Chapter 1: Love Gone Viral
What am I supposed to do now?
A five time world champion. It's a huge honor, of course, and I appreciate that. But I've found, over the years that, with honor, comes expectation. I've always been able to surprise people with bold new programs. Every year, I rip up what I did before, and I do something different. I think of a story I want to tell, and I have music composed to tell it. I design moves that work with the music to create the elaborate illusion that will enthrall the audience. A figure skater is a performer, someone who entertains others by showing them original creations.
The one thing the audience never sees…is me.
It was easy to do this before. When I was younger and just another Russian skater with notable talent, no one knew what to expect from me, and that made it easy for me to find stories to tell and to grip people's senses with exciting music and visually stunning moves that my younger body could do. Costume design was easier too, because there were no expectations there either. I could create anything I wanted to. It was a joy to do that. But, at the time, I didn't realize that each new program grew a hunger in my audience to see something new and different from me.
And there was something else that was happening with each new program. Little bits of me were escaping. Patterns began to appear in my work, little flashes of me that escaped into my work. With so many eyes on me, I was revealing more and more of myself. In public appearances and interviews, I was being displayed, and all of a sudden, it mattered what I did, both on and off the ice. As soon as I became aware, I knew I had to do something.
So, I started to weave an illusion for everyone to see. No matter how I felt inside, I smiled every time I went out in public. I never turned down a request for a photo with a fan, or to encourage other skaters who competed with me. I crafted an illusion even more grand than any of my performances
It worked perfectly…until the first time I fell in love.
People get mesmerized by a good performer, and I was good in my performances, so I had plenty of people interested in me. To be honest, I was flattered when they started calling me the world's hottest bachelor. Who wouldn't like that? It feels good to be desired. And to have so much desire focused on me was intoxicating. But, there was something I didn't realize at first, when I was accepting invitations and indulging in those first few romances. Unfortunately for me, and for the women I dated, they were falling in love with the fantasy I had created. It wasn't really their fault. It was the performance that snared them, and then, the public image I created that made them think the man beneath the performance would be even more enthralling.
The only way that equation could end is with disappointment. A good performer learns to give a flawless performance, and then, the audience expects flawlessness. How disappointing must it have been for those women to realize that I get up early every day, that I go immediately to work and concentrate all of my effort on the next performance, to the exclusion of everything else? I barely have time to give a few minutes to Maccachin every day, and I was trying to include a romantic partner too? Of course those relationships failed. I was giving so much effort to my work that I wasn't physically or emotionally available to anyone…not even to myself.
I stopped having romantic relationships once I realized that. Now, I go out for fun, but I never take anyone home with me. Okay, sometimes, I can't help it. I take someone home because I am lonely and it makes that lonely feeling go away for a little while. As long as I let my work keep my mind busy, I won't think about the fact that even physical love feels empty and unreal.
God, I am losing my motivation.
And once my motivation is gone, I am as good as dead.
I won't think about that. I will just do what I've always done and concentrate on my new programs. I have the music for my short program. On Love. If I could just decide which story I want to tell…Eros or Agape?
At first, I thought Eros, because I could think of plenty of good moves and I know how to rile people with music and motion. But, if I wanted to surprise my audience, then I shouldn't go with something they would expect from me, should I? So, I also began to create moves to go with the more innocent Agape. It actually wasn't bad, but then Yakov said something that he never had before.
"You're too old for that, Vitya. Maybe when you were a younger skater, you could do something like that, but you are twenty-seven, not fifteen. It would surprise them, but maybe not in the way you want to surprise them.
It's been a long time since I felt humiliated like that.
Now, I just don't know what to…
Hmm? A message from Georgi?
Victor, take a look at this!
Yuuri Katsuki takes a crack at Victor's Free Skate program?
I remember Yuuri Katsuki, of course. The Japanese skater who qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time this year. I remember seeing him in some of the preliminary competitions. He wasn't bad when he wasn't nervous, but the pressure is sometimes too much for some skaters. I felt bad for him, because he's good on the ice, and he wasn't able to show his best. He looked humiliated when I saw him leaving the arena, so I offered to take a photo with him. He looked heartbroken and just walked away.
Yuuri has a reputation for choking in competition, so it's hard to know how good he really is. It's hard to know anything about him, because no one knows him. He doesn't talk to the other skaters. He doesn't socialize…although…once he was drunk enough at the banquet after the final, he socialized plenty. He's a very good dancer. I had the pleasure of dancing with him and being dramatically dipped at the end. I was pretty shocked when he grabbed me and said if he won the next dance off, he wanted me to be his coach. But, Yuuri was very intoxicated. He couldn't have been serious. Being a good skater doesn't mean that I would be a good coach, and I know nothing about Yuuri Katsuki's potential as a skater. It wouldn't be a good idea.
Still…there's something about him. I wonder who took this video. I wonder if he knew it was happening.
He can't have known. I've never seen Yuuri Katsuki skate like this…like the music is inside him and flowing out of him as he moves. His step sequence is better than mine…and I'm the one who made this program. I won my fifth world championship with it. How is he…?
He can land these jumps?
He's landing them perfectly, one after the next! Everything is there, that lovely expression on his face that says he loves the music and every move, the flawless execution that we never see in his competitions! He has to have trained on this tirelessly, and over months to be able to do this so well.
Why did he do that?
Why my program?
Damn it! What is going on with him?
What's going on with me? My mouth has gone dry. My heart is pounding. His performance riled me that much? I'm feeling something inside that I haven't felt for too long.
I feel inspired!
It's like going back to that moment at the banquet, when Yuuri was drunk and he forgot his humiliation. He danced with me, then he put his arms around me and he asked me to be his coach. My head knows he would never have done that if he hadn't been drunk, but I can't look at this performance and not do something…because…more than anything right now, I want to compete with the skater I see in this video!
How can I do that?
I've heard that Yuuri stopped training with Celestino. The rumors are flying that he's going to quit skating. I can't look at this and not do something. I have to do something. I want to skate with Yuuri in competition again! Only this time, I want to see him skate like this!
How do I do that?
I hear Yuuri's drunken voice in my head, asking me to be his coach. It's spooky and echoing, and it's making my heart pound even harder. My heart that was feeling so empty before, suddenly feels full! What should I do?
No, that's just crazy, isn't it?
I can't just drop everything, leave competition, leave Russia, go to Japan and be his coach, can I?
"What do you think, Maccachin?" I ask my old poodle.
Maccachin wags his tail and whines a little. He's a dog, and he probably knows I'm crazy to be thinking about doing this. But the truth is…if I stay here, and I keep doing what I'm doing, I am going to lose my motivation and my career will be over. The only way that I can help myself is to help this Japanese skater, who just inspired me. I guess if I wanted to surprise people, this will surprise them.
It will be a surprise to Yuuri too.
I wonder how he'll take it.
Oh, so I've decided to do this?
It takes me by surprise, as I begin to make inquiries and plans, that it's not so hard to drop everything and go to him. He's home in Hasetsu, probably wondering how he'll go on. I'm going to go there to answer that question. I've never been a coach, but right now, I can't be a figure skater either. I have one goal in mind and that's to make Yuuri Katsuki return to skating and win the next Grand Prix Final. If he can do that, then I know he'll keep skating!
It takes a few days, and Yakov swears first that he's going to kill me for being so reckless, then he threatens me that I can never come back if I do this. He doesn't understand that I was already dying on the inside. I was losing my inspiration, and my future as a skater was already a question mark. What I'm doing now, by getting on this plane and flying to Japan is I am saving my career and Yuuri's. I won't think about anything else. Just that. What could go wrong, right?
It's a long flight, and I have plenty of time to come to my senses, but I don't. And the next thing I know, I am stepping off the plane, picking up Maccachin and telling the airline where to send my things. I take a cab to Yutopia Katsuki and arrive late morning. Strangely, even though it's April, there's snow coming down. Maccachin gives me a look like he thinks I'm a little bit off my rocker, and he follows me inside, where an older Japanese man greets me. He greets me in Japanese, the switches to English when he realizes we have that language in common.
"Yuuri?" he says in response to my inquiry, "I think he's still sleeping, but he'll be along soon. Why don't you go and have a soak in the hot spring while you're waiting for him? It's that way. Here, take a robe for after."
"Thank you. I will."
