

“I see it didn’t stay weird,” Mari says, running her fingers through the shorter hair on the back of his head.

“After fifteen years to get used to it, I should hope it’s stopped being weird.” He bats her hand away, but quickly wraps his arm around his sister in apology. She squeezes his shoulder, kissing the top of his head. In short order, they head out, but before they leave the library Yuuri makes sure to show Viktor the borrowing system. It’s relatively easy, linked to the ID card Viktor will get once the Palace processes his paperwork. He hadn’t realized even the Royal Family carried them around until Yuuri pulled his out of his shirt. It’s shiny, newly-printed, and has a picture of him with a simple black shirt on and his hair pulled back. He almost looks like he did in his work uniform, missing only the burgundy apron straps.

“Your picture looks like you at the café,” he says, and Yuuri smiles when he looks at the card.

“It does, if I didn’t wear my glasses, yeah. Speaking of,” he says, looking at Mari and Hiroko, “coffee sounds good right now. I’d like to show Viktor the kitchens.”

“Lead the way, Your Majesty,” Mari says, grinning.

Yuuri glances between her and Viktor, then at Hiroko, and back at Mari. “Umm. Well, yes. Ok!” Giving a nod, he heads purposefully out the door. They wander the maze of hallways for a bit, through the residential area and back out the way they came, until Mari clears her throat.

“Your Majesty,” she says, demure, “I would be more than happy to lead the way, with your permission.” There’s a smirk playing across her face now, a clear sign that she knows full well Yuuri’s gotten lost.

“That’ll be acceptable, Your Highness,” he replies with a thinly-veiled pout. Mari links his arm and pulls him in the right direction. They make their way to a small hall off to the side, coming before a relatively simple, wide wooden door. Mari leads them through the palace and down a sturdy flight of stairs, and through another pair of swinging wooden doors.

A hush comes over the kitchen they've entered, almost everyone coming to an instant standstill. Yuuri looks around, swallowing, before moving to raise his hand in a wave. He catches himself quickly, clasping his hands in front of him, and he gives the room a nod as the kitchen staff bows.

“Back to your stations,” a familiarly-accented voice says, sending the staff scattering as a woman walks through the doors. “Your Majesty,” she says, “welcome home, and welcome back to the kitchens.”

“Chef Elena,” Yuuri says, smiling. He’s vibrating with energy, clearly excited. “I'd like to introduce my partner,” he says as he gestures at Viktor.

“Viktor Nikiforov,” he says, holding his hand out.

She takes it, shaking firmly. “Welcome,” she says in fluid Russian, “I am Elena Andreyevna Petrova, Assistant Head Chef of His Majesty’s Palace.”

“Ah, a fellow Russian!” Viktor replies. “Viktor Alexandrovich Nikoforov,” he says, offering his patronymic, “it's a pleasure to meet you.” Switching back to English, he looks at Yuuri. “Is this the neighbor from the goose incident?”

“What neighbor?” he responds, confused.

“You said your neighbor brought you sushki and tea after you got attacked by that goose at the park,” Viktor says, and Yuuri's mouth makes an ‘o’ of understanding.

“Ahhh, yeah. Yeah, she is, sorry. It would have been weird if I’d said she was our chef. And the attack was… on the grounds, like four hundred feet from the back staircase.” Sheepishly, he grins. “Anyway. Chef Elena, Vitya taught me to make borscht. I’d missed it,” he says, smiling. His posture, while still ramrod-straight, is somehow more open and relaxed around the chef.

She smiles. “It’s good to see you were taken care of while you were gone. And you taught him to cook!”

“I did my best,” Viktor replies with a nod.

Mari looks at them. “If it pleases you, Your Majesty,” she says (and Yuuri still looks vaguely uncomfortable, as much as he tries to hide it,) “I, as well as our mother, would very much appreciate the opportunity to try this borscht, should the occasion arise.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Yuuri says, smiling. Despite the formality of the tone, Viktor can see how excited Mari and Hiroko are to try Yuuri’s cooking, and Yuuri’s excitement to show them. “Chef Elena,” he says, “do we have an espresso machine available for use?”

With a slight bow, she gestures towards a small door. “Over here, Your Majesty. If you’ll follow me?”

Yuuri nods, gesturing for her to lead the way.

They make their way to a small room off the kitchen, full of teas and coffees, serving sets and various containers on the wall. A gleaming espresso machine lies at the opposite end of the room, and Yuuri gravitates towards it quickly. He looks over the buttons, before nodding to himself and closing the door. Removing the silver crown from his head, he sets it gently on a clean wooden cutting board, before tying back his sleeves and putting on an apron. The chef watches with interest, leaning against the counter while Mari and Hiroko stand fairly close to the machine, eager to see what Yuuri’s doing.

“I would be happy to assist you, Majesty,” she says, but Yuuri just smiles shyly and shakes his head.

“I worked in a coffee shop,” he replies as he pulls five latte mugs off a nearby shelf. “I like making drinks for people. May I trust your discretion?”

“Absolutely, Sire,” the chef says.

Grabbing milk from the walk-in cooler, Yuuri gets to work. The first latte made, he decorates with a flower, a very simplified rose, and holds out to his mother. “Kaa-san,” he says, beaming with pride. Hiroko takes it gently, looking down at the drink with a smile. Lifting it to her lips, she takes a slow sip.

“It’s delicious,” she says.

Blushing, Yuuri whips up another, embellishing the top with what looks like a fish, before holding the cup out to Mari. He makes another quickly, topping it with a leaf before he hands it to the chef with a smile. “I told you when I was a kid,” he says, “we’d have coffee together one day.”

“That you did, Your Majesty.” She takes it, grinning at him proudly. “I recall that was in response to being told you weren’t allowed coffee, Sire.”

“A promise is a promise,” Yuuri says, cheeks dusted with pink.

“That it is, Majesty,” the chef laughs as Mari stifles a snort.

“This is really good, Yuuri,” Mari says as she sips her latte. “I can see why Viktor started dating you.”

“Mari!” he shouts, face turning a vivid red.

“Oh my god,” she says, “you flirted with coffee, didn’t you?”

Wrapping his arms around Viktor, Yuuri groans into his chest. “Save me,” he moans, muffled by Viktor’s shirt.

“You don’t want me to tell them how you showed up at my house with drinks, food, and a pound of coffee after I twisted my ankle?”

“You, too?” he asks, pained.

“That is adorable,” Mari says. “What else did he do?”

Yuuri doesn’t show any sign of actually wanting Viktor to stop, so he grins. “He figured out how to make my favorite drink from Russia!” he responds, smiling at Mari and Hiroko. “And he used to show up at the rink with drinks after every practice.”

“I was bringing them for Phichit and Ciao Ciao as well, you know.”

“You didn’t start bringing them drinks until after I started skating there,” Viktor responds, kissing the top of Yuuri’s hair. “May I have a Raf, Velichestvo?” He uses the formal, since he’s not entirely sure whether or not they’re in private with the chef present. Yuuri nods into his chest, combing his hair into place as he pulls back.

He whips up a Raf, doing his best to decorate the drink with a heart on the top before handing it to Viktor with scarlet cheeks. Viktor takes it gingerly, the tips of his fingers brushing Yuuri’s hands as he wraps them around his mug. “Spacibo, vashe Velichestvo,” he whispers before taking a sip.

The drink no longer brings memories of home, he notes, at least not at first. It brings back mornings spent in the café, giddy kisses after an amazing practice.  The taste makes him think of Yuuri, and he savors it. “Delicious,” he says softly, “as usual. Thank you.”

“Pozhaluysta, Vitya,” Yuuri responds with a kiss. “Any time.”

With practiced motions, Yuuri whips up his own drink, topping it with some sort of vague swirly sort of shape. Out of habit, he washes the equipment he used and wipes down his workstation. He hangs up his apron and washes his hands, drying them with a dishtowel he drapes over a hook near the sink. Putting his hands on his hips, he nods at the now-spotless machine with pride before turning back. “So that’s what I spent almost three years of my life doing,” he says.

“You’re so good at it, Yuuri-kun,” Hiroko says, “it's wonderful.” Somehow that makes Yuuri beam even brighter as he unties his sleeves, letting them fall to his wrists before putting his crown back on his head.

“Thank you, Kaa-san.”

“Your Majesty,” the chef says, stepping forward, “would you like a tour of the updated kitchens? They've changed quite a bit since you were here last.”

“I’d love one,” Yuuri replies, picking up his coffee.

The chef guides them through the kitchens, explaining the purpose and features of each. She introduces some of the high level staff, who keep their heads lowered as Yuuri greets them. Viktor doesn’t miss the flash of disappointment that crosses Yuuri’s face. Still, he thanks each for their service, addressing them by name with a smile and Hiroko beams, proud. Each time they leave an area, Viktor can hear the burst of fierce whispering behind them as the kitchen staff talk about the missing prince-turned-king.

Their tour of the kitchen concludes in a small dining area overlooking the grounds. The window is low, but the palace is built on a hill and the view of the gardens is pleasant, though still partially blanketed by snow. Yuuri smiles, sitting at the table and taking a long sip of his coffee. He wiggles a little, grinning more. “This booth always has had the nicest cushions,” he says, “I’m thinking about having them remake the throne now. I’d like sitting in it more if it were more comfortable.”

“Yuuri, you barely sit in it anyway,” Mari points out.

“It’s the principal of the thing,” he says. “Chef Elena?”

“What is it, Your Majesty?”

“Would you prepare lunch for us?” Now that food is mentioned, Viktor’s stomach growls. Breakfast had been delicious and filling for sure, but since then they’ve trekked through the entire palace, up and down stairs, and between the tour itself and the amount of time it’s taken, breakfast is a fond yet distant memory as far as his body is concerned.

“As you wish, Sire, what is it you’ll be having?”

Yuuri looks at Viktor. “Anything in particular you want, Vitya? Something Russian?”

“Solyanka sounds really good right about now, actually,” he says.

“I’m afraid we don’t have the ingredients for solyanka, Mr. Nikiforov,” Chef Elena replies, “however if it’s Russian food you’re after I could whip up some pelmeni if you like.”

“Pelmeni?” Yuuri looks at Viktor with an eyebrow raised.

“It’s a sort of dumpling,” Viktor says, “with a meat filling. Similar to wontons. They’re very good!”

“That sounds wonderful, Vicchan,” Hiroko says.

Yuuri nods in agreement, “some pelmeni, then, please.”

Chef Elena bows. “Where will you be taking your lunch, Your Majesty?”

Glancing between Mari and Hiroko, Yuuri shrugs. “Do we want to walk all the way back to the dining room or my rooms or what?”

“Yuuri-kun,” Hiroko says, “why don’t we take lunch in your rooms? It’ll be more comfortable, I’d think.”

“That sounds good,” he agrees. “We’ll take lunch in my room, please.”

With another bow, Chef Elena smiles. “Yes sir, your lunch will be ready within the hour.”

 

They’re most of the way to the residential area when a sign catches Viktor’s attention. He walks closer, unheeding of the fact that Yuuri and his family have continued on. He gapes as his eyes look over the text, two sections in slightly-different Japanese, with the English below.

For a map of the palace and grounds, and additional information for your tour,
Please download our app at akitsuroyalpalace.gvt.ak/eng
(English)

He looks over as Yuuri comes up next to him. “You guys have an app?”

Yuuri frowns, eyes skimming over the sign before he looks at Mari, behind him. “We have an app?”

She grins, holding up her phone. “Don’t download that one, there’s a separate app for us and the staff. I’ll get you login credentials, Viktor. Yuuri, yours should be the same as your palace email.”

“What’s the difference?” Viktor asks, lowering his phone.

“This app,” Mari says, gesturing at the sign, “is for visitors. Tour information, opening and closing times, holidays, services, descriptions of the stuff on display, etcetera. Our map is more comprehensive and shows areas of the palace inaccessible by the general public. Including the residential wing,” she says, looking at Viktor.

“It also has scheduling as far as what events are happening when, the program we use to input requests, and your personal schedules as far as royal functions are concerned. You can set up your own events as well, in order to have your entire schedule in the same place.”

“That’s convenient,” Yuuri mutters, logging into the newly-downloaded app. As he scrolls, Viktor can see a colorful schedule, full to the brim. He doubts the palace bothers to schedule free time, and something twists in his gut as he swallows, remembering the coronation. Remembering Yuuri’s promise to put his duty above all else.

“Vitya?”

When Viktor looks up, Yuuri’s frowning at him. “Vitya,” he says, “are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he says, nodding. “I’m fine. Sorry, I don’t know why I’m so tired today!” Smiling, he allows himself a yawn.

Hiroko just takes his arm, patting it gently, before taking them in the direction of Yuuri’s rooms.

 

~*~

 

The morning of the announcement, Viktor has his first practice. It’s not long, just to get him moving again for a bit before the hard training begins, but he appreciates the quiet. The workout itself helps, too, getting his blood coursing through his body, giving his muscles a way to relieve the tension they’ve been holding for the past week. It’s not enough, he thinks as he showers. Sometimes the only good way to get rid of nerves is by skating them out, and he won’t have time to do that until tomorrow.

Still, the itchiness, the need to do something has lessened, and for that he’s grateful. When they arrive at the palace, he’s shuttled into his rooms, given a three-piece suit and told to be ready within the half hour. By the time he’s dressed, his hair is dry enough to style, and he smiles at his reflection as he takes in the cut of the dark grey suit. The slacks are perfectly tailored, the waistcoat and jacket cut to show off the shape of his body. The tailoring is truly exquisite and the tie (and handkerchief,) blue, is the perfect splash of color. Putting his nicest black leather shoes on, he heads into the hall. An attendant meets him at the door, bowing. “I’m here to escort you to His Majesty’s office, Mr. Nikiforov.”

By now, Viktor’s pretty confident that he knows the way, but it wouldn’t do to get lost when the PR crew is waiting for him. Yuuri will be doing most of the talking, sure, but Viktor’s presence is still required. The world will have to start seeing them as a unit, he’s reminded during the walk. Determined, he nods, steeling himself as he’s let into the office.

Yuuri sits in front of his desk. He’s wearing a formal blue shirt, with simple, darker blue embroidery on the front flap, and a black undershirt. A silver and blue crown rests on his head, the swirling design of the metal echoing the embroidery. The camera technicians finish fixing the lighting while he reads the text of the announcement in front of him. Viktor pulls at his collar, adjusting his tie. The blue is similar to the embroidery on Yuuri's shirt. They need to appear as a cohesive unit, and apparently that comes down to coordinating their outfits. When directed to, he stands just off camera, ready to take his place at Yuuri's side when he’s supposed to. They’ll be doing this twice, once in Japanese for the nation, and another time in English, the announcement for the world. The Palace wants to get the English first, so they can start subtitling it in various languages for its release worldwide.

The added benefit is that Viktor will have an easier time with his cues. He sighs softly, while they start rolling.

Yuuri leans slightly forward with the trace of a smile on his face and twinkling through his eyes as he begins with his well-rehearsed statement.

“I wish to extend my warmest greetings to the citizens of Akitsushima, and to all people of the world. My announcement today is rather personal in nature and, if the internet is to be believed, much-anticipated. Before I get to the topic at hand, I wish to express my appreciation, again, for the enthusiastic welcome I’ve received since publicly resuming my royal duties.” He nods his head in a slight bow.

“Due to the nature of my time abroad, and my focus on developing and maintaining political acumen, I found it difficult to develop lasting, meaningful relationships with those around me. While I attended school, much of my spare time was used for additional education, specifically in matters of politics and court, in order to ensure my preparedness for my eventual return to my duties as Crown Prince. It was only when I began to attend college and integrate myself into society that I found someone I truly wanted to hold onto. Specifically, Mr. Viktor Nikiforov.” He gestures to his side, and Viktor moves to sit at the chair next to him with a polite smile, giving a shallow bow to the camera.

“It is my honor and distinct pleasure to formally announce my courtship with Mr. Nikiforov,” he says with a briefly genuine smile. “In the year before my return, Mr. Nikiforov and I grew close, moving from acquaintances to good friends, eventually growing to love each other dearly. After much discussion in light of recent events, we’ve made the joint decision to continue our relationship, with the full approval of both Her Majesty the Queen Mother, and Mr. Nikiforov’s parents. We respectfully ask that all inquiries and interview requests be submitted through the Royal Palace here in Akitsushima, the International Skating Organization, or the Russian Skating Federation.” He smiles again at Viktor, taking his hand gently before looking back at the screen. “Mr. Nikiforov and I wish to express our deepest and most sincere gratitude for the continued support of the peoples of Akitsushima and Russia, and the world at large, and are looking to the future with renewed hope.”

“Cut!” The head of Public Relations shouts. Yuuri beams at Viktor, pressing a kiss to his nose.

“Velichestvo are you—”

“It’s fine Vitya. Do the motions work for cues? Will you be able to figure it out well enough?”

Smiling, Viktor nods. “That, and they have someone off-camera cueing me.”

Flushing slightly, Yuuri nods. They smile, but an assistant comes forward and tells them to prepare to shoot the Japanese announcement.

Yuuri only sighs, resting his chin on his hands after Viktor gets up and moves to the side. He faintly returns Viktor’s smile before his attention is pulled elsewhere, and they both gear up to film again.

 

~*~

 

A few days before Viktor leaves for Europeans, he’s standing in front of a mirror in a well-tailored blue three-piece suit. The cut is exquisite, and he’s styled his hair like he typically does for performances. It’s the same version he presents at Galas and interviews, but instead of playing Russia’s National Hero, he’s visiting a school nearby with an apparently exemplary athletics program. Apparently, they have an ice rink available for their use (or on the grounds, Viktor’s not entirely sure which,) and have several students doing competitive figure skating at the National Junior’s level. It’s an excellent first appearance. Viktor knows athletics, knows what sort of drive these kids have, and can relate on a personal level.

He meets Yuuri at the rear of the palace, where there’s a waiting motorcade. Yuuri is wearing his traditional clothing, an almost monotone outfit of black and grey with a splash of purple from the undershirt. As he gets in the limo, he pulls off his crown, setting it in a shallow, padded box. Viktor follows him, crossing his legs as he settles back into the cool leather.

The school is a boarding school, roughly an hour’s drive from the palace, and Viktor takes Yuuri’s hand when his leg starts bouncing fifteen minutes into the drive. “Everything ok, Velichestvo?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Yuuri says. He’s not so unobservant that he thinks Viktor is completely fooled, but Viktor only squeezes his hand. Yuuri squeezes gratefully in return, a silent thank you for not pressing the matter before he reaches into a compartment nearby and pulls out a bottle of water. “Do you want some?” he asks. “We have pop, too. Coke, Pepsi, Sprite…” he glances back in what seems to be a mini-fridge. “Dr. Pepper and ginger ale.”

“Water’s fine, if you will.”

Yuuri nods, holding a second bottle out. Much of the drive is spent quietly, with only the occasional remark about the scenery. The school is a ways outside of the capital city, and part of the drive is through spacious fields and sparse woodland before they approach a set of large wooden gates set into a wall. Instead of stopping at the guard house, the gates open and the entire motorcade is let through.

The driveway is long, winding its way to the front of a huge school, outside of which students are assembled in lines. The youngest students stand towards the front, the oldest (and tallest) at the rear, flanked on either side by the school’s staff. It seems everyone has turned out to greet Yuuri— to greet them— en masse. A banner is hung from a frame behind the assembled student body, which Yuuri informs him is welcoming them to the school.

“I should have mentioned I got you an interpreter,” he says as they pull up. “They’ll meet you once we get out of the car and translate for you. You’ve worked with interpreters before?”

“Plenty,” Viktor says, straightening his tie. “I’ll be ok.”

Yuuri nods. They come to a stop next to a carpet that’s been laid out, and the driver rushes around the car to open the door. Yuuri puts the crown on his head, taking a deep breath before he steps out of the car and stands to the side, waiting for Viktor. Sliding across the seat, Viktor feels his stomach leap into his throat in a fit of nerves, before he pushes it aside. As he comes to stand next to Yuuri, he notices the small group of cameras to the side. The media, of course, has been invited to document His Royal Majesty’s first public appearance after the coronation itself, and they’re doing so with unparalleled enthusiasm.

Yuuri smiles at the assembled crowd, giving a wave before walking along the carpet to what looks like the headmaster and school officials. As Viktor follows him, he hears someone come up beside him.

“Mr. Nikiforov,” the person says quietly, “I’ll be your interpreter for today. It’s a pleasure to be working with you. Would you prefer English or Russian for your interpretation?”

“I’ll be speaking English for His Majesty’s benefit, so that would likely be best.”

They give a small bow, falling just behind him as they approach the headmaster. There’s a series of shouts, and in unison the entire group of people bow in Yuuri’s direction. He gives a gracious nod in return, Viktor doing the same. The headmaster comes closer, bowing again, before he begins to speak. After a beat, the interpreter starts quietly translating, just loud enough for Viktor to hear.

“Your Royal Majesty, Mr. Nikiforov. It’s an honor to have you visit our humble institution,” the interpreter says, before switching to interpret Yuuri’s response.

“I thank you for your invitation. I have heard much about your school and the high quality of the instruction and care provided to your students. I am glad to finally have the opportunity to see for myself.”

They follow the headmaster to a small stage with a podium that has been erected seemingly only for their visit. There are a few short speeches, first by the headmaster and superintendent about the history of the school and the achievements of their students, and another prepared speech by Yuuri. Yuuri speaks clearly, addressing the students directly as he commends hard work and reminds them that they’re the pride of the nation as well as its future. Many of the kids look on in awe, but some of the older students are staring at Yuuri, almost as if they can’t believe their king is merely five or six years their senior. If Yuuri had been wearing a uniform, he could have easily been mistaken for one of the oldest group of pupils. As it is, once he finishes his address the students are dismissed, filing obediently back into the school building. The headmaster and superintendent fall quickly into stride with Yuuri and Viktor, walking them through the halls as they give the tour.

The media follows dutifully behind them, snapping pictures. When possible, some people run ahead to get pictures from the front, and microphones are held out in hopes of picking up what Yuuri (and the interpreter) is saying. The bodyguards keep them at a safe distance, roughly a meter and a half away unless the surroundings don’t allow for that. The headmaster talks excessively about the school, almost bragging if the look of vague irritation on Yuuri’s face is to be trusted. They discuss the architecture, the school’s recent good performance at several different national competitions, and Yuuri is just commenting on the up-to-date technology in use on campus when they come to a small stadium. In the field, different sports teams are assembled, all (for the most part) in uniform.

The athletics department has recently made a name for itself, and while the school prides itself on its recent academic achievements, having several of their students competing at the National and International levels have brought additional prestige in recent months. They’re taken down the line, each team offering individual greetings. Yuuri and Viktor shake every hand, smile at every introduction, and congratulate each team on their accomplishments. As they come to the end of the line they come face-to-face with an excited group of teenagers, dressed plainly in a school tracksuit, except for one wearing a juniors national team jacket.

When the boy’s name is called, he steps forward, electric eyes shining behind a shock of red hair. As he throws himself into a bow, he shouts something, causing a flash of confusion to cross Yuuri’s face before he hides it behind a smile. The interpreter speaks. “My name is Kenjirou Minami, I’m seventeen years old and I’ve looked up to you ever since your father gave me the scholarship so I could compete and I heard he made it because you skate and love skating and it would be an honor one day to see you skate, Your Majesty. If you want to. Or if you still can.” They move on to translate Yuuri’s response.

“I’m glad to hear the scholarship is allowing you to pursue your dream. I’ve kept up with my skating over the years, though I’m too out of practice now to perform for anyone.” Yuuri smiles, hand twitching towards the back of his head before he clasps both in front of himself. Minami does his best to keep his eyes on Yuuri, but they keep flitting towards Viktor’s. Now that he’s noticed, Viktor takes the opportunity to look at the rest of the small group of figure skaters, and admittedly few of them are paying attention to Yuuri at all. This trip is to improve Yuuri’s image in the public eye, as well as a display of solidarity between Viktor and the Palace, especially Yuuri himself. Moving forward, he smiles at his boyfriend.

“Your Majesty,” he says, and Yuuri looks at him with wide eyes, “I must say again, the skill with which you performed Stammi Vicino was breathtaking, to say the least. Even Phichit and Celestino were blown away.” The students’ eyes widen as the interpreter relays what he said, and once again they’re all on Yuuri.

“Your Majesty,” one says, “is it true? Can you skate Stammi Vicino?”

The tips of Yuuri’s ears turn pink as he resists the urge to stammer. “Y-Yes, it is true,” he says, switching back to Japanese, “but I have to scale the jumps down to triples.” The skaters look impressed, and Viktor feels pride welling in his chest.

“Was he talking about Phichit Chulanont?”

Nodding, Yuuri grins. “Yes! Mr. Chulanont and I were roommates for several years in Detroit.”

“They took care of Makkachin while I was competing!” Viktor says, grinning.

“Well,” Yuuri corrects after the interpreter translates for the assembled students, “Mr. Chulanont took care of Makkachin. I just got to play with him and watch him for a few hours when Mr. Chulanont wasn’t home.” Viktor manages to keep the confusion off his face when he hears the lie, but in a well-practiced move he smiles and flips his hair.

“Yes, Your Majesty, I forgot. Thank you for reminding me! Mr. Chulanont took care of Makkachin, His Majesty was just living there as well.” It sounds forced, but the interpreter seems to smooth things over, and there’s no trace of suspicion on anyone’s face.

The skaters chatter amongst themselves for a moment before they, like the other teams, request a picture with Viktor and Yuuri. Yuuri, of course, agrees, posing happily next to Viktor with the skaters standing to either side. The media takes advantage of the photo opportunity as well, snapping as many pictures as they can get before Yuuri moves away. Led by the headmaster and superintendent, they head into the main school building again, this time to greet each class. They start with the oldest, all seniors more than ready to graduate. The class bows when they enter. Yuuri and Viktor are offered the gifts of a bouquet each, which is promptly taken by bodyguards after the appropriate photos have been taken. After Yuuri greets the teacher and says a short statement of encouragement, the entire class bows once more, and they head to the next. This same cycle is repeated again and again for every class in the school. Some classes offer gifts of art, others give boxes of cookies and foodstuffs. One offers a pair of traditional baskets, each woven by a group of people with clearly different levels of basic skill. As usual, Yuuri thanks them, says a few words, and the class bows as they leave.

By the time they get back to the car, Viktor is exhausted. His cheeks ache from smiling, his mind flashes through many of the interactions in an attempt to take advantage of the continuing adrenaline rush in the new calm. They climb into the limo they’d come in, and Viktor’s grateful when he sees a pair of ceramic travel mugs in the cupholder, steaming with newly-brewed coffee. Yuuri takes a sip and sighs contentedly. Viktor tries his as well. It’s a normal latte, sweetened just enough to take the edge off the espresso, and it soothes his nerves as he drinks. When they’re on the road, he looks over at Yuuri. The crown has been removed from his head and set on the seat across from them in the padded box and he’s leaning back, resting his head against the black leather of the seats.

They relax as the motorcade hits the highway, Yuuri shifting close enough to Viktor for their thighs to touch.

“That was interesting,” Viktor says quietly.

“Did they mention a scholarship?” he asks. “Like during the briefing. I don’t like not knowing what Minami-san was talking about.”

“I don’t remember them saying anything, no,” Viktor replies. Yuuri makes a disgruntled noise.

“I'll have to ask about that.” He settles against Viktor’s side.

“I wish we had the snacks they gave us,” Viktor says as his stomach threatens a growl.

“We won’t be eating them,” Yuuri responds. “Too many risks.” His voice is flat, tired, heavy with something Viktor can’t quite name.

“You said you couldn't wait to try them.” It’s not an accusation but an observation, and Yuuri bites his lip before closing his eyes.

“Vitya, the kindness of the gesture is sweet. I wasn't going to crush that by telling them they're just going to be thrown away.” Yuuri lets out a sigh, a weight settling over them. “Vitya, that attempt when I was a kid… Someone gave me a little box of cookies at an appearance very much like this one. I had them on me, I offered one to my bodyguard because I had taken it out before I remembered I wasn't supposed to eat in my good clothes. It had just looked… so good, just like my favorites from the palace, and I… Anyway, my bodyguard ate it. Died convulsing on the floor a few minutes later. I saw everything. I was still holding the box.”

“That's awful,” Viktor whispers. “That's horrible, Lyubov.”

“I was seven years old, it was a clear attempt on my life, and there was no way to figure out who’d given them to me in the crowd of people I'd met.” The limousine provides a good amount of privacy, and Viktor takes advantage of that by pulling Yuuri close to him. Viktor’s seen some shit in his life, car accidents and plenty of graphic injuries, but he’s never watched someone die, or he hadn’t before Yuuri’s father. To have seen it, helpless to do anything as a child and knowing that was supposed to be you must be the worst sort of burden.

“I'm so sorry, Yuuri,” he says.

Yuuri shrugs nonchalantly, but it doesn't take long for him to curl into Viktor’s embrace. “After that, I was confined to the Palace, or escorted by a group of guards in public and then… I left. Hana and I left in the middle of the night, and stayed gone.” Viktor doesn't bother asking what happened next. He's heard enough to hazard a guess as to what Yuuri’s life entailed over the years, and Yuuri’s never particularly enjoyed talking about it. Instead of asking questions, he rubs Yuuri’s arm.

“Lyubov,” Viktor says, “I can't imagine ho—”

“I think a topic change would be prudent,” Yuuri bites out.

Stunned into silence, Viktor goes still. “Of course, Your Majesty,” he replies smoothly, and there’s an unpleasant edge to his words. Yuuri stiffens beside him, pulling away slightly so he can make eye contact.

“You didn’t have to say it like that,” he says, and deep in Yuuri’s voice Viktor can hear a child’s fear, the memory of something at times too visceral to handle. He closes his eyes, letting out a long breath. Kissing the top of Yuuri’s head, Viktor pulls him closer, and Yuuri follows easily in unspoken, mutual apology. They spend the rest of the ride in silence together, but the quiet eases from tense, heavy and almost overbearing to soft, gentle. Companionable, as they take time to sort through themselves.

 

When they arrive they’re exhausted but okay, and Yuuri holds his hand as they make their way back to his rooms. They change into something more casual for dinner, and Yuuri’s halfway into a pair of jeans when Viktor clears his throat.

“Aren’t we meeting your family in the dining room?”

Looking down, Yuuri sighs. “Is it too much to be able to wear jeans at home on a regular basis?” he grumbles as he switches his clothes out. “I’m the king. I ought to do something about this.”

“Lyubov?”

“Yeah?” Yuuri asks as he pulls on his sweater.

“Telling everyone Phichit watched Makka, was that so they didn’t think you’d…”

“Served you in some capacity? Yeah. The palace told me to say that, but it’s… we’re not going to be able to hide the circumstances of me hiding forever, already people are coming forward talking about how they knew me and in what way. People know I worked at a café by now. I don’t mind people knowing, I’m not ashamed.” Yuuri stares at the assembled outfit, before shoving it haphazardly back on the hangers. He pulls on a nice pair of jeans, a button-up, and a plain blue v-neck sweater. Patterned socks follow, and Yuuri places a pair of leather shoes in the entryway.

“You’re sure they’ll be ok with this, Lyubov?”

Yuuri looks back, a complicated expression on his face. “I don’t really care at the moment,” he says. “They’ll be ok with it by virtue of the fact that they can’t not be.”

“Is that your normal approach to such things?” Does Yuuri typically resort to using his title to get what he wants? It doesn’t seem like him, doesn’t seem like something he would do, but Viktor can’t help but wonder, with the way Yuuri talks sometimes. Self-assured, able to guarantee certain outcomes by virtue of who he is and the power he wields.

Curiously, Yuuri just stares at him. “Only things that are important in small ways. Do I do this with public policy and legislation? No, absolutely not. Do I do this when the Palace is being ridiculous about my clothing options? Apparently, yes.” He checks his hair in a mirror, tucking a few stray bits back into place. The undercut is starting to grow out some, laying against Yuuri’s head instead of sticking straight out like it did when they’d met. “I learned not to wield my title unnecessarily,” he says, voice soft as he turns around. “I also learned the advantages of wielding it skillfully. There’s an authority, a privilege that comes with being who I am, and it’s up to me to use that to benefit my people. This includes future generations of royals. Maybe one day in the future the palace will feel more like a home to those who live here.”

“It doesn’t?”

“It… it does,” Yuuri says, “and it doesn’t. I was born here. I grew up here, initially. It was all I knew when I was a child, so it is home. But I lived in a normal house with my bodyguard for years. Much of the time, at least before my mid-teens, was spent being able to just… do what I like. Wear what I like. My choices were limited, yes, but not as much in the day-to-day. Here, though, there are rules about what I can and can’t wear when, what needs to be worn when I’m not in my rooms. This isn’t even getting into how I have to act, how I have to talk to people, my own family included.”

He grabs a small box out of his closet, bringing it out and exposing a relatively simple golden crown inlaid with white opals. Putting it on his head and making adjustments in front of the mirror, he continues. “I don’t mind the palace wanting me well-dressed. I get it. I’m the monarch and as such, representative of my country and people. But I’d like to be comfortable every once in a while and after some time, typical court clothes feel more like a uniform than anything else.”

Heading to the entryway, they put on and lace up their shoes, before Yuuri takes a deep breath. Opening the door, he glances both ways down the corridor and steps out, his head held high. Walking next to him, Viktor doesn’t miss the stares of the few attendants and footmen they pass, the members of the Guard posted along the route watching them unabashedly. Entering the dining room, Yuuri toes off his shoes as Mari and Hiroko stand.

“Is that necessary?” he asks as he kneels at the table. They follow suit, Viktor sitting to Yuuri’s left like he normally does.

“Is what necessary, Yuuri?” Mari asks.

“The standing and whatnot. I can understand formal situations, but really? In the family dining room? You’re already calling me by name.” Irritable, Yuuri pours himself a cup of tea from the pot on the table.

Hiroko and Mari look at each other, before Hiroko looks back at her son. “Yuuri-kun, it’s only proper,” she says. Yuuri huffs, and the time before their meal is brought out is spent in a tense silence.

Things loosen up as they eat, Mari and Hiroko asking Viktor about the visit they’d done, how he’d felt greeting the students and during the tour. He smiles, tells them of the pride in the athletes, the huge grins with which they’d talked about their achievements with their king. Yuuri is quiet, fiddling with his phone, but towards the end of the meal he lights up when he gets an incoming text message. “Vitya. Phichit’s coming to visit, since he can now, and I wanted to know if you’d like him to bring Makkachin?”

Viktor stops mid-story. “Bring him here? To the palace?”

“Where else? I’m not going to fly Makka to Akitsushima just to put him in a kennel.” Yuuri smiles over his food, golden crown slightly off-kilter.

“You all would be ok with that?”

“We’re no strangers to having a dog around, Viktor,” Yuuri says gently.

“Right, sorry. I’d want to make travel arrangements for Makkachin, I don’t trust many airlines with my dog.” He’s heard too many nightmare horror stories about lost or injured animals, and he absolutely refuses to risk it. He’ll take whatever flights are available if it’s just himself, but when it comes to Makka, he’s done his research and only the best airlines have his seal of approval.

“The airline isn’t an issue,” Yuuri says, waving him off. “I have allowed use of our private jet. Makkachin will ride in the cabin, if that’s okay with you.”

Mari leans in. “He means Phichit wheedled a trip in the jet out of him. He’s been on his case for years.”

Yuuri blushes. “Regardless, Makka’ll be safe with Phichit. He’ll have his bed and food and water for the flight, and he’ll be able to move around freely.”

Viktor considers this, then nods his assent. “That sounds good; I’d like that.”

Grinning, Yuuri pecks him on the nose. “I’ll let him know you’re all for it,” he says happily. “They’ll be arriving in a week or so, and we’ll pick them up at the private hangar.”

Viktor beams. He’s missed Makkachin. Phichit’s been doing his best to send updates, but it doesn’t compare to having real fur to run his hands through. A week seems like far too long, but he’ll have the distraction of competition to keep his mind off the wait.

 

~*~

 

Viktor knew the announcement of their courtship would cause waves, but he didn’t expect to be immediately mobbed upon his arrival in the Czech Republic for the European Championships. Once he entered the baggage claim, it was all he could do to not be pushed back through the doors.

“Mr. Nikiforov!! Can you comment on your relationship with the King of Sachima?”

“What does this mean for your career?!”

Viktor’s trapped against the wall, microphones shoved in his face from all directions.

“Did you know he was royalty, Mr. Nikiforov?”

“Are you expected to marry?”

“Is this the young man from Detroit?”

The questions are coming loud and fast, in every language he’s given interviews in and some he hasn’t. Lights flash in his face, blinding him even behind his sunglasses. Reporters start shifting to the side, parting around someone in the center, and Viktor’s relieved to see Yakov’s fedora cutting through the crowd. He yells at them, first in Russian and then English, dragging Viktor bodily through the throng of people. Instead of going to the baggage area, Yakov steers him directly outside.

“Georgi is getting your bags.”

Viktor nods as he’s pushed towards a waiting car. Airport security has moved to create a narrow aisle for Viktor to walk through, clearing the press from his immediate surroundings. He and Yakov get into the car together, closing and locking the doors until Georgi comes out. Once the luggage is stowed and Georgi in the car, the taxi pulls out of the airport. Yakov turns around in the front seat. “Is this what we can expect for the rest of the competition?”

Shrugging, Viktor looks out the window. “I don’t know, Yakov. This isn’t something I’m used to.” The school visit in Sachima had been full of press, yes, but they’d been calm, orderly. They’d followed the palace’s direction as far as how close they could get and what they could film (and, later, what they could release.) It wasn’t anything like this, not even travelling to and from.

Yakov huffs. “I knew there was something off about Katsuki.”

Sighing, Viktor watches Ostrava out the window. Yuuri’d warned him about a higher level of scrutiny, but this is ridiculous. He’s never been mobbed to the point of not being able to make his way to wherever he was going. Pulling up to the hotel, they’re surrounded by another mob of reporters, the hotel staff desperately trying to push them away from the car. Finally, a path is cleared, and Viktor is shuttled through rapidly.

 

In the safety of the hotel suite, he collapses onto the bed. Georgi arrives a few minutes later with his bags, Mila shortly thereafter with Yuri in tow. Lilia is, apparently, staying in a different room near Yakov’s. They’re not in the room for long, when an ISO official comes by with a man in a suit.

“Mr. Nikiforov,” the official says as she, the man, and Viktor take their places at the table, “my name is Janette Montgomery, I represent the ISO. I have to say, this is a highly unprecedented situation. We’d anticipated increased media presence as a result of the recent announcement concerning yourself and the King of Sachima, however, the sheer volume was unforeseen.”

Viktor nods.

“Unfortunately, this means you’ll be required to have an escort at all times when you’re in the competition venue, as well as travelling to and from. I regret to inform you that we’ll have to ask you to restrict your movements to the hotel and the arena, as we’re unable to spare the manpower for you to go sightseeing.”

“I understand,” Viktor says.

“We have consulted with your coach, and will have someone here to escort you to and from the arena at the scheduled times. You will be met at your door by your escorts, taken directly to a waiting car, and then to a back entrance of the venue. Your return will be in the same manner. Should you have need of anything, you will inform your escorts, who will take appropriate measures to remedy the situation.”

The man leans forward. “Mr. Nikiforov, my name is Tatsuki Nakayama, I work at the Sachiman Consulate here in the Czech Republic. We must ask, by order of the Royal Palace, that when you are being interviewed by the press you decline to comment on your relationship with His Majesty the King outside of what has already been released. In essence, you may confirm the courtship, but we ask that you don’t elaborate on the courtship itself, His Majesty’s time abroad, the Royal Family, or discuss politics in any form. Your interview responses must stay on-topic and relevant to figure skating and the competition itself.” Viktor nods. “In addition, when asked about competitors, your responses regarding Mr. Chulanont of Thailand are to remain related to figure skating and competitions. Nothing is to be said about his relationship with King Yuuri.”

“Understood.”

“As a de facto representative now of Sachima and the Royal Family, Mr. Nikiforov, I’m compelled to remind you that your behavior here reflects not only on yourself, but His Royal Majesty, the Royal Family, and the country at large, as well as on your home country of Russia, the Russian Skating Federation, and the International Skating Organization.”

Yakov scoffs in the corner, no doubt thinking of Viktor’s typical response to being told to behave. He looks surprised when he sees Viktor merely nod his head.

“I’ll be sure to remember that,” he says with a smile.

The officials nod, standing up. Montgomery holds out her hand. “We at the ISU appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Nikiforov. You can expect the escort to be at your door promptly at the scheduled times.”

Shaking her hand, Viktor nods. He shakes the man’s hand as well when it’s offered, and they take their leave as abruptly as they’d come.

“You're being surprisingly compliant, Vitya,” Yakov says.

Viktor just shrugs.

“He loves him,” Georgi says matter-of-factly. Viktor just looks at him. He hadn’t expected Georgi to come to his defense at all, hadn’t expected him to understand, but the look on Georgi’s face tells him he should have. Soon enough, Viktor is left alone. Pulling out his phone, he sends Yuuri a text saying he’s made it safely, omitting the mob at the airport.

 

~*~

 

Viktor can’t shake the antsy feeling, crawling under his skin. The next morning finds him escorted to a car and driven the mere blocks from the hotel to the arena, a distance he’d normally be more than happy to walk. He’s shuttled through another wall of press, sunglasses firmly over his eyes and hat pulled low on his face. He's not allowed to stop for questions or autographs like he normally would, instead handed his badge just inside the door as he's taken to the warm-up area.

When he’s safely away from the crowds he’s allowed to breathe, but it’s not long before Chris pulls him aside.

“Vitya, how are you doing?” he asks, none of his usual humor in his voice.

“I’m fine,” Viktor says, lapsing into French. “I’m doing fine.”

“There’s a rumor you have armed guards?”

Raising an eyebrow, Viktor glances around. “Where’d you hear that?”

“Is it true?”

“No,” he replies. “I have an escort to keep me from getting mobbed by the press, but as far as I know they’re just security from the event.”

Chris glances over at the security guards, standing with their hands clasped in front of them near the door. “I’m surprised you don’t have bodyguards,” he says, pulling one arm across his chest in a stretch.

“I don’t need bodyguards,” Viktor says, “I just need to be able to make it to where I need to be.”

He spreads his legs, folding himself forward to rest his arms on the ground. The silence quickly becomes awkward, but Viktor continues to warm up. He’s doing the splits against the wall the next time Chris says anything.

“So do you live at the palace now?”

“I’ve been staying there,” Viktor responds. “I’ll likely keep staying there, if only part-time.”

“What’s it like?” There’s none of the usual suave candor in Chris’s voice, instead just genuine curiosity.

“It’s massive, and incredibly opulent,” Viktor says. He keeps things cheerful as he pulls his legs in front of himself. “Having full-time staff is strange, and I had to download an app so I didn’t get lost, but I’m adapting! I just can’t wait until I can see Makkachin again.”

“Any reason you haven’t been able to?” The look Viktor’s getting says Chris isn’t entirely fooled by the forced cheer.

“We needed to figure out Phichit’s schedule, first,” Viktor replies.

“Is that the only reason?”

Viktor looks up. “If you’re implying he’s keeping me from my dog, he’s not. He loves Makka almost as much as I do. Phichit’s bringing him out next week.”

Raising his hands in surrender, Chris backs up a step. “No need to get defensive, Vitya, I was just asking.”

Viktor jumps to his feet, alternating rolling his ankles as he stands. There’s every need to get defensive, even the Palace itself isn’t entirely on board with their relationship, and he just wants to tell Chris to shove off but in the interest of not alienating every person he calls a friend, he just sighs.

“It’s fine. I’m just tired. It’s a lot to get used to.” A hint of the truth should be enough to sate his curiosity. Chris nods, sighs, and looks down the hallway.

Before long, they’re heading to the ice to warm up, Viktor’s escorts flanking him to either side. He doesn’t miss the ways peoples’ eyes follow him, flicking between him and the security detail. There are whispers behind hands, furtive glances as people no doubt talk about Viktor’s now-public relationship. If the impression that he’s getting is correct, his secret relationship has been the topic of conversation in the skating world for longer than he’d realized.

There’s more whispering during warmups, all eyes on him as he dances across the ice. Getting into performance mode is thankfully easy, Viktor able to fall into it without much trouble after decades of practice. The short program is uneventful, the audience enthusiastic in their applause for the other skaters. Viktor takes the ice to a strange combination of silence from a large part of the crowd and raucous cheering from the rest. Regardless, he centers himself as he skates his customary laps, waving with a flourish before he takes his starting position.

The short program leaves him in first, the press interviewing him while reading off a short list of allowed questions under the watchful eye of the ISO staff. He answers with his trademark smile, ever-conscious of the intimidating men flanking him. Their presence sends the occasional tickle up the back of his neck, but it’s easy enough to ignore while he finishes with publicity. He’s taken directly to the waiting car, driven to the hotel with little comment. Georgi has promised to bring food by once he’s done, and so all Viktor can do when he gets to his room is wait. He showers, pulling on pajamas before grabbing his phone out of his bag. It shouldn’t be a surprise when he sees the series of texts from Yuuri, but it is, and he smiles as he opens them.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   !!! top form vitya!
<<<   the spin
<<<   so elgenant.
<<<   your skates look good with the costume have i told you that
<<<   also. your jumps look like flying
<<<   i miss yuouo bitya
<<<   my mom is making them rwcord you. for watcning

 

Smiling, Viktor texts back eagerly.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Are you tired, Любовь?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   middle of the night rn and i had meetings all day
<<<   but i hadtwo watch you
<<<   will you call wneh you have time?

 

Without hesitation, Viktor pulls up a video call, waiting for it to connect. Yuuri answers, and it’s clear he’s tucked into bed. He waves, barely visible in the light of the phone.

“Hi,” he whispers as he yawns.

“Hi, Lyubov. You watched?”

“Of course I did,” Yuuri replies. “When do I not?” The subsequent smile warms Viktor’s heart. This competition is already more exhausting, more stressful than any other in recent memory and it weighs on him, but talking to Yuuri is helping.

“How has your day been?” It’s an attempt to take his mind off the situation, to stop him from wondering if the press is camped out in the lobby in hopes he’ll be leaving before they pack in for the night. It’s been a long time since he’s had to worry this way about the press.

As sleepy as he is, Yuuri doesn’t pick up on the sudden shift, instead rolling his eyes as he yawns again. “Long. So many people. So much paperwork. Not an optimal career choice if you don’t like headaches.” He snuggles further into his blankets. Clearly, it’s not going to be much longer until Yuuri’s asleep, and Viktor subtly takes a screenshot, the tuft of Yuuri’s hair on the pillow too cute to ignore. It’s quiet after that, and Yuuri’s snoring softly when there’s a knock on the door.

Ending the call, Viktor stands, stretching briefly before walking over and pulling on the handle. Georgi smiles on the other side, a plastic bag in each hand.

“Beef roast,” he says as he steps into the room. “Plenty of veggies. Yakov won’t have a reason to get on your case.” The familiarity of Russian is soothing, easing Viktor’s nerves just the slightest bit as he closes the door.

Two bottles of beer are set in front of him as he’s clearing space at the small table in the room. When he looks up, Georgi merely pulls out a bottle opener and makes short work of them.

“How are you, Vitya?” Georgi asks when the food’s been set out.

“Everything’s going well,” he replies, “Yuuri’s being great about everything, and his family is very nice.” They sit down in unison, taking their places at either edge of one corner of the table.

“How are you, though?” Sincere, Georgi gives him a look while he cuts his beef, spearing a piece of it and potato on his fork. Viktor is so used to most peoples lines of questioning immediately veering towards the royal he’s dating rather than staying on the topic of him, and he’s more taken aback than he’d expected.

“I’m alright, Gosha,” he says, taking a sip of his beer. It’s a cheap brand, one they used to buy when they smuggled alcohol into the dorms as teenagers. Neither of them particularly like it, and both can easily afford better, but the nostalgia is enough to make up for the taste. It seems so long ago that their interactions were easy, and Viktor misses it. It’s another thing skating has taken from him, that ability to be close to his peers without the shadow of success weighing on them.

He wonders if this is how Yuuri feels, catapulted as it were from being just another college student to near-untouchable, the King of an entire country.

He wonders if Yuuri had ever really had peers to lose.

“It’s strange,” he finds himself saying. “Everything about it is strange. It’s easier than I thought it would be, but harder. There are times I can’t even recognize Yuuri and times when I wonder how I ever questioned myself, how I ever lost sight of him. Seeing him in this life is… Everything is just… strange.” He pushes some of the food around in the cardboard container. “I can’t even call him by name, Gosha, not in public. He has staff, we did a school appearance, and he’s just… the way he acts, the way he carries himself, this whole life is so different from anything I’d ever expected.” He shoves beef into his mouth, chewing unenthusiastically.

“How’s he adapting?”

“That’s the thing,” Viktor says around a hefty gulp of beer, “he’s not… there’s not much adapting he seems to have to do? At the airport, even, he just… it was like that moment you finally click into the zone at a performance, he just slid into acting like royalty like it was no trouble at all, like it’s just how he was and I’d never really seen it before. I know why, now, he was trained growing up but… it was almost uncomfortable. It still is sometimes.”

“Almost?” Georgi’s silently making his way through his meal around the occasional question. This has always been his method of comfort, letting people talk things out, asking about things they seem to want to discuss. It doesn’t always work, especially not with people Georgi doesn’t know well, but he and Viktor have been skating together for over a decade. He’s well-versed in Viktor’s mannerisms, how he thinks, even if they haven’t actually talked recently. He knows full well Viktor’s uncomfortable.

Half a bottle of beer later, Viktor answers. “It was. It was uncomfortable. I’d never seen it, Georgi. I had a whole five minutes to prepare and that was spent just processing the fact that he was a prince and his father was dying. There was no time between just… I got off the plane with my anxious boyfriend, figured it out, and by the time we left the airport he was acting royal and had a whole group of people catering to him and guarding him and calling him ‘Your Highness’ and we were picked up by the motorcade and taken straight to the Palace. I thought we were going to a hotel when we landed.”

Georgi nods and they eat in silence for a while. There’s still the undercurrent of awkwardness that accompanies hanging out with a friend who’s grown distant, but slowly it fades into the background. Even so, it beats eating alone in his hotel room, and Georgi, despite the distance, despite their clashing personalities, is still a solid source of vague comfort. Viktor lets himself settle into it.

“Was he upset you figured it out?”

“No,” Viktor says without thinking. Georgi raises his eyebrows, but does nothing else. “He was relieved, actually. The palace wanted to keep me in the dark until the last possible second.”

“Why?” Georgi asks.

“Why wasn’t he upset or why did they want me to not know?”

“Both, I guess.” Georgi pulls another couple of beers out, opening them before putting one in front of Viktor.

“He wanted to tell me. For months. So I’d know before he was back in public. As far as the palace goes, neither of us have any idea. It’s suspicious, they’re not really fans of Yuuri’s choice of partner.” Sipping his beer, Viktor leans back in his chair.

“Maybe they’re trying to drive you apart.”

Viktor looks up. “What brings you to that conclusion?” he asks. Georgi’s the romantic type, always delighting in stories with drama and intrigue and conspiracies, and despite the somewhat negative effect it’s had on his love life (or ability to have one, as it were,) Viktor’s never begrudged his passion. He has, though, started to take Georgi’s observations about love and romance with a hefty grain of salt.

“If they didn’t want him to be with you, getting you mad enough at Katsuki to break it off would be the easiest course of action.” It makes a distinctly unnerving amount of sense. Perhaps it’s something to bring up with Yuuri in the future.

Silently, they drink together until Yakov knocks on the door and yells for them to get their asses into bed. No time is wasted on farewells, not when they’ll be seeing each other bright and early for practice the next day, and Georgi looks at him contemplatively as he’s halfway out the door.

“Vitya,” he says, and Viktor looks up at him.

“What, Gosha?”

“Take care of yourself,” he says, “whatever that may look like.”

Viktor nods, and Georgi takes his leave.

 

~*~

 

The next day, Viktor wakes bright and early, meeting the escorts outside of his door no earlier than the appointed time. Practice goes as smoothly as possible, though Viktor keeps getting glares from the Italian for some reason. Coming off the ice, he absently puts his hard guards on as his eyes scan the rink. His escorts nowhere to be found, he takes the long route back to the locker room. They can find him if they need him, and he’s scheduled to be taken back to the hotel in twenty minutes anyway.

A wrong turn drops him directly into a mixed crowd of people, fans and the media gasping in unison before running after him. He does his best to bolt, sprinting back down the hall and taking a couple of random turns to try to throw them off. Almost to the athlete area where security can interfere, he tries to take a shortcut but trips into a dead end and finds himself pushed into a corner.

The crowd surges around him, cellphones in the air as they shout. Some of it is the standard adoration, but most of it is questions, demands for his time, invasive comments and inquiries about him and Yuuri. Even the darkest pair of sunglasses he owns are useless against the camera flashes six inches from his face, and microphones and voice recorders creep ever closer. It’s pure chaos the likes of which he’s never dealt with before.

Raising his hands does nothing, neither does shouting his refusals to comment. He turns his back to the crowd, pulling out his cell phone. He’s just fired off a quick request for help to the group text he has with Yakov and his escorts when he feels a painful grip on his bicep. The hand pulls, and he’s yanked around, turned to face forward as cameras are pushed into his face. Voices blur into a roar as he tries to keep people off him, pushing desperately against the crowd even as the hand remains painfully firm on his upper arm. He’s barely managed to shake the person off when he hears angry yelling.

The crowd parts reluctantly as a group of security guards push through, shouting people down and forcibly moving them out of the way when necessary. Viktor runs his fingers repeatedly through his hair as the guards surround him, moving as a unit with him until they reach the nearly-empty parking garage reserved for staff. Georgi makes his way over with Yakov soon after, carrying both his own and Viktor’s gear bags.

Viktor takes his with whispered thanks, crawling into the truck. Georgi gets in next to him, with Yakov taking the front. The security detail pulls up behind them in a van, and they leave for the hotel.

“Vitya,” Georgi says softly, “are you okay?”

“I will be,” he replies. “I just wasn’t expecting to be mobbed quite like that, it was quite the experience!” He does his best to keep his tone upbeat, but Yakov only responds with one of his looks. Georgi’s raised eyebrow says he’s not fooled either, and Viktor drops the act for a bit. Between the competition itself and the other issues that’ve come with it, he doesn’t have the energy to put on a mask anymore.

They’ve barely reached the hotel when his phone buzzes in his pocket. Likely social media, possibly Yuuri, but he doesn’t have time to check as the car comes to a stop. He lets himself be taken to his room, lets Yakov choose a restaurant for dinner that night. Viktor declines an invitation to go with them, citing his apparent house arrest. It’s hard to keep the bitterness out of his voice when he asks them to bring food back. He’s a recluse much of the time, sure, but he prefers it to be by choice.

A shower washes away much of the tension in his shoulders, easing into his sore muscles and rinsing the sweat from his skin as he lets the water flow over him. It’s hot, maybe too hot, but it makes him feel clean, makes him forget the stinging bruise left on his arm in a stranger’s fit of possessiveness. It keeps the feeling of violation at a manageable level. It’s not what’s good for him he knows, but it’s what he needs. Absently walking into the bedroom as he dries his hair, he checks his phone, seeing additional notifications and texts from Yuuri.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   vityusha are you ok?
<<<   i saw the footage, i saw them grab you, are you alright?

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’m fine, Любовь.
>>>   It happens sometimes.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   it shouldn’t.

 

Running his fingers through his hair, Viktor sighs.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I’m ok, I promise. It wasn’t that bad!
>>>   Security got there right away!

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   at least they’re doing their jobs.
<<<   i should have sent someone with you.
<<<   how do you feel about the free?

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Good. Practice went well today, before I got chased.
>>>   Yakov is getting me lunch right now!
>>>   Then we’re having some sort of meeting this evening over dinner about the rest of the competition.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   good luck.
<<<   i’ll be here for a bit longer, but i’ll need to sleep soon
<<<   early day tomorrow
<<<   i’m planning to get a case together to change the laws of succession
<<<   so inheritance is by birth order, rather than gender.
<<<   honestly, this is bull.

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Would Mari become queen, then? Would you go back to being a prince?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i’d be crown prince, but i doubt they’d agree to something retroactive tbh
<<<   for now i’m going for her being next in line of succession

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Sounds good!

 

After a few minutes, there’s a knock on the door. Viktor sighs, looking over, but just as he goes to stand he hears the sound of a keycard in the lock. Yakov. Sure enough, his coach walks in a second later, a plastic bag in hand. He doesn’t wait for Viktor to walk over before settling himself at the table, the food pushed unceremoniously towards the empty chair. Taking a seat, Viktor pulls open the bag, removing the containers inside. The smaller two seem to contain vegetables, the larger has fish and rice, and Viktor digs into that one first.

Yakov mostly discusses the schedule for the next two days. Viktor will be taken, as usual, to the venue. This time, his escorts have been instructed to stay nearby, very clearly, and he’s not to move without them. It seems extreme, but as last night’s crowd roars through his mind he resigns himself to the apparent necessity of the guards. If it weren’t for them, this competition would be more of a disaster than it already is.

After the free will be the press conference held with the medalists. It’s assumed Viktor’s going to medal, and a long-forgotten pang jolts through his stomach. Of course he’s going to medal. He’s Viktor Nikiforov, anything else would be unheard of. Yakov barrels on, unheeding of the grimace that flickers across Viktor’s face. The next day he’ll have practice in the morning, the Exhibition skate in the evening, the banquet afterward. He’s not looking forward to the banquet but Yakov assures him the press presence there will be limited and tightly controlled.

It doesn’t change the fact that something twists deep in his gut when he thinks of facing them, unable to help the rapidfire glimpses he gets of the crowd, their weight pushing against him and the hand that pulled, an attempt to take Viktor for itself. He can’t drown out the rush of voices in his ears, phantom camera flashes make him blink his eyes in desperate hope that it’ll just stop. Instead, he smiles at Yakov.

“Of course, when do I not go?” he says. “I’ll even stay later than usual, if that’s what you want!”

A bushy eyebrow rises towards what’s left of Yakov’s hairline, but he says nothing.

 

~*~

 

That statement is at the very top of Viktor’s list of regrets the next morning, moreseo after Yakov’s promise to hold him to it, but he pulls himself out of bed to take a quick shower. It’s not that he doesn’t like being social. It’s that he gets the distinct feeling the attention he’ll be getting will have little to do with his skating and everything to do with Yuuri. As much as he loves his boyfriend, it’s not Yuuri that’s competing. This has nothing to do with his love life, and it’s none of their business besides. When he opens his door to the escorts, instead of seeing the faces he’s come to be used to over the last few days, there’s a new pair. They murmer their introductions, explain they’ve been sent to replace the pair who’d wandered off (apparently in search of something to drink, they say.)

Viktor makes it safely to the competitor’s area and it’s clear the new security guards are doing a better job than the last, if even his competitors are steering clear. Warming up is no less awkward, but the audience helps with their applause. He does a quick step sequence across the ice, smiling as he lets his bangs fall gently into his face. The crowd cheers, and for an instant Viktor feels alive.

When it comes time to actually skate Stammi Vicino, he’s almost feeling like his old self.  He takes a few more laps than usual, allowing himself to soak in the cheer, to see the waving banners printed with his name. He loves the ice dearly but the thrill of an adoring audience can be just as revitalizing. As the music starts, all eyes are on him and he takes this opportunity to remind them that he is more than just someone dating a king, he has a name in and of his own right.

He’s Viktor Nikiforov, and he isn’t called a Living Legend for no reason.

He stands that night at the top of the podium, flashing his best press grin, he holds the bouquet he was given high into the air with a flourish. There’s still more press than usual, and he can hear the din of an eager public, but he holds his expression, one of triumph, of self-assured belief that he will be in the same position as Worlds, because that's what Viktor Nikiforov does.

 

The post-competition press conference begins in typical fashion, Chris and Georgi sit to either side of him and answer the questions directed their way, but an undercurrent of anticipation vibrates through the room.  Questions for Chris and Georgi are rushed, clipped, and it’s easy to tell that answers from them are of little import to the vultures in the room. The press eyes Viktor hungrily, growing more ravenous with every second, and once questioning is directed his way, there’s an almost eerie beat of silence before a flurry of activity.

“Mr. Nikiforov, what are your plans for next season?” It's an innocuous question and common enough, so Viktor ventures a response.

“I'll refrain from commenting about future seasons,” Viktor says into the microphone, “as right now I’m trying to focus on keeping my skills sharp for Worlds.”

“Is His Royal Majesty making you retire?”

Force him to retire? Yuuri would never do that! Viktor swallows his disgust as he moves towards a diplomatic response. “What decisions I make about my career will be my own.”

“Has it been tough staying in Sachima without your dog?” A man asks loudly. Makka’s a safe topic, and he smiles before leaning into the microphone.

“I do miss Makkachin, and we’ve discu— “

“Is the His Majesty making you give up Makkachin?”

“What?! No —” Viktor starts, before he’s interrupted again.

“We’ve heard you’ve been forced to drop sponsorships because they were too, quote, ‘racy’ for the palace’s liking, can you comment further?”

“I’m unable to comment on the Palace and the King at this time.” He says with a strained smile, hoping it’ll get them to back off. The flashes get brighter, the voices louder. The panic starts to rise.

“Did the king lie to you when he was in hiding?”

He lied to everyone, that was the entire point. “I'm unable to elaborate on His Majesty’s time in hiding, my apologies.” They aren't even trying to pretend it's about the skating anymore, and he hears Yuuri’s voice in his head. “It’s no longer about what you do. It’s about who you are.” Viktor’s career will likely last one, maybe two more years if he doesn’t just retire after Worlds. A relationship with Yuuri would last a lifetime, and as of their announcement, no matter what happens in the future, they’re inexorably linked.

Another reporter chimes in “Is he offering you money or a title to stay with him, Mr. Nikiforov? If my understanding is correct, you’d be King-Consort after you got married, is that part of the appeal?”

Offering a title or money? Who do they think Yuuri is? Who do they think he is for that matter? “I can only confirm that we’re together romantically, by mutual choice,” he says, anger bleeding into his voice. The line of security guards in front of the stage brace themselves as tension spikes.

“Is there a reason your background check took longer than Mr. Chulanont’s?” A woman asks, and how does she even know that?

“Again, I’m unable to comment on the—”

“Is there something you’re hiding, Mr. Nikiforov? Have you been blackmailing His Royal Majesty?”

“Is this relationship a cover-up of some sort?”

“What?! No!” Viktor leans forward angrily and the room goes still. They’re trying to get a rise out of him, trying to get him to give something away, and it’s working. He swallows as Chris and Georgi look on, stunned. “Once again, I won’t comment on my relationship with His Royal Majesty, on the Palace, or anything that isn’t directly related to figure skating and this competition in particular.”

“How do you view Mr. Chulanont as a competitor in light of the news about his relationship with the King of Sachima?”

Viktor sighs. “As Mr. Chulanont represents Thailand and therefore is ineligible to compete at the European Championships, I am unable to comment at this time.”

“Can we expect a Royal Wedding, Mr. Nikiforov?”

“No comment.” Attempting to explain has been useless, politeness has gotten him nowhere. He’s done.