I follow his directions and in moments, I find myself in a place more heavenly than any I've been in for a very long time! It's nice to soak in a tub. I have a lovely one at home, but it just doesn't compare to this one at all! The whole room is decorated to give it a homey, comfortable feel. It's simple, but in a way that just makes your barriers fall. I'm naked in a second and sinking down into the hot water, breathing in the lazily drifting steam and feeling the tension leak out of my body, leaving me completely at ease.
I can slow down and think now.
No, not here.
Thinking isn't possible right now.
Oh god, this feels so very good!
I didn't even see him come in.
Yuuri's panting like he ran at top speed to get in here. He's flushed, maybe from exertion, from the heat of the room, or maybe because I stood up to get a better look at him, and now I'm standing in front of him, totally naked. It's a little bit of payback maybe, for him undressing and dancing with everyone so provocatively at the banquet. He's staring at me so wide-eyed.
"What are you doing here?" he asks, so softly I can barely hear him.
"Hello, Yuuri," I greet him, giving him my best smile, "starting today, I'm going to be your new coach. You're going to the Grand Prix Finals, and you're going to win!"
I give him a sexy wink to seal the deal.
He howls out something that sounds like "What?" then he stares at me like he can't think of an answer.
"Come on in," I invite him, sitting back down in the hot water.
"N-no," he stammers, "I uh…I'll wait outside for you."
He's out the door again before I can say anymore. I guess this could be a little bit of a challenge. I did take him by surprise, so I should probably try to calm him down. He does suffer from sensitive nerves. I take my time bathing, then walk out to the changing room, where I find him sitting on a bench, waiting as promised, but he looks so nervous, I know we won't get anywhere until he calms down. I put on the robe that Yuuri's father gave me, and he takes me to a room with a low table that has a meal already laid out for me.
"I didn't know what you would like, so I had them bring a variety of things to try," he tells me.
The smells coming up from the table are so heavenly and the food is all steaming and hot, like the hot spring was. I'm a little sleepy from the long trip, but I'm starving, so I dive in and eat to my heart's content. I'm not skating now, right? I can be a little indulgent. Besides, I'll still be skating while I train Yuuri.
I'm kind of surprised that Yuuri doesn't ask me any questions. He just sits there, watching me eat and looking at me like he's not sure I'm really here. I did give him a pretty big shock, so I let him stare. I'm used to people watching me, so it doesn't bother me at all anymore. Yuuri's still blushing, even though we're in a cool room now.
Oh, my top's open quite a bit…
I think I might be blushing a little too.
So, is Yuuri attracted to me?
I didn't think about that at all. I didn't think about what might have made him spend months learning my free skate. Maybe I just thought it was hero worship or that he was challenging himself. I did wonder why he picked my program, but I didn't think it through.
What if Yuuri is attracted to me? I've never had a relationship with another man. I did think he was cute at the banquet. I reacted to him when he grabbed me after we had danced together. I'm twenty-seven. I know what it will probably be like if we have sex, and it doesn't bother me. I'm kind of curious. But, I don't think we're going there anytime soon, and that's fine with me. This isn't about starting a romance. I want to skate with Yuuri again in competition. That is my goal. I will give him whatever he needs to reach that point. And if my love is what Yuuri needs, then I will give him that.
Right now, it looks like Yuuri's going to need time to just grasp that I came here and that I'm going to coach him.
He looks like if I blow a little in his direction, he might fall over.
Let's just let him adjust.
I turn all of my attention to savoring every last bite of the food he put in front of me. I don't think I've ever eaten so much, but everything just tastes so good and I can't stop myself, so pretty soon, the food and sake are gone, and I'm so tired, I ask for a pillow and just lie down right there. I fall into what feels like the deepest, most relaxing sleep I've had in twenty years.
I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know one thing.
I love Hasetsu already!
Chapter 2: Yutopia Katsuki
As Victor prepares to train Yuuri, Yuri Plisetsky arrives to stir things up.
I don't know when it was that I realized I had become so very tired and insatiably hungry. I ate until I couldn't hold anymore, but I was hungry again the moment I woke. I've never slept in anything but a bed, yet after bathing in the grand hot spring here at Yutopia Katsuki, I was so tired that I laid down on the bare floor with just a pillow and no blanket. I didn't move for hours, and when I did, I woke to find Yuuri kneeling nearby, looking at me with the befuddled expression he's worn almost constantly since he ran into the hot spring room and found me there, naked and bathing.
"Is there more food? I'm so hungry?"
"He's still hungry after all he ate before?" asks the brown-haired woman sitting next to Yuuri.
"We've got tons of food," Yuuri says, looking a little frantic, "What do you like?"
He looks completely intimidated.
Why does he look at me that way? With that flustered expression? There's pleasing a guest, and then, there's what he is doing, which seems more like trying to avoid being squashed by something big and scary. Am I that frightening to him?
God, I'm still so sleepy. I can barely think. I haven't slept like that in years. I wonder if I've just been saving it up all of this time.
I give him the friendliest, closed mouth smile I can. And he still looks ready to jump out of his skin.
"What's your favorite food?" I ask him, "If I'm going to be coaching you, that's something you should tell me, right?"
Something between my smile and the mention of his favorite food makes the invisible wall between us drop for a moment and Yuuri nods and smiles widely. Moments later, his mother plunks down in front of me the hottest, tastiest looking mix of rice, vegetables and something perfectly fried, that I have ever seen. The smell makes my mouth water instantly.
"It's a pork cutlet bowl," Yuuri announces proudly.
I think this is the most he's relaxed since I arrived. He's actually smiling and his shoulders dropped to a normal position. But a moment later, his lady friend snaps him back with a sternly worded explanation.
"The rule was, because he puts on weight so easily, that he could only have one when he won an event."
"So, have you had a pork cutlet bowl lately?" I ask.
I don't really need to ask. And although Yuuri looks attractive, even with the extra weight, if he is going to be launching his body into the air and wanting to look graceful at all, we have to deal with the facts of a skater's life.
"Yes," he answers enthusiastically, "I love pork cutlet bowls. I eat them all of the time."
"Why is that?" I ask without a beat, "You haven't won anything."
"There's not much I can do with you as long you have that piggy gut and those love handles. You need to get back to your weight before the Grand Prix Finals, or I can't coach you."
I think he's shrinking visibly.
"So, why don't you lay off the pork cutlet bowls, okay little piggy?"
For just a moment, I think I might have been too harsh, but although he's clearly staggering, he's not crying. In fact, his face still smiles and he looks giddy. Not sure at all what's happening there, but he manages to mumble something that sounds like agreement. Good. Before he can be at his best, performance-wise, Yuuri has to build confidence. Physical well being is important to being confident. He handles my announcement that I'm staying with him at Yutopia Katsuki with equal stunned acceptance and gets to work right away on slimming his body by carrying a steady stream of boxes into my assigned room.
After living in a house in a lovely part of Saint Petersburg, the room is very small, and there isn't really any furniture, but I'm still so full and happy from the pork cutlet bowl and hot bath, I'm good. I corner Yuuri among the boxes and do my best to make a connection. He blushes very cutely when I slip a hand beneath his chin and start asking him more personal questions, but before he can answer even one, he backpedals so hard that he crashes into the wall behind him.
Was it something I said?
Why is he looking at me like I hit him and he was surprised at finding he didn't dislike it? He mumbles an apology. This really isn't going as well as I hoped it would. Yuuri's so nervous, he can't talk to me at all. And when I suggest sharing his room for the night, he runs into his room, slams the door and refuses to open it.
I'm being as friendly as I can be.
What am I doing wrong?
I go back to my room and curl up with Maccachin for a good night's sleep, and despite not having a bed, I find the atmosphere of Yutopia Katsuki so very soothing and friendly that I fall into another deep sleep that lasts until morning. Yuuri seems calmer when he arrives at the breakfast table and joins me. Good. He's getting a little more comfortable with me being there, though occasionally, he seems to still get surprised when he looks up and sees me there, or when I talk to him. I decide to focus him on his training, and we leave for Ice Castle Hasetsu. I get to ride a bicycle, which I haven't done in years! Yuuri runs behind me, huffing and puffing, sounding like he's dying. But he keeps going, and we reach the ice rink. We head inside and I introduce myself, then I leave Yuuri to catch his breath as I put on my skates and get some exercise.
It's so strange, how different it feels to skate just because I feel like it, not because I have to develop a program or train for one. I love the sound of the music that plays, and it's heaven to skate with only the purpose of enjoying the sound and motion. Under the pressure of competition, a figure skater forgets that kind of beauty and many skaters lose their love for the sport. I've been lucky to have held onto my motivation for so long. I see now that this is something I have been missing, this freedom.