There’s a shout from the rear of the room. “What is His Majesty like in bed? Any favorite positions, Mr. Nikiforov? Unusual kinks?”

His jaw drops. An ISO official steps in at that point, cutting the press conference short. “Mr. Nikiforov will accept no further questions at this time. Please direct all inquiries and interview requests to the ISO, the RSF, or the Sachiman Royal Palace. Thank you all for your time.”

Viktor is guided out of the room by security guards while others do their best to keep the press under control, and he is quickly shuttled to the waiting van out back. The gold medal rests heavily against his chest, shimmering in the low lighting. The ride to the hotel is quiet, dinner that night even more so. Yakov says nothing aside from running through the next day’s schedule. Viktor is told he won’t be attending the banquet, a welcome relief at this point, and Nakayama comes back from the consulate to discuss Viktor’s return travel plans. He’ll be going straight to the jet from the exhibition, with a direct flight to Hasetsu.

Having his plans dictated like this is nothing if not irritating, but at this point he’s too tired to care. The competition has been a nightmare, he’s more tired than he’s ever been after a free skate, and he just wants to get back to Yuuri. Back to the palace, where he’s not hounded every second, and as he drifts to sleep he can’t stop himself wondering when it was the palace became anything close to a comfort.

 

~*~

 

Viktor stays in the hotel the next day, leaving only to do his exhibition skate. It’s boring, it’s irritating, and he’s grateful he can buy and read books on his phone because it’s almost impossible for him to do anything else. He can’t leave, since the venue can’t spare the manpower for the day. There’s no use watching television, much of the programming is in Czech and what is in English is mostly news.

Suitcases are packed before his escorts arrive. There’s no use coming back to the hotel if he’s leaving right after the skate, and he makes sure to pack a comfortable outfit for the flight home. Extra books are downloaded onto his phone, in case the one he’s reading now doesn’t capture his attention. Among them is a book on basic Sachiman Japanese. If he’s going to think about marrying into the Royal Family, he should have an idea of how to talk to the people they rule.

That, and he’s never liked allowing someone else to speak for him if he could help it. It’s why he studied English so intensively, so he could make sure his words were truly his own. Doing his standard last check of the room, Viktor checks under beds for socks, the couch cushions, the bathroom, just to be sure, and when everything is packed, it’s stacked next to the door. His gear bag, garment bag, and a duffel with toiletries and his change of clothes set to the side.

Finishing half an hour before he’s scheduled to go to the venue, Viktor pulls his phone out, smiling as he opens Yuuri’s texts. They’re filled with his comments during the skate, heart-eyes everywhere and Viktor smiles. Yuuri’s never made his commentary about Viktor’s success, never made it sound like the skill Viktor has is taken for granted. He watches the programs, makes notes of the things he enjoys, the little changes he notices, and he doesn’t focus on jumps like the media seems to. It’s endearing, it’s wonderful, and Viktor loves him for it.

 

When he arrives for the Exhibition he’s driven as close to the doors as is physically possible, hurried past the press and inside without any time to think. He warms up, changes, and when it’s his turn to go on the ice, he throws on his most dazzling smile. The song he’s skating to is fast, angry almost. One of his more popular free programs from the recent years. He’s changed it, adding footwork and taking out some jumps, and as he takes his opening laps he rolls his neck and shoulders.

He can do angry, he knows, and as he takes his opening position he lets himself fall into the feeling. His blades tear through the ice as he moves his hips, his shoulders, and he swirls into spins and dramatic step sequences. It’s harsh, it’s thrilling, it’s invigorating and cathartic and leaves him gasping for air when he’s done. The crowd roars, and he greets them with his standard flourish and makes his way off the ice.

Goodbyes are said in the locker room, Georgi offering him the rare hug before he takes his leave. Yakov reminds him to email, reminds him of their scheduled sessions to review video Viktor will be taking weekly. It’s the last push before the World Championships in a month’s time, and Viktor needs to be in top shape. During the drive to the airport, he pulls out his phone, entering their arranged sessions into his schedule on the Palace app. There are a few tentative events scheduled, he sees, and he confirms his availability so the Palace can finalize the plans. He brings up the messages with Yuuri to update him.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Finally heading to the airport!

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   aside from the press and rude af people, how was the competition?
<<<   i watched the exhibition, your skating was incredible!! o(^▽^)o

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   You watched?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   of course i did. _(:3」∠)_
<<<   i always do
<<<   i always watch your programs, vitya
<<<   by the way, my mom loves them too
<<<   mari’s ambivalent, but she’s ambivalent about a lot of things
<<<   we’re gonna have to explain scoring to them, though

 

The car drives directly to the hangar, and his luggage is loaded into the cabin once he’s on board. It being a fairly large jet carrying only him and a few members of staff, there’s more than enough room for his suitcases, and he’s thankful when he realizes he packed his phone charger in what would have, on a normal trip, been checked luggage. He pulls out his phone as the crew do final checks.

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   We’re about to take off! ε===(っ≧ω≦)っ
>>>   I’ll see you soon, Любовь!   ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)
>>>   I should probably sleep a little on the flight so I can get back on schedule (∪。∪)。。。zzz  

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i can’t wait to see you!! (⁄ ⁄>⁄ w ⁄<⁄ ⁄)♡ ❤
<<<   i’ll try to meet you at the hangar
<<<   i have a meeting around that time so i’m not sure (ノ ゜д゜)ノ  
<<<   i’ll try to have things shifted around. i was thinking lunch with mari?

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Sounds wonderful!! (ᗒ♡ᗕ)

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   sleep well, vityusha  (ɔˆ ³(∪。∪)。。。zzZ
<<<   i’ll see you when you get here (or as soon after as i can) (ノ´ヮ´)ノ♡
<<<   be safe. i love you

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   I love you, too!!

 

He plugs his phone into the on-board power supply and reclines his chair. When he finally gets to sleep, an hour into the flight, it’s to a suffocating, cacophonous darkness, a hand on his arm, then more on his hands, legs, feet, dragging him further into something unknown and unfathomable.

Chapter Text

When Viktor walks off the plane, gear bag over his legs and back sore, he’s met with an empty hangar. An attendant who’d exited just after him looks around, confused.

“They were supposed to be here just as you landed, sir,” she says. “I apologize, I’ll go check on their status and be back in just a moment.” She’s three steps up the stairway when a black hatchback pulls into the hangar.

“That won’t be necessary,” Viktor says, and he hears a sigh of relief as she turns around and heads back down.

The driver’s side door opens, on the right-hand side of the car instead of the left, and rather than the uniformed chauffeur he’s come to expect, out steps Yuuri in nice jeans, a button-up, and a waistcoat. His sleeves are rolled up, and Viktor’s heart skips a beat as he makes his way around the car, grinning. There’s a skip in his step, and then another, and he and Viktor are moving quickly towards each other, coming together with a deep kiss.

“Velichestvo,” Viktor says softly.

“Vitya,” Yuuri replies, kissing him again. “Welcome back!”

“You came to pick me up! Did you drive yourself?”

“Yep,” Yuuri replies as Viktor’s bags are loaded into the back.

“Do you have a license here?”

“I do now,” he says with a smirk.

“Did you sign your own paperwork?”

“Technically, yes,” he says, “but I had them give me the tests and I made it clear I was to be scored fairly. They did their jobs.”

“So why did you have to sign, then?”

“A driver’s license is… technically a written note of permission for the person to drive, right?” Viktor nods as the back of the car is closed. “Well,” Yuuri continues, “technically no one has the authority to give me permission for anything, so I had to sign the papers myself. I have to do the same for all immediate members of the Royal Family.” The attendants wheel away the cart used for Viktor’s luggage, one of them giving Yuuri a nod confirming they’ve finished. Yuuri smiles.

“Back to the palace, Vityusha? Mari and my mother are meeting us for lunch.”

“Please.”

When Viktor opens the door, the smell of coffee wafts out and he smiles. “You made us drinks, Velichestvo?”

“Of course,” Yuuri says, “and that’s the driver’s seat, remember?”

Right. Viktor’s used to riding in the backs of cars here. Yuuri’s only ever picked him up in American cars, and he's a creature of habit. He walks around the hood, opening the other door and sliding into the seat, placing his gear bag on the floor in front of him. Buckling his seatbelt, he smiles at Yuuri, who leans over the center console, kissing him happily. “It's good to see you, Vityusha,” he says as his seatbelt clicks into place. “How was your flight?”

“It was good,” Viktor responds, picking up the ceramic travel mug with a smile. “I slept through most of it, but I’m still ridiculously tired.” He doesn’t mention the nightmare he’d had at first, the uneasy sleep that followed. The coffee is delicious and highly caffeinated.

“Sorry I was a bit late,” Yuuri says as he pulls out of the hangar. “I, uhh, got lost.”

Glancing into the back of the car, Viktor checks to see if there’s anyone else present. Satisfied there isn’t he looks over. “You got lost, Lyubov?” Yuuri blushes. “Don’t you have GPS?” Viktor continues with a raised eyebrow.

“I took a wrong turn,” Yuuri retorts. “I figured it out. That, and the guards at the hangar had to check my ID.”

“Is that unusual?”

“When there’s a motorcade, yes, but I came in a private vehicle so they had to make sure. They have the plate number now, so they’ll know it’s me in the future.”

“I’m surprised the Palace let you come alone,” Viktor says. The coffee is sweet, creamy, and warm on his tongue and he smiles.

Yuuri laughs nervously, glancing into the rearview mirror. “They didn’t. I’m being tailed by three separate cars right now.” Viktor looks out the back, but Yuuri pulls on his sleeve. “Just act normally,” he says. “We don’t want to draw attention to us or my bodyguards.”

“Of course!” Viktor sips his coffee again. Yuuri makes his way through the city, following the GPS to the letter.

“I found out about my paper,” Yuuri says as he takes a turn onto a wide road. “I have to finish it still, but he’s letting me do the presentation remotely and cutting down on the amount of assignments I have to turn in.”

“Well, that’s good,” Viktor replies, taking another drink. The coffee is soothing and he settles into the seat as Yuuri drives. “So it’s just the paper and presentation?”

“Yeah, and I finished most of the paper before we left Detroit.”

Viktor looks at him. “Around preparations to come back?”

Yuuri nods. “Yeah.”

“And work?”

“Mhmm.” He turns a corner.

“Did you ever sleep?” Yuuri’d been in a constant state of near-exhaustion since mid-fall, and it had been at its worst while Viktor was in Russia, just before the trip.

“Hardly,” Yuuri sighs, pursing his lips. His face has started to fill out again, Viktor notices. Despite looking somewhat tired all the time, the dark circles under his eyes haven’t been nearly as vivid as before.

They’re still there, though, and Viktor squeezes his hand.

It's not long before the palace comes into view, but instead of taking the front gates, Yuuri drives down a side street. He pulls into the smaller driveway used for everyday purposes, off-limits to the general public. When they pull up at the guardhouse, all he does is roll the window down and they’re let through with a bow.

The remainder of the drive is short, Yuuri pulling up next to the rear entrance smoothly. Viktor finishes his coffee as they come to a stop. “What do you want me to do with this?” he asks of the cup.

Yuuri glances over. “Just leave it in the cupholder, they’ll take it to the kitchens to be washed. Do you want to stop by your room for a bit or go to lunch?”

Food sounds good, but so does sleep. Viktor sighs. It’s early afternoon in Hasetsu, and as wonderful as sleep would be, staying up would help get rid of the jet lag faster. “Let’s go straight to lunch.”

They get out of the car, Yuuri walking around to meet Viktor next to the passenger side door. Rocking up on his toes, Yuuri kisses Viktor and he tastes like the mocha he’d been drinking, rich chocolate on his lips. Viktor’s bags are unloaded onto a cart, and an attendant approaches with a bow.

“Mr. Nikiforov,” she says, “would you like to retrieve anything from your luggage before it’s taken to your room, sir?”

Viktor pats his pockets. He has his phone, and it’d been left charging on the plane so he’s in no need of his battery pack for power. Anything else he could need would be easy enough to fetch himself, and he smiles. “I’m good, thank you,” he says. “I appreciate it.”

The attendant nods. Yuuri hands off the keys as he heads inside, pulling Viktor by the hand. “I had my meetings this morning,” he says. “There’ll be another this evening, but I have a few hours around lunch.”

“What’s for lunch?” Viktor asks around an attempt to stifle a yawn.

“Hamburgers,” Yuuri says.

“Hamburgers.”

“I wanted them.” Blushing, Yuuri guides Viktor through the halls. When they reach the dining room, Viktor notices there’s a different table set up. Instead of the small square table they usually eat off of, there’s a longer table, made to fit six or so, and Yuuri frowns as he pulls off his shoes.

“This is weird,” he says. The first to arrive, he and Viktor make their way to the table, Yuuri sitting at the head. Viktor takes a seat next to him, and Yuuri pulls out his phone.

“Are we expecting someone?”

Yuuri shrugs. “Mari hasn’t said anything,” he replies, “and neither has my mother. I didn’t invite anyone else, so I have no idea. Unless there’s a visitor I forgot about.” Eyes wide, Yuuri brings up his schedule, looking through it for any hint of what could be going on. The door slides open, Mari and Hiroko entering and taking off their shoes before they pad over the tatami.

Mari takes her seat next to Viktor, while Hiroko sits opposite him to Yuuri’s left.

Yuuri glances at the empty space next to Mari.

“Who’s joining us?” he asks, just as the door behind them slides open once more.

“I’m sorry I’m late!” Minako says as she pulls off her flats. When she steps into the room she gives a deep bow, before moving to sit next to Mari.

“Minako-san,” Hiroko says, “I’m glad you’ve made it! Welcome home!”

“It’s good to be home,” she replies, “it’s been a while.”

Yuuri smiles when Minako addresses him. “Your Majesty, it’s good to see you in good health.” It’s impossible to miss the way her eyes run up and down Yuuri’s body, taking in the jeans with mild surprise.

“Minako-sensei,” Yuuri replies with a nod, “it’s good to see you, too. Was your trip alright?”

“It was, thank you,” Minako goes to greet Mari but is interrupted as the food is brought out, and finally they’re left alone.

“You’ve grown, Your Highness,” she says to Mari.

The princess nods. “It’s been too long, Minako-sensei,” she replies. “How was life in the States?”

“Alright,” she says, chipper even as she visibly fights jet lag. “It was less eventful than I’d imagined, but that’s not a bad thing.”

Yuuri snorts, picking up his hamburger and taking a large bite. Minako glances at him, an eyebrow raised, but turns to smile at Hiroko.

The Queen Mother leans forward, taking Minako’s hand in her own. “Thank you,” she says, and Viktor hears over a decade's worth of sadness and overwhelming relief in her voice. “Thank you for bringing him home safely.”

“Your Majesty, Hana-san and I wouldn't have had it any other way.”

 

Lunch goes quickly, and when they're done Mari and Hiroko take Minako off for a reintroduction to the grounds, leaving Viktor and Yuuri to themselves. Yuuri takes his hand with a smile as they wander towards the working office. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“What is it?” Viktor asks. Yuuri squeezes his hand reassuringly.

“After the absolute catastrophe at Europeans, I think you should have bodyguards,” Yuuri says softly.

“What do you mean?” Viktor’s had bodyguards before, mostly at major competitions, but the way Yuuri's talking makes it sound more serious.

“I mean I want to get you a permanent security detail for when you’re not on palace grounds, and especially when you’re out of the country.”

“Like what you have.”

Yuuri nods. “Exactly.”

Viktor purses his lips, eyes narrowing slightly. It makes sense, this new level of security, when he considers who he’s engaged to, and he should have expected this, but there’s a feeling in the pit of his stomach he can’t quite name. A thrum of energy he can’t figure out, but he only nods in agreement. The relief Yuuri feels is visible.

“Excellent,” Yuuri says with a smile. “You’ll have one guard with you day-to-day, but probably two or three for competitions and such. They’re very discreet, and they’ll make sure you can get where you need to go.”

“And this will be… Every time I leave the grounds?”

“Yes,” Yuuri says, nodding. “It'll be weird at first, but it shouldn't feel that way for long. I'll have them screen candidates over the next few days, I want to make sure all of your bodyguards are fluent in Russian as well as English and Japanese. Probably one or two who speak French, too, just in case.”

“Yuuri, my English is fine.”

“I just want communication to be as easy as possible. This way you could choose the language you’re most comfortable with, and they’ll be able to do their job more easily in whatever situations you may end up in. Such as going to Russia. Which… you may well end up doing. Since you’re Russian.” Yuuri looks at his mug, spinning it in his hands.

“Alright, Lyubov,” Viktor says, leaning over to kiss him. He can’t tell if he’s relieved or just tired, but he resists the urge to lay down on the table. Yuuri rubs the back of his hand.

“You can read in my office instead of the sitting room if you want help staying up, today. I'll have coffee brought.”

“It won't be your coffee,” Viktor grumbles.

“You just had my coffee.” Yuuri kisses his forehead. “Come on, Vityusha. We can put some music on?”

After considering his options, Viktor reluctantly agrees. Yuuri grins, pulling him close. “I’m so happy you’re home,” he says softly. Viktor holds Yuuri, kisses his gelled hair, and smiles. It’s good to have Yuuri in his arms again.

 

~*~

 

The next practice a couple of days later, is particularly demanding. Doing one of his weekly video sessions with Yakov, Viktor ends up spending most of it running jumps, working on gaining height and distance. It leaves his thighs and knees weak when he gets home late afternoon, and by the time dinner is through he can feel the soreness settling in. He uses the ache as an excuse to put his arm around Yuuri as they head out of the dining room, exaggerating his struggle in the hopes that Yuuri will indulge him with a massage. Instead of heading into the staircase as is expected, Yuuri takes them through the doors to the private garden, down the stairs, and onto a paved path.

“Yuuri, where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” Yuuri replies. “But trust me, you’ll like it.”

Viktor sighs. They keep walking away from the warmth of the palace, down dimly-lit paths and across wooden bridges over the flowing, river-like water features, and after another minute of admittedly slow walking, Viktor leans harder on Yuuri.

“So where are we going again?” He’s all for surprises but at this point he just wants to put his legs up, rest his aching feet and knees and forget that he’s got to run a few miles tomorrow morning before heading to the gym.

“The baths,” Yuuri sighs. “We’re going to the baths.”

“I have a bath. You have a bath and it’ll fit both of us.” He’s almost whining now, but his feet hurt and he wants to not be on them anymore.

“We have a natural hot spring on the property. I thought we could soak together. It should feel nice after the practice you’ve had.” Yuuri blushes softly as they walk. It being late evening, he’s dressed casually in nice jeans and a button-up, his head bare of any ornamentation save his glasses. It’s refreshingly normal, if Viktor’s being honest, and as they walk he kisses Yuuri’s head. They come across a smaller building, lit softly in the night. Inside are cubby holes for their things and a large bathing area. Yuuri guides him through how they’ll be washing up, and as he pulls off his shirt he hears a gasp, Yuuri staring at his arm. Viktor looks at his bicep, and sees the purple-green of bruises left when he was grabbed. Tenderly, Yuuri traces his fingers over the marks, frowning.

“It looks like it hurt,” he says softly.

“It did,” Viktor responds, because there’s no denying it now. Yuuri kisses the bruises, lips gentle against sensitive skin, before pulling Viktor in to wash up. In short order they're walking outside in only their towels. Before Viktor lies a huge, steaming pool of water, open to the air but somehow still intimate within the confines of the fences. The steam warms the air pleasantly, and a small shiver goes down Viktor’s back as he steps onto the cold concrete.

Yuuri smiles over his bare shoulder, before pulling his towel off, exposing what may be the nicest pair of thighs Viktor’s had the privilege to see, and walking gracefully into the water. Viktor strips off his own towel, shivering slightly as a breeze drifts through. Tentatively, he steps into the pool before him. The water is warm, almost hot, and as he gets further in, he can feel the muscles in his legs relaxing.

He copies Yuuri, folding his towel and placing it on his head as he lowers himself into the pool. Smiling as Viktor sits next to him, Yuuri sinks a little further into the water. “You can speak freely here,” he says, with the same grimace he wears every time he has to give Viktor permission to do anything.

Viktor looks at his boyfriend, glowing in the low light around the bath, and can't stop a happy sigh escaping his lips. Yuuri looks at him inquisitively.

“You look more relaxed, somehow,” Viktor says, “even with everything that’s going on.”

Yuuri frowns at him. “Relaxed? I look relaxed?!”

“In a way. You're more open.”

“Might have something to do with not having to hide anything anymore.” Yuuri sighs as he leans his head against the rocks behind him. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, kingship is still stressful, but at least I can be honest about who I am.” Viktor nods as he pulls Yuuri closer. “I hated lying to you, Vityusha.”

“I know, Lyubov.” He presses a kiss to Yuuri's temple. “I know.”

Yuuri sighs against him. Pressing a kiss to his hair, Viktor rubs his shoulder as he takes a few deep breaths, before going oddly still. There’s a hitched gasp, and then Yuuri lets out a shaky breath.

“What’s wrong?” Viktor asks, looking at Yuuri with concern.

“I just — “ Yuuri starts, before swallowing thickly. “I’m King, Vitya.”

Viktor pulls him closer with a grimace.

“I’m the king now,” Yuuri says, and his voice breaks. Tears run down his face and he shakes as Viktor holds him close. There’s nothing to say in response and not for the first time he’s at a loss as to what to do, how to help. He kisses the top of Yuuri’s head.

“I'm sorry, Lyubov,” he says softly. “I'm so sorry.” If he could take Yuuri’s pain, bottle it up and store it away in his own heart he would, just to see a genuine smile on his face again. That isn’t an option, though, and he rests his cheek on the top of Yuuri’s head. Yuuri just curls into him, staying close even as the tears begin to slow. Soon enough, all that’s left of his crying spell is the occasional hitched sob, and he rubs his eyes as he pulls away.

“I'm sorry,” he whispers.

“You shouldn’t be,” Viktor replies.

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Lyubov, you don’t have anything to apologize for.”

Sighing, Yuuri snuggles closer to him. “Ok. Sorry.”

“Yuuri,” Viktor admonishes.

“You’re right I’m—” cutting himself off, Yuuri merely sinks into the water, a small bunch of bubbles appearing briefly in front of his face. He must have apologized underwater, but Viktor says nothing, merely lowering himself into the warmth of the pool as well. The water isn’t cooling around them, won’t cool around them, and Viktor sends a silent prayer of thanks as he puts his arm around Yuuri once more.

 

~*~

 

As they walk back to Yuuri’s room through the dimly-lit hallways, Yuuri abruptly runs towards an open door.  “My piano!” he exclaims, hurrying into a side room. Viktor follows closely, entering a beautiful music room. Yuuri takes a seat at a black grand piano, resting his fingers gently on the keys. He gives a few tentative presses, runs a couple of short melodies, smiling when he hears it perfectly tuned. Turning, he pats the bench next to him.

“Do you play at all?” he asks.

“No,” Viktor says, sitting to Yuuri’s left. “I never had time to learn.”

“I’m not great,” Yuuri says, “but I know how to play a few things.” With a small grin, he starts playing a light, simple tune. “You must learn your scales and your arpeggios,” he sings, slightly off-key, before trailing off. He gives Viktor a sheepish smile. “I forgot the rest of the lyrics,” he says, fingers flying across the keys. The lilting song picks up new lines of melodies, and Yuuri hums to himself as he plays. The song ends with cacophonous banging on the keys, and Yuuri laughs when Viktor wraps his arms around him.

“That was magnificent, Velichestvo!”

The door behind them opens, an attendant shyly sticking their head in the crack. He starts when he sees Yuuri, quickly coming in and bowing deeply. “My apologies, Your Majesty, I was just checking to see who was playing.”

“It’s fine,” Yuuri says gently. “I appreciate your diligence. Mr. Nikiforov and I will be returning to our quarters shortly.”

The attendant nods, bowing again before backing out of the door and closing it. Yuuri leans against Viktor. “We should go back to my room,” he sighs. They stand, and Yuuri pulls Viktor by the hand as he navigates the halls. When they approach the area with the stairs, Viktor must appear distraught because the look on Yuuri’s face immediately changes to pity. He looks around before nodding determinedly.

“Get on my back,” he says.

“What.”

“Piggyback ride, get on my back.” Crouching down, Yuuri stays steady as Viktor crawls onto him, wrapping his arms around Yuuri’s torso, his legs around Yuuri’s waist, and he silently gives thanks as Yuuri’s chest muscles engage under his hands as he stands up. The stairs don’t give Yuuri as much trouble as Viktor had thought they would, but when they exit the stairwell they run almost directly into Mari, who raises one eyebrow as she looks Yuuri up and down.

“You know we have an elevator, right?” She asks. Viktor most certainly did not, and he thinks back to all the times he’s had to nearly crawl up the stairs after a hard practice. He’s tempted to pinch Yuuri, but would rather not end up on the floor so he refrains.

“I know we do,” Yuuri replies, “but I was too lazy to walk all the way over.”

Miraculously, Mari manages to look even more skeptical. “You didn’t want to walk over a couple of hallways, so you carried your boyfriend up the stairs?”

“They were right here,” Yuuri says.

“Yuuri, Viktor is both taller and heavier than you!” She’s right, and Viktor holds tighter, his heart doing all sorts of flips in his chest.

“Maybe so, but the stairs were closer.” He shifts Viktor’s weight, but doesn’t give any indication that he’s trying to set him down so Viktor stays put.  “Anyway, he’s had a hard practice.”

Mari just rolls her eyes as Yuuri walks past.

“Hey, Yuuri,” she says when they’re a few feet down the hall. Yuuri turns around.

“Yeah?”

“If you’d like, I can have the staff move Viktor’s stuff to your room. Make things easier on you two. And them.”

The limited areas of Yuuri’s face visible to Viktor go bright red, even moreso when Viktor chuckles and kisses his jaw. “I-I’ll think about it,” he stammers. “Good night.”

Mari snorts, before waving a hand and turning back to wherever she was going.

“You know,” Viktor says after they continue to Yuuri’s room, “that might not be a bad idea.”

“I ought to drop you,” Yuuri mutters,  walking faster as Mari’s laugh rings clearly through the hallway.

 

~*~

 

Minako’s an imposing presence when Viktor enters the study next to the dance studio. As he closes the door behind him, she turns away from the window she’s standing in front of. “Mr. Nikiforov,” she says, “welcome.” Sitting in an armchair, she gestures at the coffee table. “Tea?” she asks.

“Please,” Viktor responds. She pours him a cup, handing both cup and saucer to him before pouring her own. Leaning back in her chair, she gives him an appraising look.

“It’s good to see you again,” she says with a smile. “You seem to be doing well, what with everything that’s going on.”

“I am,” Viktor says. He sips his tea. It’s unclear where she’s going with this. Yuuri’s mentioned that she’s a demanding taskmaster, but for now she seems to be taking her time with him, getting a feel for who he is. That instinct to tell people what they want to hear roars to life, urging him to lie his way into her good graces.

But he’s not here to get into her good graces, he’s here to learn from her, and the only way to do that is to tell the truth. There’s a soft clink as Minako sets her teacup on the side table. Interlacing her fingers, she leans back in the chair with a smile.

“Tell me, Mr. Nikiforov,” she says, “what you’re currently planning on doing to prepare to potentially marry into the Royal Family. I’m not looking for a right or wrong response.”

Much like Lilia, she keeps her tone and manner neutral in order to encourage honesty. Viktor looks into his teacup. “I ordered a book on the language,” he says. It’s a start, and a good one at that if the way she smiles is any indication.

“So you realize the value of speaking the people’s language.”

“It’s Yuuri’s, too,” he says.

“His Majesty's,” she corrects. “You should default to referring to him by title with people outside of his immediate family— or Mr. Chulanont, I suppose— when you’re in private.”

Viktor nods. “If I’m going to be His Majesty’s partner, I need to be able to keep up with him no matter what language he’s speaking.”

“And what of the culture?” Blinking in confusion, Viktor rests his teacup on the armrest. Minako leans forward. “His Majesty insisted you’d be able to handle navigating social situations. Are you confident in your ability to do so in a country with cultural norms entirely different from your own?”

Knowing the bare basics of Sachiman culture has helped, but it hasn’t been enough even for the minimal social interaction he’s had thus far, and he’s spent much of his time looking to Yuuri for guidance. He won’t be able to continue to do so once he’s making independent appearances. Looking at her, he can tell she sees that he’s starting to understand.

“Mr. Nikiforov, much of your experience in higher-class society has been Eurocentric. Western. While we tend to lean more towards a Western approach when hosting large numbers of international guests, domestic events, primarily those with the Akitsushiman Nobility and certainly public visits, will tend more towards our native culture.” Picking up her tea, she takes another sip. “I have no doubt you can learn the ins and outs of court, Mr. Nikiforov,” she says. “Lilia has spoken highly of your intellect and adaptability, but there may be more work than you anticipated. Knowing this, are you still willing to continue?”

Viktor nods without hesitation. “Yes, I am.”

Smiling with satisfaction, Minako nods. “I’d hoped that’s what you’d say, and so quickly, too. What else do you feel you need to work on?”

Shrugging, Viktor meets her eyes. “Culture and language. Yu- His Majesty has emphasized titles and protocols as well. History. I’m fully aware that I… don’t know what all I need to learn.”

“That’s a good start,” Minako replies, “and that’s what I’m here for. Today we’ll work on forms of address, since that’s something you should have known before you got here.”

“To be fair I—” Viktor stops as she holds her hand up.

“Not your fault,” she says. “I was fully in support of the palace allowing His Majesty to tell you who he was. I’d hoped I’d have the opportunity to work with you, if you so chose, before you’d need to know all of this.”

“His Majesty was planning that far ahead?”

She laughs, picking up her tea again. “Not planning so much as hoping. He didn’t know if you’d want to stay, so he didn’t go much further than expressing a desire for you to have time to get used to the idea. Hana, his bodyguard, and I were hoping that if you were told and intended to stay with him, we’d have some time to help out, but… well, things happened how they happened.” She gestures at the end table next to Viktor. “I’ve prepared a binder for you with the information you’ll find relevant in your day-to-day life here at court, and if you turn to the section marked ‘Titles, Hierarchies, and Forms of Address’ you’ll find a chart on the first page.”

“Before we begin,” Viktor says, “I do have a request.”

“What is it?” She sits back, her own binder now on her lap.

“His Majesty mentioned that you did ballet,” he says, “and in particular, that you used to teach it. Lilia has spoken well of you, too. I was wondering if you would be willing to work with me while I train for Worlds.”

Minako chuckles. “You’re asking me to train you?”

“Yes.” Irritation washes over Viktor as she straightens up.

“No need to get upset,” she says, “I’ll do it. I’ll need to call Lilia tonight and tell her you asked me to work with you before I had to drag you into the studio myself. Just this morning she sent me an email to see if I’d make sure you kept up on your training.”

That certainly sounds like Lilia. Viktor smiles again, now that he knows she wasn’t laughing at him. He opens the binder to the correct section, and begins his first lesson.

 

~*~

 

Heading to the rink the next morning, Viktor’s met at the car by a tall man in jeans and a thick coat. “Mr. Nikiforov,” he says briskly. “My name is Yulian, I’ve been assigned as your new bodyguard.”

“Are you going with me to practice?”

Yulian nods. “Yes sir, I’m to accompany you at all times.”

“Even to the bathroom?”

“I won’t be standing in the stall, if that’s what you’re wondering, but I will be outside the door, yes.”

Viktor huffs before getting in the car. His new bodyguard slides in next to him, and tension thrums in the background. It doesn’t die down during the drive, nor does it lessen when Viktor’s finally on the ice. Yulian sits on the bleachers, bundled up, while Viktor runs through his routines. He’s unobtrusive, blending into the background and occasionally making a circuit around the building, but Viktor can feel his eyes scanning the room, can feel himself being watched.

A shiver runs down his spine as he runs jumps. He’s had a security detail before. He’s been escorted and accompanied and taken around and all of the other fancy words and phrases that mean “willingly stalked” enough that it shouldn’t be throwing him off like this. It’s only the first day, though, and Yuuri had promised the discomfort would fade with time, as Viktor becomes used to having his every move watched. It’s not a particularly exciting prospect, but one he’ll learn to deal with. He made the choice when he asked to stay. He agreed to living life as a royal, to get used to how it will be if he marries into the family.

This is just part of that.

He lands a quad flip perfectly, sure-footed, and allows the momentum to carry him into a step sequence. Europeans had left him a little dazed, to be sure. The rush of dodging crowds (to varying levels of success) combined with the sheer amount of pressure and being manhandled by fans and security guards alike still catches Viktor off guard when he remembers. Shouting, pushing, he’s had it happen but never like this. Never with such ferocity that he’s been scared. He moves into a spin, fast enough that it would be disorienting if it weren’t for years of practice.

He’d been scared. For a second there, he’d felt panicked, trapped by warm bodies and the cold lenses of cameras all around, a barrage of questions thundering through his very core. Being grabbed hadn’t helped. At the same time, he’s had all of this before, has been accompanied by security enough in the past that it shouldn’t be getting to him like it is. A lazy step sequence. A spread eagle into a triple axel and it feels nice to let his body glide across the ice as he calms himself. He keeps his eyes open, when he needs to, but avoids looking at the bleachers at the side of the rink. Yulian sits there, still. Ever watchful, ever faithful to his duties.

The questions he’d been asked at the press conference, and later by the crowd, turn Viktor’s stomach when he thinks of them again.

Another step sequence, this one hard and fast, one he’s planning for next season. The theme of the song is about sensual love, but all he feels is frustration as he swirls and steps his way across the ice. Frustration with not being able to compete properly, frustration with his frustration. He moves through the rest of the routine, and it leaves him sweating and tired as he cools down. Yulian follows him to the locker room, and then out to the car, only leaving Viktor’s side when they’re safely inside the palace grounds.

 

His frustration must evident despite his smile when he finally gets to Yuuri’s office, since Yuuri picks up on it instantly. He finishes saying whatever it is he’s saying to the cabinet members talking to him and dismisses them, before making his way over to Viktor.

“Vitya?” he says, brushing Viktor’s hair out of his face. “What is it? Did something happen?”

Sighing, Viktor kisses his forehead. “It’s nothing, Velichestvo,” he replies softly. “I’m just having trouble with the bodyguard situation.”

“Did he do something?” Yuuri asks, eyes narrowed.

“No, I just… what do you mean Europeans was a ‘catastrophe?’ Nothing happened there that hasn’t happened to me before.”

“They grabbed you, Vitya! You have bruises!”

Viktor glances at his arm and sighs. “I’ve been grabbed in the past, people just want better camera angles or to force me to give them my attention.”

Yuuri raises an eyebrow. “I was taught when I was grabbed, it was an attempted kidnapping at best.” The implications hit harder than the words themselves. Viktor sighs. He rubs his arm and nods.

“I’m just not used to having bodyguards with me all the time, Lyubov,” he says as he kisses Yuuri’s forehead.

“I know it’s an adjustment, Vityusha,” Yuuri replies. “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t think they were necessary.”

“I know,” Viktor replies. “I know.”

Yuuri gives him a kiss on the chin, then one on his nose. “Thank you,” he says softly.

“For?” Viktor looks down.

“It makes me feel better knowing you have them.” Kissing his lips, Yuuri looks up. Warm and fond, his face betrays nothing but love. Viktor holds him close, firm against his body as he breathes the smell of Yuuri’s shampoo and tries to calm the unease that’s apparently determined to make its home in the back of his mind.

 

~*~

 

The private hangar echoes as the plane comes to a stop. Yuuri stands next to Viktor, a serious expression on his face, but his lips twitch up at the corners and his eyes sparkle brightly. The door to the plane opens, and Viktor hears metal jangling and paws running down the stairs and he’s nearly bowled over by a ball of brown fur. Makkachin licks his face as he laughs, and he holds him tightly for a few minutes. It’s so good to have his dog back in his arms.

When he stands, Yuuri and Phichit stand a ways away, holding hands and touching foreheads. Their conversation is a quiet murmur, but something Phichit says makes Yuuri laugh and it's music. Makkachin takes notice of Yuuri then, bounding over and jumping up as he kneels, arms open. Yuuri buries his face in the poodle’s fur, scratching his sides and back. He’s smiling, Viktor can tell, and the way Makka licks his face, it’s clear they missed each other. Makkachin then runs around excitedly, grateful to be on solid ground once more. Hiroko smiles at Viktor as he moves closer, squeezing his hand lightly. She’s never without a smile for him, as affectionate with him as she is with her own children, and it’s comforting to know he’s not entirely alone outside of Yuuri.

“We’ve had a dog bed placed in your room, Vicchan,” she says gently, “but he’s welcome to sleep with you in the bed if you'd prefer.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

There are more footsteps coming down the jetway, and when Yuuri looks over, his face breaks into a grin. “Nee-chan!” he shouts happily, jogging over. A woman who looks just a few years older than Viktor wraps her arms around him when he hugs her.

“Your Majesty, it’s good to see you!” She beams, clapping her hands on his shoulders. Looking him up and down, she pulls him into another hug before letting go. “You’re looking well,” she says with a smile.

Yuuri nods. He bites his lower lip as he grins. “You, too. Is everything being shipped out?”

“It is. I took care of the paperwork as well, like you requested.”

“Thank you,” he says sincerely. “Did you bring me kettle corn?”

The woman laughs. “Of course, Majesty, I wouldn’t forget that.”

Looking at Viktor, Yuuri grins. “Vitya, will you please come here?”

Viktor makes his way over. Yuuri looks excitedly between him and the woman. “Vitya, this is my bodyguard, Hana. The one who took care of me while I was in hiding. She’s the ‘sister’ I was living with. Hana-neechan, this is Viktor Nikiforov, my boyfriend.”

“You’ve mentioned him once or twice,” she says, smiling. Holding her hand out, she gives Viktor a nod. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Mr. Nikiforov,” she laughs. “His Majesty’s told me so much about you.”

“All good things, I hope,” he says with a smile, giving her hand a brisk shake. “He hasn’t mentioned much about you, but with circumstances like they were I can see why.”

She nods genially. “We couldn’t risk you recognizing me when I tailed him. It’d ruin the date. Or whatever you were doing at the time.”

Blushing, Yuuri clears his throat. “Nee-chan, why?”

“Well I hardly got to joke around in Detroit, Your Majesty.”

Yuuri looks behind Viktor, over his shoulder, and frowns. “Phichit?” he asks.

Phichit jogs over. “Yes, Your Most Glorious Majesty?”

Yuuri flashes him a glare, which would have looked much more intimidating if he wasn’t visibly trying not to smile. “Phichit are those the boxes I left in our apartment with your name on them?”

Phichit glances back at the same time Viktor does, towards a small pile of boxes on a luggage rack. Several of them do indeed have Phichit’s name written on the sides, and he grins sheepishly. “Yes?”

“Phichit, I left those for you!”

“You can’t give me your game systems,” Phichit protests, “you already gave me your car!”

“We’ve discussed the car thing, and I already have new systems! I wanted to kick your ass over – “ At this point Yuuri looks around with wide eyes. Mari’s staring at him with a huge grin her face, while Hiroko just looks bemused. The few bodyguards and members of the palace staff that are in the room have discreetly turned away, seemingly fascinated with looking anywhere but at Yuuri, and Phichit barely stifles a snort.

Hana steps in. “You were saying, Your Majesty?” Her voice betrays her amusement, and Yuuri blushes.

“I was saying, Mr. Chulanont, that I wish to challenge you in combat over multiplayer video games, and subsequently win.”

Phichit stands proud, glancing between Yuuri’s face and the ground, before raising an eyebrow. “Are you going to throw a glove or something?” Confused, Yuuri frowns. “For the duel,” Phichit says with a surprisingly straight face.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Yuuri mutters under his breath. “My point is, what am I gonna do with duplicate game systems?” He waves an attendant over. “Do you see those boxes on the cart with Mr. Chulanont’s name on them?” he asks.

“Yes, Sire, I do,” he responds.

“Those boxes are to be held in storage here, and sent back to the United States with Mr. Chulanont upon his return.”

Merely giving a bow, the attendant rushes over to the hangar workers to explain while Yuuri grins smugly at Phichit.

“Yuuri, you can’t just – “

“I can and I will,” Yuuri says.

“But the car – “

“I don’t need an American car here. I have cars. And people to drive them for me if I want.”

“Yuuri, all this after my costume – “

“That was years ago.”

“You flew us to Thailand, Yuuri!”

Hiroko clears her throat and flashes Yuuri a gentle look. Sheepish, he scratches the back of his neck as he looks to the side. “Phichit,” he says quietly, “you… you need to use…”

“Title?” Phichit asks. Yuuri nods.

“This is going to be so weird,” Phichit says, “I’d just barely gotten the hang of ‘Your Highness.’ This counts as public?”

“When we’re in front of people, yes. When we’re alone it’ll be different.”

Viktor smiles as Makkachin jumps up, resting his paws on Viktor’s chest. Obliging his dog, he scratches vigorously behind Makka’s ears and under his chin. He returns the smile Yuuri flashes him, before gently pushing Makka to the ground and walking over.

“May I kiss you, Velichestvo?” He asks softly.

Yuuri looks around before smiling. He rocks forward on his toes, and Viktor feels the softness of his lips as he lays a gentle kiss on his mouth.

Phichit stands to the side, bemused, before a huge smile splits his face. He lets out a snort, and then a giggle, and when Viktor and Yuuri look over he’s inexplicably doubled over with laughter, using a grinning Mari for support as he tries to catch his breath. Yuuri raises one eyebrow, one side of his mouth twitching up, before he grins.

“What’s so funny, Phichit?”

“It’s just,” Phichit says, gasping, “I never thought…” He throws his head back, grabbing his stomach, absolutely howling.

“Your Hi-Majesty,” he says after another minute of trying to compose himself. “It’s – “ he gestures between Yuuri and Viktor. “You’re literally the King and the-the Skater!” he exclaims before losing it once more. Yuuri's bodyguard snorts.

Yuuri screws up his face for a second, cheeks puffing out unceremoniously, before he, too, is almost doubled over in laughter, hand gripping the crown he's wearing in an attempt to keep it on his head. Straightening, he wraps his arms around Viktor, giggling into his torso. The mirth is infectious, spreading through the room until everyone wears a smile.

The drive to the palace is short, and they take a private entrance through the back, stopping near the rear stairs. Makkachin is thoroughly excited to sniff around, trying to pull Viktor from bush to bush in an attempt to explore. Viktor stays next to Phichit, though, a step behind Yuuri as propriety demands in public. With tourists on the grounds, they are very much in public. It’s a quick walk to the residential area, and once they’ve arrived Yuuri falls into step next to them. He smiles up at Viktor, gently taking his hand as they walk.

“So this counts as ‘in private,’ right?” Phichit asks.

Yuuri glances around. “To an extent,” he replies. “You can be more casual, but not completely.”

“Well, then, Your Majesty,” Phichit says as he throws his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, “I—” He stops as nearby guards put their hands on their weapons, moving forward.

Glancing around, Yuuri holds up his hand. “He’s fine,” he says sternly. “Leave him be.” Shrugging out of Phichit’s embrace, he gives a barely-audible sigh.

“Sorry,” Phichit says, “I didn't know.”

“It’s alright,” Yuuri says as they make their way to his rooms. “Just save it until we’re actually in private.”

Phichit nods. “Anyway, you mentioned secret passages?”

Yuuri grins. “That I did.” Glancing around, Yuuri nods. “Kaa-san, Mari,” he says. They turn around. “We'll meet you guys for dinner, yes?”

Hiroko smiles. “Of course, Yuuri-kun. Dinner will be served in an hour.”

Yuuri nods as they take a sharp left. They end up in an alcove, and Yuuri grins before working a hidden mechanism. A narrow door opens into a dark room, Yuuri turning on the flashlight on his phone. The door closes behind them and Makka sniffs at the walls and floor until he sneezes several times in quick succession. Yuuri laughs.

“A bit dusty, eh, Makka?”

Makka sneezes once more in response, causing all of them to chuckle. Yuuri starts walking slowly. “I used to hide in here all the time,” he says happily. “My memory’s a bit fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure I can get us to Vitya’s room from here.”

“Pretty sure?” Phichit grins. Yuuri merely sticks his tongue out in response, turning down another passage.

“I explored the passages as soon as I knew how to access them, and sometimes I used to bring a flashlight in and read with Vicchan when he was a puppy. I only had a few months with him before I had to leave.” Sighing, he turns them down another near-invisible passage. “We were inseparable before that.”

“Vicchan?” Viktor asks. “Isn’t that what your mom calls me?”

“Ah, um, yeah. His name was Victor, and Vicchan’s kind of…” pursing his lips, Yuuri pauses for a second. “Vicchan’s kind of the… Like ‘Vitya’ and ‘Lyosha,’ but for Japanese.”

“I see. Did you name him after me?” he asks cheekily.

Yuuri makes an odd noise before clearing his throat. “I didn’t, actually. I was seven. I, uhh, so he stole my beef jerky once like the first night we had him? I told my mom I was hiding it from him, so when I told her he’d gotten it she laughed, like he’d won some sort of competition, and said ‘To the victor go the spoils’ and it just… stuck. For some reason. I don't know how or why.”

Faintly, Viktor can make out wooden beams in the walls between patterned wallpaper. The designs are difficult to make sense of, but they look vaguely swirly. Another turn, and Viktor sees Yuuri’s grin faintly in the dim light.. “We’re close,” Yuuri says. “Almost there.”

“How do you even know?” Phichit says. “Everything looks the same.”

Yuuri shines his light on the wall, exposing ocean-blue wallpaper with waves of silver. “We have them wallpapered differently. That way, if you know the passages, you can tell roughly where you are. If you don’t, there’s no signage to follow. Very few people outside of my family and our closest staff are allowed in here.” Yuuri sighs. “It used to be how staff got around, back when, you know, they weren’t supposed to be seen, but now they’re more a security measure than anything else.”

“When did that change?” Phichit says from just in front of Viktor.

“Uhh, around when my father took the throne,” Yuuri replies hesitantly.

“When was that, again?” Phichit asks.

“I, um, I was four,” Yuuri replies.

“Wait,” Phichit says, bringing everyone to a stop. “So when you were a kid staff was—”

“I know how it sounds, Phichit,” Yuuri interrupts. “I'm not—”

“I know you're not like that,” Phichit retorts, earning a frustrated noise in response.

“I was going to say I'm not unaware of how people see Royalty and shit like that but I guess if I'm 'like that’ enough to just immediately try to make myself look better—”

“That’s not what I meant, Yu-Your…” Phichit trails off and there’s long, tense moment of silence.

Sighing, Yuuri crosses his arms, the light from his phone pointing at the floor. “This is why I didn't talk about it a lot,” he says, quiet. “I know how people see royalty in general, and my family is… very traditional, and very royal. The whole of the upper class are old-fashioned in this country so it just gets weird.”

“I was trying to reassure, I'm sorry,” Phichit says.

“It’s fine, I shouldn’t have jumped down your throat. I know it’s pretty fucked up. I don’t like it either.”

Phichit hums in agreement. “It’s just so recent, is all,” he says. “It feels like that kind of attitude would have been a while ago.”

“Yeah,” Yuuri says quietly as he continues, turning them down another corridor. “It’s… strange. I don’t remember much about when my grandpa died, but the palace halls suddenly being filled with staff… that’s not something easily forgotten.” He stops. “This should be it,” he says, running his hand up and down the wall. Viktor hears a huff of breath as Yuuri feels his way up and down the entire section. Yuuri stands abruptly, walks a few feet down the hall, and starts feeling again. There’s a hissed “yes” as Viktor hears the click of a mechanism, and the door opens into his bedroom.

Yuuri grins as they enter the room, closing the door behind him. Makkachin’s leash is unclipped, and he runs around, sniffing at everything he can get his nose near.

“Yuuri?” Viktor says with a smile.

“Yes, Vitya?”

“How did you know exactly where my room was?”

Yuuri looks at him, before sighing softly. “It was my childhood bedroom,” he says, “so most of my adventures in the walls started or ended here.”

“You had a bedroom this big when you were a kid?” Phichit’s looking around, mouth slightly agape as he takes in the surroundings.

“There’s a sitting room, too!” Viktor chimes in. “With a fireplace!”

“A sitting room?!”

Yuuri blushes. “I took a lot of my meals in here,” he says, “when my parents were busy. We needed the table for that, and space for the table. It kept the toys out of my bedroom, too, so I wouldn’t get out of bed and play with them. My governess slept next door, and she had ears like a bat’s.”

Viktor takes the liberty of imagining a tiny Yuuri sneaking around the room. He wonders how it looked all those years ago, what sort of toys and books Yuuri kept on the shelves. They’re mostly bare now, decorative trinkets taking up the center and flanked by flashy books in Japanese. Phichit walks around, looking at the decor.

“Holy shit, Y-Your…” he draws out the word in a tentative question, and Yuuri smiles in response.

“In bedrooms with the door shut counts as Totally and Completely Private,” Yuuri says.

“Holy shit, Yuuri.”

“It’s a palace, Phichit, I don’t know what you expected.”

“Not fucking this,” Phichit replies. “No wonder you’re such a disaster.”

“I’m not a disaster,” Yuuri retorts.

“At being a normal person you are,” Phichit says.

“He seemed pretty normal to me,” Viktor chimes in, kissing the top of Yuuri’s head while Makka noses at one of the desk drawers.

“Viktor, he tried to clean our bathroom with dish soap,” Phichit says, exasperated.

“Wow.” Yuuri blushes.

“It cleans dishes just fine,” he mutters. “How was I supposed to know it didn’t work on bathrooms?”

“Because it says ‘Dish Soap’ on the label, Yuuri,” Phichit replies.

“‘Soap’ is part of that!!”

Chuckling, Viktor kisses Yuuri’s forehead. “Did you learn how to clean a bathroom, Lyubov?”

“Took him two hours with me teaching him, but he did.”

Yuuri rolls his eyes. “Phichit, I should show you to your room. Your luggage should be there already.”

 

Yuuri leads them through a door just down the hall and around a corner from Viktor’s. “So this is yours, Phichit,” he says. “I um, I made sure you have a window, you have a balcony too, and I checked the bed and it’s not facing north.”

Phichit grins at Yuuri before running into the bedroom.

“Facing north?” Viktor asks curiously.

“Uhh, it’s a cultural thing,” Yuuri says. “He won’t sleep with his head to the north because Hinduism? Something to do with Ganesh, I don’t really understand it, but it’s important to him, so it’s important to me.”

“Awww, Yuuri,” Phichit says from the doorway as he walks back in, “you really do care.”

Yuuri fixes him with something between a glare and a pout with a bit of a smile for good measure. “If you decide to get figurines or set up a shrine, that’s fine, just let me know.”

“I’m not going to be here that long, Yuuri, I still have to train for Thai Nationals.”

“You’re literally the best ice skater in Thailand, shouldn’t you win by default?”

“Heck no, if there’s someone better than me they ought to win. I just need to prove there isn’t.” Phichit grins. “But seriously, the window’s fine.” Hugging Yuuri, Phichit buries his face in his shoulder. “Thank you,” he says softly.

Yuuri returns the hug. “Any time. We should get to the dining room; my mom’s making katsudon tonight!”

“I finally get to try your mother’s katsudon?” Phichit grins.

“Yep.” Yuuri hands his crown to Viktor so he can brush off his knees, small clouds of dust erupting as he hits the fabric. Taking the crown back, he moves over to the mirror, setting it back on his head before straightening further. For a long second, he stares at his reflection, before closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, and turning towards them with a smile.

“So, dinner?”

 

When they arrive there's an even larger table set up than before, clearly meant to accommodate a large group of people. Yuuri and Viktor sit together, Phichit just around the corner from Yuuri. Mari, Minako, and Hana file in together after a bit, and it’s only a few minutes more before the food’s brought in. The conversation is light, Phichit getting along easily with everyone, but Yuuri only looks more and more thoughtful as the meal progresses.

“Hana-neechan,” Yuuri says eventually, setting his chopsticks down.

“What is it, Your Majesty?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever properly thanked you for all you’ve done over the last fifteen years.” His voice is quiet, sincere, and he looks at her with a grateful smile. “I couldn’t have asked for anyone better, truly.”

“It was my honor to be of service.” It sounds forced almost, though the sentiment is genuine.

Yuuri purses his lips, before looking around the table. “I’d like to drop the formalities,” he says.

“All formalities?” Mari asks, taking a bite of katsudon.

“For me, yes,” Yuuri replies. “All of them. Please.”

Everyone nods, though Mari looks at him with a pensive expression.

“Anyways,” Yuuri says, “Hana-nee, I just… you kept me safe. You kept me alive, and you dealt with my shit and… I’m sorry, again, for the trouble.”

“Trouble?” Mari glances between Yuuri and Hana, before Minako leans forward.

“There were a few ups and downs,” she says, “but that was to be expected.”

Hana reaches her hand out, taking Yuuri’s and squeezing it. “We got through, Yuuri-kun,” she says.

He nods. “Anyway, if you were to want to retire, the Crown would see fit to make sure it would be comfortably.”

“I don’t,” she says. “I'm not sure exactly what I'd want to do, but I'm not ready to just… retire.”

“At least take a vacation while you figure it out,” he urges. “You deserve it.”

“Hmm,” she says, eyes twinkling, “but what if I don't want to?”

“Hana-nee,” Yuuri whines, “come on, I'm trying to—”

She laughs, ruffling his hair. “I'm only joking, Yuuri-kun. Vacation time sounds nice. On one condition.”

“What?” Yuuri raises an eyebrow.

“You promise me you’ll take some time for yourself.” Mari gasps, looking at Yuuri for his reaction. “I know how you get, Yuuri-kun,” Hana continues, “and when you push yourself too hard it doesn’t end well. You need to remember to take a day for yourself once in a while.”

Thank god someone said it.

In response, Yuuri nods, if a bit reluctantly. “Deal,” he says. “I’ll ask your vacation time be paid as well.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“It is, though,” he says. “You were on full-time duty for fifteen years, Hana-nee, you deserve a paid vacation and you know it.”

She just raises an eyebrow. “If you insist,” she replies.

“I do.” With a nod, Yuuri sits back on his heels. Mari looks between him and Hana a few times.

“Yuuri,” she says.

“What?” Picking up a piece of pork with his chopsticks, Yuuri looks it over before putting it in his mouth.

“You’re genuinely ok with her talking to you like that?”

“Is that a problem?” he asks after he swallows his bite. “Mari-nee, she raised me for fifteen years. We lived together for most of that. Of course she talks to me casually. She used my title, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“She’s not having much trouble calling you by name.” Glancing over at Hana, Mari looks back at her younger brother.

Hana shifts uncomfortably, watching the siblings.

Yuuri sets his chopsticks down. “Sometimes,” he says, “I needed to be called by name. I needed to be talked to familiarly. I needed to be treated like a kid, because I was. There sure as hell wasn’t anyone else in my life that would do that. Not anyone I could be myself with. If I have a problem with how Hana- neechan talks to me, I’ll tell her myself. She was all I had for most of my life, Mari-nee. You can’t expect her to just act like everyone else.”

Mari sighs. “I should have realized, I’m sorry.” Looking at Hana, she gives a long nod. “I appreciate you taking care of my little brother, and I hope you will forgive my tone.” It’s clear she’s not used to apologizing like this, but she does so with grace.

“It’s fine, Your Highness,” Hana replies. “I understand things are tense, and I understand my relationship with your brother may be… difficult to get used to. Especially as he and I adapt to being home.”

It’s clear from the way Yuuri’s looking at his sister, he expects her to get used to it. He masks the look quickly, though, before Mari sees.

“This is a time of transition,” Hiroko says, pulling everyone’s attention to her. “We all need to be a little gentle with each other until things settle down.” Her eyes scan across the room, coming to rest for just a moment longer on each of her children. Yuuri nods, and nods again as he meets Mari’s eyes. Phichit sits quietly next to Yuuri, eating slowly as he watches the exchange, but Viktor sees him shift his knee so it touches Yuuri’s, silently offering support. Viktor does the same, and Yuuri seems to settle a bit, shoulders relaxing.

“Hana-san.” Smiling, Hiroko eases them into friendly waters. “How was your time in the United States?” she asks.

Hana looks at Minako first, and then shares a glance with Yuuri. “Overall, it was alright,” she says. “Hectic, at times, but alright.”

Yuuri takes a bite, staring at his bowl.

“Hectic?” Mari asks. “What all happened? Were you attacked at all?”

“I’d have come straight home if I was attacked,” Yuuri says. “My cover would have been completely blown, at that point it’d have been easier to come back and ramp up security than to try to hide me again.”

Hana nods. “We weren’t attacked, but we did end up needing to move a few times. We settled in Michigan, though, and that’s where we spent most of our time abroad.”

“Where in Michigan?” Hiroko asks. “Before Detroit.”

Leaning across the table, Yuuri pulls out his right hand to use as reference, similarly to when Viktor had first talked to him outside of the café. “We were here,” he says, pointing at the first joint on his index finger. “That’s Alpena, where I went to high school. Speaking of… Hana-nee, Minako-sensei, did either of you bring my graduation picture with you?” he looks over at them.

Minako smiles. “I brought one back just after you graduated,” she says. “I may have ‘accidentally’ left a photo album here when I visited that summer.”

Yuuri looks over at his mother, eyebrows raised in a silent question and he beams when she nods her confirmation. “I graduated with honors, you know,” he says, puffing out his chest just a bit.

“I heard,” Hiroko says, mirroring Yuuri’s grin. “Your father and I were so incredibly proud.” A moment of silence comes over the table, as Yuuri takes a second to process his emotions, but he nods.

“Thank you,” he replies.

“I wish we could have been there,” she says gently as she takes Yuuri’s hand. “We missed so much.”

“I know.” His response quiet, Yuuri moves to finish his meal. Phichit dominates the conversation, telling the royal family about his time as Yuuri’s roommate. He has the family in stitches describing their antics in the rink, the practical jokes they played on Celestino. Yuuri smiles as well, adding bits of stories that Phichit either forgot or was unaware of. Hana chimes in with stories of their time together, both before and after Yuuri moved out, and Hiroko and Mari seem to hang on every word.

Viktor can relate, some, and he’d be lying if he said he hasn’t been surprised by how his family has grown while he’s been out of touch, especially Katya. Before Russian Nationals, the last time he’d seen her she’d barely been learning to read, practicing her letters on the back pages of programs for the few competitions she’d gone to as a child. He’d had the opportunity, though, to spend time with his family and Yuuri hadn’t. That voice in the back of his mind makes itself known again, whispering, questioning if he deserves to have a loving family like he does if this is just how he’s going to act.

He smiles, kisses Yuuri’s cheek, and listens.

 

~*~

 

Viktor wakes to a hand on his shoulder. Light spills into his bedroom from the open door, and he can barely make out the familiar mop of black hair before Yuuri whispers.

“Vitya. Vitya we got food.”

Rubbing his eyes blearily, Viktor sits up, blanket sliding down his bare chest. “What do you mean, food?” he mumbles.

There’s a brief pause.

“Vitya, English?”

“What do you mean ‘we got food’?” he asks again.

“Phichit and I, we went out and got food. Meet me in your sitting room?”

Viktor nods as he rubs his eyes. Yuuri closes the door behind him as Viktor turns on his bedside lamp. Makka gives him a look as he crawls out of bed, and he scratches him behind the ears. He pulls on a t-shirt and his robe, shoving his feet into his slippers before making his way to the sitting area. When he gets to the table, he’s met with the sight of a stack of takeout containers, paper plates, and plastic cutlery. Yuuri's pulling bottles of soda and napkins out of a thin plastic bag. It’s jarringly out-of-place in the gilded surroundings, but the juxtaposition brings a smile to his face as he sniffs the air.

“It smells like tacos in here,” he says.

“That’s because it is tacos,” Phichit responds excitedly. “We found a place that serves really good Mexican food.”

“This late at night?” Viktor asks as he yawns.

Yuuri nods. “We got you some,” he says as he serves food onto the flimsy paper plates. “I didn’t know what kind of pop you like, so you can pick first. Phichit and I like all of them, so we don’t care what we get.”

Viktor takes a bottle of clear soda, setting it in front of his chair as he sits down. A plate of tacos is slid into place in front of him. Still sleepy, he stares at them for a second before remembering how to eat.

“So how—” Viktor yawns, “how did they react when you walked in, Yuuri?”

“Uhh, I was wearing glasses and a beanie, so, they don’t know.” He smiles, before taking a huge bite of food.

“They almost figured it out, though,” Phichit says. “They had his coronation portrait up on the wall and everything.”

“I was dressed down, though,” Yuuri says, “so it could have been me, but also it could just be coincidence. I think they went with coincidence.”

“Yuuri,” Phichit says around a bite of taco. “Yuuri, I have a question. If you get married to Viktor, he’ll be King-Consort, right? And he’ll be called ‘Your Majesty?’” Yuuri blushes, nodding. “And you, because you’re king, can give people titles. Right?”

“Well, within reason,” Yuuri starts, “it actually depends on – “

“That’s not a ‘no,’” Phichit interrupts. “So you can give people titles.”

“Within certain circumstances, yes,” Yuuri replies.

“So what would mine be?”

“What?” Blinking behind his glasses, Yuuri looks confused.

“If you gave me a title, what would it be?” Phichit leans across the table, taking a long drink of his soda.

“Well, assuming we’re talking entirely theoretically,” Yuuri says, “I would make you a prince, but your honorific wouldn’t be ‘Your Highness.’”

Phichit narrow his eyes, looking at Yuuri like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yuuri takes a sip of his soda before looking Phichit dead in the eye. “It would be ‘Your Bi -ness.’”

There’s a brief moment of confusion wherein Phichit blinks a few times, before he snorts and starts laughing, Yuuri quickly joining him and for a shining moment, everything feels right.

 

~*~

 

The next day finds Phichit and Viktor at the rink, accompanied by Yulian, as usual. Viktor glances at Yulian constantly during he drive over, and it’s clear after a while that Phichit hasn’t missed his discomfort. They don’t get a chance to talk until they’re in the privacy of the locker room.

“Does he follow you everywhere?”

“Yes,” Viktor replies, irritated. “I can't leave the grounds without him, or one of the others they bring in on his days off.” He yanks at his skate laces.

“Haven't you had security before?” Phichit pulls on his own skates, tying them as they talk. “Why is this different?”

“It doesn't feel the same.”

“Huh. Have you tried telling Yuuri?”

“He told me at the start it would be weird.”

Phichit frowns. “Well, it may just be that he’s used to it, you know? He may have underestimated how long it took to get used to them.”

He makes a good point. Viktor sighs, resigning himself to discomfort for the foreseeable future. “You’re right,” he says. “I’ll bring it up again at some point.” They grab their gloves and head in to practice.

It's become easier to ignore being watched, but there’s still an undercurrent of tension he can’t shake. It’s early evening when they finish, and the ride back to the palace is brief, but Viktor’s still unable to disregard that innate feeling of wrongness wrapped around the base of his neck. Phichit glances at him repeatedly, out of the corner of his eye, but doesn’t say anything.

When they arrive at the palace, they head straight to Yuuri’s office. Viktor’s glad to be out from under Yulian’s watchful eyes, and is looking forward to seeing Yuuri. He should be done for the day, though he’s likely still reading through the mountain of legislation ever-present on his desk. Phichit stops when they pass the hall to his room, looking back.