I feel eyes watching me and look over to find Yuuri leaning against the rink wall beside Takeshi Nishigori. Yuuri's face looks completely happy…well, until I say something to him.
"You're not setting foot on the ice until you lose some weight, little piggy!" I call out cheerfully.
It might be harsh, but it's a fact of life, and I've always been taught that if it's a fact of life, it's better to be up front. If I'm too indulgent, then I won't be giving Yuuri the best chance to be successful. And he reacts right away by setting out for Minako's dance studio to train. The next week, he trains impressively hard, working off the extra pounds. I go with him some of the time and try to talk to him, but he continues to shut down every time I start getting personal.
If I can't get inside Yuuri's mind, I'm not going to understand him well enough to train him properly. But, how do I get him to open up? I can get most people's attention just by giving them a smile and a wink, but my most exhaustive efforts only seem to make Yuuri run away faster. The only relief from this is when we talk about something less personal, like the great food available all over this town or the castle near the rink that's really a ninja house. But just as soon as I start trying to get personal again, he snaps shut like a clam.
What am I going to do?
In the end, I'm completely surprised by what happens that finally reaches him.
It's late morning when Yuuri arrives at the ice rink, out of breath and ecstatic that he's finally reached his goal weight. He rushes in to tell me, only to be waylaid by my fellow Russian skater, Yuri Plisetsky.
What is he doing here?
"Hello, Yuri! What are you doing here? I'm surprised Yakov let you come. You want something?"
He gives me a look that could kill and clenches his teeth.
"That's not a happy face," I chuckle, "Let me guess. You're here because of something I forgot to do, right?"
It takes Yuri awhile and a lot of yelling before he gets it out, then I remember.
"You promised to give me a program after I won the junior gold with no quads!"
"Right, right! I forgot all about that. But you know I sometimes forget things, right?"
"I'm painfully aware of that," he answers, clenching his teeth again, "But a promise is a promise. We're going back to Russia!"
I do owe Yuri a program. But there is no way I can go back to Russia now. Yuuri is ready to begin training. And even if not for that, I don't want to go back. I was losing my motivation there, and to go back now would just leave me back where I was before I left. I really don't want to do that.
Wait a minute! There was something I noticed about Yuuri when I challenged him to lose weight. He seems to respond well to that kind of challenge. So, I just need to give him a challenge that includes both training Yuuri and helping Yuri learn the program I promised him. Maybe…
"That's it! I've got it! I'm going to develop a program for each of you, using the same music!"
"What?" the two shout together, "I have to use the same music as him?"
"I will develop a program for each of you. I will reveal them in one week. You will compete to see who can surprise the audience more. I warn you, if you aren't up to my standards by the time you compete, I won't coach either one of you!"
It's hard not to laugh at their reactions. They look scared to death, but then, they start to look determined. I think this will be fun. Things get even more fun when we return to Yutopia Katsuki and Yuri announces that he's going to stay with us there.
"I'm not letting you have Victor all to yourself. It will give you too much of an advantage. I'm staying here!"
He stomps into the large closet where my things are stored and slams the door. Yuuri and I barely have time to exchange glances before we hear a loud rumble through the door and it slams open again.
"I want food! And a bath!"
Like me, Yuri loves the hot springs, and he devours the pork cutlet bowl put in front of him like it's the best thing he's ever tasted…which, let's face it, it is! Yuuri's older sister, Mari comes in as he's finishing, and she slides to a stop, staring at Yuri like he's a rock star or something.
"His name is Yuri too," Yuuri's mom says cheerfully, "Isn't that funny?"
"Now, that's just plain confusing. So, we'll call you Yurio!"
"WHAT?" Yuri yells.
"Where's Yurio planning to stay?" Mari asks.
"In the storage room, I guess," Yuuri answers uncertainly.
"Then, I've got to go and give it a major cleaning! Yuuri, come and help me."
Yuuri disappears out the door, but even when Yurio's room is done, he doesn't come back. I learn from Mari that he isn't at Yutopia Katsuki, but that he left before even helping her with the storage room. Sounds like something's bothering him. Yurio being here, probably, but I think I need to know more. Mari suggests going to Minako's, so I head to the pub where she works at night.
"He's not here. If she said to check my place, she meant my ballet studio. See, when Yuuri gets anxious, practice chills him out. He goes to Ice Castle Hasetsu, and I usually go with him. I think he only came as far as he did as a skater, because he always had a safe place to practice by himself. He's not a genius, but he works hard, and he truly loves to skate."
So, Yuuri is anxious. The challenge to compete with Yurio is putting him under pressure. I expected that, but I need to know what that pressure is doing to him, mentally. I head for the ice rink and find that he is, indeed there, and training. He turns in slow circles, and I can see right away, this is why Yuuri's foundations are so strong. When he is anxious, he returns to his center, to the core skills that every great skater needs to have. It's not about jumps and spins. It's about making every move beautiful, even the small turns and adjustments between the big moves. Yuuri has done this repeatedly over the years, so every move he makes is fluid and practiced.
Is this why?
I remember thinking, while I was watching him perform my free skate, it seemed that, as he moved, music was streaming out of his body. For that to happen, he had to be sure of every stroke of his foot, every sweep of his hand, every turn, every jump, every spin. For the music to flow out of Yuuri the way it does when he skates, he has to have a solid core…and this, what I see as he moves alone on the ice, this explains it.
So, all I have to do is turn a little piggy into a prince.
I know what I have to do.
While in Russia, I was preparing two different routines and I was agonizing over which one to use. I even had music composed for both, because I was so torn about which one would be better. The first is On Love: Agape, a flowing stream of music that radiates innocence, someone who has not yet experienced love. The moves that go with the music are complex, and must be done with arms, legs and a face that resonates with that same feeling of innocence.
I could put all of that into the routine, of course, but I worried that the audience wouldn't be able to look past me, the experienced skater and, okay, it's true…playboy. I can't help that that's my image. Honestly, I haven't had that many lovers. Who has time to skate and be a good partner? I would have to date another skater, and I don't know anyone available that I like that much, male or female.
Why am I suddenly distracted by Yuuri?
Anyway, the other piece is On Love: Eros. Eros, of course, is about sexual love. The music is lively and seductive, like the moves that go with it.
Damn it! My heart is pounding, thinking of Yuuri…stop it!
Getting back to Eros. The music is made to work with confident posture, proud eyes, sensuous moves and arms and legs that convey, Come closer. Be drawn in. See what I have here, waiting for you.
It's getting harder to breathe and I feel a little dizzy and more than a little aroused, thinking of Yuuri looking like that, moving that way. Oh my god, I want to see that! Wouldn't that be the surprise the audience needs? And for a little firebrand like Yurio to attempt to convey any kind of sweetness or innocence? I think I know how to assign the parts.
I sit down with a bottle of sake and sketch out the routines before collapsing into the bed I bought for my little room at Yutopia Katsuki.
I don't know if it's the wonderful food, all of the relaxing dips into the hot spring, the music of the programs or imagining Yuuri being Eros, but even though I sleep, it's not restful. I wake up several times in a sweat, with my heart pounding and feeling aroused.
Damn, maybe I do need to find someone to date, but I don't want to be distracted. I need to focus on Yuuri and Yurio. The sooner I give Yurio his program and send him on his way, the sooner I can get back to training Yuuri.
Did you think for a moment that Yurio would defeat Yuuri when they compete?
I already know Yuuri well enough to know that if it's to keep me here in Hasetstu (where, of course, I want to stay), he's going to succeed. Anxiety or no anxiety…
…Yuuri Katsuki is already in love with me…
He is immature and doesn't have a clue how to express it, but it's there.
And I'm starting to understand now why I've been so distracted. Yuuri's inner Eros is already luring me.
Oh god, I can't wait to see it!
Damn, is it morning already?
Chapter 3: The Audition
Yuuri and Yurio face off to see who Victor will coach.
There is one hard truth in competitive figure skating, and that is that anyone who really wants to be taken seriously, to attract a good coach, to interest sponsors, basically to draw in all of the things needed for success, a skater must prove himself or herself. This is sometimes done through a formal audition, but even if an audition is not required, one is always informally auditioning. So, if Yuuri is to be successful, he needs to learn to function well in that kind of high stress environment. Some skaters, myself included, have built up a wall of confidence that lets us do that, almost without thinking about it.
Yuuri is different. I noticed that before I even knew who he was. His reputation as a talented skater who needs to work on his nerves preceded him before I ever met him on the ice as a competitor. Yuuri definitely has what it takes to perform high difficulty programs at a competitive level, but when his nerves act up, he reverts to looking like a beginner. What I have to do is to find ways to push him in stages, to slowly build up his resistance to stress. Along the way, I need to stay close to him, giving him both gentle support and the right pushes, so that he will be motivated to shake off his tense emotions and perform his best in competitions.
Sounds easy enough, right?
But there are plenty of skaters, everywhere you look, who have failed because they could not master that very thing. Yuuri was on the verge of becoming one of those forgotten skaters when I saw his performance and stepped in to stop his fall. There is no way that I can let Yuuri's talent go to waste, simply because it isn't easy to help him. As much respect as I have for coaches, and as much as I know the fact that there are so many talented skaters without problems like Yuuri's that coaches don't really have to take on troubled talents, I think that the sport gains something from having people like Yuuri succeed. It's great when someone like me, a person who has grown up with all of the advantages, succeeds. But it is just breathtaking when someone like Yuuri, who has had to struggle with something really hard, shakes off his weakness and rises to the challenge.
I feel a shiver of excitement just thinking about that.
This competition I have dreamed up for Yuuri and Yurio will give me both the chance to give Yurio the program I promised him, and to begin to challenge Yuuri to grow into the competitor I know he can be. I get started right away by announcing the assignments.
"Yuuri, you get Eros," I say cheerfully, "and Yurio, you get Agape!"
Yuuri looks like he's ready to faint and Yurio spouts off an objection that's full of insults.
"You want to do the thing that's going to surprise the audience most," I say, smiling, "That's my motto. The truth is, you're both rather mediocre. You need to become more self aware. It's funny you think you can develop your own image. If you want to skate for me, you will learn your routines and use them to surprise the audience, or I won't continue with either one of you!"
The scolding shakes them, but Yurio snaps back almost immediately with an angry exclamation about how he will skate Agape, but it better get him a win.
"Whether or not you win, is up to you," I tell him in a purposefully mocking voice I stole from Yakov, "It would be a winning program if I skated it."
Yurio's toe pick strikes the ice, firing ice chips in my direction.
"Fine! I'll skate to Agape, but if I win, then we'll go back to Russia and you'll be my coach. Do you agree to that?"
Noting that Yurio looks satisfied, I turn my attention to Yuuri. His hands are clenched and I can feel his fears welling up.
"What about you, Yuuri?" I ask, looking into his eyes, "If you win, what do you want from me?"
Yuuri still looks fearful, but there is a determination that rises up, underneath it, and even though his face goes pale and he starts to shake a little, his voice is full of determination when he answers me. Something warm tickles the inside of my chest with each word.
"I want to…eat with you, Victor. Pork cutlet bowls. I want to keep on winning and eating pork cutlet bowls with you, so I'll skate to Eros, Victor. I'm going to give it all the Eros I have in me!"
I'm not even sure how I answer. I feel too giddy. Yuuri is so motivated now, there is no way that Yurio is ever going to beat him!
But, there is still the problem of keeping Yuuri occupied for awhile, so that I can teach Yurio his program. I give it some thought as I run Yurio's program by him for the the first time. It's composed of a complicated set of moves. I chose them specifically because learning to do them will challenge Yurio to improve his execution of the step sequence in his programs. He wasn't challenged as a junior, but he's moving into a much more competitive group now. His jumps and spins are there, but he is lazy about his step sequence. The Agape program should make him aware of this, and force him to work on it extensively as he brings himself to peak at the Grand Prix Final.
Yuuri's Eros program is one I made to maximize his flawless execution of spins and step sequences. We'll work on his jumps, but more importantly, we'll work on ramping up his sex appeal, while making use of his solid foundations.
Yuuri seems a little bit stunned when I finish showing him the Eros program, and for some reason, his friend Yuko has been stricken with a rather serious looking nosebleed that Yurio is trying to help with.
"So," what did you think?" I ask him.
Yuuri flutters and struggles for a moment to come up with an answer.
"Um, it was very Eros!" he answered diligently.
"I know, right? Now, what quads do you think you can land?"
He's proud enough of his toe loop to announce it normally, but when he speaks of knowing the salchow, I feel his confidence disappearing.
"Let's just stick with your fundamentals for now. I'll teach Yurio first. I don't want to spend half the day trying to teach you something you can't do."
Okay, it's mean, but he's not going to get better if I don't push him, right?
"You've shown you have the skill to win," I remind him as he begins to deflate, "Why can't you?"
"Well," he says, looking down, "I guess it's because I don't have a lot of confidence."
"That's right," I agree, "So, it's my job to help you find that confidence."
I peek through my messy bangs, letting my Eros ooze out. After all, the best way to bring his out is to coax it with mine. His eyes get wide and look up into my narrowed ones, and he starts to quiver and sweat nervously.
"Unleash the Eros that's inside you, Yuuri," I tell him, running my thumb over his lower lip and bringing my face close to his, "I know it's there, maybe somewhere deep down inside you, where no one in the world has ever seen it. Will you show it to me? Can you do that?"
I feel a really strong urge to kiss him, and I'm ready to ignore the million reasons I shouldn't and just do it, but Yurio is Yurio and chooses that moment to interrupt…loudly.
"HEY! You're supposed to be training me, not chatting with the little piggy!" he complains.
"Right," I tell him, keeping my eyes on Yuuri, "Yuuri, while you're training, I want you to be thinking. I want to know what Eros is to you."
He looks scared to death, and I'm pretty sure it'll be awhile before he has any kind of answer. Yuuri is sweetly naïve. He radiates a delicious, innocent sexuality that will win his audience over, but he has to be able to unleash it at will. While he stumbles off to start figuring that out, I turn my attention to Yurio.
I've known Yurio for a few years now, and he's grown a little too comfortable with me for me to be coaching him. While Yuuri is still in awe of me and is intimidated enough to just do what I tell him, Yurio thinks of himself as more of an equal. He's not, but because he's been in the junior division and there's been no serious challenge for him, he has grown cocky and lazy. Almost from the start, he gives me trouble, arguing about everything I say as he struggles with the complicated step sequence that goes with the Agape program. This drags on until neither one of us can stand it anymore.
"Stop! Stop!" I shout at him, "Something's just not right."
"I'm doing it just the way you showed me!" Yurio shouts back.
"Your desire to win is too obvious," I explain, "You're not projecting the gentleness and innocence of Agape. There's a place for your kind of confidence, but it isn't here, in this program. It shouldn't be front and center."
"When you skate, your confidence is always front and center. So, why don't you tell me what Agape means to you!"
"It's a feeling," I explain, "It can't be put into words. When you skate, it's about how you feel, not what you think. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
He lets of a string of obscenities in Russian.
"Now, on to the temple."
He needs a few good smacks…
And while he's at it, I have time to start working with my little Eros-chan, Yuuri. Almost from the beginning, he has my own Eros out and panting for him. I love the way that Yuuri's body moves to the music. It's like the music isn't outside him at all, but is inside and flowing out, and into my ears. He moves in perfect time to the music, pulling me in and hypnotizing me, teasing me shamelessly. I think if Yuuri had any idea how aroused he makes me, he would probably run away, screaming. But, I treat it like a game we play, and he seems blissfully unaware that he is torturing me to the point of near insanity. I hold out for the rest of the afternoon, but by the time Yurio's back from the temple, I need a break. I figure they need a good soak, so we all go to the hot spring.
I can see as I sink down into the hot water, that Yuuri is really giving thought to his task. It's obvious he's tired, but he runs his fingers through the ends of his hair, giving me a little inward shiver and he sighs in frustration. I try to break the tension by asking him to take a photo of me in the hot spring, but it only seems to make him look more frustrated.
Ah, well, there's time for that tomorrow.
I soak with them for awhile before stumbling off to my room to curl around Maccachin and sleep for the night. My dreams are filled with tormenting visions of Yuuri, with him dancing on the ice, tempting me with his beautiful body, teasing me until I can barely stand it. In the dream, I don't bother with restraint. I skate out onto the ice and together, we take things to the next level. I wake the next morning, sore, tired from lack of good sleep, and needing to put a fresh set of linens on the bed.
Yuuri, my little tease…someday.
To my relief, time seems to speed up a little after that, and we work our way towards the Hot Springs on Ice competition. We work hard every day, retiring to the hot spring in the evening, then sitting down to dinner after. Yuuri looks jealously at the pork cutlet bowls that Yurio and I devour, while he eats his vegetables and bean sprouts. He stews on the idea of Eros endlessly, until his head drops onto the table, and he mumbles incoherently. He must be getting close. Any time, now, he'll…
"I've got it!" he yells, sitting up suddenly, "Pork cutlet bowls! That's what Eros is to me."