“I’ll catch up with you later, I just showered,” he says, as if that’s supposed to mean something. Viktor raises an eyebrow. “I normally pray after I shower,” he clarifies.

“Ah. We’ll see you when you're done?”

Phichit nods, smiling. “I’ll text!” he says, before vanishing down the hall.

Viktor continues to Yuuri’s office, the route becoming familiar after his time at the palace. The door is cracked when he gets there, and he opens it further as he peeks in. Yuuri’s at his desk, reading, but Makka bounds over from the corner happily, jumping up on Viktor. The resulting laugh pulls Yuuri’s attention from the papers in front of him, and he smiles, standing up.

After closing the door, Yuuri wraps his arms around Viktor, leaning up for a kiss. “How was practice?” he asks.

“Good,” Viktor says, “for the most part.”

“What happened?” Yuuri leads Viktor into the sitting room, closing the door behind them. “Is there an issue with the rink?”

“No.”

“The Nishigoris?”

“No.”

Yuuri frowns. “Vitya, is there an issue with your bodyguards? Yulian specifically?”

“Not with them,” Viktor says, frustrated, “they haven’t done anything.”

“But does it have something to do with them?”

“No. Yes? I don’t know, Yuuri. They make me uncomfortable.” He scratches the back of his head. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what’s bothering him, but whatever it is is almost impossible to ignore.

“I can have a discussion about privacy with them, if you feel like they’re being too invasive.”

“They’re not being invasive,” Viktor replies. “They’re just doing their jobs.” He’s had invasive bodyguards before, for one event or another, and the team Yuuri’s gotten are nothing if not professional. They keep established boundaries, they interfere very little, and there’s really no reason to say they’re anything but exemplary.

“Then I don’t see what the issue is. If it’s not privacy, then what is it?”

“It's - it's having them that's the issue!” It’s the fact that he can’t even think about them without feeling a prickling on the back of his neck.

“You've had security details before, Vitya. I don't see why it's a huge deal now! It's not like they're controlling your movements or anything.” Yuuri’s gesturing wildly now, in a way he hasn’t seen since Detroit and a sort of grief settles in him as his frustration builds.

“That’s not the problem!” The lack of control… that has something to do with what Viktor’s feeling but it’s not the root of the issues.

“Then what is? What is it that's got you so upset?”

Viktor turns away, trying to put everything into words and failing miserably. “They're just… there.”

“So tell them to keep a bit more distance when they can. Ask them to blend in more.”

“I have,” Viktor responds. He turns around. Yuuri’s massaging his temples, crown set aside. “It doesn’t help, Yuuri. They’re always watching, always there and it just…”

“Vitya, I don’t know what to tell you.” Exasperated, Yuuri rubs his temples. “That’s what happens when you have bodyguards with you. You’re constantly watched. You haven't had issues with having guards at the palace so far, and it's the same lack of privacy!”

“The palace is different!”

“It isn’t, though!” Yuuri’s standing now, leaning on his desk with one hand. He looks frustrated too, as if the feels like there’s something Viktor’s just too oblivious to see but should be able to.

“Yuuri, they’re guarding me!”

“Vitya,” Yuuri sighs, and regardless of how it was meant it sounds condescending. “That’s the entire point of you having bodyguards. They’re there to keep you safe.”

“I know that!” Blinking back angry tears, Viktor runs his fingers through his hair. Everything about this feels wrong, has felt wrong, and Yuuri’s making it seem like Viktor’s making a big deal of nothing. Like he can’t understand the feeling of being constantly watched, being hovered over no matter what he does. The irrational fear Viktor feels when he remembers that he has bodyguards. Yuuri should understand, he’s as frustrated by their presence as Viktor is sometimes.

There’s a gentle, patterned knock on the door, before Hiroko comes in. Yuuri sighs. “Are we disturbing people?”

“You’re fine, Yuuri-kun. I have some input, if you boys would sit down.”

Yuuri crosses his arms, sitting in an armchair. Viktor takes the one opposite him, and Hiroko sits on the couch between them. “I don’t know what sort of input, Vitya and I have been arguing in circles.”

“Some perspective, then,” she says. “You two are seeing things in a fundamentally different way. The way you two understand the world doesn’t mesh, not completely, and I don’t think either of you have had to put words to it before.” Yuuri crosses his legs under him.

“Kaa-san, after fifteen years, I think I have some perspective.”

“Not like this, Yuuri-kun. Vicchan,” she says kindly, looking at Viktor, “would you agree if I said it’s less about the fact that you’re being guarded, so much as it is about the fact that it’s you being guarded?” They must have been pretty loud.

Opening his mouth, Viktor leans forward to explain before closing it. He frowns. “It… sounds right,” he says, “it’s just hard to explain.”

She smiles. “It’s a different feeling,” she says, “when your bodyguards are there for your personal safety, rather than to keep things running smoothly for you. Especially when it’s constant. Vicchan, what have your experiences with security detail been like before? What function did they perform?”

“Mostly escorting. Keeping me from being hounded by fans and the press, making sure I was able to get into my hotel rooms and the competition venue as needed, like in Ostrava. Occasionally I had to have them with me while sightseeing, but that was only a couple of times.”

“They made it so you could do what you needed to do without much trouble,” she says. Viktor nods. Hiroko continues, “And when you weren’t at risk of being hounded you didn’t have them.” He nods again.

“It’s never been about making sure I personally was kept safe,” he says softly. “It was about where I was, rather than only who I was.”

Yuuri just stares blankly. Viktor moves forward to make his point before Hiroko holds up a hand. “Yuuri-kun. Most people aren’t used to the feeling of needing to be protected. That feeling of imminent danger, like any second your bodyguards are going to have to jump in for something. Just the knowledge that you’re in that sort of position can be intimidating.”

“Why would the palace be any better, though?” Yuuri asks. “There are guards everywhere here, they’re all over the place, watching everything.”

“Because it’s not focused on Vicchan. There’s a very strong difference between the feeling of having a lot of police around, and having a police escort for you personally. It’s a much heavier weight.”

Yuuri frowns, and Hiroko looks back at Viktor. “Vicchan,” she says, “What you need to understand is that Yuuri-kun hasn’t had a time in his life where he hasn’t had guards. Even in the U.S., he lived with a bodyguard who then accompanied him in public until he moved out.”

“And even after I did,” Yuuri mutters.

Hiroko sighs. “Vicchan, That feeling of being guarded, needing to be protected, is something he’s grown up with. To him, it’s as normal as breathing.” She looks at Yuuri. “Is it safe to say you thought his problem only had to do with the lack of privacy?”

Yuuri nods.

“You two see the world very differently, in some respects. Vicchan, it honestly wouldn’t have occured to Yuuri to think that bodyguards would ever be anything other than reassuring, outside of the issues with privacy. Yuuri-kun, you need to try to remember that Vicchan has never been someone who needed full-time protection like this. That the feeling of constantly being under threat is hard to adapt to. I still have trouble,” she says smiling, “And I married your father over thirty years ago.”

Yuuri’s eyes widen in understanding, before he nods.

“Hiroko-san,” Viktor says, “I'm not sure I understand.”

“I wasn’t born into this, Vicchan,” she says. “I was about as low on the social scale as you could go and still be considered nobility. I had a title, yes, but I was nowhere near royal. My experiences with security details were very similar to your own, more about the situation than who I was. When I started dating my late husband, it was a period of huge adjustment. I went from relative unimportance to being with the second most powerful man in the nation at the time. It took some work, but I learned to adapt. I have a very intimate understanding of the situation in which you find yourself.”

Viktor nods.

“Yuuri,” she says gently, “you have to remember, when it comes to this relationship, that Vicchan isn’t just dating you. If you two marry he won’t just become your spouse, he’ll become a royal, and King-Consort at that.”

He’ll become a royal. Somehow, it hasn’t occurred to him before now, that there was more to being with Yuuri, more to being royal than just living at the palace, making appearances, and dealing with the increased social and media pressure and the lack of privacy. Nervously, he glances at Yuuri, who’s staring at his hands in his lap with a contemplative look.

“This is what Yuuri meant,” Viktor thinks. This feeling of threat, this scrutiny, the pressure of being part of the highest echelons of society. The last few weeks have been a mindblowing blur, a haze of trying to adapt to life at the palace, but it’s since become easier. Yuuri’s demeanor no longer unsettles Viktor each time he sees the shift, and while remembering he’s with the most powerful man in the nation still takes him by surprise, it isn’t as jarring as it used to be. He’s adapted well so far. He’ll continue to do so.

The prospect of any other course of action is almost unthinkable.

 

Hiroko takes her leave a minute later, kissing Yuuri’s forehead, before walking over and giving Viktor a fond pat on the cheek and a loving smile. When the door closes behind her, Viktor moves himself to sit on the couch, and after a moment Yuuri joins him.

“I’m sorry,” he says, staring at the empty fireplace in front of them. “I didn’t realize it would be so… different.”

“It’s alright, Lyubov.”

“This must be awful,” Yuuri whispers.

“No,” Viktor responds. “It’s… it’s not easy but I still mean it when I say there’s nowhere I’d rather be than by your side, Yuuri.” Quiet, shaky, Viktor reaches his hand out to his boyfriend, feeling Yuuri’s long fingers clasp it firmly.

“Vitya,” he says, “you need to think about this, really.”

“You think I haven’t been?” Yuuri looks up at him; nervous, apprehensive, he takes a shaky breath as he meets Viktor’s gaze. “Yuuri, almost every night for a month and a half I’ve gone to bed in a palace, I’ve seen you work day-to-day, we’ve gone to appearances together. I’ve even survived Euros and Minako’s lessons.”

Yuuri snorts at that, but shifts so one knee is on the couch and his body is facing Viktor. “There haven’t been any State Events yet, you haven’t—”

“Yuuri,” Viktor says, “I’ve been going to galas and banquets and formal events for years. I’ve been to the MET Gala. Several times. I know it’s not quite royal, but it’s… it’s close enough. I’ve gotten an idea, Minako’s been working with me, and I think I can handle this. I’m sure I can handle this, Yuuri. I’ve been a public figure for a decade, now. Technically I’ve done most of this more than you.”

“I was trained , Vitya.”

“I have experience,” he replies, “and you really think Lilia didn’t give me some training? Yuuri, I’m adaptable. I can learn rules, manners, new forms of address. I don’t have to get used to fame, I don’t have to get used to a public persona. I have all of that. I’m well-equipped for this.” He cups Yuuri’s cheek, gently stroking Yuuri’s lip with his thumb. “Lyubov moya, please,” he says and it comes out more broken, more scared than he wants it to and he finds himself biting his lower lip, trying to swallow the confusing jumble of emotions his heart has become.

He’s sure of himself, sure of his decision, but he’s afraid. Terrified of losing Yuuri and worried about what this choice will come to mean for them, for him, but a world without Yuuri seems worse, more intimidating and lonely than it had been even when he’d made the choice to stay in Detroit. With wide eyes, he looks up at his boyfriend, taking Yuuri’s hands in his own and rubbing the backs with his thumbs. Yuuri wants this, it’s clear, and he’s trying to make sure Viktor’s ready, but Viktor doesn’t know how else to persuade him that he is.

“Yuuri,” he says fervently, “the idea of losing you, the idea of going back to how it was… it’s more frightening than the idea of this life being mine.”

“You’re scared of becoming royal?”

Of course that would be Yuuri’s takeaway. Sighing, Viktor shifts as close as he can. “It’s not that, it- it’s daunting, yes. I know it’s going to take work. I know it’s going to be different. But nothing I’ve experienced, even Europeans, has made me even consider changing my mind.”

With a pensive expression Yuuri looks at him. After a long moment, he takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Vitya,” he says, unusually vulnerable as his hands tighten around Viktor’s fingers. “Vityusha. If you’re sure…”

“I am,” he says.

“The nobility won’t take kindly to me announcing an engagement right now. Not to you.” It’s not a no. Yuuri looks sad, yet hopeful, his eyes flicker back and forth as he tries to find a solution.

“So don’t.” Yuuri's eyes widen. “Lyubov, they shouldn’t have any say. There’s no legal precedent against this, and it’s none of their business what you do in your personal life. We’re working towards this anyway, are we not?”

There’s a second of silence, and then a smile crawls across Yuuri’s face until he’s beaming at Viktor, eyes sparkling. “You’re sure,” he says again.

“Yes.”

“You want to marry me.” It sounds like Yuuri almost can’t believe it, won’t let himself believe it just yet.

“I do, Lyubov moya,” he murmurs. “Will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?” It’s not how Viktor wanted the proposal to go, but the happiness in Yuuri’s face is wonderful all the same and his heart soars.

“Yes,” Yuuri whispers emphatically. “Yes. Nothing could make me happier.” Hands reaching out suddenly, Yuuri grabs the front of Viktor’s jacket, pulling him forward and kissing him deeply. Viktor reaches his arms around, wrapping them around Yuuri and pulling him back until Yuuri’s practically in his lap, still kissing him, still holding onto his jacket.

When they break apart Yuuri rests his cheek on Viktor’s chest, drawing circles with his fingers on the opposite shoulder. “I love you,” he whispers after a few minutes.

“I love you too,” Viktor replies.

“We can’t tell anyone,” Yuuri says quietly. “Not my mom, not Mari, not your family. We shouldn’t even talk about it. No one can know you’re my…”

“Fiancé,” Viktor finishes, kissing his forehead. “Of course, Lyubov.”

Yuuri snuggles into him. “I like the sound of ‘fiancé,’” he says softly.

“Me, too,” Viktor replies. “Yuuri?”

“Hm?”

“We can tell Makka, right?” Viktor asks.

Yuuri snorts. “If we do so very quietly. He deserves to know.”

There’s an abrupt sensation of vibrations against Viktor’s leg, and Yuuri lifts his hip, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Phichit’s lost,” he says a second later. “Somehow he ended up in the front entrance, down near the throne room?” Tapping out a quick message, Yuuri kisses Viktor before he sits up. “Let's go fetch him,” he says, standing and holding his hand out. “We're playing video games tonight and I got the kitchen to make healthy snacks. I have tomorrow off so I can just stay up and hang with you guys. I thought it’d be nice.”

Viktor takes his hand, pulling himself to standing, and kisses his nose. “That sounds nice,” he says. “Do you think they’d bring tea up?”

“I'm sure that can be arranged,” Yuuri replies. He kisses Viktor, tender and loving and achingly beautiful and Viktor’s heart skips in his chest.

“Mine,” he whispers, meeting Yuuri’s eyes.

“Yours,” is the breathless response, before Yuuri pulls him in for another kiss. “Yours.”

 

~*~

The door to the sitting room opens, pulling Phichit, Mari, and Viktor’s attention before it closes behind Yuuri. After making his way over, Yuuri flops down next to Viktor, setting his crown to the side before leaning on his shoulder. In response, Viktor wraps his arm around him, kissing the top of his head. “Everything going alright, Lyubov?”

“Research sucks.”

“I thought you were mostly done?” Viktor massages his shoulder.

Sighing, Yuuri nods. “I am, but I have to integrate some of the new information I have, and then I need to update my powerpoint and bibliography, then my teacher’s expecting an annotated bibliography for some reason.”

Phichit makes a disgusted noise. “Does he know you have a country to run?”

Yuuri groans. “That’s why he’s not making me turn in a thorough analysis of someone else’s paper and methodology. He likes to see how we’ll peer-review things if it comes down to it. He says since it’s a government class, we need to ‘demonstrate practical knowledge of governmental systems and how accountability is maintained between different departments’ or some bullshit like that?”

Sighing, Yuuri leans his head back against the cushion. “Apparently running a country is an acceptable way to ‘demonstrate practical knowledge’ and honestly, I’m not going to argue. I still think he should have let me just test out of the class, I can explain the inner workings of Akitsushima’s government, and most other systems, feverish and half-asleep. I’ve done it with my bodyguard. Anyway, my paper’s pretty much finished and I’m almost done with the powerpoint, but that doesn’t stop research from sucking.”

“Don’t you have a test next week?” Viktor asks gently.

“Shit.” Massaging his temple with one hand, Yuuri pulls out his phone. “I’ll need to have them clear that block of time in my schedule if I haven't already, maybe cancel the meeting right before.”

Mari leans forward, chiming in for the first time. “Yuuri, you don’t need your degree. Why are you working so hard?”

Yuuri looks at her. He raises an eyebrow, letting out a sigh. “Mari, I’m not taking another extra year to finish my degree, and there’s no way I’m going to quit when I’ve gotten this far.”

“Suit yourself,” she says, sitting back, “I just don’t understand why you’d put so much pressure on yourself while you were essentially on vacation.”

“Excuse me?” Yuuri says. Smile gone, his voice is frozen anger, his expression full of daggers as he sits up straight. Viktor and Phichit go still, watching the siblings as the temperature in the room plummets.

“While you were in the—”

“United States, yes, I know what you were referring to, Mari. My issue is the way to which it was referred.” He’s wearing his court voice, fixing Mari with a steel glare. “You think I was having fun?”

“Yuuri, I know it wasn’t the most ideal situation, but—”

“Ideal? Ideal?! Of course it wasn’t ideal, Mari! It was one of the worst decisions our parents ever made!”

“Yuuri, we were trying to keep you safe!”

“Look at it from my perspective! Someone tries to murder me at seven fucking years old. I watch my bodyguard die in front of me from a cookie I literally handed to her, one that was meant for me, only to be—” he takes a deep breath, clenching his fists on his knees. “You guys sent me out of the country and practically left me to fend for myself. No family, no support beyond a fucking bodyguard for the first few years in an entirely unfamiliar country.”

“Yuuri, we—”

“No.” Yuuri sits up straight. “Hear me out, before you say anything.” Mari nods, folding her hands in her lap. “Mari-neechan, I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew I had to act ‘normal’ to survive, but I didn’t know how! I had to learn on the fly and I was eight years old, scared, and I couldn’t even call you guys. I didn’t hear your voices again until I was almost thirteen, Mari. Five years!”

“We had to make sure it was safe! They could have tracked the calls! Yuuri, you – “

“Let me finish!” Yuuri shouts, and tears run down his face. “I’ve been sitting on this for fifteen years, you’re going to hear me out! This wasn’t a fucking vacation, I was running for my life. I was terrified, I was practically alone, and I couldn’t talk to anyone other than my bodyguard! I was sixteen when Minako-sensei came out. Almost seventeen when I got a therapist. Do you know how it feels to have to lie every second of the day? To examine every detail of every story you want to tell for years to make sure it doesn’t give anything away?!” He rubs his cheeks, making sure to avoid messing with his contacts. “I pretty much wasn’t allowed friends, Mari, not when I knew I could be moving in a year, maybe two. Between that and the constant change of identity, I didn’t even know who I was by the time I hit high school.”

“I’m sorry, Yuuri, we didn’t know how bad it was.”

“Mari, do you know how it felt to have to – “ he looks at Viktor, biting his lower lip before looking back. “Do you know how awful it felt to have to look my – my fucking boyfriend, the love of my fucking life, in the eye and lie out my teeth about even the most innocuous things? And then, and then, I had to plan to come back, to likely rule a country I hadn’t set foot in in well over a decade, and lie every step of the way? I dragged him here under false pretenses, and he found out at the last. Possible. Moment. Because the security team couldn’t be bothered to actually do their jobs.”

“Background checks take ti – “

“Time! Yes! I’m well aware of that,” Yuuri says angrily. “So explain to me why Phichit’s was done in a week and Viktor’s took months.” He crosses his arms, leaning back on the couch.

“I don’t know, Yuuri!” Mari’s face is red, her eyes glistening as she pulls out a cigarette. She lights it with shaking hands, taking a long draw. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so flippant, I didn’t think about how it must have felt. I didn’t realize how awful it must have been.” Her voice is thick, hands still trembling as she looks at her brother.

Yuuri nods, biting his lower lip. He opens his mouth to say something, but freezes as a door clicks closed behind him. Hiroko makes her way across the room, face filled with sadness. When he sees her, Yuuri's expression crumbles. “Okaa-san, I—”

Suddenly quiet as Hiroko sits next to him, he swallows thickly before opening his mouth again, closing it when she takes his hands in her own. She doesn’t speak, but the tears in her eyes say enough. She’d heard everything.

Phichit shifts uncomfortably. “Yuuri?” he asks softly.

Yuuri looks over. “Y-yeah?”

“Viktor and I…should we let you guys talk?”

“That might be best,” Mari says from the armchair.

When Yuuri nods his agreement, Viktor and Phichit stand. Phichit walks over to the door, while Viktor walks over to Yuuri, kissing him gently on the lips. “I’m going to take Makka out, Lyubov, and then I’ll be with Phichit. Let us know when you’re ready for us?”

Yuuri nods, kissing him again with a wan smile before they head out.

“Wow,” Viktor says when they’re down the hall.

“He’s been sitting on that for years, I’m surprised it took this long.” Phichit shoves his hands in his pockets as they walk. Makka follows diligently, and they stop in Phichit’s room, then Viktor’s, for their jackets. Together, they head into the gardens, wandering for a while while Makkachin explores.

 

They’re back in Viktor’s rooms by the time Yuuri’s done, and when he shows up his eyes are red and puffy behind his glasses. After closing the door behind him, he gravitates towards Viktor, falling into his arms and burying his face in his chest.

“Do you want to talk about it, Lyubov?”

Yuuri shakes his head.

“We can play a game,” Phichit says. “Don’t you have Mario Kart?”

Yuuri nods. Phichit gets the game set up, Viktor makes a pot of tea, and Yuuri curls up in a blanket on the couch. Even as they start playing, Viktor can tell Yuuri’s not doing well. His driving is erratic, and even Viktor manages to beat him several times in a row. After the second time Yuuri comes in dead last, Phichit pauses the game.

“Do I need to find The King and the Skater?”

Lip trembling, Yuuri scowls at the blanket he’s wrapped in. “I don’t need a fucking movie right now,” he bites.

“Well, Mario Kart is clearly not doing its job, and you don’t want to talk.” Yuuri curls further in on himself. “When’s your next therapy appointment?”

“In a few days,” Yuuri replies. “I like Mario Kart.”

Phichit and Viktor look at each other. Yuuri’s obviously not ok, obviously doing his best to cling to whatever distractions are available and it’s not immediately clear whether they should urge him to talk about it or encourage the bottling-up he’s been doing.

“Do you want me to call Hana?” Yuuri looks up, as if only now remembering that would be an option. Phichit slouches so he’s at eye level. “It’s ok if you want me to call Hana. You can need me to call Hana, you know.”

“I get it,” Yuuri says. “No. I just. I need to stop panicking. I need to not talk about anything, or think about anything, or do anything.” He rests his chin on his knees, eyes starting to glisten as he stares at the television.

Viktor looks at him. “Do you need me to get your pills, Lyubov?”

“Please.” Standing, Viktor goes into the bedroom, and then the bathroom, easily finding the bottle of pills on the counter. He gives them to Phichit as he grabs water for Yuuri, setting the kettle to boil while he’s at it. Water in hand, Yuuri takes his meds and drains the rest of the bottle, replacing the cap before expertly throwing it into the trash can. He smiles, Phichit helps Yuuri figure out what sort of distraction he wants; video games are fine but he’d rather not play, and by the time Viktor walks over with tea two-player Mario Kart is on the screen. Yuuri leans on him when he sits down, whispering a thank-you for the tea.

“So what’s happening,” Phichit says, “is you’re going to race with me, and Yuuri’s gonna tell you when to use your items. Honestly, Vitya, there’s a strategy to item usage.”

He looks down at Yuuri, who nods in confirmation as he blows across the top of the mug. When Viktor chooses his character and car, Yuuri gives input so it’ll better suit Viktor’s driving style, and before long he’s doing his best to race against Phichit. It’s fast, high-paced (even though Yuuri assures him it’s on the lowest difficulty,) and he finds himself grateful for Yuuri’s guidance as he slowly starts improving. Yuuri seems to think he’s doing better as well, because slowly, his advice gets less frequent and he lets Viktor make his own choices as far as driving goes.

They’re about to start another race when Phichit looks over and pauses the game. Lifting a finger to his lips, he points at Yuuri. Dozing gently on Viktor’s shoulder, finally looks calm. Viktor points towards the bedroom, asking if they should get Yuuri in bed and Phichit nods. Between Phichit holding Yuuri in place so Viktor can move and Viktor picking him up and carrying him, Phichit guiding Yuuri’s legs and pulling back the covers, they get Yuuri tucked into bed.

 

~*~

 

Phichit and Viktor turn the corner, slowing when they hear arguing ahead. As they approach, the tone becomes angrier, almost accusing. They stop when they hear Yuuri raise his voice.

“Once again, I will remind you that I am your King! What I do in my personal life, and with whom, is no business of yours. I serve my country and my people, Your Grace, not your whims nor your outdated ideals of what constitutes propriety. You may take your leave.”

There’s a hushed murmur, before Yuuri says angrily, “I said you are dismissed.”

Phichit pulls Viktor into a nearby alcove as the door opens quickly, an older man in a kimono and hakama storming past. Viktor peeks around the corner, making sure the coast is clear, before gesturing to Phichit to follow. When they reach the open door, they see Yuuri standing in front of the hearth, arms crossed and a pensive look on his face. Rapping lightly on the open door, Viktor smiles when Yuuri looks his way.

Yuuri tries for an exhausted grin, but lets his face drop when he realizes neither Viktor nor Phichit are fooled.

“What was that about?” Viktor asks as he approaches.

Yuuri glances around the room, eyes coming to rest on the open door. “Phichit, close the door, would you?”

When the door is shut, Yuuri gravitates towards Viktor, leaning on him. “The nobility seem to think they can get away with telling me what to do. I don’t really want to talk about it right now.”

Viktor rubs his back soothingly as Yuuri sighs. “What would you like to do, Lyubov?” He asks.

“There’s nothing to do,” Yuuri replies. “I have to meet with a small group of diplomats sent from the United States in about 20 minutes? You guys will be on your own for a bit, unfortunately.”

“We can entertain ourselves,” Viktor says, laughing.

Yuuri pulls back, raising one perfect eyebrow before glancing between them. “If you say so. Don’t destroy my palace, though.”

“Is today a tour day? I know there aren’t as many in late winter.” Phichit says. When Yuuri nods, he grins. “Viktor and I could do that. Take an ‘Official’ tour.”

“I know where to find cute Yuuri pictures,” Viktor says, smiling. Yuuri looks at him and blushes.

“Where?” Phichit asks excitedly.

“There’s one in this sitting room near a ballroom,” Viktor replies, “And another in the library. And I’m sure if we come across the Queen Mother she’d be more than happy to show us his baby pictures.”

“Vitya!” Yuuri hides his face behind his hands.

Phichit smiles like Viktor’s handed him the world. “I found this cute picture once of Yuuri as a little kid at an event? It was adorable, he was scowling and his little cheeks were puffed out.”

“Phichit stop,” Yuuri says. His face is still hidden, but his ears are bright red.

“I saw a picture of him streaking through one of the fancier sitting rooms,” Viktor says, grinning.

“Royal eyeroll at a state dinner, he was three seats from the Queen of England and he had something green on his nose.” Phichit smirks. An undignified squeak comes from Yuuri's direction, and both Viktor’s and Phichit’s smiles widen.

“Ice cream on the nose at a state dinner, on a dais in front of everyone.”

Phichit gasps. “Baby Yuuri rolling around on the grass!”

“That was staged,” Yuuri says from the corner. “Doesn’t count as candid.”

Phichit frowns. “What about that one of you on the fancy bookshelf? When your dad’s trying to get you down?”

“There’s a picture of that?!” Yuuri and Viktor say in unison.

“Yuuri,” Viktor says, “you didn’t tell me they’d taken pictures!!”

“I didn’t know,” Yuuri responds.

“I’ll find it again,” Phichit says, “don’t worry.”

Viktor turns back to Phichit with a self-satisfied grin. “I appreciate it, but consider: tiny Yuuri on ice skates.” Viktor drops his trump card, and Phichit’s flabbergasted look tells him he won.

“You said his mother has plenty of pictures?” Phichit asks, glancing at Yuuri, who’s now leaning against the wall with his face buried in his arms.

“She does,” Viktor says smugly. Yuuri groans.

“You two are impossible,” he says.

There’s a knock on the door, causing Yuuri to jerk back and stand up straight. An attendant enters shortly, bowing. “Your Majesty,” she says, “Foreign Relations is here to give you a briefing for your upcoming meeting.”

Yuuri looks at her, pink still dusting his cheeks, but he gives a nod and dismisses her. Walking over to Viktor, his shoulders tense and he leans on his chest. “You guys should take off,” he says. “I’ll send a text when I’m done, this is my last meeting for today. It should only be a few hours.”

Nodding, Viktor kisses the top of his head.

“Ok, Velichestvo,” he says gently. “We’ll be here when you’re done, yes?”

Yuuri nods, and as they go to leave, Viktor sees him sigh and rub his face vigorously. It seems like he’s traded the burden of secrecy for the burden of responsibility, and Viktor wishes he could kiss the tension away.

 

The tour is far less interesting than Phichit and Viktor had planned, barely touching on anything to do with Yuuri’s childhood. It ends near a small gift shop, full of Royal memorabilia. Stuffed animals and small toys are available, all with some sort of connection to the royal family. There’s stationary, portraits, and books, and it’s pretty much like every other gift shop Viktor’s had the pleasure to set foot in, only this time his fiancé’s face stares from several different directions, his official portrait hung on the walls and in various pieces of art. Viktor swallows thickly, and Phichit looks both disturbed and strangely thrilled by this new development. After asking if he can take pictures, Phichit snaps a few selfies with some of the worst of the memorabilia, grinning as he plays with his phone.

“Are you posting that to Instagram?” Viktor asks.

“Nope. I’m texting them to Yu-“ Phichit looks around. “I’m texting them to a friend.”

“Do you text your friend pictures of this sort often?”

Grinning, Phichit nods. “Every time I find something… interesting. I’ll show you some of the texts sometime.” Viktor nods. It’s not long before he begins to attract attention and people whisper behind their hands as they stare. They make their way back to the residential area, moving slowly so as not to call even more attention to themselves, and sigh in relief once they’ve made it, heading out to the private gardens towards the rear of the palace.

 

“It’s weird, huh? Seeing him like this?” Phichit’s voice is soft as he leans against the railing with Viktor, looking out over the snowy palace grounds shimmering in the starlight.

Viktor looks at him. “What do you mean? You’ve known for years.”

“I have, but I’ve never seen it like… this.” Phichit smiles. “He really wanted to tell you, you know.”

“He said.” Sighing, Viktor looks at the stars. There aren’t a whole awful lot, being in the middle of a city as they are, and he wonders if Yuuri misses the stars in Michigan. He’d talked fondly of them on more than one occasion, had always wanted to take Viktor out to the countryside .

“Vity- sorry, I’m used to hearing Yuuri talk about you, and—”

“Vitya’s fine, Phichit,” Viktor interrupts. “At this point, I think we can call ourselves friends.”

Phichit nods, “I just… Yuuri fought so hard his bodyguard felt the need to remind me, personally, that I’d signed an NDA and couldn’t tell you, even if Yuuri had asked.” Viktor nods in understanding. Smiling, Phichit cocks one eyebrow. “He’d already asked three times at that point.”

“Wow.” Yuuri’s relief at the airport makes more sense as time passes. He’d wanted to alert Viktor, to let him have as much time as possible and if he’d been forbidden to tell, the next best thing was Viktor somehow, by some miracle, putting the pieces together himself.

An attendant comes outside at that point, carrying a tray with two steaming mugs. He gives a short bow. “His Royal Majesty requested hot chocolate be brought to you, sirs.”