I'm pretty sure I couldn't have heard right, but Yurio is smirking and rolling his eyes. Yuuri thinks about what he's just said, then he blushes.
"I'm an idiot!" he shouts, "I take it back."
"It's okay," I assure him, trying not to laugh, "It's at least original."
"Seriously?" Yurio taunts him.
Yuuri runs out of the house, groaning to himself.
"Pork cutlet bowls? Really? I'm gonna go crawl under a rock and die!"
But he doesn't die of embarrassment, or anything else. He continues to train, and we use the pork cutlet bowl as a source of motivation. It's been awhile since he's had one, and Yurio and I eat them in front of him daily. It's not nice, but it makes the point, and it makes Yuuri hungry for them. That's going to come in handy as the days wind down and we get to the competition day.
"What will you guys be wearing?" Minako asks as we sit at dinner together one night.
"I don't know," Yuuri says, glancing at me.
"I didn't bring anything," Yurio muses.
"I've got you covered," I assure the two of them, "I've had all of my competition costumes flown over from Russia. I'm sure you can each find something useful for your programs."
The two dive into the stacks of clothes, and Yurio comes up with a lovely silver and white see-through costume from my junior days. It's perfect for his Agape program, so he stumbles off with that.
I have to say I'm pleased as I see what Yuuri has chosen. He's smiling beautifully and holding up another costume from my junior days, one that I wore when I had long hair and a more androgynous look. It's a perfect match for Yuuri and for the program and music he is using. And it looks like it gives him an idea. I see him thinking really hard for the rest of the evening, and as I'm getting ready for bed, I hear him pass my room, heading out, probably to Minako's place.
I am so curious!
I almost decide to follow him to see what he's up to, but in the end, I think I want to let myself be surprised by him. What could Yuuri be up to? How is he going to evolve now? Up to this point, he has mastered the building blocks of the program. His step sequence is perfect, his spins flawless, and his jumps have been improving steadily. But what has been missing is the heart of his program. There is something that skaters must bring to a program to make it their own. Yuuri still struggles with his vision of Eros.
Just maybe, his night visit to wherever he is going will help him resolve it.
I'm up early the next morning, first running a final training session with Yuuri and Yurio, then leaving them to prepare while I see to the final preparations with the staff and media at Ice Castle Hasetsu. Newscaster Morooka, in particular, seems to have an interest in how this is going to play out. I've known him for a long time, because he's covered many of my events. He's supportive of skaters in general, but since even before Yuuri's disastrous first Grand Prix Final, he has kept Yuuri's name in the news, and since he learned of my intent to coach Yuuri, he has been to interview us several times. I am not sure how Yuuri got this man in his corner, but it's an opportunity I'm not planning on wasting. Together, we plan an interview for before the performance, then it's back into the skating rink for a quick run through. Everything seems to be in place, so I take the two boys aside, out to the beach, where it's a little quiet. We take a slow jog there and do a few breathing exercises to prepare mentally. Yuuri seems fine during that, but as soon as it's time to go back to the skating rink, I see him starting to fray around the edges.
I just hope that he keeps his mind focused on the challenge, here. He wants very badly to beat Yurio, so that I will stay with him in Hasetsu. That needs to be enough to help him overcome his fears and skate his best today. We don't talk about it, but I make sure to look him in the eyes and tell him how much I am looking forward to seeing him skate. The words of encouragement seem to steady him, and he remains quiet, but focused as the minutes count down to the performance. Outside the rink, people gather and come inside. We do a final warm up, then retreat to the preparation room.
After the introductions, Yurio's program is first. I have to admit, I am surprised that he doesn't seem perfectly confident when Yuko arrives to call him to the ice. But it is his first performance as a senior male skater, so I suppose it makes sense…or perhaps Yurio is being changed a little bit by this experience.
He skates his routine beautifully through the first half, showing grace and poise, as well as a growing ability to capture his inner Agape. I wonder as he skates if maybe he does have it. His moves are eye-catching, and they tell me that he will be a top contender this year. Yuuri sees this too, and I see the anxiety creep back into his eyes. He watches as Yurio finishes his program, then bows as the audience applauds vigorously. At rinkside, Yuuri stiffens and covers his face with both hands. I move close to him, but he doesn't see me, and he is clearly startled when I speak to him.
"Yuuri, it's your turn."
He sucks in a sharp breath and pales. I continue to look steadily into his eyes. We both know that this is the moment when he has to make his decision. What impulse is going to be stronger…the impulse to panic, or the impulse to keep me close to him. I gaze at him silently, knowing there is nothing more I can give him. He has to make the next move.
"Um…I'm," he stammers, his voice shaking.
Then, I watch as new strength seems to pour into him and determination fills his eyes.
"I'm going to become a super tasty pork cutlet bowl!" he exclaims.
His arms wrap around me almost desperately.
"You'll watch, won't you?" he asks hopefully.
"Of course I will," I tell him, speaking into his ear, more in the way of a lover than a coach, "I love pork cutlet bowls."
The words seem to bolster him, and there is more confidence in his body as he takes his place on the ice. I watch closely as the music begins, and almost immediately I see it.
His performance has changed.
The moves are the same, but more sensuous. The crowd sees them, but I know right away that those moves are directed at me. An appreciative whistle escapes me, then I'm too captivated to look away for the rest of his performance.
I was right.
I knew when I saw that video of Yuuri, that all he really needed was a boost to his confidence and a high difficulty program to match his strong foundations. There is no question in anyone's mind who the stronger skater in this match is. Yurio's performance was beautiful, engaging, and I know he will be a force to be reckoned with, but no one can look away as Yuuri's beautiful Eros emerges for the first time, and pulls them all in. By the time Yuuri finishes and takes his bow, Yurio disappears from my side. I escort Yuuri to the stand and Newscaster Morooka asks Yuuri to say a few words. Yuuri tenses, but I curl an arm around him, and he relaxes visibly.
"This is the beginning," he says with almost startling confidence, "With Victor, I'm going to try to win at the next Grand Prix Final. Thank you all for your support."
Something releases inside my chest and I feel a moment of relief. I didn't think, at any point, that Yuuri was going to lose to Yurio, but I guess I was more nervous than I realized. I didn't want to go back to Russia with Yurio.
Thank you, Yuuri.
I knew that I could count on you to rise to the occasion and win.
Chapter 4: The Scent of Innocence
As Victor and Yuuri begin their private training sessions, Victor realizes that his attraction to Yuuri is becoming stronger.
I don't know exactly what it is, but waking up to find myself still in Hasetsu is like living some kind of beautiful, ongoing dream, and this morning, it's even better because I know that Yurio has vacated the storage room next to mine, and I am free now to give my full attention to training Yuuri. Well, at least I could if I wasn't distracted by all of the different things in this place. Saint Petersburg is a large city, and the part I live in is beautiful. Hasetsu is beautiful too, but in a completely different way. There is so much color in the buildings, trees and flowers. I love the ocean breezes and watching the petals fall from the trees. Everyone here is so friendly too. And don't get me started on the food. I'm surprised that I haven't gained as much weight as Yuuri has lost in the last couple of weeks.
Yuuri's still sleeping when I wake up, so I dress and Maccachin follows me to the room where Yuuri's mother has breakfast waiting for me. Yuuri's parents are so different than mine. My parents were more stern, and because we were wealthy, there were a lot of rules I had to follow. I couldn't escape that fast enough, opting to move into the dormitory near the skating rink where I was training, as soon as I could convince my parents to let me. There, the rules were more lax, and I got into plenty of trouble. I grew distant with my parents, until they just seemed like people I knew, rather than real family. Yuuri is much closer with his family than I ever was with mine.
I think I am already closer to Yuuri's family and friends than I was to my own in Saint Petersburg.
Yuuri's parents and I eat together, kneeling on pillows, around a low table. It's so different from the way I live in Russia, and I am loving every minute. I almost hate to leave for the ice rink, because I'm having so much fun laughing and talking with Yuuri's parents and sister. But, if we are going to get Yuuri ready for competition, we have to start now.
I have so many ideas about how to begin. There are so many possibilities. With Eros completed, we need to turn our attention to Yuuri's free skate program. I think it will be best to encourage him to learn to produce this on his own, with just support from me. After all, I have to return to Russia sometime, and by the time I do, I want Yuuri to be comfortable with doing this on his own.