Phichit smiles, taking the mugs and handing one to Viktor. “Um, thanks. And tell His Majesty thanks too, please.”

“I will inform His Royal Majesty of your gratitude, Mr. Chulanont.”

“Mine as well, if you will.” Viktor adds.

Tucking the silver tray under his arm, the attendant gives another bow. “As you wish, Mr. Nikiforov.” Turning on his heel, he marches back into the palace, closing the door gently behind him.

Viktor takes a long sip, looking out over the grounds and leaning on the railing. The chocolate is warm and thick, handmade whipped cream floating delicately on top. Viktor licks it off his top lip. Phichit turns as well, looking up at the sky and a cool breeze rustles the treetops as they drink their cocoa, the night quiet and still otherwise.

“My background check was done in a few days. I wonder what took them so long for you.” Phichit says, frowning.

“It’s because Vitya’s a foreigner,” Yuuri says, footsteps crunching in the snow as he makes his way over holding his own ceramic travel mug. He leans against the railing between them, kissing Viktor’s shoulder before taking a drink.

“What does me being foreign have to do with anything? Phichit’s not Sachiman either.”

“Traditionalist sentiment is strong in this country. My dad had enough trouble getting people to accept his relationship with my mom, and she was a lower-born Sachiman noble. You’re not only…”

“Common?” Viktor smiles reassuringly, as best he can.

Yuuri blushes and nods. “Not only are you common, but you’re a foreigner in a romantic relationship with their monarch. Well, at the time I was next in line, but still. Most people won’t have a problem with it, but the nobility isn’t ‘most people.’ They probably had the security team just keep delaying, hoping I’d break up with you, to be honest. Or you’d break up with me.”

Viktor frowns. “They’d really go that far, huh?” He didn’t want Georgi to be right. He had really been hoping Georgi wasn’t right.

“Yeah, Vitya. They would.”

Wrapping his arm around Yuuri, Phichit leans close. “Is that what the yelling was about earlier?”

He nods. “They’re not exactly fans of my choice of partner. Apparently, I can do better than ‘some foreign athlete’,” he finishes, with one-handed finger quotes.

Viktor kisses his cheek as he wraps his free arm around his waist. “Let’s talk about nicer things, yes? Let’s enjoy Phichit’s last night here,” he says, trying to diffuse the tension. Yuuri relaxes in his arms, uncoiling enough to let himself lean on the railing. He frowns, lost in thought as he sips his tea.

“We should watch a movie!” Phichit exclaims cheerfully. “Viktor, have you seen The King and the Skater?”

“I can’t say I have,” Viktor says as he finishes his cocoa.

Phichit’s eyes glimmer excitedly.

“It's only fitting, you know,” he says.

 

~*~

 

Goodbyes are harder than even Viktor expected them to be. Makka accompanies them to the airport, and Yuuri spends the drive curled up next to Phichit. They talk in hushed tones, not to exclude Viktor specifically but because that’s just how they do things. He’s fine with it, used to their friendship and more than ok with giving Yuuri the space he needs. When they reach the hangar, Phichit’s luggage is loaded onto the plane while he and Yuurie say their last farewell.

When they finish, Phichit comes over to Viktor. “I'm glad you're doing alright, Vitya,” he says. “It’s been great training with you.”

“You as well,” Viktor responds. “I'm looking forward to seeing what you bring to the next competition!”

Phichit grins. “I'll have a quad next season, if not before.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Viktor smiles as Phichit gives him a quick hug, returning it easily.

“I'll let you know when I can head to your place,” he says, holding up the apartment key Viktor gave him. “I'll call you while I'm there,  make sure I'm getting the right stuff.”

“I appreciate it,” Viktor says, “and the cash in my desk can be used to pay for shipping.”

“I'll stick the rest in a box,” Phichit says, “or I'll mail it separately.”

“Keep it,” Viktor replies with a wave of his hand, “you're doing me a huge favor.”

“If you're sure,” Phichit says, laughing. He glances at Yuuri, looks back up at Viktor. “Take care of him, yes?”

Viktor nods. “You know I will.”

Phichit purses his lips, opens his mouth to say something but thinks better of it and nods. “I know. You’re sure about this? About everything?”

“As sure as I can be,” Viktor replies. Phichit’s concern seems both excessive and well-warranted, and it’s not that he doesn’t think Yuuri can handle himself, but Yuuri’s his best friend and for the first time in almost four years, they’ll be living apart.

Yuuri spends a few minutes to the side with Phichit, chatting, and Viktor thinks back to the airport in Detroit. Back to the tearful goodbyes that had seemed so uncharacteristic of a even a study trip and the memories hurt worse now that he knows what they were mourning. Normalcy, the life they had. And Viktor had stood watching them, with an excited grin on his face, heady anticipation coursing through his veins. Part of him feels bad, even though he’d had no way of knowing.

There are tears still, but not the same look of pain on Yuuri’s face. Of dread. Viktor had been so quick to chalk it up to a dislike of travel, to anxiety about the assignment, about his schooling, about being in a foreign country, but he’d been so wrong and he wonders how it all would have gone if he’d known. There are more hugs all around, Yuuri and Phichit holding tight for a moment, before Phichit kneels to pet Makka. Before getting on the plane, Phichit takes a selfie, all three of them gathered around Makkachin

“Can I tag you?” he asks Yuuri.

Yuuri nods. “Yeah,” he says, “I triple-checked tagging rules yesterday. It has to be the personal account, though.”

“Which one’s that?” Phichit furrows his brow as he types the caption.

“It’s the one without ‘official’ at the end.”

Chuckling to himself, Phichit finishes typing the caption out, lightning-fast. “Gotcha,” he says. He locks his phone, putting it in his pocket, and pulling both of them into a hug again.

“Take care, nerds,” he says, before turning and walking up the stairway. Viktor grabs Makkachin’s leash, keeping him safely at his side.

They stay and watch as the doors are closed, and Yuuri stares after the plane as it taxis out of the hangar. Once it’s out of sight, his shoulders slump some. “I’m going to miss him,” he says. “I’m really going to miss him. I miss his hamsters, too.”

Viktor puts his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders. “I will, too.”

Yuuri smiles up at him, resting his head on Viktor’s shoulder before they head back to the palace.

 

~*~

 

“So why are there four of you, again?” Viktor’s bodyguards look over from their seats across the plane. “I’ve only ever had two on official engagements,” he says, “and now there are four of you.”

One of them leans back in her seat. “My primary job is to drive. I’ll be staying with the car to make sure it’s not tampered with, and will be transporting you to and from the competition, as well as any other locations you would like to visit. These three,” she says, gesturing at the others, “will be with you at all times. One will go ahead, to make sure the path of travel is safe, the other two will stay with you to prevent incidents similar to what happened in Ostrava.”

“I see.” Viktor goes back to looking out the window. It seems excessive, but he’ll effectively only have two with him so likely not as excessive as it could be. Yuuri has three when they go to the rink alone. A situation like this, he’d probably have six or so minimum.

The flight doesn’t last long at all, with Sachima’s proximity to Japan, and it still feels like they’ve barely taken off when the pilot announces they’ll be landing soon. The drive to the hotel is uneventful, and Japan’s paparazzi laws mean he’s not hounded on his way in. Yakov meets him in the lobby, room key in hand before following him up to the room.

They’re not allowed to enter before a perfunctory check is done, but when they do Viktor puts his gear and garment bag on the bed, his suitcase at the foot. Since he has his own security detail, the competition is expected to go much like they normally do. Before he’d left, he’d been given a list of approved answers to some of the questions the press may ask about his personal life, as well as a list of topics he’s to avoid commenting on. It’s nothing difficult, and he copies it onto a notecard for easy carrying while Yakov gives his pre-competition pep talk.

“Vitya,” Yakov says when he’s done. “Everything is going well, yes?”

Viktor nods. “It’s great,” he says, “everything’s fine.” He doesn’t mention the nagging feelings in the back of his head he can’t quite name. He doesn’t mention their fights about the bodyguards, the sheer amount of new information he’s having to learn and process alongside his training. It’ll be a welcome relief to not have to skate as much, at least not for a while. He and Yuuri have a slew of appearances to make in the weeks after the season ends, and it’s at that point he’ll be able to get his things shipped out from Detroit. Most of it will be going to Russia, to be put in his apartment there, but Phichit’s volunteered to pack a couple boxes and send them straight to Hasetsu while Viktor figures out what his living situation is going to look like.

Yakov doesn’t quite look like he believes Viktor, but he drops the subject with a nod.

 

~*~

 

Bright and early the next morning, he wakes to a selfie from Yuuri looking grouchy in a black button-up. The mirror behind him shows he’s wearing black slacks and Viktor grins as he’s driven to the rink.

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   had to explain that black pants and a black shirt are formal enough if you’re woken up at 5 am
<<<   i went to bed at 2
<<<   they’re lucky i was dressed at all (ʘ‿ʘ✿)
<<<   apparently an incident during guard training is enough to get me out of bed for
<<<   no one got hurt. just a car in a field.
<<<   but nooooooooooo i had to be briefed.
<<<   ‘ym there is no danger to yourself’  (シ_ _)シ
<<<   then just let me sleep. pls. v(ಥ ̯ ಥ)v

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Are you wearing your work clothes?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   maybe. ╮( ˘ 、 ˘ )╭
<<<   leather shoes though, not the non-skid
<<<   i smell like coffee. i have to keep asking for coffee to justify smelling like it.
<<<   i’m starting to get jittery. ∑d(°∀°d)

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   It may help to change and *not* keep getting coffee

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i just got food, it should help
<<<   it better.

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Любовь, it may still be a good idea to stop with the coffee

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   vitya i have meetings to go to and legislation to sign
<<<   and this afternoon after you skate i’m drafting a proposed amendment to the laws of succession ( ̄  ̄|||)
<<<   so i gotta be awake while i do that
<<<   because i don’t want to word it wrong ( ง ゜д゜)ง
<<<   i have a feeling they’ll go for male preference which…
<<<   i’m going for straight succession (╯°□°)╯︵(\ .o.)\  
<<<   anyway gotta be awake for that but afterwards is ballet ~(^u^)~
<<<   and then video games. (⌐■_■)

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   And then sleep, right?

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   ofc
<<<   next day i’m doing shit with mari

His arrival means Viktor doesn’t have time to reply before he’s exiting the car. There’s a wide carpet set out, fans and the media flanking on either side, and they cheer as he walks into the venue. Flashing a smile, he winks at the crowd, and they cheer. It’s refreshingly normal after the catastrophe that Euros was, and he’s not entirely sure if it’s Japan’s paparazzi laws, the bodyguards, or some combination of the two, but as far as what may well be his last competition goes, it’s starting off nicely.

 

By the end of the short programs he’s seated comfortably in first. The press is well-behaved during his post-skate interview. He talks happily about how he’s feeling about the free, about how clear it is that his competitors have also been working on improvement. It’s clear by the end that they’re disappointed he didn’t talk about Yuuri and taking on new roles as the partner to a king, but he doesn’t really care. Nothing gives them the right to know the details of that part of his life.

A few faces are familiar, members of the media that had been at Ostrava. Some who had been part of the problem. At least they have the decency to look somewhat remorseful when he’s asked about his bodyguards and gives a pointed response about the need for increased security after Europeans.

Others, he notices, don’t look as much like they regret their part in the nightmare of a competition and he files that information away for future use. Yakov shoos them away soon enough, walking with Viktor back to the locker room. The expected post-skate lecture comes then, while Viktor fixes his hair and puts his skates in their bag. His costume is hung in its garment bag, the make-up washed off his face, and by the time he’s ready to leave Yakov’s moved on to complaining about repairs being done to the rink in St. Petersburg. Something about the water pipes and a potential leak; Viktor can’t be bothered to care too much.

 

~*~

 

The free day Viktor has between the short and free skates he takes advantage of, as much as he can. Figure skating is popular in Japan, and as the reigning Living Legend, Viktor can’t go far without being recognized. He manages to see a few tourist destinations, his bodyguards following dutifully as he wanders around shops, around the Sensou-ji Temple in Asakusa. They drive past the Imperial Palace, and while none of his bodyguards say anything, he still feels a strange sense of foreboding. It won’t be long, he knows, until he ends up there with Yuuri, being amenable and genial, and hopefully with a bearing that reflects his position as the potential King-Consort.

As the future King-Consort.

That evening, he’s taken to a restaurant near the hotel, meeting Yakov, Georgi, and Mila inside. Two of his bodyguards discreetly get a table nearby to keep an eye out, and while the chill at the nape of his neck is still present, still uncomfortable, it’s easier to deal with now that he knows what’s causing it. The menus are in English, but Viktor orders in Japanese. Unfamiliar words halting and awkward on his tongue, he struggles to speak clearly but the waitress is patient and he makes himself understood.

“Impressive,” Georgi says.

“I’m doing my best,” Viktor replies. He hasn’t studied with Minako as much as he’d have liked, but the basic Japanese he’s been taught has done its job. Now he only needs to continue to study, to refine his accent and pronunciation and hopefully, he’ll sound better before he ends up in a situation where he’ll need to use it. Especially if that situation is in an official capacity, such as, say, meeting Japan’s Imperial Family. To make an ass of himself would reflect badly on Yuuri, badly on his position, badly on his judgement, and Viktor cannot afford to mess this up.

The food arrives, a welcomed distraction, and Viktor offhandedly asks Georgi about his latest adventures in horticulture. Excitedly, Georgi gets going about his plants, the new succulent he somehow found room for on the shelves on his balcony. Yakov gives Viktor a look, knowing him too well to not see the question for what it was; a distraction, a way to keep the topic of conversation off of himself and Yuuri.

Yakov says nothing, though, and Mila’s too busy goading Georgi to see what happened. Georgi, of course, is lost in an in-depth explanation of watering practices, and the rest of the meal passes quickly.

 

~*~

 

To: Yuuri <3
>>>   Любовь, will you watch me?

 

By the boards, waiting for the free program he glances eagerly at his phone for a response. He knows Yuuri will watch, knows Yuuri’s promised to, but the asking has become almost as much routine ast he promise itself, and his mind flashes back to hearing the same words from Yuuri’s mouth, the day of the funeral.

“Watch me, Vityusha?” he’d asked and it had broken Viktor’s heart, shattered it into a million pieces with how utterly lost he’d sounded. Still breaks his heart when he thinks too long about it and he takes a moment to close his eyes. The last months have been hectic, and things are only barely shifting back into a sort of routine, as strange as they still feel. He takes a moment before his phone buzzes in his hand again.

 

From: Yuuri <3
<<<   i will
<<<   always.
<<<   davai, vitya.
<<<   [photo attached]

 

Yuuri’s sent a selfie. He’s smiling, dressed in a pastel purple shirt and a rose gold crown, and in the background is his laptop, open to a livestream of the competition. When he takes a closer look, Viktor can see himself on camera, staring at his phone, and he chuckles. He’s announced before he has time to respond, so Viktor hands his phone and skate guards to Yakov. Before taking to the ice, he hears a reassuring grunt behind him and he smiles. Taking off, he skates an obligatory lap, the audience responding with enthusiasm, and for a second he holds his hands against his chest, eyes fixed on the ice in front of him.

Deep breath in.

This is his last skate of his last competition of the season.

This is his first time performing Stammi Vicino as an engaged man.

He smiles. Yuuri’s watching, and he lets his mind settle on their promises, their love, their commitment to doing anything and everything they can to stay together, and his heart swells as he skates to the center. He can’t shout his love to the world, can’t share his excitement to be engaged to the man to whom he’s given his heart, but he can show it. A smile is flashed in the judges’ direction as he comes to a stop and he takes a moment, letting his arms fall to his side and his chin drop to his chest.

Deep breath out.

The routine comes to him almost effortlessly, the emotion he feels plain in every movement, every expression, and he feels an outpouring of love as he skates new meaning into the program. When jumping, he feels lighter than air, when spinning, it’s as if the entire world is moving around him and he can’t stop the smile, the look of contentment and satisfaction on his face as he skates his heart.

When he finishes, stuffed animals and flowers rain down around him as he revels in a headrush he hasn’t felt quite so strongly in years. The audience is on their feet, shouting their admiration and it’s thrilling. It’s invigorating, and as he bows with aplomb the volume only rises, his name being chanted through the stadium as he waves. On his way out, he picks up a few stuffed animals, including a surprisingly accurate stuffed Makkachin, and when he reaches the boards flowers are shoved into his arms before he’s had a chance to get his skate guards on properly.

Sitting at the Kiss and Cry, he smiles at the cameras, sends love and well-wishes to his family, to Yuuri and his family, and as his scores are announced he grins.

What may be his last competition, and he’s taken the gold.

 

The thrill of victory doesn’t fade as he stands on the podium, doesn’t fade as he talks to the press. They ask about the next season, and he feels his face drop slightly. Part of him wants to keep competing, wants to keep skating until his body gives out and he’s forced to quit, but another part of him wonders if it’s worth it. He could go out with a bang, with a perfect season and his name firmly next to several world records, but he wouldn’t know what to do with himself.  Being with Yuuri provides enough excitement that he wouldn’t be bored out of his mind, but after twenty years, it’s almost impossible to imagine what life would be like without the ice.

Giving a small chuckle, he waves it off, saying he has yet to discuss plans for next season with Yakov. It doesn’t satisfy the press, he can tell, but there are no further questions regarding the future of his career. Along with Chris and Otabek Altin, a young skater from Kazakhstan, he fields the remaining questions from the press, smiles pretty for the photographers, and walks out of the room at a loss with what to do with himself.

He has time to make his decision, though, and he’s already got routines in mind so it’s not a matter of urgency at the moment. Dinner that night is at the hotel restaurant, Yakov, Georgi, and Mila sitting around the table as their drink orders are taken. For the most part, conversation with his rinkmates and coach has been superfluous, mostly small talk and commentary on routines. Mila’s last skate is tomorrow morning, and after the pairs skates comes the exhibition, then the gala, and after that he’ll finally be returning to Hasetsu.

The conversation shifts to future plans as the food is brought, and all eyes turn to Viktor.

“Will you be coming back to Russia?” Mila asks, using her chopsticks to pick at her noodles.

Viktor shrugs. “At some point,” he says, “but I’m not sure how I’ll be splitting my time. I need to stay in Hasetsu when I can. Events and whatnot.” He shoves a bite of fish into his mouth.

“You’re moving to Hasetsu?” Georgi looks at him with a raised eyebrow, no doubt remembering Viktor’s impulsive decision to stay in Detroit. Not that Viktor would (or could) regret that decision, not when it’s brought him so much happiness.

He ignores the voice inside that reminds him how much easier things would be if he’d left.

“At least part-time,” he says, grinning. “I have appearances to make with Yuuri and it’s a lot harder to do that from Russia!”

“Like parties and stuff?” Mila looks at him inquisitively.

“And stuff,” he responds, taking a sip of his tea. “We need to be seen together. If I'm going to consider marrying into the family, I need to know what it’s going to be like, and I can’t do that from St. Petersburg.”

“It seems like a lot of work,” Mila says. “Especially since you didn't know when you got with him.”

It almost sounds like she’s implying something that Yuuri is making him jump through hoops to keep his love. Eyes narrowing, Viktor meets her gaze. “What do you mean by that?”

She blanches. “It’s just… a lot, and not like you. You've never taken anything this seriously before.”

As if she would know.

“Mila,” Georgi says, “you don't end up in Vitya’s position without knowing how to take things seriously.”

“Yuuri’s not pushing me into this,” Viktor adds as he stirs his fish into his rice. “He’s been more than honest, and made it clear he didn’t expect me to stay.”

“But still, before he even got into—”

“Mila,” Georgi interrupts, “Vitya is more than capable of discussing and thinking things through like a rational adult. He knows more about the situation than we do, and we should respect that. He doesn't need to justify himself.” It’s good to know someone has his back.

Sheepish, Mila sinks into her chair. Yakov even looks chagrined and Viktor can’t help the surge of satisfaction he feels. He gives Georgi a grateful nod, and Georgi smiles in return. No one speaks for a while, the clack of ceramic chopsticks loud against the dishware. The tea on the table is finished, a new pot brought out, and Viktor’s just pushing his plate away when Georgi speaks again.

“How’s Makkachin liking Hasetsu?”

“He’s loving it,” Viktor replies, grateful for the shift in topic. “He’ll be getting brushed every few days, bathed or groomed as often as he needs. The grounds are huge, all of his meals are healthy and prepared by hand, and he’s already picked his favorite chair in each of the rooms he spends a lot of time in!”

“And they don’t mind a dog?” Mila’s looking at him again, still shy.

Shaking his head, Viktor looks at her. “They had a dog up until about a year and a half ago. They’re perfectly fine with it, even with him sleeping on the bed!”

Mila, still picking at her noodles, looks up like she has more questions and Viktor decides, possibly against his better judgement to indulge her. When he gives her a smile and nod, she looks down at her plate, and then back at him. “What’s it like?” she asks.

“Living at the palace?”

She shakes her head. “Being in a relationship with a king. Just… it must be different.”

“It is,” he says. “There’s a lot. It’s not all easy, but it’s worth it, to me.”

“Do you have servants or something? Did you have tea with the Queen?”

“Queen Mother,” Viktor corrects gently. “She’s Yuuri’s mom. And we usually all eat together, Yuuri and me with his mom and sister.” Mila nods. “There are attendants, but I don’t have personal attendants if that’s what you want to know.”

Glancing to where Viktor’s bodyguards are eating at their own table, Mila twists her mouth to the side. “Do they always go with you?”

Viktor nods. “There’s one that usually accompanies me, Yulian, but he’s not on the trip. I don’t usually have this many.” Swallowing his discomfort with the next bite of food, he smiles as reassuringly as possible. “It’s just a precautionary measure,” he says. “Mostly to make sure I don’t get chased again or anything like that.” And to make sure whoever had it out for Yuuri doesn’t take it out on him. He already has enough people questioning his decisions, with enough reasons they can justify as ‘good,’ and talking about the danger he’s agreed to put himself in is definitely not the way to assuage that.

There are times even he questions his own sanity. He doesn’t need any encouragement on the part of other people.

“The rink is nice,” he says, hoping to pull the topic of conversation into more friendly waters. “The couple that runs it were childhood friends of Yuuri’s!”

“Why’d he leave, anyway?” Georgi’s looking at him curiously. He’s been good about not being nosy so far, and Viktor can forgive a well-intentioned question, even if he doesn’t entirely want to answer.

“I’m not allowed to talk about it beyond that there was an attempt on his life,” Viktor says. It’s not necessarily true, but he doesn’t want to deal with that route of inquiry and the Palace’s overbearing desire for control is a convenient excuse to brush off questions.

Georgi nods as everyone settles back into the rhythm of eating without further comment.

 

~*~

 

Viktor has a new suit to wear for the banquet, one given to him by the palace. A dark, rich purple, the suit somehow manages to bring out his eyes, to complement his hair, and the tailoring only serves to emphasize and flatter his physique. The banquet’s starting to really get going when he arrives, and he smiles at the various sponsors milling about. Unsure as to whether or not he’s returning next season, Viktor does his best to smile, to laugh, to keep things genial and hopeful while still making no promises.

In the interest of being polite, his current sponsors for the most part keep their conversation focused on his skating, only daring to go so far as to inquire about the training facilities available to him. They’re more than adequate, he assures them with a grin, perfect for his needs. This earns smiles, pats on the back, and Viktor does his best not to shrug them off when they put their hands on his shoulders. Years of having his hair touched, grabbed, caressed, styled unwillingly have left him wary of uninvited touch near his head and neck. Some go so far as to fling their arm around him, pulling him close for a picture, often without asking beforehand. Those are the worst, the people who think they’re entitled to his time, his space, his body in order to further their egos or give them something to brag about on social media.

He doesn’t particularly like being touched to begin with, not by people he doesn’t know, and Galas have always been a special form of torture. At least when he’s on the ice, he’s alone. Sighing, he resigns himself to a night of resisting urges to pull away. Chris approaches him as he stands in the corner, champagne flute in hand, and he fights the voice that tells him to move further, to put as much distance as he can between himself and anyone else, friend or not.

“You look well,” Chris says, and that tells Viktor more about how good he is at masking himself than it does about how he’s doing.

Smile.

Look fine, look friendly.

“I am doing well,” he says. Thinking of Yuuri helps. It's easier to smile when he remembers Yuuri’s laughter, the excited shine he gets in his eyes. The brush of Yuuri’s fingers on his cheek, his lips, the way his arms wrap around Viktor when he holds him close and he realizes it’s never been about the touch itself.

It’s the meaning behind it.

For Yuuri, that means love, comfort, a way of grounding Viktor when he needs it the most. A way of grounding Yuuri when his anxiety gets out of hand and Viktor can’t forget the desperation with which Yuuri had clung to him in their first weeks here. The way he still clings sometimes when the panic and the pressure become overwhelming and all he knows is that failure must be inevitable.

Viktor’s face falters, but he covers it with a cough and a sheepish smile. “I've had a dry throat recently,” he laughs. “I'm lucky I didn't go into a coughing fit on the ice!” He lets Chris wrap his arm around his shoulders and while it's not quite Yuuri, it's not entirely uncomfortable.

It doesn’t stop him from shrugging away a few seconds later.

“Congratulations on taking silver,” he says. “You've been working hard.”

“I have indeed,” he replies with a sultry lilt.

Viktor humors him. “It certainly shows. No pole tonight? I heard Euros Gala was one to remember. Sochi certainly was.”

Chris laughs. “Imagine if Coffee Boy had been there. You said he does pole?”

“He does. Quite well. His skating is reasonably good, too. If he’d been a competitor…”

“How good is ‘reasonably,’ Vitya?”

“He doesn’t compete but has all his triples.” Chris’s eyes widen.

“Imagine indeed,” Chris says. “Have you figured out next season?”

None of Viktor’s sponsors are in earshot, and he sighs. “No. Yuuri says he’ll be supportive either way, though. I just want to see how the next few weeks go, since it’ll be more typical of life with him. In the family. You don't seem so… disapproving anymore,” he notes, meeting and holding Chris’s gaze.

Chris shrugs, glancing to the side. “Fighting with you about it isn't worth it. I'd rather keep you as a friend than be right.”

It isn't as good as it could be, but it's better than it's been.

Karpisek pulls Chris away in short order and Viktor makes it a point to wave and laugh him off. He himself is drawn into another conversation. A sponsor, wanting to introduce him to a friend. The sponsor’s friend looks Viktor over like most people standing next to the Living Legend do; slowly up his body, coming to rest on his jaw, his nose, his eyes, before lingering on his hair.

They exchange unpleasant pleasantries, the sponsor makes herself scarce, and her friend gives him another once-over. “Smart move, Nikiforov,” he says, “ensuring you remain at the front of everyone’s minds.”

“I'm sorry?”

“This fling you're having,” the man replies, with a knowing look. “Woo a king, keep people thinking of you, talking about you until you decide to retire. You'll stay relevant, no matter how well you do. I know your type.” Chuckling, the man sips his champagne. “You moved quickly, too. Good work.”

“You must be mistaken,” Viktor says, a razor’s edge in every word. “His Royal Majesty and I have been dating since well before his identity was known to both myself and the world.”

“Then I'd watch out for that one. Probably just wants you on his arm. I'd take advantage while you can, you know.”

Bristling, Viktor swallows a scathing remark, reigns his anger in and lets it coil tight in his chest. “Do you have a point or are you only here to make unnecessary commentary on subjects about which you know nothing?”

Ok, maybe he didn’t bite it back as well as he’d hoped. Clearly taken aback, the man sneers. “Your naivete will only hurt you in the end,” he smirks. “You're not fooling anyone, neither of you are.”

“Sir,” Viktor hears from next to him. He turns, looking into the face of one of his bodyguards. “Would you like us to remove this man?”

Giving the man a disdainful look, Viktor shakes his head. “No need to bother,” he says. “The conversation was just finishing up. If you could accompany me to the bathroom, though, I’d appreciate it.”

 

It's in the bathroom that Viktor lets himself feel the exhaustion. Emotional, physical, it's all-encompassing and weighs on him to the point where he wants nothing more than to leave. Whether that’s just the Gala, or figure skating in general, he’s not sure, but he’d rather be anywhere than here. He splashes water on his face, loosens his tie, runs shaking fingers through his hair as he tries to settle himself. He can do this. He needs to do this. Post-competition nerves are still thrumming in the background, his body feels like he’s a car idling in the center of the road. Tired, irritable, Viktor looks at his bodyguard.

“When is it we’re leaving for Hasetsu?”

“Tomorrow morning, sir, nine a.m. local time. Would you like me to make it sooner?”

Viktor mulls it over for a minute. Staying at the hotel another night is the last thing he wants to do. In Hasetsu, he has distractions. He can skate. The library is full of books he hasn’t read, and no one questions him holing up in his room all day around walking Makkachin.

He doesn’t want to deal with Yakov’s questions, though, which is why he shakes his head. “I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to leave by eight,” he says, pulling out his phone. “I’ll be texting Yakov to let him know I’m leaving early, though. If you could get ready to head back to the hotel?”

As his bodyguard relays plans through his earpiece, Viktor brushes his hair into place, pulls his tie straight. Yakov’s response buzzes in his pocket but he ignores it as he puts on a smile. As he heads out of the bathroom, he stops in front of the guard, looking him in the eye. “I can trust your discretion, yes?”

He nods. “Absolutely, sir.”

“With regards to His Royal Majesty, as well?”

“I can’t disobey a direct order to tell him, sir, but outside of that it remains between us.” Yuuri’s not the type to take advantage of his authority, and Viktor trusts him, so he just nods.

“Excellent.” Tugging his jacket into place, he pulls open the door and heads out. Almost to the elevators, he turns a corner to see Georgi leaning against the wall.

“Vitya,” he says, “are you okay?”

Smile. Everything’s fine.

“The champagne hit me harder than I expected,” he laughs, letting himself look pained. “I’m not feeling so great and my head is hurting, so I’m going to get some sleep before the flight tomorrow. Yuuri and I are meeting for lunch!”

Georgi smiles. “Sounds fun, Vitya. Good night.”

“Night, Gosha,” he replies with a grin. He doesn’t let his face fall until he’s in the elevator, loosening his tie with a heavy sigh. The room is small, compared to the palace, and he marvels at the fact it seems both strange and achingly familiar and he wonders how long it’ll be until everything feels normal again.






Chapter Text

Yuuri stands in front of the camera and television awkwardly, tugging at his waistcoat. His fingers brush over his hair, though he’s not wearing any headwear, and move to adjust the glasses he’s not wearing either. He’s nervous. Viktor gives him a smile and two thumbs up behind the video tech person who’s streaming Yuuri’s final presentation to his university in Detroit, getting a shy grin in return. Soon enough, the video call is connected, and Yuuri's teacher and classroom come up on the laptop screen.

Clearing his throat, Yuuri waves at the camera.“Um, hi, everyone. Long time no see.” The class waves in return. “Ah, first, I’d like to apologize for missing everyone’s presentations. I’m a little busy, as you can, um, imagine. Professor, I’d like to thank you for making time for me to present early.” He gives a shallow bow, barely more than a nod of his head, then takes a deep breath.

“Anyway, my presentation is on the Socioeconomical Ramifications of the Transfer of Power from Colonizer to the Formerly-Colonized, with focus on Sachima. I’ve used a range of sources, including ones from the National Archives here in Hasetsu. Unfortunately, I’m unable to provide digital copies of some sources, as they won’t hold up to modern imaging techniques, but I’ve clearly marked those and have provided links to both transcriptions and translations.”