God, I don't want to even think about leaving. Hasetsu is so beautiful, and I'm getting so spoiled.
But that's months away, so I just put it out of my head and set out for the ice rink. I get there with lots of time to spare, and since we don't yet have music or an idea for the theme of Yuuri's free skate, I'm free to just put on my skates and enjoy myself. I so rarely get to skate just for the fun of it. I'm usually putting together a routine, making alterations or practicing until my legs shake and I'm sweating all over from the exertion.
Given at least a half hour before Yuuri's arrival, I warm up, then gradually start moving in longer, more sweeping movements, stretching while I glide, then going into a spin and gliding out again. There is no set of moves that guides me. There's not even any music. It feels like meditation because I can feel how deep and slow my breaths are while I'm moving. It's so relaxed, such a departure from the more frenetic pace of training. I wish it could last longer, but Yuuri will be here soon, so I slow and come to a stop,
Our start time arrives and passes. Ten minutes go by, then twenty…and Yuuri is still not there. I check under my fingernails for dirt, daydream a little to pass the time, then lift a foot and tap the ice with my toe pick.
Where is he?
Nearly forty-five minutes pass before my cute pork cutlet bowl dashes through the entry doors and skids to a stop behind me, stammering as he apologizes frantically. I admit that it was a little annoying being made to wait, but he looks so adorable and completely intimidated. So, instead of being mad, I turn and give him a bright smile.
"Well, good morning Yuuri! I have to say you are impressively late. Only Aeroflot has kept me waiting longer."
He tumbles onto the ice in his street shoes, still apologizing as he remains on hands and knees,
"Oh, how fun! Japanese dogeza."
He continues to look like he expects me to be mad, even as I reassure him. With a little encouragement, he scrambles back off the ice and quickly puts on his skates. There's a very sweet moment as he glides onto the ice and heads out to meet me. I can see that he's smiling just a little, now that he knows he isn't in trouble. It's ever so clear that Yuuri can't believe this moment is happening. He's apparently been dreaming all of his life about sharing the ice with me, and he never ever dreamed that it would happen because of me coming to Hasetsu to coach him.
I didn't dream of such a thing happening before, either. But that video of him changed everything, and now, here we are, both a little shocked and overwhelmed we've reached this moment.
We start with a gentle warm up, a series of moves we make, side by side, and from the moment we begin, skating feels different to me. It's not solitary anymore as I feel Yuuri's presence and see his body moving, out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes, the solitude I feel when I skate is relaxing and comforting, but as I've aged and begun to struggle with each new program, it started to feel less pleasant and more lonely. And I don't know why or how it happened, but the more famous I became, the more distant I began to feel with the people around me. Yuuri has admitted to putting me on a pedestal, and I think I let myself be lifted onto one. I didn't mean to lose touch with other people, but there's something strange that happens when so many eyes watch you. People start to act as though you're not human, because you do one thing amazingly. I am a great skater, but I have other interests and needs too. Those things seemed to be pushed out by the focus on that one part of me everyone noticed.
There's also the ticking time bomb of advancing age that works against the mind. I am well aware that all of those eyes that watch so closely now, will eventually turn away, when age begins to steal away the beauty of my skating. It's sad, but it's a fact of life. As I've grown older, the threat moves closer and closer each year, slowly pushing back on my confidence and inspiration. And honestly, if Yuuri hadn't come along, I don't know how long I could have continued. I was at the top and already seeing the inevitable fall from that high place. Everyone else was still wrapped up in my success, but I was already stepping over the edge.
Yuuri appeared in front of me, and all of a sudden, I wasn't at the edge anymore. When I looked at Yuuri Katsuki, I saw the span of the top of the mountain I stood on, begin to extend. The number of years I have left as a competitive skater haven't changed, but knowing that Yuuri will be there to compete with, changes everything. I feel my focus shifting back from the inevitable fall to the here and now. We may not have forever, but Yuuri and I have this moment. We have this place and the ice that lets us be graceful and beautiful together. I know that when we finish our practice time and step off the ice, Yuuri will go back to being quiet and intimidated, but while we move together, it's heaven. I feel that his eyes have watched me for so long, he could follow my every move with his eyes closed. He looks happier than I've ever seen him so far.
I don't want this to end…ever.
We run through his Eros program, tweaking it here or there to prepare for his first competition, then the focus moves to the free skate that has to be made from scratch. We first discuss the quads he can do. Yuuri is convinced he wants to compete with three quads in his program, even though he is terribly inconsistent with landing the quad salchow. I decide not to press that issue for the moment, and we talk about the other jumps. I finish by asking him to consider what kind of music and theme he favors. I can see right away that he has no idea what he wants. I'll give him time to think about it. We spend the rest of our skating time playing with moves. I'm really just enjoying skating with him, and it's encouraging that Yuuri is starting to get more comfortable with me too. This is good. As cute as it is when he panics just being close to me, I want him to relax and trust me more. I want Yuuri to trust himself more. But…one thing at a time.
Right now, as we're gliding across the ice together? I just want to us both to enjoy sharing that feeling with each other. It's the love that Yuuri and I have in common, and it's heaven on earth being in this place together. I want to cry when our time is up and we leave the ice to change back into our street clothes. Yuuri is quiet as we walk through the streets, heading back to Yutopia Katsuki.
"You did well for your first day," I praise him.
The most adorable flush creeps onto his face, giving me a little tickle inside.
"Thanks," he manages.
He moves forward with me, his eyes sparkling a little.
"Actually, it still feels a little unreal, like I'm just dreaming it's all happening like this."
He says such cute things sometimes.
"Well, if you're dreaming, then I am too," I tell him, "and I'm pretty sure I didn't dream flying all of this way. I know I'm not dreaming up the delicious food and hot baths. No, this is real."
"I'm glad you like being here."
"Who wouldn't like being here?" I laugh, "Hasetsu is great, and everyone here is so welcoming."
"Well, you probably get that everywhere, being a skating god, right?"
Yuuri gets quiet again, and he stays that way as we make our way home. He's still being quiet, and he looks like he's unhappy about something as we retire to the hot spring to relax. Yuuri sinks down into the water, but he doesn't look relaxed, he looks worried about something.
"You know," I say, sitting on the edge of the spring and spreading my legs to indulge in a few stretches, "I'm thinking that maybe three quads is too many for your free skate."
Yuuri's head lifts and he immediately objects.
"But I need those quads if I want to win!"
"Not true," I remind him.
Yuuri should know this.
"You could get by on one quad. Just get a perfect score on your performance components and you're good to go."
The very idea seems to crush him.
"I'll never win this way! I have to do more."
He needs encouragement, but I'm not sure how to give him that. I take his hands and look into his surprised eyes as I pull him up, partway out of the water and hold him there.
"Yuuri, do you know what made me come to Hasetsu to be your coach?"
He looks back at me like he has no idea at all.
"I was drawn to you because of the way your body moves to the music, like the music is already inside you and you are using your body to release it. You need a high difficulty program to help you maximize that potential. I knew I could give you that. And the short program proved it!"
He looks completely distracted by the fact that I've got hold of his ankle and I'm lifting his foot high into the air, giving him a good stretch.
"I think you should produce the free program yourself," I suggest.
He looks terrified at the thought.
"But my coach always chooses my music!" he objects.
"You should do it on your own," I insist.
"But Victor, I've never…and I wouldn't know where to begin."
"Just use your instincts."
"But my coach…!"
"Who was your last coach?"
We realize suddenly that we have an audience. Several of the bathers in the next room are peeking in. Yuuri jerks his extended leg out of my hand, blushing all over as he ducks back into the hot spring, waiting until the observers have gone away. He shuts down after that, and I'm too tired to try to do anymore. I suppose it will have to wait. I head off to bed, forgetting to eat anything, and as soon as I'm asleep, I find myself in a sweet dream, replaying our skating together from earlier, but this time, Yuuri isn't quiet or intimidated.
This time, Yuuri smiles as we move, then he turns and I catch his hands in mine and we dance a little together. I love his sweet, innocent scent.
Innocence has a scent, right?
His smile and the beautiful sparkle in his eyes lure me. I move in closer and breathe in more of his scent. My heart is pounding from more than the fact we're still skating. Then, Yuuri lifts a skate and uses his toe pick to trip the two of us. The next thing I know, we're falling together, only I never feel an impact with the ice, because his hands are on me, holding me, then sliding beneath my clothes as he crawls on top of me and starts kissing me.