He clicks to the next slide, with general information. “Now, Sachima, or Akitsushima as we call it, is an island nation off the coast of Japan. The current Head of State, in this case the King,” he says, as he flips to another slide with his coronation portrait and information on it, “is, well, me. Yuuri.” He blushes. “We have a constitutional monarchy, and I… the current monarch holds most of the legislative power.” He shifts uncomfortably again, looking at the television. “I… I see there are questions. I’m not answering… Ok, if your question isn’t related to the presentation, I’ll answer it after, but if it is keep your hands up?”

Viktor’s eyes widen as every person in the class puts their hands down. Yuuri sighs. It takes him 30 minutes to get through the presentation itself. The class gets a few questions in about previous monarchs, wondering where they were in relation to Yuuri, but otherwise save their inquiries. Once Yuuri opens the floor, though, the class goes wild. It takes nearly an hour and a half to sate everyone’s curiosity.

One person asks Yuuri if they can use him for a source (“Jason, your presentation is due next week,” Yuuri replies, aghast, “why are you still looking for sources?”) and several more ask to visit (“I, uh, might not be personally available but we do have tours and there are pictures of me around if that’s what you’re after,” he says, “not that Google won’t pull up a bunch.” Several people pull out their phones, to Yuuri's chagrin). There are inquiries into his past (mostly confidential for now), what his life is currently like (stressful), if he’s actually dating Viktor (yes, but he can’t comment further), if his phone number still works (no, and he’s not allowed to give out his new one), if he has an Instagram (yes, and he’ll link to it in the class forum), and if he’s walking with them for graduation. He doesn’t have an answer for that one, but replies that it’s unlikely.

“You didn’t act like a prince,” one girl says, and Yuuri grimaces.

“I was in hiding, so I wasn’t supposed to.”

“So how many world leaders do you know?” another asks.

“I mean, I met a bunch at events? I knew more when I was a kid, but they were always here to talk to my dad.”

“Can you introduce me to Obama?”

Yuuri sighs. “It doesn’t really… I can’t just call up the President of the United States and ask to hang out…”

“Do you still know how to make coffee?”

Yuuri looks at the screen in disbelief. “No,” he says, completely deadpan. “When new monarchs are crowned in Akitsushima, we have to go through a vigorous process of memory erasure that eradicates previously-learned skills that don’t fall under certain categories considered acceptable for a monarch. This includes any and all food or beverage preparation, shoe-tying, and how to go through a drive-thru.”

There’s a second of silence, before the entire class erupts into laughter. Yuuri smiles, promising again to answer questions online, before he has to sign off. He takes a seat next to Viktor as the equipment is packed up.

“How’d I do, Vitya?” he asks with a smile.

“Very informative, Velichestvo,” Viktor responds. He kisses his nose. “Especially the bit about the shoelaces. I was wondering about that.”

“You’ll have to teach me to cook again.”

“At least I know not to start with potatoes.” Yuuri blushes as he gives him a small shove.

“You still haven’t taught me how to cut potatoes properly,” he says, “I have scars on my hands, I will triumph. I’ll be the spud master.”

“The Spud Master?” Viktor smiles as Yuuri's blush spreads. Kissing him on the forehead, Viktor laughs. “His Royal Majesty King Yuuri of Akitsushima, Maker of Coffee, Master of Spuds,” Viktor says, earning himself a laugh and a pinch on his stomach.

Yuuri snuggles in. “Hey, Vitya?” he says after a moment.

“Yes?”

“So, in a few weeks we’re going to have a Welcome Home ball for me. Slash Coronation Ball. It’ll celebrate both. I, uhh. Well, since you’re with me. Officially. I was thinking that we’d, well, we could go. Together.” He sounds like a nervous teenager asking Viktor to go to prom with him.

“I thought I was supposed to go to most formal events with you?”

“I’m not going to force you,” Yuuri says. “I still wanna make sure you’re ok with things like this before we decide you’re going. You haven’t had that long here,” he mumbles. “It’s only been a few months.”

“Well, I’d love to,” Viktor responds. “Thank you.”

Sighing happily, Yuuri cranes his neck to give Viktor a kiss on his jaw. “I’m sure Minako-sensei will begin her ballroom training in earnest. We’ll be expected to dance,” he says, “with each other and with other people. You should probably make sure you’re seen dancing with my family. Maybe with Minako-sensei. Madame Lilia.”

“Lilia’s going to be there?”

Yuuri nods. “She’s been invited, and it’s not an invitation she’d want to turn down on a whim.”

“What about Yakov?”

“Madame Lilia has a plus-one, she can bring who she will. She could bring Yuri if she really wanted to,” he chuckles. The very idea of Yuri at a royal function is not one Viktor wants to think about at the moment. He’s having such a good afternoon.

Viktor rubs Yuuri’s shoulder. “Well. We’ll see who she brings. If anyone.”

“I should have your stuff moved,” Yuuri says absently. “You’ve been to your room three times in the week since you got back from Worlds, and all of them were just to pick up clothing.”

“I got socks once.”

“That counts as clothing, Vitya.”

With an exaggerated pout, Viktor lays his legs across Yuuri’s lap. “I got a book one time.”

“Because you saw it when you needed underwear. Do you want your stuff moved?”

Viktor nods, because it almost feels like moving in together and staying with Yuuri feels so right and he finds himself unexpectedly thrilled, even though very little will be changing overall. Yuuri calls an attendant over, whispers his request and punctuates it with a please before they bow and scurry off. Not wanting to pressure his staff too much, Yuuri had asked that it be done at their earliest convenience, as long as it was before bed, but Viktor isn’t surprised when a mere few minutes later another attendant rushes in to let them know it’s been done.

“Your Royal Majesty,” a different attendant says, approaching.

“Yes?” Yuuri looks up, but otherwise doesn’t move.

“Her Majesty the Queen Mother would like to invite both yourself and Mr. Nikiforov to her formal sitting room for tea at your earliest convenience.”

“Of course,” Yuuri says, picking his crown up from where it’s set on a cushion. “Please inform my mother we’ll be there promptly.”

 

In the sitting room, Hiroko is at a table with a woman about her age and Hana, chatting. “Yuuri,” she says when she sees them, “Viktor! Thank you for coming at such short notice. Mari should be here, soon!” All three women stand as they enter, and instead of his usual protest Yuuri takes it in stride.

“Hello, Okaa-san,” he says, “Hana-san.” Coming up to his mother he gives her a kiss on her cheek. Hana gives a bow, before gesturing at the woman next to her.

“Your Royal Majesty,” she says, “I'd like to introduce my mother, Kataoka Atsuko.”

Atsuko bows. “I’ve been an active member of the Royal Guard, and have been working as Her Majesty’s personal bodyguard for many years now, Your Majesty. It’s been an honor to serve your family.”

“We became close after you both left,” Hiroko explains.

Yuuri nods in understanding. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Kataoka-san. I'm glad to hear you and my mother found some level of comfort in each other over the years.” Holding his hand out, he smiles. “Thank you.”

With a demure smile, Atsuko takes it, giving it a firm shake. “My pleasure, Sire, it's an honor to finally meet you.”

Yuuri gives a nod, gesturing towards Viktor. “I'd like to introduce my partner, Viktor Nikiforov.”

Viktor shakes her hand, her grip just this side of painful, and he throws on his best press smile. “Pleased to meet you,” he says. He greets Hiroko with a small bow, and Hana with a warm handshake, before they move to take their places at the table.

Yuuri sits first, Viktor taking his usual place at his side as everyone sits again.

“Your Majesty,” Hana says to Yuuri, “I would have loved to introduce you sooner, but as I’d just gotten home, we took some time to reconnect.” She smiles when Yuuri nods. She knows he understands that need to have time with family after a long absence, and he wouldn’t begrudge her had she taken longer. As it is, he seems happy to see Hana again.

“Do you remember the vegetable soup I used to make when you got sick?” Hana asks.

“The one you used to freeze a bunch of during the winter?”

Hana nods. “Yes. I learned the recipe from my mother.”

The smile on Yuuri’s face is warm, but he’s clearly not entirely comfortable, though Hana and Hiroko’s relaxed demeanor seems to steadily be putting him at ease. “It’s delicious,” he says. “I have a lot of fond memories of that soup.”

“I’m glad, Your Majesty,” Atsuko says. She grins. It's bright, almost too wide, but it reaches her eyes. “The recipe has been passed down in my family for generations. I would be more than happy to give it to the chef if it would please you.”

“I'd like that, thank you,” Yuuri responds.

 

Mari arrives, with the tea following shortly thereafter. Conversation is lively, and Yuuri laughs as he finishes telling them about the restaurant in Russia.

“Oh, Velichestvo,” Viktor says, “I needed to talk to you about going back to Russia to sort out my apartment.”

“That should be fine,” Yuuri says, “we can figure out timing and travel plans when we have a better idea. We should do it soon, though, so if you’re bringing stuff home we can make sure the plane will be large enough to carry it.”

“Sire,” Atsuko says with a smile, “are you not going to Russia in a few weeks time? I don’t mean to presume, but I do some work with the security team that coordinates your travel and I saw something on your schedule in St. Petersburg.”

Yuuri nods. “That’s a good point.” He looks at Viktor. “We can get details and figure it out, depending on how long you need to stay. We could fly out or back together, if not both.”

Smiling, Viktor takes Yuuri’s hand, squeezing it. “I’ll talk to Yakov and Lilia, see what they think.”

Atsuko pours herself another cup of tea. “You two could get some sightseeing in, tour the city. Have you been, Your Majesty?” she asks.

“No,” Yuuri answers, “not since I was a child. I don’t remember very much of it.” He looks at Viktor, grinning. “I’d love to see it with you.”

“I’d love to show it to you,” Viktor responds. If he gets Yuuri to bring his skates, he can likely get them rink time as well. He starts a list of things to do in his head, smiling as squeezes Yuuri’s hand.

 

“This must have been rather the unpleasant surprise I imagine, Mr. Nikiforov,” Atsuka says as they’re finishing up.

Yuuri glances at Viktor out of the corner of his eye, wondering how he’s going to navigate this line of conversation. Viktor swallows the bite he was chewing before responding. “Unexpected, certainly, but we talked through things. I can see why he didn’t tell me, and I don’t hold it against him.”

After the barest moment of hesitation, she leans forward with a smile. “How fortunate, His Royal Majesty is, to have someone like you by his side, Mr. Nikiforov. How incredibly fortunate.” She turns to look at Yuuri. “It’s so good to see you found happiness, Your Majesty, and I wish you two only the best.”

Smiling, Yuuri looks at Viktor fondly, taking his hand and squeezing it before looking back at Atsuka. “Thank you for your well-wishes,” he says. “I'm quite lucky indeed.”

“I can't imagine adapting to court life is easy at all; how are you doing?” Voice laced with concern, she looks at Viktor sympathetically.

“I’ve been doing well. His Majesty and Minako-sensei have been diligent about making sure I have everything I need to navigate court,” Viktor says, before finishing his tea.

“Much of it has been thanks to Minako-sensei,” Yuuri says. “I haven’t really been involved on a day-to-day basis.”

That's not true. Yuuri’s spent hours working with him, explaining the various workings of court, working with Viktor on the language, and generally making sure he knows what's going on at any given point in time. One of their most important rules, though, is that Viktor doesn't contradict Yuuri. Not in front of anyone outside of Yuuri’s family, and not when it’s such a blatant lie, a clear indication that the party being lied to shouldn’t know the truth to begin with. Any problems they have are hashed out in private, where they can speak as equals. In public it's more important to present a united front. Viktor smiles.

“His Majesty was kind enough to arrange for my education and Minako-sensei has been an excellent teacher,” he says. “I feel confident that I'll only continue to adapt well.”

“Well,” Atsuka says, “that is absolutely splendid, I’m so happy to hear that. Welcome to Hasetsu, Mr. Nikiforov.”

 

~*~

 

When they get back to their room that night the first thing Yuuri does after taking off his crown is kiss him. It starts with a brush of lips and then a pause before Viktor feels Yuuri’s arm around his waist, his other hand threading itself through the hair on the back of Viktor’s head. He pulls Yuuri close, deepening the kiss until they're pressed together and everything in Viktor starts coalescing into unbridled heat, coursing through every inch of his body and sparking where their skin makes contact. It’s a tender but fervent declaration of love, a quest for intimacy and touch they’re denied in many areas of their life but in this moment they can have each other, be with each other without worry. There’s no posturing, no deference, no dancing around expressions of love and Viktor knows they’re both glad for it.

Yuuri sighs with contentment as he pulls away just enough to give Viktor a smile before resting his head on his shoulder. In the comfortable silence they hold each other, neither wanting to shatter the moment with words. Peaceful, calm, the atmosphere is reminiscent of their time in Detroit, the quiet moments spent on Viktor’s couch after a long day and a wave of nostalgia hits him. It’s hard not to miss how things used to be. So much simpler, so much more sure, Viktor had felt on top of the world and he craves the easy intimacy they used to have.

Well, easy for him. There’s no way to know how Yuuri’d been feeling, but the last months before they came to Hasetsu had been fraught. Perhaps, with the secret he’d been forced to keep, he’d never felt relaxed in the same way Viktor had. Constantly having to watch what he said and how he acted must have put an undue amount of stress on him beyond school and work and a relationship, was likely exacerbated by the relationship and Viktor pulls Yuuri closer, holds him tighter. Whether it’s for support or in apology he doesn’t know, but Yuuri sinks into his embrace, lets the weight fall off his shoulders for just this moment.

 

They’re interrupted by a patterned knock. It’s not Mari or Hiroko’s, and Viktor frowns in the general direction of the hall door, but Yuuri smiles. Viktor follows him into the sitting room, staying back a few feet as Yuuri pulls it open.

“Minako-sensei,” Yuuri says as she walks in, “what brings you here so late?”

“A delivery,” she says with a smile. Rummaging around in her purse, she pulls out a soft velvet bag. Whatever is inside is long, the bag keeping its shape as she holds it out to Yuuri, who takes it gingerly.

“Is this…”

“Yes,” she says, smiling at him. “Majesty, I don’t know what you’re up to, and I don’t want to, but I must urge you to take caution.” The tone of voice says she has a good idea, though, and Viktor’s brow furrows.

Yuuri nods in response, handing the bag to Viktor before flinging his arms around her. “Thank you,” he whispers. “I appreciate it.”

She wraps her arms around him lovingly, rests her cheek on his for a brief moment before pulling back. “I have your mother to meet for a chat, so I should be going. I’ll see you both for ballroom next week, yes?”

Yuuri nods. “Of course.”

“Absolutely,” Viktor says.

With a final nod, she leaves as quickly as she arrived, and they’re left alone once more. Yuuri takes the bag from Viktor with unexpected reverence, eyes shimmering with something unspoken. A black leather box is taken out of the bag. Wide and flat, Viktor can’t figure out what it might contain before Yuuri’s taken him by the hand, pulling him into the bedroom. They sit on the bed together, and Yuuri takes a deep breath.

“I had these commissioned,” he says, opening the case. Lying on black velvet are two almost identical silver snowflakes, delicate filigree twisting around and through to form each of the six points with a gemstone set in the center. Yuuri pulls out the necklace with a purple gemstone, holding it gently in hand.

“Vityusha,” he murmurs, “I thought… since we can’t have traditional rings yet, that we could have these. They’re both sapphire, identical in every way but the color of the gem.”

The implications hit Viktor in a rush, knocking the air from his chest as he looks into his fiancé’s eyes. Rings would be too obvious before they were officially engaged, and passing them off as something else would be impossible, but these… these can be hidden under clothing, these can be explained away, and for Yuuri to have gone through all this trouble to make sure they had something leaves Viktor without words. It’s proof, solid proof of their commitment, and Viktor’s a very tactile person. Yuuri knows this. Closing his eyes, he takes a breath before looking back up.

There’s no need to say anything, Yuuri can see the love in Viktor’s eyes, written plainly across his face and Yuuri’s smile only spreads as he unhooks the clasp. Leaning forward, his arms wrap around Viktor’s neck as the chain does. Yuuri’s hands fumble blindly for a bit, causing him to giggle and kiss Viktor as he tries to clasp the necklace, but once it’s done the pendant comes to lay against Viktor’s chest. It’s mostly flat, aside from the slightly raised bump of the gemstone, and the chain is the perfect length for it to be tucked into a shirt.

It’s a sobering reminder of their need for secrecy, of the fact that Yuuri isn’t sure they could be publicly engaged without backlash. Running his hand over the pendant, wrapping his fingers around it Viktor appreciates how smooth it is, how seamless it feels. Akitsushima is renowned for its metalwork, traditionally intricate without being flashy, and that’s only reflected in the necklace now around Viktor’s neck.

Silently, almost reverently he takes the box from Yuuri. The second necklace lies in place, in a slight indent made to fit it perfectly. The silver chain runs through Viktor’s fingers as he finds and undoes the clasp, Yuuri going still as he puts his arms around his neck. The clasp is easy to manage, quickly done, but Viktor takes advantage of their proximity to kiss Yuuri again, smiling. When he looks down, Yuuri’s necklace, blue sapphire in the center, is almost a mirror image of Viktor’s.

“You’re mine,” Viktor whispers, resting his forehead against Yuuri’s.

“I’m yours,” Yuuri replies, just as soft, as tender, as full of love and it’s almost overwhelming just how in love Viktor is. Just how much he wants Yuuri in his life and even the secrecy is worth it. Yuuri is worth it, worth all of this, and Viktor couldn’t bring himself to regret it if he was promised the world.

 

~*~

 

Their first practice for the upcoming ball goes well, comprising of a basic runthrough of what’ll be expected of them and Minako’s assessment of their skill. When they’re done, they head out for a walk with Makkachin. The gardens are bright in the late spring sun, flowers blooming in abundance in their beds. The fountains glisten, freshly scrubbed, and butterflies flutter across the landscape.

“Your Majesty!” A guard shouts, running over. Yuuri jerks, looking at him. “Sire, we must ask you and Mr. Nikiforov to return to your rooms immediately.”

Yuuri starts moving, grasping Viktor’s hand tightly. They're flanked by two guards, moving quickly through the halls with Makkachin on their heels, and Viktor’s heart leaps into his throat. Yuuri is calm, collected, as the guard rapidly explains. A tour group lost someone, and one guard had caught a glimpse of a heavy bag going around a corner in the residential area. Once they're safe in Yuuri’s rooms, the guard bows deeply.

“The situation, Your Majesty, doesn't seem urgent but we wish to take all precautions.”

“I understand,” Yuuri says, with a nod.

“We will be posted outside. Please remain in your rooms.”

“I will, thank you.”

The guard leaves with a final bow, presumably moving to stand outside to keep watch.

“Vityusha, are you ok?” Yuuri looks at him with concern written across his face.

Still breathing hard, Viktor nods. Cool fingers cup his cheek, and Yuuri rocks forward to kiss him on the lips gently.

“We’ll be ok, Vitya. I told you, they’re being extra cautious because of the attempt when I was a kid. Someone probably just got lost.”

Viktor nods, swallowing. The adrenaline isn't so bad now, not with Yuuri whispering reassurance, and before long he finds himself starting to relax. It’s only a few minutes until there’s a knock on the door, a guard walking in shortly after. She bows deeply. “Your Majesty,” she says as she straightens up. “We’ve located the source of the threat. It’s a teenage boy, he insists he has business here with Mr. Nikiforov.”

Yuuri frowns. “Has he identified himself by name?”

“No, Your Majesty, but he’s been yelling obscenities at the staff since we apprehended him.” Yuuri raises an eyebrow at that, looking over at Viktor.

Viktor frowns. “What does he look like? What is he wearing?”

The guard gives him a disdainful look.

“He asked you a question,” Yuuri bites out, narrowing his eyes.

Looking chastised, the guard nods. “Apologies, Your Majesty, Mr. Nikiforov. The young man is short and blonde, with a light frame. He’s wearing a leopard-print jacket and a shirt with a tiger on it.”

Yuuri looks at Viktor at that point, frowning. “You don’t think it could be…”

“Yura.” Viktor says. “It’s got to be.” He pulls out his phone, opening Instagram first. Yuri has a habit of posting his whereabouts on social media, and that’s exactly where he’d go first. The first picture on Viktor’s feed has the teenager in a small street lined with signs in Japanese, posing with a new shirt. With a tiger. He shows the picture to Yuuri, who then takes it and shows the guard.

“Is this him?”

The guard nods. “It is, Sire.”

“It’s Yuri Plisetsky. Bring him to me, please, and be nice about it.” Yuuri dismisses the guard with a wave.

“But Sire—”

“I said bring him here.” Yuuri fixes the woman with a stern look as she backs out of the room at a deep bow.

“Yes, Your Majesty. My apologies,” she says before hurrying off.

When they’re alone, Yuuri rests his head on Viktor’s shoulder. “Did you know he was coming?”

Viktor shakes his head. “I’d have told you, if I did. I can’t figure out why he’d show up here of all places.”

“We’ll have to ask.” Yuuri sighs. “I’ll have a room prepared. How far away from us do you want him?”

Viktor snorts, chuckling, before he sighs and pulls out his phone. “Whatever is closest, Lyubov, if we’re being honest. I’ll let Yakov know he’s here.”

Shouts filter through the door as Viktor finishes sending the text. He takes a deep breath, rubbing his forehead trying to ease the headache already collecting there. A frazzled attendant opens the door, before walking in and giving a bow. “Mr. Yuri Plisetsky, Your Majesty, as requested.”

Yuuri gives a short nod and two guards pull Yuri into the room, depositing him in an armchair near the fireplace. He crosses his arms and scowls at the floor.

“It’s good to see you, Mr. Plisetsky,” Yuuri says, smiling.

“Sure, Katsudon.” Yuri jumps when a hand grips his shoulder, bunching up the fabric of his jacket. His eyes widen as a guard leans into his ear.

“You will address His Royal Majesty by hi—”

“There’s no need for that.” Yuuri says firmly. “I will take care of him. Leave us.”

“Sire, this child appears to be a highly volatile individual.” Viktor barely stifles a snort at that. For the most part, Yuri’s all talk when it comes to people he doesn't know.

“He won’t hurt me, he is to be treated as my guest,” Yuuri says dismissively. “I need Mr. Nikiforov’s old room prepared for Mr. Plisetsky, and his things brought up.”

“Yes, Sire,” the guards say in unison.

They back away slowly, closing the door behind them with a click. Yuuri sits on the couch opposite the armchair, gesturing for Viktor to sit at his side. Viktor crosses his legs, plastering his face with a friendly smile.

“So, what brings you to beautiful Hasetsu, Yura?” Viktor asks cheerfully.

“I won Junior Worlds,” he says. “Without quads.”

Something nags at the back of Viktor’s mind. There’s some reason this is important, something significant about the lack of quads. He sighs. There’s no use pretending his memory’s getting any better at this point. “With that frown on your face, I’m guessing I forgot some sort of promise I made?”

“You promised me a routine, asshole! You said you'd choreograph a program for me if I won without quads and I did!” Yuri shouts. “We’re going back to Russia!”

Shit. Viktor remembers now. At the time, it had been a desperate attempt to keep a talented kid from destroying himself too early, but Viktor has always been taught never to make a promise he doesn’t intend to keep. He looks at Yuuri, still smiling cheerfully at the teenager. His jaw clenches, though, his fingers moving against each other quickly, and Viktor knows he's nervous. Perhaps about the confrontation, perhaps about the idea of Viktor leaving. Either way, there’s a relatively easy solution available.

“I hardly think we need to go all the way back to Russia,” Viktor says. “The rink here is quite nice!” Yuuri visibly relaxes. Yuri merely leans further back in his chair, crossing his arms. “How did you find me, Yura?” Viktor asks.

Yuuri speaks up quietly, “Google is a thing, Vitya, it’s easy enough to find out where I live. I feel the more important question is how you got all the way in here.”

“I took a tour. Snuck off.”

“I see. I'll have a discussion with my head of security. We're going to need to go over some rules before I agree officially to have you stay here.” He sits up authoritatively, leveling his gaze in Yuri’s direction.

Angry, Yuri leans forward as he shouts. “Are you fucking serious? The fuck are you playing at?!”

“I'm not playing at all. Yura, if I can call you that?” The teen nods in response, looking sullenly at the floor as he flops back in the chair. Yuuri smiles. “Yura, what you need to understand is this is not a game. I am not playing at King. This is an actual palace, I head an actual government. There is protocol you are required to follow if you want to stay as my guest.”

Yuuri sighs, shoulders drooping. The crown he’s wearing is removed and set on the coffee table. Leaning forward, he rests his elbows on his knees.

“I'm not doing this to be petty, I'm not doing this for fun. Your behavior as my guest directly reflects on me, personally. If you undermine my authority and get away with it, it’ll make me look pretty shitty as a ruler, and I can’t afford that.” He purses his lips, searching for the words to explain himself.

Sighing, he continues. “Yura, when rulers are weak the most common action taken against us is revolt or assassination. I cannot allow myself to look weak right now.” Yuri shifts uncomfortably in his seat. A chill crawls up Viktor’s back, but he does his best to ignore it. “Vitya and Phichit are both required to use my titles and treat me like the monarch I am when we’re not alone or with my family. Vitya’s my boyfriend, Phichit is my best friend of almost four years. This isn’t about you, Yura. Unfortunately, these rules are non-negotiable as a condition of your continued stay in the palace.”

Yuuri pulls his legs up underneath him, leaning against the arm of the couch. “When we’re in private, we can be Yura and Katsudon, and we can do stupid shit and hang out and tease each other and Vitya all we want. There’s nothing I'd like more,” he says sadly. “But in public it’s different. I hate the idea more than you, believe me, but that’s how things are. I'm going to make this as easy as possible for you, and your stay as enjoyable as I can, but it can and will be cut short if necessary. Please don't make me send you home,” he finishes, sounding exhausted.

Yuri looks out the window, hair hiding his face. “What, so I call you ‘Your Majesty’ and shit when we’re not alone?”

“That’s the gist of it,” Yuuri tries to say cheerfully. “Use titles, don’t pick fights, and try to be nice to people, especially the staff and my family. Try to behave in front of the staff as well. We’ll let you know if there’s anything else you need to do. Stay with Viktor or myself, or a member of my family, whenever possible, and take your cues from them. When in doubt, use my title.”

Yuri makes a noise of agreement just before his stomach lets out a growl. His face turns further away, but the tip of his ear turns pink and Viktor smiles.

“I'll get you some food,” Yuuri says gently.

“And a bath!” Yuri says. “Haven’t had a bath since St. Petersburg,” he mumbles as there’s a knock on the door.

Yuuri puts the crown back on his head, before giving his permission for whoever it is to enter. The door opens to reveal one of Minako’s aides, and she walks in with her head held high before giving a bow. She looks at Viktor.

“Mr. Nikiforov,” she says, “I understand family is… important, however I must ask you to make it clear to your cousin that this sort of behavior, sneaking around on the palace grounds and such, will not be tolerated. The staff have better things to do than serve as substitute babysitter.”

“He’s not my cousin,” Viktor replies. He looks at Yuri, now staring determinedly out the window. “Did you tell them you were my cousin?”

“Mr. Nikiforov,” the aide says, “there’s no reason to play dumb about this. The Palace has, as you well know, done extensive research on your background and family. Despite the apparent distance between your immediate families, we know. Now please, make sure he understands how to conduct himself as a guest of the Royal Family.” She turns on her heel, leaving before Viktor has a chance to protest.

Yuri shifts uncomfortably in his chair, turning his body as far from Viktor as he can. Come to think of it, it’s awfully suspicious behavior. The Palace may have their rules, may be austere and controlling and a bit ridiculous, but they are thorough and, in Viktor’s experience, honest. Between what the woman said and how Yuri’s acting, it’s seeming more likely than outlandish, and it seems Yuri’s not quite as taken by surprise as Viktor is.

“Yura,” he says. “Yura did you know about this?”

“Know about what?”

“Yura you don’t seem surprised and you haven’t tried to yell at them. I’m not stupid enough to think the palace is lying to make a point. Are we related somehow?”

“Your mother’s grandmother,” he mutters. “She was my father’s grandmother’s sister. Apparently”

“When did you find this out?”

Yuri shrinks into his chair. “Last month when I saw my great aunt. She mentioned hearing about my cousin— you— skating as a kid, showed me your bar mitzvah photos and I recognized you. She doesn’t know, though.” They’re distant cousins, apparently, and Viktor rubs his temples and sighs as he wonders if there’s anything else life wants to hit him with while it’s at it. Secret love child from a non-existent past relationship, maybe? Long-lost evil triplet brother? Yuuri’s arranged to be married to some prince from a far-off land? Maybe Makkachin is an alien in disguise.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Viktor asks. They’ve exchanged text in the last few weeks. Most of them were Yuri’s scathing commentary on Georgi’s costume ideas for the next season, but still. There’d been plenty of time for something like this to be mentioned.

Yuri glances at him, then Yuuri, and switches to Russian. “What, so you could blab it everywhere and have people thinking I only win shit because I’m your little cousin? You’re insufferable enough as a fucking rinkmate.”

“Speak English, don’t be rude. And I know how to keep a secret.”

“Bullshit,” Yuri says, glaring at him. It takes everything in Viktor not to grab him, not to tell him that he knows full well what it is to keep a secret, what it is to hide something huge. He’s done it with his feelings. He’s done it with his personality, his hopes, his fears. He’s doing it right now, sitting next to the man he’s engaged to while the world remains oblivious.

“Still,” Yuri says, pulling him out of his thoughts, “even if you fucking could, can Katsudon? We all know you’d run off and tell your boyfriend anyway.”

“Yura,” Yuuri says, and it’s bordering on frigid as he sits straight, narrows his eyes. “You do not want to get into a game of ‘can Katsudon keep a secret.’ You will lose.” In that moment, Viktor can see the king Yuuri’s supposed to be, that Yuuri is, and something in him twists.

Wisely, Yuri just looks away.

A second later, Yuuri’s sitting back with a smile. “I’ll ask if my mother will make katsudon for us,” he says. “I have no doubt she’d love to make it for Viktor’s younger rinkmate.” He punctuates the sentence with a grin that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Yeah, whatever,” Yuri replies. “Just get me some food.”

 

Hiroko is missing when they get to the dining room, and Mari smiles and waves as they sit down.

“Is this your new friend, Yuuri?” She says with a smile.

“What?!” Yuri says angrily. “How do you—”

“She’s talking to me,” Yuuri interrupts. “ Yura, this is my sister Mari, Princess of Akitsushima. Mari, this is Yuri Plisetsky, Vitya’s rinkmate from Russia.”

“Nice to meet you, Yurio,” she laughs.

“That’s not my name!” Yuri almost shouts.

Mari grins. “It makes things easier. How are you finding Hasetsu, Yurio?”

Yuri looks at Yuuri and sighs exasperatedly. “Why do I get the stupid nickname?”

“I had the name first,” Yuuri says, pouring himself a cup of tea.

“Aren’t there rules of hospitality or some shit? I'm a guest!”

Raising one perfect eyebrow, Yuuri gives the teenager a once-over. “You are my guest, yes,” he says, “but I'm the king. You find someone who outranks me, and then we'll talk.”

“Whatever, Katsudon.” Yuri says.

Sighing, Yuuri gives the teen a look. “Really?”

“Wait, did he just call you ‘katsudon?’” Mari asks in disbelief. “Like. As in the food.”

“It’s too difficult to accept he has the same name as someone,” Yuuri replies with a straight face, “so he decided my favorite food was a good nickname.”

“When did this happen?”

“Russia,” Yuuri says.

“And you’re just letting him call you that?” Mari looks at the teen incredulously. “Yuuri you can’t just let some kid talk to you like that.”

Raising an eyebrow, he sets the teapot down. “I can do as I please. Anyway, we’re in private.” Flashing a withering look at Yuri, he gets his point across. The only reason he’s not saying anything is the fact that they’re in private.

The door opens and Hiroko walks in. Attendants with food and a fresh pot of tea follow closely, and when everyone’s served they’re left alone again.

“Is this Vicchan’s cousin they were telling me so much about?” Hiroko asks with a smile. “You made quite the impression on the staff, I must say. I’m pleased to meet you, I’m Hiroko, Yuuri-kun’s mother.”

“Nice to meet you,” Yuri grumbles, staring at his food. “Yuri Plisetsky.”

“So you know, Yura,” Yuuri says, “her title is Queen Mother and her honorific is also ‘Your Majesty.’”

“She just introduced herself,” Mari says.

“Not everyone grows up knowing all this, Mari,” Yuuri says. “Yura’s going to get shit if he doesn’t know Kaa-san’s titles, which he didn’t, and I’m not setting him up for failure.”

Mari concedes the point with a nod.

Yuuri raises his eyebrow as he stares at Yuri, and when Viktor looks over he sees why. Doing his best to finagle his chopsticks into place, Yuri’s clearly having a difficult time eating, and Viktor hears a small huff as Yuuri stands, walks to the door and pokes his head out to say something. He stands still for a second, everyone at the table confused until he walks back in with a fork in hand. Kneeling back at his place, he holds the fork out to Viktor with a pointed look at Yuri. Viktor hands it over, and Yuri digs in.

Yuri breaks the silence with a gasp. “This is so fucking good,” he says, shoving pork into his mouth, “holy shit.”

Hiroko beams. “Katsudon is Yuuri-kun’s favorite dish! I’m so glad you like it.”

 

~*~

 

Viktor’s on the ice five minutes before Yuri when they get to the rink, and he’s about to march back to the locker room when he sees his younger cousin walk out, hair pulled into a ponytail. Skating across the ice, Yuri gets a good look at the rink around them. “It’s small,” he remarks.

“It’s not a sports complex,” Viktor says, “and it will work just fine for our purposes.” He pulls the speaker remote out of his pocket. He's only got two routines he had planned for next season and he decides to give up his short program. He’ll be damned if Yuri debuts in seniors at fifteen years old with a program based on sexual love.

“Now, the program I'm giving you is set to a different arrangement of the music I was thinking of for my free skate.”

“Matching programs? What the fuck, Viktor?”

“I never said I'd be performing the other one,” Viktor replies cheerily.

“You’re retiring?!” He sounds more upset about the prospect than Viktor would expect.

“I never said that, either.” Smiling, Viktor holds up the remote. “You’ll be skating to this.” Pressing play, he crosses his arms again, taking some level of delight in the way Yuri’s face changes from boredom to outright disgust.

“The fuck is this?” Yuri asks.

“It’s called On Love: Agape,” Viktor says. “Have you thought much about love before?”

He’s doing his best to keep his tone light, but Yuri’s belligerence is grating and Viktor is tired and he has another lesson with Minako this afternoon and really, he just wants to go home and curl up on his fiancé and drink something warm. The weight of the necklace on his chest is reassuring, though. He raises an eyebrow as he watches Yuri.

“No,” Yuri answers after a beat.

“What do you hear?” Viktor asks. “The music speaks, what does it say to you?”

Scowling, Yuri crosses his arms. “All light and innocent and shit, it makes me want to puke. How the fuck am I supposed to skate to that ,” he shouts, throwing one arm to the side, “it’s nothing like me!”

“And that’s why it’s a good choice!” Viktor says. “It’s your senior debut, doing the opposite of what people expect is the only way to surprise them! It’ll certainly be a routine to remember!”

“It better be a winning one!” Yuri retorts.

“If it were me skating,” Viktor says with the surety the title of ‘Living Legend’ provides, “it would be. Whether or not you’ll be able to make it one remains to be seen. You’re far more mediocre than you think; you’ll have to put a lot more work into seniors if you want to make the podium.”

“What?!” Yuri kicks the ice with his toe pick. “And you think you’re good, Old Man?” Viktor knows he’s good. He has the track record and experience to prove it, and that’s part of the problem, he realizes. Where’s the fun in giving people what they expect? They expect him to show up with something new, and they expect him to win the gold, and honestly that’s all the last competition season was. Score high in the short, win with the free, get the gold, repeat. There’s uncomfortably little desire in him to continue the cycle and he holds in a sigh as he widens his smile.

“I know my skills,” he says, “and I know yours. I wouldn’t be giving you this routine if I didn’t think you were capable.” It’s undeniable that Yuri has the skill needed to perform Agape. Much like Viktor, Yuri’s worked hard, has earned his place at the podium, but now that he’s going into seniors, he’s going to have to step it up. It’s an entirely different field of competition and if he’s not able to fine-tune his expressiveness and successfully integrate it into his routine, he’s not going to fare as well as he expects. There are two ways this can go: an unpleasant wake-up call, or a chance for significant growth, and it’s up to Yuri which it will be.

Viktor gives Yuri the remote before shooing him off the ice to show him the program. The routine is both fluid and fast-paced, strenuous even for Viktor, but he performs what he has planned and marks the jumps. Those can be figured out at a later date, when he has a feel for how Yuri’s stamina is going to work with the choreography. Yuri, of course, is sure he’ll be fine.

That remains to be seen.

 

~*~

 

Tired after dance practice, Viktor smiles, throwing his arm around Yuuri before raising his phone in the air. “Velichestvo,” he says, “selfie time.”

Yuuri looks over at him, one eyebrow raised. “Selfie time?”

“Practice selfie!” Viktor grins. “That and Phichit will stop bugging us for updates if there’s something for him to repost.”

Sighing, Yuuri rolls his eyes and pulls out his phone. “Best do one on each account,” he says.

“Your Majesty,” one of Minako’s aides says, walking over, “are you quite sure it’s best to be posting such frivolous pictures?”

“And why not?” Yuuri says, fixing her with a look. “I was under the impression that as long as nothing downright unsavory was posted, the palace would have little say on what I put on my social media day-to-day, especially on my personal account.”

“Yes, Sire, and I understand that, however I think a picture of this sort might give people the wrong impression.”

“What impression would that be?” he asks, crossing his arms.

Pursing her lips, the woman frowns. “Well, Sire, if everyone sees you like this,” she gestures down the length of his body, “they might think—”

“Think what?” Yuuri interrupts. “That I’m human? That maybe I need to practice things or work out? That I’m not well-dressed 24/7? I fail to see what the ‘wrong impression’ would be in this case, so unless you have a truly compelling reason as to why I shouldn’t, I’d like to take a selfie with my boyfriend and post it on my personal social media account.”

“My apologies, Your Majesty.” The woman bows at the neck and backs away, taking her place once again at the edge of the room.

Yuuri navigates to his camera on his phone, and smiles at Viktor. Having pulled up Instagram himself, he grins as Yuuri kisses his nose, laying another kiss on his lips. “Selfie time?”

Viktor nods. They take their pictures, Yuuri’s free arm around Viktor’s waist, while Viktor has his free hand resting on Yuuri’s shoulder. The lighting from the wall of windows is superb, the late morning sun filtering into the room and filling it with color, and the smiles plastered across their faces are happier than Viktor’s seen in a long time, at least in public. Yuuri posts his photos, tagging Viktor. Viktor re-takes his selfies when Makkachin comes in, and the picture he posts has them kneeling with the dog, hands buried in curly brown hair.

Phichit likes both pictures almost instantly, responding with one of himself and an unamused Celestino out to a late dinner.

@phichit+chu: @ccialdini and i say hi!!! @hrm-yuuri-aki and @v-nikiforov , detroit hasn’t been the same without you! give #makkachin scratches for me!!!

 

The door opens behind them and Minako walks in, followed by Yuri, still in his workout clothing.

“How’s it going?” Minako says cheerfully.

“We’re just finishing up,” Yuuri replies. “How was practice?”

“Great,” Minako says even as Yuri scoffs.

“He’s doing well?” Viktor asks.

“The fuck does it matter to you? Back the fuck off,” Yuri snaps. “I don’t need you hovering over me, Shithead.”

The entire room goes still. Yuuri looks around, drawing himself to his full height. “Mr. Plisetsky,” he bites, “I’d like a word with you.” Walking towards the door, he gestures for Yuri to follow suit. Viktor puts a hand on the teen’s back, nudging him to follow, but when Yuri jerks away from him the glare Viktor’s met with is impressively disdainful. Regardless, they both follow Yuuri into a nearby sitting room, where he shuts the door and turns around.

“Yura,” he says, “you need to watch it.”

“What the fuck, Katsudon?”

“‘What the fuck’ nothing,” he retorts. “I asked you to be respectful in front of the staff, and I meant it. Vitya’s not some nobody here, he’s not someone you can just be a dick to and get away with it either. I know you guys are used to just being rinkmates, and that’s fine. In private.” As he crosses his arms, his fingers brush over the necklace he wears, hidden under his shirt. Viktor’s own rests heavily on his chest, too far from his hand to touch without it looking conspicuous.

“Viktor’s just a figure skater, what the fuck do they care?”

“Vitya,” Yuuri replies, “may well become their King-Consort. If they’re going to respect him in that position, we have to, and yelling at him like that in front of an entire room of people isn’t the way to do that. This is about far more than just yourself,” he says, “and you need to be careful. I know you’re still upset about the whole cousins thing, but keep that to when we’re in private. Please.”

Yuri looks at the floor. “Whatever,” he mutters, defeated.

“Yura, we’re not trying to be mean about things,” Viktor says in an attempt to lighten the mood. “We just want to—”

“Back the fuck off, Old Man, I don’t give a shit what you were trying to do. I get it, okay?!” The response is along the lines of what Viktor’d expected, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Sighing, Yuuri crosses his arms. “Just try to be less abrasive in front of everyone like that. When there’s no one around, do whatever, just… be careful, please.”

“Fine,” Yuri says, leveling Viktor with a glare that says it’s anything but. “I’m taking a shower, I’ll see you for dinner, or whatever,” he grumbles before leaving the room. There’s a moment of hesitation in which he seems to consider slamming the door behind him, but thinks better of it.

When they’re alone, Yuuri sighs heavily, leaning on Viktor. “In all honesty,” he says, “he didn’t pick the worst people to do that in front of, I just wanted to make sure he wouldn’t. Like, in the future. If he’d done that in front of actual officials or the nobility instead of the palace staff… I just needed to make sure.”

Viktor hugs him. “I know, Lyubov.”

“He seems angry with you.”

It’s Viktors turn to sigh as he buries his nose in Yuuri’s shoulder. “He does. I don’t know why.”

“Maybe it has to do with being related?”

Responding with a shrug, Viktor pulls Yuuri closer. “Whatever it is,” he says, “I wish I knew.” He’d like a relationship with Yuri, for them to actually have the opportunity to be cousins but he doesn't want to steamroll his way into Yuri’s life, and he doesn’t want to drive him any further away. He cares about the kid, always has, and he feels a sort of protectiveness that comes with knowing what it’s like to be the pretty young prodigy. More than once, he’s found himself resisting the urge to snap at Lilia about her uncomfortable obsession with beauty and perfection. Yuri doesn’t need the same damage, doesn’t need to find himself chopping his hair off with a pair of scissors in a fit of anger after one too many greasy sponsors ran their fingers through it, wound it around their hands and messed it up after half an hour of painful, almost involuntary styling.

Lilia had been pissed. Viktor hadn’t cared, told them to shave it close to his neck when he went in to get it cleaned up.

Regardless, that doesn’t tell him what to do now. Back off? His attempts to foster a relationship, to maybe edge into a more familial role have, thus far, been met with nothing but backlash in the form of angry glares and aggressive contempt, Yuri doing everything in his power to keep Viktor at arm’s length even as he asks for his help. Yuri can’t hate him that much if he’d fly across the continent to chase him down. Of course, Yuri also has a fierce competitive streak and Viktor is well-known for his choreographic prowess. A winning routine could be motivation enough, and he can’t help but wonder if there’s anyone in this world outside of Yuuri and their families who doesn’t want something from him.

There’s only so much you can give before there’s nothing left.

 

~*~

 

Viktor wakes to Yuuri smacking his arm and the blaring of his phone ringtone. When he looks, it’s Alexei’s face on the screen. Confused, he swipes to answer and puts the phone to his ear.

“Lyosha?” he whispers as he crawls out of bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Vitka?”

Walking out to the sitting room, Viktor grabs his robe. “Yeah, is something up? Or did you forget it’s…” he checks his phone, “half-past five a.m., here?”

“Shit,” Alexei says, “I meant to call a different Viktor. Coworker. I’m sorry for waking you.”

“It’s fine,” Viktor replies. “It’s fine. Are you at home right now?”

“Yeah, why, did you want to talk to moms?”

“No,” he says. “Well, not right now. Maybe?” Pulling his robe on, he ties it tight around his waist before going out to the balcony. Not wanting to wake Yuuri, he stays at the far end, nowhere near the entrance to the bedroom. “Yuri’s here. Yuri Plisetsky,” he says.

“What for?”

“I promised him a routine a while ago,” Viktor replies, “he was holding me to it. Which… that’s not the thing, the thing is, apparently we’re related.”

“What?”

“Our great-grandparents were siblings? Or something? He didn’t say much about it aside from saying his aunt had one of our bar mitzvah photos and he recognized me. Or, well, recognized… you know what I’m saying,” Viktor finishes. It’s not the first time they’ve been confused for each other in photos, and there are some childhood pictures where neither they nor their their mothers can tell them apart. During and after their bar mitzvah they’d both had their hair slicked back, Viktor’s in a low ponytail at the base of his neck, and unfortunately in Viktor’s picture it’s impossible to see. It hadn’t mattered at the time, they were dressed differently, but without knowing what the person in the picture was wearing, there’s no way of knowing which of them it is.

Alexei laughs. “So he saw a photo and drew that conclusion?”

“Well, his aunt said the person was his cousin and did figure skating. I only found out about it because the Palace did a background check and apparently were very thorough in their research. They told me to ‘keep my cousin in line,’” he paraphrases. Sighing, he runs his fingers through his hair. “I was going to ask moms if they knew anything about it.”

“And if they did why they didn’t tell you?”

“That, too,” Viktor sighs. “Or if they could just confirm it. I don’t have any reason to think the Palace is lying, I just…”

“I get it,” Alexei responds. “I’ll ask them about it, see if Mamulya can talk to our aunts and uncles. I’ll let you know when I know.”

Soft footsteps come up behind him, and he feels Yuuri wrap his arms around his waist, resting his head on Viktor’s back. “Thanks, Lyoshen’ka,” he replies through a yawn.

“No problem, Vitka. Go back to sleep.” Making a noise, Viktor sticks his tongue out at the phone, earning a laugh. “Sorry for waking you,” Alexei continues.

“It’s fine,” Viktor reassures, “I had to be up soon anyway for my run. Say hi to everyone?”

“I will,” Alexei says, cheerful. “Katya’s been asking for her own pair of skates, by the way.”

“Figure skates?”

“Hockey,” Alexei replies. “She wants to play ice hockey.”

“Traitor,” Viktor mutters with a smile.

Alexei lets out a bark of a laugh. “She said you'd say that,” he says, “but seriously, I think she thinks you're going to be disappointed.”

“I won’t be. She there now?”

“Asleep, it's the middle of the night. Do you want me to have her call tomorrow?”

“No,” Viktor says as much as it makes his chest ache, “I'll be busy most of the day, my schedule’s packed between dealing with Yura and everything else that’s going on.”

“All right. Call when you can. I should call my coworker, we need to discuss a dig coming up,” Alexei says. “Planning and all that.”

“The glamorous life of an archaeologist,” Viktor chuckles. “I’ll talk to you, soon. Tell Katya I’m proud of her, and I’ll get her the skates for her birthday.”

“I’ll keep that bit a secret for now. Good night, Vitya. Well, good morning.”

Viktor laughs. “Good night.”

The call ends, and he lets himself settle into Yuuri’s arms, earning a kiss on the jaw. “What was that?” Yuuri mumbles sleepily.

Turning around, Viktor drapes his arms loosely around Yuuri’s neck, leaning down to rest his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. “Lyosha called me by accident, I asked him to ask our moms about Yura. Apparently my sister’s taking up ice hockey?”

Yuuri laughs as he yawns, burying his face in the crook of Viktor’s neck. “Come back to bed,” he says. Viktor takes a glance at the clock on his phone and sighs.

“It’s almost five-thirty, our alarms are at six. We may as well stay up.”

Groaning, Yuuri nuzzles his head into Viktor’s shoulder. “I don’t wanna.”

“Come for a run with me, Lyubov?” Even though he’s not competing at the moment, Viktor likes to keep his activity levels up. Running used to be his least-favorite activity, but he learned to find solace in the time alone with his thoughts. Steady movement gives him a sense of rhythm, a different sort of peace than what he gets from skating or dance. Yuuri’s standing still, arms around Viktor’s waist as he breathes deeply. “Please?” Viktor asks.

A deep sigh, and then a nod of agreement before Yuuri pulls away. “We may as well shower after we go out, you know?”

 

Sweating and tired, Yuuri comes to a stop near a small door in the lower levels of the palace. Viktor comes up beside him, smiling and pulling Yuuri towards him for a kiss. Without hesitation, Yuuri indulges him, caressing Viktor’s cheek with his hand. “Would you like me to make coffee?” he asks.

“Mmmm I don’t want to walk all the way to the kitchens,” Viktor replies. “We can have them bring it up?”

Chuckling, Yuuri takes Viktor’s hand, pulling him towards the door. “You’ll find the walk shorter than you think,” he says. Turning to look back, he smiles just before his toe catches the end of a broken paving stone, almost sending him sprawling across the path. Viktor hurries to his side. Laughter spills from Yuuri’s throat as he reaches his arms out and grabs Viktor’s hoodie. Pulling Viktor to him, he rests his forehead on Viktor’s shoulder for a brief second.

“I forgot about that,” he says. “That paving stone’s been tripping me up since I learned how to walk.”

A nearby guard walks over, bowing as he comes to a stop. “Your Majesty,” he says, “are you okay, Sire?”

“I’m fine,” Yuuri says, waving him off, “thank you.”

Pulling Viktor through the door, they enter the small room in the kitchens. Elena smiles at them, gesturing towards the coffee room. Smiling, Yuuri nods his thanks and walks through while the staff do their best to avoid staring, with varying levels of success. In the safety of the small coffee room, Yuuri whips up the lattes, heavily caffeinated and perfectly sweetened, drawing a heart on top of Viktor’s before handing it over.

They still have some time before the day really begins, so they walk back slowly, savoring their coffee as Makkachin plods gently along next to them. He’s adapting to the change just fine, excitedly exploring whatever rooms he happens to end up in, and in this case Yuuri leads them to one of Viktor’s favorite parlors, one with huge, open windows and sunlight streaming through gauzy white curtains.

Yuuri pulls them open, swings the windows wide to let in tbe fresh air of spring, and they stand together as they sip their coffee.  Makkachin finds a nice corner, curling up on an ottoman to doze.

 

They meet Yuri, Mari, and Hiroko for breakfast, after which Yuuri heads off to do whatever it is he’s supposed to do, and Viktor and Yuri head to the rink. Practice starts off well enough. With jumps planned and choreography mostly finalized, Yuri’s able to focus now on getting the feel of the music and failing miserably. Viktor, again, yells for him to stop, earning a glare.

“I’m doing it just fine,” Yuri snaps, “exactly how you showed me! What’s the fucking problem?”

“The feeling!” Viktor replies. “You’re not getting that feeling of agape, of unconditional love, through in your skating. You’re trying to skate a winning routine, and it’s too obvious that all you’re after is the medal.”

“Isn’t that the fucking point? I know I can do this, I know I can win with this!”

“Confidence is good,” Viktor agrees, “but not everything, and this isn’t the program to flaunt it.”

“The fuck is wrong with skating confidently? You do it all the fucking time!”

“There’s a difference between skating confidently and skating with confidence. For this program to work, you need to get that sense of love, that innocence, and let it come through in every movement.”

“Then what the fuck is agape? Tell me that, then!”

“It’s a feeling,” Viktor says, “and next to impossible to put into words. It’s the love a parent has for their child, or that best friends have for each other. It’s a love that expects nothing in return. Have you thought about it at all?”

“No,” Yuri retorts.

“That much is obvious,” Viktor replies,  smiling. “I don’t know how you expect to win if you can’t portray the right emotion. It’s a crucial part of the routine!” He grins. “I have an idea.”

 

Their impromptu trip to the local temple ends with Yuri grumbling the whole drive home, rubbing his shoulders after firm taps with a rod by one of the monks. “This is fucking stupid,” he says as they’re walking back into the palace. “The whole fucking thing is stupid.”

“Well,” Viktor laughs, “once you understand agape, it’ll be easier! Think about it some more. Think of what reminds you of that sort of love.” It’s familial love, he wants to say, but mentioning family and thus bringing the fact that they’re related into this is only likely to make things worse. Perhaps this wasn’t the best routine to start with, in terms of subject matter, but it’s not like he has the time to come up with a new one on the fly. Already, he’s had to take less of an active role in court life than they’d planned, his sessions with Minako and occasional public engagements being cut down in favor of practices with Yuri.

Yuri scoffs, glaring at him through his hair. “Whatever. I’m going to go shower,” he mutters, stalking off.

Viktor follows a few feet behind, what with their bedrooms being in the same general direction, and when they get to the top of the stairs, Yuri turns around. “Why the fuck are you following me?”

“My bedroom’s right near yours, Yura,” he answers, “I don’t know what you expected me to do. Take a different route?”

“Why not?” Yuri snaps, turning his back and heading in the opposite direction. Viktor stands there, defeated. No matter what he’s tried over the past few days, nothing has succeeded in getting Yuri to be anything less than abrasive at best.

“Vicchan?”

Turning, Viktor comes face to face with Hiroko. “Your Majesty,” he says, smiling.

She returns his smile. “Ms. Okukawa is here for your lessons,” she responds.

He’d completely forgotten about the lessons. “Thank you,” he says, grinning, “I was just going to pick up the binder from my room.”

“Is everything okay?” Voice heavy with concern, she takes his hand in hers.

No, he wants to say. No, Yura disliked me as it was, he hates me even more now that we know we’re related and is it such a bad thing to be related to me? Am I really that much of a burden? Instead, he nods. “There’s a lot on my plate, but I’m managing alright. How about yourself?”

The change in topic doesn’t escape her but thankfully she doesn’t acknowledge it. “I’m doing well,” she says with a smile full of love. She gives him a hug, wishes him well, and he leaves for his lesson.

 

By the time he finishes with Minako, it’s almost dinnertime, and they both make their way to the dining room.  “You’re doing well,” Minako says as they walk. Today they’d focused on the language, Minako working with him using a combination of workbooks, textbooks, and their own occasional conversation in Japanese. He’s got the basic writing systems down, can read anything as long as it’s written phonetically, and they’re working on kanji and more advanced sentence structures and vocabulary. Viktor has a list of children’s books to read and translate in his free time, all of which he’ll get from the library at a later point.

“His Majesty has been more than willing to practice my Japanese with me,” he says. “Mostly the native dialect,” he adds, “but we’ve touched on Standard Japanese as well.”

“That’s kind of him,” Minako replies. “He hasn’t been making you watch anime for practice, has he?”

Viktor snorts. “No, I’m sure he’d have me play video games in Japanese if he was going that route.”

“True,” she laughs. “After our session this morning, His Majesty did say he was going to play. He’s always liked video games. They suit his sense of adventure without actually being an adventure.”

“I imagine he’s had enough adventure for a lifetime,” Viktor says absently. His hand moves to brush against the necklace he wears. He covers it by scratching his chest.

“I’d be inclined to agree,” Minako says in response.

It’s not far to the dining room, and they’re almost there when they bump into Yuuri and Yuri at the foot of the stairs.

“Minako-sensei,” Yuuri says with a smile, hugging her before moving to kiss Viktor. “Vitya, how did everything go?”

“Well,” Viktor says. “It went well. My Japanese is getting better, apparently.”

“It is,” Yuuri says as they continue to walk. Yuri follows behind, sullen and strangely contemplative.

“Were you two hanging out?” Viktor asks.

“We played some video games, chatted a bit,” Yuuri says. “Yura kicked my ass a couple of times, he’s better at Mario Kart than you are.” There’s a snort from behind them, but Yuri doesn’t say anything. They’re first to the dining room, taking their places at the table as an attendant brings in tea. They’re joined shortly by Hiroko, and then by Mari a few minutes after that. Chatting animatedly, Minako and Hiroko discuss their days, chat about their time together in school. Yuuri, clearly tired with dark circles under his eyes, is mostly quiet, Yuri even moreso, and it’s impossible to avoid wondering what it was they talked about.

“Is everything okay?” he asks Yuuri as their dishes are cleared for dessert.

“What?” he jerks his head up, looking him in the eye. “Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine. I’m just tired.” He smiles, but there’s a hint of melancholy under the surface. His eyes flick to Yuri, but his smile widens as he looks back at Viktor. “Do you want to go to the baths tonight?”

“That sounds like it’d be nice,” Viktor responds.

“You should join us, Yura,” Yuuri says.

Yuri looks in between them and shrugs. “Sure. Whatever,” he replies, looking back down at the table. The lack of protest on his part is somewhat surprising, Viktor having expected some sort of refusal to be in his presence for longer than is strictly necessary, but it’s strangely nice. Whether it’s indicative of a change in their relationship or just exhaustion it’s hard to tell, but Viktor’ll take it over the scathing remarks Yuri seems to have in abundance.

Viktor smiles. “It’ll be fun!”

Grinning, Yuuri nods. “Staff has asked that we keep Makkachin out of the bath, though. His fur’s getting into the filters and while it hasn’t been much, they don’t want it to cause problems down the line.”

“We can leave him inside,” Viktor says. “He’ll live.”

Dessert is a sort of fruit tart, made from fresh, seasonal fruits and sweetened just enough to bring out the flavors. Much of their food has been consistently healthy. He’s not sure whether it’s just the Royal Family’s typical fare or the chef making accommodations for Viktor and Yuri’s athletic diets, but either way, he’s grateful.

 

The bath is warm and soothing, the smell of the minerals is heavy in the steam rising off the water. Yuuri and Viktor sit fairly close together, Yuri just a few feet away, and the silence is comfortable. A welcome change to the tense, oppressive silences from the last week. Strangely, Yuri keeps glancing at Viktor through his hair with a contemplative look on his face. Aside from that, it’s impossible to tell what he may be thinking about. Viktor sighs, sinking a bit further into the water.

“What’s on your mind?” Yuuri asks, voice gentle.

“Nothing, really,” Viktor answers with a glance at Yuri. His fiancé nods, shifting closer.

“It’s nice,” Yuuri comments, looking up at the sky. “Being out here in this weather,” he clarifies.

Viktor makes a noise of agreement. “It is. We should come out here more often,” he says. The night is quiet, the sound of water gently lapping at the rocks providing soothing background noise as they soak.

 

The walk back in is just as quiet, and when they stop by Yuri’s room he says goodnight without any attitude whatsoever, instead just closing the door gently behind him. When they get to their bedroom, Viktor and Yuuri are accosted by Makkachin, who stays near one or both of them as they get ready for bed.

“What did you two talk about?” Viktor asks as he lays on the bed in his underwear, running his fingers through Makka’s fur.

“Not much,” Yuuri says as he pulls on shorts and a t-shirt. “He talked about his grandpa some, I talked about… growing up. My dad, a bit. It wasn’t really anything big.” Turning off the lights, he crawls into bed next to Viktor. There’s a hitch in his breath. He holds it for a second, then lets it out shakily when Viktor feels a tug on the front of his shirt. He moves forward to wrap his arms around Yuuri. Burying his face in Viktor’s chest, Yuuri holds onto him, slotting one of his legs between Viktor’s and pressing his body against him.

“I didn’t get to know him,” he whispers.

“Your dad?” Viktor asks, kissing his temple.

Yuuri nods. “I never got the chance to know him and I’ll n-never get the chance to properly mourn him and I hate that that was taken.” Crying now, he curls up as best he can against Viktor. “I hate that I miss what we could have had more than what we did.”

“Oh, Yuuri,” Viktor murmurs, rubbing soothing circles into his fiancé’s back, “I’m so sorry.”

“What I hate most of all,” Yuuri says, barely audible even in the quiet of the room, “is that if I’d come back earlier I wouldn’t have met you, and I don’t know which is worse.”

Kissing Yuuri’s forehead, Viktor pulls him even closer. He has no response. Life without Yuuri is impossible to fathom. Going to the café was one of the best decisions Viktor’s ever made and he wouldn’t give this up for the world. If Yuuri’d gone home, though, he wouldn’t be suffering like this. Wouldn’t be missing someone he barely remembers, lost as he does his best to govern a still barely-familiar country. He wouldn’t have to be fighting so hard for even the most basic respect, walking a knife’s edge every waking moment as he navigates the tenuous politics of court and Viktor feels tears prickling in the corners of his eyes. It’s so incredibly hard to see someone he loves in pain like this. Doing his best to offer what comfort he can, he holds Yuuri, rubs his back, caresses his hair as he whispers love until they fall asleep.

 

~*~

 

Standing near the conference room, Viktor absently checks his phone. Yuuri’d texted a few minutes ago, saying the meeting was wrapping up and he’d be available after, if Viktor wanted to see him before dinner, but so far there’s been only a slow trickle of people leaving the room. Most of them allow their eyes to slide over Viktor, as if he’s just another part of the background, but a few nod, some smile at him, and he keeps a pleasant expression on his face. Good impressions are important.

An older gentleman comes out followed by a small entourage, and as he adjusts his haori his eyes come to rest on Viktor. He glances back into the conference room, before walking over. “Mr. Nikiforov,” he says briskly. The entourage stays near the doors save one valet who stays at the nobleman’s side, though Viktor can feel them watching the exchange. “Mr. Nikiforov if I could have a word?”

As soon as he nods, the man gestures for Viktor to follow him. They end up in a smaller conference room, and when the door is closed firmly behind them, he turns abruptly. “There’s an urgent matter to be discussed, Mr. Nikiforov, and I would appreciate your willing cooperation.”

“What is it?” Warning bells start going off in Viktor’s head. There’s no reason for this man to approach him, he has no say in any of the politics of court, no title, no influence beyond being Yuuri's boyfriend, as far as the man knows, and Yuuri's not one to allow himself to be controlled, even by a loved one.

“Well, Mr. Nikiforov, I don’t mean to cause offence but I'm sure I'll be able to impress upon you the difficulty of my present situation.”

Viktor raises one eyebrow, schooling his face into a neutral position. His default used to be a smile, he notes, instead of an expression of aloof impassivity.

“You see, as a member of the nobility, it is my duty to uphold the sanctity of this nation. It is my duty, sir, to help maintain our traditions and our integrity.” Viktor’s about to snap at him to get to the point, but he barrels on. “While we serve the citizenry of Akitsushima, our primary duty is the protection of our sovereign and the Royal Family. For centuries, we have been a proud and noble people, resisting those who would rule us and ensuring the future will not be muddied by outside influence. It would be uncouth for the King to have relations with those… not of a certain caliber.”

A sinking pit grows in Viktor’s gut, spreading icy tendrils up his spine. Yuuri was right. Viktor still isn’t welcomed here, not by the nobility. He throws on his most disarmingly cheerful smile. “I'm not quite sure what you’re trying to say, sir,” he says through his teeth.

“If I may speak plainly, Mr. Nikiforov, you have neither the status nor the lineage of someone we would consider a good partner for His Royal Majesty. To allow him to continue any longer with this dalliance would be to encourage Akitsushima’s ruin. It would behoove you, sir, to remove yourself from this fantasy wherein you believe yourself worthy of the attentions of your betters. You are a figure skater, Mr. Nikiforov. Nothing more.”

“Russia holds me in the highest esteem,” Viktor says icily. Two can play at this game, and Viktor’s been sweet-talking the press since he was twelve. “Should