It's so strange.
I know a lot of male skaters who are gay, but I've never been attracted to a man before. Women are beautiful, but Yuuri seems far more than that as his fingers slide along my skin and his lips and tongue glide along my throat, sending electric tingles down, between my thighs. If there was any doubt before, it disappears as Yuuri's touch awakens the long neglected place between my thighs.
I didn't think I missed sex. When you know that it would be easy to get someone to touch you, it ceases to feel like a challenge. And the complication of relationships can be draining when coupled with the hectic life of a competitive athlete. I couldn't be a good partner to the women I dated, so my relationships never lasted long. It's less complicated to just pleasure myself when I feel aroused. At least, that's what I've thought, up until now.
But in this dream? With Yuuri on top of me, his pale fingers tearing at our clothes, and that pretty, smiling mouth biting at my throat, then trailing downward to attack my very erect nipples? It sends little jolts directly to my groin, and I'm breathless and panting in moments. I arch my back, rubbing against him and praying that he won't stop. He continues to blush cutely and smile as he nibbles his way down to my belly button. He plays a little in there with his tongue, letting his smoky brown eyes tease me before he moves down between my thighs and takes me into his hot, relentless mouth.
Everything around us seems to disappear…the lights, the music we were skating to…and the chill ice under my back. The air hisses with steam and Yuuri's devouring mouth licks and sucks shamelessly. He savors me like one of those pork cutlet bowls he so loves, lingering over every inch of my flushed, needy skin. The fingers of one hand play with my nipples, while he takes me to the very edges of bliss, then stops and gives me a look of truly wicked intent.
The fingers of his other hand push into my mouth, stealing the saliva that has been building up there as he has tormented me. He gathers some on his fingers, then slides them slowly down the length of my body, sending chills through me, because I know where this is going, and I don't know if I'm ready to go there.
As I said, I've never been attracted to a man before.
I try to tell him, but one of his dampened fingers touches me in a place I've never had stimulated before. My heart goes into overdrive and I feel a moment of complete panic that brings me awake, just as the dream-Yuuri's ministrations send my shocked body into orgasm. I sit up in bed, panting and shaking all over, and my belly and thighs are damp with semen.
There is a moment where I'm not sure if I'm going to throw up or pass out. My ears ring loudly and my heart throbs until it hurts.
I drop back onto my pillow, working to slow my breathing and trying to make sense of what just happened.
The inescapable truth is that I'm very attracted to Yuuri. I knew that I liked him, and I even realized that the feelings I was having were more than platonic, but I didn't take them seriously before. It feels serious now. But, it's also impossible. Yuuri isn't ready for a relationship. He can barely be in my presence without freaking out. I think if I dared to lay a hand on him, he would run away screaming in terror. Whatever happens, I don't want to scare him. I don't even know if he shares my feelings, or if his interest in me only extends to skating.
We need more time.
I climb out of bed, wrap a robe around myself and head for the nearest shower. I bathe slowly, breathing in and out, and reminding myself why I'm here in Hasetsu. I didn't come here to seduce Yuuri, although it would be a delicious side dish. I came to Hasetsu to guide Yuuri to becoming the competitor I know he can be. Everything else is not so important as that. The attraction I feel needs to be leashed and kept quiet or it could become a threat to my mission.
I leave the shower and start back to my room, but I bump into Yuuri's mother in the hallway.
"Oh, you're up late, dear," she says, tilting her head and smiling, "You look a little flushed. Are you feeling all right? You didn't eat dinner. Do you want me to make you something?"
I start to refuse, but my stomach chooses that moment to growl, and a short time later, I'm filling up on a pork cutlet bowl, drinking sake and listening to Hiroko's stories about Yuuri's childhood.
God, I never want to go back.
I love Hasetsu and everyone here.
I'll just ignore, for the moment, how Yuuri is distracting me and focus on that.
Chapter 5: Where We Meet
Victor works at getting Yuuri to open up.
As a young skater, I learned early on that to win, a skater needs to be a good storyteller. I don't mean with words. Because we tell the story with our music and our movements, we have to be clear in our message and also precise in how we relay our message. It all begins with choosing a theme for the program.
I've noticed that the most effective way of grabbing an audience's attention and keeping it is to be unpredictable, to be able to surprise them with a program's bold message and eye catching technical components. During my years as a junior, I often felt trapped by Yakov's vision for me which sometimes ran counter to my own. During those years, we developed an interesting mixture of him telling me how he wanted me to execute the program and me taking it apart and putting it back together again, then getting yelled at and told I was impossible, before he would settle down and we would compromise. More often than not, I would still do what I wanted. He shouted, called me childish and reckless, and half a dozen times he threatened to quit coaching me, but as I approached my debut in the senior men's division, he backed away some, still putting in his two cents worth, but trusting me to choose well. We still butted heads, and I was still impossible, but what came out of those years was beautiful and inspiring work that carried me to the top of the skating world.
For Yuuri to be successful, he needs to make a journey more like mine. He needs to have the confidence to choose something he wants to express and to produce a program that brings his message across. We start with music because I've noticed that even if I haven't nailed down the theme, when I choose the music I want, I find the theme already inside it. It's almost like the message is non-verbal, and when I find the music that expresses what I want, I pull the theme out of it. Yuuri has no concept of any of this, so I just ask him to pick some music he thinks he would like to skate to. I'm surprised as the days go by and I keep asking, and he continues to say that he is still trying to choose.
"You need to trust yourself more," I tell him as we stand at the edge of the skating rink, me on the outside and him on the ice, "Try thinking about a memory you have that motivates you…like when someone said they loved you."
Yuuri's face turns three shades of red and I'm sure steam will come out of his ears.
"WHAT?" he yells.
Damn it. I forgot…
"S-sorry!" he apologizes hastily, "I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm just really stressed out right now."
"No, it's my fault," I reassure him, "I forgot that you haven't had a lover before."
He looks ready to shrink through the ice, and he is completely unable to focus for the rest of our training session. I feel bad for him, but there isn't a lot I can do. This has to come from inside Yuuri. He may lack the experience of having a lover, but he could draw on other relationships he has.
And I suppose I can best support Yuuri by bringing his focus to our own still pretty undefined partnership. Over the next several days, I try to make some meaningful connections with him, so that we can relax with each other and maybe explore this a little. I ask him to go and eat with me, to bathe in the hot springs, to have a slumber party with me. But where he would go along pretty easily with me before, he makes excuses and avoids me. When he comes to practice, he doesn't look me in the eyes. I know he's dreading the question about his progress on the music for his program. Then, one day, he doesn't arrive for practice at all, and I know we've reached the breaking point.
People put up walls between themselves and the world for all kinds of reasons, and Yuuri is building and fortifying a big one between the two of us right now. I think that, up until now, he was still responding to the shock of me arriving unexpectedly and turning his life upside down. Now that Yurio has gone back to Russia, and it's just the two of us, it's becoming clear to Yuuri that there are obstacles he has to climb over if he wants to reach the Grand Prix Finals. It's one thing for me to fly into town like his guardian angel and tell him he can win. It's another thing for Yuuri to believe in himself.
He has to believe he can do this.
There is no question in my mind that the person I saw in that viral video is more than capable of winning, but although Yuuri is clearly talented and has shown that he has the skills to win, he constantly doubt himself and he chokes in competition. He needs motivation to break through his doubts, and to deliver performances that reflect the skater he really is.
How do we get there?
I stand for almost an hour, tapping my toe pick on the ice and thinking about that. Then, when it's perfectly clear to me that Yuuri is not coming to practice, I know I have to do something. Yakov would have come to the dormitory where I lived near the skating rink, and he would have yelled at me and dragged me down there, himself, if I refused. When your parents are paying a man hefty sums of money to train you, one way or another, the training get done. What is between Yuuri and me is different. It's not based on money, but trust. I have no problem trusting in Yuuri to deliver a beautiful performance, but he has to trust me and give his all to his training. How do I motivate him to do that?
I think about it as I leave the ice rink and walk back to Yutopia Katsuki. When I get there, I don't find Yuuri when I look in the dining area, television area or hot spring…which means he's hiding in his room. I have a little snack and a bit of sake while I think a little more, then I head down the hallway and throw open the door to Yuuri's bedroom. I keep my eyes shadowed for a moment, first looking at the situation. Yuuri is cowering beneath a blanket, literally shaking, and I'm sure that, because I have scolded him for messing up in practice, he's sure I'm going to yell at him for standing me up. We both know that I didn't just come to Hasetsu for the hot spring and food. I came here to help him find the confidence he needs to win. We won't get anywhere as long as he holds back like this.
I don't think delivering the lecture he is expecting is going to take this in the right direction. And besides, when someone is expecting something painful or bad, the way to take them off their guard…is to surprise them. I do it all of the time when I skate. Maybe this is no different. I put on my brightest smile and greet him as if I hadn't noticed how rude he was to keep me waiting for him.
"Hello Yuuri!" I greet him enthusiastically, "Why don't we skip practice today and go down to the beach?"
For a moment, I wonder if I've made a mistake and should have yelled at him. Then, he quivers under his blanket refuge and peeks out at me like a scared puppy.
"Y-yeah, okay," he answers tentatively.
As we walk to the beach together, I start thinking about what to say to him. I need to get him to reach down more deeply inside himself. I know from experience that the themes of my programs come from emotional places inside me. They come from things that have caused emotional reactions in me, and then, through my programs, I share those emotions with the audience. Yuuri hides his emotions inside, so this kind of personal sharing is probably intimidating for him.
But this wall of intimidation also has a bright side. The fact that Yuuri suffers from anxiety, that he gets overwhelmed by the strength of what he feels, means that there is a gold mine inside him of possible themes that he can develop. Deep feelings create deep, meaningful performances that completely charm an audience. If I can coax out his emotions and give him a little guidance on how to use that, I know he can produce a winning performance.
I need to get him more relaxed first. He looks like he's still expecting to get yelled at. I kind of feel like yelling at him, too. But that's not going to get us where we need to go. So, we take a jog along the beach with Maccachin, and I lighten the mood (and get a little revenge for him standing me up) by suddenly shoving him into the water. Yuuri splashes down impressively and he coughs and sputters, brushing wet hair out of his eyes.
"That wasn't very graceful," I laugh.
"Victor! That water's cold!"
"You should try living in Russia," I tease him, "then you'd know cold."
He can't really argue as Maccachin and I run into the water and splash around. Yuuri looks at us for a second, like he doesn't know quite what to make of this. Seriously, did he ever play as a boy? He had a dog like Macca. Didn't they ever play on the beach together?
Maccachin seems to feel the way I do. He runs to Yuuri, barking and splashing water all over him. Finally, Yuuri starts to smile and laugh, and in a few minutes, he's forgotten to be anxious. When the wall between us drops, we can laugh and play together, and I make sure that the play involves a lot of incidental touching. Not in a sexual way. That would be too intimidating for him. But a little playful pushing and shoving, some grabbing and dragging each other down, puts Yuuri in a much more pleasant mood. Macca hasn't played so hard since he was a puppy, so he tires after awhile, and shakes water all over us, before going to lie down in the sun. Yuuri and I head to the shower on the beach to dry off. I reach over and ruffle his hair, and it makes him laugh. It feels pretty good when he returns the gesture. He's getting more comfortable, trusting me more. This is good.
We shake off the excess water and go sit down on a log. I think his defenses are low enough now to get more serious, but I'm not sure where to begin. I need to speak to Yuuri's emotions, to understand what it is that touches him.
It's right then that I happen to blink as a seagull squawks. More squawks follow, and I'm reminded of waking up to that sound at home, in Russia. It makes me feel a little homesick. Not that I don't love Hasetsu, but I never expected to leave home for a long time like this. that produces a strong emotion, so I use it to try to bring the same out of Yuuri.
"Seagulls," I say, looking up into the sky.
"Black tailed gulls," Yuuri adds.
"It reminds of the ones I used to hear when I'd wake up in the morning in Saint Petersburg," I tell him, "I never thought that I would leave that city, so I never took the time to notice the seagull's cries. But now, I find them kind of comforting. Has something ever made you feel like that?"
Yuuri tells me the story of a time when a rinkmate was injured, and he was waiting for word on how his friend was doing. A girl hugged him to comfort him, but he shoved her away because it made him feel like she was saying that he was weak. She intruded on his feelings and he didn't like it at all.
I feel a little shocked for a moment, but then I remember the walls that Yuuri builds to protect and hide his emotions. And it seems that he does this to hide his insecurities from people who might judge him for them. It makes some logical sense, but at the same time, he needs to know that it's not a sign of weakness to have strong feelings, or to share them.
"You aren't a weak person," I respond sincerely, "No one who knows you would ever think that."
He's quiet, and I can see that his defenses have completely come down. I think it's time to work on defining a bit more, how things are going to go from here. I need Yuuri to trust me completely if I want to be able to motivate him to work through his anxieties.
"Will you tell me what you want me to be to you?" I ask, "A father figure?"
"A brother or just a friend?"
So, he may be wanting more than just a friendship.
I have to stop here and say that, while I've had relationships with women, I've never seen a man romantically. There were, of course, opportunities if I'd been interested. Before Christophe Giacometti became involved with his current boyfriend, there were opportunities, if I'd felt inclined to pursue them. And in my junior years, before Yakov became my coach, there was another male coach who offered to improve my performance on the ice by giving me an intense experience to help me grow as a person. I've never been attracted to a man, but I've never really thought seriously about it either. Knowing that Yuuri may have that kind of interest in me doesn't offend me like that former coach did. And I don't lack interest in pursuing that, if it happens, as I did in Chris's case. Yuuri is physically attractive. I think he's pretty adorable as a person. So it's not a stretch when I give my answer to him.
"So, your lover, then. I'll try my best."
Instantly, the walls that had disappeared, snap back into place, and he hurries to backtrack.
"No, no no!" he says, waving his arms like I'd tried to jump on him.
All I did was convey that I'm open to a relationship with him.
"I just want you to be who you are!" he exclaims, "I look up to you. I always have. I guess I was avoiding you because I didn't want you to see my shortcomings."
Ah, now we're getting somewhere…although, now I kind of wish he'd take me up on the offer to be lovers. The idea is new, but it's growing on me. I've been thinking a lot about Yuuri, even when I sleep, and the dreams haven't been completely platonic. I'm careful not to move or to say anything about that as he continues. I can tell it's not the right time.
"I'll make it up to you by skating my best."
I can feel my heart skipping in my chest, but I ignore it and take Yuuri's hand.
"You have a deal," I tell him, "And I won't go easy on you. That's my way of showing my love."
I love Yuuri, but he's not ready to hear something like that. And besides, that's not why I'm here. I came to Hasetsu to find the competitor I saw in that video. I didn't come here to seduce Yuuri. Still, he has already seduced me. It's going to be hard not listening to my instincts. I sometimes don't have a lot of self control.
But the rest can wait, right? Let's just work with what we have. Anyway, I have to leave eventually. Competitive skaters lead frenetic, fast paced lives. We are terrible partners because we have so little time that's not taken up with planning, ballet and skating. And I don't know how I would do in a long distance relationship. I'm the first to admit that I'm impulsive. Something would probably get broken, either in my work or in any relationship we would have. It's best not to think about that now.
If only my mind would cooperate. All of the way back, I'm noticing all of the things I find attractive about Yuuri. He has a sweet scent for a man, and I think his messy hair is cute. His brown eyes are expressive, even though he is quiet. I love the sound of his voice. God, I want to put an arm around him and walk closer to him.
Yuuri doesn't seem to notice at all how he is affecting me.
Damn it, that's painful.
I wonder if anything we've done today will help Yuuri to open up a little and get more in touch with his feelings. We're both quiet as we bathe in the hot spring and we don't talk much during dinner. Yuuri goes to his room early, so I spend some time drinking with Minako, then I go to bed feeling very much alone. I have Maccachin to hug, of course. But I feel empty inside, like something is missing.
I suppose I know what.
But the one I'm missing is down the hallway, probably already asleep…or maybe he's thinking about what we talked about today. Whatever, I'm sure he has no idea that I'm lying here, thinking about how warm and comforting it would feel to fall asleep next to him. Sex is great, but I crave the feeling of skin contact. I sleep naked, and when I am with a lover, the part I most enjoy is pressing up against my lover and sleeping curled around them. I enjoy burying my face in my lover's hair, being able to touch her…erm, or him, if it happened, while they're asleep and completely open and vulnerable.
I drift off to sleep, imagining how it would feel to sleep naked with Yuuri, to bury my nose in his hair and smell his scent, to run my hands over his soft skin and press up against his back.
I wake up in the morning, alone and a little sticky along the belly and thigh.
Maybe I should wear clothes when I sleep…